Falling Lessons: Yoga, Zen, Sex, Love & Other Teachers.

Via Aron Stein
on Apr 10, 2012
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Monk and hummming bird

When you are on a retreat in a monastery something interesting happens. You never know what, but it’s always interesting. Today the walls were melting.

It might sound a bit like an LSD trip, but I have never taken LSD. In a monastery.

A shimmering light poured over the hardwood floors and every surface seemed to be slowly breathing. I watched a monk standing by a window, his robe a shadow against the sunlight streaming through the frost-covered glass. Suddenly I was he, looking out over the garden. A cracked Buddha statue gazed back. White stones lined a path covered with fog. The branches of cherry trees were beginning to bud through melting ice. A humming bird flitted by and hovered as it drank from a feeder, then flew up into the sky.

I flew back into my body, breathed deep, and thought about how fascinating hummingbirds are. Physics tells us that their wings should not support them and they should fall from the sky. Someone forgot to tell that to the humming birds. I smiled and waited for the bell. When it rang, I stood and walked back to our Zen Masters room, bowed and entered.

Genpo Roshi was reclined in lazy boy chair, sipping coffee. He wore blue jeans, a flannel shirt and motorcycle boots. It was a cold day for riding a motorcycle. Roshi was very different than when I had first met him 17 years ago. At the time he was rather formal and intimidating; a stern moody Zen Master whose teacher had recently passed away in a tragic hot-tubing incident. Roshi was a stout body builder, usually wearing his dark robes and a darker expression. He carried a stick, which in Japan they used to hit monks who had drifted off in meditation. I never drifted off.

When Roshi spoke he would usually say something profound like:

“What was your original face before your parents were born?”


“The way up is the way down!”

In our interviews Roshi would often begin by asking me a deep question about my meditation practice or a Koan I was working on.

Today he just smiled and said. “How’s it going?”

I looked around and said. “I feel like I am high.”

Roshi nodded and then mentioned how he once tried to get his mother to take LSD to facilitate enlightenment. It hadn’t worked out well.

I asked him a question to which he seemed surprised as if he had never been asked it before. It was one of those Zen questions you would have to be there to get and even then it probably wouldn’t make much sense. Zen is like that. It was a profound question I am sure, but I don’t remember what it was. I do remember that we talked for awhile, solved the mysteries of the universe and then Roshi drank the rest of his coffee.

“It’s all love,” I reflected. It was. And it wasn’t.

“Yes, it’s awareness. It’s tantric.” Roshi added.

“It’s ungraspable.” I said.

“So don’t try.”

Don’t grasp it I thought, and watched as my mind tried to grasp it.

As humans we grasp. It’s what we are good at. Grasping, even though we know that everything in life are just fleeting moments. Like a sand mandala, we build a something in our minds only to watch the colors drift into the wind. Nothing remains but the awareness of what was. And then we are somewhere else, our minds grasping the next experience.

Quantum physics is discovering what lies beneath everything, is awareness. The deeper we look, we find something increasingly abstract. There is no longer a separation between the observer and the observed. The universe slips through our fingers like sand. All that is left is a pure consciousness rising and falling in waves of vibrations. The relationship between awareness is what creates the universe. It is this interactive consciousness that creates light waves, particles, everything we see and experience. In yoga traditions this might be called God Consciousness, divine love. In Buddhism it’s the absolute or nirvana. It’s ungraspable but elegant, beautiful and abstract.

Then we are back. And when we return to the real world things get a little messier.

Shortly after that last retreat I received a powerful lesson in not grasping. I had been one of the few accepted to become a facilitator of Genpo Roshis system. For some reason I hesitated to accept; something had not felt right. I decided to put things on hold, and then it hit. Genpo had an affair with some of his students and the resident Sensei.

It was a blow, though personally I wasn’t too surprised. But if its one thing we do well it’s judge. Eventually the resulting uproar destroyed our community and hurt many people. But for myself there was a strange sense of freedom. It’s sad to walk past the empty monastery, a place I called home, soon to be a home to someone else. But the memories and awareness still remain. Awareness rises and falls. Ungraspable.

A year later I went through my Anusara yoga teacher training for the second time. I wanted to completely immerse myself and deepen my teaching and my practice. Open to Grace is the first principal of Anusura. Open to something larger than you are, a state of yoga or union with the divine. During the training I was surrounded by others who were in similar alignment. It was beautiful and exhausting; I often stumbled and at times fell. One day my teacher noted that I had a very strong handstand practice with excellent alignment but that I seemed tentative coming up.

“Try practicing falling.” He said.

“I’d rather keep practicing not-falling.” I said. I’ve always been acrophobic, but it really wasn’t heights I was scared of so much as the falling.

“If you can fall gracefully you can do anything.”

Handstand learning to fall
I began to work on learning to fall. At first it was awkward but before long I was falling gracefully. There was no longer any fear and soon any wavering in my handstands stopped.

By embracing falling I stopped falling.

During our training, in the background there were rumors of prominent Anusara teachers resigning. I didn’t think much of it until we found out why. The founder of Anusaura, John friend, fell from grace in yet another sex scandal. I tried not to judge. If we are honest, who hasn’t dreamed of having our own cannabis fueled tantric-wiccan-sex-coven on the side?

But again, the community was devastated.
The karmic lesson continued, rising, falling, ungraspable.

Roshi once observed that students get stuck in a love of their teachers’ knowledge. They see the teachers’ wisdom but can’t see their humanity. It’s important to have a teacher, someone to show us the path, but at some point, we have to kill the Buddha.

When you meet the Buddha, kill the Buddha. -Zen Proverb.

monk and shadow

There is no Buddha outside of you. Everything is both perfect, and imperfect. Even if you become enlightened you don’t become a better person. Enlightenment is simply awakening to a new reality. There are many enlightened beings who are oblivious to their own darkness.

You can become addicted to anything, even a spiritual state. This has been referred to as the stink of Zen. Spiritual teachers often ignore the shadow because of their ability to live in the non-dual state. From the non-dual everything you do is fine because everything is one. There really is no shadow. So you grasp the ungraspable.

Learning to embrace my own light and darkness has taught me freedom to move fluidly between duality and non-duality, and accept these states in others. So often it seems like when we get too close and see someone else’s shadow we pull away. I love John Friend and Genpo Roshi even more now. I am grateful for their inspired wisdom, and knowing that they are human like us all is a gift. Perhaps unconsciously, their fall is an act of martyrdom, freeing their followers from the bondage of worship.

The universe creates and destroys. Awareness rises and falls. It is a natural process that we all must go through. Whether we are metaphorically or literally upside down we can learn the power of embracing our fear and learn to fall gracefully.

Genpo Roshi calls this process the Path of the Human Being.

He had five stages for this.

1) The shift or opening, a great awakening.
2) The path of submission, the process of surrendering the ego.
3) The Great Liberation, completely impersonal; what some call true awakening.
4) Falling from Grace, a completely personal process.
5) The Apex. Integration or Unity, fully experiencing your ongoing process.

“What’s beyond the Apex?” I asked Roshi.

Roshi looked surprised at the question as if he had never been asked it before. He finished his coffee.
“It’s all love,” Roshi finally answered. It was. And it wasn’t.

“Yes it’s awareness. It’s Tantric.” I added.

“It’s ungraspable.”

“So don’t try,” I said.

At that moment there was no up,  no down, no difference between Roshi and I.

“Just live your life,” said Roshi. He rang the bell and I stood to leave. Something made me pause.

“But you know we’ll fall again,” I said.

He gave me a sad resigned look, but didn’t say anything.

I turned and walked away.

We are all human. We all fall from grace.

Rise and fall.

Don’t grasp. Accept and learn to fall.

This is being open to grace.

Accepting this in others.

Is Love.




Editor Tanya L. Markul

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About Aron Stein

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Aron is an expert in advanced awareness practices and personal transformation. He specializes in training teachers and therapists.
He is a continual student and has spent over 20 years studying awareness traditions from around the world. He spent many years living and working as a director at Tibetan Buddhist and Zen centers. Aron’s mission is to integrate these traditions with modern psychological and technological tools. He has trained and been initiated in a variety of buddhist, yogic and shamanic traditions and is a certified yoga teacher and life coach. He is the founder of the non-profit, Shift Meditation Foundation.

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19 Responses to “Falling Lessons: Yoga, Zen, Sex, Love & Other Teachers.”

  1. Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Posted to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Tanya Lee Markul, Yoga Editor
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  2. Andrew Gurvey says:

    Wow…Amazing! It's interesting in how you point out that enlightenment is just another state of reality and that there can be a shift going back and forth from duality and non-duality. Something you wrote peaked my curiosity as well and I'd love for you to expound. Obviously, a huge tenet of Buddhism is the idea of non-duality. It's the idea that there is no me, no you, no zero, no one, no two…What you said in your article is that, if living in the non-duality state, it becomes possible to ignore the shadow. Is it possible to embrace the shadow within this state? Is the shadow a part of the oneness of non-duality? I'd love to hear your thoughts. What a great article! Thank you!

  3. ValCarruthers says:

    Just posted to "Featured Today" on the Elephant Spirituality Homepage.

    Valerie Carruthers
    Please go and "Like" Elephant Spirituality on Facebook

  4. Great read, Aron.

    But is anyone else, like me, disturbed by abstract spiritual justifications for clearly unethical and deeply harmful behavior?

    It seems to me that this is part of what causes the unethical behavior in the first place.

    I'm not sure it's useful to humanity to embrace this kind of ethical indifference, even though it is certainly one way to look at the universe. See Does the Infinitely Wondrous Universe Give a Damn About You and Me?

    It seems to me to embrace ethical indifference is to deeply misunderstand our own particular place in the universe, and also ultimately runs contrary to our very survival.

    Why not be indifferent to environmental abuses, too, for example, if right and wrong are the same thing?

    Bob W. Associate Publisher
    facebook, twitter, linkedIn
    Yoga Demystified, Gita in a Nutshell

  5. Aron Stein says:

    I absolutely agree Bob. We can not live in the absolute we can only visit. When you go up the mountain come down again. We live in the 'real' world, a world of suffering. There is no right or wrong answer or way to live but for me, as long as I am here, I would like to ease the suffering of those around me and leave this place a little more beautiful.

  6. I see it as much more cosmic than that, myself, Aron.

    To me, this is not just a little arbitrary decision you make to care about suffering.

    On the contrary, to me love and caring are cosmic biological imperatives. Humans strive for love and goodness in the same way a tree is compelled to grow, a star is compelled to burn, and a black hole is compelled to implode.

    It's all the same thing to me, the same infinitely wondrous universe.


  7. Aron Stein says:

    I think it does go much deeper than that but that conversation you are starting would take quite awhile. For me it starts with a choice. For good or bad, humans can go against that 'biological and cosmic imperative'.
    Or can they? Can anything really go against their nature? Is anything really 'unnatural'?
    How is a star that self implodes any different than a human who does the same?

  8. You're right. Long discussion, perhaps.

    Or maybe short. It's not in a star's essence to think or judge or strive for love. That's not part of its particular infinite wonder or drive to grow and thrive.

    But for a star to decide not to burn would be a major cosmic event, no? So would a humanity that decided just to "be" like a star and not to strive for growth and survival.

    A human being not wanting love and goodness is like a human being not wanting sex or food or warmth.


  9. Aron Stein says:

    What is the difference between a star that implodes and a man who does the same?

  10. Time to get some other commenters here, I think.

    But I would answer free will. The star has no choice. It's in our nature to decide these things.

    An meteor destroying humanity (like it probably did the dinosaurs) may be inevitable. But nuclear annihilation is not, for example.

    It's one thing to say "everything is just energy waves anyway, so what difference does it make", which is certainly true at some level, and using that logic to justify or excuse the offenses of a John Friend.

    To me these are two different things. To me this is confusing one realm with another, like you wrote earlier.

    Confusing the two will always lead some to think it's perfectly ok for them to do anything to anybody. What difference does it make?


  11. Aron Stein says:

    We can chat more outside of here if you like. Thanks as always Bob.

  12. Ashley says:

    I loved this article. This point was particularly poignant: "Roshi once observed that students get stuck in a love of their teachers’ knowledge. They see the teachers’ wisdom but can’t see their humanity. It’s important to have a teacher, someone to show us the path, but at some point, we have to kill the Buddha." Definitely relates to some things I've been thinking and writing about recently (if you're curious, "The Guru is Dead" is my most recent blog post: http://renegadeenlightenment.com/2012/03/the-guru…. I also love the idea that these spiritual teachers, in a sense, did their devotees a service of sorts when they fell from grace, as they gave them the gift of freedom. Thank you for this piece.

  13. Aron Stein says:

    Thank you for the compliments and the insightful response, Andrew. The ability to shift back and forth from the non-dual to the dual is not only feasible, but vital to our survival as a species. I think I will write more about that in an upcoming article. I can only speak from my experience, but yes, the non-dual is a central teaching of Buddhism and it is possible to live in this state. Even if it is for an hour or a moment it can be transformative, as I am sure you know. Unfortunately I was stuck there for years. Because this is the goal of most traditions, and an important one, once you get there you are often more or less on your own. You can either just live your live and pretend nothing happened or teach and try not to mess up people along the way. I tried both. The shadow is anything outside of yourself you cannot see and in the non-dual it is so big you can easily get lost in it. Learning to embrace the shadow in this state is what I have been spending most of my energy on the last few years, as have people like Genpo Roshi and others I know. At this level you are working with pure energy and ancient archetypes. It has been an amazing journey and I am blessed to have traveled it with some amazing teachers and companions along the way.

    So this is why I feel like you need disciplines like yoga, mediation and even precepts of behavior. Before you have an awakening you need some guidance and a goal. But even more important, after an awakening, you need an unshakable foundation. Otherwise when you fall you will take everything down with you.

  14. Andrew Gurvey says:

    Very interesting.perspective. I think you touched on this in your reply to me regarding the imminent danger that comes with achieving that state of oneness, wherein there is not only a possibility for loneliness, but it's possible to skew the teachings to others who are not yet in that state. Perhaps this is where the "holier than thou" elitism comes from with those who have found that non-dualistic state. Although this begs another question. Is it possible to even remain in that state if the elitism hook is bitten?

  15. ValCarruthers says:

    Just posted to "Popular Lately" on the Elephant Spirituality Homepage.

    Valerie Carruthers
    Please go and "Like" Elephant Spirituality on Facebook

  16. Aron says:

    Great question. No its not possible to stay there… not but people sure do try:)

  17. Aron says:

    Great blog of your own there Ashley. Some things I had not considered. Sounds like we could have a good dialouge.

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