A post at our Discussion Boards led me to investigate the Australian spiritual teacher Linda Clair. Australia seems a spiritual hot spot and Linda Clair is one of the more intriguing teachers. Her background is in Zen Buddhist and Vipassana practice, but she is not a formal teacher of either tradition. Instead, she crafted a teaching based on her own realization — with an emphasis of meditation on the body.
While I cannot vouch for the effectiveness of her teaching technique, my distinct feeling is that her experience is legitimate and profound. As a friend said, there is something that shines through despite our differences in background and terminology. In addition to this feeling of depth, I found Linda plain-spoken, on point, and serious about helping others. She was also kind enough to suffer through an email interview with me that spanned several days.
Linda Clair: Hi Shawn, Thanks for the questions. Here are my answers. . . I’m not sure how much detail you’d like me to go into. I could say much more in my answers, so let me know if you’d like more.
Q: How long have you been teaching?
A: Around three and a half years.
Q: How has your teaching method changed over the years?
A: I don’t feel that it’s changed much at all. I feel deeply affected and inspired by the depth of commitment of the people who come. I’m very much into one to one interaction with people and this has become more difficult with more people coming to sit with me. There is not as much talking as there used to be, not as many questions, and more silent interaction with people after sittings. I still feel that the body is the key.
Q: I take it there’s not much verbal confrontation/questioning of people? You’re not trying to disprove their assumptions through a Socratic dialogue?
A: I welcome questions, particularly about aspects of practice, but there just haven’t been as many questions lately. During retreats there are a couple of discussion/question periods each day, and the rest of the time is silent, although I have private interviews with everyone, and I feel that these are very important. I don’t try and disprove anyone’s assumptions – I guide people through the process of proving to themselves in their own experience that they are not who they think they are.
Q: Have any of your students become enlightened?
A: Not yet, but there are a few people who are very mature. Some people have had some very deep realizations – some of them are probably more conscious/clear than many people who set themselves up as awakened teachers. I suppose it depends on your definition of enlightenment. I feel that enlightenment is the realization that ‘I am not the body’, whereas an awakening is the realization that ‘I am not the mind’.
(Updated 2011) A: Yes, a Dutch man named Roger Voorhoeve , who moved to Australia around the time I started teaching. He started his formal practice with a teacher in Holland and has been practising meditation intensively with me for around 5 years. After an initial realisation of enlightenment during a 7 day retreat held here last June, he ‘gradually became more firmly established in this state during the following 6 months, and there was an even deeper realisation during a 7 day retreat in December, 2010. Although much more will happen within him as he deepens into this, he is essentially ‘enlightened’.
(Updated 2014) A: Around September, 2013, another student, Linda Milhench, became realised – a few months before her death from cancer. She had been meditating intensively both at the Crafers meditation centre and at home until she became too weak to sit. I was amazed at her strength and determination, especially when she was sitting for long periods in intense pain. She gradually became more and more transparent . . . more and more beautiful. I remember sitting with her one morning in her garden not long before her death. She just kept saying how wonderful it was to be alive and feel the sunshine on her face.
Q: Enlightenment is to die while you’re alive — I think Bunan said that, and to me that communicates the profundity what we’re talking about. You’re saying that first comes the realization that “I’m not the mind,” and then comes “I am not the body”? Doesn’t Vipassana typically have people watch their body first, then watch the mind? I’ve had a number people say to me “I know I’m not the body, but I can’t say that about my mind/awareness.” Do they only “think” they are not the body and don’t really understand?
A: You have to ‘realise’ that you’re not the body, and this is not an intellectual exercise. You can’t reason or talk your way through it. To realise means that it has become real for you in your body and this is only possible when the mind completely subsides. You need to go so deeply into the body that you trust the intelligence of the body rather than using the mind as security. You have to prove to yourself that the body does not need the mind to survive, because the great fear is that if you let go of the mind, the body will die. It’s such a huge thing, much bigger than I ever imagined. It’s the reason you have been given your body – to use it to realise that you are not your body – to realise the meaning of life.
Q: What is the greatest difficulty that students have with your method?
A: Fear. When people start to really look deeply into who they think they are, the mind/ego becomes very fearful as it knows that it can’t exist when someone is fully here, now.
Q: Could we talk a little about the practice of meditation? The Drioli interview on your site is quite good. You mention that the most direct approach to enlightenment is: Becoming so grounded in the body that you’re able to see how identified with the body you are… how the mind has created this person you think you are. I also get the impression the practice is a combination of Zen and Vipassana with the Buddhist trappings stripped away. Can you describe the practice you recommend? What does a person do when they sit down to meditate?
A: That’s a good description of the meditation practice that I teach. It is basic Zen Buddhist practice without the rituals. I was trained first in Vipassana and then Zen, and although the two are very similar, I feel that the Zen practice of being with the breath in the abdomen is more direct and grounded. It is a difficult practice, straight to the point, but very effective. Even though I have deep respect for Buddhist teachers, I didn’t feel to teach in that tradition because I felt that there was a need for more non-sectarian teachers in the west. I also didn’t want to be bound by the rules of being a Buddhist teacher. I advise people to sit (either on the floor or on a chair) and feel the body sensations directly, without any visualization and as little judgment as possible. The breath is the primary sensation in the body and I advise people to keep going back to the rise and fall of the abdomen with the breath. This is the most grounding place in the body to be with the breath – you need to prove to yourself that the body is quite capable of breathing without the mind controlling it. Counting the breaths is also a good way of becoming more centered in the body. It is a very simple straightforward technique, but not easy. Most people start to feel some very strong energetic sensations in the body as they get more deeply into it and the habitual reaction is to move to release this energy, whereas containing the energy and not distracting yourself from it and watching your reaction to it is the way to transform it. I could say a lot more on this . . .
Q: I would like to hear a little more about the practice. When the mind subsides, isn’t there the danger of falling into a deep peace where the mind is simply attending/aware of the rising and falling of the breath? That’s a peaceful state, but no final answer.
I think some people equate discovering the silent observer/awareness with enlightenment. I don’t think that’s what you are saying. By becoming aware of the body, do we become disidentified with it? If we disidentify with the mind, then disidentify with the body, what does that leave?
A: When the mind subsides completely, you become the breath. There is no duality. There is an indescribable depth of peace when you realise that there is no separation between you and anything or anyone else. Everything stops. There is no time, no fear, no conflict — and with this comes a deep love. When the mind subsides completely you realise that you are not the body and so realise that there is no death. This is enlightenment.
Leading up to this state there are deepening levels of peace, and at times deeper reactions, as you become more and more grounded in the body and the breath. The mind becomes more and more subtle, but the consciousness is also quickening and can see the movements of the mind more and more clearly. There can be peace, but if there is any attempt to know what this peace is or to analyse it in any way, the mind is still present. The peace only becomes real and absolute when there is no desire to know what it is.
Enlightenment is the realisation that there is no observer and nothing to observe. I don’t use my body as a reference point anymore. I don’t identify with it and am not bound by it, but I am very immersed in it. When you disidentify with the mind, then the body, there is the realisation of universal consciousness, which is pure intelligence, unhindered by the mind. It is incredibly fast and energetic – the intellect is very slow by comparison. The body contains more and more of this energy leading up to enlightenment and the process continues in a different way after enlightenment.
Q: A teacher I studied with said that “the view is not the viewer” meaning that if you could observe it, whatever was observed was not you. Is that similar to the process you teach?
A: It is similar in a way, but I feel you need to be careful that it doesn’t become an intellectual exercise. The body is a much more tangible thing to use – the closest thing to reality that we have.
Q: Does your book talk more about practice?
A: Yes. My book is in question and answer format and goes into detail about the practice that I teach.
Q: Along the lines of fear, what do you think of the common advice to simply “let go”?
A: It’s easy to say ‘simply let go’, but in practice this is extremely difficult. It’s the hardest thing that I’ve ever done. If you’ve spent most of your life attaching yourself to your thoughts/ emotions, you can’t let go of this deep habit overnight. Most people are addicted to thinking, and when you start to withdraw from thinking there will be strong reactions to this. You actually feel the past withdrawing from your body – it is like a purification. The fear can feel very real at times. I suppose a big part of my role as a teacher is to reassure people that it’s OK, that the fear is not real.
Q: You indicate that the physical presence of an enlightened teacher is important. Do you think that a mind to mind transmission of enlightenment is possible as is alluded to in some Zen writings?
A: The closer you are to your teacher – the deeper the trust and love – the more energy will be transmitted. I feel that there needs to be intense formal meditation practice as well, but the unconditional love of the enlightened teacher will open up the student more and more to the possibility of freedom. Their presence acts as a catalyst. There was a point in my practice/training where I did feel there was a direct transmission from my teacher (Harada Tangen Roshi) in Japan. I was having a private interview with him and he touched me with his stick and said “Roshi Sama is the same as Linda san. Linda san is the same as Roshi Sama. An apple is an apple. An orange is an orange.” I feel that this was a transmission of enlightenment, but it still took about 9 months for me to fully realise this. It takes time for the whole thing to integrate. When it first starts to really happen, there’s no one there to realise what’s happening. It takes time to realise that there’s no one there anymore.
Q: I gather you are a full-time spiritual teacher — meaning that you don’t have another source of income? How do you avoid the temptation to popularize your message, to get more students so you can pay the bills? Along that line, I noticed there is a $50 charge to speak to you for an hour. I understand the need to pay the bills, yet I think of spiritual work as more a labor of friendship than a business. I could say a lot more, but that would just be expounding on my bias. Why did you choose the route you did: charging for spiritual help versus having another job and doing it for free?
A: It’s a good question. Actually, I do have a part time job in a bookshop. I initially took this job because I didn’t want to rely on the meditation sessions and retreats to support me. I felt that it might affect the whole thing. Financially, I could probably do without the income now, but I feel that it’s good to do something very ordinary away from here where I’m not the “teacher.” When I first started teaching, I didn’t charge for the sessions. I didn’t feel comfortable about charging money and just did it by donation. Many people feel that saying something is by donation means that it’s free. Some people came because it was just something to do (one man came one night because the darts night at the hotel had been cancelled) and having people who are there for that reason can affect the whole energy of the session. We did this for a few months and then decided to try and buy a house with a large room suitable for meditation classes, and found the house we have now. We had to take out a medium sized mortgage to buy this house, so felt that we needed to start charging a set rate for sessions. It feels clearer to do this – if we didn’t have this house, we’d have to rent somewhere and charge anyway and the fact is that many people (particularly in the west) value something more if they have to pay for it. I suppose that’s one of the advantages of being a teacher with a religious organization – you are supported by the organization. I do have a lot of contact with people who come here regularly via phone or email and don’t charge for this, and it takes a quite a bit of my time. It’s mainly people who I haven’t met before who come for private sessions, and I usually only have a couple a week. I just wouldn’t have the energy to do all this if I had a full time job outside of here.
Q: For those of us far away from you, how can we best use what you have to offer? Should we get a plane ticket to Australia? What should a lone fellow in Louisville, Kentucky, USA be doing to get enlightened?
A: I feel that for me it was very important to be around my teacher as much as possible. The more time I spent around him, the more desperate for freedom I became and I feel that it did speed the whole thing up. I moved interstate to be close to him, but moving countries is a big thing to do. If you’re interested in what I have to offer, I have a book available and a lot of articles on my website. You could also look at the YouTube interview. Then, if you’re still interested, maybe consider coming to a retreat. I do speak to some people overseas on the phone and communicate by email, but it’s getting a bit harder as more people become interested.
Though Linda Clair is getting busier, she is still relatively unknown. For more information, her website is SimpleMeditation.net. Her book What Do You Want? is available for purchase in hardcopy or digital versions. It’s pretty good, but mainly serves to give a picture of Linda, and from that you can decide if you want to visit her for a retreat. You’ll not be able to use the book as a manual for meditation practice.
Linda Clair is also one of the “remarkable women” featured in the film Meetings With Remarkable Women.
Other information on Linda Clair is courtesy of Inner Self magazine. Leo Drioli interviewed her for the magazine as well as posting a five-part interview on YouTube. Visit InnerSelf magazine to read the interview.
Here is the first of a five-part YouTube interview of Linda Clair:
Here’s an interview at searchwithin.org that gives some insight into changes in Linda’s teaching and how she interfaces with the world.