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Nondual Highlights Issue #1875 Saturday, July 31, 2004 Editor: Mark


- image by Robert O'Hearn, on AdyashantiSatsang

One has come to the absolute fact - not relative fact - the absolute fact that there is no psychological security in anything that man has invented; one sees that all our religions are inventions, put together by thought. When one sees that all our divisive endeavours, which come about when there are beliefs, dogmas, rituals, which are the whole substance of religion, when one sees all that very clearly, not as an idea, but as a fact, then that very fact reveals the extraordinary quality of intelligence in which there is complete, whole security.

J. Krishnamurti from
The Wholeness of Life

Interview: The Taboo of Enlightenment
Stephen Bodian

One of the most popular Buddhist teachers in the San Francisco Bay Area these days is not a Tibetan lama or a traditional Zen master but an unconventional, American-born lay teacher named Adyashanti. His public talks and dialogues (which he calls satsangs a term borrowed from India’s Advaita, or "nondual," tradition) attract hundreds of seekers, Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike.

Although Adyashanti rarely talks about Zen or Buddhism these days, he did train closely with a Buddhist teacher, spending more than a dozen years practicing meditation under the guidance of Arvis Justi, a lay teacher in the lineage of Zen master Taizan Maezumi, the founder of the Zen Center of Los Angeles. At age twenty-five, while sitting alone on his cushion, Gray had a classic kensho, or awakening experience, in which - as he describes it now - he "penetrated to the emptiness of all things and realized that the Buddha I had been chasing was what I was." As powerful as this experience had been, however, Gray knew immediately that he had seen just the tip of the iceberg. "I had discovered that I am what I’ve been seeking," he explains. "Then the next koan arose spontaneously: What is this that I am?"

Although Gray continued to meditate, absorbed by this new question, he reports that all sense of effort and anxiety disappeared. During this period, he married and went to work in his father’s machine shop. "I was happy," he recalls, "but I knew it wasn’t enough." As his inquiry deepened, his practice diverged from the traditional format, and he lost interest in doing retreats or relying on his teachers for guidance. Instead, his energies turned inward and became, in his words, "exclusively focused on realizing the truth of my own being." In addition to meditating, he spent many hours sitting in coffee shops writing out answers to the questions, or life koans, that spontaneously came to him.

Finally, at thirty-one, Gray had an experience of awakening that immediately put to rest all his questions and doubts. Two years later Arvis Justi asked him to teach, and he changed his name to Adyashanti, Sanskrit for "primordial peace."

I interviewed Adyashanti - a teacher of mine for several years - at his home in San Jose on a warm Indian-summer afternoon. He’s a small man, slight of build, with blond hair cropped close like a monk’s. Our conversation was grounded in our familiarity, as friends and as teacher and student, and we laughed frequently as we talked. - Stephan Bodian

What’s the relationship, do you suppose, between all those years of sitting zazen and this kensho experience? Did they prime the pump of awakening? Were they steps leading to awakening? You now seem to be dismissing the concept of "stages of the path," yet there appears to be some causal relationship between your Zen meditation practice and your awakening. I’m deeply grateful for my Zen practice. It ultimately led me to fail well. I failed at being a Buddhist, I failed at being a perfect exemplar of the ten precepts, and certainly I failed at meditation, failed at all my efforts to bust down the "gateless gate" to awakening that Zen speaks of. And the fact that I actually got to the point where I failed - and I failed completely - was useful. Zen provided a place for me to fail, and I needed that. In fact, I’d say my process wasn’t so much a letting go as an utter failure. Zen did a good job of letting me fall on my face.

What would have been a success - awakening? Well, failure was the success - awakening happened through failure. In that sense I have a great respect for the lineage. What was transmitted was bigger than all the carriers, it was even bigger than the lineage, much bigger than Zen, much bigger than Buddhism.

What was that? I’d say a certain spark, an aliveness.

How has your own enlightenment changed the way you function in the world: your relationships, your family life, your everyday behavior? Does being enlightened mean that you never get angry or reactive or make big mistakes? There’s no such thing as never getting angry. Enlightenment can and does use all the available emotions. Otherwise, we would have to discount Jesus for getting pissed off in the temple and kicking over the table. The idea that enlightenment means sitting around with a beatific smile on our faces is just an illusion.

At a human level, enlightenment means that you are no longer divided within yourself, and that you no longer experience a division between yourself and others. Without any inner division, you stop experiencing most of the usual forms of reactivity.

Could you say a little more what you mean by no "inner division"? Most human beings spend their lives battling with opposing inner forces: what they think they should do versus what they are doing; how they feel about themselves versus how they are; whether they think they’re right and worthy or wrong and unworthy. The separate self is just the conglomeration of these opposing forces. When the self drops away, inner division drops away with it.

Now, I can’t say that I never make a mistake, because in this human world being enlightened doesn’t mean we become experts at everything. What does happen, though, is that personal motivations disappear. Only when enlightenment occurs do we realize that virtually everything we did, from getting out of bed to going to work to being in a relationship to pursuing our pleasures and interests, was motivated by personal concern. In the absence of a separate self, there’s no personal motivation to do anything. Life just moves us.

When personal motivation no longer drives us, then what’s left is our true nature, which naturally expresses itself on the human dimension as love or compassion. Not a compassion that we cultivate or practice because we’re supposed to, but a compassion that arises spontaneously from our undivided state. If we undertake being a good, compassionate person as a personal identity, it just gets in the way of awakening.

In traditional Buddhism, at least as I practiced it, there’s a taboo against talking openly about enlightenment, as we’re doing now. It seems to be based on the fear that the ego will co-opt the experience and become inflated. In your dharma talks you speak in great detail about awakening, including your own, and in your public dialogues you encourage others to do the same. Why is that? When I was sitting with my teacher, Arvis, we’d all go into the kitchen after the meditation and dharma talk and have some fruit and tea, and we’d talk openly about our lives. For the most part we didn’t focus on our spiritual experiences, but they were a part of the mix. Then these same people would do retreats at the Zen Center of Los Angeles and have big awakenings, and the folks in L.A. began to wonder what was happening in this little old lady’s living room up north. Arvis’s view was simple: The only thing I’m doing that they’re not, she said, is that we sit around casually and talk, and what’s happening on the inside for people isn’t kept secret or hidden. This way, people get beyond the sense that they’re the only ones who are having this or that experience. They come out of their shell, which actually makes them more available to a deeper spiritual process.

The tradition of talking about certain experiences only in private with your teacher keeps enlightenment a secret activity reserved for special people. I can understand the drawbacks of being more open, of course. Some people may blab on about how enlightened they are, and become more egotistical. But when everything remains open to inquiry, then even the ego’s tendency to claim enlightenment for itself becomes obvious in the penetrating light of public discourse. In the long run, both ways have their strengths and weaknesses, but I’ve found that having students ask their questions in public breaks down the isolation that many spiritual people feel - the sense that nobody else could possibly understand what they’re going through, or that they’re so rotten at their practice, or that nobody could be struggling like they are. And when people have breakthroughs and talk about them in public, awakening loses its mystique. Everyone else can see that it’s not just special people who have deep awakenings, it’s their neighbor or their best friend.

Would you claim that you are enlightened? Well, no, not with a straight face. I would say enlightenment is enlightened and awakeness is awake. It’s not an experience; it’s a fact.

To read more of this interview, please see the Fall 2004 issue of Tricycle: The Buddhist Review.

From "Small Wonder" by Barbara Kingsolver

In my darkest times I have to walk, sometimes alone, in some green place. Other people must share this ritual. For some I suppose it must be the path through a particular set of city streets, a comforting architecture; for me it's the need to stare at moving water until my mind comes to rest on nothing at all. Then I can go home. I can clear the brush from a neglected part of the garden, working slowly until it comes to me that here is one small place I can make right for my family. I can plant something as an act of faith in time itself, a vow that we will, sure enough, hava a fall and a winter this year, to be follwoed again by spring. This is not an end in itself, but a beginning. I work until my mind can run a little further on its tether, tugging at this central pole of my sadness, forgetting it for a minute or two while pondering a school meeting next week, the watershed conservation project our neighborhood has undertaken, the farmer's market it organized last year: the good that becomes possible when a groups of thoughful citizens commit themselves to it. And indeed, as Margaret Mead said, that is the only thing that ever really does add up to change. Small change, small wonders - these are the currency of my endurance and ultimately of my life. It's a workable economy.

Political urgencies come and go, but it's a fair enough vocation to strike one match after another against the dark isolation, when spectacular arrogance rules the day and tries to force hope into hiding. It seems to me that there is still so much to say that I had better raise up and yell across the fence. I have stories of things I believe in: a persistent river, a forest on the edge of night, the religion inside a seed, the startle of wingbeats when a spark of red life flies against all reason out of the darness. One child, one bear. I'd like to speak of small wonders, and the possibility of taking heart.


I Have Been Living

I have been living
closer to the ocean than I thought--
in a rocky cove thick with seaweed.

It pulls me down when I go wading.
Sometimes, to get back to land
takes everything that I have in me.

Sometimes, to get back to land
is the worst thing a person can do.
Meanwhile, we are dreaming:

The body is innocent.
She has never hurt me.
What we love flutters in us.

Jane Mead

New book by Stephen Batchelor, published June 7, 2004:

"Living with the Devil" is a seminal work on humankind's greatest struggle - to become good. Batchelor traces the trajectory -- from the words of Buddha and Christ, through the writings of Shantideva, Milton and Pascal, to the poetry of Baudelaire and the fiction of Kafka -- of those obstacles that keep us from doing what's in our own and others' best interest. He shows us the myriad forms those obstacles take: a wandering farmer, a caring friend, a devout religious believer, a powerful king, even a frustrated old man who doodles in the sand when he cannot snare Buddha. The devil need not appear with horns and a forked tail: he stands for everything that paralyses one's innate wisdom, freedom and empathy, thereby blocking one's path in life. In a world of black and white, Batchelor paints in shades of gray, showing what it means to live in an ambiguous and precarious environment that constantly tempts us away from what we hold to be good.

Drawing on classic religious texts from East and West as well as the findings of modern physics and evolutionary biology, Batchelor asks us to examine who we really are, and to rest in the uncertainty that we may never know. For the alternative to this creative unknowing is to freeze ourselves inside rigid definitions of self -- the very work of Mara, the demonic figure that appeared to Buddha -- and blindly follow the feeling that we are "self-begot" (Milton), independent and permanent. To be free from such diabolic constriction entails creating a path that imbues one's life with purpose, freedom and compassion. This is a hopeful book about living with life's contradictions. Batchelor argues that freedom from the demonic is not achieved by suppressing it or projecting it onto others, but by calmly and clearly recognizing and understanding those inhibiting and destructive powers as they well up from within us and assail us from without. Such an approach not only releases the grip in which the devil holds us, it opens up the world as an astonishing play of endless flux and contingency. This leads to a perspective of vigilant care from which we can respond to the cries of the world rather than reacting to them out of habitual self-interest and fear.

Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely. It is not given to us to know which acts or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good. What is needed for dramatic change is an accumulation of acts, adding, adding to, adding more, continuing. We know that it does not take "everyone on Earth" to bring justice and peace, but only a small, determined group who will not give up during the first, second, or hundredth gale.

One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. Soul on deck shines like gold in dark times. The light of the soul throws sparks, can send up flares, builds signal fires, causes proper matters to catch fire. To display the lantern of soul in shadowy times like these - to be fierce and to show mercy toward others, both, are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity. Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it. If you would help to calm the tumult, this is one of the strongest things you can do.

- excerpt from
Do Not Lose Heart by Clarissa Pinkola-Estes, in A Pause for Beauty #55, courtesy Herondance


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