Shinzen Young on”The Quickest Way to Enlightenment”
See this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gYSSf71Vo7w
This video presentation by mr. Shinzen Young, a pioneering buddhist meditation teacher, is misleading so I wish to clarify the points made. My view is critical but I hope that by this presentation I can shed light on this topic of enlightenment of which there are many misleading conceptions about.
In the video Young says that ”strong determination sitting” is the quickest way to enlightenment. Considering his long history in rinzai-style of Japanese zen buddhism, it is not a surprise that this is his recommendation. His practical advice for attaining enlightenment is to sit in a determined fashion for lengthy periods of time, all the way from an hour to several days in a row, while enduring all the physical pain and mental-emotional confusion that comes along by doing that. Having personally experienced and endured the Japanese rinzai zen training and having made observations of many zen practitioners of all zen schools, I'd say that there are a lot of useful and beneficial factors in the zen method. However, by no means I consider zen in any form, Japanese or Western, to be lucrative in it's ability and means to help it's practitioners in becoming awakened, that is, enlightened. My personal opinion of Young's advice of determined sitting to be the quickest way to get enlightened is that it is both misleading and miseducated.
Shinzen Young was interviewed by the Buddhist Geeks in 2010,
BG: ”How common is that dramatic, sudden experience of enlightenment as
compared to the more gradual and even integration?”
Shinzen Young: ”The sudden epiphany that’s described in many books about enlightenment, that has definitely happened to some of my students. And when it happens, it’s similar to what is described in those books*. How frequently does it happen? I don’t know. I don’t keep statistics, but maybe a couple times a year.”
*Visuddhimagga and Three Pillars of Zen were mentioned earlier in the interview
The modern standard of seekers getting enlightened and hence ending their search, is getting way higher than the old methods. I assume a ”couple” would mean something like 2-4 in number. As Young speaks frequently about enlightenment, I assume that he tries and aims to bring his students to this perceptional shift. However, if ”strong determination sitting” is the ”quickest way to enlightenment” and assumably then also the most or at least very proficient one, with the result of merely couple of cases per year, I find his methods to be more than questionable in this regard.
For comparison, here's some statistics of awakenings from other sources.
A friend of mine is a well known pragmatic spiritual teacher who has done traditional training in Tibetan Buddhism and dzogchen. During an international teaching career of about 20 years, he's verified 175 cases of awakening. That's about 9 cases per year.
According to the founder Elena Nezhinsky, LU, during the first three years when the forum has been active, produced a round number of 1000 awakenings (out of 1055 cases), guided my many guides. Personally knowing a couple of these people, I'd confirm that they fit the definition of sudden awakening. LU has been critisized for several reasons and perhaps not all of these people actually awakened but I think it's worth mentioning anyway.
Myself have guided and verified 60 awakenings (62 total) during the last two years with a success rate of 97%, based on the two part formula.
In all three examples the method aiming at awakening has been through direct pointing combined with clear practical instructions, given either live or in online dialogue. These instructions are based on intellectual analysis, not on symbolism, poetic expression, mysticism or will power. The key here has been one-on-one exchange with a guide/teacher based on a sufficient understanding of the matter itself together with practical means to facilitate this theoretical understanding.
In my analysis there are four main problems in various teachings trying to help their followers awakened but not managing to do so. These factors may be partial impediments, serious hindrances which waste time and energy of the practitioner or complete obstacles which are dead ends in the context of awakening:
1.theoretical explanation not being able to explain what awakening exactly is and what the anatomy of it is,
2. method in general not having particular technology for awakening,
3. technique aimed at generating awakening in particular, being superficial or only vaguely relevant and
4. no guidance from an awakened specialist available.
A seeker would do wise to find out how these questions are answered by the concerned method and it's teacher. These are reasonable questions, after all. Personally, I have spent thousands and thousands of hours in training and contemplation according to insufficient instructions and deficient techniques. This has lead me to analyze the whole issue and its problems.
My critique towards ”strong determination sitting” as means to sudden awakening is based on over 11 000 hours of personal zen practice in a traditional training environment. I feel that it was mostly a waste of time, with some beneficial and useful aspects. It is true that zen students do awaken sometimes. But whether it happens in their first retreat or a hundreth retreat, after 50 hours of practice or after 5000 hours of practice, is what is questionable. It's too random. Think of lottery. This implies that the techniques aiming at awakening are only somewhat relevant. This in turn implies that the exact mechnism of awakening and the cause of self-delusion is not sufficiently known. The core of the problem is right there. There are much more efficient methods of awakening and enlightenment than some of the ”time tested” ones.
The reason why I express this critique is that in our time the requirements of mind training are getting higher than most of the old systems can offer. Awakening does not have to be a random accident anymore. There is technology to it.
I wish all the best to mr. Shinzen Young both in his work and personally. My criticism is directed to what he represents as a teacher, not on his persona. I wish nothing but the best to him in all ways. I express these concerns as a human being, fellow practitioner and as a teacher. I hope you have read this article with analytical mind and find something useful from it.
Thank you for reading,
- Baba Kim Katami, 21.1.2016
- Here's how to become awakened-instruction: http://www.en.openheart.fi/113