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)

6 comments:

jiblet said...

Hi Mike,

So did you 'have an experience', or did you 'get enlightened'?

What makes you identify your "psychophysical experience of the wholeness of being in one instant" with the Buddhist satori you used to long for?

If it's nothing special, why make it so?

Michael Kendo Tait said...

If enlightenment is just getting what reality is then yes I realised what it was. But that's not too difficult to do really. I think everyone in our sangha knows this.

Realising what it is however is just the beginning of doing what it is, that I still cannot do. I continue to do my best though.

You can see that I am trying not to make it special but it seems almost impossible when you try to say something about it. Perhaps I should have stayed my tapping fingers?

Mike

jiblet said...

Thanks for writing about it, Mike.

I too considered staying my tapping fingers. But as my first two questions are the questions I asked myself following a (rather different) 'experience', I, like you I guess, decided to publish and be damned.

The last question was ML's response when I told him all about it .

Malcolm

Michael Kendo Tait said...

Sorry I've been away in the NW Highlands so haven't been in e-mail or phone contact.

I thought about what you wrote Malcolm and I wanted to further deconstruct what I mean.

Mike L confronted me with what is real and I suddenly realised what it was. That's a bit clearer isn't it?

When you realise what reality is, you are in it so it is more than an intellectual realisation.

I suddenly realised that what Mike had said was a great truth and I felt this in all of myself, I experienced that truth. I also recognised it from other experiences.

Afterwards I think I must have been stupid not to have noticed it - because it is of course right in front of our noses.

So much for enlightenment but as you know it's all about revealing the immediate and whole nature of our life that flows along beneath our thoughts and feelings.

But Master Dogen affirms both this instantaneous realisation and continuous practise of instantaneous realisation. So, in the old received sense there is no sudden event that occurs and then you are never the same.
We/our lives are never the same so there is only one moment, one event that can be real. The first of these that we are aware of, we call an enlightenment experience if we must.

jiblet said...

Thanks for that, Mike. It's clearer to me now.

It turns out our 'experiences' do have something in common. They both occurred following something our teacher said. For me, 'the penny dropped' as I was walking home after a sunday retreat. No bells, whistles, or "psychophysical experiences of wholeness"...There again....

It was a realisation of something I hadn't realised before - that's realisation with a small "r". But it had very significant implications. So maybe it was a Realisation, with a very big "R" ;-)

Michael Kendo Tait said...

Ah hah, satori-mashta!