Dogen Sangha Blog

  by Gudo NISHIJIMA

Japanese / German

Thursday, December 1, 2005

What is the Enlightenment

When we think about what is the Enlightenment, it is our real experience that we are, not in the world of mind, or in the world of matter, but we are just living in the real world actually, not only intellectually, or perceptively.
I guess that many people complain that such a simple fact can be recognized by everyone easily. But actually I think that there may be many people, who think that they are living in the world of mind, and at the same time there are many people, who think that they are living in the world of matter. And when we think the reason why such a strange fact occurs, the reason can not be known before the 20th century, and it was known in the 20th century, when the scientific knowledge of
psychology and physiology have developed so much.
However fortunately in 20th century human civilization has developed so much, and so it has become clear that in human body and mind, there is a nervous system, which is called the autonomic nervous system. And the autonomic nervous system is devided into two parts, that is, the sympathetic nervous system, and the parasympathtic nervous system. And the sympathetic nervous system is much related with human ability to think, and the parasympathetic nervous system is much related with human ability to perceive. Therefore a man, who has rather strong sympathetic nervous system, is prone to have an idealistic personality, and so he usually has consciousness, that he is living in the world of mind, and a person, who has rather a stronger parasympathetic nervous system, is prone to have an materialistic personality, and so he usually has consciousness, that he is living in the world of matter. And this facts suggest that whether we have a little stronger sympathetic nervous system, or a little stronger parasympathetic nervous system, decides whether we are idealist or materialist.

22 Comments:

Blogger Grim said...

I must fall under both idealistic and materialistic consciousness. If I guess which of the two is strongest then perhaps it is my sympathetic nervous system.

I do not know what the Enlightenment is. I certainly fantasize about what it is from time to time. I feel that I am a very confusing wall between my true self and what is true reality.

I can say that and yet I can't possibly believe it. If I truely believed what I just said, then I would see it for what it is and simply be rid of it.

10:21 AM, December 01, 2005  
Blogger PhilBob-SquareHead said...

So, if my Father can have medication for his Parkinson's Disease(parasympathetic), and my sister can have Prozac for her depression(sympathetic), why hasn't modern medicine came up with a pill that can put me in the "middle way"? And please don't answer "ZAZEN"!

10:50 AM, December 01, 2005  
Blogger J&J said...

Ask a doctor.

1:08 PM, December 01, 2005  
Blogger Lone Wolf said...

Your teaching about enlightment and the nervous system is very interesting to me Nishijima Roshi. Thank you again for creating this blog.

So what is the experience when you balance the nervous system threw Zazen. How do you relate to thoughts? How do you relate to the world of matter? Perceptability also seems to be mental. If I am looking at huge house, my eyes can only see certain parts of the house at a time. My eyes jump back and forth very fast accumilating all the data but my mind actually makes the perception of the house. It seems nothing can be percieved without mental construct.

One person says I only believe what I can see. The otherside says I am religious and live my life by certain "truths" that are not perceptable to the eye. What would be living in enlightment? What is the experience of Middle ways truth? What reality does Zazen practice show?

4:14 PM, December 01, 2005  
Blogger reallynotimportant said...

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4:57 PM, December 01, 2005  
Blogger reallynotimportant said...

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5:00 PM, December 01, 2005  
Blogger reallynotimportant said...

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5:17 PM, December 01, 2005  
Blogger reallynotimportant said...

[Trying to find the right words]

My tendency is to think more than I need to and ask lots of questions. Sometimes I need to understand something with the mind and also the body. Understanding with the body or the mind alone is sometimes not sufficient for me.

So, when I started Zazen (and some other meditations) I had some idea about what it could do to the mind and some idea about sensations that may or may not arise. I also had mentally worked out possible biological reasons for those sensations.

When I started doing Zazen more seriously I was pretty shocked by the results.

I'm not a youngster, but I do suffer from Acne. When I am stressed it is worse. No meds or anything clear it up. Now the chinese say that one cause of acne is that you are running too hot - ie an overactive parasympathetic nervous system. I was like whatever!

Now, can you imagine how shocked I am to discover that for me Zazen clears up the acne. Yep, a little bit of just sitting every day makes the spots go away. Something that western medicine has failed to do - and when I skip Zazen for a few days, the spots come back...

Zazen seems to put the two back in balance, for me that means toning down the sympathetic and raising the parasympathetic, so cortisol levels drop and serotonin levels rise (among other things).

I can give a long geeky explanation as to how this all happens biologically and by what mechanism Zazen can do this but it is sufficient that it is true.

5:27 PM, December 01, 2005  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Nishijima Roshi wrote: "I think that there may be many people, who think that they are living in the world of mind, and at the same time there are many people, who think that they are living in the world of matter."

I would like to point out the existence of a third group: "people who think that they are living in the world of reality." In other words, people who think that they might be enightened, because of understanding Buddhist theory. Even if they don't proclaim "I am enlightened," they issue their commentaries on Shobogenzo in such a way that gives others the impression that they are enlightened. They let it be known that they received the transmission of the Buddha-Dharma. Of course, they do not brag about it. But they let it be known. And so people who have the will to the truth are drawn to them.

Because of Nishjima Roshi's particular way of teaching Buddhism, with its heavy empahsis on clarification of Buddhist theory, he has attracted to him many such people with an arrogant tendency to think they have understood the Buddha's teaching. Yes, of course, I include myself.

I had confidence that I understood Buddhism clearly--just as so-called Zen Masters like Brad Warner, Michael Luetchford, James Cohen and the like, now manifest their own confidence. But the truth turned out to be that my way of sitting was conditioning the way that I saw everything, and my way of sitting was wrong.

Master Dogen's instruction is just to sit upright. My habitual response to this is to stiffen up, to brace, to hold myself. And because of this wrongness in my way of sitting, all my thoughts and feelings about what Buddhism is, and who I am, are upside down.

So I come back to my original question: How to sit? How to liberate myself from this prison of habitual reaction? How to shed this wrong pattern I have been practising for 45 years? How to drop off body and mind?

6:07 PM, December 01, 2005  
Blogger 3468 said...

Dear Sensei,

Your interest in scientific thinking is admirable. However, as it is often case, person who is professional in one profession (Buddhism in your case) makes too far reaching conclusions in the other matters (in neuroscience for example), or reads books that make those conclusions.

My profession being close to neuroscience , I just want to comment this division between sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.

Autonomic nervous system (ANS) is consists of the nerves and neurons that reside or extend outside the central nervous system--to serve the limbs and organs, for example. ANS can be divided into three parts (if we are precise): sympathetic, parasympathetic and enteric.

The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) responds to impending danger or stress, and is responsible for the increase of ones heartbeat and blood pressure, among other physiological changes, along with the sense of excitement one feels. The parasympathetic (PNS) nervous system, on the other hand, is evident when a person is resting and feels relaxed, and is responsible for such things as the constriction of the pupil, the slowing of the heart, the dilation of the blood vessels, and the stimulation of the digestive and genitourinary systems.

The SNS and PNS often create opposite effects in the same organs or physiological systems, and can act as an aid in creating balance (homeostasis) within the body. The SNS is frequently referred to as the "fight or flight" system, as it has a stimulating effect on organs and physiological systems. The PNS
has sometimes been called the "rest and digest" response.

The homeostasis of SNS and PNS has indeed very deep connections to human feeling and behavior in the most primitive level.

But I don't for a moment believe that SNS or PNS connected as straight forward to human personality as you say.
The autonomic nervous system (ANS) is a regulatory structure that helps people adapt to changes in their environment. It adjusts or modifies some functions in response to stress. Imbalances can be caused buy aging, physical diseases, stress and psychological reasons. Anxiety for example can cause physical imbalance. But the reason for anxiety don't matter. Being neurotic materialist or neurotic idealist causes similar imbalances.

It's normal human tendency to try find simple connections with medical knowledge and human behavior. You are of course entitled to a personal opinion. But it's good to remember that just because you're entitled to a personal opinion doesn't mean you're entitled to a professional opinion. It's bogus science to connect personal traits to simple physical differences. Human nervous system is very complicated messy thing and science knows only little parts of it.

So, let's stop this simplistic neuro-shit and hear more professional Buddhist teachings.

8:28 PM, December 01, 2005  
Blogger Adrian Salmon said...

I guess by not trying to drop it off. Where would you drop it? And what wrongness in the way you sit? It's the way you sit, that's all. Feel it how it is, just allow yourself to sit and allow yourself to realise that it was never there. I can't do it either yet. But I encourage myself this way. Let's follow one mistake with another and another!

8:32 PM, December 01, 2005  
Blogger reallynotimportant said...

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9:41 PM, December 01, 2005  
Blogger Friend said...

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10:52 PM, December 01, 2005  
Blogger Friend said...

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11:27 PM, December 01, 2005  
Blogger alanpitt said...

dear gudo nishijima thankyou for your blog. I dont understand Master Dogen nor do I understand scientific explanations of the effects of zazen. I have however met Michael Luetchford on I think three occasions and I believe that his understanding is certainly greater than mine and that his motivation is to point out the way to reality as he understands it to those who wish to listen. Ultimately I think "understanding" is just a notion anyway. I am very grateful to Dogen sangha for explaining how to sit in zazen. Best wishes .

1:05 AM, December 02, 2005  
Blogger S. said...

An interesting vehicle for dialogue.

One of my personal challenges in life is a long-standing disconnect between my mind and body. (I can get a note from my shrink if necessary to back up this statement. The whole personal/professional opinion thingy.) :o)

"But actually I think that there may be many people, who think that they are living in the world of mind, and at the same time there are many people, who think that they are living in the world of matter."

Once upon a time, I existed without questioning my assumptions about how I live in the world. Now that's a recipe of suffering. I recognize those around me sometimes in that shadowland - exquisite in a cloud of certainty; the cloud still sneaks up on me on occasion. It's the cloud's job, after all.

Inquiry ROCKS!

2:58 AM, December 02, 2005  
Blogger ryunin said...

3468 you might be interested in this:
(based on scientific research of zazen)
FRONTAL CORTEX – This is the most highly evolved part of the brain, responsible for reasoning, planning, emotions and self-conscious awareness. During meditation the frontal cortex tends to go off.
PARIETAL LOBE – This part of the brain processes sensory information orienting you in time and space. During meditation activity in parietal lobe slows down.
THALAMUS – The gatekeeper for the senses, this organ focuses your attention on by funneling some sensory data deeper in the brain and stopping other signals in their tracks. Meditation reduces the flow of incoming information to a trickle.
RETICULAR FORMATION – As the brain’s sentry, this structure receives incoming stimuli and puts the brain on alert, ready to respond. Meditating dials back the arousal signal.

11:01 PM, December 02, 2005  
Blogger Ken said...

"RETICULAR FORMATION – As the brain’s sentry, this structure receives incoming stimuli and puts the brain on alert, ready to respond. Meditating dials back the arousal signal."

Is that why the cat suddenly meowing during zazen startles the hell outta me!? LOL

--ken

11:15 PM, December 02, 2005  
Blogger ryunin said...

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4:45 AM, December 03, 2005  
Blogger jilola said...

I do not see why people keep seeking a way to equate enlightenment with a physical explanation in current terms of understanding the world.
Attempting to render Now in terms of some transient nervous system or apparent chemical interactions flies right in the face of the original realisation.
Right now is who you are, right now is where you are, right now is what you do.
The perceived explanations as what passes as tangible reality is not relevant, it also is who, where and now.
Enlightenment is not what one gains by way of following practises and precepts but what one can apprehend by way of doing so.

"thirty years on the death row and I walked,
past a rose and life
so close!"

Jouni

1:31 PM, December 31, 2005  
Blogger GUDO NISHIJIMA said...

For grim San

It is the human state for everyone to keep the equality between idealistic and materialistic consciousness.

There are two kinds of Enlightenment. The one is the balnced autonomic nervous system, and the other is the total grasp of the whole Buddhist philosophical system after the practice of Zazen everyday for more than 30 years.

I understand your state.


For philbob-squarehead San

I am very careful to utilize medicine. I think that modern medicine is like a sharp nife, and if the sharp nife has cut the physical and mental parts of body and mind, it might influence our body and mind so seriously.


For J&J San

Please ask a doctor.


For Lone Wolf San

Thank you very much for your estimation.

When I threw Zazen away, I would lose my confidence that I am balanced, and my thoughts are sometime idealistic, sometimes materialistic, and sometimes realistic. Sometimes I have a relation with matter, and sometimes I forget the existence of matter. Yes, perception is also a mental function, I think. I think what you said about perception is true.

Everyone can be sometimes materialist and sometimes can be idealist. In the enlightenment there is the balanced state.


For ReallyNotImportant San

Yes, what you expressed is true. We get the Truth intuitively with body and mind. I guess that you have experienced for your autonomic nervous system to become balanced. I do not know the biological reason, and so I would like to know it.

Congratulations for you overcoming acne! When our physical and mental conditions have become balanced, many kinds of healthy conditions appear. Even though I am not a doctor, I guess that your theory may be true.

Thank you very much for your explanations.


For Mike Cross San

Please do not worry about such a problem. Just to sit is the solution.


For 3468 San

Thank you very much for your professional knowledge as a doctor.

I do not have any intention to invade the physiological area.

However I hope you will have the idea of oneness between body and mind. Buddhism believe in the theory that body and mind are two faces of one real fact. Therfore body and mind do not exist separately, and so body and mind do not exist in the relation between cause and effect, but they are not two facts, which occur at the the same moment. They are just only one fact at the present moment.

I am a Buddhist monk, and so my physical knowledge is very poor, therefore I hope sincerely to have many friends, who have a lot of exact knowledge about physiological schiences.


For Harry Fishcake San

I sit everyday for only 30 minute each in the morning and at night, that's all.


For alanpitt San

Thank you very much for you to practice zazen everyday.


For DisheartenedGirl San

I think that it is very important for us to recognize that we are just living on the surface of the Earth actually.


For ryunin San

Thank you very much for your professional knowledge, but it is a little difficult for me.


For Ken San

It is also rather difficult for me.


For jilola San

The reason, why I want to combine Buddhism with Euro-Americah Civilization comes from my strong hope for the World to establish the Ultimate World Civilization.

1:42 PM, February 17, 2006  
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4:15 PM, March 08, 2006  

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