Dream Talking

One December day in 1977, Soen Sa Nim was answering students’ questions at the New Haven Zen Center.

Student: Do you dream about different kinds of things now that you are a Zen Master?

Soen Sa Nim: What kind of dreams?

Student: Well, I dream about things I desire, but if you don’t desire anything, what do you dream about?

Soen Sa Nim: Yes, I have dreams.

Student: What kind of dreams?

Soen Sa Nim: You are laughing, so I am laughing. This is a dream. You say you have a dream, so I am having a dream.

Student: I understand what you say, but I can’t believe it.

Soen Sa Nim: You can’t believe the dream. So your dream is a not-believing dream. Everything is a dream, O.K.? Just now we are talking. Last night you had a dream. How are they different?

Student: I can feel that they are different.

Soen Sa Nim: Feel? You say “different,” I say “same.”

Long ago in China, there were five schools of Zen: Rinzai, Soto, Poep An, Un Mun, and E An. E An and An Sahn together made one school. E An was the teacher, An Sahn the disciple. Once E An was asleep. At that time An Sahn was only his secretary. He happened to open the door, saw that the Zen Master was asleep, and slowly closed the door. The Zen Master woke up and said, “Just now, I had a dream. Do you understand?”

An Sahn said, “Yes, just now I understand,” and washed the Zen Master’s face with water. The Master said, “Oh, thank you for washing my face.” Then another disciple, Haeng Om, who later became a Zen Master, came into the Zen Master’s room. The Master said, “We were just talking about my dream. Do you understand my dream?”

Haeng Om said, “Yes, sir,” went into the kitchen, and brought in some tea. The Zen Master said, “Ah, my students are very wonderful. You all understand my dream.”

This is dream talking. What does it mean? If you wake up, wash your face. Then you drink tea. This is the correct way. If you completely understand dreams, then you understand the correct way.

You must understand that this whole world is a dream. Then your desire is a dream, your anger is a dream, and your life is also a dream. You must understand dreams; then you will have no desire for yourself and will act only for all people. Then you have a Bodhisattva dream — only help other people. But understanding is not enough; you must attain the dream. Then you will understand your true self. The wall is white. The floor is brown.

Do You Still Have Mind?

Zen Master Seung Sahn’s opening talk at Hwa Gye Sah temple in Seoul for the 1999-2000 Winter Kyol Che

The day after tomorrow we will begin our three month winter retreat, Kyol Che. Kyol Che means tight practicing. If you have mind, it’s very important to do tight practicing. If you can put it all down, then everything becomes “no problem”; but if you are holding something and are thinking, then doing Kyol Che is very important. If you do tight practicing then it’s possible to take away your mind: your thinking, your situation, your condition, your problem. Then you can attain your True Self and save all beings. This is our direction.

Human beings come into this world empty handed and go empty handed. When you are born, where do you come from? When you die, where do you go? Are you clear about that? Life is like a floating cloud which appears; death is like a floating cloud which disappears. The floating cloud itself originally does not exist. Coming, going, life and death are the same as a floating cloud. If you attain that, then you attain what it means to be a human being. Human beings are originally nothing. Descartes said, “I think, therefore I am.” “Thinking”… that’s a problem! If you are thinking, everything appears: I, My, Me appears, my direction, my condition, my situation–everything appears. Put it all down, completely put it all down. Then… nothing. You must attain “nothing”; that’s very important! If you attain nothing, then your job appears clearly in front of you.

Why did you come into this world? What you do here is your direction. This must become very clear. So, becoming clear means moment to moment put it down, then the bodhisattva way appears in front of you–only help all beings. Our True Self doesn’t have coming or going. Our True Self is clear like space. Clear like space means clear like a mirror. Clear like a mirror means everything is reflected. Something appears then–BOOM!–reflect. Then there is no I, My, Me mind. There isn’t any “my” direction. There is only help, bodhisattva direction. Moment to moment… how can I help all beings? That’s our correct direction.

Now we begin three months of hard practicing. Hard practicing means completely put it all down. Moment to moment put it down, put it down, put it down. Then our correct situation, correct function and correct relationship appears. That is the bodhisattva way. Not only this life. Life after life after life… continue, until all beings become Buddha, then your job is finished. But we still have all beings, ya? So, our job is not yet finished. Completely put down everything. Then you can see clear, hear clear, smell clear… everything is clear. Clear means truth. Sky is blue, tree is green, dog is barking, ” woof woof”, sugar is sweet–eveything is the truth. What is not the truth? The Bible says “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” “I am the Way” means put it down, then the great Way appears. Then truth and you are never separate. Then how does this truth correctly function? Only help all beings. That’s very important. When hungry people appear give them food, when thirsty people appear give them drink, when suffering people appear only help them. That’s our direction. If you cannot find your direction, then you are same as an animal. Animals don’t understand themselves. They don’t understand truth, don’t understand the correct way and correct life. Three months practicing together means attain your True Self. Attain your True Self and believe in your True Self 100%.

Everyone here has read the old Chinese stories in our kong-an books. Very famous, but truth and function are not clear in these stories. The teaching is not clear. Our Kwan Um School of Zen teaching, though, is very clear. Primary point, truth and correct function are very clear. So most important is correct function, bodhisattva action. Only help all beings. And not only in this life, but life after life after life. Actually infinite time. If everybody becomes clear, then this moment becomes clear. Then this moment connects with infinite time. So, a moment is infinite time, infinite time is this moment.

So I hope everybody becomes clear moment to moment, attains their True Self, finds the correct way, truth and correct life, and saves all beings from suffering.

Thank you.

The Dog Runs Away with the Bone

From a letter:

An eminent teacher once said, “Original consciousness is always clear. Beyond the six roots and six consciousnesses and six dusts, it is not hindered by speech or words. True nature is not dyed. It is already round and clear. Put down all thinking: right now is your true self.”

You say that you were attached to emptiness. But a true attachment to emptiness is without words or speech. Just understanding emptiness is different from being truly attached to emptiness.

I am glad that your sitting is getting stronger. You say that your body and mind are still not integrated. This Is thinking. If you cut off all thinking, your mind becomes true emptiness. True emptiness is before thinking. Before thinking there are no words and no things. So where is there a body or a mind to be integrated?

You must always keep “What am I?” At first the question is very small, Then it grows and grows and grows until it fills the whole universe. And then, when it bursts, the great question itself becomes enlightenment.

Here is a poem for you:

Buddha said all things have Buddha-nature.
Jo-ju said the dog has no Buddha-nature.
But Buddha and Jo-ju don’t know Buddha-nature.
The dog runs away with the bone.

Yours sincerely,

S. S.

Dharma Speech at San Francisco Zen Center

given by Seung Sahn Soen-sa at the San Francisco Zen Center on February 9

(Hitting the table with his stick) Do you understand this? If you do, you understand One. If you don’t, you separate things into ten thousand classes and one thousand levels.

(Hitting the table) Do you understand this? If you do, you understand the ten thousand classes and one thousand levels. If you don’t, you have an attachment to One.

(Hitting the table) Do you understand this? If you open your mouth and say you understand, I will hit you thirty times. And if you say you don’t understand I will still hit you thirty times.



Spring air fills the universe and flowers are blossoming everywhere.

If you proclaim this, you shut the mouths of all Buddhas and all eminent teachers. So how can you hear what they say? To hear what they say, you must understand what sitting Zen is.

When you are able to stay perfectly clear by cutting off all thinking and yet not falling into a trance-like sleep, this is sitting. When inside and outside become one, and no circumstances can hinder you, this is Zen.

When you understand sitting Zen, you understand yourself. In your mind there is a diamond sword. If you want to understand yourself, take it and cut off good and bad, long and short, coming and going, high and low, God and Buddha. Cut off all things.

You must proceed as if you were walking on thin ice, concentrating totally on each one of your steps. If you make one wrong move you will die and go to hell like an arrow.

Passing beyond this realm of not-thinking, you reach the land of true emptiness. True emptiness is before thinking. This land contains no words and no speech; so there are no mountains, no rivers, no East, West, North, or South, no God and no Buddha.

But if you stay there you will become attached to emptiness, and not even the Buddha can save you.

When you are hanging by your hands from a mountain ledge, and can let go, not thinking of life or death, then you will have true freedom. You can see the wooden dog eating steel and shitting fire. You make friends with the hairyshelled turtle and the rabbit with horns. You learn to play the flute which has no holes. But where does the sound of the flute come from?

Leave this place behind, and you understand that birds sing, hills are green and the sky is blue. Seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching — the truth is just like this. This is the language of Buddha and eminent teachers. The sounds of rivers and birds are the sutras;, earth and sky are the very body of the Buddha.

(Holding up his stick) Then do you see this?

(Hitting the table) Do you hear this?

This stick, this sound, and your mind — are they the same or different?

If you say they are the same, that is not permitted, and the stick will hit you. If you say they are different, that is not permitted, and the stick will hit you. If you say they are both different and the same, that too is not permitted, and the stick will hit you even harder.



If you don’t enter the lion’s den, you will never capture the lion.

Dharma Speech at Harvard Divinity School

A Dharma Speech given by Seung Sahn Soen-sa at the Harvard Divinity School, on March 12

(Hitting the floor with his stick) Are you alive? Are you dead?

(Hitting the floor) Where does life come from? Where does death go?

(Hitting the floor) If you think life, you go to hell like an arrow. If you think death, your body has no place.



The blue mountain does not move; the white cloud floats back and forth. Life is like a cloud appearing in the sky. Death is like a cloud disappearing in the sky. Originally the cloud doesn’t exist. It is the same with life and death. But there is one thing that is present forever, forever clear and luminous.

What is this one thing?

If you want to understand, listen to these four sentences:

1. Under the sea the running mud cow eats the moon.

2. In front of the rock the stone tiger sleeps, holding a baby in its arms.

3. The steel snake drills into the eye of a diamond.

4. Mount Kan rides on the back of an elephant, pulled by a little bird.

Of these four sentences, there is one that will give you freedom from life and death. Which one is it?

When you can see the horned rabbit sleeping under the tree with no roots, then you will first attain.

What is enlightenment? If you want to understand, you must let your mind become clear like vast space. All thinking and all desire fall away, and you have no hinderance anywhere.

To let your mind become clear like vast space — what does this mean? Do you understand? This is true enlightenment.

All Buddhas and all six realms of existence return to it. All things have it, one by one. It is happening in everything.

So, even if you have never meditated, you already understand.

(Holding up his stick) Do you see this?

(Hitting the floor) Do you hear this?

Already you clearly see and hear.

Then this stick, this sound, and your mind — are they the same or different?

If you say ‘the same,’ I will hit you thirty times. If you say ‘different,’ I will still hit you thrity times.



The willow is green, the floor is red.

Correct Meditation

The following is a portion of a Dharma Speech that Zen Master Seung Sahn gave at the Cambridge Zen Center on Saturday, July 16th.

When I was in the hospital, the doctors checked my heart. The first time they checked, there were 23-25 mistakes (premature ventricular contractions) in one minute, out of about 80 beats.

Many people have read about research by a Harvard professor who checked people with bad hearts, diabetes, etc. He checked people who did meditation and people who didn’t. People who didn’t do meditation were O.K. with medicine, but not O.K. without their medicine. But people who tried concentration meditation got better more quickly, and were O.K. without their medicine. The Transcendental Meditation people advertised this: “Meditation can fix many sicknesses.” So now many doctors like meditation. So my doctors said, “Soen Sa Nim, you are a Zen Master, so you try!” So I said, “O.K., I will try.” So I tried this fix-your-body meditation. In three days my heart was making only five mistakes — usually it takes about one month to recover like this, so my doctors understood this meditation was helping my body, so they were very happy.

After one week, my heart was only making one or two mistakes, and my doctors said, “This is wonderful! Most people take two or three months to come down to only one or two mistakes each minute!” So I said, “Thank you very much, you have helped me, so I can get better quickly. But this is only fix-your-body meditation. This is not correct meditation.”

“Why isn’t this correct meditation?” they asked.

“You can fix your body, your heart, your diabetes. In Korea, China, and India there are people who do yoga. They go to the mountains and do breath-in, breath-out meditation. They can live 500 years and not get sick. Keeping their bodies for a long time is possible; even flying in the sky is possible. Trying this style body meditation, anything is possible. A body is like a car. Use the car a lot, and in three years, it is broken. Only keep the car in the garage, then keeping it for a long time is possible. But finally after 500 years, then these yoga people die. Then what? Live a long time, then die; live a short time, then die — it is the same! Dying is the same.”

The doctors understood. “What is correct meditation then?”

I told them, “I always try meditation. Meditation means always keeping one mind, not-moving mind.” They thought meditation meant only concentration and keeping your body still. So I said, “Meditation means keeping one mind. You must understand — what is life? What is death? If you keep one mind, there is no life, no death. Then if you die tomorrow, no problem; if you die in five minutes, no problem.”

“What do you mean, ‘no problem?'” they asked.

“Maybe you do fix-your-heart meditation. Then, ‘My heart is good, my body is good.’ It is very easy to become attached to this meditation. But when you get old, and your heart is not so good, then you try this meditation. Maybe it is still not so good. Then, ‘Why doesn’t my meditation work?’ Then your body, your meditation, become hindrances. If your meditation cannot help your body, then you don’t believe in your meditation. Then what? So this style meditation is no good.

“Correct meditation means correctly understanding your situation moment by moment — what are you doing now? Only do it! Then each action is complete each action is enough. Then no thinking, so each moment I can perceive everything just like this. Just like this is truth. Sick-time, only be sick. Driving-time, only drive. Only go straight — then any situation is no problem.

The doctors liked this; they wanted to hear more about Zen. So six doctors came to my room and I talked to them for two hours. One doctor asked me, “I am very busy, at the hospital, then going home to my family — how can I keep a clear mind?”

”Clear mind,” I told them, “means moment to moment, what are you doing now? When you are with your patients, only 100% keep doctor’s mind. When you leave the hospital and you are driving home, 100% keep driver’s mind. When you meet your wife, 100% keep husband’s mind. This means each moment only go straight; don’t make ‘I, my, me.’ If you make ‘I, my, me,’ then your opinion, your condition, your situation appear; then you have a problem.

”If, when you are with your patients, you think, ‘Where is my wife? Is she spending a lot of money?’ Then this patient is talking to you and you only say, ‘Uhm, yeah, mmm-hmm.’ So the patient is thinking, ‘What does the doctor think?’ They don’t believe you. If you are talking to your wife, and she is telling you something important, and you are thinking about the hospital, this is just your opinion, this is just thinking; it is not your just-now situation. So put it all down, only go straight.

“We say jeon il, completely become one. When you are doing an operation, you and this knife completely become one. When you are driving in your car, you and your car only become one. If you drive on a road with pebbles and you are not thinking, only driving, then you can feel these pebbles under your tires. Only become one means, you and your action completely become one, then you and the universe only-become one — completely no-thinking mind. Inside and outside become one. The name for this is, ‘only go straight,’ or ‘put it all down,’ or ‘don’t make anything,’ or ‘keep clear mind.”’

“If you are only in the present, how can you plan for the future or choose a direction? I have to plan for my patients, and for myself, my family,” one doctor said.

So I said, “What is the purpose of life? I asked many old people in the hospital this question, or ‘What did you get out of life?’ and many said, ‘Nothing.’ Maybe they have a good job, good family, good wife or husband, but these things cannot help them now. They want something they cannot have, and they understand this, so they say, ‘Nothing.’ This is understanding nothing. But understanding cannot help them, so they are suffering. Zen means attain this nothing mind. The Buddha said, ‘If you keep clear mind moment by moment, then you will get happiness everywhere.’

“Zen is attaining this nothing mind, and using this nothing mind. How can you use it? Zen means making this nothing mind into big-love mind. Nothing mind means no ‘I, my, me,’ no hindrance. So this mind can change to Great Compassion mind, action-for-all-people mind. This is possible. Nothing mind does not appear, does not disappear. So moment by moment, it is possible to keep your correct situation. Then your mind is like a mirror — when you are with your patients, only become one. Then helping them is possible. When you are with your family, only become one; then understanding what is best for them is clear. Just like this. The blue mountain does not move. The white clouds float back and forth.”

Conversation with a Great Sutra Master

Zen Master Seung Sahn: If one perceives their true self for one second it’s better than reading sutras for ten thousand years.

Sutra Master: I vowed to read the Diamond Sutra ten thousand times. Should I continue or not?

ZMSS: Why do you read the sutra?

Sutra Master: To take away karma.

ZMSS: Originally there is no karma. If you make karma, then you will have karma. If you don’t make karma, then there’s no karma. Keeping a “this moment mind” is very important. If you are holding onto or checking the past, then all your karma will appear. If you are not checking or holding the past, present or future then your karma will not appear. So, moment mind is very important. Karma comes from your mind. No mind, then no karma. Originally there is no mind.

Sutra Master: Should I continue to read the Diamond Sutra?

ZMSS: Reading the sutra is OK. Don’t attach to the words. Only perceive the sutra’s true meaning. Who are you? Don’t know! That is the “Big Question.” The big question is most important. Only keep this big question. The big question better than reading sutras.

Sutra Master: Because I have already made a big commitment to read this sutra, I feel a lot of pressure.

ZMSS: That is not so good.

Sutra Master: Then what should I do?

ZMSS: Put it all down–let it all rest. Eating time, just eat. Someone comes to your temple and wants a ceremony, just chant. Someone wants to read a sutra, just read sutra together with them. Don’t keep your opinion, your condition, or your situation. Then you will perceive your true nature. That is the sutra’s true meaning.

Coming Empty Handed – Zen Master Seung Sahn in Ann Arbor

Reprinted from Cutting Edge, American Zen Arts Quarterly Volume 1, Number 1 (Spring 1985).

Zen Master Seung Sahn is a stocky Korean man with a round face, shaved head, and laughing eyes. He travels to many different countries each year, spreading the dharma of Zen Buddhism in an effort to “save all beings from suffering.”

Zen Master Seung Sahn is the seventy-eighth patriarch in his line of succession in the Chogye order, the predominant Buddhist denomination in Korea. Raised in a Christian family, he studied Western philosophy and considered a career in politics before taking Buddhist monk’s vows. In 1948 he embarked on a hundred day retreat alone in the mountains, spending his time in intense meditation and chanting. During his retreat he ate only pine needles, which turned his skin green. According to his book Dropping Ashes on the Buddha, he came to the understanding that “the rocks, the river, everything he could see, everything he could hear, all this was his true self. All things are exactly as they are. The truth is just like this.” In 1949, at the age of twenty-two, he attained enlightenment. This was confirmed by the great Korean Zen Master Ko Bong, who gave Zen Master Seung Sahn “inka” or transmission of the dharma. Ko Bong’s transmission publicly certified and authenticated Zen Master Seung Sahn’s enlightenment experience, giving him the authority to teach and train students.

Following his enlightenment experience, Zen Master Seung Sahn spent three years in silence, strengthening his Zen practice. He then became active in the Chogye order, founding temples in Korea and Japan. In 1972 he came to the United States, but only as a tourist, as he did not believe teaching Zen to Americans was possible. When someone convinced him that university students might be interested in practicing Zen, he decided to stay. He took a job at a laundromat near Brown University, fixing washing machines and sweeping the floors. A professor from Brown recognized his robes and sent several students to him for instruction in Zen practice. “At first they didn’t know if he was real or a fake,” says Mu Sang Sunim, an American monk who sometimes travels with the Zen Master. “He used to cook big pots of soup for his students. He would chop up onions, and then kick the onion skins under the table. They thought a great Zen Master would not kick onion skins under the table.”

His group eventually became the Providence Zen Center, now located in Cumberland, Rhode Island. This center houses Zen Master Seung Sahn’s Kwan Um School of Zen, and is the head temple for more than sixty Zen centers and affiliates worldwide. Zen Master Seung Sahn spends much of his time visiting these centers, teaching, talking, and giving interviews.

On March 25, 1985, Zen Master Seung Sahn’s itinerary brought him to Ann Arbor, Michigan. When he arrived at the Detroit Metro Airport, he was met by his host, Michael Elta, a dharma teacher of the Kwan Um School of Zen, and members of the Mu Mun Sa temple in Northville. He was accompanied an American monk, Mu Ryang Sunim, who was traveling as his secretary. Zen Master Seung Sahn’s first stop in Ann Arbor was the Zen Buddhist Temple, where he visited with the abbot, Sanbul Sunim, and other residents.

That evening, Zen Master Seung Sahn gave a public talk at the Friends’ Meeting House. He arrived with an entourage of fellow monks wearing formal long grey robes and brown kasas. First he sat in the foyer, smiling and holding a child in his lap, as his students greeted him with three full prostrations, a traditional sign of great respect. He made his way into the main meeting room, the noise of the crowd slowly halted, and the talk began.

The first speaker was Michael Elta, who provided the audience with a background of Zen Master Seung Sahn and his teaching. Next, Mu Ryang Sunim gave a short talk about his discovery of the Zen path. After thanking the previous speakers, Zen Master Seung Sahn asked for questions from the audience.

ZMSS: Does anybody have questions? Any kind of question, about your practice, your life, your problems?

Q: Sir, I was wondering what exactly is American Zen? How is it different from Korean Zen?

ZMSS: You take away American Zen, Korean Zen … that is correct Zen. (laughter) Zen is not special, OK? Zen is everyday life. When Korean people are hungry, they eat. When American people are hungry, they also eat. That’s all.

Q: I have been training very hard as an athlete for many years and have been studying very hard in graduate school, trying to get knowledge. But sometimes I felt an imbalance which I couldn’t get a hold of until I started studying martial arts. My instructor gave me some books on Zen. Will this type of practice help me to deal with the amount of pressure and stress I put on myself, mentally and physically, as an athlete and student?

ZMSS: You have too much desire.

Q: Well, I enjoy doing a lot of things. I want…

ZMSS: Yes, you. “I want to understand, I want the martial arts, I want the teaching. I want that, I, I, I, I … ” Then it is “I.” Who are you? I ask you, who are you? (laughs) You don’t understand you, so you don’t understand your direction. If you don’t understand your direction, you cannot do anything. That’s the wrong way. You cannot get balance.

The Bible says, “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life.” In Zen, I must understand my true self, and find the correct way, correct truth, correct life. The same way, but technically different. Christians believe in God. Zen means that you must believe in your true self.

How do you believe one hundred percent? That’s very important. If you believe in your true self one hundred percent, then you can believe your hand, your eyes, your ears, your nose, your tongue, your body, your mind. Then you can believe one hundred percent that the sky is blue, trees are green, water is wet. You can believe everything. Also, you can believe in God, believe in Buddha … it’s possible.

So, I ask you again: who are you? (The questioner has been taking notes.) Put the pen down, OK? (Zen Master Seung Sahn laughs) Many thousands of lines written down cannot help you.

Q: That’s hard for me to answer because I haven’t thought about it.


Q: You get wrapped up in where you are and what you’re doing, as opposed to who you are.

ZMSS: Make it simple, not complicated. I ask you, who are you? You don’t understand, you only don’t know. That’s a very simple answer. What is an explanation? An explanation is your understanding. That only makes it more complicated.

Human beings come empty handed, go empty handed. When you are born, where do you come from? When you die, where do you go? Life is like a floating cloud which appears. Death is like a floating cloud which disappears. The floating cloud does not exist. A human being coming and going, life and death, are also like that. Our body is like the floating cloud. But there is one thing which always remains clear. It is pure and clear, not dependent on life and death. What is the one pure and clear thing? If you find it, you will have freedom from life and death. So, where do you come from? Don’t know, right? I ask you, what is your name?

Q: Mark.

ZMSS: Mark. That’s your body name. Not your true self name. How old are you? (Zen Master Seung Sahn laughs.) Maybe you understand body age, but you don’t understand true age. When you die, where do you go? Don’t know, right? So: coming, “don’t know”; name, “don’t know”; age, “don’t know”; going, “don’t know.” So, you are “don’t know,” OK? That’s “don’t know mind.” Very important.

A long time ago a famous Zen Master would say, “Understand your true self.” One day, one of his students asked him, “Do you understand your true self?” He said, “I don’t know. But I understand this ‘don’t know.'” That’s a famous “don’t know” classic (laughs). So this “don’t know” mind is very important. Keep this “don’t know” mind and listen to me, OK?

When you are thinking, your mind and my mind are different. When you cut off all thinking, then your mind and my mind are the same. If you keep “don’t know” mind one hundred percent – don’t know – at that time, your “don’t know” mind, my “don’t know” mind, everybody’s “don’t know” mind are the same. “Don’t know” mind has already stopped thinking. Stopped thinking means no thinking. No thinking means empty mind. Empty mind means before thinking. Your before thinking is your substance. My before thinking is my substance (hits his chest). This stick’s substance, universal substance, everything’s substance, is the same substance.

So, when you keep “don’t know” mind one hundred percent – don’t know – at that time you are the universe, the universe is you. You and everything have become one. That is, as we say, primary point. So, “don’t know” is not don’t know, “don’t know” is primary point. Primary point’s name is “don’t know.” Some people say primary point’s name is mind, or Buddha, or God, or nature, or substance, or absolute, or energy, or holy, or consciousness, or everything. But true primary point has no name, no form, no speech, no word, because it is before thinking. Only when you keep a “don’t know” mind one hundred percent – don’t know – at that time you and everything have already become one. So I ask you, when you keep “don’t know,” at that time, are this stick and you the same or different?

Q: The same.

ZMSS: Correct. But if you say, “the same,” I will hit you. I have this Zen stick. If you say, “different,” I will hit you. Because primary point is before thinking. Before thinking, there is no speech, no words. Open your mouth, and already it is a mistake. If you are thinking, already it is a mistake. So, to say “same” is thinking, to say “different” is also thinking. Close your mouth; how do you answer? The stick and you, are they the same or different? The same! But if you open your mouth it is already a mistake. That’s a very important point. If you don’t understand, come to the Zen center (laughs). I’ll give you a hint.

A long time ago, Buddha spoke on a mountain. There were twelve hundred others there. Usually, Buddha opened his mouth and talked: “True self is this, our mind is this.” But on this day, he did not open his mouth. A minute passed, then two, then three. Finally, everyone began to wonder, “Why won’t Buddha speak?” Buddha only picked up one flower. (Zen Master Seung Sahn picks up a flower) No one understood – only Mahakashyapa, his number one student. Mahakashyapa smiled. The Buddha said, “My true dharma transmission goes to you.” Buddha never opened his mouth. Mahakashyapa never opened his mouth. Buddha only picked up a flower. Mahakashyapa only smiled. They connected. My question is, a long time ago Buddha picked up a flower. Today, I pick up a flower. Buddha’s flower, my flower, are they the same or different? Open your mouth, I will hit you. Close your mouth, I will hit you. What can you do? That is the point, OK?

That flower Buddha held up long ago is substance. Today, this flower is substance. Not different. Always, opposite thinking cannot help. Put down your understanding.

People have dust in their consciousness, their computers. It is necessary to clean this dust. If you have dust in your computer, it is necessary to clean it. For that we use special soap (laughter). If you cannot find this special soap, you cannot clean your computer (rubs his head). This is your head computer. That soap’s name is “don’t know” soap (laughter).

Always, only try “don’t know,” then clean, clean, clean. Clean your computer, then your computer is clear like space. Clear like space means clear like a mirror. Then red comes, that’s red. White comes, that’s white. Somebody is hungry, give them food. Somebody is thirsty, then give them a drink. That’s not knowledge, that’s wisdom. So, to have your mind clear like space is very important. If you want your mind clear like space, then your understanding and your mind must go into the garbage. That’s very important.

This world has many problems. Why are there problems? There is much fighting, too much understanding and desire. Too much understanding means, “My way is correct. Your way is not correct. My opinion is correct. Your opinion is not correct.” Russia says, “Only Russia’s way is correct.” America says, “Only America’s way is correct.” And desire: “I want to control this world.” Everyone holds their opinion.

Two young people get married. The first year they love each other. No problem. The second year, “I don’t like you.” It begins. The third year, “I don’t like you!” “I also don’t like you!” They are holding their opinion, so they fight and separate. Putting down your opinion is very important. Put down your opinion, your condition, your situation. Then, correct opinion, correct condition, and correct situation appear. This is wisdom. Put it all down; that’s very important.

Now, you are practicing “you cannot.” Instead, practice “you can.” That’s all. You must choose.

Q: A while back I was reading that when people think of anything, they give words to it – labels. It occurred to me that enlightenment and the dharma are things without words, and that is why it’s so hard for people to understand them. How do you get to “before thinking” mind?

ZMSS: (picks up a cup) This is a cup. If you say “cup,” then you are attached to name and form. If you say “no cup,” then you are attached to emptiness. This cup never says, “I am a cup.” If you say “cup,” that’s wrong, OK? We say “cup.” A dog would never say “cup.” So if you say “cup,” you are attached to name and form. Is it a cup or not?

Q: Don’t know.

ZMSS: You ask me.

Q: Is that a cup?

ZMSS: (drinks from the cup) “Cup” or “not cup” doesn’t matter. Correct function is what’s necessary. That is Zen. Do it. Don’t check, don’t attach to name and form. Moment to moment, understand correct function, correct relationship. If you meet your parents, you must act from obligation to them. With your friends, correct relationship is necessary. You have your pen, your cup, your watch, your glasses, your robe – your correct function and correct relationship is very important. Your country, the whole world, all beings, must have correct relationship and correct function. How? Zen practice means putting down your opinion, your condition, your situation; then correct situation, correct function, is possible. Too many people seek understanding. They go to school, to universities, are called Masters or Doctors – too much understanding.

One man I stayed with had a Ph.D. He made lots of money. No problem. But inside, he had much suffering. Why? He kept saying, “more, more, more.” So he had a problem. (laughs) That kind of person has a big problem.

So, digest. Digest, and understanding becomes wisdom. Wisdom means your understanding, your direction, and your actions become one. Understanding is this way, action is that way. Understanding is like a Buddha, or God, or Christ. But action is like a dog or a cat. (laughs) This is unbalanced. So, it is very important that you don’t check anything. Moment to moment, what are you doing now? Just do it one hundred percent. Don’t check anything, don’t hold anything, Just do it. That is Zen practice. If your center is not strong, you cannot do it. If your center is strong, then you can do it. So it is very important that your center is strong.

If your center is strong, you can control your feelings, your condition, your situation. Then you can change your karma. Everything comes from primary cause, condition, and result. You take away primary cause – it is possible – you take away primary cause, then condition and result changes. That means you can change natural processes. That means you can change your life, which means you can do anything. So, we have two kinds of worlds: “I can” and “I can not.” Which one do you like? (laughter) I can? Then you try. You try, then you can. Never say, “I cannot,” OK? Very clear, OK?

Q: What you are saying, isn’t that a concept as well? Aren’t you denying a certain part of the person? Aren’t you defining what is the basic person, the primary person; that center you were describing, isn’t it a concept? Aren’t you denying other forms, other realms of reality, in order to get to the one you’re after? Why is this more true, more absolute, more “it” than something else? Everything that you are saying is defining a certain kind of being at the expense of another kind of being. I can define another kind of being that excludes yours. In other words, it seems like there are alternate realities from the one you are talking about. And one is not any more basic, primary, true, than another one. Why do we choose one over the other?

ZMSS: You understand too much. That is your sickness. This is only your talk about “outside.” What is your inside? Consciousness this, consciousness that. You make that, OK? A dog does not make that. Stupid people do not make that. You are clever, so you make that. If I hit you, what do you say?

Q: Ouch.

ZMSS: Correct! Keep this mind, OK? (audience laughs with Zen Master Seung Sahn) That’s all, just direct. That is, we say, an unconditional reflex.

Q: That is a simple response. If you hit me I feel pain. When I …

ZMSS: Don’t check! Why are you checking? What are you doing now? I ask you, what are you doing now?

Q: I am checking you.

ZMSS: So you have a problem. You ask me.

Q: What are you doing now?

ZMSS: Sitting on the chair, talking to you. That is all.

Q: Aren’t you thinking when you’re talking to me? You sound very coherent and clear.

ZMSS: Why are you checking me? Don’t check me. What are you doing now?

Q: Checking you. (everyone laughs)

ZMSS: Don’t check, don’t hold, don’t attach, don’t want. If you are checking, holding, attached, wanting, you will always have a problem. If you want happiness, if you want peace, if you want love, don’t check, don’t hold, don’t attach, don’t want, OK? That’s all. (laughs) OK, more questions.

Q: Isn’t this where young infants are? They don’t check.

ZMSS: Very good question. A young baby, we say, has “Buddha’s mind.” Very clear mind. But as it grows up, memory appears, then the mind becomes tainted. A baby only reflects: unhappy, cry; very happy, no problem. So they have no memory, they only just do it. Moment to moment, not checking anything, not checking mother, not checking father – only do it, do it, do it mind. That’s child mind.

Child’s mind is like a Zen Master’s mind. But a child doesn’t understand correct function. Child’s mind is very pure and clear, but how do you have a correct pure and clear mind? They have no correct situation, correct function, correct relationships; they don’t understand. But, if you have correct function, correct relationships, correct situation, that is called great love, great compassion, the great bodhisattva way. Only that is different.

Q: Can’t a “don’t know” mind, or “just doing it” be dangerous in some cases, like in the case of maybe a surgeon who just “does it” and doesn’t think?

ZMSS: One of my students here is a professor. He teaches music. One day he said to me, “I have a problem.”

“What kind of problem?”

“I teach music, but I want to keep ‘don’t know’ mind strong while teaching. If I keep ‘don’t know’ mind strong, I cannot teach music correctly. What should I do?”

“You have too much desire. You don’t understand what is ‘don’t know.'”

“I understand ‘don’t know’ mind.”

“So I ask you, what is ‘don’t know’ mind?”

Then he hit the floor. That is Zen interview style. “Only that?” Then water is wet and sky is blue. That’s all. “Don’t know” mind is not special, just “do it” mind.

One hundred percent teaching music, that name is “don’t know.” One hundred percent driving, that name is “don’t know.” One hundred percent sitting, that name is “don’t know.” A doctor who fixes a body, that is “don’t know” one hundred percent. Moment to moment one hundred percent action. That is “don’t know.” Not special, OK?

Somebody is hungry; give them food. Somebody is thirsty; give them a drink. That is “don’t know.” So “don’t know” means make correct situation, correct function, correct relationship. So that means great love, great compassion, the great bodhisattva way. Just do it, OK?

Many people understand love. What is love? Love means exact condition. “Don’t know” means already cut off from your mind any condition, any situation, any opinion. So, if you keep “don’t know” mind, then your mind is clear like space, and clear like a mirror. Just do correct action. We call this “love mind.”

A long time ago in China, there was a famous Zen Master, Nam Cheon. One day as he was in his room, it grew very, very noisy outside. So he opened the door and looked out. There, over in the east, stood 250 people, and over in the west stood 250 people, all fighting about a cat. “That’s my cat.” “No, no, our cat.” “My cat!” “Our cat!” These 500 people were fighting, so the Zen Master was very angry. He picked up the cat. “You! One moment! Tell me why you want this cat. If you cannot I will kill it.” But out of 500 people nobody answered. The Zen Master was checking his students’ minds. Did they truly love the cat or were they attached to the cat? Finally Zen Master Nam Cheon felt that killing was necessary, so KAH! he killed the cat. Then in the evening his number one student, Zen Master Joju, came in from outside. Zen Master Nam Cheon, still a little sad, talked to his disciple. “If you had been there, what would you have done?” Joju only took off his shoes, put them on his head, and went outside. Then Zen Master Nam Cheon said, “If you had been there, I could have saved the cat.”

What does this mean? If you have true love inside, if everybody has true love, they would understand this kong-an. Only understanding love is not the answer. You must attain love. If you attain love, then you will understand this kong-an. So understanding love is very easy, attaining love is very difficult. That’s an important point.

We are talking too much. In this world, many people have a problem. In Cambodia, Africa, India, South America, there are many hungry people. So how to help them? There are two kinds of hungry people: body hungry people and mind hungry people. Body hungry people are not so much of a problem.

Mind hungry people have many problems and make this world have many problems. Russia, America, China – all political people have strong opinions. “My way is correct!” “Your way is not correct!” Then they make nuclear weapons, much fighting, break this universe and kill many people. Many also kill animals and make more problems. That is mind hungry people; they have lots of problems.

So, first we take away mind hungry people, then world peace is no problem, and body hungry people disappear. How do mind hungry people make themselves full? They have lost their human nature. If everybody finds human nature – finds love mind, compassion mind, bodhisattva mind – then world peace is no problem. All over the world, they don’t understand love. So how can they find love and human nature?

Meditation is very important. When we meditate, we find our true self, and understand correct way, correct truth, correct life. We make many dharma foods: dharma candy, dharma ice cream, dharma bananas, dharma apples, dharma rice cakes. We make much dharma food for these mind hungry people, and give it to them. Then they will eat this dharma food, make enough mind, then no more fighting. No more fighting, then all the nuclear weapons money can go to Africa and India, then also no body hunger problem. How can we make world peace? How can we help these body hungry people?

Human being is number one bad animal. Dogs are not so bad, tigers are not so bad, snakes are not so bad. Only human being is number one bad. They fight, hunt, fish, make bombs, make nuclear weapons, make pollution. They make many problems in this world. All human beings must understand their situation. Human beings must wake up.

All animals say, “Human beings are number one bad! If human beings all die, then world peace is possible.” Yes, animals say that. So human beings have number one bad situation. Human beings must wake up, find human nature, understand the correct way and truth, and also attain this great love, great compassion, great bodhisattva way.

This world is not only a human being world; it’s also a dog world, cat world, snake world, tree world, air world, mountain world. Every kind of world contributes to the whole world. So we must help human beings wake up.

I hope everybody will return to their homes, and practice every day for ten minutes. Ten minutes: “What am I? Only don’t know.” Lying down is OK, sitting on a cushion is OK, sitting on a chair is OK, walking is OK. Only try “don’t know.” Then your center becomes stronger, stronger, stronger. Finally you can control your feelings, your condition, your situation. Then you can believe in your true self one hundred percent.

Zen means not depending on anything. Depend on your true self. That means to become completely independent. Return to your homes, and only try “don’t know.” Try, try, try, soon get enlightenment and save all beings from suffering. Thank you.

Clear Mary

The stories of Zen Master Dok Sahn and Zen Master Guji are very interesting. They tell us about the purpose of Zen practice and Zen teaching. Both of these monks were great sutra masters. Both of them completely understood all the Buddha’s speech. They understood the whole Buddhist tradition, they understood various profound philosophies, and they understood all the eminent teachers. But when someone asked them for their own true speech, they could not say anything. They could not show their true nature to anybody. Understanding is not good and not bad. But what are you? This is very important. That point is beyond the reach of understanding. That point cannot be read in some book. Even Buddha himself cannot give you that point. The reason for this is because our true nature is before thinking. If you do Zen meditation, that point becomes clear, and is shining everywhere. It can do anything.

In Florida they have dog races. It is a very popular betting sport. People go to the dog track and bet money on the greyhounds, and if their dog wins, they win a lot of money. It is very simple. Everybody understands how the greyhounds race, yah? The dogs come out of a starting gate, and start heading around the track. Meanwhile, there is an electric rabbit that is carried along the inside rail of the track. Actually this is not a real rabbit. It is a fake rabbit with real rabbit fur on it. Dogs have very keen noses, and they follow a good smell. So this rabbit fur leads them around the track. All the dogs think they can catch the rabbit if they just run a little faster. Meanwhile, some man is watching the dogs and controlling the speed of the rabbit. If the dogs are very fast that day, he speeds the rabbit up; if they are slow, he slows it down. He always keeps this rabbit just within range of the dogs so that they think they can catch it. Every single day, the dogs go around and around and around this track. Race after race after race, the dogs just follow this rabbit.

One day, a very interesting thing happened at the races in Florida. There was a certain dog named Clear Mary. She was a very fast greyhound, and usually always won her races. But Clear Mary was also a very clever dog. One afternoon, she ran out of the starting gate with the other dogs, as usual. The rabbit hummed around the track, and the dogs sped after it. Running, running, running, running — around, around, around, around. Every day, sometimes several times a day, these dogs did the same thing, over and over and over again. And today they were doing it again, as usual. Chasing the electric rabbit.

But in the middle of the race, Clear Mary suddenly stopped. Many of the people in the grandstand stood up, fixing their binoculars on this dog. “What is happening?” they said. “What’s wrong with that dumb dog?” Some people had placed lots of bets on Clear Mary, so they were very angry. “Run! Run! You dumb dog! What’s wrong with you?”

But Clear Mary did not move for a few moments. She looked up at the grandstand. She looked at the tail ends of the other dogs scampering around the bend. And she looked at the rabbit, whirring around the bend and over to the other side of the oval track. Everything was completely still and silent for that moment at the races that day.

Suddenly, Clear Mary leapt over the guard rail that kept the dogs on the track. She sped straight across the big center infield like a flash. Leaping at just the right moment over the other guard rail, she caught the rabbit! Boom! Ha ha ha ha ha!

So that is a Zen mind. Everybody wants something in life. Everyone only follows their karma. They follow their ideas and their opinions, and believe that this is a true life. But Clear Mary is like a high-class Zen student. She was trained very strongly for many years only to follow the rabbit. Every day, she was taught to go around the track — around and around and around. But one day she stops and takes a close look. That is just like Zen practice: stopping and taking a close look at what is happening in life. Then she perceives something clearly, and just does it, one hundred percent. She doesn’t check inside or outside. Inside and outside – boom! – become one. That is a Zen mind. It’s very simple, yah?

Child’s Mind is Buddha’s Mind

The following is taken from a question-and-answer period with Soen Sa Nim at the Empty Gate (Berkeley KBC) Zen Center on December 17, 1977.

Q: I was wondering — where did the water at the end of a four-bowl meal*, you know, the clear water that’s poured down the sink, where did it used to be poured before the hungry ghosts were in the drain? (Laughter, followed by many attempts to explain the question to Soen Sa Nim.)

S.S.: In America there are only sinks, yah? In China there were no sinks, so there was a special place in front of the Dharma room.

Q: That’s where they lived?

S.S.: Where is the hungry ghost? In your stomach.

Q: Where do the ghosts come from?

S.S.: You make them. They come from the six levels of beings: gods, ashuras, humans, animals, hungry ghosts, then demons. Where do all these six levels come from? You already have them in your mind. A good view, good music — this is heaven. Beings with great energy, very strong, always fighting — these are ashuras. Much desire, desire, desire — this is animal. Hungry ghosts are, “I want something very, very much.” Stealing, killing — this is hell. Tibetan Buddhism has a picture in which one mind has many demons, many heavens, all six levels. The outside form is different, but you have them all inside.

Before, in Korea, a woman went to visit the great temple Kong Bong Sa with her child. This child was about five years old and could only talk a little, but he was very clever. The mother went to the Buddha Hall with a monk and prayed to Buddha. The child thought, “Praying doesn’t matter; I don’t like praying,” so he went looking around. Usually the Buddha Hall is in the middle; on the left side is a Zen Center, and on the right side is a Sutra Center. The child went to the Sutra Center, but it was very noisy — many people reading sutras. He didn’t understand, so he went to the Zen Center and looked through a little open door. Everyone was facing the wall, bowing to the wall (Soen Sa Nim imitates someone falling asleep while sitting). That was O.K., but sometimes somebody would disappear and become a snake; somebody would disappear and become a big dog; somebody would become a mountain god, or somebody would become a hungry ghost — you know, they would have a very big stomach and a very small neck. This was very interesting to the child. “Oh! A snake! The snake disappeared! Now a dog! The dog disappeared!” Changing, changing.

About an hour passed, and the mother finished praying. She wondered, “Where is my child?” and went all around looking for him. Then she went to the Zen Center and saw the child at the door.

“Oh! Snake! That time a snake! Oh, Dog!”

The mother thought this was very strange and asked, “What are you doing?”

“I’m watching the dog.”

“Where is the dog?”

“Over there, over there!”

But the mother could not see a dog, only a great monk (Soen Sa Nim again imitates a monk sitting, then nodding off). At this time (when nodding off) the monk became a dog or a snake, and the child would say, “Dog!” or “Snake!”

The mother said, “No good! This is a Zen Center, and these are all great monks. This style is no good.”

“No, no, no! See, a snake! A snake!”

“Come here!”

”No, I like this!”

Then the mother asked the Zen Master, “My child said he saw dogs and snakes appearing inside the Zen Center.”

The Zen Master said, “Yah, correct. All people have these consciousnesses — god, ashura, human, animal, hungry ghost, demon. They all have these minds. If you are attached to something, then you become a dog or a snake; you get heaven or hell. Your child is very clear, so he can see other people’s consciousnesses. Normal people cannot see them. Why? Their minds are dusty, not clear, so they cannot see the consciousness body. Your child can see these monks’ consciousness bodies, their attachments. These monks are attached to something. They have their minds. So they must clean their minds. So they sit Zen. Therefore, Bodhidharma said, ‘The Buddha taught all the Dharma in order to save all minds. When you do not keep all these minds, what use is there for the Dharmas?’

“Child’s mind is Buddha’s mind. Just seeing, just doing is truth. Then, using this mind means when you are hungry, eat. When someone is hungry, give them food.”

* A four-bowl meal refers to the formal temple style of eating that is used at our Zen Centers and in monasteries in the Orient. This procedure, centuries old, includes serving the food, eating, and cleaning the bowls with tea and then water. The water referred to above is used for the final rinsing of the bowls. All food scraps are eaten, and only clear water is collected in a common bowl and poured down the drain. In addition to not wasting food, this tradition is said to save the hungry ghosts in the drain from suffering. These beings have throats like the eye of a needle and insatiable appetites, so clear water saves them from the torture of having food caught in their throats, which symbolizes saving them from the perpetuation of their endless craving.