SATORI IN ZEN BUDDHISM
“Zen is your everyday thought”; it all depends on the adjustment of the hinge whether the door opens in or opens out.”
Satori is the spiritual goal of Zen Buddhism (in Chinese: wu). It is a key concept in Zen. Whether it comes to you suddenly seemingly out of nowhere as found in the Enlightenment process called Aparka Marg, or after an undetermined passage of time centered around years of intense study and meditation as with the female Zen adept Chiyono, or after forty unrelenting years as with the Buddha’s brother Ananda, there can be no Zen without that which has come to be called Satori. As long as there is Satori, then Zen will continue to exist in the world.
Satori roughly translates into individual Enlightenment, or a flash of sudden awareness. Satori is as well an intuitive experience. The feeling of Satori is that of infinite space. A brief experience of Enlightenment is sometimes called Kensho. Semantically, Kensho and Satori have virtually the same meaning and are often used interchangeably. In describing the Enlightenment of the Patriarchs, however, it is customary to use the word Satori rather than Kensho, the term Satori implying a deeper experience. The level of Enlightenment reached by the Buddha and others of similar ilk is refered to as Anuttara Samyak Sambodhi.
There are, as seen in the above, more than one “level” of Self-realization. Most levels, except perhaps Anuttara Samyak Sambodhi, have been blanketed with what has become now a more general term, “Satori,” Satori having fallen into the day-to-day lexicon exemplified in a variety of sources from the Eight Jhana States, to the Five Degrees of Tozan, to the Five Varieties of Zen. There are also, as claimed by some, three kinds, levels or varieties of Satori — typically listed as being 1) emotion-based or Mystical Satori, 2) mind-based or Intellectual Satori, and 3) desire-based or Cosmic Satori.
It was not always that way. If you scroll down to the Satori discription by D.T. Suzuki, below, you will gain a much greater insight into the original meaning of Satori. There is an enormous difference between say something like a rather uncomplicated early stage such as as Laya to the somewhat deeper initial step of Inka Shomei and the state of Enlightenment at the level of the Buddha.
The only way that one can “attain” Satori is through personal experience. The traditional way of achieving Satori, and the most typical way taught to Zen students in the west — but NOT the only way — is through the use of Koans such as those found in the Gateless Gate, the Mumonkan. Koans are “riddles” students use to assist in the realization of Satori; these words and phrases were also used by the early Zen masters. See Regarding Mu.
Another method is meditation. Satori can be brought about through Zazen meditation. This meditation would create an objective self associated awareness with a feeling of joy that overrides any other feelings of joy or sorrow. See: Shikantaza.
Even though Satori is a key concept in Zen, it should be brought to the attention of the reader that Zen and it’s traditions does NOT have exclusive rights to the Enlightenment experience. That which is called Satori in Zen is a term that is wrapped around a phenomenon that “IS” and that “IS” is not “owned” by any group, religion, or sect.
Many, many, occurrences of that particular “phenomenon” has transpired both inside and outside the Doctrine of Buddhism. The person who was to become the Sixth Patriarch in the Chinese Lineage of Ch’an was Enlightened as a young boy when he overheard a sentence being spoken from the Diamond Cutter Sutra. He had gone into town to sell firewood for his mother when he just happened to hear the line. Until that point in time he had not received any formal practice in meditation, nor was he versed in Buddhism to any great extent, if at all. So too, again outside the scriptures, the great Indian sage Bhagavan Shi Ramana Maharshi was a typical of his culture teenage boy and most certainly not deeply seeped into formal religious tracts, when all of a sudden out of the blue, Satori-like, he was Awakened to the Absolute.
It is often said that when you truly need a teacher — or that which will function in lieu of a teacher — that is, a teacher or Satori for example, will fall upon you. This may due to some inexplicable serendipity. It may be due to the fact that the seeker has searched deeply within himself or herself and determined what sort of instruction seems to be required. It could be swept over him or her like the First Death Experience of the Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi, or the Bhagavan’s little known Second Death Experience. Or it could be a spiritual desperation on the part of the seeker, or maybe no more than a successful sales pitch by a teacher (sincere or not). It may be a combination of the previous factors, or some intuitive awareness beyond expression. For whatever the reason, the saying often applies and the coming together of the results of inner and outside forces, some within one’s control, some without.
However, in the end , it is NOT just potential Zen masters in ancient China nor people in India that such events transpire, but everyday people as well. There are numerous Awakening Experiences in the Modern Era, but, even if those experiences parallel that which is called Satori, those experiences are not always called Satori.
The following six points on Satori are from D.T. Suzuki’s An Introduction to Zen Buddhism
1. People often imagine that the discipline of Zen is to produce a state of self-suggestion through meditation. This entirely misses the mark, as can be seen from the various instances cites above. Satori does not consist in producing a certain
premeditated condition by intensely thinking of it. It is
acquiring a new point of view for looking at things. Ever since
the unfoldment of consciousness we have been led to respond to the inner and outer conditions in a certain conceptual and analytical manner. The discipline of Zen consists in upsetting this groundwork once for all and reconstructing the old frame on an entirely new basis. It is evident, therefore, that meditating on metaphysical and symbolic statements, which are products of the relative consciousness, play no part in Zen.
2. Without the attainment of Satori no one can enter into the truth of Zen. Satori is the sudden flashing into consciousness of a new truth hitherto undreamed of. It is a sort of mental
catastrophe taking place all at once, after much piling up of
matters intellectual and demonstrative. The piling has reached a
limit of stability and the whole edifice has come tumbling to the
ground, when, behold, a new heaven is open to full survey. When
the freezing point is reached, water suddenly turns into ice;
the liquid has suddenly turned into a solid body and no more flows freely. Satori comes upon a man unawares, when he feels that he has exhausted his whole being. Religiously, it is a new birth; intellectually, it is the acquiring of a new viewpoint. The world now appears as if dressed in a new garment, which seems to cover up all the unsightliness of dualism, which is called delusion in Buddhist phraseology.
3. Satori is the raison d’etre of Zen without which Zen is no Zen. Therefore every contrivance, disciplinary and doctrinal, is directed towards Satori. Zen masters could not remain patient for Satori to come by itself; that is, to come sporadically or at its own pleasure. In their earnestness to aid their disciples in the search after the truth of Zen their manifestly enigmatical
presentations were designed to create in their disciples a state
of mind which would more systematically open the way to enlightenment. All the intellectual demonstrations and
exhortatory persuasions so far carried out by most religious and
philosophical leaders had failed to produce the desired effect,
and their disciples thereby had been father and father led
astray. Especially was this the case when Buddhism was first introduced into China, with all its Indian heritage of highly
metaphysical abstractions and most complicated systems of Yoga
discipline, which left the more practical Chinese at the loss as
to how to grasp the central point of the doctrine of Sakyamuni.
Bodhidharma, the Sixth Patriarch Hui-neng, Baso, and other Chinese
masters noticed the fact, and the proclamation and development of
Zen was the natural outcome. By them Satori was placed above sutra-learning and scholarly discussions of the shastras and was
identified with Zen itself. Zen, therefore, without Satori is
like pepper without its pungency. But there is also such a
thing as too much attachment to the experience of Satori, which
is to be detested.
4. This emphasizing of Satori in Zen makes the fact quite
significant that Zen in not a system of Dhyana as practiced in
India and by other Buddhist schools in China. By Dhyana is
generally understood a kind of meditation or contemplation
directed toward some fixed thought; in Hinayana Buddhism it was a
thought of transiency, while in the Mahayana it was more often
the doctrine of emptiness. When the mind has been so trained as to be able to realize a state of perfect void in which there isnot a trace of consciousness left, even the sense of being unconscious having departed; in other words, when all forms of mental activity are swept away clean from the field of consciousness, leaving the mind like the sky devoid of every speck of cloud, a mere broad expense of blue, Dhyana is said to have reached its perfection. This may be called ecstasy or trance, or the First Jhana, but it is not Zen. In Zen there must be not just Kensho, but Satori. There must be a general mental upheaval which destroys the old accumulations of intellection and lays down the foundation for new
life; there must be the awakening of a new sense which will review the old things from a hitherto undreamed-of angle of observation. In Dhyana there are none of these things, for it is merely a quieting exercise of mind. As such Dhyana doubtless has its own merit, but Zen must be not identified with it.
5. Satori is not seeing God as he is, as might be contended by some Christian mystics. Zen has from the beginning made clear and insisted upon the main thesis, which is to see into the work of
creation; the creator may be found busy moulding his universe, or he may be absent from his workshop, but Zen goes on with its own
work. It is not dependent upon the support of a creator; when it
grasps the reason for living a life, it is satisfied. Hoyen
(died 1104) of Go-so-san used to produce his own hand and ask his
disciples why it was called a hand. When we know the reason,
there is Satori and we have Zen. Whereas with the God of mysticism
there is the grasping of a definite object; when you have God,
what is no-God is excluded. This is self-limiting. Zen wants
absolute freedom, even from God. “No abiding place” means that
very thing; “Cleanse your mouth when you utter the word Buddha”
amounts to the same thing. It is not that Zen wants to be
morbidly unholy and godless, but that it recognizes the
incompleteness of mere name. Therefore, when Yakusan(aka Yaoshan Weiyan, Yueh-shan Wei-jen, 751-834)was asked to give a lecture, he did not say a word, but instead come down from the pulpit and went off to his own room. Hyakujo merely walked forward a few steps, stood still, and then opened his arms, which was his exposition of the great principle.
6. Satori is not a morbid state of mind, a fit subject for the study of abnormal psychology. If anything, it is a perfectly
normal state of mind. When I speak of mental upheaval, one may be
led to consider Zen as something to be shunned by ordinary
people. This is a most mistaken view of Zen, but one unfortunately often held by prejudiced critics. As Joshu declared, “Zen is your everyday thought”; it all depends on the adjustment of the hinge whether the door opens in or opens out.”
Even in the twinkling of an eye the whole affair is changed and you have Zen, and you are as perfect and as normal as ever. More than that, you have acquired in the meantime something altogether new. All your mental activities will now be working to a different key, which will be more satisfying, more peaceful, and fuller of joy than anything you ever experienced before. The tone of life will be altered. There is something rejuvenating in the possession of Zen. The spring flowers look prettier, and the mountain stream runs cooler and more transparent. The subjective revolution that brings about this state of things cannot be called abnormal. When life becomes more enjoyable and its expense broadens to include the universe itself, there must be something in Satori that is quite precious and well worth one’s striving after.
About SATORI, in a similar, yet somehow somewhat different approach, Suzuki goes on to write in ZEN BUDDHISM: Selected Writings of D.T, Suzuki, (New York: Anchor Books, 1956), pp. 103-108
1. Irrationality. “By this I mean that Satori is not a conclusion to be reached by reasoning, and defies all intellectual determination. Those who have experienced it are always at a loss to explain it coherently or logically.”
2. Intuitive Insight. “That there is noetic quality in mystic experiences has been pointed out by (William) James…Another name for Satori is Kensho (chien-hsing in Chinese) meaning “to see essence or nature,” which apparently proves that there is “seeing” or “perceiving” in Satori…Without this noetic quality Satori will lose all its pungency, for it is really the reason of Satori itself. “
3. Authoritativeness. “By this I mean that the knowledge realized by Satori is final, that no amount of logical argument can refute it. Being direct and personal it is sufficient unto itself. All that logic can do here is to explain it, to interpret it in connection to other kinds of knowledge with which our minds are filled. Satori is thus a form of perception, an inner perception, which takes place in the most interior part of consciousness.
4. Affirmation. “What is authoritative and final can never be negative. Though the Satori experience is sometimes expressed in negative terms, it is essentially an affirmative attidude towards all things that exist; it accepts them as they come along regardless of their moral values.”
5. Sense of the Beyond. “…in Satori there is always what we may call a sense of the Beyond; the experience indeed is my own but I feel it to be rooted elsewhere. The individual shell in which my personality is so solidly encased explodes at the moment of Satori. Not, necessarily, that I get unified with a being greater than myself or absorbed in it, but that my individuality, which I found rigidly held together and definitely kept separate from other individual existences, becomes lossened somehow from its tightening grip and melts away into something indescribable, something which is of quite a different order from what I am accustomed to. The feeling that follows is that of complete release or a complete rest—the feeling that one has arrived finally at the destination…As far as the psychology of Satori is considered, a sense of the Beyond is all we can say about it; to call this the Beyond, the Absolute, or God, or a Person is to go further than the experience itself and to plunge into a theology or metaphysics.” See #5 above as well as Turiyatita.
6. Impersonal Tone. “Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the Zen experience is that it has no personal note in it as is observable in Christian mystic experiences.”
7. Feeling of exaltation. “That this feeling inevitably accompanies Satori is due to the fact that it is the breaking-up of the restriction imposed on one as an individual being, and this breaking up is not a mere negative incident but quite a positive one fraught with signification because it means an infinite expansion of the individual.
8. Momentariness. “Satori comes upon one abruptly and is a momentary experience. In fact, if it is not abrupt and momentary, it is not Satori.
As an interesting sidelight, in his paper on Zen master Te Shan (known throughout Zen lore for burning all his commentaries and books on Zen immediately following his Awakening), refering to the above book by D.T. Suzuki, the Wanderling waxes semi-nostalgic about the importance of his early association with the meaning and context of the same book:
“Several years ago my younger brother was cleaning out his attic when he ran across a long forgotten box of stuff stashed away that at one time belonged to me. Among the contents of the box was a beat up 30 year old copy of D.T. Suzuki’s ZEN BUDDHISM: Selected Writings of D.T, Suzuki (New York: Anchor Books, 1956), a book that had not seen the light of day in at least 20 years. The pages were faded and worn. Corner after corner of pages folded down. Pencil notes all over the margins and inside the covers. Sentences were underlined in ink. Whole paragraphs were highlighted in a now barely discernible yellow.
“My brother reminded me of how I, not unlike Te Shan, used to carry that book around like a bible my last two years of high school and several years afterward. Anytime anybody said anything about anything out would come my book…always ready with a “Zen answer.” Then one day something was different. Like Te Shan I somehow didn’t need books much any more. Don’t know why, it just was.” (source)
Although the above may not seem Satori related specifically, in actuality it is. In clarification, the following by the Enlightened sage Shri Ranjit Maharaj, is offered:
“Therefore, what I say is false, but true, because I speak of That. The address is false but when you reach the goal, it is Reality. In the same way, all the scriptures and the philosophical books are meant only to indicate that point, and when you reach it they become non-existent, empty. Words are false; only the meaning they convey is true. They are illusion, but they give a meaning. Therefore, All Is Illusion, but to understand the illusion, illusion is needed. For example, to remove a thorn in your finger you use another thorn; then you throw both of them away. But if you keep the second thorn which was used to remove the first one, you’ll surely be stuck again.”
“According to the philosophy of Zen, we are too much a slave to the conventional way of thinking. which is dualistic through and through. No “interpenetration” is allowed, there takes place no fusing of opposites in our everyday logic. What belongs to God is not of this world, and what is of this world is incompatible with the divine. Black is not white, and white is not black. Tiger is tiger, and cat is cat, and they will never be one. Water flows, a mountain towers. This is the way things or ideas go in this universe of the senses and syllogisms. Zen, however, upsets this scheme of thought and substitutes a new one in which there exists no logic, no dualistic
arrangement of ideas. We believe in dualism chiefly because of our traditional training. Whether ideas really correspond to facts is another matter requiring a special investigation. Ordinarily we do not inquire into the matter, we just accept what is instilled into our minds; for to accept is more convenient and practical, and life is to a certain extent, though not in reality, made thereby easier. We are in nature conservatives, not because we are lazy, but because we like repose and peace, even superficially. But the time comes when traditional logic holds true no more, for we begin to feel contradictions and splits and consequently spiritual anguish. We lose trustful
repose which we experienced when we blindly followed the traditional ways of thinking. Eckhart says that we are all seeking repose whether consciously or not just as the stone cannot cease moving until it touches the earth. Evidently the repose we seemed to enjoy before we were awakened to the contradictions involved in our logic was not the real one, the stone has kept
moving down toward the ground. Where then is the ground of non-dualism on which the soul can be really and truthfully tranquil and blessed? To quote Echart again, “Simple people conceive that we are to see God as if He stood on that side and we on this. It is not so; God and I are one in the act of my perceiving Him.” In this absolute oneness of things Zen establishes the
foundations of its philosophy. The idea of absolute oneness is not the exclusive possession of Zen. There are other religious and philosophies that preach the same doctrine. If Zen, like other monisms or theisms, merely laid down this principle and did not have anythng specifically to be known as Zen, it would have long ceased to exist as such. But there is in Zen something
unique which makes up its life and justifies its claim to be the most precious heritage of Eastern culture. The following “Mondo” or dialogue (literally questioning and answering) will give us a glimpse into the ways of Zen, A monk asked Joshu, one of the greatest masters in China, “What is the ultimate word of Truth?” Instead of giving him any specific answer he made a simple response saying, “Yes.” The monk who naturally failed to see any sense in this kind of response asked for a second time, and to this the Master roared back. “I am not deaf!” See how irrelevantly (shall I say) the all-important problem of absolute oneness or of the ultimate reason is treated here! But this is characteristic of Zen, this is where Zen transcends logic and
overrides the tyranny and misrepresentation of ideas. As I have said before, Zen mistrusts the intellect, does not rely upon traditional and dualistic methods of reasoning, and handles problems after its own original manners….To understand all this, it is necessary that we should acquire a “third eye”, as they say, and learn to look at things from a new point of view.”