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Thread: Why do people make public claims to Enlightement?

  1. #1

    Why do people make public claims to Enlightement?

    I've always been bemused by the public claims to enlightenment, or the stages to enlightenment, that Buddhists make on the internet.

    Some examples I've seen recently are " I believe I have achieved Stream Entry", "and "I have attained the fruition of Anagami," and frequent claims to jhana levels such as : "My latest Jhana."

    There's also a discussion forum which is owned by someone who claims to be an Arahant .

    I think that it might be a good idea to first of all have a look at the stages to enlightenment mentioned in Theravada Buddhism. These are:

    A). Stream Entry (Sotapanna) which is said to be free from:

    1. Identity view.

    2. Attachment to rites and rituals.

    3. Doubt about the teachings.


    B) Once Returner (Sakadagami):

    Has eradicated the first three hindrances and greatly weakened the fourth and fifth; attachment to sense desires and ill-will.


    C) Non-Returner (Anagami):

    has completely eradicated the first five hindrances (fetters)


    D) Arahant... free from:

    The five lower fetters and also from:

    6. Craving for prosperity and material wealth &/or rupa jhana

    7. Craving for existence in the ideal world (heaven), fame, reputation &/or arupa jhana.

    8. Conceit.

    9. Restlessness.

    10. Ignorance.

  2. #2
    Secondly, in the historically later teachings of Tibetan Buddhism (Vajrayana), we have the following path to Buddhahood:

    The Five Levels of the Bodhisattva Path:

    1. The Path of Accumulation.

    2. The Path of Integration.

    3. The Path of Seeing.

    4. The Path of Meditation.

    5. The Path of Accomplishment. ( no more learning).


    The ten bodhisattva levels (bhumis) correspond to the fourth level of meditation.

    These are:

    1. Perfect Joy - seeing enlightement is close. (this level is said to be parallel with Stream Entry in Theravada. (See "Path to Buddhahood" by Ringu Tulku).

    2. Immaculate (right conduct)

    3. Illuminator (illuminating others with the light of Dharma).

    4. Radiant (has wisdom and diligence)

    5. Difficult to practice.

    6. Revealed (Samsara & Nirvana revealed as pure). No more duality.

    7. Far Gone (Most subtle and habitual patterns and tendancies begin to fade away)

    8. Immovable - one acquires ten powers.

    9. Perfect discernment.

    10. Cloud of Dharma - corresponds to Buddhahood.

    ~~~~ ~~~ ~~~~


    I think its also worth mentioning that in Tibetan Buddhism one is encouraged to regard one's guru as an enlightened Buddha.


  3. #3
    Any thoughts about modern claims to enlightenment ?

    Why do you think people who believe that they've achieved any of these levels (or enlightenment itself) have the urge to tell everyone else?



    .

  4. #4
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    Compassion is the first that springs to mind. The problem is language. Each of those things you mentioned is pretty meaningless to the average reader. They also become meaningless away from the context of living the spiritual life as a Buddhist monk, surrounded by people who, hopefully, know what they are doing, and can give good on-going advice.

    I've read all these many times, over the years, and in the end decided that they really are pretty useless as advice for the average lay meditator in the West. They read more like the levels of attainment in the English National Curriculum I used to teach. I had to teach them and test them, but the terminology was so vague and unhelpful that the whole thing became nonsensical. In the end you had to ignore them and use you own judgement to teach what worked to get them through the tests.

    The thing about the path is that it works, and that there are consequences for followers of the path. It is easy for people to assume that their experiences are special, as indeed they probably are. The lack of communication of different levels of experience by those who have had them is what holds things back, maybe in part because it is so hard to communicate, so if they do say anything they fall back on this kind of jargon. If there was a bank of written experiences to help judge where yours lie, it may help, but I'm still counting the breath rather than holding it in expectation of anything like that happening.

  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by philg View Post
    Compassion is the first that springs to mind.
    Sorry but I'm not very clear what you're refering to, Phil. Do you mean that people make claims out of compassion for others - or that compassion is needed for the people making the claims?

    Quote Originally Posted by philg
    The lack of communication of different levels of experience by those who have had them is what holds things back, maybe in part because it is so hard to communicate, so if they do say anything they fall back on this kind of jargon.
    What if the the people making claims to the rest of the world are completely deluded?

    What about the practitioners who prefer to discuss their experiences in private with respected Dhamma/Dharma teachers?





  6. #6
    Forums Member justusryans's Avatar
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    Personally I believe that anyone who has reached these stages of enlightenment would not be forthcoming about their level of enlightenment. I personally believe they would teach by example, not by exhorting hosts of followers that he had found the way encouraging those less experienced that his is the only way to enlightenment. Buddha taught to question his teachings. To see for yourself what works for you and reject the rest.

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    Sorry. I wasn't too clear on compassion. I mean that if people really have insight experiences it is natural for compassion to arise to share the experience with others. Of course they may be deluded, but if people don't share their experiences, then that sort of thing going to happen. They read the confusing stuff and interpret it in their own way.

    Aloka, what about people who aren't lucky enough to have respected teachers? And anyway, I think it's a shame that the experiences they do have are lost forever to the rest of society, kept secret by a kind of passive aggressive bullying that can take place in such institutions. As if it is something to be ashamed of rather than applauded.

    I know what you mean, justusryans, but that doesn't mean I agree with it, apart from the exhorting hosts of followers bit. For me, there is an argument that they should be sharing far and wide, being open about what they are doing and have experienced, so that others can read for themselves that person's account, and then judge for themselves. We have the path, so we don't need any other, but we do need to explore what the path, and experiences along it, mean for people following it.

  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by philg
    Aloka, what about people who aren't lucky enough to have respected teachers?
    Most people who are seriously interested in Buddhism have the opportunity to visit a Buddhist centre at the very least once a year in the UK. I'm not sure about bigger countries like the USA and Australia.

    And anyway, I think it's a shame that the experiences they do have are lost forever to the rest of society, kept secret by a kind of passive aggressive bullying that can take place in such institutions. As if it is something to be ashamed of rather than applauded.
    Why have one's personal meditation experiences got something to do with the rest of society?

    Which institutions are you talking about where there is "passive aggressive bullying" taking place, Phil? I'm not meaning to be deliberately argumentative but I've been around Tibetan Buddhist centres for years, as well as a Theravada monastery, and have never noticed or heard about anyone being bullied about their meditation experiences.



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    Hi Aloka. Good discussion thread. Don't worry about being argumentative because how else do we discuss things other than presenting different views? It's how we learn and move forward.
    I'll take the points one at a time.

    1. I mean it about there not really being much chance to discuss things like that with teachers. There may be people lucky enough to have them, but I'm guessing there needs to be a long-term on-going pupil teacher relationship for this to happen in the way that we were talking about, rather than during the odd visit.

    2."Why have one's personal meditation experiences got something to do with the rest of society?" In the context of the discussion, I think that the more people talk about their experiences, the more others can make their minds up about some aspects of meditation. My own view is that the more people who meditate in society the better, though I'm pretty biased about that! I'm not saying that individuals should feel obliged to share, far from it, but I think we should help people who may want to do so for the best of reasons.

    3.In terms of passive aggressive bullying I'm talking about most of what I have read, either in books or on-line, and my own experience at the center I went to for some years. What do I mean? Phrases like justusryans' "Personally I believe that anyone who has reached these stages of enlightenment would not be forthcoming about their level of enlightenment." Buddhist literature is full of this stuff, which is widely quoted and spread. I think it's mostly well-meant advice, but, for me, is the type of bullying you often get in institutions trying to maintain rules and regulations.

    4.The last point is to share is that, once I found out that we 'shouldn't' generally talk about these experiences, I didn't.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by philg View Post
    Hi Aloka. Good discussion thread. Don't worry about being argumentative because how else do we discuss things other than presenting different views? It's how we learn and move forward.
    I'll take the points one at a time.
    Excellent. I hope you don't mind me joining in.
    Quote Originally Posted by philg View Post
    1. I mean it about there not really being much chance to discuss things like that with teachers. There may be people lucky enough to have them, but I'm guessing there needs to be a long-term on-going pupil teacher relationship for this to happen in the way that we were talking about, rather than during the odd visit.

    2."Why have one's personal meditation experiences got something to do with the rest of society?" In the context of the discussion, I think that the more people talk about their experiences, the more others can make their minds up about some aspects of meditation. My own view is that the more people who meditate in society the better, though I'm pretty biased about that! I'm not saying that individuals should feel obliged to share, far from it, but I think we should help people who may want to do so for the best of reasons.
    I've attended meditation groups and received guidance in the Tibetan and the Theravada traditions. Group members didn't talk of their experience of meditation with each other, even just within the privacy of the group. Experiences were discussed one-to-one in private, with the teacher.

    That's not to say there was an air of secrecy about it. We knew that each person has their own experience, and that experience has no relevance to another person. To compare our experiences would easily lead to expectations of attainment, creating a feeling of lack in others. And how would we distinguish between genuine results and flawed experience?

    If discussion of meditation experience isn't desirable in a small group of sincere students with a competent teacher, what then can we say of opening up discussion of meditative attainment to the whole world, through the internet, with claims being made by all comers, good, bad, indifferent and self-styled gurus? What are we to believe and who will guide us?

    In fact, there are many opportunities to learn meditation in the Western world. For those who live in cities, there seem to be new meditation groups being established every week. For those in the country or remote regions, there's the opportunity to go away for a week's retreat or just a week-end at a Buddhist centre.
    Quote Originally Posted by philg View Post
    3.In terms of passive aggressive bullying I'm talking about most of what I have read, either in books or on-line, and my own experience at the center I went to for some years. What do I mean? Phrases like justusryans' "Personally I believe that anyone who has reached these stages of enlightenment would not be forthcoming about their level of enlightenment." Buddhist literature is full of this stuff, which is widely quoted and spread. I think it's mostly well-meant advice, but, for me, is the type of bullying you often get in institutions trying to maintain rules and regulations.
    Well, I've never experienced any sort of coercion in the groups or centres i've visited. Still, I accept that your experience may be different.
    Quote Originally Posted by philg View Post
    4.The last point is to share is that, once I found out that we 'shouldn't' generally talk about these experiences, I didn't.
    No-one makes rules for you to follow. Do what you consider to be skilful.

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