June 2021 Sesshin, Day 1: An Experience of Enlightenment by Flora Courtois
2:32PM Jun 26, 2021
Sensei Amala Wrightson
Today is the fifth of June 2021. And this is the first day of our five day hybrid sesshin. people participating online and also at shaping mill. And this talk is being recorded in New Zealand and will be will be sent overnight to, to you all. Going to take up a little text that is a kind of a Zen classic it's called an experience of enlightenment by Flora Courtois. And we'll be looking at this probably for the first two or three days of the machine. And many of you may have read it. Roshi used to recommend that people starting on con work, read this text. And it is classic, very inspiring, but also possibly in some ways misleading. And so might be helpful to revisit it and look at some possible perspectives on some of what what it proposes or what it says. And we're going to start off with the introduction, which is from US Attorney Roshi, Roshi Kapleau his main teacher, he appears in our ancestral line is Hakuin real call. So we'll start with his introduction.
In the summer of 1968, along with so Nakagawa, Roshi, and several other persons, I made a visit to Zen Mountain Center at tassajara, Hot Springs, California. And of course, so anagha Nakagawa, Roshi was another of Roshi Kapleau. His teachers his first teaching when it first teacher when he went to Japan.
So he made a trip to st Maarten Center at tassajara Springs, California. located deep in the mountain wilderness of Central California. The sendo is an approximately eight hour drive Northwest from Los Angeles and a four hour drive south from San Francisco leaving the Los Angeles zendo at 9am on July the ninth, and pausing to rest a couple of times. Our party arrived at tassajara, a little past six in the evening. During the last two hours of our drive, the car climbed a narrow, precipitous and sharply curving mountain road. through forests so deep It was difficult to imagine anyone's ever having walked there. From time to time along the road we caught glimpses of deer and squirrels. In the sky far above hawks drifted in seemingly motionless circles. From its highest point at 5000 foot level, the road then descended down to the four or 500 foot level into the secluded tassajara Valley, with its natural hot springs, waterfalls and rushing streams, all trees and stone buildings. Here in this fiddle Valley, shunryu Suzuki Roshi who came to San Francisco from Japan more than 10 years previously, in order to give guidance and Zen, with the help of his American students, and the support of other understanding donors, has established the first in mountain retreat in America. Even now, the work of building up this mountain center continues. altogether. The property including the hot springs Valley and surrounding mountain terrain consists of 120 acres. This mountain temple is called Zen, Shinji. Prior to this trip, Flora Courtois had been for some time a member of the Los Angeles Zen center, of which Reverend maezumi is in charge, and have been practicing Zen regularly. It was she who offered us the transportation and who drove her car to take us to tassajara and back to Los Angeles. Because of her kindness, we were able to visit tassajara without any difficulties, even to enjoy a bath soaking ourselves in the hot springs. Shortly after returning to frontier Sahara to Los Angeles, accompanied by Napa go Roshi. I went to New York for the opening dedication ceremonies of the New York's endo, following which nada Gao oroshi lived for Israel and I returned to Los Angeles. A few days later, Mrs. Courtois telephoned to ask if she might come to relate to me a personal experience. It was on a Tuesday morning, at 10 o'clock on July 16, that she came to the center, and I listened to her talk for well over an hour through the interpretation of maezumi Sensei. Although not fully described, as in this book, what she told me was essentially the same. She began with a description of her growing sense of doubt, concerning all things as a young girl. She went on to tell how she began to confront the question, what is the ultimate reality while attending college of his search for a solution through reading the works of many philosophers of personal visits and quest of help to several priests and professors of how all this was in vain and how she was finally referred to the college psychiatrist. But everywhere she touched, searched, so little serious attention or understanding was given to her problem, that she began to feel isolated from the rest of the college community and fell into a vortex of endless searching thought several Villa vision like experiences occurred to her
just one comment here.
It's It's telling that her her spiritual searching was not not really registered or recognized, and that she was sent to the to the university psychiatrist, for treatment.
There's a lot of
discussion had been had here, here in New Zealand. I don't know if it's the same thing in the States, around mental health, especially the mental health of young people over this past year and into this year. One wonders whether at least some of those young people may not have similar questions, and in fact, be in the midst of a spiritual crisis, rather than a mental health crisis. But our secular materialist society really can't see these crises. Don't turn around fit into the into the worldview, so to speak. In fact, of course, it is it is. healthy and sane to have these questions, but unrecognized and unresponded to when they are not put into context, they could easily turn into forms of mental illness. Think of what TS Eliot said. In a world of fugitives, the person taking the opposite direction will appear to run away.
He continues, these experiences of her youthful life, extended over a period of several years, until at last one day, sitting alone in her bedroom on the edge of her bed. Absent mindedly gazing at a nearby disk. she experienced an extraordinary event, which resolved all her doubt and filled her with an inexpressible joy and delight.
think this is one of one of the things that I latched on to when I first read this was hearing that this experience resolved all her doubt.
promised the same than that, but I wonder if it isn't, isn't it a little bit of hyperbole from yester Tony Roshi here
to turn to passage from a wonderful book called illuminating silence. It's a chronicle of two sessions that Mr. Sheng Yen gave in Wales. And his host in Wales, Wales was someone called John crook, who was became his Dharma, his first European Dharma he about had a background in in I think philosophy and psychology. And so, dresses some issues around realizing koans and other things that is very incisive, very clear, and helpful, I think. And so learn to turn to two
John crops in introduction to the section of the book, which is also gives the title of the book, illuminating silence, was talking about practice and
This is what he says. An enlightenment experience. John Shin in the Chinese kensho in the Japanese is a discrete event, in which all self concern falls away, and the practitioner sees the nature without any filtering by egoistic interests, or dualistic conceptualization. The event implies that there is a Nate and innate basis of mind, the nature simply acts obscured by the ignorance of self concern, thought and feeling. It is often a supremely life changing moment, opening the practitioner to a mysterious selfless world of great brilliance, vividness and depth, it gives rise to a direct insight, both into ignorance as a source of human suffering, implicit in this self preoccupied activity, in self preoccupied activity, and the existential fact of an alternative vision. It may also give rise to a profound compassion for all sentient beings. For those with a conceptual understanding of Dharma, it is an experiential confirmation. However, such experiences are rare, usually of short duration, and followed by the reemergence of self with a renewal of doubt and questioning, but based now on a mind that has seen and which therefore continues training from an entirely fresh, revelatory basis, most records suggests that even great masters only see the nature of a few times in their nonetheless transformed lives. So, I think this is a more nuanced description of what generally happens is that the the, the our doubt in questioning, elicits a very deep experience, real return, but that we can now work with them. From a different standpoint, from from greater understanding
continues. When enlightenment is used to refer to a state, or to a different developmental process, it usually implies that an individual has surpassed some threshold to reach an irreversible condition. Chi Wu in Chinese, in which wisdom and compassion are conjoined in a stance of benevolence towards all sentient beings. So he would say as talking about our more thoroughgoing experience, what we would usually use the term Satori for
the schools of Buddhism differ in their emphasis on wisdom and compassion, and with respect to the time taken to reach set as such a state. Some schools believe that many lifetimes must pass before an enlightenment arising from repeated training can occur. Others believe enlightenment can arise within one lifetime, given an appropriate history of practice, and good Karma. Some schools think that Bodhi self was our enlightened other right others restrict this label to Buddha's. Masters Sheng Yen has said that in an enlightened person, the functional ego is replaced by the skillful means arising from wisdom. This question about whether it's sudden or gradual, is pointing to, of course, you can see it from both sides and there's both the gradual, unfolding and sudden inside and then more gradual. Integration after the sun inside, continues, many people are confused in thinking that enlightenment as a state, implies some continuing ecstasy of bliss and awareness such as maybe experienced and kensho. This does not appear to be a correct understanding. The fully enlightened practitioner may be said to be one who lives from a perspective of wisdom understanding, which functions without ego, concern under all circumstances. Such a realized person lives normally in the world, simply lacking habitual self concern concern, he or she will have a mirror light quality in which others see themselves rather than seeing the reactivity of ego and the one before them. A brief enlightenment experience may be the origin of such a condition, but the majority of such experiences are not followed by the persistence of enlightened state of an enlightened straight, rather selfish, this fixations return, but with reduced figure, it may be that some individuals develop a capacity to generate the experience of selfless plus, others may find themselves they're more frequently, but for most the condition is a short term blessing. Since the experience does not endure, the emergence of the state of being of enlightenment, an enlightened person, further practice is the essential norm. This this is a very important point. That, that in in a certain kind of way. kensho is, is a new beginning. And, and
there's an there's an ongoing process of unfolding enlightenment
continues. Yet there is another way of envisaging this condition, not so much as an experience that more is a form of knowledge. In that sowed on tradition, enlightenment is said to be no different from practice. This view focuses on the meditative fading away of categorizations of all kinds, time space self until a residual nothingness is discovered, in which everything is nonetheless mirrored. Such an approach does not therefore, emphasize the sudden experiential, revelatory aspect of enlightenment, but rather the discovery of an underlying condition of mind implicitly, always present to know this state is this more a type of knowing, then an experience of insight of limited duration. Some may argue that this seldom Soto approach is the more mature perspective. And it is the deep view of silent eliminate illumination. So you could say this is this is at the at the other pole of of experience from from our kensho. But even kensho itself is in some cases, it's more sudden, in some cases, it's more gradual, or at least gentle we could say it may be reading this text, and others would come to the conclusion that it's always some kind of highly dramatic thing, but it can also be like missed clearing.
He continues, anyone who has seen the nature is unlikely to claim to be an enlightened person, even when a master has confirmed the experience, he or she simply knows what a glimpse of enlightenment entails. Indeed anyone claiming to be enlightened is probably acting erroneously from an inflated ego, which it can teacher has been unable to contain. Simple humility alone will normally prevent any such claim. People may consider another person to be enlightened on observing and an exceptional being, who seems truly to have transcended the fixations of this world. It is doubtful whether there are more than a handful of such persons alive in any one generation. Some may become great Lamas, masters or teachers. Others may remain entirely unknown except perhaps to a few. So, yeah, it's important to
keep our our little insights in in perspective.
Continue with US Attorney, his introduction.
This was the turning point. As your awareness deepened over the succeeding months, if it's literally all the problems and uncertainties were resolved, and her entire attitude toward life underwent a radical change. Even her physical condition improved, and she rapidly gained needed weight. Again, this was this, this drama these dramatic changes also were often she struggled later on, as we'll see when we get to her account. However, when she tried to relate what she described as her experience of open vision to her professors at college, or to the college psychiatrists, she made such a blank lack of interest in understanding that she finally concluded that there was no one to whom she could try to describe this experience with any hope of recognition or appreciation. She then resolve never to speak of it again until she was confident such a person had be found had been found. And that paves person, of course, was yesterday Roshi. Since that time over 25 years ago, until this morning, of July 16, she had not spoken of it again. I learned that she had continued her life, first as a student, later as a psychologist and writer, as well as a useful person in her community, and all along at the same time as a busy housewife and mother. Above as the briefest Sarah Marie of original talk, although more than 25 years had intervened, it was obvious she vividly record every record every moment. Throughout her talk, I carefully watched and reserve observed her. Her facial expression was very calm, with tenderness but without harshness, my total impression was an individual quite natural and serene. listening to her talk, I instinctively felt that to taste your experience was unnecessary. That experience she had over 25 years ago, was still vitally alive today. Immediately, I verified that the experience was a very clear kensho. At the same time, I recommended to her that she practice shikantaza with more diligence, I pointed out that the further one penetrates into the ocean of Buddha Dharma, the more one deepens one's realization. So I repeatedly emphasize to her the importance of renewing her determination to practice further, because our Buddha Nature has a great function by which illumination is deepened endlessly through practice. There's a footnote to shikantaza definition of I guess, Zen practice without supportive devices such as breath counting, characterized by intense, non discursive awareness
characterized by intense non discursive awareness.
Elsewhere yesterday Roshi describes chicken tears as a practice only to be done for short periods of time because of its intensity. And he's he says even that one sweats when doing shikantaza, even in the winter time I was puzzled a bit over this, this reference, and in this text of the US Attorney, there were issues to the tension in shikantaza, maybe it's maybe it's a mistranslation, but
Again, in the same book we've been reading from, there is a pleasant passage about these two practices, the practice of car work and shikantaza, which uses a term which I hadn't heard before, which
helps a lot in understanding this.
intensity that was mentioned in this footnote. So here again, this time, it's Master Sheng Yen talking, and he's starts off talking about going out going on or koan practice, and then compares it to shikantaza. So, you may be useful material in this for both people working on on clients and on shikantaza. He says, in using the going on, which is Chinese recon, we usually focus on just one saying from the story, the saying is the white dog, the nub and the con, we use it like a kind of lens to peer closely into the mind. Yet it is not an intellectual process. We are not saying for example, who am I or what is move, in order to pile up descriptions or to elaborate theories. to sand the guado means to look into it, to pair with the mind's eye, rather than with the minds reason directly into the moment of experience that is happening right now. So this new experience, this new term that I hadn't heard before, is son, and he goes on to explain what the meaning of this this word is. So to to look directly into the moment of experience that is happening right now. Sonne description takes time. it accumulates piles up, Sonne has no time, for it occurs in the duration was present. It is a Bayer looking into the space of the mind, like peering thoughtlessly into a goldfish bowl. There may be movement, sunlight glinting on the scales of the fish. But there is absolutely no conceptual examination. There is merely the bear observation itself, it goes on and on the wydo is as it were merely the target set up for you to aim it. Furthermore, although it may have the form of a question, the mind cannot make a quick intellectual reply. The usual sort of clever response is quite short circuited, a fuses broken somewhere. Such looking generates a great doubt, a doubt that becomes so intense that the mind automatically comes to one place, totally immersed in the paradoxical unresolvable ality of the word, Oh, you are lost in the wydo. When you are totally lost, that is son, when this intensity of focus is long, sustained. Suddenly, the whole mess of doubt breaks down and dissolves. That moment is enlightenment. Nothing can be said of what is there then it is beyond words. But then he goes on to say something. It's quite illuminating of of what shikantaza is. He says there's also another metal maze that that I do not usually recommend to beginners. It requires a measure of prior practice. This is the silent illumination method of the Tsar Dong school. Silent illumination mo Zhao is the Chinese name for what became shikantaza in Japan. This is the silent illumination method of the Tao Dong school advocated particularly by Hong Joo genge way in the 11th century. This was the method favored by the great Japanese master Dogan who took it to the country to that country, where it is known as shikantaza. Actually, it is probably a very ancient method going back to the times of the Indian ancestors, you might say it is Sonne, without the wydo is a target. So this direct looking, intense, direct looking, you sit gazing silently into the experience as it arises. Home Joe said of it, in the silence setting, whatever realms may be may appear, the mind is very clear as to the details. Yet everything is where it originally is, in its own place. The mind stays on one thought for 1000 years, yet does not dwell on any forms inside or outside.
In this method, we let the mind go quieter and quieter, immersing itself in its own silence. It is like allowing the water of a pool to become utterly still every speck of mud drifts to the bottom and the water is crystalline and its clarity, this crystalline clarity becomes enlightenment naturally and without effort like the method of going on this is a wonderfully direct path. So as you see no knowledge no attainment. So the same the rake looking in koan work and in shikantaza is just in chicken in shikantaza is not any kind of support coming from Colorado or the breadth or anything
you sit gazing silently into experience as it arises.
Specially I think the connection or the or the likeness of the practices is evident when with the koan, what is this? Sometimes we turn that around in and put it this, what is it or even just this with the question mark? Or just the question mark? Just the intense investigation, concept less investigation. So perhaps that can help us to understand Yes, Attorney rashis use of the word tension in the sense of tautness or alertness.
somewhere else, I read somebody instructing people on shikantaza saying you should you should
as if you were surprised. Some people may have had the experience of of waking up in the middle of the night and hearing a noise which seems to be coming from inside the house. And how how quickly will will wake up and be really alert,
upright toward vigilant to bring that kind of acute focus to whatever is happening in the in this moment.
Continuing with yesterday's introduction although I totally unaware of what what is the most in is for Flora Courtois attained enlightenment by herself, through her unrelenting struggle with the question, what is reality is we could say that this was her, her natural color, we have all these other koans, which, which we use in order to, to channel questions. But if we have natural color like this, then that process has already begun with it.
This is called having no teacher enlightenment by oneself alone, which is the same sort of such a Satori that Shakyamuni Buddha attained as he saw the dawn star on December the eighth. Actually, he did, he did have teachers failure on the best teachers of the day, but then had his thorough awakening on his own. The true enlightenment of Buddhism is said to realize the original self, it is common to all true enlightenment, regardless of race or country or time. Such enlightenment is not at all exclusive to a particular religion. It is quite certain that everyone may attain kensho as Mrs. Courtois did, if only each would pursue wholeheartedly the search for the original self. However, due to inadequate faith, and effort, few attain such kensho.
Comes the the need for for strong faith is especially emphasized with shikantaza. Yes, a tiny Roshi says in order to do shikantaza First of all, it is very important to have a firm faith or belief. Just as in koan study, it is really generally very important to have questioning. So in the practice of shikantaza faith has required faith in fact that all sentient beings are originally Buddha's Dogan Zen ji says in the ninth chapter of Gaku, door yorgen shoe proportions precautions on learning the way you should practice along with the way those who believe in the waterway must believe in the fact that their own self is in the midst of the way from the beginning. So that there is no confusion, no delusion or distorted viewpoint, no increase or decrease and no errors. To have such faith and to understand such a way and practice in accordance with it is the very fundamental aspect of learning the way you should try to cut off the root of consciousness by sitting age, even nine out of 10 will be able to see the way suddenly this is the key to practicing shikantaza. Actually, we could understand as faith and doubt being two sides of one coin could say that the emphasis in shikantaza is on faith. Because we sit we sit without any any striving to arrive somewhere. We sit in the understanding that that we've already arrived and that that understanding and forms are ability to be nonreactive to whatever arises as we're sitting we just fully open ourselves to whatever comes and shine that light that that intense looking on to whatever arises. But the the doubt you could say the doubt is there too in the sense of this looking this intense looking with koan work, the emphasis on the questioning the perplexity,
with cons to the has to be faith in order to keep going through all the difficulties that we have. In the search will the frustrations, faith and doubt together, give rise to strong determination. These are considered to be the three essential elements of Zen, great faith, great doubt, great determination.
throughout the world, there must be others who, like Flora Courtois, attain kensho alone. Unfortunately, it is very difficult for them to meet a qualified teacher, who can examine the so called kensho experiences and verify whether they are genuine or not, with deep or shallow. Consequently, a true experience is often buried and unrevealed. Further kensho is the only is only the first discovery of the original self, there is only a beginning to deepen and clarify it. To establish it as full function in everyday life requires never ending practice. Again, it is even more difficult to meet a teacher able to guide one along as post can show path. Therefore, among these rare kensho flowers that bloom alone in the world, many must die without bearing ripened fruit is a beautiful image, and in the one that helps to clarify what kensho is, to think of it as this blooming of this rare flower. But that we have to keep practicing beyond that blooming of this, this delicate, beautiful flower into ripening, it's the flower into fruit into enlightened activity in the world is a tiny Russia continues, I sincerely hope that more persons will appear on this earth, who will so resolutely plunged into themselves as to realize the original true self. Fortunately, Zen, which has been directly and accurately transmitted from the Honored One Shakyamuni Buddha, to this day in Japan, and in recent years has traveled ways to take root in American soil. To all those involved both in Japan and America, I urge that you be diligent in your practice, so that you may penetrate to clear kensho and afterwards, even ever deepen your enlightenment. With firm confidence, I recommend this practice of Zen, not only so that each of you will gain peace and wisdom, but also so that peace and reconciliation for all mankind will follow as a natural consequence. That's the end of his, his introduction, just one comment to finish up with here around his his statement about not only practicing not only so that we ourselves gain peace and wisdom, but also so that peace and reconciliation for all mankind follow as a natural consequence. I said something, something similar in the opening words machine last night, but then was was kind of as dissatisfied with with that. Because it's it's, it's not just it's not just that we have to, to
train ourselves on the match and then if we experience more pieces of wisdom ourselves. So that somehow will filter through to others. But but that we have to train ourselves post kensho. In, in realizing her enlightenment in her relationships This is so been so clear lately with with the pandemic and of course with climate change, that collective solutions are necessary.
There's that saying of Einsteins, we cannot solve our problems at the same level of thinking that created them.
Of course, of course. World War II won't change lis our minds change. But if we, if we,
if we just limit ourselves to, to changing our minds, that won't help, either, we have to address structural problems, problems that are embedded in our institutions. racism, sexism. Not easy to make these changes, but but it's an important part of our activity is, is at least aspirational body suffers.
Well, our time is up, and we'll stop here and recite the four vows