Posted inHeart Sutra, Henry's Messages

Message from Henry: Awakening – The Enemy of the People? Part 1 of 3

December 13, 2016

Is awakening an enemy? Does it snatch away our lives? Is it nothing but a neurological oddity, a deception resulting from chemical imbalances? And is it at odds with the rest of life?

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You sometimes hear caveats, qualifications, cautions and bet-hedgings around the fact of “awakening” in Western Zen. Some teachers disavow it entirely. They want nothing to do with it. Even though it is arguably the core of the Zen tradition. (Is this a littlelike the Anglican bishops who disavow the miraculous conception and the resurrection? Though in the case of Zen’s awakening, what we’re talking about is immediate, forensically provable, neurologically locatable, and not the subject of myth or creed or doctrine.

“One minute you’re one with 14th street, the next the lights have changed and you’d better get moving,” says one teacher, in a view that pits “awakening” against ordinary everyday living.

There’s a small number of Zen teachers who came to Zen because of their experiments with psychedelics in the 1960s, who still equate awakening with drug experience. Not only is this usually an error, it may also encourage a de-valuing of “awakening experiences” – you may as well just drop an acid tab. How wrong, how wrong. The fact of awakening is intrinsic to all beings, all phenomena — “a most solemn reality,” as Yamada Koun says.

Then there are miscreant teachers who have used claims to “awakening” to justify abuse: they were above the usual social mores because they were enlightened; their “awakened state” meant their behavior could not be judged by mere “unenlightened” mortals. Meanwhile they were encouraging lavish and slavish projection by their followers, which made it easier for them to abuse them financially and sexually. There are surely risks around it — which is one reason we study and practice the precepts.

Other pitfalls include what Zen calls the “pit of emptiness” — turning what can only be an experience into a metaphysical proposition. Which soon becomes another quagmire we may frequently blunder into and get stuck in.

Then there is the Zen tradition itself, warning us against awakening in various ways:

If I really told you how many people are in the zendo, you would find yourself entirely alone.

Today in the zendo many have lost their body and life.

The entire world is uninhabited.

This stick swallows the whole universe.

The sword of wisdom kills.

And so on…

Is awakening an enemy? Does it snatch away our lives? Is it nothing but a neurological oddity, a deception resulting from chemical imbalances? And is it at odds with the rest of life?

The Heart Sutra says: “Form is no other than emptiness, emptiness no other than form.” Awakening and ordinary life are one and the same. Crossing 14th Street when the lights are green is none other than awakening, none other than being one with 14th Street. The difference is only in how we experience it.

Click to read Part 2 of Awakening: The Enemy of the People?

Message from Henry is from our December 13, 2016 Newsletter
Image by Rosa Bellino

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