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Is the Zen term Satori the same as enlightenment or does it have different nuances or emphasis over what is commonly meant by enlightenment in non-Zen texts. If it is the same then why is used at all. Is its usage just a cultural thing and enlightenment could equally be substituted?

  • What is "enlightment" (in non-Zen texts,) Crab? – user635 Aug 16 '14 at 17:20
  • @RobMacHugh hahaha I don't know either. I guess I want to know if the two concepts are the same. I would like to ask the SE community what enlightenment is and find that out - but then wouldn't everyone – Crab Bucket Aug 16 '14 at 20:43
  • Satori ≠ Nibbana – Thiago Aug 16 '14 at 22:28
  • What is bodhi/enlightenment-- tough question. Satori seems to be used to mean like dipping your toes into enlightenment, a temporary burst of insight into how things really are that doesn't last long and usually happens while meditating. I don't have sources at hand though. – MatthewMartin Aug 16 '14 at 23:38
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    afaik, and i could be wrong cos zen is notoriously difficult for neophytes, satori means enlightenment, and can mean anuttara samyak sambodhi, complete enlightenment, but tends not to. see how many monks are still cultivating their enlightenment. kensho is that 1st experience or burst of insight, and can be equivalent to satori, but tends not to be. see how dogen talks about kensho (dismissively) but said to have experienced satori while in china – user3293056 Jul 30 '17 at 21:58
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No, satori is not complete enlightenment, it is an a-ha moment when the practitioner finally realizes "how things are":

Seeing his own original nature, he discovers that the ground of this nature is innately free of defilement, and that he himself is originally endowed with the non‐outflow wisdom‐nature which is not a hair's breadth different from that of all the Buddhas.

From this moment on, one's practice stops being guesswork or imitation and becomes informed by real understanding. In Zen this is known as "sudden awakening, gradual cultivation":

Although he has awakened to the fact that his original nature is no different from that of the Buddhas, the beginningless habit‐energies are extremely difficult to remove suddenly and so he must continue to cultivate while relying on this awakening. Through this gradual permeation, his endeavors reach completion. He constantly nurtures the sacred embryo, and after a long time he becomes a saint. Hence it is called gradual cultivation. This process can be compared to the maturation of a child. From the day of its birth, a baby is endowed with all the sense organs just like everyone else, but its strength is not yet fully developed. It is only after many months and years that it will finally become an adult. (from Secrets on Cultivating the Mind by Bojo Jinul)

Chogyam Trungpa also speaks about it:

Having received transmission and having had some kind of realization, you have to follow it up; you have to become liberated. Some people think realization is liberation, but in our case, it is not. When you realize something, you have to practice that realization, and then you are liberated. So realization does not mean you are liberated; it means that you have just touched on the possibility of liberation. Realization is like seeing the first rays of sunshine on the horizon -- you know that the sun is in the sky.

  • Thank you for the answer. So is satori the same as stream entry in that case. Or maybe a related phenomena – Crab Bucket Aug 22 '14 at 10:05
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    Yes, that is how i see it as well. – Andrei Volkov Aug 22 '14 at 11:05
  • i'd say it's less a related phenomena than a similar one – user3293056 Jul 30 '17 at 21:54
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It seems it is the Japanese translation of the Sanskrit & Pali word "bodhi" meaning awakening or understanding:

Satori (悟り) is a Japanese Buddhist term for awakening, "comprehension; understanding". It is derived from the verb satoru.

In the Zen Buddhist tradition, satori refers to the experience of kenshō, "seeing into one's true nature". Ken means "seeing," shō means "nature" or "essence."

Satori and kenshō are commonly translated as enlightenment, a word that is also used to translate bodhi, prajna and buddhahood.
-Satori (Wikipedia)


Satoru (さとる, サトル) is a Japanese verb meaning "to know" or "understand". It is a common masculine Japanese given name. In Zen, Satoru is the root to the Zen Buddhist word, Satori (悟り enlightenment).
-Satoru (Wikipedia)

I'm not too familiar with Zen literature so I do not know if the term has any additional nuances (Hence the Wikipedia answer. Maybe someone else can jump-in if the term has further subtleties).

Thank you for the question though. I didn't know this.

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    Kensho is translated from Chinese 見道; 見 means seeing, 道 the path. Satori is 開悟; 開 in Chi means open, the graphic of a pair of doors being pushed open; 悟 is hard to tanslate, its so Chi concept, meaning sudden understanding without any means, a bit like intuition, but more. Usually kensho is lax term, one has a glimpse of truth but not necessarily grasped it; but Satori can't be lost, as if one who exposed the magician's trick he could never be fooled again. However these are initiations, need cultivation, as a sprout needs cares. – Mishu 米殊 Aug 4 '17 at 20:02
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Mahayana Teachers speak of awakening or enlightenment in two meanings:

  1. Awakening as liberation from delusions.
  2. Complete awakening.

The first one is the experience of "seeing the true nature". I think it can be called "liberation" because the illusory nature of delusions is revealed. They still can appear in the mental continuum, but they do not enslave in that absolute way as it was before.

That experience of seeing may be impermanent, because of our deeply rooted habits. It depends. Therefore some people think it's a permanent change (sometimes it happens so), some people think it's a transitory experience that comes and goes. (Usually it is so).

It is the first of Ten Bhumis of Bodhisattva. Probably it's the same as the Stream Entry. Mahayana Teachers say that though it's liberation from delusions, imprints of delusions remain (obstacles to omniscience). They are eliminated in the course of Ten Bhumis, and then there is the complete enlightenment.

PS. So in general "satori" and "kensho" is awakening (in the first sense). However among Buddhist teachers, Zen in particular, there are many people without real understanding of awakening. They read some books or listen to low quality teachers and form various misconceptions. That's why in fact they use terms "satori" and "kensho" where there's no awakening at all.

  • No use me trying to Answer the Question now. Chang Zhao nailed it. – brother eric Apr 19 at 2:43
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Satori is the realization of self for the first time. It is always a sudden phenomena. When satori happens an individual realizes that he is not just mind or body, but more than that.

However due to long rooted habits he tends to loose his consciousness again and again and remains awaken only for a short period of time.

To make this consciousness permanent one has to continuously keep doing meditation. When this consciousness crystallises permanently the person is called enlightened.

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I speak more from personal experience rather than academic or historical study.

I see Nirvana as a

  • plain of existence... of joy, creativity, eternal and infinite. and from this Plain come lightning bolts that sometimes connect with us. this point of contact can be a satori where one gets a glimpse of nirvana. – stu ayu Aug 19 at 3:49
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if its not permanent, it aint enlightnment

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