Interview with Stephen Bodian

I just love Adya and I think he deserves his own forum.
Post Reply
User avatar
Posts: 1811
Joined: Mon Nov 22, 2004 9:24 pm
Location: Israel

Interview with Stephen Bodian

Post by erict » Sat Oct 27, 2007 3:09 pm

Adyashanti Interview: The Taboo of Enlightenment
Stephen Bodian

One of the most popular Buddhist teachers in the San Francisco Bay
Area these days is not a Tibetan lama or a traditional Zen master but
an unconventional, American-born lay teacher named Adyashanti. His
public talks and dialogues (which he calls satsangs a term borrowed
from India’s Advaita, or "nondual," tradition) attract hundreds of
seekers, Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike.

Although Adyashanti rarely talks about Zen or Buddhism these days, he
did train closely with a Buddhist teacher, spending more than a dozen
years practicing meditation under the guidance of Arvis Justi, a lay
teacher in the lineage of Zen master Taizan Maezumi, the founder of
the Zen Center of Los Angeles. At age twenty-five, while sitting
alone on his cushion, Gray had a classic kensho, or awakening
experience, in which—as he describes it now—he "penetrated to the
emptiness of all things and realized that the Buddha I had been
chasing was what I was." As powerful as this experience had been,
however, Gray knew immediately that he had seen just the tip of the
iceberg. "I had discovered that I am what I’ve been seeking," he
explains. "Then the next koan arose spontaneously: What is this that
I am?"

Although Gray continued to meditate, absorbed by this new question,
he reports that all sense of effort and anxiety disappeared. During
this period, he married and went to work in his father’s machine
shop. "I was happy," he recalls, "but I knew it wasn’t enough." As
his inquiry deepened, his practice diverged from the traditional
format, and he lost interest in doing retreats or relying on his
teachers for guidance. Instead, his energies turned inward and
became, in his words, "exclusively focused on realizing the truth of
my own being." In addition to meditating, he spent many hours sitting
in coffee shops writing out answers to the questions, or life koans,
that spontaneously came to him.

Finally, at thirty-one, Gray had an experience of awakening that
immediately put to rest all his questions and doubts. Two years later
Arvis Justi asked him to teach, and he changed his name to
Adyashanti, Sanskrit for "primordial peace." I interviewed Adyashanti—a teacher of mine for several years—at his
home in San Jose on a warm Indian-summer afternoon. He’s a small man,
slight of build, with blond hair cropped close like a monk’s. Our
conversation was grounded in our familiarity, as friends and as
teacher and student, and we laughed frequently as we talked.

—Stephan Bodian

What’s the relationship, do you suppose, between all those years of
sitting zazen and this kensho experience? Did they prime the pump of
awakening? Were they steps leading to awakening? You now seem to be
dismissing the concept of "stages of the path," yet there appears to
be some causal relationship between your Zen meditation practice and
your awakening.

I’m deeply grateful for my Zen practice. It ultimately led me to fail
well. I failed at being a Buddhist, I failed at being a perfect
exemplar of the ten precepts, and certainly I failed at meditation,
failed at all my efforts to bust down the "gateless gate" to
awakening that Zen speaks of. And the fact that I actually got to the
point where I failed—and I failed completely—was useful. Zen provided
a place for me to fail, and I needed that. In fact, I’d say my
process wasn’t so much a letting go as an utter failure. Zen did a
good job of letting me fall on my face.

What would have been a success—awakening?

Well, failure was the success—awakening happened through failure. In
that sense I have a great respect for the lineage. What was
transmitted was bigger than all the carriers, it was even bigger than
the lineage, much bigger than Zen, much bigger than Buddhism.

What was that?

I’d say a certain spark, an aliveness.

How has your own enlightenment changed the way you function in the
world: your relationships, your family life, your everyday behavior?
Does being enlightened mean that you never get angry or reactive or
make big mistakes?

There’s no such thing as never getting angry. Enlightenment can and
does use all the available emotions. Otherwise, we would have to
discount Jesus for getting pissed off in the temple and kicking over
the table. 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. Without any inner division, you stop
experiencing most of the usual forms of reactivity.

Could you say a little more what you mean by no "inner division"?

Most human beings spend their lives battling with opposing inner
forces: what they think they should do versus what they are doing;
how they feel about themselves versus how they are; whether they
think they’re right and worthy or wrong and unworthy. The separate
self is just the conglomeration of these opposing forces. When the
self drops away, inner division drops away with it. N

ow, I can’t say that I never make a mistake, because in this human
world being enlightened doesn’t mean we become experts at everything.
What does happen, though, is that personal motivations disappear.
Only when enlightenment occurs do we realize that virtually
everything we did, from getting out of bed to going to work to being
in a relationship to pursuing our pleasures and interests, was
motivated by personal concern. In the absence of a separate self,
there’s no personal motivation to do anything. Life just moves us.

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. If we undertake being a good, compassionate
person as a personal identity, it just gets in the way of awakening.

In traditional Buddhism, at least as I practiced it, there’s a taboo
against talking openly about enlightenment, as we’re doing now. It
seems to be based on the fear that the ego will co-opt the experience
and become inflated. In your dharma talks you speak in great detail
about awakening, including your own, and in your public dialogues you
encourage others to do the same. Why is that?

When I was sitting with my teacher, Arvis, we’d all go into the
kitchen after the meditation and dharma talk and have some fruit and
tea, and we’d talk openly about our lives. For the most part we
didn’t focus on our spiritual experiences, but they were a part of
the mix. Then these same people would do retreats at the Zen Center
of Los Angeles and have big awakenings, and the folks in L.A. began
to wonder what was happening in this little old lady’s living room up
north. Arvis’s view was simple: The only thing I’m doing that they’re
not, she said, is that we sit around casually and talk, and what’s
happening on the inside for people isn’t kept secret or hidden. This
way, people get beyond the sense that they’re the only ones who are
having this or that experience. They come out of their shell, which
actually makes them more available to a deeper spiritual process.

The tradition of talking about certain experiences only in private
with your teacher keeps enlightenment a secret activity reserved for
special people. I can understand the drawbacks of being more open, of
course. Some people may blab on about how enlightened they are, and
become more egotistical. But when everything remains open to inquiry,
then even the ego’s tendency to claim enlightenment for itself
becomes obvious in the penetrating light of public discourse. In the
long run, both ways have their strengths and weaknesses, but I’ve
found that having students ask their questions in public breaks down
the isolation that many spiritual people feel—the sense that nobody
else could possibly understand what they’re going through, or that
they’re so rotten at their practice, or that nobody could be
struggling like they are. 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.

Would you claim that you are enlightened?

Well, no, not with a straight face. I would say enlightenment is
enlightened and awakeness is awake. It’s not an experience; it’s a

To read more of this interview, please see the Fall 2004 issue of
Tricycle: The Buddhist Review.
"Be sincere; don't ask questions out of mere interest. Ask dangerous questions—the ones whose answers could change your life."

Posts: 176
Joined: Tue Nov 15, 2005 5:31 am
Location: India

Re: Interview with Stephen Bodian

Post by suraj » Sat Oct 27, 2007 4:41 pm

What is it with Adya. Even I have started liking him a lot after listening to his interview in the 'Spontaneous Awakening' series.
What does his books contain ?

Posts: 39
Joined: Wed Aug 29, 2007 12:23 pm
Location: india

Re: Interview with Stephen Bodian

Post by redindira » Sat Oct 27, 2007 5:04 pm

Enlightenment can and does use all the available emotions.
Could not get this .Some enlightenment on this.

Posts: 114
Joined: Mon Feb 26, 2007 4:54 pm
Location: Chennai ,India

Re: Interview with Stephen Bodian

Post by eyogateacher » Mon Oct 29, 2007 6:12 am

Wonderful interview .

User avatar
Posts: 6632
Joined: Fri May 12, 2006 12:03 am

Re: Interview with Stephen Bodian

Post by Webwanderer » Mon Oct 29, 2007 12:59 pm

redindira wrote:
Enlightenment can and does use all the available emotions.
Could not get this .Some enlightenment on this.
I think what Adya is saying is that all emotions are legitimate experiences in life. And that for whatever purpose any emotion exists, those so called negative emotions also have value.

User avatar
Posts: 2257
Joined: Sun Nov 11, 2007 1:35 am
Location: My house

Re: Interview with Stephen Bodian

Post by Onceler » Sun Nov 11, 2007 5:21 pm


Your post to me about this forum being a public journal to share and grow seems congruent with Adya's point about making the private moments of ones path public, thereby promoting personal growth (presence) through communal sharing.

Be present, be pleasant.

Posts: 5
Joined: Tue May 13, 2008 7:46 am

Re: Interview with Stephen Bodian

Post by Victoria-Shalimar » Sat Jun 14, 2008 10:16 am

Hello ,

I am new to this forum and do not know anything about Adyshanti,but I have to say that I completely agree with expressing all that is going on in us in a very public sense. I do this constantly with everyone around me.It is an amazing experience that frees you from the feeling of being alone or that there is the sense of being "better"or worse,than others. we begin to move more and more into the undestanding and knowing that the feelings that we have are universal ,and living and expressing them outloud allow you to move into the vastness of who you are on every level of who you are , to understand true non judgment and compassion.It also allow you to move more into your wholeness and love all of who you are for absolutly everything and every part of yourself,which then allow you to do the same with others,you know that Source is truly everything and everyone,because nothing,absoultly nothing is seperate from Source! Nothing!

Post Reply