Kensho

Kensho

Zen Enlightenment and Its Dark Side

The Zen term most commonly translated as “enlightenment” is actually “kensho.” The term “satori” refers to the subjective personal experience you might have when you enter kensho. Satori is frequently described in terms of bliss and euphoria, but kensho is supposed to be characterized more by clarity. It's part of the tradition of Zen that your kensho can be acknowledged by a certificate of Dharma transmission, which makes you a bona fide Zen master.

But here's the problem. Many (but not all) writers on the topic of Zen have seen kensho as permanent and all-encompassing, so a genuine “enlightened Zen master” with all the right papers should in theory be a person you can trust explicitly with your own spiritual well-being. Often you will be told that you should set aside your own judgment almost completely, because your Zen master can see more clearly than you can and always has your best interests at heart. To try to seek for kensho on your own will only lead to be deluded by your own ego.

 

The reality, though, is that Zen masters are fallible human beings like everyone else. There have been Zen masters who pressured their students into sexual relationships. A number of Zen masters have been alcoholics. Some have been physically violent and abusive drunks under the cover of “waking the student up” by shouting at him and hitting him. Some very prominent Zen masters of the past fifty years had backgrounds as militarists and fascists. So, as dangerous as it might be to be deluded by your own ego on the spiritual journey, is it really any more dangerous than being deluded by someone else's ego? The idea that Zen masters can do no wrong is manifestly untrue, but is still too widely accepted among Zen devotees. You should never surrender your critical thinking skills for anyone- no matter how “enlightened.”