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Satori : A Momentary Flash of Enlightenment


Emanation of light » by Limonc)


Back in 1998, I underwent a very peculiar experience, indeed, thus far at least, a once-in-a-lifetime event, which opened many doors for me and confirmed some of the directions I had previously chosen.


In time, I came to consider this occurrence as an instance of satori, a sudden momentary flash of enlightenment if you will, the intensity of which still resonates with me to this very day.


Satori is a Japanese Buddhist term for enlightenment that literally means "understanding". In the Zen Buddhist tradition, satori refers to a flash of sudden awareness, or individual enlightenment, and is considered a "first step" or embarkation toward nirvana. (source : Wikipedia)

In hindsight, I recognize the event to be a defining moment of my existence as the knowledge I have accessed through this unique experience became a cornerstone of my whole approach to living.



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At the time, I was living in a large cottage located on Chemin St-Louis in Québec City. Friends and I had rented it in July 1997 so we would have a place to make some music without disturbing the neighbors. Just like the house, the rent was huge, and so the three of us had hoped to enroll three more housemates via ads. Things eventually unfolded as planned and before long there was six young and not-so-young adults living under this one roof.


At the beginning of 1998, I decided to move my belongings from the second floor to the basement where the music room was located. There was a screening room down there, but as we almost never used it, it turned out to be the perfect place for me. It was larger than my former room, so not only did all my stuff fit nicely into it, but it left me with enough space to setup an additional work table, a diminutive atelier where I would paint, draw, and make other such visual art pieces. The move also freed up one room, which allowed us to receive one more housemate. But most importantly for me, I was now just a few feet away from the music studio and that was very much appreciated whenever inspiration would strike, and it did many times a day back then.


I remember investing much time and attention into what I called « exploring the three Ps, » namely, Physics, Psychology, and Philosophy (Eastern philosophies in particular), both online and offline. I had already begun my Buddhist studies a few years earlier, and at the time of the event I had already read the Dhammapada many times, the Tibetan Book of the Dead at least once (perhaps twice my I'm not sure about the timing), and a few short sutras.


Perhaps more importantly, I was nurturing a burgeoning meditation practice, and I had begun reading the Avatamsaka Sutra, possibly the longest text of the Buddhist canon, and surely one of the most thorough. In parallel with that demanding read, which required over two years to complete, I was also reading Stephen Hawking's « A Brief History of Time » which a housemate friend had recommended.


I was going through one of the most creative and expansive period of my life, always keeping myself purposeful in a desire to uphold Buddhist teachings. I was effectively in charge of the whole household as I was the only one of the three renters who had a steady job, and I had the privilege of working from home which meant I was available most of the time if there was a problem to be addressed around the house. So basically, when I was not developing accounting software, creating music or some other art form, studying Buddhism, exploring the recesses of human knowledge, or taking care of something in the house, chances are it was night and I was sleeping.


And thus, one particular night I had a one-of-a-kind dream wherein everything turned into this blinding pure white light into which I merged. The sheer intensity of the experience woke me up, and there I was in the middle of the night, utterly awestruck at what had just happened, sitting in my bed, deeply absorbed in a new knowledge that had been offered to me in the dream.


I was recognizing that the whole universe was replicated in my mind, but not as if the two were separate entities and that the contents of my brain were somehow a mere copy of the outside world. I was understanding that the mind and the so-called outside world were two aspects of one and the same thing, and that in fact there had never been two things. And I was realizing that a change in one of the two aspects necessarily meant a change in the other. But it was not merely an intellectual realization, it was not just a passing thought. It was like being thoroughly infused with the knowledge. It was like downloading the lesson straight to my neurons, to my whole being in fact. It was like being filled with light. It was like becoming light.


I stood up and moved to my futon where I sat back down, still enthralled by what has just occurred. I remember staying there, just looking in front of me, reflecting on this whole new idea and its ramifications, not being aware of my surroundings nor of the passage of time. When the feeling eventually subsided, I saw that the light of day had entered the screening room through its tiny and only window. Over three hours had passed in what appeared to me as possibly half an hour at the very most. Then I went back to my bed and returned to sleep.


Over the course of the following days, I was tempted many times to discuss what had happened with friends with whom I used to share my findings. But on every occasion I felt unable to weave the topic into the conversation, each time wondering how to « get there » as it always seemed to involve taking too large a step. I trusted that I could describe the event in details, but not that I could convey its intensity nor its full significance, which in fact still exceed my capacity to translate experiences into words. Eventually, other preoccupations took over and finally I decided to keep the whole thing to myself.



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As I was preparing the present account, I searched for reference material and found the following excerpts in the « satori » entry of Wikipedia.


Satori is typically juxtaposed with the related term kensho, which translates as "seeing one's nature". Kensho experiences tend to be briefer glimpses, while satori is considered to be a deeper spiritual experience. Satori is an intuitive experience and has been described as being similar to awakening one day with an additional pair of arms, and only later learning how to use them.

It is therefore customary to use the word satori, rather than kensho, when referring to the realization of the Buddha and the Patriarchs with Bodhisattvas; these figures recognized that "all things are Buddha things" and therefore any separation between self and the universe is illusory.

I find the first excerpt to constitute a very apt illustration of how this realization felt like, while the second is a more traditional way of describing the object of the realization.



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Looking back, my interpretation is that I've been graced to an experience of what is referred to in Buddhist literature as « sudden enlightenment » (as opposed to « gradual enlightenment »). As if my concentrated efforts at understanding had successfully breached the wall which until then had prevented me to access those luminous parts of my mind, allowing me a momentary glimpse at my own nature. Or perhaps I have been granted a peek at the final destination of this growth process that is life. In any case, I would venture that if it is possible for a person to experience heaven in this present existence, then surely this was it.


I wish for every being to experience this very same life-changing wonderful realization. And in fact, probably there is something I can do about it. Perhaps, if I persist in sharing my own experiences and realizations, others will be inspired to reach for them too, and hopefully they will be successful in their attempts. And then, possibly, in turn they will help others do the same, so we can all awaken one day to discover our additional pairs of hands, and keep on striving to hone them.

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