The Zen Experience
A Glimpse of Oneness
In March of 1999, I participated in a one-week Zen retreat. For a little more than 20 years, I had been practicing Zen meditation on and off, primarily by myself. I only went to the retreat to jump-start my Zen practice. I never imagined that something wondrous would happen to me.
The retreat started uneventfully. S.P. Roshi, our Zen teacher, was late. She mentioned how bad the traffic was. It started with an orientation talk.
We were asked to count our breaths for a day or two before the koan Mu was assigned to us. The koan Mu was to be synchronized with our breath. We were instructed to mentally repeat Mu with each out breath while sitting in the meditation hall with an upright back.
But it wasn’t easy sitting in meditation for five to six hours every day. I spent most of my time dealing with physical pain (at one point I was sweating from the almost unbearable pain) and battling mental distractions. I mentioned it to S.P. Roshi. She told me: “You’re in pain because you are fighting your thoughts.”
I felt better after following her advice not to resist my thoughts, but instead to simply let them be – letting them come and go.
By the fourth day, I was achieving a certain level of stillness and depth during our meditation sessions. During our morning break, as I was holding a piece of biscuit in the dining room, something out of the ordinary happened to me.
The world as I knew it collapsed in an instant! Time stood still, and space disappeared! There was no time and space, no I and you, no inside and outside! I had a glimpse of the world of Zen. I could only describe it as a thunder-and-lightning realization that the universe is a palpable Whole!
Touching a piece of biscuit,
Heaven and earth are recreated.
Sipping a cup of coffee,
Whole rivers are swallowed in one gulp.
Emptied of notions of “self” and “other,”
In a flash, the True Self revealed!
I was initially overcome with anxiety and fear. I thought I was going insane, hallucinating, and losing my mind! I told S.P. Roshi about it. She reassured me: “This is as close as you can get to experiencing your True Self.”
Those words of S.P. Roshi had a significant impact on my life. If this had occurred outside of the retreat without her guidance, I would have written it off as a hallucination or, worse, a psychotic breakdown. And it would have been a huge mistake on my part.
After the experience, I viewed the world in a fresh way. It was as if scales were peeled off my eyes and I saw the world for the first time in all its splendor and beauty! Everything and everyone was luminous and radiant! And I saw every being, every object as precious, and having an absolute value.
This was accompanied by a deep peace which I haven’t experienced before. To use biblical language, it is what probably St. Paul meant by “the peace which surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). I experienced, too, a freedom and spaciousness in my life that is “as vast and boundless as the great empty firmament,” to borrow the words of one of the koans of “The Gateless Gate.”
The after-effects of the experience lasted for weeks. And just remembering those days gives me an exhilarating feeling of joy!
This happened many years ago, and looking back now I can see that my Zen experience has transformed my life in a way that I could not have imagined. It has opened my eyes to possibilities in my life that I never knew existed.
In the end, what Zen means to me is summed up in these words of Goto Zuigan Roshi:
“What is Zen? Simple, simple, so simple. Infinite gratitude toward all things past; infinite service to all things present; infinite responsibility to all things future.”
Note: Seven months later, during a one-week Zen retreat, this experience was confirmed by the Zen Master K.J. Roshi as kensho, i.e., a Zen enlightenment experience.
By, Unknown Author
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