Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Gradual Vs. Sudden

Over the next week I plan to post revised versions of academic essays I wrote some time ago when I was studying Song Dynasty Buddhism in China and its neighbour Tibet.

The essays deal with the issues surrounding "sudden" and "gradual" teachings. The first essay, "Immediate Awakening", which I plan to post today, discusses the formation of the so-called "northern" and "southern" schools in China and the little known effect some of the disciples of Hung-jen (Hongren), the Fifth Ancestor of Zen, had in Tibet. My purpose in writing it was to show the close connection between Ch'an and Dzogchen, as well as to explore the interesting way that the whole sudden vs. gradual argument played out in terms of the politics and mythology of early Chinese and Tibetan Buddhism.

The second essay is about Jigme Lingpa, the great philosopher of Dzogchen, who plays a somewhat comparable role in the Nyingmapa sect to the one that Dogen plays in the Soto Zen tradition. Jigme Lingpa wrote a number of texts taking a radically non-dual and immediate approach to enlightenment, yet he also wrote detailed manuals of ethics, ritual, and meditation technique. My contention is, in the excellent words of Van Schaik:

 "... the criticisms (of gradual practices-ed.) are not to be taken as an injunction against engaging in the practices at all; rather the practices are contextualized within the higher perspective of nonconceptuality and nonduality (Van Schaik 2004:5)

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