Tamami: I understand that one day you read a book about Zen and subsequently found a Zen master who lived in your neighborhood. What compelled you to pick up that book in the first place? Why do you think you found yourself so receptive to Zen?
Adya: I was always interested in the nature of reality. What compelled me about Zen was that unlike a lot of other religions if you are going to be a Zen master or a Zen teacher, you had to some experience of enlightenment. That was a qualification. And I really like that. I think that got me to pick up the book because I was interested in actually experiencing things rather than learning things. Rather than just learning dogma or teaching.
T: Do you identify yourself as a Buddhist?
A: I don’t identify myself as a Buddhist nor do I identify myself as really anything. You know? Any ideology. Having said that, of course with my teacher my whole background was Zen. I was asked to teach by a Zen teacher. Of course, I have great respect, great reverence for the whole tradition and the whole teaching. It is kind of ironic that by studying Zen, at the very studying of Zen engender the realization (no identity). It’s kind of taking away of the identity of being associated with an ideology. I have great respect for it and great reverence for it. But I don’t have the identity for it.
T: A Japanese blogger who attended one of your workshops described you as, “A monk who doesn’t belong to any religion.” Do you consider this an accurate description?
A: Ha ha ha… figuratively, yes. Well, I am not actually a monk. But yes, figuratively… Yes I have always felt like a monk. That’s why I feel like my hair (right now) is very long for me. I feel more comfortable when it’s all shaved off. I have a lot of characteristics that are like that.
T: But you have never thought of yourself as a monk?
A: No, I am not an actual monk. To become an actual monk, it is very formalized and actual process. I was very close to becoming a monk, mostly because I was with the teacher who had asked me to become a monk. But, I never actually did. I was really excited. I thought that was really wonderful. I was a young man, in my early twenties. And then I really looked at why I would become a monk. What did I really want? And what I saw was… if I became a monk, I would be doing that as a means to an end, as a means to pursue enlightenment. Being a monk has its own integrity, its own calling. When I saw that I would actually be using becoming a monk to become enlightened, it did not feel authentic to me. Since I didn’t have the calling to become a monk for its own sake, I didn’t think I could go through with it. It wouldn’t feel honest. I respected the tradition enough to feel like if I was going to make the commitment in the way, it had to be really honest. I was really interested in enlightenment. A lot of Buddhists would not appreciate me saying this, but I saw even Buddhism is means to an end. Buddhism was that it might help me to realize what I wanted to realize. I never thought as of a lifestyle choice that I will become a Buddhist and that will be my identity and my lifestyle or a monk. For some people it would appeal, but it didn’t appeal to me. I wanted to teach.
T: So, you just said that you were interested in enlightenment. You wanted to know what enlightenment was. You wanted to experience it. Where did that desire come from?
A: It’s hard for me to say where it came from. As I mentioned before, when I read the Zen book, for the first time I read about enlightenment. It was really the first time. There were little descriptions of Zen masters’ moments of enlightenment. They really intrigued me. I can’t really say why when I read about enlightenment, I was so compelled by it. I usually described it as a nuclear bomb went off inside of me. I just HAD TO know what that was. Why I had to know… I can’t really tell you. It is quite mysterious even to this day. I don’t know why I had to know. Tying into that, though, is that in my late teens, I had very acute sense of what I would call sort of the normal amount of insanity. Just the way people live unconscious lives, conditioning plays itself out in an unconscious way. And I really had a deep feeling that I didn’t want that kind of life to be my contribution. I just didn’t want to live an unconscious life. I really wanted to contribute something that might be more meaningful. Not in the sense that I wanted to be important. But I wanted to contribute something that would be meaningful. I did not want to contribute to some of the unconsciousness and insanity that I saw around me. I connected enlightenment with a real kind of sanity. To be awake is really to be sane. It was important and it still is important what I contribute to life. I hear that a lot of people come to a spiritual quest from suffering. They want to stop suffering. That was not where I was from at all. I was fortunate. I grew up in a loving family. I enjoyed a lot. I was happy and I was not dissatisfied. So none of that fueled me to start spiritual search. I was not trying to become happier. Perhaps, more sane.
T: How did the name “Adyashanti’ find you?
A: Well, that’s kind of an interesting story. First, I had a resistance to such a thing: the fancy name, the spiritual name. I didn’t like it. About 6 months to a year after I was asked to teach, I kept getting this little voice that I was supposed to have a different name. And I immediately said to myself “Oh! No! No! No! I am not going to listen to that.” So, I kept not listening and I kept listening, and I kept pushing it away. It went over a year like that. And one day, I said, “Maybe I should not just push it away. I would not teach someone to push it away. ” So I stopped pushing it away and let it be there. And one day, I was reading a book and checking a glossary and terms of Sanskrit. So, I started with A and looked at the word, “Adya” and read it meant something like “before the beginning” and “primordial.” Even before I read what it meant, some little light went on and said, “That’s it!” And I kept flipping pages and saw the word “Shanti” and the little voice went, “That’s it!” And I put those two words together and I said “Oh! No! No! No! That’s very big, it sounds very spiritual.” So, I tried to ignore it the best I could. Anyway, some months went by and at some point, it was like a strange fact that I felt like I was supposed to do this. And I thought about if this was my ego… and all the sorts of thing you might check yourself. But after some months, it became clear “OK, this is it. I don’t know why but I decided this is going to be it.” I still hadn’t told anybody but the people who came to my next talk were completely different. It was like snapping your fingers. They were a whole different kind of person, a lot more mature, psychologically and spiritually. Much more serious persons came. And then I told people that I was going to use this name. To this day, I look at it as some kind of mystery linked to the name because things changed overnight. Even before I told anybody that I was going to change the name, once I decided, so much changed… it was almost like snapping fingers. So I kept the name. To this day, I encourage people to call me “Adya”, not “Adyashanti”. It’s pretty but it is too pretty someone like me. (Big laugh)