Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Enlightenment has become an obstacle for Western Buddhists because it has been misunderstood and thus elevated to a kind of mystical status.
Enlightenment is something that you begin by wanting and you strive for it but you get nothing so you give up but just keep sitting, then it uncovers itself. To describe it tends only to compound the problem however here we go. For me it was a psychophysical experience of the wholeness of being in one instant which sounds almost mystical but not at all. It was instantly recognisable, it was something I already knew from childhood. from walking in the mountains and all sorts of other activities. I just felt as if I'd suddenly 'got it' or rather, 'been got.' In fact I'd simply understood that the past has gone, that the future is not here yet and that the only moment in which to do anything is right now. I was told this by a person who exhibited their practise of it so it was easy for me to understand what they were referring to.
But, as old Choka Dorin said 'A child of 3 can understand this but this old man of eighty still cannot practise it.'
Having been grasped by reality you think you might have got something but as time goes by and you keep sitting you realise you haven't got anything at all and it is not special. You realise it is a matter of just doing something completely, sincerely, in the only time in which it can happen. To practise zazen like this is to express enlightenment. Zazen itself, which is sincerely doing something simple in the only time in which it can happen, is enlightenment itself. A state not separate from the activity, from the moment of experience....a state not separated, one could say undivided, or wholeness or many other inadequate descriptions of something impossible to describe.
Having seen what reality is, this is the beginning of your Buddhist life which then has a series of minor enlightenments tumbling over each other. As we see what our lives really are, we cotton on to simple truths. It strikes me that cottoning on to simple truths is quite a good description of enlightenment in fact. Then we just continue our ordinary lives just as they are and keeping it real with zazen so we don't slip into our old patterns and habits - this more or less successfully. It's a wobbling activity of walking that 'razor's edge.'
When you give up seeking enlightenment, when you give everything you think and feel, everything you are away for nothing, it already fills your hands. 'It' is just the inheritance of your own real life.
In Japanese, they say Satori for enlightenment. When you understand something like a maths problem suddenly after striving to understand it they say 'Satori-Mashta' - 'Ah, I got it!' - You suddenly understand something. We tend not to use the word enlightenment in our sangha but say something like ' they know what reality is...' which seems a better and less mysterious expression for what we're talking about.
(An answer to a question that wouldn't ask itself at Dogen Sangha London 10/03/2008)