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Satori (悟り) (Chinese: ; pinyin: ; Korean: o; Vietnamese: ngộ) is a Japanese Buddhist term for awakening, "comprehension; understanding".[web 1] It is derived from the Japanese verb satoru.[1]

In the Zen Buddhist tradition, satori refers to the experience of kenshō,[2] "seeing into one's true nature". Ken means "seeing," shō means "nature" or "essence."[2]

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


  • Definitions 1
  • Satori and kenshō 2
  • Importance of satori 3
  • Attaining satori 4
  • See also 5
  • Notes 6
  • References 7
    • Written references 7.1
    • Web-references 7.2
  • Sources 8


  • D.T. Suzuki: ".... looking into one's nature or the opening of satori";[3] "This acquiring of a new point of view in our dealings with life and the world is popularly called by Japanese Zen students 'satori' (wu in Chinese). It is really another name for Enlightenment ("Annuttara-samyak-sambodhi")".[4][note 1]

Satori and kenshō

Japanese character for satori

Satori is often used interchangeably with kenshō.[2] Kenshō refers to the perception of the Buddha-Nature or emptiness. According to some authors, kenshō is a brief glimpse, while satori is considered to be a deeper spiritual experience.

Distinct from this first insight, daigo-tettei is used to refer to a "deep" or lasting realization of the nature of existence.[2]

Importance of satori

According to D. T. Suzuki,

Satori is the raison d'être of Zen, without which Zen is no Zen. Therefore every contrivance, disciplinary and doctrinal, is directed towards satori.[6]

This view is typical of Rinzai, which emphasizes satori. The Sōtō school rejects this emphasis, and instead emphasizes "silent illumination" through the practice of zazen.

Attaining satori

Satori is considered a "first step" or embarkation toward Buddhahood:

Ch'an expressions refer to enlightenment as "seeing your self-nature". But even this is not enough. After seeing your self-nature, you need to deepen your experience even further and bring it into maturation. You should have enlightenment experience again and again and support them with continuous practice. Even though Ch'an says that at the time of enlightenment, your outlook is the same as of the Buddha, you are not yet a full Buddha.[7]

The student's mind must be prepared by rigorous study, with the use of koans, and the practice of meditation to concentrate the mind, under the guidance of a teacher. Koans are short anecdotes of verbal exchanges between teachers and students, typically of the Song dynasty, dealing with Buddhist teachings. The Rinzai-school utilizes classic collections of koans such as the Gateless Gate. The Gateless Gate was assembled by the early 13th-century Chinese Zen master Wumen Hui-k'ai (無門慧開).

Wumen himself struggled for six years with koan "Zhaozhou’s dog", assigned to him by Yuelin Shiguan (月林師觀; Japanese: Gatsurin Shikan) (1143–1217), before attaining kenshō. After his understanding had been confirmed by Yuelin, Wumen wrote the following enlightenment poem:

A thunderclap under the clear blue sky
All beings on earth open their eyes;
Everything under heaven bows together;
Mount Sumeru leaps up and dances.

See also


  1. ^ D.T. Suzuki has been criticised for his highly idealised and inaccurate picture of Japanese Zen.[5] "Annuttara-samyak-sambodhi" is the highest state of realisation and awakening. Satori, or kensho, is a first glimpse into "nature", to be followed by further training.


Written references

  1. ^ Suzuki 1994-A, p. 88.
  2. ^ a b c d Kapleau 1989
  3. ^ Suzuki 1994-B, p. 259.
  4. ^ Suzuki-1994-B, p. 229.
  5. ^ MacRae 2003.
  6. ^ Suzuki 1994-A.
  7. ^ Yen 2006, p. 54).


  1. ^ Denshi Jisho — Online Japanese dictionary


  • Kapleau, Philip (1989), The three pillars of Zen 
  • McRae, John (2003), Seeing Through Zen. Encounter, Transformation, and Genealogy in Chinese Chan Buddhism, The University Press Group Ltd,  
  • Suzuki, D.T. (1994-A), An Introduction to Zen Buddhism, Grove Press 
  • Suzuki, D.T. (1994-B), Essays in Zen Buddhism, Grove Press 
  • Yen, Chan Master Sheng (2006), Boston & London: Shambhala 
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