D, I think that the insight you bring to the inquiry is not a small part of the success of the discussion. Thank you for your skillful questions.
let's accept accept as axiomatic "original enlightenment" and stipulate that for the purposes of this discussion, it means, as Queequeg put it earlier, that everyone is fully enlightened, and that any experience other than that is to a shadow play, a theater.
If I'm following you, that's not quite what I meant. It might be a matter of interpretation or emphasis, but let me try to explain.
The theater I was specifically referring to is the Buddhist path. Real life is the real. Real life is of course full of theater, all of which is real in some respect, just not necessarily in the way that beings might think its real. But then those misapprehensions themselves are the real as well. In the perspective I'm suggesting, the laundry is more real; the glow is more theater.
In the fourth chapter of the Lotus Sutra is the story of the Rich Man and his lost son. It goes like this - there is a rich and powerful man who is nonetheless disconsolate because he has no heir. Years before his son wandered off and was lost. The son has lost all and wanders about as a beggar, living hand to mouth in filth and poverty. One day, the Rich Man sees his son and sends his guards to retrieve him. On being seized, the son becomes distressed with fear that he is being arrested and will be enslaved by this rich and powerful man that he does not recognize as his father. The Rich Man, seeing the distress of his son orders him released, and the son is overjoyed at his release. The father however longs to have his son near, and so devises to offer the son employment cleaning the latrines on his estate for meager pay. The son, having a very low opinion of himself and thinking he is not deserving of more than a job shoveling poop, accepts the employment. The Rich Man, removes his fine garments and jewelry, puts on rags, and goes to work in the latrines with his son. As time goes by, the son is given more responsibility and a greater wage. Soon the son is given responsibility of managing the entire estate and feels confident and worthy of his responsibility, feeling free to come and go as he pleases. At that time, the Rich Man gathers everyone and announces that the poor man is in fact his true son and heir to all of his fortune. The son having developed an adequate confidence in himself is able to accept this revelation. What we find, then, is that this whole employment and promotion process was a big theatrical production for the benefit of the son.
This parable in a nutshell captures the Buddha's career according to the Tientai - on his enlightenment at Gaya, the Buddha pours out his enlightenment as the Avatamsaka Sutra (seizing the son). However, realizing that if he just came out and related his enlightenment that he'd scare everyone, he resolved to teach a series of teachings to prepare people to hear the full scope of this enlightenment. So, he starts with the Hinayana for the 5 ascetics (shoveling poop in the latrines)... the Provisional Mahayana (promotion to fries)... the Prjana teachings (manager)... and finally, the full revelation in the Lotus ("This is my son.")
Anyway, the lost son's idea of himself as an unworthy beggar was real, with real consequences, even as his belief was ultimately false. Cleaning the latrines and getting paid meager wages was real, but not quite in the way that he thought - the reality was that he was getting paid out of his own bank account. His supervisor in the latrines was in fact his supervisor; the supervisor was also unbeknownst to him, his father. This subjective misapprehension all along was real, though not in the way he thought it was real. Working with the way things really are, the Buddha/Rich Man devised theater to transform the subjective circumstance of the son.
This point is made in several parables related in the Lotus including the burning house, the conjured cities, and the death of the doctor.
The laundry is real, even if its not real in the way we think it is - the glow is the theater, which is also real, just not in the way we think it is. And the whole point of the theater is to reveal that doing the laundry isn't just the chore we think it is. I'm sure, if I'm fortunate and have an opportunity to look back over my life on my deathbed, some of the things I will recollect fondly are the most ordinary things, like folding my toddlers clothes and feeling full of love and sentimentality that he will (hopefully) grow to be a man and won't fit in those clothes for long. I know that kind of attachment for my little Rahula clouds perception, but if the only point to all this is to purge such experience from possibility, to cut off all attachment and wait around for karma to exhaust, screw that. If that's your path, I suppose its harmless to me and certainly better than some theater where God tells you to kill.
Its the Buddha who employed expedient means and created this elaborate structure with its grades of progress and achievement - the Buddha hired us to work on his estate. He's the one who identified certain dhyanic insights as achievement and privileged them as something more "real" than doing laundry, all along not intending any of this to be ultimately taken as real, at least according to the Lotus. This whole elaborate play is contrived just so he can tell us, "You're a Buddha, too," and we can accept this.
When considered thus, all this path that is laid out as the Buddhist path in the 80,000 teachings and innumerable commentaries, is all theater. Do you need to go through all that theater if you're told the conclusion? Sure, the dhyanic insights give a little more substance and provide more detail as to the implications of our Buddhahood, but is that really required to stop the suffering? My in laws are physicists who get to explore amazing things and come to know this reality in detail unknown to man before. For me, that's a difference in quality but not substance from meditative discovery.
I don't think what I'm saying is such a departure from Mahayana.
The difference, however, is as Illaraza pointed out - Tendai Daishi, Dengyo Daishi, and for that matter, Nagarjuna, etc. understood all this in reflective and meditative theory, but they didn't take the step back through the looking glass, out of the theater, and back out here where we have to do laundry. What distinguished Nichiren, and which caused all kinds of consternation to his contemporaries, and to people since, he called it all out as theater and endeavored to get into THIS REAL, which meant, remonstrating with the secular government to stop promoting the theater to the population, especially the worst kinds of theater, directly addressing people absorbed in the theater and telling them to cut the crap and get real, here and now. That's not to say that he did this perfectly - I think Nichiren found it difficult to fully extricate out of the theater himself, especially when the theater was the means of social interaction and communication as well as meaning and knowledge. Fish have to live in water, so to speak. When you're stuck in a paradigm, its hard to step out of the paradigm.
One of my favorite counsels of Nichiren is, "Drink sake only at home with your wife, and chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. Suffer what there is to suffer, enjoy what there is to enjoy. Realize both suffering and joy as facts of life, and continue chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, no matter what happens. How could this be anything other than the boundless joy of the Dharma? Strengthen your power of faith more than ever."
When I see people absorbed in the theater of Buddhism, I can't help but think Marx had a point about religion.
Sorry. So long winded. I'll go shut up now.