One day during a retreat at the Kansas Zen Center, a friend and I were rearranging the cushions in the sitting room. It was the end of the second day of the retreat. Some people were coming and some going, so we had to make room for them. Just then Zen Master Seung Sahn’s head popped through a narrow opening in the door. He looked left then right saying, “What’s happening?” We explained; then he abruptly said, “Round and round; round and round!” He disappeared, leaving us looking at each other and nodding our heads in agreement.
This is the usual situation for human beings. We are continually being pulled around by anger, desire and ignorance. When the winds of desire blow through our mind one way, we go that way; when the winds change, we also change. Round and round. This is the source of our suffering and the suffering we cause on this earth. But Zen means understanding your true self and helping relieve the suffering of this world. We attain this by keeping a “just-now” mind, the mind which is before thinking. At that time, your true self has already appeared. So, in Zen our practice and what we are trying to attain are the same thing.
Many people experience difficulty practicing this way. Usually as we run around the race course of life we are running with our demons. They may elbow and shove us but we are able, at least for a while, to jockey for a good position. When we start practicing, however, it’s like turning around and running the other way on the track. This can be very painful, because now we are running head first into our demons.
In Zen we say there are two kinds of suffering. One leads to just more suffering — this is the “round and round” variety. The other kind of suffering leads to an end to suffering. This is the suffering we experience when we practice strongly. So, the question arises: which do you like?