Explain Zen Enlightenment to Me

Reply Sun 13 Aug, 2006 12:48 pm
That in the most confusing of way makes sense.
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Reply Sun 13 Aug, 2006 01:11 pm
Ashers wrote:
When I question so much of what goes on around me it's all well and good realising the importance of turning "inwards" but some things simply take time and when the pressures around you are ever present there's a silly but genuine sense of annoyance I guess that you can't just skip to the end of the rocky road to the beautiful countryside that you hope awaits.

Yeah, I know what you're saying. I used to feel that way too.
I suppose, at this point in time for me, I've lived long enough that I have begun to reap what I have sown - and I can see that opportunities often present themselves only once. Any accomplishments: fleeting. They can't be done 'to get something' or 'for' something. Highs and lows: it doesn't matter.
It all comes back to 'nothing'. Live, die, taste apple pie.

I used to work for that beautiful countryside - now I know it does not exist!
It's disillusioning when you have had that hope.
And it can make for some poor decisions that come back at you later.

My life isn't bad. However, I often feel overrun by futility.
Anything 'I' do ultimately will disappear, does not last.
Who 'I' am will disappear, changes constantly, my identity - it seems to be whatever I or another names it. I'm whatever I present, whatever I'm feeling, whatever i'm doing, just whatever. It doesn't exist!
It's not comfortable.

Friends, work, learning, falling in love, being recognized, helping others: that's not 'it'. It doesn't matter!
Doesn't bring lasting happiness...just for that time, that's it.
And yet they are all good, necessary, and have to be done.

I know people from various walks of life and it all comes down to the same thing. They're all the same, really.
It just makes me go 'why? what is this all for?'

No answer.

Maybe this is stuff for my therapist. But I mention it here bc that experience of 'things not existencing' Impermanent...All...of ...it.

Like a big lump of clay.

So the pressure for me is to be able to live in this world, get on, do what has to be done, without going crazy.

I used to turn to my work, or exercise, or reading and writing, or friends, or having a good time to get that 'sanity'. It's just not working anymore.

I'd feel completely in the moment and 'not nuts'. This is all very hard to explain.


Smile Ok, I see i've gone completely off topic now! All done. Back to 'Zen'. Smile
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Reply Sun 13 Aug, 2006 03:45 pm
Flushd, I see a lot of wisdom in what you say. Nothing nuts about it. It's just far more honest and reflective than what comes out of most people. And it's grist for the therapist's mill only if you feel it's a problem.

Let me describe for you my "craziest" moment. Back in the early 60s when I started meditating with a zen master, I had two mental episodes that were probably mildly pathological. I was driving one day when everything I saw suddenly lost its 'inherent" meaning: a car was not "a car", just the phenomena of colors, shapes, functions, etc. The same with trees, people, etc. As the existentialist might put it their existence and their essence uncoupled. The meanings "car", "tree" and "people" were no more than ideas. They were experienced as things apart from their referents and I could not put them back together. It was frightening. I didn't know if I was crazy or, hopefully, having a "zen insight" into the nature of language and its relationship to "reality." What was also very strange was that I could not remember what it FELT like when words and their referents seemed to be one. Eventually it just faded away and I regained my "normal" frame of mind. Indeed in the normal frame of mind I could not "feel" what it was like for them to be separate. I can now talk about it in the abstract but I cannot experience the actual perspective. A few weeks later it happened again, also while driving (I don't know if there is a causal connection there). I reported this to the zen master hoping he would validate it as a zen experience. He was non-committal, but did suggest that I was meditating too much, that I should take a little break.
The experience never recurred. That was over 40 years ago. I could have gone to a therapist for treatment of the problem of being "disassociated" from reality. But I'm glad I didn't.
I DO believe that the experience was probably more realistic than our ordinary frame of mind wherein we make the mistake of thinking that words and things are one (the map and territory thing of General Semantics).
But I just prefer to "know" that they are not one yet enjoy the illusion that they are. It's easier that way.
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Reply Sun 13 Aug, 2006 04:41 pm
Nice posts^

I was just thinking about the difference between dreaming and supposed lucid dreaming, I'm no expert on the latter but the differences between them have always struck me as fascinating.

I have a lot of dreams where, quite often, I'm very much an oblivious passenger to sequence after sequence of abstract, confusing yet powerful (in both positive and negative senses) scenes and situations that, there and then, I might feel overwhelmed and thrown by. Yet when people become aware of their dream state, many say a feeling of freedom and awareness seeps over them and the dream is still a dream but now the dreamer has that inner state of calm. Of course, I've also had some amazing dreams where I've been a "mere" passenger, take of that what you will...

(Still not sure what to make of lucid dreaming but it's comparisons in terms of states of awareness seem interesting at any rate)
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Reply Sun 13 Aug, 2006 06:44 pm
Some people might say that our ordinary consciousness is a kind of hyper-lucid dreaming, and that the trick is to realize it and enjoy the calm of seeing things as they are--illusions. By the way, doesn't Buddha mean "awakened one"?
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Reply Mon 14 Aug, 2006 09:59 am
A few things:

Class, pay attention to JL his comments on Buddhism are always good, and of late they are excellent. So good, in fact, that there has been little call for me to add a jot or a tittle.

Ends and Means. People often are drawn to one Buddhist sect or another expecting some sort of magical transformation. Some want to transcend physical laws and be able to float in mid-air, or wear seven-league boots. If the experiential world is illusory, then why shouldn't an adept be able to transmute lead into gold, or live ten thousand years? Others, more sophisticated seekers look to the Enlightenment experience to solve all of the problems and suffering flesh is heir to. After all, the whole point of Buddhism as we've said repeatedly is to conquer suffering. "Once Awake, the Buddha never slept again".

Though extremely accomplished Masters can perform feats that seem almost miraculous, they never have to my knowledge done anything that contradicts physical law. A Master can withstand extremes of heat and cold, can self-regulate blood-pressure and pulse, and can summon remarkable strength when the occasion demands. Sorry, no levitation, and no seven-league boots. The discipline required to become a Master isn't acquired overnight, but is the result of many decades of concentrated practice not found often outside of the monastery. When the romantic discovers there is no easy way to magically transform themselves into wizards they fall by the wayside pretty quickly.

Those whose sights are set on Enlightenment, or even just a glimpse of the "Promised Land" are more persistent, and much more likely to achieve results. Some will have moments (they seem eternal) where the underlying Ultimate Reality is on the cusp of unfolding, a very few will experience the same Enlightenment that the Buddha did around 500 BCE, but most will probably never be able to fully shake the experiential world.

The great majority of Buddhists are not much different than your average Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, or Zarathustrian. Their religion is a part of their cultural context, a place where they are among peers and fellow believers. These are folks who do BELIEVE, but their lives are taken up by the needs of daily life. They get married and are buried as Buddhists. They try, usually in a desultory fashion, to practice the principle teachings of Buddhist scriptures, or what they are told by priests and nuns. They contribute their mite to the upkeep of the temple and feed the monks. They attend and enjoy the holidays and celebrations that have developed over the centuries. The more devout will spend some portion of their lives either in a monastery, or under the direct guidance of a Master. These folks aren't "wasting their time", nor is their religion depreciated by the fashion that they follow the precepts. Its OK to to be this sort of Buddhist, and Buddhism will be fully transmitted to the West only when we see appreciable numbers of Western Buddhists of this sort.

At the beginning of the 21st century, Buddhism has made great headway into the Western World, but there is a long way to go yet before Buddhism is as widely practiced as other world religions. Many of today's American Buddhists are romantics who are drawn to Asian mysticism. They adopt a Japanese, or Chinese, or Tibetan name, and make a practice of wearing robes. We find them building monasteries and temples around the country, and that is a very good thing because it expands the audience exposed to the Buddha's Teachings. Do these wanabe Tibetans achieve some degree of Enlightenment? Yes some do, but then we expect to see them relax and share a joke while drinking a pot of tea. Buddhists of this kind either make Buddhist discipline their entire life, or they usually "give up" after a a few years ... 5 years, I think someone said above.


If so few ever achieve full Enlightenment what's the point?

The attempt is an end in itself. The practice of the precepts mitigates suffering both of the practitioner and those around them. Compassion and charity are priceless gifts in the suffering world. Just to question the "rightness" of ones thoughts, words and actions will reduce one's suffering and the suffering of others. To live a life of moderation and acceptance cuts deep into the heart of misery even if the "Buddhist" sits Za-zen only an hour a year. Regular habits and consideration for others render their own rewards.

Even greater rewards accrue to the serious Buddhist who make a real sustained effort to meditate and practice the precepts. One of the most important requirements (and rewards) of meditation is to learn self-discipline. While the monkey mind is dominant, our thoughts are scattered and even chaotic. The mind is off playing games, worrying and plotting instead of attending to the object at hand. Sitting in meditation, the student finds quiet, stillness, and correct posture tedious and the mind wanders.

"How long have I sat now? Surely the bell must ring soon. Oh my aching legs; I think they are going numb. Why did I sit on a wrinkle in the pillow, I'll just move a little bit to make it more comfortable. What a waste of my time. I wonder if the boss is going to fire someone tomorrow? What will I do then? Homeless and starving? Wait, what was that sound outside the Zendo? A siren? Perhaps sitting here is dangerous and we should go check out what's happening. I'm positive I've sat here for far longer than I need to have; perhaps the clock is broken. I should check that out ... wouldn't I be foolish to sit for days just because the clock is wrong." etc., etc.

Sitting. Quiet, with total focus on controlling your breathing, requires a level of self-discipline that most people never learn. Meditation teaches us how to channel our being into concentrated attention. Actually, for experienced sitters the real danger is going to sleep. One becomes so focused on regular, quiet breathing that before you realize it you've slumped over and banged your head against the wall. BTW, this is why one sits, walks, or works in meditation instead of lying at one's ease on a plush bed. Once one learns how to remain attentive and in control of their mind and body, those skills become a wonderful asset in daily life. Focused, one makes fewer mistakes and their efforts tend to yield better results. One becomes more patient and is able to understand the dynamics of situations and the "hidden" drive behind other's words and actions. Disciplined we are able to accomplish things that would not have been possible if we were disorganized and not in control of ourselves.

One doesn't "give up" after years of effort, because the process has profoundly changed the sort of person we are. We may never experience the Buddha's Enlightenment, but, with diligence and the right circumstances we will find our lives much richer and touched by less suffering. We will still have pain and disease. We will still grow old and die. We will lose what we want most to hold onto, and never grasp unsullied eternal happiness and pleasure. We will be misunderstood, and we WILL make thousands and thousands of mistakes ... but far fewer than if we went on living an undisciplined life.

For some it is useful to study the sutras and the history of our religion, but that is no guarantor that our lives will be better than if we never read another word. What good is it to know a Buddhist term in Sanskrit? Far better to know how to comfort a crying child. Cut through discrimination and the endless classification of multiplicity, and approach the world with the innocent eyes of a new borne. JLNobody earlier described an incident where his ability to distinguish "value" between things wavered. He sought, I believe, some assistance to restore his grounding in perceptual reality. Some don't, and there are cases of monks ending up as catatonic inmates. On the other hand, JL was at the threshold of awakening to Ultimate Reality. The Great Void where there is no Ego, no time or space. This can be a truly terrifying experience, and BTW is the "real" topic of the Tibetan Book of the Dead. There is nothing to be frightened of, and the fear itself is the mechanism that kicks us over and over again out of paradise. That's alright, there is an endless number of sentient beings who suffer and whose suffering can be mitigated. There are many worlds where the Teachings of the Buddha have yet to be heard. Time is an illusion, but and so, we have plenty of time for our purposes ... and that is? To return.

Pay attention!

If you are serious, go to Texas and beg JL to sit with you for a year. You will never regret it.
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Reply Mon 14 Aug, 2006 08:11 pm
thanks for sharing that. It's good to be reminded that i'm not a total wack-job. Laughing
Maybe part of it is culture. I know this is simplistic: but pysch and popular culture looks as these states as 'sick' or 'abnormal' or non-productive, or worthy of getting away from. That is relative too. It's just a state - a scary , scary state, but valid nonetheless and real, no?
I relate to it. You know what though...how is it that you snapped back?

Ashers, hmm, I don't know about lucid dreaming too much. I used to enjoy playing with that: seeing how far i could control etc. in dreams, dipping for meaning. Doubt this is what you are referring to. lol.

Thanks Asherman. Good post, as always.

JLNobody earlier described an incident where his ability to distinguish "value" between things wavered. He sought, I believe, some assistance to restore his grounding in perceptual reality. Some don't, and there are cases of monks ending up as catatonic inmates. On the other hand, JL was at the threshold of awakening to Ultimate Reality. The Great Void where there is no Ego, no time or space. This can be a truly terrifying experience, and BTW is the "real" topic of the Tibetan Book of the Dead. There is nothing to be frightened of, and the fear itself is the mechanism that kicks us over and over again out of paradise.

Catatonic inmates?! Shocked

Well..."the fear itself is the mechanism that kicks us over and over again out of paradise" YES! Thank you for that.

What to be afraid of? Don't know. That it is so different, without rules or anyone to say 'you're on the right track, your experience is valid, do this or do that'.

Confronting it all alone and it is wild and without answers. Raw, strange.


What is Zen enlightment??

Don't know!! It's getting to be like a tick at my head that keeps sucking out answers, and leaving me with less and less.

Sit down to meditate and it feels like just sittin' and breathing. Make supper and it's just chopping up vegetables and stirring.
Great! Except there is still something there, this invisible barrier that holds and prevents freedom, a mask of fear and urgency "you gotta...you gotta..." . as though there is some necessary reason to live.
My brain can't formulate any more necessary reasons to live, i'm just living, so - well, i'd like it to go away.

Maybe I just need a break. Yet i feel this thing will keep coming back, coming back, until it is done and burst through, cause this isn't the first time it's visited me, only this time it is very urgent and on the surface so i can almost taste it and i can feel it, it's screaming "you must...you must"..I must what?!

It really feels like if i can crack it, then that's it, there won't be any more of my hopeless to and fro and looking for answers in all the wrong places.


Texas and JL and getting into this is an exciting idea. If not that, honestly, I need to find something else that will get this thing going.

I have checked out some of the local buddhist centers around here, but it just didn't seem right. I don't think winnipeg has really become a center yet for many people - lots of cads, and lots of Buddhists that were born into the religion and just sort of do it by rote. Nothing wrong with that, but i'm not looking for a church.

Really, like i said before, my work used to help bc it forced me into the immediete moment and intune to the needs of another person. It would be irresponsible to do otherwise. But since i've been doing other work that is not so intimately one-to-one, i'm not getting those same benefits. and this has been building for some while. my relief is being let alone, to go about my business, and pouring out volumnes of useless words on the computer in a big old file, and showing kindness to people when i can and to listen....


Any comments? Even if it's just to 'get a grip' or take a vacation?

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Reply Mon 14 Aug, 2006 08:29 pm
Not Texas!
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