I share a reflection from the late Zen Teacher, Robert Aitken, in Miniatures of a Zen Master, and clarify some of the terms he uses before sharing some of my thoughts -
One of the many things that surprised me about Zen as it is practiced in Japanese monasteries is the general dismissal of Dr. D. T. Suzuki. He was a good friend, and it took me a long time to understand this disparagement. Now I get it. Satori or kenshō is not a be-all and end-all experience, as you might suppose from his writings. It just marks the first realization, if that. Maezumi Rōshi often said, "I never passed my first kōan."
D.T. Suzuki (1870-1966, Zen scholar and lay disciple, most responsible for introducing Zen Buddhism to the West); satori and kenshō, Japenese terms with slightly different meanings, used for Enlightenment, or Awakening, in Buddhism; kōan, a riddle, often in story form, for Buddhist practitioners to meditate with to assist in disabling the control of the conceptual, analytical mind and opening one to Insight. When passing one, as confirmed by the Teacher, the practitioner moves to a next.
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I read one of D. T. Suzuki's books about 15 years ago. He shared about his vigorous quest for Enlightenment and of when it happened. His pursuit reminds me of how some holiness sects - Pentecostals, etc. - from my upbringing would pray fervently for what they called the baptism of the holy spirit, which they claimed was accompanied by speaking in unknown tongues. Some persons would get the baptism immediately, others later, and some never. I never heard a reason for this seeming lack of fairness from their god, though "he" was the deciding factor.
Many Buddhists have followed the way of D. T. Suzuki, before and after him, chasing after either a series of Enlightenment experiences on the way to a final or getting one and it being the last - the It. Like other sects, Buddhism has varied opinions on central teachings, including the one we are sharing today.
Maezumi Rōshi [Japenese Buddhist Teacher, 1931-1995] said, "I never passed my first kōan." Those are wise words. Regarding truth, we need to remain in kindergarten regardless of how much we come to know. "Never passed my first...," so, "No end. Never the end." We cannot exhaust an ounce of truth; one opening leads to another and another ... . No bottom to the Ocean. No summit of the Mountain.
This reminds me of writing. I began writing poetry as a youth. Later, I began writing prose. I have posted thousands of writings spanning the last over 20 years, along with publishing a book. I am still learning to write. The learning to write never ends. Learning to write remains a challenge and adventure I much enjoy.
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In early Christian teaching, the apostle Paul wrote: "Now I want you to understand, brothers and sisters [of Corinth], the good news [gospel] that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved [rescued, delivered], if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you—unless you have come to believe in vain" (I Corinthians 15.1-2, NRSVUE; italics added).
In Christian scripture, salvation through Christ is portrayed in two ways: an event in time and an ongoing process. An old term for the process is "sanctification," or a "being made sacred, holy, set apart, devoted, dedicated." The Christian never passes beyond their first initiation experience - often called "being born again" - into the faith - if faithful to the initiation, they keep being born again. This salvation experience is like any satori one, which includes the fullness of satori but not the complete realization. Despite reports to the contrary, we cannot rightly assume there is a full realization.
When a person encounters salvation in Christ, the fruition of the full realization of what "salvation" signifies is inherent, again, waiting to be progressively realized. So, again, there is no bottom to the Ocean or summit to the Mountain. The bliss is in the unfolding of the seed, potentially never ending in this life or any other.
As the Gospel of John 1.16 says, "[F]rom his fulness we have all received, grace upon grace" (NRSVUE). In any spiritual opening, we welcome the fruition of grace. This grace abides in its native fulness, whether we frame this in a theistic or nontheistic perspective. We progressively experience grace. We receive based on our growing capacity to receive. The experiences inspire us onward, for there is no end in or out of sight.
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We arrive at knowing what we have yearned for is outside experience. This knowing assists us in coming to intimacy with non-experience - with Presence. We, in time, step out of experience to embrace and be embraced by the non-experience. Yet, likely, we will pass through many experiences to arrive there. And "there" is not the end.
So, we live in a Beginner's Mind, as reflected in Maezumi Rōshi's admission, "I never passed my first kōan." Fidelity is living without an end, even an idea of an end. Wonderful! So, keep going. To keep going is the adventure. The end is here and not yet here, always.
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*(C) Brian K. Wilcox, 2024. Permission is given to use photographs and writings with credit given to the copyright owner.
*Brian's book is An Ache for Union: Poems on Oneness with God through Love. The book is a collection of poems Brian wrote based on wisdom traditions, predominantly Christian, Buddhist, and Sufi, with extensive notes on the poetry's teachings and imagery.