Buddhism originally began as a doctrine and discipline taught by an northern Indian named Gotama. His doctrine, strict though it was, in its short lifetime produced many awakened individuals, and his immediate disciples kept his discipline well.
It was only after a short five hundred years that his dispensation died, after which the majority of his teaching simply fell away. We have preserved with us the original texts that were written down about 300 years after his death, but we possess no context or overarching meaning that we can ascribe to them, moreover we have no existing lineage extending from Gotama that can guide us and help us make use of the texts.
As such there were several branching movements that accrued from Buddhism, most notably: the Buddhism of the Tibetans (Nyingma etc), Mahamudra (the earlier tantric Buddhism of the mahasiddhas), Chan (a Chinese Mahayana movement), Zen (what Chan morphed into upon entering Korea and Japan), Shingon (Japanese esoteric Buddhism), Tendai (the Japanese version of the Tiantai school), and the Theravada (the only extant remnant of the early Buddhist schools).
There is such a diversity of viewpoints within all these different schools, that vary over regions that it will not be possible to cover all of them within a single book, within the Mahayana were different schools of Buddhist philosophy, most notably the Yogacara and Madhyamaka.
This book will focus on a modern form of Zen, taking its characteristics from the Rinzai school.
A brief background.
As a child I suffered from many forms of mental illness, the most pronounced one one was bipolar I. I lead a relatively normal life as a child until the age of fifteen wherein I was seized by my first manic episode, I began to insinuate that I would buy a gun and shoot students at my high school as well as kill myself, I believe I was heading towards some sort of 'existential end', or 'explosion', however undefinable it was. And this feeling scared me deeply.
Roughly a few months later, I was diagnosed as being harmless in terms of violent behavior, twice, however the school rejected the diagnoses made by the psychiatrists, and I was sent to Philadelphia to live with my cousins and attend high school there.
It was here that I first felt the intensity of a manic episode, I felt thrilled, as if on a rollercoaster, I was suicidal at the same time, I was doing well in school, and yet I was patently angry, bitter and... perhaps lashing out at people.
The episode later faded and I attended high school in California, after leaving my cousin's house.
It was here that I lost all affective mood or ability to emote, I was paranoid and afraid of people, and was deeply religious and 'guilty', feeling that I had sinned irrevocably and was damned to hell.
After some pseudo-Zen experiences (which remain to this day, simply shifts in perspective), I became extroverted and started studying computer science at Loyola Marymount University, I made several friends and had a good time.
Around my sophomore year my illness crept back to me and I began to panic, I had a nervous breakdown and was sent back home.
It was here, in Hong Kong, that I finally buckled down and practiced spirituality, in order to remove the illness and angst that had plagued me since high school. This culminated in the experience of 'kensho' or 'satori' which effectively removed depression from me entirely.
After this experience I was left in a state of mania, and was generally unable to function upon returning to school, I abandoned my spiritual notions, some odd beliefs and found myself functioning once again.
It's not entirely possible for me to account for exactly what happened, or put forth a model of exactly what happened. Nevertheless I choose the Zen model because it seems the most compelling.
I can't systematically wipe away most of the insights that I encountered on a daily basis, I had many, but most of them later turned out to be subsumed by a later insight and/or meaningless.
I did a lot of belief restructuring and encountered many different philosophies, however the majority of them (as it the case with most beliefs), failed to produce anything meaningful.
The following are some fallacious notions that people possess.
It is difficult to reduce this insight (kensho, or satori) to something that can be postulated, or like a doctrine. However I can give my best approximation of it.
The first notion that I would like to destroy is the idea that one model or structure can actually meaningfully recreate reality. Actually, as far as I know, none can, most models are inherently limited, and thus fail to capture life fully.
Nevertheless it is necessary and possible to live with models, in fact it impossible to live without cognitive thought, imagination and models. These are fully necessary (in the sense that they will not go away) for living in modern day life.
The fact that they are not always rigorously accurate, should not bother one too much, however if it doesn't sit well with you, you can always change your beliefs.
The other notion is that feelings, are inherently existing in and of themselves. This is blatantly false, feelings are contingent.
The absence of delusion is actually quite peaceful, nevertheless the motivating force for most enlightened action is in fact compassion. Although compassion is formated and imperfect in and of itself, it is considered a 'good enough' reason to engage in possibly beneficial acts.
This is actually the reason I'm writing this book.
There are of course, other delusions (I don't like that term) that abound within this human life that cause much suffering.
For example, one of them is the notion of a feat:
A feat is the notion that there is something you can do, to achieve something.
Most of the time this is false, things rise and fall, things reach fruition, in their own good time. But the idea of a practice often creates an untanglable net of problems that forces heavy weight and confusion onto the practitioner.
For example: getting laid is not a feat.
Yet because it is viewed as a feat, a dissonance occurs within the mind of a lot of males that causes them to, in the end, be very frustrated.
Other notions abound, such as personality delusions (the ascribing of characteristics, traits, to some 'body'), the belief in infallible wisdom, or that gut instincts prevail, these generally are symptomatic of mental stress.
Post-awakening, one can experience all sorts of strange manic phenomena, as did I.
But the recipe for said problem (the cure) is to simply go with the gut, which is probably the best advice that I have.
The gut will not always be there, but realize that life does not 'end', post-awakening. The notion that volition and responsibility drop post-some-event is another delusion, or as long as life lasts, you will be here, and responsible for what you do.
My actual practice.
My actual practice consisted (at the deep level) of going with my gut feeling, and trying to consummate it.
At the surface level is consisted of attending to the theme of: diligence.
Diligence (appamada), is the core virtue of Theravada Buddhism, it is this virtue that I constantly attended to, along with viriya, and it is this diligence, heedfulness and energy that I constantly cultivated, eventually it seemed to happen that none of what I did mattered, and I was left as a non-functioning mess.
I later came out of this and deepened my awakening.
Although koans are used in the Rinzai school I need to emphasize that there is no real intellectual study needed for Buddhism, beyond just a basic understanding (conceptual that is).
There is little that is intellectual about the awakening event itself, moreover there is no 'end' (vibhava), they do not 'end' (annihilation). The phenomena rise and fall.
The end of suffering.
It would actually be accurate to say that have I reached the end of suffering.
I am often unsure of what the Buddha talked about (originally) in terms of celibacy, the many factors for awakening (bodhipakkhiya dhamma) and discipline. Although many of those seem like useful ideas and accurate concepts, being here seems to render a lot of them, not very useful.
Moreover I am unsure of his conceptual framework (the four noble truths), or his path (the arya atthanga magga).
It did however, seem to work really well.
No cop out.
The biggest fallacy is that there is an 'end', wherein one can cop-out, that there is an annihilation, no such thing exists, responsibility will always be here, so will you.
Thus it is necessary to be conscientious at all times.
This world is so complex, that is impossible to really comprehend it all. Thus I advocate not spending too much time on disentangling things, and rather going straight for the root, or abandoning the root all together.
Awakening is opposite of entanglement and clinging.
Go straight for the root, or abandon the root altogeher.
Post-satori, a very deep, deep, deepening practice is needed. Attending to good themes, such as balance, order, equilibrium, or cessation, relinquishment, dispassion, or original face, Buddha nature etc. Might help deepen the satori or kensho experience.
Furthermore seclusion is absolutely necessary, just sitting is often useful for deepening the experience.
It is important to note that we are not deepening a state, but rather a stage.