A Soto Priest once told me that some who practice with the notion of "gradual enlightenment" reach enlightenment sooner than those of the "Sudden School." Great Seon Sage Chinul described the process as "Sudden Enlightenment, gradual cultivation," as in once you have an awakening of some sort, continued diligence is required to keep from backsliding into some unawakened behavior. Whatever the process may be, it's just that, a process. I'm not sure whether I've met a Pratyekabuddha, the one in a million Bodhidharma was talking about. As I'm not quite sure whether I've met a million people, that self-awakened one may still be out there.
It's really not a numbers issue, nor is it a matter of sudden or gradual, or sudden/gradual. It has to do with the Great Way as a way. At some point via reason or practice, we start thinking that what we're doing isn't working, that there must be a better "way". In my case it turned out the way was to be Zen, but only after any number of other attempts at other ways that otherwise weren't the Way. At first I thought that Zen was the greatest thing ever, and that everyone should do it, try it, practice it, that all it took to be "enlightened" was just to sit! Hell, I could do that. I can't say that I went out preaching on street corners or went door-to-door handing out pamphlets, but if you had an ear, I'd fill it with pithy phrases that sounded like they came right out the the Hallmark greeting card Zen collection. Some of them may have been actual quotes, but from sources whom I couldn't cite, and the context of the quote I couldn't place either. Spouting on about "Kill the Buddha" or some other important sounding nonsense was good enough to show you how "Zen" I was, but that was a way to get to be “Zen.” (Whatever that is).
Since then, for the most part I've lost the ability to Zen-speak. When I do sound inscrutable these days, it's usually in as few words as possible, and more often than not in the form of a question. And that's not because the Way is beyond words and scriptures. Even though that may be the case in the final analysis, the Buddha used words and spoke what turned out to be the scriptures for forty years, so there's something to be said about words, and by them. It's just that it's a good idea to have some sort of clue as to what they mean, and if it's a quote by someone else, that the intended meaning or the teaching behind them be ascertained as best we can can before actually using them ostensibly to teach with them. The last thing I want to do is mislead, the next to the last thing is that I don't just want to give away the Way like a kindly old grandmother. It is after all, a means to discovering one's own True Nature, not the one I tell you it is. In that regard, I've already said too much right here, but I'll just keep on going because maybe you didn't quite get my point yet. Is your True Nature the same as my True Nature, or different?
Just as the Way is as simple as washing your bowls or hanging up your coat, it's not as simple as hearing that, repeating it, actually doing the dishes once after breakfast sometime, and then acting like you've got it nailed because you heard someone else tell you that it's that simple. ZM Seung Sahn's Compass of Zen starts at 0 and moves on to 360 degrees. At both points, mountains are mountains and rivers are rivers, but he'd ask whether the mountain of 0 degrees and 360 degrees are the same or different? Is washing the dishes just washing the dishes? Answer quickly! I won't give away the answer. It's OK to have a different answer now than you do later. They're not called degrees for nothing,
When I set out to drive, I couldn't drive the Indy 500 when I first got into a car, or even after one lesson. I preferred that my driving instructor not only be able to drive themselves, but that they were taught by someone else who knew how to drive, and who didn't learn to drive just be reading about it, or even worse, only read the first page, said, "Yeah, I got this," and then hit the highway. On top of that, it was a plus when the teacher had some idea of how to teach according to my abilities, not his. No sense in being chauffeured by the Grim Reaper for no reason, or chauffeuring him either. Likewise, there's no sense in leading someone down a path that isn't the Way because of either of those reasons. Both are matters of life and death, albeit possibly one more literal than the other, and maybe not. The teachings of the Buddhadharma aren't supposed to lead to hell, they're supposed to show us how we can be the perfect buddhas we inherently are, and in turn, to lead others to where they can realize their own buddhahood.
We've already chained ourselves to our anchors. No need to add more links to our own anchors, or to anyone else's. The trick is not to think we've mastered the Way when we're still tethered to the anchor, but to use the anchor itself to untether ourselves. There is a way to use the anchor to take the anchor away, and just reading a sailing manual is most likely not it, unless you're one in a million.
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