Adyashanti – Honest but Use in Moderation

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Adyashanti presents a blend of Zen and advaita teachings that’s popular in the West Coast guru scene. Below you’ll find my initial impressions of Adyashanti, as well as updates from 2012, 2019, and 2023.  Years ago, a reader mailed me a DVD of his which I dutifully watched, then put on the shelf. Adyashanti reviewIt wasn’t that I didn’t like what I saw — I wasn’t sure of my impression. On one hand, I saw a witty, soft-spoken American with an Indian-sounding name, smiling a lot, pausing for long silences, and talking about how we are already that which we seek. Yet I couldn’t dismiss him outright as I also felt an undercurrent of seriousness and honesty.

Many months later, I read two of his books: a collection of poetry and short quotes (My Secret is Silence), and Emptiness Dancing, a collection of transcribed talks. You can see a selection of his poems at the Poetry Chaikhana. Some poems were clever and humorous and some were calls to action. It’s not that he wasn’t speaking about the profound. For me, there wasn’t a feeling resonance with the imagery of the poems; none that haunted me with the feeling that truth was close.

Emptiness Dancing offers numerous noteworthy points that differentiate Adyashanti from most of the “be here now” advaita shuffling clones in the spiritual marketplace. Some of my favorite quotes:

  • Self-inquiry is a spiritually induced form of wintertime. It’s not about looking for a right answer so much as stripping away and letting you see what is not necessary, what you can do without, what you are without your leaves.
  • I suggest you ask, “What’s ultimately behind this set of eyes?” Turn around to see what is looking.
  • We project our own beauty.
  • The me I know myself as, my personality, is toast.
  • The best thing that human beings can do for themselves is to always be absolutely, totally, and completely coming from an honesty with themselves, a total internal integrity.
  • It is so important to be more hooked on the truth than on wanting to get rid of identity.
  • Asking, “What is the Truth?” is a demolition project. Most of spirituality is a construction project. We’re ascending and ascending…. It just keeps building, and a person feels, “I’m getting better and better.” But enlightenment is a demolition project.
  • We do not want to see that there is a gaping void at the center of our existence.
  • Many people ask, “How do I integrate my spirituality into everyday life?” You don’t. You can’t. How could you integrate it? You can’t stuff the infinite into your limited life.

What did I not like? He is not consistent in describing the goal. In one talk, he describes three levels of realization: the head, the heart, and the gut. Yet in other talks, he seems to be encouraging people toward lesser experiences. He tells people to “just be.” Encourages being aware of the five senses to “open to the whole.” Equates relaxing into the moment with one’s true nature. However, he says when the undivided state occurs, two things may happen: awakening to our true nature, or arising of our old conditioning. I must point out, though, that I was reading a collection of excerpts from talks, and that may explain the confusion.

Adyashanti’s website presents the same mystifying mix of powerful advice and spiritual cliche:

  • Get rid of all of your illusions and what’s left is the truth. You don’t find truth as much as you stumble upon it when you have cast away your illusions.
  • So if you want to find out how openness relates to each moment, just go inside. Be that openness. Be that emptiness.

Can we judge the teacher by those he encourages to teach on their own? Jon Bernie’s Teachings are unimpressive. He seems to propose a path of ever increasing ease — relaxing our way into enlightenment. We hear the siren call to stop, just be present, be here, be awareness, ta-da tadum. If I hear one more teacher talk about flowers opening…. Here’s a list of those Adyashanti has invited to teach.

Despite this, I initially awarded Adyashanti three stars — because I think if I sat down with him at the kitchen table as a struggling seeker, meeting him would help. There is helpful material in his books. I worry about his ever increasing organization and the lack of “quality control” of disciples.

2012 update: I attended a two-hour satsang with Adyashanti in May and offer the following notes from that session:

A flickering candle, a vase of flowers — pink and white, a clear glass of water and an empty chair; nearly 150 people waiting, many straight-backed, eyes closed in meditation, a few hushed exchanges; the auditorium haltingly grows quieter as we edge towards 4:00. At precisely 3:55, a soft-spoken bald guy dressed in the California satsang uniform (sandals, long pants, and a shirt with just a hint of Indian influence) stepped to the microphone. He laid out the rules for the afternoon. Besides the usual request to turn off cellphones, we were told the event would begin with 15 minutes of silence, to avoid wearing scented products at future meetings, and to remain seated until Adya leaves the hall.

At exactly 4:00, Adyashanti silently walked on stage, took the chair, and closed his eyes. Maybe it’s the lighting, but he looks a good ten years older than the photographs on his website. He also looks very fit; dressed in a coarse grey shirt with long brown pants, he appears to have just returned from a rousing hike in Marin. He’s the embodiment of Northern California…. There is much about this that doesn’t appeal to me. There is too much stage craft and formality and I keep multiplying the $10 I paid to get in times the 150 people in the room…. I turn from these thoughts to the feeling in the room. It’s quiet, with the underlying energy of a room full of people sitting quietly, but that’s all I feel. I don’t sense any extra-ordinary Adya vibe filling the space.

4:14 and Adyashanti begins to talk. For quite a while, he speaks about the appearance of difference between things. Differences cause suffering, though fundamentally all are aspects of life. I am unimpressed and actually start to get drowsy, then the talk dives deeper.

“The fundamental division is ‘me.’ The vast majority don’t want to look at that ‘me,'” he says. My mind perks up at this comment.
“Illusion lurks in the gray areas where we’re not being specific.”
“Spiritual inquiry is ‘what is this thing called me?'” I wonder how many in the audience are willing to ask the question he poses.
“Look directly into your own experience.”
“Oneness is the shocking realization that there’s nothing that’s not IT.”
“Believing in oneness is not the same as realization.” At this, I nearly jump out of my chair and shout “Amen, brother!”

At 5:33, he stops for questions. His answers display a remarkable ability to encourage people at whatever point they find themselves: speaking of serious matters in an uncompromising yet inviting manner. One woman describes how she came to the edge of a seeming cliff in meditation and turned away from it. She is now afraid to meditate. Adya replies that the cliff is waiting for her and she will eventually come to it. Just a step is all that is needed; not a swan dive or plunge, just a step. He is reassuring yet direct.

Q: How do I let go?
A: You can’t, you won’t, you don’t.

“There’s a great difference between transcendence of ego and death of ego.”
“What’s true in any given moment is what sets you free. Take it in rather than push it away. You completely stop; the whole internal battle stops.”

I was pleasantly surprised to find the talk ran over about ten minutes. Overall, a good two hours. He’s a star for sure (women literally let out hushed moans and whispered “gorgeous” as he spoke), and I don’t know what it would take (money, influence, persistence?) to sit down with him one-on-one or in a small group. I wonder if he ever comes down from the stage and mingles with the students….

2019 update: I attended a day-long intensive with Adyashanti at Spirit Rock Meditation Center called “The Dialectic of Enlightenment.”  With an hour for lunch and a 30-minute break, the program was only five-hours long, so not my definition of intense, but it was still a unique opportunity to spend more time in Adyashanti’s vibe.  Though I took a lot of notes, I’m not going to do a long write-up.  Suffice it to say I found the energy in the room bright, clear, and expansive, so there was a lot of opportunity to tune into the ground of being, as Adya calls it.  I was again impressed with his patience and his ability to reach the heart of peoples’ often unclear and rambling questions.  As he stated, he’s trying to find the “answers behind the questions” and provide inquiry on those assumptions.

After this event, I raised Adya from three-star to four-star status.  Despite the fact that he said at this event that he no longer works one-on-one with people, his honesty and inward-pointing are of value.  My only caution is to watch that you don’t get caught simply chasing his vibe from event to event.  Let his teachings inspire you to take daily action. 

2023 Update: The Sounds of SAND podcast published an interview of Adyashanti by Dr. Gabor Maté. Dr. Maté asks tough questions about the behavior of spiritual teachers, spiritual bypass, and even “what is enlightenment?”  Adyashanti continues to impress me with his willingness to engage and provide honest answers rather than hide under a guru mask.

Here’s a short video of Adyashanti on YouTube illustrating his patience:

Adyashanti’s most recent book is The Direct Way: Thirty Practices to Evoke Awakening.

As a thank you for visiting, enjoy free shipping and get a signed copy of my book Subtraction: The Simple Math of Enlightenment for only $13.95.

30 thoughts on “Adyashanti – Honest but Use in Moderation”

  1. Thanks for your account and impressions of Adyashanti. I have been pretty immersed in his teachings, books and recordings, and agree with a lot that he has to say. What I also enjoy about “Adya” in his teachings is his reminder that “direct experience” to be your guide. But anyone that coaches self exploration; that the work is not always comfortable; that the world of form is impermanent; and our idea of ourselves is actually an illusion (constructed by years of thoughts and beliefs)… my rational mind believes that these things are true. Now “knowing” that it is true is another matter entirely 🙂

    1. Hi Joe,
      Thank you for sharing your impressions of Adyashanti, and getting to the root of the problem: “Knowing” versus believing.

    2. Believe it or not I can evaluate a soul vibration according to the chakras scale, where an ordinary soul is at 3.5D (dimension and/or chakra) and Christ, Buddha, Krishna and many other past higher spiritual masters were at 7.0D soul vibration. This person Adyashanti is obviously nice, has enthusiasm, has lots and lots of spiritual lectures, and obviously has lots of sensibility, and attentive observer would say his feminine aspect is very strong and hence very sensible to energies …… Unfortunately all of this didn’t help him so much and his soul vibration is just 3.8D, so just a bit over a normal person. So you were right, he knows many things in theory but he didn’t succeed in living what he preaches, deep down he doesn’t assume the believes he preaches. True living masters with souls at about 7.0D and even above are Sadhguru, Gregg Braden, Deepak Chopra, and a few tenths more …

      1. @Claudiu

        I suspect sarcasm at play, by the author of the above review, regarding the comment about scientific evidence.

        To bring some balance, I assert an understanding of what Claudiu is communicating, and do concur to an extent-to an extent.

        This: “There’s a great difference between transcendence of ego and death of ego.” is important to recognise that maybe, possibly, just maybe, one persona of the current 7 billion fragments currently incarnate, can/will/has/does succeed with the death of the ego.

        The thousands of gurus and spiritual teachers that we see today are of the former kind, transcendence of the ego.

        The ego can be suppressed and trained in such a way that it can appear dead and the teacher can appear enlightened, however, even a dormant and tamed ego is still alive and kicking, rattling around like a small coin in a large drum, too quiet to be noticed by those looking at the empty drum.

        If we pursue enlightenment, we will fail, if this is our goal – because if it was so easy we’d have all been doing it hundreds of years ago before our egos were supercharged like they are today, before our education, government and medicine systems were so damaging to the psyche and designed to encourage egoic dominance, with all the distractions of internet and television, and all the electrical disturbances and frequency damage, the diets we eat, the way we sleep… if enlightenment was possible for one person alive on the planet at one time, thousands of years ago, then in todays realm, probably a lot less chance of that, if not impossible/improbable.

        To counteract another bout of sarcasm, there is a scientific 3.8% likelihood of true death of the ego in todays world.

        Myself, cannot bring myself to refer to myself as the capital birth name as who I am…. unlike these guys “Gregg Braden, Deepak Chopra” for if I was to see myself as such a label, I would no longer be me. This is where the line is drawn to the extent of the above comment made, if they were true fragments of mastery they’d not be able to use such names, for they would feel like a liar and a fraud if they did, because they would be.

        This is why the buddha was The Buddha and the christ was The Christ – they were not the given names and any identification with that is distortion from truth.

        Adya seems to have done this, transcended ego, being unable to identify with the birth given name as the id-entity. But was this because one ‘knows’ the meaning of such a teaching, or, because one ‘believes’ the meaning of such a teaching?

        In my own case I simply cannot do it, it hurts, it feels like, feels like, tightly wringing a soft balloon full of water like it is a wet towel, thats how it feels.

      2. Claudiu, I’m very curious of the soul vibration evaluation you are able to do. Can you e-mail me? I’d love to have a couple people evaluated.

        Thanks and Love

        1. There is another guy who proclaims that he could measure without failure the level of conciousness. David Hawkins. His scale goes form 1 to 1000 – where enligtenment starts at level 600
          According to him the world conciousness is at 207, but the USA is at 421 (not far away from enlightenment). George W. Bush at 460 and Gangaji at 475.
          He measured his own book and – big surprise, listen carefully – it was at 980!!!

          Needless to say, without invlovement of any ego.

          Google it – and see that this is ALL entertainment and crystal ball reading

        1. The above comment was directed to Claudiu, but ditto for David Hawkins, who I’ve met and can assure you is a nincompoop.

      3. No Claudiu, it’s you, who is living in his mind, identified with ideas and projecting those onto others.

  2. I have seen Adyashanti in a one day intensive and really received what I consider to be a powerful transmission. It was very uncomfortable for days afterwards, but my life really moved after that towards what I wanted-which was to discover and experience the truth. When I look back I can’t find any other influence that would have done that. But I did stand up at the microphone and ask him directly for transmission. Everyone in the church laughed, and I wondered if I was being foolish, but I got what I asked for.

  3. Among all the spiritual teachers I have surveyed (close to 30), I find Adyashanti to be most relatable. He isn’t talking garden variety feel good spirituality – there is constant mention of how it doesn’t always feel pleasant and nice – but his basic teaching does make enlightenement seem like a worthy pursuit for ordinary spiritually inclined people.

    I credit him with deftly avoiding the extreme positions in contemporay spiritual teachings : “there is nothing to be done” (Neo Advaita of the Tony Parsons variety), “you have to put everything on the line ” (Richard Rose, Jed McKenna), “just live in the now” (Tolle etc), “this has nothing to do with peace or happiness” (Rose,McKenna, UG Krishnamurti..), “this is everlasting bliss & love” ( too many to name !), while containing elements of all those streams of thought.

    Most important, his realization seems genuine and his personality is pleasant, without seeming fake and showy.


  4. I’m glad to see that Adyashanti has been upgraded from to 4 stars. He is one of the few spiritual teachers I had found to be relatable and understandble. His comes across as honest, caring and at ease. I’ve heard many of his lectures, including live question and answer sessions, and though he doens’t always gives the right or best answer, he seems to genuinely relate to aspirations of the questioner and guides without heavy-handedness, in a natural effortless way. There is joy in his teaching. I’ve always felt uplifted after listening to Adyashanti.

  5. I experienced an awakening in 2010 and have spent the last 9 years learning what that means. Enlightenment is the process of becoming comfortable with uncertainty, it is knowing the intention of the One Mind by recognizing its presence in ones ‘self’. Life is Awareness caught up in the act of ‘self’ recognition. It is impossible to determine the authenticity of those who claim to be awake without first having experienced an awakening. Adyashanti is a fractal of the One Mind as was Nisargadatta, Ramana, and others. If you think that awakening and subsequent enlightenment can be ‘taught’ by some teacher, you have obviously never experienced an authentic merger with the universal intelligence of the One Mind. Nisargadatta said toward the end of his life that he was growing weary of talking to himself. That is how he described spiritual teaching, an awakened being talking to its sleeping self. Adya claims to affect his students indirectly, which is the best one can hope for. Awakening can’t be taught, if it could, the human dream would have been enlightened centuries ago.

  6. After four years of immersion in Adya’s teaching with reading, watching videos, going to many in person retreats, participating in courses and online retreats; the past year has been a process of gradual disillusionment and disentangling. I find I cannot listen to or read one more word, let alone entertain the many concepts he lays out. The terms spirituality, awakening, enlightenment have become irritating. I didn’t look for this, I resisted it for a year, but it is as it is. Despite a feeling of resentment, I must consider that the teachings have done their job. Funny, as it became very clear I was done with Adya’s teaching, I came upon Paul Hedderman and find I can actually stand to listen to him and he makes sense in a way that maintains a sense of humor and doesn’t feed the ego.

  7. It was this statement I read by Paul Hedderman that caused a very clear seeing of why I have been increasingly disillusion with teachings, and especially Adya’s, the past year: ” To try to practice to be a lion is actually reinforcing the idea that you’re a sheep.”

  8. I don’t believe that Spirituality is something that can be taught. At best, the people who have traversed the path can only list the milestones and offer advice/reassurances for the seekers. These reassurances are needed quite often as the path is full of pitfalls and hardships. Adya has done a great job in highlighting (without any sugar-coatings) the milestones of the journey. However I feel that there is something missing in him or may be he hasn’t reached the end of the path if there is such a thing. Even when I see his trajectory from delivering “satsangs” to “online spiritual Courses”, it is obvious that the movement is towards earthly and mundane.

  9. “However I feel that there is something missing in him or may be he hasn’t reached the end of the path if there is such a thing.”

    Couldn’t agree more. I went to a lecture by Adya. The doors to the venue would close at 4 PM. The people working for him urged the people who were sitting in the hall to be silent before Adya would arrive. This, they said, was out of respect for Adya. Yet, these same people disrespected the audience by letting latecomers in. Latecomers had to be guided to their seats, stepped onto toes and bumped into knees of people already seated and who were being silent out of respect for Adya. Adya’s lecture was hard to follow. He talked without saying anything. I didn’t feel “the stillness” in him as I often describe it. Why does Adya deserve respect and why is his audience who arrived on time not given the same respect? Actions always speak louder than words.

    1. The fact that one could come to a totally different conclusion based on the actions you described indicates your ego is strongly involved here. It’s not the point of a spiritual teaching to make your ego comfortable. We cannot evaluate the quality of a spiritual teaching from an egoic position or how we “feel” about it.

      1. From what position do we evaluate? From “egoic position” to a “less” egoic position is the way. A refinement of feeling.

  10. I used to be more inclined towards the pessimistic about “new” Spiritual teachers but in the last decade or so realized that this is a natural & beneficial “evolution,” as long as the teacher is a genuine teacher (not abusing/hurting students/disciples etc). It’s always been this way & genuine teachers will always be “better” in some ways because they can communicate/instruct using modern/common day language which has a higher probability of helping students/disciples etc to understand the essence of “how to get there”/practice etc.

    Gaining expertise in any skill/area is easiest with a coach/teacher/professor & I view it as the same with Spiritual development. A good coach/teacher/professor can save a lifetime of wandering/”not quite getting anywhere” & if the teacher is genuine then their goal IMO would be to guide/instruct the students/disciples etc to becoming “better” than they are. The students/disciples etc would then be the next “evolution” that is more suited/needed for the next era/generation of people. Adyashanti & others have been a large part of my own development, though it was just a natural time to move on, integrating parts of what I gained from their teachings/practices.

    While I see flaws/errors in their ways of teaching/instruction etc, in my view that’s how it’s meant to be. The students/disciples etc are part of the “evolution” of teaching/instruction etc for the next era/generation so those flaws/errors aren’t necessarily “mistakes”/”failures” but just more appropriate/suited for their time/era. Then as culture/language/society etc “evolves” different language/ways of teaching etc to facilitate/support easier understanding & “getting there”/practice is needed. The cycle goes on & that’s evolution whether Spiritual/technology/whatever etc. So I’m more & more supportive/glad to see “new” teachers etc as long as they’re not abusive/corrupt/harmful types. Though I do have a pet peeve with teachers who say “you’re already enlightened so you don’t need to do anything.” If they said “you’re already enlightened but you need dedicated practice to experience/see through all the layers/curtains” then I’m on board with that.

  11. I love Adyashanti because he does embrace what it is to be human. He discusses this in Resurrecting Jesus – a phenomenal work. I do not want no need him to be anything other than how he is.

    I appreciate your review.

  12. I don’t know man. I see right through the guy. Not that he isn’t compassionate and genuinely trying to help, as best he is able, but his belief in his guru position is obvious. True gurus (guru translates literally as remover of darkness) have no reason to set themselves apart, and do not. Even if it’s in a package that some find rosy, he still sets himself apart. If you are looking for help along the way, or are drawn to him, that is perfectly fine there is nothing at all wrong with it. But, having a good or great or amazing feeling or experience is not the same as losing ignorance – which only happens with a valid means of knowledge (like Vedanta for example) wielded by a teacher who themselves has been taught, and even better who has been set free by that knowledge. He would not act the way he does if he was that kind of teacher.

    1. Dave, I agree. I carry this further by pointing out that the power he has over his fans stems from his stringing together disjointed cliches. If one does not see this clearly then one buys what he sells. Otherwise he seems vapid and uneducated.

  13. From Adyashanti’s books, Christopher Wallis, a tantra teacher, recommands “Self inquiry” and “True meditation”.

  14. Just some notes on this comment:

    1. “Guru” does not translate to “remover of darkness”. That is a “fake” etymology used for meditation. It’s not historically nor linguistically correct. Guru literally means “heavy” (implying “with knowledge” in the case of a teacher). So much so that the sanskrit name for Jupiter (the planet) is “Guru”, because it’s the biggest planet;

    2. traditionally the Guru IS set apart. Disciples usually transferred to their Guru home and served him/her in everyday activities. Heck, there is a practice, called Guru Yoga, in which you meditate on your Guru as manifestation and embodiment of the Absolute;

    3. as for the part about being taught inside a tradition, yes, normally it is so. And yet we have numerous traditional instances of enlightened masters who arrived at enlightenment spontaneously and where only recognized as such AFTER their enlightenment. Tradition recognizes that such cases do happen and are still valid.

    The point is, we would like to have precise parameters to evaluate a teacher’s pedigree. Alas, there aren’t any, not even inside the traditions themselves.

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