Desert Dharma

by Zen Master Ji Haeng on Jun 1, 1999

At 7:30 pm on April 27, 1998, two events were taking place within a mile of each other. Nestled between the neon and glitter, bright lights and buffets of the Las Vegas Strip, the Aladdin Casino’s luck had run out. Nostalgia has no identity in Glitter Gulch, history affords no accommodations. A thirty-year landmark of the Las Vegas Strip was stripped from view, imploded in the name of progress. As one era came crashing down in a heap of metal girders and dust, the second event inaugurated a different age in Southern Nevada. A mile from the change-hungry mob surrounding the ill-fated casino, the dedication and renaming of the Mojave Desert Zen Center was also underway.


Like some Rat-Packed showroom from the sixties, Zen Master Seung Sahn addressed a standing-room-only crowd. The detonations from the Aladdin thrummed in the distance, each a firecracker-like pop of precise destruction. Zen Master Seung Sahn, his Zen stick in hand, hit the table three times, the sharp raps mimicking each explosion. He spoke in his native Korean tongue, with Mu Shim Sunim translating:


“In this desert, an oasis has appeared. If there is no oasis in the desert, there is no place for people to drink water, and if you have no water to drink, you soon will die. Las Vegas has been called the city of desire, or the city of sin. A Zen Center in this city of desire is just like a beautiful oasis appearing in this very dry desert. We cannot help but say that this gem, this oasis, is the result of hard work by our abbot Thom Pastor and Dr. Ju-Choen Lee. This effort will produce much more dharma water. This dharma water will give great enlightenment to the thirsty students, and will help save many beings.


“Our Buddhism is not just getting happiness for ourselves. Our Buddhism is finding our own mind light and using this illumination to shine on all beings. If we find this mind light together, then this truly can become Great Brightness Zen Center. Dae, or great, means no opposites. Myung, or bright, means no shadow. If we acquire our true nature’s light, then there is no shadow. Soen Won means Zen center. This place is Dae Myung Soen Won, meaning Great Brightness Zen Center, or No Shadow Zen Center. I hope that everyone travels to this Great Brightness Zen Center, discovers their true nature light, and saves all beings from suffering.”

Inka Dharma Talk

by Zen Master Ji Haeng on Jun 1, 2002

[Raises Zen stick over head, then hits table with stick.]
Cloud is mountain, mountain is cloud.
[Raises Zen stick over head, then hits table with stick.]
Originally no cloud, no mountain.
[Raises Zen stick over head, then hits table with stick.]
Cloud is cloud, mountain is mountain.
Which one of these statements is true?
If you find it, this stick will hit you thirty times. If you don?t find it, this stick will also hit you thirty times.
What can you do?


Cloud is white, mountain is blue.
The third patriarch once wrote:
To deny the reality of things is to miss their reality;
To assert the emptiness of things is to miss their reality.
The more you talk about it, the further astray you wander from the truth.
Stop talking and thinking and there is nothing you will not be able to know.

Like many of us, my early years were characterized by strong attachments, not to just a few things, but to many things. Little did I realize that this was a harbinger of suffering, always wanting something, wanting something, wanting something. It never occurred to me that this very wanting was the source and foundation of unhappiness. Desire mind kills the resources necessary to find that which we are truly after, namely to find our center.

For twenty years I made a living as a professional musician, and even though I traveled and performed with top recording artists such as Frank Sinatra, Tom Jones, Sammy Davis, Jr. and the like, it was never enough. There was always something missing, something unsatisfactory about this life.

A few of my friends had recording contracts of their own, and for a while that became a driving force. More, more, more, was the insatiable cry.

Ironically, I had a nice home and family. I still have the same nice home and family. As a matter of fact, my daughter Jane made the trip from her home in Los Angeles to be here with us today. At that time, however, this emptiness kept gnawing at me. Although I was present for all of the important family functions and holidays those events usually found me lost somewhere in my thinking. Lost in a search for something that although elusive, seemingly, or so I thought, had form and definition. If only I could find it.

Music can be a great vehicle for expressing wu shin or no mind. On a few occasions when a particular concert performance jelled, floating above mere technique, some interesting results would appear. It was like capturing lightening in a jar, but never quite knowing when it would happen again.

I read a little about meditation at that time and began a cursory, dilletante’s search for meaning through books, hoping it would in some way contribute to my musical experience. Life seesawed along this path for quite a while until a telephone call one morning from my nephew revealed sadly that my brother Bob had died in his sleep the previous night. No warning, his heart just stopped beating.

In retrospect, his death became a strong teaching tool. As Zen Master Seung Sahn says, “This life guarantees you nothing.”.

I was not familiar with that term then, but certainly the truth of that teaching became immediately apparent. My brother was already dead, and here I was still hanging around the eastern philosophy section of Barnes & Noble bookstore. It hit me that I could someday be an old man still pursuing that same course, and for what?

Once again the third patriarch:

To return to the root is to find the meaning,
But to pursue appearances is to miss the source.
After a conversation with a long-time friend who many of you know as co-founder of the New Haven Zen Center, David Mott, I was introduced to the Kwan Um School of Zen. Through the wisdom and guidance of Zen Master Seung Sahn, guiding teacher Zen Master Ji Bong, and more Yong Maeng Jong Jins than I can remember, the clinging and attachment alluded to earlier in this talk, began to slowly fade away.

When we quiet the mind and look carefully at our experience, we see that this world is a world of constant change and insecurity. Anything that arises in our life, no matter how hard we try to stabilize it, will pass away. Whatever appears is transitory and thus can never last. Consciousness and object reveal themselves to be continually dissolving like snowflakes on a hot oven. Whatever appears is not dependable and there is no refuge, no anchor, no safe haven.

Again the third patriarch:

If there is even a trace of this or that, right or wrong,
The mind essence will be lost in confusion.
Just let things be in their own way
And there will be neither coming nor going.
To seek mind with discriminating mind is the greatest of all mistakes. To attain this mind is to attain emptiness, or as we often refer to it in our school, 180? on the Zen teaching circle. This is not good, not bad and some practices actually stop there. Vilamikirti only taught that style. Samadhi can be quite intoxicating. But our school teaches that if we only do this practice for myself, to relieve some situation, personal dilemma, or pursue a special mind state, the teaching is incomplete.

We’ve all heard the story of Sul. This is the story of a little girl who, as a student of the famous Zen Master Ma Jo, grew up only keeping Kwan Seum Bosal as her practice day in and day out, and eventually became a great Zen Master herself. Outside, her actions were ordinary actions; inside, her mind was the mind of a bodhisattva. She married and raised a large, happy family. Many people came to her for her wisdom and teaching. One day when she was an old woman, her granddaughter died. She cried bitterly both at the funeral and at home. Someone finally asked, ?You have attained the great enlightenment, so you then understand that there is neither life nor death. Why are you crying and why is your granddaughter a hindrance to your clear mind??

Sul immediately stopped crying and said, “These tears are greater than all the sutras, all the words of the patriarchs, and all possible ceremonies. When my granddaughter hears my crying she will enter Nirvana.”

Obviously Sul’s tears were not for Sul. Just like Kwan Seum Bosal, her teaching clearly demonstrated, “One who hears the cries of the world.”.

Ultimately we must abandon our I, my, me. After all, it was never about you in the first place. Whatever we do, the question should arise, ?Is this for me, or for all beings??

The Buddha once said, “This world is an ocean of suffering.”. So our job, each one of us, is to be mindful, appreciate this moment, indeed this life, attain a mind which is clear like space, and help save all beings from suffering.

As for my late brother: only Ji Jang Bosal.

As for all of you: How may I help you?
[Raises Zen stick over head, then hits table with stick.]
Appearing is disappearing, disappearing is appearing.
[Raises Zen stick over head, then hits table with stick.]
No appearing, no disappearing.
[Raises Zen stick over head, then hits table with stick.]
Appearing is appearing, disappearing is disappearing.
Smiling faces appearing, [turning around and facing the altar] smiling faces disappearing. [Turning back to the sangha.] Thank you for listening.

Beaded Perspiration

by Zen Master Ji Haeng on Mar 1, 2006

Sometime back in the early 1990s, I remember being at Dharma Zen Center in Los Angeles. Zen Master Seung Sahn had recently arrived from Korea, and was scheduled to give a dharma talk that evening. Whenever Zen Master Seung Sahn was in town, word spread quickly throughout the Korean community. So it was no surprise that when it came time for special chanting at 6:30 pm, the second story dharma room was at full capacity.

It was August, and it was very hot. Back in those days, there was no air conditioning in the dharma room, just ceiling fans, which were very inadequate given a “packed house”. To add to this, we had to close the windows so as not to disturb the neighbors. (Dharma Zen Center borders a residential neighborhood.)

Having sat a number of retreats there before, and being mindful of the large numbers, I skillfully positioned myself near the kitchen exit just in case the close quarters started getting to me. At precisely 6:30 pm, Zen Master Seung Sahn appeared and we began chanting the Thousand Eyes and Hands Sutra. Sure enough, at about 6:50 pm, during Kwan Seum Bosal chanting, I began to feel stifled by the closeness and lack of fresh air. A few people had already exited through the back of the room, beckoned by the cool relief that the outside evening air provided. I looked over at Zen Master Seung Sahn. His eyes were fixed on the altar Buddha. Beaded perspiration fell from his face and neck, creating a moist ring around the top of his robe. His voice was unwavering, actually the strongest in the room. He embodied what we?ve heard him say many times: “Don’t check, just do it.” It was also eminently clear that even if he collapsed right there in Los Angeles on a hot August night from heat exhaustion, still everything was complete, and everything ?no problem.? Blue mountain, water flowing. This realization both carried and gave me sufficient energy for the rest of the evening.

For years, I was the designated driver in Las Vegas when Zen Master Seung Sahn came to visit. He always sat in the front passenger seat. Whether we were going to dinner, to the acupuncturist, or on a drive through the scenic mountains of the Red Rock Canyon area, if he was not speaking, beads were in his hand and the Great Dharani quietly, almost imperceptibly, on his lips.

The monks traveling with Zen Master Seung Sahn were always mindful of his health, and, in a loving way, made attempts to monitor the nutritional value of his menu choices when eating out. One time, immediately after placing a breakfast order, we were all amused to watch Mu Sang Sunim excuse himself, and chase after the waitress, instructing her “to please lighten up on the cheese” for Zen Master Seung Sahn’s omelet, and “to please bring sugar-free syrup for the pancakes”. It didn’t seem to matter, Zen Master Seung Sahn on all occasions was undaunted, laughing, teaching, telling stories. When it came time to leave, he always saw to it that we left a generous tip, and invariably complimented the restaurant personnel, in this case, “Yah, number one good breakfast!”.

On one of his visits, the registration line for hotel guests at the Las Vegas Hilton was unusually long. Even though the line was moving steadily, while waiting for Mu Shim Sunim JDPS to complete the registration process, the rest of us looked for available seating in the lobby area. Zen Master Seung Sahn and I conveniently found seats next to each other at nearby slot machines. After a few brief moments of observing the gaming action, he asked me about my “homework”. It was surreal. Here I was, having a kong-an interview in the midst of a large, noisy casino, with our esteemed founding teacher, seated at a video poker machine! Soon, a tall, leggy waitress appeared, and, assuming we were players, asked us for our cocktail order! Zen Master Seung Sahn looked up, smiled and politely told her, “Oh, no thank you. Alcohol not necessary.” He then turned back to me and I found myself immersed in the Sixth Patriarch’s poem!

Transmission Speech

by Zen Master Ji Haeng on May 21, 2014

Raises stick, hits the table

The stick is the table, the table is the stick.
This is opposites world. Everything is changing moment by moment. Who can know it or define it?

Raises stick, hits the table

No stick, no table.
This is absolute world. It requires no explanation, no faith, and no understanding.

Raises stick, hits the table

The stick is brown, the tablecloth is red.
This is complete world. Not reliant on knowledge, not giving rise to grasping or rejecting.

Each of these statements represents three worlds: Opposites – Absolute – Complete

Which one do you like?


Right now, we are all present in this dharma room for a ceremony.

The precision and intelligence of each moment flows freely only when we are not judging and evaluating our experience.

In 2008, as some of you may recall, I was involved in a near death automobile accident on my way home from zen practice one evening. An intoxicated driver hit my vehicle from behind. Five eyewitnesses testified his speed to be near 100 mph. My vehicle rolled over three times. In addition to multiple other injuries, my neck was broken which is often fatal or resulting in paralysis. The driver who hit me subsequently was found guilty of felony drunk driving and sent to prison. As for me, I spent the better part of a month in the hospital: initially the trauma ward, followed by intensive care and then rehab.

When I was sufficiently capable to take calls, Zen Master Wu Kwang telephoned me with well wishes. It took a moment for the nurse to fit the telephone hand set through the metal bars of the halo device that was attached to my skull, keeping my neck in place.

He asked me “How are you doing?” Not wanting to miss an opportunity, even under those circumstances, to engage him, my response was, “Right now I’m lying here in bed looking up at the ceiling and talking to you!” Sort of a “dharma convalescence combat.” Without hesitation Wu Kwang Zen Master replied, “What choice do you have?” His mind sword pierced me that day, his zen stick hitting me from clear across the country. In this life, we are guaranteed nothing.

Upon his enlightenment, Zen Master Man Gong composed this poem:

“Empty Mountain, true energy without time and space.
White cloud and clear wind come and go by themselves.
Why did Bodhidharma come to China?
Rooster crowing in the morning, sun rising in the east.”

Jun Kang Zen Master in commenting said, “If you attain this poem, you attain the meaning of all the sutras. The last two lines are the most important: Rooster crowing in the morning, sun rising in the east. If you find that point, then you find Bodhidharma’s heart and Buddha’s head.” He finished by saying “Thorny jungle everywhere.”

Oftentimes we set up some gaining idea in the road of practice. We entertain a linear vision of practicing to purify something, eliminate something, or transform something into something else.
The truth however can only be found in the present moment. This moment has no birth and no death. Birth and death, coming and going, are all based on some type of conceptual framework. We make attempts to anchor ourselves in a system of rationale and theoretical space at first, but only by stripping away all the props and constructs can we arrive at a place of not knowing that is truly profound. Zen Master Seung Sahn used to say, “no meaning is great meaning.”

“A novice monk once asked Zen Master Joju, “Master, each day you and I wake up at the same time, bow together, chant together, eat together, and meditate together. What differentiates us that elevates you to the high seat? Master Joju replied, “There is only one difference.” The young monk, eager to learn what this one difference could be, implored the Master to reveal this single element. Joju replied, “It is really quite simple. I use the twenty four hours and you are used by the twenty four hours.”

Everything is no problem as long as we are not attached to our thinking and the resultant thought streams that control our actions, speech, and emotions.

Observing the comings and goings of our mind without rejecting or grasping anything allows us to see all situations with a clear mind. We can give up being competitive, and settle into an intelligence that responds rather than reacts to life situations. When this takes place, our founding teacher’s legacy stands there like a mirror to remind us that our true inside job is to help this world and save all beings from suffering.

Raises stick, hits the table

If you say that sound is liberating, you have already lost it.

Raises stick, hits the table

If you say that sound is binding, you are trapped in a world of opposites.

Raises stick, hits the table

Liberate or bind, how do you resolve this dilemma?


In a little while, we will all pose for a group photo

An Evening with Zen Master Ji Haeng

It has been ten years since the passing of our founding teacher, Zen Master Seung Sahn, and yet the heart of his teaching legacy continues to beat strongly all around the world. Unveiling the great teacher’s memorial at Providence Zen Center evokes poignant memories for me of Dae Soen Sa Nim’s teaching and the lasting effect it had on me personally.

It was auspicious meeting Dae Soen Sa Nim when I did. It was the late 1980s, and I was a five-precepts student traveling regularly to Dharma Zen Center in Los Angeles to sit their bimonthly Yong Maeng Jong Jin. It was there that I had the privilege of meeing Dae Soen Sa Nim, practicing with him, and hearing his marvelous dharma talks.

At that time, Las Vegas was home to one of the premier Asian doctors in the western United States, Dr. Ju Cheon Lee. Whenever Zen Master Seung Sahn came to Los Angeles to teach, he would also make the hour flight to Las Vegas to see Dr. Lee for acupuncture and moxibustion treatments. During his visits to Las Vegas, I would meet Dae Soen Sa Nim and his entourage at the airport, drive them to their hotel, and be their chauffer for the visit. It was also my good fortune to have regular kong-an interviews with Dae Soen Sa Nim in his hotel room.

One day I received a phone call and was asked to meet with Dr. Lee. When I arrived, he gave me a set of keys to his office, a schedule of office hours, and told me that I could use his medical practice facility to offer meditation during the off hours and weekends. Much later I learned that Dae Soen Sa Nim had convinced Dr. Lee that I could be trusted with this responsibility.

Three times a week, for two years until I became a dharma teacher, I moved all the waiting room furniture into the hallway; set up mats, cushions and an altar; conducted practice, and then packed everything up again; and moved the furniture back into the waiting room.

Then, during one of Dae Soen Sa Nim’s visits, while driving him, Mu Shim Sunim (now Zen Master Dae Jin) and Mu Sang Sunim from the airport to the hotel, the conversation drifted to practice at Dr. Lee’s office. I said that there were enough people practicing now that we were thinking of making the leap from Dr. Lee’s office to a new location in an industrial strip mall. But I was concerned: “What if I’m unable to pay the rent?”

Dae Soen Sa Nim listened politely and then turned to Mu Shim Sunim and said, “Tomorrow you call Providence and tell them that if Thom needs extra money for his rent, that they send it to him from my personal account each month.” Even now, after so many years, this brings tears to my eyes. He didn’t know me so well, yet he had no reservations about my intentions. The best part was that I never once needed to call Providence. Dae Soen Sa Nim’s unwavering commitment to the dharma inspired complete try-mind, 100 percent “just do it.” Our beautiful Las Vegas Zen Center today requires a significantly larger monthly overhead, but there are no qualms. Just as in the old days, we “only go straight.”

Another time I was in Los Angeles right before Buddha’s Birthday. Dae Soen Sa Nim sent me over to Tal Mah Sah to help hang prayer lanterns on the ceiling in the Buddha hall. I was given a tall ladder, many lanterns, and some basic instructions. While I worked, all the women were in the kitchen downstairs, laughing and talking as they prepared food for the ceremony.

After a while, one of the bosalnims came back upstairs. I looked down at her from the ladder, smiling to indicate, “Well, what do you think?” Her face turned ashen and her own smile disappeared. She began yelling for the other women to come back upstairs to see what I had done, just as Dae Soen Sa Nim’s car arrived and he walked in the door. One woman pointed at the ceiling and shouted, “Look, look what he has done!” Apparently all the lanterns were hung upside down! They expected Dae Soen Sa Nim to deliver a strong reprimand. Instead he just smiled at me, then turned to the women, dismissing the whole thing by saying, “No problem. This is just Zen style!”

Here again, Dae Soen Sa Nim was able to cut through any attachment to the external trappings of Buddhism, focusing only on a student’s pure intentions and sincere try-mind. On another occasion Dae Soen Sa Nim arrived in Las Vegas on a tight schedule, needing to fly out again the next day. After checking in at the Las Vegas Hilton, we drove immediately to Dr. Lee’s for a moxibustion treatment. Rather than returning to the hotel to rest, we then had to meet Dr. Lee and his family within an hour for dinner at a fancy Chinese restaurant. I mentioned to Dae Soen Sa Nim that one of our Zen center’s practitioners, Ken, had recently suffered a stroke, leaving him paralyzed and deeply frightened by his impairment. His only wish was to have Zen Master Seung Sahn visit him.

Although by now very tired, Dae Soen Sa Nim instructed me to drive first to the medical facility even if it meant arriving late at the restaurant. He presented my friend Ken with a 108-bead mala, encouraged him to keep practicing, and spoke comfortingly to him, holding Ken’s hand throughout the entire visit.

For me this was the most wonderful example of great love and great compassion in the face of need. Despite the distractions of a tight schedule, social obligations and great fatigue, Dae Soen Sa Nim made himself fully available to a suffering person he had never met, giving him his wholehearted attention.

Unveiling our great teacher’s memorial no doubt evokes similar memories for each of us who had the good fortune either to meet Dae Soen Sa Nim personally or to encounter his teaching. Surely many of us recall some time in our life and in our practice when some aspect of Dae Soen Sa Nim’s teaching made all the difference—awakening our great faith in the dharma, sustaining our great determination to follow the bodhisattva path and evoking the great question of our life.
And so, ten years after his passing, we celebrate Dae Soen Sa Nim’s living legacy—his clear direction, tireless dedication to the dharma, his Great Love, Great Compassion, Great Bodhisattva Way.

Zen Master Ji Haeng

Bio: Zen Master Ji Haeng, Thomas Pastor, is founder (1994) and Abbot of the Zen Center of Las Vegas. He began formal study in the Kwan Um School of Zen in the late 1980’s at Dharma Zen Center in Los Angeles. He became a Dharma Teacher in 1994 and received inka from Zen Master Seung Sahn on April 6, 2002. In addition to his Abbot responsibilities in Las Vegas, Zen Master Ji Haeng is also the guiding teacher of the Isthmus Zen Community in Madison, WI. and served as Guiding Teacher in Vancouver, BC. for a period of some years. Ji Haeng has led retreats in Denver, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Fairbanks, Cambridge, South Florida, and Tallahassee and has given kongan interviews in Pengerang, Malaysia and Singapore. For fifteen years he taught an Introduction to Zen Buddhism course at UNLV before retiring from that position. He initiated a zen meditation program at Federal Prison Nellis which was recognized for having the highest participation rate of any religious program at the facility. (The prison was closed in 2006). An alumnus of the famed Berklee College of Music in Boston, Thom has performed with dozens of recording and show business luminaries and continues to play saxophone in Las Vegas at various jazz venues. Having continued his kong an practice with Zen Master Wu Kwang, Richard Shrobe, who he still considers to be his teacher, Ji Haeng received transmission from Wu Kwang Zen Master on April 5, 2014.

Understanding it, doing it

Recently, a friend of mine, while giving a Dharma talk, reminded me of an interesting figure in the history of Zen. This particular Zen Master was famous not only for his clear and simple teaching, but perhaps even more for his unusual lifestyle. Known as “the bird’s nest monk,” he lived in a tree, depending on his followers for help with basic necessities of life. At one time, a great Buddhist scholar from the neighboring province came to visit him. The scholar was an eighty year old monk who was very learned in all the major scriptures and commentaries, and was curious to meet someone who, although not very learned, was even more famous than himself. The scholar asked the Zen Master for his teaching. The “bird’s nest monk” replied: “Don’t do any evil; do good.” The scholar scornfully pointed out that this kind of simplistic teaching is something that even a four year old child understands. To this the Zen Master replied that while it is true that a four year old child understands it, even an eighty year old man cannot do it.

The teaching of Zen is very simple, and very clear. One way to present it is by “don’t do evil; do good.” Unfortunately, just understanding this principle, or even believing and aspiring to it, by itself cannot help us to accomplish it in our everyday endeavors. Practice is essential. The war in the Persian Gulf is a good example of this. In television interviews before the conflict started, both our President and the President of Iraq stated their abhorrence to war and support for peace. The same was true of the people interviewed in the streets, who expressed the hope that conflict would be avoided. But the Americans and the Iraqis saw the dispute very differently. As long as we hold on to our opinions, and our ideas, we will continue to face the dichotomy between our beliefs and our actions. It is only by letting go of “I,” “my,” “me” that a “correct idea”, “correct opinion,” can appear. This means “Bodhisattva idea,” which means an idea for all beings, not just for my family, my country, not even just for people; for animals, for trees, for water, for air, for this whole world. This also means that without the “l,” “my,” “me” there is no separation, no wall between our understanding and our action. The taking away of “l,” “my,” “me” brings us again to the subject of practice. Like any endeavor where we seek some kind of perfection, practice is essential. It is not enough to understand that the selfless state just described is our natural state, our natural heritage. It is not enough to understand that everyone is essentially an enlightened being, a “Buddha.” A final very important step is necessary. We must make that understanding completely ours, which means that we must attain “that.” It is for this reason that Zen Centers, retreats, and teachers are all important. It is for that reason that a regular daily formal practice schedule, as an adjunct to our everyday practice, is important. It is only for the encouragement of the practice that Dharma talks and articles like this one are important.

Finally, does it all make any sense? Then do it.

Make a daily schedule. Make the effort to practice regularly together with other Sangha members. Regularly join an intensive retreat. Make the effort to regularly attend a Dharma talk. All of these activities help your practice, and your participation and your energy help other practitioners.

Transmission Speech

(Striking the table with his Zen stick.)

Do you hear that? Then this stick, this sound, and your mind: Are they the same or different?

KATZ! Listen. In the comer, the fan: “shhhhhhhhhhh.”

An eminent teacher said, “The gate of Zen is very wide. Very easy.” Our teacher says, “Only put down your idea and your opinion, then you become complete.” But, “Put down your idea and your opinion” does not mean that you must lose your eyes.

Two stories:

Once a monk went to do a solo retreat. In the middle of the retreat a great bodhisattva appeared at night and said, “You are a great monk. You have special power. Tomorrow you must go to the nearby ledge. Only believe. Only trust. When you jump, you will be able to fly in the air.” The next morning this monk went to the ledge, jumped, and died.

Once, when other monks in the temple were practicing, a monk was cooking rice in a big pot. At that time, in the steam, a great bodhisattva appeared and said to him, “You are a great monk. You have special power.” Hearing this, the monk took the big ladle with which he was stirring the rice, hit the vision, and shouted, “Why do you dirty the monks’ soup?” WHACK! Later he became a great Zen Master.

If you lose your eyes, you lose your life. Get true eyes, and you get everything. Let’s consider what is True Eye. Watch carefully.

(Striking the table with his Zen stick.)

Long ago Buddha told Shariputra, “No eyes.” So perhaps to get this True Eye, you must lose your eyes. If you have no eyes, however, how do you get True Eye? (Striking the table with his Zen stick.)

Our honored guest here [Supreme Cambodian Patriarch Maha Ghosananda] says that your eyes are always eating. Eating eyes. What kind of eating? I don’t understand. Maybe eating form. Maybe eating color. Then how do they digest? What kind of eye is that? (Striking the table with his Zen stick.)

At a talk, a great Zen Master pointed to his Zen stick and said, “This stick has special eyes. They can see through everything. Even see into your mind.” Maybe that is the True Eye. But what kind of eye is that?

All these are wonderful ideas, but just now how do you get this True Eye? KATZ! Please look. (Lifting the Zen stick above his head)

This stick is brown.

Thank you very much.

This is the only moment we have

Excerpted from a talk at the start of the One Day Retreat on Sunday, June 17, 1990.

One thing that is not always clear to us as we go through our daily routine is that if we look at our life, if we think about it and try to analyze it, we find that there are not so many “important” events — events that have great significance, great meaning. Mostly our life, moment by moment, is composed of very mundane tasks, very small things.

So what happens, and it’s sort of a human fallibility, is that we don’t pay attention to the small things. But the small things are also very important.

I like to tell the story of how an avalanche comes to take place. If we start to trace the cause of an avalanche, we find that often it’s a very minute action. Maybe somebody speaks too loudly and that loosens a small rock and that rock loosens a bigger rock, and so on and so on. Just one small thing that is very insignificant, through a chain of events, comes to be very meaningful and has a big impact.

In a way, it is the same with our practice. We don’t often realize the power of practice. One day, one retreat, just coming here on this Sunday morning and doing what we’re doing. What kind of significance will it have? We don’t understand right now.

What Zen teaches us is not to make those distinctions about whether something is important or not important. But as we go moment by moment, we are asked to pay attention — to give ourselves fully to this moment, one hundred percent. It doesn’t matter whether it is an important moment or not an important moment; it is the only moment we have.

So what I emphasize is that in fact the only thing, the only true thing, that we ever have is this moment. The past we cannot touch. The future we cannot grasp. And if we try to catch the present, it’s already gone.

Sleeping Zen

Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind is the title of a widely read Zen book by Suzuki Roshi. Although the book presented Soto Zen teaching as typically practiced in Japan, keeping “beginner’s mind” is an attitude which cuts across any school boundaries. In our school, we may call it keeping “don’t know,” but what is important is not the name but the complete sincerity and openness of a mind in search of the truth. It is the very mind that we had when we first started to practice. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for senior Zen students to fall into a kind of “sleeping Zen” sickness, in which that original mind of inquiry has nearly or completely disappeared.

Not long ago, I suggested to a friend that although he is surely helping many people through his work as a doctor, perhaps he has been neglecting his Zen practice. In response, he said that his work is already his practice. That is very wonderful, indeed, but a vast gulf exists between mere understanding and its actualization. Long ago an eminent teacher said, “the tongue has no bone.” It is possible to say anything, but to do as my friend has stated is not very easy without consistent effort through formal daily practice and regular intensive retreats. Even for one very accomplished, there remains the question of the direction of one’s accomplishment. Is it for me, or is it for others? If for others, then how can I help the most? Perhaps it is by helping their bodies, but not always. It is for that very reason that students seek the supportive atmosphere of a Zen community in which to practice, while others, unable to move into a Zen center, regularly join in retreats or other group practice.

The Buddha taught us the “Middle Way,” eschewing any extreme. This suggests creating a balance between all the various activities in our lives. If we are not quite sure what that balance should look like, that is even more of a reason to pursue practice in all of its forms, in all the moments of our life. Admittedly, that is not always easy to accomplish.

Mr. P’ang, an accomplished layman in eighth century China, whose wife and children were said to have also attained enlightenment, is reputed to have announced to his family: “Difficult, difficult, difficult; it is like trying to scatter ten measures of sesame seed all over a tree!” His wife said in response, “easy, easy, easy; just like touching your feet to the ground when you get out of bed.” Their daughter remarked, “neither difficult, nor easy; on the hundred grass-tips, the Patriarch’s meaning.”

If we understand this exchange correctly, we can find correct practice in our everyday life, and we can also find everyday life in our practice. If we understand this exchange correctly, we can also understand that while all the Fangs shoot sharp arrows, they all miss the bull’s eye with their remarks, How do we attain the Patriarch’s meaning, then? If we can truly attain it, then in each moment we return to the very mind with which we started practicing. Thus we prevent the “senior Zen student syndrome,” and in fact we can shake off the worst case of the “sleeping Zen” sickness.