Saturday, May 19, 2007

Taboos and Broken Hearts

Originally uploaded by Wiggum03.

I hadn’t read very far into Emptiness Dancing, the first book I ever read by Adyashanti, when I melted into tears and momentary collapse.
I had read this simple sentence:

The biggest barrier to awakening is the belief that it is something rare. When this barrier is dropped… then everything becomes instantly available to you. … it can’t be rare and difficult unless we insist it is.

I knew immediately that I carried the belief, and now apparently I was being given permission to let it go.
God, what a heart breaking relief – or Belief if I can truly let it in.

I am not alone in this.
How could anyone really feel deserving of the greatest spiritual blessing?
You can’t.
You couldn’t possibly deserve it.

So, there is this second belief too, “Oh, it’s not for me.”

This self-sabotage is subtly strengthened by the taboo, in many traditions, of speaking openly about one’s awakening. The Tao Te Ching makes it clear: "Those who know don’t say. Those who say don’t know."

Vedanta is no better. Maharishi was a monk, and monks don’t speak about themselves as “individuals.” So, we were taught to describe enlightenment while never ascribing any of the qualities as personal endowments. To behave otherwise was the height of crassness, vulgar, poor behavior and resulted quickly in open shunning by many of the organizational powers that be.

To this day, I struggle against a shame regarding speaking openly about my experiences.
How many times have I cringed as I compose this blog?
“I can’t say that!” But, sometimes I have.
I haven’t even understood entirely why.
I’ve just felt I needed to. Maybe in all this babble of saying and not knowing others may find a clue that helps them forward just a step.

So, it is with gratitude that I discovered this interview of Adyashanti.
It was originally published in the Fall, 2004 issue of Tricycle: The Buddhist Review. Stephan Bodian, the author, is a student of Adya’s.
The title of the interview is “The Taboo of Enlightenment.”

Bodian: In traditional Buddhism, at least as I practiced it, there’s a taboo against talking openly about enlightenment, as we’re doing now. It seems to be based on the fear that the ego will co-opt the experience and become inflated. In your dharma talks you speak in great detail about awakening, including your own, and in your public dialogues you encourage others to do the same. Why is that?

Adya: When I was sitting with my teacher, Arvis, we’d all go into the kitchen after the meditation and dharma talk and have some fruit and tea, and we’d talk openly about our lives. For the most part we didn’t focus on our spiritual experiences, but they were a part of the mix. Then these same people would do retreats at the Zen Center of Los Angeles and have big awakenings, and the folks in L.A. began to wonder what was happening in this little old lady’s living room up north.

Arvis’s view was simple: The only thing I’m doing that they’re not, she said, is that we sit around casually and talk, and what’s happening on the inside for people isn’t kept secret or hidden. This way, people get beyond the sense that they’re the only ones who are having this or that experience. They come out of their shell, which actually makes them more available to a deeper spiritual process.

The tradition of talking about certain experiences only in private with your teacher keeps enlightenment a secret activity reserved for special people. I can understand the drawbacks of being more open, of course. Some people may blab on about how enlightened they are, and become more egotistical. But when everything remains open to inquiry, then even the ego’s tendency to claim enlightenment for itself becomes obvious in the penetrating light of public discourse.

In the long run, both ways have their strengths and weaknesses, but I’ve found that having students ask their questions in public breaks down the isolation that many spiritual people feel - the sense that nobody else could possibly understand what they’re going through, or that they’re so rotten at their practice, or that nobody could be struggling like they are. And when people have breakthroughs and talk about them in public, awakening loses its mystique. Everyone else can see that it’s not just special people who have deep awakenings, it’s their neighbor or their best friend.

Bodian: Would you claim that you are enlightened?

Adya: Well, no, not with a straight face. I would say enlightenment is enlightened and awakeness is awake. It’s not an experience; it’s a fact.


So, I’m gonna keep on truckin’ here.
At the risk of sounding egotistical… or actually ignorant, seems more likely to me.

But, once again, “Oh, well.”

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