Friday, January 17, 2014


Almost three years ago, I had my first experience of what I claimed was satori/kensho (see post). I could still argue with myself as to whether it was true satori or simply kensho, but I don't think too much about how to label the experience. First of all, who cares what I call it? And second, I'm not totally sure all Zen practitioners really use these two terms to mean different things.

So given that, perhaps I should define my terms for purposes of this post. My understanding is that kensho is a moment of deep insight, an epiphany, or a realization about the true nature of things that can strongly propel a person towards satori. Satori being enlightenment. So, thinking of it that way, kensho is a glimpse of satori. If we deepen our understanding of kensho, we will move towards satori. One way I've learned to deepen understanding is through everyday Zen. Everyday Zen is a term I made up to signify the discipline of maintaining the correct mind state in and out of zazen, all day, every day. Keeping my moment of kensho in mind during everyday life is one way of deepening my understanding of it. By applying it. Without application or deepening of understanding, kensho is wasted.

Now that that's all out of the way, on to the purpose of this post: This morning, as I was sitting in zazen, I had a moment of kensho! (I think this would be my second moment of kensho).

It was very early in the morning, so it was still dark. I lit the three candles on my Zen table and sat, staring at the wall. I could see the candle light flickering on the wall, creating moving shadows and light. As always.

As I emptied my mind, I found myself repeatedly thinking that I didn't like the candles being lit and seeing this interplay of shadow and light. I'd never had this problem before so, as with any thought one has while in zazen, I just let it go. However, it kept coming back. Not really thinking, I blew out the candles and resumed staring at the plain, dim wall which I could now barely see. That's when it happened. The most I can say about it is that it struck me how the flickering light symbolized delusion, while the wall was the moment without distractions. Kensho!

Now, as you read this, you're thinking: "Ummm, that's it?"

Yes, my friend, that is it! Kensho is not transferable from one person to another. While this experience deeply illuminated something for me, there's no reason to believe it would do so for anyone else. In fact, I would argue that kensho most often only helps the person to whom it happens (which is why Zen Buddhists don't proselytize or write 'how to' manuals).

I wont go into detail about what this experience illuminated for me. (More accurately, I can't because it's impossible to put kensho into words right away). However, I know how I can apply it in everyday Zen. My previous experience with kensho changed me in a fundamental way and, having had that experience, I'm confident that if I work with this bit of kensho it will also deliver the same powerful outcome in the months and years ahead.

It's very un-Zen to say, but this is an important moment for me!

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