World Peace is Possible

The following talk was given at Tahl Mah Sah Zen Center on January 19, 1983.

Recently one of my students died, I went to his funeral at a church. The minister talked about God. He said that anytime you have a problem, if you just depend on God, the problem disappears. But sometimes this doesn’t seem to be enough. Our life is impermanent, like smoke or water, like grass or flowers. Our life appears, then disappears. We worry about many things: money, family, our job, and also about the next life. Human life means worry. But human life also means, don’t worry. If you understand impermanence, everything is okay. Problems appear because human beings always want more.

How do we control our desire for more, and our anger and ignorance? This is a very important point. In elementary school the students learn to Study and play. They learn about their country and its boundaries. They learn, “This is my country and it starts here, ends here.” After school when the students go home to their mothers, the idea of “my country” disappears. You are born into this world. When you are about to leave it, you think “This is my house, my family, my country.” Your “I-my-me” appears. But when you die, this I-my-me disappears.

In childhood, you are your mother’s child. When you grow up, you are the student of the universe. So this is your home. When You are born, where do you come from? When you die, where do you go? Everyone has a true home. Buddhism means becoming completely independent: not dependent on God or Buddha or your understanding. If you completely become your true self, there is no life or death, no coming or going.

A long time ago a Zen Master 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?
Life is like a floating cloud which appears.
Death is like a floating cloud which disappears.
The floating cloud itself originally does not exist.
Life and death, coming and going, are also like that.
But there is one thing which always remains clear.
It is pure and clear, not depending on life and death.
Then what is the one pure and clear thing?

If you find it, you are free from life and death. Why then would you need Buddha or Christ? You are already Buddha, you are the same as Christ. So put down all your opinions and understand your true self. If you understand what is the one pure and clear thing, there will be no problems, no life or death. It won’t matter whether the Sun rises or sets.

Our eyes see blue sky in the daytime. dark sky at night. High up in the sky it never changes. Only our eyes perceive I change. Where do your eyes come from? Now you have eyes, but before you were born you had no eyes. When you die, your eyes will disappear. Eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, mind: these are like the floating cloud which appears and disappears. Don’t be attached to them. Put down all of your opinions and thinking.

When you are thinking, you perceive other people’s minds as different from yours. If you cut off all thinking, your mind and my mind are the same, the same as Christ and Buddha. Then there are no opposites, no coming or going, no good and bad, no high and low, no you and me.

The sun never says, “I am the sun.” The moon never says, “I am the moon.” It is your thinking that creates the sun and the moon. When you see the sun, you and the sun become one. When you see the wall, You and the wall become one. The wall is white, the sun is hot. That’s all. Just like this is the truth. That’s Zen mind. Your thinking also creates heaven and hell. If you make heaven, then there is also hell. If you don’t make heaven, then there is no hell. So don’t make opposites.

A lot of people liked the movie E.T. When you are watching it, completely absorbed, you and the picture become one. E.T.’s finger, the boys on the bicycles flying through the forest: there is no consciousness, no “I” and no “me.” Seeing a movie like this brings out the true love that everyone has inside them, sometimes better than the Bible or Buddhist sutras!

When we put down “I,” we become the original human mind, which means great love, great compassion. A dog cannot find its true self, nor can a cat, but human beings can. Zen means finding your true self and obtaining the correct way, truth and correct life. What is the correct life? Keeping your correct relationship with everything, moment to moment. If you cling to your opinions, you will have difficulty.

Everyone says at one time or another, “I’m not bad. I don’t have much desire or anger.” But this is still making “I,” so it’s a big mistake. One of my students helps people a lot. But sometimes he thinks, “I have already helped a lot of people.” This “I” is like a mountain, taking it away is very difficult. One person sent me a letter and I wrote down how many times he said “I”-75 times! So I said to him, “I hit you 75 times!” When you die, this “I” breaks up and disappears, and isn’t a problem anymore.

Recently I visited Harvard and Yale Universities. They have many libraries and millions of books. What is a book? Thinking, thinking, thinking. These books create a big problem. Many people are afraid in this nuclear age, and everyone says they want world peace. But if you only study and become more clever, you make this world more complex. Clever minds have made the atom bomb and the nuclear age. Zen means becoming simple. If we were simple, we wouldn’t make bombs. So simple is better than clever. Maybe it will be necessary to burn all the books, so the world will not be so complicated! Make your mind simple, then wisdom will appear.

How are knowledge and wisdom different? Knowledge means understanding, that is, someone’s idea. This book says this, that book says that. But any kind of understanding will lead you to difficulty. You must digest your understanding. If you can’t, then problems appear everywhere: the economy, religion, business, politics, the weather. In fact this is already happening.

Some religions are saying it’s the end of the world. I say it’s the beginning of the world. The end of the world and the beginning – how are they different? Who made this world? God? Buddha? You are sitting there, I am sitting here. I make my own south, north, east, and west. So do you. We each make our own directions. Are they the same? Also we each make our own time. For example, I have been waiting for my girlfriend for 10 minutes, and she hasn’t come. Why hasn’t she come? I am getting angry. Now I am suffering, and the time seems very long. One minute seems like an hour, because my mind is so angry. Then she comes and we go dancing. Cha cha cha! Three hours pass in what seem,, like only a few minutes.

In the same way that we make our own time, we also make our own space and our own cause and effect. If my girlfriend leaves me, I am sad. I cry and the whole world seems to cry. Then I get a new girlfriend. She makes me very happy. One moment we are very happy, the next moment we hate each other. The world seems happy, then the world seems sad, but actually it is always the same. Buddha said, all things are created by the mind alone. I create this world with my mind. You create your world with your mind. But the world is always the same.

So what is world peace? How can we attain it? First, you must understand that each one of us has a like-dislike mind inside of us. My preferences make my world. Your preferences make your world. But if we can both put down our preferences, our minds can connect with each other. I make my world, you make yours. If your mind and my mind both disappear, then what? Then the world disappears and we can make a new one together.

If each of us only clings to our opinions, fighting inevitably appears. If America, China, and Russia are each clinging to their opinions about their world, fighting appears and world peace is impossible. If all these worlds disappear, it is possible to connect with each other’s countries.

Everyone has mental power. If you are a thief, you create a bad cycle (bad energy). If you perform good actions, you create a good cycle (good energy). If you put down both good and bad, the original cycle appears, which is correct mental power. It’s the same cycle, not two. Checking it creates a different cycle. If you put down your opinions, condition and situation, this original cycle appears and your cycle and mine can connect. Then world peace is possible.

America is only clinging to its American situation. President Reagan said America is number one. He understands one, but he doesn’t understand two. America is only several hundred years old. The original Americans were Indians, and the incoming Europeans killed thousands of them. Now we say, “This is our country.” We have made boundaries and laws preventing other people from moving here. It’s just like a robber taking over a house and then saying, “This is my house. I have a gun and you can’t come in!” That’s America’s mind, like a robber’s mind.

World peace is possible only if we do not hold our opinions. Some people think it will not be possible to attain world peace in their lifetimes. But if even one young person who believed in world peace became President of the United States, changing things like the immigration laws would be possible.

When I have spoken to politicians and lawmakers, I have said to them, “You only talk about world peace, but you don’t do anything about it. Just saying it is only world peace of the tongue. So maybe only your tongue will go to heaven, and the rest of you will go to hell! It is necessary to do something to obtain world peace.” If all politicians tried meditation, change would be possible. World peace can be achieved.

If we take our inside preferences, and remove the outside boundaries, then we can truly connect with other people. E.T.’s mind had no preferences, no boundaries. He didn’t make distinctions between human beings and animals and stars, so he could connect with everything. Having “no mind” is necessary. Having no boundaries is also necessary. If we removed all boundaries, how could Russia attack America?

Last summer at Omega Institute hundreds of people came to study with masters from different religious traditions: Catholic, Sufi, Christian, Zen, Indian, Jewish and so forth. All the masters together were teaching “love mind” and asking, “How can we help this world?” This kind of teaching together is very necessary, otherwise we will not be able to change the world. In our society today, we are not teaching people how to become correct human beings. We don’t teach them about obligations to teachers, to parents and society, to this world and to all beings. We only teach people how to live like robots: push buttons, only have a good time, enjoy a good taste. This kind of society has no direction. Without direction, how can our society teach us to become correct human beings?

The question for all of us is, “What are human beings?” This world is like a ripe pear. On the outside it looks and tastes good, but inside it is rotting. This rotting is the pear’s correct function. Its correct job is to get new pear seeds into the ground, to become a corpse so that a new pear tree will grow. The outside appearance isn’t important. This rotting is necessary. Nowadays a lot of people say that society is rotten. If you see only the outside of this world, you might say that the end of the world is coming, but if you see the seeds inside this world, you would say it’s the beginning of the new world. The outside is rotting, but the seeds inside are o.k.

Everyone has seeds inside them. In order to help the world, you must find your seeds. If you can’t find them, it’s the end of the world. If you do find them, it’s the beginning. Which do you like? Where are your true seeds? It doesn’t matter whether it’s the end or the beginning of the world. in your mind there is no end, no beginning. Put down your opinions, all of them, and your correct seeds will appear.

The sun is very bright, but your mind light is even brighter. Sunlight is hindered by obstacles, but there is no hindrance to mind light. This room originally is not dark or light. If you turn on the light, it’s bright. If you turn off the light, it’s dark. Heaven and hell are the same. It’s possible for this world to become heaven or hell, but our minds create the distinction. If your mind is bright, the world becomes heaven. If your mind is dark, the world becomes hell and it seems like the end of the world is coming.

Where does this mind light come from? Think about electrical energy. It comes from natural sources, like failing water. If we have no falling water, we can’t make electricity. So where does energy come from? Your mind. In Taoism it is said that human beings follow the earth, the earth follows the sky, the sky follows nature. Where does nature come from? From the Tao – the path. Where does the path come from? Your mind.

So your mind makes everything. A crazy mind makes craziness, a busy mind makes busy-ness. So we go around and around. But mind is not mind, it is true self. The name of our true self is true nature, Buddha nature, God nature, the Absolute, or energy. We have a lot of different names for it, but originally this point has no name. There aren’t any words for it. We cannot even speak about it. All these names are made by thinking, so many meanings arise. But originally this point is before thinking. If you put down your thinking, your opinions, you can find your true nature and your correct seat, and world peace is possible.

This World is Very Funny

An excerpt from a letter:

This world is very funny. In true nature, all things neither appear nor disappear. Yet people say that things have life and death. This is funny. Things are neither tainted nor pure. Yet people think that some things are good and some things are bad, some things are clean and some things are dirty. Things neither increase nor decrease. Yet people make circles and squares; they think that some things are short and some things are long. This is funny. People are attached to good karma and bad karma. They get happiness and suffering. They have past, present, and future; coming, going, and staying; east, west, north, and south. This is funny.

An eminent teacher once said, ‘Original nature is true emptiness.’ Yet you want to attain enlightenment. This is funny.

Put it down! Put it down! This is funny. What is ‘Put it down?’


A hungry child cries to its mother. A dog sniffs all around in search of something to eat. As the sun sets behind the western mountain, the shadow of the pine tree grows longer and longer and touches a distant wall.



is World is Not Changing!

Question: The world is changing all the time; why is it that there is only one answer to kong-ans?

Zen Master Seung Sahn: This world is changing? [Laughter from-audience.] That’s the first I heard that this world is changing. No, this world is empty. If you have an empty world, is it changing? But you say this world, your world, is changing. OK. Somebody else’s world is completely empty. Form is emptiness, emptiness is form — complete emptiness. For someone else this world is truth: sky is blue; tree is green; the dog is barking, woof, woof; sugar is sweet; everything is the truth. When you see, when you hear, when you smell, when you’re thinking, everything is the truth. That’s truth world. Then somebody else says, “No, no, no, not truth world, this world is compassion world; great love, great compassion, great bodhisattva world, only help all beings.” But your world is changing world. Why do you make changing world? Do you like that?

Q: Yes, I’m probably attached to it.

ZMSS: You’re attached to that? No problem! You’re attached-no problem. But, if you’re attached to this world when you die, you will have a problem. [Laughter] Maybe “no problem.” But, when your karma is put into a new body, you won’t understand where you will go. Maybe you will go to hell, maybe you will get an animal body, perhaps a dog’s; around and around — where you don’t know. So, you must make your direction clear, OK? What is the direction of your life? So, put it all down; cut down, cut down, then “empty world” appears. However, if you only stay in this empty world, then you will have another problem. When you die, you will never come back to this world. So, take one more step, then “truth world” appears. Sky is blue, tree is green, the dog is barking — woof, woof — sugar is sweet. Then, when you see, when you hear, everything is the truth; truth and you become one. But, truth world is not enough; take one more step, bump! Then “function world” appears. Only help all beings. Not only this life. Life after life after life continue to help all beings. That’s “bodhisattva world”; bodhisattva world is number one. That’s Buddha’s teaching. Try that, then kong-ans will be no problem.

Wild Dharma Scenes & Broken Precepts

July 26, 1977

Dear Soen Sa Nim,

I hope you are well. Please, as much as possible, try to take care of your body.

I have not seen you in awhile. I, too have been traveling around teaching the Dharma. How is the family on the East Coast?

I am still living with Jennie. She is well and continues to study with her teacher. Her teacher is very good, very crazy. Many of his students think they have complete freedom to do what they want. There are many drunken parties, and the observation of precepts is practically nil. For me, it is good teaching to see such wild Dharma scenes; it surely helps cut my ideas about good and bad Dharma. Nonetheless, I am generally pretty sober — drunken freedom doesn’t appeal to me.

Nowadays, I am feeling strong in body and mind. It is easy to forget myself. I am joyed by the Bodhisattva Way.

May all beings be happy and liberated.

Much love to you and our Dharma family,


August 4, 1977

Dear Peter,

Thank you for your letter. How are you and Jennie? You worry about my body, but it is strong — no problem.

Jennie’s studying with her teacher is not good, not bad — this type of Buddhism is wonderful practicing. But the precepts are very important.

When Buddha was dying, Mahakasyapa and another great disciple asked him, “When you die, we will have no teacher. How can we continue practicing? How can we control the sangha?”

Buddha said, “I have already given you the precepts. The precepts are your teacher. If you practice correctly and keep the precepts correctly, you can control the sangha and help them find the true way.”

So, the precepts are very important. If you keep the precepts, they will be your teacher, but if you break the precepts, you kill your teacher. If you get Enlightenment, your direction is unmoving, so keeping or not keeping the precepts doesn’t matter; you will always do Bodhisattva action. But if you still have karma, if you cannot control your karma, then freedom action will arise from ignorance and only make more bad karma. When will you get out of the ocean of life and death?

The Avatamsaka Sutra says, “Drinking and sex are no-hindrance Prajna.” In other words, when you can control your karma — your desire, anger, and ignorance — then any action is no problem; whatever action you do will teach other people. My teacher, Zen Master Ko Bong, taught this way. At Jung Hae Sa Temple in Korea, the schedule consists of three months of sitting followed by three months of vacation. During vacation, everyone collects money or food and brings them back for the sitting period. When Zen Master Man Gong, my grand-teacher, was just beginning the temple, there was no money at all. The students would go around to the homes of lay people, recite the Heart Sutra, get rice or money, and return to the monastery. But when my teacher Ko Bong got rice, he’d sell it at the end of the day and go out drinking. Everyone else came back at the end of a vacation with sacks of rice. All Ko Bong brought back was wine. When he was full of wine he was also full of complaints: “This temple is no good! Man Gong doesn’t understand anything! He’s low-class!”

Once Zen Master Man Gong showed up during one of Ko Bong’s tirades and screamed at him, “What do you understand?” Everybody was waiting to see what would happen. “KO BONG!!!”


“Why are you always insulting me behind my back?”

Ko Bong looked completely surprised and offended. “Zen Master! I never said anything about you! I was talking about this good-for-nothing Man Gong!”

“Man Gong? What do you mean, Man Gong? I’M Man Gong! What’s the difference between Man Gong and me?”

“KAAAATZ!” Ko Bong yelled, loud enough to split everyone’s eardrums. That ended it.

“Go sleep it off,” Man Gong said, and he left the room.

My teacher was always drunk, used abusive speech, and showed disrespectful behavior. But he always kept a clear mind. “Man Gong? What’s the difference between Man Gong and me?” “KAAAATZ!” That katz is very important — better than money or bags of rice. Ko Bong completely believed in himself.

If you believe completely in yourself, your actions will teach other people. Also you will be able to do any action to help other people. This is the Great Bodhisattva Way.

There are four kinds of Bodhisattva action. First, there is giving things to people who don’t have something they want or need. Next, there is speaking kindly to people and showing love for them. Then there is talking about the Dharma. But if people don’t listen, then you must act together with them. Together action means if they like sex, have sex together; if they like drinking, drink together; if they like songs, sing together with them. Without any desire for yourself, your actions are only for other people. Finally, when suffering comes, they will listen to you and you can teach them.

If you have great love, then in any situation you will not be hindered by desire, anger, and ignorance. But if you do not yet have this Bodhisattva mind, then you must first attain your true self. This is very necessary.

If we are controlled by desire, anger, and ignorance, we cannot find our true way. If we keep our correct situation, moment to moment, our just-now mind becomes stronger. When we are confused or cannot control ourselves, the precepts show us what our correct situation is. So I will give you homework:

Nam Cheon Kills a Cat (“Mind Meal,” ninth gate)

Once the monks of the eastern and western halls of the monastery were disputing about a cat. Master Nam Cheon, holding up the cat and pulling out his precepts knife, said, “You! Give me one word and I will save this cat! If you cannot, I will kill it!” No one could answer. Finally, Nam Cheon killed the cat. In the evening, when Jo Ju returned to the temple, Nam Cheon told him of the incident. Jo Ju took off his shoe, put it on his head, and walked away. Nam Cheon said, “If you had been there, I could have saved the cat.”

Nam Cheon said, “Give me one word!” At that time, what can you do?

Jo Ju put his shoe on his head. What does this mean?

If you attain Nam Cheon’s Bodhisattva mind, then you understand keeping and breaking the Precepts.

I hope you always keep a mind which is clear like space, believe completely in yourself, get Enlightenment, and save all beings from suffering.

Yours in the Dharma,


Why We Chant

One Sunday evening, after a Dharma talk at the International Zen Center of New York, a student asked Seung Sahn Soen-sa, “Why do you chant? Isn’t sitting Zen enough?”

Soen-sa said, “This is a very important matter. We bow together, chant together, eat together, sit together, and do many other things together here at the Zen Center. Why do we practice together?

“Everybody has different karma. So all people have different situations, different conditions, and different opinions. One person is a monk, another is a student, another works in a factory; one person always keeps a clear mind, another is often troubled or dissatisfied; one person likes the women’s movement, another doesn’t. But everybody thinks, ‘My opinion is correct!’ Even Zen Masters are like this. Ten Zen Masters will have ten different ways of teaching, and each Zen Master will think that his way is the best. Americans have an American opinion; Orientals have an Oriental opinion. Different opinions result in different actions, which make different karma. So when you hold on to your own opinions, it is very difficult to control your karma, and your life will remain difficult. Your wrong opinions continue, so your bad karma continues. But at our Zen Centers, we live together and practice together, and all of us abide by the Temple Rules. People come to us with many strong likes and dislikes, and gradually cut them all off. Everybody bows together 108 times at five-thirty in the morning, everybody sits together, everybody eats together, everybody works together. Sometimes you don’t feel like bowing; but this is a temple rule so you bow. Sometimes you don’t want to chant, but you chant. Sometimes you are tired and want to sleep, but you know that if you don’t come to sitting, people will wonder why; so you sit.

“When we eat, we eat in ritual style, with four bowls; and after we finish eating, we wash out the bowls with tea, using our index finger to clean them. The first few times we ate this way, nobody liked it. One person from the Cambridge Zen Center came to me very upset. ‘I can’t stand this way of eating! The tea gets full of garbage! I can’t drink it!’ I said to him, ‘Do you know the Heart Sutra?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Doesn’t it say that things are neither tainted nor pure?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Then why can’t you drink the tea?’ ‘Because it’s filthy” ” (Laughter from the audience.) “‘Why is it filthy? These crumbs are from the food that you already ate. If you think the tea is dirty, it is dirty. If you think it is clean, it is clean.’ He said, ‘You’re right. I will drink the tea.”‘ (Laughter.)

“So we live together and act together. Acting together means cutting off my opinions, cutting off my condition, cutting off my situation. Then we become empty mind. We return to white paper. Then our true opinion, our true condition, our true situation will appear. When we bow together and chant together and eat together, our minds become one mind. It is like on the sea. When the wind comes, there are many waves. When the wind dies down, the waves become smaller. When the wind stops, the water becomes a mirror, in which everything is reflected-mountains, trees, clouds.Our mind is the same. When we have many desires and many opinions, there are many big waves. But after we sit Zen and act together for some time, our opinions and desires disappear. The waves become smaller and smaller. Then our mind is like a clear mirror, and everything we see or hear or smell or taste or touch or think is the truth. Then it is very easy to understand other people’s minds. Their minds are reflected in my mind.

“So chanting is very important. At first you won’t understand. But after you chant regularly, you will understand.  ‘Ah, chanting-very good feeling!’ It is the same with bowing 108 times. At first people don’t like this. Why do we bow? We are not bowing to Buddha, we are bowing to ourselves. Small I is bowing to Big I. Then Small I disappears and becomes Big I. This is true bowing. So come practice with us. You will soon understand.”

The student bowed and said, “Thank you very much.”

A Whole World Flower Blooms

This talk was given at Nam Hwa Sah Temple, China

The whole world is a single flower. What does that mean? Twenty five hundred years ago, Buddha stayed at Yeong Sahn Mountain. One day, in front of an assembly, he picked up a flower. Nobody understood; only Mahakasyapa smiled. Buddha said, “The all-pervading true dharma I transmit to Mahakasyapa.”

Eight hundred years later, Bodhidharma came to China. The emperor of China, Emperor Yan, asked Bodhidharma, “I havemade almost infinite temples, I have made almost infinite robes and kasas for monks. How much merit have I earned?” Bodhidharma said, “No merit.” Buddha’s flower had infinite merit, but what is the true teaching in this flower of Buddha? Bodhidharma said, “Only don’t know.”

Three hundred years later, the Sixth Patriarch said, “Originally there is nothing, where can you find dust?”

So Buddha’s holding up one flower, Bodhidharma’s don’t know, and the Sixth Patriarch’s originally nothing, where is dust… those three, are they the same or different?

If somebody says that they are the same… this stick will hit them thirty times.

If somebody says that they are different, this stick will also hit them thirty times.

Why is that?

The sky is blue and water is flowing. Today at Nam Hwa Sah, this whole world flower has blossomed.

This world is changing all the time. The last time we came here, three years ago, we noticed that the roads were not so good, and that Shaoguan, the city near here, was not very developed. This time, we cannot help but notice that the roads are very well constructed, and there are many new high buildings in the town. This gives us evidence that China is growing up, developing, and becoming a modern society. I have been traveling all over the world, and I have seen the development of many different countries. No other country has demonstrated the kind of rapid development, and change in people’s minds, that I see today in China. This makes me very happy.

However, this outside environment does not necessarily mean that our minds are becoming pure. Many temples have been reconstructed, many new temples have been built, many congregations are forming and people are attending temples again. I hope that people continue to come to these temples, learn sutras and do chanting, also do meditation, attain their true selves, and become teachers for all human beings. We have gathered here from all over the world to recognize that Nam Hwa Sah has a very important role to play in this matter. I sincerely hope that the people gathered here from many different countries attain the Sixth Patriarch’s “originally nothing” and help this world.

Everyone can see that our world is not clear. There are many, many problems. Why? On this earth, the human population has suddenly exploded. Before the end of World War II, the whole population of this planet was less than two billion people. Today, the population of this earth has increased to five-and-a-half billion people. Over many thousands of years on this planet we only reached a population of two billion people, but in fifty years it has increased by three and a half billion people. In this short span of time, the minds of human beings as a whole have become less human and have become more animal-like. If we cannot fix the animal mind inside ourselves, then how can we expect to achieve world peace, how can we expect to make the whole world a single flower?

Starting from here, we need to fix this world, make this world a better place. The Buddha taught us a special mantra for cleansing our minds and purifying this world. This mantra is “Jong Bop Gye Jin On Om Nam.” Let’s all together try Om Nam. By doing this mantra we cleanse our minds. By cleansing our minds, we can cleanse the whole world. So hold your hands together in hapchang, and together we will do the Om Nam mantra.

Om Nam Om Nam Om Nam Om Nam Om Nam…

Thank you. This world is now becoming a better place. This world is becoming clearer. Attaining world peace has now begun at Nam Hwa Sah temple.

Always the sky is blue, and the water is always flowing down, down to the ocean.

Thank you very much.

e Whole Universe is Plastic

One Sunday, while Seung Sahn Soen-sa was staying at the International Zen Center of New York, there was a big ceremony marking the end of one hundred days of chanting Kwanseum Bosal. Many Korean women came, with shopping bags full of food and presents. One woman brought a large bouquet of plastic flowers, which she presented smilingly to an American student of Soen-sa’s. As soon as he could, the student hid the flowers under a pile of coats. But soon, another woman found them and, with the greatest delight, walked into the Dharma Room and put them in a vase on the altar.

The student was very upset. He went to Soen-sa and said, “Those plastic flowers are awful. Can’t I take them off the altar and dump them somewhere?’

Soen-sa said, “It is your mind that is plastic. The whole universe is plastic.”

The student said, “What do you mean?”

Soen-sa said, “Buddha said, ‘When one mind is pure, the whole universe is pure; when one mind is tainted, the whole universe is tainted.’ Every day we meet people who are unhappy. When their minds are sad, everything that they see, hear, smell, taste, and touch is sad. The whole universe is sad. When the mind is happy, the whole universe is happy. If you desire something, then you are attached to it. If you reject it, you are just as attached to it. Being attached to a thing means that it becomes a hindrance in your mind. So ‘I don’t like plastic’ is the same as ‘I like plastic’ — both are attachments. You don’t like plastic flowers, so your mind has become plastic, and the whole universe is plastic. Put it all down. Then you won’t be hindered by anything. You won’t care whether the flowers are plastic or real, whether they are on the altar or in the garbage pail. This is true freedom. A plastic flower is just a plastic flower. A real flower is just a real flower. You mustn’t be attached to name and form.”

The student said, “But we are trying to make a beautiful Zen center here, for all people. How can I not care? Those flowers spoil the whole room.”

Soen-sa said, “If somebody gives real flowers to Buddha, Buddha is happy. If somebody else likes plastic flowers and gives them to Buddha, Buddha is also happy. Buddha is not attached to name and form, he doesn’t care whether the flowers are real or plastic, he only cares about the person’s mind. These women who are offering plastic flowers have very pure minds, and their action is Bodhisattva action. Your mind rejects plastic flowers, so you have separated the universe into good and bad, beautiful and ugly. So your action is not Bodhisattva action. Only keep Buddha’s mind. Then you will have no hindrance. Real flowers are good; plastic flowers are good. This mind is like the great sea, into which all waters flow — the Hudson River, the Charles River, the Yellow River, Chinese water, American water, clean water, dirty water, salt water, clear water. The sea doesn’t say, ‘Your water is dirty, you can’t flow into me.’ It accepts all waters and mixes them and all become sea. So if you keep the Buddha mind, your mind will be like the great sea. This is the great sea of enlightenment.”

The student bowed and said, “I am very grateful for your teaching.”

The Whole Universe Is Medicine

July 1, 1980

Dear Soen Sa Nim,

It would be wonderful if you please could answer this letter before my letter of about a week ago.

Life has put a task on my way and I am very glad to feel I want and I can be of help. A short time ago I met a man of my age. We liked each other from the very beginning and it was good to be with someone who in his way is clear, open, warm, brave and understanding. Today I got a letter from him telling me that he would like to learn about Zen. He asked how to handle a situation like his and mine, asking what he could do for me, because he is fighting a cancer in his kidneys, lungs, and bones.

He has already done enough for me because he is the way he is. My job in the office is finished in three weeks time and I have no obligations. And I can manage as a temporary for a long time, as it looks now. This gives me the chance to serve and learn from a person I dearly like.

I have reread your letters to me. What can I do, apart from trying to express that we are not our body, when pain is getting hard? My friend wrote that he still often feels well — I had not noticed anything of his illness — but that the pain sometimes is devilish. He seems to hope that I, who have mentioned that I have been sitting for fourteen years now, have some yogi-knowledge. True, I can take away a headache for friends but bone cancer I happen to know is terribly painful. If you can think of anything to tell me for my friend’s sake, I would be very glad.

One hundred and eight bows to you. Thank you so much for your teaching.

Sincerely, yours in the Dharma,


July 21, 1980

Dear Ingrid,

Thank you for your letter. How are you and your friends?

In your letter you said a new task has appeared — helping your friend who has cancer who wants to learn about Zen. That’s a little difficult But a bad situation is a good situation. A good situation is a bad situation. You must understand that. A bad situation forces you to find the correct way. In a good situation it is very easy to get attached to good and begin to make bad karma. So we say a bad situation is a good situation and a good situation is a bad situation.

You and your friend can use this difficult situation to find the correct way, truth, and correct life. But be very careful! Originally there is no life, no death. If you want life, or you want anything, you are already dead. Wanting life will only make more suffering and a living hell.

Put down all your understanding and don’t check your condition and situation; then already you are complete. That, we say, is primary point. Which is no life, no death; no coming, no going; no high, no low; no good no bad; no holy, no unholy. We say that is the absolute. If you attain that, then you must make this primary point function correctly and make your life correct and then help other people. We call that Great Love, Great Compassion and the Great Bodhisattva Way.

You already understand that. But, in looking at your letter, I find you are holding your understanding, also holding your feelings, a little bit. If when you are doing something you completely do it, then the little bit that you are holding your feelings and understanding will completely disappear; then you can see, you can hear, you can smell — all, just like this, is the truth.

Your friend has three kinds of cancer. That is the human route. Suffering is the truth. Also pain is the correct way. Cause and effect are very clear: your friend’s previous karma has already been determined, so by natural process his sickness appears. Only correct practicing can change this natural process. Then maybe his cancer will disappear. Even if it doesn’t disappear, worrying is not necessary; it cannot help. Only go straight, try, try, try, for 10,000 years, nonstop. If you keep this mind, moment to moment, you are perfectly complete, for infinite time. Then everything is no problem.

Here is another kong-an for you: (Blue Cliff Record case #87)

Yun Men, teaching his assembly, said, “Medicine and disease cure each other. The whole universe is medicine; what is your True Self?”

So sickness, medicine, and your True Self — are they the same or different? Tell me, tell me! If you don’t understand, only go straight, don’t know, O.K.?

I hope you only go straight, don’t know, which is clear like space, help your friends and find the correct way, truth, and correct life, get Enlightenment, and save all people from suffering.

Yours in the Dharma,

S. S.

Who is it that Sees these Leaves?

A Student wrote to Zen Master Seung Sahn:

In the Fall, there are leaves on the ground. If they are on a lawn, someone may come out of a house and sweep them into little piles. In the afternoon the wind comes and blows all the leaves away. Many people become mad at the wind. Some may go out again and sweep the scattered leaves into new piles. But again, the wind comes and sweeps them away. Then what work must be done?

As to your kong-an; ‘The tree has no roots,’ I ask you, ‘If the tree has no roots then how can it stand?’

Zen Master Seung Sahn replied:

If a person goes outside and stays with leaves and wind and people, he cannot find his way back home. Why are you attached to leaves, wind and people’s anger? Who is it that sees these leaves? Who?

The Sixth Patriarch, long ago in China, once passed two monks who were arguing about a flag blowing in the wind. One monk said, ‘It is the flag that is moving.’ The second monk said, ‘It is the wind that is moving.’ The Sixth Patriarch said, ‘You are both wrong. It is not the flag, it is not the wind; it is your mind that is moving.’

It is the same with the leaves, wind, and anger. When your mind is moving, then actions appear. But when your mind is not moving, the truth is just like this. The falling of the leaves is truth. The sweeping is truth. The wind blowing them away is truth. The people’s anger also is truth. If your mind is moving you don’t understand the truth. You must first understand that form is emptiness, emptiness is form; next, no form, no emptiness. Then you will understand that form is form, emptiness is emptiness. Then all actions are the truth.

You say, ‘If the tree has no roots, how can it stand?’ I say, ‘The dog runs after the bone.’ You must not be attached to words. First attain true emptiness. If you do not dwell there you will attain freedom and no hindrance. Then you will understand that the tree has no roots. Thinking is no good. Put it all down. Only ‘What am I?’ This don’t know mind is very important. If you keep it for a long time, you will understand this tree with no roots.

Where Does the True Buddha Dwell?

Zen Master Ku San wrote to Ven. Duk Sahn as follows:

Once Zen Master Ang Sang asked Zen Master Wi San Yungwoo, ‘Where does the true Buddha dwell?’

Wi San answered, ‘When origination and matter come together, they become light. This light is emptiness and this ’empty’ is ‘full’. When all phenomena, extinguished, return to the origin, then nature and form become clear. Origination is origination; matter is matter. only like this – this is the true Buddha.”

At this remark, Ang San was suddenly enlightened.

Now, Duk Sahn, what is your view?

Ven. Duk Sahn wrote in reply as follows:

It is said that there is no place of abode of mind. Duk Sahn, the general of the guards keeping the gate of Sambosa on Robin mountain, has also no place of abode and no view.

Regarding the dialogue between Ven. Ang San and Ven. Wi San, I give them both thirty blows and give the bodies to a hungry dog.

Zen Master Ku San wrote again as a reply:

In your letter you mentioned that you are a general of the guards who keeps the gate, and so on – but In True Emptiness, there is no entry and no exit. So what do you guard?

And, you said that you hit Ang San and Wi San thirty times. Please give me an answer that is before words. You give them thirty blows. To whom do you give them?

At this Ven. Duk Sahn wrote to Zen Master Seung Sahn:

Ven. Seung Sahn, how should I answer the questions? I look forward to your kind instructions.

Zen Master Seung Sahn answered Zen Master Ku San:

The sword of the general who keeps the gate at Robin mountain kills Buddhas when it meets them, and kills patriarchs when it meets them, as well. If Ven. Ku San opens his mouth here, he too shall have no way of escape from being killed by the pitiless sword.

Regarding the second question, the thirty blows are given to Ang San and Wi Ran, why do you carry these thirty blows around on your own back?


The sky is blue and the ground is yellow.