Dialogs With My Teacher #39

Michael McAlister Blog, Dialogs 4 Comments

Here’s†another installment†in a series of emails that took place between Michael and one of his senior students beginning the Summer of 2009. May you find the exchange interesting and enriching.


Oct. 8, 2010 (#39)

Student: Why havenít you ever publicly claimed that you are enlightened. Is this because of how it may be taken, and that it may not be helpful?

Michael: No matter how I answer that question, I’m screwed. If I say ‘yes,’ it either turns people off or helps generate inappropriate attachments to my particular expression of realization. If I say ‘no,’ it usually lets people decide for themselves and forces some deep examination of me which usually disappoints them since, more than anything else, I’m a normal guy.

Student: Why would this being normal be a problem?

Michael: It isnít. But lots of seekers aren’t into having the Dharma expressed from a normal guy, even though that’s what this teaching is all about. The fact is that it doesn’t matter what any of us think since our thinking, and the attachments to the arising thoughts, are what prevent realization in the first place. I’m nothing other than what I am, what you are, what all things are, at the core of Being. This makes me utterly ordinary and kindaí boring in some ways. Thereís nothing really special going on.

Student: Then what sets you apart? Why do you people come to listen to your talks and do the whole retreat thing and so forth?

Michael: I donít know what sets me apart. I donít look at it that way. Iím just reminding people of a Truth that theyíve forgotten. Most likely they begin to trust me and my approach because they see that I don’t feel particularly caught by much. This doesnít mean that Iím disengaged but rather that I don’t get very stuck most of the time. To be sure, I still have worldly struggles but they don’t stick. And if they do get sticky, I usually watch as an appropriate response arises.

Student: This living without getting stuck is enlightenment?

Michael: Thatís a good way to put it. But back to your question: Does this make me enlightened? Let me counter that question with another: Who is it that cares?

Student: That’s just what I’d imagined as your response. I’ve not heard anyone say, “I’m enlightened” and not had it sound egoic.

Comments 4

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  1. bradleypaulsmith

    Michael, some zen buddhists from history having experienced kensho felt superiority. Some quite famous and influential. I believe I have experienced kensho. I feel nothing. Most of those “masters” returned to contrition. Kensho has only awakened me to the suffering of human-kind. Is accepting suffering the beginning of enlightenment?

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      Michael McAlister

      Accepting suffering suggests that we’ve moved on from resisting suffering. So, in a way, it’s further down the path, so to speak.

      As to your other point, I’d say that whenever we start to explore the meaning of experiences like kensho, we get into a minefield of language and ego. If, for example, “I” have a kensho and “I” interpret its meaning based on who and what “I” have grown to know as “me,” then the kensho didn’t really do much. It may have pointed to a spaciousness that’s beyond “I,” but in this case, “I” grasped at it and realigned itself with what it thinks is a new, and improved (maybe even superior-feeling) self. Quite frankly, kensho isn’t any big deal. Except, if it’s authentic, it’ll most likely utterly change your life.

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