Faith, Courage and Question
Post by Chintana Ahlund
“If you want to attain your true nature, you must have Great Faith, Great Courage, and Great Question.” ~ Master Seung Sahn
I sat cross-legged, left ear cocked.
He told us a story: it’s during the ’60′s and there’s a draft taking place to send young American soldiers off to war. The Vietnam War. There’s a young lady attending Boston University. She looks around her and sees chaos. Students are protesting. Schools like BU are shutting down.
The culture of questioning and calamity ignites a fire in her heart. She burns with questions: who am I? Why am I here? What is the meaning of this life?
Since school was closed, she decides to travel the world. With great sincerity, she sets out for an education from spiritual masters in the East.
Her travels bring forth an encounter with a Zen master who, after listening to all of her questions, asked, what do you do with confidence?
After some thought, the young woman replies, I play chess well.
The Zen master makes an instant arrangement: she is to play a game of chess against a senior monk. The conditions, however, are severe. Each player plays with a sword held to the head. The loser loses his or her life.
Suddenly, the young student is playing for her life. At first, she is clumsy and makes foolish mistakes. But she quickly finds focus and begins to play with extreme confidence. Before making her last move, right before checkmate, she looks up to see her opponent, an old monk, sweating and shaking. Hit with enormous compassion, she lowers her gaze and begins to search the board for a different move; hoping to stall the game.
The Zen master sees this and instantly flips over the chess board. Pieces go flying and both players jump to their feet, awakened to the essential teachings of great faith, great courage and great question.
Great faith means to trust the process of self-inquiry and to practice believing in yourself. It is knowing that right thinking, right feeling and right action will arise in any moment, given a clear mind and confident heart.
Great courage is to accept that there are no answers. You must allow a deep understanding to grow from embracing “don’t-know-mind.”
Great question means that if you question with great sincerity, you will know Big Mind. You will become a large person, expanding enough to contain contradictions and multitudes. In one moment, you will experience all that Is.
These three teachings in Zen have everything to do with writing and sitting practice. We need to practice as if our lives depend on it. In a way, it does. As Natalie Goldberg says, no one believes in himself or herself overnight. You keep practicing.
Who Am I?
- Sit comfortably and close your eyes.
- Slowly breathe in.
- Slowly breathe out.
- On an inhale, silently ask yourself, who am I?
- On the exhale, observe what arises.
- Repeat this flow a few more times.
- Inhale, asking, who am I?
- Exhale, observing what answers arise.
- Then inhale, asking again, who am I?
- On the next exhale, silently reply with, don’t know.
- Now repeat this flow.
- Inhale, who am I?
- Exhale, don’t know.
- Practice being comfortable with don’t-know-mind.
- Practice creating space in your body and mind with sincere questioning.
- Then open your eyes.
- Get out your notebook and pen.
- Who am I? Go. Write for 10 minutes. Remember, no crossing-out.