"Sudden enlightenment"

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  • Epictetus
    Member
    • Sep 2014
    • 5

    "Sudden enlightenment"

    Friends, I have a question and I thought this might be the best forum to help me answer it.

    I am in correspondence with a small e-group of retired men that discusses spirituality and related matters. A couple of members are keen to share experiences of "enlightenment", what it means and how one approaches it. One man claims to have attained enlightenment and describes it as, for him, a 'zap' or 'whack' that came out of the blue, unexpected and unsolicited. He was simply driving his car, probably thinking about his family or the business that he ran, when out of nowhere he was struck by a powerful sense of oneness and love for all beings. This happened in 1987 and the experience is still with him. If I may quote his own words (very slightly edited):

    There is no doubt about my enlightenment....what I cannot figure is, why?
    I was not on the path.... I did not ask... I was whacked! That told me there is an alternative force and my rationale tells me it must dwell within. that was thirty years ago... so here I am... thirty years down the path and hopeful for a major step.....

    Driving to work one morning, out of the blue and instantaneously I was ..... zapped ... ?.
    My description would be; Suddenly full of an indescribable overpowering love for everyone and everything, a brighter day and a free spirit... no more attachments. All hate, all hang ups gone!
    I became aware of what was to become my true self... my inner being. I felt it powerfully for months after and did not want the euphoria to pass. It did subside, but never left me. I became a new person with my outlook to others and how I perceived the world. Most importantly I suppose, is how I determined 'LOVE'.

    My friend was not religious, so had no framework with which to interpret this experience, but afterwards he came across books about Buddhism, which led him into Zen, where, as he says, "I finally found the parallel answers I was looking for".

    On reading his testimony I wondered how frequent it is that one has this kind of experience (is it satori?) without working towards it in some way, or perhaps being unaware that one has been working towards it. That's my question.

    I would really appreciate any responses that will shed some light on this for me.
  • Jundo
    Treeleaf Founder and Priest
    • Apr 2006
    • 39211

    #2
    Hello,

    Welcome again. (Might a trouble you to sign a human name to your posts, and post an introduction here for the community? It helps make us more human to each other.)

    The experiences you describe happen, are wondrous and earthshaking, can change how this whole life-self-world is lived.

    But I would say (more in our Soto Zen way of expressing) ... "Enlightenment" has a more subtle meaning.


    Ultimately, one realizes that "Sudden Enlightenment" is "Sudden", both because of those sudden adventures as you describe for your friend, and because one comes to realize that each "sudden" moment of this life, every tick tock of the clock no matter how ordinary and without the fireworks, is Buddha too.

    Here is my usual comment ...

    ==========================

    Body/Mind dropping off is not necessary a "rock your world" experience, and not an event in a moment of time. However, it is true that our life is always changing.

    Both of the major Zen Schools (Soto and Rinzai) are in accord that a timeless moment of deep and earthshaking "Kensho" (in which the you/me/this/that/here/there/now/then instantly radically drops away, while the Flowing Dance of Wholeness-Emptiness manifests) is pretty nifty, a treasure. However (both schools agree) such a momentary seeing is not itself enough, not compared to the work that follows in which "Kensho" gets into the bones, gets legs and starts walking, breathing and living your life in this divided, mixed up, complex world of you/me/this/that/here/there/now/then. In other words, the "grocking" is not enough without putting it into action and bringing it into daily life.

    Where the Soto and some Rinzai folks may disagree a bit is whether the "momentary timeless Kensho experience" (though nifty) is really that important and necessary, because (say the Soto folk) it is quite possible to have "Kensho" (grocking-piercing the subject-object divide) that powerfully, deeply, profoundly and thoroughly goes right to the marrow subtly and with less momentary notice. That is also "Kensho". It is sometimes compared to walking through a mist of dew which, in the end, will saturate one's sleeves as much as dipping them directly in a river. What is more, either way, the really vital part remains whether it is brought into the rest of your life or not. One can easily have some "timeless moment of deep and earthshaking Kensho" (or 100's of em) and still be a fool at how one brings Wisdom and Compassion into life.

    Dogen tended to speak of "Enlightenment" ... not as some momentary experience to attain ... but as "Practice-Enlightenment", emphasizing that how we make Buddha Wisdom and Compassion manifest in our actual words, thoughts and deeds in this life is the real "Kensho".

    -----------------------------------------------------------

    Dogen tended to speak of "Enlightenment" ... not as some momentary experience to attain ... but as "Practice-Enlightenment", emphasizing that how we make Buddha Wisdom and Compassion manifest in our actual words, thoughts and deeds in this life is the real "Kensho".

    These momentary Kensho experiences can be light and deep and beyond light or deep. This can be much more profound and enveloping than a sensation of "I" feeling oneness or awe. HOWEVER, that does not matter because, generally in Soto, we consider all such experiences as passing scenery ... just a visit to the wonders of the Grand Canyon. One cannot stay there, as lovely as it is. Nice and educational place to visit ... would not, should not, could not truly live there. One can even live perfectly well never having visited the vast Canyon at all. The most important thing is to get on the bus, get on with the trip, get on with life from there. In our Soto Way, the WHOLE TRIP is Enlightenment when realized as such (that is the True "Kensho"!) ... not some momentary stop or passing scene or some final destination .


    I once read that Kensho can be described as great or small (great kensho and little Kensho) and that Satori is a much more profound experience then Kensho.

    Can Kensho be described as momentary glimpses of enlightenment, whereas Satori might be considered as actual enlightenment?

    Not sure if I am making much sense at all …but once again a very interesting thread.
    The following is important, so BOLDFACE and UNDERLINE ...

    Different folks approach and define all this in their own way. In our Soto View, some folks way way way overvalue an experience of timelessly momentary "Kensho" ... as the be all and end all (beyond being or ending) of "Enlightenment" ... and chase after it like some gold ring on the merry go round. For Soto folks, that is like missing the point of the trip. For Soto Folks, when we realize such ... every moment of the Buddha-Bus trip, the scenery out the windows (both what we encounter as beautiful and what appears ugly), the moments of good health and moments of passing illness, the highway, the seats and windows, all the other passengers on the Bus who appear to be riding with us, when we board and someday when we are let off ... the whole Trip ... is all the Buddha-Bus, all Enlightenment and Kensho, all the "destination" beyond "coming" or "going" or "getting there", when realized as such (Kensho). This ride is what we make it.

    In the violence, ugliness, anger, greed and clutching, divisive thoughts and frictions of the world, this fact can be hidden, so hard to see. Thus, a key aspect of our Practice is to see and live free of the violence, anger, greed, clutching and all the rest to see this fact more clearly ... and even to realize it was there all along, though so hidden by the storm.

    Most folks just don't pierce that fact and are lost in delusion about the Nature of the trip. Most sentient being "passengers" on this ride just don't realize that, feeling homesick, car sick, separated from all the other passengers, revolted or attracted to what they see ... filling the whole trip with thoughts of greed and anger, spoiling the journey, making a mess of the bus and harming themselves and the other riders, unhappy until they get to the "promised destination" somewhere down the road. They may even get to the Grand Canyon, snap a picture and buy a sovenier, then wonder "is that all it is"?

    That is why many Soto folks, like Sawaki Roshi above, think "Kensho Schmensho" ... running after some timelessly momentary fireworky experience of "Kensho" is not True "Grocking the Nature" Buddha-Bus Kensho. He says ...

    You want to become a buddha? There’s no need to become a buddha! Now is simply now. You are simply you. And tell me, since you want to leave the place where you are,where is it exactly you want to go?
    Zazen means just sitting without even thinking of becoming buddha.
    We don’t achieve satori through practice: practice is satori. Each and every step is the goal.


    Something like that.

    Gassho, J
    Last edited by Jundo; 01-06-2017, 01:44 AM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

    Comment

    • Jundo
      Treeleaf Founder and Priest
      • Apr 2006
      • 39211

      #3
      By the way, you can share any of this with your friend online. Also ...

      Sitting Shikantaza, one will find that the hard borders and frictions between self and the world soften ... and the sense of Wholeness Rightness Intraflowing (my way of expressing the horribly misleading term "Emptiness") increases ... perhaps some days more than others, but decidedly over time. It may be subtle, we may barely notice the process ... but such gets right to the marrow.

      And once in awhile maybe, for some folks, just like our Rinzai brethren pushing through the "MU!" Koan ... sometimes the walls and borders fully drop away, separation is no longer at issue, and all that remains is the Dance of Wholeness Rightness Intraflowing.

      It is sometimes said that, if wearing robes and walking through a waterfall, ones sleeves will become soaking wet. But, walking through a mist over time, slowly one's sleeves become just as wet. Same difference!

      But, in both the Soto and Rinzai way, whether big KENSHO or subtle penetration right to the bone ... what matters is not that, but how one thereupon gets on with living in this seemingly so often "broken-wrong-divided" world employing such Wisdom and Insight.

      Gassho, J
      ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

      Comment

      • Epictetus
        Member
        • Sep 2014
        • 5

        #4
        Many thanks, Sensei Jundo, for your prompt and comprehensive response, which I will convey to my friend.

        I wanted to sign in with my true name, but what I thought was my current password was rejected, so I re-registered and was told that my name was already in use (by me, I suppose), so I used the name "Epictetus", one I use on a number of forums.

        My name is Adrian Jones. I used to be a member of the forum when I lived in Bangkok from 2002 - 1012, but became inactive. I am now a retired school administrator living with my wife in Brisbane, Australia, where my children and grandchildren all live.

        After completing a Master's in Theology in 2009 from a Catholic university I began to study Buddhism, then moved on to the Upanishads and Advaita Vedanta. Now I'm studying Islam, but I think my "spirituality" is at present something like that described in Sam Harris's recently released Waking Up, which I see is discussed in a current thread on this forum. Sam Harris is at a much more advanced level than me, of course.

        I'm pleased to be reconnected to Treeleaf. Aside from the discussions I remember well how much I enjoyed Jundo's and Taigu's meditation videos and will revisit them.

        Comment

        • Fugu
          Member
          • May 2013
          • 101

          #5
          Adrian,

          For a good description of this 'spontaneous' awakening, read "Perfect Brilliant Stillness" by David Carse. I did, and it scared the hell out of me. I went back to Zen.

          Gassho,
          Lee

          Comment

          • Epictetus
            Member
            • Sep 2014
            • 5

            #6
            Originally posted by Fugu
            Adrian,

            For a good description of this 'spontaneous' awakening, read "Perfect Brilliant Stillness" by David Carse. I did, and it scared the hell out of me. I went back to Zen.

            Gassho,
            Lee
            Thank you, Lee. It sounds formidable. I've downloaded a sample to my Kindle.

            Gassho
            Adrian

            Comment

            • Ishin
              Member
              • Jul 2013
              • 1359

              #7
              I am new to Zen, but not new to spiritual study or experiences.

              The modern world, at least here in the Unites States is undergoing a period in which some of our traditional bonds are being shed, and we live in a unique period in history in which we have access to and the ability to explore different spiritual systems from all over the world. Certainly many traditions have a great deal to teach us if we can be open to viewing them as having an underlying thread and perhaps sift the cultural tint away from them. The danger, is that many begin to engage in what others have termed "spiritual puddle jumping"; that is dabbling in a little bit here, reading a little bit here, going to some workshop etc. and then never really settling down in to any one practice. I know Jundo, has talked about this elsewhere encouraging us to go DEEP with our practice.

              With regard to experiences like Kensho or Satori or other profound spiritual experiences, for me they can be like a drug trip on LSD or some other mind altering substance. You experience reality in a new way and though you might even take some of that experience with you, when you come back to "reality", one still has to continually work to apply what this sudden shift might have taught you. I feel some people look at these experiences as THE goal, and then it kind of becomes a constant quest for the next big spiritual bang. This has nothing to do with the day in, day out work of being spiritual, but more like an egoic exercise in self validation or aggrandizement. I have even talked to a person who experienced kensho and felt like she didn't need to study or practice further because she had "been there done that".

              I myself have had many different kinds of experiences and awakenings, some defying explanation. Yet, despite all that, I am still an idiot who has to work really hard to put those realizations into practice. Maybe if we compare ourselves to a lotus flower, we are in a constant state of growing. We work our way to the surface and begin to open up our petals. Many days we are just slowly opening. Some days the weather is bad and we don't grow much at all or even get damaged. Other days the conditions are so perfect that we just burst forth with beautiful petals so quickly that some might call it a miracle. But, when we fully blossom we still need sunlight, we still need water and soil to put our roots down in. We still need to work every day to nourish others with our nectar to help them grow too.

              Gassho
              C
              Grateful for your practice

              Comment

              • Toun
                Member
                • Jan 2013
                • 206

                #8
                Welcome Adrian.

                As a nature lover and landscape painter, at times I occasionally get this very deep sense of connection with everything around me, a moment of intense clarity. This experience is usually very momentary and brief, what might be described as a natural high. Of course chasing after such experiences can easily turn into an obsession.

                What Zazen has taught me is to just sit, recognize these sensations when they occur, become the observer and just let them go.

                Ryokan once wrote;

                Blue sky, cold geese honk
                On a bare mountain, tree leaves flutter.
                At dusk in the village, smoke billows from every house.
                Alone with my empty bowl, I head home.


                Zen has taught me to experience life as it occurs, experience these fleeting moments of clarity, along with everything else in life, the good and the not so good, the happy and the sad, the blade of grass and the ripples on the pond,yet at the end of the day I try not to become attached to these things. I head home with an empty bowl.

                Of course at times this is easier said than done.

                Once again welcome back!

                Gassho,
                Mike

                Comment

                • Epictetus
                  Member
                  • Sep 2014
                  • 5

                  #9
                  Thank you, Mike.

                  Comment

                  • Rich
                    Member
                    • Apr 2009
                    • 2595

                    #10
                    Sudden enlightenment - is that when you turn on fluorescent lights in a small room.
                    👎🙏😵🙉

                    Kind regards. /\
                    _/_
                    Rich
                    MUHYO
                    無 (MU, Emptiness) and 氷 (HYO, Ice) ... Emptiness Ice ...

                    https://instagram.com/notmovingmind

                    Comment

                    • Jundo
                      Treeleaf Founder and Priest
                      • Apr 2006
                      • 39211

                      #11
                      Originally posted by Takoda

                      Zen has taught me to experience life as it occurs, experience these fleeting moments of clarity, along with everything else in life, the good and the not so good, the happy and the sad, the blade of grass and the ripples on the pond,yet at the end of the day I try not to become attached to these things. I head home with an empty bowl.
                      ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

                      Comment

                      • Joryu
                        Member
                        • Jan 2014
                        • 106

                        #12
                        You want to become a buddha? There’s no need to become a buddha! Now is simply now. You are simply you. And tell me, since you want to leave the place where you are,where is it exactly you want to go?
                        Zazen means just sitting without even thinking of becoming buddha.
                        We don’t achieve satori through practice: practice is satori. Each and every step is the goal.
                        Sudden enlightenment - is that when you turn on fluorescent lights in a small room.



                        gassho, nandi

                        Comment

                        • Biko
                          Member
                          • Sep 2013
                          • 208

                          #13
                          I tend to be quite skeptical of anyone claiming enlightenment. In my mind an enlightened individual would never claim such and instead demonstrate it through their doings. Though I certainly do not doubt that many people experience Satori, a momentary flash of the wiring behind the boards so to speak, the man behind the green curtain.

                          Gassho,
                          Jeffrey
                          "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."
                          Henry David Thoreau, Walden

                          Comment

                          • JohnsonCM
                            Member
                            • Jan 2010
                            • 549

                            #14
                            Epictetus, a favorite philosopher of mine. His Golden Sayings occupy a place of honor in my library. However even Epictetus would say that philosophy must be lived and not just learned. So I'm probably just echoing jundo when I say that those moments in time are precious for having them just as all the other moments are precious. ..even if it's just chop wood carry water. But when kensho kenshos kensho and we live what we learn and experience, when we bring this enlightenment into the world with us to, as Bob Marley put it, light up the darkness, that's when it matters most in my opinion. If you have enlightenment, try to share it. And since every moment can be a varying degree of keno, the bodhisattva try to share it all, good, bad, or indifferent
                            Gassho,
                            "Heitetsu"
                            Christopher
                            Sat today

                            Comment

                            • JohnsonCM
                              Member
                              • Jan 2010
                              • 549

                              #15
                              Meant kensho not keno...oh auto correct you outwit me once again!
                              Gassho,
                              "Heitetsu"
                              Christopher
                              Sat today

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