You won’t find this teacher headlining star-studded events or leading auditoriums to a deeper understanding of Buddhist texts. Instead, Stephan Bodian is a quiet renegade, connecting on the soul level with students to guide them to the realization that awakened awareness, the truth of all that is, is accessible now.
Who He Is
Stephan Bodian is a teacher, writer, licensed psychotherapist, and former Zen monk who has been illuminating the path to spiritual awakening for more than forty years. His approach integrates Eastern and Western elements with his own direct experience. He is the founder and director of the School for Awakening, a five-month intensive program of teachings, self-inquiry, meditation, and exploration into the nature of reality. Bodian authored Meditation for Dummies, the seminal text that introduced meditation to the masses. His other books include Buddhism for Dummies, Wake Up Now, Everyday Mindfulness, and, most recently, Beyond Mindfulness: The Direct Approach to Lasting Peace, Happiness, and Love. Bodian writes for many media outlets and is the former editor-in-chief of Yoga Journal magazine.
What He Teaches
Bodian’s spiritual insight comes from an eclectic intermarrying of Western psychotherapy and the non-dual wisdom traditions of Zen, the Tibetan lineages of Dzogchen and Mahamudra, and Advaita Vedanta, one of the classic Indian paths to spiritual realization. Through these perspectives, Bodian guides the student to realize what cannot be taught: that we are the pure light of awareness, one and the same as what we are seeking.
Why You’ll Love Him
Everyone loves mindfulness, right? It’s the practice that’s spread through the West like wildfire and the reason everyone from CEOs to soccer moms knows about meditation. Stephan Bodian’s latest book is a critique of it. Bodian is unafraid of being provocative and does so in a way that is profoundly gentle, compassionate, and well-informed. At the core of his message is a call to relax—to stop striving for some sort of spiritual realization, because it is already there, waiting to be noticed. Under Bodian’s guidance, the path to understanding feels accessible and intuitively spot-on. There is nothing else to learn, Bodian emphasizes, instead offering practical exercises to tune in.
How He Found the Spiritual Path
A child of the ’60s, Bodian’s drug-assisted explorations of the mind ended with a “really bad acid trip” in college. He soon found himself at a Zen center in New York City and it felt like he had come home. Bodian wasn’t a great meditator at first. His mind wandered, he couldn’t get comfortable, he experienced all the other obstacles new meditators face. Yet he persevered, realizing deep down that this was the path he needed to take.
In 1974, Bodian was ordained a Zen monk. He studied with several Zen masters, including Shunryu Suzuki Roshi and Taizan Maezumi Roshi, for the next decade. After so many years immersed in Buddhism, however, Bodian became disillusioned. He didn’t like how the tradition relied on a teacher-student relationship that often spawned power-based manipulation and grew uncomfortable with the identity he was expected to assume as a teacher. There were other problems, too. While meditation was indeed life-changing for Bodian—he went from a self-described nervous intellectual to a calm, patient human being grounded in the present—he hit what he felt to be the limits of mindfulness. The seasoned monk was calmer and less reactive, but also more disengaged from life, experiencing it from a distance. And though his mind was free from chatter, it was also lacking the spark of aliveness. “When I described my experience to my Zen teacher,” Bodian recalls, “he merely told me to meditate more.” So Bodian decided to turn in his robes and pursue Western psychology, continuing his probe into the truth of reality from another angle.
Bodian was not looking for another teacher when he attended a talk given by Jean Klein, a European master of Advaita Vedanta, or nondualism. But Klein’s approach resonated with Bodian, and he studied with the master for another ten years. Bodian’s own awakening came from a direct inquiry into the inner silence of his being, a moment that showed him that the seeker is the sought. In 1999, Bodian met Adyashanti, an American-born lay teacher whose guidance on awakening also centers on the ideology-free path of direct experience. Bodian received Dharma transmission—the authorization to teach—from Adyashanti in 2001.
What He Says
“When you wake in the morning, you may notice a brief period when you’re between sleep and waking, when you’ve left the dreams of the night but haven’t yet entered into the identities and plans of the day. The gap may be extremely small, but if you pay attention you can catch it and prolong it.
This gap has an unknown quality, perhaps a sense of openness and nakedness; it’s a kind of liminal zone where you still don’t know exactly who or what you are. You may feel afraid of this openness and tend to rush back into the known, to check your smartphone or open your computer to remind yourself who you are. Instead, just lie still and be open to the unknown.
Resist the temptation to be someone once again. Allow yourself to be no one; allow your mind to be empty of thought, unfurnished until the identities gradually filter back in. Notice the space between your identities and the awareness of them. Notice if a similar gap appears at other times during the day, an empty space that you may have ignored before but can now lean into and prolong. Continue to open to the openness.”
Where You Can Find Him
Bodian periodically offers retreats, classes, and workshops, both online and in person. The most impactful way to work with him, however, is through individual counseling or mentoring sessions, which can take place via Skype, phone, or email. During these sessions, Bodian combines his expertise as a psychotherapist and spiritual teacher to help connect clients to their inner knowing and realign them to their life path. He recommends a five-session intensive to delve deep into a commitment to growth. Find his offerings at stephanbodian.org.