A Big Bang (or My Satori Porno)

Why this post?

“What I see, I want all people to know.”
-Linji, quoted by Yuanwu (Cleary; Cleary 1994: 104)

If you cannot drink the entire river, take a ladle full at a time.

True kensho means no kensho. The Heart Sutra says, “no attainment with nothing to attain.” This means you must attain no attainment. That is true kensho. You still want something; you still want kensho. That is a big mistake. That way you will never get Enlightenment, never get true kensho. If you want true kensho, you must make your opinion, your condition, and your situation disappear. Then the correct opinion, correct condition, and correct situation will appear. The name for this is kensho. The name for this is our True Self. The name for this is Great Love, Great Compassion, and the Great Bodhisattva Way. Not special. When you are hungry, eat. When you are tired, rest. When you see a hungry person, give him food. When you see someone sad, you are also sad. Only this. Moment to moment, you must keep your correct situation. All your actions are for other people. Put down I, my, me.    Zen Master Seung Sahn in a letter to a student

Here’s an assertion. Just about everyone has had some kind of awakening experience. Actually, I’m moderately confident even those who can’t make the report, have had that experience. They just never believed it, and gradually forgot it. If my tradition teaches correctly that we are in fact all already awakened, then various glimpses, indeed, wholesale Damascus Road encounters should be the common currency of our human lives. And it should happen to people of every religion and none.  from Stepping Forward from the Hundred-Foot Pole– by James Ford Roshi

There seems to be a lot of individual variance in how awakening happens. Some people have grand experiences that transform them overnight, and others have smaller glimpses of freedom that seem to run together over time and change their lives. John Tarrant Roshi in “Sudden Awakening”

My Satori Porno

If people I know and know of would talk of experiences they’ve had while following the Buddhist path, particularly but not exclusively Zen, then all this ridiculousness about the “special”, “rare” or “mystical” kensho/satori/enlightenment business would be dispelled. But it’s soooo outrageous to even mention the possibility of such a thing.

But then again there are all kinds of people claiming to be completely enlightened and leading Sangha and all kinds of things.  So before I narrate this teasing little tale, take into account that I too may be one of those frauds, or I may be psychotic or at the very least exaggerating my delusions for literary kicks. How can you really know?

But I am inclined to take the above words of James Ford Roshi seriously, that just about everyone has had some kind of awakening experience. What seems to occur, in the maelstrom of life is that we just aren’t in a position of to recognize it. Sort of a whole Where’s Waldo scenario? There is so much going on and so much making an impact on our consciousness both from without and within, that to have an awakening moment occur at a time when we are able to break from distractions long enough to realize it is difficult.

Here’s a little thing that happened 5 or 6 years back. Was on a rather arduous trek up the Harkidoon valley (pictured below). It was pre-season, and still into the end of the monsoon season here. Which means a lot of mud, landslides and difficult terrain. We were the first visitors (it is a somewhat popular route) of the season so only a few village people had made a new trail, which has to be done after every monsoon again due to landslides and such. On the third day going up we had crossed a number of small landslide areas but we came to an impasse. There was a huge section, approximately 50 meters (yards) that had been washed out. Normally you can climb up and over these sections but this one was too steep. A large pine tree had fallen across the gap, or the abyss as I recollect it. A few of the village people had scraped off some of the branches so that one could, with good balance walk across it. (Village people have a life time of practice with this sort of thing) It was about 40 meters (120 or so feet) above the ground and neither end of the tree looked to be anchored with much stability. The only other option was to go back about an hours walk, take a steep path down to a mule trail by a swollen river, which would have to be waded in parts and then climb back up again. About 5 hours extra work and freezing water to boot. So a decision was made to cross it. Now I’ve always had some trepidation with heights, especially on wobbly structures with no railings. Kind of a survival instinct thing. To fall here, if not certain death would entail a trip out on a mule’s back and would be enormously painful with broken bones etc. So no room for errors.

My trekking partner made it across safely by keeping low, holding the occasional branch and well he’s just a real coordinated individual not to mention being raised in these mountains. Did I mention we were both carrying packs? Well my turn. Started out fine. Got to the middle of the tree trunk and felt a tug on my boot. My shoelace had gotten caught on one of the stubs of the broken branches. What to do? There were no hand holds. I was simply balancing there with a pack and an attached boot. I tried lifting my foot to detach the shoelace but it didn’t work. I tried to step backwards so the tied up boot would be in front and I could possibly bend and untangle it. I almost fell off. My partner put down his pack and tried to come across to where I was but the log shook horribly and we were afraid we were both going to come off it or it would break. Bit of a dilemma. I wanted to cry. I began to panic. I talked myself down from that emotional state after about another 10 minutes.

I could not think. I could not move. There was no other choice. I gave up. At that moment it just didn’t matter. I might fall and die or I might not. It didn’t matter. I didn’t matter. My personal survival didn’t matter. The bottom dropped out. I fell to my knees. It was as smooth and easy as an acrobat could do. Moments of thought had stopped. Moments of feeling trapped had stopped. All moments had stopped.

I looked up and saw the sun gleaming golden off the water of the Supin river. I was there, or this body that is typing these words was yet not in a way that was “embodied” in that separate casing. I was there and everywhere at the same time.  Words came into my head. “IT will go on”  Not me, not I, but IT. I saw IT, felt IT within. (Man I’m sounding like Alan Watts here!) There was no separation between me and that river. It moved flowed.  The clouds above it shifted around continuously feeding it. The sun warmed it. It moved. It was all in motion all the time. There was no stopping point. There was no end or beginning to it. I was no different. (“this arriving of the universe” “Life in the present exists in this pivot-state, and this pivot-state exists in life in the present.” Dogen : “Once you stop clinging and let things be, you’ll be free, even of birth and death…” Bodhidharma)

The body just reacted. It was the most simple movement in the world to untangle that knot and stand and easily walk to the end of that tree trunk. There was no thought. There was just a movement that was part of another movement and on and on. It was perfect. It was walking down the side of the 100 foot pole. There was no other moment. When I reached ground on the other side I just stood for a moment taking a few deep breaths. My partner asked if I was alright. I said “It’s OK. Chalo (let’s go)” and we carried on.

What can one say/do when such an experience occurs? WTF? comes to mind. I pondered it for quite a few months. Thought occasionally to ask someone about it. But there seemed to be no reason to do so. It was something that defied description.

A few years later I did bring up this experience with a certain Japanese Roshi. Him being a Soto guy told me:

So in such a situation I would like to recommend you to think that you have
solved the problem in the best way, and so it might be the best solution for you
to forget such a small matter completely.

And he said to keep on practicing. Good advice.

Then this is what I wrote about the experience.

Unnamed Poem

Sunlight breaks
the clouds apart,
Splits the mountains
to the valley.
Supin river flows on.
Warmed.*

supin

*The Supin River flowing through the Harkidoon valley. Here’s a little coincidental Hindu mythology. Harkidoon is known as the gateway to heaven due to an incident in the great Hindu epic Mahabharata. One of the heroes Yudhishtira takes a long journey to reach Harkidoon,  He declines to ascend Indra’s chariot to heaven because he cannot take the dog that followed him all the way, with him there. The dog turns out to be his father incarnated and he is rewarded for his loyalty with a trip to heaven. As well the Supin river is also called the river of Karma because it is said to collect all the karma somehow related to the “bad guys” in the Mahabharata having been the kings of Harkidoon valley (where the people still worship them and claim descent BTW). It is alleged that to drink from the Supin is to take in that karma (in the Hindu sense of the word) and add it to your own.

Effects of the experience and some realizations.

Here’s a list of some stuff that came to mind to describe this thing. If you have different realizations  or if your experience belies what I’ve written below I’d like to hear about it.

An awakening experience-general characteristics:

  • does not happen “in the head” or “in the guts” but everywhere all at once
  • is not a state of mind like a mood or concentration on something
  • has nothing to do with personality
  • is neither pleasant or unpleasant
  • is not a “high”
  • is a radical shift in perspective
  • is all-inclusive
  • is not an “epiphany”  or an “aha” moment-these are thinking/intellectual related realizations
  • stays with you like a shadow but cannot be caught
  • develops further over time  (10,000 petal lotus opening) diligence in practice refines this
  • is not a “personal” experience
  • gives no sense of gratification or satisfaction nor the opposite
  • happens when all else has been exhausted
  • does not “blow your mind” (that would be a dharma-rapture type experience) but something much more fundamental shifts
  • the concept of identity changes (hard to say how)

This is a list of some stuff I’ve noticed since then that has been affected.

An awakening experience-personal characteristics:

  • less tendency to anger
  • less urgency
  • more patience
  • less preference
  • less needy about anything
  • more tolerant
  • more laughter
  • less exertion to enjoy life
  • less seeking
  • avoidance of things that cloud the mind (like alcohol)
  • more open and honest
  • less tense
  • less concern for other’s opinions or need for permissions for what to do in life
  • everything and everyone matters but not in a desperate clingy way
  • way way less emotional drama
  • greater ability to deeply listen
  • more generous with time, money, love, patience, kindness, laughter
  • less preachy and dogmatic
  • thinking is much sharper
  • increased creativity
  • sense of limitlessness
  • inability to panic (not that I was a big panic-er but even the edge of that sensation has gotten far more remote)
  • more acceptance of human and other error (includes computer crashes)
  • less blaming
  • more direct words
  • more ability to accept direct words and criticism
  • better quality of sleep
  • entertaining dreams (no nightmares as well)
  • body feels more agile and lighter (even with the few extra pounds)
  • enthusiasm for simple things
  • all work is just work and enjoyable
  • deeper sense of connection/immersion (this affects activist/political things as well)
  • less self-criticism and deprecation (I used to be rather hard on myself ambition-wise)
  • get way more work done
  • get way more enjoyment out of pleasurable things
  • even find unpleasurable and unpleasant things sort of interesting
  • there is nothing wanting in life
  • way less fear of death

If the mind is not hauling around tons of self-manufactured nonsense about who “I” am and was and want to be, all bolstered up by being symbolized and attached to a lot of material stuff (like “my” lifestyle crap, “my” fashion sense accoutrements, “my” symbols of accomplishment, “my” big plans and grandiose ideas, etc.) and all the social things that go along to support that, it seems logical to me that these results could be replicable by anyone. And it wouldn’t have to be in a potentially dangerous situation either. Just open the moment in life. Recognize what is and what is attachment to what is and unattach. Not detach-that is quite opposite to my meaning. That is rejection which is twice as difficult as attachment. Just open the moment in life.

Aftermath

Writing this recollection and examining it in this way might freak some people out. I’m NOT in any way saying I have some great enlightenment because I don’t think that. From that taste all I know is that there is more. More what I can’t say as I’ve not experienced it. And there is no desire to seek for that more. It is here and flowing. And when allowed, by the strictures one contends with, openings appear again and again. Like the vista of a vast landscape as one drives down a highway. Between the speed-blurred clumps of trees a flash of water, a boat on the ocean, a desert of golden sand, a mountain valley.

I just know that the gate is open and however or whenever “more” is encountered it will not be on my timetable or by any act of volition on my part. Nor can I tell you how your experience is or will be.  I have no idea. I am just documenting this sort of like a reporter I guess. The who what where when why or how. I know the answers to the first 4 questions and have written that here but not the answers to how or why. I am a little intellectually curious about those and for a little time I pursued some answers.

But the why or how just don’t seem worth obsessing about in the big picture any more though. They don’t matter really.

Links-some to folks who describe experiences they have had (which I neither “endorse” nor “not endorse” ummm because I’m not privy to all the contents of their experiences and who the hell am I to think I could endorse anything anyways) and others to give some further helpful information about that.

As I find more of these accounts I will keep adding them. Maybe I ought to make a Satori Porno page!(ha)

Buddhism and Crack-Cocaine. ~ via John Pappas in elephant journal

Post-kensho practice and enlightenment on the Zen path from Ted Biringer’s Flatbed Sutra of Louie Wing

Early Morning Reflection on Awakening by James Ford

Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: Sa+0ri pr0n from the Suicide Girls website

By request: How I became a Buddhist (and why I’m trying to un-do all that). RDeWald posts on his lengthy experiences with Zen

Dirty Watches and Filthy Buddha-Nature – John talks about the dropping out of the bottom of the pail.

Who Am I? from the One Bright Pearl blog touches on a personal account

Jiyu-Kennet-an account in Wikipedia of Jiyu-Kennet’s experiences as well as one of her students-under the Visions section

A Letter to a Beginning Student by Paul Lynch discussing the don’t know mind and the use of koans and what is kensho and the various types/levels/experiences of it.

Kensho is a wonderful milestone on the Zen path by Ted Biringer

Some Mistakes on the Zen Way-by James Ford

Note:

If you come across any more blogs describing these experiences please note them in comments so others can read them as well. Thanks.

Eight

8.1
aurora

What is perspective?

Emerald river

in the sky

Not Akash Ganga*

but a ribbon

for Parvati’s hair

8.2

How to weigh meaning?

Stones fall and flags fly

The hill top

a decision point

8.3

How does a sound wave?

Between you and I

The ocean

It’s movements

8.4

What verb to choose?

The ripple

Of the Amaranthine*

Heart

8.5

09graincuttinguttarkashi

What of time?

Touching earth

there is only

an afternoon

8.6

What of strength?

There is shelter

inside

8.7

09mindfulfire

Where am I?

Eyes open

Fire is not water

8.8

04drishikeshmeditation

What moves yet is still?

Today

.

.

.

Notes:

8.1 Right View

Photo source NASA

Photo information-The Aurora Borealis over North America. Taken by the space shuttle Endeavor

*Akash Ganga is used to describe the Milky Way as seen from the Himalayas. It means Ganges River of the Sky.  Mythologically in the area it is thought to be the place from where the Ganga came down through the god  Shiva’s locks and onto the earth at the Gangotri glacier. another photo here.  Parvati is the wife of Shiva.

8.2 Right Intention

Photo source Bazaar of Dreams travel blog

Photo information-Prayer flags atop a hill near Mussoorie India

8.3 Right Speech

Photo source Bazaar of Dreams travel blog

Photo information-Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns debating at Tsuglag Khang temple McLeod Ganj-home temple of HH Dalai Lama

8.4 Right Action

Photo source Bazaar of Dreams travel blog

Photo information-Cloud formations seen from Harkidoon in the Indian Himalayas

*Amaranth-an undying flower or a type of ancient grain grown in the high Himalayas for food and for the red dye it’s flowers provide. Amaranth is mentioned in Dante’s poetry and in both the Old and New Testaments of the Christian Bible.

8.5 Right Livelihood

Personal collection

Photo information-Grain gathering at Uttarkashi India

8.6 Right Effort

Photo source Bazaar of Dreams travel blog

Photo information-Construction worker in Hong Kong

8.7 Right Mindfulness

Personal collection

Photo information-Fire building at Dodital Lake India

8.8 Right Concentration

Photo source Bazaar of Dreams travel blog

Photo information-Meditation of teacher and student on the banks of the Ganga at Rishikesh India

Right Speech, Denial and Lies

Herein someone avoids false speech and abstains from it. He speaks the truth, is devoted to truth, reliable, worthy of confidence, not a deceiver of people. Being at a meeting, or amongst people, or in the midst of his relatives, or in a society, or in the king’s court, and called upon and asked as witness to tell what he knows, he answers, if he knows nothing: “I know nothing,” and if he knows, he answers: “I know”; if he has seen nothing, he answers: “I have seen nothing,” and if he has seen, he answers: “I have seen.” Thus he never knowingly speaks a lie, either for the sake of his own advantage, or for the sake of another person’s advantage, or for the sake of any advantage whatsoever. (quoted in The Noble Eightfold Path The Way to the End of Suffering by Bhikkhu Bodhi)

Got in an email exchange that prompted me to consider lies people tell themselves and others. The danger of lies, believed inwardly is that they become expressed outwardly in both word and action and perpetrate a whole mess of trouble.

And people know, instinctively, when someone is not being honest with themselves since it affects all their relationships.

What if that someone is your friend?

There seems to be three options.

1.  Ignore it and hope it will stop. This rarely happens. The stories tend to become more grandiose and unsupportable. Either friends are dropped or situation #3 comes about.

2. Questioning, confrontation or intervention. This can be either gentle or more direct. Someone in denial about a drug addiction for example may need a strong intervention.  While someone who has made a mistake and feels guilty about it but won’t admit it, may only need to be told forgiveness is possible for their mistake in order for them to release their guilt.

3. Take on the lie. Pride prevents many people from taking action. They will ask the same questions over and over. Turn the same doubts over and over again in their minds.  No answer will suffice and they are afraid to ask the principal party for an answer since they know they won’t believe that either. They are caught in a dilemma.  When people lie to themselves everyone around gets caught in that lie and are forced by ego to mirror the same lie within themselves in order to continue the relationship. It’s like an ever increasing web  of delusion.

The same thing happens within. If I set myself up to believe a thing and on a deeper level know there are doubts I either have to lie to myself to maintain the facade of belief or get real with it. The latter has proven way less complicated and painful than the former.

MetaBuddhaBlogging

Meta-blogging is blogging about blogging. Meta-Buddha-Blogging then, I suppose, is blogging about blogs about Buddha and Buddhism.  So this post’s topic is about Buddhist blogs and why they are important.

There are a lot of blogs listed in the links on this site and on other Buddhist related sites. They appear  to be fairly well read by the presence and number of comments.  And the quantity of these blogs is increasing rather sharply.

From my brief survey the majority seem to be related to the Zen tradition.  This is somewhat ironic since popular views of Zen would have silence, emptiness and a “do not rely on words and letters” as Bodhidharma conveyed, and Eisai also stated ” The Zen School is independent of what is articulated in names and words”,  as the point of view.

But that is only a portion of the story. Others have views that amplify and explain.

In an interview that appears on Brad Warner’s blog Gudo Nishijima roshi is asked:

18. What can we understand with words, and what can we not understand with words?
We can understand everything, but at the same time, our understandings can never touch Reality.

Shih-shuang said:

There is originally no word for truth, but the way to it is revealed by words. The way originally has no explanation, but reality is made by explanation. 1.

Early masters wrote in The Transmission Of The Lamp

The original truth has no name,
But by name the truth is made manifest.
When the true dharma is obtained,
There is neither truth nor falsehood.2.

The biographer and principal disciple of Hakuin, Torei wrote about Hakuin:

The words and sayings of the Zen masters never left his side. He used them to illuminate the old teachings by means of the mind, to illuminate the mind by means of the old teachings.3.

But it is Hakuin himself that deemed writing to be:

the exercise of verbal prajna 4.

Prajna means “the unaroused, unobstructed mind” according to Low (5.) or consider the  Wikipedia entry below which has this interesting line in its very comprehensive definition of Prajna.

The beginning of the Heart Sutra includes the phrase “…doing Prajñā…” indicating that prajñā is also an activity as well as an outcome, quality or state.

The concurrence with Hakuin’s “exercise” is interesting.

Writing is not some pass time to fit in between “silences” nor is it a mere “hobby” for many. It is almost as useful an activity as Zazen in my opinion. The value of such an activity or exercise can be immeasurable in Buddhist practice. The more comfortable one becomes with any exercise the more flowing it becomes. And that writing produces a direct product of the mind allows one to examine both the content and processes of the mind. Ultimately, in time, or concurrently, if one is able to  view the depth of the words that way here and now, these are both surpassed and the Paramita–Perfection of the Mind is experienced.

Maybe 100 Zen students with 100 laptops will eventually come up with Shobogenzo. And maybe not. Maybe entirely new Buddhist classic texts will emerge. Or maybe even the joke so funny it kills-the ego. (a la  Monty Python)

Buddhists, despite their popular stereotype, are some of the loudest and most passionate people I’ve ever met.  That passion is a result of whole-heartedness in doing, courage to face truth, willingness to strive in the face of obstacles and acceptance of the generosity of being that Buddhism offers. In other words the embodiment of the Noble Truths, the embodiment of Buddha.

Words are Upaya (skillful means) as is everything else depending upon intention, awareness and use. Whether soft or loud, they can point, reveal, suggest, name, indicate and direct towards Truth.

And writers are not only wordsmiths but Truthsmiths if you will. Buddhist writers and particularly Buddhist blog writers are each compiling their maps to Truth. The map is not the destination but it does help to delineate the direction that each one of us needs. That direction is:

You are Here. Now.

Notes:

1. Zen Teachings, Cleary trans.

2.Sohaku Ogata trans.

3. Quoted in Hakuin on Kensho trans. and commentary by Albert Low

4. ibid.

5. ibid.

Just Say It! On The Edges of Compassion

How many times have we been in a “discussion” with someone who evades getting to the point? And how many times have we been tempted to shout or actually said “Just Say It! Say It! Say It!”?

The frustration of uncertainty in communication often boils over. And the mind churns with potential reasons for the other’s non-compliance with our wishes. Are they shy, fearful, hurt, angry or indulging in some kind of passive-aggressive game with me? What are they trying to do to me?

In the past 12 hours I’ve had two situations that could perhaps be labeled as conflict-ridden in this fashion. Both involved people who became silent at a certain point in the conversation. And the reason for their silence was their interpretation of positions I took.

In the first instance I was asked to abruptly change holiday plans due to weather problems. I said I would not, initially, as the new plan involved twice the expense, canceling reservations, an overnight bus trip across frozen prairie landscapes and a whole new round of jet-lag type symptoms (who can sleep on an overcrowded cross-country bus at night?) which is something I just spent a week recovering from. Silence ensued.

In the second instance I was accused of not truly caring about someone who I hold very dear to me.  The conversation began in a cheerful manner but my tone of voice was somehow not deemed to have enough enthusiasm or as being distracted.  The “You’re not listening to me.” complaint. I explained that I was concerned with Situation 1 and perhaps was distracted. Silence ensued.

That silence is always a tricky business. It is filled with all kinds of speculation. But both situations come down to people thinking,  “If you really cared you would do this my way.”  and a lack of empathy which churning emotions and ego always tends to produce.

Situation 2 has been resolved. Yes I do care and I should have been focused on that present moment. I agreed. (Karma is a funny thing. The first instance of disharmony affected the second situation and caused further disharmony. Bringing back the mind to the here and now is one of the best ways to shut down the continuation of a chain of events that, while seeming random, are interdependent. Or in pseudo-psychological terms, displacement of emotion and thought is not a good practice.)

Situation 1 is still up in the air. Am I going to turn a 4 hour trip into a 14 or more hour nightmare to pacify other people? Is it compassionate to violate one’s own feelings in order to satisfy the demands of others?  Is allowing others to exploit one’s compassion a good idea? Is it actual exploitation or is that an ego manifestation also? Should I just cancel everything and stay where I’m at? (A threat on my part which was fairly passive-aggressive and I regret it) Is their expectation actually reasonable? Is there way more emotional history to this than just the present situation? (Yes to the last one)

So the answer is still unknown and the clock is ticking.

What am I going to do?

I don’t know.

Silence ensues.