A god is dead
Okay, god is a bit much. But still, one of the people I most admired has turned out not be the Saint I took him to be.
So, what’s going on? As some of you already know, it has recently come to light that Culadasa, my meditation teacher, has engaged in misconduct. He has therefore been judged inapt to teach by Dharma Treasure, the organisation he had been teaching under. To summarize, Culadasa has been accused of adultery with about ten different women (not students) over the last four years, including sex workers, whom he may have paid using money from the organisation. You can read the full release from Dharma Treasure here.
This news came to me as quite a shock. Now, facing circumstances like this, it’s easy to jump to simplistic conclusions. Some see this situation as evidence that Culadasa was a fraud, while others bury their heads in the sand and take the accusations to be ill-motivated lies. Yet, reflecting on this situation with wisdom, honesty and an open heart reveals something more nuanced, and perhaps revelatory, about meditation, and its relation to our all-too-human strengths and weaknesses.
Meditation is the most potent tool for reliable and lasting mind transformation. Yet, it is not a magic pill or a panacea for all things psychological. Practicing meditation will not turn you into a saint, nor will it make you permanently “nice” or even-tempered. Meditation may provide you with the clarity and resilience necessary for profound mental reconditioning. A serious meditation practice will bring phenomenal improvements to the fluidity with which your mind functions, but at the end of the day, your dirty mental laundry will still be yours to clean.
I encourage you to be wary of those who claim that meditation can “eliminate desire” or make you “permanently happy”. Accomplished and awake meditators get angry, they experience sexual lust and some even drink too much.
“But”, you might ask, “if they are as awake and free as they pretend to be, then why do advanced meditators engage in harmful behavior?” I frankly don’t know. I’d love to ask Chögyam Trungpa, who was often so drunk he had to be carried around, how a mind so wise could oversee and justify such reckless actions. If I get to the point where I can speak about these things from a place of experience, trust me, I will.
The fact that Culadasa’s behavior surprised and disappointed me is revealing. I had elevated Culadasa and his teachings on a pedestal. I had turned him into an “idol”. It so happens that my “idol” is actually a man called John Yates, also known as Culadasa. John is not a saint, he’s a Homo sapiens, and a pretty unskilled one at marital relationships. But he’s a damn good meditation teacher, as anyone who’s read The Mind Illuminated knows.
Somehow, the mind can’t grasp that someone can simultaneously be a meditation master, with decades of experience, and a lewd sex-addict. Yet the evidence tells a different story. How many times do we need to witness the same pattern before we accept that moral perfection does not exist in humans? We are complex organisms with multi-layered and deep-rooted motivations, habits and instincts. Meditation will not free us from biological and psychological reality.
In a situation like this, we are faced with two alternatives. Either (1) we pretend that Awakening isn’t a thing, that it’s unattainable, or that everyone claiming to be awake is lying or (2) we grow up, get real clear about what we mean by Awakening and Insights, and have a honest discussion about the profoundly strange effects of solid, committed meditation practice.
I believe that we have much more to gain from exploring the second alternative.
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