What Is Enlightenment?

WhatIsEnlightenmentOver the past couple of days the question of what constitutes “awakening” has come up a lot in the comments section of this blog. A correspondent called Petrichoric said:

“I don’t think that every single person in a sangha or every zen master is a wonderful, kind person, but, um, they fucking should be or should at least try to be! I started going to the local Zen center because (1) I wanted to stop suffering and (2) I wanted to become a better person. I just don’t understand how a spiritual leader can possibly be so deluded and lacking in self-awareness to take advantage and manipulate others. How can any spiritual awakening they’ve had possibly be genuine? And, yes, the question does remain about whether there is a relation being ‘awakening’ and ‘morality.’ And I still think there is.”

I’m going to present an expanded version of what I wrote back in the comments section. Apologies to those of you who have already read the short version.

The relationship between wakening and morality all depends upon how you define “awakening.”

A lot of people, especially nowadays, define “awakening” as a kind of experience. Much of what I see in contemporary magazines, books, websites and suchlike does. The spiritual master in question has some kind of profound experience that zaps her/his consciousness and then he/she goes out to tell the world about it.

There are plenty of examples of this. Genpo Roshi justifies charging folks $50,000 just to hang out next to him based on a profound awakening he had while on a solo retreat in the Mojave Desert some time in the Seventies. Eckhart Tolle claims to have had a grand awakening that enabled him to write a bazillion selling book and charge tens of thousands of dollars for lecture appearances. Shoko Asahara had a massive download from on high that supposedly made him the new Buddha for the modern age. The list goes on and on.

It all goes back to a certain reading of Buddha’s life story. The most common telling of it has Buddha meditating under a tree for 40 days at the end of which he had a deep awakening experience that turned him in one moment from plain old Siddhartha to the legendary Gautama Buddha. Sort of like how Japanese superheroes like Ultraman and Kamen Rider transform in a flash from regular human beings into giant bug-eyed alien monster fighters.

But experiences like that do not necessarily have any direct one-to-one relationship to any kind of moral maturity or sensibility. They’re just experiences. Like getting into a car crash or seeing a UFO or having a near-death experience. There’s no specific moral content to them.

People tend to forget that Siddhartha engaged in various practices and worked hard on himself for decades before his awakening. It happened in an instant. But the ground had been prepared for a lifetime, dozens of lifetimes if you believe those stories.

On the other hand, “awakening” of the type that occurs as a sudden peak experience, is just the conscious realization of the underlying ground of all of our experiences. It’s not that something new happens. It’s just that we notice what’s really been going on all along.

It is possible to have this kind of experience without properly preparing oneself for it. Sometimes a severe trauma like an accident or illness can do it. Sometimes drugs can induce it. Some so-called “spiritual” practices are designed just to cause these kinds of experiences to happen. Sometimes nothing seems to induce it. It just sort of happens.

In cases like those, the experience is still genuine and can still have value. But there’s no real basis for it, no real ground for it to land on. As I said before, the ego can latch on to absolutely anything — including the realization of its own illusory nature — as a means to enlarge itself.

These so-called “awakenings” do contain a sense that we are all intimately connected, that we are all manifestations of the same underlying reality. But the ego can latch onto that and make it something terribly immoral. It can decide that since I am you and you are me and we are all together, it’s fine if I fuck you over or lie to you or cheat you or steal from you because ultimately I am only doing that to myself. And what’s the problem if you do something to yourself?

It’s dangerous to point this kind of stuff out because there is a whole multi-billion dollar industry based on the notion that these kinds of experiences transform ordinary people into spiritual superheroes. But they don’t. Not in and of themselves. Becoming a moral person is a matter of transforming one’s habits of thinking and behavior. That is not easy to do. It takes time. It cannot possibly happen instantaneously no matter what sort of experience one has. An “awakening experience” can often be helpful in making a person more moral because it provides a new way of understanding yourself and others. But it doesn’t necessarily work that way.

This is why it’s very good to have a teacher who can help you through these kinds of experiences. It’s good to interact with someone else, or if you’re really lucky a number of other people, who have gone through these things. When, on the other hand, people have these experiences and then end up surrounded by admirers who want to gobble up the power such an experience confers the results can be disastrous.

So, yeah, the people you meet at a Zen temple ought to be at least decent people. And most of them are. Cases like that of Joshu Sasaki, Genpo Roshi, Eido Shimano and so forth are exceptional. They’re not the rule. You don’t have to be a genius to spot people like that either. It’s always obvious. Just don’t allow yourself to be blinded by fantasies of magic miracle men.

The foregoing is why Soto style Zen training tends to emphasize moral grounding and balance much more than the gaining of “awakening experiences,” so much so that one is often told it’s not important even to have such experiences at all. Dogen says this many times in his writings. Most teachers who followed in his lineage also say this. Which isn’t to say that Soto is good and everything else is evil. It’s just one of the things that really attracts me to the style I have practiced much more than any of the others out there, even though those others often sound a whole lot sexier.

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330 Responses

  1. My_name_is_Daniel
    My_name_is_Daniel May 20, 2013 at 5:23 pm |

    I wasn’t so curious of who in particular had experience, though if this were a game of let’s not be experienced, I’d say we have some winners.

    Kidding, but it was more a concern with what a potential practitioner might come away with. Brad is a popular dude and I’d hate for someone to be turned away from practice because of the stuff said on here.

    I do it for the kids!

  2. boubi
    boubi May 20, 2013 at 6:05 pm |

    2 Mark Foote

    Hi guy, just to spare you some work,
    everything is explained there, all the different ways to get lucid into dreams.

    Take care, you could get into some very strange territories, could meet “entities” and not all are kind, i have the impression that by mistake you could step into some kami path, some lost soul …

    By the way not all of the protocols are working the way they say they work.
    The first researchers made some statements that are taken as “the truth” by the vast majority, but the sequences aren’t exactly nor always the canonical ones.

    For example you are supposed to be paralised during the dreaming phase, yes? But no, sometimes you kick or move according to the dream and it’s confirmed by other dreamers.

    But beware, the way you are setting things you seem to be headed into spirits territory.


  3. boubi
    boubi May 20, 2013 at 6:12 pm |

    —“One thing 40+ years of practice has taught me is to not expect to gain anything from practice. “—

    This sounds as a typical Soto sentence 😉

  4. boubi
    boubi May 20, 2013 at 6:15 pm |

    —“However, being new to Buddhism,”—

    So you expect buddhists to behave according to your idea of what they should be?

  5. boubi
    boubi May 20, 2013 at 6:15 pm |

    That’s nice it starts to look like a bar brawl … 🙂

  6. My_name_is_Daniel
    My_name_is_Daniel May 20, 2013 at 6:16 pm |

    During my time at Tassajara, the moments before falling unconscious or asleep (or whatever the term is, I’d rather not get all technical) would often resemble a strong instance on Kensho, like shockingly so, rivaling anything experienced in waking life. Other times I would be aware while sleeping. Very interesting stuff.

  7. petrichoric
    petrichoric May 20, 2013 at 9:01 pm |

    Boubi, you asked: “So you expect buddhists to behave according to your idea of what they should be?”

    I don’t really have an idea of what a Buddhist “should be”. But, after having read your comments, Boubi, I have learned that being a huge dick is apparently the first step on the path to enlightenment.

  8. buddy
    buddy May 20, 2013 at 11:34 pm |

    petrichoric, I must say I’ve really enjoyed your comments these past few posts. Your honesty, warmth, and desire for respectful, no bullshit discourse is really refreshing amongst the often snipey and self-serving verbiage around here. But a word of advice about Boubi: best to not engage. He will come across as civil enough, one of the cool kids, but then start throwing in self-righteous swipes and presumptuous proclamations. And, if you challenge him on his bullshit, he will tear into you relentlessly. Basic schoolyard bully stuff. I generally just skip his comments at this point, there’s enough crap in the world to deal with already.

  9. boubi
    boubi May 21, 2013 at 3:53 am |

    Please lady don’t come talking dicks here, please 🙂

    You, the one that gives the flip to people going to work then are the one expecting to find here some heaven/haven where people could/should behave nicely?

    Why don’t you try it yourself first, you know that old saying “start changing the world from yourself”?

    You the one that, read the past article’s comments, always found the way to misread whatever was written with the tone of a school teacher frowning at whatever didn’t fancied you or your chemical imbalance of the moment.

    Sorry, you are the one passing it’s time searching for psychiatric syndromes, ask yourself why. People tried to be helpful here, but you came carrying all of what you carry from your own life, i let yourself evaluate it.

    Sorry we are not responsible for your problems so don’t throw at other people your own produced shit, thanks, don’t lash out at people your very own frustrations … OK ? 🙂

    Aren’t you by chance used to have some ascendency talking to men? Leveraging on their fantasies, by any chance? And it will work every day less, time taking its tool.

    From the very start on one side you played the hapless person looking “to become a better person” but on the other you wanted/want things running according to your ideas of things.

    Not even knowing Brad you insinuated he, with whom i disagree most of the time, was a borderline “ugly man” taking advantage of young girls, not much better than the other assholes described above.

    Then in your magnificent highness you declared yourself not willing to receive teachings from “a wizened old man”, but from a fresh looking bud/soap adverting young girl it was acceptable.

    Yes, you say sometimes interesting things, but so what?

    Me i’m an asshole, the village idiot whatever your highness’ would like to define me, i found it some time ago, it cost me a lot of effort.

    You diagnosed others to be passive aggressive, do you have a MD degree for it?

    “being a huge dick is apparently the first step on the path to enlightenment.”

    SO DO IT ……. get enlightened, it is in front of you, the void staring at itself, we are what we are, just drop it, recognize yourself as a true buddha TM, just be aware of the vastness that lies inside of you

    … and some more words of wisdom on your favorite radio channel, yeah baby!

    and don’t forget to take your pills 🙂

  10. boubi
    boubi May 21, 2013 at 4:07 am |

    —“I don’t really have an idea of what a Buddhist “should be”.”—

    Of course you have, because from your very first posts you already stated that some approach of the dharma were not “right”, that too much talking wasn’t proper and so on.

    Of course you have, because you read books talking about the intuitive nature of whatever zen/Zen is, and you decided to have the true word in your pocket.

    That must be the reason why bookstore shelves are full of books about zen, and millions are buying, reading, digesting those gazillions of words, analysing, describing whatever it is that is called “awakening/enlightenment” …

    And people are SPENDING MONEY on those books … 🙂

    Gasho _/\_

    So you join your hands, say “Gasho” and you are already into “the path” … it take just a little step to be already on “the path” … a snippet of wisdom given for free from your favorite radio station

    1. boubi
      boubi May 21, 2013 at 4:08 am |


      Gasho _/\_ come with a little bow and a sweet smile, don’t forget

  11. HarryB
    HarryB May 21, 2013 at 4:34 am |

    “The Enlightenment view of mankind is a complete myth. It leads us into thinking we’re sane and rational creatures most of the time, and we’re not.” J. G. Ballard

    Stumbled across this today.

    Ballard is there talking about the Age of Enlightenment, the intellectual movement of the 18th and 19th centuries that advocated reason, scientific method, challenged the irrationality of religion etc etc… which informed modern thought and worldviews so much.

    But I think the point can be taken on-board in the Buddhist/practice sense. I wouldn’t say that the Enlightenment view of humankind is a ‘complete’ myth, but maybe it is incomplete or imbalanced as it does underemphasise our ‘irrational’/unthinking side which contributes so much to a lot of what we do, particularly imaginatively and creatively (a hard rationalist might denounce me as a Romantic, as in the Romantic era… ha ha, made you hard!)

    There is a distinct difference between me acknowledging, using, celebrating the ‘irrational’ aspects of myself and me acting them all out like an automaton however.

    And, however much I can understand it as being ‘irrational’, there is an underlying, seemingly intrinsic yearning for resolution that runs very deep and which recognition and naming alone can’t resolve; a subtle form of underlying dukkha that is a ‘characteristic of existence’ (in more Buddhisty terms), besides all the other normal stuff that we have to filter. The rational mind might like to think that the solution is to just make it go away, to negate it, and to feel it can get a handle on it in those terms… but I’m not at all sure that that approach is consistent with it’s nature.

    There are certain things about the human condition that diehard rationalists don’t seem to address in a way that is consistent with the nature of their existence, as much as I admire aspects of the Enlightenment and much that flowed from it. As much as I’m not a fan of organised religion, it seems that denouncing it as hogwash (which I’m inclined to do) dishonours a very deep rooted aspect of our humanity trying to resolve itself in so many convoluted and precarious ways.



  12. Fred
    Fred May 21, 2013 at 5:05 am |

    “I wasn’t so curious of who in particular had experience, though if this were a game of let’s not be experienced, I’d say we have some winners.

    Kidding, but it was more a concern with what a potential practitioner might come away with. Brad is a popular dude and I’d hate for someone to be turned away from practice because of the stuff said on here. ”

    All the sitting you have done has not made the slightest dent in your giant,
    arrogant ego.

  13. petrichoric
    petrichoric May 21, 2013 at 5:13 am |

    Keep up the Buddhism, Boubi. I see that it’s really working for you. 🙂

  14. Andy
    Andy May 21, 2013 at 6:01 am |

    pretrichoric, you remember writing the following don’t you?

    “…What good is all the meditation/philosophy in the world if we cannot fucking at least express a difference of opinion without insulting each other?”

  15. Brent
    Brent May 21, 2013 at 6:32 am |
  16. Andy
    Andy May 21, 2013 at 6:44 am |

    Thanks for the memories, Brent. Thanks.

    (I know where you live) 🙂 🙂 🙂


  17. My_name_is_Daniel
    My_name_is_Daniel May 21, 2013 at 6:49 am |

    That video of Jerry Lewis is..I think amazing.

  18. My_name_is_Daniel
    My_name_is_Daniel May 21, 2013 at 7:06 am |

    But how about we get back to the topic of Brad’s post? I’m going to re-read it and start again.

  19. boubi
    boubi May 21, 2013 at 7:57 am |

    For having worked in the past in an organization trying to help people with some addiction problem, i’ve already seen this before.

    In short and not expecting to give the ultimate, if it exist, explanation, just a kind of “how to handle” leaflet.

    Periods of depression followed by periods of aggression, both caused by the way those persons dealt with their lives. Both are ways not to come in touch with the reality and not wanting to pay the price to overcome their predicaments of which they are responsible in greater or less measure.

    Here really comes the P-A syndrom, the “helpless”, poor persona, then as if to compensate comes the “know it all” persona, the one that lashes out at others for any real or imagined shortcoming in their otherwise rather boring and “normal” lives. It also has the task of self agrandising in order to balance the self deprecating periods, “i’m not that helpless persona, i’m the one who teaches others” .

    Both behaviours resulting from the refusal of taking charge of oneself.

    Now if a person doesn’t spit on them nor being a condescending bleeding heart let them feel authorized (as victims of society or whatever) to let loose their dominating persona but tries to bring them back to reality he exit the addict’s bipolar patterns and here start the painful part for all. The “stare reality and start hauling your own ass, we’ll help you and support you” is the hard part.

    Sorry lady, i already went there and i’m not interested in loosing my time further.

    About buddhism, this is what i think i was talking about, but having you just started, must be that you have a fresher and more “spontaneous” vision of it … so apply it to yourself.

    Gasho _/\_

    Don’t forget the little bow and the meek and knowing smile that will advertise you as one “in the know” 🙂

  20. Andy
    Andy May 21, 2013 at 8:00 am |

    I say, what a jolly good idea. If someone could pop back for some iced tea and scones, I’ll let rest of the gang know too. Better make sure there’s some fresh batteries for the lamp.

  21. Fred
    Fred May 21, 2013 at 8:11 am |

    “Now if a person doesn’t spit on them nor being a condescending bleeding heart let them feel authorized (as victims of society or whatever) to let loose their dominating persona but tries to bring them back to reality he exit the addict’s bipolar patterns and here start the painful part for all. The “stare reality and start hauling your own ass, we’ll help you and support you” is the hard part.”

    Thank you Dr. Boubi

    1. boubi
      boubi May 21, 2013 at 8:23 am |

      Not Dr. just spent some time in help centers, and got my share of shoveling shit others produced, for sure you did the same. Right 🙂

      And yes “haul your own ass” (said in the “proper way”) is the central part of it, do you prefer “taking charge of yourself”? As you wish, the essence is the same.

  22. Fred
    Fred May 21, 2013 at 8:12 am |

    The key words there are ” stare reality and start hauling your own ass “

  23. Andy
    Andy May 21, 2013 at 8:12 am |

    Oh Boubi! Dearest Boubi! There I was getting myself all in a tickle at Daniel’s super-brill suggestion and you go and stick your great big smelly willy-woo right in there. (Although, I must say, I did try a dab of lady-garden baiting myself, too. But, fair’s fair – you’ve called dibs on that sticky wicket).

    1. boubi
      boubi May 21, 2013 at 8:26 am |

      “you’ve called dibs on that sticky wicket)” what does it mean?

      1. Andy
        Andy May 21, 2013 at 8:40 am |

        Sir, I advise you to accustom yourself with the Queen’s English using the internet web.

  24. Fred
    Fred May 21, 2013 at 8:14 am |

    I’m sure she’s seen some ” big smelly willy-woo “s in her time.

  25. Andy
    Andy May 21, 2013 at 8:15 am |

    And a pair of boubis

    1. boubi
      boubi May 21, 2013 at 8:25 am |

      If you’re talking about balls, i find it quite a compliment LOL

  26. boubi
    boubi May 21, 2013 at 8:20 am |

    —“I’m sure she’s seen some ” big smelly willy-woo “s in her time.”—

    Now this a sexist remark !

  27. Andy
    Andy May 21, 2013 at 8:30 am |

    Why Boubi, I do take a measure of offense there, dear boy. I’ll have you know that the experience of smelly willy woos is not confined to the ladies. My great uncle Erwin was known to infrequently bathe and most certainly didn’t require it in the butler. For he was well regarded, amongst certain circles, as man of fastidious consistency in his inter-personal standards. Indeed, he was oft known to wear the same evening jacket on consecutive days when hosting jollies with the townsfolk.

  28. boubi
    boubi May 21, 2013 at 8:32 am |

    “you’ve called dibs on that sticky wicket)” what does it mean?

  29. Andy
    Andy May 21, 2013 at 8:48 am |

    Using the internet web, and it’s remarkably swift search mechanism should verily yield the secrets of ‘to call dibs’ and ‘sticky wicket’

    Damnation child! Desist in this need for coddling. Am I to forever treat you like some wet girl’s blouse? If one is to cross swords with the modern lady, you’ll need to some spunk, boy.

  30. Andy
    Andy May 21, 2013 at 8:49 am |

    Show. Show some spunk!

  31. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote May 21, 2013 at 8:50 am |

    For those who want a fresh perspective, Boubi is a she. At least as far as I know. C’mon, Boubi, you gonna let ’em roll in their own pee forever? Ha ha!

    Ok, I appreciate Boubi’s ability to slice ‘n dice, and I don’t take it personally. I appreciate Petrichoric’s approach too. I am already sleeping when I write something I can hear, as it were, or am I waking; we’re all mad here.

    “But I don’t want to go among mad people”, Alice remarked.
    “Oh, you can’t help that”, said the Cat:
    “We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
    “How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
    “You must be”, said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”
    (Lewis Carroll, “Alice in Wonderland”)

    Daniel, something for you and me:

    “On the other hand, one time I had been sitting a one day sitting counting my breathes and I really got into it and period after period it seemed like I’d counted every breath and never strayed so I went up to him in dokusan and I said, well now I can count every breath, what do I do next? And he leaned forward and said to me fiercely and sternly, “Don’t ever think that you can sit zazen! That’s a big mistake! Zazen sits zazen!” I was impressed by that. That was the first time I’d gone to him feeling proud of myself.” -Blanche Harman, here

    So get up, walk around, take a big stick and hit other people; you’ll feel better:

    “On the last morning of the teachers’ visit, everyone sat zazen. Bob was carrying the stick and sporting a down-turned samurai scowl to let his old teachers, Maezumi and Yasutani, know that he hadn’t gotten soft, and that Soto Zen wasn’t sleepy. He stopped before a dozing student, placed the wide stick on her shoulder, and gave her a whack on each side. They bowed together and he went on. Walking slowly down the maroon linoleum aisle, he lifted his gaze to see in the kerosene lamplight the historic cast of dharma transmitters on the platform: Suzuki, Yasutani, Nakagawa, Shimano, Maezumi, Aitken (from Hawaii), Richard, Kobun. Every one of them was nodding, sound asleep.”
    that’s from here but I can’t link or this comment will be held for moderation until stonemirror comes out of it (ha ha, just kidding, stonemirror!) cuke.com/Crooked%20Cucumber/cc%20excerpts/roshis-visit.html- I think Mr. David Chadwick confessed elsewhere that it wasn’t Bob, it was him with the stick.

  32. Fred
    Fred May 21, 2013 at 9:02 am |

    “Show. Show some spunk!”

    Yeah, man/woman, haul your own ass.

  33. Fred
    Fred May 21, 2013 at 9:05 am |

    Q. What Is Enlightenment?

    A. Stare reality and haul your own ass

  34. Andy
    Andy May 21, 2013 at 9:06 am |

    “For those who want a fresh perspective, Boubi is a she. At least as far as I know. C’mon, Boubi, you gonna let ‘em roll in their own pee forever? Ha ha!”

    Well, I’ll be… Mark. Good sir. Do you mean to suggest a policy is in effect? That the presence of the Amazon Petrichoric was by design – and not the consequence of oversight? Good Lord!

    My humble apologies darling Boubi. The Amazon’s mention of your large manhood lead me quite astray there. Don’t think that means you’re exempt from showing some spunk, though. I’m all for the ladies on that score.

  35. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 21, 2013 at 9:08 am |

    “I was going to mention, Anonymous, that is was Anonymous who stole the username Mysterion, but I was giving caution the benefit of the doubt.”

    I take great issue with your use of the word “STOLE.” Did that name belong to the person formerly known as Mysterion? I think not. I merely chose that name as… uh… a backup name here.

    And if you have a few more shekels to donate, consider Mr. Chadwick’s cucumber site.

  36. My_name_is_Daniel
    My_name_is_Daniel May 21, 2013 at 9:20 am |

    Chadwick is something else, I gave him a little hell at Tassajara, a snap on the tush with a wet rag in the dish shack. He often deserves it and knows it, all in good fun! Once during evening Zazen, Tanto Greg had to leave the Zendo mid sit and head down to the dish shack to shut Chadwick up. We could all hear him! That man has a mouth, if I’ve ever heard once.

    I’m familiar with that Blanche quote, though I’d never heard it until I said “you can’t sit Zazen” during Dokusan and my practice leader pointed it out. Regardless, I’m not the biggest fan of logical play, it sorta reminds me of intentionally ironing a shirt wrong that you plan to wear later just for the fun of it. Anyone can play games of logic, be intentionally irrational, it proves nothing..well, maybe one’s ability to think abstractly..

    Which reminds me of a comment Kaz Tanahashi and Reb Anderson made in the preface of a Dogen translation they worked on together. They stated that in order to translate Dogen, they had to read his work as literal as possible, which might seem odd to some (not saying it would be to you) as Dogen can seem very abstract, but in reality, he’s speaking with profound clarity. Many of you know this.

    From what I’ve heard, the ability to sleep during morning Zazen without getting caught is an acquired skill. It certainly requires a great amount of balance..

    I’m grateful for the presence of your maturity in the comments section.

  37. Andy
    Andy May 21, 2013 at 9:24 am |


  38. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 21, 2013 at 9:32 am |

    I can sleep through zazen, kinhin and zazen again. No problems.

  39. Fred
    Fred May 21, 2013 at 9:43 am |

    You don’t have to sit to stop sleeping

  40. Andy
    Andy May 21, 2013 at 9:44 am |

    I can sleep through the presence of maturity. I highly recommend it.

  41. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 21, 2013 at 9:50 am |

    I’m half asleep in frog pajamas. How you like them apples?

    1. Andy
      Andy May 21, 2013 at 10:22 am |

      Very cakes and ale.

  42. Fred
    Fred May 21, 2013 at 10:18 am |

    I can sleep while hauling my own ass through presence of maturity in frog

    1. Andy
      Andy May 21, 2013 at 10:25 am |

      Well done! Have a cream pie on me.

  43. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote May 21, 2013 at 11:23 am |

    “cakes and ale”, I’m in!

    As to the meaning of “only zazen can sit zazen”, this is an email I sent to Vanja Palmers, musta been 8 years ago. It’s embarassing for me to read now; it’s in the anecdotes section of Kobun-sama.org, bless Vanja’s heart:

    Anecdotes by Mark Foote

    One more memory of Kobun I’d like to offer, for the collection. I remember attending a lecture he gave at the San Francisco Zen Center, must have been in the early 80’s, as part of the regular Saturday morning public dharma talks. He closed the lecture by saying, “you know, sometimes zazen gets up and walks around!”

    I had that experience in 1975, but I spent years afterward waiting for zazen to get up and walk around, to turn and walk across the street, to lift the fork from the plate to my mouth. I finally decided that if zazen walked through the door of my job on a given day, it was ok for me to work without trying to find zazen in every moment; fortunate for me, I suppose, as the bosses really don’t like to see anyone stock still at the job.

    Couldn’t go to the monastery, couldn’t sit in posture all that well, couldn’t even stand up straight most of the time. By the time I heard Kobun say those words, I was reconciled with not making zazen get up and walk around just because I could, or at least that’s how I understood it.
    I realized in the late eighties and nineties that I would have to come to a Western understanding of what practice was all about, to reconcile zazen in my life. I learned to encourage zazen to compose sentences, and to throw away anything and everything constantly until the words stayed in spite of me. I’m afraid I created a lot of half-there descriptions of zazen, for quite a while.”

    ok, so now you know the truth. No one really comes to Zen unless they have to, and the practice won’t let you sleep properly in frog pajamas while eating cake until you have no choice. Do I mean it literally?- do I have a choice?

    With a lot of help from the writings of Moshe Feldenkrais and John Upledger, I think I’m doing better now. I have a webpage at http://www.zenmudra.com , and I find I can actually communicate most of my experience with people using the vocabulary I develop there. Since everyone has the same kind of experience whether they have found words for it or not, people give back to me in the most amazing way.
    Hope you’re back from Japan in one piece and all is well;
    regards, Mark Foote

    1. My_name_is_Daniel
      My_name_is_Daniel May 21, 2013 at 6:29 pm |

      Hey Mark!
      I don’t mean this to offend in anyway (loaded statement on this blog, I know), but I have issues understanding you! I’m not sure why, maybe our means of communication/ vocab is really different. So, I’m sorry if I don’t respond adequately. It’s strange!

  44. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote May 21, 2013 at 11:28 am |

    that got mixed up, how could that happen! The paragraph with the frog pajamas jumped up! So much for broken english.

    You guys really made me laugh today. And Boubi makes me remember that love trumps religion; need to sleep through this comments section, just for the hell of it!

  45. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote May 21, 2013 at 11:29 am |

    er, I’m awake now.

  46. Fred
    Fred May 21, 2013 at 11:30 am |

    “Practice (exemplified in, but not limited to, zazen) is simply openness to the pre-reflective immediacy that is already present, although hidden beneath conceptual structures and reified ways of framing experience.”

    So, ” hauling your own ass “to pre-reflective immediacy and ” stare reality ” is

    You knew all along, didn’t you Boubi?

  47. HarryB
    HarryB May 21, 2013 at 11:39 am |

    “er, I’m awake now.”

    At last, somebody got enlightened (although it sounds like a bit of a fizzler)!



  48. Fred
    Fred May 21, 2013 at 11:44 am |

    The cream pie:

    Treading along in this dreamlike, illusory realm,
    Without looking for the traces I may have left;
    A cuckoo’s song beckons me to return home;
    Hearing this, I tilt my head to see
    Who has told me to turn back;
    But do not ask me where I am going,
    As I travel in this limitless world,
    Where every step I take is my home.


  49. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote May 21, 2013 at 12:04 pm |

    think I stepped in some cream pie, there… every step, cream pie…

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