Thoughts on the Zen sickness

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2 weeks 2 days ago #118360 by Kate Gowen
For those unfamiliar with this term, it refers to the determined attachment students often form to one of the states they experience n the course of practice.

Traditionally, the “medicine” for this condition is supplied by personal interaction with one’s teacher— the teacher with whom one has an ongoing MUTUALLY COMMITTED relationship.

Now, many— maybe even most— of us here not only don’t have such a relationship, it has not really dawned on us that such a relationship is possible or useful. We’re like dharma singles checking out attractive dharma personalities to date.

SO, conversation started.
Who wants to chime in?

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2 weeks 2 days ago #118361 by Papa-Dusko
Most of the time I think a person causing damage is not even aware it’s causing the damage. 
Or it sees it’s unfolding but fails to do anything about it. 

Not having a teacher or dhamma friend/s to check in with can cause stuff proliferating and spinning into all sorts of nastiest. 

I think I can see this “sense of loss” hanging over most of my latest actions. It’s almost like this sense of loss (sadness) is the very garden for all other seeds to spring out of and be nurtured by. 

Hence, some see the seeds popping into action but failing to see the very garden nurturing the seeds and without which the seeds might pop into sprouting but could not be able to sustain themselves and would die before causing any serious damage. 

I’m not sure what I wrote is right. 

Posting out of support for this topic. :) 

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2 weeks 2 days ago #118362 by Kate Gowen
Much appreciated, Dusko. And EVERY honest personal observation is valuable for making a rich conversation.

I mean, back at the mythical beginning of Buddhism, what did the students do when Gautama died?
They must have had to “talk among themselves” and figure out how to write, and update, the texts.

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2 weeks 2 days ago #118363 by Chris Marti
I want to echo both Kate and Dusko here --

In today's environment, it's often the case that folks don't have a teacher (like Michael Taft). They're left to their own devices, reading texts and making assumptions about what to do and how to do it. Folks may get bad advice from others online. Sometimes even dangerous advice. Message boards, while sometimes helpful, are a poor substitute for a much closer, honest relationship with a teacher who becomes intimate with one's practice. Some people can do this practice in today's online environment. Some can't. Some will struggle and quit pretty quickly. Some will struggle for years and get nowhere. Some will eventually figure things out. Some will eventually seek a teacher - I hope.

I'm very skeptical (today especially) of how accurately we can gauge others using just message boards and maybe the occasional video chat.

More grist!

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2 weeks 2 days ago #118364 by Chris Marti
By the way, I sought a teacher (Kenneth Folk) because the practice had begun to scare me and I was out of my depth. I didn't know how to proceed. I had been practicing Zen for some years and had access to a Roshi and more experienced meditators, and I wanted that kind of help with what has become a daunting vipassana practice. Kenneth struck, me as easy to talk to and our personalities were sympatico. Having a teacher worked well, until one day it didn't - but that's for another topic.

So... I was motivated by fear.

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2 weeks 2 days ago #118365 by Kate Gowen
Fear, grief, rage, lust, even confusion…

discovering their hidden helpful powers is the purpose of Tantra. Once you peel back the centuries of culture-specific language and ritual.

I have been cruising Michael Taft’s website, partly intrigued by his use of terms like “nebulosity” and “vividness”— and, sure enough, among the meditation books he recommends are Ngakpa Chogyam’s Spectrum of Ecstasy (Tantra) and Roaring Silence (Dzogchen). So he HAS absorbed some of the same influences as I have.

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2 weeks 2 days ago - 2 weeks 2 days ago #118366 by Papa-Dusko

Chris Marti wrote: By the way, I sought a teacher (Kenneth Folk) …

So... I was motivated by fear.


Ha! :D Same here. I sought Kenneth Folk out of fear to re-start my practice. I practiced for several years, from daily Reiki a year, then to daily Ki-breathing (Aikido style) a year, then daily Shamatha (calm-abiding for almost 3 years). 

During my very first year of daily Shamatha I’ve experienced Dissolution (Taft calls this mush) and afterwards all the other aspects of the Dukkha Nanas. I panicked. Had no idea what was going on. A Zen friend suggested this guy called Ingram. Any way I rolled up the mat never ever to return to meditation! Like ever! :D 

After a few years I just could not stand being stuck in the place I was in, so reached out to Kenneth (to try that strange thing people call Noting) even though we were certainly not simpatico :) his presence was of sure benefit to me, at that time. 

Funny thing to say was Kenneth trying to map me and failing to do so in the start. He tried to suggest I practice visualisation which I hated and immediately ignored :D 
Next meeting he suggested Jhana which again I just ignored and kept unhindered to plow through samsara with Noting. 

Then the following meeting he said “maybe all you need is a dhamma talk” so he talked and that kept me motivated to stay the course. 
Meeting after meeting dhamma talks. Can’t remember a single talk but I listened intently without interrupting him. At the end he asked if I had questions. I would say no thank you, this was great. Until next time. Same thing next time. Me report what happened in short and Kenneth would then start a dhamma talk. Oh he did say that he will position himself on the camera so I can see his hands as he will use mudras during the talk. Not sure about that. 

Ok, long reply this one! 
Last edit: 2 weeks 2 days ago by Papa-Dusko.

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2 weeks 2 days ago #118367 by Ona Kiser
So one question I have is: if it's natural and normal for some (most) people to at some points cling fiercely to their recent experiences or to a particular method or to a particular teacher's teachings or anything else (since these kinds of actions and reactions occur in many contexts)... do we need to fix that? And does pointing it out fix it? I think if you are in such a phase one of the characteristics of it is that you don't hear criticism/correction. 

I had as an example today: a student said something really rude, shocking some of his colleagues. I corrected him gently along the lines "It's better to say something more respectful, such as xyz..., it wouldn't be appropriate to use that kind of expression in this context, etc." He may simply think of that as a 'personal attack that is totally undeserved because I was just being honest and saying it like it is." I don't think I could change his mind my rational argument or even by threat of punishment (the latter might make him stop talking about it in front of me, but not change his mind). 

If someone is really attached to some experience, view, etc. are there rules about how they are permitted to communicate that? Is a person allowed to be zealous? Frustrated? Aggravated? Over-enthusiastic? Inexperienced? Unwilling to admit to those? What are the parameters for expressing THAT experience?

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2 weeks 2 days ago #118369 by Kate Gowen
“Rules” would apply to class participation, so as to keep class useful to most members, even if potential disrupters don’t like the rules. The teacher convenes the class and has the right to set the rules. The students have the right to accept the rules and participate, or reject the rules and leave. The student does NOT have the right to reject the rules and remain in class to fight with others.

What we are doing here is conversing, however, not holding class— even though some of the same parameters apply. Just as a conversation is not a bar brawl.

All that said, personal instruction, which becomes necessary beyond class instruction to teach the basic information and technique, itself has specific requirements of the teacher as well as the INFORMED commitment (and faith) of the student. The teacher needs to have demonstrable mastery of the both the subject matter and the skillful means in dealing with difficult people and circumstances.

And very few people seem to know what the parameters are. Our whole culture is just on the outskirts of new territory and not sure if there is a map, or maps, guides, translators, or how to choose.

Half a century ago, I wrote in my journal, “My mistakes map my space…”
At the time, I didn’t expect to still be working on the map forever. LOL

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2 weeks 2 days ago #118370 by Chris Marti

If someone is really attached to some experience, view, etc. are there rules about how they are permitted to communicate that? Is a person allowed to be zealous? Frustrated? Aggravated? Over-enthusiastic? Inexperienced? Unwilling to admit to those? What are the parameters for expressing THAT experience?

I have no idea how common getting "stuck" is. In all the time I've been involved with dharma-related message boards, about 20 years, I've seen a handful of people who are clearly stuck in emptiness and who truly believe they've thus solved the mystery of existence.

I think people are allowed (it's their right, actually) to get excited, zealous, and yes, stuck. I also think it's okay for a teacher or a friend of that person to voice their concern about the situation. This is not easy. People who get stuck like this most often don't want to hear a different opinion.

What do you think, Ona?

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2 weeks 2 days ago #118371 by Chris Marti

I have been cruising Michael Taft’s website, partly intrigued by his use of terms like “nebulosity” and “vividness”— and, sure enough, among the meditation books he recommends are Ngakpa Chogyam’s Spectrum of Ecstasy (Tantra) and Roaring Silence (Dzogchen). So he HAS absorbed some of the same influences as I have.

It would seem that one of the admirable things about students of Shinzen Young is their ability to cross traditions effectively, using components from those traditions to address specific spiritual issues.

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2 weeks 2 days ago #118372 by Kate Gowen
Yes! It is wonderful to see. “Progress of insight” for real and for everyone.

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2 weeks 2 days ago #118373 by Ona Kiser

Chris Marti wrote:

...I have no idea how common getting "stuck" is. In all the time I've been involved with dharma-related message boards, about 20 years, I've seen a handful of people who are clearly stuck in emptiness and who truly believe they've thus solved the mystery of existence.

I think people are allowed (it's their right, actually) to get excited, zealous, and yes, stuck. I also think it's okay for a teacher or a friend of that person to voice their concern about the situation. This is not easy. People who get stuck like this most often don't want to hear a different opinion.

What do you think, Ona?


I also don't know how common it is. The point of a forum is to discuss things, so it seems natural to comment on each others' posts. 

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2 weeks 2 days ago #118374 by Chris Marti

The point of a forum is to discuss things, so it seems natural to comment on each others' posts. 

Yes. Otherwise, this is a series of billboards :D

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2 weeks 2 days ago - 2 weeks 2 days ago #118379 by microbuddha
I walked around pretty "drunk on emptiness" in 2019 ago when something just happened one morning while seeing a patient.  I was looking at this older woman's knee ( while doing a skin check )  and then something just clicked, blipped, I don't know exactly what.  Time stood still for a second.  There was just this quick merging of her and me, I just disappeared.  I left the room and started laughing and crying simultaneously thinking " what the hell is this, this is wonderful.  There is nothing to do, nowhere to go, everything is right here all the time " My "self" just felt vaporized, with just a massive relaxation, like 50lb backpack was just dropped off me.  A lightness of being persisted.  I could take a one deep breath and experience the same feeling that I would get after meditating for a half hour.  Just wow, but like, normal, like life should be. 

There wasn't a teacher to speak to but I knew something pretty significant happened.  For a few weeks it kept up.  I contacted Vince Horn and Michael Taft because I thought talking to them might give me some clarity.  Then my son got diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma.   How did I feel?   Teflon coated.  The emotions were there but they just washed right through me, I just knew that everything was going to be ok.  The "bad stuff " just didn't have anyplace to hold onto any longer.  I wasn't manic, proselyzing, weird, just really ordinary.  No fireworks.   My wife couldn't quite understand, I was pretty much acting the same but she thought I was just shellshocked, dissociating.    Life became easier, less drama filled, even less serious than my usual playful self. 

 My son went through chemo, radiation, then stem cell transplant, then more radiation, immunotherapy, and is cancer free a year now. Did it suck?  yeah, but it would have been a lot worse.  How do I even put that into words?  The less suckiness of a horrible thing that didn't feel so horrible because of dedicated, intense practice.  So I kept waiting for this change in perception to wear off and it really didn't.  It is not a big deal, because, nobody really knows about it, or really would care about it.  Life goes on, now in a slightly altered better way.   It is really just a way of looking at things  and it is available to me in different degrees, always.  The somatic feeling of dropping 50lb backpack isn't always there and it is tough to know if the lightness the same or I have just habituated to this feeling of general          " okay-ness ".   A teacher will probably help me with some of these things and I should be starting with someone in the next few weeks.   
Last edit: 2 weeks 2 days ago by microbuddha.

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2 weeks 2 days ago #118380 by Kate Gowen
What a lovely account.

I think that what makes someone “catch” the Zen sickness is that little sly ego trick of wanting to “own” the enlightenment/awakening. If one sees that impulse for what it is, wellness proceeds.

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2 weeks 2 days ago #118382 by microbuddha
I think I read enough about the zen tradition in my young teens that the idea of making a big deal about any of this was not going to really enter my mind.  Better to just think it is Makyo!   Sounds great, young grasshopper.  Just keep practicing.   The odd thing is that after this little event, my hunger for dharma and understanding of it ( felt sense of what these people were really talking about...able to feel in passages and have a different type of knowing ) went way up but my desire for formal practice just tanked.  What is the purpose?  Why bother?  I am walking around just feeling great taking a breath or two and whoahh.. just this deep type of equanimity and nothing can touch me, cause I don't really exist like I used to think I did.    Well, yeah there is a lot more to do.   So, if I ever sat down with a teacher around this time he/she would have probably said, hey this is great... there might be something a little different around the corner, why don't you do this now and notice what happens.  But then part of me was saying, " you don't need a stinking formal teacher ".   So that dynamic has always come into play teacher/no teacher conundrum.  Maybe a teacher could help me!  HA. LOL.  

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2 weeks 1 day ago #118383 by Noah
Replied by Noah on topic Thoughts on the Zen sickness
I’ve definitely had overly enthusiastic phases of my practice. Working with symptoms of mood disorder has helped keep me grounded. There is a clear barometer of what progress looks like.  Also being in an in person , peer led , pragmatic dharma sangha for years has helped.  I can see the patterns. Like whatever anyones current new practice is, they think that must be the solve for everyone else lol.

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2 weeks 1 day ago #118384 by Noah
Replied by Noah on topic Thoughts on the Zen sickness
Wanted to add that I’ve found that knowing how to have productive disagreements is helpful for what I think may be “zen sickness.” There are useful pointers in a variety of views, taking what’s useful, leaving the rest.  And also putting my eggs in the right basket - which for me, is the ongoing reduction (& behavioral expression) of differing aspects of my experience & the increased interest in helping others.  The wrong basket might be praise from others , meditative states, specific advanced practices , etc. 

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2 weeks 1 day ago #118385 by Noah
Replied by Noah on topic Thoughts on the Zen sickness
One more thought -

there’s an interesting episode of deconstructing yourself , with a h almaas. Almaas talks about how “the great masters are very relaxed & spacious , they can talk about any topic with openness. Any topic except for one which challenges their own understanding of the nature of reality.”  Michael laughed when he said that & I did too.

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2 weeks 1 day ago #118390 by Shargrol
Stumbled on this while googling "zen sickness"

Foyan said there were only two kinds:
To go looking for a donkey while riding on the donkey.
To be unwilling to dismount the donkey once having mounted the donkey.

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2 weeks 1 day ago #118391 by Shargrol
Ah, interesting... this seems to be the classic zen sickness story:

Zen Sickness, by Zen Master Hakuin – Buddhism now

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2 weeks 1 day ago - 2 weeks 1 day ago #118393 by Shargrol
Zen Sickness / Spiritual Bypassing – Brain Dump

“Adyashanti has observed that spiritual people tend to be more afraid of living than they are of dying, and some respond to the powerful transformational process that awakening precipitates by retreating from active participation in the world to the detached position of the disengaged witness. Also known as the “Zen sickness” or “spiritual bypassing,” this tactic turns awakening from a living, breathing reality into a fixed position or point of view and prevents it from unfolding, deepening, and embodying in an ordinary, everyday way.
Claiming that there’s no doer, for example, you may decline to do anything and spend your days in stubborn and determined inaction. In social situations, you may remain on the periphery, detached and undisturbed but also unresponsive and inflexible, with a smug, knowing half-smile on your face. In relationships, you may participate to the degree that suits you but pull back into a forced equanimity and insist you don’t have any feelings or needs when difficulties arise. “Who, me? I never get angry or upset. After all, I don’t really exist.” In this way, the ego uses awakening as a pretext for remaining in control by withdrawing from a world that seems demanding, frightening, overwhelming, or chaotic. If you can’t control the board, you simply refuse to play the game.Because awakening generally eliminates at least a certain amount of conditioning and leaves you freer and less reactive, you may believe that your journey is complete. But the lifelong process of deeper embodiment has usually just begun. At this point, you may be tempted to turn awakening into a fixed position or point of view, a new identity to which you become attached, another filter through which you relate to life.



...This unflinching investigation requires a discriminating wisdom that sees reality as complete and perfect just the way it is, yet at the same time acknowledges the relative imperfections, the stuck places that awakening has yet to illuminate and redeem. Here again, we encounter the core paradox: everything is perfect just as it is—but when the roof leaks, have it repaired.



...In short, spirituality invariably leads to withdrawal. Withdrawal is essential – from certain forms of identity, wishes, desires. Ultimately, though, this is just one stop along the path. At some point, the absolute truth of insight, and relative truth of everyday experience, must be held in harmony. To cling too tightly to “absolute truth”, Stephan cautions, is ironically a new identity.
Last edit: 2 weeks 1 day ago by Shargrol.

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1 week 6 days ago #118454 by Tom Otvos

Shargrol wrote: Ah, interesting... this seems to be the classic zen sickness story:

Zen Sickness, by Zen Master Hakuin – Buddhism now


I am not sure what to make of this. On first read, I took it to be some kind of anti-practice, that the hermit was pulling Hakuin's leg to make him not take himself so seriously. But Wikipedia suggests that this was a practice that actually helped him and continues to be practiced.

How do you interpret this?

-- tomo

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1 week 6 days ago #118455 by Kate Gowen
A rough guesstimate— sounds like redirecting someone who has emptied himself into sterility back to body sensations, via an (unfamiliar sounding) Tantric visualization practice.

Maybe Zen sickness is a matter of fixation on a practice and its results to the point of having no spontaneity, flow— or joy. A specific, and particularly distressing form of being stuck in a rut.

Seems like a lot of the Zen stories, koans, abrupt actions of masters— are about dislodging students who get stuck. As if getting stuck was a known, expected feature of long-term practice.

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