ENLIGHTENMENT Part A Million

For those who haven’t noticed yet, I have a new article up on SuicideGirls. You should be able to get to it by clicking on the words “new article up on SuicideGirls” in the previous sentence. I’m really bad with this HTML mark-up stuff. So if that didn’t work, there’s a link over to your right that will also take you there.

The latest article is a kind of a response to some of the endless chatter my last post generated. Sometimes I say things here in an offhand way, forgetting that I’m supposedly some kinda celebrity or some such garbage. I commented about that webpage maintained by that person whose students have been advertising in the comments section of this blog which I think is just a really weird thing to do, actually. Anyway I kinda wish I hadn’t said anything because I couldn’t give a shit about her in particular or her students. There’s a much more serious problem.

See, lots of the stuff that various wanna-be Masters out there claim as the basis for their supposed Grand Awakenings are pretty much the same stuff I encountered a number of years ago as part of the normal process of doing this zazen stuff. Not just me. Lots of practitioners encounter this stuff. In my case, I was also pretty jazzed up about it. I remember walking around thinking, “Yeah, bay-bee! I am the King of All Creation and you better believe it!!!” I was ready to start collaring the monks I saw begging for loose change at Shinjuku Station and challenging them to Enlightement Smackdowns. Had they seen the great truths to which I was now privvy? I thought not. HA! What fools they were compared to ME!

But if you study the koans, you’ll see over and over and over again instances of young monks all jazzed up on their initial experiences in the practice being told off by their teachers. If the relationship between teacher and student is a healthy one, this usually works. When it’s not, the youngsters often end up breaking away from their teachers convinced that they have surpassed even the great masters in the depth and power of their new-found enlightenment. This is nothing new. It’s been repeated countless times over the past couple thousand years.

This is one of the reasons Dogen advised people not to study Buddhism without a teacher. I devoted a whole chapter to this in my upcoming book. But the upshot is that it’s OK to do zazen without a teacher. Unless you’re really obsessed with obtaining some kind of big experience from the practice, it won’t do you any harm and, in fact, will probably do you a whole lot of good. But if you find yourself getting truly serious about the practice, a teacher is absolutely necessary. Among other things, a good teacher will keep you from declaring yourself the One True Messiah upon your first shallow rumblings of understanding.

We’ve been so conditioned to look at and understand the world we live in a specific way deemed by society to be “normal” that when you first start to get an inkling of how things actually are it can be quite a shock. The severity of that shock depends on how deeply you bought into the supposedly “normal” way of looking at things. If you really, really, really bought into it without question, you’re gonna be in for one hell of a surprise upon encountering even the merest shadow of understanding how things really are. If you’ve had questions and doubts about what most people see as “normal” all along, the shock may not be quite as severe. The people who are the most severely shocked are the ones most likely to believe they are now the New Savior of Humanity the moment they get a glimpse that things might not be as they’ve been told. Still, the difference between what life really is and what you’ve been told it is, is so great that pretty much everyone is surprised by it.

I think there’s a real danger in what’s going on with all these supposed Enlightened Beings plying their trade nowadays. Someone who is very persuasive can have you believing just about anything. I told the story in Hardcore Zen about how deeply impressed I was by the former leader of the Cleveland Hare Krishna temple. He was later allegedly involved in a murder case in West Virginia. I recently came across a copy of the book Monkey On A Stick, which details the case and has a photo of the guy. Looking at him again after 20-some years I shuddered to think what might have transpired had I not held on to that little bit of skepticism towards what he was saying that I felt at the time. I know exactly how people get involved in those horrible gloom-and-doom cults because I could easily have been one of them.

69 Responses

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  1. Anonymous
    Anonymous January 8, 2007 at 7:17 pm | |

    Wow. Brad’s blogger comment board went negative real fast! On a positive note, I just saved a bunch of $$ on my insurance by switching to Geico!! ;-) Life is too beautiful to allow all of this drama to suck you down.

  2. Anonymous
    Anonymous January 8, 2007 at 8:52 pm | |

    Brad,

    Zen Master Rama is cartoonish, and
    an easy target. Do you care to
    comment on some subtler examples?

    How come sitting makes some folks
    “a little better” (as Gudo would
    say) and others a lot worse?
    For example, you vs. Mike Cross,
    Joko Beck vs. “Big Mind” goofball
    Dennis Merzel (they were both
    students of Taizan Maezumi), and
    then there are some really bad,
    harmful cases like Eido Shimano
    (as described by Robert Aitken
    in his book “Original Dwelling Place”).

    Apparently, having a good teacher
    and sitting for decades is not
    necessarily enough to make a person
    any less of an asshole.

  3. Lone Wolf
    Lone Wolf January 8, 2007 at 9:16 pm | |

    Your welcome PA, Heyyy!

  4. Anonymous
    Anonymous January 9, 2007 at 5:54 am | |

    Along the enlightenment line of discussion. What would be the difference between enlightenment and awakeness or awareness. If I recall correctly, Buddha described himself as awake, not enlightened. If we equate the two then would not enlightenment be an on going state of awareness as opposed to an isolated flash of insight? Where did this enlightenment idea come from?

  5. Dukkha Earl
    Dukkha Earl January 9, 2007 at 6:32 am | |

    UncaDan said…

    Where did this enlightenment idea come from?

    Gassho

  6. gniz
    gniz January 9, 2007 at 7:02 am | |

    Kim, no love for me? Thanks.

    I dont do anonymous posts and I have tried to go on the troll wagon.

    Anyway, glad to hear you’re thinking of me.

  7. Anonymous
    Anonymous January 9, 2007 at 7:33 am | |

    Go away Gniz. Stop wasting webspace.

  8. gniz
    gniz January 9, 2007 at 10:53 am | |

    That’s funny–telling me to stop wasting web space. Very likely you’re the person being mistaken for me…

    So whatever I am–looks like you’re in the same boat my friend.

  9. Stuart
    Stuart January 9, 2007 at 5:09 pm | |

    > How come sitting makes some folks
    > “a little better” (as Gudo would
    > say) and others a lot worse?

    One logical point: who said sitting makes anyone worse? If someone has done sitting practice for 20 years and is an asshole, that demonstrates precisely nothing. It might mean a LITTLE if you compare someone’s assholocity before years of sitting practice vs after. The only really meaningful comparison would be between a person who’s sat for 20 years (or whatever) and the person he would have been if hadn’t sat for 20 years; such a comparison is impossible.

    Anyway, a more practical point… I don’t believe the act of sitting on one’s ass is the key thing. It’s one’s direction: WHY are you sitting on your ass? If you’re doing it because you want to get something, I’m not sure that makes anyone better. If you’re doing it to deeply question, or to help suffering beings, that might be different.

    It’s like “Creation Science.” You may put on a white lab coat and talk and act AS IF you’re a scientist, but if you’re defending a dogma (rather than openly seeking truth), you’re really not. Likewise, you can look like a Buddhist on the outside, but if you’re not putting down I/my/me, what’s the point?

    http://home.comcast.net/~sresnick2/socalled.htm

  10. Stuart
    Stuart January 9, 2007 at 5:14 pm | |

    To “anonymous” who wrote about Salvia above… Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on this poor sinner. I do get a handful of website visitors who are inspired to try Salvia and email me about it. Buyer beware. I’m surely going to hell for this. Or maybe heaven.

    From my “spiritual” web page, go to the home page (link at bottom) to email me or sign the guestbook with your email address. I’m happy to talk more about it off this board.

    http://home.comcast.net/~sresnick2/socalled.htm

  11. Drunken Monkey
    Drunken Monkey January 9, 2007 at 10:07 pm | |

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  12. Anonymous
    Anonymous January 10, 2007 at 5:40 am | |

    Great answer, Stuart, on the question
    of the amount of assholishness before
    and after 20 years of sitting, but I
    thought that a “good teacher” was
    supposed to be the essential
    ingredient (or crucial catalyst) that
    would allow a long-time student to
    substantially zero out the majority
    of assholishness that he or she began
    with. But I guess not.

  13. Anonymous
    Anonymous January 10, 2007 at 5:41 am | |

    Great answer, Stuart, on the question
    of the amount of assholishness before
    and after 20 years of sitting, but I
    thought that a “good teacher” was
    supposed to be the essential
    ingredient (or crucial catalyst) that
    would allow a long-time student to
    substantially zero out the majority
    of assholishness that he or she began
    with. But I guess not.

  14. Anonymous
    Anonymous January 13, 2007 at 3:23 am | |

    Who cares if Brad or Linda is “enlightened”(which, by the way, we all are)? If you choose to bicker over such stupid things you are miles off the mark. Practice. Here. Now.
    If something is wrong with reality, whatever’s wrong is not reality, Guy

  15. Katie
    Katie January 14, 2007 at 11:37 am | |

    there is no good place to post this random comment… so here

    I’m just a little confused. There’s so many different beliefs and ideas about buddhism and zen, and so many different ways to practice… but I thought the whole point was just to sit. Just the action, not the thought. So why do I feel like I need to research the hell out of everything before I commit myself to zazen? If this practice is what I love and what I believe, should I bother to look into all the other stuff? Is it even about belief? I’ve been reading a lot of this blog (I just found it about a week ago) and other stuff, and it’s making me think way too much about what was so clear to me before and I’m really not sure if that’s a good thing. It’s good to question everything, but to what extent?

  16. Anonymous
    Anonymous January 15, 2007 at 5:58 am | |

    Dear Katie,
    There are many ways to the same path. Every school of Buddhism teaches the same dharma, just not the same way.
    Your comment on “just sitting” is typical of the Soto school. Other schools, such as Rizai, practice koan work. Theravada has it’s mandalas. Whether or not you should explore these other areas is completly up to you. If you find it overwhelming and confusing, well, just sit for a while. Don’t stress because you don’t feel you undestand; understanding comes in time.
    Furthermore, this is not about “belief”. It’s about direct experience. Beliefs are weak tools to explain the universe around us, often having little basis in reality. Direct experience of reality is undisputable; what is, is.
    To what extent should you question everything? MY answer: If you think something is fireproof, throw it in the fire. If it burns, it was useless anyway. I say question everything; nothing sacred or profane. Question your beliefs and your fears, why do you have them? Where did they come form? Were Mom and Dad and the clergy and teachers,…, wrong? Only you can answer these things for yourself. Gassho, Guy

  17. Anonymous
    Anonymous June 12, 2007 at 7:39 am | |

    Hey, while searching for widgets for my blog, I stumbled upon http://www.widgetmate.com and wow! I found what I wanted. A cool news widget. My blog is now showing latest news with title, description and images. Took just few minutes to add. Awesome!

  18. Anonymous
    Anonymous August 1, 2007 at 7:13 pm | |

    This article is pretty much trying to say that no one is Enlightened and it reeks of desperation in saying so. The sad thing is that this type of mentality stops these sorts of practitioners from actually seeking anything new, while at the same time they plod along never really achieving anything at all. In the end they become armchair experts who can do nothing except criticize.

  19. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 4, 2009 at 9:54 pm | |

    Hello all!

    I’m a student of Linda Clair’s here in Australia so I thought I might be able to help with some confusion that some of you have about her. I’m sure that no spam was sent by her.
    As for whether she (or anyone else) is “enlightened” or not is probably quite irrelevant but in my personal experience of sitting (zazen) with her for the past two years, I’m deeply affected just being in her presence. Not to mention how she is immensly compassionate and supportive. Sometimes tough but alway very loving.
    I have no doubt at all in my mind that she is deeply (and growing more deeply) enlightened.
    I can see how it’s challenging to the mind, though because she is so darn ordinary. To be honest I was a little disappointed when I first saw her but I guess that was the first thing that I very quickly let go of while with her.
    The ego is challenged because it sees that someone very “normal” just like you and me has the possibility of freedom in this life. It would rather think that it may take lifetimes and you need to be a bit more sparkly like Osho and sit on a throne (I’m not knocking Osho). The ego loves the chase, but is terrified of succeeding.
    Everyone needs different lessons and teachers on their paths. She is perfect for some and certainly not for others.
    One path will not work for all.
    Of course one goal will.

    That’s enough out of me. All the best to all of you.

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