Understanding and Realizing

Sesshin ended today. In dokusan the difference between understanding and realizing came up again. It’s a difficult thing to learn (and “teach”) because most of us are only familiar with understanding and are impatient. Realization takes as long as it takes.

What’s the difference?

Take the koan I offered in the last post:

…When Kishizawa Ian, Suzuki Roshi’s second teacher, was a young monk, he was sitting in meditation on a rainy day and heard the sound of a distant waterfall. Then the wooden han was struck. He went to his teacher (maybe Oka Sotan) and asked, “What is the place where the sound of the rain, the waterfall, and the han meet?”
His teacher replied, “True eternity still flows.”
And then he asked, “What is this true eternity that still flows?”
“It is like a bright mirror, permanently smooth,” said his teacher.
“Is there anything beyond this?” asked the young monk.
“Yes,” responded his teacher.
“What is beyond this?” inquired the young monk.
And his teacher replied, “Break the mirror. Come, and I’ll meet you.”

A lot could be said about the spunk and freshness of the young monk; the psychology of the ear organ, the ear consciousness, and the ear objects coming together (waterfull, rain, han); the references in the teacher’s answers to the
Jewel Mirror Samadhi; and how teacher and student meet. All that would be to understand the koan.

To realize is to actualize eternity, the mirror, breaking, and meeting. Realizing is probably not like anything you’ve known before. If you’ve real-ized breaking of the mirror, for example, you can say what color it is just as easy as it is to identify your own face in the mirror.


If not, you might try to figure it out. Maybe figuring is necessary to discover that it can’t be realized in that way. Understanding is also profoundly unsatisfying.

Instead, look at the example of Sonin from a few posts back. When her teacher asked her about temporal conditions, she didn’t know, had the ego strength to acknowledge that she didn’t know, and went away to throw herself into her practice.


Her practice became a sacred pause.

And although the blog world is good for many things, it isn’t so good at communicating the importance of taking as long as it takes.


To clarify: I’m not encouraging practicing with a gaining idea but manifesting the burning Way Heart through wholehearted inquiry, free from all considerations. I’m encouraging passion for our questions. No need holding back and playing humble.

Capping Verse from Dogen in King of Samadhi’s Samadhi:
“Investigate one thousand points, ten thousand points, such as these.”

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