Kensho: de-emphasised, disregarded or rebranded?

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  • Myojin
    Member
    • Feb 2023
    • 231

    Kensho: de-emphasised, disregarded or rebranded?

    First of all I recognise that I've only been actively studying Buddhism for a few years so I may well be completely off the mark.

    I've been reading Bodhidharma recently (The Zen Teaching of Bodhidharma, translated by Red Pine), and he is pretty explicit that seeing ones own nature is the entry to the dharma way. He's really quite concise and enjoyable but he (or whoever actually wrote the texts attributed to him) hammers at this basic point repeatedly. I used to sit with a lay zen group and they emphasised the same thing, but in Soto zen it's rarely explicitly talked about.

    In Soto-shu it seems the Kensho, or perceiving one's true nature is either de-emphasised, disregarded, or else called something else or expressed in different terms. Shikantaza seems to be founded on this basic understanding that there is nothing to get, nowhere to go, but just to sit and thus express Buddha nature. "Being with what is", seems to allude to this direct perception whilst toning down any talk of it as a definite experience. I'd be interested to hear what the official line is, if such a thing exists?

    Sorry for running a bit long

    Gassho

    Myojin
    -Sattlah
    Last edited by Myojin; 05-13-2024, 12:05 AM. Reason: Edited for brevity
  • Jundo
    Treeleaf Founder and Priest
    • Apr 2006
    • 39205

    #2
    Hi Myojin,

    Kensho (Seeing the Nature, or Nature Seeing) is as vital in Soto Zen as in any corner of Zen.

    What is confusing to some folks, however, is the assumption that one must do so only by having some big, explosive, radical moment of dropping away bodymind to experience the profound inter-identity of all aspects of reality. That assumption, frankly, is the remaining echo of books like "Three Pillars of Zen" and the early influence of Zen in the West of certain groups like the mixed Soto-Rinzai Sanbokyodan/Harada-Yasutani-Maezumi Lineage which placed (maybe less so in recent decades) extreme emphasis on such Big Bang Kensho experiences, as well as in certain corners of the Rinzai tradition. It even led to misunderstanding that, once one experienced such burstings of the little self, one was enlightened, done, and all would now be right with the world. When Dogen critized use of the word "Kensho" sometimes, I believe that it was in such sense, although he also spoke of the importance of seeing the nature at other times. For example, in “Shobogenzo-Shizen biku' he writes, ‘Where among the seven buddhas and twenty-eight Indian ancestors does one find it said that the buddha dharma is just seeing the nature? [いづれのところにか佛法のただ見性のみなりとある]”

    Soto Zen is a bit more subtle about this: The radical droppings away happen to Soto folks too (and we celebrate and welcome when they do!), but also, there can be a more subtle, translucent softening of the sense of self, and a profound knowing that arises deep in the bones of the interidentity and interflowing of all things, beings and moments of time of this world. It is like the old Zen saying which points out that one can get just as soaking wet walking through a hard rainstorm, diving into an ocean, or walking through a light mist over time.

    In Shikantaza, the best way to "put the little selfish self out of a job," with all its like and dislikes, demands, fears and desires in life, is to sit in the radical equanimity and completeness of Just Sitting, with nothing lacking, nothing more to demand, in this sacred act of sitting itself. The hard borders and frictions of self and this "not self" world then soften, sometimes fulling drop away, and all is revealed as everything that is everything, while each and all do their own thing too. Do not doubt that the key to liberation in Zen is such knowing and softening or dropping away of our little self.

    However, our work does not stop there: Simply because we might come to know something more than "me who is not you, this that and the other thing" "birth and death" "up and down, win and lose" etc. etc., nonetheless we must also practice how to live in this world of "me you this that birth death etc." even with such knowing. Our practice is not over with Kensho, but merely begins anew each day. This is Dogen's vision of ongoing, continuous "Practice-Enlightenment."

    Does that clarify things a bit?

    If you would like to read more babblings on this: https://forum.treeleaf.org/forum/tea...nsho#post13974

    Gassho, J

    stlah
    Last edited by Jundo; 05-13-2024, 12:52 PM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

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    • Myojin
      Myojin commented
      Editing a comment
      Hi Jundo,

      Thanks for your detailed response. Sometimes it's difficult to know if different traditions are talking about the same experience using different language so I'll keep it brief, but I think I see where you are coming from with your description.

      I actually didn't get around to reading many of the early classics on zen in English, aside from a few books by D.T. Suzuki. The one standout first-hand description of Kensho is from Shodo Harada Roshi. He talked about hanging around in the mountains doing zazen trying to 'get' Kensho as a critical aspect of his training, but he classed it as more of a beginning, and not an end in itself as such. My impression was that he didn't really 'get' zen until he'd experienced kensho, which is clearly a contrast from the Soto point of view.

      Yamaoka Tesshu, the master swordsman, also had something similar that made a strong impression on him, at which he promptly went and threw a party for all his friends to celebrate! He was part of the lineage that the lay group I used to sit with and kensho as a definite event is part of their tradition.

      While I do see the value of such an experience when it occurs I'm pretty much on the same page as you on the matter I think. At this point in my life I'm content to just sit without expecting flashes of light and rolls of thunder, so I'll have a look through the link you provided to clarify further without clogging up the forum threads.

      Gassho

      Myojin
      -Satlah
  • Jenny A
    Member
    • Mar 2024
    • 44

    #3
    Thank you for this teaching, Jundo. It is very helpful to me.

    Gassho,
    Jenny
    stlah

    Comment

    • Jundo
      Treeleaf Founder and Priest
      • Apr 2006
      • 39205

      #4
      Hi Myojin,

      I think a biologist specialized in forest processes might have some doorway to this more than many people.

      So, we think we are little leaves, small and fragile, occupying a limited tiny space on one branch, here for a time, falling away with the passing seasons. Yet, somehow we realize that, together with our individual leafness, we are (not merely part of, but are) the tree, and the tree is (not merely part of, but is) the forest ... and the whole world, universe, all time and space. All as we are the little leaf, as if the whole tree, the whole forest is fully embodied in the leaf ... and the whole world, universe, all time and space. And each leaf is another facet of every other leaf, and every blade of grass and forest creature ... and the whole world, universe, all time and space.

      All a great process, a dance ongoing season by season yet somehow timeless. More than a blind process, there is somehow some vibrant principle at work in all of it.

      Something like that.

      Myo, you should get this more easily than most.

      Gassho, J

      stlah

      PS - Yes, the Treeleaf name itself arises from such a vision.
      ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

      Comment


      • Myojin
        Myojin commented
        Editing a comment
        Hi Jundo,

        Yes I can definitely grasp it on that level, it's not even theory but something that with the right tools can be observed in real time. Using C or N isotopes to trace the movement of molecules though a plant/soil system, from photosynthesis through metabolism to it's ejection into the soil or back into the atmosphere springs to mind, and the pathway is only a bit more complex as far as we are concerned. We often feel like we came into the world, when in fact we came out of it, we are the world experiencing itself.

        I remember as a child (I was lucky enough to be raised in the countryside), sitting under trees and intuitively sensing the life of the trees, the soil, the teeming life going through it all in endless overlapping waves of birth, growth, death, rebirth. As a teenager I had a very peculiar vision when sat among pine trees and feeling them growing, it was as if they spoke to me, and said that they were glad I was going but sorry to see me leave. A strange kind of intimation for a teenage boy but fitting I think for one just setting out in life, and it impressed in me the sense that I was just another part of the process doing it's thing.

        As time went on, probably in part because I developed the habit of sitting quietly for longish periods from quite an early age, occasionally this sense would remerge of being part of the process processing, a wholeness beyond the usual experience, or behind it. It's perhaps not surprising that I'd eventually be led into research into these very processes that make sense intuitively as a bone deep awareness, to concretise and even measure them.

        And yet, there is still a brain fog that occludes it most of the time. Like walking in a landscape on a misty day, I know it's there but right now I just see mist, and that's how the other 99.9% of life is. I think the attraction of Kensho is the idea that this understanding might be a permanent fixture, informing life in a much more concrete and less easily forgotten way. But on the other hand, when you're one with everything it gets difficult to do ordinary things like walk down the street or file taxes, so this limited view seems to serve a purpose, to be a feature rather than a bug. I'm beginning to suspect that this might be the whole point of the Soto view!

        Gassho

        Myojin

        -Satlah
    • Alina
      Member
      • Jul 2023
      • 141

      #5
      Originally posted by Jundo
      one can get just as soaking wet walking through a hard rainstorm, diving into an ocean, or walking through a light mist over time.
      Thank you Jundo for this teaching and this particular quote, for me it has always been like walking through a light mist instead of diving into an ocean, so whenever I would read about "radical moment of dropping away bodymind" I always wondered if I was missing something, or getting it wrong, or not doing something...


      Gassho
      Alina
      stlah

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