Is Enlightenment Sudden or Gradual?

Lama Marut's class at Yoga Oasis, Singapore

Question from Student: Some people got enlightened spontaneously, like a miracle. What do you think of that?

Answer from Lama Marut: Well, wish it would happen – to me! As some of you know, there was a big debate historically in Chinese Zen, in Chan Buddhism, on whether enlightenment is sudden or gradual. And that debate went on into Japan also and formed different sects and so forth as a result of the different answers to that question.

The answer to the question actually you could save them a lot of time and effort – it’s both. It’s gradual for a long, long time and then suddenly you’re enlightened. No, of course … over the course of countless lifetimes, you create the causes and then suddenly you’re enlightened – both. How could it be otherwise?

You see, the idea that it’s sudden enlightenment without gradual enlightenment is this kind of fantasy we have of not having to do anything and not work at all and just have some enlightenment fairy wave their magic wands over us and suddenly – I’m okay. So, it has to be both. But it’s also important to recognize that, at a certain point, after you’ve developed yourself – as we’ve been using that language – you will discover that there was nothing to develop all along.

But it takes a great deal of development to realize that there was nothing to develop, you see. It takes a great deal of gradual work to realize that enlightenment was always available, suddenly.