A map of Zen training and enlightenment is developed using systems design methods. Analogues between systems design and Zen are drawn. A design group for collaborative theory building was formed. Nine experienced Zen students, including the author, used consensus techniques to generate a description of enlightenment as a system. Additional material was drawn from literature and from the author's experience. Structures and processes of the Zen system are identified. Major structural features are: Student, koan, teacher, and sesshin. The Zen student concentrates on the koan to the exclusion of other concerns. The teacher holds the student to the koan. Important stages leading to enlightenment are: Existential doubt, which brings the student to Zen; deep concentration, in which the student is absorbed in the koan; a catalyst, an ordinary sense impression which breaks up the concentration; and enlightenment itself.
Enlightenment involves initiation into the depth of Zen and an encounter with the universe, the teacher and the tradition. A special language centered on the koan is developed. Enlightenment is operationally defined as the ability to respond to the teacher's koan questions. Other features include a sense of one's true identity and, paradoxically, of the ordinary nature of the insight. Readiness and expectations influence the emotional tone of the experience. Enlightenment is one event in a long journey of practice and development after enlightenment is seen in terms of the psychological concept of presence. More general theories of enlightenment are considered: psychological frame-breaking; altered states of consciousness; and the existential shift--this last providing the best description. Zen practice is then shown in relation to formal theories of discontinuous change, namely: Punctuated equilibrium; catastrophe; and dissipative structures.
These are viewed as particular cases within a general theory of design. In a dissipative structure a fluctuation from equilibrium is amplified and leads to an abrupt transformation, a symmetry break, followed by reorganization at a higher level. This provides an excellent model for Zen enlightenment. This theory may be useful further in linking Zen training and existential psychotherapy. Design is shown as a powerful method for inquiry into consciousness.
Source: Dissertation Abstracts International, Volume: 49-04, Section: A, page: 0844.
Chair: Bela Banathy.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--Saybrook Graduate School and Research Center, 1987.