I have almost finished reading D.T. Suzuki's 'Essay's in Zen Buddhism'. There are many stories of disciples attaining state of Satori (which according to book is akin to Nirvana) when the Zen master does something illogical like twisting the nose or giving an absurd answer to what is asked.

As I am thinking about this it must be that the disciples mind must be in certain state that when the push is given by master it attains Satori.

Do we have any analytical understanding of this state? Its psychology? Is it a silent persent moment awareness for a long time? Is it something special to the culture and/or mind. Do we have any such examples of monks attaining Satori in present times?

  • Just a quick tidbit: I can’t recall reading that book, but I suspect you might be missing something. My understanding of Satori is that it is a flash - an unblocking if you will - and it creates an opening for Nirvana as a possibility. Nirvana is something I’ve always interpreted as permanent and unchanging - the end of suffering.
    – dgo
    Commented Feb 9, 2019 at 18:12

4 Answers 4


It's a state known as Great Doubt, "dai-gidan" (Japanese) or "dayituan" (Chinese):

In Ch'an and Zen practice, this represents a highly intense doubt about everything one thinks to be true, including the efficacy of Zen practice itself. (Oxfordreference.com)

For more information, please see the following question: How does the 'Great Doubt' compare to doubt.


In addition to Andrei's answer, I would just like to point out that you're only classifying the actions you describe as illogical in the context of an important question. There's nothing illogical about rubbing your nose if it itches. What these "answers" are pointing to is that everyday life and experience ARE the state of satori for those that have experienced the non-duality of what appear to be two different things. In Zen Buddhism (and by extension in most Mahayana traditions), they are like the two poles of a magnet: you can't have a magnet with just one pole, so the poles are actually non-dual.

The problem is that this is very difficult to put in words, since language is all about classification, so the experience of Satori is to be experienced, not described. This is not as esotheric as it may sound: it's similarly almost impossible to describe the exact taste of chocolate to someone who's never tasted it, for example.

Thinking about "states of mind" to discuss this can be helpful, but at the same time it's a hindrance since it creates the conception that there are stages one must go through. According to Zen teachings, satori can take 30 years, or 3 seconds. This is why Zen is called the "Sudden Teaching".

We do have some scientific studies on the subject, most notably Zen and the brain and the more recent work of neuroscientist Sam Harris: Waking Up.


Up to that point, they probably think Satori is some "big thing". When the master tells them its the same as doing the washing up, or picking your nose. Then they get it. It about a change of expectations, not a change of the state in their mind.


There's no special state. At least, not one that's outwardly discernible. So much of Zen happens underneath the surface of our ordinary minds. We might practice for years with the sense that nothing is happening. All the while, massive shifts are happening deep within our consciousness. Every so often, these shifts add up to a kind of seismic event that ripples through our ordinary consciousness. This is satori and it can happen anywhere and at any time. In fact, it often happens in the most mundane of places...like the line at a Wendy's drive through (personal experience!).

It's very important not to investigate things like the great doubt, or ordinary mind, or beginners mind, or anything of the sort too deeply. We can never really apprehend their full import simply by thinking about them. The roots go too deep and often what shows on the surface has no relation to what dwells below. When we pursue these kinds of mistaken identities and false facades, we can really sidetrack our progress and end up down unproductive paths.

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