Awakening – more on how I see UG

Posted: 18/05/2013 by zandtao in Insight, ONE planet
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I am interested in UG’s life, and am continuing reading his book “The Mystique of Enlightenment” downloaded from Holybooks. In truth I am still reading about how he came to his “enlightenment?”, and I have not read what he says about the process. I am interpreting what I read. This is not a good practice because it is distanced from the truth in two ways, what is written about a person is not the person and how I interpret what is written is not the person either. It would be clearer if I use UG-Z to make this distance clear. I am much happier using UG-Z. I don’t know the guy. He claims spiritual leadership, who am I to describe his spirituality? This UG-Z is just my version, effectively a set of characteristics drawn from what little I know of his book and his life – the characteristics UG-Z.

My world was rocked when at 22 I hit the bottom of a bottle and climbed out onto the Path. Once I came out it was a fascinating time, a time of exploration I will never forget. It was particularly good for me because it was the early 70’s, and the western world was still teetering a bit after the questioning that came in with the hippy generation. My Path started in a climate where young people could question – not as I perceive now where young people expect to be straight-jacketed in careers as soon as they leave education. This questioning led me to an Arts Centre where I began Scifi writing – Wai Zandtao, a short trip round Europe where I exlored inside for the first time – in a cottage in Belgium, it was a turbulent time but a time of discovery of the Path and therefore a time of great wonder – and a sense of enjoyment. I consider this hitting bottom at 22 a time of awakening, still having much to learn – as I still do. I was not a person with sila, far from it – for a short while in my later 20’s I measured my enjoyment by promiscuity – having a number of relationships on the go. Fortunately this did not last long, but it was a time of exploring influenced by the drink; after this awakening whilst my Path had started I had not eschewed the drink – that came some 13 years later. Awakening does not imply morality – sila, I still allowed defilements – kilesa, the self was still indulged – not anatta. In no way can this awakening be described as enlightenment – as far as I see the terms? I have not had such a powerful awakening since but I have had powerful experiences and different awakenings such as the current one revolved around the teachings of Buddhadasa – not a turbulent awakening at all but important. I almost used the word “powerful” because in a sense it is powerful as it is revealing much, but it is not the sort of power I associate with awakenings so the word was not used.

This is an article by Brad Warner that presents such discussion clearly:-

“The relationship between wakening and morality all depends upon how you define “awakening.”

A lot of people, especially nowadays, define “awakening” as a kind of experience. Much of what I see in contemporary magazines, books, websites and suchlike does. The spiritual master in question has some kind of profound experience that zaps his consciousness and then he/she goes out to tell the world about it.

There are plenty of examples of this. Genpo Roshi justifies charging folks $50,000 just to hang out next to him based on a profound awakening he had while on a solo retreat in the Mojave Desert some time in the Seventies. Eckhart Tolle claims to have has a grand awakening that enabled him to write a bazillion selling book and charge tens of thousands of dollars for lecture appearances. Shoko Asahara had a massive download from on high that supposedly made him the new Buddha for the modern age. The list goes on and on.

It all goes back to a certain reading of Buddha’s life story. The most common telling of it has Buddha meditating under a tree for 40 days at the end of which he had a deep awakening experience that turned him in one moment from plain old Siddhartha to the legendary Gautama Buddha. Sort of like how Japanese superheroes like Ultraman and Kamen Rider transform in a flash from regular human beings into giant bug-eyed alien monster fighters.

But experiences like that do not necessarily have any direct one-to-one relationship to any kind of moral maturity or sensibility. They’re just experiences. Like getting into a car crash or seeing a UFO or having a near-death experience. There’s no specific moral content to them.

People tend to forget that Siddhartha engaged in various practices and worked hard on himself for decades before his awakening. It happened in an instant. But the ground had been prepared for a lifetime, dozens of lifetimes if you believe those stories.
On the other hand, “awakening” of the type that occurs as a sudden peak experience, is just the conscious realization of the underlying ground of all of our experiences. It’s not that something new happens. It’s just that we notice what’s really been going on all along.

It is possible to have this kind of experience without properly preparing oneself for it. Sometimes a severe trauma like an accident or illness can do it. Sometimes drugs can induce it. Some so-called “spiritual” practices are designed just to cause these kinds of experiences to happen. Sometimes nothing seems to induce it. It just sort of happens.
In cases like those, the experience is still genuine and can still have value. But there’s no real basis for it, no real ground for it to land on. As I said before, the ego can latch on to absolutely anything — including the realization of its own illusory nature — as a means to enlarge itself.

These so-called “awakenings” do contain a sense that we are all intimately connected, that we are all manifestations of the same underlying reality. But the ego can latch onto that and make it something terribly immoral. It can decide that since I am you and you are me and we are all together, it’s fine if I fuck you over or lie to you or cheat you or steal from you because ultimately I am only doing that to myself. And what’s the problem if you do something to yourself?

It’s dangerous to point this kind of stuff out because there is a whole multi-billion dollar industry based on the notion that these kinds of experiences transform ordinary people into spiritual superheroes. But they don’t. Not in and of themselves. Becoming a moral person is a matter of transforming one’s habits of thinking and behavior. That is not easy to do. It takes time. It cannot possibly happen instantaneously no matter what sort of experience one has. An “awakening experience” can often be helpful in making a person more moral because it provides a new way of understanding yourself and others. But it doesn’t necessarily work that way.

This is why it’s very good to have a teacher who can help you through these kinds of experiences. It’s good to interact with someone else, or if you’re really lucky a number of other people, who have gone through these things. When, on the other hand, people have these experiences and then end up surrounded by admirers who want to gobble up the power such an experience confers the results can be disastrous.

So, yeah, the people you meet at a Zen temple ought to be at least decent people. And most of them are. Cases like that of Joshu Sasaki, Genpo Roshi, Eido Shimano and so forth are exceptional. They’re not the rule. You don’t have to be a genius to spot people like that either. It’s always obvious. Just don’t allow yourself to be blinded by fantasies of magic miracle men.

The foregoing is why Soto style Zen training tends to emphasize moral grounding and balance much more than the gaining of “awakening experiences,” so much so that one is often told it’s not important even to have such experiences at all. Dogen says this many times in his writings. Most teachers who followed in his lineage also say this. Which isn’t to say that Soto is good and everything else is evil. It’s just one of the things that really attracts me to the style I have practiced much more than any of the others out there, even though those others often sound a whole lot sexier.”

Reading this raised an interesting question for me concerning the Buddha. Brad refers to the Buddha awakening under the Bodhi Tree, was he enlightened then if he ever was? For the sake of this discussion I assume he was an enligtened being. As Brad says he was grounded before his awakening, and after he was awakened he lived a moral life. I make a further assumption for the sake of argument, in his post-awakened life he lived a life of anatta, and it is this totality that made him enlightened – not just his awakening, but the assumed fact that he lived a life of anatta afterwards. Was the awakening actually part of his enlightenment? For me this places the words awakening and enlightenment in context, and I like Brad’s description that in Soto Zen awakening experiences are not valued. I am also pleased to see that in Soto Zen sila is emphasised as sila esp 4NT is not something I associate with Zen.

So back to UG-Z. His awakening was huge – a world-stopper, he describes it as a calamity. Let’s examine the build-up to UG-Z’s calamity. He was born into an Indian family who expected him to become enlightened for some reason. What those expectations did to UG who knows? He then followed this ego/self for years trying to be what his parents wanted him to be, what might be described as “seeking enlightenment”. This wasn’t a gentle seeking, this was a full-blown commitment to all kinds of spiritual practices, years with J Krishnamurti, and then a progress towards hitting bottom as he rejected all his striving. This led to a period of immorality – in describing his awakening he said “Let’s go to a strip-tease joint, the ‘Folies Bergere’ or the ‘Casino de Paris’. Come on, let us go there for twenty francs.” Not actions of sila. Is it then surprising that when UG-Z did awaken the experience was so deep, so profound, so earth-shattering? He had clung to this parental version, searched for enlightenment, hit bottom, and then had his awakening – calamity. So much bottled up to come out. The UG-Z I characterise went through an aggrandised process of awakening that was exacerbated by parentl pressure and social expectation to such an extent that his self had been blown up out of all proportions and he came down with a bang.

This is upadana – clinging to self. This brings up the question as to whether an awakening is necessary. Suppose someone is brought up living naturally, no self involvement, no expectations, just getting on with it. This ideal does not have any clinging to I – no upadana. This cannot happen in the western world of education where self is educated so vehemently. Conceivably a desert island, an isolated community or some such idyll, but of course primitive communities have their own ego and self-advancement. And the spiritual world with all its seeking – very little chance. Of course there are tremendous works to study, and there are people who have great knowledge but with all the seeking and ego there is only a build-up for a calamatous awakening if it does happen. Reminds me of a recent chat concerning meditation. This person had stopped meditating because there had been no bells and banjoes. I tried to tell her that meditation brought happiness in a gentle and pleasant way in daily life, meditation helped. Not sexy, eh Brad?

  1. naivelysage says:

    Interesting article. These two verses:

    The body is the bodhi tree,
    The mind is like a clear mirror.
    At all times we must strive to polish it,
    And must not let the dust collect.


    Bodhi originally has no tree,
    The mirror(-like mind) has no stand.
    Buddha-nature (emptiness/oneness) is always clean and pure;
    Where is there room for dust (to alight)?

    express, respectively, the Soto and Rinzai approaches. Both are true and both are Zen. We learn to express our Buddha nature but it is always there. The Soto approach which emphasises formal discipline and gradualism is perhaps less likely to throw up superstar type teachers offering breakthrough enlightenment and students seeking this. Being venerated as a superstar strokes the ego and inappropriate sexual relationships can be a corollary of this. I’ve also read that what passes as enlightenment can be the development of the personal energy field (chi, kundalini?) that results in greater mental and physical potency but leaves the self serving ego in place.

    I read some stuff by UG years ago and got the impression that he was speaking out of his personality rather than out of enlightenment. Highly intelligent but destructive. That may sound dismissive but he was pretty dismissive of any teacher other than himself from what I read.

  2. zandtao says:

    Your two quotes could almost parallel discussions about Theravada and Mahayana. It has become more and more apparent to me that intellectual egos proliferating throughout all forms of Buddhism to such an extent that the basic teaching is being lost. People are preferring discussion to hard work and genuine learning. It was this search for basics that led me to choose Therevada as the branch of Buddhism that I would concentrate on, but it almost seems that Theravada has more mental proliferation – more than others. I have now focussed on Ajaan Buddhadasa who although he is steeped in Thai Buddhism and Pali has returned to the original suttas and sorted the wood from the trees of proliferation, at least for me at the moment. In doing this I have found much more commonality with other teachings. When you try to marry different dogmas you get conflict of ideas, when you attempt to deal with the kernel the commonality is much more evident.

    In my recent studies I draw a distinction between awakening and enlightenment. I still value highly the awakening experience I had before meeting you – no words can describe how important it was for me. But it was far from enlightenment as subsequent drinking and attempts at promiscuity evidenced. Such awakenings are important in some ways, and are an indication of the Path, but they are nowhere near the end. It appears that UG-Z’s experience seemed so powerful to him, it had to be something more. What is more than awakening but enlightenment is an easy conclusion, it appears to me. I don’t know whether it is appropriate to draw a distinction between awakening and enlightenment, maybe there are words that more accurately describe the distinct processes, but without some sort of distinction delusion will obviously happen.

    Tolle had such an awakening experience – hitting bottom, and this has always drawn me to him. But it never meant to me that he (or I) had answers. It does seem that some of these “teachers” are stuck in this awakening stage, and don’t move on. Of course moving on is hard work, and for many these experiences happened without apparent study and practice. In my own case the “awakening” was based on years of repression and miseducation, and not study; from what I remember Tolle’s was similar but more intense. Life was hard until that point for me, but there was no hard study or practice. For 30 years after (during which time you knew me) I accepted a similar attitude, hard work was not necessary – it was a gift. This was a feeble approach.

    The word gradualism tends to suggest that there is a quick way. Maybe this is true but I don’t see it that way at all and would always try to dissuade anyone from following that route. It is practice only, as far as I can see. There seems to be a group of people involved in “spirituality” who are seeking something. The Path is something to be on, not something that leads to a pot of gold. Those seeking something are often seeking an awakening experience, and then choosing to call that enlightenment. As you say teachers teaching that are also those who don’t have the sila (moral integrity) to keep their flies zipped. I can also imagine that chi, kundalini could add to the power of an awakening experience, but neither have a moral integrity that would be deemed appropriate to whatever might be termed “enlightenment”. UG-z’s strongly focussed repressive approach to seeking would in my view have increased that power.

  3. […] this blogentry I originally used awakening to describe my own experience and then changed my terminology to […]

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