Wednesday, August 18, 2010

見性: It's not about experience tourism at all

Brad Warner writes:

Kensho (見性)means "seeing into one's true nature." In some circles a kensho or satori experience is held out to be the greatest thing a Zen practitioner can hope for. Lots of Zen folks drive themselves to have one of these great breakthrough moments. The literature is full of different words for these; "opening experiences," "enlightenment," "awakening," the list goes on.

This is, of course, the premise behind the whole Big Mind® scam and other similar abuses of Zen practice. I can't remember what the other teachers and participants said about these experiences, but I can give you my opinions, informed by what I heard last week.

It's not that there can never be any value to such experiences. You can find value in any experience. It's just that afterward it's just like any other cool thing that happened to you. "Dude! You shoulda seen the sunset I saw in Maui when I was totally high!" or "I banged the captain of the cheer leading squad/football team/both at once when I was in tenth grade!" or "I had the biggest Enlightenment experience ever in the world!" are all pretty much the same thing. They're just events from our past that we latch onto in order to define ourselves.

Enlightenment experiences are particularly good for this. In fact, they may represent the ultimate among all ego trips. What could be bigger than being one with the entire universe? What could make you more massive and heavy and ultra super duper rad and cool? Nothing I can think of, that's for sure.

It's not hard to induce some big ass experience. Tonen O'Connor, one of the Great Sky teachers worked in the theater for many years before she became a Zen teacher. She said that this was their stock in trade when they put on shows -- exciting people's emotions and giving them an experience they'd remember...
While Mr. Warner's spot on with the issue of Big Mind, I'd like to respond to this from my own tradition and point of view and experience.

And in my point of view, experience, and tradition, I'd say that Mr. Warner's completely lost the point of 見性, and it follows from there that he doesn't find it all that useful.

OK, the point of 見性 is not simply to collect an experience, and it is, I'd submit, not possible to get by suggesting someone into it. (That  is yet another another problem "Big" "Mind." But you should know that from what's been scrawled all over the blogosphere - all you get is thundering silence if you ever ask the question, "Is there anyone outside of Genpo's immediate lineage who would sanction a "Big Mind" "enlightenment?")  見性 is homework you have to do yourself; you can't cheat by looking into the nature of the boy sitting next to you , to steal yet another line from Woody Allen.

And what the heck is it good for? You can flash on it whenever you want.  No, seriously, it has been emphasized, at least in the Rinzai school, that real practice isn't about simply sitting on a cushion, but it is about carrying, realizing, and "being" (in a sense that "to be" is done with active voice) the practice  wherever you are, wherever you go, wherever you find yourself.  The whole damn point of the culmination of zazen is that the practice enables to be genuine, and genuinely compassionate, kind, caring, and, uh wise,  when the situation not only demands it (i.e., all the time), but also when the consequences of screwing up are especially severe.  Now this is in no way to say that this can be done, after decades in the cushion all the time, but then again, how often does even the best pitchers pitch a no-hitter? 'Cause that would be the apt comparison to those who think that because one understands their innate Buddha nature that one should be perfect.

But it seems to me that Warner, no doubt because of his Soto background, goes a bit too far in being dismissive of 見性 experiences.   That experience is not simply an experience "from our past that we latch onto in order to define ourselves."   It is (a little) more like the experience of going from training wheels to realizing that you don't need training wheels, except in this case you realize you never actually needed training wheels. (And indeed, there are people who have learned how to ride bicycles without ever having used training wheels.)

Once you realize you can ride a bicycle, you can go places you could not before.  

The Warnerites might say that there's fundamentally no need to ride a bicycle, and in a sense that's true, but from my standpoint it's irrelevant, because of all the stuff I've vowed to do, which includes but is not limited to saving all beings and restraining my natural impulse to exhibit naked rage towards them.

Now  the "Big" "Mind" folks would have you believe that this Mind Vehicle can be learned to be ridden in a morning, before lunch, but the reality is it takes unceasing practice actually get good at bringing the practice in to the tiniest interstices of your existence.

So that's my rejoinder to Warner.  He'll keep writing what he writes, and I'll probably keep writing something like this every now and again.

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