Last night I was reading an interview with an author who had lived in several Zen temples in Japan. At the first temple, the Zen Master told this American student that he had experienced kensho, or a glimpse of enlightenment. This author did not believe the Zen master was correct. He felt nothing different, he reported. He left that temple and went to a temple of a different branch of Zen, where the priest told him that kensho was just sort of a game, confirming in this student's mind that he had, in fact, not experienced anything significant.
Well, there is that aspect of that type of Zen (Rinzai) that does seem like a game: all of the students vying to see who will get enlightened first as they go from koan to koan. And the fact that this author did not believe his teacher probably means that it was just as well he went somewhere else. But – this is why we have teachers – to tell us what we may not ourselves realize, to reflect back the deeper truth that our egos cover over. My guess – and not having been there, it is only a guess, of course – is that in fact this author did experience kensho but that discursive thought quickly came back in and said he'd experienced nothing at all. And, of course, this is true, too – and is exactly why ego misses it. When we experience nothingness, how can we tell about it? We were, after all, absent that moment.
It's quite a paradox that the ego so wants, on the one hand, to take credit for an insight it has nothing whatsoever to do with, and on the other, to pretend that it never happened. Often, after an initial awakening, both of these delusions alternate with each other. I know that for me, when my first teacher told me, upon my initial awakening, that I had “entered nirvana,” I hadn't a clue what he was talking about. It is only in retrospect that I see that he had the larger picture.