Katsuki Sekida

Katsuki Sekida's Four Types of Samadhi: #4 Neither Man nor Circumstances are Deprived

So far we've looked at three types of samadhi, or states of mind developed through Zen.  Sekida's fourth type of samadhi is "neither man nor circumstances are deprived."

(1) Man is deprived; circumstances are not deprived.
(2) Circumstances are deprived; man is not deprived.
(3) Both man and circumstances are deprived. 
(4) Neither man nor circumstances are deprived.  

As we have seen, "man," as Sekida defines it, is "that certain self-ruling power (which) dominates the mind. This spiritual power is the ultimate thing we can reach in the innermost part of our existence."  This "man" is what is developed through zazen meditation.  

In the first form of samadhi, "man" is absent (although he is ready to make his appearance when needed), and one is wholly absorbed is outward events.  This state of samadhi is the surgeon immersed in his operation, the basketball player immersed in the game, the pianist immersed in the performance.  As far as I can tell, it is what Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi calls "flow."

In the second form of samadhi, experienced during zen meditation, "man" is present, but circumstances are not.  The picture is of one completely absorbed in inward meditation as practiced in the zen tradition.

In the third form of samadhi, one enters into an even deeper state of meditation in which all self-reflective consciousness (i.e. "I know I'm meditating") ceases.  This is a rare state according to Sekida, and seems to be simply an intensification of the second form of samadhi.

Finally, we come to Sekida's fourth form of samadhi, in which both man and circumstances are present.  Here's how he speaks of this type samadhi:

"This category, 'neither man nor circumstances are deprived,' is the condition attained in the Zen student's maturity. He goes into the actual world of routine and lets his mind work with no hindrance, never losing the 'man' he has established in his absolute samadhi. If we accept that there is an object in Zen practice, then it is this freedom of mind in actual living.

To put it another way: when you are mature in practicing absolute samadhi, returning to ordinary daily life you spontaneously combine in yourself the first and third categories. You are active in positive samadhi and at the same time you are firmly rooted in jishu-zammai – the self-mastery of absolute samadhi. This is 'neither man nor circumstances are deprived,' the highest condition of Zen maturity. True positive samadhi achieved through Zen practice ultimately resolved into this fourth category.

A man may practice zazen and make certain progress in absolute samadhi and be successful in establishing the 'man' within himself. Then a new problem will arise, that of how he can exercise this man in his actual life in the busy world. When sitting on a cushion doing zazen he can attain samadhi and experience the man, and can realize that the man is really his absolute self. But when he comes out into his daily routine and eats, talks, and is active in his business, he often finds he has lost the inner man. He wonders how he can manage to maintain the man in himself in his daily life...

In short, the student who is puzzled how to retain the inner man in his daily life – who wonders how he can embody Mu in himself in his actual life – is striving for the condition in which both the inner man and the outward concerns – man and circumstances – are not deprived but are freely in action. In the first category man was inactive; in the fourth category man has returned to the front line. One who has attained maturity in Zen can behave freely and does not violate the sacred law: both man and circumstances are in vigorous activity and there is no hindrance. Only maturity in Zen will secure this condition – the ultimate aim of Zen practice."

This feeling that one is absorbed in the content of daily life, and is, at the same time, being directed by the "inner man" is, according to Sekida, the aim of Zen practice.

The way he describes this form of samadhi is very similar to the language of working with an "Inner Observer" or "doubled awareness" in other traditions.  This reality has been described as being aware of the contents of consciousness and the field of consciousness at the same time.  In Centering Prayer, it might be spoken of as being fully present to God and the present moment circumstance at the same time.  Drawing parallels between traditions is sometimes dangerous and fails to respect the uniqueness of each tradition, but the parallel here jumps out at me.  As I mentioned in the first post of this series, when describing types of samadhi, Sekida almost seems to be describing my own experience of Centering Prayer, just with different terminology.

This will be the last post of this series.  I highly recommend Sekida's Zen Training as an accessible introduction to Zen.  It's important to note that it is an introduction from only one persons's perspective; and different authors from the Zen tradition often describe it in very different ways. 


Katsuki Sekida's Four Types of Samadhi: #3 Both Man and Circumstances are Deprived

Sekida's third type of samadhi, or mental state, associated with Zen is "Both man and circumstances are deprived."

(1) Man is deprived; circumstances are not deprived.
(2) Circumstances are deprived; man is not deprived.
(3) Both man and circumstances are deprived.
(4) Neither man nor circumstances are deprived.

This type of samadhi, achieved during Zen meditation, is an intensification and deepening of State #2.  The difference, according to Sekida, is that the "self-reflecting action of consciousness" is lessened, even to a point where it disappears altogether.  

Here's how he describes "Both man and circumstances are deprived":

"The third category is "Both man and circumstances are deprived."  A discussion of this category must be preceded by an explanation of self-consciousness.  I have said that consciousness functions in two ways, outwardly and inwardly.  There is another important action exercised by consciousness: one that reflects upon its own thought.  This kind of reflection must be distinguished from general introspection, which deals with character or behavior.  When we think, 'It is fine today.' we are noting the weather, but we are not noting that we are thinking about the weather.  The thought about the weather may last only a fraction of a second, and unless our next action of consciousness reflects upon it and recognizes it, our thought about the weather is allowed to pass away unnoticed.  Self-consciousness appears when you notice your thought, which immediately precedes your noticing it, and you then recognize the thought as your own.  

If we do not perform this noticing action we do not become aware of our thinking, and we will never know that we have been conscious at all.  We may call this action of noticing our own thoughts "the reflecting action of consciousness" to distinguish it from general introspection...

Now, when one is in absolute samadhi in its most profound phase, no reflecting action of consciousness appears.  This is Rinzai's third category, "Both man and circumstances are deprived."  In a more shallow phase of samadhi, a reflecting action of consciousness occasionally breaks in and makes us aware of our samadhi.  Such reflection comes and goes momentarily, and each time momentarily interrupts the samadhi to a slight degree.  The deeper the samadhi becomes, the less frequent becomes the appearance of the reflecting action of consciousness.  Ultimately the time comes when no reflection appears at all.  One comes to notice nothing, feel nothing, hear nothing, see nothing.  This state of mind is called "nothing."  But it is not vacant emptiness.  Rather is it the purest condition of your existence.  It is not reflected, and nothing is directly known of it.  This nothingness is "Both man and circumstances are deprived," the condition Hakuin Zenji called "the Great Death."  The experience of this Great Death is no doubt not common in the ordinary practice of zazen among most Zen students.  Nevertheless, if you want to attain genuine enlightenment and emancipation, you must go completely through this condition, because enlightenment can be achieved only after once shaking off our old habitual way of consciousness."

In this third type of samadhi, all disappears, even one's awareness that they are experiencing samadhi.  


Katsuki Sekida's Four Types of Samadhi: #2 Circumstances are Deprived; Man is Not Deprived

Continuing the Samadhi series, Katsuki Sekida's second form of samadhi is "Circumstances are deprived; man is not deprived."

(1) Man is deprived; circumstances are not deprived.
(2) Circumstances are deprived; man is not deprived.
(3) Both man and circumstances are deprived.
(4) Neither man nor circumstances are deprived.

In Sekida's first form of samadhi, one is totally absorbed in outward circumstances.  In Sekida's second form of samadhi, the situation is reversed.  Outward circumstances disappear and one becomes absorbed in the "inner man."

"The second category ... denotes inward attention.  When we work on Mu or practice shikantaza, we concentrate inwardly and there develops a samadhi in which a certain self-ruling spiritual power dominates the mind.  This spiritual power is the ultimate thing that we can reach in the innermost part of our existence.  We do not introspect it, because subjectivity does not reflect itself, just as the eye does not see itself, but we are this ultimate thing itself.  It contains in itself all sources of emotion and reasoning power, and it is a fact we directly realize in ourselves.

Rinzai Zenji calls this ultimate thing 'man.'  When this 'man' rules within us in profound samadhi, circumstances are forgotten.  No outward concern appears.  This state of mind is 'Circumstances are deprived, man is not deprived.'  It is an inward samadhi and it is what I have called absolute samadhi, because it forms the foundation of all zazen practice.  It contrasts with the outwardly directed samadhi described in the first category, which I call positive samadhi.  Positive samadhi is a samadhi in the world of conscious activity.  Absolute samadhi is a samadhi that transcends consciousness.  When we simply use the term samadhi by itself we generally refer to this absolute samadhi."

As a practitioner of Centering Prayer, the similarities here are obvious.  When Sekida says things like "a self-ruling spiritual power dominates the mind," that it is "the ultimate thing that we can reach in the innermost part of our existence," and "it contains in itself all sources of emotion and reasoning power," he is essentially describing the Centering Prayer experience without using the word God.  The major difference is that in Sekida's description, this self-ruling power, what he calls "man," is you ("we are this ultimate thing itself").  Most who practice Centering Prayer would conceptualize this differently, interpreting this power as something outside of themselves, although even this gets hazy as the experience is often described as "the presence of God at the deepest level of your being."

Sekida's description of the second form of samadhi is the closest I have found to describing the experience of Centering Prayer, but from the perspective of a different religious tradition.  In his discussion here, we're almost speaking the same language.  

Katsuki Sekida's Four Types of Samadhi: #1 Man is Deprived; Circumstances are Not Deprived

In Zen Training: Methods and Philosophy, Katsuki Sekida discusses four categories of "samadhi."  Samadhi is one of those terms that gets used in different ways by different authors, and this often creates difficulty when discussing the concept.  In the modern Christian contemplative tradition, True Self / False Self language shares this problem.  Sekida uses the term in a very general way in which it may simply be taken to mean "mental absorption."  He then delineates between types of mental absorptions, or "types of samadhi."  

I find huge overlap in Sekida's descriptions and what I have experienced in my own practice of Centering Prayer.  More than any other Zen author, I feel like his language really speaks to my own, non-officially-Zen, experience.  

Sekida's categories of samadhi are:

1. Man is deprived; circumstances are not deprived.
2. Circumstances are deprived; man is not deprived.
3. Both man and circumstances are deprived.
4. Neither man nor circumstances are deprived.

I'll take each of the categories in separate posts.  A preliminary note – when Sekida uses the word "man" here, he is talking about what he calls "a certain self-ruling spiritual power (which) dominates the mind."  This "man" is developed through Zen practice and thus is difficult to understand for those who haven't had the experience.  Here's how Sekida describes the first category of samadhi: "Man is deprived; circumstances are not deprived":  

"The first category 'Man is deprived; circumstances are not deprived' denotes a situation in which one's mind is absorbed in outward circumstances.  A famous surgeon was once performing an operation that required great concentration.  While he was working there was a sudden earthquake.  The shocks were so severe that most of the attendants involuntarily ran out of the room for safety.  But the surgeon was so absorbed in the operation that he did not feel the shocks at all.  After the operation was over he was told of the earthquake, and this was the first he knew of it.  He had been completely absorbed in his work, in a kind of samadhi.

We experience this kind of samadhi when we are watching a football game, reading, writing, thinking, fishing, looking at pictures, talking about the weather, or even stretching out a hand to open the door – in the moment of sitting down or stepping forward.  In fact, we are at every moment absorbed in that moment's action or thought.  There are various degrees of absorption, various periods of duration, and differences between voluntary and involuntary attention: the differences, for example, between our watching a football game (involuntary attention) and the surgeon performing the operation (voluntary attention).  But we are almost always experiencing a minor or major condition of momentary samadhi, so to speak.  When we are in this sort of samadhi we are quite forgetful of ourselves.  We are not self-conscious about our behavior, emotions, or thought.  The inner man is forgotten and outer circumstances occupy our whole attention.  To put it another way: inward concern is absent; outward concern dominates...

Now, it is important to recognize the difference between true samadhi with self-mastery and the false kind of samadhi without it.  In the first, even when the inner man is forgotten, he is not forsaken.  The firmly established man is getting along well within, ready to make his appearance at any time.  False samadhi lacks this self-mastery from the outset.  There can be fighting samadhi, stealing samadhi, hating samadhi, jealousy samadhi, worrying, dreading, upsetting samadhi, but all without the guidance of self-mastery.  These are not true samadhi as it is understood in Zen...

Not losing self-mastery but at the same time being involved in external conditions is the real meaning of 'Man is deprived; circumstances are not deprived.'  In this state the inner man is simply inactive."

So, according to Sekida, full absorption in what one is doing, when the inner man is "ready to make his appearance at any time," is this first kind of samadhi.  Another way you could put it is that this kind of samadhi is absorption in the task at hand as directed by the "inner man" achieved through Zen practice.  

This full absorption in the task at hand is, it seems to me, what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls "Flow."