I hereby propose a modest Zen experiment to you: stop thinking for four minutes while in an alert, fully conscious waking state. All that you need for this experiment are four unoccupied minutes. Just throw yourself into it as if off the Golden Gate Bridge. Start now. Ready? Set? Go!
Can you do it, or not? If not, why not? If I say to make a fist for four minutes, you can do that. Right? Or if I say not to blink your eyes for four minutes, you can even do that. And with training, you could learn to hold your breath for four minutes!
What's the trouble? Isn't this thinking business something that is under your control?
"Are you telling me to fall into some kind of yogic trance?" The opposite of that. No. I said to do it while fully awake, alert and conscious of your body and its surroundings. So try now.
Huh! Ah so desu ka. So you've bravely tried what I suggest. And you must now admit that something was blocking your attempt. You failed utterly and miserably. You simply can't do it. Thoughts kept coming up no matter how you tried to adjust your mind.
Don't get frustrated. It's hard. Just muster your will and your spirit to break through and try the same experiment again later today or tonight or tomorrow. You know how to get to Carnegie Hall, don't you?
One day soon as a result of your one pointed efforts, I promise, you will be able to stop your thinking while fully alert sometime during those four minutes. Then something will happen to you. Or rather, let's say that three things will happen to you, although they are really all one thing:
-You will drop all stress, all tension, all sense of effort and enter an inconceivable, indescribable state of brilliance characterized by vivid wonder and joy, as if all your senses suddenly lost their dust and came into sharp focus at once.
-Your original nature or "root-consciousness" (Bodhi) will wake up to itself without any further effort on your part, giving you the startling impression of being infinite, while also being "empty" of any defined sense of "self." Empty, yet infinite.
-You will experience a great rush of bodily energy.
All of your former anguish, stress and irritability gone in a single instant, blazing with Zen truth, you will realize that I was not lying to you, or trying to torture you with my incessant talk about satori. No -- I was right, and the Zen Masters were right, and Buddha was right, and now you too are right.
NOTE: Is getting satori as sketched out above the only way to Daigo-Tettei, Great Enlightenment? Not so. If you find that you cannot cut off thinking in a flash, then you can simply contemplate your bare awareness and practice not fixating on or pursuing any thoughts even as they arise. Just ignore them: take the attitude of "no matter, never mind." Let go of every mental appearance, let it self-liberate into infinite space. "If you do not follow one thought, the next thought cannot appear," says the Mahaparinirvana Sutra. This is just taking the attitude of a rock wall, a withered tree overhanging a deep gorge, an ancient strip of silk, a white ox in the blinding snow. This is the way taught by Hongzhi, sometimes called "silent illumination Zen," and later by Dogen as "shikantaza". It is not as difficult as cutting off thinking in a flash, but it takes more time and patience. If you practice this Zen method every day you will never experience "satori" as such but gradually you will settle into Daigo-Tettei, the inconceivable state of the Buddhas -- a snowy egret standing on the riverbank in morning mist, a hazy moon shining through black winter fog.