Master Sheng Yen's Mixed Message
Recently I have gone through many sources on the topic of sudden enlightenment. Here I continue on this topic. Please remember that what I say here is being said solely from the viewpoint of sudden awakening, not from the viewpoint of gradual enlightenment.
Chan-master Sheng Yen (1930-2009), a well known proponent of Chinese Chan (Zen) Buddhism said:
”So they (the students) hoped I can give them a way to sudden enlightenment. It seems to them that, given the way to sudden enlightenment they would get enlightened immediately. I told them, ”I'm sorry. If there is such a way, I would have used it first. But up until now I have not invented it.” Up until now no Chan Buddhism literature has shown who had used it. It's like making a pill from a thing called sudden enlightenment and then once you swallow it, you'd be enlightened immediately. Or like getting a morphine injection. You want enlightenment? No problem. I have this thing that you inject and you become enlightened at once. Or how about something like an acupuncture needle? One needle at the acupuncture point and enlightenment at once. All these are sudden enlightenment, aren't they? I say, what a pity, no one has yet made the discovery... Some attain enlightenment gradually while others attain enlightenment at once.”
In the same vein, Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo, a well known Tibetan Buddhist nun of the Kagyu-school said:
”It would be nice if someone would come along and find a method by which people could awaken. Even the Buddha couldn't do that. How to collectively wake up? I don't know.”
I was just talking with a friend of mine about the matter of dharma practitioners, teachers and even masters becoming conditioned to their respective dharma method. To say it bluntly, it means that people devoted to their paths become very convinced of their paths, thinking that whatever their teacher or master says is 100% true and accurate. We easily fall into the trap of trusting an old approach of mind training which is held as something very accountable and effective. However, especially the old systems have a lot of useless stuff, beliefs, assumptions and hearsay in them, among other things. I understand this is hard criticism but listen what I have to say.
It is undeniable that there are two segments in mind training: 1. sudden awakening/sudden enlightenment and 2. gradual enlightenment/purification of the mind. These two principles are based on the anatomy and mechanism of the dualistically conditioned and deluded human psychology. Many texts (sutras and tantras) have explained these two segments. As I already said, this text is purposeful on the first segment, sudden awakening.
1. theoretical explanation not being able to explain what awakening exactly is and what the anatomy of it is,
2. method in general not having particular technology for awakening,
3. technique aimed at generating awakening in particular, being superficial or only vaguely relevant and
4. no guidance from an awakened specialist available.
A problem with some mind training methods is that there is no understanding or a vague understanding of the mechanisms of the dualistic mind and the way how it works. The psychological anatomy of our existential dilemma and confused mind is poorly known. This in turn affects the content of the method and the technology consisting of various collection of techniques.
The thing is that the mind is already conditioned to believing that ”I” is a real solid entity. We are already conditioned in believing to this artificial sense of me-ness which permeates our whole bodymind. The sense of ”me” or ”I” is already a false notion. Because of this there is no reason to go anywhere else except directly into the sense of the I-thought to solve it and to realise that the I-thought has no solidity, that there is no such entity as "I" to begin with, only boundless awareness without any kind of entity in it.
Not knowing or understanding the core of this existential dilemma, people are told to do these or those non-relevant practices to solve it. But the problem is that the given (1.) theoretical explanations and particular (3.) techniques might have no relevance with the actual issue, as in Master Sheng Yen's teaching. He says that he doesn't know there being a way to get suddenly awakened, even though he has been asked for it by his students. There is no other way to explain this than to consider that his understanding of the nature of the problem is insufficient. If one knows, whether being a dharma master or a common man, that the core of the problem is this limited sense of me-ness that is deeply ingrained in our mind and nervous system, why would you create any other theories or artificial add-on techniques in order to solve it? It doesn't make any sense, does it?
Various mind training methods are aware of the fact that the elements of the mind, thoughts and emotions, need to be purified by gradual practice (2. gradual enlightenment). Various methods encourage us to do different practices for making our minds permanently calm and clear. This is quite well known. But when it comes to sudden awakening which means that one comes to see through the illusory thought of ”I”, the methods and teachers are pretty lost. Then they go on saying that, ”I'm sorry. If there is such a way, I would have used it first. But up until now I have not invented it... what a pity, no one has yet made the discovery...” as master Sheng Yen. I am sorry but I don't think this is OK. The old methods and their exponents often do not have solid understanding of what sudden awakening exactly is and how to go about it. The effect of this can be seen in the spiritual culture of the world.
There really is a need to review what we are doing here. We need to analyse what we are doing and where it will take us or whether what we are doing is relevant at all. There is a call for pragmatism here. Unless we do that, we will have the same problems again and again. If we continue the same way as before, even another 2500 years of buddha dharma won't make it.
Thank you for reading.
-Baba Kim Katami
- Here's how to become awakened-instruction: http://www.en.openheart.fi/113
Master Sheng Yen's quote: ”The difference between gradual enlightenment and sudden enlightenment”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JQSJ5WFtKLM&index=14&list=WL