One monk asked, “The Buddha of Supreme Penetration and Surpassing Wisdom sat for ten Kalpas in the Hall of Enlightenment. But the Buddha-Dharma did not reveal itself to him, and he did not attain Buddhahood. I do not understand this saying, please point out the meaning.”
The master said, “Supreme Penetration is your own understanding that the ten thousand things everywhere do not have their own nature and have no form; this is called Supreme Penetration. Surpassing Wisdom is to have no doubt that there is nothing to be attained; this is called Surpassing Wisdom. Buddha is the naming of the fact that the pure and clean mind shines over the whole universe. To ‘sit for ten Kalpas in the Hall of Enlightenment’ refers to the practice of the Ten Paramitas.
‘The Buddha-Dharma did not reveal itself’ means that since Buddha is originally unborn and the Dharma is originally indestructible, how can it reveal itself? ‘Did not attain Buddhahood’ means that the Buddha doesn’t become Buddha again. Therefore, ancient masters would say that the Buddha is always present in the world, but is not stained by worldly things.”
Here Rinzai explains the characteristics of enlightenment. There are people who say that enlightenment fades away, or can’t be sustained, unless practice continues after enlightenment and also that it can be attained multiple times. This is far from the truth. Enlightenment is compared to hatching out, that is, breaking out of a chick’s shell.
Once attained, it is irreversible and you cannot ever return to the state of pre-enlightenment no matter what you may do; even if you violate the precepts and do immoral things. This is just like a chick cannot return into its egg again once it has hatched. This is why the Avatamsaka Sutra says that once we enter the room of enlightenment, the door is shut behind us.
Enlightenment happens only once, not multiple times. However, people can go through various changes, or new experiences in the course of practice. Such experiences may feel so unusual and fantastic that people often mistake them for enlightenment, saying that they have had multiple enlightenments. These are just phenomena that might happen to practitioners, not enlightenment. In the same way, every chick has new experiences and changes in the process of hatching, but it hatches only once.
All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway
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