There Is No Suffering 85

What follows enlightenment? Can we say that after enlightenment, wisdom completely replaces consciousness? If this were so, everyone would become a buddha upon experiencing enlightenment. In fact, it is a gradual, lengthy and variable process. You are still a sentient being, and sometimes there is consciousness; other times there is wisdom. That is why cultivation continues even after enlightenment. With advanced practitioners or with sages perhaps, we can say that enlightenment is shallow—turmoil is subdued but not eliminated. Light afflictions may still be experienced on the thought level, but they do not generate corresponding words and actions. For bodhisattvas enlightenment is deeper and emotional afflictions are partially terminated. The level of a bodhisattva would be analogous to cutting a tree at the trunk. The tree (attachment) may seem dead, but there is still the potential for life stored in the roots. For buddhas, afflictions have terminated completely—even the roots of vexation are gone. Only for buddhas can it be said that consciousness has been completely transformed into wisdom. Until this point is reached sometimes there is consciousness, sometimes there is wisdom. It depends on your depth of enlightenment and your state of mind in a given situation.

I will not discuss in detail the contemplation of the last nine links. The first three—fundamental ignorance, action, and consciousness, represent the past life. The next seven represent the present life and the last two represent the future life. If the past life is empty, then the present and future lives will also be empty. If there is attachment, there is suffering. When we successfully contemplate the emptiness of the twelve links, we depart from attachment and from suffering.

Contemplating the twelve links we see there is fundamentally no past life, no present life, no future life, as they are all empty. If this sounds pessimistic to you, then you have attachments. If this sounds attractive to you, you also have attachments. The point is not to be attached to existence or to non-existence. Likewise, we should not be attached to’ ignorance or non-ignorance,’ to ‘old age and death,’ or to ‘no old age and no death.’ Rather, as we continue the cycles of birth and death, we should try to help sentient beings without attachment. If we can to this, even if vexations arise, we are not attached to them, and we are not afflicted. That is liberation.