The post(s) on "Three Enlightened Beings" was originally intended to be a one-part account discussing current events, with a major theme of those events being my chronic exposure to information concerning three people in recent times who have claimed to be, or at least have implied with clearly understandable hints that they are, enlightened beings. But the repeated exposure to information on the same three people—the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (latterly known as Osho), Jed McKenna, and Paul Lowe—continued during my stay in Bali. Also, current events just keep on happening. It's weird. You'd think that current events would eventually be exhausted, considering how many of them have already happened, but they just keep on happening. So the purpose of this post is to continue the mystery tale of enlightened beings walking among us, and to mention how I came to be typing this in an outbuilding of a Burmese temple in California. At the present moment, as I type this, there is a loud Burmese wedding reception going on right outside my door. The table with the wedding cake on it is actually blocking the entrance. Anyway, on with the story.
…So I jump ship in Hong Kong and make my way over to Tibet, and I get on as a looper at a course over in the Himalayas. A looper, you know, a caddie, a looper, a jock. So, I tell them I'm a pro jock, and who do you think they give me? The Dalai Lama himself. Twelfth son of the Lama. The flowing robes, the grace, bald…striking.
So I'm on the first tee with him. I give him the driver. He hauls off and whacks one—big hitter, the Lama—long, into a 10,000 foot crevasse, right at the base of this glacier….
So we finish the 18th and he's gonna stiff me. And I say, "Hey, Lama, hey, how about a little something, you know, for the effort, you know." And he says, "Oh, uh, there won't be any money, but when you die, on your deathbed, you will receive total consciousness."
So I got that going for me, which is nice.
Ha, actually that didn't really happen to me. I was just kidding. That's from the movie Caddyshack. I found it in a book called Spiritual Enlightenment: The Damnedest Thing, by Jed McKenna—or a person merely calling himself Jed McKenna. For the controversial nature of his earthly existence, please refer to part 2, posted last month.
At the time that I wrote the first two parts of this saga I was in southern Bali, recovering from a bout of some kind of flu, or some such. During that time I was asked if I would give a Dharma talk to the Buddhist villagers of Baturiti, the place where the Chinese cemetery and my vacation hut are located. I said sure, but was unsure of what I should talk about. I was advised to keep it relatively simple, as the villagers do not know much more about Buddhism than basic morality and generosity. Before returning to the cemetery I was also asked to deliver a Dharma talk to some of the Western Buddhists of Ubud, and said sure to that too. Then I returned to the bamboo hut at the edge of the Chinese cemetery.
By the time the day came for the talk for the villagers, I had decided to explain how Buddhism is different from all other major spiritual systems. It seemed reasonable to speak on such a fundamental theme, right? They would learn more about Buddhism, right? I went to the Dharma hall, sat down up front, on the stage, and began by mentioning how pretty much all religions teach the same basic ethical fundamentals: do good, don't do bad, tell the truth, don't steal, don't kick puppies, be generous to the poor, etc.; so, if people don't go beyond these basics, then it doesn't even matter all that much which religion they follow. The good villagers immediately started becoming confused, since of course the big thing with religious people is to belong to the right religion among all the wrong ones. Then I mentioned how Buddhism appears to be the only major religion that teaches anattā, or No Self—thus I informed the nice people that they don't really exist. They became more confused. Then I briefly mentioned Dependent Co-arising, which the Buddha himself couldn't teach effectively, and which, according to legend, almost caused him to keep his mouth shut about Dharma, since he felt that nobody would understand it. It's important though, and it is fundamental to Buddhism in particular, and although I glossed over it fairly quickly, by this time the villagers had blank looks on their faces and were getting rather fidgety. Even my interpreter was getting confused. Then I moved on to how karma is a mental state, so that "right" and "wrong" are dependent upon our own mind; and although this was firmer ground than was covered before, the audience was by this time already so used to being confused that they just stayed that way. It was a tough crowd. At the end of the talk I was reminded of an old Daffy Duck cartoon in which he's trying as hard as he can to impress the audience, and dances his heart out, and at the end he throws his arms out and looks expectantly at the crowd…and all one hears from them is the ticking of a clock at the back of the auditorium. The villagers remained friendly, though, and I explained that it's good to hear confusing stuff sometimes, because if you easily understand everything you hear, then it generally isn't very deep, and one doesn’t learn very much.
The next day I went to Ubud to deliver the talk to the Ubud-dhists. I had a feeling it would be an easier talk, though deeper, which turned out to be the case. Considering that this was my first Dharma talk to this group, I spoke of my own spiritual history, more or less along the lines of the old post "The Middle Way of Mediocrity"—about how I tried as hard as I could, failed, threw up my arms in despair and gave up…and then made some real progress. Then I discussed how giving up is often instrumental to spiritual breakthroughs and awakenings, including, sometimes, allegedly, full enlightenment.
It has occurred to me that a major reason why strenuously striving to become enlightened, or to realize Ultimate Truth, or to become one with the Universe, or with God, generally doesn't work, and why giving up in despair sometimes does, is that "we" cannot possibly realize Reality, because "we" are not real! Like I told those villagers in Baturiti, "we" don't really exist. The whole concept or feeling of "I" is what is keeping us unenlightened in the first place. So giving up and letting it all go actually lets it happen on its own, without any idea of "I am striving for enlightenment" getting in the way. I mentioned Paul Lowe a few times in the talk, including his statement that if you want to become enlightened, want it with all your heart, without doing anything about it. Also I mentioned during the Q&A session afterwards that good old Jed McKenna claims to have become enlightened by trying obsessively, as hard as he could, to find the truth, and failing utterly; this failure caused a crash of his belief systems, including his belief in his own identity. When I mentioned his book Spiritual Enlightenment, a person in the group exclaimed, "Oh! That's the most horrible thing I've ever read in my life!" I still cannot rule out entirely the possibility that the book is some clever and cynical attack on spirituality in general. The person who had never read anything more horrible had essentially the same idea.
There was one woman in the corner who was very quiet; I think she may have been the only person in the room who didn't ask any questions. When I was talking she sometimes would just lie on the floor in the corner of the room, listening. After the talk she approached me and told me that Paul Lowe, a person I have much respect for, is a personal friend of hers. She said she loves him dearly as a friend, but that he has let power go to his head and is not above manipulating people. Her implication seemed to be that Paul isn't enlightened, but acts and talks that way through ulterior motives. At the very least he lets people think that he is. I have mentioned before that Paul would be at or near a list of the people alive today who I consider to be possibly enlightened; and although his position on that list easily survived my discovery that he had been the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh's top therapy group leader and spiritual right-hand man, the information given by the quiet woman nudged me into a feeling of barren, existential futility—a feeling that there simply is no enlightenment, and of course no enlightened beings, either. A person's saintliness may stand up to scrutiny, but not their perfected sagehood. Like it or not, everyone is stuck with an unenlightened ego.
Before moving on with the story, I'd like to discuss this strange situation of enlightened beings. First of all, as I've already suggested, "enlightened being" is already a paradoxical contradiction in terms, since an individual "being" is unenlightenment itself, the very thing, or illusion, obstructing enlightenment. So from a point of view which acknowledges the real existence of beings, there simply is no enlightenment; and not only is the person in Bali right about Paul Lowe, but nobody is enlightened at all. It's a matter of "when a pickpocket meets a saint, all he notices is his pockets"; an unenlightened person can see others only in an unenlightened way. We are living in a world of pickpockets. Even if a fool considers another person to be enlightened, the fool's idea of enlightenment is itself unenlightened, so the "enlightened being" is just a fool's version of a great sage, and no great sage at all. Even Paul, who has occasionally hinted that he has done what needs to be done, also sometimes states that there is no state of enlightenment. "This is it."
Here’s another way of looking at the paradox: If enlightenment entails, as ancient traditions claim, the complete eradication of ego and the total cessation of attraction, aversion, and semiconscious stupidity (lobha, dosa, and moha), then full enlightenment would appear to be an impossibility in this world, since human consciousness and the human brain evidently have inevitable worldly limitations. Yet if enlightenment entails simply transcending these phenomena, with the laws of limited human nature still taking their course, then damn near anyone could be an arahant. Enlightenment wouldn’t necessarily be apparent at all. One could have a foolish ego that one simply wasn’t identified with. There may be a middle way between these two extremes—it is to be expected in Dharma anyhow—but I don’t know what it is, or how to explain it, unless it is the panacea of mindfulness. In which case, anger could still arise, but the mindful arahant would be mindful of it, would not identify with it, and would thus not be caught up in the karma of it, thereby not going with it and creating more karma. But Jed McKenna claims in his first book that he is fully enlightened but not particularly mindful. Which either kicks McKenna’s enlightenment in the head or else the mindfulness theory of enlightenment—and it may be impossible to know which. Then again, maybe Mr. McKenna is mindful, but of “non-dual awareness,” not the body, the thoughts and feelings, or whatever. Then again, logically, it would seem that non-duality could not be an object, since objects require the dualistic equilibrium of subjects. The whole thing is a paradoxical mess.
On the other hand, if the paradox can be transcended somehow, and enlightenment is possible, then with perfected vision an "enlightened being" looks around and sees that everyone is enlightened, sort of, maybe. As Paul of Tarsus wrote, "To the pure man all things are pure." It seems to me that the notion of some people being enlightened and others (the overwhelming majority) not being enlightened is itself an unenlightened, dualistic notion. So the whole thing is a mind-warping paradox, and I leave it for now. The head doesn't wrap around it, or the heart either. Best not to think about it too much…unless it results in despair and a breakdown of belief systems which results in…oh, let's just forget it.
one of my teachers (I can’t say if he’s enlightened)
So immediately after the talk in Ubud, while people (including the cautionary friend of Paul Lowe) were talking with me, Nirgrantha the host gave me two more books by Jed McKenna(!). He also amassed from his library a little pile of books which he loaned to me. I'm not sure if I'll ever read the McKenna books, unless it's in an Asian forest where I have nothing better to do (although I am curious about his theory on Moby-Dick, since I've been sorely tempted for years to write an article describing my own theory); but one book in particular I was instantly interested in: The God That Failed (St. Martin's Press, 1986) by Hugh Milne, formerly known as Swami Shivamurti, Rajneesh's personal bodyguard. It's a "whistleblower" kind of book about the Bhagwan, and the organization he founded.
So now I know a lot more about Osho. For example, my impression that he probably got first pick of all the pretty sannyasins is apparently totally true, as Mr. Milne claims that the Bhagwan had "special darshans" with young females frequently (like twice or more per day), in addition to a more or less permanent British mistress. As for how the Bhagwan could be so mesmerizing to his disciples, the author says this:
Many people have asked me how a sensible, independent person could be mesmerised by someone like Bhagwan. The answer, as many sannyasins would agree, is that once you had been affected by his energy and experienced the sensation of being touched by it, you knew that there was nothing like it, no bliss to compare with it.
What was it about Bhagwan that attracted people so? He was undoubtedly very confident in himself and of what he was saying. He was intensely, almost overpoweringly, charismatic, a most persuasive orator and no mean magician….He himself did seem to be enlightened, but then, as I reminded myself, I had nothing whatsoever to compare him with….In the darshan sessions I had no doubt that he was a healer, a mind reader, a clairvoyant, a soothsayer, and the wisest man I had ever met.
It may be, though, that in addition to the charisma, mystique, apparent psychic powers, and large, dark, penetrating eyes, one thing which drew people to him, and to many other spiritual teachers like Amma and Neem Karoli Baba, was the feeling, mentioned by Milne elsewhere in the book, that this person accepted his disciples with absolutely unconditional love, knowing everything about them yet wholeheartedly accepting them anyway. In this world, that is rare to the point of being priceless.
Although I found Milne's book very informative, I cannot consider him to be a very objective observer of what he wrote about. From the beginning he seemed to have a very subjective, rather "New Age" way of experiencing the world, and as his experience with the Bhagwan soured, he became, as the book progressed, more and more bitter and derogatory, seemingly biased against the Rajneesh organization to justify his break with it. But then again, it is practically impossible to find information about Rajneesh that isn't biased one way or the other.
One idea I've had about the Bhagwan for years is that, although he may have really been operating at a higher level of consciousness, and may really have had psychic powers such as seeing into the minds of others, a higher level of consciousness is not necessarily a sign of goodness. A monkey, for instance, is at a higher level of consciousness than a sheep; yet a monkey is much naughtier than a sheep. In the Buddhist cosmos Māra, the Buddhist "devil," is a very advanced being, living in the highest deva realm. The Christian Lucifer also is an angel, albeit a fallen one. So I suppose Osho may have been like this: a naughty monkey among sheep.
What especially interested me in Milne's book was his comments on Swami Anand Teertha, better known nowadays as Paul Lowe. I can't help but like Paul’s style, even though (or partly because) he was such a lustful swami in the old days. Maybe he still is, although he is well into his 80’s, age-wise. Once the Bhagwan ordered Teertha to become celibate; and according to Milne, "Teertha's interpretation of this edict was to restrict himself to prolific digital manipulation of his female group participants." Also, the author says that "Teertha's group was not for the fainthearted," and that "Teertha's natural propensity to push people beyond their limits of self-control led to many broken bones and other injuries." Swami Teertha reportedly experienced at least two broken bones himself, one from a jealous girlfriend trying to break his head, but only managing to break an arm, and one apparently from a guy totally losing it when required, as an advanced exercise in detachment, to watch another man having sex with his own mate. (I laugh.) Although Shivamurti and Teertha had their ups and downs, Shiva/Milne admits to having deep respect for Teertha/Lowe and calls him "one of the most insightful of human beings."
I may as well add, before moving on, that the friend of Paul Lowe who warned me about his shortcomings also mentioned that Paul's "method" of pushing the limits of “normality” and encouraging a kind of moral anarchy tends to work only for those who have strong and independent minds, but that weaker people, and those who become emotionally dependent upon the method or the teacher, often become more messed up than they were before, seemingly addicted to the chaos of the method. I would like to think that I would be strong and independent enough to prosper with the artificial stabilizers kicked away. But who knows.
Another book about Osho which Nirgrantha lent me was Don't Kill Him!: the story of my life with Bhagwan Rajneesh, by the notorious Ma Anand Sheela, who spent a few years in prison for attempted murder, etc. Considering that practically everything I know about her supports the notion that she is untrustworthy and rather egomaniacal, I wasn't much interested in the book, especially after seeing how she attempted to whitewash her character completely, claiming total innocence of any wrongdoing, or else claiming that what little wrongdoing she did engage in was as a dutiful puppet of the Bhagwan. I don't like being lied to, so I had an intuitive dislike for the book. Again, mainly I was interested in comments about my hero Teertha. According to Sheela, he was a selfish, greedy, obnoxious ass who would have sex with any woman. But her attitude, and her book, are far from unbiased. Furthermore, Teertha may have progressed since then.
To top all the confusion off, Nirgrantha himself, who had told me previously that the Bhagwan, in his opinion, wasn't enlightened, subsequently retracted that judgement, in favor of the ambiguity which reigns supreme over such matters anyhow. The subject of enlightened beings is somewhat like a big conspiracy theory—we'll never really know the all details of the JFK assassination, or the 9/11 disaster, and we'll likewise never really know whether this or that person really was or is enlightened, whatever "enlightened" even means.
The talk in Ubud went so well that I was invited to lead a meditation retreat, and to become a teacher of the group (possibly even "the" teacher, according to Nirgrantha); and Nirgrantha even mentioned the possibility of putting my picture on his "spiritual hall of fame" wall, along with photos of Rajneesh, H. H. the Dalai Lama, Joseph Goldstein, his friend Ram Dass cooking eggs, and I don't remember who else. That was flattering.
After the talk, before going back to the cemetery, I spent a few days at my friend Tony's little art gallery paradise (described in earlier installments of this narrative). At one point he mentioned that what really sells in art nowadays is "death and pornography." So I suppose any artist who specializes in naked dead people could really make it big. One highlight of that visit, which highlights the difference of the Western mentality from the Asian, is my repeated requests, finally realized, for a "frog ladder" to be installed in the fish pond in his little garden of Eden. Frogs would jump in and be unable to get back out again. I notice these things. So Bhima and Uma, the two young adult family members, built a little ramp to satisfy me. It was nice, but I informed them that it would be illegal in America, because it had no hand rail for safety. I'm hoping the hand rail will be installed by my next visit.
To make a long story a little longer, I spent another week in Bali, and gave several more Dharma talks to sophisticated Indonesian city dwellers. I was beginning to scratch my head in the effort to come up with something to talk about that I hadn't already talked about, until I realized that it's probably better to talk about the same themes repeatedly. If it's important, people should hear it more than once, and we don't have very good memories anyway. I can repeat myself and people don't even realize it. Then I came to the USA for the big challenge.
On my first Sunday in America I went to my friend Aaron's home for swun, or monk food, which he and his Burmese wife generously offered. After the meal Aaron wanted us to watch a documentary on YouTube about Buddhism in ancient Gandhara, and how ancient Greek culture has affected modern Buddhism. The thing is that the documentary was originally in French, and when people are interviewed who do not speak English, and there are many of them, there is no translation. So I came up with the brilliant idea of turning on the YouTube CC subtitles. It so happens that the subtitles are generated automatically by a computer—so if someone doesn't speak English very clearly, like the British narrator for instance, the subtitles became very strange. The Buddha was continually called "the border," the Sakya tribe the "suck your tribe," the Kushan Empire alternated between the "koosh on Empire" and the "Tucson Empire," etc. But when people not speaking English began talking, all hell broke loose in Aaron's peaceful home: The subtitle generator did not realize that these good folks were not speaking English, and came up with subtitles that had Aaron and me laughing like fiends. (I realize that a monk should not laugh in public—there's actually a rule against it—but this was hilarious.) It was like watching a documentary and a comedy simultaneously. To give a typical example, at one point a central Asian townsman is interviewed, and says, in all seriousness,
Money and the yo shit got Hyjal it was P going all out I was looking for locations earned a young man must suck it up men who nah no kids even allowed a movie ended with all the love go to work younger we do you all when the gunman on a router I don't know I know that.
At times like that, or when I'm trying to have a video chat with the screen continually freezing or the sound breaking off, I feel like we are still living in a technologically primitive age. Anyway, I highly recommend the documentary, which is right here. And don't forget to turn on the CC. Even the serious stuff is interesting. For example, did you know that there are ancient images of the Buddha carved with Hercules standing next to him? I've read elsewhere that the deified Hercules and the bodhisattva Vajrapani eventually merged into the same being.
While I was still in Bali a member of the Western Vipassana group sent me a link to a long interview with Adyashanti, yet another Western person who claims to be, or at least implies that he is, enlightened. I finally watched it here in California, and was unsettled a little by the eerie similarity of some of what he says to what Jed McKenna says…although venerable Adya appears not to be an egomaniac. It may be no coincidence that several of his pictures came up on a Google Images search for Jed McKenna—with none coming up of Jed himself. What he (Adya) says makes near-perfect sense, like so many of the others; although I consider it rather incongruous, or counterintuitive, that an enlightened being would say "sort of" so many times, sometimes two or three times in one sentence. And in one podcast of his that I watched he appeared to be nervous at the beginning of the talk. Would an enlightened being get nervous before a public appearance? Who the hell knows! Anyway, the interview is well worth watching, and can be viewed by clicking on this. Then another person sent me a video of Rupert Spira, who is yet another Western person who appears to be enlightened. So now they're coming thick and fast, and we're wading through a greater confusion of possibly enlightened beings than before, so I'd better just stop. The situation is getting out of hand.
In conclusion though, I would like to give some advice: Don't think about whether or not you are enlightened. First of all, it might not mean anything at all here in Samsara. But even if it does, thinking "I am not enlightened" simply reinforces it; and thinking "I am enlightened" is something that any respectable arahant would never do, except in scriptures. Don't even think about being enlightened in the future, because it just creates more separation. We can't understand it by thinking about it anyway.
APPENDIX: Some Computer-Generated Poetry
Following is a monologue supposedly delivered by a French scholar, on the captioned version of Eurasia: Gandhara, The Renaissance of Buddhism. I think it could really be publishable in some modern or postmodern poetry journal. Completely unpretentious, completely unselfconscious, completely unaffected.
The and also dust
Doofus ocean hull of the ku ku ku
This too but he so often a the match
Scheck buy nor yet do
Plywood cut discern so so did the net to
Who shot an example wayyy her
The path to do to them booed up or via computer
Miss you the mattress giant
Chandana muddy pit and for that the the flow
Laugh am less so
The same issue key airlift Tia
I'm ap booked love Joe so they occur the firm
Don't ever present this your who shone dogged on the Administaff
Above bruised up is open to the miss you EC
You note for me to live as the move for me have a cam
And Jean MacPhee the empty pass crucial
He says he and one is not an otaku sir.