June 2021 Sesshin, Day 4: An Experience of Enlightenment by Flora Courtois
4:18PM Jun 27, 2021
Sensei Amala Wrightson
Today is day four of a five day hybrid machine. It's the eighth of June 2021. And we're going to continue to read from and comment on an experience of enlightenment by Flora Courtois. This next chapter that we're going to start with is entitled arrival. And it describes the many profound changes that fluoro Courtois experienced. When she's put up the universe changed on its axis for her. I have to say, I have some trepidation in reading this chapter. Because the description and it can be misunderstood and even misused. I'm sure yes, Attorney Roshi, past fluro Courtois to write down her experience, because he wanted us to be inspired to take up our own search for the truth. He wanted to strengthen our faith in the possibility of waking up to this marvelous reality that is right under our noses. But especially I'm guessing, he thought that we could be particularly encouraged by this account, being from Western woman with little or no knowledge of Zen. But our egos being what they are, how we can take this story and turn it into an object of our craving, this description of of what his enlightened life is like, we turn it into a thing. And the certainly isn't, isn't new. behavior is hardly ever that original. It's something that is addressed or dealt with in in many of
turning awakening into an object. And yet to not talk about it is also problematic. As I said many, many koans deal with this with this topic, but there are two that particularly spring to mind. And they're both in a move on koan. Right next to each other was a very similar and one of them is his first one is called shoes on staff. Shoes is on, held up his staff, but who before his assembled disciples and said, You monks, if you call this staff, you are committed to the name. If you don't call it a staff, you ignore the fact Tell me, you monks, what will you call it?
staff here of courses is a metaphor for awakening, enlightened mind.
Cool, if you label enlightenment, then it's very easy to become attached to that object. But if you don't call it by its its name, then you're ignoring a central part of human experience.
Basha goes a bit further and when he does talks about his staff he says again to his assembled disciples, if you have a staff, I will give you one. If you have no staff, I will take it away from you.
If you if you're if you think you have something, your something special or give it to you
videos You You turn something to a thing then you then arising with it is have and have not.
And exactly this, like we can we can do with an account like this. We compare ourselves to Flora Courtois. And we we conceptualize ourselves as being without what she has. We find ourselves wanting, telling ourselves, we can't do it, because we're just not up to it. And so we let ourselves off the hook, or we seem to at least, we don't really, because once we, once we have become aware of this possibility, this possibility of human unfolding, then we really can't ignore it. It's too compelling. Another mistake we can make is to latch on to the details of the story. And imagine that we must somehow go through that exact same process. Not seeing that everyone's process is different. That we can see archetypal patterns within the spiritual path, spiritual journey, but each of us has to walk our own path in our own way. So with those caveats, we can read, go ahead and read this chapter, and hopefully be inspired. And then throw away the story. Get back to this moment.
So as people will recall, we left for a Courtois sitting in her bedroom in our parents house, sitting on the edge of her bed and gazing at a small desk. The small, pale green disc at which I'd been so thoughtlessly, gazing, had totally and radically changed. It appeared now with a clarity a depth of three dimensionality, a freshness I had never imagined possible, at the same time, in a way that is utterly indescribable. All my questions and doubts were gone as evenly lessly as chaff in the wind. I knew everything and all at once, yet not in the sense that I had ever known anything before. Think here of what young said, we do not solve problems we outgrow them.
All things are the same in my little bedroom, yet totally changed. still sitting in wonder on the edge of my narrow beard. One of the first things I realized was that the focus of my site seemed to have changed its head sharpened to an infinitely small point, which moves ceaselessly in paths totally free of the old customer ones as if flowing from a new source.
People So, awakenings often are centered around one or other of the sense gates, the sense doors and for Flora Courtois. It was the visual field that that seemed particularly changed for in in the sutras gets especially the surangama Sutra there's a whole series of descriptions of different bodies, surfers in their regular awakenings through different sense organs. For instance, for canon of our Lucky thus far, it's through hearing or another one is there the heating body surfers who enter a bath and awaken through the sense of
the feeling of the water as they go into the bath
for quite a while, so seems to be describing here one pointedness with where one's attention coalesce is it is at a single point
what an earth had happened? So released from all tension so ecstatically light that I feel, I seem to float down the hall to the bathroom to look at my face, in the model mirror over the sink. The pupil of pupils of my eyes were dark, dilated and brimming with mirth. With with a wondrous relief, I began to laugh as I'd never lived before, from the soles of my feet upward. Sometimes not always, insights are accompanied by laughter, thinking the story of koan Jada, in three pillars of saying, he laughs so loudly in the night that he wakes up his family. After his his opening. Within a few days, I had returned to Ann Arbor, and there over a period of many months, that took place, a ripening, a deepening and unfolding of this experience, which filled me with wonder and gratitude at every moment, the foundations had fallen from my world. I had bland plunged into a numinous openness, which had obliterated all fixed distinctions, including that of within and without, a presence had absorbed the universe, including myself, and to this I surrendered in absolute confidence, often without any particular direction in mind, I found myself outside running along the street in joyous abandoned. Sometimes when alone I simply danced as freely as I did as a child, the whole world seemed to have reversed itself, to have turned outside in. Activity flowed simply and effortlessly, and to my amazement, seemingly without thought. Instead of following my old sequence of learning, thinking planning than acting, action had taken precedence. And whatever was learned was surprisingly incidental. Yet nothing ever seemed to go out of bounds. There was no alternation between self control and letting go, but rather a perfect rightness and spontaneity, spontaneity, to all this flowing activity. He really had a thoroughgoing transformation of his psyche. This new kind of knowing was so pure and unadorned, so delicate that nothing in the language of my past could express that. Neither sense nor feeling or imagination contained it, yet all were contained in it, in some indefinable way, I knew with absolute certainty, the changes, plus unity, and harmony in change of the universe, and the inseparability of all seeming opposites. It seems to have gone from, from intellectual comprehension of things to a visceral one.
It was as if, before all this occurred, I had been a fixed point inside my head, looking out at a world out there, a separate and comparatively flat world, the periphery of awareness had now come to light. Yet neither fixed periphery nor center existed as such, a paradoxical quality seemed to permeate all existence permeate all existence, feeling myself centered as never before. At the same time, I knew the whole universe to be centered at every point. And cosmology actually confirms this. Wherever you are in the universe, You are at the center of its expansion in in order actions. Having plunged into the center of emptiness, having lost all purposefulness, and the old sense, I had never felt so one point it was so clear and decisive, freed from separateness, feeling one with the universe, everything, including myself had become at once unique and equal. If God was the word for this presence, in which I was absorbed, then everything was either wholly or nothing, no distinction was possible, or was meaningful, complete as it was, each bird, but Mitch, Mo, as a crystal, of total importance in itself. As in the notes of a great Symphony, nothing was large or small, nothing of more or less importance to the whole. I now saw that wholeness and holiness are one. We'll be skipping forward a little bit here. years before I had sought a role that would apply to everything I did, even to washing dishes. Now, I simply wash the dishes. In the most simple of bodily feelings, and the most ordinary of daily tasks, living was transformed. I had never felt so completely whole and in one piece, or enjoyed my bodily feeling so much. Breathing had changed, had become deeper and more rhythmical eyes hands voice all seem quieter, more relaxed, with seemingly boundless energy. every task became effortless in light, running exuberantly home from classes or work. bounding up two flights of stairs to my third floor rooming house room, I would fall soundly asleep for a quick daytime catnip, then awakened shortly, feeling wonderfully refreshed. With spontaneous gusto. I found myself eating lightly whenever hungry, gaining 10 much needed pounds in a few months. Even my handwriting changed. As for my relations with others, another person now filled my shoes, laughter and delight seem to fulfill my life. Somehow I had become more human, more ordinary, more friendly, and at ease with all kinds of people. Apparently I appeared heavy and smiling to four strangers often came up and spoke to me. I had no idea what I could have done to deserve these miraculous changes. But I felt the most inexpressible gratitude for them. They had enriched my life beyond compare. Literally, everything had become more interesting. As for my schoolwork, it improved in some areas and declined in others, I was less concerned with meeting conventional demands. She could be herself fully. She mentions here her gratitude and this is, this is one of the hallmarks you could say, of spiritual maturity.
But of all the changes that have occurred, the one that most seemed to me in some mysterious way to be the key to everything else, was the change in vision. It was as if some inner eyes some ancient center of awareness, which extended equally at once in all directions without limit, and which had been there all along, had been restored. This innovation seemed to be anchored in infinity in a way that was detached from immediate side, and yet at the same time, had a profound effect on side. Walking along the street, I was aware of the street flowing past and beneath me, the trees or buildings moving past all around in the sky moving above, as if I were immersed in one flowing hole. There's there's a, one of the cons, which is this expresses something similar. It goes as I stand on a bridge, the bridge flows that way. Water does not.
childlike, unknowing pervaded perception. The immediate world had acquired a new depth and clarity of color and form an unalloyed freshness and unexpectedness, rooted in the present every moment opens to eternity. Along with us there was a sharp single pointedness to the focus of attention, which caused me to feel that I was looking straight and deeply into whatever entered my attention. Yet, paradoxically, I felt blind. This is difficult to describe, it was as if my attention were now rooted in some deepest center, so that my everyday sight, my eyes released from their form attention to reach out and see the world outside, we're now free, as if they had been blanked out eliminated altogether. Again, she's reflecting here, something that appears in the Zen teachings, and the enlightened ones are often referred to as being blind, because they no longer caught up in dualistic distinctions. And knowing or not knowing is also a an aspect of insight.
It's not something we can, we can just benefactor, but that comes out of our search.
is Mark Twain again. Some things you can't find out. But you will never know you can't by guessing and supposing No, you have to be patient, and go on experimenting, until you find out that you can't find out. We have to be willing to come up against the mystery of our existence. We we often so want to know. We want to be able to grasp things. Because of course, if we can grasp them, we can perhaps exercise more control.
And so because we want so much to know, we miss the will the gifts that come from not knowing from a certain type of blindness.
She says my eyes released from a form of attention to reach out and see the world outside. We're now free as they have as if they had been blanked out, eliminated altogether. In the sutras that talks about closing the sense doors or was dropping leaking from the sense doors. This way in which we use our senses that is reaching out to what we think are objects outside of us. And it's it's it's draining.
Another incidental change, I noticed was that no matter in what direction I looked, no shadow of my nose or face ever appeared in the clear field of sight is apparently it had occasionally done before. I also found other people's eyes fascinating, as well as those of animals, looking into them as if into my own. This change of vision was so impressive that I went to the University School Library and searched in the CAD files under the headings of vision side and eyes trying to find some reference to this new kind of vision. There was nothing, not a clue. Still, I remain convinced that this change in vision was somehow basic to all the other transformation check transforming changes. So here, she's beginning what would become a search that spread over over decades of trying to find Have you find a context in which she could, could place the powerful experience that she had had? Somewhere she, she felt that she would have would find some kind of explanation for what she had gone through. What I called Open vision, not only awakened appreciation for the inexhaustible exhaustible delights of everyday living, the smell of smoking damp leaves the taste of fresh mirrored Michigan, apple, the sounds of the thrush in the early morning. It had also made me more aware of the sufferings of others, so much of its self inflicted. Knowing that it was perhaps impossible, I still longed to tell others something that would help them open the vision as mine had been. My first attempt was with my friend, Suzanne, a piano student. To her I said something like this, Sue, there is a way to know the universe and yourself as one hole all at once. If you can do that, you won't have to strain so to learn, it will come naturally. We talked frequently until I realized I was not really communicating this to her at all. This this bird to share once experience is also a part of
It's It was very painful for Courtois, that she did not find anyone in her circle that she could could communicate with. She was doing a general science class at the time, as she was going through this and these early years after the awakening experience. And she says that she recklessly decided to try to put down on paper in the language of science, what she felt she discovered through her change of vision. She says the paper was titled one law. It was another unsuccessful attempt. My professor commented that he had no idea what I was talking about how inadequate words were to even suggest this experience to anyone else. What seemed to be the most marvelous and significant of experiences seemed hardly of passing interest to others. I came to feel that to talk about this personal experience was to expose to shallow interpretation and disrespect what was most worthy of respect. I decided then never to speak of it again, until I was confident that it would be appreciated. And according to your subti wrote his introduction, she she did not speak of it to anybody until she made him it's something we discover, I think when we we take up Dharma practice as well that we have to take here, how and with whom we talk about the Dharma.
Autumn came to Inaba bringing with it, a carnival of colors and sparkling here, wandering in the fields and along wooded paths, sometimes lying on a grassy bank looking up at the stars of the evening, I felt completely at home, in an indefinable way, I felt the presence of others who understood and I felt confident that so long as I lived with open vision, everything Who else would somehow be right, and justice that it always been attended. So it came about that the changes described here, so strange and incredible at first, gradually came to seem quite natural.
There's another point that is made in the in the Zen texts and in the koans. That after all, awakening is very ordinary, very simple.
The next chapter is headed loss and return. For the next year and a half or two, I lived each day with joyful awareness. It never occurred to me think, to think of myself as in any way enlightened. This is this is a lot these effects of this experience long lasting. The install, I had never heard such terms as enlightenment, Satori, or religious experience. If I had heard of Buddhism at all, it was simply as an obscure oriental religion. So she was she didn't, at this point, think of herself as enlightened or anything else, because she still had no terms with which to identify what she experienced.
By now, she had married, she was working in Detroit. And she came across a book called The Bates method of sight without glasses. And she was struck by some of the terminology he used, and thought perhaps she could find out more about what had happened to her by talking to this doctor base. And see she actually made a trip to New York, to meet them, but had he had in the meantime passed away and she talked at length to her to his widow. But the the long, expensive trip, again, you look No, no. In you insights into what had happened to her.
She returned to Detroit and found herself becoming more and more dissatisfied with her job in a business, and so decided that perhaps she'd be able to deepen her the experience she'd had, and find a way to bring it to others, which she longed to do by becoming a psychologist.
So she enrolled in a university and, and started studying psychology. here one day, seemingly by accident, I picked up a copy of William James is varieties of religious experience, and with a shock of recognition, read for the first time descriptions of the kind of experience I had had. This led me directly to the literature of the Orient. When I read the DAO de Jing, and soon after my first Buddhist sutra, tears filled my eyes, they struck such a familiar chord. The sutras seem to speak with unveil clarity. When Dallas fascinated me. I wondered if anyone living had had such an experience as mine, or if mine was some kind of anachronism.
She and her family moved to California. And she insists on point point after that, discovered her first book on Zen. And then went on to read the works of, of mystery, mystics, Western Western mystics, such as most a car and drove across Will you break.
In about 1950, I took a course in comparative religion from a Buddhist scholar at a nearby University. At the same professors home on several occasions, I met a writer of popular books on Zen Buddhism, I listened in rapt attention to as these as these learned men talked at great length about Buddhism. It no mention of practice of any kind was ever made. I have written in the margin, and I don't know where this came from. But apparently this scholar that she made was Alan Watts, who of course did not mentioned practice in his his books, books that did inspire many people to practice however. It must have Been about this time that I began to feel a subtle pride in knowing full firsthand what these authorities apparently knew only in theory, I began to think of myself as someone who had had an experience of enlightenment, and was therefore secretly special. Like one with an old sickness that had lain dormant for many years, I developed a new kind of egotism, more petite pernicious than ever before, because it was accompanied by a sense of specific possessing special and superior knowledge knowledge. This is having the staff in the versions of terms of those kinds we were looking at. I have a staff, buttresses, if I if you have a staff, I will give you one.
And it's also just an example of this, this way in which ego can appropriate anything to its ends
and how and how knowledge is a double edged sword.
She finally completed her psychology degree, and
mostly the kinds of things that were acceptable there were not the study of religious or mystical experience. But more to do with measuring and testing. She was able to do a little bit of work in this arrow parry area, but it did not get a positive reaction from her, her supervisors or teachers. She says Finally, I became interested in a subject which seemed related to the opening of innovation, that is to to changes in perception during states of deep relaxation. Since one of the clearest recollections from my own experience was of the wonderful release of all feeling of tension. at graduation time, the head of the psychology department encouraged me to go on to graduate school at a nearby university to develop this interest in the course of studying for a PhD. This I did, and for the next few years, I became immersed in a high pressure graduate school machine. The compulsion to be scientific seemed to narrow and construct everyone's perspective, leading us to an obsessive concern with counting and measuring. No Orthodox Church was ever more originally, rigidly doctrinaire, the necessity to regurgitate quantities of busy work to earn good grades made original work virtually impossible. In over 20 graduate courses, I made what seemed to be the faculty seem to the faculty to be an impressive record of a grades for what seemed to me to be a mediocre quality of performance. Since no one shared my unconventional interest in the effect of deep relaxation on perception, the only way to pursue this interest was on my own. This I did, also studying during these years physics, biology, mathematics, and Western philosophy, as well as working actively as a psychologist in several clinics.
She describes how the other students that she was studying with just seemed eager to get out of the situation as quickly as they could, along with their diplomas. And she says, a portfolio of formulas to apply to future patients. As for those unfortunate and troubled people, the patients on whom we practice at the university clinic, however, exhaustively, we tested them, somehow they belonged and none of our categories. How often I wondered if the most psychotic of these patients might have lost their way in searching for a deeper, truer perception of reality than that perceived by a possibly Miss educated therapist. She became more she more and more conflicted about her work. On the one hand, the the university atmosphere and on the other side the sense of of worth of wandering further and further off course. She says to the extent that I had become academically successful, I had become in a deepest sense unwise, unintelligence unfree an unbelieving unloving. This busy life was suddenly interrupted by the necessity for some major surgery and a prolonged prolonged convalescence. Lying quietly alone, I realized I had lost my way in the midst of all this diversity. All the knowledge I had accumulated in those years could not be compared to that which I had learned in one measureless moment long before every formal subject led to the same abyss. So she decides against advice received from various quarters to terminate her studies at that point for a lesser degree, and to go back to a more ordinary life at home, spending more time with your family and reading, writing, helping your husband with his business, working as a volunteer. But in those intellectually busy years, I had built no in a bulwark against a deep despair that I often began to feel in the early 60s. I aggrieved that the price was opportunity I had been given in my youth, somehow had been dissipated and wasted. All my efforts to communicate what seemed most important to me, had failed. Never once had I found the way to pass it on directly to anyone else, not even to my family. There seemed to be no one to who I could even speak of this. I longed for guidance at once religious and practical. I also longed to be the member, a member of a truly religious community. When for one reason or another, I attended one of our communities churches, all I seem to find was an organized effort to protect and distract people from the awesome struggle and dangers of transformation. She lived with a sense of despair for several years. She describes it as being like John of the cross this dark night of the soul. On the surface, things look successful enough, happy enough. But she felt at the same time, that she had somehow failed on the deepest level, to live every day out of her experience. Why oh, only hope lay in my confidence that what was lost was here all the time, and beyond time, nearer than I knew. I realized finally that to continue to indulge in regret was also a subtle form of egotism. The enemy was this very suffering separate self. Just as I had done years before, I began to sit alone and quiet concentration. But my life was a busier one more preoccupied with family duties. I said, Listen tentatively, and more intermittently than in my youth. For some time, I said occasionally alone, later learning of a group of people who sat regularly together and meditation, I joined them. And then, sometime a couple of years after that, she, she heard he is that Zen Center has been started in Los Angeles, and she comes back finally, to a community where she feels at home.
Sitting in the zendo, listening to maezumi Roshi read from the ancient texts, I felt my xR was over, I had returned home at last. I now know that to have had in any measure, an enlightenment experience is only a beginning. Even to speak of heading having headed is to risk losing it immediately is surely everything. To be re enlightened at every moment forever, requires eternal vigilance. How can it be otherwise, to continue to practice such awareness at every moment is implicit to the very nature of enlightenment. Thus practice is reality, reality practice. This was the indispensable pillar that had been missing from my life. Now, like a slow Rising Tide. quietly, less dramatically. The timeless vision returns the infinite possibilities for joyful awareness open at every moment. To this. I now vow to give all my attention and may away to fail to give this whole var attention we'll stop here and recite the four vows.