Rainbow in Tinqi, Peru

Simultaneous or gradual liberation

In western neo-advaita the standard has become to understand liberation as necessarily being like a bolt of lightning, the understanding dawning on you just by hearing the teaching. But alas, this happens extremely seldom. Most people go on hearing satsang after satsing how simple it all is, less they really understand it, and they don’t. They are gradualists.

In Buddhism this tension between simultaneous and gradual liberation also is visible in the many texts on liberation.

It is also visible in the Garuda. Zhabkar states that the songs are like nectar that liberates on tasting, or that the wanderers (the sentient beings wandering through Samsara) once they understand the teaching are liberated without the need of doing a grain of contemplation. Of the first Buddha, Samanthabhadra is said in Song 5 that he understood, and was liberated at once.

As a matter of fact also Buddhists know that the gradualists make up the great majority of the students who try these teachings. After much study they at last start to understand little by little, and through small realisations what is said. Tsongkhapa (± 1400) one of the great masters said of himself that he was a gradualist.

The problem of the neo-advaitist approach, so it seems to me, is that there is planted in people the expectation that liberation is easy, to be expected every moment, without exerting any effort.  This coincides with the western approach of easy gain, and quick fixes. When such doesn’t happen they get demoralised and turn away. By the way, in classical Advaita this approach is denounced as unrealistic.

To me the case appears thus. There is the very small chance that on hearing you are simultaneously liberated. But expecting this to happen will almost surely prevent it to happen ever. While reading and studying the chance of dawning of complete understanding may manifest at any moment, and gradually the small realisations make understanding substantial, even likely. So the tension between simultaneous and gradual liberation is not that big or important.

In my opinion the best you can do is to forget about the matter. Don’t hope, don’t want, et cetera. Volition may be a stumbling stone, rather than being helpful. This is also the advice that Zhabkar gives himself.

PS This blog was inspired by the reading of: Sam van Schaik, Approaching the Great Perfection, simultaneous and gradual methods of Dzogchen practice in the Longchen Nyingtig, Wisdom Publications, 2004/15. In this book Van Schaik searches for this trait the works of Jigme Lingpa (1729-1798), a contemporary of Zhabkar. Zhabkar was familiar with the writings of Jigme Lingpa and used them in is own writings.