IN THE COURSE OF
CULTIVATION - STAGES/ORDER OF
POSITIONS OF PROGRESSIVE DEVELOPMENT
In grouping and numbering the stages of development towards Enlightenment,
a discrepancy is shown in some sutras. The Benevolent King Prajna
Sutra gives the total number of stages at fifty-one. The Gem Sutra
adds the Universal Perfect Enlightenment to the total at fifty-two,
The Surangama Sutra, adding several more developments, totals the
number at sixty. The Vairocana Sutra begins the grouping from the
ten stages of mental development of the mind to the ten stages of
the ten grades of Abiding-places.
27.1 Six Aspect of Enlightenment in Tien
In order to adapt the Dharma to meet the needs of different people
of varying roots, Master Chih-I, founder of the Tien T'ai Buddhist
Sect, categorized the teaching of Buddhism into the folowing four
- the Tripitaka Doctrine,
- the Interrelated Doctrine,
- the Differentiated Doctrine, and
- the Complete Doctrine.
Here are a few words regarding the extent the Complete Doctrine may help
Buddhists to remove delusions and illusions, and the order of their
position of progressive development towards Enlightenment to be commensurate
with their effort of exertion.
According to Master Chih-I's profound exposition, in order to realize the
self-nature of the mind, there are the six aspects of Enlightenment listed as
27.1.1 To realize the fundamental principle of
Due to their ignorance, sentient beings have to undergo rounds of
birth and death in the Samsara. Nevertheless, from the standpoint
of the inconceivable essence of Buddha-Nature, they are identical
with Buddha inasmuch as every Dharma unfolds the Dharmahatsu (Dharma-Realms).
There is no question of their realization of Enlightenment.
27.1.2 To realize Buddhahood as a name of
If one learns from friends, teachers or sutras that Self-nature is a synonym
of Buddha, he will understand that everything is the Means. In other words,
everything is inseparable from Self-nature, and everything is Dharma. This
stage of development is called by the Tien T'ai School "The Great
Revelation of the Perfect Enlightenment", and by the Ch'an School
"Realizing the Fundamental".
27.1.3 To realize Buddhahood by meditational
Following one's understanding of the principle of Buddhahood, one has to
translate that understanding into practice. In practising the Profound
Meditation at this stage of development, the meditator is at par with the
phenomena. In the meantime, all passions arising from perception,
subjective thought and ignorance are overcome. This is the accomplishment
of the five Grades of Discipleship, and is also known as the External Grades, of the
Perfect Doctrine of the Tien T'ai School.
27.1.4 To realize the semblance to Buddhahood
This stage of development covers the Ten Stages of Faith of the
Perfect Teaching, also known as the Inner Higher grades, or the
Purification Stage of the six sense organs. At the First Faith Stage,
illusions from perception, e.g. doubt, heretical views, misconception
of the self, extreme views, viewing inferior things as superior,
views in favour of ignorant ascetic prohibitions, etc, have been
all eliminated. At any event, there would be no receding to the
position of the layman. It may be also called the Non-receding Stage.
At the Seventh Faith Stage, all illusions from thought, e.g. greed,
hatred, stupidly, arrogance, etc., have been wiped out, no longer
would one be subjected to be reborn in the Three Realms and in this
world, where saints and laymans live together, but would live in
the Temporary Realm, where only those who have got rid of the evils
of all unenlightened views and thoughts may stay. At the Tenth Faith
Stage, the subtlest illusions and temptations of the Three Realms
and beyond all are eradicated. There is nothing to obstruct one's
further development. Thus, by compassion and wisdom one goes a long
way to help sentient beings actively and positively. This is called
the Action of Non-receding.
27.1.5 To realize Buddhahood by self-experiencing
This stage of development includes the Ten Abiding Places, the Ten
Activities, the Ten Stages of Merit Transference and the Ten Grades
of Merits, and also Universal Enlightenment. Proceeding from overcoming
ignorance of the First Stage (subtle illusion), one reaches the
first Abiding Place, and dwells in the Realm of Permanent Reward
and Freedom. Meanwhile,in the Realm of Eternal Rest and Light, he
also realizes Buddha-nature by progressive experiential proofs,
thereby attaining the wisdom and power of Unperturbed Uncreated
Endurance and holding onto the Mean without receding. This is called
"Non-receding from Right Discipline"; (this is the Mahayanist Way
of beholding the Truth and the Sravaka's fruit of overcoming illusion
from perception). To what extent one may realize Enlightenment is
entirely commensurate with the effort he may exert in breaking up
the different levels of ignorance. The work of elimination is carried
on until the forty-two Grades of Ignorance are all removed and the
Universal Enlightenment is realized.
27.1.6 To realize Absolute Perfect Enlightenment
This is the stage of Wonderful Enlightenment leading to dwelling in the
Buddhaland of Absolute Eternal Light and Tranquillity, where one may claim to
have accomplished Dharmakaya of absolute purity and to have experienced and
verified the Perfect Truth by self-realization. (According to the Complete
Doctrine, one act includes all acts and one stage covers all stages, but
fundamentally there is neither stage nor grade, thus the above classification
of the six stages of development is but a means of expediency. The division
of five Grades of Disciples is based on the Lotus Sutra, and the other
groupings, based on the Gem Sutra, are taken from the Differentiated
27.2 Nine Grades of Buddhists in Pure Land
Now let us turn to the development, by the Name-reciting method, of the nine
grades of Buddhists to be born in the Pure Land.
- Those of genuine faith and firm resolution, who are still distracted of
mind during reciting, will be born into the lowest low of the Buddhaland.
- Those who have overcome their distractions more or less will be born into
the middle low.
- Those who are free from distractions will be born into the upper low.
The aforementioned three grades of beings, though still subjected to illusions
of perceptions, would be born in the Buddhaland where saints and layman live
together (the four Buddhalands of Supreme Happiness are all Pure Lands). Once
born there, never will they recede. (According to the doctrine of some other
Buddhist sects, however, one must wipe out all illusions from perception if he
is to attain the coveted Never-Receding Position.)
Those who can recite without negligence and distraction at all times and also
recite with an unperturbed mind like an Arhat, shall be born into
the Temporary Realm and shall be graded in the upper, middle and lowest,
Those who can realize, by self-experiencing, the ultimate reality
under-lying everything, and non-differentiation between mind and Buddha,
and who, like the Ignorance-free Bodhisattvas, are detached from any
influence, shall be graded in the upper superior, middle superior
or lowest superior and shall be born in The Realm of Permanent Reward
and Freedom and the Realm of Eternal Light and Tranquillity.
As it is profound, simple and adaptable to the followers at all levels, the
Name-reciting Method is popular, appealing and universal.