by Rev. Koshin Schomberg

Part III
Training and Enlightenment

It is heretical to believe that training and enlightenment are separable for, in Buddhism, the two are one and the same. Since training embraces enlightenment, the very beginning of training contains the whole of Original Enlightenment; as this is so, the teacher tells his disciples never to search for enlightenment outside of training since the latter mirrors enlightenment.

--Great Master Dogen

What is Training?

In Buddhism, "training" (or "practice") refers to living in such a way as to harmonize with the Buddha Nature. The Buddha discovered, practiced and taught the Middle Way, a way of training that transcends two opposite forms of indulgence: indulgence of the passions; and indulgence of spiritual greed that attempts to "storm heaven" through ascetic self-denial. Both forms of indulgence result in the deepening of suffering. The Middle Way leads to the cessation of suffering.

The Middle Way is like a jewel with three facets: Precepts; meditation; and wisdom. For readers who are familiar with the Buddha's teaching of the Eightfold Path, these three facets break down as follows: Precepts (Sila)--Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livlihood; meditation (Dhyana)--Right Effort, Right Meditation, Right Mindfulness; wisdom (Prajna)--Right Understanding.

I have already mentioned the practice of the Precepts and meditation, and I will have much more to say about both. But how does one practice wisdom? The key to the answer lies in the Buddha's teaching that faith is the root of wisdom. And how does one practice faith?--By "looking up" spiritually, choosing to hold fast to the quiet intuitive sense that there is an all-embracing, enduring Goodness and Compassion at the heart of existence. How to Grow a Lotus Blossom shows how to practice faith in the midst of the greatest crises, and how faith blossoms into wisdom.

Different traditions within Buddhism emphasize different facets of the Middle Way. For example, the Zen tradition emphasizes meditation; the Shin tradition emphasizes devotional faith; the Vinaya tradition emphasizes the Precepts. But such emphasis can be misleading, for these three facets are really aspects of an indivisible unity. Therefore, if we try to do meditation practice without taking the Precepts to heart, we will continually undermine any progress that we might begin to make in meditation by acting non-Preceptually in daily life. Similarly, if we try to follow the Precepts without the benefit of the spiritual perspective provided by meditation, we tend to get stuck in a literalistic interpretation of the meaning of the Precepts, turning them into an externalized moral code, and miss the true spirit of the Precepts. And if we attempt to do either meditation or Preceptual training without faith, we will just stay "stuck in our heads", as Rev. Master liked to say. That is, we will be stuck with the kind of externalized view of the Precepts to which I have alluded, and the practice of meditation will be stuck at the level of a kind of psychological exercise. One can spiritually starve on such a diet: "The portrait of a rice cake does not satisfy hunger."

What is Enlightenment?

"Enlightenment" has a number of interrelated meanings in Buddhism. But there are two basic meanings from which all other meanings are derived. First, "enlightenment" refers to the experience of awakening to our True Nature. This is the meaning of "kensho". Second, "enlightenment" refers to "Original Enlightenment". Part IV of these Reflections is devoted to this subject, so I will pass over it here.

Rev. Master's Foreword to How to Grow a Lotus Blossom reveals that there is a lot more to the "experience of enlightenment" than many people have thought. Rev. Master describes the first kensho as a "lightning flash"--that accords well with the idea of kensho as a great sudden awakening. But she describes the second and third kenshos as developing over a number of months or years. In this view, which is based in actual experience of training beyond the first kensho, kensho is a process of enlightenment with identifiable stages, or phases, some of which include "lightning flash" experiences of awakening.

One Process--Two Aspects

Imagine an old-fashioned barber pole with the parallel white and red spiralling stripes. Now imagine that the pole is rotating, so that you see a wave of red moving against a white background.--Or do you see a wave of white moving against a red background? Focus on the red, and the white becomes the background; focus on the white and the red becomes the background. Focus on both at once and they move together--two aspects of one unified flow. Let us call one color "training" and the other color "kensho". If we look at the "barber pole" from a point of view which emphasizes our actions and the effort that we make, the "training" stripe is in the foreground. If we look at the pole from the point of view of the help continually being provided by the Eternal--and, in particular, major points at which we become fully aware of (awakened to) that help--the "kensho" stripe is in the foreground. If we focus on both stripes together, the "training" and "kensho" stripes are seen to be two aspects of one process.

Just as it makes no sense to view the red stripe on the barber pole as the goal of the white stripe, so it makes no sense to view enlightenment as the goal of training. Such a view assumes that training and enlightenment are two different things, one of which (training) can be a means of attaining the other (kensho), which is the end, or goal. But that is not how it really works.

Most of the time, it is easier to see our actions and our efforts than the ways in which the Eternal is helping us. After all, we are entirely responsible for our own actions and effort, so it is only natural that we would be mostly occupied with that side of things; we can trust the Eternal to take care of Its side of things. Moreover, spiritual ignorance makes beings blind to the help flowing from their True Nature. For these two reasons, the kensho side of the training/kensho process is easily overlooked.

This view of training and kensho as being two aspects of one process has important implications. They include the following:

All people who are training are in the kensho process, whether they know it or not.
It is just as true to say that kensho makes training possible as to say that training makes kensho possible.
Anyone who can do spiritual training can experience kensho. It is not reserved for a special class of people.

Five Kenshos in One Meditation

The five kenshos are identifiable stages in one continuous process. We go through these stages again and again on many levels. I would like to use the example of sitting meditation to show how this happens at the simplest level. Since our experience of meditation is always changing (though what meditation really is does not change), and since the subject matter itself is infinitely complex, any description I can give is of necessity incomplete and simplistic.--But, "nothing ventured, nothing gained."

Right at the beginning of meditation we have a choice whether to just mark time, or to "sit up straight in the presence of the Buddhas", making that gentle, but firm, effort to stay in the present moment. If we do the latter, we are in the "first kensho" phase of the meditation: getting properly oriented. It often happens that as our attention centers and comes to rest in the present moment, a backlog of feeling and thought will break into awareness--perhaps a memory of something done or not done that we regret (and the pain of that regret); perhaps a vague feeling of longing or the sharp edge of desire; perhaps worry, sadness, frustration, resentment, or self-blame. As we sit with whatever has arisen in awareness, we again have a choice: Will we attempt to dodge it by running into a pleasant thought? Will we try to shove it under the carpet and hope that it will just go away and leave us in peace? Or will we open our heart and let the Eternal's Compassion get at it? As we struggle through to the third option, we are in the "second kensho" phase of the meditation.

When that layer of suffering dissolves into stillness and is replaced by sympathy and compassion, we have reached the "third kensho" stage of the meditation. In this spiritual place, which is utterly free from wanting and judging, Preceptual teaching can be recognised and taken to heart. The "fourth kensho" stage of meditation is characterized by effortless flow and peaceful brightness. When the period of meditation comes to an end, we arise with quiet gratitude and a renewed sense of spiritual purpose. This is the "fifth kensho" phase of the meditation.

I think that most people who have done some serious meditation will recognize one or more of the stages that I have described in the above lines. But as I wrote them I thought, "Someone is going to say, 'Wait a minute! Meditation is never like that for me." The description is intended to help. If it does not help, put it on the back burner and go on meditating!

The Eternal's Part

The above description of what I have found to be a not-uncommon experience of sitting meditation begins with an emphasis on "our actions and effort"--the "training" side of the training/kensho process. But implicit in every sentence is the role of the help of the Eternal--the "kensho", or "enlightenment", side. And the "kensho" side becomes more obvious as the description reaches, and then goes beyond, the "third kensho" phase of the meditation.

Take, for example, the first sentence of my brief description of a period of meditation: "Right at the beginning of meditation we have a choice whether to just mark time, or to 'sit up straight in the presence of the Buddhas', making that gentle, but firm, effort to stay in the present moment." The help of the Eternal is not mentioned at all. But what drew us to sit down in meditation in the first place? And what is really happening when we "sit up straight in the presence of the Buddhas"? Whether we are aware of it or not, when we do genuine meditation, we begin with a prayer for help in our heart. We are "looking up" to That which is greater than ourselves. This is the spiritual meaning of "sitting up straight in the presence of the Buddhas". And how do we know to do this? There is a deep and indestructible intuitive knowing that is entirely of the Buddha Nature, and that we draw upon whenever we do this. The innate capacity to look up derives from the Eternal Itself.

How to Grow a Lotus Blossom shows a human being doing this "sitting up straight in the presence of the Buddhas" wholeheartedly. The book begins with Rev. Master contemplating her options and choosing to go deeply into meditation--or is it allowing herself to be drawn deeply into meditation?--It is both. When she writes of "holding fast to the memory of the [first] kensho", she is expressing the meditative effort of keeping oriented upon the Eternal in the midst of great difficulty. And all along the Eternal is sustaining her, using the quiet reminder of the Great Immaculacy that she discovered in that kensho to help her through the firestorm of feeling that happens when the deepest spiritual need is ready for the direct help of the Eternal's Compassion and Wisdom.

Another example: The entire description of the "third kensho" phase of the meditation, which could also be called the "conversion" phase, emphasizes the help of the Eternal. The "sympathy and compassion" are entirely of the Eternal: it is sacrilege for anyone to claim them as belonging to themselves. The "Preceptual teaching" is insight given so that we may continue on in the process of reharmonization with the Eternal. There is no form of help more crucial to the real welfare of living beings than the teaching embodied in the Precepts--the teaching about how to live so as to be true to our own True Nature.

The further we go in the process of training/enlightenment, the more we see the Hand of the Eternal at work in our life. That should not be surprising, considering that "kensho" means "awakening to our True Nature". The opinion that That which we call "Buddha Nature", "the Eternal", "Cosmic Buddha", etc. is really a kind of mindless, actionless substrate of existence is based in lack of actual experience. Infinite Love and infinite Wisdom can and do work within our lives and hearts.

Click here to go to Part IV, "Original Enlightenment"

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