The Perils Of States, Stages, And Stations

Zen and Chan (Chinese Zen) often have little to say about states, stages, and stations along the path–and for good reason.

Concerning the huatou, Chan master Sheng Zen writes,

[T]here are three stages in the development and resolution of the Chan doubt: first, giving rise to the doubt sensation; second, generating the great doubt mass; and third, shattering the great doubt mass. (Shattering the Great Doubt 124)

He then goes on to elaborate on each stage before concluding with what is, by my lights, the most important message:

Unless you directly experience the shattering of the great doubt mass yourself, what you have just learned is just intellectual knowledge. Although it is useful for your own practice, until you experience the great doubt mass yourself, to speak about these ideas as genuinely yours is vexation. (Ibid 124)

Yen has raised one issue–to wit, getting caught up in intellectual knowledge, what yesterday I referred to as “intellectual bypass”–when it comes to discussing possible states, stations, and stages. Here are some others:

–One can get fixated on the path unfolding in a linear fashion (the fifth absorption following immediately after the fourth) when in actuality the path will unfold quite organically.

–One can get quite attached to the “thought of enlightenment.” Here, one may continue to ask, “Has the doubt sensation arisen yet? What can I do to raise it? Maybe it has already been raised and I just don’t know it?” This is not practice because it entails turning away from what is right here–in Chan language, from what is “right underfoot.”

–One can unwittingly become a spiritual materialist. This, to my mind, is a fate suffered often by seekers today. Waking up is not an altered state. It is the end of one’s vexations. This is why the second Great Vow states, “I vow to cut off endless vexations.” To get to the very root and thus to cut off all of them.

The point is simple: the first Chan patriarch Bodhidharma already said it perfectly: “Directing pointing at person’s mind / See original-nature: Buddha!” Until that time, any state, station, or stage is something to enjoy briefly before discarding. As Nisargadatta so forcefully put it, “Anything perceivable or conceivable is not ‘it.’ Therefore, discard it!”