Yesterday I listened to "How ZEN TRAPS You" by Alan Watts and today it became clear to me what it means. The Ego just doesn't exist. There is no "I" that is responsible for what "I" do. What I am and what I do arises on its own without "me" being involved. To act in "suchness" means to act without the false notion of the Ego. And to hesitate is to act according to the false notion of the Ego.


@reto After listening to this Alan Watts talk, I couldn't help but think that the desire and intention to practice Zen is the height of egotistical pretentiousness. But come to think of it, the desire and intent to become a 'fully enlightened Buddha' by any means is the height of egotistical pretentiousness. And I mean that sincerely. I gradually let go of seeking ultimate enlightenment over the last couple of years. As Watts said, out of sheer frustration and the total ridiculousness of it.

@reto I mean, think about it. Saying 'I want to be a fully enlightened Buddha' is like saying 'I want to be God.' It's utterly absurd and is nothing but a conceit of the ego. And the idea that 'I'm going to spend my entire life striving to be a fully enlightened Buddha i.e. God, is also utterly absurd, and a waste of an otherwise perfectly good life.



This is why the "cry" of many Advaita teachers was / is "Call off the search!"

I think it is on purpose that emphasizes impossible things as also Watts says. It is to make the absurdity of the ego obvious. And the desire to study Zen is strong because it addresses the ego in such a direct way. Most other practices let the ego prevail more or less and Zen traps it.

@reto well I certainly woke up. I’m no longer trapped by my ego as regards ‘enlightenment’.

@reto But there are different ideals of enlightenment. The Arahant ideal was prevalent in the Buddha's time, which was the time of the ascetics and the Sramanas. 500 years later, in the Mahayana period, in China, it was the Bodhisattva ideal of selfless compassion for all, and total non-attachment. 1000 years later in north-west India and Tibet, it was the Tantric Yogi ideal, and realizing perfection through one's embodied life. So the ideal of enlightenment changes with time and culture.

@reto Today, the ideal of enlightenment--for me--is a psycho-social-ecological awakening, interdependence with all people and all life on earth, realizing that everything we do has consequences for the living beings around us. It is the social justice ideal of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, who is my teacher and exemplar. I will never be as awake as he was, but I'm trying. It is the creative exemplar of Alan Ginsberg, another great ideal of the artist-yogi. It is the ideal of the Ecosattva, Joanna Macy.

@reto All of these exemplars, as with so many Buddhist teachers today, are Lay people. I think of the ideal of enlightenment today as the ideal Lay person, more so than monastics.

@ShaunBartone I don't know but for me, I "just" want to know the truth. To come home. That is all. And if I can get near it that is already a lot. And for me Zen has more insight into the truth (or how to get there) than many other disciplines where it is all loaded with worship and strange dogmas. It is very clear that enlightenment is not something that can be (re)produced. And what it means is individual. I'm going my way and that's ok.

This is why you should beware of people with Buddha statues in their home - too much symbolism of what they'd like to achieve, not just sitting listening to the washing machine churn...

@ShaunBartone @reto
The most memorable part of studying taoism so far was the point where I realised it was "better" (ie ok) to be "normal", not "different because I study an esoteric literature". The way is not special.

@scribe @ShaunBartone the thing is, I think that nobody is "normal", we are just more or less limited by our thinking, but our thinking is not what we really are.

@scribe @ShaunBartone What I try to say is that it is this "thing" that does everything. It is not "me". The more it becomes clear to me that I'm not doing anything really, but that it just all happens, the less reason I have to puff myself up. In every moment "me" and my being is wholly dependent on "it". If "it" stops working for "me", I am no more.

Yes, I know what you mean there. The body has a life which ventures into society, money, politics, etc. But all these things are temporary and built on to of something else.

@scribe Yes I think it's similar there. I have a good example for what I mean: Yesterday I had to go to an appointment to discuss my CV, but I forgot the most important documents (without which it would be quite useless to go there). In the staircase "it" reminded me of the documents. It is just out of familiarity that we assume we are in charge because we learned that things work in a certain way. It is a wrong idea. Every thought is a miracle and we have no idea how it all works


@scribe In every moment we are fully dependent on the Tao and without the Tao nothing works. We are not in charge. The notion that we think that we are in charge of anything is an illusion. But we have been brought up to believe in this notion and almost everyone does it. @ShaunBartone

@reto @ShaunBartone Boom. I think this is what Lao Tzu means by 'My words are easy to understand, yet no-one can follow them.' We inherently believe we have control, and it is not giving up control that is hard, but giving up the idea of it.

@scribe Yeah, the idea that we are in control is so ingrained in our mind. What I do is to remind myself that I'm not in control from time to time. It's a liberating thought and and I can see that it goes on just the same without "me" being involved. 😜 @ShaunBartone

@ShaunBartone @reto Being a buddha isn't about being a god. It's about extinguishing the fires of greed, hatred, and delusion, while still being entirely human. And Zen in particular comes with the Mahayana vow, so even if you do manage to be in nirvana full time (fat chance, even the Buddha sat for the rest of his life), you're obligated to liberate all other beings, too.



Alan Watts was born and grew up a mile from where I now live. Maybe I should become a tourist guide for fans.

Sign in to participate in the conversation
Dharma Realm

Dharma Realm is an open, friendly, diverse Instance that serves the Dharma community, including (but not limited to) all forms of Buddhism, Yoga, Advaita, Hinduism, Tantra, Tao and related spiritualities, and contemporary forms of Dharma philosophy and practice. All we ask is that you bring curiosity, kindness and an open mind. Dharma Realm is hosted on