What Is Enlightenment?

WhatIsEnlightenmentOver the past couple of days the question of what constitutes “awakening” has come up a lot in the comments section of this blog. A correspondent called Petrichoric said:

“I don’t think that every single person in a sangha or every zen master is a wonderful, kind person, but, um, they fucking should be or should at least try to be! I started going to the local Zen center because (1) I wanted to stop suffering and (2) I wanted to become a better person. I just don’t understand how a spiritual leader can possibly be so deluded and lacking in self-awareness to take advantage and manipulate others. How can any spiritual awakening they’ve had possibly be genuine? And, yes, the question does remain about whether there is a relation being ‘awakening’ and ‘morality.’ And I still think there is.”

I’m going to present an expanded version of what I wrote back in the comments section. Apologies to those of you who have already read the short version.

The relationship between wakening and morality all depends upon how you define “awakening.”

A lot of people, especially nowadays, define “awakening” as a kind of experience. Much of what I see in contemporary magazines, books, websites and suchlike does. The spiritual master in question has some kind of profound experience that zaps her/his consciousness and then he/she goes out to tell the world about it.

There are plenty of examples of this. Genpo Roshi justifies charging folks $50,000 just to hang out next to him based on a profound awakening he had while on a solo retreat in the Mojave Desert some time in the Seventies. Eckhart Tolle claims to have had a grand awakening that enabled him to write a bazillion selling book and charge tens of thousands of dollars for lecture appearances. Shoko Asahara had a massive download from on high that supposedly made him the new Buddha for the modern age. The list goes on and on.

It all goes back to a certain reading of Buddha’s life story. The most common telling of it has Buddha meditating under a tree for 40 days at the end of which he had a deep awakening experience that turned him in one moment from plain old Siddhartha to the legendary Gautama Buddha. Sort of like how Japanese superheroes like Ultraman and Kamen Rider transform in a flash from regular human beings into giant bug-eyed alien monster fighters.

But experiences like that do not necessarily have any direct one-to-one relationship to any kind of moral maturity or sensibility. They’re just experiences. Like getting into a car crash or seeing a UFO or having a near-death experience. There’s no specific moral content to them.

People tend to forget that Siddhartha engaged in various practices and worked hard on himself for decades before his awakening. It happened in an instant. But the ground had been prepared for a lifetime, dozens of lifetimes if you believe those stories.

On the other hand, “awakening” of the type that occurs as a sudden peak experience, is just the conscious realization of the underlying ground of all of our experiences. It’s not that something new happens. It’s just that we notice what’s really been going on all along.

It is possible to have this kind of experience without properly preparing oneself for it. Sometimes a severe trauma like an accident or illness can do it. Sometimes drugs can induce it. Some so-called “spiritual” practices are designed just to cause these kinds of experiences to happen. Sometimes nothing seems to induce it. It just sort of happens.

In cases like those, the experience is still genuine and can still have value. But there’s no real basis for it, no real ground for it to land on. As I said before, the ego can latch on to absolutely anything — including the realization of its own illusory nature — as a means to enlarge itself.

These so-called “awakenings” do contain a sense that we are all intimately connected, that we are all manifestations of the same underlying reality. But the ego can latch onto that and make it something terribly immoral. It can decide that since I am you and you are me and we are all together, it’s fine if I fuck you over or lie to you or cheat you or steal from you because ultimately I am only doing that to myself. And what’s the problem if you do something to yourself?

It’s dangerous to point this kind of stuff out because there is a whole multi-billion dollar industry based on the notion that these kinds of experiences transform ordinary people into spiritual superheroes. But they don’t. Not in and of themselves. Becoming a moral person is a matter of transforming one’s habits of thinking and behavior. That is not easy to do. It takes time. It cannot possibly happen instantaneously no matter what sort of experience one has. An “awakening experience” can often be helpful in making a person more moral because it provides a new way of understanding yourself and others. But it doesn’t necessarily work that way.

This is why it’s very good to have a teacher who can help you through these kinds of experiences. It’s good to interact with someone else, or if you’re really lucky a number of other people, who have gone through these things. When, on the other hand, people have these experiences and then end up surrounded by admirers who want to gobble up the power such an experience confers the results can be disastrous.

So, yeah, the people you meet at a Zen temple ought to be at least decent people. And most of them are. Cases like that of Joshu Sasaki, Genpo Roshi, Eido Shimano and so forth are exceptional. They’re not the rule. You don’t have to be a genius to spot people like that either. It’s always obvious. Just don’t allow yourself to be blinded by fantasies of magic miracle men.

The foregoing is why Soto style Zen training tends to emphasize moral grounding and balance much more than the gaining of “awakening experiences,” so much so that one is often told it’s not important even to have such experiences at all. Dogen says this many times in his writings. Most teachers who followed in his lineage also say this. Which isn’t to say that Soto is good and everything else is evil. It’s just one of the things that really attracts me to the style I have practiced much more than any of the others out there, even though those others often sound a whole lot sexier.

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330 Responses

Page 1 of 7
  1. Fred
    Fred May 16, 2013 at 4:51 pm |

    You have to define what the word moral means.

    If someone’s body is being transformed by cancer, and they are in terrible pain,
    and want to die, a PhD in moral philosophy might have many arguments that
    support pulling the plug as the correct moral response.

    And some Buddhist monks might let a hundred mosquitoes bite them, because
    killing them is morally wrong.

  2. Jules
    Jules May 16, 2013 at 4:54 pm |

    “I, other people, and the universe, are not separate things, we are all One”
    … a few weeks, days, or minutes later …
    “I’m an Awakened Being, therefore I’m better than all you Other unenlightened schmucks.”

    Sums it up.

  3. Fred
    Fred May 16, 2013 at 5:27 pm |

    “I’m an Awakened Being, therefore I’m better than all you Other unenlightened schmucks.”

    Being awake means seeing that the ego is an illusion.
    Peeling layers to an empty core, there is really nothing substantial there.

    Awakening is dropping the ego, not making it better than other egos.

  4. drocloc
    drocloc May 16, 2013 at 5:31 pm |

    Before awakening: haul water, chop wood.

    AFTER awakening: haul water,chop wood.^^


  5. Alan Sailer
    Alan Sailer May 16, 2013 at 5:42 pm |

    For some time I have referred to descriptions of awakening as “enlightenment porn”. Fun to read and fantasize about, but basically an attractive waste of time.

    And now I’ll hazard a metaphor that is NOT based on personal experience.

    If you already have an on-going healthy sex life, watching a little porn now and then is probably harmless.

    But if, as a complete virgin, you see a porn movie and try to model your sex life on it, things might not turn out real well…


  6. lauramadugan823
    lauramadugan823 May 16, 2013 at 5:47 pm |

    It’s still hard to understand all this… But from my own experience this makes sense. My ego is always ready and willing to run in and offer to take over at the precise moment I have seen past it.

  7. My_name_is_Daniel
    My_name_is_Daniel May 16, 2013 at 6:19 pm |

    “Nothing special”, you know. It’s a very powerful practice. Steve Stucky used the term “Zen’s long noodle” during a talk to describe the process, with Richard Baker by his side, no less. So simple yet at times, seemingly so hit or miss. The ideas of relative and absolute being what they are and the lack of mobility a snake has in a bamboo tube…

    Once you “get on the train”, you don’t get off (unless you’re Sasaki!), keep going, keep sucking in that noodle (Sasaki would approve, I’m sure).

  8. Mumbles
    Mumbles May 16, 2013 at 7:42 pm |

    I think a lot of people come to this site because they are under the impression that you are “enlightened” Brad. They think since your teacher gave you and a lot (I mean a LOT) of other people something called “transmission” (I have one in my car) that it makes you somehow very “Special.”

    Actually, you have written several books now with the same underlying premise, and of course this is backed up by the whole Zen lineage mallarky (thats Irish for bullshit).

    Even the activity of this blog for some is the “sitting at the feet of the Master” crap that most gurus offer, require, and get, plus the added dimension of having the opportunity -the PRIVILEGE- of donating, or buying merch, etc.

    So, you are part of this industry, I’ve said it many times before, it made me quit the old blog out of disgust: that you had the audacity to point the finger, but not see that you were pointing it at yourself.

    1. robert
      robert May 23, 2013 at 5:42 am |

      @Mumbles, what, then, would constitute a non-disgusting, non-audacious, non-malarkey (that’s Albanian for “mallarkey”) blog post about enlightenment?

  9. My_name_is_Daniel
    My_name_is_Daniel May 16, 2013 at 8:36 pm |

    Not to put words in Brad’s mouth, but the admissions in the above post and his previous work make his practice/non practice/ non-non, etc, clear. The issue comes when one intentionally fools others and often themselves. Now, it’s all grist for the mill, we fool ourselves all the time, but it’s the practice that matters and a big (major) part of that practice is honesty with oneself and often others by association.

    I’ve spent time with Brad, conversed, shot the shit, told dirty jokes and maybe went on a hike or two with dubious intent… but there wasn’t a single point at which I got the impression he was trying to put on a show. Even when questionable actions may or may not have happened (if we’re really emphasizing “morality” here”), he was just himself. Just a practitioner in one degree or phase of practice, often transitioning into another, as it often happens throughout the day.

    Bad/Good, two sides to the same coin. Are there limits to this logic? Yes, especially when one teeters too far in either the relative or absolute and people get hurt. But who isn’t guilty of that? Practitioners are human, transmission or not and it is often what we term “faults” in the “teacher” that reveal some of our most profound lessons.

  10. Brent
    Brent May 16, 2013 at 8:37 pm |

    I must admit that I’ve been coming to this blog for about seven years because I am attracted to the comments by disgruntled people. I was the first person to post numbered comments. Mysterion’s posts are always enjoyable. Brad’s a great host. He sometimes writes some real interesting stuff too!

  11. John H
    John H May 16, 2013 at 9:21 pm |

    Perhaps I misunderstand Mumbles comments, as his point isn’t very clear.

    But, having read Brad’s books, I know that he has stated many times that he is NOT enlightened, and does not wish to be. Brad also is very clear on his view that his transmission from his teacher does not make him special. And I have never read anything by Brad saying it is our privilege to donate to him. Its almost as if Mumbles has never read any of what Brad Warner has written.

    What am I missing here?

  12. My_name_is_Daniel
    My_name_is_Daniel May 16, 2013 at 9:42 pm |

    Regardless, morality (call it the precepts) is very important, well…yes and no. Speaking from my experience, I found with dedication to a certain practice, my case being the breath, certain sensitivities arise. To keep tis short, I’ll mention the correlation to your personal action and the resulting consequence.
    After a good bit of calming of the mind and a state of certain tranquility/ concentration is reached, one begins to notice that heedless actions disrupt your state of mind, which is/can be important for progressive practice. In other words, a natural flux of teacher/student thing begins to happen. In my case, I began to practice the precepts before I know there were precepts because of the karma I was producing.
    That being said, it can go both ways. One need not be “moral” if their practice in other areas is strong. Practice can give birth to precepts. Precepts can facilitate the progression of awakening. Once you realize this AND are tired of the ole’ 3 step forward, 2 step back dance, you put more emphasis on morals/ precepts.

  13. wiwari
    wiwari May 16, 2013 at 11:58 pm |

    On the other hand, a lot of the contemporary, non-traditional teachers don’t emphasize their enlightenment at all. When you read their books, it’s rather about the central insight they had during that experience. F.e. “When I believe my thoughts I suffer, when I don’t believe my thoughts I don’t suffer” (Byron Katie) or “I can’t live with myself anymore – who is the one that can’t live with myself anymore?” (Eckhart Tolle). And (at least for those two), their teaching is all about the barriers to being a true self, the focus being on the mind mechanisms and the tricks of the ego and not on some special experience.

  14. TheTempleWithin
    TheTempleWithin May 17, 2013 at 12:48 am |

    Coming back to this blog, i’m still confused.

    Brad said “The foregoing is why Soto style Zen training tends to emphasize moral grounding and balance much more than the gaining of “awakening experiences,” so much so that one is often told it’s not important even to have such experiences at all.”
    From what i’ve read, Nishijima likes to say that zazen brings you back to the state of mind you had as a child, this is a balanced state, when the autonomic nervous system is not in balance, we live our lives in “hell”, when it is in balance, we live our lives in “heaven”.
    Nishijima: “Therefore I think that Buddhism emphasizes the IMPORTANCE of equality or equilibrium between the SNS and the PNS.”
    “We Buddhists believe in the theory of oneness between body and mind absolutely. But in such situation, I think that Gautama Buddha has presented us with a very effective and calm
    method to make the ANS balanced, and that is Zazen.”
    ” Zazen is not a means to attain “enlightenment,” but is just an act to experience the balance of the ANS.”
    Correct me if i’m wrong Brad, but wasn’t it just that^^, that buddha experienced under the tree? Not some grand cosmic flying zipping through space on a merkaba but just a moment in which his ANS became more balanced?
    It sounds as though Nishijima DOES emphasize the importance of that state buddha came to, he seems very passionate about it.
    And if indeed that’s all buddha did while under that tree; was balance his ANS more, i don’t see how that “awakening” “balancing” can be attributed or induced by drug use? Most people trippin hard on shrooms probably can’t even tie their own shoes let alone be balanced.

  15. roman
    roman May 17, 2013 at 1:23 am |

    Being awake means seeing that the idea “ego is an illusion” is an illusion.

    BTW, I am happy there are people who have met Brad and have seen that he doesn’t put on a show. I met him, too, and he was almost too shy and quiet for me, the opposite of what some people try to make him in their minds. All his books just try to help people realize what the truth is, not how great Brad is. Some people cannot see this difference.

  16. anon 108
    anon 108 May 17, 2013 at 3:44 am |

    Brad: ‘On the other hand, “awakening” of the type that occurs as a sudden peak experience, is just the conscious realization of the underlying ground of all of our experiences.’

    Because that’s the conceptual package that best describes what it feels like? Well maybe, I wouldn’t know. But surely not because that’s what it IS? No “specific moral content,” you say. How about “no specific content” period?

    ‘As I said before, the ego can latch on to absolutely anything – including the realization of its own illusory nature – as a means to enlarge itself.’

    roman: ‘Being awake means seeing that the idea “ego is an illusion” is an illusion.’

    I like that. But there again, what do I know?

  17. Fred
    Fred May 17, 2013 at 4:46 am |

    “In my case, I began to practice the precepts before I know there were precepts because of the karma I was producing.
    That being said, it can go both ways. One need not be “moral” if their practice in other areas is strong. Practice can give birth to precepts. Precepts can facilitate the progression of awakening. ”


  18. Fred
    Fred May 17, 2013 at 4:49 am |

    “But, having read Brad’s books, I know that he has stated many times that he is NOT enlightened, and does not wish to be”

    Yes he is

    One can not ignore what happened because their current state is fully giving
    to the moment of the relative.

  19. boubi
    boubi May 17, 2013 at 6:49 am |

    Hi Brad

    I like you, i like the way you relate to being a teacher, i believe there should be more teacher with your humility, more good persons like.

    —“Some so-called “spiritual” practices are designed just to cause these kinds of experiences to happen”—
    To which ones are you referring to?
    I don’t know why, but i got a faint idea, you don’t like the concept of “experience” (kensho smensho about which i mailed you once), and you seem to disparage those “spiritual practices” that lead to “experience/awakening” … were you thinking about the Rinzai school by chance? LOL

    Dogen Zenji Sama HIMSELF was awarded transmissions right away after a well known AWAKENING when he dropped “body and mind” … not forgetting to say that before leaving China for Japan he copied some one hundred koans, the lore says, was that for just to make some nice makikomi for his dining room? Or did he believed there was some sense in them? Let’s also not forget that what is called Soto nowaday is the result of the cleansing/normalization of his second or third successor …

    Dogen’s experience was consistent with the central sutras (Diamond and Heart) , of which a lot of people fill thir mouth and repeate it as if some magical mantra …

    As already said i don’t believe that there is only ONE way to “get there” or as the sotos folks like to say “dropping body and mind” … because it is actually to that crucial (mythical?) experience that sotos are refering when thinking of the birth of Soto (correct me if i’m wrong).

    Again i don’t want to say that one school is better than another, they are just FINGERS pointing to “something” and i always find ludicrous, if not pathetic, when followers of some school claim the superiority of their practice and of their master. I truely believe that even knitting or anything can be a “way” (finger) as in “cha-do” 😉 .

    Now citing all those doubious figures as Gempo roshi or others to try to demonstrate that “experiences” are not the real thing, or the right way, would be like saying that Soto (Rinzai too) is bad for what people like Sawai did or said during the second world war or that christanity is bad because there are pedophiles and other shit among the clergy and so on. Pleeeease, come on …

    This way pointing to the deviant parts you could demolish everything, even say that democracy doesn’t work and there is the need of a “good” dictator, as i’ve heard a couple of times … bullshit.

    Experiences are what they are, unusual synapses connections firing up, BUT they are central to buddhism according to Sutras … sorry for many around who try to say the opposite. Maybe you can get the same prajna without, for sure, why not.

    BUT in the end all we know is synapses firing up, ALL we see, taste, hear, touch smell (WOW like in the Heart Sutra), you rewire some and VOILA samsara turns into nirvana, canonical as you can get, right? You can also get daltonic by the way …

    Now Brad, in the Sutras it is question of karma, reincarnation and so on. You don’t believe in reincarnation and have thus been declared “non buddhist” by some tight assed guy. Do you feel less “buddhist”? You don’t seem less buddhist to me , but i’m just a no one and have no say into this matter. We could talk about what buddhism is … 🙂

    Once more you write that “experience” (as in sutras Diamond and Heart) aren’t related to “morality” … this is bordering christianity (not that i care), be a good person. I truly believe that you could get the same kind of “morality” kneeling in front of your favorite deity and trying to be a better person, why not … but it would loose that exotic touch from the far east, ain’t it so? And you could get it from your grand parents … but there wouldn’t be that “feel good” flavour of doing “something special” … and no special master perks (on which all the con or deluded teachers make money from even more deluded ones).

    … more to come

  20. boubi
    boubi May 17, 2013 at 7:20 am |

    I was carried away, you can get “morality” also without any deity at all.

    It’s called being a good person, the one you would like to be near to.

    But, to my point of view, it is NOT what the sutras are about, they are about turning samsara into nirvana* ending suffering etc. on an individual base, not a societal one. Then you have the bodhisatvas/bodhicitta self sacrifice not attachment kind, but then Siddharta choose not to come back … 😉

    Indian thought wasn’t very much “society oriented” for what i know, people suffer, they are poor, sick maimed, it’s they own business of which they are responsible (karma) so let them blame themselves … all you can do is show them the way.

    The 8th fold path, seems to me not as a way of being kind to others (what for? see above) than not to burden oneself with “heavy feelings/karma generators”.


    * we could discuss eternally about what is which and so on, about the reality or not of each one etc etc

  21. The Grand Canyon
    The Grand Canyon May 17, 2013 at 8:54 am |

    My enlightenment is bigger than your enlightenment.

    It’s also harder.

  22. My_name_is_Daniel
    My_name_is_Daniel May 17, 2013 at 9:58 am |

    Dogen would say, “Whether big or small, ragingly hard or ragingly soft, it is still enlightenment.” Nothing special.

  23. Andy
    Andy May 17, 2013 at 10:07 am |

    Mumbles wrote:

    “So, you are part of this industry, I’ve said it many times before, it made me quit the old blog out of disgust: that you had the audacity to point the finger, but not see that you were pointing it at yourself.”

    When one strips the bullshit from such things as “transmission” and “lineage”, we’re still left with the credentials of a teacher saying a student is ready to teach. I don’t see anything wrong with trading on that as long as the person trading on it is clear about what that means and what it doesn’t. There is value in claims that point to potential and verifiable merit, especially when those claims are put into context by those making or trading in them.

    I also find nothing wrong in being part of an industry and criticizing others within it. In all walks of life there are folk who make an honest living doing something that is exploited by others making wild claims for big bucks. A person’s criticisms of a charlatan, some mis-selling, or dubious practices doesn’t make them hypocrites, nor does it mean making money out of what they do wrong.

    Let’s remember that Genpo, for example, makes money out of his face to face interactions and sessions using his zen credentials and by using zen as much of the substance for his best-selling innovations. This is completely different to making money out of one’s identity or even celebrity as an author.

    Celebrity might be a dirty word these days for many good reasons, but it can also raise lots of dough for cancer research. Again, I think we should look at what is being sold, and the actual practices and claims of the person selling – if and when they are selling. How many thousands of $$ does Brad charge to sit with him again?

    I’m sure, Mumbles, you know that there are always going to be ‘some people’.

  24. sri_barence
    sri_barence May 17, 2013 at 10:14 am |

    In the Kwan Um school (which I am told descends from the Rinzai lineage), we do use koans in our practice (called ‘kong-an’ in Korean). There is a class of kong-ans called, ‘enlightenment kong-ans.’ They often take the form of ‘Such-and-such thing happened, then the student got enlightenment. What did he attain?’ The point of these kong-ans is always the same – enlightenment is nothing special. Just the sound of the tile striking bamboo. Just the moon reflected in the water.

    I’ve never had a big enlightenment experience. I often wonder what that might be like. It seems like it would be cool. But the people I’ve met who have had those experiences don’t treat them like they were special. They don’t even talk about them unless prompted. They say things like, “don’t do too much, but don’t do too little,” or “open mouth already a mistake.” In other words, they emphasize practice.

    So I’m not going to worry about enlightenment. I’m just going to keep doing zazen, every morning and every evening. Sometimes I will do a long sitting, or a multi-day retreat. And I will keep the precepts. Not because they are good or bad, but because that is also my practice.

    And I will keep buying Brad’s books. Because they ARE good. Absolutely, totally good. And infallible. And holy. We should join his cult and worship him. Yes! I’m bowing my head to the ground now. Hee hee.

  25. UngKwan
    UngKwan May 17, 2013 at 10:34 am |

    I think this highlights the importance of the precepts as part of the “Threefold training” of precepts, meditation, and wisdom.

  26. HarryB
    HarryB May 17, 2013 at 12:07 pm |

    Just to add to the Enlightened gumbo… and/or mumbo-jumbo,

    Master Dogen busted his enlightened peas contextualizing what enlightenment is (and is not). His in not a simple ‘yes/no’ answer (of the sort that might instantly gratify the peculiarities of certain latter day sects), and his take on realisation/enlightenment is certainly not confined to, nor excludes, sudden realization events (he uses some of the traditional koan accounts of sudden realisations to help contextualise his view on it).

    For example, in Shobogenzo ‘Daigo’ (‘Great Enlightenment’ or, as Nishijima/Cross translate it… questionably so… ‘Great Realisation’ – so read ‘realisation’ as ‘enlightenment’, if you wish or, preferably maybe, try both fits) he says:

    ‘The present words ‘do we rely on realisation or nor?’ neither say that realisation does not exist, nor says that it exists, nor say that it comes: they say “Do we rely on it; or not?” They are akin to asserting that the realisation of a person of the present moment, somehow, has already been realised. If we speak, for example, of attaining realisation, it sounds as if [realisation] did not used to exist. If we speak of realisation having come, it sounds as if that realisation used to exist elsewhere. If we speak of having become realisation, it sounds as if realisation has a beginning. We do not discuss it like this and it is not like this; even so, when we discuss what realisation is like, we ask if we need to rely on realisation….’ [Nishijima/Cross trans.]

    He’s here discussing a case that he included in his koan collection Shinji-Shobogenzo:

    Master Keicho Beiko has a monk ask Kyozan, “Does even a person of the present moment rely upon realisation, or not?”

    Kyozan says, “Realisation is not nonexistent, but how can it help falling into second consciousness? [or ‘divided consciousness’]

    The monk reports this back to Beiko. Beiko profoundly affirms it.



  27. Ralph124C41
    Ralph124C41 May 17, 2013 at 12:24 pm |

    Do not think you will necessarily be aware of your own enlightenment.

    1. robert
      robert May 23, 2013 at 5:45 am |

      For sure I’m not aware of mine.

  28. boubi
    boubi May 17, 2013 at 2:34 pm |

    Hi Brad

    You too got that kensho shmensho?

    It wouldn’t be bad to contextualize this into the sudden vs progressive “awakening” diatribe.

    From other sources you get that some schools ended up into a “quieting of the mind” and into believing that it was it … i think it dates from Linchi’s times.

    Noteworthy is the fact that a few lineages totally lost it for some reason.

    Also that at different moments both Rinzai and Soto had problems and went, guess where? to the brother enemy.

    So hearing that –”Some so-called “spiritual” practices are designed just to cause these kinds of experiences to happen”– that’s to say “kensho machine” … 😉 Hmmm 😉 i wonder if it will ever end

    I come to think whether there is some kind of inferiority complex because nearly everytime that some Soto person gives a speech he starts saying “you know in the middle age Rinzai monks were selling koans” … which is a complete nonsense , just ask anybody who had to deal with koans. It’s like saying to a student of acrobatics “after the flip flop, invert the movement and twist somersault” … as simple as that.

    To the one saying that Genpo is selling his presence, it’s not this way, what he sells is SUPREME enlightenment, samuttaya-something … this i would call fraud. It would be more honest giving someone an LSD and saying “you gonna see something”.

    Going back to the “master gone bad” subject.

    Again what are we talking about here? Is a master in “mind modification” ( someone who put a yoke/yoga to his mind ), supposed to comply to some kind of morality?

    Was it moral to bugger in Asia in the past (not so past actually) and it is immoral now in the west?

    So with that Sasaki guy, it puzzles because we expect a dharma teacher to have something we call “here and now” “morality”.

    Siddharta was the result of his time and culture, in the beginning he didn’t even want women in the shanga because he said that women were “good”, and when he got it it was not thinkable for him to ask for money for it, just some little food.

    My opinion is that we tend to consider separate modules as if they were a unique unchanging thing. So you have to believe in karma, reincarnation (life after life), vacuity and so on, as if it were some dogmatic monotheism descended from some deity.

    Which it is not.

  29. boubi
    boubi May 17, 2013 at 2:37 pm |

    It was meant to be “because he said that women were NOT “good”,”

  30. boubi
    boubi May 17, 2013 at 2:55 pm |

    It’s the same as breaking some politician career (Clinton) for some private matter.

    He had an affair so he is not fit to lead a nation … total bullshit. It doesn’t mean he was prone to sell the country to the soviets because he liked to be sucked.

    People tend to look for some saint, some santa klaus, some “son of god”, some perfect being that will redeem all the shit that people do and start some “happy days”, “shambala”, “workers paradise” or other nonsense.

    There are also two set of “Morality” the indian one and the chinese one. In the first more theravada monk are supposed to be separated from the world, in the second the supreme stage is “going to the market” having fun and having a drink or two.

  31. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote May 17, 2013 at 3:29 pm |

    I recall Eido Francis Carney saying that she felt she owed a debt to her teacher, and that was why she was a teacher herself. I’m going to guess that Brad feels similarly, and I can understand that.

    Brad says flat-out that he has had enlightenment experiences, and he is a teacher with lineage. Well and good.

    I am here because I too like to write, and because occasionally folks here on Brad’s blog talk about their practice. I believe there are things that can be said about practice, and by that I mean practice on the knees or bending the knees, even if it’s holding one of the postures of Tai-Chi.

    I think it’s pretty rare that people open up about what they do as a physical and/or mental practice in connection with non-material reality/realities. I think we live in an age that expects and requires more of us in terms of positive, substantive description and communication.

    For me it’s very simple: if I had not learned to write, I would not have learned to sit the lotus. I needed to write what I wrote so far to be able to sit the lotus as a practice of letting go; I can’t sit the lotus for any length of time apart from a practice of letting go, and from where I find myself currently, I would say “empty like the sky” and “walking on the fundamental ground” are not once and done when dying the noble death cuts off the breath.

  32. anon 108
    anon 108 May 17, 2013 at 3:39 pm |

    Yes, Thanks Harry. I had a go at figuring out what Dogen’s talking about.

    We can’t say realisation comes. We can’t say it goes. To be waiting for realisation to arrive is to miss it. So “Do we rely on it, or not?” A “person of the present moment” — a person who acts in harmony with circumstances – is already realising realisation. (Yet) we fall into “second consciousness,” divided consciousness. Divided consciousness says, “I have attained realisation,” or “Realisation has come.” But even this “may be taken to be true second consciousness” – even this “may be the state of realisation”. For we are only ever in our present state — and the present state of a person of the present moment, even if ‘fallen into second consciousness,’ is the state of a person greatly realising the present.

    That’s how I hear it. Presently.

  33. Fred
    Fred May 17, 2013 at 4:32 pm |

    “Does even a person of the present moment rely upon realisation, or not?”

    Can an illusion rely upon a realization? The Universe is having the realization,
    so how does it matter.

    The self may have a memory of a glimpse of emptiness but what use is that to

    Does a person of the present moment exist in that moment, or does just the moment exist.

  34. boubi
    boubi May 17, 2013 at 4:36 pm |

    Weird about talking publicly of one’s own attainment … my teacher never answered that question. Questioning privately your own with a teacher is another thing.

    Who exactly exhibited his enlightenment beyond the likes of Genpo?

    But really i don’t believe that realizing that “we are one” is such a big deal, that we are all that vibration of atoms (?) without border nor difference between you and the air and the tree if not of difference of density of field of energy and that it gives a glimpse a boundless joy. For a short moment.

    Bull, this is the same as realizing that cake is good or that water is wet!

  35. Broken Yogi
    Broken Yogi May 17, 2013 at 5:03 pm |

    My view is that awakening experiences, satoris, kenshos, “experiences of the Self” if you’re an advaitin, etc., are definitely important, both as a form of initiation and ongoing refreshment in the fundamental reality, but they are NOT enlightenment itself. Even when they truly break through the round of samsaric mind, when they are over, they are interpreted through the memory and patterns of the samsaric mind, and hence are at best guides and motivators to truly relinquish all those patterns of the samsaric mind.

    And that’s the key: the patterns of the samsaric mind MUST be relinquished, in their entirety, for enlightenment to actually be true. Otherwise, we only have some sort of vestigal linkage to our enlightenment, distorted and disturbed by the samsaric mind. All the vasanas and samskara that linger in both our conscious mind, and in our unconsciousness, must be thoroughly relinquished and surrendered. No way around that. And practice is all about relinquishing all of those vasanas and samskaras of the samsaric mind. It’s not done, until it is done. Before that, we are all basically in the same boat. After that, we aren’t even around to worry about it.

    petrichoric’s question is quite apt. Lots of great folks in the Zen and other traditions do have genuine satoris, insights, and intelligence developing. But almost all of them are still in the process of relinquishing the tendencies of their samsaric mind. Hopefully, they are doing so on the basis of real insight and understanding gained from direct knowledge and experience of the “unborn” condition. And clearly almost everyone out there still has much to relinquish.

    The problem comes when people either think they’ve relinquished everything, but haven’t, or even worse, when they don’t realize that the purpose of practice is to actively relinquish these things. Instead, people tend to hold on to their precious experience, their status, their insights, their position in the sangha, their self-image of themselves, and simply assume that these are the result of their enlightenment, rather than a goad to actually finish the job. Some, particularly in the western advaitic scene, think they can just “call off the search” because they’ve had some insight or awakening experience that helps them see that there is no “ego” to be undone. What they don’t realize is that the there is a lot more to ego than a simple sense of having a persona or center to one’s experience. The ego is the sum total of all our vasanas and samskaras, and the ego is not relinquished until these are relinquished.

    The great insight of Zen is that the way to relinquish these is not a self-improvement program, but is instead a very simple approach, a “doing nothing” approach. In the face of these vasanas and samskaras, one simply does nothing, not engaging them, and not suppressing them, just noticing and feeling them, and letting them pass. The problem is, we seldom can maintain that discipline, especially when very attractive or repulsive things arise in our experience. So Zen teachers aren’t given a whole lot of means for dealing with these things by their tradition, other than avoiding them, which just builds up unconscious desires and aversions, which eventually explode in some sort of messy scandal, or they just maintain a kind of outward, suppressed mediocrity which people mistake for sila.

    The tradition needs updating and rounding out, especially here in the west.

  36. A-Bob
    A-Bob May 17, 2013 at 6:14 pm |

    “I woke up as the sun was reddening; and that was the one distinct time in my life, the strangest moment of all, when I didn’t know who I was – I was far away from home, haunted and tired with travel, in a cheap hotel room I’d never seen, hearing the hiss of steam outside, and the creak of the old wood of the hotel, and footsteps upstairs, and all the sad sounds, and I looked at the cracked high ceiling and really didn’t know who I was for about fifteen strange seconds. I wasn’t scared; I was just somebody else, some stranger, and my whole life was a haunted life, the life of a ghost. I was halfway across America, at the dividing line between the East of my youth and the West of my future.” – JK

  37. CosmicBrainz
    CosmicBrainz May 17, 2013 at 7:39 pm |

    Did you have to sit [in Zazen] to figure out this common sense stuff, Brad? I mean, everything you say is common sense, but the way you herald Zazen as being the only expedient means is kind of annoying. I’m not in the mood to get the exact quote, but you once claimed a regimen of Zazen is the “only way” to actualize Buddhahood (aka prajna paramita) or permit it. That’s retarded, dude, and it seems to force a kind of innervating complacency and dullness in practitioners! Why not bring the “Zazen” into our daily living, and why not live in a spontaneous creative way by expressing ourselves and finding ourselves in activities like gardening or drawing, and then sharing it with others? Almost every great Chan Buddhist wrote poetry and didn’t sit endlessly in a formal, strict way, emphasizing on the importance of a vertical spine while sitting.

    There are people who get knee damage from being forced to sit in the “proper” posture during Zazen! You once heralded half-lotus as being the best means, but don’t you realize all of this is arbitrary and one can easily meditate while lying down? That’s retarded and detrimental to the Middle Way to be so rigid. Soto Zen is stupid, and I can see why it’s becoming popular among Americans. Meditation is just ONE tool and not the focal element of practice. Why don’t you losers actually talk about doing stuff or write some poetry instead of spouting rhetoric about such abstract primitive shit?

  38. Mumbles
    Mumbles May 17, 2013 at 8:37 pm |

    I don’t know, would be my most honest reply.

    Some require a teacher like Brad to satisfy spiritual greed.

    “Suppose “you” become enlightened, then what?” -Chogyam Trungpa

  39. intokyo
    intokyo May 17, 2013 at 8:55 pm |

    hey brad have you seen “amongst white clouds”? would love to get your thoughts on it.


  40. thomas
    thomas May 17, 2013 at 8:57 pm |

    It’s interesting to me how many folks get on here and go on about how “immoral” Sasaki-roshi is. Well, to my mind, this only illustrates how little understanding you have about what someone who is truly awake does. I’ve met the man. He acts from compassion. He has often done what you people are afraid to do. Do you really think you are in a position to judge the appropriateness of his response? You’re not. The man is as alive they come and you people are mired in “zen” shite.

  41. My_name_is_Daniel
    My_name_is_Daniel May 17, 2013 at 9:27 pm |

    I remember Paul Haller commenting that after 30 or 40 years of dedicated Zen practice, he thinks he may have it down (laughs). So, I think an important point is brought to light in that statement.

    Throughout those years on intense practice, he most likely had innumerable kensho experiences, but not one single experience brings about what I see as the total package of practice. Thorough drying of the meat takes time!

    Now, in that time we make “mistakes” but we still practice. We have amazing experiences that can blow us back, POW!, but we may turn around and tell the elaborate story to another, riding a wave of excitement and then crash…right back to the ground…right back to practice! It’s all practice, whether we intentionally practice or not. That’s how normal, not special it is. It’s also profound for this very reason.

    Dogen says practice is enlightenment. Suzuki says “nothing special.”

  42. boubi
    boubi May 17, 2013 at 10:28 pm |

    —“the notion that these kinds of experiences transform ordinary people into spiritual superheroes. But they don’t. Not in and of themselves. Becoming a moral person is a matter of transforming one’s habits of thinking and behavior.”—

    So what is enlightenment?

    Here you talk about “Becoming a moral person” which is a rather common goal not only of organized religions … so what is enlightenment?

  43. boubi
    boubi May 17, 2013 at 10:37 pm |

    —“A lot of people, especially nowadays, define “awakening” as a kind of experience. … People tend to forget that Siddhartha engaged in various practices and worked hard on himself for decades before his awakening. ” —

    But he could have gone on forever without “that” experience !

    My teacher (Linchi’s school) said it very simply, there is a before and an after

  44. My_name_is_Daniel
    My_name_is_Daniel May 17, 2013 at 10:41 pm |


  45. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote May 17, 2013 at 11:10 pm |

    Broken Yogi, did ya see my write- it’s under “where” in my last comment above. It’s about Gautama’s practice, and the four initial meditative states.

    My contention would be it’s as simple as falling asleep without quite falling asleep, or waking up without quite waking up, as far as letting go. And it’s helpful to recognize the role of stretch in ease and in the cessation of ease , it’s helpful to make distinct the experience of the senses in happiness and in the cessation of happiness. Gautama taught that there is ease in the first state, happiness in the second, the ceasing of ease in the third, and the ceasing of happiness in the fourth.

    Where am I, when body and mind drop; not at the boat races!

  46. Fred
    Fred May 18, 2013 at 2:41 am |

    “Why don’t you losers actually talk about doing stuff or write some poetry instead of spouting rhetoric about such abstract primitive shit?”

    i grew ripe
    when the daydream dieing
    flowered a simple type
    and opened
    into infant eyes

  47. Fred
    Fred May 18, 2013 at 2:48 am |

    “Suppose “you” become enlightened, then what?” -Chogyam Trungpa

    Then there wouldn’t be any need for “I’

    “I” is merely a vehicle for the unknowing to manifest; using the self to
    forget the self.

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