Posted inHenry's Messages

Message from Henry: Analogues of Awakening, Part 3 of 3

December 31, 2018

…self and world instantly vanish in one true awakening … No consciousness remains.

None of the previous message (click here if you missed part 1 and part 2) 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.

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…


Message from Henry is from our December 31, 2018 Newsletter.
Image: Mt Fuji Sun by Kanenori. CC0 Public Domain, from


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