Copied from The Sociology of Philosophies by Randall Collins (1998)
Historically, numerous procedures have led to enlightenment experiences. Dogen in 1225, soon after arriving in China, experienced enlightenment and received the dharma seal after a few weeks of intense meditation.. Many Japanese sojourners in China at this time similarly progressed rapidly to enlightenment, in contrast to the many years of training typical of enlightened masters during earlier, intensely competitive generations in Chinese Ch’an, or again during later periods in Japanese history. My point is not that the enlightenment experiences are not genuine, but rather that the contrasts are evidence that they were socially constructed... [p345]
…. the tranquil paths to enlightenment appear to have displaced the more spectacular ones as Zen became routinised and flamboyant rishi-like masters no longer commanded such social charisma.
Such processes on the organizational plane do not exclude the reality of the religious experiences of persons such as Muso or Hakuin. Historical and sociological writing inevitably becomes the external history of ideas and events. This is so even when written by sympathetic religious participants … not to speak of secular sociologists. It is the same for every religion ...The language of religious evocation and the language of scholarship tend to be mutually exclusive, separated by a gestalt switch that defocuses the content of one from the other.
Writers of history and sociology can take heart from the fact that this process is not merely imposed from outside by secular scholars; it has happened within the historical development of every religion. Leaders of the faith have been periodically aware of the undermining tendency of scholarship, even as it derives from one’s own sacred books. Islam, Christianity, Buddhism alike all went through early struggles against intellectualism and all gave rise to academic traditions. Without such displacements there would be little history of philosophy. The conflict cuts both ways. After the creation of a literate tradition, a permanent possibility in the space of religious positions is a movement of anti-intellectualism, whether in the direction of fideist return to common sensical readings of the scriptures or towards the mysticism of wordlessness. The dialectic does not stop here. The scholastic path is a permanent possibility as well. Scholasticism provides organizational continuity and transmits legitimation and prestige; these advantages ensure that religious intellectualism will be resumed again after every counter movement...[p346]
...There is no religion without sacred objects, without symbols representing the focus of attention and the distinctive sense of membership in the group; it is these symbols that set apart the experiences which are transcendent from those which are profane. And even when one’s purpose is to transcend thought, that trajectory can only be set in thought and through the medium of symbols which represent the group and its history. Symbols are the residue and the continuity of experiences over time. They flow through individual brains, shaping their attention and emotions, setting up the possibility of transcendent private experience and then bringing these experiences back into the network of social relations which gave them meaning, and which recreate the possibility of other persons’ acquiring their own private experience.
From the level of material organization, through the interpersonal networks, the flow of symbols and the building up of emotional energies, peak experiences are fashioned. These same conditions undermine pure religious experience, bringing attention to the mundanities of organizational power, the blandishments of material property, the displacement into scholasticism and intellectual discourse. Social reality is at once creating and bringing down religious experience. The one flows into the other in waves and peak and trough share aspects of each other. The same can be said in religious language: samsara is nirvana. [p347]