August 05th, 2023

Q: You say that the two categories of sudden enlightenment and gradual practice are guidelines followed by all sages. If enlightenment is sudden, what is the need for gradual practice? If practice is gradual, why speak of sudden enlightenment? Please explain the meanings of sudden and gradual further to eliminate remaining doubts.

A: As for sudden enlightenment, as long as ordinary people are deluded, they think their bodies are material conglomerates and their minds are random thoughts. They do not know that inherent essence is the true body of reality. They do not know that their own open awareness is the real Buddha. Seeking Buddha outside of mind, they run randomly from one impulse to another.

If a real teacher points out a way of entry for you, and for a single instant you turn your attention around, you can see your own original essence. This essence originally has no afflictions; uncontaminated wisdom is inherently complete in it. Then you are no different from the Buddhas; thus it is called sudden enlightenment.

As for gradual practice, having suddenly realized fundamental essence, no different from Buddha, beginningless mental habits are hard to get rid of all at once. Therefore one cultivates practice based on enlightenment, gradually cultivating the attainment of perfection, nurturing the embryo of sagehood.

Master Chinul (1158-1210)