The Awakening of Philip Kapleau and others


 From the enlightenment stories in Three Pillars of Zen by Phillip Kapleau, 1965



At midnight I abruptly awakened. At first my mind was foggy, then suddenly that quotation flashed into my consciousness: "I came to realize clearly that Mind is no other than mountains, rivers, and the great wide earth, the sun and the moon and the stars." And I repeated it. Then all at once I was struck as though by lightning, and the next instant heaven and earth crumbled and disappeared. Instantaneously, like surging waves, a tremendous delight welled up in me, a veritable hurricane of delight, as I laughed loudly and wildly: "Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha! There's no reasoning here, no reasoning at all! Ha, ha, ha!" the empty sky split in two, then opened its enormous mouth and began to laugh uproariously ... Shakyamuni and the patriarchs haven't deceived me!"

Tell [the american] to vow to attain enlightenment though it take the infinite, the boundless, the incalcuble future.


Hawklike, the roshi scrutinized me as I entered his room, walked toward him, prostrated myself, and sat before him with my mind alert and exhilarated ...

"The universe is One," he began, each word tearing into my mind like a bullet. "The moon of Truth-" All at once the roshi, the room, every single thing disappeared in a dazzling stream of illumination and I felt myself bathed in a delicious, unspeakable delight ... For a fleeting eternity I was alone - I alone was ... Then the roshi swam into view. Our eyes met and flowed into each other, and we burst out laughing ...
"I have it! I know! There is nothing, absolutely nothing. I am everything and everything is nothing!"
[I] Feel fresh as a fish swimming in an ocean of cool, clear water after being stuck in a tank of glue ... and so grateful. Grateful for everything that has happened to me, grateful to everyone who encouraged and sustained me in spite of my immature personality and stubborn nature. But mostly I am grateful for my human body, for the privilege as a human being to know this Joy, like no other.


One night during the summer of that year while single-mindedly devoting myself to the practice of my koan, Mu, I experienced a state in which I felt as though I were looking at the vast, utterly transparent sky, and the next moment was able to penetrate the world of Mu with an awareness that was clear and sharp.

When we live inattentively we are apt to fall into partial discrimination. This is a state of mind in which egocentricity is fostered and human suffering enhanced. Therefore, whenever I become aware that I am relapsing, I remind myself that heaven and earth have the same root. Everything is One. The visual form of things is no different from the emptiness which is their essential nature.


Abruptly the pains disappear, there's only Mu! Each and every thing is Mu. "Oh, it's this!" I exclaimed, reeling in astonishment, my mind a total emptiness. "Ting-a-ling, ting-a-ling" - a bell's ringing. How cool and refreshing! It impels me to rise and move about. All is freshness and purity itself. Every single object is dancing vividly, inviting me to look. Every single thing occupies its natural place and breathes quietly. I notice zinnias in a vase on the altar, an offering to Monju, the Bodhisattva of Infinite Wisdom. They are indescribably beautiful!


My mind was empty as an infant's as I listened to the roshi's lecture. He was reading from an ancient koan: "Not even a sage can impart a word about that Realm [of Silence] from which thoughts issue ... A piece of string is eternal and boundless ... The bare white Ox before you is pure, vivid ..."

As the roshi spoke in a calm, quiet voice, I felt every one of his words filter into the deepest recesses of my mind ... All at once everything became sheer brilliance, and I saw and knew that I am the only One in the whole Universe! ... At last it dawned on me: there is Nothing to realize!


Deeper and deeper I went ... My hold was torn loose and I went spinning ... To the center of the earth! To the center of the cosmos! To the Center. I was There. With the sound of the kinhin bell I suddenly knew.

I feel clean. I feel free. I feel ready to live each day with zest, by choice! I am delighted by the adventure of each moment.

I feel as though I have just awakened from a restless, disjointed dream. Everything looks different!
The world no longer rides heavily on my back. It is under my belt. I turned a somersault and swallowed it.
I am no longer restless. At last I have what I want.


... a warm spot began to grow in my abdomen, slowly spreading to my spine, and gradually creeping up the spinal column.

I was so physically exhausted I could scarcely speak. Imperceptibly my mind had slipped into a state of unearthly clarity and awareness. I knew, and I knew I knew.

Never before had the road been so roadlike, the shops such perfect shops, nor the winter sky so unutterably a starry sky. Joy bubbled up like a fresh spring.

The days and weeks that followed were the most deeply happy and serene of my life. There was no such thing as a "problem." Things were either done or not done, but in any case there was neither worry or consternation ... For the first time in my life I was able to move like the air, in any direction, free at last from the self which had always been such a tormenting bond to me.

... I suddenly felt as though I were being struck by a bolt of lightning, and I began to tremble ... "I'm dead! There's nothing to call me! It's an allegory, a mental image, a pattern upon which nothing was ever modeled." I grew dizzy with delight. Solid objects appeared as shadows, and everything my eyes fell upon was radiantly beautiful.