"My mentor came to me to recount his meeting with the Zen master and how the discussion involved me. He said the master had told him I was close, very, very close, and any little thing could break the bottom out. The master had said it wouldn't be Little Kensho either. Some at the sesshin were like dog bowls being tipped over, but I was like a dam ready to burst. Water is held by both, but the results are quite different."
the Wanderling, from ZEN ENLIGHTENMENT: The Path Unfolds
kensho: literally, "seeing" into one's own nature
ken: depending on context means "both" or "perceive." An indepth realization that the everyday world is actually a fully integrated-interdefused non-dual phenomenon
sho: means nature, absolute self, emptiness, equality, oneness, the absolute
Traditionally, in Zen it has always been said there can be Little Kensho and Great Kensho --- the opening can be small or it can be large --- but it is basically still just an early glimpse into Enlightenment.
Semantically, Kensho and Satori have virtually the same meaning and are often used interchangeably. In describing the Enlightenment of the patriarchs, however, it is customary to use the word Satori rather than Kensho, the term Satori implying a deeper experience. For the Buddha, most would, more exclusively, defer to the term Anuttara Samyak Sambodhi, the consummantion of incomparable Enlightenment.
Obliquely, intermixed into the flux of that which is Kensho as well, are the Five Degrees of Tozan, different levels of Realization formulated by Zen master Tozan Ryokai, AKA Tung-shan Liang-chieh (807-869) and The Five Varieties of Zen the five main divisions of Zen as classified by Keiho-zenji --- and the WHY of there not only being Kensho, but both Little Kensho and Great Kensho. In a sliding scale of Attainment, Kensho, both Little and Great, would rank well below Anuttara Samyak Sambodhi and even below Satori, but higher than Shojo ("Small Vehicle") --- with the bottom of Little Kensho just brushing along the top of Shojo. For sure any degree of Kensho would rank higher than Laya.
Having had a Kensho experience doesn't mean you are Enlightened any more than sinking a one-time jump shot means you are ready for the NBA. The difference is years of practice, practice, practice. The scholar Robert Thurman says that the classical Indian texts give a description of complete Enlightenment as being something akin to what we might describe in modern terms as "cleaning out our unconscious." The process is long and difficult; the Indian texts describe it as taking many lifetimes to accomplish. One thing that sets Zen apart from the Indian traditions is that Zen insists that Enlightenment can be attained in this lifetime.
Indian traditions invariably revolve around various gods such as Brahma the creator, Vishnu, and Shiva. As D.T. Suzuki states in Introduction to Zen Buddhism (source below), Zen from the beginning has made clear to SEE INTO the work of creation....the creator may be found busy moulding his universe, or he may be absent from his workshop....but Zen goes on about its own. It is not dependent upon the support of a creator; when it grasps the reason for living a life, it is satisfied. Zen wants absolute freedom, even from God. "No abiding place" means that very thing; "Cleanse your mouth when you utter the word Buddha" amounts to the same thing. It is not that Zen wants to be morbidly unholy and godless, but that it recognizes the incompleteness of mere name. Therefore, when Yakusan (aka Yaoshan Weiyan, Yueh-shan Wei-jen, 751-834) was asked to give a lecture, he did not say a word, but instead come down from the pulpit and went off to his own room. Hyakujo merely walked forward a few steps, stood still, and then opened his arms, which was his exposition of the great principle.
For a more or less modern day example of a Kensho experience based more closely to the Suzuki approach described above than found in Indian traditions, please visit The Tree.
D.T. Suzuki also writes in An Introduction to Zen Buddhism:
Zen in not a system of Dhyana as practiced in India OR by other Buddhist schools in China. Dhyana is generally understood to be a kind of meditation or contemplation directed toward some fixed thought. In Hinayana Buddhism it was a thought of transiency. In Mahayana Buddhism it was more often the doctrine of Emptiness. When the mind has been so trained as to be able to realize a state of perfect void in which there is not a trace of consciousness left, even the sense of being unconscious having departed; in other words, when all forms of mental activity are swept away clean from the field of consciousness, leaving the mind like the sky devoid of every speck of cloud, a mere broad expense of blue, Dhyana is said to have reached its perfection. This may be called ecstasy, or trance, or the First Jhana, but it is NOT Zen.
In Zen there must not be just Kensho, but Satori.
There MUST BE a general mental upheaval that destroys the old accumulations of intellection and lays down the foundation for new life; there must be the awakening of a new sense which will review the old things from a hitherto undreamed-of angle of observation.
In Dhyana there are none of these things, for it is merely a quieting exercise of mind. As such Dhyana doubtless has its own merit, but Zen must be not identified with it. (source) Compare some of the above with Zen master Hsu Yun's paper on Hau-T'ou, the state of mind before the mind is disturbed by thought.
Zen Master Seung Sahn describes Kensho thus: Ken means perceive, sho means nature. Perceive your true nature. This means attain your true nature. He goes on to say in his writings:
"True kensho means no kensho. The Heart Sutra says, "no attainment with nothing to attain." This means you must attain no attainment. That is true kensho. You still want something; you still want kensho. That is a big mistake. That way you will never get Enlightenment, never get true kensho. If you want true kensho, you must make your opinion, your condition, and your situation disappear. Then the correct opinion, correct condition, and correct situation will appear. The name for this is kensho. The name for this is our True Self. The name for this is Great Love, Great Compassion, and the Great Bodhisattva Way. Not special. When you are hungry, eat. When you are tired, rest. When you see a hungry person, give him food. When you see someone sad, you are also sad. Only this. Moment to moment, you must keep your correct situation. All your actions are for other people. Put down I, my, me."
Do not confuse such concepts as "you must attain no attainment" and "you must make your opinion, your condition, and your situation disappear" as being something akin to having a blank mind of no-mind or no-thoughts.
About Kensho, paraphrasing from the written works attributed to the First Patriarch of Zen, Bodhidharma, the patriarch writes that if a person without Kensho constantly tries to make his thoughts free and unattached, he commits a great transgression against the Dharma. He winds up in the passive indifference of empty emptiness, no more able to distinguish good from bad than a drunken man. If you want to put the Dharma of non- activity into practice, you must bring an end to all your thought-attachments by breaking through to Kensho. Unless you have Kensho, you can never achieve a state of non-doing.
To clarify, the following explanation of a possible syntax conumdrum arising from the conceptual construct of "no-mind" and "no-thought," is extrapolated from Dogen Zenji’s account of Zazen and the deep meditation method known as Shikantaza by way of the source cited at the bottom:
Nowhere in the Platform Sutra, Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment, Diamond Sutra, or any other major Ch'an text, is the term or even the concept of "no-mind" or "no-thought" explained or even conceived to be a permanent incapacitation of the thinking faculty or the permanent cessation of all conceptual activity.
The locus classicus for the concept of no-thought is the Platform Sutra, and in regards to no-thought says in so many words:
"No-thought" means "no-thought within thought." Non-abiding is man's original nature. Thoughts do not stop from moment to moment. The prior thought is succeeded in each moment by the subsequent thought, and thoughts continue one after another without cease. If, for one thought-moment, there is a break, the dharma-body separates from the physical body, and in the midst of successive thoughts there will be no attachment to any kind of matter. If, for one thought-moment, there is abiding, then there will be abiding in all successive thoughts, and this is called clinging. If, in regard to all matters there is no abiding from thought-moment to thought-moment, then there is no clinging. Non-abiding is the basis.
As we can see, after the break in thought, successive thoughts continue to flow, but one no longer abides in, or clings to, these thoughts. Nowhere is there mention of any kind of disappearance of, or absence of thought. "No-thought" refers to nothing other than an absence of abiding, or clinging. Other seminal Ch'an texts, such as the Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment, characterize no-thought in precisely the same manner.
ALL IS ILLUSION?
A Chinese-Indian Dichotomy In Advaita and Zen
SRI RAMANA MAHARSHI: THE LAST AMERICAN DARSHAN
RECOUNTING A YOUNG BOY'S NEARLY INSTANT TRANSFORMATION INTO THE ABSOLUTE DURING HIS ONLY DARSHAN WITH THE MAHARSHI
Fundamentally, our experience as experienced is not different from the Zen master's. Where
we differ is that we place a fog, a particular kind of conceptual overlay onto that experience
and then make an emotional investment in that overlay, taking it to be "real" in and of itself.
AWAKENED TEACHERS FORUM
ZEN ENLIGHTENMENT IN A NUTSHELL
THE AWAKENING EXPERIENCE IN THE MODERN ERA
DEATH OF THE EGO: A BUDDHIST VIEW
FEAR IN ENLIGHTENMENT AND ZEN
ON THE RAZOR'S
The Zen master at the time being one Yasutani Hakuun Roshi