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Was my Experience in retreat Satori? Was it even a milestone on the path?

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Was my Experience in retreat Satori? Was it even a milestone on the path? Leila 12/14/17 11:09 AM
RE: Was my Experience in retreat Satori? Was it even a milestone on the pat svmonk 12/14/17 1:29 PM
RE: Was my Experience in retreat Satori? Was it even a milestone on the pat Leila 12/14/17 2:18 PM
RE: Was my Experience in retreat Satori? Was it even a milestone on the pat Stirling Campbell 12/14/17 5:42 PM
RE: Was my Experience in retreat Satori? Was it even a milestone on the pat Leila 12/15/17 9:17 AM
RE: Was my Experience in retreat Satori? Was it even a milestone on the pat streamsurfer 12/14/17 5:05 PM
RE: Was my Experience in retreat Satori? Was it even a milestone on the pat Leila 12/15/17 9:13 AM
RE: Was my Experience in retreat Satori? Was it even a milestone on the pat svmonk 12/16/17 9:54 PM
RE: Was my Experience in retreat Satori? Was it even a milestone on the pat Leila 12/18/17 10:47 AM
RE: Was my Experience in retreat Satori? Was it even a milestone on the pat svmonk 12/18/17 9:45 PM
RE: Was my Experience in retreat Satori? Was it even a milestone on the pat streamsurfer 12/19/17 7:53 AM
RE: Was my Experience in retreat Satori? Was it even a milestone on the pat Leila 12/19/17 2:01 PM
RE: Was my Experience in retreat Satori? Was it even a milestone on the pat Leila 12/19/17 1:56 PM
RE: Was my Experience in retreat Satori? Was it even a milestone on the pat seth tapper 12/17/17 2:12 PM
RE: Was my Experience in retreat Satori? Was it even a milestone on the pat Leila 12/18/17 10:44 AM
RE: Was my Experience in retreat Satori? Was it even a milestone on the pat alguidar 12/19/17 5:11 AM
RE: Was my Experience in retreat Satori? Was it even a milestone on the pat Leila 12/19/17 1:59 PM
RE: Was my Experience in retreat Satori? Was it even a milestone on the pat seth tapper 12/19/17 11:01 AM
RE: Was my Experience in retreat Satori? Was it even a milestone on the pat Daniel M. Ingram 12/23/17 5:19 AM
Hello All,

I recently had an experience during a zen retreat that I was curious for feedback on. I have been meditating off and on for about 10 years with intensive focus in Zen for the last 1-2 years. Last December during Rohatsu I had a body realization that everything we experience is symbolism ... mind, if you will. Some of it personal, some of it familial, some of it societal. But the vast majority of the way we experience and see the world is through the lense of conditioning and response to that conditioning. \Whether it be trauma and how that affects the way we walk in the world, or something more material like cloth with stripes and stars on it that we interpret as a flag we love or hate, etc. This state was very blissful and I felt it in my entire body, mind and emotions. The love and feeling of relief was almost like being on mushrooms, without being intoxicated.

This year I was asked to be in the kitchen at rohatsu so I didn't expect much to happen. Boy was I wrong. In the controlled environment of the Zen center, I was able to watch my mind in the kitchen turn over faster and faster and faster. In the half hour I was washing dishes, for example, I went from being a hero to a victim to a martyr to a lover to a fighter to happy to sad to angry ... over and over and over again for days. And because of the direction from my teacher to follow my thoughts to their core belief, I was following all these thoughts and feelings to a belief, which was perhaps some understanding of a chidlhood trauma or maybe just a simple belief I have always taken for granted.

But no matter where I followed my thoughts, even to some clear cause/condition, after a while of being whipped around by them and watching this happen, I became very lost and disoriented. Because no matter where the thoughts or feelings derived from, they were constantly changing and there was no solution there. I thought that my teacher's direction meant that by following my thoughts to their belief, there would be some kind of understanding or relief there. But it was the exact opposite. Even understanding the cause was not a solution and gave me no relief from these thoughts and feelings. For example, say the particular story was that I am a victim and the core belief is that I respond to the world as a victim because of some specific trauma in my past. BUt knowing that does no good. It was like, well, so what? Not "so what" in the sense that I don't have compassion for my suffering, just "so what" as in there is still no solution there. There is no THERE there.

As I said, I was very lost and disoriented by all this so I spoke to my teacher and he said that lost and disoriented was not a bad thing. That if I didn't run from lost and disoriented, back into these beliefs, thoughts and feelings, that this groundlessnesss (his word) is the right direction.

Since then, and it was only a few days ago, I have felt very unattached to my thoughts. They happen, I see them. But I do not respond to them. I listen to my body, what it tells me, and I fact check that with the precepts and that guides how I respond. Life has felt very easy, like I'm just going with the flow and instead of having to TRY to be present, I just am. Not to say my mind doesn't wander but it wanders less and I am less interested in the wandering, while MUCH more interested in the sound of the train, or the smell of the coffee, etc. The EFFORT to not follow my thoughts has been greatly diminished, as has the EFFORT to be present. It just feels smoother and more natural. Even moments that usually cause me a lot of stress, I see the stress and the moment almost like a ride or a wave, like "whoa, there she goes ... wow, that was intense." And that's it.

Just curious if anyone has any thoughts on this. I am a Zen student, as I said, but I am curious about the perspective from any lineage.

Deep Bows,
Leila

Hi Leila,

I practiced Zen in the Japanese Soto tradition for around 15 years, most of which I was in formal priest training with Yvonne Rand. I cannot claim to be an expert in the Soto classification of meditative experiences, however, since Yvonne's teaching mostly stressed the ethics and morality training and not so much about meditative experiences or the insight training, based on her teacher (Suzuki Roshi's) teaching. I've had more contact with meditative experiences through my work in the Vipassana tradition, and especially with Shinzen Young, who teaches in a kind of combination Rinzai/Vipassana.

I think what you experienced is what in Soto is called kensho, "seeing into one's own true nature". The way you express your realization of last December sounds very familiar to the first of the realizations of the Tibetan Mahamudra tradition (where I am currently practicing), namely that all phenomena are mind. Your experience of this year sounds like you are not becoming attached to your thoughts, in other words, you are not "owning" them as being "mine". Likely, the intensity will gradually fade as the retreat slowly moves into the past, but that experience will  still be present and available to you in times of need. As you've noted, it can be a huge source of relief that we don't need to believe our thoughts (as Yvonne used to say), that we make up stories which sometimes correspond to the world and sometimes don't.

Congratulations and good luck in your future practice!

Thank you for replying! I am in the suzuki roshi lineage, as well. 

Hi Leila,
what you describe fits into my experience of fruition - the groundedness and simultaniously connection with experience of any kind and feeling perfectly fine with it. The breaking of old views is always remarkable.

I am interested if anybody wants to take a try on a phenomenological description of satori? It seems that zen practioner talk very little about their experience. Sure kensho is central, but how would you describe it and compare it to fruition and insight? I would be very happy to hear from first hand experience emoticon

Leila:
Thank you for replying! I am in the suzuki roshi lineage, as well. 

Another one here. : )

Your realization is definitely useful. You can now see that suffering is an optional state, and that sensation can be just sensation... and that thoughts are merely fictitious abstractions of what is really happening in this moment. Try these ideas on and see what they feel like... especially when you encounter the first situation since your retreat that touches at an emotional sore spot. THAT will be the moment where you can test your equanimity. Don't forget your training!

Was this retreat in CA by any chance? Rohatsu sesshin?

RE: Was my Experience in retreat Satori? Was it even a milestone on the pat
Answer
12/15/17 9:13 AM as a reply to streamsurfer.
Thank you! I would be curious, too. if other Zen practitioners had anything to say about it. I appreciate your response. I find my Zen teachers to be very tight lipped about what is and is not insight, satori, kensho, etc. In fact I didn't even know there was a path really until about a year in. I originally joined for some social justice work and stress management tools. They really don't talk about the five stages a lot. I learned about the actual stages more from online resources like this. Even when I asked a question about the stages during a group Q&A they told me that kind of conversation is saved more for face-to-face interaction with the teacher so I have just started talking with him about it recently in Dokusan. 

The Rohatsu Sesshin was at Brooklyn Zen Center, an urban center in New York. Our root teacher, Teah Strozer studied with Suzuki Roshi and she is in the San Francisco Zen Center community but spends about half her year out in Brooklyn with us. The senior teacher is Greg Snyder who studied under her and Reb Anderson, I believe, as well as at Austin Zen Center, which is also in the SFZC lineage. 

RE: Was my Experience in retreat Satori? Was it even a milestone on the pat
Answer
12/15/17 9:17 AM as a reply to Stirling Campbell.
Yeah, I look forward to seeing how it plays out the further I get from Rohatsu. Everything is still pretty equaniums but life does what life does so it will be interesting to see how it unfolds.

The Rohatsu Sesshin was at Brooklyn Zen Center, an urban center in New York. Our root teacher, Teah Strozer studied with Suzuki Roshi and she is in the San Francisco Zen Center community but spends about half her year out in Brooklyn with us. The senior teacher is Greg Snyder who studied under her and Reb Anderson, I believe, as well as at Austin Zen Center, which is also in the SFZC lineage. 

Hi Leila,

There are three trainings in Buddhism: ethics and morality, concentration, and wisdom or insight. In Soto, the emphasis is on the ethics and morality training, how to become a better person through embodying the Bodhisattva Vow. The concentration training is cultivated through shinkantaza, "just sitting". This is sometimes described as "sitting with empty mind". The practice of breath following is taught as a preliminary practice, though they really don't talk at all about how to get from watching the breath to empty mind. The Japanese Zen schools in particular are not very big on method, which is I believe a Japanese cultural thing as the Japanese tend more to have you watch and learn rather than explain things. And in Soto, they don't really teach any meditation technique directed at the insight training.

In Theravada, they talk a lot about method. The breath following practice matches up with the Theravadan concentration training, using the breath as a meditation object, increasing the focus until you reach jhana, a state highly concentrated on the mental image of a single sensation, usually the breath at the tip of the nose or abdomen. In jhana, the conceptual consciousness is offline, and most of the sensory consciousness is similarly quiet, how much depends on how deep into jhana your mind goes. I believe jhana is what Soto calls "sitting with empty mind". Culadasa in The Mind Illuminated calls jhana a "flow state". 

W.r.t. sartori, I believe in Rinzai sartori is the same as the Theravadan "first path", the first stage of enlightenment. At least, that's the way Shinzen Young teaches it. "First path" is in the insight training, so it is not really on the Soto path.

I suspect the reason they don't talk about enlightment has to do with the origin of Soto in the Caodong School from Southern China (Dogen the founder of Soto studied with a Caodong teacher). There was a philosophical dispute between the Southern Schools and Northern Schools of Zen in the Tang Dynasty about "sudden enlightenment" and "gradual enlightenment". The Caodong School was of the "gradual enlightenment" school. This is why Suzuki Roshi said that enlightenment was gradual, like when you walk through a fine mist of rain and gradually get wet. There is nothing gradual about "first path", thought there is a process involved in getting to it, called the "stages of insight".

There are some teachers who have training in both Soto and Theravada, Gil Fronsdel for example, who is the senior teacher at IMS in Redwood City.

Hope that helps.

One way that I have been thinking about things is looking at the world like the stock market.  When I began my practice I had everything I owned invested in the world and I was joyful when the world went my way - the market rose - and I despaired when things went against me- the market dropped.  

As I have practiced, I have realized that less and less of the stuff that I though was mine is really mine.  My thoughts, emotions, actions, body and even soul do not belong to me in someway and I dont have to care about them.   The experience is like taking money out of the stock market- you just care less which direction the market goes - until you dont care at all. 

The specific experience, for me, was like peeling back layers of an onion (Shrek reference!).  I would let go of one set of things that seem mine and very importrant - get a big hit of bliss - and then confront the next layer of stuff and work through that over and over and over.  

I think this is effectively what every system of meditation is up to and what every Yogi goes through.  

Now I will lay some personal insight on you - which comes with love but no warrantee: 

The good news is, it is all in our heads.  Everything is actually just fine the way it is and you are 100% innocent and safe.  Ziggy Marely sings " There is a Rainbow in the sky all the time, all the time".   Just look at some puppies on reddit AWW and you will see that he is right.  Carry that into meditation with you and nothing can stop you or push you off center. 

RE: Was my Experience in retreat Satori? Was it even a milestone on the pat
Answer
12/18/17 10:44 AM as a reply to seth tapper.
Yes, it does feel like layer after layer. And the first layers were maybe layers that were simpler or I was less attached to and this recent one was a big one. It was a lot of my juiciest, most "defining" stories. And I also saw the mechanism behind them. So in addition to letting go of them, I saw the old man working the levers behind the curtain (Wizard of Oz reference) of most of my stories. I am learning how to apply it to my stories in life. And so far so good, but I definitely am feeling the shifting, it wasn't just like "a ha!" Now my stories are gone.

Love the Ziggy Marley quote, too. Thank you. :-)

This is really interesting, thank you. I really do love the ethics and morality part of my Zen practice, but do you think that there is a ... I don't want to say weakness, but that if I am interested in insight I should pursue Theravada? Or do you have any thoughts on them being different approaches to the same goal?

- Leila

Hi Leila,

I can't really tell you what sort of practice is right for you. But I can say that Soto practice has no weakness in it, it just has a different focus than Theravada practice. I treasure the time I practiced with Yvonne as a priest, it is kind of the bedrock of my practice life (I wrote a memoir about that, called Silicon Valley Monk, it's available on-line). Soto practice works really well for people who have a life: a partner, kids, a job, and want to keep it that way. The insights take longer to come, but they do come. Much Theravada vipassana practice is also like this in the West, with a bit more of a psychological overlay. Many people on this site would probably disagree with me, but I've found over the years that a simple practice, that directly addresses the places where there is suffering in peoples' lives is really enough for many people.

The kind of practice that people on this site favor, called hard-core dharma, is more about coming to grips with the basic existential aspects of the human condition, the same kinds of questions the Buddha faced. It's for people who want to experience directly what the relationship is between mind and reality. The insights come through altered states of consciousness (jhana is one, "first path" another). These are necessary to kind of break apart the habitual way the mind looks at reality, but can lead to periods of difficulty in relationships and various physical effects (like prana flow aka kundalini) that can be tough to reconcile with getting to work on time or taking care of kids or elderly parents. Nevertheless, there are some people who are drawn to this kind of quest (I happen to be one) and simply can't let go once they start. Knowing the Buddha got there, I simply have to try to get there myself.

So it really depends what your personal situation is like and what you are drawn to.

Leila:
Yes, it does feel like layer after layer. And the first layers were maybe layers that were simpler or I was less attached to and this recent one was a big one. It was a lot of my juiciest, most "defining" stories. And I also saw the mechanism behind them. So in addition to letting go of them, I saw the old man working the levers behind the curtain (Wizard of Oz reference) of most of my stories. I am learning how to apply it to my stories in life. And so far so good, but I definitely am feeling the shifting, it wasn't just like "a ha!" Now my stories are gone.

Love the Ziggy Marley quote, too. Thank you. :-)

What do you mean by my stories are gone?

Were you allways thinking about some situations where you felt you were treated wrong?
(that´s what happens with me)

Yes hardcore noting practice might not be a good idea for parents with a busy life emoticonemoticon
I can agree that different personalities and circumstances fit for different techniques.
Insight is propably often destabilizing, but why not keeping ones feet on the ground if one can.
Either way, the techniques will change something, maybe just into different flavours of experience (I think Shinzen Young said that).

Here is some more dharma that has no basis other than some nut on the internet: 

The first way of looking at the layers of pain in the nervous system/mind is as terrible stuff I have to fix or avoid.  I think I can fix it by changing something in the world (or in myself) and I can avoid it by focusing on something to exclude it from consciousness, my phone, that ass, murder she wrote, the breath, a fire casina, etc. 

The second way of looking is to see the layers as a defect in the nervous system that can be directly fixed by releasing the pain and or stories through any of a million forms of therapy, relaxation ,mindfulness, medtitation, yoga, exercise, etc. 

The third way is to see that the layers are really not distinct or meaningful,it isnt an onion, its a cinnabon-  delicious as it is and not in need of any kind of modification.  Ironically, of course, when you hit this way of seeing the releases happen on their own and you feel like an idiot for staying so long in seeing things the second way.  

The fourth way of seeing is just not to give a shit at all.  Could you be love, can be love. 

I think you answered my question, thank you. Right now Soto is the right practice for me. My sangha is very vibrant and connected. And because I am very much in the world right now, with job, dog and other responsibilities, that practice fits well into my life as it currently is.

But within 3-5 years the game plan is to unplug and focus on, as you call them, the existential aspects of the human condition. And to truly give my attention to the question of the relationship between mind and reality. This is what my life, in the big picture, is dedicated to. But in the short term I need to honor some responsibilities before I can commit myself fully. So Soto is a great practice for me right now. 

That being said, the 3 to 5-year retreat plan has almost exclusively focused on Tassajara, but your answer definitely calls me to look at other options as well. I plan to set myself up so I can afford not to work for a few years at a minimum, so maybe both a Theravada intensive and Tassajara are in the cards. In addition to who knows what else.

Thank you. 

RE: Was my Experience in retreat Satori? Was it even a milestone on the pat
Answer
12/19/17 1:59 PM as a reply to alguidar.
Yes, a lot of my responses to life are offensive or defensive stances in the present that have their roots in situations from the past where I felt I was treated badly. By my parents, by society, by exes. I have some significant abuse and neglect in my past.

And what I meant was that it is not like all my stories are "poof, gone" with my recent realization. But I saw the mechanics of those stories and how they do not serve me but only cause me suffering in the present. So as they come up now, I am able to see them, bow to the suffering at their root, but not buy into them. It's been a profound shift. I feel much more at ease. Does that make sense?

RE: Was my Experience in retreat Satori? Was it even a milestone on the pat
Answer
12/19/17 2:01 PM as a reply to streamsurfer.
My intention is to dedicate my life to awakening, so hopefully I'll have the opportunity to explore different traditions. Soto it is for now, and gratefully so. My sangha and the practice they teach there has changed my life. :-)

While mapping over a forum is slippery, and we all tend to like to put things in the boxes we are familiar with, and mapping Zen is sort of like herding cats, as Zen is pretty not much into being mapped...

My impression of the first part, the mushroom trippy awesome blissful part with deep insight is something that the Theravada would call the Arising and Passing Away, A&P, which you can find information about here.

Then the next part, where you were lost and disoriented without solutions would map to Dissolution and the early Dark Night (Knowledges of Suffering) stages.

Then, after you came to Equanimity with all that, the next nice phase is Equanimity.

Those are a great set up for awakening and important insights themselves.

See more here in the chapter called The Progress of Insight, and draw your own conclusions.

Map on, you Zenny Diamond!