The Enlightenment Drug

Psychbuddha The following is partially based on questions I received via email. I’ll put the questions in italics so you can tell which is which.

Let’s say that one day science arrives at a full understanding of the brain mechanisms behind satori or “enlightenment” experiences, and then develops a chemical that people could take to have these experiences at will.  Would such a drug be useful to the practice of Zen? Would you recommend such a drug to others?  Would you take it yourself?  

I’ve had this question before and I’ll give you the same answer I gave the other person who asked it. It will never happen because it’s impossible. The guy who asked this didn’t believe my answer. But it’s like asking about a drug that could turn a person from a weak, skinny guy into a muscle bound brute in thirty seconds, or a drug that could change a 7 year old child into a 27 year old adult in just six minutes, or a drug that could turn an orangutan into a box of tissues. Things just do not work that way and they never will.

Just for clarification, what exactly about what I asked would be impossible?  To be clear, I’m not asking about a drug that would replace decades of daily zazen practice, retreats, work with a teacher, total honesty with oneself, and the like.  I’m assuming that so-called satori experiences are not necessarily a by-product of those things, and perhaps are unrelated.  Aren’t such experiences just brain states, and couldn’t we hypothetically understand their mechanism and find ways to replicate them? Maybe not, but if so, would this be of some benefit for the practice of Zen?

That’s a better question. I think most people who ask this kind of thing are actually asking about a Fix Everything Drug. They believe that an Enlightenment experience (satori, kensho, whatever) will fix all their problems. Like most of us (me included for sure!), they’d rather not have to work real hard. We’d all like to just take a pill and have it all be worked out for us. But that’s not what you’re asking about. Good.

In a sense, we already have the kinds of drugs you’re asking about. If you take LSD or, I would assume, other hallucinogens (I’ve only ever had LSD myself) you can get an experience that’s roughly like what a lot of people label as satori or kensho.

It’s not precisely the same because the drug forces the experience upon you. You’re thrown into it and you can’t get out of it until the drug’s effects wear off. The effect is deeply confusing, even though at the time it’s happening (and for some people, even for a long while after) you can fool yourself into believing you understand it. If you think those drugs don’t cause confusion, then why would you avoid getting in a car driven by someone who was using them?

It’s sort of like if someone klonked you on the head and then carried you off to Katmandu, plopped you down in an alley somewhere, then you came to, spent a couple hours in Katmandu, got klonked on the head again and were brought back home. Once you recovered you could say that you’d been to Katmandu (though maybe you wouldn’t even know where you were) and you might even have learned a couple things about it. But you really wouldn’t know Katmandu like a person who studied Nepalese and went there on an airplane, slowly got accustomed to the place, lived for a few years with a Nepalese family and then came back home.

Like the analogy above, there might be some extremely limited usefulness to the getting klonked on the head experience. But it’s really not a good way to go. It’s dangerous, for one thing. And whatever you learned during that experience, you’d have to re-learn later in a context that you could make some kind of sense of.

My own experiences with LSD happened roughly fifteen years before I started having any meditation-related experiences that were unusual enough to be labeled as kensho (can you tell how much I hate that word?). They didn’t prepare me for it in any way. In fact they got in the way.

But I recognized some vague similarities to the LSD experience. Colors were brighter, sounds were clearer, there was a kind of overall heightened sensory quality. But there was no disorientation, no feeling that I was careening out of control, no sudden flights of fantasy, no distortions or trails or any of that stuff. If I’d had to drive a car while having one of those experiences, it would have been no problem at all.

I don’t think these kinds of drug-induced experiences are very useful to real Zen practice. They set you up to want to find something extraordinary. Kodo Sawaki said, “If zazen becomes something special you must have a screw loose!” We’re not seeking these kinds of extraordinary experiences. Thrills and excitement get in the way.

There are a lot of ways to manipulate the human brain in order to induce special experiences. These days they’re doing stuff not just with drugs and but also with electronic stimulation and all sorts of things. But I’m not very interested in unusual brain states.

What I’m interested in is usual brain states, usual consciousness, usual experiences. The usual is extremely important. That’s why we spend enough time in usual states to call them “usual” or “ordinary.”

See, the “ordinary” really isn’t ordinary at all. That’s a delusion. In fact, that might be THE BIG DELUSION that those of us who study Zen are trying to transcend, this idea that our every day life isn’t special. Because it is super special.

The fact that we are here at all is amazing. A-MAY-ZING! Breathing air is an extraordinary experience beyond anything you could possibly hallucinate. Mowing the lawn is psychedelic without any drugs. Toasting a Cherry Pop Tart is such an incredible event you couldn’t possibly replicate it with any sort of technology to stimulate the brain into having a “mystical state.” Every day life is magic.

We get so wrapped up in the creations of our own minds that we miss what’s right in front of us. We miss what is truly important because we’re chasing after something unreal, like a kitten chasing an imaginary butterfly. If you take a drug that makes all that unreal stuff seem even more important, you’re just damaging your ability to ever focus on reality.

*   *   *

SATURDAY JUNE 7, 2014 10:30 AM

I WILL AGAIN BE AT MONKEY MIND ZENDO (operating out of Studio 34) 4522 Baltimore Ave., Philadelphia, PA 19143.

The program will begin with 20-25 minutes of chanting in Korean (Monkey Mind is part of Seung Sahn’s Korean Kwan Um Zen lineage), followed by 30 minutes of zazen, a short break and then a talk by me. Be there!

*   *   *

Your generous donations enable me to continue this blog. I’m in the middle of a new book now, which makes it hard to do work that actually makes me any money. I thank you for your support!

67 Responses

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  1. Alan Sailer
    Alan Sailer June 3, 2014 at 8:59 am | |

    I just finished reading “Living with a Wild God: A Nonbeliever’s Search for the Truth about Everything” by Barbara Ehrenreich. She spent a lot of time in her youth searching for the truth, through reading and thought.

    Quite a gutsy kid in my opinion.

    While on a road trip up Ownes Valley in the Eastern Sierra she had what reads like a very intense opening experience.

    The net result seems to be that it knocked her for a loop and is something that she is still struggling to understand.

    Even before I started zen practice I was interested in these types of “out of the blue” opening experiences. They seem to be real and in a lot of ways very similar to the experiences that long time mediators can have.

    My conclusion at the time that having a solid base of meditation practice gives you a chance at integrating (whatever that means) the experience into the rest of your life. Otherwise it kind of like being hit by a metaphysical meteorite, you can only dust yourself off and wonder what the hell just happened.

    Cheers.

  2. Daniel
    Daniel June 3, 2014 at 9:07 am | |

    Uh well…depends on what the question means. What does he/she mean with “satori”….

    So let’s see…if what is meant is a quick glimpse into let’s call it “what is” for a second, where the self drops away quickly and then comes back but has seen “it” -> I see no reason why one day it shouldn’t be possible to have a possibility to trigger the brain pattern that does exactly this. Even nowadays it’s already possible to have certain experiences like out-of-body experience triggered by neuroscience so once that pattern has been identified – Why not?!

    Let’s also notice here that in the world of science there’s a big doubt about meditation or religious practices like “zazen” (there’s a religious cult that holds the believe that if you put your body in a special position that this is buddha/enlightenment) actually improves the odds of that glimpse into reality (satori). Many other people who never meditated before or have had any other interest in religious practices had the same experience. And there yet has to be a prove that meditation increases the odds here, evidence right now is showing that it does not. So you can also watch TV if you’re more interested in that…

    Okay so let’s look at the second way enlightenment is used, that is the final dropping away of the self/ego. Let’s call this liberation, what all the shit is really about but no one wants of course… This is rare and it happened to only a few people. Now here I think the odds that neuroscience might be able to produce that are much lower. At least with a drug. What might work here though is a brain surgery where a certain part is removed. But that is not possible up to date, it’s very complicated and science is still far from figuring out the right region.

    Now don’t expect any religious cult leader to say that the satori-glimpse can be done by taking pills. It would put them out of work completely…. ;)

  3. The Idiot
    The Idiot June 3, 2014 at 9:16 am | |

    There might be a way to use this topic to explore the ‘three unwholesome roots’ (greed, aversion and self). Does your zen tradition have language or practices that focus on awareness of these?

  4. sri_barence
    sri_barence June 3, 2014 at 9:51 am | |

    I think it is a mistake to look for the extraordinary experience. I find that the less I try to have some special experience, or try to attain some specific state of mind, the less trouble I have with practicing Zen. In other words, without “making something,” then correct relationship, correct situation, correct function becomes clear. Not making something means just sitting. This is called ‘Zazen.’ Because this experience is completely ordinary, it is called ‘enlightenment.’ Bringing this kind of mind into daily life is called ‘keeping clear mind.’ When clear mind is present, helping others becomes possible. Keeping clear mind and helping others is called ‘practicing Buddhism.’

    But this is an intellectual understanding of an ideal. Mind may be cloudy or clear. One may practice with intention or without intention. This being the case, how can I practice correctly?

    Zen Master Seung Sahn said, “Where are you going? Watch your step.” Isn’t this perfectly clear?

  5. alan.rossi
    alan.rossi June 3, 2014 at 10:35 am | |

    Hi. I like this post and feel the same aversion to the questions in it. Never taken LSD, but I would suggest that certain drugs (psilocybin) can be like “gateways” to Buddhism – I’m sort of proof of that. I don’t use drugs now, but I very clearly remember some usage in which I started perceiving how everything in my immediate experience was funneled through this “me, me, mine, mine,” and this recognition of delusion, well, it was a fairly big revelation and maybe me look for other stuff (i.e., Buddhism). Now, as you mention, zen is ordinary, but seeking the extraordinary led me to the ordinary that is seriously extraordinary. In fact, it may be said, that I was “set up” to find something extraordinarily ordinary. In any case, I would just say that I try not to discount anything – I’m not sure at all I would be sitting now without certain things from my past.

    Alternately, if you’re saying that drugs aren’t necessary or important or worthwhile for/in zen practice, this little self agrees.

  6. Yugen
    Yugen June 3, 2014 at 10:47 am | |

    This really struck a chord with me:

    “Breathing air is an extraordinary experience beyond anything you could possibly hallucinate.”

    Beginning when I was a small child, my grandmother had this very particular way of holding my hand. She would take my hand in hers, holding it lightly, her fingers beneath my palm and fingers, and her palm and thumb folded over the back of my hand, always with just the same almost imperceptible pressure; and she would slowly stroke the back of my hand with her thumb. We would sit on her sofa and talk, or not talk, and the whole time she would lightly brush the back of my hand like this. The texture of her skin, this sort of taut softness; the precise way she held on, so that I knew my hand was being held but not grasped, so that I could move at any time without disturbing her; the gentleness of the motion; it was utterly unique. And for more than twenty years, as my hand grew, and eventually grew much larger than hers, she continued holding me just like this.

    I have never held or been held by anyone else in just this way. (Although one of the reasons I fell in love with my wife was because when we held hands, there was something reminiscent of the way I held hands with my grandmother in it.) She’s been dead for twelve years now, and I can’t remember most of the things we said to one another. But if she were suddenly sitting here with me right now, I wouldn’t want or need to say anything. I just want to hold her hand.

    The teachers where I practice Zen are fond of the word ‘intimacy.’ And those words about breath click for me because in Zazen I began to have the intimacy with my own breathing — for example — that I have with holding my grandmother’s hand. I’ve been doing this breathing thing since I was born, but for most of my life I’ve utterly ignored it, taken it for granted except when forced to pay attention to it. And now I don’t. Now, when I’m willing to stop distracting myself, I can be with my breath in something like the way I was with my grandmother’s hand.

    So when I read the question about a pill that would replace decades of Zen practice, what I want to say is: Reformulate the question like this:

    “What if someone invented a pill that made it so that you didn’t need decades of being held by your grandmother? What if you could have that experience any time you want? Then you’d just be able to throw your grandmother out and take the pill, right? And the experience would be just the same. Would you take that pill, or would you keep wasting your time holding your grandmother’s hand?”

    The answer to the question isn’t “no.” The answer is that the question so fundamentally misunderstands what this stuff is about that it’s incoherent. Intimacy is what you get when you devote yourself to being with something. The desire to take the pill is your hope that maybe everything in your life can be wonderful and perfect without you having to give of yourself to anything at all. Then you could be utterly fulfilled all the time and do whatever the fuck you want and treat anyone and anything however you want and it would still all work together like magic.

    1. KarimOfTheCrop
      KarimOfTheCrop June 4, 2014 at 10:55 am | |

      This is a beautiful ornament to the whole topic of discussion. Thank you for sharing this.

    2. Wedged
      Wedged June 4, 2014 at 6:42 pm | |

      dude, that line resonated with me too…very cool story man, well said…I know exactly what you mean. you made me think of my gm who also passed…

  7. Harlan
    Harlan June 3, 2014 at 11:19 am | |

    Nice post Brad.
    Alan, Yugen Thanks..

    Brad, you wrote, “I’m in the middle of a new book now, which makes it hard to do work that actually makes me any money.”

    I didn’t understand that sentence. That is how you make your money isn’t it? Writing books and blogging.. So how is doing that interfering with anything other than the fun stuff that pays basically nada?

  8. mike
    mike June 3, 2014 at 11:21 am | |

    Brad makes me smile :-)

  9. The Grand Canyon
    The Grand Canyon June 3, 2014 at 11:35 am | |

    “John Vervaeke, Ph.D. is a cognitive scientist and Buddhist psychologist at the University of Toronto. In this video titled ‘A Naturalistic Account of Qi’, John offers a hypothesis to explain the psychological experience of Qi.”
    (It is probably more entertaining, and more relevant to this topic, than the description might lead you to expect.)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vcp6J1T60qc

  10. mjkawa
    mjkawa June 3, 2014 at 11:40 am | |

    Nice post Brad.
    Especially on how truly amazing the “ordinary” really is.
    Whatever experience you have, from sitting for years, or shrooms, or LSD, DMT or whatever, you will ALWAYS still need to come back, and chop that wood, and carry that water.
    Focus on chopping and carrying well!

  11. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote June 3, 2014 at 12:39 pm | |

    What if enlightenment were the experience of action of the body and mind without volition?

    “Once it is apperceived that there is no entity with any independence of action, would ‘living’ thereafter not be totally non-volitional living ? ”

    (Nisargaddata)

    “Zazen sits zazen” (Shunryu Suzuki). “Sometimes zazen gets up and walks around” (Kobun Chino Otogawa).

    Something that happens in a trance state, which state turns out to be pretty ordinary:

    “We hypothesize that in everyday life consciousness is in a continual state of flux between the general reality orientation and the momentary microdynamics of trance…”

    ( Erickson & Rossi: Two-Level Communication and the Microdynamics of Trance and Suggestion, The American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 1976 Reprinted in Collected Papers Vol.1)

  12. Steve
    Steve June 3, 2014 at 12:43 pm | |

    I suppose that drugs could make you suddenly understand that reality is not what you think it is. But if you just wait a little bit, life itself will do that much better than drugs will.

    This was a good piece Brad. I think the part about the confusion factor with drugs is an especially important point to hit on when confronted by people who think drug use and zen are similar.

    1. minkfoot
      minkfoot June 4, 2014 at 3:57 am | |

      But if you just wait a little bit, life itself will do that much better than drugs will.

      Methinks you misunderestimate the average person’s capacity for elective ignorance, which definitely provides a legitimate reason for the legal availability of such substances.

      1. KarimOfTheCrop
        KarimOfTheCrop June 4, 2014 at 10:49 am | |

        Average person isn’t taking LSD. Average Person is not ignorant, and is struggling with the same questions we are. A.P. may not have the benefit of Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. Since we do, it’s important to promote Average Person’s awareness of them.

        1. minkfoot
          minkfoot June 5, 2014 at 3:49 am | |

          Average person isn’t taking LSD.

          Some do.

          Average Person is not ignorant, and is struggling with the same questions we are.

          I think you’re wrong there. We are all ignorant, until we’re not. One benefit of zazen is to reveal how much we fool ourselves.

          LSD and it’s kin can reliably shake the certitude with which we fool ourselves, and this is its primary virtue.

          A.P. may not have the benefit of Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.

          On average, definitely not.

          Since we do, it’s important to promote Average Person’s awareness of them.

          Not without an invitation, I won’t. It’s bad enough being blind and bullshitting the blinder about this steep mountain path, without taking on the karma of coercion.

          Lucky for me, there is no Average Person. Average Person is just a conventional way of speaking.

  13. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote June 3, 2014 at 2:15 pm | |

    GUDO NISHIJIMA said…
    Dear Mr. Mark Foote,

    Even hough you have sent your comments to my Dogen Sangha Blog, but I do not find anything about Buddhism in your comments, and so I do not show it in my blog.
    11:23 AM, July 09, 2009

  14. The Idiot
    The Idiot June 3, 2014 at 6:22 pm | |

    Haha good job Mark!

  15. senorchupacabra
    senorchupacabra June 3, 2014 at 8:35 pm | |

    Great post and great response. I think this idea that “altered” states of mind are the “true” or “desirable” states is a poisonous one. It’s the so-called “ordinary” states that are truly stunning and…ahem…”Enlightening.”

    My own limited experience with hallucinogens is that those “altered” states of mind are attainable w/out the use of drugs and aren’t all that instructive most of the time, anyway.

    The great Chan/Zen poets wrote about pretty quotidian topics for a reason….

  16. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote June 3, 2014 at 8:36 pm | |

    Thanks, Id!

    Actually, I should retrench: the experience of action of the mind without volition is the cessation of volition in perception and sensation, and follows the experience of action of the body without volition by a few states, and neither one constitutes enlightenment as far as I can surmise– enlightenment being the insight into the four truths about suffering that accompanied the cessation of volition and sensation for Gautama, and apparently identically for many of his followers.

    That would be my opinion, and it’s very true.

    What the Zen masters who have captured my imagination offered up and offer up can’t be done, because it takes place with a cessation of volition. Where’s it at, you know; where’s it, at?

    “Sitting shikan taza is the place itself, and things. The dynamics of all Buddhas are in it. When you sit, the cushion sits with you. If you wear glasses, the glasses sit with you. Clothing sits with you. House sits with you. People who are moving around outside all sit with you. They don’t take the sitting posture!”

    http://www.zenmudra.com/zazen-notes/blog_detail.php?post_id=157#post

  17. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote June 3, 2014 at 8:38 pm | |

    “the cessation of volition in perception and sensation for Gautama”

  18. Daniel
    Daniel June 4, 2014 at 5:38 am | |

    Ah…big confusion here around some comments from zen-masters. It’s the old problem of confusing descriptive with prescriptive…

    For example this was quoted by Mark,

    “Zazen sits zazen” (Shunryu Suzuki). “Sometimes zazen gets up and walks around” (Kobun Chino Otogawa).

    So this is totally true for Shunryu and Kobun. Since liberation happened to them, for them this really is so. It is a description of the their state. So in this way it is true.

    Now if someone who still didn’t get it reads this, he can try hard to make himself believe what they said and maybe even suceed to some degree. But it’s false, since it’s not the state the person might be in (there still is a person/ego here, liberation didn’t occur). So it becomes a religious believe like “there is a god” or “there is heaven” etc…or even worse it becomes prescriptive and the person thinks that he has to sit in a weird position for hours hoping that this way what Suzuki and Kobun said becomes true. But it’s just adding to the confusion/delusion really.

    So here it’s both true and not true…for almost anyone out there it’s not true. And using such statements to think enlightenment is not necessary etc…makes it terribly wrong. When you see it, it’s totally clear and without any doubt so. You need no zen master quotes and thinking about what they meant, trying to fit it into your frame of mind. It’s 100% clear and obvious and no matter what anyone would tell you…it still would be so. That’s the beauty of liberation, unfortunately it’s very rare and sitting in a weird yoga posture won’t increase the odds of it happening…

  19. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote June 4, 2014 at 7:58 am | |

    “…using such statements to think enlightenment is not necessary etc…makes it terribly wrong. When you see it, it’s totally clear and without any doubt so. You need no zen master quotes and thinking about what they meant, trying to fit it into your frame of mind. It’s 100% clear and obvious and no matter what anyone would tell you…it still would be so. That’s the beauty of liberation, unfortunately it’s very rare and sitting in a weird yoga posture won’t increase the odds of it happening…”

    The quotes were about action in the absence of volition; sitting without the exercise of volition, getting up off the cushion and walking around without directing oneself to do so.

    Let me be perfectly clear about this (isn’t that a lyric somewhere?). If you were hypnotized, and someone directed you hypnotically to get up off the zafu and walk across the room, how would you experience that? A little differently than your normal get up off the zafu and walk across the room, I’m guessing. What I’m saying is that you can experience action as though under hypnotic suggestion without anyone hypnotizing you or making suggestions; it’s a phenomena of trance, everyone experiences trance all the time but there are degrees of trance.

    No amount of insight will provide that kind of experience, the experience of action in the absence of volition. Zazen sits zazen. Sometimes zazen gets up and walks around.

    You have decided that there’s no reason for you to adopt the particular posture recommended for zazen (cross-legged in the forest, on the root of a tree if Gautama is the one making the recommendation). Ok. If you follow what I have written here before, that posture particularly engages the relationship between equalibrioception (the vestibular sense), proprioception, and the visual sense. These are the senses that Olaf Blanke has singled out in his research as providing what we all refer to as the sense of self. Wikipedia says there are lots of “body-position challenges” that can be used to cultivate the sense of proprioception. If you want to talk about the relationship between proprioception and equalibrioception, it’s right here:

    “Sitting shikan taza is the place itself, and things. The dynamics of all Buddhas are in it. When you sit, the cushion sits with you. If you wear glasses, the glasses sit with you. Clothing sits with you. House sits with you. People who are moving around outside all sit with you. They don’t take the sitting posture!”

  20. Alan Sailer
    Alan Sailer June 4, 2014 at 8:05 am | |

    Daniel,

    “sitting in a weird yoga posture won’t increase the odds of it happening…”

    Are you speaking from direct experience here? If not, I suggest that you might not know what you are talking about.

    Cheers.

  21. Harlan
    Harlan June 4, 2014 at 8:35 am | |

    Daniel, Why do you keep saying that sitting upright in lotus is a “weird” position? It might not be as comfortable for Jane A as it is for Joe B but it certainly isn’t weird. It seems rather practical and healthy to me.

  22. Alan Sailer
    Alan Sailer June 4, 2014 at 9:16 am | |

    Harlan,

    Although I’d disagree with Daniel on some of his ideas I agree with him that full lotus is a weird position. After sitting full and half lotus for some time I’m kind of used to it but it’s still far from an easy natural position to sit in.

    I do think he is using the term weird in this case to make zazen sound stupid. Which, in some ways, it is…

    I also believe Daniel at some point hurt his knees trying to sit zazen so he doesn’t like the position or the dogma that surrounds it.

    Cheers.

  23. dwsmithjr
    dwsmithjr June 4, 2014 at 9:45 am | |

    …and yet, unless I’m entirely mistaken, significant conclusions are drawn regarding the nature of reality, consciousness and self from the “unusual” experiences. Otherwise, why even mention them other than to disparage them?

    Brad, you mentions yours in every book you’re written and seem to draw conclusions, as I mention above, from that and other perhaps similar experiences. I think the writer has asked a very important questions which you have yet to address.

    “Aren’t such experiences just brain states,….”, in other words, something the brain is simply doing and not necessarily a reflection of objective, that is non-subjective reality. Yet, that is the sort of conclusion that is and has been drawn based on subjective experience. Another case in point is life after death, on which you have a short video in which you express your view based on another subjective experience.

    To say this doesn’t matter or to say, just sit for five years and then you’ll know (that is, come to the same conclusion), conveniently sidesteps the question, and yet it is that question which is all important. Asking that question is all important…question everything, right?

    1. KarimOfTheCrop
      KarimOfTheCrop June 4, 2014 at 10:16 am | |

      Do drugs, and see what that does for your life, if they are so intriguing. I don’t know if you do any long-term spiritual practice, but questions about the experiences of those who do actually aren’t that important if they are not accompanied by the questioner’s own practice. And they would find their questions changing as they practiced.

    2. Alan Sailer
      Alan Sailer June 4, 2014 at 10:46 am | |

      dwsmithjr,

      I may be missing your point but I’ll still try to address your post.

      The questions you bring up are very, very good questions. However the person that needs to try and answer them is you.

      The statement “Question everything” does not mean “Go and ask someone for answers”.

      It means to examine your own life and find out what is real. In Soto Zen, which Brad teaches, this is done by sitting zazen.

      Brad’s answers, my answers, anyone’s answers but yours will not satisfy the question. If the answer to ” the nature of reality, consciousness and self ” could be found in a book (or by listening to some zen master), we would all know it by now.

      Cheers.

  24. sri_barence
    sri_barence June 4, 2014 at 10:45 am | |

    There has been a lot of discussion about whether sitting in the formal zazen posture is strictly necessary. Perhaps it is not. There is a story mentioned in Dogen’s Shobogenzo (several times) about a woman who put on a kasaya as a joke, and had a profound realization. She did not do formal zazen. So it may not be necessary. But this is one occurrence which we should balance against 2500 years of practice-and-experience. During that time, thousands of people have experienced the state by sitting in zazen, but only a small number who did not practice zazen. So the evidence would seem to suggest that zazen is the most effective method. Therefore I recommend it.

    I’ve done LSD several times, as well as peyote and mushrooms. I never took the kinds of doses my parent’s generation tried in the 1960′s. And I never had the “ego death” experience which has been said to occur during extreme acid trips. But I did have an experience a couple of years ago that pointed to the illusion of self. This experience was so profound that I stopped using drugs of all kinds (which meant basically giving up pot and hallucinogens). I began to do formal zazen every day and attending practice at a local Zen Center.

    So LSD and similar drugs may not lead to enlightenment (whatever that may be), but they may lead to doing formal Zen study. Is that a good thing?

    1. sri_barence
      sri_barence June 4, 2014 at 10:48 am | |

      I should point out that the story goes on to say that after the woman had her “enlightenment experience,” she immediately went looking for a teacher and began to do formal Zen study. So her realization lead directly to practicing zazen. I’m just saying…

  25. Harlan
    Harlan June 4, 2014 at 11:02 am | |

    Hi Alan..

    And I disagree with you. I think full lotus might be the most comfortable position of all to sit in. I will qualify that by saying that most of what we take to be sitting nowadays is really reclining. And like I said before it’s not as comfortable for some as it is for others but after a time it does become more comfortable if you can manage it. I also know it is impossible for some for many reasons.

    People across the planet who don’t sit on chairs when they sit down to rest sit in a variation of the lotus. This is because it is a natural way for human beings to sit on the ground. All kids know this. A full lotus is a rather stylized version of the child’s sitting position but it is also the most stable. For meditation purposes stable is good. The most important thing is being as still as possible while not slouching. Full lotus allows that. That is why it is preferred and recommended. Me personally, I don’t care if people try and do zazen in lazy-boy recliners.

  26. Proulx Michel
    Proulx Michel June 4, 2014 at 11:38 am | |

    Actually, and I have written this repeatedly, one of the problems lies on the shoulders of the teachers who tend to forget the aspect of chairs and armchairs in our form of civilisation, which greatly hampers our capacity of sitting on the ground.
    When I asked one about what I could do to stop my knees aching, he answered that my knees were my ego. Stupid jerk. After that I started looking for the exercises I needed, and that greatly improved my ease of sitting.
    The same, the other day, I mentioned a vegetables salesman at the market that gathering asparagus or grapes would not be so tiresome and backbreaking if we kept to the possibility of squatting on our heels, as do all peasants from the Maghreb to Japan, but not the Europeans. Our children do it naturally, but then, as teen agers we forget it and lose it.

  27. Alan Sailer
    Alan Sailer June 4, 2014 at 11:42 am | |

    Harlan,

    As the Dude says ““…that’s like, your opinion, man.”

    Fun talking with ya…I like full lotus also, although for the last few years it’s been painful enough to get me sitting half-lotus.

    Cheers.

    Cheers.

  28. Harlan
    Harlan June 4, 2014 at 11:58 am | |

    Alan, Yeah, all opinion for sure.. Most of it only pertaining to my experience. How could it be any other way?

    Thanks.

  29. The Idiot
    The Idiot June 4, 2014 at 12:16 pm | |

    I had the ego death, but apparently have reincarnated :(

    1. minkfoot
      minkfoot June 4, 2014 at 7:27 pm | |

      Many interesting states and experiences, but the only truly transcendent one (by ingesting a substance, that is) was through DMT.

      So sad, to drop it after ten minutes of omniscience.

      Um, we’re professionals, kids . . . don’t try this at home.

  30. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote June 4, 2014 at 12:33 pm | |

    I can’t say the lotus is the most comfortable posture for me; I would say the posture actually exercises me, in that I have to find my way to relaxation and to a free awareness in the posture or lose feeling in my legs, pretty much every time. I know Issho Fujita was drawing parallels between zazen and the balance of slack-rope walking.

    I do think it’s easier if a person starts on the lotus at age 8; playing the piano is also easier if a person starts at age 8. I don’t say this from personal experience, but from watching others who have started early, usually in a Zen temple family or in a family of musicians (which doubtless also helps).

    I feel pretty good that I can: a) get in the lotus any time of day now, after some stretches; b) sit without pain; c) get up out of the posture after 20-25-30-35-40-45 minutes without major numbness, even if it’s only once or twice a day.

    To me, the important thing is not that I can sit the lotus or for how long, but what enables me to sit the lotus without pain now at all. I don’t think I’m that much more flexible; I would have to say that there are some things in my understanding that correlate with reality to the extent that I can let the lotus exercise me, exercise my sense of the location of my awareness, exercise my sense of my body “with no part left out”, exercise my ability to relax in inhalation and exhalation, exercise my sense of the freedom of the location of my awareness to move. It’s more a matter of accepting the self in the lotus than of understanding, but understanding allows me to relax, especially when the self of the lotus is the understanding.

  31. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote June 4, 2014 at 12:35 pm | |

    (is the one doing the understanding)

  32. mb
    mb June 4, 2014 at 2:25 pm | |

    I sit in half-lotus up on a soft yoga block. It’s important posturally that the pelvis be higher than the knees, hence zafus etc. Personally, although I employ full lotus in various yoga asanas with no problem, I find that sitting in full lotus for meditating is not comfortable. I even tried a “3/4 lotus” which is like full lotus, except the backs of your feet rest against your calf muscles instead of the thighs.

    A lot of yogi-types meditate in ‘vajrasana’ posture (also Japanese: seizan), which is sitting on your heels with your feet folded under, which works for some people (who don’t already have knee issues). This can be modified by sitting on a yoga block (or narrow cushion) in between the legs to raise the pelvis higher.

    Shinzen Young tells his students that when they get fatigued in a sitting posture, to just stand up and continue meditating! And stay that way until you feel like sitting down again.

    And there are padded low “meditation benches” available which put you into the “seizan” posture buy virtue of their configuration.

    So…whatever the posture…no excuse not to meditate!

  33. The Grand Canyon
    The Grand Canyon June 4, 2014 at 3:56 pm | |

    Poses are for posers.

    1. minkfoot
      minkfoot June 5, 2014 at 4:10 am | |

      As the peddler said, “Name me someone that’s not a parasite and I’ll go out and say a prayer for him.”

      Since I discovered I am indeed a poser, I have no trouble with adopting any and all poses.

      Betcha ya can’t copy this one. :)

  34. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote June 4, 2014 at 5:05 pm | |

    ’bout dis:

    “When ‘enlightenment’ occurs, there is an apperceiving that what we believe to be our normal condition – that of a phenomenal object – is merely a temporary condition, like an illness, which has come over our normal true state of the noumenon. It is suddenly realized that what was being considered ‘normal’ was not really normal. The result of such apperceiving is a sort of instantaneous adjustment from an individual existence to just existence as such; volition disappears and whatever happens seems right and proper. One takes one’s stand as the witness of all that happens, or rather only witnessing remains.” (Nisargadatta)

    Two mints in one! And yet he taught vociferously.

  35. Wedged
    Wedged June 4, 2014 at 6:34 pm | |

    i started reading this earlier…had to stop to put my kids to bed. Now I’m watching Family Guy, opened my laptop and excitingly remembered I hadn’t finished…all the posts on this site are great and very helpful…once in a while there’s a gem (can’t all be gem’s)…the last section blew my f*cking mind. this is the sort of sh*t I want in my life, this incredibly positive influence. I want to wake up my wife and make her read it haha.

    From here till the very end of the post is why I donate, why I come back each week – year after year and buy his books. it’s been said many times by lots of different people, but sometimes you can feel the magic behind the words – genius:

    ****See, the “ordinary” really isn’t ordinary at all. That’s a delusion. In fact, that might be THE BIG DELUSION that those of us who study Zen are trying to transcend, this idea that our every day life isn’t special. Because it is super special.****

  36. The Idiot
    The Idiot June 4, 2014 at 7:06 pm | |
  37. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote June 4, 2014 at 7:10 pm | |

    Johnny E. knows what I like, sends me this:

    ‘This is from the wiki N. page…

    “The endless factors required for anything to happen means that, at most, one can say everything creates everything; even the choices we make are predetermined by our genetic code, upbringing, mental strivings and limitations, our ethical and philosophical ideals, etc., all of which are uniquely combined to each person and recontextualized accordingly.

    This leads to the radical notion that there is no such thing as a “doer”. According to him and other teachers of Vedanta, since our true nature or identity is not the mind, is not the body, but the witness of the mind and body, we, as pure awareness, do nothing. The mind and body act of their own accord, and we are the witness of them, though the mind often believes it is the doer.”‘

    There is nothing to attain, and no one to attain it– ha ha, Fred, beat you to it!

  38. IuseComputers
    IuseComputers June 5, 2014 at 1:26 am | |

    sri_barence,

    On the idea of psychedelics leading to the practice of zen -

    or I question whether the curiosity and mindset to experiment with psychedelics is that same mindset that leads to practicing zen.

    This is something that I have wondered about myself. It seems like the there is some relationship but then I see some people who go really far with psychedelics and then simply move on to other drugs. Maybe it has to do with the original intention?

  39. Daniel
    Daniel June 5, 2014 at 2:33 am | |

    Now leaving all the other stuff on the side…so whether any form of meditation can improve the odds of liberation or not…and let’s just have a look at the posture thing.

    First of all notice how much that small sparkle of even mentioning the posture topic raised a lot of comments and discussion. This tells me that many still take the question of posture seriously.

    Now I wouldn’t doubt that there’s a difference between sitting on a couch all slumped and sitting sort of upright but relaxed on a chair. It’s not impossible to do it on a couch…it’s just a bit more difficult. It’s easier for the brain to relax and stay awake at the same time when your body is upright, relaxed and at ease.

    Okay now let’s say you’re a flexible guy, maybe you grew up in japan a couple of hundred years ago where everyone was sitting on the floor. Or to make it easier you’re an american guy who for whatever reason started yoga in the 20th and is now very flexible. Now if that guy sits in the full lotus posture, it’s very comfortable like it’s for the average guy sitting on a chair. There’s no pain, no strain, it just feels easy and relaxed. In this case it’s ok, he could also sit on a chair, wouldn’t make a difference regarding his progress in meditation but hey…if he feels cool sitting cross legged on the floor like the guys in asia did hundreds of years ago – why not!

    But…if you have trouble in that posture, if you sit there in the full lotus and have to struggle with it, maybe even feel a bit of pain or it just feels tense – you’d be better off sitting slumped on the couch. And you’d be MUCH better off sitting on that chair. Can you still meditate? Sure…but it’s much harder now because your body is under stress and pain. Those are conditions that make it very unlikely your brain is going to relax.

    No study has shown yet that sitting in the full lotus posture with the hands in a weird magical position (you know the cosmic mudra shit…) has any impact on the brain. Many studies though have shown that a relaxed body state has a big influence on the brain, and the same is proven that stressful and even more painful body states have a huge impact on the brain. You’ll enter fight-or-flight quickly and that’s the state many people due to strange believes and misunderstanding spend their time in during sesshins. Then wondering after 10 or 20 or even 30 years of it (most of the time it doesn’t get better in your 50s) they still feel like shit when they started.

    Simply think about it…use common sense. Then you don’t need any zen-master to tell you which posture is the “right one”. Just try and see. Feels good or doesn’t feel good. Period.

    Oh and just for the records, yes I’ve been sitting in the full lotus for many years – due to luck (genes etc) comfortably most of the time.

  40. The Grand Canyon
    The Grand Canyon June 5, 2014 at 4:41 am | |

    If a qualified teacher instructs you to sit in either lotus or half lotus pose you could consider it a koan. If you can do it easily, that is your answer. If you experience discomfort, pain, or are physically incapable of sitting in those positions you could respond by enduring discomfort and pain or by sitting in a different position. Sometimes the way to get the metaphorical goose out of the bottle (without killing the goose or breaking the bottle) is to break the bottle. The “canonical” Buddhist postures for meditation are sitting, standing, walking, and lying down. Arcane esoterica are mostly irrelevant.
    If a poser tells you that you have to (HAVE TO) sit in lotus, half lotus, or some other very specific pose you should probably just ignore them. If a poser tells you that it doesn’t matter what pose you use for meditation you should probably just ignore them also.

    1. Daniel
      Daniel June 5, 2014 at 6:50 am | |

      The Grand Canyon wrote: “If a qualified teacher instructs you to sit in either lotus or half lotus pose you could consider it a koan. If you can do it easily, that is your answer. If you experience discomfort, pain, or are physically incapable of sitting in those positions you could respond by enduring discomfort and pain or by sitting in a different position. ”

      Oh yea sure and if your guru tells you to sit naked while he’s behind you jerking off you could consider that also a koan. You might be able to do it easily and then that is your answer, or you might feel abused and respond by enduring the discomfort and pain and shame etc.

      I’m aware that my reply and example is quite extreme but I just wanted to make my point as clear as possible. I think the cases of gurus doing damage to their students (or the students doing damage to themselfes by having faith in their gurus) are hard to imagine. The amount of suffering and delusion out of such bullshit is bigger than the universe we know. I can’t do anything but vomit hearing such a statement.

      1. The Grand Canyon
        The Grand Canyon June 5, 2014 at 9:49 am | |

        The only “point” that you made “as clear as possible” is that you so completely misunderstood what I wrote that you seem to think it says the exact opposite of what it says. Please try again when you feel better.

        1. Daniel
          Daniel June 5, 2014 at 1:20 pm | |

          The Grand Canyon said “The only “point” that you made “as clear as possible” is that you so completely misunderstood what I wrote that you seem to think it says the exact opposite of what it says. Please try again when you feel better.”

          Well maybe that is so. What I understood and still think you said (which might be wrong and I hope it is) is that if your teacher tells you to sit in the lotus posture and you feel pain, that might just be a koan and you maybe should endure it because your guru said so and he is more right than a “poser” for example because he’s the guru that knows and you the student aren’t wise enough yet.

          Did you say that? (I’m serious, sorry) ;)

          1. The Grand Canyon
            The Grand Canyon June 6, 2014 at 4:03 am |

            Here is the part of that sentence that you seem to have missed: “…you could respond by… sitting in a different position.”
            If you know from experience that you can’t do it, especially if you have had a knee injury in the past, DON’T DO IT. That would be your first response to the full lotus koan. The teacher could either accept that or not. If he told you to either sit full lotus or leave the group, LEAVE THE GROUP. That would be your second response to the full lotus koan.
            Are instructions from a “qualified teacher” more valid than instructions from a “poser”? I would hope so, but even qualified teachers can sometimes be wrong and even posers can sometimes be right.

  41. dwsmithjr
    dwsmithjr June 5, 2014 at 6:41 am | |

    Coincidentally….

    http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/drugs-and-the-meaning-of-life

    “As I discuss elsewhere in my work, the form of transcendence that appears to link directly to ethical behavior and human well-being is that which occurs in the midst of ordinary waking life. It is by ceasing to cling to the contents of consciousness—to our thoughts, moods, and desires— that we make progress. This project does not in principle require that we experience more content.[5] The freedom from self that is both the goal and foundation of “spiritual” life is coincident with normal perception and cognition—though, admittedly, this can be difficult to realize.”

  42. Alan Sailer
    Alan Sailer June 5, 2014 at 8:07 am | |

    “I can’t do anything but vomit hearing such a statement.”

    But are you vomiting just for yourself or are you vomiting for all sentient beings?

    Cheers.

  43. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote June 5, 2014 at 9:25 am | |

    Where I belong, I’m right with no thing left out.

    “If a poser tells you that you have to (HAVE TO) sit in lotus, half lotus, or some other very specific pose you should probably just ignore them. If a poser tells you that it doesn’t matter what pose you use for meditation you should probably just ignore them also.”

    Who (on this blog and comment thread) exactly are you calling poser? What are they posing for? Don’t they realize that they have the goal and foundation right where they are with no thing left out?

    “Even so… does (a person) saturate, permeate, suffuse this very body with the rapture and joy that are born of aloofness; there is no part of (the) whole body that is not suffused with the rapture and joy born of aloofness.”

    As far as I can tell, freedom of awareness to take place where awareness takes place is synonymous with the “rapture and joy born of aloofness. Maybe it’s easier to relate to feeling if it’s rapture and joy with no part of the body left out than freedom of awareness to take place where awareness takes place. Proprioception is funny, and Kobun and Issho both talk about things on the other side of the wall not being left out, too.

    1. The Grand Canyon
      The Grand Canyon June 5, 2014 at 10:01 am | |

      Perhaps I am not calling anyone “on this blog and comment thread” a poser.
      Perhaps I am just speaking in generalities.
      Perhaps.
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ICaeJXylR8

    2. The Grand Canyon
      The Grand Canyon June 5, 2014 at 10:16 am | |

      And another thing…
      Why only ask about posers? I started that comment with the phrase “if a qualified teacher instructs you…” Why not ask “who (on this blog and comment thread) exactly are you calling” a qualified teacher?

  44. The Idiot
    The Idiot June 5, 2014 at 2:53 pm | |

    I’ve heard that in the SE Asian Theravada traditions you can’t teach until you’ve had the insight of directly seeing the atoms that make up your body, fizzing along, such that you know from observation that there is no self. Then you’re a safe teacher in that you don’t get caught up in ego anymore. If this is true I’d call that ‘qualified’.

    1. Daniel
      Daniel June 6, 2014 at 3:20 am | |

      The Idiot said “I’ve heard that in the SE Asian Theravada traditions you can’t teach until you’ve had the insight of directly seeing the atoms that make up your body, fizzing along, such that you know from observation that there is no self. Then you’re a safe teacher in that you don’t get caught up in ego anymore. If this is true I’d call that ‘qualified’.”

      Uh well cool that we’re living in 2014 and not 2000 years ago. These days you don’t need to meditate for years to see the atoms that make up your body, you just go into a lab and look thru a microscope. Cool thing huh?

  45. Fred
    Fred June 5, 2014 at 5:20 pm | |

    How would you see the atoms fizzing along in your body?

    Grow some atomic microscopic eyeballs?

  46. The Idiot
    The Idiot June 5, 2014 at 7:54 pm | |

    Probably with the same kind of vision that witnesses couples copulating before taking rebirth (in Tibetan accounts). The divine eye? The vision that sees past lives? Is that what it’s called?

  47. The Idiot
    The Idiot June 6, 2014 at 9:40 pm | |

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