Singular vs Multiple Types of Awakening
There are multiple age-old debates within Buddhism and between Buddhism and some of the other insight traditions about whether or not everyone gets to the same realization in the end if they take things far enough. While this tends to break down along No-Self vs. True Self lines, there are actually many other varieties of subtle and overt conflict between the traditions and theories.
I should state from the beginning that I am biased towards answering the question this way: “There are multiple paths to the same fundamental understanding, and that fundamental understanding may be expressed various ways, but that doesn’t change the basic fact of what that fundamental understanding is. That said, the different techniques, approaches and emphases may produce different peripheral skill sets and appreciations of things along the way as well as different shadow sides and problems.”
However, plenty of very smart, highly realized beings have explicitly stated otherwise.
Some of the classic debates are the following:
- The Buddha clearly put his understanding above all others except previous and future Buddhas, stating that he was an arahat but one better, having not just completely understood the truth of things, as arahats had, but completely understood “to the very end”, whatever that means.
- There is constant conflict between the sudden realization schools of Zen and the progressive schools, with some Zen schools stating that their first hit of realization was the last one and it was somehow different from those who are arahats while at the same time being exactly the same as the Buddhas. Theravadans tend to think they just got stream entry if they were lucky or just crossed the A&P if they are not, but the Zen kids definitely seem to be saying that in one hit they got the whole thing and a different thing, which is in marked contrast to the progressive models.
- The descriptions of certain aspects of the Hindu models, which tend to emphasize things like The I Am,The Eternal Watcher, and the like is markedly different in some ways from the more classic emptiness, no-self, absolute transience models of the Theravadans. The Tibetans tend to walk back and forth between these two, with concepts like Shunyata contrasted with concepts like Maha Ati, with seemingly conflicting emphases on transience and absolute stability.
As there have been some undercurrents here regarding these issues that have run through some other threads, I thought we should have a place to debate these things more formally and specifically, so that the points of controversy and convergence may be known.
- There area all sorts of debates about the relative implications of the models of awakening, as I outline in MCTB, with some schools promising little and others promising amazing things, including profound morality, powers and even things like omniscience.
These are not just esoteric debates. They have real and profound implications for practice.
The Theravadans would say things like: “The teachings of parallel or divergent tracks are all preposterous. Reality is the way reality is, and you understand this or you don’t. Further the teachings of anything being stable are dangerous traps that cause people to artificially solidity things into jhanic states and cause anagamis to get caught in their fantastic dreams of some subtle transcendent but eternal emptiness-self and thus not finally crack the thing.”
The more non-dual traditions might reply, “Bahut pagalpan hai! (This is much madness!) You emptiness and transience fixated kids miss something profound and have no idea what you are talking about. We have the true teaching and the true path and understanding, while you miss out on something great. This is the true path of love and light.”
Thus, in the spirit of the Dharma Overground, I encourage this difficult and age-old topic to be debated with skill and vigor, with an eye to how it actually impacts both the practice and the result. When possible, keep it focused on what you actually know and what we can actually do and how to do it.