WHEN LOOKING TO FIND A SPIRITUAL TEACHER, DON’T HESITATE TO ASK QUESTIONS.
During the decades that I studied with various teachers I don’t think I ever asked any of them about their day to day experience of how they experienced themselves and the world. I was just kind of open to whatever they shared, a cup at least half-empty waiting for truth to fill me because I was utterly clueless regarding who or what I was, what “reality” was, what “truth” was. I thought perhaps I could learn truth from them by passively listening, since I had not learned any final truths by myself through thousands of hours of meditation and introspective self-inquiry.
I think back to these days and think that had I asked Zen Master X, Y, or Z, what their immediate self-experience was, or how they perceived themselves, or perceived others, or if they had any extraordinary daily experiences, and, had they answered truthfully, I would have heard that they were as lost, clueless, and disturbed as I was, but over 30 years or so of training, had constructed a cloak of Zen Master, Swami, or Teacher with a capital T.
One Vipassana Abbot at a Los Angeles center told me Buddhism was a lifestyle that you learned over a lifetime of practice. In other words, one became embedded in a milieu of teachings, scriptures, robes, prescribed morality and monastic rules. They was very little talk of enlightenment so ask as you would, you would learn little about what being enlightened is like.
With Seung Sahn, all that one heard about is Dharma-Talk, a very regimented way of teaching a simplified format containing the basic understanding of the teachings of Chogye Zen. Or, more clearly you heard his exhortations to become dumb as a rock, to stop thinking about everything, and just act, otherwise also expressed as “Just (go) straight ahead; don’t wobble.”
Why I never questioned them about their
awakening experiences or what they experienced in everyday life now that gave them the authority to teach, I don’t know. It just never occurred to me to ask. I guess I was still looking for “teachings” not direct experience of my own to be my guide even though I spent many hours each day investigating my own direct experience through meditation and self-inquiry.
It was not until I had the shower experience in 1995, the experience that the emptiness that I had been witnessing as permeating everything, but had regarded as something other than me, was really me essentially, that the reliance on any words or concepts was finally and completely destroyed. From that moment on, I, as emptiness became the Alpha and Omega of truth for me.
My truth became that “The only truth is that there is no truth; beware even of this truth.” There was only emptiness that destroyed all concepts, all truth. It destroyed the entire network of interconnected thoughts. Any expression depended on mind, and mind was superficial compared to the emptiness that underlays the mind. The mind was just interconnected thoughts with no referent in the world or in me. There was no me. There was no I. There was no thing called mind, only thoughts. This was not an understanding; this was a direct experience of having no understanding because the reality of experiencing emptiness destroyed everything.
A few weeks later I experienced that all experience, including that of the emptiness was just the coming and going of states of consciousness, like clouds passing over and through me, who was disembodied, having no existence or awareness in myself except as a passive witness to the coming and going of waking, dream, and sleep states, as well as the Absolute.
With this, I felt I knew everything. I understood Zen Koans, the Sutras, etc., and I taught about Robert Adams from this viewpoint.
Later, then I came alive to the Manifest Self through an experience I have described many times, I saw how incomplete my experience had been as well as my understanding. Finding the Manifest Self of energy, Love, power, willfulness, bliss filled out the emptiness with presence, with Life, Love, joy….
Now, since I had gone from a place of being clueless, to knowing emptiness, the Void and being assured that was the final state, and then finding the Manifest Self that had been hidden within the Emptiness, and feeling now I am really complete, I do not doubt that more awakenings are possible.
Remember, Robert searched all over India for 17 years trying to “See if I had missed anything.”
Thus I highly recommend to anyone who is seeking anything from attaining a secure sense of personal self, to the Absolute Witness, Parabrahman, to Self-Realization to carefully question any prospective teacher about his or her awakening experiences, what understanding those experiences revealed, and what their current, daily experiences are. Do they currently experience bliss? Do they experience joy? Do they experience a full range of emotions or have none as when I lived in emptiness, the Void?
Are they able to relate to you as a person as well as a teacher, or do they merely talk endlessly about the nature of mind, the nature of emptiness or of the present moment? Do they talk about the absence of time, the Absolute, or the “real?”
These latter teachers are likely talking about a philosophy or the nature of existence, or of a theory of knowledge and not from their direct day to day experience. Like the Vipassana monk mentioned above they have taken on a cloak of knowing, a philosophy of Advaita, neo-Advaita, Kasmir Shaivism, Tantra, etc. with no day-to-day real-life freedom experience that hides their true cluelessness.
Do they experience Self? Do they experience a sense of I? Do they experience bliss? Do they experience Emptiness. Or do they throw all experiences out as merely experience which is vitiated by emptiness—nothingness? Such people have nothing to share because they have no experiences to share. They are just parroting other popular teachers and have not gone deeper than mind. Their minds are convinced that what they are is beyond experience, but otherwise have experienced no deep changes or deep realizations of either emptiness, the Witness, or the Self.
Even the greatest teachers can be deluded by their mind even at the core of their own teaching and awakening experiences, such as Ramana, who experienced a great fear of death. I have quoted his experience many times on this blog and hesitate to add it again. But he decided to examine his own experience of death to understand what died. He said to make the exploration more real he pretended to be dead, closing his eyes and imagining that his “dead” body was going to be carried to the cremation grounds.
Then he concluded, “What dies? The body dies, for though it is dead, I still feel the full force of my personality and (consciousness). Therefore, the I, consciousness was real, and immortal, eternal, and did not die.”
What Ramana really discovered was the distinction between spirit and matter, Purusha and Praktrikti. He certainly could not conclude from his imagined death of the body that the spirit was immortal because his body had no actually died, but he did discover I as real, as an entity, and from that day forward he was always aware of the Self through the being that was Ramana.
But people followed Ramana because of his behavior. He sat in silent meditation for decades and became revered as a great yogi because of cultural expectations. Here, in the US, he would have been hospitalized.
Later he gradually learned about Vedanta by being visited by scholars, hearing them recite various scriptures, and acknowledged that some fit his experience, and these became his accepted teachings, such as the Ribhu Gita. But I don’t think he took these teachings seriously because he was glued to his own experience of Self.
So, again, I urge you to ask prospective teachers about their “realization” experiences if any, and what conclusions they drew from those experiences. That is, how did they come to their teachings, was it from reading books or listening to some third party teachers and take those teachings on faith? Or, did their conclusion flow in a reasonable way from their awakening experiences? And, what in their daily experiences here and now support their teachings?
Avoid teachers who don’t talk about their experiences or from their own experiences, and thus just talk about reality, the mind, time, space, awareness, etc., and thus reveal nothing about themselves.
They should be an open book about everything, and you should also be an open book. Hide nothing. Express everything. Be open to your own experience of everything that arises from doubt, to emptiness, to depression, joy, bliss, energies, Self.