Adyashanti – part 1

Posted: 09/06/2013 by zandtao in ONE planet
Tags: , , ,

I was put onto Adyashanti by a friend a while back and spoke about him here. The context in which his name was raised was that of enlightenment. We were discussing whether someone could be enlightened, and my friend said Adyashanti claimed he was. I have started to read Adyashanti’s “Way of Liberation”, and now think he does claim he is enlightened; in describing his book he says “The Way of Liberation is a stripped-down, practical guide to spiritual liberation, sometimes called awakening, enlightenment, self-realization, or simply seeing what is absolutely True. It is impossible to know what words like liberation or enlightenment mean until you realize them for yourself.” This tends to suggest he considers himself enlightened. Maybe I will find a better quote, as I have no wish to misrepresent him.

This quote is in the introduction, and it is quite clear that the book is a methodology of the Way to live – a “guide to spiritual liberation, sometimes called awakening, enlightenment, self-realization, or simply seeing what is absolutely True”. Here we have much use of terminology, and it is worth considering these words. I assume here that Adyashanti is seeing these words as equivalent (I hope this is not misrepresenting him). I want to consider these words in terms of “gradations” . I have no idea what being enlightened is. Theoretically I accept that being enlightened is living anatta – 100% no self. I am nowhere near that although by Adyashanti 1 (see below) my aspiration is to be 100% non-self. Are his synonyms (inthe quote from his intro) 100% no-self?

In this blogentry I originally used awakening to describe my own experience and then changed my terminology to “Realising the Path” here. Now my hitting bottom was a sort of awakening, it was a sort of recognition of unity, it was nowhere near “100% non-self”. It was not seeing the Truth for what It is, but was seeing some Truth. It was some sort of awakening and should not be belittled but as Brad says in describing Soto Zen “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” – here. It appears that Adyashanti does not ignore them but is encouraging people to get them – to me this is not a good approach.

I do however like his methodology, Five Foundations – his “Way of Liberation”:-

1) Clarify your aspiration.
2) Unconditional follow-through.
3) Never abdicate your authority.
4) Practical absolute sincerity.
5) Be a good steward of your life.

“In a very real sense the Five Foundations are absolutely essential components of the teaching that apply after awakening as much as, if not more than, before it.” [p1 – pdf p15] I really like this before and after approach. “Misinterpretation of a spiritual teaching by the ego is always a significant danger, since the ego’s tendency is to justify whatever points of view it is attached to and invested in.”[p1 – pdf p15] Now I don’t like his use of the term ego here, again I have discussed this – here. In some approaches ego allows for the existence of self, and whilst these traditions allow for ego and Self – Self being non-egoic, I prefer anatta – non-self. The danger of such terminology comes in the phrase Adyashanti uses as synonymous with enlightenment – self-realisation. Self can only realise by disappearing as it doesn’t exist in the first place. How can self realise and disappear at the same time? For me it is better not to consider it as Self but non-self – no I or mine.

But it is good he ascribes his methodology for before and after; this is much like the 8-Fold Path, sila (moral integrity) and kilesa (defilements) – before and after. An enlightened being will have sila and not have kilesa, and this knocks on the head much of the bonking enlightened ones!! Although sila is a religious word (Buddhism) I don’t describe it as morality. Morality is not a set of rules – it tends to be described as such in both religions and culture, as Adyashanti says “It means that morality is no longer rooted in the cultural and religious values designed to rein in and control egoic impulses.” [p2 pdf p16].

He has an important warning for before and after “It can get complicated because it is possible to have some experience of the ultimate nature of Reality while at the same time not being completely free of egoic delusion. This makes for the possible volatile mixture of Reality and illusion simultaneously existing and expressing itself in an unconscious and distorted way. While some of this is to be expected as we are maturing in spirit, there are few things more distorted or dangerous than an ego that thinks it is God.” [p2 pdf p16]

“The Way of Liberation is a means of opening up to grace.” [p19 pdf 33of 70] Is grace insight? This struck me when Adyashanti was describing grace. If we are open to grace then we can see clearly, insight comes. “The realization of Truth and Reality can never be created by the mind; it always comes as a gift of grace” [p27 pdf 41 of 70]. To open ourselves up to grace we follow the 3 Core Practices :-

“The three Core Practices are meditation, inquiry, and contemplation” [p19 pdf 33of 70]. Insight comes to me in meditation when I am studying (non-intellectually) – maybe synonymous with contemplation? – in a process of deep questioning where there are no assumptions – enquiry?

(added to Buddhadasa page)

  1. william roberts says:

    Adyashanti is not saying anything coherent and should not be taken seriously. For a more comprehensive understanding of why consider the following link:

    Thank you!

  2. zandtao says:

    William, Thank you for taking the time to send me the link – I will read what you have to say.

  3. zandtao says:


    Please read this reply to the end. Your comment has made me re-assess to some extent.

    I began reading through the paper that William sent.

    “The individual who wrote to me objecting about my critique of Adyashantis’ not-so-brilliant statements illustrate another textbook example of the type of proud individuals that populate Kali Yuga. He was not only pathetically ill-informed but he was also extremely offensive and angry. The irony is pathetic. The guru he reveres calls himself: “Being Peaceful Now” . However, this groupie wasn’t peaceful or even polite.”

    To be honest I found the overall paper tedious – sorry. Its tone was aggressive. In the above paragraph he describes a follower writing against the critique of Adyashanti. ” He was not only pathetically ill-informed but he was also extremely offensive and angry.” What is the necessity of the word pathetically?

    I suspect I would be called pathetically ill-informed because I don’t know the writings that are being quoted in this critique. I am a Buddhist, he is writing about Hindu scriptures. Perhaps I am missing out by not studying Hinduism but I feel there is truth in all religions if you get beyond the dogma.

    Personally I don’t find understanding in being able to quote in depth the Buddha’s suttas, I feel it is how one understands through meditation. Perhaps I am wrong to draw the parallel but I don’t think I would seek depth in quoting Hindu scriptures either. I would seek understanding and to me that does not come from academic study.

    I am not a follower of Adyashanti. For a while I studied the book “Key to Liberation”. I downloaded it free from their website, put it on Scribd, and then had it copyright-slapped. It concerns me whenever religious books have to be paid for.

    There were 2 criticisms that I found unfounded although both are perhaps negative indicators of what Adyashanti is about. In the above quote “The irony is pathetic. The guru he reveres calls himself: “Being Peaceful Now” . [According to William’s quoted passage Adyashanti translated means “Being Peaceful Now”, I have no reason to disbelieve him]. However, this groupie wasn’t peaceful or even polite.” Was the “groupie” asked by Adyashanti to contact the Hare Krishna writer? If so, then the tone and critique reflects on the teacher, if not there is no point to answer.

    Adyashanti was a disciple of a teacher who was a drunk and had sexual issues. Assuming this is true (I have no reason to doubt this – just covering myself) I accept the teachings would be flawed having the potential for the disciple to have the same pitfalls. But not necessarily. I have not read of such flaws in Adyashanti.

    As for the stage name, Adyashanti, it is the practise for Buddhist monks to be given names. I have met numerous western Buddhist monks, none of whom used western names. I am not sure of the process of acquiring such names but the guys I met were not stage performers. The names I have heard appear to me to be descriptive of traits such as wisdom. I am guessing that an Abbott or some such gave the names to illustrate a trait, I don’t think the names are a statement of personal vanity. Here is a description of a Buddhist monastic process including the giving of a name. This is a Theravada description, not Zen, but I suspect similar processes – please correct me if I am wrong.

    The follower said that the Vedas were incomplete, and this criticism implies that this is Adyashanti’s position. I sincerely hope that Adyashanti doesn’t say this, but to be honest I don’t know. It is my view that deep teachings can also be simplistic so I have no problems with koans. But of course they can be an excuse for not studying deeply. In terms of using them as a critique of the guru one needs to analyse how the guru teaches with them.

    “Adyashanti arrived at a time when there was a rising demand for clever excuses so hedonists can live shamelessly and feel holy about it. Adya jumped right in to fill the need. However he didn’t do that by hosting an academic conference on Zen and the science of enlightenment. His events are promoted as ‘Satsanga” which is a gross misnomer, but another example of a brilliant marketing maneuver.”

    I would be very surprised if any genuine Zen teacher would seek guidance from an academic conference on Zen, that is not the approach of the tradition as far as I understand it. I assess that it is not an academic understanding that is sought through any Buddhism but an ability to move beyond the dogma to understanding. I have previously discussed the use of the term enlightenment – I don’t like it, but science of enlightenment? If the Hindu tradition speaks of science of enlightenment then that is for them, not for me. That is not a criticism, people follow different Paths.

    I know nothing of Adyashanti’s “jumping-in”, I don’t know whether he appeared at the right time. Does he have a stage manner that is popular? Again I don’t know. But none of this is a criticism of his teachings, nor need it be a negative criticism of the teacher. That might have been his fate.

    However at this point the writer makes good points and shows appropriate reverence for Thich Naht Hanh, this makes me think that his overall criticism might be valid even though the above examples have flaws:-

    “Adya attracts the less intelligent by presenting himself as a “regular guy”. He plays cards, rides a motorcycle, and enjoys sports, comedy, music, TV and amusement parks. He appreciates comfortable furniture and has no interest in following anything that is even remotely close to the traditional Buddhist “Sitting Meditation.” What this means is that Adya has drifted so far into his own indulgent sense gratification that he is no longer teaching anything that is even slightly familiar to a legitimate Zen discipline. Regardless of how bogus, hypocritical and self-serving all of this is, it’s exactly the image he wants to be known for because once again….it’s great for business!” If this is true then I would question Adyashanti’s approach, as the writer says Thay would not do this. If his description is correct, to me it is not Buddhism, not Zen and I would not support what Adyashanti does; if ….

    I almost gave up several times with the criticism William sent. I found the tone emotive. I thought the initial points made were flawed, but he arrives at this very sound paragraph. I spent some time studying Adyashanti’s book, and it was fruitful. At the time I was new to a better understanding of anatta, and started reading Adyashanti’s book that had similarities. But I have not taken it further. Nor am I likely to because I still remember the lack of empathy for the guy, Ted, who was hurting.

    In terms of the blogs I still stand by what I have written, and in terms of the Key to Liberation it was a book I am glad I have read. If I were going to study Adyashanti further I would do some research first because there are sufficient doubts – thanks William for raising these doubts. There are plenty of genuine authorities such as Thay or Tan Ajaan that if asked that is who I would point to – not Adyashanti; studying his book does not make me a follower, I like to think I only follow my Inner Guide.

    The comment and Hare Krishna has led to this position on Adyashanti so thank you, I am not so sure what I have written will be received well – we will see.

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