T. Suzuki is credited with bringing Zen to America.
Through books, articles, and teaching, Suzuki helped
make Zen instruction widely accessible in North America.
Zen, known for its distrust of symbols, rituals, and
study of holy texts, Zen practice is mainly built around
focusing the mind on the breath, a movement, or on an
unchanging landscape such as a blank, white wall.
mystical experience in Zen is called Satori (wu in Chinese).
Satori is that which lies beyond most forms of insights
such as those arising from contemplation or via imagery
and is a intuitive grasp of the reality "beyond
forms." Suzuki says Satori has these characteristics:
Irrationality. "By this I mean that satori is not
a conclusion to be reached by reasoning, and defies
all intellectual determination. Those who have experienced
it are always at a loss to explain it coherently or
Intuitive Insight. "That there is noetic quality
in mystic experiences has been pointed out by (William)
James...Another name for satori is "kensho"
(chien-hsing in Chinese) meaning "to see essence
or nature," which apparently proves that there
is "seeing" or "perceiving" in satori...Without
this noetic quality satori will lose all its pungency,
for it is really the reason of satori itself. "
Authoritativeness. "By this I mean that the knowledge
realized by satori is final, that no amount of logical
argument can refute it. Being direct and personal it
is sufficient unto itself. All that logic can do here
is to explain it, to interpret it in connection to other
kinds of knowledge with which our minds are filled.
Satori is thus a form of perception, an inner perception,
which takes place in the most interior part of consciousness.
Affirmation. "What is authoritative and final can
never be negative. Though the satori experience is sometimes
expressed in negative terms, it is essentially an affirmative
attidude towards all things that exist; it accepts them
as they come along regardless of their moral values."
Sense of the Beyond. "...in satori there is always
what we may call a sense of the Beyond; the experience
indeed is my own but I feel it to be rooted elsewhere.
The individual shell in which my personality is so solidly
encased explodes at the moment of satori. Not, necessarily,
that I get unified with a being greater than myself
or absorbed in it, but that my individuality, which
I found rigidly held together and definitely kept separate
from other individual existences, becomes lossened somehow
from its tightening grip and melts away into something
indescribable, something which is of quite a different
order from what I am accustomed to. The feeling that
follows is htat of complete release or a complete rest---the
feeling that one has arrived finally at the destination...As
far as the psychology of satori is considered, a sense
of the Beyond is all we can say about it; to call this
the Beyond, the Absolute, or God, or a Person is to
go further than the experience itself and to plunge
into a theology or metaphysics."
Impersonal Tone. "Perhaps the most remarkable aspect
of the Zen experience is that it has no personal note
in it as is observable in Christian mystic experiences."
Feeling of exaltation. "That this feeling inevitably
accompanies satori is due to the fact that it is the
breaking-up of the restrction imposed on one as an individual
being, and this breaking up is not a mere negative incident
but quite a positive one fraught with signification
because it means an infinite expansion of the individual."
Momentariness. "Satori comes upon one abruptly
and is a momentary experience. In fact, if it is not
abrupt and momentary, it is not satori.
Suzuki, D.T. Zen Buddhism: Selected Writings of D.T,
Suzuki, (New York: Anchor Books, 1956), pp. 103-108.
Back to What is Mysticism?