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Satori – The Zen Concept of Enlightenment and Self-realisation

Zen satori “You and I sip a cup of tea. That act is apparently alike to us both, but who can tell what a wide gap there is subjectively between your drinking and my drinking? In your drinking there may be no Zen, while mine is brim-full of it. The reason for it is : you move in a logical circle and I am out of it.” ~ Introduction-Zen-Buddhism, D.T. Suzuki

In Zen Buddhism, Satori is ‘a glimpse of truth’ or a sudden moment of awakening. Unlike what many believe, Satori is just a natural state of human mind, which is lost in the pursuit of materialistic desires and following the status quo. We, as souls, are infinite beings of light and live in the present moment, connected to cosmos at all times. But with everyday, mundane complications, we tend to lose our natural state of being i.e. Satori.

Satori is dropping the false, entering into the real; just being your ordinary self, your true nature. Another name for Satori is Kensho, which means ‘seeing into one’s true nature’ – Ken means to see and sho means nature. But the fact remains that Zen is a product of Satori. That is to say, no satori, no zen. Even Buddha’s brother Ananda spent unrelenting forty years in the search of Satori to finally realise Zen. This does not necessarily means that it takes forty years to achieve Satori, it can just come to you one day or may take its own time.

“When one examines the Zen text attentively, one cannot escape the impression that, with all that is bizarre in it, satori is, in fact, a matter of natural occurrence, of something so very simple^ that one fails to see the wood for the trees, and in attempting to explain it, invariably says the very thing that drives others into the greatest confusion.”

Suzuki also mentioned that Satori frees the mind of the ego and what remains is ‘no mind’, where our innermost reality resides.

Breaking the Barrier of Dualism
zen_satori quote As a part of an evolved society, where everything has a set timeline, from birth to maturity to death, we have to adhere to the set form of thinking. This kind of dualistic thinking is the root cause of all the troubles of humanity.

Satori means to break free from the shackles of dualism and create a ‘new’ view point. Liberating us from the logical circle, to be precise, this metaphysical concept of Satori is not really metaphysical at all. Suzuki emphasized that Satori is right there, but society believes in its elusiveness, thereby implanting in our mind, that Satori is difficult or impossible.

Suzuki says “If you have been in the habit of thinking logically according to the rules of dualism, rid yourself of it and you may come around somewhat to the viewpoint of Zen…That act is apparently alike to us both, but who can tell what a wide gap there is subjectively between your drinking and my drinking? In your drinking there may be no Zen, while mine is brim-full of it.” The only difference that persists between the one who has witnessed Satori and the one who doesn’t is, the act of thinking logically.

When it comes to concepts like Satori and Zen is, we believe that by meditation or by intensely thinking about it, we can attain the goal. But we are wrong. What we really doing here is, we are looking at “reconstructing the old framework on an entirely new basis” which is to say that “that meditating on metaphysical and symbolic statements, which are products of the relative consciousness, play no part in Zen.”

“Like they say in Zen, when you attain Satori, nothing is left for you in that moment than to have a good laugh.” ~ Alan Watts

Characteristics of Satori

Although Satori is beyond intellectual and logical analysis and no set argument or explanation can tell what true Satori is like, there are a few basic characteristics which might help in better understanding certain principles of Satori.

D.T. Suzuki said that Satori is defined by irrationality. It does not have any intellectual reasoning or conclusion to it. This concept transcends the barrier of logic. Moving further, Satori comes with an intuitive insight. That is to say, there is a metaphysical aspect to it, which allows us to be more intuitive. Without this characteristic, Satori looses its meaning.

Furthermore, Suzuki states that Satori is both ‘authoritative’ in nature and is an ‘affirmation’, which means that no matter what logic we desire to give to override Satori, we can never hope to supersede Satori with logic. “Satori is thus a form of perception, an inner perception, which takes place in the most interior part of consciousness.”4 An affirmation is like a declaration of truth and usually used in a positive connotation.
satori meditation
A ‘Sense of the beyond’ is yet another pivotal characteristic of Satori. When we are performing Satori, we feel we are longer encased in our body, we are up and beyond, where we transcend the so-called real and witness the surreal, is what this characteristic all about.

Impersonal Tone, a feeling of exaltation, and momentariness are few other integral features, spoken of by Suzuki. The experience is Satori is not personal, i.e. the ego ceases to exist and that is why it becomes universal. This freedom from the bondages of mundane thinking, brings about a feeling of elation. Lastly, but most importantly the momentary nature of Satori defines it to the core. It is abrupt, may last for a few moments or minutes or hours or days and vanish. “if it is not abrupt and momentary, it is not Satori”5 Says Suzuki.

Koan – ways towards Satori

Earlier Zen masters would practice for many years and reach Satori. But in order to preserve the art form and to help the future generations, Zen masters gave birth to simple ways like Kensho, to allow ease in finding the Satori.

Koan are questions asked by Zen teachers that defy rational answers and students are asked to resolve them in their meditative practice. It acts as a catalyst in the pursuit of finding Satori. Suzuki mentioned in his book, Introduction to Zen Buddhism, “It now denotes some anecdote of an ancient master, or a dialogue between a master and monks, or a statement or question put forward by a teacher, all of which are used as the means for opening one’s mind to the truth of Zen.”

Koans are usually hard to interpret unless otherwise guided. One of the classic example of Koan is “When both hands are clapped a sound is produced; listen to the sound of one hand clapping.” Sometimes the koan is set in question-and-answer form, as in the question “What is Buddha?” and its answer, “Three pounds of flax.”

Satori exists in us long before we are born. Animals always have Satori, being constantly in their original condition, totally immersed in the present and connected to the source. Only human beings have lost this connection, and have thus become more complicated. Once you witness Satori, the desire for realizing the present moment & forming a connect with the cosmos, would never cease to exist and this desire will take you back to the source again & again.

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Zen art
Satori meditation
Broken Mirror

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  • A healer, yoga teacher, traveler & philanthropist, she is an independent writer/blogger. A creative soul, her inner calling lies in spiritual oneness. Overcoming the hurdles of human birth, she is a karma yogini. Channeling the light wherever she goes, her focus is on self development as this is the real art of divine worship for her. Follow her page on:

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