Can You Do It?

...the Wanderling

There are several classic records of Zen histories such as Ching Te Ch'uan Teng Lu (Record of the Transmission of the Lamp); Tsu T'ang Chi (Collection from the Halls of Ancestors); Wu Teng Hui Yan (Five Lamps Merged in the Source); and Ku Tsun Su Yu Lu (Records of Sayings of Ancient Venerable Adepts) that together compile information on well over 600 Zen masters. Among the masters cited within the texts, for example, are Kuei Shan (771-853) whose community numbered 1500 and produced 43 Enlightened disciples (2.8%). Hsueh Feng (822-908) 1500 community followers, 56 Enlightened disciples (3.7%). Fa Yen Wen I (885-958) never less than 1000 followers and 63 Enlightened disciples (6.3%). Yun Chu (d. 908) led a community of 1500 and produced 28 Enlightened disciples (1.8%).

Poor old Zen masters, if only they had known the secret of the internet. A major league coach or manager with such poor percentage ratings wouldn't even be relegated to the fields to help Tung Shan weigh three chins of flax. It should be noted however, that before the days of the internet, back in the old days of exclusively snail mail, there was a man, a higly Attained yet throughly anonymous American Zen master by the name of Alfred Pulyan, that maintained what could only be called a mail order following. It is reported that he had a 70% success rate.

From the days of snail mail to the days of the internet things seemed to have speeded up. But have they? There is only one case duly noted among all the internet through the internet, a child of the Cyber-Sangha found as Number 9 in the link at the bottom of the page titled The Awakening Experience in the Modern Era.

Back in the old days Enlightenment was a rare and difficult endeavor. Even for the Buddha it wasn't easy. After following several teachers initially, he turned to a path of individual asceticism, experiencing various tortures and austerities along the way including a prolonged period of fasting and battling the evils of Mara. Eventually a young girl variously called Sujata or Nandabala in the sutras offered him a rice-milk gruel, and from his emaciated state slowly regained his strength. He then began meditating. With a total of six or seven years invested, on the morning of December 8th sitting under the Bodhi Tree, he glanced up and saw what some say was the planet Venus and others say was a star, and experienced what is called Anuttara Samyak Sambodhi, the Consummation of Incomparable Enlightenment.

Nowdays however, it seems everywhere you go all over the whole internet in Zen or Buddhist related areas EVERYONE is Enlightened. If you go to various newsgroups such as alt.zen, alt.philosophy.zen, etc.; to the hundreds of web pages that come up when you type in Zen, Zen Enlightenment, Enlightenment, Buddhism, etc.; or to the message boards such as Excite, Lycos, or Yahoo under such headings as Religion, Buddhism, Zen, etc.; everyone is Enlightened. And, if for some untold reason YOU happen to be one of the few people left in the world that is NOT Enlightened, then the internet offers a million easy ways for YOU or any other poor soul to attain the ultimate Enlightenment experience. In so saying, the following six examples have been culled from the net, some very good, some offered in jest, some offered to consider seriously --- all with the same result in mind, ENLIGHTENMENT:

In a more serious vein, how about nothing less than a well placed gaze from a truly Enlightened guru? It was no more than simple eye contact for the young boy below, who within an hour of his face-to-face meeting with a venerated Indian holy man, that his mental barriers were reduced to nothingness:


So, is there anything really the matter with any or all of the above? Isn't it written that when the Sixth Patriarch of Zen, Hui-neng (638-713), was a very young boy and in town selling firewood for his mother oneday he experienced a level of Realization when he overheard a portion of The Diamond Cutter Sutra? Also too, didn't Sri Ramana Maharshi awaken to the Absolute basically out of nowhere at age 17 or so. Hui-neng himself in his The Sutra of Hui Neng" (Chapter II, On Prajna) said:

The wisdom of Enlightenment is inherent in every one of us. It is because of the delusion under which our mind works that we fail to realize it ourselves, and that we have to seek the advice and the guidance of Enlightened ones before we can know our own Essence of Mind. You should know that so far as Buddha-nature is concerned there is no difference in an Enlightened person and an ingnorant one. What makes the difference is one realizes it, while the other is ignorant of it.

"The wisdom of Enlightenment is inherent in every one of us." From that it is taken that everyone is Enlightened. Upon meeting Hui-neng for the first time, Hung Jen, the Fifth Patriarch, immediately recognized (although did not announce) Hui-neng's Attainment, thereby setting the scene for the transfer of the patriarchship and the bowl and robe signifying same.

At the time it is said Hung Jen had some 700 followers including his potential replacement Shen-hsiu (605-706). Of course, since the oft heard 'all are Enlightened' statement is law, Hung Jen could have just set the robe and bowl on the floor of the meditation hall or out on the grounds and let the first stumbling dolt to trip over them become the Sixth Patriarch. He didn't. Instead he staged the now classical stanza competition wherein the lowly rice pounder Hui-neng composed a stanza and obtained the efforts of an accomplice to write it, overshadowing the stanza presented previously by the venerated head monk and heir apparent Shen-hsiu.

Dogen Zenji (1200-53) credited with founding the Soto School of Zen and the author of the Shobogenzo, struggled with the problem of Original Awakening, that is, an awakening fundemental or innate in everyone, and Acquired Awakening, an awakening attained or acquired through practice. Dogen rejected both, breaking through the relativity of original and acquired, opening up a deeper ground. He wrote: "The principle of the Buddha-nature is that it is not endowed prior to Enlightenment...the Buddha-nature is unquestionably realized simultaneously with Enlightenment." The Shobogenzo eloaborates quite lucidly his concerns with the matter, written by him in an Enlightened state following his own Realization under the guidance of Chinese Zen Master Ju-ching (1163-1228).

Dogen does not maintain there is any ultimate difference between cultivation and authentication, or between Original and Acquired Enlightenment. Hence, Dogen would not want to say that he is describing "Zen consciousness" or "Enlightened consciousness" to the exclusion of "ordinary consciousness."

Fundamentally, our experience as experienced is not different from the Zen master's. Where we differ is that we place a particular kind of conceptual overlay onto that experience and then proceed to make an emotional investment in that overlay, taking it to be "real" in and of itself rather than to be an "expression" of the "occasion" in which we think or talk about the given experience. In a sense, we have a double layered description:

  • First, there is the prereflective, not yet conceptualized, experience--what we all share, Zen master and the rest of us alike.

  • Second, there is the expression or characterization of any experience within a particular situation or occasion.

If the speaker brings no personal, egotistic delusions into this expression, the occasion speaks for itself, the total situation alone determines what is said or done. Thus, in the case of the Zen master, what-is-said is simply what-is. In the case of the deluded person, however, the "what-is" includes his excess conceptual baggage with its affective components, the deluded ideas about the nature of "self," "thing," "time," and so on that constitute the person's own particular distortion of what actually is. (source)

Traditions reveal that Mahakashypa was the Buddha's successor. He smiled when Shakyamuni raised the flower on Vulture Peak and was recognized as such. Shakyamuni's brother, some say his cousin, Ananda followed as Mahakashypa's successor. It is written Ananda, born on the day Shakyamuni Awakened beneath the Bodhi Tree, served the Buddha twenty years and twenty more, Mahakashypa. Forty years of discipleship, twenty under the direct radiance of the Buddha himself, twenty under the Buddha's handpicked Enlightened successor before recognization of Awakeness. Poor thick-headed Ananda, not at all like nearly every doofus that comes down the cyber-pike nowdays oozing with Anuttara Samyak Sambodhi.

Aziz Kristof, a non-traditional Advaita Zen master writes:

Many seekers seem to be unaware of a very simple fact that there are actually many levels of Self-realization as exemplified in the Eight Jhana States, the Wu Keng Chuan (Five Degrees of Tozan) and the Five Varieties of Zen. There is an enormous difference between initial Awakening such as say Kensho and the actual State of Enlightenment. (source)

Not to mention the Three Phases of Zen or the Ten Fetters of Buddhism.

For those so interested there is an absolutely fabulous article written by Alex Bunardzic that, following a heated debate amongst alt.zen particpants about Enlightenment, originally appearing in three parts, that can be read in it's entirety by going to:


Fundamentally, our experience as experienced is not different from the Zen master's. Where
we differ is that we place a fog, a particular kind of conceptual overlay onto that experience
and then make an emotional investment in that overlay, taking it to be "real" in and of itself.