June 2021 Sesshin, Day 2: An Experience of Enlightenment by Flora Courtois
4:10PM Jun 27, 2021
Sensei Amala Wrightson
Today is the second day of our five day hybrid session. The date is the sixth of June 2021. And we're going to continue reading from an experience of enlightenment by Flora Courtois.
This is the the main body of the text we looked at yesterday Roshi, his introduction yesterday. And this story begins with a dedication for Zen Master Hakuin. Yes, a tiny Roshi, to whom this was related in fall for the first time, and who requested that it be written down. So now, it's the voice of for tois herself. When and where does the story begin? It is difficult to say. Even now I remember the feeling as a small child, that all things about me, the people, the animals, trees and flowers, my dolls, my plate and spoon all participated with me in one vividly reality. It was a family joke that I had to be spoken to several times to get my attention. So absorbed that I've often become in listening and watching in play with my dolls and later on in reading. Often, I felt in magic communion with other living things. Some of my earliest memories are of rescuing drowning insects from a small pond of exhorting Xcode escorting small spiders from the house. So they would not be killed, of lying on my stomach in a neighboring field, rapidly absorbed in the busy life of the tiny creatures under the giant grass blades. She's describing here, the kind of Garden of Eden that we can experience as children. It's it's just a fact, though, that we all even in the best of childhoods, were all drawn at a certain point. To you could say eat from the tree of knowledge of dualistic consciousness, we would say in Buddhism.
And she she goes on to relate that very thing happening. Despite these empathic experiences of early childhood, by the time I was 13, or 14 years old, I had become a self centered, self conscious girl. It was as if I'd lost track of who I was. I daydreamed a good deal about being popular among many friends. In actuality, I was nervous and isolated, not knowing how to be comfortable with young people my age, and anxiously searching for some role to play in life. Then many, many, many of us can relate to this kind of feeling from our adolescence. It's It's such a painful time. painful and confusing as we do make this this change from the innocence of childhood into into more powerful sense of have a separate separate selves. can remember once when we were in Mexico, with Roshi, it was before seven days a shame that we were attending. And we were at a cafe I think, and we saw this group of teenagers around the cafe and the the
was was very evident in their in their behavior.
Besides the besides that, you know, hidden maybe behind a certain amount of bravado, but very clear to see and commented on to Roshi, this is Roshi, Roshi Bowden. And he he nodded and is a kind of teaching said to us well just think about it a minute you will be reborn and have to go through adolescence again. Good good motivation for perform practicing now. He perhaps maybe, to some degree, loosen that loosen that, that that strong sense of self that comes to the fore and listens.
I daydreamed a good deal about being popular among many friends. In actuality, I was nervous and isolated, not knowing how to be comfortable with young people my age, and anxiously searching for some role to play in life. At times, what I felt to be my inner voice seemed to be trying to draw me away from the busy life and activities of my friends. It was as if I were in of two minds. And this sometimes left me confused and unable to act at all. Probably these were normal adolescent feelings intensified by the pressures of being ahead of my age and usual grade in school. We might ask and looking at this contrast between her early years quite idyllic,
empathy, and this this teenage time. What happens? Why does it happen? Does that have to happen?
In partial answer to those questions, I like to just read a little bit from a booklet called the way of liberation, this is by a teacher, idea Shanti. Who is comes from both a Zen and an egg vitae Vedanta background is elements of both in his teaching. And he writes in this book about what he calls the false self. This is what he says. The false self grows out of unconscious being. It is a fragmented amalgam of the many selves tenuously bound together by a facade of normalcy. It is a divided house built upon an imaginary Foundation, a broken winged bird that cannot fly. The false self is the greatest barrier. All barriers are imagined, of course, to the realization of our true identity of Universal Being, we might use a different term here, they're both pointing to the same thing we might say, true nature or Mu, rather than being. But really, all words don't
So we can work with different tools. The false self is essentially a psychological process, occurring in the mind that organizes, translates and make sense, or in many cases nonsense of all incoming data from the senses. When this psychological process mixes together, with the self reflexive movement of consciousness, it produces a sense of self. The sense of self then pervades consciousness as a sort of perfume that causes the mind to mistake what is actually a psychological process for being an actual separate entity called oneself. This mistaken conclusion that you are a distinct separate self happens very early in life in a more or less automatic and conscious, unconscious way. We could say we could say that it's a normal part of human development. Even though we could also say it's a delusion. And it really, really strengthens and, and develops so strongly. during adolescence, though it starts much earlier than that.
By identifying with a particular name that belongs to a particular body in mind, the self begins the process of creating a separate identity, add in a complex jumble of ideas, beliefs, and opinions, along with some selective and often painful memories with which to create a pass to identify with, as well as the raw emotional energy to hold it all together. And before you know it, you've got a very convincing third divided self. This is not to say that in the development of a human being, the false self, self has no purpose or use, it is simply to say that it has no existence whatsoever outside of the mind. The self develops in order that you may gain a healthy sense of individuation and autonomy that helps you navigate life in a way conducive to your survival and well being. In fact, if we, if this doesn't happen, then it can lead to serious mental illness. If we don't develop us sense of autonomy
with we were saying in the opening ceremony, that how ego is another way of talking about the sense of self is not necessarily bad. It's it's becomes problematic when
identify strongly with it. And if if it is confined, in its activities, to preoccupation with itself. In Tibetan Buddhism, they they emphasize again and again, that all our problems, issue from our self preoccupation is narrowing down of our experience of things to a very limited band. We can if we can harness our sense of self or ego in service to others, then it can become a very useful
you just don't want it to be in charge, servant rather than a master.
He goes on. The problem is that few people ever develop true psychological autonomy, and even those who do have often so entranced by the false self, that they never imagined its illusionary nature or what lies beyond that one's true autonomy is developed, the self is no longer needed in the same way that infancy is no longer needed when you grow into adulthood. It may, however, be more accurate to say that it is the autonomy that is truly important. And that the false self is essentially an imaginary byproduct of the self reflexive mechanism of consciousness, which identifies itself with the endless movement of conditioned thinking.
The problem is that the self that you have become convinced was the real you is a phantom that exists only as an abstraction in your mind. Animated by the conflicted emotional energy of separation. It's about as real as last night's dream Dream. And when you stop thinking it into existence, it has no existence at all. That's why it is false. Which begs the question who what is the real you? Like the questions we asked, ask ourselves and koans fundamental koans designed to help us to deconstruct
to discover what is beyond
When I was 16 minus surgery had to be performed. An ether koan was placed over my face. And as I breathe in deeply, a great whirling spiral of light approached from an enormous distance and at great speed. At the same time, a voice of unmistakable authority seemed to say that when the center of the spiral reached me, I would in this is, in quotes, understand all things. Just as the center reached me, I blacked out. But after recovering, there remained an unforgettable conviction that what I had heard and seen, was in some inexplicable way, the deepest truth. This was one of the experiences that gave her the faith to keep going through what we will see as a very difficult process. In Buddhism, we never need to have blind faith. It's understood that that that faith is based on an experience. And really, this this experiences is evidence that in some way, it was
a whole being
was turning towards this question of what is reality? What is the fundamental reality? She continues, sometime during my 17th year, quietly, unobtrusively, a process began, which was to build up over a period of several years, until it literally took over my life. This began with a growing sense of doubt, which spread until it encompassed everything I've been taught, and everything I knew.
As everybody who's working on a con has heard, this doubt is an essential part of con work. perplexity is another way of describing it. And it's certainly not a pleasant sensation to to experience this doubt. It, it's unsettling, it's undermining it and really, in some sense of our, of our ordinary how worldly comforts and pleasures, we could say it's it's truly so perverse of feeling.
In the house where we were living, there were a number of books of Maxim's written by the great persons of many ages. I read these collecting favorite sayings in a scrapbook, which I still have. However, I began to think it's strange, that with all the books of advice in the world, all the laws and admonitions for parents, teachers, priests and other elders, there was still nothing to assure me of living fully in any given moment, since every moment was unique. How did one fit the rule to reality, when by the time one had found the right rule, the moment was gone. And we could ask also why there is so much suffering in the world when when there are these tomes full of, of wisdom.
It's not that we need to reject this, this these books of sayings or advice. But unless they're, unless they're simulated, they're not going to be any help, as she says, at any given moment. Since that moment, is unique Something that's long been being recognized by Zen. There's the the four phrases that are attributed to Bodhi Dharma, which which point to a similar kind of understanding, teaching outside the sutras not reliant on words and letters, direct pointing to the human heart and realizing Buddhahood we have to embody the teaching to become the Buddha Dharma to
actually even saying, become as wrong, we don't become
Because we already are. In fact, fed this idea of becoming something is part of our ego delusion. It's one of the ways that the false self operates, we think we have to become something other than what we already are.
And the second noble truth points to the cause of our suffering being turned her or craving there are three clients, karma, Tonga, Baba cut down her and fee Baba tan HA, HA craving for sensory experience, stimulation, our craving for becoming, we want to be somebody somewhere. And then the third one, to to not become or do not exist v Baba tan Ha. We also sometimes long crave for annihilation, to be rid of it all. These three basic types of thirst, that, that cause our suffering. Even we can say that wish to become a better person is is an ego maneuver. We, if we don't see through this, then we can approach the practice as a kind of means to an end. I'll do this in I'll be a better person. I'll do this. And I'll attain enlightenment.
She can shikantaza is is it's emphasized in many texts, many passages by Dogan that is an embodiment of the way from the border and an expression of our true nature rather than in any way instrumental. But actually, all the practices we do can be understood in this way.
She continues innovate vague groping way, I now began to search for some single law, some one basic reality so primary, that it permeated all else. I had been brought up as a Catholic. Each Sunday, I dutifully attended mass, with neither much understanding nor any real sense of participation. I was an onlooker and I felt ashamed of this. The problem I concluded, must lie in the fact that I didn't understand my religion. So shortly thereafter, I made my way to the study of the parish priest. Were sitting on the edge of my chair. I asked him to explain these matters to me He went over the various doctrines of the Church of the Trinity and the virgin birth of salvation and redemption. To make sure I knew them. I felt intensely disappointed that he didn't seem to come to the core of the matter. He then sent me home with three or four books to read further on doctrine. dutifully, I read them all, only to finish with more questions and doubts than ever. I clearly remember thinking, surely, there must be something that applies even to the everyday tasks of life, even to how I wash the dishes at night. But how do I find it?
I think it's fair to say that most people in this world if they ascribe to any religion at all, quite happy mostly to take someone else's word for the truth. And believe rather than experience
those who actually undertake to, to find out what the truth is to search for the truth are few.
about maybe five years ago, I was at home by myself. And it was a knock on the front door. And there were two people, they're an older woman, and a young Korean Bible study student, maybe 15 or 16 years old. And they were they were evangelical Protestants. And the older woman was doing the final assessment for the young kids. Bible studies. And they asked me if I if they, I would be willing to have him practice his evangelizing on me for his assessment. And so I think I mentioned said that I was a Buddhist, and maybe that would discourage them. But they, they came on in and sat down. And he had his passage already to, to teach me. And I don't remember the whole passage, but it included the phrase, living water, which is a wonderful image from from Christian teachings. And so they were putting on my mind Zen head, I asked them, can you show me the living water? And he just looked, poor kid, he just looked really confused. And I didn't press it further, it would have been unkind to do to do so. But could say that the living water was not alive enough for him, that he could convey that to somebody else.
Of course, there are Christians who do embody their teachings. And just as we have the, the the great ancestors from from the past, as as examples, the Christians have many saints and the Desert Fathers as examples for them.
And of course, just as we have recent examples, the Christians do. Thinking of a lot of examples. The great African American theologian came to mind. Howard Thurman,
made a kind of a very urgent effort. It was really an existential questioning for him effort to interpret the teachings and life of Jesus in a way that would really be meaningful for those who stood. As he said, with their backs
To the war,
because for the American blacks, Christianity had often been on the side of the oppressor and the strong Bible passages would be quoted to the, to the slaves used against them. And so for Thurmond, it was as a as a faithful Christian, it was absolutely pressing that he be able to understand the fundamental teachings in a way that would be of, of real spiritual support and, and nourishment to his people and to him. So there are there are lots of different ways of making the teachings real. But it is essential for the, for the health of the of a tradition, that there are these exceptional people doing that work,
the meaning. And when it's a work that won't ever end. We're all doing that work in practicing. Whether we're whether we're doing the breath, or we're a koan, or just sitting
back to Florida, where, if not in church, I decided then certainly back in school, in the works of the great philosophers, the answers would come. At this time, I had finished one year of college, and then had to stay at home a year because of the economic depression. Now through a tremendous effort, I returned to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, borrowing the money for tuition fees, arranging to help with the housework and care of children in a home about three miles from the campus returned from my room and board, and at the same time, taking a nearly full class load. This busy schedule of homework and classwork was all on the surface. However, because underneath walking back and forth to campus, doing my chores, I became increasingly preoccupied with pursuing my doubts to the limits. During the following year or more, with a disparate intensity. I read the works of the most of the leading Western philosophers from Plato to Spinoza, Hume Berkeley and on to Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer and nature. Bradley, kircher, God, Bergson, vidkun, Stein, and others. Fascinating as much of it was, it all seemed fragmented and one sided, nothing satisfied me. Nothing went to the root of my need. I seem to be moving in endless theoretical and verbal circles, chasing a mirage of ultimate finality. At times, I had periods of bleak despair, feeling my quest was hopeless. She had these periods of of despair,
but she kept going.
If if we would take away one thing from the story would be this. To Keep going. Keep searching doesn't mean we will stay doing a hard inquiry in one particular way. We have to be creative we have to experience experiment and play. But not to get cynical
sincerely search and that's what what strikes so has so strongly about for a quarter quote was her her sincerity her earnestness.
This the sincerity is an essential ingredient of the spiritual path.
We we consciously strengthen this quality through our vows that we make our aspirations which can help to shape or focus our energies.
Then one day, in a class in psychology, the instructor made a casual remark to the effect that the world as we saw, it was quotes simply a projection of neural activity in the visual centers of the brain,
I walked out of the class and along the street thunderstruck, saying over and over to myself, all I know the whole world, even the universe is myself. The answer somehow lies in myself. I was filled with an extraordinary sense of exhilaration with this realization.
This is very much what Matsu great Chinese master taught. He said, all of you should realize that your own mind is Buddha. That is this mind is Buddha's mind. Those who seek for the truth should realize that there is nothing to seek. There is no border but mind. There is no mind but water.
Stephen bachelor makes a comment on this this is from a book by him and Martine bachelor called What is this? He says mass matters point is very simple. He is saying that whatever we seek to achieve in meditation is already right here before our very eyes. As soon as we use words like Buddha or enlightenment or truth, we tend to imagine something that is far away from the condition in which we find ourselves now. But Sue, however, tells us that these things are only ever experienced in the very midst of what it means to be human in this moment, there is no other realm or place where they are to be found. nor is he saying that there are hidden somewhere in the unconscious depths of our psyche, or in some hitherto undiscovered dimension of consciousness. No, they are right here in the missingness confusion, darkness and anxiety of the very mind that is listening to these words. And one could add the body of the Buddha is nothing but the very body that is sitting on the cushion, its heart beating his lungs drawing and exhaling each breath, his knees aching from sitting cross legged. Or as Master Hakuin says, this earth where we stand as the pure Lotus land, in this very body, the body of Buddha. Body, Mind really implies body, body implies mind.
So at this point in her in her quest for Courtois is is empowered by this realization. All I know the whole world, even the universe as myself, the answer somehow lies in myself.
It is it is truly life changing when we when we understand this,
phenomenological reality, that there's nothing there's no there's no world outside of our mind that we can experience. There's no world separate from the mind that we can experience. No Buddha that that is accessible to us except through our mind.
Shortly after this, another incident occurred, which made a deep impression on me, staring at the kitchen window one day, and looking outward where a path wound under some maple trees, I suddenly saw the scene with a freshness and clarity that I'd never seen before. Simultaneously as though for the first time, I fully realized I was not only on the earth but avert an intimate part and product of it. It was as if a door had briefly opened. I stood there transfixed. I remember thinking, distant places on the map, such as Tibet, in North Africa, are extensions of right here, all interrelated. It was as if, for a long time, I had been reading books on how to swim. And now for a moment, I had plunged into real water. He could say, into living water, life giving truth.
After these two incidents, I ceased to search for an answer in reading and became intensely interested in exploring everyday experience.
So her hers like her, her field of inquiry is, is becoming more focused. I became intensely interested in exploring everyday experience. The very nature of sensation itself, absorbed my attention. I became increasingly aware of sights, sounds, touch and smell impressions, feelings, all for their own sakes. And the more observant, overcame, the more endless the visitors which seem to open, what is more immediate than sensation, I asked myself, surely reality must somehow permeate immediate sensation. Yet each sensor is so limited, so partial and incomplete. How does one sense reality whole, all at once? Is that possible? Then just add also here that this is two insights that she had, which enabled her to to start to look directly at her experiences sensory experience, we're not yet kensho, but paid an extremely important role in her investigation. So there are often these little glimpses that guide us in this process. If we're really engaging, with our question,
like a strong undertow pulling me down and away from the routine surface of life, my inner quest absorb more and more of my time, I began to stay alone in my room for long periods, just sitting, observing, struggling inwardly for some direct content. If there is a basic reality that is common to everything, I thought, it must be within my experience, too, as well as in everything and everyone's else's. Surely I can grasp it immediately had it firsthand. Any other way would be only second her hand and it would not be it at all. But how could I get at it? How know it firsthand. I became preoccupied with the most elementary processes of getting myself reoriented to the earth and to the people and things around me. It's difficult to describe this period, and the rather eerie feelings that pervaded this Grogan. I wish it was as if I had been living in a world of ideas. And now having lost confidence in these and having let go of them. I had to start all over again, to look at everything, feel it touch it censured, sit censored again, almost as an infant does, to realize what experience was truly like. Well, our time is up, will not stop here at this point. There's this new beginning that she's experiencing and continue from that point tomorrow. Right now we'll do the four vows And three prostrations and then that will finish with about the border and about each other