Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Zen Master So Sahn and "The Work"

There are some popular "Enlightened" people out there. One of them is Byron Katie. After her experience (maybe realizing Mind Makes Everything), she came up with a means of dealing with thoughts, which she called "The Work." Essentially it boils down to investigating individual thoughts with the following four questions (paraphrased here).
  1. Is it true?
  2. Can you absolutely be sure it is true?
  3. How do you feel when you think that thought?
  4. Who would you be without that thought?
Then there is the idea of a turnaround to point to a true thought based on the original false thought.

Ms. Katie has turned these questions into big business. Spending time on Oprah, selling many books, and charging people thousands of dollars to spend a weekend with her and/or her trained people. Does she have something? Something that could help people wake up?

In The Mirror of Zen, Zen Master So Sahn picked several bits from the Zen cannon that he though best summed up Korean Zen. A favorite of mine is:
If you know that the arising thought is itself unreal delusion, you are already free. pg. 51.
The passage continues with
What need is there for employing skillful means? Freed from any delusion, you are already enlightened.
Of course, there is always going to be need for skillful means. If all it took were reading those words to wake up, we wouldn't need any Zen teachers! Delusion runs deep. Delusion and Karma are astonishingly difficult to cut through.

Zen is waking up to our true nature, which involves cutting through delusion. The four questions are for investigating thinking and seeing how we delude ourselves. They also rely on thought. This is using delusion to cut through delusion. Which is also mentioned in the Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment. These ideas have been around for centuries, here they are being packaged in a different form.

Can "The Work" be useful for Zen students? It can be useful in a self-help kind of way. If we are hung up on money, relationships, other aspects of being a human being living on this planet. Just remember it is using delusion to cut through delusion.

Question four asks "Who would you be without that thought?" Zen Master Seung Sahn, and other Zen masters before him, asked students to keep the great question "What are You?"