Distinction

Kensho is a Japanese term for enlightenment experiences, most commonly used within the confines of Zen Buddhism. It generally refers to the realization of nonduality of subject and object. Frequently used in juxtaposition with satori, there is sometimes a distinction made between the two in that some consider satori to be qualitatively deeper.

Kensho itself has been said to be a blissful realization where a person’s inner nature, the original pure mind, is directly known as an illuminating emptiness which is dynamic and immanent in the world. Kenshō experiences are tiered, in that they escalate from initial glimpses into the nature of mind to an experience of emptiness.

Working towards this realisation is usually a lengthy process of meditation and introspection under guidance of a Zen or other Buddhist teacher, usually in intensive retreats. The methods used differ depending upon the tradition and practice. Soto tends towards a gradual approach preferring to let the experiences happen on their own while Rinzai tends toward the use of Koans or a set Koan question as a technique to bring the experience sooner.

Which methods are more appropriate for any given student are made by which lineage of Zen the student practices as well as what seems most appropriate by the student’s teacher. It should be noted that the Kensho experience is not limited to Japanese Zen Buddhism traditions and occurs in many traditions as well as outside of Buddhist practice.

Kensho may also be spontaneous, upon hearing or reading some significant phrase, or as result of a profound dream. For example, Zen lore describes the Sixth Patriarch Hui Neng’s spontaneous experience of kensho upon hearing a phrase of the Diamond sutra.

Koans are a technique that can be used as meditation aids, particularly in the Rinzai tradition. For example, one koan is known as ‘Who am I’, since it is this question that guides the enquiry into one’s true nature. The realization that there is no ‘I’ that is doing the thinking, but rather that the thinking process brings forth the illusion of an ‘I’, is a step on the way to Kensho.

It is not unusual for various hallucinations and psychological disturbances to arise prior to true kensho. These are referred to as makyo. Distinguishing these delusions from actual kensho is the primary function of the teacher, as the student may be erroneously convinced they have realized kensho.

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Understanding

The Four Noble Truths are one of the most fundamental Buddhist teachings. In broad terms, these truths relate to suffering’s nature, origin, cessation and the path leading to the cessation. They are among the truths Gautama Buddha is said to have realized during his experience of enlightenment.

The Four Noble Truths appear many times throughout the most ancient Buddhist texts, the Pali Canon. The early teaching and the traditional understanding in the Theravada is that the four noble truths are an advanced teaching for those who are ready for them. Mahayana Buddhism regards them as a preliminary teaching for people not ready for its own teachings. They are little known in the Far East.

Some may see truths as a mistranslation. One author cites realities as a possibly better choice, since they are things, not statements, in the original grammar. However, the original Tibetan Lotsawas who studied Sanskrit grammar thoroughly, did translate the term from Sanskrit into Tibetan as “bden pa” which has the full meaning of truth.

1. The Nature of Suffering (Dukkha):

This is the noble truth of suffering: birth is suffering, aging is suffering, illness is suffering, death is suffering; sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair are suffering; union with what is displeasing is suffering; separation from what is pleasing is suffering; not to get what one wants is suffering; in brief, the five aggregates subject to clinging are suffering.

2. Suffering’s Origin (Samudaya):

This is the noble truth of the origin of suffering: it is this craving which leads to renewed existence, accompanied by delight and lust, seeking delight here and there, that is, craving for sensual pleasures, craving for existence, craving for extermination.

3. Suffering’s Cessation (Nirodha):

This is the noble truth of the cessation of suffering: it is the remainderless fading away and cessation of that same craving, the giving up and relinquishing of it, freedom from it, nonreliance on it.

4. The Way (Marga) Leading to the Cessation of Suffering:

This is the noble truth of the way leading to the cessation of suffering: it is the Noble Eightfold Path; that is, right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration.

Why the Buddha is said to have taught in this way is illuminated by the social context of the time in which he lived. The Buddha was a Sramaṇa, a wandering ascetic whose aim was to discover the truth and attain happiness. He is said to have achieved this aim while under a bodhi tree near the River Neranjana. The Four Noble Truths are a formulation of his understanding of the nature of suffering, the fundamental cause of all suffering, the escape from suffering, and what effort a person can go to so that they themselves can attain happiness.

Materialism

Culture industry is a term coined by Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, who argued that popular culture is akin to a factory producing standardized cultural goods to manipulate the masses into passivity; the easy pleasures available through consumption of popular culture make people docile and content, no matter how difficult their economic circumstances. Adorno and Horkheimer saw this mass-produced culture as a danger to the more difficult high arts. Culture industries may cultivate false needs; that is, needs created and satisfied by capitalism. True needs, in contrast, are freedom, creativity, or genuine happiness.

Adorno and Horkheimer were key members of the Frankfurt School. They were much influenced by the dialectical materialism and historical materialism of Karl Marx, as well the revisitation of the dialectical idealism of Hegel, in both of which where events are studied not in isolation but as part of the process of change. As a group later joined by Jurgen Habermas, they were responsible for the formulation of Critical Theory.

In works such as Dialectic of Enlightenment and Negative Dialectics, Adorno and Horkheimer theorised that the phenomenon of mass culture has a political implication, namely that all the many forms of popular culture are a single culture industry whose purpose is to ensure the continued obedience of the masses to market interests. In The Dialectic of Enlightenment, they postulated a modern form of bread and circuses, the method used by the rulers of Ancient Rome to maintain their power and control over the people. This new system filled leisure time with amusements to distract the consumers from the boredom of their increasingly automated work. They were never left alone long enough to recognise the reality of their exploitation and to consider resisting the economic and social system. This pessimistic view of prevailing culture as an anti-enlightenment opiate for the masses draws strongly on Marxism for its condemnation of what is characterised as being continuing capitalist oppression.

Although Western culture used to be divided into national markets and then into highbrow, middlebrow and lowbrow, the modern view of mass culture is that there is a single marketplace in which the best or most popular works succeed. This recognizes that the consolidation of media companies has centralized power in the hands of the few remaining multinational corporations now controlling production and distribution. The theory proposes that culture not only mirrors society, but also takes an important role in shaping society through the processes of standardization and commodification, creating objects rather than subjects. The culture industry claims to serve the consumers’ needs for entertainment, but conceals the way that it standardizes these needs, manipulating the consumers to desire what it produces.

The outcome is that mass production feeds a mass market that minimizes the identity and tastes of the individual consumers who are as interchangeable as the products they consume. The rationale of the theory is to promote the emancipation of the consumer from the tyranny of the producers by inducing the consumer to question beliefs and ideologies. Adorno claimed that enlightenment would bring pluralism and demystification. Unfortunately, society is said to have suffered another fall, corrupted by capitalist industry with exploitative motives.

Anything made by a person is a materialisation of their labour and an expression of their intentions. There will also be a use value: the benefit to the consumer will be derived from its utility. The exchange value will reflect its utility and the conditions of the market: the prices paid by the television broadcaster or at the box office. Yet, the modern soap operas with their interchangeable plots and formulaic narrative conventions reflect standardised production techniques and the falling value of a mass produced cultural product. Only rarely is a film released that makes a more positive impression on the general discourse and achieves a higher exchange value.

Critics of the theory say that the products of mass culture would not be popular if people did not enjoy them, and that culture is self-determining in its administration. This would deny Adorno contemporary political significance, arguing that politics in a prosperous society is more concerned with action than with thought. Adorno is also accused of a lack of consistency in his claims to be implementing Marxism. Whereas he accepted the classical Marxist analysis of society showing how one class exercises domination over another, he deviated from Marx in his failure to use dialectic as a method to propose ways to change.

Marx’s theory depended on the willingness of the working class to overthrow the ruling class, but Adorno and Horkheimer postulated that the culture industry has undermined the revolutionary movement. Adorno’s idea that the mass of the people are only objects of the culture industry is linked to his feeling that the time when the working class could be the tool of overthrowing capitalism is over.

However, despite these problems, the concept has influenced intellectual discourse on popular culture, popular culture studies, and Cultural Institutions Studies.

Totality

In their controversial analysis of the contemporary western society, Dialectic of Enlightenment, Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer developed a wider, and more pessimistic concept of enlightenment. In their analysis, enlightenment had its dark side. While trying to abolish superstition and myths by foundationalist philosophy, it ignored its own mythical basis. Its strivings towards totality and certainty led to an increasing instrumentalization of reason. In their view, the enlightenment itself should be enlightened and not posed as a myth free view of the world.

“Myth turns into enlightenment, and nature into mere objectivity. Men pay for the increase in their power with alienation from that over which they exercise their power. Enlightenment behaves towards things as a dictator toward men. He knows them in so far as he can manipulate them. The man of science knows things in so far as he can make them. In this way their “in itself” becomes a “for him”. In this transformation the essence of things is revealed as always the same, a substratum of domination. This identity constitutes the unity of nature.”

Adorno and Horkheimer see the self destruction of Western reason as grounded in a historical and fateful dialectic between the domination of external nature and society. They trace enlightenment, which split these spheres apart, back to its mythical roots. Enlightenment and myth, therefore, are not irreconcilable opposites, but dialectically mediated qualities of both real and intellectual life. Myth is already enlightenment, and enlightenment reverts to mythology. This paradox is their fundamental thesis.

The attempt to ascertain why humanity, instead of entering a truly human state, is sinking into a new kind of barbarism animates the work. This regression ultimately has to do with the very nature of myth, which is said to be obscure and luminous at once. It is with positivism that science believes it can banish all mystery from the world such that humans become masters of it. Art itself has fallen prey to this myth. Perhaps surprisingly, this does not begin in the 18th century European Enlightenment, but with one of our most ancient of founding myths, Odysseus.

The deceptive nature of the sacrifice in Odysseus is the beginning of our journey towards enlightenment, for it places us on a similar footing with the gods. The attempt of persons such as Sade to advocate a world without superstition not only turns us into beasts with “the innocence of wild animals”, but means that we still must hold onto the one myth that we can actually live in a world where all is entirely as it seems. Transgression of the previous Catholic morality is the necessary mythical supplement to this view. It brings no pleasure but only violence. Both the Culture Industry and Anti Semitism ultimately have the same totalitarian goal, to make everyone the same, as economic cogs in the machine, devoid of their individuality. Thus enlightenment is necessarily violence against the Other, who doesn’t fit in.

The concept of enlightenment posits it as thought liberating man from his natural shackles, and creating man as master of the earth. This process of liberation entails at the same time the possibility of man to protect himself from, and understand the workings of, nature, and also mankind’s loss of being one with nature. In this process, the self is created as a subjectivity divorced from direct experience of the outside world. Man’s memory of this is very vague and distant, but is present in everyone as a certain inchoate feeling of loss.

In essence, Adorno and Horkheimer argue that the enlightenment turned magical culture, which looked for associations, analogies, and relationships, into a scientific culture, which sought to reduce everything to the irreducible, to base units of measurement, to the smallest particles, and as often as possible to numbers. This results in an inability to address problems of relationships, and often of anything to do with the irrational, such sexuality or emotio. The ideological structure has the tendency, common to most political ideologies, of arguing for its own accuracy. This kind of enlightenment thinking always implicitly claims that anything that is not reducible or quantifiable is simply not worth paying attention to. It is immaterial in the metaphorical sense, and it might as well not exist.

Thus, concepts as divergent as subjectivity, which cannot be measured or objectified, and collective action which is always understood as merely the action of many individuals, cannot be understood because precisely what needs to be understood is relational and subjective. This magical versus scientific thinking is easily recognizable in the two solitudes of contemporary Humanities and Sciences research in universities.

Happiness

The Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life says that there is a phenomenological difference between the pain that you experience when you take someone else’s pain upon yourself and the pain that comes directly from your own pain and suffering. In the former, there is an element of discomfort because you are sharing the other’s pain. However, as Shantideva points out, there is also a certain amount of stability because, in a sense, you are voluntarily accepting that pain.

In the voluntary participation in other’s suffering there is strength and a sense of confidence. But in the latter case, when you are undergoing your own pain and suffering, there is an element of involuntariness, and because of the lack of control on your part, you feel weak and completely overwhelmed. In the Buddhist teachings on altruism and compassion, certain expressions are used such that one should disregard one’s own well being and cherish other’s well being.

It is important to understand these statements regarding the practice of voluntarily sharing someone else’s pain and suffering in the proper context. The fundamental point is that if you do not have the capacity to love yourself, then there is simply no basis on which to build a sense of caring toward others. The capacity to love oneself or be kind to oneself should be based on a very fundamental fact of human existence, that we all have a natural tendency to desire happiness and avoid suffering.

Once this basis exists in relation to oneself, one can extend it to others. When we find statements in the teachings suggesting to regard one’s own well being and cherish the well being of others, we should understand them in the context of training yourself according to the ideal of compassion. This is important if we are not to indulge in self-centered ways of thinking that disregard the impact of our actions on other sentient beings.

We can develop an attitude of considering others as precious in the recognition of the part their kindness plays in our own experience of joy, happiness, and success. Through analysis and contemplation one will come to see that much of our misery, suffering, and pain really result from a self centered attitude that cherishes one’s own well being at the expense of others, whereas much of the joy, happiness, and sense of security in our lives arise from thoughts and emotions that cherish the well being of others.

Another fact concerning the cultivation of thoughts and emotions that cherish the well being of others is that one’s own self interest and wishes are fulfilled as a byproduct of actually working for others. As Je Tsong Khapa points out in his Great Exposition of the Path to Enlightenment, the more the practitioner engages in activities and thoughts that are focused and directed toward the fulfillment of others’ well-being, the fulfillment or realization of his or her own aspiration will come as a byproduct without having to make a separate effort.

At some point the question comes up of whether we really change our attitude. Sometimes the mind is very stubborn and very difficult to change, but with continuous effort and with conviction based on reason our minds can become quite honest. When we really feel that there is some need to change, then our minds can change. Wishing and praying alone will not transform the mind, but with conviction and reason, the mind can be transformed.

Time is an important factor here, and with time our mental attitudes can certainly change. One point that should be noted is that some people, especially those who see themselves as very realistic and practical, are too obsessed with practicality. They may wonder what the point is in trying to cultivate a mind that tries to include every living being. In a way, that may be a valid objection, but what is important is to understand the impact of cultivating such a state of awareness.

The point is to try to develop the scope of one’s empathy in such a way that it can extend to any form of life that has the capacity to feel pain and experience happiness. This kind of sentiment is very powerful, and there is no need to be able to identify with every single living being in order for it to be effective.

True compassion and love in the context of training of the mind is based on the simple recognition that everyone aspires to be happy and to overcome suffering, and that others have the natural right to fulfill that basic aspiration. The empathy developed toward a person based on recognition of this basic fact is universal compassion. This compassion is able to be extended to all sentient beings, as long as they are capable of experiencing pain and happiness.