Doubting Enlightenment

Exploring Theravāda's connections to other paths. What can we learn from other traditions, religions and philosophies?
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Kim OHara
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Re: Doubting Enlightenment

Post by Kim OHara » Sun Jan 31, 2010 11:13 am

If enlightenment is a result of incremental 'reduction in craving, aversion and delusion', can one flip from 'unenlightened' to 'enlightened' or can one only, un-dramatically, progress from 'less enlightened' to 'more enlightened'?
If the former, how can the flipping point be defined?
If the latter, the answer to the OP is negative, simply because there is no definable state of enlightenment. (I know Guy already said there is no such thing but he didn't give a reason; maybe he has a better reason than this one?)

:meditate:
Kim

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appicchato
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Re: Doubting Enlightenment

Post by appicchato » Sun Jan 31, 2010 11:42 am

Kim O'Hara wrote:...because there is no definable state of enlightenment.
How about 'the complete eradication of greed, ill will, and delusion'...otherwise (or sometimes) known as liberation...?

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Dan74
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Re: Doubting Enlightenment

Post by Dan74 » Sun Jan 31, 2010 11:46 am

Kim O'Hara wrote:If enlightenment is a result of incremental 'reduction in craving, aversion and delusion', can one flip from 'unenlightened' to 'enlightened' or can one only, un-dramatically, progress from 'less enlightened' to 'more enlightened'?
If the former, how can the flipping point be defined?
If the latter, the answer to the OP is negative, simply because there is no definable state of enlightenment. (I know Guy already said there is no such thing but he didn't give a reason; maybe he has a better reason than this one?)

:meditate:
Kim

My understanding is that enlightenment itself is not gradual being the eradication of ignorance, the root cause of defilements. But the removal of defilements leading to clarity and insight and ultimately to liberation, this is gradual.

In my tradition some talk about shallow and deep enlightenment, multiple "enlightenments" and also cultivation after the enlightenment to remove residual karmic habits.

For instance one could abide in a peaceful and pure state, unmoved by the worldly winds, untainted by the "dusts" of the world, but in a way still remain attached to this state and as not as able to meet the circumstances in the most skillful (compassionate) way. So there is another step of letting go even of that and abiding nowhere.

_/|\_
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Stiphan
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Re: Doubting Enlightenment

Post by Stiphan » Sun Jan 31, 2010 1:03 pm

There is, monks, an unborn — unbecome — unmade — unfabricated. If there were not that unborn — unbecome — unmade — unfabricated, there would not be the case that emancipation from the born — become — made — fabricated would be discerned. But precisely because there is an unborn — unbecome — unmade — unfabricated, emancipation from the born — become — made — fabricated is discerned.

- Ud 8:3; 80-81
The Story of the Turtle and the Fish

To illustrate this error the Buddhists relate the story of the turtle and the fish. There was once a turtle who lived in a lake with a group of fish. One day the turtle went for a walk on dry land. He was away from the lake for a few weeks. When he returned he met some of the fish. The fish asked him, "Mister turtle, hello! How are you? We have not seen you for a few weeks. Where have you been? The turtle said, "I was up on the land, I have been spending some time on dry land." The fish were a little puzzled and they said, "Up on dry land? What are you talking about? What is this dry land? Is it wet?" The turtle said "No, it is not," "Is it cool and refreshing?" "No it is not", "Does it have waves and ripples?" "No, it does not have waves and ripples." "Can you swim in it?" "No you can't" So the fish said, "it is not wet, it is not cool there are no waves, you cant swim in it. So this dry land of yours must be completely non-existent, just an imaginary thing, nothing real at all." The turtle said that "Well may be so" and he left the fish and went for another walk on dry land.

http://www.beyondthenet.net/dhamma/nibbanaTurtle.htm" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

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Guy
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Re: Doubting Enlightenment

Post by Guy » Sun Jan 31, 2010 1:14 pm

Hi Kim,

Perhaps this is just a case of semantics but the point I was trying to make was that Enlightenment is not a [conditioned] "thing" to be grasped. It is the unconditioned state to be realized when we let go/give up/renounce all forms of craving/clinging. This is by no means an absolute statement, it is just a way of looking at Enlightenment that I have found helpful in my own practice since it helps counter-act the overly goal oriented way of thinking that many of us (including myself) suffer from. Enlightenment can also be referred to in the positive sense as "Ultimate Happiness" as well as other phrases which other people may find to be a skilful way of looking at it.

On the other hand, I'm not Enlightened yet so I may be way off! I suspect that when we "get" Enlightened such semantics will just be completely trivial.

With Metta,

Guy
Four types of letting go:

1) Giving; expecting nothing back in return
2) Throwing things away
3) Contentment; wanting to be here, not wanting to be anywhere else
4) "Teflon Mind"; having a mind which doesn't accumulate things

- Ajahn Brahm

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Annapurna
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Re: Doubting Enlightenment

Post by Annapurna » Sun Jan 31, 2010 3:01 pm

Chula wrote:I think this sutta answers your question:

MN 27: Cūḷahatthipadopama Sutta - The Shorter Discourse on the Elephant Footprint Simile
"This, too, is called a footprint of the Tathagata, a scratch mark of the Tathagata, a tusk slash of the Tathagata, but a disciple of the noble ones would not yet come to the conclusion, 'The Blessed One is rightly self-awakened; the Dhamma is well-taught by the Blessed One; the Sangha of the Blessed One's disciples has practiced rightly.'
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

Until we actually attain Arahantship, we only get footprints and scratch marks alluding to the elephant (the Buddha's Awakening). This is why saddhā (conviction) is essential for progress in the practice.


Yes.

This is also the point where the role of the teacher is very important.

He could, for instance, point out that doubt is a defilement, medium kilesa, which doesn't allow the truth to be seen clearly.

A good teacher will know where the students 'hangs' and remove the obstacle.

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Re: Doubting Enlightenment

Post by Prasadachitta » Sun Jan 31, 2010 8:52 pm

Laurens wrote:Good answers so far :)

You mention the Brahma-vihara, does that equate to enlightenment? Or can one have those qualities and be unenlightened?
As I understand it nothing equates to enlightenment. The Brahma Viharas are associated with enlightenment and the movement towards it. We beings who do not know perfect peace can only look towards the awakened and perceive compounded states of mind. Sympathetic joy depends on the perceived joy of others. Kindness depends on the perception of others. Compassion depends on the perceived suffering of others. Equanimity depends on having security in ones person and ideas.

With the Buddha sympathetic joy, kindness and compassion appear without the perception of others. Equanimity appears without a sense of self or position in terms of ideas.

I cant say I really understand it but this is the model I work with and it is very inspiring for me.

Laurens wrote:
How does one tell between the near-enemies and the Brahma-vihara? Is is plausable that one could delude oneself into thinking that the near-enemies are the real thing?


I dont think that there is a well defined barrier between the near enemy and highly positive states of mind. I think its more like a spectrum on which one can move infinity in either direction from almost totally negative and beyond to almost totally positive and beyond. I think that if you at any point decide that "This is the real thing" then you are almost certainly deluded as far as your perception of that thing is concerned.

These are just my own rambling thoughts on the matter. Please only take them as they are helpfull.

Metta

Gabe
"Beautifully taught is the Lord's Dhamma, immediately apparent, timeless, of the nature of a personal invitation, progressive, to be attained by the wise, each for himself." Anguttara Nikaya V.332

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Kim OHara
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Re: Doubting Enlightenment

Post by Kim OHara » Sun Jan 31, 2010 10:10 pm

appicchato wrote:
Kim O'Hara wrote:...because there is no definable state of enlightenment.
How about 'the complete eradication of greed, ill will, and delusion'...otherwise (or sometimes) known as liberation...?
Hello, Apicchato,
I wasn't trying to deny that one can become enlightened, just doubting that it can be defined in absolute (yes/no, enlightened/unenlightened) terms.
You seem to have missed the relevance of the first half of my sentence:
If [one can only, un-dramatically, progress from 'less enlightened' to 'more enlightened'] the answer to the OP is negative, simply because there is no definable state of enlightenment.
What I was trying to get at is the impossibility of labelling a point on an infinite line as the goal: if we are moving along that line, we are moving towards enlightenment but if the line is infinitely long we can never get there. As Dan74 said:
In my tradition some talk about shallow and deep enlightenment, multiple "enlightenments" and also cultivation after the enlightenment to remove residual karmic habits.
For instance one could abide in a peaceful and pure state, unmoved by the worldly winds, untainted by the "dusts" of the world, but in a way still remain attached to this state and as not as able to meet the circumstances in the most skillful (compassionate) way. So there is another step of letting go even of that and abiding nowhere.

(In spite of that, Dan still sees enlightenment as an absolute: ...that enlightenment itself is not gradual. That doesn't seem to me to be consistent with the rest of his response, though.)

You may say that the line has a definable end-point, but from here it does look infinite - good to follow, for sure, but with no end in sight.
:meditate:

Kim

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Re: Doubting Enlightenment

Post by Bhikkhu Pesala » Sun Jan 31, 2010 10:41 pm

Doubt about enlightenment can be overcome by attaining Purification by Overcoming Doubt.

At this stage, though not yet enlightened nor totally free from doubt, one can be called a A Wise and Virtuous Ordinary Person (kalyāṇa puthujjana) A wise and virtuous ordinary person is also called a lesser stream-winner (cūḷa-sotāpanna). His or her knowledge of dependent origination is not mere intellectual knowledge from books, but arises through analytical insight into mind and matter, and knowledge of conditionality. We're still talking about mundane right view, not supramundane right view.

Doubt can be eradicated by attaining the Path and Fruition of Stream-winning.
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Re: Doubting Enlightenment

Post by retrofuturist » Sun Jan 31, 2010 10:48 pm

Well said, bhante.

:anjali:

Metta,
Retro. :)
"Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education." - Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh

"The uprooting of identity is seen by the noble ones as pleasurable; but this contradicts what the whole world sees." (Snp 3.12)

"One discerns wrong view as wrong view, and right view as right view. This is one's right view." (MN 117)

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Guy
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Re: Doubting Enlightenment

Post by Guy » Sun Jan 31, 2010 11:24 pm

Hi Gabriel,
gabrielbranbury wrote: Kindness depends on the perception of others.
I would also add that Metta can (and most definitely should) be cultivated towards ourselves too!

With Metta,

Guy
Four types of letting go:

1) Giving; expecting nothing back in return
2) Throwing things away
3) Contentment; wanting to be here, not wanting to be anywhere else
4) "Teflon Mind"; having a mind which doesn't accumulate things

- Ajahn Brahm

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Dan74
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Re: Doubting Enlightenment

Post by Dan74 » Mon Feb 01, 2010 4:13 am

Kim O'Hara wrote: What I was trying to get at is the impossibility of labelling a point on an infinite line as the goal: if we are moving along that line, we are moving towards enlightenment but if the line is infinitely long we can never get there. As Dan74 said:
In my tradition some talk about shallow and deep enlightenment, multiple "enlightenments" and also cultivation after the enlightenment to remove residual karmic habits.
For instance one could abide in a peaceful and pure state, unmoved by the worldly winds, untainted by the "dusts" of the world, but in a way still remain attached to this state and as not as able to meet the circumstances in the most skillful (compassionate) way. So there is another step of letting go even of that and abiding nowhere.

(In spite of that, Dan still sees enlightenment as an absolute: ...that enlightenment itself is not gradual. That doesn't seem to me to be consistent with the rest of his response, though.)

You may say that the line has a definable end-point, but from here it does look infinite - good to follow, for sure, but with no end in sight.
:meditate:

Kim
Hi Kim,

"Absolute" is a funny word, but I guess once one has deeply realized some truth, then this realization is absolute in a sense that one "doesn't forget".

Once we wake up we are awake, then even while awake there may be some things to clear up and some skills to hone.

The inconsistency you point to is there to some extent, but the stories I have read (like of Hakuin Zenji and Kusan Sunim) involved a number of enlightenment experiences. I guess after each of the earlier ones some subtle clinging still remained which was let gone of at later ones.

In the Buddha's case we know of only one enlightenment but I guess there were insights that preceded it.

I don't want to speculate too much - I don't find it helpful for practice.

_/|\_
_/|\_

chownah
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Re: Doubting Enlightenment

Post by chownah » Mon Feb 01, 2010 2:07 pm

I don't doubt enlightenment nor do I believe in it......there is no way to know for sure.....to me it doesn't matter if it exists or not or if it happens or not or whatever.....the path can be followed without the enticement of enlightenment being dangled at the end.
chownah

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Re: Doubting Enlightenment

Post by Prasadachitta » Mon Feb 01, 2010 2:52 pm

Guy wrote:Hi Gabriel,
gabrielbranbury wrote: Kindness depends on the perception of others.
I would also add that Metta can (and most definitely should) be cultivated towards ourselves too!

With Metta,

Guy
Hi Guy,

But of course. In that case Metta depends on the perception of yourself.


Metta

Gabe
"Beautifully taught is the Lord's Dhamma, immediately apparent, timeless, of the nature of a personal invitation, progressive, to be attained by the wise, each for himself." Anguttara Nikaya V.332

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Kim OHara
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Re: Doubting Enlightenment

Post by Kim OHara » Mon Feb 01, 2010 10:21 pm

Dan74 wrote:Hi Kim,

"Absolute" is a funny word, but I guess once one has deeply realized some truth, then this realization is absolute in a sense that one "doesn't forget".

Once we wake up we are awake, then even while awake there may be some things to clear up and some skills to hone.

The inconsistency you point to is there to some extent, but the stories I have read (like of Hakuin Zenji and Kusan Sunim) involved a number of enlightenment experiences. I guess after each of the earlier ones some subtle clinging still remained which was let gone of at later ones.

In the Buddha's case we know of only one enlightenment but I guess there were insights that preceded it.

I don't want to speculate too much - I don't find it helpful for practice.

_/|\_
Thanks, Dan :smile:
As you say, speculation doesn't necessarily help practice, but I'd like to take this just a little further.
Learning in general is an incremental process. Sure, you learn discrete bits of information or skill, but no single bit jumps you into a qualitatively different level of mastery.
Take learning French, for instance. I don't start from zero, because I start with an experiential knowledge of how language functions, and I happen to know a bunch of English words which are also French words. I learn a bit, and I say I can speak French a little bit. I learn a bit more, and I say I speak French fairly well. I learn a bit more, and I say I can speak French very well. I learn a bit more, and I say I can speak French as well as M Sarkozy. I learn a bit more and ...
At what point could I have said simply, 'I speak French'? Which word did I learn to push me across the border from 'can't speak French' to 'can speak French'?
At what point can I possibly say, 'I speak French perfectly'?

Why should the path to enlightenment be any different?

Let me be clear about this: I'm not unhappy with the idea that the path has no defined end point. Our horizons change as we grow, and that's good.
Also, I can take some pleasure in being more enlightened this year than last year, even if my progress is slow and my achievement is small. It's much more positive than not being able to say anything good about my practice - what, five years' slog and still unenlightened???????? Phooey!!!!! :tongue:

Edit, to close a verbal gap: Enlightenment, in this view, is a 'relative' term, not an 'absolute'.

:namaste:
Kim

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