Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Everyday Zen: "Religion" and Satori

  • Satori is a Japanese term often confused with enlightenment (bodhi). It literally means "understanding," akin to the term epiphany. In Japanese Zen Buddhist tradition, it refers to an intuitive flash of sudden awareness, considered a "first step" or embarkation toward nirvana, the result of enlightenment. It is typically juxtaposed with the related term kensho, "seeing one's nature" [as not separate from others or other things]. These tend to be briefer glimpses, while satori is considered deeper. It has been described as similar to awakening one day with an additional pair of arms and only later learning how to use them. Charlotte Joko Beck explains further.
Religion, Part I
Charlotte Joko Beck (Everyday Zen)
People who come to Zen practice are often upset or disillusioned with their past experiences of religion.

The original meaning of the word "religion" is interesting. It's from the Latin religare, which means "to bind back," "to bind man and the gods." Re means "back," and ligare means "to bind."

What are we binding? First of all, we bind our self to itself -- because even within ourselves we're separated. And we bind ourselves to others, and eventually to all things, sentient and insentient. And we bind others to others.

Anything that is not bound together is our responsibility. But most of the time our task is to bind ourselves to our roommate, to our work, to our partner, to our child, to our friend, and then to America, to Japan, to Sri Lanka, to Mexico, to all the things in this world, and to this universe.

Now that sounds nice! But in fact we don't very often see life that way.

And any true religious practice is to see once again that which is already so: to see the fundamental unity of all things, to see our true face. It's to remove the barrier between ourselves and another person or another thing -- to remove or to see through the nature of the barrier.

Satori is a momentary flash sensing the oneness (non-duality) of oneself with all things.

People often ask me, If this fundamental unity is the true state of affairs, why is it almost never seen?

It's not seen because of a lack of the right scientific information. I've known a lot of physicists who had the intellectual knowledge, yet their dealings with life did not reflect this awareness.

The main cause of the barrier, and the main reason we fail to see that which is already so, is our fear of being hurt by that which seems separate from us.

Needless to say, our physical being does need to be protected to function. For instance, if we're having a picnic on a train track and a train's coming, it's quite a good idea to move. It's necessary to avoid and to repair physical damage.

But there's immense confusion between that kind of hurt and other less tangible occurrences that seem to hurt us.

"My lover left me; it hurts to be alone." "I'll never get a job." "Other people are so mean." We view all of these as sources of hurt. We often feel we have been hurt by other people.

If we look back on our lives we can make a list of people or events that have hurt us. We all have our list. Out of that long list of hurts we develop a conditioned way of looking at life: we learn patterns of avoidance; we have judgments and opinions about anything and anyone that we fear might hurt us.

Our innate capacities are exerted in the direction of avoidance, in the direction of complaining, of being the victim, of trying to set things up so that we maintain control. And the true life, the fundamental unity, escapes us.

Sadly enough, some of us die without ever having lived, because we're so obsessed with trying to avoid being hurt.

There's one thing we're sure of: If we have been hurt, we don't want it to happen again. And our mechanisms for avoidance are almost endless.

Now in many religious traditions, and particularly in the Zen tradition, there is great stock placed in having what are called "openings" [satori] or enlightenment experiences. Such experiences are quite varied. But if they are genuine they illuminate or bring to our attention that which is always so -- the true nature of life, the fundamental unity.

What I have found, however (and I know many have found it too), is that by themselves they're not enough. They can be useful, but if we get hung up on them they're a barrier.

For some people these experiences are not that hard to come by. We vary in that respect -- and the variation is not a matter of virtue, either. But without the severe labor of unifying one's life, these experiences do not make much difference.

What really counts is the practice that we have to go through moment by moment, with that which seems to hurt us, or threaten us, or displease us -- whether it's difficulty with our coworkers, or our family, or our partners, anyone.

Unless we in our practice have reached the point where we react very little, an enlightenment experience is largely useless.

No comments: