Thursday, February 14, 2013

Can You Still Commit Errors after Enlightenment is Achieved?

I was still young and raw when I first met Seung Sahn Sunim. But after I decided that it probably wasn’t the right time for me to be involved in Zen practice, there was a period of blackout. During that blackout period, there was no contact or news about him or the Zen school. I did think about him from time to time and perhaps even read his books but that was all. So I was oblivious about the scandal affecting him when it happened. Now when I retrospect, I think that was a blessing by the Buddhas.  They might have thought that it was not important for me to know about the scandal until I am ready. Many years later, I came into contact with his Zen school once more and found out that he had passed away.  I also found out about the scandal. Now it really did not matter anymore, at least for me. It might even be better had he been alive and decided to grope me. Serious. But that is me. I am not advocating this to everyone, because everyone has different levels of worldly and spiritual experience. For me the only impact that scandal has in me is of spiritual in nature. I now have the question whether for enlightened beings, does he or she still have the propensity to commit questionable acts of morality. I have no doubt over the enlightened status of this Zen Master and other Tibetan Masters who were also implicated in similar scandals. I began to do research on it. Apparently, even on after achieving enlightenment, there is still a propensity to slide into duality, although you have transcended it. This is mentioned in Lam Rim Chen Mo and Lama Tsongkhapa supported this by providing passages from other earlier Masters such as Candrakirti. Candrakirti referred to the remaining obscuration as “cognitive obscuration”. This has not been eliminated even though “afflictive obscuration” has been eliminated.
Quote: "Therefore, bodhisattvas and Hinayana arhats who have reached the eighth level have put an end to the creation of new latent propensities for errors of dualistic appearance, but since they have many long-established latent propensities for dualistic appearance that are yet to be cleared away, they still must train for a long time. When they clear away these propensities – stopping all latent propensities for error – they become Buddhas.”  
Lam Rim Chen Mo mentioned that elimination of cognitive obscuration is not by way of meditation alone but involves other behavioural aspects of training. This is where the importance of bodhisattva activity comes in. Without bodhicitta, this behavioural aspect of training can never be accomplished. If bodhicitta is not activated, one will remain as a Sravaka or Pacceka Buddha and will not be able to comprehend fully the knowledge of the lack of self in phenomena (even though they have eliminated fully the afflictive ignorance).

In The Jewel Treasury of Advice, Drikung Bhande Dharmaradza wrote:

Ordinary people can’t keep the discipline of the sharavakas,
Yet many think that the vows of secret mantra,
The discipline of maha aryas, are easier to keep.
Even though the activities of union and liberating,
And so forth are stated in the tantras,
These are the deeds only of those on pure bhumis.

In the name of secret mantra, some take women,
Drink, wear strange clothes, and act like madmen, and so forth.
If in this way, one deceives oneself,
One will become stuck in the mud of samsara,
And then fall to the depths of hell.

Khenchen Konchog Gyaltsen explained,
“ Liberating, or putting others to death through curses and black magic, is also mentioned in the tantras. This type of liberating does not harm others’ lives, but rather it frees them from samsaric delusion, causing them to attain enlightenment. But this can only be done by highly realised bodhisattvas who are accomplished in their meditation practice and who have attained the eighth or higher bhumis, called the “pure bhumis”. The great Indian master Tilopa is an example of such a bodhisattva.” He gave an example of how Tilopa had eaten fish and they were all liberated. In Zen, Master Hsuan Hua had in his sutra commentaries, given an example of a similar Zen Master who could eat fish to the bones and then vomit out the entire fish still alive.

However, even though the bodhisattvas of pure bhumis could do such great liberating deeds, still they have to continue training to eliminate the cognitive ignorance as mentioned earlier. How much more do persons who have attained only the lower levels of enlightenment!  

For me, it is not necessary for me to judge whether Master Seung Sahn or any master have attained the eighth level or not. That is not my business. It is no longer about them or what they do. It is about what I do with knowing that. It is about how I react to it. My business is only moment to moment clear mind. For me, I do not believe in punishment. I believe more in reforming and transforming criminals or wrong doers. I have my own experience of being “groped/ molested”. But I won’t go into it, except to say that I do not think it is proper for me to report it up to the authorities or make this into a big issue. It will bring untold suffering to the person. I am only concerned about the person because I understand human weakness to strong desires. Who doesn’t have desires? You? Hence I try to learn from what happened and did my own research on this topic. After finding out the facts as above, now I will be more careful when and if I ever achieve enlightenment. Therefore I thank the Buddhas for educating me on this aspect of enlightenment. And thank them for the period of “blackout”. It happened for a reason. In the intervening period, my path matures and I re-connected. My relationship with him remains pure. Had it not been for the “blackout” period, I do not know how I would have re-acted if I knew of the scandal then. I might have been disgusted and left Sunim, like some people had back then. Who knows I might too? But it is useless speculating. Since it is my karma not to know about it, I accept it as it had happened. However I understood that 2 repentance ceremonies were done and the School community accepted these. Therefore some rules were changed for the better of the future Zen cultivators and case is close. The way I see it, it ended up well. I do not know about the scandals of other Zen or Tibetan Masters, but in Kwan Um School, in this sense, there is still some positive development from the scandal. It is now more disciplined and proper. I am grateful to be back in Seung Sahn Sunim’s fold and having the opportunity to utilise its facilities for meditation and study under the tutelage of the current Zen Masters.

So back to the original question – after achieving enlightenment, can we still commit errors? It depends on what level is achieved. But generally, answer is "Yes" unless you have achieved the final Buddhahood level. If we still have the propensity for errors even at such high bodhisattva levels, how much more lower levels. So, even though we can bring up issues with gurus for proper solution to such problems, and to prevent innocent persons from being taken advantage of by unenlightened fraudulent gurus, we must learn to forgive genuine masters with some flaws. The reason is simple - we ourselves could be susceptible to such moral questionable acts. Continuous practice is required until actual Buddhahood is achieved. Even at the last level of Bodhisattvahood, there will be the cognitive obscuration. But I understand it is really tricky to know when we have achieved Buddhahood or not. Along the way, we could be “deceived” (by our own wrong thinking) that we have achieved it but actually not. Be careful. My advice is always to be humble and doubt your own achievement.

1. Tsongkhapa. The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment. Lam Rim Chen Mo. Snow lion Publications. 2002.
2. Khenchen Konchog Gyaltsen. A Complete Guide to the Buddhist Path. Snow Lion Publications. 2009.

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