One evening, after a Dharma talk at the Boston Dharma-dhatu, a student asked Seung Sahn Soen-sa, “If everything is one, what's two?”
Soen-sa said, “Who makes everything one?”
“I don't make one. You make one.”
“Then why do you call it one?”
Soen-sa said, “You have an attachment to words.” There were a few moments of silence. “Okay, I ask you: before you were born, were you zero or one?”
“Not zero?! Before you were born, this body didn't exist. So you were zero, okay?”
Soen-sa said, “Not zero? This body did exist?” Then, pointing to the man's long blond hair, “Okay—before you were born, did you have this hair?”
The student hesitated a moment, then said, “No.”
Soen-sa said, “Okay. Now your hair is one. After you die, will you have hair?”
“So this is for your hair, only your hair. Before you were born, your hair was zero. Now it is one. In the future, it will be zero. Okay?”
“This is the truth. So zero equals one, one equals zero. Okay?”
“So one times zero equals zero. Two times ten equals zero. Three times one hundred equals zero. Okay?”
“Ummm. … If you say so.”
“You say one, you say two, you say three, you say many, many: all equals zero. So if you want one, you have one. If you want two, you have two. If you want one hundred, you have one hundred. Descartes said, ‘I think, therefore I am.’ If I think one, I have one. Before, you thought one, so you had one. I wasn't thinking one, so I didn't have one. So you say one; I don't say one.”
“Then why don't you say that everything's zero?”
“Not zero.” (Laughter from the audience.) “You say zero; I don't say zero.”
“You say one.”
“I say zero.” (Loud, sustained laughter.) “You say one, I say zero. You are attached to my words. I am not attached to words; I am free. Sometimes I say zero, sometimes not zero. So if you think one, you have one. If you think one hundred, you have one hundred. If you cut off all thinking, all is empty. If you think God, you have God. If you think Buddha, you have Buddha. If you are not thinking, there is no Buddha, no God. That is what the Buddha meant when he said, The whole universe is created by your thinking.’”
81. What Is Your Star?
Soon after Chung Gang attained enlightenment at the age of twenty-two, he went to see Zen Master Mang Gong. Mang Gong said to him, “Buddha became enlightened upon seeing the morning star in the eastern sky. But there are many stars. What is your star?”
Chung Gang dropped to his hands and knees and began feeling around on the floor.
Mang Gong said, “Ah, you have truly become a Buddha,” and gave him Transmission.
82. The Story of Sul
Among the students of the great Zen Master Ma-jo, there was a layman named Chang. This man was a very devout Buddhist, who bowed and chanted sutras twice a day and paid frequent visits to the Zen Master. He would always take along his little daughter Sul.
The little girl was even more devout than her father. She would join him every day for bowing and chanting, and looked forward with the greatest pleasure to seeing the Zen Master. One day, during a visit, Ma-jo said to her, “Since you are such a good girl, I will give you a present. My present is the words Kwanseum Bosal You must repeat the Bodhisattva's name over and over, as much as you can. Then you will find great happiness.”
After they came home, Sul's father gave her a picture of the Bodhisattva to hang up on her wall. She spent many hours in front of it, chanting Kwanseum Bosal, Kwanseum Bosal. Gradually she came to chant all day long, wherever she was—while she was sewing, while she washing clothes, cooking, eating, playing, even while she was sleeping. Her parents were very proud of her.
Several years passed, and her friends had long since concluded that Sul was a little crazy. This didn't affect her at all; she continued to chant all day long, wherever she was. One day she was washing clothes in the river, beating the dirt out of them with a stick. Suddenly the great bell from Ma-jo's temple rang. The sound of the stick and the sound of the bell became one, and her mind opened. She was overwhelmed with joy; she felt as if the whole universe were dancing along with Kwanseum Bosal, who was none other than herself. She herself was Kwanseum Bosal! And Kwanseum Bosal was the earth, the sky, the great bell from Ma-jo's temple, the dirty clothes which lay in a heap on the riverbank. She ran back home, leaping for joy, and never chanted Kwanseum Bosal again.
During the next few days, her parents noticed a great change in her. Whereas before, she had been a quiet, well-behaved little girl, now she would burst into wild laughter for no reason, have long conversations with trees or clouds, run down the road to the village at breakneck speed, like a boy. Her father became so worried that he decided to peep in at her through the keyhole of her door to see what she was doing alone in her room. He looked in, and first saw the picture of Kwanseum Bosal on the wall, and next to it her altar, where the holy Lotus Sutra should have been, surrounded by incense and flowers. But today it wasn't there. Then he saw Sul, sitting in a corner, face to the wall, sitting on … the Lotus Sutra! He could hardly believe his eyes. After a moment of shock, he burst into the room, shouting. “What do you think you're doing! are you out of your mind! this is the holy scripture! why are you sitting on it!”
Sul smiled and said, calmly, “Father, what is holy about it?”
“It is Buddha's own words, it contains the greatest truths of Buddhism!”
“Can the truth be contained in language?”
At this, Chang began to realize that what had happened to his daughter was beyond his grasp. His anger turned to intense puzzlement.
“Then where do you think the truth is?”
“If I tried to explain,” Sul said, “you wouldn't understand. Go ask Ma-jo and see what he says.”
So Chang went and told Ma-jo the story of the past few days. After he had finished, he said, “Please, Master, tell me: is my daughter crazy?”
Ma-jo said, “Your daughter isn't crazy. You are crazy.” “What should I do?”
“Don't worry,” Ma-jo said, and handed him a large rice-paper calligraphy, with the following inscription:
When you hear the wooden chicken crow in the evening, you will know the country where your mind was born.
Outside my house, in the garden,
the willow is green, the flower is red.
“Just put this up in your daughter's room and see what happens.”
Chang was now more confused than ever. He walked home like a man who has lost his direction. He could understand nothing.
When Sul read the calligraphy on her wall, she simply nodded and said to herself, “Oh, a Zen Master is also like this.” Then she put the Lotus Sutra back on her altar, surrounded by incense and flowers.
After more hard training, she went to see Ma-jo at his temple. Zen Master Ho Am happened to be visiting Ma-jo at the time, and the two Masters invited Sul to sit down and join them for tea. After she had sat down and poured herself a cup of tea, Ho Am said to Ma-jo, “I hear that this young lady has been practicing very hard.” Ma-jo said nothing. Ho Am turned to Sul and said, “I am going to test your mind.”
“In the sutra it says, ‘The great Mount Sumeru fits into a mustard seed; someone enters and breaks the rocks to smithereens.’ What does this mean?”
Sul picked up her cup and threw it against the wall, where it smashed.
Ma-jo laughed and clapped his hands. “Very good! Very good! Now I will test your mind.”
“In Buddhism, the word ‘karma' is used very often. You have good Buddhist karma. So I ask you: what is karma?”
Sul said, “Excuse me, but could you explain the question once more, please?”
“In all the three vehicles of Buddhism, the concept of karma is used in one sense or another. I am asking you what precisely karma means.”
Sul bowed to Ma-jo, said “Thank you,” and then was silent.
Ma-jo smiled and said, “A very good trick. You understand.”
As Sul grew up, she always kept a perfectly clear mind. Outside, her actions were ordinary actions; inside, her mind was the mind of a Bodhisattva. Eventually she married and raised a large, happy family, all of whom were devout Buddhists. Many people came to her for help and teaching. She became known as a great Zen Master.
One day, when she was an old woman, her granddaughter died. She cried bitterly during the funeral and kept crying back at her home, as the visitors filed past to offer their condolences. Everyone was shocked. Soon they were whispering. Finally one of them went up to her and said, “You have attained the great enlightenment, you already understand that there is neither death nor life. Why are you crying? Why is your granddaughter a hindrance to your clear mind?”
Sul immediately stopped crying and said, “Do you understand how important my tears are? They are greater than all the sutras, all the words of the Patriarchs, and all possible ceremonies. When my granddaughter hears me crying, she will enter Nirvana.” Then she shouted to all the visitors, “Do you understand this?”
No one understood.
83. Dialogue with Swami X
One day a prominent yogi invited Seung Sahn Soen-sa to come talk with him during his stay in Cambridge. There were several dozen students present, and a large pile of fruits, which had been brought as presents, in front of the swami, who was sitting in a chair on a small podium. Soen-sa was offered a seat on the floor to his left.
After Soen-sa and three of his students who had come with him sat down, the swami offered him a piece of candy. One of Soen-sa's students said, “No, thank you,” and explained that Soen-sa has diabetes.
The swami said, “Oh, that's too bad. Every day you should walk two miles. That is sure to help.”
Soen-sa said, “Diabetes is very good. Form is emptiness, emptiness is form. This body is already emptiness. So my diabetes is emptiness. So it is very good.”
The swami was silent for a few moments, then said, “Let us talk. Say something.”
Soen-sa said, “How should you keep your mind during yoga?”
“We should merge with mind into the inner self. And the mind should be without any objects. Have you read Patanjali on yoga?”
“Then my self and my mind—are they the same or different?”
“When mind goes within, into the inner self, it becomes one with the inner self. But when it comes out, for that time it is separate.”
“Mind has no inside or outside. So how can it become one with the self or separate from it?”
“Then who acts outside, if not mind?”
“What is mind?”
The swami said, “Mind is the tendency of the self which goes out to do actions. When it goes inside, it becomes the self, and when it is outside, it does things in the world. The mind is no separate entity, it is not a modification of anything, it is nothing but the consciousness. When the universal consciousness becomes contracted and takes the form of outside objects, then we call it mind. And when the same mind goes inside and becomes the self, again it becomes the consciousness itself. It contracts and it expands.”
Soen-sa said, “Mind has no inside and no outside. Thinking makes inside, outside, consciousness, mind—everything is made by thinking. So mind is no mind.”
The swami said, “When mind takes the form of outside objects it becomes the mind. But when it goes inside and forgets all objects, it again becomes the self and the consciousness.”
Soen-sa said, “Who makes inside, who makes outside, who makes consciousness, who makes objects?”
“Do you know who made you?”
“If you ask me, I will answer you.”
“What do you think? Who made the world?”
Soen-sa said, “In front of you, there are many apples and oranges.”
At this point, the Hindi translator, looking very confused, asked Soen-sa to repeat his answer. Then, knitting her brows, she relayed it to the swami.
The swami was silent for a few moments. Then he said, “Is that an answer?”
Soen-sa said, “Do you want another answer?”
“One plus two equals three.”
“And suppose you take two from three, then …?”
“Suppose we take away that one also.”
Soen-sa said, “Then I will hit you!”
The translator caught her breath. She was visibly shocked, and obviously didn't want to translate this last statement. But after a few moments, she did.
The swami looked extremely displeased. He jiggled his foot and said, “These answers don't make any sense. What knowledge do you have?”
Soen-sa said, “Okay, I will explain. I ask you now: one plus two equals three; one plus two equals zero—which one is correct?”
The swami said, “Everything is momentary change, you see. Sometimes it can be ten, or it can be five. It can be seven, it can be nine. It goes on changing. So there is nothing fixed. Everything is a momentary truth.”
Soen-sa said, “If you say that everything changes, then you are attached to form.”
The swami said, “I'm not attached to form! But you are attached to your questions and answers!”
Soen-sa laughed and said, “Yah, that is a good answer.”
The swami said, “Why should one be attached to things that are always changing? Why should one desire them?”
“Okay, let me ask you …”
“No, I have a question for you. What is the purpose of our meeting together to talk about spiritual things?”
Soen-sa said, “Today is Saturday.”
“This is not the answer of a philosopher! It is only the answer of a child!”
“In everything there is always some purpose, from the point of view of worldly life. For example, this man” (pointing to a devotee) “is here, and if I ask him, ‘Why have you come here?', he will tell me, ‘I have come to see you' or ‘I have come to ask you something.’ And answers should be such that people can understand them. So a person asks me questions if he has doubts, and getting an answer will remove his doubts. But your answers have no meaning and no purpose. It is just like a child playing.”
Soen-sa said, “These other answers are children's answers. ‘I came to see you'—all children understand this. But ‘today is Saturday'—children do not understand this answer. So your answers are a child's answers.”
The swami said, “Only if people understand what we say, only then does it have some meaning and some purpose. If nobody understands you, then what's the use of your questions and answers? Some meaning should come out of them.”
Soen-sa said, “I understand that you are a great man. But you don't understand. So you are a child.”
The swami said, “There is no question of great or small. But when we talk, we should use words and sentences in such a way that in our daily life, in worldly dealings, they will have some meaning. It must be explicit, from big to small. Both children and grownups should be able to understand them.”
Soen-sa said, “Let me ask you one more question.” Then, picking up an apple, “This is an apple, okay? But if you say that it is an apple, you have an attachment to name and form. And if you say that it is not an apple, you have an attachment to emptiness. Is this an apple or not?”
“Both? I will hit you sixty times! To answer ‘apple' is wrong; to answer ‘not apple' is also wrong; to answer ‘both' is doubly wrong. Why? This apple is made by thinking. It does not say, ‘I am an apple.’ People call it an apple. So it is made by thinking.”
The swami said, “We understand that this grows on a tree.”
Soen-sa said, “Yes! That is a good answer. A very good answer would be …” and bit into the apple.
The swami said, “Even without eating it, I can understand what this apple is. Those who don't understand need to eat it. You understood it by eating it. I understood it by just looking at it.”
“Then a good answer would have been to hand it to me and say, ‘Please eat.’”
“That's not necessary. I can see what it is.”
“That is true. All words are not necessary.”
The swami said, “There are many kinds of under-standing. Eating isn't the only way. There is another way of understanding. For the time being, leave your philosophy and go to the market. Suppose you go and tell the shopkeeper about the apple and what it is, what size it is, and so on. He won't hand it to you to eat. In your daily life, this philosophy of yours is useless. One's philosophy should be practical. We should be able to apply it in our daily life. Our philosophy and our daily life should not be separate; they should be one. Philosophy should be such that ordinary people are able to use it. Today the world is such that the scientists won't believe such things. They won't believe anything that doesn't work.”
Soen-sa said, “I am not a philosopher. I am not a scientist. I am not a Buddhist.”
“Then what is your purpose?”
“You already understand.”
The swami looked at his watch and said, “I must go now. We will talk later. It's not difficult to talk to you.” Then, laughing, he said, “Since you are not a philosopher, I will give you an apple,” and handed Soen-sa an apple.
The swami said, “I am happy both ways, either to give or to receive.”
Soen-sa said, “Thank you very much.”
84. Big Mistake
One Sunday evening, after a Dharma talk at the International Zen Center of New York, a student asked Seung Sahn Soen-sa, “Does Big I ever make a mistake?”
Soen-sa said, “A big mistake.”
The student said, “Who sees the mistake?”
Soen-sa said, “It has already appeared.”
85. Language-Route and Dharma-Route
February 10, 1975
Thank you very much for your letter. It helped clear the air, which was getting dusty with too much conceptual thought. Black ink on white paper—only like this. You asked me many questions but really only one. What happens after death. I don't know; before I was born I did but I forgot. Your homework is very tough. Here are my answers.
To the man who drops ashes on the Buddha, and “the mouse eats cat-food, but the cat-bowl is broken”:
Ice, water, steam —a boiling bathtub
Legless cat scratches
Mouthless mouse eats
Broken bowl with no bottom or sides
When cat's food is swallowed It does not move
Your poem was wonderful.
Here is one for you:
Without special purpose
my life is complete
In the cave at midnight
there is still some light
But if the mind moves one inch
incense ash falls like thunder
How much does it weigh?
You must bring the scales.
With a deep bow
February 23, 1975
How are you doing lately? Thank you for your letter. I was waiting for it and was glad to receive it.
In your letter you said, “black ink on white paper—only like this.” These are very fine words. But there are two kinds of “like this” answers: language-route and Dharma-route. For example, take the following kong-an:
Here is a bell.
If you say it is a bell, you are attached to name and form.
If you say it is not a bell, you are attached to emptiness.
Is this a bell or not?
I will show you four answers: 1. Only hit the floor. 2. “The bell is laughing.” 3. “Outside it is dark, inside it is light.” Or, “The bell is on the floor.” These statements are only like this. They are good answers, but they are not complete answers. 4. Pick up the bell and ring it. This is a 100% complete answer. So it is possible to understand “like this” and yet not give the best answer. Language-route answers are good, but sometimes they are not complete. The Dharma-route answer is the complete answer. When a question is wide, the language-route and the Dharma-route become one. So to the question, “What is Buddha?”, there are many complete answers: “Three pounds of flax,” “Dry shit on a stick,” “The wall is white, the rug is blue,” etc. But with a narrow question, the language-route and the Dharma-route are different. So to the bell question, there is only one complete answer. The same is true for the mouse kong-an. The language-route is not complete; you must find the Dharma-route, then you will come up with a good answer. This answer is only one point.
You drew a triangle, circle, and square. If you are thinking, this is a demon's action. If you cut off all thinking, everything is the truth. So if you cut off all thinking, these figures are not necessary. Shit is Buddha, vomit is Buddha— they are the truth, they are just like this. If you keep a discriminating mind, why stop at three figures? More are possible, and the figures you could draw are endless. These are only devices for teaching Zen; they do not really exist. You must not be attached to form. You must finish your homework. This is very important. You must understand that a quarter is twenty-five cents.
Your poem is very good. But what does “my life is complete” mean? If you use “complete,” you must take out “my life.” If you use “my life,” you must take out “complete.” How can you hear “the sound of incense ash falling like thunder”? You wrote, “KATZ” and “How much does it weigh?” I already asked you how much it weighs. If you want to understand this weight, you need a scale without measurements.
Here is a poem for you:
The snowman Bodhidharma sweats and grows
The sound of his heartbeat shatters heaven and hell.
His eyebrows drop off, then his eyes, then his
A little boy shouts, “Bodhidharma is dying!”
86. The Tathagata
One Thursday evening, after a Dharma talk at the Cambridge Zen Center, a student said to Seung Sahn Soen-sa, “I have a very technical question. Would you discourse on the concept of the Tathagata?”
Soen-sa said, “In America, people sign checks and documents. But in the Orient, people use a rubber stamp or seal. The Tathagata is only this. There are three kinds of Zen: Theoretical Zen, Tathagata Zen, and Patriarchal Zen. Theoretical Zen is like stamping a piece of paper: anyone can understand the sign. Tathagata Zen is like stamping water: people can only hear the sound; the stamp disappears immediately. Patriarchal Zen is like stamping space: no one can understand. Things come and they go, without hindrance. With water, there is a little hindrance. With paper, there is attachment. So Tathagata is the middle of these three. ‘Form is emptiness, emptiness is form' means ‘no form, no emptiness.’ If you want to understand the true meaning of the Tathagata, listen to this kong-an: Somebody once asked Zen Master Jo-ju, ‘What is Buddha?' Jo-ju said, ‘Go drink tea.’ This person had been sitting Zen for a while, so he understood a little. He shouted ‘KATZ!!!' Then Jo-ju said, ‘Did you drink tea?' What does this dialogue mean? If you understand it, then you understand the true meaning of Tathagata.”
“I think I understand.”
Soen-sa said, “If you are thinking, you don't understand. ‘No form, no emptiness' is before thinking. If you are thinking, this is not Tathagata Zen.”
A second student said, “What does the dialogue mean?”
Soen-sa said, “I hit you thirty times.” (Laughter from the audience).