Before we enter the sutras there are a few things to be noted. Hubert Benoit calls Zen ‘the doctrine abrupt’ as opposed to all others which he names ‘progressive doctrines’. For the first, for Zen, he uses the singular, and for the others the plural – because the doctrine abrupt can only be one. But
there can be as many progressive doctrines as there are people; each one has to progress in his own way. So there can be millions of progressive doctrines – he is right in using the plural – and the abrupt doctrine can only be one. It can’t be different for different people, because it is abrupt.
It doesn’t depend on you, who you are, it depends only on one thing: that you disappear. And the disappearance is abrupt, sudden. This point has to be understood because it is very fundamental to Zen.
Yoga is a progressive doctrine; Zen, the doctrine abrupt. That is its fundamental vision – of great beauty and grandeur. It simply means one thing: that Buddhahood is not something to be attained. In Yoga the samadhi has to be attained: you have to improve upon yourself, you have to go on and on working on yourself. It is a great program of improvement, of achievement, of accomplishment. In Zen all that you have to find is that you are already a Buddha, that there is no accomplishment, that there is no growth, that there is no attainment, that Buddhahood is everybody’s inner nature.
Everybody is a Buddha; whether you know it or not makes no difference. A few Buddhas are fast asleep and snoring, a few Buddhas have become awakened, but both are Buddhas.
In Zen there is no method. Not that Zen Masters don’t give methods to their disciples, they do give – they give methods only to prove to you, to your heart’s desire and contentment, that all methods are useless. They give methods so that you work on the method, and slowly slowly you see the futility of it. The moment you see the futility of one method and you are finished with that, a higher method will be given to you and so on and so forth. Higher and higher methods will be given; and ultimately,
slowly, slowly, you will cling ate all the methods because you will see the futility of them all.
One day you will come to the point where you will see that there is nothing to be attained, nowhere to go. That moment in Zen is called ‘the great doubt’. That moment is known in the West through Christian mystics as ‘the dark night of the soul’. It is really a dark night of the soul, the great doubt. Nothing to be attained, nowhere to go, all future disappears; you are in a kind of shock. Then who are you? Then what are you doing here? Then why this existence? All seems meaningless if there is no attainment, if there is no way to reach and nowhere to reach and nobody to reach. Then what
is all this? A great doubt arises.
This doubt precedes satori. This great doubt, this dark night of the soul, always precedes satori. Either you fall back because of the doubt – you start moving again into methods, you start clinging again to methods, paths and ways, and scriptures and principles and philosophies and doctrines.
You fall back; just to avoid the doubt you start clinging to something again. But if you are really ourageous… And this is real courage: that you remain in doubt, and you don’t fall back, and you don’t cling to anything again. You leave yourself in this dark night of the soul, helpless, lost – utterly
lost, seeing no meaning and seeing no future. If this courage is there, satori happens. Suddenly, out of this great doubt, and the pain and agony of it, you become awakened.
A parallel exists in nightmares. You must have seen it happening again and again: if the nightmare is too horrible, the dream is broken. You can go on dreaming sweet dreams the whole night; there is no problem. The dream is so sweet that it is like a lullaby: it keeps you drunk, intoxicated. But if
the dream is horrible? – you are being chased by a tiger, and the tiger is coming closer and closer and closer; and the fear… and your heart is beating fast, and your breath is no more rhythmic, and you are perspiring; and you are running and running, and there seems to be no escape, and then
suddenly you see that the path has ended in an abyss, there is no way to go; and the tiger is coming closer and closer, you can almost feel his breath on your back; and then his paw… and a fountain of blood rushes out of your back – can you go on remaining asleep? The nightmare is too much; it is
bound to destroy your sleep. Abruptly, suddenly, you are awake. It is like a sudden jump from one state of consciousness to another. A moment before you were asleep, now you are awake. There is no tiger, just your wife – and her hand on your back, and her breath… All has disappeared.
The great doubt is the point where one feels the greatest nightmare, where one’s whole life turns into a nightmare with open eyes. When you see that the whole of life has lost meaning… Because life has meaning only if you have goals. When you are enchanted by goals, life has meaning; when there are no goals, meaning disappears. Suddenly you see that you don’t have any ground underneath your feet; you are hanging in emptiness. You are falling like a dead leaf into some unknown, bottomless pit, and it is all dark, and there is not even a ray of light.
This is the work of a Zen Master: to push you into this great doubt. Once this happens, satori is bound to happen unless you fall back again and start dreaming sweet dreams.
To be with a real Master is to be in a fire. To be with a real Master is to face your death, is to face your annihilation. That’s why Zen is known as the sudden enlightenment, the doctrine abrupt.
Hubert Benoit also says that satori has two meanings. One is the satori-state in which everybody is – the birds and the trees and the mountains and you and all the buddhas – past, present, future. The whole existence is in the state of satori. This is another way of saying that godliness is everywhere, in everything; that godliness is the soul of everything. Buddhahood is everybody’s nature. And the second is the satori-event. Every man is from all eternity in the state of satori. The satori-event is only that historic, anecdotal instance when man suddenly ceases not recognizing that he has always been in the satori-state.
You are a Buddha. When you recognize it, or when you remember it, that is the satori-event. The satori-event is only a window into the satori-state, and this satori event has apparent reality only in the eyes of the man who has not yet experienced it. One who has experienced it recognizes
that he has always been in satori. That is why we cannot speak of progress, evolution, attainment, realization, etcetera, etcetera.
From The Sun Rises in the Evening, Discourse #1
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