“… self and world instantly vanish in one true awakening … ” ~ Henry Shukman

sunset clouds awakening zen shukman

Spiritual exploration is not easy to begin with .. it is inherently fraught with multifaceted challenges: it’s an unknown territory that inherently (maybe naturally conditioned to be?) is questioned by various segments of society and the intellect …. thus making it difficult for the “seeker” to decide what/who to pursue as the deep, inexplicable yearning arises … each tradition, and/or teacher, bring their own set of issues – real or perceived or “taken on” …

For the “seeker” who is not drawn to “trappings” of any kind, how a tradition helps navigate everyday issues is also a key “measure” of its “draw or suitability” … not only does it make it “easier” to follow but it has practical relevance due to it being more relatable to his/her life …

In this spirit, last year, in one of our posts we explored, through Henry Shukman, how Zen might address the topic of “crisis of unity” – both collectively and individually .. and the role of practice in this most important, and relevant, matter of our time. As Henry appropriately noted that Zen “… is always immediately situational {and} has no overarching ontology or philosophy …” 

Ultimately, the foundation of Zen’s “solution (or any tradition)” lies in what is known as awakening … so, in today’s post, we consider this most important topic of awakening … especially, what it truly is, in Zen – as seen through Henry’s perspective.

All text below – except for the blockquotes & text in braces – is from Henry … and is published here with his permission. Actual attribution links are at the bottom of the post.

This life is full of analogues of awakening. Any process that leads from an occluded view to a leap or unveiling that offers a broader view, whereby a seeming obstacle or contradiction is resolved, might be analogous: from problem or obstruction, to answer, solution, revelation, where opposing parts are reconciled.

sunset lagoon awakening broader view shukman

That’s one of the characteristics of these many analogues to the process of awakening.

There are also analogues to the nature of reality as it is revealed in awakening. That is, analogues not just to the process but also to the state of awakened existence. One of its characteristics is that all is one single existence. Therefore actions done for what was thought to be others will generate joy and well-being, because they accord with the reality beneath appearances—namely that we are not separate from others. Selfless and altruistic acts support well-being by virtue of their according with reality.

With regard to these analogues, it’s helpful to be clear that work in one area does not generally preclude the need for work in another. Work done in a more “spiritual” realm, for example, usually doesn’t mean we may not need to do some basic work in a more psychological area too.

Likewise, just because there may be analogues to awakening doesn’t mean that they actually are awakening. There are different levels of practice and discovery and each is its own analogue.

{Henry then explores a few analogues to awakening …}

Getting into the body and learning to relax, finding hidden tension patterns and having them release – that can open up new peace, energy, and new ways of being, experiencing, relating, as a more constricted experience within the body dissolves, and our sense of self expands more broadly. We discover that our view was too limited — and there is more in us than we realized. We were wrong about our limits, our boundaries.

sunset lagoon awakening relaxation shukman

Related, there is work on the emotional level. We may discover zones of resistance, or blocks on the path to peace. Through gentle persistence in allowing them, and perhaps guidance from professionals, these can open up and lead us to new vistas of self-forgiveness, forgiveness of others, and new love for life itself, and for our hearts which are intrinsically pure, and for others, whose hearts are also intrinsically pure. We may slip into a world where all we see seems to be suffused with love – a great compassion whose bounds are not apparent. Again – a new realm of well-being, revealed by breaking through some self-generated limitation.

Getting grounded in present moment awareness. To drop our habitual mental commentary and rest in the broad simple quiet of immediate experience – this can be a wide and wonderful new adventure, a taste of a world of peace and energy we did not previously know. Here again, we let go of a perceived necessity to interpret experience in certain ways, to believe certain assumptions, and instead open ourselves freely to what is arising. The letting go of what we thought we had to do or know, being open to releasing our hold on habit-patterns of the mind, allows a broader picture to show itself.

Likewise, there are deeper states of present-moment absorption. This can lead into strange and delightful collapses of space and time, where the ordinary categories of immediate sensory experience overlap and conflate, and our normal sense of things becomes broad and thin and highly expansive. This can be quite a powerful opening up of our awareness into very expansive states of mind … but this is still not yet awakening…

deep space timelessness awakening shukman

None of the above would be considered “awakening” in the Zen tradition, valuable though they may be. Now we start approaching the bounds of what Zen would call “awakening.”

1) The first of these could be the sudden apprehending that underneath this world of apparently separate things, within this world of multifarious phenomena, there is a single “body,” the dharmakaya, or Dharma-body — a single fact, a single life or existence, a one-body or one-mind or one-dream that unites all things, that is busy being all things. We ourselves are included in this, naturally.

2) Second, we may discover that the core of ourselves, the very heart of “me” that we have sensed within us for as long as we can remember, is not actually there at all and never has been. It was a fiction, an imaginary creation we somehow conjured and then believed in. To see through it, to have it evaporate in a puff of smoke, is a powerful experience, and leads to an incomparable sense of freedom, a liberation without its like.

3) Further, we may suddenly see that this world of things – the floor, the wall, the chairs and sky and trees and mountains, rivers, clouds, cars, buildings – have all been a dream, a phantom, an appearance without any substance. We suddenly find that they have never really been here. The whole world has been a marvelous, and sometimes painful, invention, a kind of mirage. Instead there is nothing before us – a vast, or miniscule, scintillating fertile “emptiness”. And this infinite void has the miraculous capacity to be everything we see, hear and feel.

4) Going further, we may awaken to these last two at one and the same time – self and world instantly vanish in one true awakening. This is the experience that Sanbo Zen exists to pass on. It is what we understand by the term awakening. This is a deep and thorough experience. No consciousness remains. It is not such an easy experience to have. Many conditions have to be in place for it to happen, only some of which pertain to our actual practice. Yet it does happen.

self world vanish no consciousness awakening shukman

The first three experiences listed here might equate to “seeing part of the ox” – the third in the sequence of ten classic “Oxherding Pictures”. It’s not uncommon for a practitioner to have more than one such experience. The fourth kind of experience would equate to the fourth Oxherding Picture – “catching the whole ox”.

Yet even here, practice is not over. In some ways it is just beginning. It is only now that we can fully turn to the great project that we have been joining all along, perhaps without realizing it – the general awakening of this whole earth. The “saving of all beings,” expressed in the bodhisattva vow. This is in fact what we have been practicing since time immemorial. This is what all life has been working toward. This is the great venture of the universe itself – its own total awakening. Now at last we begin to touch the fringes of the hem of reality.

It’s because of this overall project and process that there are so many analogues to awakening. In any field, in any area, awakening is in fact always going on. It cannot but be. Nevertheless the core of our capacity as human beings, our great responsibility, as and when we are able to address it,

is to allow the universe to discover itself through us,

in our thoroughly human way, which is precisely to undergo real awakening – or at least be working toward it.

And then working beyond it…


All italicized text above (except for the block-quoted parts and the parts in braces) is from Henry Shukman and is published here with his permission. It is a merging of his three weekly messages: Analogues of Awakening Part 1, Part 2, & Part 3 … Also,these messages also appeared in Mountain Cloud Zen Center’s weekly Newsletters dated December, 17, 24, & 31, 2018.
Images: 1) Sunset Shore by LeesDesign, 2) Sunset Lagoon, 3) At Dusk, 5) Before Sunrise, by Kanenori, 4) Meditation by Activedia. All are CCO Public Domain.


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