Near my apartment there’s a New Age bookstore called The Bodhi Tree. Occassionally I’ll go in there and brouse the shelves. I’ve actually found a few decent books there, translations of the old Sutras and such-like. But most of the shelf space is given over to books which recount various authors’ encounters with Enlightened Beings. These encounters are always very special and mystical. The author invariably comes away transformed by the Deep Wisdom of these wonderful beings.

Unfortunately, my own encounters with Enlightened Beings have never been quite as pleasant. One particular Enlightened Master* from somewhere in Canada has lately been calling me all sorts of nasty names in postings on various other blogs. Apparently his Enlightenment is of a much higher level than any mere lickspittle such as myself could hope to aspire to. I’ve observed this guy’s behavior over a number of years, though, and if this is how Enlightened Masters act, the world is better off with as few of them as possible. I certainly have no interest in becoming one.

But my encounters with him weren’t my first unpleasant brushes with Enlightened Beings, and I doubt they’ll be my last. In fact, he’s got competition lately from yet another Enlightened Being on the Internet who claims his Enlightenment is also far superior to mine. This other Man of Enlightenment even sends me threats via e-mail. Oh joy….

A couple few years ago when my book was first being considered for publication, a very famous Enlightened Being, author of numerous books about Enlightenment and how to achieve it, expressed grave concerns about its contents and possible effects. My worried prospective publishers even sent the unpublished manuscript — without my permission — to this guy to try and get his blessings. His verdict: There’s nothing wrong with Brad that a year in an intensive meditation retreat wouldn’t cure. One of his retreats, I assume, where he could teach me the true meaning of Enlightenment. Sir, yes, Sir! I’ll be right there! — feh! In the end I chose not to work with these publishers. Yet, I wonder if their interest in my book would have cooled had Mr. Enlightenment pronounced it unworthy.

One more Enlightened Being I met ended up involved in a murder….

As you may imagine, these days I’m not overly impressed with people who claim to have had Enlightenment.

I really cannot understand why these Enlightened Beings feel so threatened by me. Especially since I have never made any claims of Enlightenement for myself. In fact, I’ve denied the whole idea of Enlightenment. Maybe that’s what’s threatening. It’s like saying the Emperor has no clothes. Anyway, if you’re truly Enlightened, why would anything at all be threatening? Why would you need to make claims for your own Enlightenment? Why would you indulge in specualtion about the nature of someone else’s Enlightenment or lack thereof? Wouldn’t an Enlightened Being be more confident about his Total Understanding of All Things and Phenomena than that? Maybe if I were Enlightened, I’d understand…

Perhaps the Enlightened Beings encountered by those authors are different from the ones I’ve run into. It’s entirely posssible. But it’s also entirely possible that many of those who claim to be Enlightened Beings behave quite differently towards those who fawn over them, and sit at their feet absorbing their Wisdom, than they do towards those who are skeptical.

And yet, although I’ve said, “There’s no such thing as Enlightenment,” it’s not that I don’t believe in Enlightenment at all. I know that sounds like a line from Spinal Tap**. But it’s not that there is no Enlightenment. It’s just that I cannot accept what most people refer to as “Enlightenment” as being in any way, well… enlightening.

Enlightenment is not a state. It’s not an experience that happens to you after which everything you say or do is cool because — hey — you’re an Enlightened Being, so it must be cool. No. Enlightenment is action. Enlightenment is not something you experience. It’s not something you own which other un-enlightened folks don’t. Enlightenment is something you do. This is why Dogen said that sitting Zazen is Enlightenment itself. When you behave like a Buddha, that behavior, that action, is Enlightenment. When you behave like an asshole….

*Please note that I haven’t identified any of these Enlightened Beings by name. If you must waste time speculating, please don’t name names in the comments section. OK? These folks give me enough hassles as it is.

** “We don’t actually say, ‘Love your neighbor.’ We don’t actually mean it either. But the message should be clear.”
— Nigel Tufnel (Lead Guitar, Spinal Tap)

35 Responses

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  1. ryunin
    ryunin June 26, 2006 at 4:02 am |

    thank you for the post and posting again and i hope this time ppl won’t bug you too much in their comments

  2. Graham
    Graham June 26, 2006 at 4:41 am |

    Can somebody perhaps slip me a link to these postings by enlightend beings, without naming them (of course!). Just want to read the facts and make my own mind up s’all.


  3. SteveP
    SteveP June 26, 2006 at 5:42 am |

    but there *is* an irreversible physiological transformation in which all energy is perceived as arising and passing away like gabilions of lighters flickering – incredibly rapidly. (remember that scene in the matrix where neo sees everything as code?) apparently when this is experienced directly the whole notion of a ‘permanent self’ goes right out the door and it is seen that the mind grasping at this flickering is the source of suffering at the deepest level. my teacher’s teacher experienced this. can’t get close while everyday stuff in the world still delights and disgusts though – that level of mental clumping is so coarse in comparison to the flickering. so one has to get down and investigate (look closer into) the ordinary crap of living – wanting pleasure, not liking people, etc. granted, this is from a different tradition. some stuff on it can be found here:

  4. B-Brain
    B-Brain June 26, 2006 at 5:49 am |

    nice link. I like this:

    [Immediately after attaining the stream] Sariputta the wanderer went to Moggallana the wanderer. Moggallana the wanderer saw him coming from afar and, on seeing him, said, “Your faculties are bright, my friend; your complexion pure & clear. Could it be that you have attained the Deathless?”

    “Yes, my friend, I have…”

  5. Wolf
    Wolf June 26, 2006 at 9:22 am |

    @yellowcup: Although different tradition, this “enlightenment” is also important in zen. But it generally isn’t seen as “enlightenment” by most of the Zennies around. By the way one has to be careful with the irreversible transformations: Things once understood can’t be ununderstood easily, in that way it’s irreversible. But right understanding doesn’t guarantee right action. Nothing does but acting right. And that requires right effort, no matter how enlightened the being.
    What I want to say, the problem with that enlightenment thing is not the experience itself, but rhather that some people believe once you have had your taste of enlightenment you are unfailable. That you have gone all the way down the noble eightfold path and can now sit back and relax since you’re done and gone within 7 lives max.
    But, here comes my outing whack me, I’m of Brad’s opinion here: No matter what experience you encounter, you have to invest effort, stay in the moment and walk on. Be good or die trying.


  6. Lone Wolf
    Lone Wolf June 26, 2006 at 9:45 am |

    Thanks for continuing to nail this point about “enlightment” in my brain Brad. It is easy to get caught up in the idea of being someone “special” because one practices Buddhism. It’s all easy to start ruining Zazen with some idea of “enlightment” one is striving for. It seems the more one starts to feel “special” or “enlightened” the more one becomes an asshole and thickens the illusion or thought of being serperate from the universe.

  7. Lone Wolf
    Lone Wolf June 26, 2006 at 9:58 am |

    Brad- What’s the update on the second book? Did you figure out a title yet? Is there an approx release date?

  8. trbecker
    trbecker June 26, 2006 at 11:34 am |

    Seems like you threatens these so called Elightened Beeings by beeing iconoclastic as you are. That’s not bad at all, it’s my belief that iconoclastic dudes are needed everywere to question things and make others think.
    Maybe it’s something in the field of beliefs. They see themselves as enlightened, and you see that they are not. They need everyone else to see them as enlightened, so they don’t need to face themselves as what they really are. Such ironic thing for these buddhists, not facing reality, hiding behind a mask of enlightenment.
    “Lies have short legs”, as said a portuguese proverb.

    That’s bitter. And maybe it is not the truth. Your call, actually.

  9. ~.
    ~. June 26, 2006 at 3:27 pm |

    just a quick thanks for stickin to your guns. not lashing out adds a touch of class.

    i too am looking forward to the next book.

  10. Dan
    Dan June 26, 2006 at 3:39 pm |

    just discovered this blog is up and running again. woohoo! don’t turn it off this time. i know it got pretty ridiculous last time but hopefully enough of those people are now so convinced that you’re a fake ( ‘a fake what though?’ is what i always wonder) that they won’t even bother reading this blog anymore.
    hopefully… actually i might start taking bets as to who will cast the first stone. my money’s on gniz (gniz if you’re reading this i actually quite like how your character comes across on the internet. you remind me of a lot of my friends)

  11. Jinzang
    Jinzang June 26, 2006 at 6:06 pm |

    From one way of looking at things, there is enlightenment. From another, there’s not. I have this on good authority:

    As all things are buddha-dharma, there is delusion and realization, practice, and birth and death, and there are buddhas and sentient beings.

    As the myriad things are without an abiding self, there is no delusion, no realization, no buddha, no sentient being, no birth and death.

  12. L.A. Girl in Minnesota
    L.A. Girl in Minnesota June 26, 2006 at 9:00 pm |

    I’m glad you’re posting again, especially since I left LA before I had a chance to try your sessions in Santa Monica.

  13. dave
    dave June 27, 2006 at 8:51 am |

    Perhaps these Enlightened Beings should read Lao Tzu, who said “He who speaks does not know; he who knows does not speak.” I’ve seen the same thing in martial arts. The “Masters” who display all the trophies & have all the slick adverts are not the ones who really know what it’s truly all about.

  14. calhoun_
    calhoun_ June 27, 2006 at 10:06 am |

    jinzang, your appeal to authority is meaningless. That’s first-chapter-of-the-book logical fallacy. Show me the money.

  15. So Daiho Hilbert
    So Daiho Hilbert June 27, 2006 at 12:53 pm |

    Hello Brad, Good to see you again. I hope all is well with you and yours. Las Cruces is way hot and I’m going to head back up to the Refuge for a sesshin soon. Be well.

  16. Stuart
    Stuart June 27, 2006 at 1:36 pm |

    YellowCup said…
    > but there *is* an irreversible
    > physiological transformation in
    > which all energy is perceived as
    > arising and passing away like
    > gabilions of lighters
    > flickering – incredibly rapidly.

    I won’t question the availability of any sort of experience. But “irreversible”?! My own experience is that all things are always appearing and disappearing. That’d suggest that these “transformations,” incredible as they may be, are one more thing that appears and disappears.

    One might argue: “How can you know that no irreversible transformation exists? It’s like a Yeti; even if you’ve never seen one your whole life, maybe you’ve just missed them.”

    That metaphor fails. One can at least *imagine* seeing a Yeti as a coherent experience. But how could one possibly experience “irreversibility”? To actually experience that a transformation is irreversible, one would have to remain with it *forever*. And no one’s ever done that. There just isn’t time.


  17. SteveP
    SteveP June 27, 2006 at 4:05 pm |

    Stuart you got me thinking about it. What a funny word, irreversible. Everything is irreversible!

    I read that at this ‘first stage of enlightenment’ called ‘stream entry’ that one will never again be reborn in hell realms. That’s what got me thinking irreversible.


  18. Jules
    Jules June 28, 2006 at 10:52 pm |

    Hi Brad. Rock on dude.

  19. Bob J.
    Bob J. June 29, 2006 at 2:52 am |

    Brad, your YouTube video is knocking your sidebar to the bottom of the page. I had the same problem on my blog. There’s probably someway to change the margins on the blog, but short of that, you can move the video “embedmnent” to the end of the blog, and your sidebar will pop back into place. The video is gonna be at the bottom of your page either way, but you can get your links and profile back up where they belong.

  20. M. Wooder-Royce
    M. Wooder-Royce June 29, 2006 at 5:01 am |

    Brad, totally off-topic, but I’m bummed that you took off almost all your essays from your web page. I really enjoyed them, and I hope you haven’t deleted them! Maybe an archive page…?

  21. babbles
    babbles June 29, 2006 at 6:09 pm |


    I never got around to leave any comments in the past, but now I would like to take a moment and thank you for keeping this blog.

    As somebody else touched on, in regards to your articles on your website will those be returning or otherwise available in an archive?

    Best regards.

  22. gniz
    gniz June 30, 2006 at 9:07 am |

    I will cast the first stone, as Dan said.
    I just want to understand why Brad keeps talking on and on about how enlightenment states, etc dont exist? Why does he keep bringing this same subject up?
    Or the fact that a couple of nutjobs on the internet dont like him? Who cares?
    Think about a big rockstar or movie star. Many times these people are stalked incessantly by outright dangerous lunatics, yet they oh so rarely even mention it.
    Yet here Brad is, and this might be the fourth or fifth post where he talks about all the annoying idiots who think he’s a fake.
    Dude, your opinion of yourself is way overblown. The internet is a place where idiots get on and type a few dozen words before going back to the rest of their lives.
    Brad, you are not important to me except as a way to kill time at work.
    Yes, I think you are a phony.

    Love aaron

  23. Zac!
    Zac! June 30, 2006 at 9:18 am |

    Enlightenment is just one of those things. Whatever it may be, anyone who thinks, ever, that s/he is a finished product, well, is right in a way. Anybody who thinks “Now I’m enlightened! My journey is ended,” is right about one of those two things, that’s for sure.

  24. Dan
    Dan June 30, 2006 at 11:01 am |

    hey whaddya know? I was right! :¬)

  25. Stuart
    Stuart June 30, 2006 at 4:45 pm |

    > I just want to understand why
    > Brad keeps talking on and on
    > about how enlightenment states,
    > etc dont exist?

    FWIW, I’ve been following this blog for a couple months I guess, so I’ve seen a handful of entries. I honestly never got the idea that it was all about how enlightenment states etc don’t exist.

    Funny that we got different impressions. Maybe one of us is reading it right, and the other wrong? Or maybe it’s like “Annie Hall.” There’s that scene where the Woody Allen character is being asked by his shrink how often he has sex with his lover Annie Hall. Allen says, “Hardly ever. 2 or 3 times a week.” On the split screen we see Annie Hall, being asked the same question by HER shrink, and she replies, “CONSTANTLY. 2 or 3 times a week!”

    > Yes, I think you are a phony.

    “Phony” only has meaning if there’s something “authentic” that you’re contrasting it to. So that’s the big question: what’s you’re idea of “authentic”?


  26. gniz
    gniz July 2, 2006 at 5:54 pm |

    For the most part, authentic to me would be someone who has no need to run around blogging about buddhism, gossiping and in-fighting.
    Now, you say, “But Gniz, YOU do all of those things!”
    Exactly. It takes one to know one.
    I can spot a full of shit idiot from a mile away.
    And I would sure as hell trust someone who says, “man i am an unenlightened moron, a full of shit, scared little troll” way ahead of some buddhist zennie PC know it all.
    And thats what most of (not all) the posters are on these sites.
    Hey, if you know so much, there’s no way in hell you’d be spending time reading or writing blog comments about how Gniz or Brad is an idiot.


  27. Stuart
    Stuart July 4, 2006 at 5:58 pm |

    > For the most part, authentic to
    > me would be someone who has no
    > need to run around blogging
    > about buddhism, gossiping and in-
    > fighting.

    First of all, I don’t “run around blogging about buddhism.” I’m sitting here quite comfortably.

    My job is to deal with whatever situation is in front of me, and if that happens to be a blog about buddhism, I don’t see the problem.

    > Now, you say, “But Gniz, YOU do
    > all of those things!”

    No, I don’t.

    > Hey, if you know so much,
    > there’s no way in hell you’d be
    > spending time reading or writing
    > blog comments about how Gniz or
    > Brad is an idiot.

    It’s not that I know so much… but if what’s in front of me is blog comments about how Gniz or Brad is an idiot, that’s what I attend to. Why not?


  28. Mike Cross
    Mike Cross July 4, 2006 at 8:28 pm |

    Even though Brad proclaimed with great certainty that there’s no such thing as enlightenment, he still seems to be suffering from a bit of a doubt about the whole subject.

    What does that tell us about Brad?

    It tells us that, in calling himself “doubtboy” he is not totally a hypocrite.

    It tells us that, although he is a jumped up little brat who gives himself airs without reason, and utterly fails to pay respect where respect is due, there might still be a bit of bodhicitta operating in him.

  29. Sean
    Sean July 6, 2006 at 9:41 am |

    I think that it is quite true and very logical what Brad wrote in HCZ (can’t find the page right now)…when you try to ‘take’ their enlightenment from them or don’t acknowledge their ‘status’/’authority’ whatever, some enlightened beings get reeeaaaallllly p***ed off, so that’s enlightenment, huh?!
    It appears to me that these being’s view of being enlightened is just another/different form of duality – like trbecker hinted at earlier on i.e. they only see and define their “enlightenment” in opposition (‘being’ vs. believers and non-believers)
    Guys, just relax 😉

  30. Jamesmatthew
    Jamesmatthew July 30, 2006 at 2:11 am |

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  31. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 15, 2007 at 3:43 am |

    This is very interesting site… »

  32. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 9, 2007 at 8:51 am |

    I attended a worksho this past weekend. Just when the Master (guru from India) was about to give his initiation blessing to all, I saw a devil’s face on him, horns and all. I rubbed my eyes several times and again, always to open them and see again this grotesque face on a sweet and good man. what could be the meaning of this? Do you know of anyone who has had a similar vision?

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    Anonymous June 12, 2007 at 7:22 am |

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  34. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 7, 2008 at 10:36 am |

    🙂 it is good to read from you, i see now that there are many differant types of enlightened people. Since we are all capable, or all not capable-hahaha, then there is a calling for each of us within. it is nice to read your calm and suble approach, enjoy the questions presented for enlightened beings- that it is perfect to be-the being of light- there for not neciecary to force light onto, into, upon, any person, being, thing. Hahaha. Yes the joy of being in the light- enlight is the joy in itself- and those whom seek such joy will find what it is they seek. Be you- thank you for the blog. Smiles for all around you, and the people who read these messages. Ciao.

  35. Anonymous
    Anonymous June 26, 2008 at 12:29 pm |

    Anonymous: you saw in the zen master your own fears. Please do not be discouraged from practice.

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