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Satori

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Hartwig HKD – Bonsai Moon via Flickr

In Zen Buddhism, satori is the idea and belief that one can experience a sudden flash of enlightenment in which all the conventional dualities of ‘love and hate,’ ‘good and bad,’ ‘beautiful and ugly’ are apparently transcended.

Those claiming to have experienced satori talk about the importance of living in the present—hence popular spin-off catchphrases like “Be Here Now” (cleverly satirized in the otherwise vulgar film, The Love Guru).

There are different understandings about what satori really means. Some say that a greater kind of love and compassion follows the destruction of smaller ideas about love and compassion.¹ But satori usually is a somewhat cooler idea about surpassing the discriminating intellect.

One can’t help but wonder if some enlightened masters would, perhaps just as quickly as they gained enlightenment, lose their cool if their followers suddenly stopped funding them.

The Japanese scholar D. T. Suzuki champions Zen while casting aspersions on core Christian beliefs about Jesus dying on a cross. For Suzuki, religion is largely about aesthetics. And he says it’s distasteful to the Japanese mind to think of God dying in such a gruesome way. He also writes extensively on satori but admits to never having experienced it.²

Related » Koan

¹ This should not be confused with the Christian ideas of eros and agape because the latter involves a selfless service to God. And the entire idea of an absolute God is absent or seen as unimportant in Zen. See D. T. Suzuki, Zen Buddhism and D. T. Suzuki in C. A. Moore, The Japanese Mind.

² Suzuki, himself, says that the idea of satori differs from Christian mysticism. The latter, he claims, is disconnected from everyday life. This demonstrates how Suzuki misunderstands the subtle workings of Christian mysticism, which reaches out to others through intercessionIbid.

On the Web:

  • Mel Van Dusen presents the talks of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center.”
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15 thoughts on “Satori

  1. “One can’t help but wonder how many of these apparently enlightened masters would, perhaps just as quickly as they allegedly gained enlightenment, lose their cool if their followers suddenly stopped funding them.”

    I hardly think that, if that is true at all, that is a trait any more peculiar to Zen Buddhists than it is to hypocritical Christians, Jews, Moslems, Hindus, atheists, etc., etc. My thinking is that true “enlightenment” for any of us would preclude making judgments about the spiritual practices of others, and mean focusing on our own spiritual progress rather than on that of others. Jesus asked people to look into their own hearts, and take heed of what’s on our own “slates”–not spend our energy trying to God’s job and peek into the hearts of others and make judgments.

    Sara
    http://saradode.wordpress.com

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  2. Actually Jesus spoke out about a lot of things he didn’t like.

    I think you’re making the common error of cherry picking from the Bible specific aspects that support your personal viewpoint.

    However, I do agree that hypocrisy is a human failing not pertaining to any specific religious tradition.

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  3. I agree that people “cherry-pick” from the Bible and other texts to try to support their own conclusions. That’s why, in general, I don’t see the sense in debating issues of spirituality using bits of Scripture. But I don’t think that there’s a lot of room for interpretation in “He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone.” It kind of speaks for itself.

    When Jesus spoke out about things he “didn’t like”, he didn’t base what he said on presupposition. And I’d be surprised if anyone could argue with a straight face that there aren’t plenty of Christians who would “lose their cool if their followers stopped funding them.” What is the point in being derisive about others’ beliefs, when those who follow other beliefs are no less fallible than anyone else?

    Sara

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  4. Sara, I think you’re probably new to my site and haven’t read the full scope of what I’ve put out there on the web. And that’s fine. However, if you did peek around earthpages.ca and earthpages.org you’d see that I analyze everything and leave no stone unturned, as it were.

    While I am a believing Christian, I have been critical of Christian shortcomings on more than one occasion. That’s why I’m into dialogue. I do believe that all of the traditions have something important to offer, and that we can learn from one another.

    Having said that, in my view nothing will be learned, no progress will be made if we all remain mute and pretend that we all say and do the same things when we don’t. That’s fake, phony and I just can’t go there.

    People often cast aspersions on the Christian faith… and very often it’s not honest and direct but subtle and implied. Myself, I prefer to be up front about things. I try to be fair. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to be inauthentic and say “everything’s ok” when I don’t think it is.

    I should also add that I have spoken positively about and employed Buddhist concepts elsewhere, particularly in my critique of reincarnation.

    Now I don’t expect you to go over my whole site with a fine tooth comb. But a quick look at my latest tweets should reveal that I look critically at everything, including myself.

    http://twitter.com/earthpages

    For me “critically” means I try to find the good and not so good, as I see it at a given moment. And if we gloss over issues and remain mute no real progress will be made. That’s how I see it and I think you must too on some level. Otherwise you would not be critical of my approach!

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  5. Well, first I have to admit that I’m clueless about Twittering… 🙂

    Thanks for the response. I will try to look at more of your site. I have no problem with considering at all sides of things, and on having one’s own beliefs about what is “right”; I just have a problem with unwarranted judgment and attacks based on differences of things like spiritual practices, lifestyle, race, etc. (I’m not saying that that’s what you did–just making my own feelings, and my own understanding of Jesus’ teachings, clear).

    I was raised Roman Catholic, but I no longer consider myself Christian, or anything else–I just have a very strong faith in God, and I try to follow Jesus’ teachings (as I understand them). You say that people often “cast aspersions” on the Christian faith, but, if you look at both sides of THAT issue, it’s hard to be told by some that you will be damned if you don’t believe what they believe, and that you don’t “measure up” in God’s eyes (as if we humans have the ability to discern as God does), and hounded to “repent” and believe that there is only one way to interpret God’s will and, who Jesus was and what he taught, there’s likely to be a backlash, no? Christians are fairly unique in the evangelical thing. And yet Jesus was never a Christian…

    That’s not to denigrate Christianity, either. There are good people, and good principles, in all spiritual groups (as well as among non-believers). I believe that we are judged on how we treat others and the planet we’ve been given, regardless of dogma.

    Thanks again,

    Sara

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  6. You make some good points and in all honesty I think we’re in much closer alignment than we perhaps first realized. At this stage in my journey, however, I’m not willing to let go of my “I’m a Christian” status. Although at times I’ve considered it.

    To cherry pick a little myself, Jesus of the New Testament said he came for those who needed guidance, not for the spiritually healthy. Perhaps this is a way we could resolve our slight differences of opinion.

    As for the missionary aspect, I think you’ve hit on an important point. I would argue that many other religions are missionary, and that their strategies simply differ in some ways from those of the various Christian groups.

    Now, on the point of judging, of course in the ultimate sense you are right. Only God can make a definitive judgment. But in the course of human history I think we must form opinions and, in some instances, act on them. Except perhaps in rare cases of direct revelation, that’s all we really have (unless one believes one has a pipeline to God, which I certainly don’t!).

    Thank you for your stimulating comments. I just made an edit which I think better expresses what I was trying to say:

    One can’t help but wonder how many of these apparently enlightened masters

    To

    One can’t help but wonder if some of these apparently enlightened masters

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  7. I’m glad we could find some common ground! (And I’m glad you enjoyed the conversation, Lisa.)

    I think that part of what Jesus was trying to demonstrate is that we ALL have access to a “pipeline to God”–that the empty (unless we do them in a personal way that gives them real meaning) rituals, dogma, human-made divisions, etc., are not necessary, and may even act as impediments to that wonderful relationship.

    Of course, we need laws to keep each other safe, and to maintain a livable order in society. My feeling is that we just need to be able to discern between OUR laws, and those of God. The fact that it’s so easy to “cherry-pick” from the Bible for one interpretation or another regarding what God’s will might be tells me that it’s dangerous and misleading to try to decide from the text exactly what God expects of us. I believe that Jesus was fully human, but that he did have that direct access and therefore came as close as humanly possible to acting as God’s ideal for us. I try to model (I did say TRY!) on his actions with regard to others, rather than on later interpretations by people who were no doubt still trapped by their own preconceptions and perhaps earthly ambitions. When Jesus reached out to touch and heal a leper, it was a simple, direct act of love and compassion, devoid of the human need to judge and make decisions regarding others’ worth. If we were all able to act like that, we would all truly dwell in God’s “Kingdom.”

    My, how I do go on!

    Anyway, have a good night!

    Sara

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  8. Sara, I’m not sure if there’s an exact definition of the phrase “pipeline to God” but I meant it in the sense of people who insist on always being 100% right and never yield to another person’s perspective, even if that other person might be closer to the truth in a given situation.

    I feel that God can work through anyone (or group) at any given time, and it’s an ongoing task to discern just when one should stand firm or perhaps soften one’s position a bit.

    If I were perfect I’d never make any mistakes. Maybe psychopaths believe they never make mistakes. But the rest of us, well… 🙂

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  9. Sorry–I guess I misinterpreted the “pipeline” somewhat. What I meant when I used it was a direct, personal relationship with God, apart from and free of dogma and convention and the intervention of others and their opinions. But my guess is that those who allow themselves to attain that wouldn’t be afflicted with the need to always be “100% right” and unyielding.

    Fortunately for me, I NEVER make any mistakes (NOT!!! :))…

    Happy Sunday,

    Sara

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  10. Hi Sara, I guess I’m wondering if we ever really can escape our ‘conditioning’ as the philosophers put it.

    I mean, sure, we can have direct experiences of grace or spiritual powers. But doesn’t a kind of interpretive process kick in shortly afterward? And wouldn’t our interpretations of spiritual experiences be influenced to some degree by our conditioning–i.e. ancestral roots, upbringing, peers, media, etc?

    Just curious to see what you think on this matter.

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  11. I guess my short answer would be, “Yes, but do they have to? Or, at least, can we find ways to keep ourselves from being trapped by those familiar interpretations and to see things without bias and in a new light?”

    It’s funny that you asked me this today, as it’s something I was thinking about a lot, for a few different reasons, this morning.

    Just a couple of quick thoughts. Jesus taught, to a great extent, by his actions and by rather short parables and phrases that could seem very enigmatic. Those who heard him were forced (unless they were REALLY stubborn!) to really think about what he was doing and saying in terms of themselves, their own biases and experiences–from all sides. As far as I can tell, he wasn’t given to lecture and debate and handing out the “right answers.” He simply asked people to open their eyes, and pointed in certain directions.

    In my own “direct experiences of grace/spiritual powers” (that’s a wonderful way to put it), the same has been true. I’m never spoon-fed answers to anything–just pointed in certain directions and given clues, and then expected to figure things out for myself. And I have been wrong, many times, and those times have tended to be when I let my preconceived ideas (products of everything from my Catholic upbringing to my nonconformist, “question authority” streak) make me think that I knew the answers right away.

    I’m not saying that one has to ignore all of the ideas one has learned through life; to decide out-of-hand that none of them has value is as bad as assuming that they’re all absolutely right. But what set Jesus (and other great spiritual teachers) apart in his time was that he was able to “think outside the box,” and see beyond conventional wisdom to something different–it’s also what got him killed.

    One of the words that keeps coming up in my “experiences” is “libbaw” (or some variation), which, in Hebrew, means heart/soul/understanding. I’m not anti-intellectual by any means, but I’m learning that I can often understand things better by paying attention to my heart and soul than by always trying to understand everything with my mind. My own sense is that Christianity (and perhaps other faiths with which I’m not so familiar) has lost in many ways that connection to the heart and soul and mysticism of what Jesus was trying to get at, in favor of absolutism and literalism. God, at least for me, seems to disappear in all of that. It seems that, if anything at all should be understood outside of the usual intellectual boundaries that we use for most things, it should be the Divine!

    One thing that I even thought of posting this morning was this: If we all woke up one morning to find that all the spiritual texts, and conventional beliefs of the various religions, and everything we’d been taught to understand about God had disappeared or had never existed, how would we think of God then? What would we believe God’s will to be in our hearts? How would we treat others?

    Um, did I say I was going to make that short? Oops… 🙂

    Sara

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  12. Wow… this thread has turned into a Superthread! Such great comments!

    I’m reminded of this quote from the classic sci-fi film:

    There can be no understanding between the hands and the brain unless the heart acts as mediator.

    —Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, 1926

    🙂

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  13. “I follow God because I can’t deny His Grace or the change that happened in my life when I first believed…

    of course this is only my experience and everyone has their own…and that is something I find so fascinating and so beautiful…”

    THAT’S beautiful. You’ve felt God’s presence in a personal and meaningful way, and established a loving relationship, AND you’re willing to allow for others to do the same in their own way.

    I think that’s kind of the ideal. 🙂

    Sara
    http://saradode.wordpress.com

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  14. I was always thinking of the subject of enlightenment (since I got the knowledge of the possibility of achieving it) like something very sacred, and an achievement to the Buddha, or Jesus or whomever master of any religion/tradition himself, as I am thinking of it as an achievement of the individual whom have gained followers. (since all the followers haven’t became Buddhas for ex.), On the way of research of its meaning and how to achieve, one I suppose first has to give up the I (which means the ego) and it is not an easy way to go. Within the time you realize that even in the sentence I am enlightened there is an “I”, which means ego. So I just left the idea of ‘I am enlightened’. But if an individual works more on expending consciousnesses and getting out of the box, which is I guess a real time to do, since it is happening on a collective level, and yet not to each one, but only to few, here it comes the moment of enlightenment, when an individual has no need to say the ‘I am enlightened’ but gets the benefits.
    This may be a bit of off topic, but I am happy to be on your blog and read the article.

    Marta
    https://theaspectoflife.wordpress.com/

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  15. Thanks for your interesting comment. I think we can come to certain levels of realization but not have to dispense with the ego. It depends how we define ego. Ego as egotism or ego as something that discriminates during life’s experiences and, for this discussion, after unconventional or “religious” experiences.

    I think some people have an unconventional experience and their ego (as pinpoint consciousness) assumes that it was an ultimate experience. To my mind, that’s like traveling to one country and claiming you’ve “seen the world.” 🙂

    Nice blog. Thanks for dropping by.

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