Introduction Zen Is Understanding Yourself

Today Is Buddha's Birthday. The Sun Is Shining

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

  May 10, 1973

Dear Soen-sa-nim,

Thank you for the acupuncture books. And thank you for the beautiful letter.

Today is Buddha's birthday. We have special incense on the altar. Last night Professor Pruden came for dinner. He ate a lot of tempura and salad. We did some Buddha's birthday chanting for him and he looked very happy.

I utter the lion's roar and kill all the Buddhas, all the eminent teachers, and all people. So all the mountains fall, and the seas become empty.

What is it that utters the lion's roar? I don't know. KATZ!!! Today is Buddha's birthday. The sun is shining.


  May 14, 1973

Dear Bobby,

How are all of you? I am very grateful to you for your letter and for the books on The Teaching of Buddha.

It is wonderful that you celebrated Buddha's birthday. Thank you. I am happy to hear that you had Professor Pruden over to dinner.

Your letter was very good, which means that you have been sitting Zen sincerely while I have been away.

About the sentence, “I utter the lion's roar”: even though you have killed all the Buddhas, all eminent teachers, and all people, you fall into hell like an arrow. Since there is originally nothing, it is not necessary to kill or let the mountains fall and the seas empty.

“I don't know. KATZ!!!” This, too, is very fine. But how can you separate red from white and top from bottom, since there is no head or tail, no eye or ear in these words?

So even if you pass beyond infinite time, you still can't attain Buddhahood.

Coming out of that place, you said that today is Buddha's birthday and the sun is shining.

How can I praise you enough? The truth is just like this.

But even though you have told the truth, if you don't understand that fine hairs are growing on the bone of space, you still don't know your true self. What can you do?

The blue mountains stand unmoving;

the white clouds float back and forth.

  See you soon.

S. S.


78. Dok Sahn and His Stick

  Zen Master Dok Sahn was famous for answering questions by hitting the questioner with his Zen stick. One day he went into a temple to give a talk. He stood on a platform in front of the people, holding his Zen stick, and said, “Today there will be no questions and answers. If you ask me a question, I will hit you thirty times.”

A student walked up to him and bowed. Dok Sahn hit him thirty times.

“Why did you hit me?” asked the student. “I just bowed, I didn't ask any questions.”

Dok Sahn said, “Where do you come from?”

The student said, “The East.”

Dok Sahn said, “Before you leave the East, I will hit you thirty times.”

So Dok Sahn hit him thirty times. The student bowed and returned to his seat.

One day a student came to Dok Sahn and bowed. Dok Sahn immediately hit him. The student said, “Where is my mistake?”

Dok Sahn said, “I'm not going to wait for you to open your mouth.”

Another time a monk came into Dok Sahn's room. He was clear-eyed and confident. He understood that Dok Sahn only hit people, so he was ready to be the first to strike. He raised his hand, but Dok Sahn had already raised his stick. “What is this? Your action is not permitted!”

The student was confused and began to walk out of the room. Dok Sahn hit him across the back. The student looked up, and Dok Sahn shouted “KATZ!!!”

The student froze. Dok Sahn said, “Is this all the capital you have?”

The student bowed and said, “I am sorry.”

Dok Sahn patted him on the back, saying, “Good, good.”

So Dok Sahn hit many students, and opened many minds.

79. All Things Are Your Teachers

  January 7, 1975

Dear Soen-sa-nim,

How does it go in Rhode Island and Cambridge?

In April, Song Ryong will go to Asia, and then I think I will leave here. A Ceylonese monk, Ananda (a monk for thirty years), wishes me to help him open a center in my home town. But I don't feel ready. There is little in any of the scriptures that this person does not understand, or in kong-ans; but it seems that understanding is not important at all—at least the understanding put in words. It is only important to see what is, to destroy or not allow to arise any discrimination of inner and outer, of holy or evil; then one can see clearly from the aspect of eternity, of no time. But I should be given thirty blows for this way of speaking.

Now for this problem:

Increasingly, for the last two years, I've been coming out of emptiness, and more and more see that I am the world and the world is me. As I think, so is the world, and as I act, so I create the world around me. Since seeing this, more clearly, every day I see a duty to teach others: to teach how each person creates his own heaven and hell, how he/she, through hatred and anger, creates a world of hatred and anger.

I can no longer live for myself. I must help and show others. But I lack the power to help others; they do not listen —not because I don't understand, but because my understanding has not become me. But now, I've dropped off all understanding because when one acts from a point of understanding, that understanding is still separate. When understanding is dropped, real understanding of there is nothing to understand comes. But even this must be dropped. So how can one tell someone who is desperate for truth, for God, for a ceasing of pain that all that must be done is to stop seeking?

Every day I see my responsibility growing, not as an idea, but in every day I see more ways in which I should help, but I lack a way to do it, for it is not clear how to help or to have people listen.

Because I see my responsibilities more clearly every day, I have become much more careful in how I act—more gentle, more involved—and not avoiding things that require activity, such as working to pay off debts, feeding homeless animals. But also, I get so very angry when I see other people avoiding their responsibilities: running out on debts, or in the name of spiritual detachment leaving their wives and children claiming it doesn't matter—it's all the same, everything is one. Bullcrap! They are just lazy and running away from the world, clinging to a false peace of nonaction. They have no order in their lives and they think they have some deep understanding (much like your kong-an of the man knocking ashes on the Buddha). And they make me so angry because they cannot see how their way of acting, of avoiding responsibility, hurts and causes pain in others, and I see no way to do anything.

Or else, I see a very ambitious person who hurts many people in order to get his dream realized, but he doesn't care about them, he cares only for his dream.

I feel frustrated, for I cannot “get to these people” to show them how they create pain in the world and damage to themselves. So I continue to sit, to clear my own mind further and maybe to see a way to teach these people to stop hurting others and themselves through their ambition, or irresponsibility, or hatred, or their ideals. And my own anger at being able to do nothing makes me ill. This is no new problem. It has been with me since I was eighteen—about fourteen years.

This leads to the second problem. When Hearn leaves in April, it is not clear what I should do, except I do not want to stay here. None of the Zen Masters in Los Angeles seem very good, and none of the centers have a strong practice— people do what they want, have little discipline, and sit very little. Being around these people is difficult, because I cannot convince them of the value of sitting.

1. Should I go on a 100-day retreat on my brother's land in the desert in Arizona?

2. Find a Zen Master in Japan at a center or monastery where they have a strong practice?

3. Establish a Center with Ananda in my home town before I am ready?

4. Come to Providence or Cambridge to study with you, who I feel have a good understanding? But I have difficulty in understanding your Zen talk (though I feel very attracted to you), for I find no correspondence to your words as you usually talk them in my own mind, while, for example, I find Song Ryong easy to understand.

Can you answer in non-Zen talk, or Zen talk if necessary?

It is easy to say that when the time comes, it will be clear what I should do. But in this case it appears this is not true, for I've wanted to leave here almost since I first came, but no alternative seemed good, and none seems good now. So here I stay, constantly getting into small fights with my teacher about his dishonesty and the lack of practice here.

Slowly, there has been some increase in the practice here, but it is very slow. Also, since there is no practice here, I sit by myself for five hours a day, and this is not too good, because when all the effort comes from oneself, that self gets very big and strong and it becomes harder to let go, to drop things. It is all self power and little “other power.” While if practice is strong, much of the effort to sit becomes merely a matter of doing what must be done, and the self does not become stronger and stronger. Self-directed practice eventually produces the same results, but it is slower, especially since there is no real Zen Master here and Song Ryong only visits once a week (or less) for dokusan and teisho (often less than that).

Do you have a strong practice at Providence or Cambridge or is it weak and relaxed with many interruptions? For sixteen months now there has been, at this center, practically no practice and constant interruptions—now it is time for a stronger practice.

In any event, please write soon.


  January 16, 1975

Dear Ed,

Thank you for your letter. It was very, very long. This is good. But I told you that opening your mouth is wrong. Only keep your mouth closed. You already understand. In the Heart Sutra it says, “… perceives that all five skandhas are empty and is saved from all suffering and distress.” If you truly understand this, then in your mind there will be no places, no friends, no temples, no teachers. What is most important is how you keep your mind. Where you live is not important, if you keep your mind correctly. When you became a monk, you had beginner's mind. Now I think that you have lost this beginner's mind. I hope you will return to it soon.

In your letter you said that you “create the world around you” and that “each person creates his own heaven and hell.” Words are very easy. Zen means not making all these things. Then there is nothing. This is true emptiness. True emptiness means no hindrance. Why do you make “world,” “me,” “other people,” etc.? First you must understand your true self. Then you will be able to understand other people's minds. How can you teach other people if you don't understand yourself?

You say that other people won't listen to you. But what do you understand? What do you say? Do they want to hear your words? Do they want your understanding? Since you have your opinion and other people have theirs, there are differences, and people won't listen to you. First you must throw away all your opinions, all your cognition, your concern about your situation, and your explanations. Then there will be nothing. And then you will understand other people's minds. Your mind will be like a clear mirror. Red comes and it becomes red; white comes and it becomes white. When your mind is clear, then it is a reflection of other people's minds. If they are sad, then you are sad; if they are silent, you are silent; if they have desires, then you understand these desires. Then it is possible to teach others and to fix their minds.

Good and bad both are your true teachers. If you cut off your “small I,” then there is no like or dislike, no good or bad. All things in the universe are your good friends and teachers. So you must kill your self. Then you will get freedom and you will have no hindrance. This is how you will find your true way. If you understand this true way, then only go and watch your step. Don't be attached to what is on the side of the road. Just go straight ahead.

Buddha once said, “If one mind is clear, then the whole universe is clear.” If your mind cuts off all thinking and becomes clear, then your place, wherever it is, is clear. Don't worry about other people. If you have a strong practice, they will all follow you. Your mind is very strong; but your “self” is attached to your strong mind, so you have strong likes and dislikes, strong anger, frustration, bad thoughts about other people, and so on. You must completely cut off this strong mind, this strong I. This is very important. When you talk about your understanding, this is being attached to your mind. CUT OFF THIS I!

Somebody once asked Zen Master Jo-ju, “Does a dog have Buddha-nature?” Jo-ju answered, “No!” Do you understand this “No”? What does it mean? If you open your mouth, I will hit you thirty times. If you don't open your mouth, I will still hit you thirty times. What can you do? Thinking is no good, so put it all down.

You want to find a great Zen Master, or a place with hard training, or do a 100-day retreat, or come to Providence. If you don't let go of your mind, then none of these things can help you. You must understand what sitting Zen is. What is sitting? Sitting means cutting off all thinking and keeping not-moving mind. What is Zen? Zen means becoming clear. You are attached to the outside of Zen; you don't understand true Zen. If you really understand Zen, then it is not necessary to have a Zen Master, or a 100-day retreat, or a hard training place, or the Providence or Cambridge Zen Centers. Then you can do walking, standing, sitting, sleeping, talking, being silent—all these things will be your practice. Always keep a clear mind. Always return to your true self. Then there are no eyes, no ears, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind, no color, no sound, no smell, no taste, no touch, no object of mind. Then you will understand “no attainment, with nothing to attain.” You must cut off the “I want enlightenment” mind.

It is very important for you to fix your mind. The more you want enlightenment, the further away it will be. If you want to find a good place to practice Zen, no place you find will be good enough. But if you cut off all thinking and return to beginner's mind, that itself will be enlightenment. If you keep true empty mind, then any place you are is Nirvana. So you must very strongly keep a closed mouth, and you must learn from the blue sky, the white clouds, the deep quiet mountains, and the noisy cities. They are all just like this. That is your true great teacher. I hope you first kill your strong self and find clear mind all the time, then save all people from suffering.

The blue mountains and green forests

are the Patriarchs' clear face.

Do you understand this face?

A quarter is twenty-five cents.

  See you later.

S. S.

  March 8, 1975

Dear Soen-sa-nim,

How is it in Providence? Here it is beautiful—cool and rainy—very rare. I plan to leave here approximately July 15, and then return East to visit my mother, and you.

I have an open-my-mouth question:

Why is there all the practice with effort, if it is an effortless state we end at? Why sitting, kong-ans, chanting, etc? In my sitting, for the last ten to twelve months, there has been no (or little) difference between sitting and not sitting, only clarity. That is, my kong-an sitting is the same as sitting doing nothing (shikantaza), and making effort is the same as no effort. Making effort leads to a direction, at the beginning opposite to the later state of no-effort; later it becomes no-effort, so why spend three to five years making effort when it leads to no effort? Why not start with no effort, just being mindful as in the Hinayana Vipassana method or as with Krishnamurti? Why spend three to five years going away from no effort only to return?

Also, the Japanese Soto and Rinzai seem to put much more emphasis on effort—hard sitting, endless work, etc.— than you do. You put less emphasis on sitting and effort in practice. Why?

Also, you say kensho, enlightenment, is “clear mind.” Maezumi and Hearn both disagree. From my own experience, I've experienced many times during the last four years states beyond clarity; states where “I” (mind and body) disappear and there is only the world seen, experienced with no separation, no space, no time, just this.

Is the latter state what you mean by “clear mind”?

If my sitting goes well, this state of oneness, of “like this,” occurs every few days; if it goes badly, it does not occur often at all. But now, I see there is no difference between good sitting and bad sitting, between clarity and crowded, anxious mind.

But is there any point in training that one may be called enlightened? I think not. All is enlightenment, is it not?

Also, why is it that it takes twenty to thirty years to complete training under a Japanese Roshi, but much less under a Korean? What is it about the Japanese method that takes so long? Are they more thorough and complete? better or worse, or why?

You asked me: “What do I understand?”

I understand that there is nothing to understand, nothing to be done or to be practiced, only clear mind. But no one wants to hear this, they want to drink, dance, make noise, have opinions, and endlessly talk about love and compassion, which is only their idea of love and compassion.

I have little interest in becoming a teacher, very few listen anyway, and even when you talk at all, you are not being a good teacher most of the time.

So my teaching is to tell other people not to worry about the millions of different practices that one can do, only to sit. The method is not important; just sit, kong-an, shikantaza, breath counting. Then the real “I” functions with no thinking, no talking; then, sometimes, without knowing when, God or Buddha comes, like this, Reality.

Nor am I interested in attaining enlightenment. Enlightenment is only a word; either I have it now, or it will come of its own accord as long as I practice. What difference does it make?

But I am interested in how to show others that thinking, ideas, etc., are a blockage to clarity, at least in the beginning; to drop their opinions and emotions by whatever way they can.

Hope to see you in July or early August.



  P.S. By profession and training, I am an economist and planner. Until one or two years ago I was greatly optimistic about the future of the world in terms of food and war, etc., but knew it didn't matter because the world was too complicated to understand in ideas what was happening, let alone with sufficient accuracy to make any significant plans. But now I know, from a deep investigation of what is going on, that the world is in deep trouble, far more so than ever before, and perhaps too late in that trouble to do anything about it.

What really must be done is to revolutionize men's minds. But it is not now merely a matter of being a good teacher. Many, many people must experience this revolution now, or all the world could die. If it does, it does; but just as a good doctor will treat all diseases as they arise, then those who are able now must treat the diseases of mind—but quickly. There is no grace period of a hundred or a thousand years left—but perhaps only two or three decades more before the world falls apart and there is unbelievable suffering. And when I see suffering, I suffer. This suffering must be stopped.

March 22, 1975

Dear Ed,

Thank you for your letter. I will be glad to see you when you come to the East Coast.

In your letter, you talk a lot about effort and no effort. Put it all down. Why so much thinking? Why are you so attached to words? An eminent teacher said, “The ten thousand questions are one question. If you cut through the one question, then the ten thousand questions all disappear.”

What do you want? If one person makes great effort, if another person makes no effort—don't worry. All that you need be concerned about is your own job. First finish your own great work; then you will understand everything. Sitting, walking, talking, laughing, eating—all is Zen. You must understand this.

Sitting is important. But true sitting doesn't depend on whether or not the body is sitting. You already know the story about Ma-jo doing hard sitting and Nam Ak picking up the tile and polishing it.

You say that I say enlightenment is clear mind. What is clear mind? Clear mind is only a name. Enlightenment is also only a name. If you say clear mind, it is not clear mind. If you say enlightenment, it is not enlightenment. Red is red; white is white. Only like this. This is clear mind; this is enlightenment. It is nothing at all. If you say that clear mind is enlightenment, I will hit you thirty times. If you say that clear mind is not enlightenment, I will still hit you thirty times. Don't be attached to clear mind or to enlightenment. Don't be attached to Zen words. You must be very careful. Zen Masters use their tongues to trap their students.

You say that when your sitting is good, a state of oneness beyond clarity occurs. What is oneness? What is good sitting or bad sitting? You must not check your mind. Checking your mind is a very bad Zen sickness. As fine as your speech is, it is only thinking. Give me one sentence before thinking.

You ask why it takes twenty or thirty years to complete training under a Japanese Zen Master. Under a Korean Zen Master, it takes infinite time. You go around comparing Japanese and Korean Zen and other kinds of Buddhism. This is your bad karma. Such things are simply not important! Put it down!

You say that you understand there is nothing to understand. But you understand enlightenment, emptiness, everything. Yet you haven't attained enlightenment or emptiness or everything. Understanding is thinking. Attainment is before thinking. If you open your mouth, you are wrong. I have already told you that you must keep your mouth closed. You must keep this rule!

The Third Patriarch said,

The Great Way is not difficult

for those who do not discriminate.

Throw away likes and dislikes

and everything will become clear.

  Throw away teaching, throw away everything. If you say you are not attached to methods of practice, this is being attached to method. If you cut off your attachment, then your words (“the real T functions without thinking or talking”) are not necessary. You say, “sometimes, without knowing when, God or Buddha comes, like this, Reality.” When Buddha comes, you must kill Buddha; when God comes, you must kill God. How is Buddha or God necessary? An eminent teacher said, “I go around the six realms of existence without asking for a drop of help from Buddhas or Bodhisattvas.” Another eminent teacher said, “If I kill my parents, I can repent to Buddha. But if I kill Buddha, where can I repent?” You must understand this place of true repentance.

You say, “I am not interested in attaining enlightenment.” But you are very interested; you are very attached to enlightenment. Why do you keep saying enlightenment, enlightenment, enlightenment? What is enlightenment? You must read the Heart Sutra. If you understand the true meaning of the Heart Sutra, then you will understand your true way.

Your teaching other people is like one blind man leading other blind men into a ditch. You must open your eyes. This is very necessary.

You think that the whole world is suffering, and you are afraid that the world will be destroyed. You want to save all people from suffering. So you are a great Bodhisattva, a great man. But a truly great man has no words or speech—only action. I want a short letter from you next time. You must go outside and ask the tree in front of the temple what the true way is. Then this tree will teach you. Don't write me anything else. Just tell me what the tree said to you.

Yours sincerely,

S. S.


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