In the, let's say "elder tradition," because there were many "elder" lineages besides just Theravada, there were three kinds of enlightenment: the Arahat, the Prateykabuddha and the fully enlightened Buddha. A fully enlightened Buddha became such according to the bodhisattva path according to Mahayana. But the elder tradition believed that not just anyone could do this, that the buddha was like a phenom that could only possibly ever arise once in so many eons. A fully enlightened buddha is a buddha who becomes enlightened not only for himself but has the power of the miraculous dharma speech to teach the whole world, universe, gods and men for ages to come. The Prateykabuddha was someone, like some yogi or rishi who may have in their samadhi recognized wisdom and managed to become enlightened on their own, but they do not have the power of the accumulation of merit a buddha has to basically change the world. Then, there is the Arahat who is the disciple of the fully enlightened buddha. According to the elders, this is all anyone can manage in one life. You meet a spiritual friend in the dhamma, who instructs you on the teachings, you reflect on the four-fold foundations of mindfulness and you enter the three doors to awakening, which are suffering, impermanence and nonself. Once you realize the view, you continue in it until you realize internally and intuitively the meaning of the Four Noble Truths, thereby destroying all your asavas or habits that lead to continued suffering in existence and rebirth, namely you destroy greed, hatred and delusion. Once you reach this basic understanding you enter the four stages of enlightenment: Stream Entry, Once-returner, Non-returner and Arhat. These should be understood as degrees to which one has eliminated the three poisons, greed, hatred and delusion. A stream enterer has seven lives to go, a once-returner one life to go, a non-returner is reborn in Akanista heaven and enlightened there, and an Arahat is enlightened in the same body he started with on the path and is not reborn again in any realm of existence.
The Mahayana counters that this is just one level among more, and gives the analogy that the buddha is like the captain of a ship on a long voyage and compares the arahat level to the Buddha magically generating an island where his arahats can go rest, and when they are rested he wakes them up and announces that there is farther to go and instructs them on the Mahayana until they become fully enlightened buddhas. In the Mahayana sutras the buddhas says that the arhats are in fact reawakened from the peace of their samadhi and given further instructions. The Mahayana teaches that the samadhi of an Arahat abides in the extreme of perfect peace where there is no thought, movement or appearance of any kind. The Mahayana sutras then say that the true samadhi of the Buddha is the vajra samadhi that does not abide in either extreme of peace or appearance. Here there are appearances, where the appearances are seen through from the ground of emptiness and one realizes an effortlessness in existence, because all appearances shine forth as mere illusory display. So this is how the wisdom of omniscience pops out at the moment of total recognition. Mahayana hold that no one attains buddhahood until after several kalpas of practicing the six paramitas of patience, generosity, moral precepts, diligence, concentration and wisdom and then the bodhisattva proceeds along ten bhumis and five paths.
In Vajrayana, there are methods that all bodhisattvas must employ whether in this life or in another realm where this knowledge must be perfected and made permanent. The Vajrayana methods assume a lot of prior knowledge and wisdom and cut straight to the way one can realize the vision of illusory display in the moment and maintain it ongoing forever so that one can truly effect the total potential of existence by never forsaking a single sufferer while also never experiencing one moment that is not perfect quiet bliss. This is done through the outer and inner preliminary practices to gather the two accumulations and the two stage yoga of development stage deity yoga and profound completion stage methods to realize clear light of mind. In this version of practice, one must attain full buddhahood in the akanishta heaven unless one has accumulated the merits from past lives, particularly by serving a previous nirmanakaya buddha like Shakyamuni. Again, the system follows the Mahayana map of stages, except they can be completed in one life.
Finally, there is Atiyoga which realizes that none of the previous versions has a shred of reality or real value, that we are already fully enlightened buddhas, nothing left to develop and through the master's perfect wisdom one is shown the reality directly and the final vajra samadhi of illusory display shines forth immediately and takes over your consciousness like an ember in a pile of dry straw. The method is nonaction in the involuntary direct perception of reality. There is no question of practice, because once your mind is fully engulfed by the guru of fact, it's over. You are at the fruit of the path, and you just carry on. Any intention or action for the purposes of attainment, purification or manifestation is viewed as redundant and in the manner of a grasping ignorant fool who has lost the master's subtle touch. Even then, there is no question of getting it or missing it and from the Ati perspective not getting it is just what deluded others see. The ember is in the dry straw, and it's on fire. Of course, this method is difficult for people to conceive and folks are burdened by doubt, and so Ati has developed its own levels and while in its pure form contends there are no levels, in its teaching methods has ways of swiftly going through all the previously mentioned levels and the secret levels of Ati that no other lineages know about. This is like extended introduction. This is because Ati is immediate, and barring that, super fast, so it needs a language of its own to make sense of its own level. But in fact even when talking within the Ati system that includes methods and stages, Ati will still hold the levels are provisional training based on a sort of self-induced mind game with no reality in its own. This is because in Ati reality has no reality its own except for the fact that nonconceptual wisdom is present and displays as anything and everything, o well.
The real debate around Ati's highest level is whether one needs to have accumulations of merit in past lives to get this level or not. My lama's position is that of course without past merit accumulated the view is impossible. But in Ati's highest limit of teaching there is no such thing as accumulation or merit and conventional and ultimate reality are both fabricated fictions. Keep in mind that "master" in the extreme limit of Ati is not just a human person. Atiguru can take any form or be intrinsic to innate wisdom or both. In any event, Atiguru is indivisible with your mind from the start. So for example if Atiguru strikes you like lightning in the middle of your vajrayana practice; it just takes a fraction of a second, and then you soar like a garuda. So the question of interdependence of merit with teacher and student is lost. The Atigurus are not lying when they say Ati is inconceivable and the Atiguru and the Atigotra is inconceivable and a freeform mandala. Because once the Atiguru touches your mind, before and after are truly and effectively evicerated, and the timeless present is nowhere to be found either. There's no question of freedom or bondage either because while not bound, one will still respond automatically with compassion and being unseparated from innate omnipresent omniscience one automatically benefits beings. Automatic means one is not choosing it. So there is that "bind" of reality display that cannot err. But without a concept of "bound," "action" or "someone" there is only total spacious freedom. Where there is no samsara or nirvana ever. No abiding or nonabiding. No buddhas or beings. The ultimate middle way and ultimate great stamp of the king's power, This is the ultimate promise of all paths. You are buddha even if you don't know it, where knowing totally undermines the truth.
If you can accept Ati's reality, then you can easily accept every level perfect its own self-simple beauty and whatever claims anyone makes about what they know or do is all good.
Last edited by adinatha on Sat Apr 30, 2011 11:01 pm, edited 2 times in total.