Adyashanti began teaching in 1996, at the request of his Zen teacher with whom he had been studying for 14 years. Since then, more and more people have been drawn to his direct style of introducing people to spiritual awakening, what Adya calls “the natural state.” Here, he talks about his new audio program, Spontaneous Awakening.
Sounds True: The word “spontaneous” is self-explanatory but the word “awakening” seems to mean a lot of things to different people, depending upon whom you're speaking to. What do you mean by awakening?
Adyashanti: Awakening is a fundamental shift of identity out of the personality, out of the mind—the identity that is lodged in thought and mind and memory and “me-ness.” True awakening is when identity shifts out of that “me-ness.” What it shifts into is something that has no form—whether we call it “awareness” or “consciousness” or “spirit,” it's more important where the identity shifts out of than how we label what it shifts into.
Sounds True: Does this awakening happen at one point in time such that we are forever changed? Or does it happen in many little moments? There seems to be a number of different opinions about this.
Adyashanti: There are viewpoints that awakening is sudden and total, and there are schools of gradual awakening. In my experience, both occur. For some people the awakening out of their personal identity is going to happen all at once and instantly. For others, it sort of creeps up on them until at some point they notice they are no longer exclusively identified with their “me-ness,” their personality. It can really run the gamut on how the awakening displays itself.
Sounds True: One of the cornerstones of your teachings on the path to awakening is self-inquiry. How did you come upon this?
Adyashanti: I started to question everything. Whatever deep burning question I had, I would write about it. And I would write as if I was going to give a talk because I think we all become the most clear when we're trying to communicate information, rather than when we're speaking to ourselves.
I would write my self into the extent of my knowledge. Sometimes it was literally right in the middle of a sentence that I would feel I had nothing more to say. I had written myself right up to my wall, my stuck place. Then I would just sit there, and I would refuse to write down another word that wasn't authentic and totally real and absolutely true. I found that just by sitting there and keeping my concentration on the exact point where my own personal knowledge ran out, eventually out of nowhere something would start to flow, and I would write the next word. Eventually I would come to a point of completion.
This was my way of inquiring. I saw this stillness and silence, and the ability to be ruthlessly honest with myself. I knew to stay with my line of inquiry, and it became my spiritual path—this questioning, looking at things very deeply, very intently. Then, of course, the awakening part is very spontaneous.
Sounds True: I've heard you say that you don't believe that awakening is rare; that this is a myth we have to dispel, and it is one of the things that keeps people from enlightenment. You really think awakening is not a rare occurrence?
Adyashanti: That's right.
Sounds True: Yet, this idea is so pervasive—the idea that enlightenment is only for a chosen few—so we give up on the idea that it's possible for us.
Adyashanti: Sure, because all of us feel like we're not the chosen ones. Most of us feel pretty ordinary, and if we have this conscious or unconscious belief that enlightenment is rare—that it's for only very extraordinary people—it totally contradicts our experience because we're not extraordinary, most of us, and we feel very ordinary, and we don't feel like rare chosen people.
And so this idea, it is one of the, if not the most powerful impediment, to awakening. We have images of the awake being, and they are all sort of halo-enshrouded, with long hair, wearing flowing gowns. And if they are doing anything in life they're always teaching, and they always have disciples, and people falling at their feet. These images are out there, and yet it's simply not so. It's very hard for our minds to get that enlightenment can look like your grandmother, or the grocer. Enlightenment doesn't need to look in any way extraordinary.