Home Discussion Forum What are the differences in Enlightenment in Buddhism, like Tibetan and Zen?

What are the differences in Enlightenment in Buddhism, like Tibetan and Zen?

The concept of Enlightenment is not the same in the various sects of Buddhism. So What are the Differences in Enlightenment between them? How is one groups Enlightenment more authentic than another? How can someone tell who is really Enlightened in those sects? And if someone is supposedly Enlightened in Zen are they really Enlightened according to the Tibetans? And Vice Versa?


  1. Bodhi(Enlightenment) in Buddhism specifically means the awakening experience attained by Gautama Buddha and his accomplished disciples and refers to the unique consciousness of a fully liberated yogi. Bodhi is sometimes described as complete and perfect sanity, or awareness of the true nature of the universe.
    D.T. Suzuki asserted that satori (awakening) has always been the goal of every school of Buddhism, but that which distinguished the Zen tradition as it developed in China, Korea, and Japan was a way of life radically different from that of Indian Buddhists. In India, the tradition of the mendicant (bhikkhu) prevailed, but in China social circumstances led to the development of a temple and training-center system in which the abbot and the monks all performed mundane tasks. These included food gardening or farming, carpentry, architecture, housekeeping, administration, and the practice of folk medicine. Consequently, the enlightenment sought in Zen had to stand up well to the demands and potential frustrations of everyday life.
    Tibetan Buddhist doctrines unite a seemingly diverse group of practices as as to offer a variety of ways to truth and enlightenment. These practices involve the use of tantra and yoga. Yoga used as a way to enhance concentration.

  2. I’m not sure it’s useful to approach Enlightenment as a “concept.” Experiences of awakening are, well, experiences, rather than concepts, and they’re ones that are typically uncovered and allowed precisely by stepping out from under philosophical notions and ideas.
    There are of course a wealth of different practices and techniques, but the kind of deeply considered explorations in both traditions you mention by name, Zen and Tibetan Buddhism, … well, the worth and value of such experiences speak for themselves for those who have them.
    I don’t think your question is without meaning, but in the end It’s a little like asking what are the differences in “honesty” in Buddhism.

  3. As said from the first answer Bodhi is sometimes described as complete and perfect sanity, or awareness of the true nature of the universe. According to the wikipedia “The Zen Buddhist experience commonly recognizes enlightenment as a transitory thing in life, almost synonymous with the English term epiphany, and satori is the realization of a state of epiphanic enlightenment.”
    SO by text book you have your answer between what is written.
    To answer your questions; among Buddhists asking who is more or less enlightened, what sect is or not more than another, or which path is more correct or not, can be compared to staring directly at the sun and asking is it really so bright

  4. The answer to your question lies in the definitions of a couple of key words and phrases, but since these terms and nomenclature can vary from one author to another, they naturally vary from one sect to another, one “vehicle” to another, one lineage to another, and one philosophical tenet system to another. Of these, there are four; but while both the Zen and Tibetan tradition can be counted as Mahayana Buddhism, their underlying philosophical basis is different. Zen follows more closely the Mind-Only School, whereas the Tibetan traditions are Middle Way Schools. So, what is enlightenment? It is the unsurpassable, true, complete enlightenment of a Buddha. These are distinct qualities of enlightenment and depend almost exclusively on ultimate truth and ultimate bodhicitta for its actualization because these two factors are imperative for the removal of the imprints of imprints of the afflictions, or obstructions to omniscience; whereas the obscurations can be eradicated and the level of Hinayana foe destroyer attained with the three higher trainings and the subsequent calm-abiding and insight into the nature of reality. Paramount to these understandings is the interwoven application of the two truths of the nature of conventional and ultimate reality and the four noble truths, as well as the twelve links of dependent-arising. One definite delineation between Zen and Tibetan traditions is study, and the Tibetan traditions require a lot of study, memorization, recitation of texts and debate whereas the Zen tradition requires a lot of za-zen and even (seemingly) menial tasks as a means of accomplishment of the goal. One saying of the Zen tradition comes to mind – “Before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water; after enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.” Needless to say, I don’t know the difference, but certainly, both of these wisdom traditions have a lot to offer to those who practice them, because they would not have survived this long were there not some benefit to be gained by adherents.

  5. All of the above answers are excellent, and it is important to realize that regardless of sect or tradition the differences in practice are generally not a subject of debate amongst Buddhists. In fact, many Buddhists prefer to gain insight through exploring and respecting other traditions.
    As far as whether one being is enlightened according to values of another tradition, does not make sense to me, as attainment is not like getting a merit badge, or a special hat to wear declaring “Enlightened One”.
    I hope this makes sense as it is very ‘stream of consciousness’ writing.


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