So, what’s enlightenment again?

The concept of Ichinen Sanzen explained


As outlined earlier, Tien Tai from China correlated all sutras and established that the Lotus sutra reigned supreme as it incorporated all that what Shakyamuni wanted people to understand – that they too are in fact Buddhas just as he is, they just have to become aware of this. As we know, Tien Tai from China has put the Buddha’s enlightenment into a schematic format which is now called ichinen sanzen. Translated this means ‘a single life moment possesses three thousand realms’. In other words, there are 3000 possible condition in which life expresses itself in ourselves, the environment and the society we live in. This is the ultimate truth as distilled by Tien Tai of which he says represents the Buddha’s (Gautama Siddharta’s) enlightenment.

Now, the explanation of the concept may sound rather abstract and complex but we will be able to relate to it as the following explanation will show.

In short, the concept of ichinen sanzen says that we all have 10 possible psychological states. These states are described as hell, hunger, anger, animality, tranquillity, rapture, learning, realization, Boddhisattva (being humane inclined), and Buddhahood (having an enlightened understanding of the workings of life).

These psychological states are usually strongest in one way or the other, depending on a person’s basic life condition. In other words, some people are ‘generally’ more angry others more tranquil for example. However these conditions can fluctuate at any moment. For instance someone in the life condition of ‘learning’ can suddenly fall into ‘anger’ or ‘hell’ if presented with a situation in which he or she experiences injustice or when receiving a phone call conveying a message of an accident to a loved one.

Seen from this perspective we can say that whenever we are in ‘one’ life condition, we can quickly get into another as soon as changes in the environment occur.

In order to better understand what the 10 states indicate it would be best to first of all explain each one in a little more in detail.

1. Hell; this is a state that is utterly devoid of freedom. Dominated by rage and the impulse to destroy oneself and others Hell is a state where one undergoes extreme suffering and despair and it appears that there is just no way out.

2. Hunger; is a condition where one is never satisfied. No matter how much food, clothes, wealth, pleasure, fame, power and so forth one has, if in the state of hunger it will never be enough.  One suffers the torment of relentless craving and there appears no way to alleviate it.

3. Animality; Buddhism defines this state as a condition governed by instinct without self control, morality or reason. There is no wisdom and when in this life condition we are following the rule that the strong are to be feared and those weaker than us are despised and preyed upon.

As becomes evident, the states of Hell, Hunger and Animality are rather undesired life conditions and they are thus collectively called ‘the three evil paths’, defining the lowest states of being.

4. Anger; Here we are dominated by our own selfish ego and we are compelled to be competitive as we feel the need to be superior to others. The only person that counts is us and that is all we can really hold dear in this state.

Buddhism names the conditions of Hell, Hunger, Animality and Anger collectively the ‘four evil paths’ for obvious reasons.

5. Humanity or Tranquillity; is a state in which we are able to control our instinctive desires through reason, thus allowing us to judge a situation fairly. Here we are able to live harmoniously with our environment.

6. Heaven or Rapture; is a state where we experience a sense of pleasure once a desire has been fulfilled. However, that sense of pleasure is temporary and therefore short lived as it disappears as soon as the circumstances change or as soon as we are getting used to the new situation (i.e. which will only be a matter of time).

The first 6 stages from Hell to Heaven are called ‘the six paths’ as they are governed by our reaction to the external circumstances. Here we are like on a rollercoaster ‘up and down’, whenever changes occur. Our locus of control is minimal.  Buddhism explains that the majority of people spend their time moving back and forth on these 6 paths, sometimes full of rapture because they have received what they desired, and then falling into the depths of hell or anger the moment their expectations haven’t been met.

In the lower six paths we can at best expect uncertainty. This is why we strive to attain higher life states such as the next four from Learning through to Buddhahood. Buddhism refers to those as ‘the four noble worlds’.

7. Learning; realizing that the lower six paths are very volatile and offer no security the state of learning is defined by our seeking of lasting truth and self reformation through the teachings of others.

8. Realization; specifies a life condition in which one is aware of the impermanence of all phenomena. Realizing that the six lower paths (hell, hunger, anger, animality, tranquillity, rapture) don’t make for secure living, one is inclined to seek salvation through perceiving lasting truth through one’s own observations and efforts to escape the suffering.

In Buddhism these two states, Learning and Realization, are often referred to as the two vehicles. The problem with the two vehicles is that when we are in these states we are likely to only seek our own salvation.

(9) Bodhisattva; this state is characterised by one’s desire to devote oneself to altruistic and compassionate actions and aspiration for enlightenment itself.

(10) Buddhahood; Understanding Nam Myoho Renge Kyo. Buddhahood is a condition of absolute freedom and comprehensive understanding. Because an enlightened person understands all phenomena and their true meaning, that person consequently possesses great power and wisdom. One’s Buddhahood will be expressed in the actions of the Bodhisattva.

Combining the question of life and death and the 10 worlds Daisaku Ikeda states the following: We experience life and death at every moment. If our life at the present moment is in Hell, the state of Hell is “alive,” and the other nine worlds are “dead.” Suppose you are finally cured of a long, drawn-out disease. You dance with joy in the state of Rapture. The agony of Hell you felt a moment ago is gone; it has died. Hell and the other worlds have passed away, replaced by the vigorous life of Rapture. You want to tell other people of the joy of your recovery and attribute it to your Buddhist practice so they can possibly benefit from your experience. Then Rapture vanishes and your life changes to the state of Bodhisattva. Our lifetime is an accumulation of momentary lives and deaths. Even if Rapture is alive now, the other nine worlds have not in the least ceased to exist; they have merely become dormant. Since they are latent, any one of them can come to life in the next moment.


Since our lifetime is an accumulation of moments, the most important thing is the state of life we assume at each moment. Eternity consists of moments, and each moment has a lifetime condensed in it. Hence our state of life from moment to moment determines the overall course of our life. This, more broadly, is the key to changing one’s karma. When we value each moment and live actively, enthusiastically, ready to greet the next moment, we go through a state of life and death free from suffering and directed toward enlightenment. If not, we will have to go through lifetime after lifetime in the six paths (from Hell to Rapture), passing from one dark state to another. That is why we must embrace Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, the Law which penetrates the ultimate in life and death. Only this Law will enable us to attain the state of life in which it is possible to live eternity in a single moment.


The ultimate law of life is the fundamental force which penetrates and pervades not only humanity but all things in the universe. It denotes the universality of life. All phenomena from the tiniest particle of dust to the galaxies move in rhythm to the law of life. There is nothing in the entire universe which is not touched by it.

The number 10 is therefore easy to understand. So how then do we get to 100? Tien Tai explained that each of the 10 psychological states also has the 10 states within it. As mentioned earlier, whenever we are in ‘one’ life condition, the other nine are dormant but potentially occur as soon as the circumstances of our life change.

This means that the life condition of ‘learning’ for example has the states of  hell, hunger, anger, animality, tranquillity, rapture, learning, realization, Boddhisattva, and Buddhahood within it.

In other words, someone who experiences the life condition of ’learning’ could do so in a state of ‘anger’ or he could do so in a state of ‘realization’. Thus ‘learning’ would ‘feel’ very different in each state.

This then means that the 10 states can be multiplied by the 10 states and we therefore arrive at the magic number 100.

The 10 States
1. Hell Hell, Hunger, Anger, Animality, Tranquillity, Rapture, Learning, Hunger, Realization, Bodhisattva, Enlightenment
2. Hunger Hell, Hunger, Anger, Animality, Tranquillity, Rapture, Learning, Hunger, Realization, Bodhisattva, Enlightenment
3. Anger Hell, Hunger, Anger, Animality, Tranquillity, Rapture, Learning, Hunger, Realization, Bodhisattva, Enlightenment
4. Animality Hell, Hunger, Anger, Animality, Tranquillity, Rapture, Learning, Hunger, Realization, Bodhisattva, Enlightenment
5. Tranquillity Hell, Hunger, Anger, Animality, Tranquillity, Rapture, Learning, Hunger, Realization, Bodhisattva, Enlightenment
6. Rapture Hell, Hunger, Anger, Animality, Tranquillity, Rapture, Learning, Hunger, Realization, Bodhisattva, Enlightenment
7. Learning Hell, Hunger, Anger, Animality, Tranquillity, Rapture, Learning, Hunger, Realization, Bodhisattva, Enlightenment
8. Realization Hell, Hunger, Anger, Animality, Tranquillity, Rapture, Learning, Hunger, Realization, Bodhisattva, Enlightenment
9. Bodhisattva, Hell, Hunger, Anger, Animality, Tranquillity, Rapture, Learning, Hunger, Realization, Bodhisattva, Enlightenment
10. Enlightenment Hell, Hunger, Anger, Animality, Tranquillity, Rapture, Learning, Hunger, Realization, Bodhisattva, Enlightenment

10 X 10 = 100 possible (mental) states

So, how do we arrive at 1000 would be the next question?  Tien Tai explains further that the 100 possible psychological states find expression in the 10 factors.

The 10 factors are:

1. appearance (body),
2. Nature (mind),
3. Entity (the combination of body and mind),
4. Power (energy),
5. Influence,
6. Internal cause (karma),
7. External cause (catalyst that causes a response),
8. Latent effect (action potential),
9. Manifest effect (when action has been taken),
10. Consistency from beginning to end (all these 10 factors are dependent on each other and are ‘happening’ at the same time – i.e. none of these factors can exist purely by itself).

For example, an ‘angry’ person in the state of ‘learning’ will have an ‘appearance’. This means he or she has ‘influence’ and through some action shows a ‘manifest effect’. This also means that all the other factors that I haven’t mentioned here must be consistent from beginning to end even though they may not be visible to the observer. In other words, we only see anger in the person’s face and behaviour but for it to be there, there must be an internal cause that has created a latent effect which has been brought out by an external cause and so on.

This follows that the 100 possible psychological states can be multiplied by 10 factors – and that makes 1000.  As we continue to follow the process of deductive reasoning, we now need to ask ‘how do we arrive at 3000 states in one moment of existence?’

That’s possibly the easiest to explain when we come to think that in order to find expression the 1000 possible states will have to manifest in our ‘self’, the ‘environment’, and the ‘society’ we live in.

In other words, the three realms in which the 1000 states are expressed in the phenomenal world are:

Each one of the realms has the potential to express the 1000 states, thus making it a total number of 3000. They are of course, intrinsically interconnected and cannot be separated.

It is easy to imagine that a volcanic eruption (hellish) is differently perceived from a peaceful valley (tranquillity).  It is also easy to imagine that a society could collectively decide that human rights are of utmost importance (Boddhisattva) versus deciding they should go to war with their neighbours (anger).

To further explain the interactions between all states (i.e. self, society and environment), we could within our ‘self’ experience ‘anger’ whereas the ‘natural environment’ where we are experiencing this anger is in a state of ‘tranquillity’ (i.e. angry as we are, we may be standing next to a beautiful perfectly still mountain lake), whereas the society we live in may be collectively in a state of rapture (maybe after winning the Olympics?).

Some people tend to ask ‘how can the environment manifest Buddhahood (i.e. enlightenment)? For example we could simply think that books are part of the environment in which enlightenment may be explained. Also, Shakyamuni observed the processes of a lotus plant to become ‘enlightened’ of the functions within life. Therefore, we could say that the cause for enlightenment is inherent in the environment, we just need to have the ability to perceive it.

All this equates to 3000 possible life states to be experienced within a single moment of existence.

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