Instant enlightenment or gradual?

Nov 23, 2020

QUESTION

Dear Venerable Robina,

Just a short note to say thank you very much for a most interesting and enlightening weekend retreat. I always enjoy your forthright approach to your teachings and would love to know where you obtain your incredible energy. 

You are very good and patient in explaining what are some quite complex concepts. Unfortunately sometimes my concentration slips and/or I have trouble in comprehending some of the fundamental principles. Clearly I need to hone my single-pointed meditation technique to develop better concentration and spend more time reading the most useful notes you provided.

I have one question. Another one of my gurus is a Zen philosopher, Alan Watts, who died in the early ’70s (not sure if I can call him a guru if he is no longer alive?). I have read a few of his books and listened to many of his podcasts. He has indicated that some Zen Buddhists can experience “satori” – instant enlightenment – at any time. Whereas the lineage of Buddhism you teach, if I am correct, appears to suggest “enlightenment” can only come about after many years or even lifetimes of study and devotion. The Zen path therefore appears, to use one of your very apt expressions, “pretty tasty.” 

To progress my own interest and path of learning, which path do you suggest I should focus upon – or does it really matter?

Thanks once again and you are very much in my thoughts and prayers.

J

ANSWER

Happy to hear from you, J. And glad to know the teachings were useful.

For sure, concentration is necessary, but so too is study — in any body of knowledge we need to learn the language. You can concentrate a much as you like as your cooking teacher tells you to use a teaspoon of this or a gram of that, but if you don’t know the meaning of those words, you can’t learn anything!

Yes, Alan Watts. Wonderful! I think we call anyone we’ve checked up on and whose teachings move our hearts our guru. It means “heavy with qualities” I’ve heard — we all need people like that!

I think whether we talk about instant enlightenment or gradual, my sense is it comes to the same thing. It will always be one particular moment in time when, let’s say, our understanding of emptiness becomes experiential. You can pin that moment down. So whether you think it was “instant” or that it’s the culmination of hard work, what’s the difference? I can’t see any.

As for which path you follow: you do what you think is most beneficial. 

So, dear J, keep moving! 

All the best,
Robina

QUESTION

Thanks Robina.

I really appreciate your reply. Long may you continue your teachings and in so doing help make this world a better place for all.

I will follow your progress with great interest.

Best wishes,
J

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