The Trap of Seeking Enlightenment

In this article, I will be discussing the pitfalls of phenomenal materialistic practices that most Buddhist engage in, and how these pitfalls bring an end to the Buddhist discipleship, creating a suffering creature lost in delusional idealism.

Jhana Junkies

In a recent discussion, a seasoned practitioner lamented that so many monks of the Theravadan school chase ‘Jhana states of mind’, in that the monk falls into these ‘Trance-like’ states in which the mind has an ‘experience’ so powerful that the monk is completely blown away, and is hooked on attaining these ‘Mind States’. The practitioner said that the monks ‘Chase after Jhana’ to attain higher and more powerful states of mind.

Disciples of Buddhism come to know that any ‘mind-state’ experienced is a delusion, in that to ‘crave them’ is to create suffering (The Third Noble Truth). Being hooked on Mind-states is one of the hardest cravings to overcome; be this mind state by external factors (alcohol/Drugs) or by inducing trance-like conditioning.

Some Theravadan monks that I have talked to describe conditions in which they don’t sleep, pushing the body and mind beyond tiredness, in where they go days if not weeks with no sleep reaching a psychotic break where the mind falls into delusional states and the conscious not knowing what is real and what is not.

Other monks tell me of every long meditation session in which they don’t move, they sit on a cushion for very long hours and enter a deep trance like where the mind is lost into its own machinations.


Like the Jhana Junkies, the Japanese-style western Zen practitioners also chase ‘states of mind’ in a still sitting practice called Zazen, though it is nearly identical to the Jhana practices of the Theravadan. Though the practice of ‘Stil Sitting’ is not supported in the Mahayana canon nor do the Chinese Ch’an master encourage this practice, it is done never-the-less by practitioners who come to believe that there is some ‘Mind State’ that will transform them to Buddha, or in Zen to achieve ‘An awakening moment’ in where they attain enlightenment.

In my own discourses with Japanese-style Zen in the west, practitioner quickly denies that they are chasing mind-states yet when I press them why they are still engaging in the practice of ‘Still sitting’ they lash out in anger saying ‘There is no reason’ and that ‘the practice is not to attain anything.’  Yet, if that was the truth, why would they still engage in such an activity as ‘Still sitting’ knowing it is useless?  The answer is; Because they still believe there is something to gain with such practices yet have not yet admitted that fact to themselves.

Trance-like mindstates are well known to all religions, in which an altered-states of mind are achieved, where the practitioner experiences something that is not of the ordinary world, and that experience is woven into a religious context. Often practitioners experience an seeming ‘out-of-body’ sort of experience, in which the mind perceives the events around them as if they are from a third-person point-of-view, and time or events flow disjointed to the tranced out a practitioner.

Dissociative disorder as enlightenment

It is interesting to note that in both Zen and Theravadan traditions the dissociative disorder has been recognized as a ‘sickness’. Students with this disorder have a lack of continuity between thoughts, memories, surroundings, actions, and identity. This disorder can greatly affect normal life, disrupting even the ability to care for oneself.

Western Zen calls this disorder “Zen sickness” and the practices of long hours of ‘still sitting’ can easily induce this mental disorder, and exasperate other existing mental disorders.

Is this Buddhism? Is it Zen?

The answer is no, that these materialistic practices of seeing altered-states of mind have nothing at all to do with the Buddha’s teachings, and that the practice of Dhyana, a calming of the mind to the middle way, is mistakenly called Meditation.

Yogies and other Indian sects often use altered-states of mind in rituals and prayers to commune with the GODS. This practice of achieving a slightly altered state of mind, as a way to ‘talk to god’ is found in all religions. Through physical endurance (pain, repetitive motion, taking on a body posture and position) that the mind enters an altered state, mostly due to the physiological chemicals that flood the brain to protect the consciousness from adverse body physical conditions. This sort of effect is known with soldiers in combat who despite grievous wounds, exhaustion, or extreme heat/cold – still perform despite the body pains and environmental conditions.

Though many religions put the disciples into conditions to induce this sort of biochemical psychological state, Buddhism actually recognizes this as False Practice and teaches the Middle-way. This is a teaching that the practitioner is not to desire or to avoid, to be in the middle of the extremes.

Outside beliefs

All religions struggle with the issue of ‘external beliefs’ that enter the religion then take over and supplant the core teachings of the religion. We see this is Japanese Zen, in where ‘Still sitting’ is introduced by the 12th Tendai monk Dogen, as a practice, he saw in China of the Chinese Caodong, in where he claimed that the practice was to ‘Absorbe Buddha-nature from all things; rocks, trees and, even the ground’. This was a very revolutionary practice to anything Japan knew of Buddhism, and Dogen presented this as the “True Practice”. 

Though Dogen’s practice was short-lived, in which he died at the young age of 53, and his temple shortly after his death deteriorated to only 3 monks, and was absorbed by the Chinese Soto School, which did not engage in any ‘still sitting’. Only later, after the Meiji Restoration (1863) when Buddhism was banned in Japan and the Samurai displaced in where many of them became Bodhisattvas (as allowed by the government then) – sort of a layman renunciate holy seeker, was the practice of Zazen revitalized through what is considered a forged manuscript called Bendowa, claimed to be written by Dogen and found in a Kyoto temple in the 17th century.

Performance Art practices have a strange way of gaining attention and draw upon those that engage in such performances to actually create an Identity out of being the performer. All to often I hear Western Zen practitioners associating themselves with Zazen, becoming tribal, in creating an identity of themselves through the performance art and claiming to “Practice Zen”. 

For a spiritual path that claims to be abandoning all aspects of identity, the hypocrisy of then engaging in performance art that creates identity is astounding! The defense of this identity also knows no bounds, in where they will claim that the performance art practice was done at the time of the Buddha, or brought over by the Legionary Bodhidharma (facing the wall for 9 years is a metaphor), or that it was practiced in Tang and Song period China (and that is not true).

For the Theravadan being so close to India, the Yogic aspects easily creep in even though there is no real evidence that ‘still sitting’ or any sort of performance art is supported in the Pali Suttas. Again, and identity and type of tribalism is created out of the practice of Jhana that the monks perform, and it becomes sort of expected then from not only the other monks but from the community of believers. 

As far as I can tell, the Buddha never meant for any of this to happen, and states many times in the Pali Suttas and the Mahayana Sutras that anything that creates an Identity, a self (tribalism) creates suffering and thus must be abandoned, relinquished and renounced, The True practice of dhyana!


This is thought as a Meditation, though it is not. It is a practice but not one of materialism or performance art. Dhyana is simply the abandonment, relinquishment and renouncing your own attachments and clinging to anything that creates suffering for yourself and others. Often it is ones views and assumptions that one applies Dhyana to, and in this cures ones own ailments that create suffering in one’s life.  How this all becomes a Performance art is due to mistakes and errors from mostly insincere practitioners who are not yet ready to set foot on the Buddhas Path.


Non-aligned Zen Teacher currently living in Las Vegas, Nevada USA Youtube Channel Website

2 thoughts on “The Trap of Seeking Enlightenment

  • Ji_YinZen

    Hi, Otomo. I have a question. In this article you state that “there is no real evidence that ‘still sitting’ or any sort of performance art is supported in the Pali Suttas”. How do we reconcile this view with the many times the Buddha instructed his followers in sitting meditation in the Pali canon?

    “There is the case where a monk, having gone to the wilderness, to the shade of a tree, or to an empty building, sits down folding his legs crosswise, holding his body erect, and establishing mindfulness to the fore. Always mindful, he breathes in; mindful he breathes out.” Ānāpānasati Sutta (MN 118)

    These instructions are found throughout the Suttas so I’m curious as to the difference between ‘sitting down folding his legs crosswise, holding his body erect, and establishing mindfulness.’ and what you describe as performance art practice?

    Thanks for sharing this.

    • So, I am mostly criticizing the statement of the San Fransisco Zen center, that is: “Our practice flows from the insight that all beings are Buddha, and that sitting in meditation is itself the realization of Buddha nature, or enlightenment.”

      So, the question on the instructions from the Pali suttas, “folding his legs crosswise , setting his body erect” in my opinion are just preliminary. In the sutta in question, MM 118 we see that this sis an exercise of “observing and the observer” in the form of “breath noticing” all are preliminary teachings of mindfulness, in what in Dark Zen would point to the priorness what is observed by the observer.


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