Tamami: As you probably are aware, many Japanese are raised around Buddhist customs when it comes to traditional events such as funerals and weddings. However, most of us do not really study it much beyond that. What is about your teaching that might resonate with Japanese people who have never had an interest in practicing traditional Buddhism, and in fact may have intentionally avoided doing so?
Adyashanti: It sounds like the same as here (the Western culture). There are some good form of Christianity and not so good ones. Different cultures but the similar things are going on. It is interesting to try to leap into the different cultural mindset. Maybe it is similar to my own interest. To be honest, my own interest in Buddhism was not in Buddhism per say as a religion, as a set of doctrine. It really was… because it talks directly about enlightenment, that’s what I liked about it. So that’s my form of teaching. I will use Buddhism teaching to help talk about enlightenment and awakening, I will use Christianity, and I use completely non-religious teachings and examples. So, to me, there is truth. There is ultimate reality that transcends all the cultural and religious forms. And I think your desire, interest and yearning for the truth is inherited in human beings. Some people are put off by the religions. It just doesn’t work for them or they had bad experiences. In the last 30 to 40 years what people realize is that you can search for spiritual truth with or without doing it overly in a religious way. That’s one of the thing about in the modern life is that spirituality is breaking loose of its bonds with religions. They use to fuse as the same things. Now people realize that you can do it through overly religious way or you can do it through a different way. They don’t have to be the same thing. They complement each other often. I think the truth is that in the modern age, most of our religions are 1000s of years old. They are often not updated. We update everything but our religions. It is 2000 years old and we can’t touch it. We can’t update it. And that’s how we have been affected now. More and more people feel that they have not been spoken to them directly. Because it is not updated. For me, I am not consciously trying to update any religion, but I try to put everything in approachable language as I can. We don’t have to work ourselves through 2000 years of doctrine and talk about the truth. You can talk about it in very plain direct language. I think that’s what resonates with a lot of people now. You can just talk plain direct language and find some resonance with their own experience. It is easier than walking your way through.
T: For me, religion is old theories and beliefs. And your teaching is an experiential thing.
A: Yes, it is entirely experiential. It is easy to turn it into beliefs and theories, but yes it is always experiential. Which is ultimately what I liked about Zen, in its the purest form. The form that my teacher taught it in. Her teachers were some of the best who left Japan in 60s. According to my teacher, those monks from Japan were liberated coming to the US and taught Zen to people who just did not want to go to temples on Sundays. So what my teacher taught was in the form of Buddhism, but we were sitting in her living room and she wore regular clothes. There was some simplicity to it. There was truthful simplicity to it. I really appreciated it.
T: Earlier, you have mentioned about connecting with deeper truth. So, during meditation, by the way, I love your book, True Meditation. In the book, you are inviting us to meditatively do self-inquiry. When I meditate, I often ask myself “Who is the meditator?” It works very well for me. So In order for me to connect with deeper truth, what question should I ask? “Who am I?”
A: I think that’s the fundamental question. What’s most important is that you connect with your own impose. In other words, what is your question? The ultimate question may be “Who am I?” But if it doesn’t have any significance to you, many people said to me “You know Adya? I don’t care about that question. It just doesn’t compel me.” And I say “Fine. What does compel you?” Start with what has energy and vitality for. In other words, what is your question? Certainly, at the end of the day, ultimate question comes down to the core our own identity. I love the question, “Who is the meditator?” And of course, these questions are not being asked to get the nice ideological answer. Questions are being used to direct us into a deeper experience of our own self, our own being. That’s what they are being used to. To bring us into a deeper experience of ourselves, rather than a better definition. That’s hung up a lot of people would get any kind of spiritual inquiry. The whole tradition of Zen Koan study is inquiry. But problem people would make any kind of inquiry is that they think that they just get the right answer. And they are not supposed to get the right answer. They are supposed to get the right perspective and the right experiences. So, when you meditate, you ask “Who is the meditator?” it’s not like you get the voice in your head…”it defines it for you.” It actually silences everything.
T: When I ask “Who is the meditator?” It creates a gap.
A: Yes, it creates a gap. Yes, that is really important of any spiritual question to create a gap in your consciousness.
T: Yes, but it doesn’t happen every day… (big laugh)
A: No, it doesn’t. You do it and do it and one day something happens. It’s almost by mistake. Like… ”How did it happen?” That’s the part you and I can’t do. That’s where at least for me, Zen, as I understood, which was a young 20 year old kid, very self-direct, self-oriented, very willful…when I studies Christian Mystics was opposite. It was the notion of Grace. You don’t find any notion of Grace in Zen because there is no exterior deity. But if you just live left with willful approach, then you just stuck with yourself. Our best experience is that it happens spontaneously. You just meditate for a week, a month, or two months, and all of the sudden the gap occurs. “How did it happen? What did I do?” It’s almost like by mistake. That’s Grace. I think what’s understanding of what you can do and also understanding of what you cannot do, and what only Grace can do, both of them are very important. You can ask the question. You can sit down and intend to be quiet. But you can’t make yourself be quiet. You can never ever ever make your mind be quiet. So finding the balance to what I can do and what I can’t do. It’s like taking responsibility but be open to Grace. That’s a kind of humility. I cannot create these, wonderful moments of insights. I can’t do that. I can set the stage however. I can do something. The balance is I think very very important. Because otherwise, if you are willful, you will just get frustrated. And it exacerbates your feeling of failure and inadequacy. And if it’s all Grace oriented, then you tend to be lazy and indulgent. When you bring those together, there is vitality. There is a beauty to it. And you don’t feel bad about yourself because you have already admitted that you can’t create these breakthroughs. So why you sit around feeling like a failure for something you cannot literally create. You could never create. Nobody ever created. But I can make myself available. That much I can do.