Chew, Chew, Chew

The material for this Newsletter was contributed by the Lawrence Chogye Zen Group in Lawrence, Kansas. It is a dialogue between a student (P) and Soen Sa Nim. (SS) that took place at a Dharma Talk last November at the University of Kansas.

Digesting our understanding is very important. It’s like a cow eating grass – eat, eat, eat, eat. A cow has two stomachs. The first stomach stores food and takes out the juice; later the cow chews her cud until the food is again swallowed to be digested and become energy. Not everybody digests their understanding in this style. They only eat, eat, eat. Then comes consciousness, questions, computing and thinking, thinking, thinking. Too much understanding. Everybody understands too much but they cannot use their understanding because it is not chewed and digested.

So what am I? Only meditate: what am I? Don’t know. Chew, chew, chew. Then your understanding food becomes correct cognition. That is meditation; that is Zen. Complicated mind becomes simple mind.

People who only read books and do not chew their mind food cannot make their understanding and action come together. Understanding goes one way, action is different. They have a problem. So you must chew and digest your understanding.

P: How can I gain the most from being here with you?

SS: Sit Zen (pause). I am not special (pause). Okay, let’s talk about that, but first: where are you coming from? Zen is keeping a very simple mind, okay? Many people understand too much, so they have many questions and some confusion. Am I from God? From the universe? From nature? Thinking, thinking, thinking, thinking. Now I ask you — where are you coming from? Where is your home?

P: New York Street.

SS: You are from Now York Street. Whose hand is this? (pointing to person)

P: My hand. SS:

Correct. Whose leg?

P: My leg.

SS: Whose body?

P: My body.

SS: Correct. Your body is from New York Street.

P: Yes.

SS: Correct. Your true self comes from where?

P: God.

SS: God, correct. Where is God?

P: Here.

SS: Only here?

P: No.

SS: I ask you, is this God in your mind or outside your mind?

P: Well, both.

SS: Both? Sometimes not in your mind?

P: I don’t know. You’re asking me about something I can only think about.

SS: You say God. You also say you don’t know. Correct. I asked you, “your true self comes from where?” You said, “God.” You understand God, so I ask you: is this God in your mind or outside your mind? If you say both, I will hit you sixty times!

P: I say both.

SS: I hit you sixty times! Okay, we will talk about that. You don’t understand where your true self is coming from. Don’t know. This don’t-know mind is very important. What am I? Don’t know. Where are you coming from? Don’t understand. An eminent teacher said: “Coming empty-handed, going empty-handed, that is human. When you are born, where do you come from? When you die, where do you go?” Don’t understand. Don’t know. “Life is like a floating cloud which appears; death is like a floating cloud which disappears. The floating cloud originally does not exist. Coming, going, death and life are also like that. But there is one thing which always remains clear and pure, not dependent on life and death. What is the one pure and clear thing?”

Your body is like your car. This one thing controls your body; it is not dependent on life and death. Your body has life and death, but your true self, this one thing, is not dependent on life and death. But what is the one clear and pure thing? You don’t understand? So, this don’t understand, don’t-know mind is very important. What am I? Don’t know. Okay?

P: Okay. But what do I do? What do I do with my don’t-know mind?

SS: I ask you, what are you?

P: I don’t know.

SS: Only keep this mind, don’t-know mind. What am I? Only don’t know. You keep it 100%, okay? Then only go straight, don’t know. Then when you are doing something, do it 100%. When you are driving, just drive. When you are eating, just eat. This everyday mind is Zen mind. Today is Friday, November 3rd.

Buddha’s Enlightenment Day Speech – 1975

On Sunday, January 19, there were many flowers and fruits on the altar to commemorate the Buddha’s enlightenment according to the lunar calendar. That evening during the ceremony Zen Master Seung Sahn delivered the following Dharma Speech:

Holding up the Zen stick, pointing to the sky, then hitting the table,

“Do you understand this? If you understand this, then you have already attained enlightenment.

“If you don’t understand this, then you cannot get out from the world of fire.

“There are three worlds of fire: the world of desire, the world of form, and the world of no form. All these are made by thinking. Thinking is desire; desire is suffering; suffering is the mind’s fire. So the whole world is on fire. If you don’t understand, you cannot escape from suffering.

“Long ago, Buddha sat under the Bodhi tree for six years. One morning he saw the eastern star and attained enlightenment. How did he attain enlightenment? He only saw the eastern star.

“That star is still in the sky. If you find it, you will attain enlightenment. But in the sky there are many stars.

“Which one is it?

“Where is it?

“Have you found it?

“If you haven’t found it, I will show you.”

Holding up the Zen stick, then hitting the table,

“Now can you find it? If you still can’t find it, then you must enter through the sound. The name for this is first enlightenment. But enlightenment is no enlightenment. True enlightenment is before thinking. So there are no words, no speech, no star, no sound.

“What is true enlightenment?

“Put it all down!”

Slowly lifting up the Zen stick,

“Can you see this?

“What is it? (pause)

“This is a Zen stick.”

Hitting the table,

“Can you hear this?

“What is it? (pause)

“This is a sound.

“The stick is the stick; the sound is the sound.

“When you see the stick, your mind is only the stick. When you hear the sound, your mind is only the sound. Only become one.

“Buddha only saw the star. Only like this. The star is the star. Red comes: red. Yellow comes: yellow. Birds fly in the sky; fish swim in the water. Honey is sweet; salt is salty. One plus two equals three.

“All is like this. That is the truth.

“But you must not say, ‘I have attained enlightenment.’ If you open your mouth, I will hit you thirty times.



“Today is Buddha’s enlightenment day. The star is in the eastern sky.

“Watch your step!”

Buddha’s Birthday Poem 1977

Buddha’s Birthday was celebrated at the Providence Zen Center on April 9th by students and friends from all over New England and New York. At the evening celebration ceremony, Zen Master Seung Sahn delivered the following birthday poem:

2,521st anniversary of Buddha’s Birthday.
Happy Buddha’s Birthday.
Someone said, “Before Buddha left the palace of heaven,
he had already saved all beings.”
This is lightening in the blue sky without clouds.
The wooden dog is surprised, runs into the silver mountain.

Buddha appeared in this world, tidal wave without wind.
Sky and ground, mountain and river, everything loses light of form.
Stone girl holding a flower of wind, fanny dancing everywhere.

Buddha said, “In heaven, in hell, only I am holy.”
Un-mun said, “Hit and kill — give to a hungry dog.”
Head is like rocks, same as a bear.
Mind is like midnight, same as a masked robber.
When will you get out of the cow’s stomach?

Do not be deceived! Do not be deceived!
Open your mouth, already mistake.
You and I cannot defend ourselves. Hit — thirty times.
If you hear this, you become sick.
If you don’t hear this, good medicine for you.
The altar Buddha is smiling. Candle light is shining everywhere.

Buddha’s Birthday 1973

According to the lunar-calendar the Buddha’s birthday will take place on May 10. On April 8, the Providence Zen Center hold a celebration of the Buddha’s birthday upon which occasion Soen Sa Nim gave the following talk:

Long ago an eminent teacher said, “The Buddha did not come to the Kapila empire and was not born of his mother, for he had already saved all people from suffering.” This is having one thousand mouths, and yet not needing them. If you understand this you will understand that in the palm of your hands you hold the noses of all the eminent teachers from the distant past to the present. And so, you will first attain. If you do not understand, you should not speak for that is only blood dripping. It is better for you to keep your mouth shut as spring passes.

The Buddha sprang from the right side of his mother and took seven steps in each of the four directions. He then looked once each way, raised one finger to the sky, and touched the ground with his other hand, He said, “In the sky above and the sky below, only I am Holy.” You must understand this speech and must understand what this “I” is. I is empty. Empty is full. It has no name or form and does not appear nor disappear. All people and all things have it. So where is the Buddha coming from?

Long ago Zen Master Un Mun said, “On the Buddha’s birthday, as he sprang from his mother’s side, I hit him once and killed him, and gave him to a hungry dog. The entire world was at peace.”

What the Buddha said on his birthday is no good, so I will hit him thirty times. What the Zen Master Un Mun said is also no good, so I will hit him thirty times. What I have just said is no good, so I will. hit myself thirty times.

Where is the mistake?


Today is the Buddha’s birthday and outside white snow is falling.

After the talk, one of the guests asked Soen Sa. Nim, ‘Some people say the Buddha is a divine entity, others say he was was superhuman and god-like, still others say he was just a wise, old man who understood a little more than most. What is Buddha?’

‘How did you get here?’

‘By foot.’

‘Why did you come by foot?’

‘I had no car.’

‘A man drives a car. What is it that drove your body here?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘The mind that does not know is the Buddha.’

‘Why do you then celebrate Buddha’s birthday?’

‘As I mentioned earlier, the great Master Un Mun once said, “On the Bruddha’s birthday, as he sprang from the side of his mother, I hit him once and killed him, and gave him to a hungry dog. The entire world was at peace.” Do you understand what this means?’

‘No, I don’t.’

‘This is the Buddha’s teaching. When you understand this you will come to understand why we celebrate his birthday.’

Broken Consciousness

From a talk given by Zen Master Seung Sahn at Hwa Gye Sah Temple, Seoul, Korea on June 9, 1997

Q: Twenty years ago I was a soldier in Vietnam. At that time I had some bad experiences. These experiences still effect my consciousness today — my consciousness is a little bit “broken.” How can I fix my consciousness?

ZMSS: During the Vietnam war many young people went over there to fight. War is a very bad situation, but this war was even worse. The soldiers could not even tell who the enemy was. Even the soldiers on the same side were sometimes fighting each other. Also, the people at home didn’t completely support the soldiers. So there were many bad experiences and many came back with their consciousness damaged. How do you fix this consciousness? Broken consciousness comes from karma. Not just war: bad family situation, natural disasters – many kinds of bad experiences can have a lasting effect on our consciousness. Most important is, how do you take away your karma?

The only way to fix your consciousness is through strong practicing. Two kinds of practicing are important: bowing and mantra. First, every day do bowing practice. Slow, slow bowing. Next is mantra. Choose one mantra — Kwan Seum Bosal or any mantra — then do it. Only try, try, try mantra. This problem means you have a lot of thinking many opinions. These appear from “me.” Doing bowing and mantra practice doesn’t have “I, my or me.” Inside and outside become one — boom! If you try that, then your karma will slowly disappear. Only do it, then finally your consciousness will be clean, then your problem will disappear. Only practicing will help you. Reading books and understanding will not help you. OK? Only do it!


From a talk at the Seoul International Zen Center

Student: During Hae Jae, I did a short Ji Jang Bosal kido. I did extra chanting of Namu Amita Bul and bowing for my mother, but I still have this question: Where is my mother’s consciousness now?

Zen Master Seung Sahn: Don’t check anything, only do it. If you are checking, you will have a problem. So, your consciousness and your mother’s consciousness, are they the same or different?

[student hits the floor]

Keep this mind, OK? Then there will be no problem!

Student: Sir, a while ago you did Namu Amita Bul chanting here at Hwa Gye Sah over some Japanese bones which had been discovered. When Korean people found these bones, they wanted to destroy them, but you said no, bring them here to Hwa Gye Sah. Then for many days you chanted Namu Amita Bul. Were you chanting for these dead Japanese people?

ZMSS: Of course, why not? At one time the Buddha and Ananda were traveling together when they encountered some animal bones laying on the ground, partially buried. The Buddha started chanting. Ananda said, “Buddha, these are animal bones, why chant over them?” Buddha said, “Before, these creatures were my mother, also my father.” Everything is always changing and in the end moving up. So, any set of bones will become your mother and your father. Understand? That mind is the Buddha’s mind. No matter what the animal, no matter what the being, they are always moving up, up, up. We are always practicing together, your parents, my parents, all beings, up, up, up. One day soon you will die, then you too up, up, up. Many generations, many thousands of generations, up, up, up together. There’s only one mother and one father; understand? Keep this mind. That’s Buddha퉠 teaching. Any more questions?

Student: Buddhism teaches that if human beings do bad things, then they will become animals. But how do animals make good karma to become human beings?

ZMSS: Is your consciousness an animal’s or a human being’s?

[student hits the floor]

Good! Wonderful! Keep this mind. Don’t check. If you’re checking, you will have a problem. Checking, checking, checking, then you always have a problem. Up, up, up… only one thing. Christianity calls it God, Buddhism calls it Buddha nature. Don’t check! That’s all. OK?

The Bodhisattva of the Toll Gates

Zen Master Seung Sahn and four of his students were traveling down Route 95 from Providence to New York to visit the Chogye International Zen Center. Soen Sa Nim chatted with his students as they drove, answering questions and giving advice. They came to a toll booth. They gave the toll operator some money and waited for her to give them change. One of the students traveling with Soen Sa Nim said to her “Nice day, isn’t it?” She agreed, but added, “Where did all this wind come from?” After she gave them their change, they drove off. The car was silent for a while until Zen Master Seung Sahn looked at the student and said “That was no ordinary woman at the toll booth. That was Kwanseum Bosal asking you a great question: ‘Where did all this wind come from?’ You must always be alert to the teaching that comes your way. Put down your mind and you can see what’s actually in front of you. So I ask you ‘Where did all this wind come from?”‘

Bodhisattva Mind, Bodhisattva Action

From exchanges in Cambridge & Providence in April 1999:

Question: I am trying to decide whether the path I am on is right for me.

Zen Master Seung Sahn: You cannot find your job? So I ask you, who are you? Who is speaking now?

Q: I’m sorry?

ZMSS: Who is speaking?

Q: Who am I?

ZMSS: Only go straight is your true job. Only go straight “don’t know” — then everything becomes clear. If you are thinking, thinking, thinking, then this is not yours. Then everything is just talk talk talk! Sky never said, “I am blue.” Tree never said, “I am a tree.” American dogs say, “Bow wow.” Korean dogs say, “Wong wong.” Polish dogs say, “How how.” Which is correct dog barking? [laughter] You don’t understand? These are just human ideas of a dog barking, not a true dog barking. Your ideas control you, so most important is to take away your idea. That means, don’t keep your mind here [indicates his head]. If you keep your mind here, your understanding will control you. Other people’s ideas will control you. If you keep your mind here [indicates tantien], then your original mind will appear, your love and compassion mind. This is the tantien point, one inch below your navel. Always keep your attention here, breathing slowly. Five seconds breathing in with your stomach becoming bigger, and then ten seconds breathing out. Slow, slow, breathing out. Try, try, try, okay? Then your center will become stronger and stronger. Then you can see clearly, hear clearly and smell clearly — everything becomes clear! “Clear” means you attain truth. And then, how does truth function to help all beings? If you attain the answer to that question then the direction of your life will become clear.

Q: What are the benefits of breathing in for five and counting out for ten, as opposed to just being attentive to the breath as it happens?

ZMSS: If your mind is moving then do that. If your mind is not moving, then watching or counting is not necessary. Is your mind moving?

Q: It’s moving.

ZMSS: So if your mind is moving, then breathing in slowly, slowly, and slowly, slowly breathing out, are very important. If you try this way, soon “breathing in for five” and “breathing out for ten” is no problem. Then keeping a clear mind becomes very easy.

Q: I heard that love is not a word that is used in Zen. It seems that if we have compassion for all sentient beings, that is love, isn’t it?

ZMSS: Of course! Love and compassion, and bodhisattva action. That’s unconditional love, okay? A mother loves her child very much, but when the child is always breaking windows, breaking toys — always being bad — then the mother might spank the child, but this is compassion. It is the same with human beings: A lot of bad action! A lot of suffering! The great bodhisattva of compassion, Kwan Seum Bosal, is always trying to help all beings. This is our true compassion mind at work. Bodhisattva mind means not only for this life, but doing this life after life after life. So love and compassion mind is very important.

Q: It seems that many times people don’t know how to relate to each other. But we need to always keep our correct relationship. How do we do this? I understood this to mean that there is a specific, set relationship between people and things: student/teacher, mother/daughter, etc. But why should there be a specific correct relationship? Why doesn’t it depend on the individual?

ZMSS: Correct relationship means that you don’t hold on to “my” opinion, “my” condition, and “my” situation. If you completely put down your opinion, your condition, and your situation, then moment to moment, your correct situation, correct function, and correct relationship will appear naturally. So putting down “my” opinion, “my” condition, “my” situation is very important… but also very difficult! So practicing is very important. Please come to a Zen Center, practice, then there will be no problem. Put it all down, then there’s no problem. Then you attain great love, great compassion, and the great bodhisattva way.

Q: If my knee hurts, I know what to do: I go to the doctor, and he looks at the problem rationally, and we decide in a clear-cut way what we have to do. If you don’t feel good in your head, it’s the same principle: I go to someone, I ask them to look at this and give me a clear-cut answer about how to make it better. But there is no one on this planet who can tell you how to feel better. You can’t even hold a good feeling if you have it. Where do these feelings come from? I still instinctively treat this like my knee. When I don’t feel good at certain times, I always look for that rational answer, like running around in a cage.

ZMSS: Do you have mind?

Q: Yes.

ZMSS: Where is your mind? How big is it?

Q: I don’t know.

ZMSS: You don’t understand your mind! You are holding your mind, and checking, checking, checking! When you were born — BOOM! — you came out. Did you check then? You weren’t checking. You had baby mind. If you want something in this life and you cannot get it then whaaaaah! — crying. Checking, checking, checking! Then you have a problem. Don’t check anything — just do it — then your feelings can’t control you.

Q: So I was fine in the beginning, and now I’ve lost my way?

ZMSS: Yes. We say, “put it down — put down everything.” Then your center will become stronger, stronger, stronger. You have too much understanding; that is a problem. So put it down, okay? Who are you?

Q: [silence]

ZMSS: [laughs] Only don’t know!

Q: I would imagine, as a Buddhist monk, you are very in tune with energy. I remember you saying how you enjoyed the sixties, and enjoyed the feeling back then. I’m curious what you have to say about the energy thirty years ago — the feelings, connections, and the way human beings are to each other — and how it compares to now. People seem so uptight now! What would you say about the energy then as compared to now?

ZMSS: Sky already blue. Tree already green. That’s all.

Q: So you don’t notice a difference? [laughter]

ZMSS: If you think it’s different now, you have a problem. Not different, also have problem. Don’t make problem. The sky is already blue. The tree is already green. Do you understand?

Q: I understand.

ZMSS: Then no problem! [laughs]

Q: What is “small I” and “big I”?

ZMSS: That’s a big question. Not long ago, about ten years ago, I knew a man who studied at a university in Seoul. In the day, he went to the university and at night he worked for money to go to school. At that time, there was a lot of suffering in Korea–not much money, not much food. So he would study all day and work at night. One evening he bought some bread and sat under a tree by the road to eat. Suddenly a child appeared in front of him who was very hungry and wanted food. He started to check the situation but the poor child was right in front of him. If he didn’t eat the bread himself, he would go hungry and maybe not be able to study or work properly; but if he didn’t share the bread with this poor child, then what? The child was hungry! That thought wouldn’t leave him alone. Finally he gave the bread to the child and said, “You eat!” And the child took the bread and said, “Oh, wonderful, thank you very much!” Then, the man got a very good feeling: “Oh, wonderful!” So his stomach was hungry but his mind was full: he had a good feeling.

Nowadays in America, people are very rich. Outside they are rich; but inside, they are very poor. We must attain love, compassion, and bodhisattva action. “Bodhisattva” means to not hold my desires, to put down desire and help all beings. The name for that is bodhisattva action. That’s very important. Look at this world: a lot of nuclear weapons. America, Russia, many other countries too. If all these weapons explode, what will happen to our world? There are too many human beings! In 1945, there were two billion people — that’s after many thousands of years! Now there are six billion people. Too many human beings have appeared!

In this world cause and effect are very clear. What was the primary cause of this? What condition led to it? What was the result? Whenever something happens, you have to look at these three things. Western people eat meat every day. In the past, Asian people only ate meat on holidays or their birthday. But nowadays, in Korea or Japan or China: three meals a day, eat meat, eat meat, eat meat! We kill many animals, then this animal consciousness becomes a human being. So many of our faces look like human beings’, but inside our minds are animal. First this appeared in America and Russia, then it appeared in smaller countries. Russia controlled many countries for a long time. If you correctly control, it’s not a problem. But this was not correct, so there was a revolution in Russia. Then the smaller countries separated and started yelling, “My country! My country! My country!” Then there were many problems. Now all over Europe, there are many small countries fighting each other. Where does that come from? Dog doesn’t like cat; cat doesn’t like dog. Dog doesn’t understand cat mind, and cat doesn’t understand dog mind. No animal understands the other beings’ minds. Only human beings can understand other beings’ minds. Human beings originally have a love and compassion mind. But when “only me” mind appears, then this bodhisattva mind disappears, and we become the same as a dog or a cat. So practicing is very important. Finding your true self is very important. Then love, compassion, and a bodhisattva mind appear.

Q: If my substance and your substance are the same, then aren’t our true selves the same?

ZMSS: If it appears to be the same, you have a problem. [laughter] [hits the floor]

Q: [claps hands]

ZMSS: Do you understand that? Good. No problem! [laughs] Are our minds the same or different? Either way, this is opposites thinking. Zen means no opposites thinking: moment to moment, just do it! Then your center becomes stronger, and you can see clearly, hear and smell clearly, then everything is clear, even your thinking! The name for this is truth. The sky is blue, the tree is green; everything is the truth. What is not the truth? Then how does truth function correctly to help all beings? The name for that is bodhisattva action. Try that.

Q: In the Tibetan tradition, they have stories where one Dalai Lama dies, and before he dies he says, “I’m going to be reborn in two years in such-and-such a place.” They go and check out this baby, and the baby seems to be the Dalai Lama. Is this true, and if it is, how do they do that?

ZMSS: Go to Tibet and ask a baby! [laughter] I am a Zen Master, not a baby! That is the Tibetan tradition. They practice and practice and perceive their next life. So a master says, “When I die, I will go to this place and reappear,” and the baby appears. But nowadays, sometimes two or three babies appear, saying, “I am the old master!” “I am also the old master!” “No, I am the old master!” So now they have a problem in Tibetan Buddhism. Zen Buddhism, no problem, okay? [laughter]

Q: I’ve been very reckless in my past, and very unaware for a long time. Presently, I am becoming more aware, but my past is a bit of a hindrance to me. It clouds my ability at times to have clear thought. Is there any advantage to asking myself why I may have done these things, and how do I come back to primary point?

ZMSS: Go to a Zen Center and practice. Then, there will be no problem. Your center will get stronger and stronger. You will perceive your karma, and your karma will function correctly to help other people. That’s very important, okay? So come to the Zen Center and try that for three years. The calligraphy hanging on the wall here is very interesting. The first line says, “The great way has no gate.” “Great way” means any human being’s correct way, and it has no gate. The next line says, “Our tongue has no bone” — correct speech saves all beings, but bad speech kills many people. If you use your tongue well, you help people; if you don’t use it correctly, then you make many problems! Next line: “Spring comes everywhere.” If you look outside, small buds are in the trees. Soon, this tree will show leaves and flowers — very wonderful! Spring is coming! Then, “The willow is green; the flower is red.” When spring completely comes, the willow is green, the flower is red. This is truth — but you must attain the truth. What is not the truth? Everything in this world is the truth, but people are attached to things, so they don’t understand the truth. So put it all down. Keep your mind in your tantien, then you will see clearly, hear clearly, smell clearly, taste clearly, touch clearly, everything will be clear. Then your mind also will become clear. Then what you see, what you hear, what you smell — everything is the truth! Then, how does truth function correctly to help all beings? That is a very important point.

Our practice is “What am I?”, “Only don’t know.” When you are thinking, your mind and my mind are different. When you cut all thinking, then your mind and my mind are the same. If you only go straight, don’t know, one hundred percent, then your don’t know mind, my don’t know mind, or someone else’s don’t know mind is the same don’t know mind, because this don’t know mind already cuts off all your thinking. Cutting our thinking means our mind before thinking. This before thinking is your substance. Then, universal substance, your substance, and everything’s substance are the same substance. Sky is blue, tree is green — everything is substance. So substance is truth. Truth and you become one. That is very important. Then, everything becomes one. Thinking disappears, and then everything becomes one. When you see, when you hear, when you smell — everything becomes one. That is what we call primary point. Don’t know mind is primary point. Primary point’s name means don’t know! If you attain primary point, then when you see, when you hear, when you smell, everything is clear. Some people call it mind, Buddha, God, substance, the absolute, or consciousness, or anything! But true primary point is before thinking. Before thinking there is no speech and no words. That has no name. “Mind,” “Buddha,” “God” are names that humans make. A dog never says “mind” or “Buddha” or “true nature.”

If you practice, practice, practice, then your mind will become clear, clear, clear. Then everything’s nature — your nature, universal nature, and everything’s nature — becomes one. That one is what we call primary point. Then this stick, this sound [hits the table], and your mind–all the same, yeah? But I ask you, if you only go straight don’t know, then universal substance and your substance become one. So at that time, this stick, this sound [hits table], and your mind: are they the same or different? [audience claps hands] Very slow! [laughs] I ask again. If you keep don’t know mind one hundred percent, then this stick, this sound [hits table], and your mind: are they the same or different? [audience claps hands] Not bad! Keeping this mind is very important. If you keep this primary point in your tantien center, then your center becomes stronger, stronger, stronger. Then you can see clear, hear clear, smell clear, everything is clear. Sky is blue, tree is green. Salt is salty, sugar is sweet. Everything is truth. What is not the truth? Inside and outside become one. Then, how does truth function correctly to help all beings? That’s our practice. Hungry people come, give them food. Thirsty people come, give them something to drink. Suffering people come, help them. We call that bodhisattva action.

Q: What is your belief about the afterlife?

ZMSS: I hit you with this stick. What do you say?

Q: Ouch?

ZMSS: Correct! Already a good answer. [long silence; laughter] You don’t understand! What is life and what is death? You don’t understand. This body has life and death, but your true self has no life or death. Attain your true self, then no life or death. If you are attached to this body, then you have life and death. That’s my head. That’s my hand. That’s my body. My body is not “I,” okay? Your true “I” has no life or death. So I hit you and you say, “Ouch!” That’s your true self. That has no life or death. Okay? Good!

Q: What is the purpose of evil and hatred?

ZMSS: A long time ago, in Korea, there was a famous man who was a lot like Robin Hood — the same story. When the government did bad things and took from the people, he stole the money from bad tax collectors and gave it to needy people. His actions were bad, but they were also very good — so what is good and what is bad? If it’s only for me, then even good action is bad action. But, if it’s only for other people, then even a bad action is a good action. Very simple, yah? [laughs]

Q: How does this practice help others?

ZMSS: Where is your mind? Most people have their minds up here [indicating head]. When we see something, then we are thinking, thinking, thinking up here — not so good. The name for this is checking. Just to perceive is very important. Just to perceive this world and perceive other people and then, just do it! Don’t check, don’t judge! That’s a very important point. It is a very difficult action, but if it is difficult then go to a Zen Center and practice. Then you will perceive your mind — that is correct practicing. Attain human nature, then attain your correct situation, correct function, and correct relationship. Then you attain great love, great compassion, and the great bodhisattva way.

Q: Does Zen say that suffering is caused by thinking?

ZMSS: Thinking “for me” is suffering mind; thinking for other people is a bodhisattva love mind. This thinking is for what? What kind of thinking is this? The direction of your thinking is very important. Is it for other people or for me? If that is clear, then your direction is clear. If it is not clear then your direction is not clear. Your thinking must become clear. “Clear” means help all beings and help this world. If that is clear then your life is clear — everything is clear.

Q: You are a famous Zen Master. Do you have a self?

ZMSS: What do you want? If you want me to have a self then I will have one. If you don’t want me to have a self then I won’t. Only for you.

So, I hope you all come to a Zen Center and practice–or, if you have no time to do that, practice on your own and sit every day (or, if sitting is too difficult, walking meditation is no problem, and also driving meditation is no problem.) Keep your attention in your tantien and keep this great question, “What am I?” With a big question, your thinking goes away. Don’t know mind’s name is clear mind. If you keep clear mind, then your center gets stronger and stronger and you can perceive your condition and your situation. Then, when you see, when you hear, when you smell, everything is clear. Truth and you become one. Then, how does this truth function correctly to help all beings? The name for this is bodhisattva action. Hungry people come, give them food. Thirsty people come, give them drink. Suffering people come, help them. I hope you attain your true self, see clear, hear clear, smell clear, everything become clear, get enlightenment, and save all beings from suffering. Thank you.

Bodhisattva Clothes

One snowy evening in January 1974, Seung Sahn Soen Sa was invited to speak at the Boston Dharmadhatu. He came with several of his students who, like him, were wearing long gray robes and brown kasayas. After the Dharma talk, one person asked, “Why do you all wear uniforms?”

Soen Sa said, “Did you eat supper?”



“To relieve pain.”

Soen Sa said, “I am a monk.” There was a long silence. “Okay, I will explain. Look at our face. The nose has two holes, the eyes have two holes, the ears have two holes. Only the mouth has one. Why only one? It would have been very easy to have another hole in back of our head. We could eat rice in front and drink wine in back. But we have only one hole. This is people-karma. The cat catches the mouse — that is cat-karma. The dog barks at strangers, wong wong wong wong!– that is dog-karma. It is all karma. Do you understand?”

“I understand that I have two holes in my nose. But I choose to wear a uniform or not.”

“I am not finished yet. This is only on the way…. So life is karma. In our past lives we have made karma, and the action of this karma is our life now. I like this uniform, so I wear it. It is Bodhisattva clothing. The Bodhisattva wears necklaces and bracelets and earrings and beautiful clothing. He doesn’t wear them for himself, but only for all people. These robes have the same meaning as Bodhisattva clothing. Do you understand?”

The person said, “Is everyone in your party a Bodhisattva?”

Soen Sa said, “What do you think?”

”I think not.”

Soen Sa pointed to one of his students and said, “You ask him.”

“Are you a Bodhisattva?”

The student shook his head.

Soen Sa laughed and said, “Very good.”

The person again asked Soen Sa’s student, “Why do you wear these robes?”

“Why do you ask?”

“Because I have a great deal of difficulty dealing with uniforms.”

Soen Sa said, “You asked these clothes a question, and they are already teaching you. If I hadn’t worn them, you wouldn’t have asked me about them. I am wearing them, so you asked me your question. So I am teaching you. So these are Bodhisattva clothes.”

Becoming Human

If you look closely at human beings in the world today, you notice that they are not human beings. They don’t act like human beings. If a human being acts correctly, then he or she becomes a true human being. Moment to moment, what do you do? What is your correct direction? Moment to moment, what is your correct life? How do you find your correct way? How do you save all beings from suffering?

We come into this world empty-handed. What do we do in this world? Why did we come into this world? This body is an empty thing. What is the one thing that carries this body around? Where did it come from? You must understand that, you must find that. So, if you want to find that, you have to ask yourself, “What am I?” Always keep this big question. Thinking has to disappear. We have to take away all our thinking, cut off our thinking. Then our true self appears, then our true mind appears…

In this world, how many people really want practice? Many people don’t practice at all, fight day and night, and all day exercise their desire, their anger, their ignorance. When you lose this body, then you have nothing you can take with you. When this body disappears, what will you take with you? What will you do? Where will you go? You don’t know, right? If this “don’t know” is clear, then your mind is clear, then also the place you go is clear. Then you understand your job, you understand why you were born into this world. Then you understand what you do in this world. When you understand that, then you can become a human being.