The experience of kensho or enlightenment is a subject that a lot of teachers prefer to distance themselves from talking about, as words put limits on the experience. Master Hakuin, however, was not one to shy away from such a challenge, and often tried to describe his own spiritual exploits to his students. He uses simple, near-impossible imagery to communicate the incommunicable and to express a ‘great joy’.
Never ask your teachers to explain. But when your activity of mind is exhausted and your capacity for feeling comes to a dead end, if something should take place not unlike the cat springing upon the mouse or the mother hen hatching her eggs, then a great flash of livingness surges up. This is the moment when the phoenix escapes from the golden net and when the crane breaks the bars of its cage.
When a person faces the great doubt, before him there is in all directions only a vast and empty land without birth and without death, like a large plain of ice extending ten thousand miles. As though seated within a vase of lapis lazuli surrounded by absolute purity…. Within his heart there is not the slightest thought or emotion…. It is just as though he were standing in complete emptiness. At this time… when he advances single-mindedly without retrogression, suddenly it will be as though a sheet of ice were broken or a jade tower had fallen. He will experience a great joy, one that never in forty years has he seen or heard.