How to become a buddha

“I am a commoner from Xinzhou in the south, and I have come this long distance to make obeisance to you. I seek only to become a Buddha, nothing more.” – Hui-neng (638-713)

The way to abandon the body is to have a penetrating insight into its provisional nature. When this happens, the mind, together with its world, becomes transparent and its workings are illuminated. – Tao-hsin

To be empty of all creatures is to be full of God, and to be full of all creatures is to be empty of God. – Meister Eckhart (On Detachment)


The Mahayana school of Buddhism taught that there were ten stages of attainment. This is an arbitrary number used to give disciples some standards by which to measure their progress, but in practice everyone’s experience is unique. According to Mahayana Buddhists, the eighth stage is that of the Tathagata–one who goes in suchness. It is called Acala, which means no regression. People can regress from any stage, but not a trained master.

In Buddhism the meditative attainments, or dhyanas, are realms which one enters. In very general terms, once a being has completely done away with desire and has seen the the lack of self-nature of people and things—the twofold egolessness—that being has left the desire realm and dwells in the form realm. If that being were to exit the body at this stage it would have the option of rebirth in the form realm, but could choose to return to earth if there were a reason to do so. My own impression from what I have read is that enlightened beings can provide more help to those on earth if they are in a spiritual form. This is because most human beings don’t receive wisdom consciously, for example by reading or listening to a master, but subconsciously through symbolism. If you are reading this, you are one of the rare ones who has decided to use his or her mind to transcend the mind. It is for you that masters throughout history have taught, for you all of the magnificent churches and temples have been built.


The practices or cultivations of the mind that have proven effective for the attainment of Self-realization are called paramitas. The word paramita comes from para, meaning ‘beyond’ or ‘the opposite shore’, and mita, which means ‘that which has arrived’; paramitas are therefore practices which carry one to the opposite shore. The original list of perfections is the Buddha’s Eightfold Path. Each of the eight paths was preceded by the word samyak, meaning complete or perfect, meaning that one was to practice each path to perfection. This doesn’t mean that one perfects the self; rather one comes to realize that the self is an illusion and lets go of it, because it covers up the perfection which lies at the core of our being.

Mahayana Buddhism teaches six perfections. These were derived from the original Pali canon, which listed ten. Ksanti encompasses both patience and equanimity, and dana encompasses giving, compassion and and renunciation.

  1. Giving (Dana)
  2. Morality (Sila)
  3. Patient suffering, equanimity (Ksanti)
  4. Zeal (Viraya)
  5. Meditation (Dhyana)
  6. Wisdom (Prajna)

Like the Eightfold Path, perfections are all practiced simultaneously.

Become that which you aspire to be

Knowledge comes through likeness. – Meister Eckhart

In order to know the one Self, you must develop a likeness or identity with the Self. At the end of his teaching on love in his Sermon on the Mount, Yeshua said, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Another time Yeshua rebuked Cephas, saying, “You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do” (Mark 8:33). As Lester Levenson (1993) explained:

All behavior should be that which is characteristic of the egoless state or the state of the Self: changelessness, equal mindedness, seeing only the Self, seeing only perfection, having the same attitude toward good and bad fortune, identifying with all, indifference to praise or censure, having joy only in your Self, complete passivity, complete humbleness, being not the doer, desirelessness, dispassion, non-attachment, forbearance. – Lester Levenson (1993, Session 21: Attitude and Action)

To attain a higher state you must develop a strong mental impression of that state. It is as if you are in a pole vaulting competition, in which the bar is progressively raised. In order to clear the higher bar you must first visualize yourself clearing it, bringing the future into the present. That which you expect will happen; the thought summons.

Thiago Braz

World champion Thiago Braz at Rio Olympics


A sculptor remains focused on a mental image of the finished sculpture in the rough stone and chips away everything that is not that perfect form. This principle is the basis of the Eleven practices to attain the first awakening. Releasing chips away the negative feelings, habits of thought and cravings which cover up what we really are. Acceptance chips away at judgment and enables one to see the sameness and underlying perfection of all things. Love chips away at the craving to be loved. Mindfulness meditation chips away at thinking of the past and future. Altogether the eleven practices bring the mind to the point where there is an expectation of awakening, and this expectation brings about a true awakening.

Purgation: Letting go of the negative

The Buddhist path involves two simultaneous processes: purgation and realization. Purgation means to purify oneself of attachments, since it is the ego-self which is attached to the world. This is why the Diamond Sutra teaches that the bodhisattva remains detached from people and things even when helping others, and why Yeshua said, “But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret.” (Matt. 6:3) The aim of giving isn’t to become attached to feeling good or virtuous, but to “think as God does.” Detachment and equanimity are the highest virtues.

Existence is bondage. First one forms a mind (nama), and the mind forms a body (rupa): mind and body are the entirety of the ego-self. The mind discriminates this from that, both forms and concepts, and knows things as good or bad based on cravings experienced in infancy.  In our unconscious mind there is an infant, the id, which craves love, security, and control over its parents. The id holds on to memories of pain from when it felt it was not loved, when it could not make others love it, and as a result felt insecure. These painful memories are what drive all of our negative thoughts and behaviors.

As long as we continue to try to obtain love, to try to be loved, grasping for whatever symbolizes being loved and pushing away whatever symbolizes not being loved, we remain identified with the ego-self. The aim of spiritual practices is to stop grasping and start giving; to stop wanting in the knowledge that we have never lacked anything. Letting go of everything may seem like a sacrifice, but as Yeshua said, “What can a man offer to pay for his soul?” (Mark 8:36)

Releasing is the best method I am aware of for letting go of attachments and aversions. Its creator, Lester Levenson, realized enlightenment in three months; however, he had previously read every book by Freud and had undergone Freudian psychoanalysis four times a week for four years. What psychoanalysis does is to bring repressed feelings into awareness, from the dark recesses of the subconscious into the light. Freud once said, “I will turn id into ego.”

Hui-neng said that we should forget about the past, and Lester Levenson also said it wasn’t necessary to do what he did, which was to recall every significant event in his life and let go of the feelings associated with each one. But Hui-neng and Lester were both wrong about this. You can’t let go of the past by ignoring it; rather you have to do exactly as Lester did. It is not uncommon for masters to underestimate the importance of something they did or something they experienced, and Lester never saw the importance of his four years of Freudian psychotherapy. As long as he was in therapy he refused to let go of the feelings associated with past events that were being brought up, but when he finally did decide to let go he didn’t have to go searching for them.

I do not believe that one can stop releasing until enlightenment is attained.


“There’s not a higher Self and a lower Self. There’s only you identifying with your limitless Being or identifying with your limited being.” – Lester Levenson

Now the very highest state is simply Beingness, and if we could only be, just be, we could see our Infinity. We would see that there are no limitations. We would see that we are the All. We would be in a perfectly satiated, permanent, changeless state. And it is not a nothingness, it is not a boredom, it is an Allness, an Everythingness, a Total Satiation that is eternal. You will never, never lose your individuality. The word “I” as you use it to mean your individuality will never, ever leave you. It expands. What happens as you re-remember what you are is that you’ll begin to see that others are you, that you are me, that you are now and always have been gloriously Infinite. Lester Levenson, 1964

The second process of Self-realization is ceasing to identify with the limited self and identifying with the unlimited Self. This is accomplished by ceasing to focus on what you and others are not—distinct mortal selves—and focusing instead on the one Self that you are.

Catholic mystic Jeanne Guyon described this stage as remaining ever turned toward God:

The soul, being turned in the direction of God, has a great facility for remaining converted to Him. The longer it is converted, the nearer it approaches to God, and attaches itself to Him; and the nearer it approaches to God, the more it becomes necessarily drawn from the creature, which is opposed to God.

Meister Eckhart said,

The soul should be independent and should not want anything, and then it would attain godly stature by reason of likeness. Nothing makes for unity as much as likeness, for God, too, is independent and needs nothing. In this way the soul enters the unity of the Holy Trinity but it may become even more blessed by going further, to the barren Godhead, of which the Trinity is [but] a revelation. In this barren Godhead, activity has ceased and therefore the soul will be most perfect when it is thrown into the desert of the Godhead, where both activity and forms are no more, so that it is sunk and lost in this desert where its identity is destroyed and it has no more to do with things than it had before it existed. Then it is dead to self and alive to God. What is dead in this sense has ceased to be. So that soul will be dead to self which is buried in the Godhead-desert. Dionysius says: “To be buried in God is nothing but to be transported into uncreated life.” (Blakney, Sermon 22, EXPEDIT VOBIS UT EGO VADAM p. 200)

In the Mahaparanirvana Sutra, the Buddha’s last sermons, he told his disciples to stop meditating on what they were not (void of self-nature, subject to destruction, etc.) and instead to meditate on what they were: the Self, eternality, bliss, and perfection. (In Orategama, Hakuin cites this passage, but the four virtues of Nirvana are translated by Yampolsky as Self, permanence, peace, and purity.)

O Monks, why is it said that one who has the idea of a Self is arrogant and haughty, going round Samsara? Monks, although you might say, “We also cultivate impermanence, suffering, and non-self,” these three kinds of cultivation have no real value. I shall now explain the three excellent ways of cultivating Dharma. . . .

O monks! Do not cultivate the idea of impermanence, suffering and non-self, the idea of impurity and so forth, deeming them to be the true meaning [of the Dharma] . . .  You should train yourselves well in efficacious means. Whatever you are doing, constantly meditate upon the idea of the Self, the idea of the Eternal, Bliss and Perfection. . . .  Those who, desirous of attaining the Dharma, meditatively cultivate these ideas—namely the ideas of the Self, the Eternal, Bliss and Perfection—will skillfully bring forth the jewel . . .  (The Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra, Chapter Three, “Grief”)

Meister Eckhart said, “As I have often said, I like best those things in which I see most
clearly the likeness of God. Nothing in all creation is so like God as stillness.” Yeshua told his disciples, “You are thinking the way human beings think, not as God thinks.”


“Renounce all notions and then renounce the renouncer of those notions. When even the notion of the ego sense has ceased, you will be like infinite space, free, unbounded, eternal. As long as there is a “you” and “I” there is no liberation, no freedom.” (Recorded sutras read by Deepak Chopra)

“What is required is that we re-establish that state of the Self again and again until it becomes permanent. Each time we do it, we scorch more of the mind, until finally we have scorched the entire mind. Then we are permanently established in the Self. Then you sit back and the mind is out there, and the body is out there and you are not the mind, you are not the body. As long as you know you are not the mind and the body, both of them can go on to their heart’s content, and you know that they cannot touch you.” – Lester Levenson (1993, p. 30)

Enlightenment doesn’t take one unawares; rather one is drawn into it. Moreover, the less effort there is on the part of the self, the faster one advances. Jeanne Guyon compared it to sinking in an ocean: “Without perceiving its sinking, the soul would sink to the most profound depths with incredible speed.”  She also used the analogy of rowing a galley out of a harbor: once free of the harbor it spreads its sails:

“They travel farther in an hour while the ship is carried by the wind than they would in a much longer time by their own efforts; and if they wished to row, besides the fatigue which would result from it, their labour would be useless and would only serve to slow the vessel.” (guyon_shortmethodofprayer)

The Buddhist canon employs the same metaphor:

This effortlessness is again compared in the Dasabhumika to a great seafaring boat. When the boat is not yet at sea, much labour is needed to make it move forward, but
as soon as it reaches the ocean, no human power is required; leave it alone and the wind will take care of it. One day’s sailing thus left to itself on the high seas will surely be more than equal to one hundred years of human labouring while still in the shallows. When the Bodhisattva sails out onto the great ocean of Bodhisattvahood, one moment of effortless activity will surpass infinite deeds of conscious striving. (D. T. Suzuki, 1929, p. 226)

D. T. Suzuki and Jeanne Guyon stress the importance of “other-power” or grace, which means that one allows one’s mind to be undone. Meister Eckhart said that the greatest virtue is passivity: to “suffer” or allow God to work in the soul. The main thing is to maintain that feeling of letting go, of surrender. As your life comes up from your unconsciousness into awareness, let everything go.

That last thing one lets go of is the mind itself. In order to “renounce the renouncer,” you practice Bodhidharma’s Method for Quieting the Mind. You sit, and as each thought arises, you welcome it and observe it, mindful of the teaching that things and persons have no self-nature; they are empty. Even the voice in one’s head, the monologue, is observed as if it were the voice of a stranger. You ask, “Who is speaking? Where do these words arise from?” mindful that there is no self from which they can arise. To ask this question is to attempt to grasp the mind, as Bodhidharma instructed Hui-k’o to do.


17. If your mind values one thing, it will surely despise another. If your mind affirms anything, it must negate something. If your mind takes one thing to be good, then other things are bad. If your mind has more affection for one person, it despises others. The mind does not abide in forms, nor does it abide in formlessness. It does not abide in abiding, nor does it abide in non-abiding. If your mind abides anywhere, it cannot avoid being bound. If your mind functions anywhere, that is bondage. If your mind values dharmas, dharmas will bind you. If your mind values one dharma, other dharmas are inferior. When you try to grasp the meaning of the sutras and treatises you should not value understanding. If there are parts that you understand, then your mind is attached to something. If the mind is attached to anything, that is bondage. The sutra says: “It is not through inferior, average or superior dharmas that one attains Nirvana.” Even though the mind has entered delusion, do not push delusion away. Instead, when something arises from the mind, rely on the Dharma to gaze at the place from which it arises. If the mind discriminates, rely on the Dharma to gaze at the place of the discrimination. Whether greed, anger or ignorance arise, rely on the Dharma to gaze at the place from which they arise. To see that there is no place from which these can arise is to cultivate the Way. If there is anything arising from the mind, then investigate it, and relying on the Dharma, clean house!

21. Question: What is transcending the limits of the norms?

Answer: The spontaneously quiescent mind does not realize the understanding of the Mahayana or the Hinayana, does not raise the mind of enlightenment, even to the point of not wishing for the omniscience of a buddha, does not honor the person who is accomplished in samadhi, does not disdain the person who is attached and craving; he does not even wish for enlightenment. If one does not grasp for understanding and does not seek wisdom, he will avoid the delusions and confusions of the Dharma masters and meditation masters. If one can preserve mindfulness and erect will, entertain no wish to be a worthy or a sage, not seek liberation, fear neither the cycle of birth and death nor the hells, and with no-mind directly perform his duties, then for the first time he will bring to perfection a dull mind of norms. If one is to witness all the transformations of the worthies and sages due to their supernormal powers through hundreds of thousands of eons without the arising of envy, then he should avoid the deceptions and delusions of others.

Another question: How does one produce the mind that transcends the limits of the norms?

Answer: When you do not have the mind of the ordinary man, arhat or bodhisattva, and do not even have a buddha-mind or any mind at all, then for the first time you can be said to have transcended the limits of the norms. If you desire that no mind at all should arise, that no understanding or delusion should arise, then for the first time you can be said to have transcended everything. (Bodhidharma’s Method of Quieting the Mind)

* * *

1 The supernormal powers are of interest to many, and I will limit myself to a few remarks in the way of warning. In the first place, the seeker will not attain enlightenment as long as there is a desire for anything. Many people have had profound mystical experiences only to fall back into ignorance because their egos seized upon the experiences. In the second place, wisdom is the goal, not mastery over matter or the senses. Therefore, if powers ‘fall’ on you, the best course is to not pay attention to them as they will distract you from your goal. In the third place, sages do not display their powers except under very limited circumstances. This is for two reasons. First, to do so distracts attention from what the sage is saying; second, displaying powers causes even advanced disciples to regard the sage as divine and enlightenment as unattainable for ordinary beings. Ma Tin Hla wrote,

Acquisition of supernatural powers does not confer any spiritual advantage. It was for this reason that the Buddha forbade his disciples to work miracles for display. Here it would not be out of place to mention that the yogic beliefs of Buddhism are not to be seen clearly in the Lamaism of Tibet. Craving for supernatural powers and taking delight therein after acquirement do not help us to free ourselves, from lust, hatred and ignorance. This has to be guarded against by those striving in the path of holiness for final liberation only and nothing else. (Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia)

The six supernormal powers of a buddha:
1. Iddhividha – The power of transformation
2. Dibbasota – Celestial hearing
3. Cetopariya – The power of discernment of the mind of others
4. Pubbenivasa – Power of knowing previous existences
5. Dibba-cakkhu – Celestial vision
6. Asavakkhaya – Supra-mundane knowledge relating to the destruction of asavas and the recognition of the Four Noble Truths


Guyon, J. M. B. de La Mot. A Short Method of Prayer. (A. W. Marston, translator)

Levenson, Lester (1993). Keys to the Ultimate Freedom: Thoughts and Talks on Personal Transformation. Sedona Institute. ( (download)

Suzuki, D. T. (1932). The Lankavatara Sutra: A Mahayana Text (Based upon the Sanskrit edition of Bunyu Nanjo). London. (

Suzuki, D. T. (1957). Mysticism: Christian and Buddhist. London and New York: Routledge Classics.

Suzuki, D. T. (1998). Studies in the Lankavatara Sutra. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers. (originally published in 1929)

Williams, Paul and Tribe, Anthony (2000). Buddhist Thought: A Complete Introduction to the Indian Tradition. London and New York: Routledge.

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