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Lions Roar : July 2007
SHAMBHALA SUN JULY 2007 50 Hakuin takes a close interest in the texture of experience and the interactions between people. He is aware that motives and con- sequences are wide apart in human affairs, so he just reports what happens—some- one chases him with a broomstick while he is lost in meditation—and he allows us to imagine the motives. He waves to- ward the consequences of his awakening, but doesn’t really tell us much about how things changed for him, and this might be important. If enlightenment is unique then the exact consequences of someone else’s experience are not going to be much like yours anyway. The story isn’t meant to be a close map of a journey you might take, but rather news that such events happen, and that they might come from any direction at any moment. There seems to be a lot of individual variance in how awakening happens. Some people have grand experiences that transform them overnight, and others have smaller glimpses of freedom that seem to run together over time and change their lives. There’s a lot of tradition about awakening, and plenty of terms are floating around to name transformative experiences. Here are a few: Aha! Epiphany Enlightenment Awakening Conversion Satori Breakthrough Second order change Kensho Realization Metanoia Shift These words describe a discovery that changes the discoverer, a change in direction of at least 180 degrees. They also indicate that this sort of change can happen suddenly, overnight. I’ve come to think that the overnight, life-changing epiphany is actu- ally not rare. You can escape from pirates, and princes will offer you a glass slipper. Here is one of the basic Western stories: St. Paul had a revelation that knocked him off his donkey on the way to Damascus, an occasion commemorated in the church calendar by the Feast of the Epiphany. St. Paul had a harsh, in- temperate streak both before and after his conversion to Christi- anity. But his experience touched him with a deeper vision that made him able to write the words on love that are still used in wedding ceremonies all over the world. When I Googled them, I was happy to find that the first hit (with a misspelling) was on a website called Weddings Vegas Style: Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, It is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, It is not easily angered, It keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil But rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, Always hopes, always perseveres. —1 CORINTHIANS:13 These words melt even a hard heart a little; they offer a gener- ous view of being human. Falling off that donkey now seems to have been a good move. An awakening can happen in the most mundane of circum- stances. Here is an account of a Chinese woman that occurred before Zen even established itself in Japan: