That is the central point in the meditation. Birth and death are simply devices, because neither birth is true nor death is true. We have been before birth, so how can birth be true? And we will be after death, so how can death be true? Only one thing is true: the consciousness that comes with you through birth and goes with you through death – perhaps birth is a door, and death too! Perhaps they are the same door, just your direction is different. When you enter this door into life your direction is towards life, and when you leave life you go through the same door, only your direction is outward. There is no need for two doors; one door will do perfectly well. When you enter this door you read the word push, and when you go out the same door, from the other side, only the word changes: pull.
But the real thing is: Who is to push and who is to pull?
Who is it who knows of birth and death and who is it who experiences birth and death? Again: who is it who does not know where we come from and where we go?
It is the same being. Awakened it knows, asleep it does not know.
Who is it who suddenly realizes where he comes from and where he goes to?
Here he comes very close to the reality of enlightenment, because enlightenment is always sudden. You may have been preparing for it for years, but in those years you were not enlightened; it was not that slowly, slowly you were becoming enlightened. The preparation may be long, of many lives, but when you become enlightened it is just in a single moment. It is always sudden. One moment you were ignorant; the next moment you are laughing hilariously…seeing that, “I am the same person who had been going through all kinds of sufferings, nightmares, worries, humiliations, failures, and now suddenly I am out of it all, as if by magic all the clouds have disappeared and the sun is shining bright.”
There are two schools in Zen. One is called the gradual school and the other the sudden school. The gradual school has a little misunderstanding of the point; otherwise nothing is wrong. They include in enlightenment the period of preparation, the period of wanderings – as if all those wanderings have helped, as if they were the cause of enlightenment. They recognize that enlightenment happens suddenly, but that this suddenness has been earned through lives of discipline, meditation, and virtue, so they include the preparation period. Hence they insist it is gradual.
But the word gradual is not right for it, because gradual enlightenment immediately gives the sense that you get it in installments: one part and then after a few years another part…and slowly gathering all these parts, one day you have the whole enlightenment.
I don’t agree with the gradual idea.
Enlightenment is sudden.
Preparation for it may take lives or may not take lives – it depends on you. If you are authentically interested in being enlightened it can happen without any preparation, because your inner being is already enlightened – it is just a point of turning in.