Buddha statue quiet lake
Ten Stages of Enlightenment
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Ten Stages of Enlightenment (29 min.) MP3
Transcript of a talk delivered by Brother ChiSing
November 2, 2014 - Dallas, Texas

Thank you, dear friends, for your practice. Last time I spoke, I talked about the five hindrances, and before that we talked about the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path. I think I'm going to do the ten stages of enlightenment. This is not literal, and they are not sequential. I had a very deep insight experience in my practice a few years ago. I understood something about the nature of reality, and I shared with one of my Zen teachers in Minnesota, and she said, "Yes. That is a correct understanding."

So I have never seen anyone talk about it in this particular way, both the universal truth and also unique to me, because that is the way it is, isn't it? When we wake up to truth, we are going to wake up to universal truth, but in our own unique way, and that is why we need to practice as a community, because even though we are all waking up to one universal truth, the way we wake up to it and how we understand it has unique flavors, and we want to honor the uniqueness of each person's practice.

See, this is also about balance. You want to honor the one universal truth, but you also want to honor each individual's particular flavoring, so to speak, you know? It is kind of like there is rice, and you can cook it so many ways with so many spices. It is the same thing.

So, number one, I realized that we all start off in perfection and innocence. So, if you could call it your original nature, your original perfection, innocence, whatever. That is actually our origin. We are not a mistake. However, very soon after we come into earth life, we start to feel suffering, and maybe we feel lost. Maybe we feel confusion, anger, delusion, etc.

So very, very soon after we come to this life, even though we may come from purity of innocence and a Buddha nature, yet coming into this life here, we soon experience suffering and feeling lost or delusion. But then, out of the suffering, most of us don't just want to say there. We tend to seek a solution, so we are always seeking some sort of way to not suffer, some sort of way to feel centered and the truth rather than the lost, some way to open up to the truth and wisdom instead of being deluded. So, many of us find that there is something inside of us that isn't satisfied with just the state of suffering, but rather to find a solution.

It is just like the Buddha. He saw suffering, and he saw birth and death and sickness and old age, and he wasn't satisfied just seeing that. He wanted to find a way to understand it and solve his problem. Then, after some time seeking some other kinds of ways, some of us find a path to commit to, some sort of spiritual practice perhaps. And then eventually, I'll say we commit to spiritual practice or spirituality.

For example, many of us in this culture, we might have committed to going to church, reading the Bible, prayer, praise and worship, or whatever. Maybe tied in to the church or whatever is going on. Just committing to your spiritual community or spiritual practice in some way, that might be one way of doing it.

But then eventually, you might start to feel there is something missing still, just reading a book, even though it may be scriptural does not seem to fulfill you as much or just prayer by itself doesn't seem to meet that inner need. You may start feeling something deeper is necessary, and so that is when all of you stumbled onto the practice of meditation. It doesn't necessarily have to be meditation itself. It could be other kinds of things similar, but I will just say meditation, and I will parentheses it mind cultivation.

When I say mind, I don't mean your logical mathematical mind. I mean your deeper heart mind, your consciousness. So maybe I should just call it consciousness cultivation. You finally find something such as meditation or chanting or whatever it is that you have found that help to to cultivate your consciousness, to bring samadhi to your mind, to bring oneness of body and mind, to bring mindfulness and concentration and insight into your mind. So you start practicing that.

Then you start having breakthrough experiences. You deepen as you continue this practice of meditation more consistently and more regularly, especially if you do the three things that I have shared: daily home practice, weekly group practice, and then occasional retreat practice for several days. If you do all three, it makes it easier for you to have these spontaneous breakthroughs that can come from this practice.

So in my life, I have always been a seeker type person ever since I was a little child. I always asked questions at church. Sometimes the Sunday school teacher kind of got fed up with me because I asked so many questions, but I was always curious, and I was always thinking, and I was also very, very religious, so I really committed to what I knew as a child, and so as a child and teenager, I was very dedicated to going to church and reading my Bible and praying and doing all those other things.

But as I was a young adult, I started to explore the different kinds of spiritual traditions, and I started to realize that there is actually a whole lot out there that can be also very helpful too, besides what I grew up with. And I tried different things, and I went to all different kinds of things. And I enjoyed the creativity and the arts and music and all of that as well, expressive arts.

That was very helpful, but I still felt like there was something missing, and that was meditation, and it was because of Thich Nhat Hanh, reading one of his books and going to a retreat with him, that I was convinced that this was the missing piece I was looking for, the practice of mindfulness and meditation to help me cultivate this mind, my heart mind. And so, then I began to practice meditation.

In the first few years, I wasn't very consistent. I didn't always go to the group. Sometimes I thought, I don't like this group. Or I don't like the leader of that group, or I don't like the way they do this group. So I would just pop around to different groups to try to find one that I liked, and finally I found three that I was okay with. You don't have to find the perfect group. Just find one good enough, okay?

Find more than one, because sometimes when you go out of town, you skip a week, then you still other days of the week that you can go to another group. So here, if you can come on Sunday or Tuesday or Wednesday with Bobbie or whatever other groups there are here. That way you are always guaranteed you are at least going there once a week, which is nice. And I have been doing that for years now, and because I am the leader of groups, I also try to go to things that I am not a leader of. So think that is very important for people who are leaders to go to something that nourishes you where you are not leaving it. Otherwise, you're going to burn yourself out. So I actually go to more than one group because I also go to things where I am not leaving so I can just do the practice for myself.

So anyway, because how many years has it been now? I don't know, 14 years of practice. Over the years, I have had several different kinds of breakthroughs, and so some of these breakthroughs are just very simple breakthroughs like a little aha moment or just the heart opening to love. And some of these periods is are very powerful breakthrough experiences, where my whole being is filled with light and love, and I feel expansive and I feel the oneness of the whole universe. There are different various degrees of breakthroughs.

The important thing about breakthroughs is just enjoy them when they happen, but don't cling to them and don't try to make them happen again. You know, oh my gosh, that felt so good. I want to do it again. Don't do that. You can't predict the breakthroughs. They just come whenever they come.

I had a very, very major breakthrough a few years ago, and I don't know that I have had anything big like that since then. There have been times when I think to myself gosh, it sure would be nice to have another one like that sometime soon. But I smile at myself. It is like all of whatever is happening is always for my good, you know? So when I go through dry spells or just having to go through my practice without necessarily any things happening, that is also good for me because it cultivates patience and discipline and steadiness. Because if you are always clinging to the highs of your practice, that does not give you the kind of discipline that you need. You are sort of on an emotional roller coaster, always dependent on the highs.

Now, if you're never having a breakthrough, you might want to look at your practice again because you should be having some experiences of peace or love or joy. So there is a balance there. At some point in your life, and it may not happen in this lifetime—you never know, but I hope it does for you—is you will have an awakening. And I mean this in a deeper way than just a breakthrough, so in Zen we call it kensho, to see true nature, and in Zen, if you have basically the big final kind of awakening, we call that enlightenment or satori. But you can have a small awakening or several of them before you have that big final one, if at all in this lifetime. And you may not even have this in this lifetime. That is okay, too. Just enjoy your breakthroughs.

In the awakening experience—I don't want to talk too much about that. It is better to just experience it. You should always talk to a certified Zen teacher about your experience if you feel that you had this. In this particular awakening, it is not just a breakthrough. It is not just being filled with love or joy or oneness. It is awakening out of the identification with the self altogether, and it is just awakening back to remembering oh yes, there is only this. There is not a separate self at all. So that is all I will say about it. It is not something you want to really talk about or think about. It is qualitatively different from a breakthrough. It is a glimpse of enlightenment. It is a glimpse of your true nature, which is not separate at all, which is your being. So it is just pure existence.

But that is not the end. Some people have a spontaneous awakening without any spiritual practice. That happens. Some people have an experience, maybe because they did spiritual practices in previous lives, and therefore it takes fruition in this life without seemingly looking like they had to do anything to have it. Or they may have had some sort of herbal experience from certain plants that blew their mind open to just a few seconds of this reality of no separation, no self.

That is possible, too, but that is not the end of our journey at all. Just because you have glimpsed that reality doesn't mean that you have made the reality firmly rooted in your life and manifesting it in every area of your life. You see? There's a difference between a glimpse of enlightenment and enlightenment. So many people can have a glimpse, and the safest way to have a glimpse is through spiritual practice and in community and with the teacher. That is the safest way to have an awakening.

But it is okay to have awakenings other ways, too, spontaneously while hiking on a mountaintop or taking whatever plants. But the problem is you are easily confused by the experience because you don't really understand how to relate it to the rest of your life. It is like this thing that happens and you don't know what to do with it. That is why it is better to have these awakenings in the context of the practice because then you know what to do, which is number eight or nine.

You want to integrate this awakening to your true Buddha nature with your human nature. You want to integrate that so that it is not like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, two separate personalities. You want to have one integrated nature where the Buddha nature and human nature are cooperating together. And as you integrate, you begin to embody the integration.

Really integration and embodiment are one step, but I divided it into two because I wanted to clarify for most of us, embodying the qualities of love and compassion and joy and equanimity and wisdom and all that, it usually does have a phase where it is kind of rough going, where it is integrating, and integration is not easy, because sometimes it is like you just came off of cloud nine, and then you have to do the dishes. Or you just came out of a meditation state of pure bliss and oneness, and now you have to change the diapers of the crying baby or whatever. It does feel weird at first to come out of this cosmic consciousness and then you have got to clean the toilet and prepare the dinner. It is kind of funny. It feels funny.

But our practice is don't separate the two, but make them mindfully one. So there shouldn't be Buddha nature is one thing and human nature is another. No, no, no. That is not the point. The point is to bring them together. Buddha nature is cooking the dinner. Buddha nature is changing the diaper. It is Buddha who is washing the dishes. You see? So does not like being a Buddha, I can just sit on a lotus flower and be all beautiful and radiant for the rest of my life. No. That is not what Buddha really does. Buddha does the dishes, changes the diapers, does the groceries. That is what Buddha is for. Buddha is a practical term.

See, most of us think Buddha is this spiritual term of someone who is above and beyond all of this worldly stuff, but that is not actually what the word Buddha means. Buddha always implies somebody who is a teacher, who shares, who helps, who serves. So it is the same thing that we did the word Christ. We think of the word Christ as the Lord of the universe and all of that, but you know what? The word Christ means anointed. Anointed to what? To serve. So really, the word Christ means servant, and the same is true with the word Buddha. Buddha means servant.

So we kind of screwed up these words, and we make them into words that means King and Lord and sovereign, and really they mean servant, helper, teacher, beloved, friend. So anyway, that is our role, is to integrate so that we become the embodiments of this awakening, so that we can be like Mother Teresa or Dipa Ma, who is a Buddhist saint who lived near India. And people who were around them said that they emanated love and wisdom and healing energy and power.

Dipa Ma is my favorite Buddhist saint, even though I have never met her before. But I feel so touched by her life story. People said that when they would come visit her in her small little house, the moment they started walking up the stairs, they could feel the energy radiating from the apartment. And when they came in through the door, the first thing she would do, she would do a five-minute Blessing and put her hands on your head and just pray over you blessings, loving kindness, metta, and just a lot of people said that they would feel warm energy just flood their whole body as she did that.

So she is the true embodiment of wisdom and compassion, and that is what we want to do in our own of practice and lives, too. So be careful not to get stuck on your breakthroughs and awakenings as if they are trophies. Look, I had an experience. I am so important. Actually, that is ego disguising itself, trying to understand your real awakening.

So then, tenth is Buddhahood, when you are fully awake. But it is actually not true to even put it at stage ten, because it is forever. It never ends. You don't ever have a final awakening actually. But you could have a definitively final one where you basically become a Buddha, but even Buddhas continue to expand or grow, and so enlightenment never ends. That is what Thich Nhat Hanh says. Enlightenment never ends, always continues to expand.

But what I will say is there is a part of us as Buddha nature that has purposefully chosen to enter into the realm of delusion and suffering on purpose, all of us. It is not a mistake. We purposefully wanted to do this because without stage two, coming into suffering and the loss and delusion, we can't do all of these other things and reach stages seven, eight, nine, and ten. It is because of our being lost that we become unique Buddhas.

So, in stage one, we are just one undifferentiated of Buddha nature, but in stage ten, we are the same, but with a difference. We are still Buddha nature, but now it is Buddha nature expressing as millions and billions of who Buddhas, unique Buddhas of different personality types and different flavors, right? So the whole purpose of the universe is to go from just being one undifferentiated non-dual Buddha nature to ending up with billions and billions of infinite numbers of Buddhas of various kinds, all of us unique and special, one-of-a-kind.

But to do that, it is important we need to go through this process, and to get through this process, we have to realize that this is very important. We cannot reject it. We cannot reject our suffering as if it is a mistake. We need to learn how to embrace it but remember, this is not sequential necessarily, because you can do this in different kind of orders. So you can go from suffering directly to an awakening, but then because you didn't do all the other stuff, you're going to have to do this in other ways in order to integrate and embody it.

So if you skip anything, you have to go back and do some of those things, but it is possible to go from suffering to awakening. Some people have done that, like Byron Katie and Eckhart Tolle, at least in this lifetime. But they probably did spiritual practice in previous lives. You never know. But as for your question, we come into our particular life circumstances with this, I believe, even the parts that feel like suffering and delusions. It has a purpose. It helps us to cultivate that part of us that wants to seek a way out. Because of that part of us that seeks, that is the part of us that makes all of this possible to grow.

So do not hate your suffering and feeling lost in delusion. Of course, you can have this feeling throughout the entire process. I come back to this a lot, even though I may have had an awakening, or I am trying to integrate or whatever. It is like I still have suffering, and I still feel lost. There is still delusion there. But this is the major ingredient we work with to create our unique Buddhaness, you see?

So, it doesn't matter what kind of circumstance you find yourself in, with Alzheimer's or cancer or just feeling lost or what ever. Whatever it is, you can use it to become a Buddha. In fact, it is there on purpose to help you become a Buddha in the sense that even someone who has Alzheimer's, even though they have lost their external mind, it seems, still internally there is still Buddha consciousness in there, and whatever choices that individual makes in response, that is what determines the growth, whatever choices we make.

So even if you are born into a fundamentalist religious family, it doesn't matter whether you choose to stay in that religious system or not. That is not really what matters. What matters is how would you take what you have been given and how you use it. Do you use your religious fundamentalism to further love and compassion, understanding, or are you using it to hide behind judgementalism, hypocrisy? Do you see what I'm saying? So it doesn't matter. Whatever circumstances, whether you have full health or half health or full mind or Alzheimer's mind, whatever the circumstances, what matters is how you utilize it.

So, I will just conclude now with saying our spiritual practice, up until stage six, would be the spiritual aspect of basically becoming happy. And awakening would be becoming enlightened, and eight and nine and ten would be manifesting and serving the world. So these three aspects of spiritual practice: become happy, become enlightened, and to manifest world peace and service to all beings. So if you think of your spiritual practice, you could categorize your spiritual practices in one of these three areas. Is it to help you to be happy, or is it to help you become enlightened, or is it helping you to manifest, to serve? So you can broadly categorized spiritual practices in those three areas. There may be more, too, but anyway.

Okay. So I hope this was helpful to you in some way. The main point of this is, don't get stuck on your breakthroughs. Just keep going, and don't get all frantic and upset that there is something with the process. It's part of the process. It's not a mistake.

Thank you.

Transcribed by Jessica Hitch

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