Alan Chapman Talk in Berkeley
Last night, Alan Chapman happened to be visiting Berkeley and leading a meditation session at the open Saturday Night Sangha sitting group that Rebecca and I have been occasionally attending. Alan is a teacher who, for lack of better terms, is looking at bridging the worlds of Western Culture, awakening, and the Dharma. I’ve known of Alan for a number of years because of his old website, The Baptist’s Head, where he and his friend, Duncan Barford, engaged in open discussion and recording of their experiences and thoughts relating to the Western Esoteric Tradition (aka “Magic”). Since I spent about 16 years primarily being involved with that tradition (and did my Master’s thesis on aspects of it), I was very interested in his work. I’ve often been drawn to people who have gone from involvement in these stereotypical Western European derived approaches (which definitely have some serious issues as a non-continuous set of traditions) to the Dharma. There are a surprising number of Dharma practitioners who were, at various points, involved with Neopaganism and/or occultism of various stripes.
As time went on, Alan went on to do less Western focused meditative work, pulling from Buddhism and other traditions, and had what he considers an enlightenment experience. He talks about his experience of enlightenment on YouTube in a video from a couple of years ago, which I have embedded below:
I’m not really qualified to state whether Alan’s experience is “genuine” or not by some measures but, as he mentioned in his talk at the sitting group last night, as time goes on, his experiences bring him closer and closer to teachings of the traditional Buddhadharma, though without a lot of what I think he considers to be accreted crap.
After his experiences, Alan started the Open Enlightenment project with Duncan, which he freely confesses to having been a bit of a failure in the talk below as well! As a part of this and following this, he also did a series of videos where he spoke on various topics. Alan is currently working on what he calls “Deep Humanism,” as his term for what and how he is teaching now. He’s up on deephumanism.org, though he says he really won’t have real content up for a few weeks. The “Deep Humanism” is, as I gather, his term for his approaches to awakening in a Western mode without as much baggage from earlier institutions and presented in a way that people who grow up in a Western culture (leaving aside arguments of what that may or may not be) can understand and integrate.
I’ve corresponded back and forth with Alan on Twitter for a bit during the last few years and, while I freely admit to being one of his “Zen critics” of the Open Enlightenment project mentioned in last night’s talk, I’ve found Alan to be erudite, well spoken, and generally spot on in his observations, especially when you have a chance to actually talk with him (instead of the abstracted Internet “discussions”). Listening to him speak for an hour and having dinner with him afterwards reinforced my impression that Alan is no phony, regardless of the nature of his enlightenment, and is speaking from personal experience with humility, humor, and some genuine insight. I definitely think he’s worth listening to in order to hear another view of things, if nothing else.
When Alan led things last night, he did a roughly 35 minute directed meditation, interjecting instructions at a few points, followed by an hour of a talk. The last 25 minutes or so of the talk were a Q&A with various people, including me. With Alan’s permission, I recorded both of these to put up on the net (I expect a video from another person to show up eventually as well.) I put my recording of Alan’s directed meditation and then talk up on the Internet Archive under a Creative Commons license. The first of these, the meditation, is about 10 minutes long because I removed many of the minutes of silence between directions (it really was over 35 minutes!). The second of these is 59 minutes long. If you aren’t interested in meditation direction, definitely skip to the talk.
I’ve also embedded them in a flash player below. Push the “fast forward” button to go to the talk as the player starts with the directed meditation.
Alan is here in the Bay Area doing a retreat this week. I wish I would have known of it ahead of time as, after last night’s talk, I’d definitely be willing to sit with him for a few days or a week to have more of a chance to hear his point of view and see what he has to teach. He’s definitely worth examining.