Is it true that most "enlightened" Buddhists attained this realization gradually? Or are there cases of sudden enlightenment? I ask because either this process is way more gradual than I can even detect, or else I'm not yet at the sudden point. Or perhaps I won't ever get to that point at all.

I'm pretty new to all this - been meditating daily for about a year now, at first once a day for 20 minutes, then 30 minutes, and lately twice a day for 20 minutes each...I feel so clueless. And my mind continue to race all over the place when I'm sitting. :-)

  • I have had to train for over a year for many things. Karate, Tea Ceremony, software development. Most of the Zen practioniers I practice with have been training for 5-10 years. I was told that for the first year do nothing but count your breath.
    – Thien
    Jan 22, 2015 at 21:08
  • Thanks for your response. It is helpful to know that this is not an overnight thing (like most people I want to have instant results, and it can be difficult doing when the road is so long...). Your comment about it being like learning karate or SW development are very helpful, since both of those are endeavors I've toiled with in the past. Jan 23, 2015 at 12:50

2 Answers 2


There is no set, predictable pattern.

Yes, some attain gradually. Don't worry about gradualism too much though, just figure out how to Practice better and better, keep improving your Dharma knowledge. Your recognition that your mind is racing is the 1st step. (Most ordinary people are at step 0. They don't even know that their mind is hell.)

Yes, there are many cases of sudden enlightenment, and such people always had great amount of merit and past life cultivation and already had tremendous concentration power (2nd Training).

Read a Buddhist book. I suggest reading the articles here. Read Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha for the best hardcore introduction to Buddhism ever. It's free.

It's not as simple as force yourself to sit for 20 minutes twice a day and get enlightened...there is a lot to the whole Buddhist work and it is plain out stupid for someone to expect realization and get it. Realization is a type of non-attainment. Read the Diamond Sutra and Heart Sutra to start to understand this concept.

Also, unless you can focus your mind (the 2nd training) so well that you are absolutely clear and blissful (this happiness is happier than a constant orgasm, jhana) the 3rd training (which involves "realization") is far far off.

Learn to concentrate first (2nd training).

You also have to learn how to meditate correctly or else you can meditate for 24/7 for 100 years and nothing will happen - no stilling of the mind, nothing, just racy mind getting worse and worse until you give up.

"Don't have hope for Enlightenment but Practice all your life." --Milarepa

  • I wonder why the downvote. This answer is correct IMO.
    – Anthony
    Jan 23, 2015 at 0:50
  • 1
    No people were right, amended my answer to be more complete. Upvote away peopel :)
    – Ahmed
    Jan 23, 2015 at 3:12
  • Thanks for your response, Ahmed. I will look for the free book you mentioned. FWIW I have read a couple of Zen books and have been listening to a bunch of audiobooks on mindfulness and meditation. As far as the actual doing goes, the hardest thing for me is to maintain that focus. Possibly it is due in part because I tend to meditate early in the morning or right before bed, when I'm sleepy. I have noticed that when I do yoga first in the morning, and then meditate, I'm more "successful," at least inasmuch as I can maintain focus more easily. Jan 23, 2015 at 12:52
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    @JeffWright Of course! That is a key thing many faithful Buddhists forget. They must remember that the Buddha mastered all sorts of Hindu practices including probably pranayama (I know it helps ME a lot, check out Bodhisattva Lifestyle this weekend for a video tutorial I will make on the most powerful pranayama practice in existence). When you do yoga and pranayama successfully, you can complete the 1st and 2nd trainings in Budddhism (morality and concentration) almost effortlessly!
    – Ahmed
    Jan 23, 2015 at 14:56

It all depends upon the personality & interpretation of teachings. Huineng got sudden enlightenment mere on listening to Diamond Sutra.

From here, in the words of the sixth patriarch Huineng.

"So far as the Dharma is concerned, there can be only one School. (If a distinction exists) it exists in the fact that the founder of one school is a northern man, while the other is a Southerner. While there is only one Dharma, some disciples realize it more quickly than others. The reason why the names 'Sudden' and 'Gradual' are given is that some disciples are superior to others in mental dispositions. So far as the Dharma is concerned, the distinction between 'Sudden' and 'Gradual' does not exist."

He further elaborated that interpretations also lead to sudden or gradual enlightenment,

"The teaching of your master," replied the Patriarch, "is for the followers of the Mahayana School, while mine is for those of the Supreme School. The fact that some realize the Dharma more quickly and deeply than others accounts for the difference in the interpretation. You may listen, and see if my instruction is the same as his. In expounding the Law, I do not deviate from the authority of the Essence of Mind (i.e., I speak what I realize intuitively). To speak otherwise would indicate that the expositor's Essence of Mind is under obscuration and that he can touch the phenomenal side of the Law only. The true teaching of Sila, Dhyana, and Prajna should be based on the principle that the function of all things derives from the Essence of Mind. Listen to my stanza:--
To free the mind from all impurity is the Sila of the Essence of Mind.
To free the mind from all disturbance is the Dhyana of the Essence of Mind.
That which neither increases nor decreases is the Vajra
(Diamond, used as a symbol for the Essence of Mind); 'Coming' and 'going' are different phases of Samadhi."

As a side note, Daosheng can also be a good reference to look into the matter.

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