Rick Archer of Buddha at the Gas Pump invited me to join his panel during the Science and Nonduality (SAND) conference in October of 2017 (event C31). The topic was Sudden or Gradual: Two Paths to Realization.
“There is a perennial debate in spiritual traditions regarding whether realization is direct (sudden) or progressive (gradual). But is this a false distinction? Realization is often sudden, no matter how many years of practice may have led up to it, and even after realization, most people find that refinement, clarification, and the working out of personal shortcomings continue indefinitely.
Who wouldn’t prefer direct realization to years of purification and practice? But how many examples of purely direct realization can we find? Can a path be both direct and progressive? Is it possible to have a taste of our true nature from the outset, and then spend a lifetime embodying it? Also, is there one watershed breakthrough which can be universally agreed upon as final ‘Realization’, or are there many degrees and stages of realization, each of them important stepping stones in a never-ending journey?
Proponents of the direct path sometimes argue that if we regard spiritual development as progressive, we will forever be anticipating, never arriving. But some spiritual seekers consider themselves ‘finished’ when they are just getting started. Not appreciating the distinction between understanding and experience, they mistake intellectual understanding with enlightenment. Understanding statements like ‘You are already enlightened’ doesn’t make it so.”
When Rick introduced Sudden vs Gradual awakening, I was surprised to hear he was referring to 2 Buddhist doctrines and wondered what I was doing on the panel. But he then asked Micheal to define them, so I knew what we were talking about. (laughs) The discussion was wide-ranging and ran about 2 hours.
(the audio warble is fixed after the intros, returns when organizing an audience mic and is again fixed (much of the second is edited out of the video version))