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Questions about Awakening

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Questions about Awakening

Postby Josham on Mon Feb 20, 2017 11:15 am

This continues a discussion that started with my first post in the “Members’ Introduction” forum recently. I was asking about awakening, and would like to pursue this fundamental topic further.

The response I’ve got so far seems to be, firstly, that awakening isn’t something that really can, or ought to be, defined. Secondly, awakening occurs under, and is recognized and confirmed by, a Zen Buddhist teacher. Thirdly, a person can’t determine if their awakening experience is authentic, but a genuine Zen Buddhist teacher can.

Obviously, unless awakening can be defined more clearly, any discussion about it is pointless. But then it would also be meaningless for Zen Buddhist teachers to declare that any practitioner had awakened. In addition it would not be possible to claim that awakening must occur under a Zen Buddhist teacher, for if awakening is not defined, who is to say whose claimed awakening is genuine, and whose is not?

I agree that awakening can be problematic to define. However, it appears there is a certain realisation which is fundamental to awakening, and is often used to define awakening. This realisation is a shift in the “I am”, from identifying as an ego (a separate and self-determining entity) to seeing such ego-identification as false, seeing that there is no separation and that one is actually all of this, including the aware space, or consciousness, in which all of this appears. This realisation, when wholly embraced, changes one’s life in a way that brings peace and joy, and opens love and compassion toward all beings.

If the above-described realisation is not considered an essential criterion for awakening, then what can be said about it? There are many teachers, widely considered to be awakened, though not necessarily under a Zen Buddhist teacher, who would claim the above realisation is really what constitutes awakening.

Also, if the above-described realisation is not considered an essential criterion for awakening, do Zen Buddhists agree on any criteria at all? If no essential criteria can be defined, then how can anyone be in a position to say whether anyone is awakened or not?

It seems extraordinary to suggest that no-one is awakened unless their awakening is confirmed by a Zen teacher. I also can’t accept that a person is unable to determine if his own awakening is genuine. Of course there’s a lot of self-deception and lack of spiritual discernment out there. But that doesn’t mean everyone is deceived or unable to discern their own awakening, especially when it takes the form of a paradigm shift in their realisation of the nature of self, and of reality.

Thanks for considering these matters. I’ll be very glad to read and consider any responses.

- Josh
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Re: Questions about Awakening

Postby Denko on Tue Feb 21, 2017 1:10 pm

You are right about your 'essential criterion', but this awakening insight is just the beginning of practice (polishing). Awakening occur of course 'all over the place' - it is not 'owned' by zen Buddhists, but the development of insight, the polishing, I have not found in other places - this requires an enlightened guide (a zen master).

Yes, it is theoretical possible to do it on your own, but I have not met or heard of anyone properly succeeding. With 'properly' I mean; reaching final and perfect peace of mind beyond any fear, confusion and doubt.
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Re: Questions about Awakening

Postby Josham on Tue Feb 21, 2017 10:03 pm

Thank you for this response. There is much talk of "practice" (or "polishing", as you put it) in Zen. My reaction would be that following the awakening insight, life itself through its various abrasions would do the polishing. But I am open to the idea of a "practice" in the Zen sense.
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Re: Questions about Awakening

Postby Denko on Wed Feb 22, 2017 9:04 am

You are of course right Josham. Daily life itself would do the polishing - as long as we do not run away or hide from its challenges, but rather confront them with the awakened heart.

The problems I see are - besides hiding & running away - that we are so good at fooling ourselves, that we 'play' 'enlightened' etc. etc. Therefore it is always good to have someone to talk to, a 'senior' on the Way. A zen master is, in my humble opinion, the best choice, but there could be others.

Another aspect of zen training is the development of tools to handle the challenges in life. This comes in very handy.
And I must say: For me the going through the koan 'study' under a Rinzai master has been indispensable. Without that I would probably have been lost.
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Re: Questions about Awakening

Postby Nothing on Wed Feb 22, 2017 1:17 pm

Denko wrote:You are of course right Josham. Daily life itself would do the polishing - as long as we do not run away or hide from its challenges, but rather confront them with the awakened heart.

The problems I see are - besides hiding & running away - that we are so good at fooling ourselves, that we 'play' 'enlightened' etc. etc. Therefore it is always good to have someone to talk to, a 'senior' on the Way. A zen master is, in my humble opinion, the best choice, but there could be others.

Another aspect of zen training is the development of tools to handle the challenges in life. This comes in very handy.
And I must say: For me the going through the koan 'study' under a Rinzai master has been indispensable. Without that I would probably have been lost.

Denko wrote:Another aspect of zen training is the development of tools to handle the challenges in life. This comes in very handy.



Can you explain in more detail, what do you mean by "development of tools to handle the challenges in life"?

Thank you,
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Re: Questions about Awakening

Postby Denko on Wed Feb 22, 2017 7:25 pm

Well, first and foremost is of course 'proper' zazen.

Otherwise, today I would point out that in a monastery there is no 'running away or hiding'. We are - in some cases literally - beaten to behave as 'proper' buddhists/buddhas in situations where 'out in the world' we would too often let our ego run the show.

In the end we discover for ourselves, that there actually is no other way than Buddha's Way, if we want to live and die without suffering.

The most important tool for me (besides zazen) has been learning to clearly discern between the real and the apparent (see the five ranks of Tozan). This mostly comes from the koan training.
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Re: Questions about Awakening

Postby organizational on Wed Feb 22, 2017 9:21 pm

Thank you.
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Re: Questions about Awakening

Postby Josham on Sat Feb 25, 2017 2:46 am

Thank you for your previous comments, Denko.

I’d like to put another question to you, if I could, though it’s a bit unrelated to the above. It’s about engaging with the mind in the process of exploring truth. The feeling I seem to get from this forum is that nothing the mind comes up with can be trusted. Ultimately, of course, that’s true, since the eye can’t see itself. But can mind not be used as a tool to bring one to the point of no-mind? In an honest process of self-enquiry, doesn’t mind come into play? For example it’s easy to show through reasoning that we’re not separate from one another. (“Our separation of each other is an optical illusion of consciousness.” – Albert Einstein) Can we not use this kind of reasoning, this mindful analysis and dissection of assumptions about the self, to help bring us to the edge of awakening?

Thanks for any thoughts - Josh
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Re: Questions about Awakening

Postby Denko on Sun Feb 26, 2017 8:53 am

Shakyamuni Buddha search for many years but/and ultimately gave up and sat down under the famous fig tree. There was nothing more he could do to gain awakening - he was at 'the end of the road'. And then, after 8 days and nights, it came.

My own experience is similar/parallel. After an intense search/investigation my mind at the end 'burned out'. I was unconscious for several days. And then it came, so to speak from 'beyond'. It came from beyond what it is possible to search for or 'figure out'.

The process is quite well described in Mumons comment to his first koan, Joshu's Mu.

In Dzogchen as well this process is described: We study and practice, but can not 'get there'. And then some day it happens.

So, the intense and dead-serious seeking is essential, but can only lead to the end of 'the apparent'. Then 'the real' so to speak manifests itself (as an awakening experience), and then our training (polishing) begins.

So, as you describe, the mind (& body) is used to bring one to the point of no-mind. But no-mind is beyond any kind of understanding. Exactly like in a dream: We have no idea, what it means to be awake, what the 'awake' world is like.
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Re: Questions about Awakening

Postby Josham on Sun Feb 26, 2017 9:16 am

Thanks, Denko, for this explanation. I appreciate your response. - Josh
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Re: Questions about Awakening

Postby jundo on Sun Feb 26, 2017 3:49 pm

Hello Josham,

May I offer another way to say something, maybe a bit of another road from Denko's wise guidance to you?

If there is Peace and Wholeness in heart, then you know and I know and all know. That is all. The proof that is in the pudding is the balance and health, understanding and wisdom in your own life as it is lived. How's it going? If it is going right, and there is clarity, peace and a sense of the unity and harmony of all phenomena, then you do not need to ask for anyone's confirmation. Immediately, right in the nitty-gritty mud of this day to day world, one realizes that all is connected and interflowing and is just you and you just this all along.

What purpose would that serve to ask if it is right or wrong? Because there would be little sense of wrong about it. It would be like asking an auto mechanic about the well-being of one's car when the engine purrs and the road is open. What is there to fix? In fact, you are the car and the road and the driving, rubber and road not two, it is just you and you just the highway all along.

There are many approaches to these things. In Shikantaza, the "eye finds the eye" (a classic way of expressing the mystery) by total, radical resting from the chase. Unless one radically rests from the search somewhere distant, how else will the eye find the eye? I recently described the attitude of "Just Sitting" this way:

I sometimes compare Shikantaza to the children’s puzzle of “Chinese finger-cuffs” which are escaped, not by forceful effort and pulling harder, but by non-resistance and letting go; by dropping the hunt for “enlightenment”, by giving up the chase, by allowing all to rest in the complete wholeness and acceptance of Just Sitting, by quenching all thirsts in the sheer satisfaction of sitting alone, one realizes a freedom and way of being which otherwise alludes us in this world of endless chasing and constant dissatisfactions.

...

The ability to be at rest completely, to realize the preciousness and wholeness of life in this moment is a skill we have lost in this busy world. We chase after achievements, are overwhelmed with jobs that feel undone, and feel that there are endless places to go and people to see. The world can seem a broken and hopeless place. Thus, it is vital that we learn to sit each day with no other place in need of going, no feeling of brokenness nor judgment of lack, nothing more in need of achieving in that time but sitting itself. We sit with the sense that there is nothing to fix or place in need of getting, because this “not needing” is a wisdom that we so rarely taste. How tragic if we instead turn our Zazen into just one more battle for achievement, a race to get some peaceful place, attain some craved prize or spiritual reward. Or, on the other hand, how equally tragic if we use Zazen just as a break from life, a little escape, never tasting the wholeness and completeness of life. By doing so, Zazen becomes just one more symptom of the rat race, and the prize is out of reach. True peace comes not by chasing peace, but by resting now in peace.


If ya ask me, this is what Shakya realized under the fig tree when, trying this and that and all the run-around, he saw the nothern star and simply rested.

As Denko so wisely instructs, that is just the beginning however. Our way is called "Practice-Enlightenment", which means that one must get to applying and living this wisdom right here and now. The road begins from here and, no matter how healthy your engine is purring right now, you never know what is around the next bend.

Zen Practice is a lot like driving down the highway. You are the car and road, and they are you. However, you must continue to pay attention, keep the eyes open, you hands on the wheel and move ahead.

Gassho, J

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Re: Questions about Awakening

Postby Josham on Mon Feb 27, 2017 7:16 am

Thanks for this, jundo.

jundo wrote:If there is Peace and Wholeness in heart, then you know and I know and all know ... you do not need to ask for anyone's confirmation ... one realizes that all is connected and interflowing and is just you and you just this all along.


Beautifully put. I can relate absolutely. All flows, it's wonderful. I work a lot with wood and power tools - it's essential to be mindful. Mindfulness and presence flow from resting in that quiet space, free of the mind. Although I don't do zazen, I've often thought that I do have a practice, in the form of staying aware of mindfulness, applied to my woodwork and everything else as well.

Thus, it is vital that we learn to sit each day with no other place in need of going, no feeling of brokenness nor judgment of lack, nothing more in need of achieving in that time but sitting itself.


Yes. How wonderful it is to be still. Again, though I don't practice in the Zen sense, I find that having initially seen into the stillness, I'm able to move back into it at any time, even if only briefly, that space upstream from all thought or movement, the presence of absence, I Am That I Am.

Thanks again -Josh
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Re: Questions about Awakening

Postby Judy Roitman on Thu Mar 09, 2017 11:20 pm

Dear friends,

Let me be a little contrary here.

Being awake has nothing to do with stillness or peace or wholeness. It means: being awake. You see clearly. You hear clearly. You smell clearly. You taste clearly. You perceive what you are touching clearly. You perceive your thoughts clearly (which also means you perceive their true nature which means you don't get caught by them). You can see clearly even if you are blind. You can hear clearly even if you are deaf. You can smell clearly even if you have a cold. Etc. etc. It's not that you have awakened to a truth. It is that right now you are awake. The minute you become self-conscious about this — oh, look at me, I'm awake! — you've lost it. The thing about practice is that it allows us to see how our mind works which means seeing how it deceives us (but who is this "us"?), it allows us to cut through our thought-patterns and let the world in. I don't really know of another way to wake up. It doesn't have to be Zen practice. But some kind of practice. Done regularly. Done, you should excuse the expression, religiously.

And the main purpose of a teacher is not to affirm or not affirm any kind of realization. Affirmations are always after the fact. By the time they come they aren't needed. And no matter how many experiences you have, the need for practice never ends.

The purpose of a teacher is to 1. encourage us to practice, and 2. help us cut through our bullshit. The purpose of a sangha is the same.

Josham, I hope you find a practice, a sangha, and a teacher. Maybe you already have, only it's not Zen. No problem.

That's my two cents.

Best,

Judy
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Re: Questions about Awakening

Postby Guo Gu on Sun Mar 12, 2017 5:07 am

josham,

you've already gotten good replies. the obvious that hasn't been said is the absence of vexations (klesha), which is self-grasping. it is the sudden thrust from the dropping away of this burden that makes awakening earth shattering. it is earth shattering because this is all that we've ever known... our world is built on it.

awakening is not oneness; it is not clarity; it is not some kind of gnosis; nor is it really an "experience" in the ordinary sense of the word. as for whether it is transformative or not, it depends on the duration and depth of the awakening. in most cases, a practitioner's initial awakening is pretty much useless against vexations once self-grasping returns... (although one's confidence in oneself and buddhadharma has strengthened as a result).

the difference btn self-grasping and no-self is as different as night and day. for the first time, one realizes what vexations are, and how pervasive it is... how deluded one have been. and this is humbling. unless one continues diligently (as denko says, it's just the beginning), such experiences is basically useless, like a memory. practice would be the only way to live. and one will make mistakes again and again. and one will awaken again and again... some awakenings are powerful, some are subtle; sometimes one slips into this selfless state; sometimes this occurs even in sleep, while dreaming! but it is the same: absence of self and hence, no vexations.

to those who have had awakening this is as clear as day from night. but explaining it in this way, however, makes awakening sound like a special "thing." but it is nothing special, and can't be "gotten" or chased after. actually it is the most normal way of being there can be. there's no self already, how can there be anything special. anything other than selflessness, our vexations would make it into a "big deal"... this is what we do when we're deluded: make a big deal out of nothing.

as for how to use the mind, awakening doesn't mean there's no mental process or thoughts. it's just that in awakening the thoughts do not arise self-referentially, but arises in response to others and the world. buddhadharma doesn't speak of mentation at this point as "thoughts," but refers to it as the function of wisdom. a phrase in the diamond sutra captures this quite nicely: "nonabiding--mind arising." chan master hongzhi speaks of this as "knowing without encountering things."

as for developing "tools" and how to continue to practice, everything in life becomes tools. one encounters everything in daily life to align oneself with buddhadharma, i.e., selfless wisdom and its function, meaning compassion--otherwise, vexations reign again. the principle is precept, meditation, and wisdom (one can expand this to the six perfections, etc.). especially, precepts. without it, for example, the practitioner who stops practicing or have had only shallow experiences of awakening would definitely hurt oneself and others.... especially those closest. it is the challenges in life, the luring and the difficult, that deepens practice.

maybe these useless words have some use.

be well,
guo gu
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