14 August 2017

Is enlightenment boring?

During a 1970 winter Dharma talk as Mt. Baldy Zen Center, Sasaki Roshi said, “Enlightenment can be very boring.”  I do not remember anything else from that talk except that one line.  Sasaki was infamously a womanizer, whose exploits caught up with him during the last few years before his death at age 106.  During 1970-71 when I was there, everyone knew it and talked about it, yet it never got beyond amused talk for over 40 years. He died amidst a major scandal in the Zen world, pummeled by numerous male and female moral scolds, and even resulting in a Buddhist call to found an international ethic board.

About seven years after the above talk, Maezumi Roshi was similarly involved in a scandal regarding his sexual relations with multiple female students.  I remember a very famous psychoanalyst, Harry Brickman, one of Roshi’s students, who said to Maezumi, “What can be expected when so many young women are throwing themselves at you?”  I should note that Maezumi was quite handsome, young, and very, very intelligent, which came across    He openly admitted drunken angry outbursts and repeated apologized for his behaviors. through all of his talks.  On top of that, Maezumi was incredibly sensitive and humble, which endeared him further to his students.  I found his attitude quite refreshing compared to most famous teachers who tended to hide everything from fear of losing students.

When directly asked why he was involved with so many of his female students, he made no excuses and took the entire responsibility himself stating that he had disgraced Zen by his actions.  For example, in one of his bi-weekly Zendo talks, his non-excuse was, “Because I could.”  That is, the opportunity was there and he took it, and thereby disgraced Zen.  

This points to something deeper.  The experience of enlightenment can become boring, and as a result, a bored human being can turn to open sexuality as a stimulus, and perhaps as an attempt to reenter human hood after leaving it behind entering the Void.

I think it was about three years later when Maezumi gave a talk in one of my Zen classes at the UCLA Extension. He said, “One’s attention ought to be in the world; that is where all problems arise, and can be solved.”  I think Maezumi was kind of bewildered by the amount of criticism and scolding he received, even within the Board of Directors of his own organization.  He once said to me, “Why me?  Sasaki is 10 times worse than I am.”  I think Maezumi viewed sex with his students as something naturally flowing out of the relationship between them.  He was a good-looking guy, and women did seem to be taken by him.

Another example is my own teacher Robert Adams, who became “enlightened” at the age of 14, and spent many years in India deepening that enlightenment, or as he said, “To make sure I had not missed anything.”

Robert to was a notorious womanizer.  I remember that during one of my Thursday lunches with Robert, one of his female students, Samantha, showed up at Follow Your Heart, and pretended to accidentally bump into us there, and sat with us for lunch.  She said, “I just happened to be in the neighborhood,” Even though Follow Your Heart was 40 miles from where she lived.  Every Sunday during Satsang,  Sam would sit by Robert’s feet with her arms wrapped around his left leg, head leaning on his knee, facing outwards towards the sangha, as if saying, “He is mine.”  Most of Robert’s students back then knew of his inclinations, and only Mary Skene was constantly upset and openly voiced her criticism to Robert.   After Robert died, she could not wait to find another teacher who comported better with her morality.

Robert used to say of his dog Demetri, that he kept Robert stabilized in the world.  I think even more so, Robert’s relationships with women also kept him in the world.

I could go on and on about gurus and women, from Osho, to J.  Krishnamurti, to Franklin Jones, to the Siddha yoga swamis of Muktananda’s lineage, and many others.  All are notable for their multiple sexual relationships with female students, and probably between female swamis and their male students, but no one hears about them.

Almost all of these people are dead now so I feel no reluctance to discuss these matters.

Karuna Dharma, my ordination teacher’s Dharma successor, used to say to me, even regarding her own teacher, Thich Tien-An, “Why is it that Zen monks cannot seem to keep their penises in their pants?”  Yet Karuna herself, a lesbian, had a female lover that lived with her.

Why is this?  Is it merely because they can, being surrounded by many women who want to sleep with the guru, even just to see what it is like, or based on some suggestion that they might benefit spiritually by the experience?  Or is it there is something in sexual bonding itself, in romantic love, that is such a powerful experience, such a moving experience, that it brings renewed energy and life to an otherwise orderly but empty existence?

From my own experience, falling in love with a female student filled me with divine energy, which brought me out of the continuous experience of emptiness, which had descended on me years before after my first awakening with Robert. I had felt dried up and spread this throughout the Void.  By divine energy, I mean I felt the explosion of the Life force within, that exploded from my gut, shot upwards to my heart into my brain and upwards beyond my body into the universe beyond.  This was experienced as an almost infinite power moving through the light of a thousand suns, exploding within me and around me, feeling divinity, feeling God within.  And through this experience of love for another, I felt an overwhelming love for myself, as well as an identification with that Life force, with that divine energy in me. I call this experience, and the understanding it brings, realization of the Manifest Self. 

Identification with my body was transcended and 'I' identified instead with the energy within me, the divinity within me, the Life force within me, and lastly the sense of presence that is now always with me, as me.

I had spent perhaps 14 years in emptiness, being aware of the emptiness within, the imaginal emptiness within, which was the same as the speciousness without in the world.  And within that emptiness, all movement became discounted and dried out by the vastness of that inner space. When realization of the Manifest Self came, the inner energies came, bliss came, the Life force came, enlivening me, filling me with energy and knowledge of the manifest level of self.

I do not imagine that all spiritual teachers with their female student consorts, experienced\ an awakening of the manifest self through that experience, but I know some for whom it did.  But I know, the quiet inactivity of attention turned inwards, towards one’s sense of self, towards the sense of I am, or of watching the I thought emerge from and return to the great void, can bring one perilously close to a living death, and as Sasaki said, to boredom. One needs love of the world to keep one's practice moist, else one dries up.

Currently there is an enervating feminist, and actively anti-male, anti-authority-figure attitude that pervades spirituality as well as Western society.  As a result, Gurus and spiritual teachers have been constantly under attack for the merest suggestion of impropriety either sexually, or in any other way.  In 21st Century, Western spirituality, we find that the feminine concept is being worshiped, the divine energy is being worshiped, and sex and love are being worshiped, while the introversion of Zen and self-inquiry of Advaita are relatively ignored.

It appears that the new morality and spirituality is for the female to take the lead in the spiritual development of men.  I certainly do not disagree with this trend; I find it quite agreeable.  But I do find it hypocritical of the audiences that this new trend plays to, to find that men taking the lead in sexual relations now crosses a line, and can be described as sexual abuse, and raise a hue and cry and a desire to punish the man involved, whether teacher, or other authority figures.  To this audience, sex should always be between equals in terms of class, social position, and there should never be any teacher-student or employer employee sex, because if there is, the teacher or employer are at fault, whether man or woman, because it is an unequal relationship, and as such, there may be an element of coercion. 

But take a look at our civilization.  Male celebrities get inundated by followers of the opposite sex, whether they be male football or basketball players, actors, or celebrities for the sake of being celebrities.  Female celebrities, actresses, singers, an athletes, are subject to the same sort of adulation by men, and propositioning by men.  I think one famous basketball player, Wilt Chamberlain, bragged that he had bedded 10,000 women.  Why is this?  Why do so many women throw themselves at celebrities and authority figures, including spiritual teachers?  And why is it, that when sexual acts occur, male gurus are looked upon as fallen teachers, while male celebrities received little or no criticism for the same acts?  Are spiritual teachers supposed to rebuff sexual advances by female students, unlike celebrities such as football players?

My point is, I think that there is an unrealistic appreciation for what goes on in the inner lives of spiritual teachers.  Although they may have attained realization of ecstatic states, realization of the unity of consciousness, and feel a compassionate connection with all life forms, all of this can become rather dry, compared to the power of eroticism, which is very primitive, and of personal love, which is very grounding in the physical world, and can come as a welcome relief to someone who has been lost to the emptiness within for any long period of time.

For example, once one has realized the causal body, and explored it thoroughly, and then entered the spacious unity consciousness of Turiya, one can stay there long time, and one can have had countless desires and habits melt away through that process, but ultimately one returns to ordinary mind, consciousness with the resurrection of the mind that disappeared in the causal body and in Turiya.  When that returns, once again you are a human being functioning in human world, and even though you may totally understand the entire stretch of consciousness in the mind, one once again has a body and a mind, which may be more or less stabilized or steady, but is still subject to human desires and winds blowing through one’s psyche.

Because it is emptiness, space, the void, and the consciousness that illuminates the absence of objects and space itself, that one can call it the real, or pure consciousness, while all the objects that occupy that space, and are similarly illuminated, are called unreal, or mere appearances, or reflected consciousness.  But this is philosophical. This is merely an understanding, while the reality is that the samadhis and ecstatic states, come and go, waxing and waning in intensity, and gradually receding into the background or even becoming bothersome, and a distraction from one’s own inner peace.  In comparison to the continuous experience of the subtle awareness of space, the power of sex to lend distraction and to bring a physical life back into one’s purview, cannot be denied.

Of course, all that I say can be applied equally to the much rarer female teachers of Advaita and Zen.  Most female teachers focus on sublimating raw sexuality into some form of divine love, which they keep talking about as the divine feminine.  In a sense, this level of practice never goes beyond the subtle body, the second body, while Advaita and Zen go to the fourth body and beyond, to Turiya, where the distinction between subject and object disappears into the unitary experience.

This very brief essay is written with the intent to create an open ended dialogue regarding the subject matter of sex in spirituality, especially the place in Zen, Advaita, and the energy yogas and Tantra, an investigation of male psychology, female psychology, and what each wants out of a relationship, if it can be so categorized as masculine and feminine needs and goals, especially within spiritual processes.  I think it can be, but sometimes I think with this new movement that supposedly dissolves the differences between men and women, this discussion will be ignored.

We should note that the whole concept of the guru student relationship has been so polluted and sullied by endless scandals, because we have not investigated the dynamics that have created the supposed scandals, along with a strong pejorative moral judgment that all kinds of sexual activities and other activities have no place in “real” spirituality.  I think this is utterly wrong.  I think that the teacher/student relationship found in Zen, tantra, Advaita, Sufism, and the energy yogas presents an area of investigation that could reveal untold riches of knowledge about the human condition, the nature of God, the divine, as well as fuel all individuals search for enlightenment or God.

But I will bet, that none of these teachers are willing to be honest and open about their own experiences or their own understanding of the place of sexuality in spirituality and in their relationships with students.  Is it just there because they can, because students of the opposite sex throw themselves at the teacher?  Is it just opportunistic self-gratification and sexual stimulation that makes the emptiness a little less boring?  Or is the sexual drive an integral part of spirituality, and the drive towards realizing the divine and one’s own self?  

My own view is that a more open sexuality, or openly romantic love between a teacher and his/her students, in the right environment, can benefit both parties, at least in terms of actualizing Subtle Body energies, awakening Chi or Kundalini energies leading to realizing greater depths of one's self-experiences, leading to their eventual transcendence.  But, there are always the problems of jealousy, encouraged but unrequited love, and moralism that can destroy a sangha, as has happened so many times.

Every time I post an essay like this, I received broad criticism from people who confuse religious morality, with real spiritual development, and focus almost entirely on behaviors, rather than attain states, and what they teach us about ourselves and the world.  The worst of these seem to be Buddhist moralists basing their criticism on official, Theravdin moral precepts.  These have been almost totally absent in Zen until late in the 20th century.  Zen entirely avoids moralisms on substitutes “appropriate actions,” or right action.  The criticisms are based on the older, far more philosophical, and morality-centered Buddhism of Sri Lanka, Thailand, and other South Asian countries.

For these southern Buddhist countries, spirituality is almost totally of morality, and not self-realization, or no-self-realization, or nirvana.  It is following the moral precepts, the 500 vows of a Buddhist monk.  The monk there is regarded as sort of the Superman because of taking the vows and living up to them, becoming morally perfect, but to what end?  There is no enlightenment, no self-realization, no liberation from following these 500 rules.  But the Buddhist moralists and Christian moralists and Muslim moralists, do not really understand this.  Liberation comes with self-realization, not the pursuit of moralistic perfection in terms of behaviors.


  1. This is well written, but come on!
    Someone who thinks enlightenment is boring is not seeing properly.

    The journey will be the most adventurous you could possibly imagine (people usually think sbout monks in caves for decades).

    The goal will also be the pinnacle of happiness.. Nothing else matters!

  2. Dear Edji,
    On the subject of boredom, for a long time I could not experience boredom, but only remember it and it seemed that boredom was just an absence of interest.
    I now experience the restless energies of what I remember boredom to be, but the energies themselves are quite interesting.
    There is urge to exercise will, there is something that waits.Then there is no waiting and I move or be still. There is also wondering and resoning trying to understand.
    I remember this combination of energies used to be depression, but somehow it feels different.
    Sex, violence, accumulation of wealth, scandal, glory. W.T.F.