Enlightenment in Theravada

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Enlightenment in Theravada

Postby Dhammakid » Sun Oct 10, 2010 2:39 am

Hello all,
While doing some random thinking, it has occurred to me that I can't think of an actual concrete concept of enlightenment in the Theravada tradition. As a matter of fact, with most of the literature from the Theravada tradition, the term "enlightenment" is rarely used (at least in my experience). I find the term used much more often in the Mahayana schools.

And yet, the basic story of the life of the Buddha remains the same for all traditions, each one talking about the Buddha attaining enlightenment as if it was a single event in time that happened in a flash of realization. The Theravada clearly takes the "gradual" stance on this issue, I suppose.

Is there a concept of sudden enlightenment or realization in Theravada? If so, how does this fit in with the Buddha's gradual path approach? If not, from where does the Mahayana derive this concept?

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Re: Enlightenment in Theravada

Postby Ben » Sun Oct 10, 2010 3:19 am

Hi Kourtney

Ven Analayo discusses this issue in the chapter "Realization" in his outstanding "Satipatthana: te direct path to realization". I highly recommend that you acquire a copy.
kind regards

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Re: Enlightenment in Theravada

Postby Individual » Sun Oct 10, 2010 3:25 am

Dhammakid wrote:Hello all,
While doing some random thinking, it has occurred to me that I can't think of an actual concrete concept of enlightenment in the Theravada tradition. As a matter of fact, with most of the literature from the Theravada tradition, the term "enlightenment" is rarely used (at least in my experience). I find the term used much more often in the Mahayana schools.

And yet, the basic story of the life of the Buddha remains the same for all traditions, each one talking about the Buddha attaining enlightenment as if it was a single event in time that happened in a flash of realization. The Theravada clearly takes the "gradual" stance on this issue, I suppose.

Is there a concept of sudden enlightenment or realization in Theravada? If so, how does this fit in with the Buddha's gradual path approach? If not, from where does the Mahayana derive this concept?

:anjali:
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Random thinking:

The sort of thinking which results in discussing Mahayana on a Theravada forum.

There's no enlightenment in Theravada? What are Bodhi, Panna, Sotapanna, and Tathagata?
The best things in life aren't things.

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Re: Enlightenment in Theravada

Postby Dhammakid » Sun Oct 10, 2010 3:32 am

Individual wrote:
Dhammakid wrote:Hello all,
While doing some random thinking, it has occurred to me that I can't think of an actual concrete concept of enlightenment in the Theravada tradition. As a matter of fact, with most of the literature from the Theravada tradition, the term "enlightenment" is rarely used (at least in my experience). I find the term used much more often in the Mahayana schools.

And yet, the basic story of the life of the Buddha remains the same for all traditions, each one talking about the Buddha attaining enlightenment as if it was a single event in time that happened in a flash of realization. The Theravada clearly takes the "gradual" stance on this issue, I suppose.

Is there a concept of sudden enlightenment or realization in Theravada? If so, how does this fit in with the Buddha's gradual path approach? If not, from where does the Mahayana derive this concept?

:anjali:
Dhammakid

Random thinking:

The sort of thinking which results in discussing Mahayana on a Theravada forum.

There's no enlightenment in Theravada? What are Bodhi, Panna, Sotapanna, and Tathagata?


I've seen plenty of discussions of Mahayana concepts on this board, and find no reason why I can't talk about it here. If you have a good reason, please "enlighten" me.

I understand random thinking isn't usually productive, but sometimes it does lead one to worthwhile questions relevant to their practice, or at least to discussions which reveal why it isn't.

I never said "there is no enlightenment in Theravada." I said I can't think of a concrete concept of it, particularly because the term "enlightenment" is rare in Theravada literature and discussions. Furthermore, the context of my post, I believe, makes it clear that I'm specifically referring to "sudden enlightenment" as commonly used when discussing the life story of the Buddha.

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Re: Enlightenment in Theravada

Postby Dhammakid » Sun Oct 10, 2010 3:52 am

Eh, I'll answer anyway since I already saw it ;) :tongue:

I get what you're saying about the stages in Theravada (i.e. Bodhi, Panna, Sotapanna, and Tathagata), and can see how that would be considered a "concrete concept" of enlightenment. I guess since "enlightenment" in Theravada isn't usually discussed the same way it is in Mahayana, maybe there's something I'm missing in my understanding. Are there sudden realizations along the gradual path?

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Re: Enlightenment in Theravada

Postby David N. Snyder » Sun Oct 10, 2010 4:00 am

Dhammakid wrote:I guess since "enlightenment" in Theravada isn't usually discussed the same way it is in Mahayana, maybe there's something I'm missing in my understanding. Are there sudden realizations along the gradual path?


From what I understand, it is a gradual path, but there are specific moments of Path entry and fruits at the noble levels. The full enlightenment experience happens at one moment, but there is a long gradual training preceding that.

Perhaps this sums up the Theravada perspective:

Just as the ocean slopes away gradually, tends down gradually without any abrupt precipice, even so this Dhamma and discipline is a gradual doing, a gradual training, a gradual practice. There is no sudden penetration of knowledge’ (Udana 54).
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Re: Enlightenment in Theravada

Postby Dhammakid » Sun Oct 10, 2010 4:05 am

David N. Snyder wrote:
Dhammakid wrote:I guess since "enlightenment" in Theravada isn't usually discussed the same way it is in Mahayana, maybe there's something I'm missing in my understanding. Are there sudden realizations along the gradual path?


From what I understand, it is a gradual path, but there are specific moments of Path entry and fruits at the noble levels. The full enlightenment experience happens at one moment, but there is a long gradual training preceding that.

Perhaps this sums up the Theravada perspective:

Just as the ocean slopes away gradually, tends down gradually without any abrupt precipice, even so this Dhamma and discipline is a gradual doing, a gradual training, a gradual practice. There is no sudden penetration of knowledge’ (Udana 54).


Thanks for your comments and the sutta reference. I remember seeing it on Access to Insight when first exploring Buddhism some years back.
What does the "full enlightenment experience" entail and how is it different than path entry and fruits?

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Re: Enlightenment in Theravada

Postby Individual » Sun Oct 10, 2010 4:09 am

Dhammakid wrote:Eh, I'll answer anyway since I already saw it ;) :tongue:

I get what you're saying about the stages in Theravada (i.e. Bodhi, Panna, Sotapanna, and Tathagata), and can see how that would be considered a "concrete concept" of enlightenment. I guess since "enlightenment" in Theravada isn't usually discussed the same way it is in Mahayana, maybe there's something I'm missing in my understanding.

Not necessarily? Maybe the Mahayanists are stupid and nothing is missing.

Radical evangelical Christians don't discuss Buddhism the same way Theravada does ("Buddhism is a cynical atheistic cult which teaches people they are soulless creatures, whose only hope of salvation is the extinction of self-consciousness" :lol:). But you wouldn't somehow think YOU are missing something merely because Christians talk that way, would you?

Dhammakid wrote:Are there sudden realizations along the gradual path?

Yes, every moment holds the potential for a sudden realization, along the gradual path, and as David says above, there are certain key moments, like the four stages of enlightenment.

However, that doesn't mean you can't experience spontaneous moments of insight too: "OMG! I just remembered I left the oven on!"
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Re: Enlightenment in Theravada

Postby David N. Snyder » Sun Oct 10, 2010 4:13 am

Dhammakid wrote:What does the "full enlightenment experience" entail and how is it different than path entry and fruits?


I don't know, but here's the Buddha response:

" And furthermore, just as the rivers of the world pour into the ocean, and rain falls from the sky, but no swelling or diminishing in the ocean for that reason can be discerned; in the same way, although many monks are totally unbound into the property of Unbinding with no fuel remaining, no swelling or diminishing in the property of Unbinding for that reason can be discerned... This is the fifth amazing and astounding fact about this Doctrine and Discipline that, as they see it again and again, has the monks greatly pleased with the Doctrine and Discipline.
Udana 5.5
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Re: Enlightenment in Theravada

Postby Goofaholix » Sun Oct 10, 2010 4:15 am

The trouble with the concept of "sudden enlightenment" is why did it take Gautama Siddhartha several years of practice to achieve his enlightenment? surely if anyone were deserving a fast track it would have been him.

Theravada presents a gradual enlightenment only as far as I know. The problem with that is one could easily get into a mindset of x amount of my effort = my enlightenment, or alternatively one could get into the mindset of it's too long or difficult a path so I won't try. The concept of sudden enlightenment I see as a good counterbalance to those mindsets, as a skilful means rather than as a reality.
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Re: Enlightenment in Theravada

Postby Dhammakid » Sun Oct 10, 2010 4:18 am

Individual wrote:
Dhammakid wrote:Eh, I'll answer anyway since I already saw it ;) :tongue:

I get what you're saying about the stages in Theravada (i.e. Bodhi, Panna, Sotapanna, and Tathagata), and can see how that would be considered a "concrete concept" of enlightenment. I guess since "enlightenment" in Theravada isn't usually discussed the same way it is in Mahayana, maybe there's something I'm missing in my understanding.

Not necessarily? Maybe the Mahayanists are stupid and nothing is missing.

Radical evangelical Christians don't discuss Buddhism the same way Theravada does ("Buddhism is a cynical atheistic cult which teaches people they are soulless creatures, whose only hope of salvation is the extinction of self-consciousness" :lol:). But you wouldn't somehow think YOU are missing something merely because Christians talk that way, would you?

Dhammakid wrote:Are there sudden realizations along the gradual path?

Yes, every moment holds the potential for a sudden realization, along the gradual path, and as David says above, there are certain key moments, like the four stages of enlightenment.

However, that doesn't mean you can't experience spontaneous moments of insight too: "OMG! I just remembered I left the oven on!"


Ah, I get what you're saying. Good point. I guess I just wanted to make sure "it wasn't me" :) I'm also slowly learning that even the basics of Buddhism are different between the two branches. Although the Mahayana does have concepts of gradual training (Vajrayana and "lam rim," "the ten bhumis", etc).

Thanks for your comments.

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Re: Enlightenment in Theravada

Postby Dhammakid » Sun Oct 10, 2010 4:20 am

David N. Snyder wrote:
Dhammakid wrote:What does the "full enlightenment experience" entail and how is it different than path entry and fruits?


I don't know, but here's the Buddha response:

" And furthermore, just as the rivers of the world pour into the ocean, and rain falls from the sky, but no swelling or diminishing in the ocean for that reason can be discerned; in the same way, although many monks are totally unbound into the property of Unbinding with no fuel remaining, no swelling or diminishing in the property of Unbinding for that reason can be discerned... This is the fifth amazing and astounding fact about this Doctrine and Discipline that, as they see it again and again, has the monks greatly pleased with the Doctrine and Discipline.
Udana 5.5


Please forgive me, I'm having a hard time understanding what this sutta is stating.
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Re: Enlightenment in Theravada

Postby Dhammakid » Sun Oct 10, 2010 4:25 am

Goofaholix wrote:The trouble with the concept of "sudden enlightenment" is why did it take Gautama Siddhartha several years of practice to achieve his enlightenment? surely if anyone were deserving a fast track it would have been him.

Theravada presents a gradual enlightenment only as far as I know. The problem with that is one could easily get into a mindset of x amount of my effort = my enlightenment, or alternatively one could get into the mindset of it's too long or difficult a path so I won't try. The concept of sudden enlightenment I see as a good counterbalance to those mindsets, as a skilful means rather than as a reality.


Good point on even the Buddha needing time to attain enlightenment.

I can see what you mean about a belief in sudden enlightenment being a skillful means to counter unskillful thoughts. Something I think about is that even if a person believing in sudden enlightenment were to become enlightened, it would be hard to call it "sudden" since it took practice to get there. I mean, maybe if it had only taken a few months to get there, you could call it "sudden"...

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Re: Enlightenment in Theravada

Postby David N. Snyder » Sun Oct 10, 2010 4:38 am

Dhammakid wrote:
David N. Snyder wrote:
Dhammakid wrote:What does the "full enlightenment experience" entail and how is it different than path entry and fruits?


I don't know, but here's the Buddha response:

" And furthermore, just as the rivers of the world pour into the ocean, and rain falls from the sky, but no swelling or diminishing in the ocean for that reason can be discerned; in the same way, although many monks are totally unbound into the property of Unbinding with no fuel remaining, no swelling or diminishing in the property of Unbinding for that reason can be discerned... This is the fifth amazing and astounding fact about this Doctrine and Discipline that, as they see it again and again, has the monks greatly pleased with the Doctrine and Discipline.
Udana 5.5


Please forgive me, I'm having a hard time understanding what this sutta is stating.


My thinking is that it means the enlightened one at death has no fuel remaining (for continued existence as we know it), much different from even an anagami or sakadagami and as such 'enters' Nibbana but there is no swelling or diminishing in the property of Unbinding meaning no eternalism and no annhilation, but even that does not do it proper justice because of the constraints of language since Nibbana is neither existence, non-existence, both, or neither existence nor non-existence.
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Re: Enlightenment in Theravada

Postby Hanzze » Sun Oct 10, 2010 10:39 am

_/\_
Last edited by Hanzze on Sun Oct 31, 2010 6:11 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Just that! *smile*
...We Buddhists must find the courage to leave our temples and enter the temples of human experience, temples that are filled with suffering. If we listen to Buddha, Christ, or Gandhi, we can do nothing else. The refugee camps, the prisons, the ghettos, and the battlefields will become our temples. We have so much work to do. ... Peace is Possible! Step by Step. - Samtach Preah Maha Ghosananda "Step by Step" http://www.ghosananda.org/bio_book.html

BUT! it is important to become a real Buddhist first. Like Punna did: Punna Sutta Nate sante baram sokham _()_
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Re: Enlightenment in Theravada

Postby Sunrise » Sun Oct 10, 2010 11:56 am

Dhammakid wrote: Are there sudden realizations along the gradual path?



Through hearing this brief explanation of the Dhamma from the Blessed One, the mind of Bahiya of the Bark-cloth right then and there was released from the effluents through lack of clinging/sustenance.

Bahiya Sutta


Although some scholars think that Bahiya was not actually enlightened when he died.
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Re: Enlightenment in Theravada

Postby Hoo » Sun Oct 10, 2010 12:15 pm

Dhammakid wrote:I'm also slowly learning that even the basics of Buddhism are different between the two branches.


Hi Dhammakid. I don't intend to turn this into a Theravada Vs Mahayana argument. JMHO that the Buddhist Councils seem to be looking at the similarities of all who claim to be Buddhist. My brief experience with one Chan group is that the similarities are what is emphasized, etc. The differences I see, I set aside for later consideration. I have just a touch of exposure to other traditions. In most cases, I see the teachings of the Buddha come through. I admit that in some other cases I scratch my head and wonder where "that" came from :) I think that both branches retain the basics. I also think it is the nature of humans to improve on things, so maybe the differences are human ones :shrug:

Hanzze wrote:Do not get in that mood, no different. We use to say "combat for the beard of the emperor" a combat that can be resolve by the proverb "In emptiness (where is nothing), the empire loses his right".
No emperor in a combat of emptiness, no ruling and no to be, just freedom :-)


Well said Hanzze. In emptiness there is no "Dharma dueling." There is nothing to win, nothing to lose, no duelists, just the empty concept of a duel, held by an empty self.

Made up by Hoo, Oct 10, 2010, and probably plagarized but I can't remember reading it anywhere. :reading: :coffee: :?:
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Re: Enlightenment in Theravada

Postby Dhammakid » Sun Oct 10, 2010 2:05 pm

David:
"My thinking is that it means the enlightened one at death has no fuel remaining (for continued existence as we know it), much different from even an anagami or sakadagami and as such 'enters' Nibbana but there is no swelling or diminishing in the property of Unbinding meaning no eternalism and no annhilation, but even that does not do it proper justice because of the constraints of language since Nibbana is neither existence, non-existence, both, or neither existence nor non-existence."

That makes a lot more sense. Thanks for clearing it up.

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Sunrise:
Through hearing this brief explanation of the Dhamma from the Blessed One, the mind of Bahiya of the Bark-cloth right then and there was released from the effluents through lack of clinging/sustenance (Bahiya Sutta)
"Although some scholars think that Bahiya was not actually enlightened when he died."

This sounds like it goes along with what Individual and David are saying about sudden realizations along the gradual path. I'm guessing we're supposed to assume Bahiya had been practicing in many former lives before being released upon hearing the Buddha's teaching.

Hoo:
"Hi Dhammakid. I don't intend to turn this into a Theravada Vs Mahayana argument. JMHO that the Buddhist Councils seem to be looking at the similarities of all who claim to be Buddhist. My brief experience with one Chan group is that the similarities are what is emphasized, etc. The differences I see, I set aside for later consideration. I have just a touch of exposure to other traditions. In most cases, I see the teachings of the Buddha come through. I admit that in some other cases I scratch my head and wonder where "that" came from I think that both branches retain the basics. I also think it is the nature of humans to improve on things, so maybe the differences are human ones "

Thanks for reminding me to remain open-minded and see things as they are, especially since I can't really claim to know what I'm talking about when it comes to Mahayana practices. I dabbled in both Zen and Vajrayana for a short period, and even attended teachings from a Rinzai monk regularly, but many of the concepts are still hard for me to grasp. But you're right - there are many similarities that are forgotten when comparing the two, especially among devoted members of each.

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Re: Enlightenment in Theravada

Postby Sunrise » Sun Oct 10, 2010 2:31 pm

Dhammakid wrote:This sounds like it goes along with what Individual and David are saying about sudden realizations along the gradual path. I'm guessing we're supposed to assume Bahiya had been practicing in many former lives before being released upon hearing the Buddha's teaching.


Well, we can only speculate.

It is possible that he was not enlightened but experienced a momentary realization of emptiness or maybe his mind attained a jhana. Moments after talking to the buddha, he was killed by a cow. It sounds like he was unaware of the happenings around him as if in a jhana state.
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Re: Enlightenment in Theravada

Postby Dhammakid » Sun Oct 10, 2010 2:52 pm

Sunrise wrote:
Dhammakid wrote:This sounds like it goes along with what Individual and David are saying about sudden realizations along the gradual path. I'm guessing we're supposed to assume Bahiya had been practicing in many former lives before being released upon hearing the Buddha's teaching.


Well, we can only speculate.

It is possible that he was not enlightened but experienced a momentary realization of emptiness or maybe his mind attained a jhana. Moments after talking to the buddha, he was killed by a cow. It sounds like he was unaware of the happenings around him as if in a jhana state.


Ahh. That seems more likely.
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