• Luigi

The 52 Levels of Enlightenment


Question:

Write the 52 levels of enlightenment taught in Buddhism.


Answer:

1. Ten faiths 2. Ten dwellings 3. Ten practices 4. Ten transferences 5. Ten grounds 6. Near-perfect enlightenment 7. Perfect enlightenment

explanation:

From lowest to highest, there are 52 levels of enlightenment in all. (This is taught in the Avataṃsaka Sūtra, amongst others.)

1. Ten faiths: 10th level 2. Ten dwellings: 20th level 3. Ten practices: 30th level 4. Ten transferences: 40th level 5. Ten grounds: 50th level

Up to Level 50, the levels of enlightenment are categorized into named groups of ten, as seen in answers 1-5. So this means, for instance, the 8th level is called ‘eight faiths’; the 26th level is called ‘six practices’; and the 41st level is called ‘first ground’.

Near-perfect enlightenment: 51st level

Since this level is virtually equal to a buddha’s enlightenment, this is called ‘near-perfect enlightenment’. It is the top level for a bodhisattva. Bodhisattvas at this level include Maitreya, Kṣitigarbha, and Kannon.

Perfect enlightenment: 52nd level

The highest, most excellent enlightenment. This is called a ‘buddha’s enlightenment’. Since there is no higher level than this, it is also called ‘supreme enlightenment’. Further, in the Amida Sūtra it is referred to as ‘anuttarā samyak saṃbodhi’ (supreme perfect enlightenment). Master Shinran abbreviated this term to ‘anu-bodhi’.


To ‘be enlightened’ means to be enlightened to the universal truth that enables all people to attain true happiness. Let us compare this to climbing a mountain. The further up the mountain one goes, the more of the surrounding scenery one will be able to see. Finally, once one has reached the top, one will be able to see all around. In the same way, once one attains a buddha’s enlightenment, one will come to see all the truth of the universe. Only a being that has reached this level of enlightenment is called a ‘buddha’. Other than Śākyamuni Buddha, there is no-one on this Earth that has attained a buddha’s enlightenment. This is expressed in the saying, “There is no buddha before or after Śākyamuni.”

Reference

Bodhidharma: A monk of Indian origin, who lived during the 5th or 6th Century CE. He famously spent nine years meditating while facing a wall, losing his limbs to atrophy in the process, but it is said that he only reached the 30th level of enlightenment through his practices.

Zhiyi: Active during the 6th Century CE, Zhiyi was the founder of Tiantai Buddhism in China. On his deathbed, he confessed to a disciple that he had only reached the 9th level of enlightenment.

Levels of non-regression: Of the 52 levels, all levels up to 40 are ‘levels of regression’, while all levels from 41 are ‘levels of non-regression’. ‘Regression’ means losing one’s enlightenment through carelessness. Once one reaches the ‘levels of non-regression’, one’s enlightenment will never backslide no matter what happens.

(from the doctrine book 1-3)

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