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Thread: Soto Zen is not, and should not be, Byron Katie's 'The Work' (A Tentative Conclusion)

  1. #1

    Soto Zen is not, and should not be, Byron Katie's 'The Work' (A Tentative Conclusion)

    .
    Over the last few years, I've come across a number of folks who recommend Byron Katie's psychological program, 'The Work,' often drawing parallels to Soto Zen practice and Shikantaza. For that reason, I have looked into several of Ms. Katie's books and writings, as well as those of her critics and supporters. My tentative conclusion (I say "tentative," as I am willing and requesting to be corrected if mistaken) is that, while there are many parallels, there are also very significant differences, important aspects of Shikantaza practice which are neglected in 'The Work.' The latter cannot be compared to Soto Zen approaches in key respects (and should not be compared, although some try to do so.) Furthermore, in my reading, I have discovered that Ms. Katie's approach is frequently criticized as sometimes cruel and potentially very dangerous in the case of especially vulnerable persons, such as victims of trauma or other harmful and unjust situations which they are working to overcome. Soto Zen approaches should avoid the same traps.

    What are the key similarities and differences?

    Both Shikantaza and 'The Work' teach and encourage practitioners not to be bound by their thoughts, and to see beyond them. Ms. Katie encourages her followers to ask themselves four questions with regard to a thought in their mind, for example, in the case of someone who is a victim of physical or verbal spousal abuse who is feeling victimized and resentful of the harm and its doer:

    Is it true?
    Are you absolutely sure it is true?
    How do you react when you think this thought?
    Who would you be without this thought?


    In Ms. Katie's approach, the victim might be taught that her thoughts of being a victim and victimized are ultimately her own creation, and that if she simply halts such thoughts, the victimization will disappear, and the effect that the harm and harm doer have upon the victim will disappear.

    Superficially, a very similar approach is taken in Zen practice, whereby Zazen practitioners are shown the extent to which thoughts do form our experience of reality, that many of our interpretations are not necessary, especially excess fears, extreme wallowing in the past, obsessing about situations, and misdirected blame. A past abuse is alive within the victim now only as a memory, and how that memory is encountered determines how the victim interprets the past experience and relives it when reliving the memory. Future situations can only be known now in our imagined vision of how they may be.

    Furthermore, and most powerfully, we are taught through Zazen practice to see through ALL thoughts, all harms, all separation of harm doer and victim and all the separate people and things of the world, into a view of wholeness and peace in which no harm can be done, there is no one to do harm, no separate individual to undergo harm. In this view of "emptiness" of separate self, which is a flowing wholeness, no harm, no loss, no broken heart can shatter this unbroken nature.

    However, we do not stop there, and this is a crucial difference from 'The Work.'

    Zen folks do not see thoughts only one way. While we avoid certain harmful thoughts which are extreme or unjustified (e.g., fear or grief which turn to extreme panic or suicidal depression) and seek to escape our becoming trapped in thoughts which are not needed or have little relationship to actual situations (e.g., fears of imagined "worst case" situations that are highly unlikely to transpire, excess criticism of one's self worth or regret that have little connection to one's actual faults), we still believe that some fear, some grieving, some concern and planning for the future, some reflection and learning from the past, appropriate remorse, and some personal criticism with a vow to improve, are all natural and healthy. There is nothing wrong, and everything right, about grieving intensely when a dear loved one dies, or feeling afraid for a time when pursued by a hungry tiger. Self criticism, learning from one's mistakes, feeling appropriate remorse at harms done (and making effort to correct them) is vital to life. It is only when that grief will not relent, and becomes so intense that it results in true harm to the person experiencing it, or when the experience of the tiger is constantly relived years after as PTSD or the like, or when personal self criticism becomes unjustified and undeserved self attack, that sadness and fear and self-criticism become counter-productive.

    Further, Zen folks see past all thoughts, to a vision of wholeness, peace, non-violence and timelessness in which no harm can be done, and all is flowing effortlessly, beyond all pain and scars.

    However, we also recognize that some scars from the past are real and painful too when seen from another angle, that some fears and worries are justified, that some abuses need to be combatted or escaped, some pain needs to be faced or treated. We see beyond thoughts, but also know thoughts as real too. For this reason, there is absolutely nothing wrong, and so much right, about someone experiencing the after effects of trauma thereby seeking psychological and medical intervention from trained mental health specialists and physicians expert in dealing with the pain being experienced. In many situations, Zazen and other Buddhist practice can go hand in hand with psychological or medical treatment and counseling, all under a doctor's care. It is not a matter of simply pretending that the pain is not there, repressing the same, sweeping it under a rug or ignoring it, any more than one can pretend that a broken leg or cancer is not there simply because we choose to ignore it.

    If Zen practice has one approach to offer, it is that we can PROFOUNDLY ACCEPT our broken bone or cancer or grieving heart, LETTING the pain and sadness be the pain and sadness, ALLOWING any natural sadness or fear about a life situation to happen too, all while seeking NOT TO WALLOW in EXCESS or OBSESSIVE regrets and fears or despair about the situation, learning to keep BALANCE in our sometimes broken hearts about those regrets and fears which may naturally and humanly arise ...

    ... all while, from another view encountered in Zazen, SEEING THROUGH and FULLY RELEASING all thoughts and emotions TOTALLY and ULTIMATELY, thus to encounter another face, beyond all sickness and health, all coming and going, gain and loss, love and loss, birth and death whatsoever ... where there is no disease, no doctors, no patient ... all like a dream ...

    ... all while nonetheless recognizing that our broken bone or cancer or depression is real as real can be, such that we had better head for the hospital, call the police, see our doctor, wear a cast or take our chemotherapy or anti-depressants as the situation demands.

    There is a time to balance our thoughts, a way and to see through all thoughts to something wiser and complete. Yet, rejecting or changing thoughts only goes so far.

    There is no bone to break, no cancer, no broken heart ... and yet there is, so best to treat and mend it.

    (If there are those here very familiar with Ms. Katie's approach, who believe that my understanding is incomplete or mistaken, please do correct me. I am here to learn).

    Gassho, Jundo
    STLah

    A typical criticism of 'The Work':

    https://gurumag.com/a-critique-of-by...ties-the-work/
    Last edited by Jundo; 02-18-2021 at 02:42 AM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  2. #2
    I agree wholeheartedly. Taigu introduced me to Byron Katie's work six years ago. I looked it up and summarily dismissed it at the time; as did I do with Trungpa whom he also recommended as study. I recently read her latest book which uses the Diamond Sutra as an analogy (mostly because her husband, Stephen Mitchell's practice and translation work.) She takes some liberties in claiming her contribution to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and the harshness of her method portrayed in her writing to me, crosses the line from tough love. And, as Be Scofield relates in the article you reference "This is where The Work gets dangerous."

    gassho, Shokai
    stlah
    Last edited by Shokai; 02-18-2021 at 02:29 AM.
    仁道 生開 - Jindo Shokai "Open to life in a benevolent way"
    May we all grow together in our knowledge of the Dharma

  3. #3
    I agree fully with what you wrote, Jundoshi. I explored the Work many years ago and found it to be void of compassion. BK was always so confident in her present of her method that I did give some wholehearted trying, but realized that it was not the way that I wanted to relate to others.

    Gassho,
    Nengei
    Sat today. LAH.

  4. #4
    I've tried her Work very long time ago and maybe I'm half witted but I didn't understand any of it. The exerci3left me feeling numb and detached so I never gave it a second go.

    Gassho
    Sat

  5. #5
    I don't know anything about this person, but "The Work" is interesting what Gurdjieff called his whatever-his-pseudo-system-was-supposed-to-be. Is there any relationship between the two? (I don't know much about Gurdjieff, but I did read one of his books decades ago.)

    I've always felt that names such as "The Work" bear witness to a singular lack of creativity, and intentionally try to avoid any context or suggestion of links with other systems or traditions, but here, using that term suggests, at least to anyone who has read Gurdjieff, that there may be a link.

    Gassho,

    Ryūmon

    sat
    -----

    流文

    I know nothing.

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by Ryumon View Post
    I don't know anything about this person, but "The Work" is interesting what Gurdjieff called his whatever-his-pseudo-system-was-supposed-to-be. Is there any relationship between the two? (I don't know much about Gurdjieff, but I did read one of his books decades ago.)

    I've always felt that names such as "The Work" bear witness to a singular lack of creativity, and intentionally try to avoid any context or suggestion of links with other systems or traditions, but here, using that term suggests, at least to anyone who has read Gurdjieff, that there may be a link.

    Gassho,

    Ryūmon

    sat
    Interesting question. I thought of that connection as well.

    I was in a Gurdgief group for a few months maybe 20+ years ago. Very nice group of dedicated students. Very ethical teacher. Exercises and techniques very focused on bringing awareness into life, no meditation on the cushion. The practices seemed really solid. But there were also a number of auxiliary beliefs about cosmology, body types, etc. that seemed really slapped together and un-scientific. To their credit, they were perfectly fine if you didn't believe them. But it wasn't really my thing. That said, I still use their split attention technique to quickly silence self-talk when I need to in real-world situations. And they were also the group that taught me how to stay mindful while talking - I had never figured that out from my Zen Studies up to that point.

    Gassho, Jim
    ST/LaH

    Sent from my SM-T510 using Tapatalk
    No matter how much zazen we do, poor people do not become wealthy, and poverty does not become something easy to endure.
    Kōshō Uchiyama, Opening the Hand of Thought

  7. #7
    I agree wholeheartedly. Taigu introduced me to Byron Katie's work six years ago. I looked it up and summarily dismissed it at the time; as did I do with Trungpa whom he also recommended as study.
    Shokai, did you dismiss Trungpa because of his behaviour and lifestyle? Although his ethical conduct was certainly not something I would encourage anyone to emulate, he nevertheless produced, in my opinion, some of the finest spiritual writing of the last century.

    As regards Byron Katie, I totally agree with Jundo. There is a chapter in the How to be Sick book based on her work and it will be interesting to see whatcomes up when we get to that.

    Gassho
    Kokuu
    -sattoday-
    ------------------------------------
    Feel free to message me if you wish to talk about issues around practicing with physical limitations. This is something I have been sitting with for a fair while and am happy to help with suggestions or just offer a listening ear.

  8. #8
    I have never heard of ‘The Work’, but I really loved that thorough explanation of our practice ; I personally have a weird quirk where I bounce between the extremes that you mentioned (probably not so unique to me) so I need to hear that approach. For me that is where the uselessness of zazen becomes so useful in just getting a glimpse of what you say, but I need a whole lot more cook time lol

    gassho

    risho
    -stlah

    Apologies for going over

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by Kokuu View Post
    Shokai, did you dismiss Trungpa because of his behaviour and lifestyle? Although his ethical conduct was certainly not something I would encourage anyone to emulate, he nevertheless produced, in my opinion, some of the finest spiritual writing of the last century.
    Agreed. He is a tough one to consider now, knowing what he did in his life. I agree; some of his writings are brilliant, but I find it hard to read them now knowing more about him.

    The age-old problem of separating an artist or thinker from their lives.

    Gassho,

    Ryūmon

    sat
    -----

    流文

    I know nothing.

  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by Ryumon View Post
    The age-old problem of separating an artist or thinker from their lives.
    Yes. And, IMHO, even more difficult when it comes to a spiritual teacher. A bad person can write a great novel. But since a spiritual teacher is claiming they can help us live better, if their own life is an ethical disaster, then they either aren't following their own practices (in which case they aren't speaking from experience when recommending them), or they do follow the practices they claim and those practices don't work as advertised.

    Sent from my SM-T510 using Tapatalk
    No matter how much zazen we do, poor people do not become wealthy, and poverty does not become something easy to endure.
    Kōshō Uchiyama, Opening the Hand of Thought

  11. #11
    Thank you for sharing, Jundo, I am completely unfamiliar with her and The Work. Briefly looking at her site and explanation of the practice, I'm a bit turned off (of course, I am biased) by the notion that you can think your way through your innermost problems and that practice is something happening in your mind. I greatly appreciate Zen practice for introducing me over the years to the idea that self-reflection is a full-body practice, even though in Zen, most of the time you are sitting still and not moving a muscle.

    Quote Originally Posted by JimInBC View Post
    That said, I still use their split attention technique to quickly silence self-talk when I need to in real-world situations. And they were also the group that taught me how to stay mindful while talking - I had never figured that out from my Zen Studies up to that point.
    This is really interesting, thanks for sharing. I often have to stop whatever I'm doing entirely if my self-talk gets overwhelming.

    Gassho,
    Sekiyuu
    Sat Today / LaH

  12. #12
    Interesting. Thank you for the teaching.

    I am not familiar with The Work but from the description it rather sounds like an exercise in shifting the board from one shoulder to the other as opposed to setting the board down so as to bear witness to the whole street.

    Gassho,
    Hōkō

    SatToday and LAH

    .

    Sent from my SM-N975U using Tapatalk
    法 Dharma
    口 Mouth

  13. #13
    Thanks Jundo for nicely (and respectfully) articulating important differences between these practices.

    I like Hoko's comment as well:
    Quote Originally Posted by Hoko View Post
    ... sounds like an exercise in shifting the board from one shoulder to the other as opposed to setting the board down so as to bear witness to the whole street ...
    I've dabbled in The Work in the past and found that it can provide a shift in perspective and some momentary relief to negative thoughts. But IMO it's the opposite to Zen in the sense that Zen (my immediate perspective only) does not encourage the obsessive analysis of specific thoughts but rather, through daily practice, puts thought itself into a larger perspective and encourages living as simply and as compassionately as possible.

    Gassho,
    Kevin
    #ST

  14. #14
    I looked up Byron Katie after seeing references to "the work" in Toni's book on illness.

    I am not familiar with Byron Katie, but I reviewed her question process. I did not find it helpful as a person with chronic illness, but I'm speaking for myself. As Kokuu mentioned, I also am interested to learn others' opinions when this discussion comes up in Toni's book.

    Gassho, meian st lh

    Sent from my SM-G975U using Tapatalk
    迷安 - Mei An - Wandering At Rest

  15. #15
    Treeleaf Unsui / Engineer Sekishi's Avatar
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    Apr 2013
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    Virginia, USA
    A number of years back I was introduced to The Work by a trusted friend. I purchased the book, downloaded and printed out the worksheets (they are in the book too), and began ... well "the work".

    I ultimately found it frustrating (for some of the reasons Jundo mentions as well as some of my own) and did not continue. Ultimately this is on me, and since I did not finish the activities, I will not speak of the quality or effectiveness of it as a program.

    It may be just fine as a program for dealing with mental health issues, or even as a "self improvement" program (or it may not, I dunno). But our Soto Zen practice is not for dealing with mental health issues, nor is it a "self improvement" program. As Jundo and others in the thread have already said better than I could, our project is something different.

    Also, for what it is worth, I personally found working with an actual therapist far more helpful than books. And I love books! IMHO. YMMV.

    Deep bows,
    Sekishi
    sekishi
    石志

    He/him. As a novice priest-in-training, this is simply an expression of my opinion. Please take it with a grain of salt.

  16. #16
    Quote Originally Posted by Sekishi View Post
    ... Ultimately this is on me, and since I did not finish the activities ...
    Yes, it is on you. It is all on you. Don't blame the workbook.

    (Sorry, I could not resist a little "The Work" joke here. )

    Gassho, J

    STLah
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  17. #17
    Hi Folks,
    Sorry for the reply to an old thread. I'm discovering interesting old threads!

    With particular regard to your comment about trauma and PTSD Jundo, is anybody familiar with Gabor Mate's work. I think his work in this field particularly awesome!

    Any comments?

    Gram

    Sat today

  18. #18
    Hi Folks,

    Me again! I'd like make a comment about Trunpa Rinpoche. I think he's one of the greatest spiritual Masters of our time, however psychologically he's an infant, he woke up in a monastery when he was a child, so all his awakening experienced is referenced to that time. We have to wake and grow up. They don't happen simultaneously.

    Love,

    Gram

    S today

  19. #19
    Hi Folks,

    Me again! Byron Katie has a very refined sense of consciousness. Anyone who can really hear the truth behind her statement "when I'm walking to the gas chamber, other than what I'm thinking and feeling, what an amazing day" has also a refined sense of consciousness. Her work is phenomenal and can be taken seriously. If you're not ready to hear her depth then it's not for you.

    Love,

    Gram

    Sat today

  20. #20
    Hi Gram

    Do you think someone can be a great spiritual master if it is not integrated into their life?

    I have gained a huge amount from reading Chögyam Trungpa's books over the years but I find a total disconnect between the down-to-earth wisdom in his teachings and the numerous reports and records of how he lived his life.

    Gassho
    Kokuu
    -sattoday/lah-
    ------------------------------------
    Feel free to message me if you wish to talk about issues around practicing with physical limitations. This is something I have been sitting with for a fair while and am happy to help with suggestions or just offer a listening ear.

  21. #21
    Gram,

    From a Zen point of view Byron Katie's pointing to the absolute nature of reality is not wrong, in terms of everything being perfect and whole right here and right now.

    However, from the relative perspective, it seems that she can often negate the voice of people suffering from trauma and abuse which is psychologically reall unhealthy. It is one thing to help people gain perspective and understand that suffering can be self-created, and another to complete negate feelings which is antithetical to what we teach here.

    Perhaps those criticising Katie are not 'not ready to hear her depth' but rather have noticed something really important that is happening with her work which can have negative consequences, especially for people dealing with abuse and trauma. These are three such critical accounts from trained therapist and others:

    https://gurumag.com/a-critique-of-by...ties-the-work/
    http://www.pennilessparenting.com/20...on-katies.html
    https://www.new-synapse.com/aps/wordpress/?p=296


    At Treeleaf, we are not in the habit of telling anyone which teachings to find helpful (and there are good things about The Work) but we encourage people to look deeper into Byron Katie before engaging with what she teaches, particularly if you are dealing with trauma.

    Gassho
    Kokuu
    -sattoday/lah-
    ------------------------------------
    Feel free to message me if you wish to talk about issues around practicing with physical limitations. This is something I have been sitting with for a fair while and am happy to help with suggestions or just offer a listening ear.

  22. #22
    Hi Kokuu,

    I think that someone like Trungpa has profound spiritual insight, and yes I guess it would not make him a master in that sense.

    Gassho
    Gram
    sattoday

  23. #23
    Hi Kokuu,

    I agree with what you're trying to say and yes it's not what we do at here at Treeleaf.

    I don't recommend Katie's work for anyone new to the spiritual path. Her work is NOT therapy and it's therefore not useful to critique her work through a therapeutic lens.

    Gassho
    Gram
    sat today

  24. #24
    Quote Originally Posted by Gram View Post
    Hi Kokuu,

    I think that someone like Trungpa has profound spiritual insight, and yes I guess it would not make him a master in that sense.

    Gassho
    Gram
    sattoday
    One can have a great deal of insight into emptiness and the Buddhist teachings, and one can have a great deal of charisma and be a charming personality ...

    ... but at a certain point, the addictions, the cultish excesses, the manipulation and sexual abuse of others must discount much of that.

    Gassho, J

    STLah
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  25. #25
    I spent a decade or so studying Trungpa and hanging out with his students. Many of his most prominent students displayed a disturbingly large capacity to justify as "enlightened behavior" activities that my 5 year olds know are mean and harmful. Unfortunately, there are credible reports that such a capacity for justification created environments where sexual predators thrived, and where such predators were even promoted as spiritual teachers, giving them further access to vulnerable people for them to exploit.

    I find promotion of Trungpas teachings as being profound.... triggering. In practice, I don't think the advice to "separate the teachings from the teacher" or, "to separate the art from the artist" to be the healthiest teachings to promote amongst the type of people that are seeking spiritual teachings, teachers, or community. No one goes to Picasso or Weinstein for instructions on spiritual lifestyle choices, but people definitely go to people held up as spiritual teachers and their communities for such inspiration.

  26. #26
    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Naylor View Post
    I spent a decade or so studying Trungpa and hanging out with his students. Many of his most prominent students displayed a disturbingly large capacity to justify as "enlightened behavior" activities that my 5 year olds know are mean and harmful. Unfortunately, there are credible reports that such a capacity for justification created environments where sexual predators thrived, and where such predators were even promoted as spiritual teachers, giving them further access to vulnerable people for them to exploit.

    I find promotion of Trungpas teachings as being profound.... triggering. In practice, I don't think the advice to "separate the teachings from the teacher" or, "to separate the art from the artist" to be the healthiest teachings to promote amongst the type of people that are seeking spiritual teachings, teachers, or community. No one goes to Picasso or Weinstein for instructions on spiritual lifestyle choices, but people definitely go to people held up as spiritual teachers and their communities for such inspiration.
    Woops, sorry, out of practice on community norms. Going to go sit today right now.

  27. #27
    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Naylor View Post
    Woops, sorry, out of practice on community norms. Going to go sit today right now.
    Jeff! How lovely seeing you again!

    SatToday
    Bion
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  28. #28
    Quote Originally Posted by Bion View Post
    Jeff! How lovely seeing you again!

    SatToday
    Good to see you too! Nice new threads on display in your photo...

  29. #29
    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Naylor View Post
    Good to see you too! Nice new threads on display in your photo...
    I have been “buddhified” to capacity

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  30. #30
    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo View Post
    One can have a great deal of insight into emptiness and the Buddhist teachings, and one can have a great deal of charisma and be a charming personality ...

    ... but at a certain point, the addictions, the cultish excesses, the manipulation and sexual abuse of others must discount much of that.

    Gassho, J

    STLah
    Well said. Considering Trungpa drank himself to death, and abused people doesnt seem to me to be "Buddha" actions.
    The miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the green earth in the present moment, to appreciate the peace and beauty that are available now. - Thích Nhất Hạnh

  31. #31
    Quote Originally Posted by bakera3312 View Post
    Well said. Considering Trungpa drank himself to death, and abused people doesnt seem to me to be "Buddha" actions.
    Some believe that a teacher can have great insight, and then is a "fully enlightened being" beyond all human faults. Sadly, I believe that one can have great insight (and realize that the whole world is a "fully enlightened being" and has been all along), yet still have serious personal faults which detract from that ... not unlike how one can be a gifted baseball player in one part of life, but a mess up in other parts of life.

    Alas, Trungpa is not alone in this.

    Also, any good Zen teacher should be a mix of insight and humanity, a human being not a perfect being (except in the sense that all being are perfectly imperfect perfect beings), although hopefully their faults are minor, not doing serious harm to themselves or others. That is what makes Trungpa and Sasaki and Shimano so serious ... they harmed others, not to mention themselves.

    Sorry to run long.

    Gassho, J

    STLah
    Last edited by Jundo; 08-14-2021 at 03:09 AM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

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