Rick: Welcome to Buddha at the Gas Pump. My name is Rick Archer. Buddha at the Gas Pump is an ongoing series of interviews with spiritually awakening people. I’ve done over 600 of them now, and if this is new to you and you’d like to check out previous ones, please go to batgap.com, B-A-T-G-A-P, and look under the past interviews menu. This program is made possible through the support of appreciative listeners and viewers, so if you appreciate it and would like to help support it, there’s a PayPal button on every page of the website, and there’s a page explaining some alternatives to PayPal if you want to pursue one of those. My guest today is Stephen Bodian. Stephen was on BatGap, when was it Stephen? 2014?
Rick: Okay, way back. And he will introduce himself in a moment, but I listened to our previous interview during the week, and I thought, “Wow, we covered a lot of interesting stuff,” and we’ll try to cover somewhat different stuff today, but you know, you might want to watch that one also. You’ll find it on BatGap, and I will link to it from the BatGap page of this interview. So Stephen, why don’t you just go ahead, rather than me read a prepared bio that you sent, it might be more interesting if you just sketch out a little bit of your history.
Stephan: Yeah, well, first of all, I’d like to say that I’m a teacher in the non-dual wisdom tradition of Zen, Advaita, and Dzogchen, Mahamudra, which are all traditions that I studied, although primarily Zen. I was a Zen monk for 10 years, then spent 10 years with Jean Klein in 2001. Adyashanti told me to go teach, and I’ve been doing it ever since, and I’m also a psychotherapist, so I bring together the understanding of the Western tradition of psychology and the Eastern spirituality that I’ve studied, and I offer every year a six-month program, intensive program, in non-dual spiritual realization called the School for Awakening, as well as classes and other things, and as well as spiritual counseling. So yeah, and for the purposes of what we’re going to talk about today, you know, I began practicing, you know, Buddhism, Zen in particular, way back, as I often say, after having some psychedelic journeys that went a little awry, which is, you know, a common experience.
Rick: A lot of us got our start.
Stephan: Even before that, a lot of us got our start, and, you know, still do, you know, but I had already been interested in Zen and Eastern spiritual traditions in high school, and then in college is when I started doing it seriously, spent 10 years doing that, and one of the things that drew me to and kept me going was my relationships with teachers. So we’re going to be talking today about ethics, spiritual integrity, how teachers go astray, what happens in this very intimate relationship between a teacher and their students, and first I want to say that teachers have been crucial to my own spiritual journey, and I have fallen in love with several teachers to great effect, and it’s had a transformative effect on my life. So I want to begin that way to give the understanding that, as far as I’m concerned, teachers are not necessarily essential, but have a really important role to play in the spiritual journey. Some people wake up without teachers, but when they do, they often need a teacher afterward to help them orient, which is why a lot of people come to me, or a teacher galvanizes them and provides an example to them of what a realized person looks like, sounds like, acts like, hopefully, as we’ll discuss, and that’s a very important function.
Rick: I might add that you were the editor of Yoga Journal for 10 years, which is how I first heard of you, way before I started doing this, but your name, I wasn’t a regular subscriber, but I would read it every now and then, and your name would pop up. One thing that you mentioned quite a few times in our first interview, you referred to your awakening, you had an awakening, but you know, I didn’t actually probe you at all in that first interview of what exactly happened. A lot of people use, define that term in different ways, and so perhaps it would help to have you explain what happened to you.
Stephan: Yeah, well, the way I define it is, and then I’ll talk about my own spiritual awakening, the way I define it when I teach is, at least from the tradition that I come from, from my own experience, is a fundamental shift in the locus of our identity. You know, we thought we were this little someone, you know, with all our foibles and all our memories and all our narratives and stories and beliefs and forms of suffering, and we wake up to realize that we are the vastness, the openness in which all of that’s arising, right? And that fundamental shift is really what constitutes true spiritual awakening. And I practiced for many years, frankly, I practiced Zen for ten years, very intensively, and I had no idea what spiritual awakening is. No one ever told me. So I actually got a few glimpses, but didn’t realize that that’s what they were, and no one was there to say, “Oh, you know, that’s kind of what we’re talking about here. Maybe just keep going in that direction.” But then I left Zen and experimented with several other traditions, and then stumbled upon Jean Klein, who was one of the teachers that I truly fell in love with. If I had a guru, he was certainly my guru. And after six months was Jean Klein. Jean Klein, he said, “Don’t make meditation a habit, you know? If you meditate, the only purpose to meditation is to find out the meditator, discover the meditator.” So six months into knowing Jean Klein, in the middle of a retreat, I had something I had to do. I had to leave the retreat. I was in my car, and suddenly something he had said went through my head, something he had said several times. He said, “The seeker is the thought. The looker is what he or she is looking for.” Now, you know, you can read these things, you know, in many places, but being fresh to this path, never having heard of Ramana Maharishi or Nisargadatta Maharaj, just being with Jean Klein, this really struck me. And as I was driving, it all, everything turned inside out. I suddenly realized I was the space, which was eternal. There was no, absolutely no going away from it, and I was driving through myself, right? That was the nature of the realization. And, you know, it was a powerful recognition. It knocked my socks off, as they often do, not always, but often. And, you know, it faded into the background, I would say. The ego and its habits reasserted itself, but it never, I never lost that, and it continued to mature over time. And it was actually terrifying, the realization. I went through, I like to say this so people who have similar experiences feel like they’re not alone. I was terrified by it. I felt like the ground had been pulled out from under my world, and there was no ground. And it scared the life out of me.
Rick: Yeah, in our last interview we talked about Suzanne Siegel a little bit, who wrote Collision with the Infinite, and she was a friend of yours, and she went through like ten years of terror because she had such a shift and had no idea what it was, and she just assumed she couldn’t find a sense of personal self anymore, and it freaked her out.
Stephan: Exactly, exactly. The self was looking for the self. The mind kept looking for itself and couldn’t find it.
Rick: And in fact it was Jean Klein who kind of resolved it for her.
Stephan: By saying, “Stop the mechanism of the mind that keeps looking,” basically. And she did, and that was the end of the theory.
Rick: Yeah, so one thing you made clear is that this was not just some intellectual realization or something. It was a deep, visceral, experiential shift. And you also said that, you know, well, you still had the ego with its foibles and all, but there was kind of a new element that your essential identity had shifted from just that ego to something much vaster, kind of like you had been the wave all of your life, and all of a sudden you realize you’re the ocean, but you’re still a wave, but yet you’re the ocean.
Stephan: yeah, exactly. Yeah, I would say “boundaryless openness” is the way I like to describe it these days. But at the time, you know, the vastness, it was just vast, you know, non-locatable, and always present, always already present, you know, never gone, always there, always awake, always present.
Rick: Does it ever persist during sleep, or do you just conk out during sleep?
Stephan: Sometimes, yeah, sometimes I find myself awake in dreams.
Rick: Yeah, some people report that.
Stephan: Not always, but sometimes.
Rick: Yeah, I have a friend who has had an awakening like that, and she has to be really careful while driving, because if she looks at the sky or some such thing, the vastness becomes so overwhelming that she’s afraid she’s going to crash the car, you know, it’s like she doesn’t have…
Stephan: That’s very common.
Rick: Yeah, is it?
Stephan: That’s very common. I’ve actually heard that from many people.
Stephan: And it’s interesting, it happened while I was driving.
Rick: Yeah, I have a feeling that that’ll go away for her when there’s been more integration or something.
Stephan: Yeah, I suspect so.
Rick: All right, so at what point in the game did spiritual integrity become so important to you, and why?
Stephan: Well, you know, I had the good fortune of having some wonderful teachers in the beginning, Suzuki Roshi, of course, beautiful teacher, I only got to spend a little over a year with him, but you know, that had a very deep impact on me, and then my Zen teacher for about six years after that, Kobun Shino, also a beautiful teacher with utmost integrity, I would say, and who was like a big brother to me, really, we were very close.
Rick: And they died?
Stephan: But then, he didn’t die until 2002, actually, so what happened was, I wanted to do more, what I called serious Zen practice, and Kobun was a kind of a renegade, an eccentric, an artist, a poet, he didn’t want to do traditional Zen practice, he had left that behind, he wanted to do what he called guerrilla Zen, G-U-E-R-R-I-L-L-A, you know,
Rick: everyone does it in their own,
Stephan: yeah, kind of, you know, infiltrate the world with Zen, you know, not do anything traditional, and I was hankering after something, you know, wearing the robes, doing the rituals, being in a monastery, and so I went to his house, and to meet with Maezumi Roshi, who was a more traditional Zen teacher, and I was very impressed with him at first, he seemed very grounded, he seemed very serious and intense, he was doing more traditional Zen practice, including Koan study, which I was very interested in, so I decided to leave Kobun, and then go study with Maezumi Roshi down in LA, and so I did that, and felt very at home in the community, it was very casual, very friendly, and I connected with the people there, and was actually Maezumi Roshi’s attendant for a while, but Maezumi Roshi, over time I realized, was an alcoholic. Now, at the time, it didn’t really, and there’s a lot of drinking going on at the Zen Center in Los Angeles, in fact, after a long retreat, the custom was that you left the retreat, and you immediately got, you know, shit-faced drunk, that was pretty much what was expected. Now, I wasn’t a drinker, never had been, didn’t follow that path, and not out of any sense of virtue, particularly, it just never appealed to me, and so it never felt quite right, but, you know, I didn’t see the problems with it, necessarily. We’d go, for example, soak in the center hot tub, and Roshi would come, and he’d be really drunk.
Rick: How did people rationalize that? Because, in my mind, I mean,
Stephan: i dont know
Rick: I mean, once I got on the spiritual path, I soon started to feel much better all the time than alcohol or drugs had ever been able to make me feel, temporarily, and so I completely lost the taste for them, and if I had done them, I would have wanted to get over it as quickly as possible, to get back to the lovely state of consciousness I was in anyway, all the time, so I don’t get it, you know, I don’t get it.
Stephan: I don’t get it either, and I’m with you. I wanted to keep as much clarity as I possibly could. Drinking had never been a part of my life. I think it was rationalized as Roshi’s Japanese. This is what Japanese men do. Roshi is using it as an opportunity to teach us by saying outrageous things and poking at us in ways he wouldn’t feel comfortable doing if he weren’t drunk. People used to really gather around Roshi when he was drunk because they rather enjoyed the way he would be with them, which was more uninhibited, you know, more provocative, so within this center, there was a kind of rationale around it. I didn’t buy into it, but I also didn’t question it seriously. In fact, one of the things I did, as I said, I was Roshi’s attendant for six months, and then when Roshi went to visit Trungpa in Massachusetts, Trungpa was on a year-long retreat in Charlemont, Massachusetts.
Rick: Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, that guy?
Stephan: Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, yeah, yeah.
Rick: Who could probably drink Roshi under the table.
Stephan: Well, I think they were pretty well matched.
Rick: Okay, they have a little…
Stephan: Yeah, yeah. So Roshi asked me, even though I was no longer his attendant, he asked me to go back with him because he thought I could stay sober while those two were drinking. So he had me go back, spend seven days with Trungpa and Roshi in Massachusetts, and I got to see them, you know, they’d get up at noon and they’d start drinking, and you know, throughout the day, and they’d drink until again, in that context, with Roshi drinking and Trungpa drinking, it seemed rather normal, you know. This is what, you know, Buddhism had to offer back in those days.
Rick: Can you imagine the Buddha doing that?
Stephan: 77? That’s right. Can you imagine the Buddha doing that? But Zen has always had, again, I’m not rationalizing this. I’m just telling you the way people thought.
Rick: The bad boy,
Stephan: yeah, yeah, yeah, the crazy wisdom tradition, which we can talk about separately.
Rick: We’ll get to that.
Stephan: Yeah, yeah. But anyway, what finally ended up happening was that at a certain point in my own practice, I realized, first of all, that sitting wasn’t enough for me in terms of my own unfolding. I began to notice psychological issues that I felt needed attention, and all I was being told by my teacher, Roshi, was to sit more. And I realized that wasn’t cutting it. That really wasn’t doing it. So I, and I also felt there was something about the hierarchical structure, the center, that really felt I would say, inappropriate and potentially abusive. And I could also sense intuitively that there were things going on that didn’t feel right. I didn’t know what they were. I just intuitively had that sense. So at a certain point, I left. I decided to leave. Okay. I went back to school to study psychology, because I felt like I needed to understand my own psychology and, you know, the psychology people I worked with if I was going to be a Zen teacher. So I left. And then within two years, it became apparent, it was revealed, that Roshi had been having a two-year relationship with one of his senior students, a woman. Both were married, both had children. And at that point, I would say the emperor had no clothes. Shit hit the fan, and it was revealed that Roshi had been propositioning women in the interview room for years, and he went into alcohol treatment, and the center basically fell apart. Didn’t completely dissolve, but people scattered, let’s put it that way. And I looked back and I thought, well, I guess my intuition was accurate. You know, I was right.
Rick: Well, that would make an impression on you.
Stephan: Yeah, it certainly did.
Rick: So maybe an overarching point here would be, if we want to use the word “enlightenment” just for convenience sake, is, well, there’s a phrase from Swami Sarvapriyananda, he likes to say, “You can have ethics without enlightenment, but you can’t have enlightenment without ethics.” And by ethics, we would mean a broad range of things, some of the stuff you just mentioned, and other things. But do you agree with that statement by Swami Sarvapriyananda?
Stephan: I think fundamentally, yes. One of the first things that I studied as a Zen student with that first teacher, Kobin, was precepts, the precepts. He felt that was appropriate for us to study the precepts.
Rick: And they are?
Stephan: We studied, well, the ten grave prohibitory precepts of Zen, and the three pure precepts. There’s like no killing, no stealing, no sexual misconduct.
Rick: Like the Yamas and the Niyamas of Patanjali, that kind of thing.
Stephan: Yeah, yeah, they called the ten grave prohibitory precepts, “Thou shalt not,” basically. And there are, of course, different ways of interpreting these precepts. They’re interpreted on a range of strictness, but what Kobin said, which really left an impression on me, he said the deepest interpretation of the precepts is what he called Bodhidharma’s precepts. And Bodhidharma’s precepts basically say that the precepts are a description of enlightened behavior, that the way to act ethically is how an enlightened person would act. So that’s the way I was being taught. An enlightened person acts this way, you see. And I think I agree. That’s the understanding. A truly awake person. Now, you know, we can have had awakenings, and we’re not always acting from our awakenings. So we can be genuinely awakened, but we’re not living it moment after moment, which may be the definition of enlightened. You know, the question of what is awakened and what is enlightened is a, you know, a very interesting one. It’s been talked about for millennia. But if we’re acting from the truth of our being, the truth of our nature, how can we possibly abuse other people? Because they’re not separate from us.
Rick: Yeah. Yes. Kind of the golden rule, do unto others as you would have others do unto you. And, you know, obviously if you’re enlightened, you should see others as you. You should, you know, to quote
Stephan: you will
Rick: the Gita, you see the self in all beings and all beings in the self.
Stephan: That’s right. That’s right. Yeah.
Rick: And I get the feeling, just from observation and things I read, that you can never completely let your guard down. There’s a famous quote from Padmasambhava. He said, “Although my awareness is as vast as the sky, my attention to karma is as fine as a grain of barley flour.” So even he, a great cosmic dude, was, you know, being vigilant to be impeccable.
Stephan: Exactly. Well, these are the two truths that run through Mahayana Buddhism, that run through Advaita Vedanta, the absolute and the relative truth. And both are true, you see. We have to act ethically. At the same time, Sung San Son Sinim, the Korean Zen master, said, “There is no right or wrong, but right is right and wrong is wrong.” Which I think is beautifully put.
Rick: And here’s another one that’s in your notes. “You’re perfect as you are, and you could use a little improvement.”
Stephan: Suzuki Roshi.
Rick: Was that for me?
Stephan: Or he also said, “We’re constantly losing our balance against a background of perfect balance.” I think that really is the background of perfect balance is what we are fundamentally, but as individuals, as people, we’re constantly losing our balance. And we need to be aware of that.
Stephan: And humbled by that.
Rick: It’s kind of like riding a bicycle or skiing or anything. You could fall at any time. You get really good at it after a while. It becomes second nature, but you still have to be, you know, attentive to what you’re doing. Or you could crash.
Stephan: Yeah, no, I would agree.
Rick: Okay, so we’ve touched on what integrity is. Perhaps if you want, you can elaborate it even more.
Stephan: Yeah, let me say a little more about it. Well, the word integrity, I really love that word because it comes from the word integer, right? It kind of means one. And so to me, integrity means you’re acting in alignment as one with the truth of your being. Similar to what you were saying. If you’re awake, if you know who you really are, and you’re acting in alignment with that, you’re acting in integrity. Or you could say you’re acting in alignment with truth at every level. See, if we’re devoted to truth, we need to be devoted to truth at every level, not just absolute truth, but relative truth. We tell the truth. We don’t lie, you know. We act in truthful ways. We act in integrity. So if we can understand very simply that integrity means acting in alignment, you know, we know who we are and our words and our deeds, our actions are aligned in that way. I think that’s, I think we know what that is if we check in.
Rick: Walking your talk.
Stephan: walking your talk
Rick: and there’s a great phrase from somewhere, Upanishads or someplace, it says, “Speak the truth, but speak the truth that is sweet.” You know, I mean, I remember there was a line from Winston Churchill. He came up to a woman at a party and said, “Madam, you’re the ugliest woman I’ve ever seen.” And she said, “Mr. Churchill, you’re drunk.” And he said, “Yes, but I am. But in the morning I’ll be sober. Yet you’ll still be the ugliest woman I’ve ever seen.” So, you know, that’s not sweet truth.
Stephan: That’s not sweet truth.
Rick: No, and obviously we can, it’s sort of a crude example, but you can think of people…
Stephan: Well, it’s not really the truth at all. You know, saying what other people are is not telling the truth.
Stephan: Saying what’s true for us, you know, is really the truth.
Rick: But it is an example because sometimes people become confrontational and downright rude in their attempt to be truthful, you know, and that happens.
Stephan: Right, right.
Rick: Okay, so now let’s touch upon… We talked about why, how enlightenment and integrity go together, and we’ve given some examples of teachers who presumably had some attainment and yet were not acting in integrity. Let’s talk about why the integrity is important in the teacher-student relationship, both for the teacher and the student. And you outlined different kinds of teachers. We can get into that, but maybe we just cover that main point first.
Stephan: Well, when I was studying Zen, one of the teachers in that lineage was Robert Aiken, Aiken Roshi, and he wrote a lovely book actually called “The Mind of Clover,” which is about the Zen precepts, understanding the Zen precepts. And one of the things he says, which I, you know, continues to reverberate for me, is that the teacher represents a whole world of meaning to his or her students, so that when a teacher acts out of integrity, they’re not only betraying the student as a person, they’re betraying and undermining the student’s relationship to that view of reality, to that path, which can be something that they’ve devoted their life to. And I saw that happen with Mayuzumi Roshi. I’ve seen it with other teachers, where when the teacher acts out of integrity, people’s faith in the Dharma, in the truth of awakening, of suffering, the cause of suffering, and the path of practice as a means to freedom, all of this gets undermined. So a teacher has an enormous responsibility to students, you know, in that regard.
Rick: Yeah, and that’s huge. I mean, I know of examples of not only people losing interest in spirituality because of the behavior of some teacher, but actually a few examples of suicide, because people just became so disillusioned and discouraged about life in general, because their trust had been violated so deeply.
Stephan: Absolutely. It cuts to the very heart of the matter. We feel so deeply about our spiritual teachers, our spiritual teachings that, you know, that mean so much to us, and when that’s been undermined, then it can be devastating, you know, at many levels.
Stephan: So yes, I agree.
Rick: Which brings up another interesting point, which is that, you know, a lot of times these days people are eager to become spiritual teachers. Somebody, I remember here, somebody told me they once overheard someone in an Adyashanti retreat saying, “You know, I can’t wait to get awakened so I can quit my job and become a spiritual teacher.” But, you know, I’ve heard that in the Zen tradition it’s recommended that after awakening you wait a decade before undertaking teaching activities, and perhaps other traditions have similar things. I know in the Diamond approach, for instance, you know, Hamid Ali is not, you know, A.H. Almas is not in a big rush to qualify people as teachers. You have to go through all sorts of rigorous training and qualification and all. So what about that? I mean, there are a number of examples these days of people just jumping in.
Stephan: I think that’s true. I mean, there’s a famous Zen master, who was it? I think it was Oumong Zen master, who studied with his teacher for 40 years and finally, you know, achieved complete enlightenment. And then his teacher died. He spent two years at his grave, and then at the age of 60 he wandered around testing his understanding for another 20 years, visiting other teachers, until he finally settled down at 80 to teach for another 40 years to the age of 120. Now, probably a legend, but still put forth as exemplary behavior, right? So yeah, I would say to refine and deepen and clarify our understanding is very important, and also to deal with potential shadow issues, just as I did. I’m not saying, you know, what I did was exemplary. I had no idea what I was doing. I was stumbling along, but I think it was a good idea, what I did, to leave and go into therapy and study Western psychology, because I felt like the shadow needed to be dealt with. You know, I went to Robert Lyman’s retreats, and I, you know, studied Jungian psychology, because I felt like the shadow needed to be attended to. So the issue of the shadow is a really big one, you know. I think it can be easily missed. Spiritual bypassing, of course, is a very favorite expression these days, but I think there’s a lot to it.
Rick: Yeah. You know, this Association for Spiritual Integrity that I helped found, I think you’re a member of it.
Stephan: I am, indeed.
Rick: And I’m thinking of Miranda McPherson, whom you probably know, who’s on our advisory board and was on our board of directors for a while. In any case, she’s been a spiritual teacher since her 20s, and you know, decades. And even now, she, you know, systematically goes on retreats with other teachers, has periodic therapy, and there’s nothing wrong with her. I mean, she’s clear and brilliant, but she just wants to make sure that, you know, everything is spotless, and that there aren’t any sort of hidden nooks and crannies that she’s unaware of. And she, you know, it helps her take her role as teacher very, very seriously.
Stephan: That’s beautiful. And I do the same. I go back into therapy from time to time. I’ve actually done Almas’s Ridgewood One School Diamond approach. I found that very helpful. You know, I belong to, have been a part of, a group of colleagues, fellow teachers, some of them, some of them not, but that’s been meeting regularly for 25 years, discussing the issues that come up for us, sharing our experiences. And I feel that’s, and I have a number of close friends who are also teachers. So this to me is really very important, a feedback system that most teachers don’t have. So yes, all of the above, taking time, clarifying understanding, working with the shadow, having a peer group to check in with, going into therapy, all of those things.
Rick: Yeah, and I’m glad you bring that up because, I mean, you know, that guy who didn’t start teaching until he was 80 and then taught until he was 120 or something, theoretically, if everybody did that, we wouldn’t have any spiritual teachers. So that’s an extreme example. And I think the times are such that we need spiritual teachers. If I didn’t feel that, I wouldn’t be doing this show and interviewing people who I’m not presuming are at the pinnacle of possible spiritual development, but who are serving a valuable role as long as they kind of keep their act together and act with integrity. And I’ve had to take down about 30 interviews of people who were not acting with integrity out of 600.
Stephan: Wow, that’s quite a bit, that’s 5%.
Rick: Wow, you’re good at math. In any case, so the times, who was it, Thich Nhat Hanh said the next Buddha may be the Sangha, and it does seem that given the age of the Internet and just the way the world works these days, it’s good that we have this sort of, you know, proliferation of spirituality and spiritual teachers. But I think that the kinds of things we’re discussing here might be important safeguards so that, you know, people can behave responsibly and can continue on their own journey without the spiritual teachership going to their heads and tripping them up, you know, what to say of the effect they might have on their students.
Stephan: Right, exactly.
Stephan: I think we do have a proliferation of teachers. I think people idealize the role of spiritual teacher. You know, it’s, I mean, I love it. It’s what I love to do in this lifetime. I feel very blessed to have the opportunity. But I think people become spiritual teachers for a variety of reasons. Sometimes they’re chosen by their teacher to be the successor. Sometimes they’re born into it, like Krishnamurti was, well, Krishnamurti was chosen, but others, you know, tulkas in the Tibetan tradition are born into it. And, but others pursue it for questionable reasons, perhaps. You know, I write in this piece, I think you read on narcissism in spiritual teachers. Narcissists are drawn to being spiritual teachers because you’re in front of the room, people give you special deference, they think very highly of you, they think you’re special, right? And students are drawn to charismatic, possibly narcissistic teachers because they can bask in the glow and feel special as well. So there can be this kind of back and forth, a shared narcissism, and this is a potential pitfall, you know, something to be aware of.
Rick: Yeah, I think perhaps narcissism can be latent in a person and then it gets enlivened by the adulation and attention they receive once they start teaching.
Stephan: That’s right.
Rick: You know, it’s like their little guru trip goes to their heads, so to speak.
Stephan: Absolutely, they buy their own PR.
Rick: Yeah, and pride goeth before a fall. Before we get too much farther, I want to read a question here that came in from Jamie in Canada, which I think relates kind of to what we’re saying. There seems to be a new revolution of satsang teachers, and he mentions Adyashanti, Francis Lucille, that have made traditional Advaita Vedanta much more digestible in what is now called the direct path. However, do you think there is value in going back and studying traditional Advaita, Upanishads, Shankara’s works, which is more systematic?
Stephan: By all means. If you feel drawn, why not?
Rick: Yeah, well, the reason I thought that was relevant to our discussion so far also is that when I hear direct path, I sometimes get the impression that people might interpret it as meaning that, boom, you can get directly enlightened and you’re done. And I think for most people, the path may be direct and progressive. Like you mentioned, you had this years of progressive striving, and then you had a direct realization, and then you have continued to progress since then. So I think one can sort of dip into ultimate reality directly and even at the very beginning of one’s practice, but then there’s also going to continually be a progression. And I think the value of the traditional thing, which Jaime mentions, is that these traditions, as you have mentioned, do emphasize the importance of all kinds of tools and ethical guidelines in order to enable you to progress safely over the long term.
Stephan: Absolutely. I think they have built-in guidelines. I remember interviewing S. N. Goenka for the Yoga Journal, and he talked about the three aspects of the path according to Theravada Buddhism, which are shila, jhāna, and prajñā. So shila is ethics, number one. And what he said was, you really can’t meditate unless you’re acting ethically, because your mind is going to be in too much turmoil to be able to sit quietly and have the mind settle, which I thought was really interesting. Shila is the ground of the path. So the traditional paths incorporate all these elements, and I think that’s beautiful.
Rick: And they’re not just old moralistic fuddy-duddies. I mean, they actually did this for a good reason, which was time-tested.
Stephan: Time-tested and evolved over centuries into what it finally became. And yeah, absolutely. And in terms of the direct path, the difference really, there are several differences. It’s really an important, these are important distinctions that I really emphasize when I teach. The direct path is, the main difference is in the view. In other words, you can, like Jean Klein used to say, you can use progressive path practices in the direct approach, you know. The main thing is the view you have. If you have a view that I’m practicing in order to get somewhere that I’m not, in order to improve myself and become a better human being, in order to cultivate qualities that finally get me to a point where I can, etc., etc., that’s the progressive path. The direct approach is, you’re doing practices in order to discover what’s always already been the case, but which is obscured from view. You can still use the very same practices, you know, you see. And, but the understanding is that it’s not somewhere out there. And in fact, it’s not about this one becoming more enlightened, it’s about discovering your inherent wakefulness, yeah. And what I found in the direct path approach is that after awakening is when the practice really, when practice really becomes important. Because once you awaken, then it’s like, okay, now how to stabilize this, how to deepen this, how to clarify this, how to live this, how to embody this. So in a certain way, waking up is really just the beginning of the path from the direct approach, in the direct approach.
Rick: Yeah. I know in my own experience, after a very tumultuous childhood and teenage life, when I finally learned to meditate, my very first sitting was deep and profound, and you know, I felt like I just dove right into the self, you know, capital S. And I remember walking down Fifth Avenue afterwards in a rainstorm, just feeling like I’d been delivered. All these people are standing under awnings, staring at me. But you know, and most of my meditation experiences since then have been somewhat along those lines, although the first one is quite contrasting. But still, you know, continual refinement and progression, which I expect will happen to the day I die. So if I understand this correctly, I think my own experience has been both direct and progressive, and it’s worked well.
Stephan: Absolutely. Yes, and again, like you said, it’s a lifelong process. I think it’s awakening. It’s not, it’s, the process of awakening goes throughout a lifetime. I’m still waking up to different dimensions of reality that I hadn’t even seen so clearly before. So I feel incredibly grateful to be on this journey, but I never could possibly ever say that it’s done.
Rick: Right. Yeah, I don’t want to speculate too much, but I sometimes wonder whether it’s ever done for anybody, you know, even if, you know, Ramana Maharshi, wherever he is now, is somehow, you know, moving along. In fact, Saint Teresa of Avila said, “It appears that God himself is on the journey.” Before we leave Jamie’s question, he had one final one, and forgive me, Jamie, if you are a woman, but I just assume not sure. She just, he or she wants to know, “What is your all-time favorite non-duality book?”
Stephan: I can’t really put my finger on one. One which is not very well known and which comes from a very absolute perspective is Perfect Brilliant Stillness by David Carse. You know, I think that’s the clearest articulation of the absolute view. And someone who’s vehemently refused to be a teacher
Rick: i know
Stephan: so I bow to him.
Rick: He refused to be interviewed. I think I invited him early on after I started that.
Stephan: Yeah, I’m sure you did. And the book in fact is unobtainable now, so recommending that book is probably a waste of time because you can’t get it.
Rick: Yeah, you might find a used copy on Amazon or something. I might as well ask another question here since we’re in a little bit of a question hiatus, and then we’ll get back to our outline. But this is from Barbara in Poland. She says, “After my awakening, I found a teacher and attended regular satsangs with Francis Lucille and yoga with Billy Doyle. I am curious about relationships. After an awakening, sexual energy has been transformed into spiritual seeking. Now, two years later, I have found there is a need to be in a relationship again. I’m curious whether this desire comes from separate self.”
Stephan: I would say only you can know that. I don’t think per se the movement to be in relationship necessarily comes from a sense of being a separate self. Are you looking for something outside yourself to complete yourself? Then that would be a red flag. Are you looking for companionship on the path and someone to share the beauty of life with and the love that you are with? That’s a different story. So I would say check out your deeper motives.
Rick: Nice answer. Okay, so moving along. Perhaps there’s a bit more we can say about the role of the teacher on the spiritual path. You outline different kinds of teachers like pundit, mentor, friend, master, guru. And also how the role of teachers varies somewhat among different traditions, Zen, Buddhism, Vipassana, Kashmir Shaivism, Vedanta. And I guess the key question is, do we still need teachers? Sometimes people say, “We don’t. Be your own guru. You don’t need a teacher.” So what do you think about all that?
Stephan: Sure, sure. The relationship with a true guru ultimately is inside you. Only you can realize the truth for yourself. Only you can know what’s best for you on the path. But at the same time, a relationship with the teacher can ignite the fire of truth in you, can catalyze your own awakening, and can help guide you on the path. So is it necessary? I’ve met a number of people, again, who woke up without a teacher. But they came to find a teacher when they had difficulty integrating and living from their awakening subsequently. So and there are even people like Ramana Maharshi, for example, who never had a teacher except Shiva, of course, Arunachala, and managed quite well on his own. But those are the rare exceptions.
Rick: Yeah, Amma is another example. Never really had a teacher. It’s rare.
Stephan: Yeah, it’s rare. I would say it’s rare.
Rick: It’s like anything. I mean, you know, I don’t know if there are any world class physicists who didn’t study in a university under, you know, expert physicists. It’s theoretically possible to get all the books and just do it, but you’re making it more difficult for yourself, probably, if you try to do that.
Stephan: Yeah, yeah. So just keep your eyes open and check out a teacher thoroughly before you start studying with him or her, and that will hold you in a good stead.
Rick: Now wasn’t that the Dalai Lama who said spend a couple years kind of checking out a teacher before you make a commitment?
Stephan: That’s right. He did, yeah.
Rick: And then on the flip side of that, you know, you left the teacher because you felt like something was wrong, and there might be a lot of people who are in relationships with teachers who kind of feel on some level like something is wrong, but they just don’t cut the cord. And, you know, that can go incrementally way down the rabbit hole, you know, to have a thing like Jonestown or something, to take an extreme example. So, you know, perhaps we could consider that, you know, not only checking out a potential teacher, but how to recognize the red flags and, you know, and take off, I mean, leave if things seem to be going wrong.
Stephan: Exactly. I think that’s a major issue. I think once you’re involved with a teacher, it’s very hard to see their shortcomings and to see the danger signs, the red flags. I mean, a classic example, I think it’s okay to name names since this is now very well known, is Sogyal Rinpoche, a Tibetan teacher, who, you know, I knew about Sogyal’s transgressions 25 years ago, both as editor of Yoga Journal. I had studied with Sogyal Rinpoche for several years, went to his retreats. This is at a time when he was not so well known, and I began to notice things that troubled me. First, his anger towards students seemed inappropriate, and the way he treated women, interestingly enough. And I actually wrote him a letter about it, expressing my concerns, and never got an answer back. And at that point, I stopped after two years of studying with him. Then subsequently, it came out, you know, in the it came out that he’d, well, been sexually abusing women. That was in the years, he was finally outed fully. It took that long, and his behavior was, you know, perhaps the most outrageous of any that I’ve ever read about. There’s even a book called Sex and Violence in Tibetan Buddhism about Sogyal Rinpoche. And it took that long for the students who had studied with him so devotedly for so long to be willing to say anything negative in public about the teacher. There was so much reluctance to do it, so much hesitancy, so much fear. And there are various reasons for that.
Rick: Do you think that’s… Do you think that’s because they had so much invested in him, and they would have to admit that they had wasted a decade or whatever?
Stephan: Yeah, I think that’s a big part of it. And I think, as you said, down the rabbit hole, I think what happens is little by little, you know, it’s like the classic story of the frog in water, and you turn up the temperature. The temperature got turned up gradually, gradually, gradually over time, and they were becoming accustomed to accepting more and more outrageous behavior in the name of enlightenment or the tradition. And there’s also, in the Tibetan tradition, there, you know, the samaya vows, the vows that one takes in relationship to a teacher considered sacrosanct. There’s the threat of going to some Vajra hell if you don’t… if you violate those vows. And people take that stuff seriously in Tibetan Buddhism, unfortunately. So there’s a lot of dogma associated with that.
Rick: Yeah, the point you just made reminds me of a contemporary phenomenon with, you know, QAnon and various conspiracy theories, which is that the mind is very impressionable, you know, and YouTube and Facebook know this. You may have seen that documentary, what is it called, the “The Social Dilemma,” where, you know, you put your attention on something and it sort of seeps in a little bit, and then they give you something a little stronger, and then that seeps in, and you don’t even realize that it’s seeping in, but your mind is kind of being colored by this information, and you become susceptible to more and more kind of improbable or outlandish ideas, and take them as real. And, you know, and human psychology is such, and you can tell us more being a psychologist or psychotherapist, that you can’t just turn that around and snap out of it. You almost have to come out of it as incrementally as you went into it. What do you think about that?
Stephan: I think that’s true, and, you know, it used to be called brainwashing. We don’t use that word so much anymore, but you remember those deprogrammers? You don’t hear much about that anymore either, but 20-30 years ago, there were people who were hired as deprogrammers to get young people out of cults, right? This is in the probably 70s and 80s.
Rick: That was abusive too. I mean, there were a lot of examples.
Stephan: That was abusive. That was abusive too, but that was an attempt to deprogram, to take them out of those belief systems. So, any belief system can become a kind of brainwashing. You know, we take a certain amount on faith from our teachers. You know, they’re pointing in a certain direction and saying, “Look, if you do this and this, this is what you’ll experience. Trust me, and you can keep going, and I’ll give you my word that eventually, if you do this and this, you’ll have certain experiences.” You know, most probably. I can’t guarantee it, but this is the direction to go, and we trust that. But on the other hand, we can be fed all kinds of outlandish beliefs in the name of so-called truth. That’s brainwashing. So, where does the one end and the other begin? Again, this is the word in all of this, in all that we’re talking about today, is discernment.
Stephan: That’s the word. We need to develop discernment, the ability to discern truth from falsehood, and to know our own heart and mind, and know what’s appropriate and right for us, to trust that. I had the good fortune of again, of trusting that. It was my Sumi Roshi, the Sogyal Rinpoche. You know, again, I can’t make any claims for myself. I had no choice. That’s what… I had to do it. You know, it’s just what… I was being told from inside, and I did it. So, we need to learn to listen or trust what we were already hearing.
Rick: You may remember Shankara’s book, “The Crest Jewel of Discrimination.” I think discrimination is somewhat synonymous with discernment. But I’ve come to feel that that quality is really critical on the spiritual path, and without it, one can get sucked off into all kinds of cul-de-sacs, you know, and diversions without even knowing it. It happens all the time.
Stephan: I agree. I agree.
Rick: Which is why I kind of like the juxtaposition of science and spirituality, because science brings certain qualities to the quest for knowledge, you know, such as the insistence upon empirical verification and falsification and all that, that spirituality could really use. And then spirituality, on the other hand, can bring some valuable tools to science, because it explores realms of reality that most scientists don’t even know exist.
Stephan: Absolutely. I totally agree. And, you know, the spiritual journey is a scientific one.
Rick: It is.
Stephan: This is about direct experience. I mean, it’s phenomenological in the sense that it’s our direct experience, you know, at that level. It’s not necessarily something that you can do experiments with, but it has to be something you know for yourself. Otherwise, it’s hearsay, theory.
Rick: Well, you can kind of do experiments in a way. I mean, let’s say that there’s a physics experiment where someone says, “Okay, we think there’s something called the Higgs boson,” and then a whole bunch of people get together and they build the Large Hadron Collider and they spend billions of dollars and tons of time, and they eventually find the Higgs boson. So, you know, well, in spirituality various teachers and scriptures say, you know, there are these and these and these possible attainments, and others have attained them. And for you, that’s hypothetical at a certain point, but then they say, “Okay, we’ll do this, this, this, and this, and over time you too will experience it.” You know, and so that’s kind of a scientific approach.
Stephan: Yeah, I agree.
Rick: Okay. What is Zen sickness?
Stephan: Well, Zen sickness is to hang out in the absolute and not give any credence to the relative.
Rick: Oh Okay.
Stephan: To be intoxicated by your own awakening as well and become inflated with your sense of the importance of what you’ve discovered. A kind of spiritual narcissism, you could say.
Rick: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, yeah. There’s a teacher recently that came to my attention who was sort of messing around with the ladies, and when it finally came to light, he was sort of like, “Well, I am just the witness, and God is the doer, and I have no, you know, authorship of my actions,” and that kind of stuff.
Stephan: Exactly. And that’s, again, mixing absolute and relative, you know. There’s no right and wrong, and right is right and wrong is wrong.
Rick: What do you mean by splitting the archetype?
Stephan: Splitting the archetype. See, in Jungian psychology, an archetype has two poles, you know. So as soon as there is an enlightened one, there’s an undarkened one, you see. As soon as you constellate the enlightened one, then you’re… This is according to Jungian psychology. I’m not necessarily saying that I agree with this point of view, but I think it’s a provocative one, and I think a helpful one. So as soon as you constellate the awakened, then there’s going to be the unawakened, you know, the enlightened, the undarkened. So when a teacher takes himself to be special, to be enlightened, and the student to be undarkened, then it’s impossible for the student ever to become the other pole. The teacher has claimed the one pole of the archetype, and the student is relegated to the other pole of the archetype, and can never overcome that polarization, that discrepancy. Interesting, isn’t it? And this is one of the things that I was drawn to. It was Jean Klein. Jean Klein said, “True transmission happens when a teacher who does not take themselves to be a teacher meets a student who does not take themselves to be a student. In that meeting, true transmission can happen.” See? So there’s no taking oneself to be awakened, no taking oneself to be undarkened. There’s simply a direct meeting, and in that moment there’s a potential for, you know, and transmission doesn’t mean anything moves from one place to another. It’s really more the recognition within another person of what has always been the case that we share. Yeah? So this is one of the things that drew me to Jean Klein. He said, “A teacher doesn’t have students.” As soon as someone takes themselves to be a teacher who has students, you know, “My students,” right? As soon as you have, as soon as I hear someone talking about “my students,” I mean, that may sound pretty benign, but I, my antennae go up, you know? You don’t have any students, you know? People come to you for guidance occasionally. That’s my experience. People come to me for guidance occasionally. Some people hang around for a while. Some people, you know, come and go. I don’t consider those “my students,” you know? They’re just people. We’re all hanging out together, you see? As soon as I claim them as “my students,” then the whole, that archetype’s constellated, see? Teacher-student archetype.
Rick: I’m kind of thinking of a university as as a comparison. I mean, if a university said, “Okay, none of you are ever going to graduate,” or, and you could never possibly become professors yourselves, because we are the professors.
Stephan: That’s right. It wouldn’t be a very popular university. So I should think a teacher would rejoice if a student has a profound spiritual awakening. I mean, I’ve even heard of examples, I can’t even think of one right now, where a student became the teacher’s teacher because he surpassed that teacher’s attainment. You remember anything like that?
Stephan: This happened regularly in Zen.
Rick: Okay, sure.
Stephan: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, I think that’s beautiful, and that shows a truly awakened person with the appropriate humility to recognize, again, without the Zen sickness, to recognize, “Yeah, this nice student seems to be clearer than I am.” You know, and in fact, it was the same Oumoun Zen Master. I hope it was Oumoun. My memory for the koans is not as good as it used to be, but when he went off on his journey after he attended his teacher’s grave at the age of 60, he said, “Even if it’s a seven-year-old girl, if she has something to teach me, I’ll study with her. And even if it’s an if I have something to teach him, I’ll teach him.” That was his attitude. Yeah. You know, the distinctions don’t matter. So it’s that attitude. Yeah. I learn from my students all the time, I must say. And hopefully any teacher, you know, every teacher does. Wow, I love the way this person says that. That’s beautiful. Or I really hadn’t understood that before. That’s amazing.
Rick: Yeah, that’s really good. And like you said, humility. And humility doesn’t mean belittling oneself or, you know, considering oneself inferior or anything. It just means, to my mind, it sort of means not being rigid and being open, you know, to the possibility of learning or of anything. Not insisting that things happen any particular way, just sort of flowing.
Stephan: I agree. I agree.
Rick: Well, let’s talk about sex. I’m going through the outline of a book you were thinking of writing. But you have a chapter called “Sex in the Forbidden Zone,” and since this is probably the biggest pitfall or reason for spiritual teachers falling, we probably ought to talk about it. You know, it’s funny, when Irene heard we were going to be having this kind of discussion, she says, “Oh, people are so sick of that topic.” And yeah, in a way I think probably you and I are sick of it also. But until this kind of stuff stops happening, I think it needs to continue to be looked at and not swept under a rug or some such thing. Yeah, anyway, let’s talk about that.
Stephan: Well, that article I sent you, so I wrote this article called “In the Shadow of the Dharma,” again the word “shadow,” that was assigned to me by Tricycle magazine back in 2006. I wrote the article to their specifications. They liked the article, they paid for the article, then they decided not to run it because, according to the editor, he felt that this had already been dealt with before. This was 2006, right? So now 15 years later, the same sort of stuff continues to happen within the Buddhist community, within other spiritual communities. It hasn’t stopped happening, right? So the article is available on my website, in the blog section if you want to read it. Long article, 6,000 word article, in which I talk particularly about this issue about sex and teachers, which I think is eternally relevant because it seems like sex is endlessly beguiling and seductive, right? And we’ll never stop being, right? You and I are old dudes and maybe we don’t feel the pull as much as we used to, but it’s amazing how strong it continues to be, right? So, you know, there are different levels of misguided behavior, we could say. So interesting distinctions have been made. There’s a wonderful guidebook called, what is this book, by a woman named Marie Fortin, who’s a United Church of Christ minister, who’s been very interested in this whole issue of transgressions by spiritual teachers, particularly a clergy. Yeah, a clergy. I’m looking for the name of the book, maybe I’ll find it, it’s probably down here. Yeah, here it is. It’s called “Nothing Sacred When Sex Invades the Pastoral Relationship.” And some of the distinctions she makes are between wanderers and predators. Yeah, so a wanderer, see, she’s talking about boundaries, right? There’s a boundary between a pastor, a minister, a spiritual teacher. I think those are different roles, of course, but they’re similar. And the student, right? The boundary is generally acknowledged that a teacher or a pastor doesn’t have sex with his or her parishioners or students.
Rick: Yeah, and unfortunately, we’re often talking about pedophilia here, because we’re talking about children that have been victimized
Stephan: by clergy.
Rick: Yeah, I mean, that’s been a huge, huge scandal in recent years. Remember that movie “Spotlight”? Did you see that?
Stephan: Yes, yes, I did. Let’s put that aside because I totally agree that that happens, but let’s put it aside because that’s a whole other issue. Pedophilia is really a mental illness, I mean, of a certain sort, and usually people who are pedophiles were abused, sexually abused, as children, but you know, that’s a whole other category. But let’s just say we’re talking about two adults, yeah, you know, whether same sex or different sex. So there are these acknowledged boundaries. We all acknowledge those boundaries. You know, we could all say just commonsensically, you just don’t do that, yeah? So on the one hand, Marie Fortune would say, are those who lose the sense of the boundaries. They lose their boundaries. Like a minister or a teacher who, in the relationship with the student, starts falling in love, starts being attracted, and feels that the the other person is responding to their overtures. They’re not being aggressive. They’re just expressing some interest or affection. The person seems to be responding. Of course, they may be completely misreading what’s happening, and men, of course, tend overwhelmingly to misread signals as being sexual, where a woman doesn’t mean them to be. There’s a lot of evidence for that. So the man takes them in that way. Usually it’s a man, and then the woman maybe acquiesces, and then back and forth until next thing you know, they’re in a sexual relationship, maybe even a romantic relationship. Okay? It wasn’t intentional. There was no intent on the part of either one. They just kind of fell into that, and sometimes it works out. Sometimes they end up getting married and live happily ever after. That does happen. So those are the wanders. The other hand, on the extreme end of the other extreme of the spectrum, would be the predators. Those who are intending to have sex with their students are looking for appropriate students to have sex with, vulnerable students to have sex with, are targeting them, or possibly even grooming them.
Rick: Sometimes they even have helpers who groom them, you know, kind of line them up.
Stephan: Like Richard Epstein, right?
Rick: Jeffrey Epstein
Stephan: Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell, or whatever her name was. So that sort of thing. Sure. So as you can see, these are different roles to play. They’re different approaches. The predators are obviously dangerous individuals. I would say Sogyal Rinpoche was obviously a predator. Marzumi Hiroshi was a predator as well, certainly when he was drunk. And several people, certainly one in particular, in his lineage, was a supreme predator, par excellence. And it would be, you know, I don’t need to mention his name, but it’s common knowledge. This is not something he’s been confronted on this numerous times and continued, has continued over the years to do the same thing over and over again. So these are people who tend to be narcissistic, sociopathic, psychopathic, and are not really empathic, are not aware of the suffering they’ve caused. And somehow these are people some had drawn to being spiritual teachers. They’re the exception for sure. I think more of them tend to be wanderers, but again, caught in the Zen sickness of, “I’m someone special. The rules don’t apply to me. Ethics are not appropriate for someone of my understanding. I have the right to transgress.” That kind of attitude. Yeah.
Rick: Yeah. Robin Williams once said that, “God gave man both a penis and a brain, but unfortunately not enough blood supply to run both at the same time.”
Stephan: Right. Or put them in two very different places.
Rick: And I think what happens though, in light of that joke, is that, you know, sex and sexual attraction can be very hypnotic. I mean, it kind of clouds one’s judgment, you know? And if you feel like you’re… you don’t realize you’re clouded. That’s the first thing that maya does, is delude you to the fact that you’re deluded. But then, like we were saying earlier about the incremental, you know, joining of a cult, you incrementally get more and more sort of occluded or deluded. And one thing leads to the next. And, you know, in many cases it
Stephan: I agree
Rick: becomes extreme. And it also is often associated with other foibles and misbehaviors, like you were saying, anger or drinking or other kinds of mistreatment of people.
Stephan: Exactly. There’s some interesting work done by this guy named David Buss at the University of Texas. Sam Harris recently interviewed him about what’s called evolutionary psychology and how our psychology, particularly male-female psychology, evolved to perpetuate the species, you know? And one of the ways this… he talks about what he calls the dark triad qualities, which will predispose one, like a man, for example, to act in abusive ways, given man’s already predilection towards sowing his seed as widely as possible. And this dark triad is narcissism, sociopathy, or psychopathy, and what he calls Machiavellianism, right? Which are more or less different facets of the same thing. He calls it the dark triad. So when those qualities are joined with the male tendency of men in general, it becomes abusive. You know, men in general aren’t abusive necessarily, but these other qualities can cause them to become abusive, and I think it’s well researched.
Rick: Yeah, it’s funny you mentioned that point of like sowing one seed widely. There was a spiritual teacher whose interview I took down years ago, but not about last summer. I heard a YouTube video he did. He was obviously somewhat inebriated, but he was going on about how adultery is perfectly fine, especially for men, because it’s hereditarily sort of appropriate or wired into us, and that anybody who disagrees with this and has some kind of moral objection to it is an ignorant monkey, to use his phrase. And he was obviously, he was living out this principle in his own life, and abusing literally hundreds of women.
Stephan: There you go.
Rick: And yet people still come around and be his students.
Stephan: And remember, we say abuse. We don’t just mean abusing the body. We mean abusing the soul, abusing the being at every level, especially when you’re doing it in the spiritual dimension.
Rick: Abusing their trust, abusing, I mean, to me, the kind of the ardent search for God or realization is such a rare and precious thing, you know, when it finally dawns in the course of a person’s spiritual evolution, it’s such an important milestone, you know. And initially it’s like a little tender sprout, you know, that has to be treated with the utmost care. Maybe once you’ve been on the path for 40 years, you know, you can weather all kinds of storms and not be crushed. But you get the point I’m getting out here. It’s just…
Stephan: I totally agree. I totally agree. Yeah.
Rick: It’s interesting, when we were trying to formulate the code of ethics for the Association for Spiritual Integrity, it took a long time on this whole sex and relationship issue. Some people felt like a spiritual teacher and a student should never form a relationship, you know, and I was kind of arguing in favor of, well, yeah, but maybe they really are meant… or would be really good together, and they just happened to meet because of the, you know, the teacher is well known, the student shows up, and maybe there are certain guidelines that could be adhered to to prevent capricious and abrupt, you know, situations, but that eventually could result in them being able to have the relationship that they would both benefit from. And I think Spirit Rock had some good guidelines on that that we eventually… that kind of helped us.
Stephan: Yeah, they had excellent guidelines. In the psychotherapy profession, certainly in California where I’m licensed, you know, the rule basically is if there is an attraction, it of course cannot be acted on, and if they want to at some point act on it, they would have to wait two years before acting on it.
Rick: That’s psychotherapy, right? You’re saying, not Spirit Rock?
Rick: Yeah, it’s good you mentioned that because obviously in a profession like that or, you know, probably other areas of, you know, physical medicine and so on, there are organizations which regulate these things and with these professions and which have guidelines like that, and you could actually lose your license for violating them.
Stephan: Oh yeah, absolutely, absolutely. And the thing of course is about the relationship between a therapist and a client, just like a teacher and a student, is that well, there are many dimensions to it, but a client shows their vulnerability and reveals aspects of themselves in absolute trust that the other person will not misuse them or use them for their own personal gain, right? And then when a therapist turns around and then takes this vulnerability and abuses it, takes advantage of it for their own personal gain, that’s again a very deep betrayal, which is why you have to wait for several years. And I mean, the basic guideline is if you need to do it, wait several years, but we don’t advise doing it at all.
Rick: Yeah, but several years might seem like a long time, but it seems to me that if the relationship is really sincere and genuine and deep, one would do that, you know? I mean, my wife and I met married, and we were always thinking, “Okay, I wanted to be a monk,” but I was always saying, “Well, if I decide not to be a monk, I would like to be with you.” But, you know, we kind of stuck to our guns for 11 years. She actually pretty much waited for me, and she was also on a similar program, but we weren’t in a big rush because we had something that we felt we needed to do that was kind of a higher calling, and at least at the time I thought it was a higher calling, but something that was important that had spiritual significance to us.
Stephan: Right, right. Yeah, exactly. You have two people really are drawn in that way, and it’s amazing. I can’t tell you. I know probably three or four people, you know, in my own circle, a big circle of therapists who have slept with their students and their clients or clients who slept with their therapists. I mean, it’s amazing how often it happens.
Rick: And it didn’t turn out well, you mean?
Stephan: No, it never turns out well. No, it never turns out well. I can say pretty much with utmost confidence that, you know, it almost never, maybe I shouldn’t say never, but almost never turns out well.
Rick: Yeah, now I think in the case of Adyashanti and Mukti, was she a student of his first before they formed a relationship?
Stephan: No. No, no. They were, you know, just boyfriend/girlfriend. It started, yeah, but she came from a very spiritual household, you know, her parents were SRF. She was raised in SRF. She was actually Irish Catholic family, but her parents discovered SRF when she was a certain age.
Rick: Yogananda. Yeah,
Stephan: Yogananda. Yeah, so she was groomed in that, and so, you know, very obviously attuned to what Adya was teaching and stuff.
Rick: Yeah, I think I remember her saying that some friend said, “Hey, you should meet this Stephen Gray guy because he’s the only other person I know that meditates like you do.”
Stephan: So there you go. It was kind of like that. Yeah, it was kind of like that.
Rick: Okay, is there anything else we want to say on this topic?
Stephan: No, I think, as you said, it’s been written about quite a bit. There was, you know, there’s some good books about it. “Sex in the Forbidden Zone,” although that’s also not available any longer. That was Peter Rudder’s book, and then “Power in the Helping Professions,” the Jungian book by Adolf Guggenbuehl-Craig, which is also very good. So these are good books.
Rick: Okay, if any questions have come in about this as we’re speaking, well, I’ll bring them up in a bit because Irene’s in the other room and she’ll be forwarding them to me. We’ll move on to a new topic now, but we’ll come back to this if any questions have come up. So, you know, crazy wisdom. You know Timothy Conway? I think you know Timothy.
Stephan: I do, yeah, beautiful guy.
Rick: He sent me an interesting little clip on crazy wisdom. He said, “It may be argued by some ill-behaving teachers that the abusive-looking behavior they enact towards students is part of the venerable crazy wisdom tradition, going back to illustrious spiritual adepts. Rigorous historical scholarship has shown this to have been a literary invention by later writers 100 to supposed early crazy wisdom adepts lived. In China, stories of crazy wisdom behaviors were invented and elaborated as a literary device to make certain Tang dynasty Chan teachers look more interesting and authoritative. After the literary invention of the crazy wisdom trope, later generations witnessed numerous spiritual teachers behaving abusively, shouting at students, kicking, beating, humiliating them, otherwise, quote, “testing them” in extreme ways. Today we know that such bad boy behaviors imitating the literary trope were scathingly critiqued by numerous esteemed spiritual masters as an unfortunate, inauthentic development, an aberrant style of spiritual instruction.”
Stephan: Interesting perspective. Timothy is very careful, I think, in his scholarship, so he may very well be right. There are, of course, though, in the Tibetan tradition, venerated examples of crazy wisdom teachers.
Rick: Like Milarepa and that thing.
Stephan: Marpa and Milarepa, Drukpa Kunli, the famous, you know, drunken sexual saint of the 1400s, I believe, who was known for hanging out with prostitutes and drinking and enlightening women with his sexual behavior. You know, he’s revered in the Tibetan tradition and actually existed. And then there’s Ikkyu Zen Master in Japan, very similar, hung out with prostitutes, although he had a close girlfriend, a partner, toward the end of his life for like 30 years. But in his early life, both of whom were trying to show that sex is not profane, that sex can be included on the spiritual path, that you don’t have to be a renunciate monk. But I think, you know, whether Timothy is accurate or not, certainly there have always been teachers who are provocative with their students and use provocative behavior to try to awaken their students. And I think that has a place. But the primary mark of true crazy wisdom, as opposed to abusive behavior, is that the sole intention and motive behind it is the benefit of the student. As long as there’s any benefit coming to the teacher, this is not crazy wisdom. So any so-called crazy wisdom where, you know, a teacher is acting abusively toward a student, if it’s perceived as abusive by the student, then this is not crazy wisdom behavior. And also another mark of true crazy wisdom behavior, and again Trungpa Rinpoche, and, you know, we won’t talk about Trungpa Rinpoche because I had a pretty close relationship with Trungpa Rinpoche, so I’m one of those people who has a more provocative view of him. It’s too complicated, but let’s just say that Trungpa Rinpoche is from a lineage of crazy wisdom teachers that goes back generations of incarnations, right, which is acknowledged within the tradition. So again, was his behavior justified? Was it true crazy wisdom? Was he an alcoholic? Certainly he was an alcoholic. There’s no question about that.
Rick: He died of it in his 40s.
Stephan: He died of it in his 40s, so he pickeled his liver, you know, and I watched him drink, you know, vodka as if it was water, you know, so, or sake as well as if it was water. I poured his sake. So, you know,
Rick: yeah, I believe it.
Stephan: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So, you know, I was there. I saw it. On the other hand, was he a compassionate being? One of the most compassionate people I think I ever came into contact with. But was his behavior true crazy wisdom? I can’t really say, but another mark of true crazy wisdom is that if a person is caught doing it, let’s say you’re doing something illegal, something, and someone arrests you for doing it, you know, an example of crazy wisdom, you don’t protest and say this is crazy wisdom. You go and you succumb to the punishment involved. You know, you take the punishment, you see. You don’t profess to be a crazy wisdom teacher. You know, you take the karma involved, right? And most so-called crazy wisdom teachers will say, “No, who? What? I wasn’t doing anything.”
Rick: Probably not too many judges who would accept that in a court of law.
Stephan: No, I don’t think so. In other words, we accept the rules of of contemporary, of conventional society, you know, even though we’re acting in unconventional ways.
Rick: And even if these unconventional ways are not illegal, you know, I mean, they’re not necessarily ethical or right. And the danger, I think, of crazy wisdom is it can become an alibi that anybody can use to do anything. And that’s what you hear most often, is, “Oh, I’m just a crazy wisdom teacher.” You know, it’s just, it’s a free pass to just act like a jerk.
Stephan: I agree. I agree. I don’t think there are any legitimate crazy wisdom teachers, you know, currently operating. I mean, maybe there are, but you know, I’m not sure how we would know whether they were legitimate or not. You know, I think what Timothy says is by and large true. It’s trumped up. The whole notion of crazy wisdom has been magnified out of all proportion to what actually did occur.
Rick: Yeah, it makes for entertaining stories.
Stephan: That’s right, I would say. That’s what I agree. But, you know, you still have those crazy sadhus who come out and start, you know, hitting their students and then suddenly they’re, you know, galvanized by it. And so it seems to happen sometimes.
Rick: Yeah. Right.
Stephan: I guess Marpa was like that, right?
Rick: I’ve been around, yeah, sure, with Milarepa. Who was the teacher of Milarepa. Kept tearing down that house and rebuilding it and stuff.
Stephan: That’s right. That’s right.
Rick: I mean, I’ve been with a couple of teachers who were, who could, you know, be as conventional as they needed to be, you know, meeting at the UN or, you know, with a president or something like that, but who could also act very, not, not, I’m trying to find the right word, who would really blow your mind by their ability to sort of think outside the box and shift gears abruptly. You know, like, I’ll just tell you a story. I was with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi for a long time, and one time there were several plane loads of teachers over the Atlantic, people coming to Europe to be on courses, and they were still negotiating with the hotels about, you know, where people were going to stay, and he was kind of, you know, through intermediaries, you know, negotiating the prices of hotels, and it still wasn’t, and someone said, “Maharishi, these people are going to land pretty soon. Where are we going to put them?” He said, “Well, just put them on buses and tell them to start driving south, and we’ll let them know about, we’ll let them know about the hotels.” And, and so that, meanwhile, there was a lull in that conversation, and it was like maybe one in the morning, and he said, “Let’s start a university.” So the rest of the night was spent planning a new university, Maharishi European Research University, designing posters and all this stuff, you know, and so there was this kind of like, “What?” It’s like, and he was often like that, and I’ve been with Amma a lot, and she’s often like that, but it’s it’s not abusive, it’s more like so unconventionally outside the box that it kind of really makes you flexible, you know?
Stephan: That’s right, yeah, yeah, that’s beautiful.
Rick: Yeah, okay, so, um, that’s enough for crazy wisdom, unless you want to say more about it?
Stephan: No, no, I think that’s, I think that’s fine. Yeah, by and large, yeah, as we said earlier, I think ethics has an appropriate place.
Stephan: No right or wrong, right is right, wrong is wrong.
Rick: Keep repeating that mantra, yeah.
Stephan: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Rick: Do we want to say anything more about narcissism? You have a chapter titled called “The Special Problem of Narcissism and Sociopathy.”
Stephan: Right, well, as I say, you know, narcissism, as David Buss also mentions, you know, those qualities of narcissism, the exaggerated self sense of self importance, right? So this is the four E’s, it’s sometimes called, right? Exaggerated self sense of self-importance. So I, I, at the Zen Center, with my
Rick: Here’s your E’s, by the way, exaggeration, empathy, entitlement, and exploitation, since you mentioned the four E’s.
Stephan: Exaggerated sense of self-importance, a lack of empathy, a sense of entitlement. Again, these are qualities you can see being, you know, acclaimed by spiritual teachers, and then exploitation, right? So when I was with my Zumi Roshi and some of his disciples, I saw what I would consider to be narcissistic behavior. In fact, when I left, I mean, now narcissism has become a topic of great interest over the last these teleconferences on narcissism, which I attended, very interesting. But even back then, 40 years ago, I was still thinking, “God, there’s something really narcissistic.” In fact, I remember talking to Roshi after I’d left, and I came back to visit with him. I did that a couple of times after I left the Zen Center. I came back and we hung out together, which is interesting because I got to see him out of his role as teacher. We were just hanging out. I wasn’t a student anymore, and I just watched him, and he was really upset that the Dalai Lama was getting so much attention because he thought, “Who’s the Dalai Lama?” You know, he said, “What we’re doing is so much more important,” and I thought, “Where’s this guy coming from?” I mean, and he was telling me we would talk, and he never asked me how I was doing. I’d spend two hours with him. He never asked me about my life. He was always talking about the next thing that the Zen Center was going to be doing, and the next project, the next glorious.
Rick: It was all about him,
Stephan: and I thought, “There’s something. He’s not teaching me anymore. This is not in the guise of teaching that I’m not important. There’s something off about this.” I started realizing, “This is narcissism,” and then it was happening to his students who were also narcissists. There’s something, this strange fit between narcissists and spiritual teachers. I don’t know what it is, but they already think they’re special, and so it’s very easy for them to think that they’re special enough to become a spiritual teacher. “Yeah, I’m special. I’m enlightened. That’s how special I am.” There’s some weird fit there, you see, and they’re drawn to being spiritual teachers. You talked about everyone wanting to become a spiritual teacher. First of all, to understand, we’re all narcissistic. As long as there’s an ego, we’re narcissistic. We think we’re the center of the universe. That’s narcissism. Everyone with an ego is narcissistic. It’s just a question of degree. How narcissistic are we?
Rick: There’s that old joke, “Me, me, me, me. Okay, enough about me. What do you think about me?” But actually, I bet you everyone listening to this can relate to this in a way, because think about how many times you’re having a conversation with somebody, and you’re listening, and you’re asking them questions, and they’re telling you things, and then you try to balance out the conversation a little bit and say some things from your side, and they space out. They lose attention. They say, “Okay, I gotta go.” There’s so many people like that that you have these one-sided conversations with.
Stephan: Right. Exactly.
Rick: I think maybe it’s common.
Stephan: Yeah, whereas if you’re really open and awake, again, you’re just as interested in what the other person has to say as what you have to say. I mean, there’s no prioritizing what you have to say. It’s just like a story anyway. I like your story better. It’s more interesting. I’ve heard my story plenty of times.
Rick: Yeah, you have an opportunity to learn something new.
Stephan: Right, right, right. But, you know, so again, we are all narcissistic, and so it is a matter of degree, but I think there’s an unusually strong fit between some of these qualities. So when you get a narcissist who becomes a spiritual teacher, they can do these things to their students and not feel empathy. In fact, even oneness can be used, can disguise empathy. You know, “We’re all one, so what I do to you doesn’t really matter because, you know, you’re just me.” Where does oneness begin, end, and solipsism begin?
Rick: I think if a person’s saying something like that, they’re not experiencing the kind of oneness that we would really aspire to.
Stephan: Of course.
Rick: They’re not in the “I and my father are one” category.
Stephan: No, of course, it’s a misunderstanding. Of course.
Rick: A lot of times, these things, you see people using an intellectual concept of a thing and mistaking it for the actual experience of oneness or whatever, and then the behavior comes out in the kind of warped way you describe, because it’s not genuine.
Stephan: Right, absolutely.
Rick: Okay, you have a topic here. Once you awaken, do you bypass or embody? What do you mean by that? Let’s dwell on that for a bit.
Stephan: Well, you know, you’ve awakened to the truth of your being. You know that you’re not this separate self that you’ve taken yourself to be with all the the story and the history and the beliefs and the the hang-ups and all of that. You know that you are again boundless awareness, consciousness itself. That has been recognized. So, do you hang out there and avoid the human realm, bypass the issues that are presented in being a human in the world? Again, the Zen sickness. Do you hang out in the monastery or on your cushion? And we’ve met people like that. We all have met, you know, who me? I don’t get angry, you know. I’m not, you know, it never affects me. And relationships are to be avoided because they stir up unresolved issues. Yeah, that’s one way to deal with it. You hang out in that more ethereal realm in the absolute. Or do we venture which takes more courage and a willingness to be humbled again, again, and again, and again into the realm of human relationship? You know, have a partner, have close friends, and learn from those experiences. Yeah, that’s embodiment. Living it moment after moment so that it descends into, you know, Adya is fond of talking about the different chakras. It goes into the heart chakra, into the root chakra. Root chakra is basically about trust, basic trust in the world. Heart chakra is about love and connectedness. Do we allow it to embody in those ways? Or do we just hang out in a disembodied awakeness and bypass? Do you think that we have a choice?
Rick: Yeah, on the point of choice, do you think that the evolutionary power of life being what it is, a person would be allowed to hang out indefinitely in that state? Or do you think that eventually something is going to kick them out of it? Some external event is going to be, is going to force them to snap out of it and deal with it? Or do you think that a person could spend an entire lifetime hanging out without really embodying?
Stephan: Well, it depends. I mean, I guess some people have enough, maybe enough money, or they live simply, and they can just live a more monastic lifestyle, solitary lifestyle.
Rick: That may be appropriate for some people, you know?
Stephan: It may be appropriate, yeah. And again, this is not to say that one is better than the other. I would definitely preference embodiment, but maybe in this lifetime that just doesn’t happen. Maybe you’re not ready. You know, if there’s been severe trauma, you’ve had a really, really difficult unhappy childhood or past lives, and you know, I’m agnostic on past lives, but if you’ve in fact had a very difficult time in lifetimes, this lifetime maybe you just want to hang out in the absolute and drink deep of the nectar of enlightenment, of this self, then by all means, you know, that may be appropriate for some people. It’s true.
Rick: And you wouldn’t accuse Shankara or Ramana or something like that of bypassing, just because they were monks. But actually, you know, they were very engaged with the world, running around.
Stephan: Ramana read the newspaper every day. He was very close to his mother, you know, all those things, and very close to, he was very involved in the running of the ashram. He was constantly talking to people. He was very involved in that way.
Stephan: He didn’t have a wife, of course. He didn’t have, you know, that sort of more involved relationship.
Rick: And Shankara ran all over India setting up centers and debating people and writing books and all that stuff. So yeah.
Stephan: Yeah, there’s certainly a place for that.
Rick: Yeah. Let’s talk about how students give their power away. There’s a bunch of points on that, but why don’t you just start riffing on it? Or unless you want me to read some of those points.
Stephan: No, no, no. I’ll riff on it. I’ll riff on it. But you know, it’s very tempting, you know. I mean, let’s face it, you know, we’re struggling. We’re suffering. We meet someone who claims to have the answer to our problems, you know, to offer us the solution to our suffering, right? And it’s so tempting to want to believe them and give our power away and say, “You, show me the way, please. I’m an endarkened soul,” like we talked about before. “I don’t know what to do. You tell me what to do,” you know. And it’s very seductive, and it can be very reassuring to have someone you consider to be an enlightened sage guiding your life at every turn, right? But as we know, there are pitfalls to that, and that’s what we’re talking about, you know. Ultimately, of course, you have to take power back. You have to take responsibility for your own life, but you know, there’s that sense of a good father, you know. Many people are looking for a good father, you know. People’s relationships with their fathers are unfortunately often problematic. They need a teacher who’s a good father or a good mother, and you know, there’s the potential there for healing. Having a healing relationship with a good father or a good mother, or their relationship with their actual father or mother was not. That’s another, you know, draw. And the other, you know, coming back to the narcissistic element, is that we feel special when we’re the student of someone who believes they’re special, right? We bask in the glow of their specialness, you know.
Rick: My teacher is the bestest, and you know, he must be because I’m with him. T
Stephan:There you go, and vice versa. I must be the best student because I’m with a teacher like this, you know. And then it also, you know, let them be responsible for my life. I don’t need to. I can remain a child. I don’t need to make decisions. Let my teacher do it for me. That’s very appealing to some people.
Rick: Yeah, you know what you just said about a student saying, “I don’t know what to do. Please tell me what to do.” It reminds me of the Gita, actually, in which Arjuna said just that. He said, “I’m stuck. I don’t know what to do. Please tell me.” And then they have, Arjuna and Krishna have this big long conversation, and then at the end of the book, Krishna says, “Okay, well, I’ve given you all this knowledge. Now, decide what to do.”
Stephan: Yeah, yeah, exactly. And that’s what I think a teacher’s role is, ultimately. And, you know, I certainly do this. Don’t believe anything I say. Find out for yourself. Don’t take my word for it. You’re the expert in your life. You’re the expert on your path. You know, if what I say is helpful for you, great. If not, forget it.
Rick: Yeah. You’re actually paraphrasing the Buddha there. Remember that quote?
Stephan: That’s right.
Rick: Yeah, he says pretty much that.
Stephan: Work out your own salvation with diligence. Be a light unto yourself. Work out your own salvation with diligence, your own awakening, your own freedom with diligence.
Rick: And he also said, “Don’t believe something just because somebody said it, even if I said it.” He said, you know, think it out for yourself, you know.
Stephan: Absolutely. And that’s why so many of us are drawn to Buddhism and similar paths, because it is experiential and it’s about being your own authority.
Stephan: At least traditionally. At least theoretically.
Rick: Yeah. It’s a subtle thing in a way, because there is a certain element of surrender that’s involved in a student-teacher relationship, in any context, spiritual or even academic.
Rick: I mean, in an academic session, well, in either context. In a healthy situation, the student is encouraged to question, and you know, “Wait, I don’t get this. Please tell me, explain.” “No, that doesn’t sound right to me.” You know, “Could it really be that?” You can go on and on like that, and a good teacher won’t be offended by that. They’ll take it as an opportunity for bringing out more knowledge.
Stephan: Exactly. That kind of lively dialogue is what I think really should happen between teachers and students. Not the teacher, you know, transmitting from on high this wisdom that then becomes the light that the student follows, but more that it’s a back and forth, and the student, as you put it before, does the experiments. You know, does those scientific experiments to discover whether this actually is true in their own experience? And of course, they may not discover that immediately, and so then they trust the teacher’s guidance to keep going, even though they’re not getting there yet. They haven’t had the experience yet, but eventually it needs to be something that they’ve realized for themselves, and the teacher is guiding them along the path. You know, I love that famous quote that Jack Kornfield attributes to his teacher, Ajahn Chah You know, Ajahn Chah says, “You know, I’m not really teaching you anything.” He said, “I watch students go down the path, and I say, ‘Well, you know, just go a little left, you know, just go a little right. You know, that’s my job.'”
Rick: And it’s not like you have to sort of work with a teacher for years and years and years and years before experiencing anything. It’s like the confirmation is there at every step of the way. You know, it’s like the teacher says, “Practice this,” and you have an experience. “Okay, that worked. Now what? Okay, well, then do this.” And, “Oh, yeah, more experience.” So that’s my experience, anyway, that there was verification from day one, and then continual steps of knowledge and experience growing.
Stephan: Yeah, that’s great. I mean, some people don’t get that, you know, that verification from day one. Some people, you know, I was always the most… I always say I was the toughest nut to crack, you know, so I wasn’t that student. I wasn’t you. I was the other one. I was the one out of, you know, Suzuki Roshi talks about the horses and the whips, you know, and there’s the horse that moves when it sees the shadow of the whip, and then it’s the one that moves and it feels the whip into its flesh, and then there’s the fourth horse that doesn’t move until it feels the whip hit the bone. And even then, you know, and that was like me, you know, it’s like I was really the difficult student, so, you know, so I needed the advice I’m giving today, you know, even if you don’t get it right away. Trust the teacher and just keep going, you know.
Rick: Yeah, that also has… also sort of depends on the path or technique one is doing. Some of them take a while to, you know, really show results and others more immediate. There’s a little sub-point here which might be useful, the limitations of being a dilettante.
Stephan: Right, yeah, I mean my experience was that when I became a Zen student, I just practiced Zen. I studied Zen, I didn’t do anything else. That was my life, you know. So I’m just saying it was true for me. I’m not saying it’s right for anyone else, but… and then I left Zen and then I, you know, then I, you know, played around a few other things. Then I met Jean Klein. When I met Jean Klein, I’d never heard of Advaita Vedanta, never heard of Ramana Maharshi or Nisargadatta Maharaj. I had no idea what it was. All I knew was this guy’s got what I want and I’m gonna practice with him until I get it too. And I didn’t read anything else and I wasn’t interested. I just read and listened to Jean Klein, you know, for 10 years. And then when that was done, I met Adyashanti and I spent a couple of years with him kind of finishing things up. And that was it, you know. And then I started reading about, you know, and then I started reading about other things that I’ve read since then and it’s enriched me. But I found at least that staying really on path, on focus, and just keeping it simple. Because what I find with students again and again and again, the most pervasive difficulty is that they’ve read so many books. When I started practicing, there were no books. You know, even to find a book on Zen was really difficult. You know, anything. Now there are millions of books and YouTube videos and satsangs and so they imbibe all these words, you know, all this jargon. And they’re full of it. And it’s, you know, and then it’s completely confusing. And so I say throw it all away. You know, stop reading and start from scratch, you know. And that’s the problem with being a dilettante, is you get all these different, you know, they may all be different views of the same moon, you know, the same truth, but they’re different views and they’re coming out from different perspectives. It’s really helpful to have the one over and over and over again. On the other hand, if that one isn’t working for you, at some point try something else, you know. So I don’t want to be rigid about this, but there’s something about sticking with one thing until you finally, until you get the essence of it.
Rick: Yeah, I’m gonna lose all my Batgap viewers if they take you too seriously here. Somebody new every week, you know.
Stephan: The ultimate smorgasbord of spiritual teachers. I love that you say awakening, though. I think that’s great. Instead of awakened, I think that’s great.
Rick: We used to say awakened, but we changed it.
Stephan: I know, I know. I think it’s great.
Rick: And, you know, in my own case, I had a very regular practice that I stuck to, like glue, but, you know, I felt comfortable reading Carlos Castaneda or Yogananda or, you know, various other things that came my way. They were fascinating, but it’s not like I was seeking for a teaching and therefore I think I’ll try a little of this, I think I’ll try a little of that, you know. There was a kind of a foundation.
Stephan: I read Carlos Castaneda while I was practicing Zen, that is true, and I read Chogyam Trungpa while I was practicing Zen, and found, you know, particularly Trungpa to be extremely helpful. In fact, Trungpa was the first, one of the first teachers I ever met when I started practicing Zen. This guy comes in, you know, I’m at the Zen Center in New York City on the East 67th Street. I’ve just started practicing Zen. This guy comes in in a suit and tie. I’m used to all these people in their robes, the roshi barely speaks English. This guy comes in, he speaks perfect English with an English accent. He limps in, in a suit and tie. He sits down, he gives the most, the clearest Dharma talk I’ve ever heard. I mean, it was like nothing I’d ever heard in Zen. And then I thought, who is this guy, you know? This is in 1970, he hadn’t even begun in the United States. And so, you know, I started reading his books, you know, and it’s, he was amazing. So, you know, we can talk about Trungpa and crazy wisdom, but some of his books are incredible, pioneering texts of American Buddhism.
Rick: People say that about Adi Da too, I haven’t read his books, but listening and so on, people say were great. It’s funny, I went to that Zen center on East 67th Street in the fall of 1968, and I was thinking of joining.
Stephan: wow, that’s when i went
Rick: You might have been there.
Stephan: Where did you go to school?
Rick: Well, I lived in Connecticut, and I was going to, yeah, I grew up there. I was going to college at the University of Bridgeport, or maybe at that time it was Norwalk Community College first at that point. But anyway, I was thinking of joining a Zen center, and I wrote to this place up in Rochester, and they said, well, first you have to visit a local Roshi and do that for six months and get his recommendations. So, I went to check this guy out, but then I ended up getting into diving more deeply into TM and sticking with that and becoming a teacher. I remember that experience. Yeah, we did. You might have been there that night. All right, anyway, the true guru is inside you. You touched upon that point, but is there anything more we want to say about that? And have any questions come in, Irene? No, no questions. Okay, you know, I hear people say that, and sometimes they say that as a way of saying, I don’t need a teacher, but I think there’s a way that you can interpret that even in the context of working with a teacher.
Stephan: That’s right. You know, like we were talking about earlier, ultimately, you’re your own teacher. I mean, simply put, practically speaking, everything that you’re being taught is being filtered through you. If it doesn’t resonate for you, then you’re not going to, it’s not going to work for you. It’s not, you know, eventually you’re going to have to throw it out. So ultimately, only you know what’s right for you. So in that sense, just simply, practically speaking, it’s only going to work for you if you are discerning, as we talked about before. And so ultimately, the true guru is inside you. Are there other gurus, other teachers, who can help that guru find his or her own way, right? Yeah, absolutely. But only in the depths of your own heart, you know, can you know what’s true for you. And that can be schooled and enriched by various teachers and various teachings. But ultimately, it comes back to here, you know. And of course, what do we awaken to? Our very own true self, our very own inherently awake true nature, right? Our natural state. It’s here. It’s not out there.
Rick: Yeah. For some reason, that statement reminds me a little bit of Christ’s parable of the sower, you know, where someone throws seeds on various types of ground or soil, and in some cases it just dies, in other cases it sprouts up nicely, and sometimes it sprouts up quickly and then dies because the soil isn’t that deep, and so on. But it’s like you have to sort of be a fertile field for the teaching of any teacher, for it to really take hold and have benefit.
Stephan: Right, yeah, that’s a beautiful metaphor.
Rick: Yeah. And we can cultivate that ground, you know, we can make it more fertile.
Rick: And therefore, more likely to enable teachings to have their intended value, purpose.
Stephan: Absolutely. Yeah, I often say that, you know, just as we can be accident-prone, I think your actually metaphor is more elegant, but we can make ourselves awakening-prone, you know. And by sitting quietly, by inquiring, by reading the teachings of the great teachers, by hanging out with sangha, with, you know, fellow travelers on the same path, all these things predispose us to be fertile ground, as you put it.
Rick: That to which you give your attention grows stronger in your life.
Stephan: That’s right, absolutely.
Rick: You have a point here, a new vision for the teacher-student relationship. What is your new vision for the teacher?
Stephan: Well, I haven’t written a book yet, Rick, so
Rick: now you’ll have to. We’ve given everybody a teaser.
Stephan: Right, right, right. Yeah, I think, again, we’ve been touching on it throughout here, is a more egalitarian relationship. I think teachers, again, I’ll come back to what I began with, which is that I think teachers really have an important role to play, either before or after awakening, or both. But it can’t be a top-down hierarchical relationship in the culture in which we live. You know, it’s not going to last. It’s not going to work. So I like the notion of a spiritual friend. Kalyāyana Mitra is the term that’s used in the Buddhist tradition, and the teachers in the pastoralist tradition are often characterized as Kalyāyana Mitra, as spiritual friends. So I think, you know, we’re friends. This is more Aquarian, more egalitarian. You know, we’re all in it together. We’re all awakening. We’re on this awakening journey. Some of us are a little farther ahead, and we look to them for guidance, but we’re all on the same journey. And I think that metaphor, we’re all on the same awakening journey, and we’re helping one another on the path. Some are, you know, somehow taking the role of teacher, but at the same time are very cognizant of the fact that they are students as well. So that if you’re a teacher, you’re also very, as we talked about earlier, very aware of being a student. That is an integral part of your being a teacher, is also to be a student, and that you’re not polarizing, as we talked about, in the archetype of awakened and in darkened. So that would be my vision, you know, for, and I think it’s happening. So it’s not my vision. I think it’s happening more and more, you know.
Rick: Yeah, and I don’t think this model necessarily levels the playing field. In other words, like, if you’re an aspiring cellist and you happen to have a friendship with Yo-Yo Ma, that’s, you’re not going to just assume that you’re as good a cellist as he is, but, you know, your friendship, there’s the friendship dimension, in which you’re buddies, but you have a lot to learn from him, you know.
Stephan: Did you ever, have you ever seen videos of Yo-Yo Ma, the most, the humblest person around? He’s like, he’s so interested in the people around him, he’s so interested in learning from them, and when he plays music with other people, he’s like really responsive and interested in what they have to offer. So Yo-Yo Ma, to me, is a beautiful example of of a teacher in the mold that we’re talking about.
Rick: Yeah. I saw a thing a while back where he went to get his COVID vaccination and he set up his cello and played it for the people who were waiting to get their vaccinations. That’s pretty cool.
Stephan: Yeah, beautiful, beautiful human being.
Rick: Yeah. I guess one more point I want to raise with you is, I mean, I was reminded of it because I mentioned COVID vaccination. I’ve had to take down some, I didn’t have to, but we took down some interviews recently because the teachers in question seem to have been doing nothing but harping about COVID and vaccinations and so on, in a way which I feel is scientifically unfounded and rather dangerous. And it’s not their expertise, you know, they’re just picking up on all the misinformation flying around, which I characterize as misinformation. So what do you think about the role, the importance of teachers kind of sticking to their craft or their expertise and not necessarily dispensing advice on other things which they don’t really know about, even if they feel they know something or have learned something and feel it’s important?
Stephan: I’m not going to judge what other people are doing or not doing, but I’m with you fundamentally. I mean, that’s how I perceive my role. I don’t feel that it’s my role or responsibility or that I have any authority to tell other people or to even share my views on politics. This is just how I am. Now I know plenty of other teachers may do it differently, but it’s not, you know, I don’t have any expertise, as you said, or authority, and to use my authority as a teacher to try to leverage other beliefs and influence other people in that way, I don’t think that’s my role. I’d rather keep it pure. This is what I’m here to offer. This is my role. This is why I’m here, you know, and I think it’s muddying the ground. But again, that’s just for me. Others, you know, can do what they want, but that’s not what I would do. I don’t recommend it.
Rick: Yeah, and I got some flack for doing that, naturally. Someone just today emailed to say now you’ve shown your true colors for taking down so-and-so. But I don’t know, I just feel like, Irene and I both feel like we have a big responsibility with this show, and, you know, an interview is a it’s kind of a referral and, you know, sometimes launches people’s teaching careers or boosts them, and we just don’t feel, if a person is saying or doing something that which we feel is irresponsible or inappropriate, we just don’t feel an obligation to continue referring people to them. We feel a responsibility not to, as a matter of fact, and obviously people have differing opinions and views, but we just have to sort of go by our best insights and judgment.
Stephan: Yeah, you have to do what feels right to you. Again, discernment.
Rick: Yeah, yeah. Because again, it’s a big responsibility being a spiritual teacher, it’s a big responsibility referring people to spiritual teachers, it’s the most precious, like we’ve been saying, most precious relationship one can have in life in many respects.
Stephan: I agree, I’m glad we’re coming back to that at the end of our interview, that it’s such a precious, you know, to discover the Dharma, you know, in the Tibetan tradition they say it’s rare as, what is it, as, I forget the metaphors, but it’s so rare to actually encounter, hence to encounter even these truths and be open to them in one’s lifetime, and then to meet a teacher, that relationship is so precious. So I think it’s important to take really good care of it, to tend to care for that.
Rick: Yeah, there’s a sacredness to it, which,
Rick: yeah, okay, well that is a good note to end on. Obviously all these points could use further elaboration, but I think we’ve covered things pretty thoroughly.
Stephan: I think so, two hours, that’s a long conversation. I’ve enjoyed it, it’s great, it’s also been a back and forth, and you know, I’ve really, you know, agreed with most of what you’re saying and appreciated your part in this whole conversation.
Rick: And if you hadn’t agreed with some of it, I wouldn’t have been upset.
Stephan: Of course. Yeah, of course.
Rick: All right, well thanks Stephen, I really appreciate having the opportunity to get together with you like this again, and to those who’ve been listening or watching, I’ll put up a page on Batgap about this interview with links to Stephen’s website and books here, I’m showing his website on the screen right now. What is it, stephenbodian.org or dot com or
Stephan: dot org
Rick: And you spell it s-t-e-p-h-a-n, b-o-d-i-a-n dot org. And in any case, like you mentioned earlier, you have some kind of six-month course every year, and you’re probably doing that online.
Stephan: School for awakening, yeah, starts again in January.
Rick: They can go to your website and find out information about that six-month course.
Stephan: Right, right, sounds good. Okay, very good, right. Thanks so much.
Rick: Thank you, and thanks to those who’ve been listening or watching, and we’ll see you for the next one. Go to batgap.com and explore the menus. Talk to you later. Bye.
Stephan: Okay, take care.