Actually, most of us have not even truly started on the path to enlightenment. There are too many Buddhists who have practised for more than 20 to 30 years who have not even reached the First Level of Bodhisattvahood. This includes students whom Grand Master said provided the “right” answers to his questions on Zen Buddhism; they have not even entered the true path yet, who are still far from the attainment of Buddhahood.
Many have mistaken intellectual understanding of enlightenment for the true attainment of Buddhahood. Actually, it is far from it! The past Zen patriarchs never claimed that they had attained Buddhahood, including the famous 6th Zen Patriarch, Hui Neng. “Attainment of Buddhahood in a single lifetime” does not exist in Zen Buddhism; it is exclusive to Vajrayana Buddhism. Neither does it exist in the Sutrayana Buddhism which advocates that Buddhahood can only be attained after practicing for three big eons.
Zen Buddhism only advocates that “One’s mind is essentially the Buddha”. Some people opined that Master Hui Neng had only reached the First Level of Buddhisattvahood. Zen Buddhism lacks a clear stage of the path; you can’t tell whether you have practiced correctly, unless you can be verified by a highly enlightened Zen Master. From the Zen parables, we know that there is no clear stage of the path in Zen Buddhism; this is a difficult method. Zen mainly talks about intellectual enlightenment, which does not equate to true enlightenment. That is the reason why the Vajrayanists do not advocate Zen and that Zen gradually became less popular today. There were indeed few accomplished Zen masters in the history of Zen Buddhism. Instead, many Zen students became “crazy Zen” in the end. That’s the danger of Zen.
There is a clear stage of the path in Vajrayana Buddhism – this is no trivial matter. According to this book entitled “The Blue Print of Buddhahood” by H.E Thrangu Rinpoche, we have not even entered the Path of the Boddhisattva. According to this book, we must abandon our families, our jobs, our money and practise deep in the mountains in order to do so. Tibetan practitioners did just that, but that is just the initial stage of the practice. Instead, we cling on tightly to our worldly possessions, our jobs, our spouse, our money, our parents, our kids; so we are still practicing outside of the path. There are few who practiced with vigour at the beginning but became slacken over time. It is indeed not easy to persevere. It is easy to understand the theories but difficult to apply them in practice. Does it mean that we should just give up then? No! It is fortunate that you have not given up on it still.
In my opinion, there are too many practitioners practicing outside the path. Some of them became very arrogant after practicing for a period, who are fond of debating with others on the Internet. They are even worst because they have become more egoistic, arrogant and self-centered after embarking on the practice. This is the degeneration age when the practice has become very difficult. However, you cannot give up the practice or you will forever remain an ordinary person. If you do the practice, you will still stand a chance of attaining enlightenment one day. No matter how slim the chance may be, you should just persevere.
Vajrayana Buddhism has a clear stage of the path, which will eventually lead you to the same level of enlightenment mentioned in Zen Buddhism. The first part of Dzogchen in Vajayana Buddhism – “Trekcho”, is similar to Zen, when a practitioner will naturally break free of the cyclic existence when he reaches this stage – that is the only difference between the two. This is a better method than Zen because a Zen practitioner who has not attained the true state of enlightenment might mistake his intellectual understanding of enlightenment as the true enlightenment. Vajrayana is a safer gradual path.
Although we are still at the preliminary stage of the practice, as long as we head for the right direction and practise compassion and emptiness, we will continue to walk the path to enlightenment, be it in this lifetime, next life, life after next, 10 lives later, 100 lives later, 1000 lives later, 10000 lives later… However long it takes, one day we will make it!
A discourse given by Acho Rinpoche on 2011.07.15 & 16