Posted by: Soh
Written by ZenHsin at (site no longer exists)


Most Zen masters. the ancient as well as the present, are quite reluctant to describe or explain the experience of awakening (satori in Japanese, wu in Chinese) since explanations may create clinging to images and words of what a satori is, hence being a barrier to enlightenment. Moreover explanations and analysis won’t give the slightest insight into how a satori is experienced since it is beyond words.

However they are some concepts, stanzas and poems which give at least some indications of what kind of nature the satori experience has.
The Japanese Zen master Bassui Tokusho, whose teachings are not only exceptional pure and deep but actually among the best explanatory Zen teachings due to his eloquent and poetic style has a somewhat clear description of what the experience of a satori is.
Normally, explaining Zen always somehow destroys the no-meaning of Zen, but Bassui really tackles the difficult task of conveying insight into the corners of satori via his exegesis. In some ways he resembles Zen master Hui-neng as regards clarity and simplicity but combines the clarity of Hui-neng with a living and poetic style of teaching.
Bassui also demonstrates how Zen masters consequently modify more or less philosophical Mahayana doctrines into pure phenomenology, that is to say, into the concept of Mind. Bassui transforms the philosophical notion of the “supernatural powers of the Buddha” into a Zen description of the illumination of satori, since the core of Zen is the Trikaya, intuitive knowledge or Mind not ideas of external of powers.
A formidable mondo from Joshu points to Zen’s rejection of external, idealistic doctrines about supernatural powers; it goes like this:
A monk asked, “T ‘a-erh San-tsang (Daiji Sanzo) tried to find the Natural Teacher three times, but couldn’t see him. It is not clear to me, where was the Natural Teacher?”
The master said, “In Sang-tsang’s nose”
T ‘a-erh San-tsang was a monk who had come from India and was proficient in the three classes of scriptures (San-tsang) and reputed to have the power to read minds. Though he went to visit Nan-yang Hui-chung (Nanyo Echo), the National Teacher, he couldn’t penetrate his mind.
A person penetrating the mind of another is of cause an impossibility. The idea goes totally against Zen since it is a dual construction.There are no individual minds in Zen, hence it is not possible for San-tsang to carry out this mind-reading. Nan-yang Hui-chung however, knows how to do it since he knows that his own original mind is the same as the original mind of San-tsang because there is only One Mind.
To understand the logic of the “Mind reading” of the National Teacher one must recognize (realize) what Mind is:
1. First one has to grasp what emptiness is. It is not “emptiness”. True emptiness is not an idea but “not a thing”. This is demonstrated by the Zen masters through for instance twisting the nose of a monk. This isrealizing emptiness, not talking about it, since there is nothing between the master and the monk.
2. This “not a thing” between the master and the monk conveys a directly experience of what-is, namely the nose as form, not as a nose. This is realizing what-is since the nose is what-is in the moment. The nose is thus realized intuitively not talked about.
3. The pain of the nose is the function of the nose. The nose is realized through its function. This is realization of flow or change. The main point is that realizing the nose is realizing its “aliveness”, that is, its pain, its smelling ability, its joy, its dissatisfaction, its expectations etc. This is realizing the Mind of the nose and hence one’s OWN mind.
Thus realizing emptiness, form and function of what-is in a flash is satori since it is beyond words. It is:
Earth, mountains, rivers – hidden in this nothingness.
In this nothingness – earth, mountains, rivers revealed.
Spring flowers, winter snows:
There’s no being or non-being, nor denial itself.
- Saisho (circa 1490) Zen Poetry: Let the Spring Breeze Enter, p.32 Translated by Lucien Stryk and Takashi Ikemoto
Note on the Poem
L1. emptiness
L.3 function
What Joshu points to is that since we all share this Mind, having realized one’s nose is the realization of any other nose. The National Teacher is “In Sang-tsang’s nose” because he knows the Mind of Sang-tsang. Neither Sang-tsang nor the National Teachers have supernatural powers. What they have is the illuminating Buddha-mind but only the National Teacher knows it. He is the true “mind-reader”.
Dogen is eminent as a interpreter of awakening, since he is incredible gifted both as a Zen master but also as a poet. All his poems are Mind-poems which, through his use of the Zen concept of differentiation (wu-shieh in Chinese), convey pointers to enlightenment. Many see Dogen as a philosopher but he is actually not a philosopher, he is a One-Vehicle Dharma teacher and poet pointing to the One Mind. Not a word of Dogen is outside Mind, since he is a Zen Buddhist and his writings aim at strengthening our intuition not our concepts as he formulates it here:
When you investigate the flowing of a handful of water and the non-flowing of it, full mastery of all things is immediately present.
What Dogen says is actually a pointer to satori since he points to the Nirmanakaya (flowing) within the Dharmakaya (non-flowing) and the energy or spirituality within this moving/not-moving. This within-ness, is the Sambogakaya, the creative potential, which awakens water either to flow or not to flow.
It is also expressed here in this little mondo:
A monk asked, “What is the phrase that penetrates the dharmakaya?”
Yuanmi said, “A three-foot staff stirs the Yellow River”.
Realizing such Buddha-functions intuitively is awakening to not only what one’s own Mind “is” but to the Mind of everything since there is only one Mind. There is no difference between these natural functions and human thoughts, hence the word Mind. An experience of such a personal and environmental unity is satori.
As for useful concepts underpinning a more systematic interpretation of satori, there is Buddha-mind as defined by the Trikaya. Satori is actually a realization of Buddha-mind/Trikaya, hence it is possible to systematize the experience which may convey a better grasp of the nature of enlightenment. The Sixth Patriarch Hui-neng is very clear on what the basis of a satori is. It is first and foremost universal all-including knowledge:
“The knowledge like a mirror is purity of nature (the Dharmakaya,emptiness)
The knowledge of essential quality is mind without sickness (Sambogakaya, mind-essence)
The subtle observing knowledge sees without effort (Prajna wisdom, no relativity)
The knowledge of practicalities is the same as the mirror (the Nirmanakaya, change, function)
Five and eight, six and seven, transform in effect and cause (relativity, conditioning, precepts)
If you just use names and words, there’s no reality: (names, words create illusions)
If you do not keep feelings on the transformation. (detachment)
You’ll flourish and be ever in the dragon stability” (satori)
I have used the above verse of Hui-neng to systematize the Dogen poems and the short satori descriptions by Bassui to give an oversight and insight of a satori:
“The knowledge like a mirror is purity of nature (the Dharmakaya,emptiness)
In response to inspector Wang’s poem
Speech and silence – absolutely the same: extremely subtle and profound.
A good remedy was prescribed a long time ago.
Piercing the sky, embracing the earth – no end to it.
An immense escarpment glowing with mysterious light.
This infinite light shines of its own accord and watches over all. It is nothingness; it is wonder. It is silence: it illuminates. Though forms can bee seen, one is not deluded by them. This is CLAIRVOYENCE.
Notes on the Dogen Poem
line 1: Dharmakaya, emptiness
line 2: Meditation
line 3: Mind
line 4: The enlightenment of Buddha (CLAIRVOYENCE)
“The knowledge like a mirror is purity of nature (the Dharmakaya,emptiness)
This slowly drifting clouds are pitiful.
What dreamwalkers men become.
Awakened I hear the one true thing -
Black rain on the roof of Fukakusa Temple.
Buddha-nature is pure and unstained. When sounds are heard through the ears, the echo of vibrations is clearly discerned, and yet there is no dependence on discriminating thoughts. This is called CLAIRAUDIENCE.
Notes on the Dogen Poem
l.1. Cloud gazers
l.2. illusions
l.3. enlightenment
l.4. Nirmanakaya, pure sound of Buddha (CLAIRAUDIENCE)
The knowledge of essential quality is mind without sickness (Sambogakaya, mind-essence)
Given to courier Nan
An explosive shout, cracks the great empty sky.
Immediately clear self-understanding.
Swallow up buddhas and ancestors of the past.
Without following other, realize complete penetration.
When you clearly understand the nature of your own mind, you will realize the oneness of the minds of the buddhas of the three worlds, the ancestors, and ordinary people of this world, and heavenly beings of other worlds. This is the power of MIND-READING.
Notes on the Dogen Poem
L1. The Nirmanakaya, change, suchness, function.
L2. The Sambogakaya Enlightenment in a flash, bliss body.
L.3. Word-less understanding of the universal mind, words of buddhas and
ancestors forgotten: universal mind.( MIND-READING)
L. 4. liberation from any conditioning.
The subtle observing knowledge sees without effort (Prajna wisdom, no relativity)
During Seclusion
All that’s visible springs from causes intimate to you.
While walking, sitting, lying down, the body itself is complete truth.
If someone asks the inner meaning of this;
“Inside the treasure of the dharma eye a single grain of dust”.
When you understand the nature of your own mind, delusions will turn into wisdom. Because BODHI is your original inherent nature it transcends delusions and enlightenment. You won’t exist among saints and sinners and won’t be stained by various phenomena. This is the power to stop deluded thoughts.(PRAJNA)
Notes on the Dogen Poem
L1. Seeing in suchness, relativity cut off.
L2. Activities of the Buddha. Absolute activities, not relative.
L4. The relative within the absolute, the absolute within the relative. Buddha is here. Nothing outside Mind. No Prajna without something to cut off (relativity)
Power To Fly Through Air
The knowledge of practicality (functionality) is the same as the mirror (the Nirmanakaya, change, function)
The point of zazen, after Zen master Hongzhi
The hub of buddha’s activity,
the turning of ancestor’s hub -
it moves along with your non-thinking
and is completed in the realm of non-emerging.
As it moves along with your non-thinking.
Its appearance is immediate.
As it is completed in the realm of nonmerging
completeness itself is realization.
If its appearance is immediate
you have no defilement.
When completeness is realization
you stay in neither the general nor the particular.
If you have immediacy without defilement
immediacy is “dropping away” with no obstacles.
Realization, neither general nor particular
is effort without desire.
Clear way all the way to the bottom;
a fish swims like a fish.
Vast sky transparent throughout;
a bird flies like a bird.
When you understand the nature of your own mind, it will thoroughly light up the dark cave of ignorance and the original natural beauty will manifest. In an instant you will pass through the ten directions without stopping in the blue sky. This is your inherent nature’s true POWER TO FLY THROUGH AIR.
Notes on the Dogen Poem
The power or energy of Mind, Intuitively knowing the “know how”- principle of eternal creation of momentary forms.
Knowing Past Lives
If you just use names and words, there’s no reality: (names, words create illusions)
If you do not keep feelings on the transformation. (detachment)
You’ll flourish and be ever in the dragon stability” (dragons stability = the stability of a buddha)
The Body born before the parents
The village I finally reach
deeper than the deep mountains
the capital
where I used to live!
From the moment you realize your inherent nature, your mind will penetrate through aeons of emptiness that precede creation through to the endless future. Clear and independent, it will not attach to the changing phenomena of life and death, past and future, but will remain constant without any obstructing doubts. This is the power of KNOWING PAST LIVES.
Notes on the Dogen Poem
L1. Emptiness
L1. Realization/Satori
L2. Beyond measurement
L 3. Suddenly knowing
L.4. The eternal home
L.4. Past life (all life in eternity)
Comments on Zen and Scholarly Buddhism
To grasp what satori means we must see all phenomena as the Trikaya, that is, with our intuitive mind. We must see the emptiness of the phenomena, the spirituality and the manifestation of change. Seeing these three aspects as one in suchness, in a flash, is experiencing or rather uniting with the universal reality which is our own Mind.
A satori mirrors that Mind is the world and the world is Mind. Hence, birds flying are your own thoughts flying, the vast forest is your own empty sitting, the cry of the heron is your own voice. The storm arising is your own walking, the disappearance of the clouds are your own forgotten thoughts. We are not independent from what-is. We are no more than momentary what-is of emptiness, change and intuitive (spiritual) energy. One could say we are situations reflecting all other situations in the universe, different yet the same.
Dogen says:
Mountains do not lack the qualities of mountains. Therefore they always abide in ease and always walk. You should examine in detail this quality of the mountains walking. Mountains’ walking is just like human walking.
Mountains walking and human walking are the same since walking is the Nirmanakaya body of Buddha (change, flow). Mountains always move (walk) due to the perpetual creation of reality which is the Nirmanakaya.
For Zen, Mind is one. There is no “holy Mind” or “secular Mind”. In a way we all make use of Buddha-mind in our daily lives, because we don’t analyze or interpret our thoughts and doings, we act naturally by using our intuition or Mind. The everyday is in a way full of small awakenings apart from we don’t notice it, hence Zen’s view of the importance of “everyday life” which are seen as the first step towards enlightenment. The only difference between the every day Mind and the Satori mind is actually the depth of non-verbal awareness as expressed by Bankei:
“If a gong rings outside the temple, you know it’s a gong, if a drum sounds, you know it’s a drum. Your distinguishing everything you see and hear like this, without producing a single thought is the marvelously illuminating dynamic function, the Buddha Mind is unborn.”
The beauty of Zen is it’s systematic teaching and practice of UNIVERSAL INTUITION. Other forms of Buddhism too easily lead us away from wordless intuitive understanding due to the emphasis on sutra reading. Reality seems cut off when one attains a Buddhist world view constructed by doctrines. Buddhism becomes reality, not what it points to namely Buddha-Mind. As formulated below by Japanese Poet and Zen master Ikkyu:
Studying texts and stiff meditation can make
you loose your Original Mind.
A solitary tune by a fisherman, though, can be
an invaluable treasure.
Dusk rain on the river, the moon peeking in
and out of the clouds;
Elegant beyond words, he chants his songs
night after night.
And by this mondo where inside the room is the study of scripture, far away from what-is; a small world of abstractions.
A monk asked Xuefeng, “Is the teaching of our ancestors the same as the scriptural teaching or not?”
Xuefeng said, “The thunder sounds and the earth shakes. Inside the room nothing is heard.”
Xuefeng also said, “Why do you go on pilgrimage?”
Why go on pilgrimage when the mystery is right here?
It is, at least for me, a bit puzzling how simple Zen actually is and how complicated we tend to grasp it. In reality there are only three aspects that must be grasped to get hold on the innocent beauty of Zen:
1. Emptiness
2. Realization
That’s it. One can nearly see the core:
Forms appear from emptiness through realization/spirituality and manifest their Buddha-nature in suchness. The empty flower knows when and how to realize and manifest itself when spring arrives. So grasping the pain of the nose is grasping what-is.
Zen is all-including simplicity with just three Trikaya aspects that is, the body of Buddha. If Zen didn’t had this simplicity, knowing by intuition would be impossible. This all-including approach actually generates Zen phrases very easily. Here are some heuretic examples.( I’m not trying to be a poet)
The pain of the nose, are the songs of the birds, the sound of the pines and the walking of the mountains.(the function of Buddha).
Sitting is the empty sky, the stillness of the forest and the quite bird.( the emptiness of Buddha)
The mountain dances, the river sings and the pines bow, the clouds are painting the vast sky. (the bliss of Buddha, joyful energy)
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Image source

English: Describing the Doctrine Under a Tree, color on silk, 139 x 101.7 cm. The image was discovered at Dun Huang. Located at the British Museum Department of Asia.
中文: 樹下說法圖 – 絹本設色 – 纵139厘米 横101.7厘米 發現在敦煌. 大英博物館
8th century
Zhongguo gu dai shu hua jian ding zu (中国古代书画鑑定组). 1997. Zhongguo hui hua quan ji (中国绘画全集). Zhongguo mei shu fen lei quan ji. Beijing: Wen wu chu ban she. Volume 1.

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4 Responses
  1. Anonymous Says:

    Could you post a refrence to this quote

    “The knowledge like a mirror is purity of nature (the Dharmakaya,emptiness)

    The knowledge of essential quality is mind without sickness (Sambogakaya, mind-essence)

    The subtle observing knowledge sees without effort (Prajna wisdom, no relativity)

    The knowledge of practicalities is the same as the mirror (the Nirmanakaya, change, function)

    Five and eight, six and seven, transform in effect and cause (relativity, conditioning, precepts)

    If you just use names and words, there’s no reality: (names, words create illusions)

    If you do not keep feelings on the transformation. (detachment)

    You’ll flourish and be ever in the dragon stability” (satori)

    I have used the above verse of Hui-neng to systematize the Dogen poems and the short satori descriptions by Bassui to give an oversight and insight of a satori:

  2. Wei Yu Says:

    It's from

  3. Anonymous Says:

    The empty fist: from explanation of upaya -expedient means or method.
    Another common metaphor for upaya is that of "the empty fist." A father holds up his empty fist saying there is something inside it to get the attention of the crying children. Sometimes the fist is holding golden leaves to give the impression that something made of gold is held inside. This is a favorite image of Zen teachers as it eloquently expresses in image the reason behind the necessity for upaya, that is, sunyata, all component things are empty. From the Zen point of view an essential teaching of Buddhism is that all assertions of any kind, even the highest concepts of Buddhism itself such as the Trikaya, are simply expedient means to bring the hearer to the realization of emptiness. But because many people are afraid of emptiness or disdain the idea of emptiness, various upaya must be used to get the student's attention to focus on the essence of mind rather than upon the distractions of mind. Here's an example from the Record of Zen master Linji Yixuan:

    One asked: "What is the realm of the Three Eyes?" The master said: "I enter with you the realm of utter purity, wear the robe of purity and expound the Dharmakaya Buddha. Or we enter the realm of non-differentiation and expound the Sambhogakaya Buddha. Or again, we enter the realm of deliverance, wear the robe of radiance and speak of the Nirmanakaya Buddha. The realms of the Three Eyes depend on change. To explain it from the point of the Sutras and Treatises, the Dharmakaya is the fundamental. The Sambhogakaya and the Nirmanakaya are the functions. But as I see it, the Dharmakaya cannot expound (or comprehend) the Dharma. Thus an old master said: "The (Buddha's) bodies are set up with reference to meaning; The (Buddha's) realms are differentiated with reference to the bodies." The nature of the bodies and of the realms is clear; they are the temple of the Dharma, and so are only relative. "Yellow leaves in the empty fist to entice unweaned children." Spikes of water-chestnuts — what juice are you looking for in those dry bones? There is no Dharma outside the heart [i.e., mind], nor anything to find inside. So what are you looking for?[ The Zen Teaching of Rinzai. Shambhala Publications)

  4. Anonymous Says:

    "Subhuti, what is called Buddhism is nor Buddhism,"
    All verbal and literary expressions are like labels, like pointing fingers. Labels and pointers mean shadows and echoes. You obtain a commodity by its label, and yon see the moon byway of the pointing finger—the moon is not the finger, the label is not the thing itself. Just get the teaching by way of the sutra—the sutra is not the teaching. The sutra literature is visible to the physical eye, but the teaching is visible to the eye of insight. Without the eye of insight, you just see the literature, not the teaching. If you do not see the teaching, you do not understand what Buddha meant. If you do not understand what Buddha meant, then reciting sutras won't produce Buddhahood.