Rick: Welcome to Buddha at the Gas Pump. My name is Rick Archer. This is an ongoing series of conversations with spiritually awake or awakening people. If you’d like to support our efforts or to investigate all the other interviews that we have archived, please visit batgap.com. That’s B-A-T-G-A-P. My guest today is Stephen Bodian. I’ll just read a little short bio of him here. Stephen offers satsangs, intensives, and retreats in the tradition of his teachers, Jean Klein and Adyashanti. His gatherings are noted for their humor, warmth, spontaneity, and intimacy, and combine direct pointers, lively dialogues, silent sitting, and guided self- inquiry. He is the author of several books, including Wake Up Now, A Guide to the Journey of Spiritual Awakening, and Beyond Mindfulness, The Direct Approach to Lasting Peace, Happiness, and Love. I completed the second one this week and I got pretty far into Wake Up Now and I really enjoyed them both. They’re keepers for me. Stephen spent a decade practicing Zen intensively as a monk, but left the monastery because he sensed that the rigorous practice of meditation was obscuring the truth he was seeking. After studying Dzogchen- I probably pronounced that wrong- for several years, he met his guru, Jean Klein, a European teacher of Advaita Vedanta, who told him to stop meditating and instead discover the meditator. Shortly after he met Jean, he had a profound awakening to his true identity, his timeless presence. After Jean’s death, Stephen met Adyashanti and in invited him to teach. Stephen is the founder and director of the School of Awakening, an annual eight-month awakening intensive, and he leads regular retreats and shorter intensives in Tucson and at the Garrison Institute in New York. Trained and licensed as a psychotherapist, Stephen offers individual spiritual counseling and mentoring sessions to people throughout the world. His approach blends direct experiential non-dual wisdom with the insights of Western psychology to support students in realizing who they really are, while inquiring into the stories and patterns of thinking and behaving that continue to cause suffering. And I first heard of you, Stephen, when you were the editor of the Yoga Journal way back.
Stephan: Oh wow, a long time ago.
Rick: I remember your name from that.
Stephan: Oh very good, that’s a long time ago.
Stephan: 20 years now, Rick.
Rick: Been on this trip for a while you know.
Stephan: Yeah we have, haven’t we?
Rick: As the Grateful Dead said, what a long, strange trip it’s been. Yeah, so I think the reason I enjoyed your book so much and I’m still enjoying the one I’m still in the middle of, is that you know you’re definitely speaking from experience. I found a lot of little subtle bones to pick with you as I went along, but nothing I would utterly disagree with and probably nothing you would utterly disagree with. Because you tend to have a comprehensive perspective on things. You take paradox into account, you know. You’re able to say, yeah, this is true but now this polar opposite thing here is also true. It just, you know, there’s a larger truth that engulfs or encompasses them both. So maybe that’s a good starting point for our discussion.
Stephan: Okay, you have a question?
Rick: That’s kind of, well, that’s just a sort of a catalyst to get you going there.
Stephan: Yeah, that’s true. I mean, because who we really are contains everything. There is nothing left out. I mean, what does non-dual mean except all- inclusive, right?
Stephan: So embracing everything, this and that, not this or that, right? That is the understanding that we come to. It’s the full embrace of life as it’s unfolding. It’s not about achieving some special state, you know, apart from what’s right here.
Rick: Yeah, what’s right here is pretty special if you can really appreciate it. Wouldn’t you say?
Stephan: That’s right, exactly. It’s both special and ordinary again the paradox, right?
Rick: And, of course, you know, perspectives vary drastically from person to person, from species to species. I mean the very same scene can be perceived with a completely different appreciation or lack of it according to one’s ability to appreciate.
Stephan: Right, no, absolutely.
Rick: Yeah, someone posted a critique recently of an interview I did in which he was emphasizing that there are no levels of enlightenment. Either you’re enlightened or you’re not. And I tend to feel just from everything I’ve observed and experienced so far that, well, ultimately that may be true. There are many degrees of awakening, many degrees of deepening into an appreciation of what is. Would you agree with that?
Stephan: Yes, I would agree with that. There’s only one truth, right? And when we see that truth, that’s awakening. Right? But the degree to which we actually live that and live from that from moment to moment, I think that’s what differs right?
Stephan: You know, it’s one thing to see it when you’re just sitting quietly to know who you are and rest in that. But how much do you actually come from that moment after moment? You know, how much does that infuse your life, infuse everything you do? You know?
Stephan: It’s not some encapsulated something that we return to. “And, oh, this is very nice my little awakening here.” It’s something that lights up your life, right? Otherwise it’s not awakening.
Rick: And it seems to me that that leads right into a point that you talk about a lot which is the direct path versus the progressive path. You know, one can directly and immediately have a glimpse or a taste of one’s true nature. But isn’t there necessarily always a progression in terms of how much that gets integrated into your daily life and experienced in a sort of an abiding way as opposed to being some nice glimpse you had?
Stephan: Yeah, I totally agree. You see the progressive approaches that I critique particularly in my book Beyond Mindfulness are those that are gradually getting through different stages and levels to finally achieve something that’s attainable in some distant future. Right? The problem with that is it kind of obscures what’s always already present. Right? So the approach that I offer and is offered in the traditions of Zen, Dzogchen, is a direct pointing to the truth of who we really are which is always already here, present, awake. It’s our natural state and then once you realize that, then there’s a progressive path of deepening into that and abiding as that, living that from moment to moment. So it’s not so much progression towards something. It’s actually an unfolding of what’s been realized. So it’s a different understanding of what progression is.
Rick: Yeah, so maybe to dwell on that point for a bit. You might be distinguishing between progressing towards something which you’ve never experienced before and which you think is going to be really great when you experience it and you’re really striving with all your might to get to it, between that and, you know, having a taste of that from day one and then, you know, enriching and deepening and clarifying and stabilizing that taste as you go along.
Stephan: Exactly, Dogen the great Zen master, Dogen said, to take the backward step that turns your light inwardly to illuminate the self. So it’s the backward step. It’s not the outward step. You know, and too many traditions like Mindfulness which I critique in the book are very much about developing, you know, certain qualities and stages. And what happens there is you are lost in a kind of endless progression and particularly lost in this kind of sense of being this separate someone who’s meditating and developing this spiritual skill, this kind of spiritual resume which just creates more spiritual ego. You know? It’s another form of ego and somehow you have to cut through that at a certain point. And I think what happens is when you progress on the path of, let’s say, mindfulness or some other progressive path, you build up a spiritual ego. It just creates more that you have to cut through in a certain way. So the point is to cut through from the very beginning, just to cut through to the essence and once that’s realized, then to foster the unfolding.
Rick: Yeah, that’s very good. That was actually my experience from the day I learned to meditate. There was an initial glimpse of, in 1968, initial glimpse of true nature, I would say. And then it’s just been a matter of clarification and removing, you know, cleaning the windows of perception, to quote William Blake as you do in your book, as time has gone on.
Stephan: Beautiful, yeah, yeah, my experience was different. My experience was, you know, constantly striving on the progressive path for years and years and years as a Zen monk and then having my teacher Jean Klein say to me, you know: ”Stop looking, find the meditator.” That’s what cut through it. But I had all those 10 years before, which is why I appreciate people being stuck in the progressive approach and why I write about it. It was my experience.
Rick: I think I went to that same little Zen center in Midtown Manhattan that you mentioned in your book and this was like in the fall of ’68. I went in there and had a little session with the guy and some other people who had shown up. And but then I ended up kind of moving on to a different direction. But it was kind of funny. It was like one of those small world experiences where you mentioned that little Zen center. What you said about Dogen reminded me of that verse in the Gita where it refers to withdrawing one’s senses from their objects like a tortoise withdrawing its limbs. So there’s definitely a kind of inwardness implied there as opposed to, it always seemed to me, when I read about mindfulness and such practices that they almost automatically directed you outward in a way. Because they engaged you in a task that you had to keep hammering away at, you know.
Stephan: Yeah, that is one of the problems. I mean I think ultimately the point is to return the awareness to the meditator, to that which is meditating, to awareness itself. But it’s such a long road to get there when in fact you merely need to take that backward step right now, in this moment. It doesn’t require years of cultivation of some mindful state which then becomes just a state again that you have to cut through.
Rick: One thing you mentioned in one of your books is that nobody really wrote anything down for about 500 years after the Buddha died. And, you know, it made me wonder, and you wonder in your book whether what is being taught and has been taught in his name actually bears very close resemblance to what he actually taught.
Rick: And you wonder whether he really did teach mindfulness at all or, you know, something entirely different that over the course of centuries got garbled.
Stephan: Well, if you look at the Buddha’s life, he didn’t practice mindfulness actually. He had a succession of teachers who were teaching different kinds of yoga and then he finally said “Look, I’m done with this, I’m done with the asceticism, I’m gonna sit down on this seat and I won’t get up again until I see my true nature, until I finish the job.” Right? He sat down, he actually had a nice meal which he hadn’t had in a very long time. He sat down and then after a time of meditating, he woke up. He never practiced mindfulness so I even questioned the foundation of, you know, mindfulness practice in the Buddha’s teachings. As you say, we don’t know what the Buddha taught and the point is not to follow the Buddha, the point is to become the Buddha.
Rick: As the Buddha himself probably would have emphasized.
Stephan: Absolutely, absolutely, work out your own salvation with diligence is what the Buddha said.
Rick: One thing that comes to mind in this discussion of mindfulness and as I was reading your book I was thinking about, is that I see a phenomenon where people take the symptoms of something and then try to use those as a path. In other words it’s like they take a description as a prescription. So, you know, in an awakened state, one tends to be very mindful quite spontaneously, right, quite naturally and so that would, you could say, as a symptom of an awakened state. So it’s like people are saying, “All right, well let’s try to mimic these symptoms, let’s try to impose these symptoms upon ourselves in the hope that we will arrive at the awakened state.” But it seems to me it could be a “cart before the horse” kind of situation.
Stephan: Yeah, I agree. In fact, a lot of the, let’s say the Vipassana, the mindfulness tradition, a lot of emphasis on cultivating different qualities and mind states which are actually the qualities and mind states of the awakened person. But rather than cultivate them, which I think is just, as they say in Zen, adding another head on top of your own, it’s really about discovering the innate compassion, generosity, love that are inherent in you already. You see, revealing those. So it’s not about creating something else, something different. Right? Mindfulness, I like to think of it as presence really. Mindfulness, of course, has the word mind in it and it suggests something laborious as you suggested, something you have to keep doing. Presence is again our natural state. You don’t have to do presence, you simply have to fall into presence.
Rick: Which we can talk about because that may be, in a way, I mean, as effortless as that can be, it can also be frustrating for people when they hear an instruction like that. Because they say, “Well how do I fall into presence? I don’t seem to be falling in, you know, there’s all these distractions and I keep, you know, my mind is turbulent.” And obviously you couldn’t say, to take an extreme example, you wouldn’t get very far if you said that to someone who was psychotic and in a psychiatric hospital or something like that. They might need a certain amount of other things before that could be an instruction that would have any potency for them, don’t you think?
Stephan: I agree and in fact I have to admit my little secret is that I teach mindfulness to many people as a very helpful tool but with a different understanding. I mean mindfulness, being present for your experience, being present for the breath, can be wonderful and can help bring the attention into the present moment from past and future and allow you to discover the innate presence that’s always already there. So I teach it but with a different end, right, with it embedded in a different set of teachings. But the actual practice of being present, which is really all mindfulness is, is a beautiful practice and I highly recommend it. Just don’t get stuck there.
Stephan: That’s the key, don’t get stuck there.
Rick: And I suspect from reading your book with your emphasis on effortlessness that when you do teach mindfulness you teach it in such a way that people don’t end up straining and struggling and, you know, causing stress for themselves but that you somehow teach it in a way that is more natural and effortless.
Stephan: Well, the way I teach it primarily is simply to sit down and be open to what is. That’s it. I mean that’s the essence of the instruction, be open to what is. In the Tibetan tradition, they talk about, and I often talk about, sky-like mind, the sky-like quality of mind. Mind which is open like the sky and includes everything. So if you can sit and simply open to what is just the way it is, then that’s all the instruction you need. If that’s not sufficient, then you can begin with being aware of your breath and then expand to being aware of sensations and then let go of any boundary whatsoever and simply be open. So that’s a kind of doorway, a portal into presence. But the simple instruction, the essence of the instruction is to simply open to what is because openness again is our natural state. And eventually if you just practice openness, so-called practice openness, you discover the openness that’s already there.
Rick: So when you teach this to groups of people, what percentage would you say actually are able to just sit and be open to what is? And what percentage say to you, “Hey, you know I sit here but I’m thinking about this and that and the other thing past and future and I’m hungry and I’m itchy and I’m tired, I’m sleepy.” You know, their mind just keeps turbulent activity which is customary for them. What’s your batting average in terms of a group of people?
Stephan: I’ve never totaled up my batting average. But what I find is in retreats and intensives people seem to get it very quickly, most people, because there’s a quality in the group energy that really supports that letting go and opening. Right? When they go home then the question arises, how do I return to that? And that’s what I do when I work with people and again I may recommend some kind of mindfulness, some kind of being present for experience. Because the whole point of being aware, let’s not call it mindful but being aware of objects, is that ultimately the objects are pointers back to the ultimate subject. Right? So that you come to rest back as awareness, right? But first of all there’s awareness of objects and then eventually you allow the objects to point you back to rest as the ultimate subject.
Rick: And when you say objects here give us an example.
Stephan: Tree, rock, car, sky, objects.
Stephan: Objects of awareness.
Rick: So how does the tree point you back to the ultimate subject?
Stephan: Well, if you sit quietly and let’s say you’re looking at a tree. Right? Then eventually your ideas about the tree fall away, your words about the tree fall away and eventually there’s only the tree, you know, there’s simply presence, undivided presence. That’s the invitation to discover the undivided, you could say. But again that doesn’t necessarily happen automatically, right?
Rick: No, and you know and most meditative practices advocate having the eyes closed because if the eyes are open the attention is drawn outward to physical objects and so on and whereas with the eyes closed it has the possibility of getting more subtle and settled. So I guess when you teach mindfulness, do you advocate, you know, having the eyes closed so you can go more easily within or what?
Stephan: Initially, I recommend the eyes closed but in the Zen tradition, which I spent most of my years, the eyes were open actually.
Rick: Yeah, but you’re staring at a wall, right?
Stephan: Yeah, you stare at a wall or the floor or something. You don’t actually stare at the wall, yeah, you stare at the floor. But still your eyes are open so you’re not cutting off the connection with the outside, which is a slightly different approach. But I think for developing presence, awareness, I think eyes closed is great. But then eventually, of course, you open your eyes. You’re walking out in the world, right? And I think that’s when it can actually go deeper in the sense of seeing beyond the duality of subject and object. I think that’s even harder in a way when your eyes are closed because you’re just dwelling in the subject. Right? When you open your eyes, then there’s these objects. How do you negotiate life in the so-called objective world, you know? How do you bring that knowing that you’ve experienced with your eyes closed into being with objects? That’s when the non-dual really reveals itself.
Rick: Do you take into account in your teaching the physiology? Like, you know, these days neuroplasticity is a popular term and they say that long-term meditators are actually sculpting their brains and examining the brains with MRIs and stuff. You actually see significant differences in the brains of people who have done a lot of spiritual practice.
Stephan: Very familiar.
Rick: Yeah, and then in the whole Eastern world, you have all the ideas of vasanas and kleshas and samskaras and all this. And then subtle physiology, things like the chakras, and the understanding is always that there has to be a lot of transformation on all those subtle and gross levels of the physiology to really support and sustain an enlightened state of awareness. And that you can’t just take somebody who’s been a meth addict for 10 years and expect them to pop into enlightenment or the chances are very slim anyway. So what would you say about all that?
Stephan: Well, for example, Hatha Yoga was originally intended as a way to develop the body and the energy centers for the awakening of Kundalini. That was the original purpose of Hatha Yoga. Yeah, well I think it’s possible to awaken without preparation if that’s what you’re asking. Definitely. It can be unsettling for sure. You know it took me a long time to settle down after my awakening.
Rick: Well you had preparation.
Stephan: And I had preparation.
Rick: I mean I’ve interviewed people who weren’t even interested in any of this stuff and had a sudden awakening that really took a while to settle down from.
Stephan: Absolutely, I’ve worked with people like that. And, of course, what it often does is it’ll activate centers or contractions, you know, feeling tone complexes, whatever you call them in the body that are energized. And then it seems like there’s more suffering after you awaken.
Rick: Can be.
Stephan: More of a confusion, more pain, more emotionality, right? How do you work with that? Which is one of the reasons why I went back to school to study psychology, why I bring that into my work with people. Because people who awaken often are dealing with these kinds of things.
Rick: Yeah. So to put it in other terms, would you say that a certain amount of internal house cleaning can be conducive to awakening. But if you haven’t done that house cleaning or even if you have, then after awakening there’s necessarily … the awakening itself provides a kind of a fuel for house cleaning. It demands it at that point. You say, “Okay, you’re going to be in this awakened awareness. Well, we’ve got to clean things up a little bit here.” And you can really go through a lot of turmoil as all kinds of buried stuff comes up and gets resolved.
Stephan: I think that’s very true. And I think that’s often discounted or minimized among teachers of awakening, that it’s not really often so widely recognized, the importance of the work post-awakening or pre-awakening. I mean, I have to say in terms of pre- awakening, you said I had a lot of preparation. I actually don’t think that my Zazen, my years of Zazen actually prepared me very well. In fact it was my… while I was meditating that I started having a lot of turmoil coming up that my teachers kept saying, “Go back and sit, just go back and sit, it’ll take care of itself.” And it didn’t. It didn’t work. So then I went into psychotherapy while I was still a monk. I worked with one of my students actually, who did a lot of kind of bio-energetic, kind of really intense kinds of stuff. And I thought, “Wait a second, this meditation stuff, this isn’t sufficient,” and that was so-called preparation. It wasn’t doing it for me. So then I went into therapy and I did a lot of that before I met Jean Klein. I’d already been in therapy for a number of years. So I think we find our way. The way we find our way, you know, we kind of stumble along, you know, and do what we need to do and it works itself out in the end. Fortunately, now we live in a world in the West, in the United States, where there are a lot of resources as you can draw on, unlike maybe in ancient India or, you know, contemporary Japan or places like that. So I think there’s a lot available to work with this stuff.
Rick: That’s good. The reason I bring it up is that I do run into a lot of people who have had that experience. That either they go through a lot of stuff that’s really intense and then they eventually have an awakening. Or maybe they kind of slip right through somehow and have an awakening and then all hell breaks loose.
Stephan: One of my teacher, Maizumi Roshi was one of my teachers at the Zen Center in Los Angeles and one of his Dharma brothers, Koun Yamada Roshi, used to say, “Zen is for people in excellent mental health,” he said. Which, you know, I think had a lot of truth to it, although, you know, when you sign up you don’t take a mental health test. You just start, you know, you start doing it. Another one that I actually experienced toward the end of my tenure as a monk, I went to this conference. This guy named Jack Engler was there and one of the things he said was that you have to be somebody before you can be nobody. Which has become a kind of popular meme within the Buddhist world, which is saying much the same thing. Although he was specifically talking about people who didn’t have a well-established sense of self in the ordinary everyday way. They couldn’t function in the world. You need to be somebody in a functional way before you can discover your true nature as nobody. I think there’s some truth to that. I would critique it, I don’t entirely agree with It. But I think there’s a kernel of truth there.
Rick: I think there is too, I was just exchanging emails with a friend of mine named Timothy Conway, who you may not know.
Stephan: I know Tim.
Rick: You know Tim? He was kind of telling me about some examples of Neo-Advaita teachers whose style is to kind of beat down the personality and obliterate it. And that a friend of his had actually become really psychologically disturbed and unbalanced as a result of exposure to that. And there’s another fellow whom you may know, Scott Kilby, who wants to have a whole conversation with me about this at some point. But he says people come to him all the time who seem to be casualties of the current non-dual scene. And he feels that there hadn’t been enough kind of psychological, personal integrity established before they embarked on the quest of dismantling it, dismantling the ego.
Stephan: Yeah, I would, there’s a lot that one can say about that. I think, number one, in the psychology world and psychotherapy, you’re taught to honor resistance. And I think it’s really important to honor the barriers and the blockages that seem, so-called, to get in the way. I think beating them down and trying to cut through them with a sharp sword is contra-indicated. I think it can be dangerous. I think ultimately we have to bring compassion to this whole process, and that’s really what I recommend, that whatever so-called ego is. You know, we need to again welcome that as well. We need to embrace the ego even. You know, I think really there’s a misunderstanding about what awakening is in the sense that awakening is not about transcending ego, necessarily. I think awakening is about becoming intimate, completely intimate with what is, including our own psychology, so that there’s really a compassionate embrace of everything about ourselves. I think there’s a tendency in spirituality to want to push it away, to try to cut it out, to eliminate it, to transcend it. Which I think is really misguided and can be dangerous actually. Because love doesn’t work that way. It simply doesn’t. An awakening is a process of love.
Rick: Nice. A friend of mine is fond, when people say to him, “I am not a person.” His response is, “Of course, you’re a person. You’re just not only a person, you know. There’s much more to what you are, but you know, you don’t kind of negate or eliminate that part of yourself. It’s because you couldn’t function without it.”
Stephan: And it’ll come back to bite you. If you say something like that, it’ll prove itself very quickly to be untrue as we’ve seen with spiritual teachers who’ve acted out in various ways because they haven’t acknowledged their own personal issues.
Rick: Yeah, exactly. I love that part in your book where you mentioned spiritual teachers who would fly into rages at their students or get into sexual things or embezzle money. And I can think of examples. You really hit the main three bases. Money, sex, and power, right?
Rick: One thing I find interesting, though, hearkening back to what you were talking about a few minutes ago, you mentioned that…well, first, one little wrap-up point on all this. I used to be in the TM movement, and you mentioned that in Zen they didn’t have an entry exam or something. You could just come in and get involved in it. But actually, in the TM movement, if you wanted to go on a long course, they looked carefully at your psychological health and whether you had had any issues or had been involved in some kind of counseling. I think it was… unfortunately, it had the opposite effect in many cases of making people afraid to seek counseling when they needed it. And that had its backlash. But there was at least some attempt to screen people a bit before they went into intensive spiritual practice because there were casualties, certainly, and there have been casualties in every spiritual movement when people really get cooking without adequate screening.
Stephan: I think that’s changed. I think that’s changed, actually, in Zen. I think now many centers require to fill out a psychological profile and indicate whether you’ve been in therapy, whether you’ve had mental illness to the point that you had to be hospitalized, things like that, so that people are aware of this issue. It’s changed since I practiced. I mean, that was
Rick: Yeah. And it’s probably changed because of what they ended up experiencing with people who had had, you know, some…yeah, right, probably some casualty cases. Another thing I want to jump back to is you were saying that maybe your Zen practice and all hadn’t really been adequate preparation for your awakening. But I found that interesting phenomenon with you, with Adya, with other people where, you know, they did a lot of intense spiritual practice and they don’t consider themselves to have been very good at it. Adya’s always saying what a lousy meditator he was, how he struggled and strained. But at a certain point, you know, both in his case and yours, when you let go, somehow rather “bingo,” there was this awakening. And I wonder whether that awakening would have occurred had you not been struggling and straining for 10 years before letting go.
Stephan: Of course, we can’t really know that. I think that it really did help. I mean, I can’t deny that for some reason, you know, it developed an ability to be present because I was very good. I would say I was a failed meditator in the sense that it didn’t wake me up, you know, like Adya. I hit a wall. I started feeling like everything was very dry and, you know, nothing was moving inside of me. But at the same time, I developed the capacity to be really present for my sensei experience. And I’d been a really, you know, an academic and Intellectual. So sitting for years and years just being aware of my breathing, I think was a very helpful practice for me. You know, so it shifted that ability to be present, which I think was a great gift. But ultimately the sense of, you know, striving and struggle, something had to come through that.
Rick: Yeah, yeah, you had to relax that.
Stephan: Yeah, exactly.
Rick: You’ve probably heard that saying that enlightenment may be an accident, but spiritual practice makes you accident-prone.
Stephan: Exactly, I use it often. And when I talk about, when I teach, you know, what I say is there are really two prongs to this approach – resting and inquiring. So sitting quietly is resting, right? I mean, ultimately it’s resting as awareness. But even if it’s just resting and being open and being present, you know, even if there’s a sense of some doing, still it’s resting. You know, it’s not efforting, it’s not struggling. I really emphasize that.
Rick: Yeah, I sometimes have used the example of like a pan of water, let’s say, that has little waves in it and you want to stop the waves. If you start pushing on the waves with your hands, you’re only going to create more waves. So you just have to kind of let the pan settle and then you won’t have the waves.
Stephan: Yeah, that’s the still forest pool, that’s often talked about in the Buddhist tradition. You know, you don’t try to calm the pool. You just let it settle by itself. And when it settles you can see down to the bottom, I mean, that’s the classic metaphor.
Rick: Yeah, and you know on this point of settling by itself, it would stand to reason that if given the opportunity, the mind would want to do that, you know. I mean pure consciousness or pure awareness or one’s natural state or whatever, the word Ananda is often associated with it, bliss, you know. And so the mind is naturally attracted toward bliss if it can find it. So it would seem that just sort of being more gentle and natural and effortless about this whole thing would be more conducive to the mind moving in that direction. Then, well, it’s like you know if you want to hold a dog at your Door. You can chain it and the dog will be struggling and straining or you can put food there and then the dog will just be there with the food.
Stephan: Right, exactly. Although I would say that the mind, it depends on what you mean by mind. If by mind you mean ego or monkey mind, as it’s often called, I don’t think the mind really gravitates towards stillness. I think it’s addicted to activity. But I think awareness, consciousness itself, is drawn back into itself, into the stillness of its true nature. The mind itself will follow consciousness and come to rest in that way. But the mind, the monkey mind, seems to like to be constantly moving.
Rick: That’s an interesting distinction that you just drew between consciousness and It almost seems like it’s between consciousness and consciousness, like an active phase of consciousness being drawn back to stillness, back to its true nature. And then you distinguish that active phase of consciousness from mind. So that confuses me a little bit and it reminds me of that second verse in Yoga Sutras. “Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind,” Yogas Chitta Vritti Nirodha. So what were you actually saying there, just then?
Stephan: Well, in Zen tradition, we talk about big mind and small mind. I don’t use those terms anymore. But small mind is the ego mind, it’s thought, it’s the activity of thought that’s constantly churning, right?. You don’t have to try to calm that in order to come into stillness, right?. In fact, you can find stillness in the midst of an active mind. And so there’s a sense in which awareness or consciousness comes to rest in itself. Mind as thought, as ego mind, as monkey mind may continue. It doesn’t have to stop for stillness to be fully experienced actually. I mean it’ll tend to stop. But it doesn’t have to stop because this is where people get kind of, how shall I say, misguided or confused. They think they have to calm the mind, you know. That’s not necessary. You don’t try to calm the mind. Again, it’s like trying to still the pool. You just allow yourself to rest as awareness and the mind will come naturally to rest.
Rick: Yeah, the mind follows suit.
Stephan: Yeah, exactly, but not necessarily right away.
Stephan: It may take a while.
Rick: It may take decades to get to the degree of calmness that’s possible.
Stephan: That’s right, it may take decades, so that’s what I meant.
Rick: Okay. Yeah, you know, you were in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. And there was a big hurricane there recently and you had a number of days of chaos and then waiting, trying to get a flight out of there. You managed to get a flight out to Texas or someplace and so there’s an example of a very tumultuous situation. Now, I don’t mean to put words in your mouth, but I bet you experienced that in the midst of all that tumult there was a deep silence that was untouched by all the craziness.
Stephan: Exactly, exactly. Yeah, it was amazing. It was wonderful to see, you know, I felt very grateful that there was so much peace, you know. It was just a matter of doing the next thing.
Rick: Yeah, as our friend Suzanne Siegel, doing the next obvious thing, right?
Stephan: Yeah, they’re doing the next obvious thing. But it’s interesting you say chaos because isn’t life always chaos in the biggest sense, a mystery unfolding?
Stephan: Sometimes it seems more chaotic than other times, but it’s always chaos, you know, chaos is not a bad thing.
Rick: Yeah, I heard … was it you I was listening to? Somebody I was listening to that quoted the Tao Te Ching and saying that make all things orderly before they arise. Was that you?
Rick: It’s a beautiful verse because, I mean, at that level of silence we’re talking about, it’s beyond chaos. It’s a state of perfect orderliness and coherence.
Stephan: That’s right.
Rick: And if you can kind of sit yourself there and then as things arise, they tend to arise in a more coherent way. I mean, even though they may appear chaotic, it’s like, you know, how everybody says in spiritual circles, “Well, everything is perfect just as it is.” And then other people say, “It doesn’t look perfect to me. There’s all this suffering, all this crazy stuff going on.” But if you have that perspective from the field of your natural state, pure awareness, then you are able to see the perfection inherent in everything. You see the orderliness, the perfection, the beauty inherent in what others perceive as chaos.
Stephan: Exactly, exactly. Yeah, that’s why I venture to use the word chaos, because it’s perfect and it’s imperfection. I mean, we talked about perfection. It’s not perfection as opposed to imperfection. It’s perfect in the sense that it couldn’t be otherwise.
Rick: Yeah. And in terms of the actual physical phenomenon, a physicist would tell you that every single little thing that happens is happening in complete accord with laws of nature, that nothing is capricious or arbitrary or out of accord with very orderly natural laws that govern it.
Stephan: That’s true. But, of course, we don’t need to understand those natural laws to appreciate any perfection. Because really the way we really know that is because consciousness is perceiving itself. That which is perceiving and that which is perceived are one and the same. How could it be perceived as imperfect or chaotic in the negative sense? It just is what it is. That’s all we can say in the end, right? It just is what it is.
Rick: Yeah. All right, I’m going to start looking at my notes here a little bit. I took a bunch of notes while I was reading your book.
Stephan: Of course.
Rick: One point you made, some of these are like seed thoughts which we can leapfrog off of. “Spacious awareness versus detached observing.” What were you saying about that in your book, “spacious versus attached observing”?
Stephan: Well, I think there’s a tendency for people to, particularly when they do mindfulness but often any kind of spiritual work, particularly the non-dual traditions of getting caught in the witness, being this detached, dry, kind of disengaged witness, and getting stuck there. Like I said earlier, it’s really more about intimacy with what is, which is detached witness, is separate. And so it just perpetuates a sense of separation. Subject-object split again, whereas true awakening is about being intimate with what is. So spacious awareness is more like, and again this is something you can experience energetically, I think it’s something to really explore energetically. Are you feeling yourself as being distant and separate? We all know those people who say, “Oh, I’m awakened,” and they seem to be very distant. They don’t seem to have their heart in the game. They don’t seem to be engaged in life, right? So spacious awareness is more open, all-inclusive, and it has a kind of warm quality to it.
Rick: Yeah, yeah, Shinzen Young mentioned something about certain practices seeming to make people kind of zombie-like.
Stephan: There you go. ; And last week I was actually interviewing Kenneth Folk. I don’t know if you know him. But we were talking about witnessing and he actually said, “Oh, I can witness Anytime.” And he got in, he kind of went into this state where he was like, he actually put his hands up as if, “I’m back, I am witnessing,” and his whole tone of voice changed. And you know, just as we were saying earlier how mindfulness might actually be a symptom of the awakened state and not meant as a method for achieving it, I’m wondering whether there’s been a misunderstanding of this whole witnessing thing, where people have turned it into something that they try to do rather than something they are. In other words, you know, you and I were just talking about perfect silence in the midst of chaos. Well, if you’re living that, then there’s a sense of witnessing. I mean, all this whole hell is breaking loose and yet I’m just silent as a still pond and there’s no conflict there. But that’s a far cry from trying to evoke some mood of being detached from everything and having that change the way you behave and interact with people, wouldn’t you say?
Stephan: Yes, yes, and also I would also say that even the witness you describe in its most well-developed form is still just a stage. Because ultimately even that witness has to drop away, you know. And that’s again what I mean by intimacy. Often the way awakening goes for people is that there’s first an awakening into the witness, there’s an awakening out of the personality, out of the identification with the body-mind into this witnessing place which is kind of detached. It’s a helpful state and a stage in one’s unfolding, right? But you don’t want to get stuck there and again you move ultimately into the realization that there’s no separation between the witness and that which is witnessed. The problem is getting stuck in the witness, actually.
Rick: And the witness, the type of witnessing?
Stephan: It’s a state, it’s a state, let me just say. The witness is a state, for most people when you’re in the way it’s a state. Just like your friend said or the person you were interviewing, you can go in and out of the witnessing state. You see, any state though comes and goes. Your natural state is actually not a state, it’s the ground of being. It’s consciousness itself, it doesn’t come and go. So anything that comes and goes including witnessing is just a state.
Rick: Well, right now, you and I are in the waking state, right? And in a certain number of hours we’ll be in the sleeping state. And then after a while we’ll be in the dreaming state. And each of these states of consciousness, which actually have their Sanskrit equivalents, are understood by physiologists as being as distinct physiologically as they are experientially. So the kind of witnessing I’m talking about would be a state, if you want to call it a state, that yeah, like waking, dreaming and sleeping, as unique from each of those three as they are from each other. But actually one that can be lived along with those three. And so are you with me there in terms of that statement?
Stephan: I am. Well, there’s a fourth state which is called Turiya, which is your natural state.
Stephan: But I don’t think that’s just the witness. I think that’s again, it’s not the witness the way we’re talking about it. I think it’s the ground of being.
Stephan: It’s a subtle distinction but I think it’s an important one. You know, people want to get stuck in the witness. You know, they become very attached to the witness. They go around with this kind of detached, kind of pulled back sort of energy which is constantly and it’s very safe in a certain way. It’s very dry but it’s a, how shall I say, it’s a pitfall.
Rick: Yeah, I would agree and I wouldn’t actually, I don’t think that deserves the term witnessing. I think it’s a mood that they’ve inculcated and perhaps inculcated so deeply that they’re in it all the time. But the kind of, this Turiya you’re talking about, you know. That’s the natural state, the ground of being. What I would, witnessing as I would think the term should refer to, would would be just having that Turiya spontaneously maintained throughout waking, dreaming and sleeping without evoking or holding on to any kind of attitude or mood or anything else. Just as natural as breathing or the beating of your heart, is just lived once it’s established sufficiently.
Stephan: Beautiful. Yeah, I agree.
Rick: Yeah, and but as you say, even that is a stage, right? That’s not going to be the end game.
Stephan: Which? Turiya?
Rick: Yeah, maintaining Turiya throughout waking, dreaming and sleeping there’s more yet to come.
Stephan: Well again, there’s, it’s not a matter of maintaining though.
Rick: Well, but spontaneously, got to be careful of the words. I’m not talking about any effort to maintain. Like right now, you and I aren’t trying to maintain our heartbeat or maintain our waking, our wakefulness in terms of being conscious and talking to each other. It’s just kind of a given that just keeps on happening without our, we don’t become less awake by forgetting to remain awake in order to become more awake. But, you know, it’s just it is the way we are, right?
Stephan: But in what way can we say we’re maintaining it then?
Rick: We’re not maintaining our breathing. It’s being maintained.
Stephan: It is being maintained.
Rick: Yeah. It’s continuing, yeah.
Rick: So it’s kind of a fine point in the terminology but that’s what I’m trying to allude to that that witnessing that really deserves the term is a natural state that doesn’t take any effort to maintain. Either it is or it isn’t depending upon how well established the fourth state is.
Stephan: Yeah, but ultimately witnessing realizes itself to be one with what’s witnessed.
Stephan: Okay. Yeah, I’m with you. We’re good.
Rick: Yeah, so it would be it itself even though it’s natural and and and spontaneous once it’s established is not the end of the show. There’s going to be a further maturation into realizing that it’s one with what’s witnessed.
Stephan: Yeah, which means that the witness drops away because
Stephan: Yeah. So in that sense there’s no more witness, right? You see,
Stephan: So the word witness then becomes unnecessary because there’s just life living itself. Yeah.
Rick: No, that’s good. Just kind of want to make sure we’re on the same page.
Stephan: Yeah, yeah. Oh, good. Good, good.
Stephan: Enjoy the conversation.
Rick: Okay. Alright, another little seed point from my notes in reading your book. Mindfulness to avoid or suppress emotions. I think we’ve kind of touched upon that but might not hurt to touch upon it once again.
Stephan: Mindfulness, how it suppresses emotions?
Rick: Yeah, how people can use mindfulness as a tool to kind of stuff everything.
Stephan: Absolutely, or witnessing.
Rick: Or witnessing, yeah.
Stephan: Yeah, yeah. Witnessing is a great way to avoid. You hang out in the witness. You avoid all feelings. Who, me? I don’t have any anger. You know?
Rick: You know the comedian Stephen Wright?
Stephan: No, I don’t.
Rick: He’s funny, very droll, deadpan sort of comedian. He has a serious… I broke up with my girlfriend. I wasn’t really into meditation and she really wasn’t into being alive.
Stephan: Right, exactly. It can definitely go that way. So, Dogen, for example, said “Zazen is dancing on the heads of devils.” That’s how he did… Well, what he… I think he meant by that was that, you know, you do Zazen and you’re dancing on the heads of devils. In other words, you do Zazen, you maintain a kind of meditative focus, mindfulness you could call it. But underneath the surface are all these feelings that are roiling around and are not being acknowledged. And by maintaining a certain state, mindfulness, you can be very subtly, but very effectively, suppressing these emotions which then don’t get realized. Now, I think a good mindfulness teacher will guide you to avoid that. But I think it’s a definite pitfall in the practice of mindfulness or Advaita witnessing, right?
Rick: So that was Dogen that said that?
Stephan: Isn’t that a…
Rick: So was he advocating that or critiquing that?
Stephan: I don’t know. I think actually he was advocating it and that’s why I find it fascinating because I think it reveals a flaw in the whole Zen approach. I think in a certain way Zen, you see, Zen as it developed and this is a little side road here, but Zen as it developed was very closely allied with the samurai tradition and with the martial arts. And in those traditions, of course, you had to maintain what they call Heiki which is like absolute calm, equanimity without…So you had to suppress the emotions. So I think Zen actually developed simultaneously with this need to suppress emotions which of course is very Japanese. Excuse my Japanese friends, excuse me, but it’s very Japanese. So I think there’s that risk.
Rick: But you’re going to be playing whack-a-mole.
Stephan: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. Which is why I left the monastery finally because I had all kinds of feelings getting stirred up by the psychotherapy I was doing. I was living with some people and they were telling me I wasn’t so cool after all and all these things and I was dealing with all kinds of feelings and meditation kept pushing them down. I said, “No, I’ve got to work with them.”
Rick: You’re probably more aware of this than I am but it really seems to me that there’s a trend these days for people to address this issue that we’re discussing here. And they’re tired of playing whack-a-mole, they’re tired of trying to hold five basketballs underwater at the same time, you know, to use the mixed metaphors. And they’re realizing that if you really want an integrated, stable, full awakening, everything’s going to have to be dealt with in one way or another.
Stephan: Which is why I went to school, become a psychotherapist. It was initially, the intention was to learn psychology so I could be a better Zen teacher. It wasn’t to become a psychotherapist. And also it was so I could learn more about my own psyche so that I wasn’t dealing with all these feelings. And you know, they’re getting stirred up and I knew how to deal with them. And I could be more skillful because I saw teachers who were not skillful, who were alcoholics, who were philanderers, you know, who were sexual predators. I saw all of that in my time and I realized I didn’t want to do that. I couldn’t do that, and then I ended up becoming a psychotherapist. So I absolutely agree with you that like we talked about earlier. You know, either before or after awakening you’re going to have to deal with these issues.
Rick: So how’s that been going for you, both personally and as a psychotherapist? I mean, has it been a smooth, smooth is the wrong word, why should it be smooth? Has it been successful for you to, kind of, as a psychotherapist and as a student of it, to process what you needed to process? And how has that enriched your awakening or your realization? And then maybe we can even talk about you know, some of the people that you work with and how it has enriched theirs. And just as a final addendum to this question, are you seeing a kind of a new quality of awakening or realization in people who are either your patients or who have gone through this kind of necessary, dealing with buried stuff that is not seen in perhaps even in ancient traditions or in contemporary versions of ancient traditions?
Stephan: Yeah, great question. So you may have to remind me of the ones that I forget, but I’ll address the first one. I mean, I bow to the years of psychotherapy that I did. I do something called EMDR which is a trauma release technique and I did that for a year and a half. And I cried pretty much non-stop through it, you know.
Rick: After your awakening?
Stephan: After my awakening.
Stephan: Absolutely. Absolutely. And then I had subsequent awakenings, kind of deepenings of your original awakening as the result. In fact, one of my most profound awakenings happened on the mat in a bioenergetics session. I mean it was really very profound. I don’t think my therapists realized what was going on. But so they’ve worked hand in hand as far as I’m concerned and you know occasionally, I’ll get hooked in. You know, I had significant trauma as a child so occasionally I’ll get hooked in. You know fear will come up and I won’t know what’s going on and I’ll have to just process the fear. But you know, it’s helped enormously in that regard. And I do find in working with people, you know, there have been questions at times by spiritual teachers. And do they work hand in hand or they work across purposes? Therapy and meditation or spiritual awakening and in my experience, they, with the right view, they work hand in hand. Because the more that we free up the contractions, the core beliefs, the core stories, the more we see through those and free them up, the more possibility there is to awaken beyond them. And the more there is awakening, the more those core stories and belief systems and contractions get seen through. So they work hand in hand in my experience with with people powerfully and in fact the EMDR is a great resource. I use this with many of the people that I work with.
Rick: Sometimes I like to think of awakening, or you know, on vastness of awareness as a kind of a a wonderful solvent which can, you know like if you, to use an example, if you take some handful of mud and throw it in a little glass of water, the water is totally muddy. But if you throw it in an ocean, then just gets dissolved. So it’s a real, you know, this working hand in hand as you say. It’s a real advantage to have that foundation.
Stephan: Yeah, the most therapeutic thing you can do in a way is simply to rest as awareness, to rest in your natural state what I call awakened awareness in the book Beyond Mindfulness, to rest as that and then everything that arises is what they call in Tibetan tradition self-liberated. Things arise and they release, they arise and they release. There’s no attachment, there’s no hooking in, there’s no engagement. Right? But of course, you know, how much can we do that, how much do we do that? That’s why the psychotherapy can help free that up which allows us to rest more, which allows us to free up more, which so they work hand in hand in a beautiful way.
Rick: Yeah, so you’re down in Mexico. Do you, like most of your patients or clients, whatever you call them, deal with you over Skype or something?
Stephan: Yeah, phone, phone and Skype.
Rick: Yeah, and that doesn’t really hamper or hinder your effectiveness?
Stephan: Not in my experience. I’ve had some really powerful sessions with people over the phone, you know, in terms of processing trauma as good as I’ve had face-to-face. In fact, I will say as an aside, working on the phone in a certain way has an advantage to working in an office. Because it bypasses the formality of the face-to-face contact. People are used to talking to their friends on the phone, you know, and sharing their most intimate details. And so people just pick up the phone, it’s like we’re right there, you know. It’s very intimate, very intimate.
Rick: Yeah, and so the second part of my question was about which I think you’ve answered partially. But maybe you can address more fully is, do you feel like there might be a kind of a, Andrew Cohen used to talk about the fact that spirituality itself is evolving as we as a culture evolve. And we’re actually breaking fresh ground that hadn’t perhaps been broken by more traditional teachers and experiencers of 500 or 1,000 or 2,000 years ago. Do you feel that this topic we’re on right now about resolving all your psychological stuff is resulting, are you seeing it result in the emergence of a quality of awakening in various people that might be sort of a new template or a new standard that, you know, doesn’t really have an historical precedent?
Stephan: You know, I don’t feel like I have a large enough sample to make draw any conclusions. And as far as a new kind of awakening, I think that’s maybe our tendency to want to see what we’re doing is special, you know, in our historical period now. It’s new and better than ever, you know, you can believe that if you’d like. But I think awakening to our true nature is the same as it’s always been. It does seem to be that more and more people have access to it, perhaps. Because there are so many teachers and teachings. I think that has advantages and disadvantages. I think you can get confusing if people come to me or reading this book and that book and comparing and contrasting and getting completely lost. But at the same time, there’s a lot of input from many different sides telling us, you know, that who you really are is not who you think you are. And this is who you really are and pointing directly it’s, there’s a lot of pointers available. Right? So it’s great.
Rick: I think one thing I had in the back of my mind when I asked that question is you know you and I both have seen examples of teachers who have come maybe from the the east, maybe some already in the west who seem to be off the charts in terms of consciousness, you know, in terms of their realization is radiated like a lighthouse but who really had some issues, you know, with regard as evidenced by types of behaviors you mentioned earlier. And so, you know, if, if you could have people who radiated, who were that profoundly, you know, absorbed and immersed and radiating being and yet had resolved those issues, wouldn’t you perhaps have an even sort of more ideal, if you could say, type of realization than someone who’s, you know, just really grounded in their true nature but somehow has all these blind spots and behavioral weirdness.
Stephan: Yeah, I agree. I agree that sounds like a a beautiful ideal as you said and something to aspire to absolutely. I mean just, let’s just remember that it’s not about perfecting the individual. You know, it’s not becoming, it’s not about becoming a perfect person. It’s becoming, it’s about becoming a, how should we say, as clear and unobstructed a vehicle for consciousness to move through. Right?
Stephan: And I think there’s a tendency for people to want to become an enlightened person, you know, so I just want to, you know, throw that out as a caveat.
Rick: Sure, but what you just said as clear and unobstructed a vehicle for consciousness to move through. That, you know, you’re not going to be perfect but you’re kind of alluding to moving in the direction of perfection, you know. You’re like, well, you’re a clean mirror as opposed to one that’s all covered with schmutz, you know. And it’s not going to reflect the sun very well.
Stephan: Right, but there’s some subtle distinctions here. Because one thing is that you’re not trying to change the personality. You’re not trying to necessarily change the unique, idiosyncratic nature of this particular one here, you know. Right? And there can be a tendency to want to iron out all the, you know, the creases and get everything perfect, you know. But what it is about is wherever truth wants to move, if there’s a blockage, if there’s some way in which it’s not happening, then you can investigate that. Right?
Stephan: But yeah. It’s not about a self-improvement project I just want to make.
Rick: Sure, but just to continue the discussion. So, yeah. Stephen Bodian has a personality as does Rick Archer and and there are certain aspects of our personalities that we’re always going to have no matter how bloody enlightened we become, you know. So it’s going to be we have our uniquenesses. And yet, you know, I don’t know about you, but I definitely have aspects that probably need resolution or resolving or you know cleaning out or whatever that would enable me to be a more perfect.
Stephan: How do you know that? How do you know that?
Rick: Well, because over the years I’ve improved, you know, in many respects. And so there’s a trend that I observe and it’s made me, it’s allowed me to be, a more perfect reflector, whatever terms you just used a minute ago.
Stephan: But how did you know that these are areas you need to work on?
Rick: I didn’t. I mean, unlike you, I never have done therapy. But just somehow, through, just over time, practice spiritual maturation, there has been, I hope, anyway, maybe, my wife would tell you otherwise. But there’s been an improvement in many ways and
Stephan: I was gonna point to your wife. See? I think, I think it’s, I think your wife…
Rick: She stuck her hand in the door and said I could use some therapy.
Stephan: Yeah, yeah, really. I think, I think she’s the reason. See? She’s the reason because you keep bumping up against her. And you keep bumping up against your friends or maybe you have kids, your kids whatever. It is life is a great teacher in that regard. Wherever we bump up against life and, you know, then we feel that so, that’s how we learn, you know, where we’re obstructing is life gives us feedback.
Rick: Yeah, great teacher, yeah. I interviewed a lady a few weeks ago and the title of her book was “What’s in the way is the way.”
Stephan: Great, I love it. Yeah, exactly.
Rick: Yeah. And people are fond of saying the world is my guru, you know, that there’s this, absolutely, there’s a kind of intelligence that’s governing things that gives us exactly what we need.
Stephan: I agree. Life is the teacher.
Rick: Yeah. All right, so I mean, but you are a professional psychotherapist. So on the one hand, you would acknowledge that there’s certain aspects of people that aren’t going to change. But on the other hand, people come to you because they want to change or they want to rid themselves of habits or tendencies or repressed stuff that’s hanging them up.
Stephan: That’s true. Suffering is the key, I mean, obviously, suffering not pain. But suffering which generally means conflict you know, inner conflict being at war with ourselves, being at war with life that kind of suffering, that’s the indicator. But again, life reveals that. Right? So yeah. Exactly.
Rick: Yeah. Here’s a question for you related to that. Could an enlightened person suffer? And second part of the question is, would an enlightened person necessarily be a happy person?
Stephan: I would say that an enlightened person is a happy person. Yeah, by definition, by definition. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I put that on my website: happiness is your natural state. I mean, happiness is your birthright. Yes and by…
Rick: And they wouldn’t suffer.
Stephan: It depends on what you mean by suffering.
Stephan: In terms of conflict, you know, being at war with life, no.
Rick: Physical pain. Sure.
Stephan: Physical pain. Yeah. Yeah,
Rick: Okay. And so with regard to their being happy, would you say that an enlightened person and, you know, enlightenment is such a loaded term, I hate to use it. But you know, what we’re referring to here, just for convenience sake, we’ll use the term. Could they experience depression, anger, jealousy, you know, any of those kinds of emotions or would, would their sort of attunement to the natural state or living as that, to pretty much negate or obviate any such negative emotions?
Stephan: I think, well, depression is not an emotion. Depression is a sustained state of being.
Stephan: which… Let’s just put depression out of the mix here. But in terms of sadness, grief, you know, anger, jealousy, I’m not so sure about jealousy. I think the pure anger, fear, sadness, grief can arise, I think, naturally.
Rick: Yeah. Your daughter dies or something or what if that guy runs off with your wife, you know. Then maybe, jealousy?
Rick: Jealousy, even an enlightened State?
Stephan: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Again, you know, this whole notion of enlightened, I mean, fully enlightened. I mean, you know, there are conversations, endless conversations, about what that means, right?
Stephan: Yeah, so yeah. I mean, certainly I have emotions coming up, you know. Am I an enlightened person? I don’t know. I don’t worry about that definition, you know.
Rick: Yeah. Ordinarily, I don’t use that term and, you know, it’s just convenient to use it. But maybe awakened is better. But even that has a sort of a static superlative connotation, you know. And I kind of like to think of awakening the way you described it earlier as a milestone. But not necessarily. I mean, it’s an important milestone but there’s still going to be plenty of post awakening growth. And maybe we need to reserve the term enlightenment for some final stage of development if there even is such a thing. But I doubt that actually.
Stephan: Yeah. Yeah. I think it’s endless actually. You know, once you awaken, that the process of embodying and living it is endless. And refining and deepening and it’s an endless process. That’s what, that’s my experience.
Rick: Yeah, which means it leads me to the whole discussion of why one would consider or continue to meditate after awakening. I mean, Ramana spent years in a cave after his awakening. And I I don’t know if it’s true or not, but I’m told the Buddha meditated a couple hours a day the rest of his life after his awakening. So would you say that they did that, if they did, because of the possibility of further refinement and embodiment and so on? What would you say to that?
Stephan: I would say it’s more likely that they’re just drawn into the silence.
Rick: Because of the just inherent enjoyment of that, the restfulness.
Stephan: I think, I mean, I certainly find that I find myself drawn, Just, it’s almost like being pulled into the silence, you know. And then there’s activity and then there’s a pull back into the silence. It just seems to happen, right?
Rick: A natural cycle.
Stephan: Yeah, I don’t think it’s something they intentionally do in order to, you know, for some reason, some end game.
Rick: Yeah. Well, yeah, not like they’re trying to get somewhere. But I wonder about this refinement thing. Because it seems to me there’s a possibly a great range of potential for refinement post-awakening, you know. Once the self is realized, great potential for refinement of the senses, the emotions, the, you know, the, all sorts of things that we, as an, as an instrument could become better at. You know.
Stephan: I think that’s true. And once we awaken, I think, we’re sort of drawn to that inexorably, you know. It’s like we’re, we’re really on this journey of complete you know, we’re committed, we’ve signed up, we drunk the kool-aid. We’re on our way, you know, to and whatever’s in the way of truth, you know, we, we’re wanting to investigate that. You know, it seems to be the case it’s, you could say, it’s like a fire. Once it’s burning, it starts consuming everything in its path, you know. In a certain way I think that’s what the bodhisattva vow means.
Rick: Yeah, you could even say that something else kind of takes over once awakening has happened. And it’s no longer the individual running the show and that, that something else is kind of a very powerful evolutionary force which… Remember peace pilgrim, that, that old woman who she wasn’t old when she started but she just walked around the United States for years in a pair of sneakers and a t-shirt and just kind of threw her, her life to the mercy of what, whatever support she happened to get. And everything worked out for her and she’s really a saint and very high level of consciousness. And she drew this graph on her website or she, there was no website in those days, but then she drew this graph about her, you know, evolution and of spiritual evolution. And she kind of marked on the graph a certain point at which self-realization or awakening occurred. But then after that, it was kind of like a hockey stick thing where the graph really took off because she said, “ you’re no longer in the way.” You know, you’re no longer running the show and interfering. And so the evolutionary process can work through you much more powerfully or efficiently than it was able to before.
Stephan: Right, yeah. And that which is working through you is what you are.
Rick: Here’s one notes from your book. “Being no one, someone, nothing, and everything.” This is kind of all at the same time. You know, there are people who say they are no one and then and yet at the very same time, you know, you bang your shin on the on the coffee table. And “whoa,” that, that happened, that seems to happen to someone.
Stephan: Alright, no, exactly. I call that the razor’s edge. You know, it’s like the edge where nothing bursts into something. No one bursts into someone. You know, there’s this kind of a, you can almost feel it. You can almost sense it. There’s an edge, this razor’s edge, you know. And we’re constantly on this razor’s edge, you know, knowing we’re no one And yet appearing as someone. “Wow, here it is again,” someone you know, “life presenting itself to this person.” People wanting something from this person, wanting a response, wanting a affection, you know, wanting a communication, whatever it is. And how does that take place? You know, that’s the razor’s edge. You know, so we’re constantly dancing on that edge, you know, and exploring that edge. That’s, that’s what it’s like, you know.
Rick: Yeah and you know, I mean, get dropped in a snowstorm in your underwear. And, uh, you know, someone is cold. It’s not, it’s not the tree that’s cold. This this body is cold. And I, I’m kind of attached to it and it needs warmth.
Stephan: Or have your wife get angry at you for something you didn’t do or did do. Or you know, and then what?
Stephan: You know. You feel. We’re saying, Yeah.
Rick: You feel it.
Stephan: Yeah, and yet, and if you don’t feel it, as you said, you’re dead, you know, as you’re, you’ve checked out. So, so, so, how do you live in the world of feeling of human emotion, of human connectedness and interrelatedness, at the same time knowing that it’s all just play, it’s all just a dream? How you know what is that like? That’s the dance, see? That’s what we’re here to do. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have a form, right?
Stephan: Otherwise, we’d be formless consciousness. It was obviously a reason.
Rick: Why bother having a universe?
Stephan: That’s right. Right.
Rick: So how would you answer that question you just asked, how you live in the world of…
Stephan: There is no answer. You have to discover. it, it’s an ongoing discovery.
Stephan: But on the one hand, you can get caught in identifying with the story and the person and, you know, uh, what I want, what I don’t want, and what I’m achieving and not achieving. Or you know, whatever it is. Or you can get caught in the witness, in being the absolute, being disengaged. So what is it like to be on that edge? There’s no answer. It’s a dance like, like any dance. You can’t say this is how you do it. Find your way. Yeah.
Rick: There’s a, there’s an Upanishad. I don’t know if this is what it’s alluding to. But it goes into blinding darkness. “Go they who worship ignorance into even greater darkness. Go they to who worship knowledge.” I kind of think it pertains to this point of, you know, you can get totally stuck in the relative and it’s blinding darkness. But you can also get totally stuck in the absolute and, you know, to the negation of the relative. And that’s perhaps in a way even a greater darkness. And so what you’re talking about here is, is incorporating two within one life within one awareness.
Stephan: And that’s, there are a lot of passages in the Zen tradition that talk exactly about what you’re talking about. Because Zen is very much about the integration of form and emptiness, you know. The tendency in the, say, the non-dual traditions of India is to emphasize the absolute, you know, and to really de-emphasize the everyday, to lean toward the transcendent. But Zen is very much, which I bow to Zen for this, you know, is very much about the integration the ordinary, the everyday. And so, I think I imbibed that…
Rick: “Chopping wood, carrying water.”
Stephan: Chopping wood, carrying water, you got it.
Rick: Yeah. There’s another quote I took from your Book. “Relaxation generally seems much more conducive to realization, than tension and struggle.”
Stephan: Exactly. Well, that’s coming from my experience, right?
Stephan: Years and years of pushing, you know, they used to go around in the zendo with a stick, you know, hitting you, you know, with a “break through the koan, break through the koan,” you know. You gotta sit hard, you know. You gotta really sit hard. You gotta really push through. And it just made me a nervous wreck. I think actually, yeah, and which is then when I got to Jean, Jean Klein, you know. He finally said to me: “You know, the only point of meditation is,” as I, you mentioned, “to discover the meditator.” That’s it. Otherwise, it’s just a habit. You know, it’s a way of conditioning the mind and, you know, you’re not trying to condition the mind. You’re trying to find the natural state, the unconditioned mind.
Rick: So are you friends with Francis Lucille who was a fellow student of Jean Klein?
Stephan: Yeah, we, we studied with Jean together, fellow students of Jean’s. Yeah.
Rick: Yeah, he was quite a guy, Jean Klein. I mean, I never met him personally, of course. But he really seems to have had a a very beautiful effect on a lot of people.
Stephan: Well, uh, my experience of Jean is that he taught more, at least for me, he taught more through the silence and through the words. Although it was some words he had said that woke me up. You know, that in that moment, when I woke up, those words are going through my head. But it was really the times that I felt the transmission the most deeply were in the silence.
Rick: Had he been a student of Ramana Maharshi? Where did he, what was his background?
Stephan: He, uh, went to India not even looking for a teacher particularly. And he discovered a, a teacher who was a, a teacher at a Sanskrit college in Bangalore who was also an Advaita teacher. He was also, you know, unknown, not celebrated, and through his contact with him he spent three very intimate years with his teacher. And then after three years, he had his awakening, his profound awakening. And then his teacher told him to go back to Europe and teach. So he did but he didn’t teach anyone famous, although he did spend time studying Kashmir Shaivism with a one particular someone he just came across. He also studied yoga with Krishnamacharya who was the teacher of Iyengar. And he also met and had a close relationship with Sri Atmananda Krishna Menon. And I think there was a very, a sense of real resonance there. So those were some other influences beside this particular teacher. Yeah.
Rick: Interesting. We alluded very briefly earlier to Suzanne Siegel. I just want to mention who she was. She wrote a great book called Collision with the Infinite and I know you were a friend of hers. I never quite met her although she was in the TM movement for number of years. And then she eventually left. And she was living in Paris, married, pregnant, had stopped meditating, was just getting on a bus one morning and all of a sudden “boom.” This, this awakening, you know, and which completely freaked her out because she didn’t have a context for it. She didn’t understand what was happening to her. And she, she kind of went through 10 years of terror trying to figure out what was going on with her. Meanwhile, raising a daughter and getting a master’s degree or PhD or whatever she got, and then she eventually ran into Jean Klein who just put her at rest and made her, enabled her to realize that something good had happened. That it was a spiritual thing.
Stephan: Exactly, Exactly. Well, there’s an example. How interesting she spent all those years in TM and yet when she woke up, she didn’t know what it was.
Stephan: Fascinating. Yeah.
Rick: It is because I’m sure she had heard a thousand times the description of the sort of state that she had actually achieved but her concept, her understanding of that description was so different from the actual experience when it happened that she didn’t put two and two together.
Stephan: As was mine.
Stephan: Wasn’t what I expected. It never, it never is.
Rick: Interesting. Well, is there anything else that I haven’t finished reading your, your second book and, and I’m sure and you’ve probably written other things. Is anything that’s important to you that we haven’t covered in this conversation that you’d like to discuss before we conclude it?
Stephan: Well, one thing I’ve thought about which is, I think, helpful to talk about is that after people wake up, I think there’s a tendency to think, and we’ve touched on this a little bit, but there’s a tendency to think that after you wake up things are just going to be blissful and groovy, you know. And everything’s going to be fine. And then if they’re not, then to discredit your awakening, that maybe that really wasn’t a genuine awakening. Or, you know, I did something wrong or something. And I think it’s really important and that’s what Wake Up Now goes into in a lot of detail is I think it’s really important for people to realize that there’s a path after awakening. And that it often involves a number of pitfalls, post-awakening. You know, one of them is to discount your awakening. Another one is to identify with your awakening and think of yourself as this awakened person, you know. You know, another one is to get trapped in the transcendent like we talked about, the witnessing, you know. So I think there are a number of… Another one is to get caught in the “I got it, I lost it” phase. You know, “Where, gee, I had it but now I lost it and now I’m struggling to recreate it. And you know, all my attempts to recreate that beautiful state that I had, you know, don’t seem to get me anywhere.” I mean those kinds of things are pretty much “par for the course.” So that’s when I think it’s really important to have a good teacher to guide you. Awakenings can often be spontaneous, you know. But after awakening, I think it would be really helpful to have someone to guide you through the Scylla and Charybdis. You know, they’re kind of the the movement through between the rocks of the different pitfalls. You know, so that’s one of the things I think is important to tell people.
Rick: Yeah, I think there’s some pre-awakening pitfalls that are important to touch upon, too. Perhaps because one thing I run into most commonly is people who’ve gotten excited about this whole non- duality thing and enlightenment, awakening, and so on but started to read a bunch of books and gained an intellectual or even an intuitive sense of what it is and then mistake that intuitive or intellectual understanding for the full enchilada. And then, you know, usually they’re the ones that are most belligerent on the chat group, sort of pontificating with people about, you know, the fact that there is no person and, you know, there are no levels and all this stuff. But I think that’s a pretty common pitfall.
Stephan: I totally agree. I’m glad you brought that up. I think that’s one of the major pitfalls. Actually, one of my students introduced me to some chat room. I forget what it was called, something like… I don’t know. It was about breaking through.
Rick: Was it “Liberation Unleashed?”
Stephan: Yes, Liberation Unleashed. Right.
Rick: Yeah. I interviewed those ladies. Yeah.
Stephan: I thought, “My gosh. This is not… I think this is counterproductive, you know.” And so, yeah. I think it’s very easy to get into this kind of intellectual understanding and think you have it. But awakening, it’s important to remember, is an actual experience. Generally, the experience of breaking through has a quality to it. Don’t get caught by the experience or just try to stay there. But there’s really something shifts, something dramatic, and radical shifts in your locus of identity. And until that’s happened, you know, as my teacher Jean Klein used to say, “You haven’t left the garage.” You know, and I think it’s really important, you know, and I think there are a lot of people who get the “Advaita speak” down, you know. They get all the jargon down. And they can run through all the arguments really, really skillfully. But they haven’t realized it, you know.
Rick: Yeah, I mean, I gave a good pretty good rap on LSD in 1967. You know, I could keep a room spellbound, pontificating about, you know, the levels and bardos and all this stuff. You know, but gaining greater clarity and in in a sense, I’m still a spiritual neophyte. There’s a beautiful quote from Adyashanti. Let me just open it up here on my iPad. It’ll only take me a second. One, two, three, four.
Stephan: So the thing, a thing about awakening is, is that it’s completely humbling. It’s completely humiliating. Ultimately awakening is about completely obliterating, you know, any separation. So it’s working in, in that direction.
Stephan: You know, it, it works through love. I mean, it’s ultimately about love. But it can be very uncomfortable. Don’t be surprised.
Rick: Here’s the quote from Adya. He said, “Even now with me the mystery is just beginning, always, always, still beginning.”
Stephan: Beautiful. Oh that’s so beautiful.
Stephan: That’s exactly how I feel, exactly how I feel.
Rick: And here’s one from Saint Teresa of Avila. She said, “The feeling remains that God is on the journey, too.”
Stephan: God is the journey.
Rick: You know, but I mean my understanding of what of that quote from her is that, you know, you can be God and there’s still growth possible. You know, there’s still something yet to discover and…
Stephan: Because God is discovering through his creation.
Stephan: From that perspective, I don’t believe in God as a, you know, as a creator and that sort of thing. But from that perspective, God is constantly revealing and discovering through creation. Of course, it’s an endless process.
Rick: Yeah. We’re his little tendrils, his little villi that are sort of…
Rick: Cool. All righty, well, this has been a fun conversation. Anything else you want to throw in before we wrap it up?
Stephan: I think that’s good, Rick I’ve enjoyed it.
Rick: Okay, great. Let me make a few concluding remarks. So I’ve been speaking with Stephen Bodian, and I did pronounce your name right. Right? Bodian.
Rick: Okay, good. Because I heard some interview with some other guy you did and he pronounced it Bodian. But then he said Jean Klein so I figured Bodian was going to go. Yeah. So I’ve been speaking with Stephen and I’ll be linking to his website as always, from his page on batgap.com and his books and so on his Amazon listings for his books. I’ll be linking to those so you can link, you can bounce over to his website and check out what he has to offer and, you know, in terms of courses, personal consultations, and retreats and the whole deal. Anything else you want to throw in there that you have on your site that people might want to know about?
Stephan: No. That’s great. My books are listed as well.
Rick: Okay, so and this interview is part of an ongoing series which I’ve been doing for about five years now and hope to do for many years to come. You can see all the interviews that I have already done under the “past interviews” menu on batgap.com. They’re categorized in various ways. There’s a “future interviews” menu which lists the upcoming ones that have been scheduled. There are hundreds of people on the, the list of potential interviewees and so we try to prioritize those as best we can. There’s a donate button on the site. This whole thing is possible because of the support of generous donors and even small amounts like five dollars a month which some people do, make a difference. If enough people do it, there is a place to sign up and be notified by email each time a new interview is posted. You’ll see that on the site there’s a link to being able to subscribe to the audio podcast in a variety of ways- iphone, android devices, and so on. So click on that link and choose the one which pertains to you. And there’s some other stuff if you click the “about us” menu. There’s, there’s even a place where you can download the BatGap theme song as a ringtone. So we keep coming up with ideas and trying to make this more and more useful resource for everybody. So thank you very much for listening or watching and thank you, Stephen. And we’ll see you all next week.