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

Zen And Werner's Work

Berkeley, California, USA

June 15, 2004

This essay, Zen And Werner's Work, is the companion piece to It is also the first in an open group on Zen: I am indebted to Ken Ireland who inspired this conversation.

There are many books about Zen which provide witty and erudite discourses on Zen. This essay is not a discourse on Zen. What is worth more to me than what I have learned from books about Zen is that I can authentically claim to be not well read with regard to Zen. Whatever I say about Zen I do not say as a Zen intellectual. Not only do I not consider myself to be a Zen fundamentalist either, but I also eschew conversations about Zen in which the experience of Zen (which arguably has some value) is destroyed by battling intelligences and the righteousness of debate (which, even in terms of Zen itself, has very little value).

Rather, what I say about Zen, I say from my own experience of Zen and not from my concepts of it. And what I say about Werner, I say from my own experience of Werner and not from my concepts of him. Those are my credentials.

So what this is, is a conversation, standing in the experience of Zen, sharing how Zen created the foundation and a space to allow Werner's magnum opus of transformation to come forth.

The originations of Werner's work are as quantumly distinct from anything that had ever come before it as the first fish that walked up onto the land for the first time was as quantumly distinct from the fishes that merely swam before him. It misses the point entirely to say that the fish that walked up onto the land for the first time drew his experience from his past or even from the collective pasts of the other fishes. What happened when that first fish walked up onto the land for the first time was something that had never happened before. Nothing even remotely like it had ever happened before. In fact, nothing even remotely like it was even possible before. The first fish that walked up onto the land for the first time invented an entirely new possibility.

Of all the disciplines Werner engaged in before he created his magnum opus of transformation, Zen was the one in which he practiced allowing things to be the way they are and the way they aren't. So much of what we do in life is to try to manage situations, to try to understand the conditions in which we live, and to try to explain the world. Zen, in contrast, is a way of being with things just as they are and just as they aren't, experiencing things rather than trying to manage them or trying to understand them or trying to explain them. That doesn't imply that things should not be managed or not be understood or not be explained. Rather, it highlights how little of life we are willing to experience directly, unfiltered.

To experience life directly, unfiltered, you first have to get that you are a machine, thrown to managing, understanding, and explaining things rather than just experiencing them. And what that calls for is carving out a distinction for yourself of who you really are as the owner of your mind rather than as its victim. Once that distinction is carved out and who you really are breaks through, it is enough simply to be. Anything else acquired from then on in life is on top of fulfillment rather than a means to it.

In engaging in Zen, Werner started to see his own experience as already whole and complete. So rather than looking for sources from which he could study ways to become whole and complete, Zen provided the context in which he saw he could experience being whole and complete directly because in that context he saw that he already is  whole and complete. In Zen, things are the way they are and they aren't the way they aren't. That, by any stretch of the imagination, is the  definition of wholeness, completion, fullness, and perfection.

Werner asked his boss if it would be OK for him to introduce Zen to his sales staff during their weekly planning meetings. His boss said it would be OK - as long as he didn't get any on the walls.

Zen is not a religion. Zen could be described as living with what's so. To do that requires a certain willingness to cause your own experience so that life is lived out of who you really are rather than out of your reactions, concepts, thoughts, and opinions. In that regard, Werner points out that there are people from all walks of life and from all religions who practice Zen. There are Zen Jews, there are also Zen Christians, there are also Zen Muslims, and there are also Zen Hindus, just as there are also Zen Buddhists.

After living with Zen in his personal life and in his business life, and after having gained a reputation as someone who could deliver a witty and erudite discourse on Zen, Werner had an experience one day in March 1971 after getting into his Ford Mustang and driving to work heading south on US Highway 101 from his home in Corte Madera, California, over the Golden Gate Bridge to San Francisco.

As Professor William Warren Bartley III (Werner's biographer) put it, "Somewhere between Corte Madera and the Golden Gate Bridge, the man in the car on the freeway was transformed". Werner later specified the location more exactly as on the Golden Gate Bridge itself.

Werner had had an extraordinary experience in which he did not suddenly find out some new thing. Rather, he had had the experience that in spite of all the things he already knew, he realized that he actually knew nothing. And in that experience, he came to know all the things he already knew in a whole new way. In other words, he had not become aware of something new to know. Rather, he had become aware of the epistemology of knowledge itself: not what he knew, but rather how he held everything he knew.

In the vernacular of Zen, was that satori ie enlightenment? Both those terms, says Werner, have eastern connotations which he does not require. He enunciates his experience as transformation and doesn't use the terms satori or enlightenment at all.

From then on, the source from which Werner creates the technology of transformation would be quantumly distinct from anything that had come before it. The fish is walking up onto the land for the first time, and along with that fish walking up onto the land for the first time comes the possibility of elephants and eagles. What Werner does instead of repackaging all the things he already knew is to look into the space of his own experience, notices what is there - now, and in the future - then reports on what he sees. His own experience of who he is for himSelf and what possibilities he can invent for the future become the raw material. Undifferentiated from his experience of what's so, and facilitated and promoted by a foundation of Zen, Werner's transformation expresses itSelf. What we'll see tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow in Werner's work will be subsequent iterations of that way of being, with each iteration standing on the shoulders of the previous one, blazing the trail for the one to come. Transformation, you see, by its very nature, doesn't repeat. Rather it constantly generates new things newly.

Zen is enough for completion. By itself, it creates space for calm and acceptance of what's so. There's an additional element to completion which Werner distinguishes verbally and (more so) by demonstrating it. "Self expression" (capital "S") as a descriptor for it is in the ballpark. Speaking with tightened language, I call it "intentioned Self expression grounded in Zen" which, by the way, also requires I know when to laugh at my own most grandiose thoughts and when to laugh at my own most cherished beliefs. In Zen, self-deprecation is the great leveler. As Werner says: "Experience is simply evidence that I am here.".

From that comes transformation. From standing transformation looking from the future comes possibility. From living like that as a context for life comes enrollment.

And Werner's expression of Zen is complete.

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