At age 19, Adyashanti (Steve Gray) began a Zen practice, sitting in meditation sometimes three or four hours a day. During the sixth year, he had a deep insight that the seeker (himself) could not be apart from the sought (transcendent Being). As he described what occurred to him:
“I am what I’ve been seeking…[But] what is this that I am?”
Another six years later, that question was put fully to rest: he had penetrated to the emptiness of all things. Why had it taken twelve years, he pondered, to discover the actuality which he had never been apart from. Would he recommend a zazen meditation practice to others, as the most direct means to enlightened realization?
In an interview, with Stephen Bodian, he said:
“When I looked around at the Buddhist tradition, I realized that the success rate was terrible. People were in it for enlightenment, but very few were actually getting enlightened. ‘If this were a business,’ I thought, ‘we’d be bankrupt.’”
He began to look at his own transformation:
“Enlightenment is awakening from the dream of being a separate ‘me’, to being the universal reality. It’s not an experience or a perception that occurs to a separate person as the result of spiritual practice or cultivated awareness. It doesn’t come and go: and you don’t need to do anything to maintain it. It’s not about being centered, or blissful, or peaceful or any other experience…. The separate person is seen through, and you realize that only the supreme, universal reality exists; and that you are that.”
“This knowing has never changed or faded in any way…. It’s not that I, as a separate self, merged with everything. It was just a pure seeing that everything is one, and that I am that.”
Adya began to question the value of a spiritual practice that is contrived to unite an “individual” with an eventual experience. So he now dismantles various myths concerning enlightenment.
“For one thing, we need to let go of all the ideas and beliefs we’ve accumulated over the years about what enlightenment is supposed to look like…Some people who come to see me are already quite awake, but the mind causes confusion because the awakeness doesn’t fit their picture of it…In the spiritual culture that has evolved here in the West, we tend to confuse enlightenment with mystical experiences…mystical experiences are happening to the dream character you take to be ‘me’—and this ‘me’ is the one you wake up from…The realization is completely nondual….We do not need to go looking for ‘altered states of consciousness’: humanity is already in an altered state of consciousness. It’s called separation.”
Further, Adya says:
“The idea that enlightenment means sitting around with a beatific smile on our faces is just an illusion. At a human level, enlightenment means that you are no longer divided within yourself, and that you no longer experience a division between ‘yourself’ and ‘others’…When personal motivation no longer drives us, then what’s left is our true nature; which naturally expresses itself on the human dimension as love or compassion. Not a compassion that we cultivate or practice because we’re supposed to, but a compassion that arises spontaneously from our undivided state.”
And, he speaks of what he calls the biggest barrier to realizing this undivided state:
“I think it’s unfortunate that a person can spend hour after hour, day after day, year after year, dedicating his life to enlightenment, and yet the very notion that anybody attains enlightenment is a taboo. We’re all going after this; but God forbid somebody says they’ve realized it. We don’t believe them, we’re cynical, we have doubt; we go immediately into a semi- (or overt) attack mode. To me, it highlights the fact that people are chasing an awakening they don’t believe could happen to them. That’s a barrier, and the biggest one…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.”
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