At age seven or eight I had an experience which I ever-more perceive as a satori.
“Satori (Chinese kāi wù) may be defined as an intuitive looking into the nature of things in contradistinction to the analytical or logical understanding of it. Practically it means the unfolding of a new world hitherto unperceived in the confusion of a dualistically-trained mind…” (Source)
My world changed, almost entirely beginning, abruptly, upon my reaching age five and one-half. My first memories were of living with my father and mother and four others, my mother’s family, in the upper flat of a small Victorian house in San Francisco, just prior the USA’s entry into the Second World War. Soon after the war began, my parents moved me away from this large, loving, doting family, having garnered an apartment in a new government housing project on the south edge of San Francisco. Dad had gotten a job as a war worker in the Kaiser Shipyard across San Francisco Bay. Soon after this move, my sister was born, my only sibling. Simultaneously, Dad became active in the Socialist Labor Party of San Francisco. Our small apartment often had loud and boisterous conversations when party members met there. And, I contracted an inner ear infection from which I almost died. I had my satori during the recovery period of the latter.
It is in my nature to be intuitive, verified by my Myers-Briggs personality type, INTJ: “Quickly sees patterns in external events and develop long-range explanatory perspectives.” All these events and more (including associating with other children for the first time) destroyed my first impressions of the universe; I had to make sense of it all, another characteristic of my “type.”
Here is what I remember, vividly, from my satori: I suddenly “saw” everything, whole. It startled me, and the vision/impression quickly dissipated. I remember the feeling of being unworthy of this vision, that I was too small and too young to carry it.
Around the same time, I don’t remember if before or after my satori, but, certainly after my recovery from ear surgery, I had a singular experience. I was walking to school, alone, on a cool morning, beside a culvert bordering our housing project, when “I” shot straight up into the sky, looked down, saw myself below, then instantaneously returned. I have no intuitive or logical explanation for this. Both these events have stayed with me during the ensuing decades to this time, now at age eighty-one.
“… Or we may say that with satori our entire surroundings are viewed from quite an unexpected angle of perception. Whatever this is, the world for those who have gained a satori is no more the old world as it used to be, even with all its flowing streams and burning fires, it is never the same one again. Logically stated, all its (the world’s) opposites and contradictions are united and harmonized into a consistent organic whole. This is a mystery and a miracle, but according to the Zen masters such is being performed every day. Satori can thus be had only through our once personally experiencing it.” (Source)
I am now reading two books which seem to be leading me back toward my earlier ‘realization’:
- Zen Buddhism: Selected Writings of D.T. Suzuki, Edited by William Barrett
- The Genius of Haiku: Readings from R.H. Blyth on Poetry, Life, and Zen
I feel I am ready to understand what these books contain, through my many life experiences and through my readings.
It is almost painful to expose myself in this manner: I ask, “whence arises this need to communicate to others these inner, intimate thoughts and impressions?” The only answer I have, outside of my having an as yet untamed ego, is that it is in my nature to say to others, “look what I found!” This is a major reason for my having initiated this personal magazine, or “blog.”
Here is a limited selection of books and authors which and who have helped prepare me:
- Scores of the writings and lectures of Alan Watts
- “Siddhartha,” by Hermann Hesse
- “Nikos Kazantzakis: A Biography Based on his Letters,” By Helen Kazantzakis
- “The Tao of Physics,” by Fritjof Capra
- “East and West: Ancient Wisdom and Modern Science,” by Stanislav Grof
- “The Dancing Wu Li Masters: An Overview of the New Physics,” Gary Zukav
- “Memories, Dreams, Reflections,” by Carl Jung
- “Reflections on the Dawn of Consciousness: Julian Jaynes’s Bicameral Mind Theory Revisited,” by Marcel Kuijsten
- “Nine-Headed Dragon River: Zen Journals 1969-1982” and “The Snow Leopard,” by Peter Matthiessen
- “The Varieties of Religious Experience,” by William James