This post is part of our ongoing series featuring the works of Professor LeBoeuf 's students in her Introduction to Religions of Asia course at Whittier College!
Satori is a term in Buddhism that means to be enlightened and have the Buddha inside you awakened. It translates roughly from Japanese as “Individual Enlightenment” and “Flash of sudden awareness.” Satori is part of Zen Buddhism, a form of Buddhism prominent in Japan. Satori’s main connection to Buddhism as a whole is that it jumps on the Enlightenment bandwagon, but it comes with a twist: Satori can be experienced for merely moments.
D.T. Suzuki, a well-known author of many essays and books surrounding Buddhism, stated that there are eight traits which can be directly attributed to the Satori form of Enlightenment. In his book, “Zen Buddhism: Selected Writings of D.T. Suzuki,” Suzuki covers many aspects of Zen Buddhism, including Satori. It is here that Suzuki explains the elements that make up Satori, the traits that make Satori the form of enlightenment that it is. These traits are irrationality, intuitive insight, authoritativeness, affirmation, sense of beyond, impersonal tone, feeling of exaltation, and momentariness. All these characteristics have different meanings in regards to Satori. Irrationality is the inability to explain the experience of Satori, and Intuitive Insight is the ability of one to see the essence of nature, or Kensho. Authoritativeness is the inner perception that takes place within the mind, and Affirmation is when one accepts everything as it comes along regardless of moral values. The Sense of Beyond suggests that the sensation of satori is yours, but you will feel it is also otherworldly, and Impersonal Tone is the lack of a personal note
in one’s experience of Satori. The Feeling of Exaltation is the breaking up of restrictions imposed on individual beings that result in an endless expansion of the individual, and Momentariness is when “Satori comes upon one abruptly and is a momentary experience. In fact, if it is not abrupt and momentary, it is not Satori” (Suzuki, 103-106). These traits, also known as the forms of Satori, are what make Satori Satori, especially the final feature, Momentariness. It is strongly believed amongst practitioners of Zen Buddhism that Satori’s main defining attribute is the fleeting enlightenment it brings to those who experience it.
The attainment of Satori is not to be done as a goal because, due to its momentariness, it cannot be explained well as a goal (Awakening Times). Satori is about inner peace
As religion has been an aspect missing from my life, I had the opportunity to dive deep into a completely foreign concept in religion with millions of followers. The choice to focus specifically on the Satori aspect of Zen Buddhism was actually the result of me already reading a story in the past. It is in this story in which an American boy grows as he assimilates into the Burmese timber culture during World War II that he meets and receives the help of a kind, old, and legendary Buddhist monk. Satori was mentioned in the book, but I had only ever learned about Buddhism in general, so I decided to take this chance to learn more about Buddhism as well as exploring the meaning of Satori. It surprised me to learn that a concept within an already widely branched out religion such as Buddhism would have schools of thoughts that are split on the meaning of the word itself.
As it is impossible to go over all the schools of thought of Zen Buddhism in this blog, I will cover two different ones with
two different methods on how to attain Satori. The Japanese Buddhist schools Sōtō and Rinzai are both split on how to attain Satori because of their different ideals. While both are Zen Buddhist schools and have a higher value on meditation and intuition than most other Buddhist schools of thought, practitioners from Sōtō believe engaging in Zazen, a meditative discipline, is the way to go while those from Rinzai see Koan, riddles aimed at demonstrating the inadequacy of logic, as the proper method for attaining Satori. One such example of Koan being a method for reaching Satori comes from the Enlightened sage Shri Ranjit Maharaj. Maharaj has said that "Therefore, what I say is false, but true, because I speak of That. The address is false but when you reach the goal, it is Reality” (RANJIT MAHARAJ). He continues on to say that only the meanings of words are true, as the words themselves are false. As a result, words are illusions that give meanings. Maharaj ultimately concludes with this Koan that all is illusion. These variations in how to obtain Satori only make the concept and term itself all the more fascinating and mystical. The diversity in these thoughts only further Satori in continuing to elude clarity for the time being.
About Martin Chaidez
Martin Chaidez is a freshman in his second semester at Whittier College at the moment of this post. His major is in Business Administration, though he is leaning towards tossing in some Entrepreneurial Studies in there. He did grow up with a religion, so his time in my Religious of Asia class is a real learning experience! It is interesting learning about the ethics and cultures that stem from these religions.
Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Satori.” Encyclopædia Britannica,Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., 19 Apr. 2017. Web. 3 Mar. 2018. www.britannica.com/topic/Satori.
Price, Joan. “Sacred Scriptures of the World Religions: An Introduction.” A&C Black. 17 Feb.
2010. Web. 3 Mar. 2018. pp. 70.
“RANJIT MAHARAJ EVERYTHING IS NOTHING.” RANJIT MAHARAJ | everything is nothing.Web. 4 Mar. 2018.
“Satori in Zen Buddhism.” Awakening Times,8 Feb. 2016. Web. 5 mar. 2018. http://awakeningtimes.com/satori-in-zen-buddhism/
Suzuki, D.T. “Zen Buddhism: Selected Writings of D.T, Suzuki.” New York: Anchor Books. 1956. Web.4 Mar. 2018. pp. 103-108.