Defining Enlightenment, from “The Tao Bums” Discussion

Checking the quote CowTao posted I find the following:

“The word Prajnaparamita comes through in its Sanskrit form. This means “Perfection of insight”, the highest, clearest, most straightforward or most important insight. This word insight does not just refer to an intellectual insight like the solving of a mathematical equation. It is not to do with words. This is explicit in Roshi Kennets version which says “Deepest wisdom of the heart which is beyond discriminative thought”. In other contexts the word Prajna means no thought, something which is insight.”

(lecture by Dr. John Crook, from the Western Chan Fellowship site)

I’d like to put forward a slightly different way of seeing this. I think what I have to say has to do with enlightenment, but so do all the things people have mentioned on this thread.

I wrote a description of zazen, and I’m going to quote it here because I can’t think of a way to say it any better, and this is my starting point:

“Simply by being where we are, we can come to forget the self. The sense of place engenders an ability to feel, and each thing we feel enters into the sense of place- even before we know it.”

Two things I’d like to point out about that description; the first is that the sense of place is associated with the occurrence of consciousness, and the second is that the sense of place engenders an ability to feel because our sense of location in space (our sense of place) is intimately connected with our sense of balance, and our sense of balance creates activity and alignment that generates an ability to feel.

Which came first, Gautama the Buddha’s experience of being with each thing, even before he knew it, or what he taught as the four truths about suffering? Like all of you, I’m sure, I would say neither; somehow they are part and parcel of the same experience and for me, descriptions like “beyond discriminative thought” and “no thought” go too far.

We are talking about an absorption. Consciousness takes place with contact between a sense organ and a sense object, the impact of the place of consciousness on fascial stretch produces activity that generates an ability to feel, and the spontaneous ability to feel allows the free occurrence of consciousness. This is an everyday occurrence for everyone. The enlightenment part is the witness of how aversion, attraction, or ignorance of what is felt conditions the occurrence of consciousness; this witness is spontaneous, and frees the occurrence of consciousness. This is also an everyday occurrence for everyone.

The practice as I understand it consists of relaxation and calm in the experience of a sense of place, and in the experience of the impact and feeling associated with that sense of place. A witness of suffering, the origin of suffering, the cessation of suffering, and a way leading to the cessation of suffering becomes part of the practice, which is of course just ordinary life, as each thing we feel enters into the sense of place.

Maybe my favorite quote from Yuanwu (12th century China) is:

“When you arrive at last at towering up like a wall miles high, you will finally know that there aren’t so many things.”

(Zen Letters, Teachings of Yuanwu; trans. by Cleary & Cleary, page 83, copyright 1994 by J. C. Cleary and Thomas Cleary)

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