Oh lordy! Over 200 comments! I read a few of them. Skimmed others. Gosh.
BUT FIRST TO ANNOY ALL OF YOU HERE'S THE AD -- The location for my talk in London on Sept. 12th has been confirmed. It will be at Lecture Theatre 2C, King's College London, Strand, London WC2. On Sept. 14th I'll be at the Odd Fellow's Hall in Bristol. Highly appropriate if you ask me!
OK, what can I really say about the ILP? It's a scam not because it costs $200 but because its advertising implies you will be more "in the now" if you spend $200 on it. I have nothing against people making money on stuff. I spent over $200 a few years ago on a copy of the book KISSTORY, the autobiography of KISS created by the band themselves, signed by all four original members of the group (this is not my copy for sale here, I'd never sell it!). I knew the book didn't cost them anywhere near that much to produce. In fact, when I met Gene Simmons sometime later he told me they cost about $60 each to make and bragged about the huge profit margin. And I still didn't feel bad about buying it.
But KISS didn't promise me Enlightenment. They promised me a very cool book of photos and stories from the band's personal collection. That's exactly what I got and I love it.
I have no problem with people making money, even if they're Buddhist teachers and even if they're earning their money by being Buddhist teachers. What I have a problem with is the way Buddhism is being turned into a commodity. Enlightenment is being sold like mouth wash. The girls aren't running after you? Try Enlightenment and you'll never be without a date on Saturday night!
Enlightenment Experiences are crap.
It's not that hard to induce a whizz-bang experience through hypnotism or other means. If you mesmerize someone and feed their ego with the notion that they are Enlightened and that they can speak with the voice of God Himself, that person will have a pretty amazing time. If a genuine Zen Master certifies that experience as Kensho that seals the deal. Also having paid lots of money for the experience makes the person far less likely to want to admit it might not have been all it was supposed to be. This is so fucking obvious I don't even know why anyone has to point it out.
It's been known for thousands of years, long before Buddha's time even, that meditation practice can lead a person to have some pretty nifty experiences. The hallmark of true Zen practice is that it is the only form of meditation I know of that says you need to go beyond even these experiences and that going beyond them means coming right back here.
Real practice is difficult and doesn't always manifest itself in Big Cool Experiences™. In fact, any good teacher will smack those Big Cool Experiences™ right out of you if you bring them to her. Lousy teachers will charge you money to have those experiences and then try to hang on to you for as long as they can milk your wallet. That sucks. I want nothing to do with it.
Real practice saved my life and showed me stuff I could never have seen without it. Crap practice just gets you excited about the next big experience. It leads you away from real life, teaches you to throw away this moment for the moment in the future when you will be "in the now." Cuz you're not "in the now" now! Only when you buy their product can you be "in the now." And it takes 6-8 weeks to arrive. You will not be "in the now" for at least a month and a half!
This doesn't strike anyone as absurd?
Feh, I say! Feh!!
Here's a snip from my upcoming book that addresses this problem. It's from the chapter about Zazen for survivors of childhood sexual abuse.
In spite of all the foregoing cautionary material, I still believe zazen can be a very good thing for survivors of traumatic experiences. Maybe even the best thing. It can put you directly in contact with the source of the trauma itself. By slowly and carefully removing the psychological barriers you’ve erected to protect yourself from these memories you can finally become aware that the memories themselves are just thoughts in your head. No matter what the content of your thoughts are, they are all just thoughts. This is easy to say but very difficult to truly understand because we’ve been taught since birth to believe in our own thoughts.
This is why we practice. Anyone can tell you this stuff and anyone can understand it intellectually. But applying it takes practice. It takes repetition. Sitting there on your cushion you allow stuff to come up over and over and over again and just sit there with it, not running away, not reacting, just sitting. This is how you learn your own way to deal with it. Not someone else’s way, even if that someone else is the Greatest Master Ever Known, because no one else’s way will work for you as well as your own way. By taking it slowly, you first learn to deal with the little things and eventually, when the big stuff hits, you’ve already had loads of experience.
Merely reading about zazen will not help you put its lessons into effect any more than merely reading about baseball will turn you into Major League material.
Misguided practices that encourage you to go for the big experiences as quickly as possible rob you of the ability to learn this process. They excite you and stimulate you, but that excitement and stimulation is ultimately more harmful than helpful.