Hamlet, a Study in Satori


Part Three

There's a divinity that shapes our ends, Rough-hew them how we will. (V.II.)

In Zen the answer is "nothing". Satori is something that happens not something that is achieved or created. The pupil can only prepare: focus on his Koan, try to remember his path, work at being unattached and wait alertly. In doing so several things may happen to him. He may experience temporary "madness" (which is later seen as a reversal of his worldly perceptions), profound despair, inability to act, failure of spirit and will, and intense questioning about the meaning of life. He may attempt to think his way to satori, to feel his way, to pray, meditate, even "act" his way to it. Nothing works. Even his Koan that has brought him "so far along the path" has really brought him "nowhere". According to the Guide To Zen Practice: "He must be like a man who has swallowed a pill of hot iron. Unable to spit it out, he must melt (with it) all of his former wrong views and perceptions by working at it ... until he experiences the identity of subject and object. Then like a dumb person in a dream he will admit to himself that he has experienced enlightenment. When this happens ... He can kill Buddhas and the Fathers when he meets them, is gloriously free at the moment of his death..."

Still we have not shown, unequivocably, that Hamlet reaches a state of satori in Act V. In order to do so we must show how and when it happened, as well as offer uncompromising evidence of its existence. Let's look at what happens just prior to Act V Scene II?

First we have the graveyard scene. There are several indications in this scene that a metamorphosis of some sort is taking place. First there is a change in Hamlet's attitude towards his father. If we can draw a parallel between Hamlet's Father, "King, father, royal Dane" and "Imperious Caesar" we can see a remarkable reduction in the awe in which Hamlet holds his father:
Imperious Caesar, dead and turned to clay,
Might stop a hole to keep the wind away. (V.i.)
In fact, the very idea of death, and what might happen afterward, seems to be undergoing a radical turn. No longer is Hamlet concerned with what "may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil". Instead we have "the thing itself", a moldy skull; "alas, poor Yorick".

Next Hamlet is confronted with the dead Ophelia and with Laertes condemnations. These evoke in him a momentary return to his over-emotional expression as he jumps into the grave. Yet this outburst is brief, public and clearly strikes a false note to both the audience and Hamlet, "Nay, an thou'lt mouth, I'll rant as well as thou." In fact his final line of this scene is a recognition that however he feels, things will work out according to some objective balance inherent in life:
I loved you ever. But it is no matter. Let Hercules himself do what he may, The cat will mew, and dog will have his day. (V.i.)
In the beginning of Act V Scene ii, we have Hamlet's relating of the events that occurred while he was at sea. This begins with a statement of his recognition that he is both the doer and the one who serves.
There's a divinity that shapes our ends, Rough-hew them how we will. (V.II.)
Then he recounts the action he took regarding Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. In this recounting we (and Horatio) are struck by his lack of emotional tone, of guilt for his actions. He did not "think" about it, just did it:
Or I could make a prologue to my brains, They had begun the play. I sat me down, Devised a new commission, wrote it fair. (V.ii.)
Finally, he states that nothing has changed. He is still required to kill Claudius and avenge his father. The difference is that he no longer has any qualms about it. No longer does he bemoan that "...time is out of joint, "O cursed spite, That ever I was born to set it right".

Finally, we have the entrance of Osric, the courtier. And in this encounter Hamlet is faced with one of the most superficial characters in the play, with a personality not unlike that of Rosencrantz or Guildenstern. Hamlet makes fun of Osric just as he did of his two "friends" but without rancor or anger. He is no longer offended by the attempt to "play him like a pipe". He sees Osric as he is, but laughs rather than condemns.

By now it is evident that the transformation has occurred, but where? Why no obvious moment of revelation, no dramatic event or cathartic speech? If Shakespeare had intended to clearly reveal his character's development, if it was truly his intention to illustrate a process not unlike the attainment of satori, why no dramatic moment of enlightenment? Lets see what Herrigle has to say, "Characteristically, satori does not induce any striking buoyancy of being, a sense of excitement or a general feeling of elation... for the enlightened one is serene and not in any way conspicuous. "

In fact, one of the predominate aspects of satori is its ordinariness, both in effect and in occurrence. According to Suzuki, "Not only is satori itself a prosaic and non-glorious event, but the occasion that inspires it also seems to be unromantic and altogether lacking in supersensuality. Someone takes hold of you, or slaps you, or brings you a cup of tea, or makes some most commonplace remark, or recites some passage from a sutra or from a book of poetry, and when your mind is ripe for its outburst, you come at once to Satori."

The moment simply passes the audience by, in fact it may not have been a single "moment". Only Hamlet is aware of what has happened and he cannot express it directly. The best he can do is quietly share his certainty with Horatio:
If it be now, 'tis not to
come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not
now, yet it will come. The readiness is all. Since no
man, of aught he leaves, knows aught, what is't to
leave betimes? Let be. (V.ii.)
In the state of satori he will manifest it in his actions, and being. And the way he behaves throughout the rest of the play is clearly indicative of satori . His actions all now have the qualities of acceptance and immediacy. He will not condemn, merely allow himself to be the instrument of judgement. He accepts whatever might happen, even the possibility of his own death. Herrigle's comments regarding this state are particularly apt here: "Everything that happens, and above all what happens to me, should be observed impartially, as though on the deepest level it did not concern me." and "He has no complexes, can live from day to day and find complete fulfillment in each, quietly leaving the future in the darkness of fate. ... Personal immortality has ceased to be a problem for him." and "His cooperation (with what is required of him) consist only in his readiness and receptivity."

Even the manner in which he kills Claudius and Laertes are in harmony with a such a description of satori.
The point envenomed too? Then venom to thy work. (V.ii.)
Heaven make thee free of it! I follow thee. (V.ii.)
"His cooperation (with what is required of him) consists only in his readiness and receptivity." as Herrigle so aptly states. And Shakespeare gives us clear verbal cues as to Hamlet's inner world. Not through the use of soliloquy, for no longer is his inner world characterized by intellectual and emotional struggle, but by simple statements of how he feels,
The potent poison quite o'ercrows my spirit. (V.ii)
and what must be done to fulfill his final obligation to others,
But I do prophesy th' election lights On Fortinbras. He has my dying voice. (V.ii.)
Finally, in Hamlet's last line " The rest is silence" we have a perfect expression of satori, mirrored in Zen in the Art of Archery: "The result, in the end, is perfect stillness..."

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