I’ve written a few pieces on this blog about the problems with schemes that promise you a so-called “enlightenment experience” fast. Mostly I’ve tended to focus on Genpo Roshi’s bogus Big Mindâ„¢ nonsense. But there are plenty more where that came from. I Googled the words “enlightenment fast” and this is what came up:
Here’s a webpage about the fast track to enlightenment.
And here is another webpage about how to fast track enlightenment.
Here’s one advertising enlightenment in 15-30 days.
Here’s a YouTube video with a hip, young dude telling us about the quick path to conscious enlightenment.
And here’s a book called Instant Enlightenment: Deep, Fast and Sexy.
That’s what I came up in about ten minutes without even really trying, imagine how many more you could get if you actually put in some effort.
Recently I started reading the book The Three Christs of Ypsilanti by Milton Rokeach. It’s an interesting story about three patients at a mental institution who each thought they were Jesus Christ and the psychiatrist who brought them together to meet one another. The book is all about the phenomenon of identity and the nature of what we call “self.” In chapter one, titled The Problem of Identity, the author explains some things that I believe can help in understanding precisely why getting enlightenment fast is such a very bad idea.
In this chapter he writes about the psychiatric concept of “primitive beliefs.” A person’s primitive beliefs, he says, “represent basic truths he holds about physical reality, social reality, himself and his own nature.” They are “rooted in the individual’s experience and in the evidence of his senses.” Rokeach says that “unlike other beliefs, primitive beliefs are not normally open to discussion or controversy. Either they do not come up in conversation because everyone shares them and takes them for granted, or, if they do come up, they are virtually unassailable by outside forces.” Further down the page he says, “A person’s primitive beliefs thus lie at the very core of his total system of beliefs, and they represent the subsystem in which he has the heaviest emotional commitment.”
These beliefs, he says, can also be thought of in terms of what’s called “object constancy.” This is something we learn early in childhood wherein we determine that the things we experience in the world maintain their identity over time. Little children love peek-a-boo because they are beginning to learn this, but don’t quite get it just yet. So they’re genuinely surprised when their mom hides her face behind a blanket and magically reappears again when it’s removed. We further learn – or at least begin to believe – that we ourselves also retain identity over time. This becomes a core belief that we feel is so obvious we never even think to question it.
A disruption of these primitive beliefs, Rokeach says, “would lead a person to question the validity of his senses, his competence to cope with reality, or even his sanity.” He further quotes Helen Merrell Lynd from On Shame and the Search for Identity who says, “Sudden experience of a violation of expectation, of incongruity between expectation and outcome, results in a shattering of trust in oneself, even in one’s own body and skill and identity.” This shattering can lead a person to replace his original set of primitive beliefs with others that don’t have a good foundation in consensus reality resulting in phobias, obsessions, delusions and even hallucinations. A person may begin to rely “solely on his own subjective experience, he abandons social support altogether.”
In Buddhism we have the idea of anatman, or “no self.” We say that the self is unreal, an illusion. Furthermore we say that our perceptions of the world are not necessarily true in any ultimate sense. They are conventionally useful and socially agreed upon, but they rest on a rather shaky foundation of consensus beliefs. In other words, we are dealing very directly with what Rokeach calls our “primitive beliefs.”
Just reading about this or hearing it in a lecture by a guy in a goofy black robe doesn’t usually cause most people any real problems. In fact, if you’re like I was when I first encountered these ideas, you imagine that this is some kind of metaphor, something that’s not really meant literally. After all, it could not possibly be literally true because the existence of a real thing called “self” is so incredibly obvious and unquestionable.
When you meditate, though, many of your most basic assumptions about yourself and the reality you live in begin to break down. If you’re involved in one of the many time-tested styles of meditation, this process generally happens very gradually and you receive a lot of help with the transition from people who have gone through it themselves and managed to make it out the other side without going crazy.
The problem for lots of us these days – especially in America – is that we no longer have much trust in tradition. We’re all about innovation! Tradition is for suckers! We want something new!
The fact that people have been working for thousands of years on this problem of how to carefully tread this path into the unknown and unknowable is lost on us. The traditions that have grown up over that long period of trial and error to assist people in gradually entering into a very different way of looking at themselves and the world they live in seem silly and outdated, the products of a bygone age that we have moved beyond.
In re-imagining meditation for the current era of speed and efficiency, we have discarded the traditional framework for it. We want results and we want them quick, damn it! We have a lot of stuff to do! We want to get enlightened right away and move on to the next thrill.
But those who went before us on this path already saw the dangers in that. People have been going bonkers from trying to get enlightenment too quickly for thousands of years. This isn’t something that just started happening in 1965 when the first hippie freaked out from forcing himself to see the light when he wasn’t really ready for it.
Most programs that promise you enlightenment quickly and easily are just scams to get you to spend money. They are usually based on hypnosis and other forms of mind control. Some are deliberately trying to get you into the sorts of vulnerable states Milton Rokeach describes in his book so that you can then be easily manipulated and used. In other cases there is often a cynical disregard for any sort of follow-up to the experiences they lead you into. Participants are left shell-shocked, not knowing what to do with their newly transcended egos.
Meditation is a good thing. When handled properly it can yield amazing insights. But it’s never something that should be rushed. You need to take care because you are working with your own most basic understanding of yourself and the world you live in. That’s not something you want to mess with.
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Powerful, important post. Doubt Genpo considers the implications to his subscribers, who are more than likely to be in a vulnerable state to begin with. Thank you Brad
I like this post. It’s the first time I have ever read any sensible arguments for a more gradual approach to meditation.
Take that you rinzai heretics…
DO YOU KNOW HOW MANY YEARS I WORKED ON KOANS???????
No, I didn’t think so….
There is an advantage to the practice of zazen nowadays that you did not mention, Brad : we also have the luck to have easy access to teachings and even people who are willing to help when meditation gets us in trouble. Often, just being able to talk about the unsettling experiences with someone who understands it helps a lot not to quit the practice.
I had a few times when things were really questioned by zazen, the most strange i can remember was walking around my city and seeing movement as something that was always finishing (like, i could watch a guy walking and i was fixating on each of his steps being gone forever and only existing in my memory, while, well, the guy was just keeping on walking !) ; it helped a lot to be able to discuss this with others, and to be able to go past it thanks to practice. What’s funny is that i found out a few years later that i experienced stuff that was “textbook Nagarjuna” without knowing it.
But all in all, i find zazen as practiced in soto zen a really “safe” practice. There is no special stuff or technique involved, and when you begin to get crazy about stuff (generally because you just think too much and try to get your head around stuff that is not “headaroundable”, like i was in the example before), more experienced guys always calm you down and keep you on track : sit down and shut up. It’s great to have the possibility to find some of those guys easily (including you), sometimes online.
I don’t know if you’d agree, but i found out that when things go strange, it’s really important to keep on practicing regularly and not stopping (as you might want to because stuff gets scary). So it’s great to be able to read and interact with people that can show you that you can and should keep on practicing.
Shaking up one’s primitive belief system might be hurtful, but the road back to it after going so far out on various limbs, and where they lead up to the present moment, and the awareness of this, seems to be more of the point.
Then the whole house of cards falls down.
And the transparency, the floating no-time, no-space, -no contexts- appears.
One day I was walking home from the restaurant, and suddenly everything was me. This was rather scary; I thought I might be going crazy. But I decided to just keep doing zazen every day, and eventually I got used to it. I think this would have been a big problem if I didn’t have a Sangha to rely on, and good counselors to help.
great post – I have ordered all the programs mentioned.
See you all at the finish line!
But seriously, got a copy of Big Mind for free once, it just felt like philosophy.
Another time pirated P90x workout system. Quit after 20 days when my wrists started hurting.
-Still skinny with a gut. Still a small mind with dreams.
The trademarked “Small Mind” ™ enlightenment system will help your wrists to hurt in only 20 days! Sign up today for a free introductory offer- be the envy of all your friends, the cosmic center of the universe at parties, meet members of the opposite sex and send them running! All this can be yours, and more! But wait- did we mention the SIX GINZU STEAK KNIVES, absolutely free?!-
You can look like this, overnight!
There are a variety of different conceptions of the nature of a bodhisattva in MahÄyÄna. According to some MahÄyÄna sources a bodhisattva is someone on the path to full Buddhahood. Others speak of bodhisattvas renouncing Buddhahood. According to the Kun-bzang bla-ma’i zhal-lung, a bodhisattva can choose any of three paths to help sentient beings in the process of achieving buddhahood. They are:
1) king-like bodhisattva – one who aspires to become buddha as soon as possible and then help sentient beings in full fledge;
2) boatman-like bodhisattva – one who aspires to achieve buddhahood along with other sentient beings;
3) shepherd-like bodhisattva – one who aspires to delay buddhahood until all other sentient beings achieve buddhahood. Bodhisattvas like AvalokiteÅ›vara and ÅšÄntideva are believed to fall in this category.
I’m involved with the Sanbo tradition of Zen, which marries some of the crazy enlightenment stuff from Rinzai (kensho, koans, etc.) with the calmer, more patient aspects of Soto. I’ve never had an “enlightenment experience.” It would be neat to have one, but my teachers have helped me become more and more comfortable with not attaining anything, where zazen is a break from trying to get somewhere or be somewhere and just be still instead. Its so much better then my early years of zen when I was trying to “get enlightened.”
Whatever happens will happen. I feel zazen has helped me work out the answers to life, the universe and Everything as best I can, and be content with the stuff I’ll Never Know.
I have the valuable experience of having years ago signed up for a week-end workshop called “Enlightenment Intensive.” It led to my falling into a cult. After five years I was crazy as a loon and kicked out. It took more years than that to recover. Lesson learned. Before that I had read a lot of Zen books and that is what drew me back to stability. My rule of thumb now is sit down and shut up! I don’t even think about enlightenment.
In my late teens I got hit by the truck called schizophrenia. I had to let go of my perceptions and core beliefs to start my road to recovery for more then a year I went through live second guessing every thought feeling idea gesture and words spoken around me. This made me tired and afraid to go outside. For years all motivation was drained out of me. I learned to police my mind. Zen meditation helped to be loving to this mind.
The vulnerability of my mind has thought me a lot about it’s nature. I believe it is a vulnerability I share with all living beings. In my mind enlightenment is not something to strive for. Being able to breathe, think, eat and love are gifts enough.
Thank you Brad for your texts. You are my favourite Buddhist author. I hope we can discuss Enlightenment vs Insanity one day face to face. Ill start saving some money to join a retreat 😛
I remember the first time that I became a fully enlightened Buddha and I could not handle it. Fortunately, I read some books by Zen Master Brad Warner and in no time at all I was back to being a deluded asshole.
Wow. You sure dodged a bullet there! What happened after the second time?
(And as one deluded asshole to another, welcome back into the fold.)
Anuttara samyak sambodhi is like that old joke about quitting smoking: it is so easy that I have done it dozens of times.
The Buddha-Universe is manifesting through this self. It doesn’t matter if you’re an asshole or not. It’s just a vessel for the expression.
I take Dogen’s message to be that enlightenment is not something apart, that there is a practice that is enlightenment yet there is no one apart from the practice who is practicing when the practice that is enlightenment takes place.
“Being able to breathe, think, eat and love are gifts enough.”
‘This is a writing I just finished, about what it means to do nothing in seated meditation, and why that can sometimes happen with only the bare comprehension of the long and short of inhalation and exhalation.’- me describing my latest write (google “bartilink no special effort best of ways”). I could as well have said the bare comprehension of thinking.
Eating is a special case, as Zhaozhou said:
“When I was in the south, for thirty years, except at mealtimes, I never used my mind in a way that mixed in worldly concerns.”
(“Zen Letters: Teachings of Yuanwu”, trans. Cleary & Cleary, pg 59)
Loving, bare comprehension of loving? No wonder I get in so much trouble.
I have nothing to say about this.
But anyway, I’ll say this. Thanks Brad for a great, well researched post. I even went and bought the ‘Three Christs of Ypsilanti’ e-book because of it. Shame that the book about shame seems to be out of print, I’d have bought that too.
I mashed up a lot of my primitive beliefs with LSD in late childhood, and it caused me no end of trouble. So when I started meditating, the LAST thing I wanted to happen was to have any freaky, far out experiences. All I wanted was a bit of normality and maybe serenity.
A great thing about zazen imho, is that you can experience all sorts of stuff without being freaked or disturbed at all. Like, I’ve had the world turn inside out a couple of times, seen the beauty of the raw thusness of things, been identified with the whole universe, and even had no self and no universe … and I was just like, ‘meh, whatever, it’ll pass’, the whole time.
But it never got me enlightened, godangit! I know that because I’m smoking a cigarette while writing this absurd comment, and I was fantasising about rough sex a minute ago.
Maybe I’ll sign up for Big Mind ( tm )
“I mashed up a lot of my primitive beliefs with LSD in late childhood, and it caused me no end of trouble”
I knew that my my primitive beliefs were bullshit at age 6. It wasn’t particularly disturbing, and the acid later merely confirmed it.
“I knew that my my primitive beliefs were bullshit at age 6. It wasn’t particularly disturbing, and the acid later merely confirmed it.”
Actually, so did I. Guess I started taking it all seriously again sometime between 6 and teenage. Or maybe it was a bad batch of acid.
“been identified with the whole universe, and even had no self and no universe ‘
This is enlightenment. If “you” expect more, you’re barking up the wrong tree.
Watching Genpo vids on youtube. He has an enviable collection of shiny rakusus
At Daido’s funeral, which was largely a liturgical event, them’s what got ’em all wore their kesas. There was even some high-ranking muckamuck from Soto or Sanbo Kyodan, wearing one of those headdresses like a Hawaiian king, only plain brown. Genpo’s kesa was twice as resplendent that the next fanciest robe.
I don’t understand how there can be such a thing as “instant”enlightenment. When we say “gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha”, don’t we mean that enlightenment can only come when Mitch McConnel, Hillary Clinton, Joseph Stalin, the Emperor Nero, Adolph Hitler, etc. etc. etc. also become enlightened? Aren’t we all in this together? (Ok: if you don’t accept reincarnation you can forget about Stalin Nero and Hitler. But that still leaves Mitch and Hillary and me. Show me where my mind ends and your mind begins.)
here are a couple of characters, good as sixty:
You kids and your hipster music…
golly, dad, it was a wurlitzer…
Sadly, one of the by-products of hitting the youtube musical links people post with comments now (for me and apparently others) is that it goes to the link, then takes 5 minutes to get back to the blog. So, sorry, I don’t bother w/the links anymore.. and I was one of the ones who started that sheeit back whenever when I had the avatar w/the big weatherman penishh. I’m sure they are wonderful (and Mark’s are still 90% Neil Young).
Mumbles, I thought so too at first. But there is a workaround! If you’re using Firefox (and maybe other browsers have this too), instead of clicking directly on the YouTube link, do a right-click with the mouse (or whatever the equivalent is on your machine) on the link. This brings up a menu, and one of the choices on that menu is “Open Link in New Tab”. Click on that.
Exactly as advertised, the YouTube link opens in a new tab, HCZ stays right where it was in its own tab. When you’re done watching the video, simply activate the HCZ tab which has been sitting there patiently in the background, and you’re back instantly, without the 5-minute reload.
Thanks mb! I’ll try it although I’m using an OLD MacBook and not sure how to “right click” on the tiny pad? I am but a caveman…Maybe my wife can figger it out…?
Mumbles, on my old Macbook, the equivalent of a right mouse click is: hold two fingertips down on the trackpad and click with your thumb.
SUCCESS! I tried to post this thank you already but forgot about the so-many character new rule and have had to wait some time to do it again. Thanks, mb!
another workaround to the annoying load times: remove the “https://” from the url…. seems like the security certificate is not 100% kosher…
I don’t get all this waiting for pages to load business, and, as previously disclosed, I’m using a 10 year old desk-top running xp + Firefox. Neither – not once during the 8 years I sat every day and attended retreats – did I get a ‘dark night of the soul’ or no-self/enlightenment experience. Doing it all wrong. Clearly. Enjoyed it, though. May do some more sometime.
I don’t get all this waiting for pages to load business, and, as previously disclosed, I’m using a 10 year old desk-top running xp + Firefox.
A minority of us blog commenters got a rude awakening when the HCZ server was moved from its original location to a GoDaddy server. This resulted in page load times of several minutes every time you do a login, post a comment, go away to an external page and come back etc. etc. So it doesn’t matter how old your machine is, the route between the GoDaddy HCZ server and some of our computers on the receiving end is mysteriously obstructed, still for unknown reasons. Obviously you weren’t affected!
Thanks for the info, mb. I recall the onset of the issues. Metta to all adversely affected. Me, I can’t help it if I’m lucky (in some browsers: highlight, right click, select the appropriate option from the menu and Google will search and find explanatory links and You Tube uploads.)
Did somebody mention Neil Young?
It looks like even old Neil is hanging out with hipster kids these days.
D/// G/ A/
D/// G/ A/
D/// G/ A/
D/// G/ A/
Where have I heard that riff before?
Oh, right, EVERYWHERE.
Hey, mtto; would you consider setting Brad’s Blog to allow for opening links in a new tab? Not sure if the advice about right-clicking (mb, above) is going to work for Apple wielders, but this should:
“Go to Appearance > Menus, click the Screen Options tab in the upper right, and check the box next to Link Target.
Each of your menu items will now show a checkbox to open the link in a new tab/window. Check those boxes and resave your menu.”
Have we established that the problem is for folks opening Brad’s blog on a MAC or other Apple device? I have no problems in Windows 7.
Mark – the right-click tip I gave Mumbles above works on Mac laptops with trackpads. Also the “slowness” problem affected both my PC desktop and my Mac laptop, so it’s not limited to one platform or the other, although my PC’s “slowness” was faster than my Mac’s, for whatever reason (i.e. pages that took 3 minutes to load on my Mac took only 1 minute on my PC) Has something to do with the route the bits ‘n bytes take from the HCZ server to various machines. Most are not affected, some are.
Control Click on a mac opens the options list for opening link in a new tab. The directions you copied and pasted appear to be for the menus built in to the site, as far as I can tell; they didn’t correspond to the actual backend of the site.
Thought I had a WordPress setting for “target=_new” there, but no such luck.
Have we established that the problem is for folks opening Brad’s blog on a MAC or other Apple device? I have no problems in Windows 7.
Thanks, GC; that was grand! Who was it said Neil Young’s stuff is easy to play, and impossible to imitate?
I’m in the middle of “Neil and Me”, having read both of Neil’s books. I especially liked Special Deluxe. Man, I had no idea what Neil was going through in the middle of his initial success- it’s amazing we have him.
I think I’ve mentioned before that I always thought he wrote “Ride My LLama” for me, ’cause I wrote him at the ranch a while before that came out about trying to bring the wisdom traditions and especially the Tai Chi classics into a Western context. Pretty silly, eh!
Sure, that makes sense. That’s just like when The Beatles wrote all those songs with hidden messages in them addressed to Charlie Manson.
Thank goodness we’re keeping quality comments in this thread 🙂
Years ago (~1980) I did the est training and followed that by 6 years of “participation” as they called it. I loved it (for adepts, the highlights were the 6-Day course and another one I can’t remember the name of right now done by the “Consultants”-I also “assisted” a lot, on 3 continents). What I experienced was interesting and helpful and real enough that at least I permanently lost all interest in LSD and pot, and gained enough focus in my life to have fewer catastrophes. But then I met an Aikido teacher who blew my socks off by being an actual rather than a pretend, glossy 5 x 5 human being. He also stated me doing zazen. I then immediately lost all interest in the freeze-dried enlightenment formulas.
Peter told me, “when you meditate, some people stare at a candle. But it is better not to stare at anything. It takes you 10 years to learn to concentrate on the candle, then another 10 to get rid of it.” And it took me more than 6 years to erase the traces of Werner’s courses. Though in some sense the poop is still there….
Do you get high? For sure. Is it enlightenment? Sort of. It is just like kensho. Which makes me suspicious of Rinzai, too! Does it last? Of course not. You have to keep “participating” and put up with abuse and enroll your friends to keep the high going. Does it provide real wisdom and insight? It’s like feeling something nice thru a plastic bag. I would rather give a bagel to a homeless man, or wipe my butt with my hand. The pain and beauty of existence does not have a price, it’s all we have, and it is more than enough wonderfulness for me. Sit down and shut up.
Peter sent me to Genpo, in Holland. I “got a lot out of it”, sure. But when I smelled a bad smell I got out. Peter himself was no official zen master- but this street musician master was by far more real. His realness and simplicity gave me the example I needed. Fuck you, Peter! You are dead now, but just as alive at this moment.
Genpo had also done the training and 6-day course, and we chatted about it. I guess I was still fascinated by what Werner had wrought, and clearly Genpo was too. Saving the whole world is seductive, and if you can
get lovers and houses on the side, so much the better. That was just before his sangha crashed and burned. Years later when I read of BM, and saw immediately the traces of WE&A, I knew he’d never gotten over that fantasy, and had indeed gone on to bigger and better delusions.
This is very destructive. Dogen would have rolled over in his grave, and we should do our best not to. Thanks to Brad for the post, and for the warning to all.
There are no short cuts. Or rather, that is the short cut: recognizing the addictive delusion that calls us to this tomfoolery. We are so so stooopid!!! Enough is enough, and the great songs posted above are the best response to all of that.
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