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Is enlightenment gradual or instantaneous? || Acharya Prashant (2019)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
6 min
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Question: Acharya Ji, we have heard many stories of kings getting enlightened in one moment. So, is enlightenment gradual or instantaneous?

Acharya Prashant Ji: It’s like a jigsaw puzzle. (Pointing at the arrangement of posters on the wall) Do you see this arrangement there? Let us say that this is the arrangement that is called ‘completeness’ or ‘totality’. Nothing is missing here, right?

Now, in the king’s life, this particular poster is missing. ( Reading out the quotation written on the poster) “As you minimize the role of planning in your life, your freedom increases.” So one day this poster comes floating upon the wings and somehow gets fixed here on the wall, and now, the pattern is complete. Now the thing is total.

This is the way it becomes total for the king, because in the king’s story, in the king’s life only ‘this’ is missing. ‘This’ has no special relevance, except that in the king’s particular, personal story, ‘this’ was missing. Therefore, the appearance of ‘this’ thing has no special relevance for you.

You find out what is missing in ‘your’ life.

The king saw a dry, yellow leaf floating upon the winds, and he was immediately enlightened. That might be because the king has brought everything else, assembled everything else that is needed for Totality except – detachment.

Now when he sees that the tree has given up on the leaf, and the leaf is no more attached to the tree, and the leaf is freely floating – that completes the story for him. Now, what completes the story for the king, will not complete the story for Parmeshwari (the questioner), because in the king’s world only ‘this’ was missing.

In Parmeshwari’s world, this-this, and that are missing. So a floating leaf will not help you. So what is going to help you? May be a talking parrot, may be a dancing frog. May be some tea.

You have to see what is missing from your Totality.

Therefore stories about others’ Enlightenment must be read with caution.

You specially have stuff like this in Zen.

“So the monk was walking on the street, and he found a dog sniffing into the garbage pile, and the monk was immediately enlightened.” If you try the same thing, all you will get is some infection, not Enlightenment.


The monk had already come to a particular stage where all that was missing was already there, except that missing piece. And the moment that came in, everything else was already ready. Everything else was already, only this much was missing.

So, as they say in a proverb, “The last straw on the camel’s back.”

That does not mean that Enlightenment is a product of the last straw. That only means that the fellow is so thoroughly prepared, the fellow is so absolutely ready, that one small incident, and the so-called event precipitates.

Are you getting it?

When the car is fully assembled, and well-fueled, and totally ready, then you just insert the key and ignition happens. If the car itself is in shambles, and has no engine, what is the point in talking of the key again and again?

In the case of the Zen seeker, Enlightenment happens at the turn of the key. How does that happen? Because the car is already raring to go. And so much effort has happened in assembling the car.

But the story won’t talk about the effort that went into the manufacturing of the car. The story simply says, “And the monk went in, and with one slight twist of the key, he flew away.” And you say, “Wow! Is that how it happens?” No, it won’t happen that way for you. You have to first assemble the car, and then there might be one point or one touch, and – Start!

Not before that.

Question 2: Acharya Ji, what is the purpose of Zen stories then?

Acharya Prashant Ji: To see that someone can be so thoroughly prepared.

The point is not to lure you with the prospect of instant Liberation. The point is to communicate to you, that your own preparation can be so very rigorous, so thorough, so complete, that after the preparation, even an ordinary event can precipitate your total Liberation.

An ordinary event. There is nothing special about the event. That event could as well be walking of the monkey that just went by this place. And the story would say, “With one eye, Anna (the questioner) looked at the Master, and with the other eye she looked at the monkey, and then both the eyes were together, and simultaneously liberated. And gone was the ‘I’.”

Question 3: Acharya ji, does Enlightenment happen on its own?

Acharya Prashant Ji: No, it requires your conscious preparation.

Unconsciously, you anyway are always clamoring. Your deep unconscious self is always yelling for Liberation. What is missing is, the co-operation of your conscious self.

Deep within, each one of us is beating our fists. None of us is contended. But at the conditioned-thought level, at the conscious-determination level, we do not commit ourselves to Liberation.

So, a conscious commitment is needed.

It’s like the body being fully ready for the bath, but the ‘person’ not being ready for the bath. You know how it happens, right? It’s winters.


The body is clamoring – “I need Liberation from the nonsense that is sticking to me,” but the conscious mind is not agreeing.

A conscious commitment is needed.

Deep within, you are already ready.

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