Conversations For Transformation: Essays Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

Conversations For Transformation

Essays By Laurence Platt

Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

And More


Exertec Health and Fitness Center, Napa, California, USA

April 20, 2009

"You and I possess within ourselves, at every moment of our lives, under all circumstances, the power to transform the quality of our lives." ... 
This essay, Whack!, is the companion piece to Shut Up And Do What You're Doing II.

It is also the first in an open group sourced by Werner Erhard's seminal quote above, on the Power To Transform:
  1. Whack!
  2. Under All Circumstances
  3. Source Of Aliveness
  4. Damned Choice
  5. For People Who Don't Love Themselves
  6. Still Standing: Musings On The Permanent Impermanence Of Transformation
  7. Living Without Distortion
  8. No, It's What You Say  About It
  9. Transforming The Untransformable
  10. The Odds Are Even For Everyone
in that order.

From 101 Zen Stories: The Taste Of Ban-Zo's Sword

Matajuro Yagyu was the son of a famous swordsman. His father, believing his son's work was too mediocre to anticipate mastership, disowned him. So Matajuro went to Mount Futara, and there found the famous swordsman Ban-Zo. But Ban-Zo confirmed the father's judgment.
"You wish to learn swordsmanship under my guidance?" asked Ban-Zo. "You cannot fulfill the requirements.". "But if I work hard, how many years will it take to become a master?" persisted the youth. "The rest of your life" replied Ban-Zo. "I cannot wait that long" explained Matajuro. "I am willing to pass through any hardship if only you will teach me. If I become your devoted servant, how long might it be?". "Oh, maybe ten years" Ban-Zo relented.
"My father is getting old, and soon I must take care of him" continued Matajuro. "If I work far more intensively, how long would it take me?". "Oh, maybe thirty years" said Ban-Zo. "Why is that?" asked Matajuro. "First you say ten and now thirty years. I will undergo any hardship to master this art in the shortest time!". "Well" said Ban-Zo, "in that case you will have to remain with me for seventy years. A man in such a hurry as you are to get results seldom learns quickly.".
"Very well" declared the youth, understanding at last that he was being rebuked for impatience, "I agree."
Matajuro was told never to speak of fencing and never to touch a sword. He cooked for his master, washed the dishes, made his bed, cleaned the yard, cared for the garden, all without a word of swordsmanship. Three years passed. Still Matajuro labored on. Thinking of his future, he was sad. He had not even begun to learn the art to which he had devoted his life.
But one day Ban-Zo crept up behind him and gave him a terrific blow - whack!  - with a wooden sword. The following day, when Matajuro was cooking rice, Ban-Zo again sprang upon him unexpectedly.
After that, day and night, Matajuro had to defend himself from unexpected thrusts. Not a moment passed in any day that he did not have to think of the taste of Ban-Zo's sword. He learned so rapidly he brought smiles to the face of his master.
Matajuro became the greatest swordsman in the land.
Werner Erhard, as I listen him speaking in a very specific context, is saying he's "opposed"  to suffering.

"That's interesting ..." I muse. "He's saying he's opposed  to suffering ... Hmmm  ... an interesting choice of word ...".

Intrigued, I let the voice over  be, and listen on.

He's opposed to suffering when it's considered inevitable  ie when it's assumed to be absolute. When he says he's opposed to suffering, the context  in which he's speaking is bedrock "Transformation 101", the only context from which he ever speaks.

This isn't a referendum. I'm not voting here. He's not either. What I get is he's making a point with emphatic, masterfully chosen language. What I get is all  Werner's points always point in the same direction: to transformation.

What Werner says about his opposition  to suffering is simply a corollary  of his essential tenet, of his basic underlying axiom  of transformation "You and I possess within ourselves, at every moment of our lives, under all circumstances, the power to transform the quality of our lives.".

Consider this: whatever you're suffering about probably isn't  what you're suffering about. It probably happened much earlier.

Consider this too: suffering compensates for a loss. Furthermore, suffering is supposed to cure suffering.

Does Buddha's first noble truth  "Life is suffering" fly in the face of Werner's corollary? If indeed Buddha is right, how can Werner say he's opposed  to suffering? Doesn't this imply at worst he's opposed to Life, or at best he's at odds with Buddha?

Or did Buddha simply get it flat out wrong?

In all likelihood, there's nothing wrong with Buddha's teaching. Bearing in mind Buddha lived in India over two thousand years ago and didn't speak English (he spoke Pali, a dialect of the ancient Sanskrit  language), include a generous margin of error to allow for the inexact translation of what he really said or didn't say, and to allow for any well intentioned misinterpretation  of what he really said or didn't say.

In the Zen story The Taste Of Ban-Zo's Sword  transcribed above, Matajuro comes to realize his life's intention and true purpose, not through  suffering but rather through paying attention  to suffering. Suffering, it could be said, is easy. All human beings have the capacity to suffer. Suffering goes with the territory  of being human. What's not so easy is intending to stay present through  and therefore own  and be responsible  for moments of suffering, thereby bringing transformation to bear on it.

It's simple  to own and be responsible for suffering, thereby bringing transformation to bear on it. But it ain't easy. If it were easy, everyone would be transformed by now. The reason why this approach is often eschewed  isn't because it ain't easy. This approach is often eschewed because people are convinced  it can't be so simple!  People are convinced if a way of life can alleviate suffering, that way's gotta be complex  - and difficult too!

Ban-Zo trains Matajuro with an unexpected whack!  which shakes Matajuro awake from inattention. Matajuro starts to notice where he is. He starts to notice what he's doing. He starts to notice his environment and what's going on around him. He starts to live in alertness. It's no surprise therefore when, bringing attention and intention  forth to where before there was none, he becomes "the greatest swordsman in the land".

One of the last things we take on as a matter of life and death, as a way of living as if your life depends on it  are the rules. Rules, after some reflection, cost a whole lot more not  to keep than they cost to keep. Freedom of choice doesn't compensate for the penalties of breaking the rules. To live free from the fetters of all the rules, you have to keep all the rules!  In other words, to live free from the fetters of all the rules, you must be honest (as Bob Dylan may have said).

Ban-Zo the master is everywhere, jumping out with a whack!  which inflicts interim suffering whenever attention has lapsed, whenever the rules are broken. Looking out for Ban-Zo's whack!  and learning to anticipate it, Matajuro starts to notice the rules. It sets him up for mastery and freedom.

When Werner says he's "opposed"  to suffering, he's not making a big deal about suffering per se. He's not saying he's voted against it. Rather, he's pointing to the possibility of breaking through  suffering by taking responsibility for it.

My listening for Werner being "opposed"  to suffering is ... that ... god‑damned  ... simple.

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