28.1   Tien Tai's Ways to Attain Enlightenment

    How long does it take to attain Enlightenment? In answering this question, Buddhism tell us that to complete the cultivation methodically and systematically from the beginning to the end would take no less than three kalpas. It is the same as going through the course of education from primary to high school and to university. One cannot skip over the various stages of development by leaps and bounds. The Ten Stages of Faith, the Ten Stages of Abiding, the Ten Stages of Activities and the Ten Stages of Merit Transference are to be completed in the first kalpa. The first seven Grades of Merits are to be completed in the second kalpa, and from the eighth to the tenth in the third kalpa (according to the stages of the Differentiated Doctrine). Kalpa, meaning unlimited length of time, implies that there is no time-limit for cultivating Buddhism because the long-accumulated defilements of the self-nature of the mind would necessarily take considerable time to be removed. Moreover, the question of how soon one may complete the cultivation depends on the extent of one's bondage, the causes and conditions of one's cultivation and the effort of one's cultivation. These factors determining the time of accomplishment usually vary from person to person. After all, as people generally do not expect to complete their development of Buddhahood in this very life, it does not make sense that they should speculate on the time of attaining Buddhahood by the conventional standard.

    28.2   Tantric Ways to Attain Enlightenment

    The Tantra Buddhism says nothing of the three kalpas for completing the Buddha development, but gives three grades of coarse, fine and subtlest illusions instead. According to the theory of this school, for those people of superior root and intellect "implanted in former life", they are bestowed with the three mystic powers of the Enlightened one, besides their own intensive practice of the special expedient means of this Tantric Sect. It is not impossible to rid the three Grades of illusion and to open, to reveal, to wake and to enter themselves into the Buddha-Wisdom at last, so that they would complete their Buddhahood development in this life. It is just like one obtaining diploma and degree after having fully met the credits requirements but without being restricted by the academic school years (By the way, the qualifying phrase "the superior root formerly implanted" implies that cultivation has been carried on from previous lives and now may be mature for completing this stage of Buddhahood development). Besides, the Tantra Buddhism also lays down three ways for attainment of Buddhahood in the present life.

      28.2.1   To realize Buddhahood by understanding the principle

      It is the principle that fundamentally our body and mind are themselves the substance of Vairocana and Vajrayana. In other words, apart from our mind and body, there is no essence of enlightenment. This is in line with the Tien T'ai's first aspect of "Enlightenment by Realizing the Principle" that in respect of Buddha-nature, sentient beings are not different from Buddha.

      28.2.2   To realize Buddhahood by Empowerment

      If the omnipresent self-nature of the mind corresponds to the three mystic protecting powers of the Enlightened One and is integrated with them, both His transcendental activities and fundamental virtues would be manifested. This may be said to be identical with the Tien Tai's Semblance Stage of Buddhahood development

      28.2.3   To realize Buddhahood by self-experiencing

      If the three mystic profound activities are accomplished, the fundamental immanent virtues and the reality of the True Nature would be automatically manifested.

      28.2.4   Similarity with Tien Tai Sect

      This may be said to be corresponding to the last two of the six aspects of Enlightenment of the Tien T'ai's Teaching, by self-experiencing the progressive stages of different realms and by Absolute Perfect Enlightenment. Apparently, the Tantric practice "to become Buddha in this life" and the Tien T'ai Complete Teaching "to be identical with Buddha" are similar to each other.

    28.3   Chan's Ways to Attain Enlightenment

    According to the Ch'an's teaching and practice of sudden enlightenment, if one realizes Self-nature, thereby one will attain Buddhahood. It is because as soon as ignorance, the root cause of suffering, is eliminated, all the lesser delusions would be automatically removed, as the saying has it, "to destroy the one is to destroy all". It may be seen why the Ch'an's practice is not to be cultivated by stages nor to be restricted by time limits. It is why the moment one realizes Self-nature, one may also attain Buddhahood simultaneously. This Dharma of Perfect and Sudden Enlightenment is well said in the Avatamasaka Sutra: "Primary Awareness is conducive to Sambodhi (Enlightenment) and it is by this expedient means and not others, that Buddha-Wisdom is thereby to be attained." In fact, to realize the Self-nature of the mind is the common goal of every Buddhist, yet the time to pass through the three Gates of Understanding, which correspond to the three grades of illusion, coarse, fine and subtle, usually varyfrom person to person.

    28.4   Pure Land Ways to Attain Enlightenment

    By the Name-reciting method, however, sentient beings are blessed with Amita Buddha's gracious and compassionate response to their call, just like a piece of iron being drawn to a powerful magnet. Either in this or next life, they will be born in the Buddhaland of Supreme Happiness, where under the special and highly favorable conditions they would advance from one to the three Non-receding positions and also from one Buddhaland to transcend beyond the other three and so would complete their Buddhahood development in their present life. This is why the complete and perfect Reciting method of the Pure Land Sect wins its universal appeal.

    28.5   Summary

    To sum up, in both the Ch'an and the Tantric practices, there is no time limit involved, nor is there such a thing as to realize Buddhahood by stages. This is called "all the Six are but One". According to the Doctrine of Buddhism, in general, however, "The One is all the Six" upholds that the principle of Buddhahood and the six aspects of realizing Buddhahood are not two things but mutually integrated and complementary to each other. From this standpoint, cultivating Buddhism should not lean to one side, i.e. not leaning to the principle or to the practice. Regardless of the outcome of cultivation, one should carry on as vigorously as possible. May our aspiration for Buddhahood, unlimited, and undiminished despite the finite void, lead us precisely to the Way of Buddhism!