What is enlightenment, according to the different buddhist traditions?

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I have a vague notion about Ch’an (Zen), which is to perceive and enjoy the uniqueness of everything.
Is this correct?
How about the other traditions?

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being illuminated by acquiring new wisdom or understanding… being enlightened it understanding life, pain and suffering…. and realizing what the circle of life is about…. some people see it in different ways so there is no clear cut meaning…. they say when you reach that point you go into a state known as nirvana…. and that is where this life ends…


First, it is always necessary to become familiar with the language of Buddhism, remembering that the goal of Zen is enlightenment, not just Zazen, in which case there is much to learn. If you are not familiar with the language of Buddhism how can your friends help you and teach you about the mysterious nature of Mind? If, for example, you don’t know what gold looks like, how can you begin your search? You need, for instance, to learn the Four Noble Truths (Chatvari ariya-sachchani), understanding what they mean. You need to know that the Four Noble Truths pertain to the nature of Mind, that when Mind blindly clings to its manifestations it comes to experience suffering, or the same, disharmony (dukkha). Beginners should be familiar with the canonical works of Buddhism called the Tripitakas. In addition they should read Mahayana scriptures of the Mahaprajnaparamita class, most important the Heart Sutra and the Diamond Cutter of Doubts. In addition, students should read the foundational Sutra of Zen Buddhism which is the Lankavatara Sutra. Other Sutras such as the Shurangama, the Vimalakirit Nirdesha, and the Shrimaladevi Sutra, are also extremely important to read. As for Zen texts in particular, it is important to read orthodox material such as the The Zen Teaching of Bodhidharma; The Platform Scripture by Hui Neng the Sixth Patriarch of Zen Buddhism; The Zen Teaching of Huang Po and The Zen Teaching of Hui Hai. Beginners should avoid modern books on Zen if they do not teach Mind doctrine. Beginners should first ground themselves in orthodox Zen classics and traditional Buddhist literature avoiding non-Mind doctrine publications. In so doing they will be able to reach the fruit of the path sooner and come to know the joy of breaking the bonds of rebirth. In reading proper and accepted books on Zen Buddhism there will be no error created either, and thus no future cause for regret. Historically, in China, Zen literature was by far the most widely published and read. Traditional Zen masters studied all the major Sutras and were very skilled in commenting on the arcane principles contained in the various Sutras. Beginners should understand that Zen Buddhism is the most direct teaching in Buddhism, and to become a members one must be want to be a member. Just like an University, Zen is only looking for a good people whom are intelligent, free from religious pride, non-hating, and compassionate, and above all are willing to learn the sublime doctrine of the Buddhas.
The Prerequisites and Understanding Necessary to Begin Ch’an Practise
1. The Objective of Ch’an Practice:
The objective of Ch’an practice is to illuminate the mind by eradicating its impurities and seeing into one’s true self-nature. The mind’s impurities are wrong thoughts and attachments. Self-nature is the wisdom and virtue of the Tathagata. The wisdom and virtue of Buddhas and sentient beings are not different from one another.
To experience this wisdom and virtue, leave, leave behind duality, discrimination, wrong thinking and attachment. This is Buddhahood.
If one cannot do this, then one remains an ordinary sentient being. It is because you and I are defiled that we have been wandering lost and confused through samsara for limitless kalpas; and that we cannot immediately cast off wrong thinking and see our original nature. For this reason we must practice Ch’an.
The prerequisite for Ch’an practice is to eradicate wrong thinking. Shakyamuni Buddha taught much on this subject. His simplest and most direct teaching is the word “stop” from the expression “stopping is Bodhi.” From the time when Bodhidharma transmitted Ch’an teachings to today, the winds of Ch’an have blown far and wide, shaking and illuminating the world. Among the many things that Bodhidharma and the Sixth Patriarch taught to those who came to study with them, none is more valuable than the saying, “Put-down all entangling conditions, let not one thought arise.” This expression is truly the prerequisite for the practice of Ch’an.
If you cannot fulfill this requirement, then not only will you fail to attain the ultimate goal of Ch’an practice, but you will not even be able to enter the door of Ch’an. How can you talk of practicing Ch’an if you are entangled by worldly phenomena with thought after thought arising and passing away?
2. Put Down All entangling conditions
“Put down all entangling conditions, let not one thought arise” is a prerequisite for the practice of Ch’an. Now that we know this, how do we accomplish it? The best practitioner, one of superior abilities, can stop all thoughts forever, arrive directly at the condition of non-arising, and instantly experience Bodhi. such a person is not
entangled by anything. The next best kind of practitioner users principle to cut off phenomena and realizes that self-nature is originally pure. Vexation and bodhi , Samsara and Nirvana — all are false names which have nothing to do with one’s self-nature. All things are dreams and illusions, like bubbles or reflections. Within self-nature, my body, made up of the four great earth itself are like bubbles in the sea, arising and disappearing, yet never obstructing the original surface. Do not bed captivated by the arising, abiding, changing and passing away of illusory phenomena, which give rise to pleasure and aversion, grasping and rejecting. Give up your whole body, as if you were dead, and the six sense organs, the six sense objecting. and the six sense organs, the six sense objects and the six sense consciousness will naturally disperse. Greed, hatred, ignorance and love will be destroyed. All the sensations of pain, suffering and pleasure which attend the body —hunger, cold, satiation, warmth, glory, insult, birth and death, calamity, prosperity, good and bad luck, praise, blame, gain and loss, safety and danger— will no longer be your concern. Only this can be considered true renunciation — when you put everything down forever. This is what is meant by renouncing all phenomena.
When all phenomena are renounced , wrong thoughts disappear, discrimination does not arise, and attachment is left behind. When thoughts no longer arise, the brightness of self-nature manifests itself completely. At this time you will have fulfilled the necessary conditions for Ch’an practice. Then, further hard work and sincere practice will enable you to illuminate the mind and see into your true nature.
3. Everyone Can Instantly Become a Buddha:
Many Ch’an practitioners ask questions about the Dharma. The Dharma that is spoken is not the true Dharma. As soon as you try to explain things, the true meaning is lost.When you realize that “one mind” is the Buddha, from that point on there is nothing more to do. Everything is already complete. All talk about practice or attainment is demonic deception. Bodhidharma’s “direct pointing at the mind, seeing into one’s nature and attaining Buddhahood” clearly instructs that all sentient beings are Buddhas. Once pure self-nature is recognized, one can harmonize with the environment yet remain undefiled. The mind will remain unified throughout the day, whether walking, standing, sitting or lying down. This is to already be a Buddha. At this point there is no need to put forth effort and be diligent. Any action is superfluous. No need to bother with the slightest thought or word. Therefore, to become a Buddha is the easiest, most unobstructed task. Do it by your-
self. do not seek outside yourself for it. All sentient beings — who wish to avoid rebirth for eternal kalpas in the four forms of birth and the six paths of existence; who eternally sink in the sea of suffering; and who vow to attain Buddhahood and the four virtues of Nirvana (eternity, joy, self, purity) —– can immediately attain Buddhahood if they wholly believe in the sincere words of the Buddha and the patriarchs, renounce everything, and think neither of beings, made by all the Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and patriarchs, is not a boast nor is it a baseless, empty vow.
The Dharma is exactly that.It has been elucidated again and again by the Buddha and the patriarchs. They have exhorted us with the truth. They do not deceive
us. Unfortunately, sentient beings are confused and for limitless kalpas they have experienced birth and death in the sea of suffering, appearing and disappearing, endlessly taking on new forms of life. dazed and confused, entangled in the worldly dust of the six senses with their backs to enlightenment, they are like pure gold in a cesspool. Because of the severity of the problem, Buddha compassionately taught 84,000 Dharma doors to accord with the varying karmic roots of sentient beings, so that sentient beings may use the methods to cure them-selves of 84,000 habits and faults, which include greed, hatred, ignorance and desire.
4. Investigating Ch’an and Contemplating Mind:
Our sect focuses on investigating Ch’an. The purpose of practicing Ch’an is to “Illuminate the mind and see into one’s true nature.” This investigation is also called ” Clearly realizing one’s self-mind and completely perceiving one’s original nature.” Since the time when Buddha held up a flower and Bodhidharma came to the East, the methods for entry into this Dharma door have continually evolved. Most Ch’an practitioners, before the Tang and Sung dynasties, became enlightened after hearing a word or half a sentence of the Dharma. The transmission from master to disciple was the sealing of Mind with Mind. There was no fixed Dharma. Everyday questions and answers only untied the bonds. It was nothing more than prescribing the right medicine for the right illness. After the Sung Dynasty, however, people did not have such good karmic roots as their predecessors. They could not carry out what had been said, For example, practitioners were taught to “Put down everything” and ” Not think about good and evil, “but they could not do it. They could not put down everything, and if they weren’t thinking about good, they were thinking about evil. Under these circumstances, the patriarchs had no choice but to use poison to fight poison, so they taught the method of investigating gong an [and hua to]. When one begins looking into a hua to, one must grasp it tightly, never letting go. It is like a mouse trying to chew its way out of a coffin. It concentrates on one point. It doesn’t try different places and it doesn’t stop until it gets through. Thus, in terms of hua to, the objective is to use one thought to eradicate innumerable other thoughts. This method is a last resort, just as if someone had been pierced by a poison arrow. drastic measures must be taken to cure the patient.
The ancients used gong ans, but later on practitioners started using hua tos. Some hua tos are: “Who is dragging this corpse around?” “Before you were born what was your original face?’ and, “Who is reciting Buddha’s name?’ In fact, all hua tos are the same. There is nothing uncommon, strange, or special about them. If you wanted to, you could say: “Who is reciting the sutras?” “Who is reciting the mantras? “Who is prostrating to the Buddha? ” Who is eating?” “Who is wearing these
clothes?” “Who’s walking?” “Who’s sleeping?” They’re all the same. The answer to the question “who” is derived from one’s Mind. Mind is the origin of all words. Thoughts come out of Mind ; Mind is the origin of all thoughts. Innumerable dharmas generate from the Mind ; Mind is the origin of all dharmas. In fact, hua to is a thought. Before a thought arises, there is the origin of words. Hence, looking into a hua to is contemplating Mind. There was Mind before your parents gave birth to you, so looking into your original face before you were born is contemplating Mind.
Self-nature is Mind. When one turns inward to hear one’s self-nature, one is Turning inward to contemplate Mind. In the phrase, “Perfectly
illuminating pure awareness,” pure awareness is Mind and illumination is contemplation. Mind is Buddha. When one recites Buddha’s name one contemplates Buddha. Contemplating Buddha is contemplating Mind.
Investigating hua to or “looking into who is reciting Buddha’s name” is contemplating Mind. Hence, contemplating Mind is illuminating pure awareness. It is also illuminating the Buddha-nature within oneself. Mind is nature, pure awareness, Buddha. Mind has no form, no characters, no directions; it cannot be found in any particular place. It cannot be grasped. Originally, Mind is purity, universally embracing all Dharma realms. No inn or out, no coming or going. Originally, Mind is pure Dharmakaya.
When investigating hua to , the practitioner should first close down all six sense organs and seek where thoughts arise. Practitioners should concentrate on the hua to until they see the pure original mind which is apart from thoughts. If one does this without interruption, the mind becomes fine, quiet tranquil, silently illuminating. At that moment the five skandhas are empty, body and mind are extinguished, nothing remains. From that point, walking, standing, sitting and lying down are all done motionlessly. In time the practice will deepen, and eventually practitioners will see their self-nature and become Buddhas and suffering will cease. A past patriarch named Gaofeng(1238-1295) once said: “You must contemplate hua to like a falling roof tile sinking endlessly down into a pond ten thousand feet deep. If in seven days you are not enlightened, I will give you permission to chop off my head. “These are the words of an experienced person. He did not speak lightly. His words are true.
Although many modem day practitioners use hua tos, few get enlightened. This is because compared to practitioners of the past, practitioners today have inferior karmic roots and less merit. Also, practitioners today are not clear about the purpose and path of hua to. Some practitioners search from east to west and north to
south until they die, but still do not penetrate even one hua to. They never understand or correctly approach the hua to. They only grasp the form and the words. They use their intellect and attach only to the tail of the words.
Hua to is One Mind.This mind is not inside, outside, or in the middle. On the other hand, it is inside, outside, and in the middle. It is like the stillness of empty space prevailing every where. hua to should not be picked up. Neither should it be pressed down. If you pick it up, your mind will waver and become unstable. If you
press it down you will become drowsy. These approaches are contrary to the nature of the original mind and are not in accordance with the Middle Path.
Practitioners are distressed by wandering thoughts. They think it is difficult to tame them. Don’t be afraid of wandering thoughts. Do not waste your energy trying to repress them. All you have to do is recognize them. Do not attach to wandering thoughts, do not follow them, and do not try to get rid of them. As long as you don’t string thoughts together, wandering thoughts will depart by themselves.
Your time would be far better spent looking into your own heart, asking yourself, “Am I enlightened? Have I made an end of suffering and stress?” If the answer is negative, then you have more work to do. When deciding whether to accept someone as your meditation teacher, instead of speculating on his or her degree of enlightenment, it’s much more fruitful to ask yourself, “Does this person seem to be truly happy? Does he or she live in line with the precepts? Does he or she communicate the Dhamma in ways that I can understand? Is his or her interpretation of Dhamma a valid one?”
It may take a long time of close association with someone before you can begin to answer these questions with any confidence. But once you do find someone possessing this rare constellation of qualities, stay with him or her: he or she probably has something of genuine value to teach you.
on enlightenment: Finally, one rule of thumb that I’ve found helpful: someone who goes around claiming to be enlightened probably isn’t – at least not in the sense the Buddha had in mind.
Nirvana is an ancient word. In Theravada scriptures, which are the most ancient, nirvana means the same as enlightenment. Sometimes you also find this in the Zen tradition (and Chinese Buddhism in general) because although Chinese Buddhism is Mahayana, its roots are also very ancient. However, in later Mahayana as it developed in India, enlightenment is a more advanced experience than nirvana. It’s developed after nirvana – it follows on from nirvana. (So you can see that “nirvana” doesn’t refer to an experience that happens only at death! There is life after the experience of nirvana, but now the person is not an “ordinary” person; he or she is re an Arya being, a Bodhisattva on the path to full enlightenment.)
Awakened is the translation of Bodhi. The Buddha – any Buddha – is “an awakened being”. Depending on whether you follow Theravada or Mahayana, “awakened” will refer to nirvana or to full enlightenment. In the meditation traditions (like Zen) you also find the words “awakened” and even “enlightened” used for the deep experiences that arise in meditation as you’re following the path. So in these traditions you can talk about a series of “enlightenments” or “awakenings” which eventually culminate in full and complete enlightenment.
Often in Mahayana we talk about Bodhi Mind (bodhicitta in Sanskrit) which means an advanced state of mind that is absolutely dedicated to achieving full and complete enlightenment in order to be able to benefit all sentient beings. Some translators translate this as “enlightening mind”, meaning a mind that is not yet completely enlightened but is steadily progressing towards that state.
Emptiness means “lack of inherent existence”. It’s the way everything – ourselves and all phenomena – actually exist. Nothing has a permanent unchanging nature. Everything we experience arises because of causes and conditions, and is thus constantly changing. To “realize emptiness” is to experience this true nature of existence directly. In some texts, this experience is described as nirvana or even enlightenment. But it’s not full enlightenment. However it’s a prerequisite of full and complete enlightenment. In fact none of the higher realizations can arise until the meditator has a direct realization of emptiness.
Emptiness is a very interesting and subtle subject, well worth studying in depth. You need to study it, to understand intellectually what emptiness really is, before you can achieve a realization of emptiness.
Cessation generally means the complete stopping of mental defilements. This can only happen when you have a true realization of emptiness. However you can experience the partial ceasing of defilements before that, and if you keep practising steadily, your defilements will become weaker and weaker so that when you do realize emptiness, you’ll be able to follow the rest of the path quite easily.
I hope this is some help. Naturally I’ve explained the terms from a Mahayana perspective, and in particular, from the viewpoint of the full flowering of Mahayana in India. Other people might explain some of these terms slightly differently.


Total Awareness.


“sista!” Has a very good answer and you should read her answer carefully. It will explain a great deal.
That said, I would like to add or perhaps simplify things a bit.
What is enlightenment? It is Bodhi or literally awakening. It is sometimes described as complete and perfect sanity, or awareness of the true nature of the universe and freedom from the cycle of Samsāra: birth, suffering, death and rebirth.
Enlightenment is awakening to and living in the Buddha mind, also called the Unborn mind. This is the part of us that is present at all times and knows what is right from wrong and is complete without having an ego. It is said to be unborn because all people have this mind from the time of our birth through the time of our death.
All beings have this mind we just need to learn to listed, or more accurately unlearn how to ignore it. A great Ch’an teacher was teaching a lesson in a field one day to his followers. After a long lecture he explained that enlightenment is always present and that all we must do is accept it for it to be ours. Just as how throughout the entire lesson a beautiful song had been playing and now one person had heard it. After a moment, he explained that there were two birds signing in the tree behind the congregation and they had not heard a single note because they were too focused on his words to hear anything else. Likewise, people become too focused on the lessons of the Dharma to achieve enlightenment.
Read more from a few of my favorite books: Like all Buddhist teachings, these books do NOT contain the answers, just arrows pointing to the answers.
Dharma Drum: The Life and Heart of Ch’an Practice by Master Sheng-Yen.
Bankei Zen – Translated by Peter Haskel.
Unborn: The Life and Teachings of Zen Master Bankei, 1622-1693 – Bankei Yotaku. Translated by Norman Waddell


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