Map of Awakening
One of the biggest
philosophical divides between Buddhist schools and lineages is over the issue of whether enlightenment is a gradual step-by-step
process, or sudden, and indeed what we always already are but just need to recognize. It’s one of those debates like
whether there is fate or free-will.
or gradual, there are certain factors that each school has in common. Even the
schools require some form of guidance.
Many modern seekers are
turned off by the idea of submitting to authority, with the rationale that no one has the right to be in control of another’s
path. Given the politics of group dynamics and the power trips of some gurus, this reaction is justified. Self-responsibility
is healthy. It’s also more democratic, whereas past models of spiritual authority, whether collective as in the church,
or private as in the guru, represent feudal structures. I’m sympathetic to the urge for self-directed spirituality,
but it also reflects current problems with modern society – directionlessness (egoism and its whims), trendiness, superficiliaty,
etc. The urge to look to others for guidance is a natural response in a social animal such as ourselves, which explains why we
have so much conformity and celebrity worship in secular society, so we might as well look for wisdom in others.
If someone does not
wish to join a community or learn from a teacher, that’s their right. Just as some people who go to gyms like to have
a personal trainer to teach them and keep them motivated, spiritual guides can help those on the path of this higher
According to Pali
scholar Peter Masefield, the initial followers of the Buddha were transformed by peak experiences when they encountered him,
and they engaged in the austerities of his path precisely because they knew nirvana would be the result. Without his example
of peace and confidence, he would have been just another guru spouting theories.
Regarding the map
of awakening, however, there are definite landmarks to help us know where we stand. Basically there are qualities you attain,
and qualities you lose.
The Pali scriptures
lists seven factors of awakening with regard to four frames of reference in meditation, that is, the body, sensations, mind,
and phenomena. In the Ananda Sutta, from the Samyuta Nikaya, the Buddha states:
“And how are the four frames of reference developed & pursued
so as to bring the seven factors for Awakening to their culmination?
 On whatever occasion the monk remains focused on
the body in & of itself – ardent, alert, & mindful – putting aside greed & distress
with reference to the world, on that occasion his mindfulness is steady & without lapse. When his mindfulness is steady
& without lapse, then mindfulness as a factor for Awakening becomes aroused. He develops it, and for him it goes to the
culmination of its development.
 Remaining mindful in this way, he examines, analyzes,
& comes to a comprehension of that quality with discernment. When he remains mindful in this way, examining, analyzing,
& coming to a comprehension of that quality with discernment, then analysis of qualities as a factor for Awakening becomes
aroused. He develops it, and for him it goes to the culmination of its development.
 In one who examines, analyzes, & comes to a
comprehension of that quality with discernment, unflagging persistence is aroused. When unflagging persistence is aroused
in one who examines, analyzes, & comes to a comprehension of that quality with discernment, then persistence as a factor
for Awakening becomes aroused. He develops it, and for him it goes to the culmination of its development.
 In one whose persistence is aroused, a rapture not-of-the-flesh
arises. When a rapture not-of-the-flesh arises in one whose persistence is aroused, then rapture as a factor for Awakening
becomes aroused. He develops it, and for him it goes to the culmination of its development.
 For one who is enraptured, the body grows calm and
the mind grows calm. When the body & mind of an enraptured monk grow calm, then serenity as a factor for Awakening becomes
aroused. He develops it, and for him it goes to the culmination of its development.
 For one who is at ease – his body
calmed – the mind becomes concentrated. When the mind of one who is at ease – his body calmed –
becomes concentrated, then concentration as a factor for Awakening becomes aroused. He develops it, and for him it goes to
the culmination of its development.
 He oversees the mind thus concentrated with equanimity.
When he oversees the mind thus concentrated with equanimity, equanimity as a factor for Awakening becomes aroused. He develops
it, and for him it goes to the culmination of its development.
[Similarly with the other three frames of reference: feelings, mind,
& mental qualities.]
“This is how the four frames of reference are developed
& pursued so as to bring the seven factors for Awakening to their culmination.”
Translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu
Another teaching in the Pali Canon is the ten fetters (samyojana)
of enlightenment. These are obstacles encountered as one enters the stream to nirvana. Briefly, they are:
1. Self-identity beliefs
3. Clinging to ritual/rites
4. Sensual craving
5. Ill will
6. Attachment to form
7. Attachment to the formless
8. Conceit (comparing self to others)
10. Ignorance (regarding the 4 Noble Truths).
There is also a list of stages of enlightenment in Mahayana Buddhism. In the path of the Bodhisattva there
are ten stages, or “bhumis.”
1. The first stage is called in Sanskrit Pramudita, or Very Happy. Bhumi means stage or ground. From
the position of Bodhisattva to become a Buddha, one must go through the ten Bhumis, the ten stages or stations.
The first is called the Very Happy station because in this first stage the Bodhisattva has recognized the Sunyata
not only by thinking or just by visualization, but he has exactly and truly realized the Sunyata. Because he recognized
the Sunyata, he is in another world, a world of Sunyata, not a world of ignorance or selfishness. So he feels very
happy, and feels joy at having overcome the former difficulties. So it is called the Very Happy Station. 2. The second bhumi is Vimala or Renounce the Defilement
because as a Bodhisattva he knows how to get the Sunyata and abide in the Sunyata more and more. Within the Sunyata he knows
everything is pure, while outside everything is defiled. Actually it may seem that the Renounce the Defilement stage should
be even before the first bhumi, but here Renounce the Defilement means the very subtle, not the gross one. So the second bhumi
is the stage of purity when the Bodhisattva experiences freedom from all possible defilement.
3. The third bhumi is called Prabhakari or Shines Light Stage because as the Bodhisattva’s
meditation goes deep, his Samadhi shines light, so this is called the Shines Light or Enlightened Stage or Eminate Stage because
a lot of light shines out from his Samadhi.
4. The fourth bhumi is Arcismati or Burning Wisdom. The Bodhisattva has burned up all sorrows
in the fire of wisdom so this is called the burning or glowing wisdom stage.
5. The fifth bhumi is Sudurjaya or Very Difficult to be Victorious by Others. That means that
few others can suffer such a difficult practice and get to this victory stage. It indicates mastery of utmost or final difficulties.
6. The sixth bhumi is called Abhimukhi or Appearance Stage. The appearance referred to is
not something very common but something very special which appears: It is the Sunyata itself. You know there is Sunyata conception,
Sunyata thoughts, Sunyata visualization, Sunyata of Happiness, there is Sunyata of Light, of Sun, of Fire, but here is the
Sunyata itself which appears in its very embodiment. This means from an abstract idea comes a concrete countenance.
7. The seventh bhumi is the Far from the World Journey Stage or Duramgama. This means the
Bodhisattva keeps going further, far from the habitual karma, far from sentient beings, far from the Bodhisattva of the sixth
stage. He is getting above ideas of self in order to save others.
8. The eighth bhumi is called Acala, or No Moving Stage. Such a Bodhisattva cannot be moved
by any kind of sorrow, by any kind of false view, by any kind of love of money, of fame, or reputation, by anything, good
or bad; he cannot be moved and is calm and undisturbed.
9. The ninth stage is Sadhumati or Very Good Wisdom Stage because whereas in the fourth stage
he attained wisdom of fire, here the Bodhisattva has the wisdom of goodness also which means he can speak very well, he can
promote the Dharma very well and can get very wide wisdom. In the Chinese language “Fa-Shih” means a teacher of
Dharma who should reach this stage. When a Bodhisattva gets the goodness wisdom, the ninth stage, then he can begin to talk
with others and give lectures for he then has obtained the finest discriminatory wisdom and knows where and how to save others.
10. The tenth bhumi is called Dharmamegha or
Dharma Cloud. At this stage a Bodhisattva is not only able to talk to promote the Dharma but really can make Dharma rain,
so this is the tenth bhumi’s name.