Cappuccino Club
Saturday July 4th

Sudden Enlightenment or Gradual Training


Rather than our usual unidirectional dharma talk format, we’ll meet for a discussion and airing of ideas Saturday 4th July, at Ekkamai.

1:00 gather at the ‘Apartments’, Ekkamai

1:30-2:30 discussion on Enlightenment as a sudden ‘bingo’ or a long term training

with special guest Korean-Zen monk Myong An Sunim from Malaysia



I’m looking for a good document on this – but have not found one yet. Any good googlers out there?

The ‘sudden’ enlightenment school is said to have started when the Buddha taught Mahakasyapa the dharma by simply holding up a flower. Only Mahakasyapa understood the sermon, and responded with a smile – this is the famous Flower Sermon. But Maha Kassapa in the Pali tradition was the foremost monk for renunciation – which is a gradual training.

So how dies it work? Does enlightenment come in a flash, or in a few lifetimes?

Here’s a summary of the topic from Zen Ramblings

Is enlightenment sudden, or is it gradual? Does it happen in stages, or in a single moment of insight? This is one of the oldest doctrinal controversies in Zen Buddhism. Opinions have always differed on this point, so there is no single answer.

Adherents of the “sudden enlightenment” argument claim that insight into the true nature of self and reality occurs in a single flash of understanding, and that once a person experiences this insight, he can never become deluded again. This has been an extremely influential position within Zen Buddhism, but it raises questions that are difficult to answer.  sinfest-buddha-cartoon-enlightenment

If a Zen master believed to be truly enlightened is found to have committed crimes or indulged in ethical lapses, the sudden enlightenment school has a hard time explaining this. Was he never actually enlightened at all, or was his seemingly sinister behavior a form of “crazy wisdom” or a type of teaching trick?

Believers in sudden enlightenment are inclined to excuse any sort of behavior on the part of the master, because acknowledging his serious moral failings calls the entire doctrine into question. Unfortunately, some masters have clearly abused this situation, and in some cases are still renowned as Buddhist teachers despite sleeping with their own students, drunk driving and other behaviors that would not normally be considered marks of spiritual enlightenment.

The school of gradual enlightenment sees spirituality as a process, characterized by an interaction between moments of insight and years of hard, daily work on the self. From this perspective, it’s easy to see how a person could have a powerful and valid spiritual insight, yet still be subject to unresolved character flaws. This perspective does not put the Zen practitioner in the position of having to defend the unethical behaviors of a spiritual teacher.

To show what a long and fraught question this is, take a scan of this 470 page book on the topic

Sudden and Gradual : approaches to Enlightenment in Chinese Thought


Cappuccino Club

Cappuccino club FEOur ‘Cappuccino Club’ is an informal gathering for meditation yogis and people interested in Buddhism etc… We pick a topic, set required reading that everyone must do beforehand (no one ever does it though!) and meet up for discussion.

This is an alternative format to our usual Dharma talks, and a chance to get to know some of the other faces and what they think.

In the past we had some great discussions on topics like The Bodhisattva Vow, The Little Prince, Interfaith, even Relations with Family! And we did movies like Marjoe, The Life of Brian, and documentaries on creativity and consciousness.

You don’t need to be smart, a meditatior, or a Buddhist – just come with an open mind.



‘APARTMENTS’ Little Bangkok Meditation Centre

The center is a 4 minute walk from Ekkamai BTS Station.

Enter Ekkamai (Sukhumvit Soi 63). Turn left into the second soi (lane). Bourbon street restaurant is on the corner. We’re the third building on the right, in the ‘APARTMENTS‘ building. Go up to the top floor. See the excellent map – it is very precise!



2 replies on “Cappuccino Club – Sudden Enlightenment or Gradual Training”

  1. Hello everybody,
    the theme of the gradual and/or the sudden is currently also being used by ADIDAS: “I trained 17 years to become an overnight success.” (cf. footballer Lionel Messi).
    Many examples in Theravada Buddhism of long gradual training with a BANG at the end can be found in the verses of the Enlightened Elders (Theragatha/Therigatha). The PTS translation of these books is available for download in PDF from here.
    If there really was such a thing as sudden enlightenment without prior hard work (in this or previous lifetimes) could your mind take it? Mine couldn’t.
    Have a good session with this theme.
    Best wishes
    Samaneri Viveka

  2. I plan on attending and I hope you will provide us with a working definition of ‘enlightenment’ as a framework for our discussion since there are numerous definitions out there.
    c u then

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