Introduction Zen Is Understanding Yourself



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Table of Contents

  Preface

Introduction

1. Zen Is Understanding Yourself

2. The Zen Circle

3. My Dharma Is Too Expensive

4. Advice to a Beginner

5. Inside, Outside

6. A Child Asks About Death

7. Who Needs a Zen Master

8. You Are Attached!

9. About the Heart Sutra

10. Not Difficult, Not Easy

11. A Dharma Speech

12. What Is One Plus Two?

13. What To Do About Noise

14. You Must Become Completely Crazy

15. The Story of Ko Bong

16. How Can the Buddha Be Smiling?

17. Apples and Oranges

18. Kong-an Blues

19. The 84,000 Levels of Enlightenment

20. What Is Freedom?

21. The Great Treasure

22. The Moon of Clear Mind

23. What Have You Brought Here?

24. Enlightened and Unenlightened Are Empty Names

25. Why We Chant

26. A Dharma Speech

27. The Story of Won Hyo

28. Porcupines in Rat-Holes

29. Practicing Zen

30. It Is Your Mind That Is Moving

31. Bodhisattva Attachment

32. Five Kinds of Zen

33. The Color of Snow

34. Don't-Know Mind, Continued

35. Zen and Tantra

36. The 10,000 Questions Are One Question

37. Buddha Is Grass Shoes

38. Three Interviews

39. When the Lights Go Off, What?

40. Testing the Mind

41. What Is Death?

42. Wanting Enlightenment

43. The True Way for Women

44. Can You See Your Eyes?

45. Special Medicine and Big Business

46. Miracles

47. A Dharma Speech

48. A Little Thinking, A Little Sparring

49. No-Attainment Is Attainment

50. True Sitting Zen

51. Samadhi vs. Satori

52. Lin-Chi's KATZ

53. Nirvana and Anuttara Samyak Sambodhi

54. Zen and the Arts

55. Plastic Flowers, Plastic Mind

56. True Emptiness

57. You Must Wake Up!

58. More Ashes on the Buddha

59. The Story of Su Tung-p'o

60. What Nature Is Saying to You

61. It


62. Small Love and Big Love

63. Does the Cat Have Buddha-Nature?

64. Out of the Depths

65. Funny

66. The Story of Kyong Ho

67. Bodhisattva Sin

68. A Dharma Speech

69. The True Way

70. Sex Mind=Zen Mind?

71. Keen-Eyed Lions and Blind Dogs

72. Original Sound, Original Body

73. The Story of Mang Gong

74. Mang Gong Explains His KATZ

75. The Transmission of No-Mind

76. Inside the Cow's Belly

77. Today Is Buddha's Birthday. The Sun Is Shining.

78. Dok Sahn and His Stick

79. All Things Are Your Teachers

80. Who Makes One?

81. What Is Your Star?

82. The Story of Sul

83. Dialogue with Swami X

84. Big Mistake

85. Language-Route and Dharma-Route

86. The Tathagata

87. Bodhidharma and I

88. Correspondence with an Ordained American Lawyer

89. Saving All People

90. Dialogue at Tal Mah Sah

91. The Boat Monk

92. When the Bell Is Rung, Stand Up

93. The Story of Mun Ik

94. What Did You Say?

95. Much Ado About Nothing

96. An Ambush in the Fields of Dharma

97. Un-Mun's Short-Answer Zen

98. Ko Bong Explains a Poem

99. The Story of Seung Sahn Soen-Sa

100. What Is Love?

Preface

  Zen teaching is like a window. At first, we look at it, and see only the dim reflection of our own face. But as we learn, and our vision becomes clear, the teaching becomes clear. Until at last it is perfectly transparent. We see through it. We see all things: our own face.

This book is a collection of Seung Sahn Soen-sa's* teaching in America—dialogues, stories, formal Zen interviews, Dharma Speeches, and letters. The words arise as situations arise. Each situation is a game, and a matter of life and death.

The title comes from a problem which Soen-sa gives his students for homework. It goes like this:

Somebody comes into the Zen Center with a lighted cigarette, walks up to the Buddha-statue, blows smoke in its face and drops ashes on its lap. You are standing there. What can you do?

This person has understood that nothing is holy or unholy. All things in the universe are one, and that one is himself. So everything is permitted. Ashes are Buddha; Buddha is ashes. The cigarette flicks. The ashes drop.

But his understanding is only partial. He has not yet understood that all things are just as they are. Holy is holy; unholy is unholy. Ashes are ashes; Buddha is Buddha. He is very attached to emptiness and to his own understanding, and he thinks that all words are useless. So whatever you say to him, however you try to teach him, he will hit you. If you try to teach by hitting him back, he will hit you even harder. (He is very strong.)

How can you cure his delusion?

Since you are a Zen student, you are also a Zen teacher. You are walking on the path of the Bodhisattva, whose vow is to save all beings from their suffering. This person is suffering from a mistaken view. You must help him understand the truth: that all things in the universe are just as they are.

How can you do this?

If you find the answer to this problem, you will find the true way.

*Zen Master Seung Sahn is properly written about as Soen-sa (“Zen Master”; equivalent to Zenji in Japanese) and addressed or spoken about as Soen-sa-nim (nim being the honorific particle in Korean). Soen is pronounced somewhat like “sun,” but further back in the throat; sa rhymes with “ha”; nim sounds like “neem.” In his name, the vowel in “Seung” is like the vowel in “look.”

 

Introduction

  Deep in the mountains, the great temple bell is struck. You hear it reverberating in the morning air, and all thoughts disappear from your mind. There is nothing that is you; there is nothing that is not you. There is only the sound of the bell, filling the whole universe.

Springtime comes. You see the flowers blossoming, the butterflies flitting about; you hear the birds singing, you breathe in the warm weather. And your mind is only springtime. It is nothing at all.

You visit Niagara and take a boat to the bottom of the Falls. The downpouring of the water is in front of you and around you and inside you, and suddenly you are shouting: YAAAAAA!

In all these experiences, outside and inside have become one. This is Zen mind.

Original nature has no opposites. Speech and words are not necessary. Without thinking, all things are exactly as they are. The truth is just like this.

Then why do we use words? Why have we made this book?

According to Oriental medicine, when you have a hot sickness you should take hot medicine. Most people are very attached to words and speech. So we cure this sickness with word-and-speech medicine.

Most people have a deluded view of the world. They don't see it as it is; they don't understand the truth. What is good, what is bad? Who makes good, who makes bad? They cling to their opinions with all their might. But everybody's opinion is different. How can you say that your opinion is correct and somebody else's is wrong? This is delusion.

If you want to understand the truth, you must let go of your situation, your condition, and all your opinions. Then your mind will be before thinking. “Before thinking” is clear mind. Clear mind has no inside and no outside. It is just like this. “Just like this” is the truth.

An eminent teacher said,

If you want to pass through this gate,

do not give rise to thinking.

  This means that if you are thinking, you can't understand Zen. If you keep the mind that is before thinking, this is Zen mind.

So another Zen Master said,

Everything the Buddha taught

was only to correct your thinking.

If already you have cut off thinking,

what good are the Buddha's words?

  The Heart Sutra says, “Form is emptiness, emptiness is form.” This means, “no form, no emptiness.” But the true meaning of “no form, no emptiness” is, “form is form, emptiness is emptiness.”

If you are thinking, you won't understand these words. If you are not thinking, “just like this” is Buddha-nature.

What is Buddha-nature?

Deep in the mountains, the great temple bell is struck.

The truth is just like this.



Seung Sahn



1. Zen Is Understanding Yourself

  One day a student from Chicago came to the Providence Zen Center and asked Seung Sahn Soen-sa, “What is Zen?”

Soen-sa held his Zen stick above his head and said, “Do you understand?”

The student said, “I don't know.”

Soen-sa said, “This don't-know mind is you. Zen is understanding yourself.”

“What do you understand about me? Teach me.”

Soen-sa said, “In a cookie factory, different cookies are baked in the shape of animals, cars, people, and airplanes. They all have different names and forms, but they are all made from the same dough, and they all taste the same.

“In the same way, all things in the universe—the sun, the moon, the stars, mountains, rivers, people, and so forth—have different names and forms, but they are all made from the same substance. The universe is organized into pairs of opposites: light and darkness, man and woman, sound and silence, good and bad. But all these opposites are mutual, because they are made from the same substance. Their names and their forms are different, but their substance is the same. Names and forms are made by your thinking. If you are not thinking and have no attachment to name and form, then all substance is one. Your don't-know mind cuts off all thinking. This is your substance. The substance of this Zen stick and your own substance are the same. You are this stick; this stick is you.”

The student said, “Some philosophers say this substance is energy, or mind, or God, or matter. Which is the truth?”

Soen-sa said, “Four blind men went to the zoo and visited the elephant. One blind man touched its side and said, ‘The elephant is like a wall.’ The next blind man touched its trunk and said, ‘The elephant is like a snake.’ The next blind man touched its leg and said, ‘The elephant is like a column.’ The last blind man touched its tail and said, ‘The elephant is like a broom.’ Then the four blind men started to fight, each one believing that his opinion was the right one. Each only understood the part he had touched; none of them understood the whole.

“Substance has no name and no form. Energy, mind, God, and matter are all name and form. Substance is the Absolute. Having name and form is having opposites. So the whole world is like the blind men fighting among themselves. Not understanding yourself is not understanding the truth. That is why there is fighting among ourselves. If all the people in the world understood themselves, they would attain the Absolute. Then the world would be at peace. World peace is Zen.”

The student said, “How can practicing Zen make world peace?”

Soen-sa said, “People desire money, fame, sex, food, and rest. All this desire is thinking. Thinking is suffering. Suffering means no world peace. Not thinking is not suffering. Not suffering means world peace. World peace is the Absolute. The Absolute is I.”

The student said, “How can I understand the Absolute?”

Soen-sa said, “You must understand yourself.”

“How can I understand myself?”

Soen-sa held up the Zen stick and said, “Do you see this?”

He then quickly hit the table with the stick and said, “Do you hear this? This stick, this sound, and your mind—are they the same or different?

The student said, “The same.”

Soen-sa said, “If you say they are the same, I will hit you thirty times. If you say they are different, I will still hit you thirty times. Why?”

The student was silent.

Soen-sa shouted “KATZ!!!”* Then he said, “Spring comes, the grass grows by itself.”

*This is the famous Zen belly-shout. Its transcription (KATZ in Korean and Japanese, HO in Chinese) hardly does it justice.

 

2. The Zen Circle

  One evening, at the Providence Zen Center, Seung Sahn Soen-sa gave the following Dharma Speech:

“What is Zen? Zen is understanding myself. What am I?

“I explain Zen by means of a circle. There are five points marked on the circle: zero degrees, ninety degrees, one-hundred-eighty degrees, two-hundred-seventy degrees, and three-hundred-sixty degrees. 360° is exactly the same point as 0°.

“We begin from 0° to 90°. This is the area of thinking and attachment. Thinking is desire, desire is suffering. All things are separated into opposites: good and bad, beautiful and ugly, mine and yours. I like this; I don't like that. I try to get happiness and avoid suffering. So life here is suffering, and suffering is life.

“Past 90° is the area of the Consciousness or Karma I. Below 90° there is attachment to name and form. Here there is attachment to thinking. Before you were born, you were zero; now you are one; in the future, you will die and again become zero. So zero equals one, one equals zero. All things here are the same, because they are of the same substance. All things have name and form, but their names and forms come from emptiness and will return to emptiness. This is still thinking.

“At 180° there is no thinking at all. This is the experience of true emptiness. Before thinking, there are no words and no speech. So there are no mountains, no rivers, no God, no Buddha, nothing at all. There is only …” At this point Soen-sa hit the table.



“Next is the area up to 270°, the area of magic and miracles. Here, there is complete freedom, with no hindrance in space or time. This is called live thinking. I can change my body into a snake's. I can ride a cloud to the Western Heaven. I can walk on water. If I want life, I have life; if I want death, I have death. In this area, a statue can cry; the ground is not dark or light; the tree has no roots; the valley has no echo.

“If you stay at 180°, you become attached to emptiness. If you stay at 270°, you become attached to freedom.

“At 360°, all things are just as they are; the truth is just like this. ‘Like this’ means that there is no attachment to anything. This point is exactly the same as the zero point: we arrive where we began, where we have always been. The difference is that 0° is attachment thinking, while 360° is no-attachment thinking.

“For example, if you drive a car with attachment thinking, your mind will be somewhere else and you will go through the red light. No-attachment thinking means that your mind is clear all the time. When you drive, you aren't thinking; you are just driving. So the truth is just like this. Red light means Stop; green light means Go. It is intuitive action. Intuitive action means acting without any desire or attachment. My mind is like a clear mirror, reflecting everything just as it is. Red comes, and the mirror becomes red; yellow comes, and the mirror becomes yellow. This is how a Bodhisattva lives. I have no desires for myself. My actions are for all people.

“0° is Small I. 90° is Karma I. 180° is Nothing I. 270° is Freedom I. 360° is Big I. Big I is infinite time, infinite space. So there is no life and no death. I only wish to save all people. If people are happy, I am happy; if people are sad, I am sad.

“Zen is reaching 360°. When you reach 360°, all degrees on the circle disappear. The circle is just a Zen teaching-device. It doesn't really exist. We use it to simplify thinking and to test a student's understanding.”

Soen-sa then held up a book and a pencil and said, “This book and this pencil—are they the same or different? At 0°, they are different. At 90°, since all things are one, the book is the pencil, the pencil is the book. At 180°, all thinking is cut off, so there are no words and no speech. The answer is only …” Here Soen-sa hit the table. “At 270°, there is perfect freedom, so a good answer is: the book is angry, the pencil laughs. Finally, at 360°, the truth is just like this. Spring comes, the grass grows by itself. Inside it is light, outside it is dark. Three times three equals nine. Everything is as it is. So the answer here is: the book is the book, the pencil is the pencil.

“So at each point the answer is different. Which one is the correct answer? Do you understand?

“Now here is an answer for you: all five answers are wrong.

“Why?”

After waiting a few moments, Soen-sa shouted “KATZ!!!” and then said, “The book is blue, the pencil is yellow. If you understand this, you will understand yourself.



“But if you understand yourself, I will hit you thirty times. And if you don't understand yourself, I will still hit you thirty times.

“Why?”


After again waiting a few moments, Soen-sa said, “It is very cold today.”

3. My Dharma Is Too Expensive

  Once a student came to Zen Master Hyang Bong and said, “Master, please teach me the Dharma.”

Hyang Bong said, “I'm sorry, but my Dharma is very expensive.”

“How much does it cost?”

“How much can you pay?”

The student put his hand into his pocket and took out some coins. “This is all the money I have.”

“Even if you offered me a pile of gold as big as a mountain,” said Hyang Bong, “my Dharma would still be too expensive.”

So the student went off to practice Zen. After a few months of hard training, he returned to Hyang Bong and said, “Master, I will give you my life, I will do anything for you, I will be your slave. Please teach me.”

Hyang Bong said, “Even if you offered me a thousand lives, my Dharma would still be too expensive.”

Quite dejected, the student went off again. After several more months of hard training, he returned and said, “I will give you my mind. Will you teach me now?”

Hyang Bong said, “Your mind is a pail of stinking garbage. I have no use for it. And even if you offered me ten thousand minds, my Dharma would still be too expensive.”

Again the student left to do hard training. After some time he came to an understanding that the whole universe is empty. So he returned to the Master and said, “Now I understand how expensive your Dharma is.”

Hyang Bong said, “How expensive is it?”

The student shouted “KATZ!!!”

Hyang Bong said, “No, it's more expensive than that.”

This time, when he left, the student was thoroughly confused and in deep despair. He vowed not to see the Master again until he had attained the supreme awakening. Eventually that day came, and he returned. “Master, now I truly understand: the sky is blue, the grass is green.”

“No no no,” said Hyang Bong. “My Dharma is even more expensive than that.”

At this, the student grew furious. “I already understand, I don't need your Dharma, you can take it and shove it up your ass!”

Hyang Bong laughed. That made the student even angrier. He wheeled around and stomped out of the room. Just as he was going out the door, Hyang Bong called to him, “Wait a minute!”

The student turned his head.

“Don't lose my Dharma,” said Hyang Bong.

Upon hearing these words, the student was enlightened.



4. Advice to a Beginner

  February 16, 1975

Dear Soen-sa-nim,

Wednesday evening I attended a discussion you presented at Yale with the assistance of two students. I was keenly interested in merely seeing you and in hearing your words and in seeing other interested people, because my interest in Zen has so far developed solely through my own efforts, and my knowledge of it has come only through books. And this approach has made Zen seem remote and inapplicable to this time and life. This has, in turn, generated some feelings that my interest in Zen is an unhealthy attempt to escape this world that I do not understand. Seeing other live people, functioning with ease in this world, relieves some of those feelings and encourages my interest in Zen. This direct experience with Zen also releases a flood of questions about Zen practice. And, finally, we arrive at the point of this letter.

Can you recommend a specific method of zazen for a beginner? I have been practicing about one month, sitting, counting exhalations to ten. Do you recommend I continue this method or change? Also, can you give advice on the way to function day-to-day prior to a final understanding? I try doing what has to be done without discursive thinking, with some success; but I have not dispelled a conviction that there is or should be a more concrete guideline for action. I think, particularly, about certain precepts I've read, sixteen in all. Are these precepts just for those who have attained understanding—ways of acting that come only from that understanding? Or can they be applied externally to one without the final understanding, serving as a reference point for actions along the way to attaining understanding?

I have also read of an event termed sesshin in which lay people spend a week or so at a temple or center to practice and speak with a Master. Do your centers have such events? If so, please forward specific details.

I am also encountering some confusion in the relation of actual practice to the verbal history of Zen, verbal examples and explanations of the final understanding, etc. I have read histories, examples, and explanations enough to feel I agree intellectually and can comprehend with my reason. But I do not understand in my bones, because there has been no direct experience. So, I agree with those who say that we can't reach understanding through words; it must come through practice. But you use words to help students understand. And I don't understand. In reading, I have thought and thought and always come to that brick wall beyond which words cannot go. So I've pretty much stopped trying to reason out what the words may indicate and try only to practice, sitting zazen and thinking about who or what writes these words, eats, sleeps, etc. But I wonder if I am giving up on words without truly exhausting them? I fear this is a confused accounting of confused thoughts, but perhaps you can see through all my delusions.

I have taken enough of your time and greatly appreciate your attention to my questions.

Sincerely,

Patricia

 

February 23, 1975



Dear Patricia,

Thank you for your letter. How are you?

In your letter, you said that you have read many books about Zen. That's good. But if you are thinking, you can't understand Zen. Anything that can be written in a book, anything that can be said—all this is thinking. If you are thinking, then all Zen books, all Buddhist sutras, all Bibles are demons' words. But if you read with a mind that has cut off all thinking, then Zen books, sutras, and Bibles are all the truth. So is the barking of a dog or the crowing of a rooster: all things are teaching you at every moment, and these sounds are even better teaching than Zen books. So Zen is keeping the mind which is before thinking. Sciences and academic studies are after thinking. We must return to before thinking. Then we will attain our true self.

In your letter you said that your practice has been counting exhalations to ten. This method is not good, not bad. It is possible to practice in this way when you are sitting. But when you are driving, when you are talking, when you are watching television, when you are playing tennis—how is it possible to count your breaths then? Sitting is only a small part of practicing Zen. The true meaning of sitting Zen is to cut off all thinking and to keep not-moving mind. So I ask you: What are you? You don't know; there is only “I don't know.” Always keep this don't-know mind. When this don't-know mind becomes clear, then you will understand. So if you keep don't-know mind when you are driving, this is driving Zen. If you keep it when you are talking, this is talking Zen. If you keep it when you are watching television, this is television Zen. You must keep don't-know mind always and everywhere. This is the true practice of Zen.

The Great Way is not difficult

if you do not make distinctions.

Only throw away likes and dislikes,

and everything will be perfectly clear.

  So throw away all opinions, all likes and dislikes, and only keep the mind that doesn't know. This is very important. Don't-know mind is the mind that cuts off all thinking. When all thinking has been cut off, you become empty mind. This is before thinking. Your before-thinking mind, my before-thinking mind, all people's before-thinking minds are the same. This is your substance. Your substance, my substance, and the substance of the whole universe become one. So the tree, the mountain, the cloud, and you become one. Then I ask you: Are the mountain and you the same or different? If you say “the same,” I will hit you thirty times. If you say “different,” I will still hit you thirty times. Why?

The mind that becomes one with the universe is before thinking. Before thinking there are no words. “Same” and “different” are opposites words; they are from the mind that separates all things. That is why I will hit you if you say either one. So what would be a good answer? If you don't understand, only keep don't-know mind for a while, and you will soon have a good answer. If you do, please send it to me.

You asked why I use words to teach, if understanding through words is impossible. Words are not necessary. But they are very necessary. If you are attached to words, you cannot return to your true self. If you are not attached to words, soon you will attain enlightenment. So if you are thinking, words are very bad. But if you are not thinking, all words and all things that you can see or hear or smell or taste or touch will help you. So it is very important for you to cut off your thinking and your attachment to words.

Here is a poem for you:

Buddha said all things have Buddha-nature.

Jo-ju said the dog has no Buddha-nature.

Which one is correct?

If you open your mouth, you fall into hell.

Why?

KATZ!!!


Clouds float up to the sky.

Rain falls down to the ground.

  Sincerely yours,

S.S.

  P.S. Sesshin is the Japanese name for “meditation retreat.” In Korean the name is Yong Maeng Jong Jin, which means “when sitting, to leap like a tiger.” We have one retreat every month at each of our centers: a seven-day retreat in Providence, from the first to the seventh of every month; and three-day retreats in New Haven (beginning the second Friday of the month), in Cambridge (beginning the third Friday), and in New York (beginning the fourth Thursday). You are welcome to come to any of these retreats.

April 6, 1975

Dear Soen-sa-nim,

Thank you for your reply to my last letter. I have been trying to do as you advised, keeping don't-know mind in every activity, but with difficulty. Often, the difficulties involved get me down, for it seems next to impossible to clear out all the rubbish I've accumulated over the years. As my mind returns to the question of whether the mountain and I are the same or different, I often cry and often leave the question. It seems an overwhelming question.

At the beginning, I was very enthusiastic and cheerful and industrious. My enthusiasm wanes and I am not very cheerful or industrious and realizing this makes me even less cheerful. What advice for a failing spirit?

I look forward to the opening of a Zen Center in New Haven. Perhaps the fellowship and opportunity to speak with you and others will revitalize my practice.

Most sincerely,



Patricia

  April 11, 1975

Dear Patricia,

Thank you for your letter. You say that keeping don't-know mind is difficult. If you check your thinking mind, then it is difficult. You mustn't check your thinking mind. Thinking is okay; don't worry about it. If you are not upset by your thinking, then it is not difficult to keep don't-know mind. At first you will be able to keep it only for a short time. But if you practice with sincerity, it will keep growing by itself.

Your mind is like the sea. When the wind comes, there are very big waves. When the wind dies down, the waves become smaller and smaller, until finally the wind disappears altogether and the sea is like a clear mirror. Then mountains and trees and all things are reflected on the surface of the sea. There are many thought-waves now in your mind. But if you continue to practice don't-know mind, this thinking will become gradually smaller, until finally your mind will always be clear. When the mind becomes clear, it is like a mirror: red comes and the mirror is red; yellow comes and the mirror is yellow; a mountain comes and the mirror is a mountain. Your mind is the mountain; the mountain is your mind. They are not two. So it is very important not to be attached either to thinking or to not-thinking. You mustn't be upset by anything that goes on in your mind. Only don't worry and keep don't-know mind.

You say that in the beginning you were enthusiastic and now you are discouraged. Both extremes are no good. It is like a guitar string: if you make it too tight, it will be out of tune and will soon snap; if you make it too loose, it will still be out of tune and will not play. You must tune it just right. Too enthusiastic is no good, too discouraged is also no good. Zen mind is everyday mind. You must keep this mind during every action—eating, talking, playing tennis, watching television. Always keep don't-know mind. What is most important is how you keep your mind at this very moment. Just-now mind. If you have free time, it is good to sit. If you don't have free time, then just do action Zen. But be very careful about wanting enlightenment. This is a bad Zen sickness. When you keep a clear mind, the whole universe is you, you are the universe. So you have already attained enlightenment. Wanting enlightenment is only thinking. It is something extra, like painting legs on the picture of a snake. Already the snake is complete as it is. Already the truth is right before your eyes.

Our New Haven Zen Center will be opening soon. It is very true that contact with other Zen students will help your practice. Together-action is very important for Zen students. Bowing together, chanting together, sitting together, eating together—this means that your own situation, your condition, and your opinions can disappear much more easily. Zen work is becoming empty mind. Becoming empty mind means having all your opinions fall away. Then you will experience true emptiness. When you experience true emptiness, you will attain your true situation, your true condition, and your true opinions. I hope that you will come often to the New Haven Zen Center, do hard training, soon attain enlightenment, and save all people from suffering.

Sincerely yours,



S. S.

  April 14, 1975

Dear Soen-sa-nim,

Thank you so much for your reply to my letter. It was encouraging and has helped steady my practice and mind.

I am still having some difficulty in practice, however. When I first became keenly interested in Zen, about four months ago, it was after reading some books about Zen. These books served to shatter most remaining structural beliefs for my life and set me adrift. I realized then that I did not understand anything, so everything became a question. Now, in practice, if I ask “Who am I?”, I know I do not know. It is, therefore, difficult to question in that particular sense with much intensity. I can listen and watch, but it is difficult to question specifically because I have no particular point from which to direct a question. I guess I am worrying about the form of the question, which is irrelevant, and should, instead, just question, in whatever form, with all my being. Is this correct?

There is one more thing I would like to comment upon. Now that I am more fully accepting Zen as a natural function in my life, I feel a strong infusion of love; through your letters, through Mu Gak and other students I have talked with, and in and through myself. I love my family and friends as never before, and this world seems more wonderful than I will ever know. Even if I never attain enlightenment, Zen practice will still have granted me so much for which to be grateful.

Sincerely yours,

Patricia

  May 3, 1975

Dear Patricia,

Thank you for your letter. Please excuse my lateness in answering, but I was in New York until a few days ago, for the opening of our Zen Center there, and your letter was not forwarded. So I didn't receive it until yesterday.

You said that we have helped your practice. This is very good. Zen practice is of the greatest importance. You must decide to practice and very strongly keep this decision. This requires great faith, great courage, and great questioning.

What is great faith? Great faith means that at all times you keep the mind which decided to practice, no matter what. It is like a hen sitting on her eggs. She sits on them constantly, caring for them and giving them warmth, so that they will hatch. If she becomes careless or negligent, the eggs will not hatch and become chicks. So Zen mind means always and everywhere believing in myself. I vow to become Buddha and save all people.

Next—what is great courage? This means bringing all your energy to one point. It is like a cat hunting a mouse. The mouse has retreated into its hole, but the cat waits outside the hole for hours on end without the slightest movement. It is totally concentrated on the mouse-hole. This is Zen mind—cutting off all thinking and directing all your energy to one point.

Next—great questioning. This is like a child who thinks only of its mother, or a man dying of thirst who thinks only of water. It is called One Mind. If you question with great sincerity, there will only be don't-know mind.

If you keep these three—great faith, great courage, and great questioning—you will soon attain enlightenment. You said in your letter that practice is difficult. This is thinking. Zen is not difficult. If you say it is difficult, that means you have been checking yourself, checking your situation, your condition, your opinions. So you say Zen is difficult. But if you keep the mind that is before thinking, then Zen is not difficult. And it is not easy. It is only as it is. Don't make difficult, don't make easy. Just practice.

You said that the Zen books which you read shattered your beliefs. That's very good. But shattered is not shattered. Before, your view was a deluded view. Now it is a correct view. What you believed before was like wanting to hold the rainbow. But the rainbow soon disappears. It never really existed. All things are like this. Before, you believed that all things existed. But now you understand that all things are emptiness. Even so, you must take one step further. Believing or not believing, shattered or not shattered—this is still the area of opposites. You must throw all these opposites away. Then the truth will be only like this. You said that everything was shattered. But this “shattered” is still an attachment to name and form. Originally, there is only emptiness. There is neither shattered nor not shattered. This is the area of the Absolute. The Absolute is true emptiness. True emptiness is before thinking. Before thinking is like this. Form is form, emptiness is emptiness. So your don't-know mind is true emptiness, is before thinking, is the Absolute, is your true self. The names are all different, but they are all names for clear mind. Originally clear mind has no name and no form. There are no words for it. So if you open your mouth, you are wrong. This is why whenever Zen Master Lin-chi was asked a question he only shouted “KATZ!!!” Dok Sahn would answer only by hitting the questioner. Ku-ji would just hold up one finger. If you are not attached to KATZ or HIT or one finger, then you will understand that the meaning behind these actions is only clear mind. The different actions are just different styles of pointing to clear mind. It is impossible to explain clear mind in words, so the Zen Masters used shouting and hitting and holding up one finger to explain. Y014 must put it down! KATZ is only KATZ, HIT is only HIT, one finger is only one finger. You must understand this. When you say, “I know I don't know,” this is no good. Don't check your don't-know mind.

Life is Zen. But some people say that life is suffering. How are these different? If you make “my life is Zen,” then your life becomes Zen. If somebody else makes “my life is suffering,” then that person's life becomes suffering. So it all depends on how you are keeping your mind just now, at this very moment! This just-now mind continues and becomes your life, as one point continues and becomes a straight line. You like Zen, so your life has become Zen. Now you think that the world is wonderful. Your mind is wonderful, so the whole world is wonderful. If you attain enlightenment, you will understand that all people are suffering greatly, so your mind also will be suffering. This is big suffering. So you must enter the great Bodhisattva way and save all people from their suffering. I hope that you only keep don't-know mind, always and everywhere. Then you will soon attain enlightenment and save all beings.

Here is a question for you: Somebody once asked the great Zen Master Dong Sahn, “What is Buddha?” Dong Sahn answered, “Three pounds of flax.” What does this mean?

I will wait for a good answer.

Sincerely yours,



S. S.

 

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