‘Almost exactly forty-four years ago, I went to a talk by the Korean Zen Master Seung Sahn at the Cambridge Zen Center. As a very new Zen student, I’m not sure what I was expecting, but whatever it was, it didn’t happen. He held up a cup and asked, “Is this a cup or is this not a cup?” He took a sip. And I thought, he didn’t answer the question! He held up a watch and asked, “Is this a watch or is this not a watch?” He looked at it. And I thought he didn’t answer the question!
He went on like this, hinting at one thing or another but never exactly pinning anything down, and I kept thinking he didn’t answer the question! I so thoroughly and completely did not understand what was going on that everything I knew seemed irrelevant. It suddenly hit me, with my PhD and bloated test scores and skipped grades in school, that nothing I knew was worth knowing.
I was so freaked out that I couldn’t drive home. I used the Zen center phone (cell phones were decades away) to call a friend who luckily answered and, recognizing an emergency when she heard one, showed up and walked me around the neighborhood. “I don’t know anything,” I said over and over, slashing the air with my hands. I don’t know anything.’ (from Lion’s Roar)
There was a lot in this article that had me nodding my head in agreement. Look out for another extract soon.