The Rubin is transforming. Read important updates from our Executive Director.

App Icon Apple Podcasts

App Icon Spotify Podcasts

Read the transcript of this episode.

What if enlightenment is not something to strive for, but an innate quality born to every human being? Gender non-conforming writer, performer, and public speaker Alok Vaid-Menon challenges us to see the divine nature in every person, including ourselves, and asks who we might be if we choose to step outside of the limitations of judgment.

Alok considers a sculpture of the Buddha Triumphing Over Mara, which depicts the moment the Buddha overcame ignorance, touched the earth as his witness, and became enlightened, declaring, “I am not a man, I am awake.”


Alok Vaid-Menon (they/them) is an internationally acclaimed gender non-conforming writer, performer, and public speaker. As a mixed-media artist, Alok explores themes of trauma, belonging, and the human condition. Over the past decade they have presented at more than 500 venues in over 45 countries. They are the author of Femme in Public (2017) and Beyond the Gender Binary (2020), as well as the creator of #DeGenderFashion, a movement to degender fashion and beauty industries. Alok has been honored as one of HuffPost’s Culture Shifters, NBC’s Pride50, and Business Insider’s The Doers. They currently serve as a contributing editor to the White Review.


The Buddha Triumphing Over Mara; India, probably Bihar, ca. 800
The Buddha Triumphing Over Mara; India, probably Bihar, ca. 800″“900; stone; Asian Art Museum of San Francisco; The Avery Brundage Collection, B61S7+

This stone relief shows the Buddha seated under a tree, known as the bodhi tree or the tree of enlightenment, deep in contemplation. With his right hand touching the ground he calls the earth to witness his triumph over the demon Mara, who is often described as the inner forces of illusion and ignorance that prevent the true understanding of reality.


AWAKEN is produced by the Rubin Museum of Art with Vincent Baker, Dawn Eshelman, Jamie Lawyer, Sandrine Milet, Elena Pakhoutouva, and Dawnette Samuels. It was produced in collaboration with Sound Made Public, with Tania Ketenjian, Katie McCutcheon, and Philip Wood.

Special thanks to Karen Sorensen for additional consulting.

All music for AWAKEN was created by Blue Dot Sessions, Podington Bear, Tendinite, and Siddhartha Corthus.


This podcast is supported by Barbara Bowman, the Ellen Bayard Weedon Foundation, The Prospect Hill Foundation, Bob and Lois Baylis, public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, as well as by generous donations from the Museum’s Board of Trustees, individual donors, and members.

AWAKEN is sponsored by Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, a print and digital magazine dedicated to making Buddhist teachings broadly available.