May 12, 2011
“The End of Your World,” by Adyashanti
Enlightenment used to be something of a dirty word in the west, or at least it used to be considered improper to make any claims to be enlightened. People would say this reticence was an “eastern thing” — a sign of how spiritually mature Asia was, because of course you would “just know” that someone was Enlightened. This was always nonsense. Looking at the Buddhist scriptures it’s hard to ignore the Buddha’s “Lion’s Roar” where he declares that he is awakened. There are two entire books of the Buddhist scriptures — the Therigatha and Theragatha — which are entirely composed of verses composed by people declaring that they, too, were Enlightened.
Title: The End of Your World: Uncensored Straight Talk on the Nature of Enlightenment
Publisher: Sounds True
Available from: Sounds True, Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.co.uk Kindle Store, Amazon.com, and Amazon.com Kindle Store.
So there’s nothing in the original Buddhist tradition that says you should be shy and bashful about your spiritual attainments. (Falsely claiming spiritual attainments is, of course, frowned upon, but that’s an entirely different matter.) So how did this myth arise? I suspect that in many cases western teachers were not saying whether they were enlightened or not because they hoped people would think they were. Often teachers are as bashful about saying that they are not awakened as about saying that they are. How delicious to keep people guessing!
But all that is changing. Western teachers — some of them very impressive individuals — are beginning to “come out” and to proclaim their awakening. They’re also explicitly teaching others how to wake up to reality. Adyashanti is one of those. Initially trained in the Zen tradition, Adya (as he is known) is now something of a post-Buddhist freewheeling non-dualist, having shed his Zen persona along with his ego. As best as I can gather, he doesn’t teach meditation, but instead offers “satsangs” (a term he has borrowed from the Hindu non-dualist tradition) where he simply talks.
“I’m not the kind of spiritual teacher who has a personal relationship with my students. I come, I teach, we interact when I teach, but I don’t have a retreat center; I don’t have an avenue in which we relate in a casual way.”
The End of Your World is an attempt to help others who may be experiencing awakening, or have experienced it, or have experienced something that they think might be awakening. It’s aimed at those who are confused about what the next step might be, or who are baffled by finding that spiritual awakening actually might bring with it a whole set of problems. The book has an authentic ring to it, and I have no doubt that Adya is in fact enlightened.
Adya has a broad definition of awakening. He includes not only permanent insights, but temporary experiences of non-duality. Thus, experiences that that the Buddhist tradition would emphatically deny are states of true awakening (the fourth jhana, and any of the so-called formless jeans) might be regarded by Adya as experiences of enlightenment. He does acknowledge that “some would say that if an awakening is momentary, it is not a real awakening,” but goes on to dismiss this on the grounds that non-abiding awakening (as he calls it) is on a trajectory toward the real deal. I’m not entirely convinced by this. On the one hand I see it as a kind of “spiritual grade inflation” (great for self-esteem!) but on the other hand I do think that experiences of selfless non-duality are important steps toward awakening and shouldn’t be undervalued.
Adya deals with the fact that awakening can be disorienting, and even painful, because in finding the truth we need to look at things more honestly, and this might be difficult. He says in fact that “in order to awaken, we must break out of the paradigm of always seeking to feel better.” He points out that once the enlightened state begins to manifest, there is a conflict with the remaining ego. Sometimes there is a conflict because they ego is dissolving, and the personality is changing. This presents the problem of coping with change. Sometimes the ego tries to co-opt the enlightened experience. The ego, for example, says “How do I stay in the awakened state?” The awakened state has no need of such questions, of course. Better questions for the ego, Adya points out, would be, “How is it that I’m unenlightening myself? How is it specifically that I’m putting myself back in illusion.” Enlightenment is, clearly a process.
One thing that disappointed me, in a small way, about Adya’s presentation of this process was that there’s no reference to the traditional Buddhist conception of the stages of awakening: stream entry, once-returner, non-returner, arahant. There are, naturally, other ways to approach the process of awakening (even within the Buddhist tradition — and the categories I mentioned are not used in the Zen tradition he is steeped in) but I would have liked to see his take on these stages of enlightenment. However, Adya does things his own way, and uses his own language and images, which is actually rather refreshing. His presentation is lively, and original, and it is engaging because of its being utterly unfettered by traditional language.
The author offers up a fair degree of spiritual autobiography, detailing his “first awakening” at the age of 25, and his “final awakening” at the age of 32, along with the ups and downs that came in between. Sometimes he seems a little coy; he repeatedly mentions his “Zen teacher,” under whom he studied for 14 or 15 years, without once mentioning her name. (I know from other sources that her name is Arvis Joen Justi, and that she was a disciple, although not an appointed Dharma Heir, of Maezumi Roshi. She’s now retired, so perhaps Adya didn’t want a bunch of readers seeking her out so that they could replicate his path). Other times he seems very candid, talking for example about a post-awakening “dysfunctional disaster” of a relationship, although he spares us the details.
As a teacher, Adya strikes me as being very nondogmatic. Teachers of nondualism can be very strong on criticizing the active cultivation of awakening through meditation and other practices. You’re supposed to just “wake up” without all of that malarky (although often those same teachers have done a lot of meditation themselves). Adya is careful not to cling to a position on this. “The truth,” he says, “never lies in any polarized statement or dualistic formulation.” Thus he recognizes that there are times we should push forward with effort, and other times we should “let grace do what only grace can do.”
Whether or not you’re awakened, and whether or not you’re on the Buddhist path, I think you’ll enjoy spending time with this very fresh, creative teacher.