What is spirituality, and what about Sex and the Guru and other other issues that screw up our paths?
In the early 1970s I studied Zen with several Zen masters, including Maezumi Roshi and Sasaki Roshi.
During one talk one frozen winter morning at Mt. Baldy, Sasaki said, “You all want enlightenment, but you have to realize after awhile enlightenment can be boring.” He then went on to say how you have to bring enlightenment back into everyday life.
As I had not awakened at the time, his talk had no impact on me. I wanted to awakening, whatever that was, and I had no clue.
Eight years later I was teaching a course at UCLA’s Extension and Zen and psychology, and Maezumi Roshi spoke as a guest speaker. Someone asked him, “What is Zen?” Maezumi paused 5 or 6 seconds, then threw his arms out wide and proclaimed loudly, “Zen is breath! Zen is being present here and now in everyday life!”
As I had not awakened at the time, I dismissed this as the testimony of someone who had not awakened. I judged him as defective because I thought enlightenment was everything, and everyday life was something I wanted to leave behind.
To me, at the time, awakening was something extraordinary that happened to you which totally transformed you into something superhuman, having acquired some transcendental state of non-attached wisdom and bliss, such that any intrusion from everyday life would simply be a contamination.
In the early 1990s when I was with my greatest teacher, Robert Adams, often people would ask him how he saw the world, what was his subjective experience? They would ask, “Is it all Oneness, do you only see the Void, are you in ecstasy all the time, etc.?”
Robert replied, “I see the world much as you do. If I did not, I could not function in the world. The only difference is that I know that everything is Consciousness. I am Consciousness, you are consciousness, the trees and sky are consciousness.” He went on the explain he knew the objects in consciousness were not real, because they came and went and did not stay, only consciousness stayed, only consciousness was real.
I was not awake at the time, and therefore this talk was also lost on me. As long as you identify yourself with your body, the concept of Universal Consciousness just does not make sense; you have not experienced one-consciousness yet.
During the 1970s, Zen was most popular. There were at least a dozen famous Zen masters in the US, and most of them became embroiled in scandals about them having sex with their students. I never saw the point of these scandals and never had the viewpoint that the poor female or male students were vulnerable and confused, therefore any sex was exactly on the same order as child abuse. I really couldn’t see that, for really, who is not vulnerable to love which can come from any direction unexpectedly? Why should love or sex be controlled? I just did not see it.
But the big argument back then was that a spiritual teacher had the same sort of moral and ethical obligations of a psychotherapist or a lawyer with all sorts of exclusions, preclusions, and confidentiality. I really never bought that idea back then even when I was a newby, figuring what did sex have to do with awakening? It was like eating, a natural function of the body, and of love. We don’t think of restrictions on love and sex in everyday life except for whether you were in an exclusive relationship or not, but if not, why all the concepts that sex between teacher and student was wrong? I saw students and teachers as equals, as consenting adults, not as God and mortal, or therapist and analysand.
Yes, Maezumi got into trouble regarding sex with his students, and I think was divorced twice in very public circumstances.
Yet, he was very open all the time, talking publically about his failures as perceived by others, and also by himself. He felt shame for drinking too much, being caught too many times in sexual relations with students, etc. But he was extremely open about his problems, to everyone.
To me he once confided, even when I was a student of his, “Why me? Why do I get all the criticism (about his sexual affairs)? Look at Sasaki! He is ten times worse than me, and no one criticizes him.” It is true, everyone knew about Sasaki’s affairs, but his impish personality allowed him to get away with it without criticism.
As a little known footnote, Robert was frequently asked about sex and vegetarianism. Robert was a lifelong Vegan since the age of 11, and this is one of the few rules of living Robert suggested we live by. Yet when asked about sex, Robert said there was absolutely nothing wrong with it. In fact, problems often arose in our sangha about Robert’s relations with some of his female students for one reason or another, and we were often forced to change the venue of our satsang meetings because someone or another got upset about his actions. Robert didn’t care who came and went to his satsangs, he was only interested who stayed with him no matter what he did.
This area exposes the issue of trust and surrender, which I will not discuss here, but will at a different time. This is still an area filled with opinions and judgmentalism, but once you find your teacher, even if he/she is not your final teacher, learning to trust and surrender is incredibly important and necessary. Those who never learn to trust or surrender to a teacher, have a very difficult time making any progress, as their minds are always judging, judging, judging and remaining in control.
You see, sex was only one issue around which every teacher was criticized and found wanting in some way or another back in the 1970s, and I suppose even now because the concept of therapist/analysand was used by westerners as the proper boundaries and judgmental framework for the teacher/student, guru/chela relationships.
At that time little was understood about the nature of Eastern spirituality and the inevitable opening of the heart to long buried emotions, including love, jealousy, anger, and the more refined states of bliss and ecstasy that develop out of love, yet the western mind needed to have a framework imposed in order for the busy mind to judge everything. They imposed old rules on a new type of relationship.
Other issues arose such as money, donations, volunteering time and energy for the sake of the sangha, teacher and teachings. Everywhere apparent abuses were found, because the western model of charging for everything was not used, but instead the eastern concept of the teacher taking care of the student’s spiritual development, and the student’s duty was taking care of the teacher’s worldy needs. Many opined that teachers were taking advantage of the students. Again, to me these were consenting adults, and often the giving by the students had so many strings attached, it was more like a conditional loan based on a 40 page contract.
Then, in 1995 I had my first awakening experiences and everything changed. I withdrew from life, I didn’t care about the world anymore. I just kept looking inside myself finding a stillness and quietness everywhere—the peaceful void, as well as the great void, which I ultimately was, but which could not be perceived or experienced, because it was I. For years I withdrew and abided in emptiness. I was happy, peaceful, and I began teaching others that the world was illusion, go within to find your true nature.
But after 16 years, Consciousness threw me a hardball. Consciousness sent me someone to love. I was opened like a tin can and flooded by emotions. I was flooded by love, love long buried and unfelt manifested all the time. Other feeling arose, jealousy, anger, fear, etc., and overwhelming positive energies that permeated my entire being. I was filled with joy all the time. Even when depression or a sense of desolation broke through into awareness, there was still an underlying happiness and contentment. Energies coursed both through my body and through my larger sense of presence.
In the words of Muktananda, “I had come alive.”
Yes, emotions were there, huge, positive and negative, but they were tame and mild things compared to my experiences of 20 years before when emotions could tear me apart. Emptiness, the Void, and an energized sense of presence contained everything. Emotions just arose and passed away without blockage---not an instantaneous transformation, but one that occurred over six or eight months or so.
This is when I began to make everything personal again. It is as if my personality had become reborn, re-energized. Rather than just watching emotions pass through me, joy pass through me, jealousy pass through me, love pass through me, they became mine and I owned them. Everything became personal. Everything became more real, more immediate, more alive.
But more than that, every idea I had ever had about the nature of the spiritual adventure and path dropped away. I no longer had any ideas or judgments about it. I was completely open to what was happening in the moment to everything arising within myself and between me and my beloved, including the experience there was no difference between us. There is no difference between me and all of you out there. No difference whatsoever. I love you all as myself.
I am free to be ordinary and not locked into the notion of always being in an ecstatic Samadhi, or focused just on the Void, either the Void I experience, or the Void that I am which can’t be experienced in the conventional way.
I am now also free to die, to let the body drop away without regret, for every moment I live my life with no set of rules other than to follow my heart and intuition at every moment.
This is what I try to teach all of you. Drop all of your ideas about what awakening is like, what the teacher/student relation is supposed to be, what duties you still have post-awakening, post awakening paths and problems, etc. All these things will happen to you, awakening, bliss, love, etc., the more quickly you drop your wondering what it is and just focus and seeing and enjoying yourselves and others to whom you relate. Mind, opinions, theories, judgments, and self-checking are the way the mind prevents your freedom.
The post awakening path really is to become you, just the way you were before awakening, but enjoying yourself fully and completely. There are no faults, no mistakes. You are fine the way you are with all the emotions that might arise, including guilt, anger, jealousy and even hatred, because the emotions that arise are now tame and calm affairs compared to your experience 20 years before. The feelings are welcomed as signs of life. Love is welcomed and readily expressed.
You have now found the path for the rest of your life: becoming the most incredible you possible, not someone else’s idea of enlightenment or proper relationships. You have become liberated to be become yourself fully, to be equally comfortable and identified with the void, love, sadness, depression, bliss, ecstasy or even desolation. You fear nothing, not love nor loss of love, not emotions nor loss of emotions, not life nor the loss of life. All phenomena come and go and you welcome them with joy and see them pass with joy. You are free, but not like Ramana in a peaceful withdrawal, but even while fully embracing ordinary life, just as Maezumi told my class by throwing his arms open and exposing his heart, just breathing is joy, is Zen, is life!