I am curious about the various phases of awakening. It seems that it there is an infinite variety and richness here, and possibly also some broad similarities.
St. John of the Cross talks about the dark night of the senses and the dark night of the soul. As far as I understand (from very limited readings), it seems that…
The dark night of the senses refers to a detachment to a dualistic view and an exclusive identification with the human self. This of course can be experienced as very dramatic, and painful as well. There is a detachment to anything in the world of phenomena, which gives rise to a more non/transdual view. This is the second of Tozan’s five ranks, a submission to a teacher – or in Christianity, to God/Christ (the first rank is an initial glimpse, to wet the appetite).
We now find ourselves as Big Mind/Heart, and see the human self as just a vehicle in the world of phenomena. In the Christian tradition, there is the experience of “I” as a human self stepping aside, giving room for God to live through this human self.
In the Buddhist tradition, this is called the bright sun of enlightenment. It is the birth of the Buddha, and thus an infant Buddha stage where we are fascinated with this new way of being. This is the third of Tozan’s ranks.
Naturally, we become attached to this state. It is wonderful and (apparently) complete beyond description. Why would we want to let it go? So we become stuck here, and Existence is wise enough to nudge us out of it, usually with us kicking and screaming.
This is the dark night of the soul, or Tozan’s fourth rank. It is a fall from grace. An experience of being forsaken by God, of loosing any connection with Big Mind and/or God. It is a terrible wasteland, compared with the glory, fullness and completeness of the previous stage. We are now again completely human, completely in the relative.
We rehumanize, and when we fully embrace this, there is an opening again – this time more gentle and integrated. We find ourselves as the Absolute, as Big Mind/Heart and one with God, and we find ourselves as just ordinarily human, with all our usual flaws and peculiarities. And there is a fluidity and deepening integration between the two. This is Tozan’s fifth rank, also known as the hazy moon of enlightenment.
It is a more ordinary, integrated, mature and human form of awakening/deepening.
Of course, it is often not quite as linear as this, and there is probably cycles within cycles. We may go through all these five in order or out of order, several times, within one lifetime (or even a day!).
For me, the three first stages of Tozan happened almost all at once. I was 16, and quite sick from what later turned out to be multiple severe food intolerances. First, my center of gravity moved from my human self to the formless awareness (this gave the world a dreamlike appearance, and I was convinced there was something very wrong going on). This gradually led to an awakening where I eventually experienced God as absolute everything, with no exception. All – in the world of phenomena and formless awareness, is God. It was a very intense state, lasting day and night for years, with a tremendous flooding of realizations and insights (just about all of which mirrored what I later read in Buddhism and Christian/Sufi mysticism). And of course, I got quite attached to being Big Mind/Heart continuously for years…
Then, there was a fall, about ten years later. It looked very prosaic from the outside, triggered just by external circumstances (moving away from a Zen center). And still, my experience of it was that of utter devastation and desolation. My connection with God/Big Mind was completely gone. I had nightmares almost nightly for two or three years about this loss. I again became just an ordinary human being, and it was terrible after the bliss of continuously being one with God/Big Mind. I resisted it for several years, until my external circumstances again changed and I began to take responsibility for my situation again.
As I embraced myself as I was (a wreck at this point), the opening returned – this time in a much more ordinary and unremarkable way. Now, there is a gradual integration of the absolute and relative, at a relatively slow and comfortable pace.
And of course, this whole rigmarole may well repeat itself, in a new form, within this lifetime. There is still much further to go, both in terms of awakenings and integration.
First, there is just an ordinary exclusive identification with our human self, and an acompaning dualistic view. Then, a glimpse of something more (Tozan’s first rank).
Then, submission to God/Christ or a teacher (Tozan’s second rank). Here, there is also a disidentification with anything in the world of phenomena, including our human self and a dualisitc view (dark night of the senses).
This is followed by an awakening to/as the Absolute, as Big Mind, a union with God. (Tozan’s third rank). Here, we naturally become attached to the absolute.
And this attachment leads to a fall from grace (the dark night of the soul, Tozan’s fourth rank). We are utterly alone, utterly desolate, utterly and purely human. We are (apparenlty) forsaken by God. We are ground to dust and thoroughly humbled.
As we finally come to accept our new situation, as just one human among many, there is a new awakening and integration. Now, we find ourselves as the Absolute – in union with God, and as human – one of many. There is a more natural integration, as sense of the ordinary and unremarkable of it. We finally become more deeply human. (Tozan’s fift rank, also called the Integrated Free Functioning Human Being in the Big Mind terminology).