What Will You Give?

Question: Recently I travelled in India. Everywhere I went, people were suffering because of a lack of food. I wanted to help them but I had nothing to give them–there were so many people and so much suffering. I realized I could do nothing.

Zen Master Seung Sahn: You have everything. You say “nothing,” but that isn’t correct. You don’t understand “you,” so you say “nothing.”

Q: But I had nothing to give them.

ZMSS: You are only attached to “outside”; you don’t understand “inside.” Outside you have nothing, but inside you have everything. If you have nothing on the outside to give them, then everywhere you go bow and chant Kwan Seum Bosal. Also, in your mind keep “I can!” Then this helps them, and also helps you. You have “that,” yeah?

Everything happens from primary cause, condition and result. Our world has a big problem. So Buddha said this is a suffering world. In the United States, we have a lot of food. And every day we throw a lot of food in the garbage. It’s the same in Korea. But in India, there isn’t enough food. So, our world is unbalanced. Who makes things unbalanced? Human beings make this.

Nowadays there are too many human beings. Also, humans do many bad things. For example, humans kill a lot of animals and eat them–eat their meat. Then cause and effect are very clear. All suffering comes from cause and effect. If two religions are fighting–like Hinduism and Islam–then many people will be killed. Then these people reappear again. The suffering goes around and around. Everything is from primary cause, condition and effect. So, what’s our job?

Our job is to practice hard and perceive this world. Human beings do more bad actions on this planet than any other animal. The outside… how can we help the outside? If we chant Kwan Seum Bosal, then our consciousness and suffering people’s consciousness connects. If you only practice for yourself, that’s not correct practicing. Our practicing means attain your true self. Attain your true self means Great Love, Great Compassion, the Great Bodhisattva Way. In other words, moment to moment keep correct situation, correct relationship and correct function. If we don’t have enough money to help people, then we chant for them. Chant Kwan Seum Bosal many times and say, “Please, may all suffering human beings and all suffering animals be relieved of suffering. Same day, same time! Together become Buddha.” That’s our direction. This direction never ends, life time after life time. That’s our great vow. So, if we see suffering people, then we chant for them. That’s our job. O.K.?

What is that Rock Saying?

One Sunday night at the Providence Zen Center, Seung Sahn Soen-sa told the story of Su Tung-po’s enlightenment. Afterwards he said to his students:

“What do we learn from this story? That Zen teaches us to cut off all discriminating thoughts and to understand that the truth of the universe is ultimately our own true self. All of you should meditate very deeply on this. What is this entity that you call the self? When you understand what it is, you will have returned to an intuitive oneness with Nature and will see that Nature is you and you are Nature, that Nature is the Buddha, who is preaching to us at every moment. It is my wish that all of you will be able to hear what Nature is saying.”

Student A (pointing to a rock in the zendo) — What is that rock saying to you right now?

Soen-sa — Why do you think it’s speaking to me?

Student A — Well, I hear something, but I can’t quite make out. what it is?

Soen-sa — Why don’t you ask the rock?

Student A — I already have, but I can’t understand its language.

Soen-sa — That’s because your mind is exactly like the rock! (Laughter)

Soen-sa — Are there any more questions?


Student A — If there are no questions, can you answer?

Soen-sa — If there are no questions, then you’re all Buddhas. And Buddhas don’t need to be taught.

Student B — But we don’t know we’re Buddhas.

Soen-sa — That’s true, you don’t know…. Fish swim in water, but they don’t know they’re in water. Every moment you breathe in air, but you do it unconsciously. You’d only be conscious of air if you were without it. In the same way, we are always hearing the sounds of cars, voices, waterfalls. All these sounds are sermons, they’re the voice of the Buddha himself preaching to us. We hear many sermons, all the time, but we’re deaf to them. If we were really alive, whenever we heard, saw, smelled, tasted, touched, we’d say, “Ah, this is a fine sermon!” We’d see that there’s no scripture that teaches as well as this experience with Nature.

Student C — Why do some see and others not?

Soen-sa — Your nose sticks out and your eyes are sunken. Do you know why? It would be just as functional to have two holes in the middle of our face, and eyes on a flat plane. So why are our eyes and noses the way they are?

Student C — I don’t know.

Soen-sa — Well, it’s human karma. In the same way, you’ve sown certain seeds in the past that now result in your encountering Buddhism. Not only that: some people come here only once, while others stay and practice very earnestly. When you practice Zen earnestly, you’re burning up the karma that binds you to ignorance. In Japanese the word for “earnest” means “to heat up the heart”. If you heat up your heart, this karma, which is like a block of ice in your mind, melts and becomes liquid. And if you keep heating it, it becomes steam, and evaporates into space. Those people who practice come to melt their hinderances. Why do they Practice? Because it’s their karma to do so, just as it’s others’ not to. Man’s discriminating thoughts build up a great thought-mass in his mind, and this is what he mistakenly regards as his real self. In fact, it’s merely a mental construction based on ignorance. The purpose of Zen meditation is to dissolve this thought-mass. What is finally left is the real self. You enter into the world of the selfless. And if you don’t stop there, if you don’t think about this realm or cling to it, you will continue in your practice until you become one with the Absolute.

What is Happiness? What is Sadness?

Zen Master Seung Sahn gave the following talk in London, England, towards the end of his trip to Europe in the spring of 1978.

Long ago in China there was a famous student of Zen Master Ma Jo named Han Ong. Everyone said to him, “You are lucky, you are happy.” Then he said, “What is luck? What is happiness?” He always spoke like this.

He had a good horse, which he liked to ride every day. One day the horse disappeared, so everyone said, “Oh, are you unhappy? Are you sad?” He said, “What is sadness? What is happiness?” No feeling. His horse ran away, but he only said, “What is sadness? What is happiness?” Everyone said, “This man has no feeling.” Usually, if someone is attached to something and it goes away, then he is very sad. But Han Ong only said, “What is sadness? What is happiness?”

A week later Han Ong got a very good horse; we say, jun me. This means it only has to see the shadow of the whip and it runs. This is a very clever horse. So everyone said, “You are happy. You are lucky.” He said, “What is luck? What is happiness?” Only this. No feeling. Then everybody said, “This man is very lucky.” His son liked the horse and rode it every day. He only had to mount the horse and it would go, so he rode around and around, very happy. Then one day while riding, he fell and broke his leg. So everyone said, “Ah, I am sorry your son broke his leg. Are you sad?” He said, “What is sadness? What is happiness?” No feeling.

Soon after this, there were many wars, with North China and South China fighting each other. All the young people had to go to the army. But Han Ong’s son had a broken leg, so he could not go; he stayed at home and only helped his parents. His leg was not so bad, so he could work in the garden and help them with their chores. Everybody said, “You are lucky. You are happy.” So he said, “What is luck? What is happiness?” This style speech.

This is Han Ong’s famous, “What is happiness? What is sadness?” His whole life he used only this speech to teach other people. Outside, happiness appears, luck appears, sadness appears, but he is not moving. “What is true happiness? What is sadness?” Not moving. This mind is very important. Originally there is nothing. If you attach to something, then you have luck, happiness, sadness, suffering — everything appears. If you don’t attach, this is clear mind. Then there is no sadness, no happiness, no unhappiness — they all disappear. So if you attach to name and form, if you attach to words, then your mind is also moving. Don’t attach to anything. Then your mind is enough. Then appearing, disappearing, whatever happens outside doesn’t matter. Then teaching other people is possible. So Han Ong’s friends and all his students learned from him. Only one word: “What is sadness? What is happiness?” This means your mind moving is no good. If you make happiness, if you make sadness, that’s no good. Don’t make anything; don’t attach to anything; don’t hold anything. Then you are complete. This was his teaching.

So our Europe trip is almost finished. We too have had many kinds of happiness, appearing and disappearing. Put it all down, O.K.? Only go straight: “What is luck? What is happiness? What is sadness?” We have had a lot of luck, a lot of happiness, a lot of suffering, a lot of sadness. But what is happiness? What is sadness? What is luck? Only go straight.

What is Belief?

On the trip to Europe in the spring of 1978, Soen Sa Nim gave kong-an talks every morning to the small group of students who traveled with him. In West Berlin, following the morning talk, Diana Clark had this exchange with Soen Sa Nim.

Diana (D): I wish that you would talk a little more about belief. What is belief?

Soen Sa Nim (SS): How many hands do you have?

D: Two.

SS: How many fingers do you have?

D: Ten.

SS: How do you use them?

Diana claps.

SS: Correct. That is belief. I have fingers, I have hands — no thinking. Only action. Already my hands and me become one; there is no thinking. Can you believe your eyes? How? (Laughter) What color is that?

D: White.

SS: White. That is belief.

D: Okay. I understand that. But you say you must believe in yourself one hundred percent, or if you don’t believe in yourself one hundred percent, then you must believe in Buddha, or a tree, or your teacher, or something. So okay. How do you do that? I mean you can’t just make a decision to believe. I know that’s white because I see that it’s white. I know I should believe in Buddha, but… I’m not sure. How do I go from not being quite sure to belief?

SS: You want to believe something; this is already a mistake. So, put it all down and true belief will appear by itself (laughs). Very simple. The mind that wants something cannot believe in anything. Throw away this wanting mind. Try!

D: Try what? Can you try to believe?

SS: No! No! I didn’t say try to believe. Only try. Only try means only go straight don’t know; don’t know means that your ideas about this world disappear. When your ideas disappear then you and this world become one. So in true belief there is no believing in something or not believing in something because it has already become one. If you and Buddha become one, how do you believe in Buddha?!

This is one mind, try mind, go straight don’t-know mind and put-it-all-down mind. But many people hold their thinking: “What does he think about me? I think this about him.” Holding this creates opposites when originally there was no problem.

D: Thank you. I see that making “believe” and trying to believe is a mistake.

SS: Believe is only a teaching word. Don’t attach to words, okay? (Laughs.)

D: Okay. Thank you very much.

Wearing a Kasa, Carrying the World – Uncovering the mystery of form

This interview took place in August 1989.

Primary Point: What is the significance of the objects on the altar – the rice, water, candles, and incense?

Zen Master Seung Sahn: Our universe is made of four elements – earth, air, fire, and water. The items on the altar are symbolic representations of these elements – the incense represents air; the candle represents fire; the water bowl represents water; the altar and the Buddha are symbolic of the earth; the rice is symbolic of earth and food. The four elements make up the universe and our human body; they also control our consciousness. So when the incense is burning, there is a good smell; the smell goes into your consciousness. At any time, what you see, what you hear, and what you smell all becomes part of your consciousness. So when you see the candles, smell the incense, see the Buddha, and listen to the chanting, it all creates good feeling in your consciousness. When you come to the dharma room, your outside condition and situation disappears and a good feeling appears. Your small mind disappears and for a little while you have Buddha mind. That’s how we use the items on the altar and in the dharma room.

PP: Why do we bow when we enter and leave the dharma room?

ZMSS: In the Orient, when two people meet, they bow to each other according to their status. The person who is high-class bows just a little bit; the person who is lower-class bows much more deeply. This is Oriental hierarchy. But when we enter the dharma room, we leave behind this high-low mind; an emperor bows to the Buddha and a beggar also bows to the Buddha. This is cultivating humility. In that moment, the mind becomes very simple. Also, this is a moment of paying attention and having correct relationship with the situation. The Buddha is our ideal and our inspiration. So the correct relationship is to bow to the altar.

PP: What is the origin of the moktak?

ZMSS: “Mok” means wood; “tak” means hit. But the original word is “mok o.” The Japanese call it “mokugyo.” “Moku” means wood, “gyo” means fish; this instrument is shaped like a fish with its mouth open.

There is a story about the origin of this instrument. A long time ago, in China, there was a monk called Chung San Poep Sa. He lived near a big city and a big lake. One day a high government official came to the lake with his family for a picnic. They had a small baby, only a few months old. By chance, when they were on the boat, the baby fell overboard. The official engaged local fishermen to swim into the waters and find the body of his baby, but they couldn’t find the body. So he went to Chung San Poep Sa and said he would like to do a ceremony for his dead baby, but could not find the body. Chung San Poep Sa went into deep meditation and perceived what had happened. He told the government official they must go to the fish market very early the next morning and buy some fish. So they went to the fish market and Chung San Poep Sa selected a very big fish. They cut open the stomach and found the baby inside. To the surprise of the family, the baby was still alive. They were all very happy. Then the official wanted to help all fish for saving the life of his baby. So this moktak is shaped like a fish, with an open mouth and a hollow stomach. When you hit the moktak, a good sound appears. The meaning of the moktak sound is that the baby is still here; all fish can hear the sound and get enlightenment.

PP: Why wear robes for formal practice?

ZMSS: Originally these robes were monks’ clothes. In India, during the Buddha’s time, the monks wore yellow robes. They chose the yellow, the color of ground, because it got less dirty when the dust was blowing. If the color were white, the robes would get dirty in no time.

When Buddhism came to China, things changed a little bit. The robes that we wear are Taoist style clothes, not Indian style. Only the monk’s big kasa is Indian style. So when Taoism and Buddhism came together, a new style of clothes appeared.

The kasa, both small and large, is a symbol. They have squares and lines – seven lines, twelve lines, eighteen lines. There are five points – east, west, north, south, and a middle. This means the whole world. A monk leads a homeless life, but wearing his kasa he symbolically carries the whole world with him; that means he is not separate from the world and still takes cares of all beings. So the robes and kasa are different; robes are Taoist style clothes; the kasa is a symbol of renunciation, of leaving behind ego and small I.

PP: What is the origin of the four bowl style of eating?

ZMSS: This style is from China. Originally, in Buddha’s lifetime, there was only one bowl. In China, this style changed again. Again, the four bowls are symbolic of the four elements – earth, air, fire, and water – and also of Buddha, dharma, sangha and mind. In Korea, they always use four bowls in the monastery; here we use four bowls during retreats and formal meals, but our American style is a little different from Korean monastery style.

PP: What is the origin of the four great vows?

ZMSS: The tradition of reciting the four great vows started during the T’ang dynasty in ancient China; these vows are taken from the Avatamsaka Sutra. In China and Korea, they recite these vows only at the end of a ceremony and not in the morning, as we do at Kwan Um School of Zen centers. When we first started Providence Zen Center, somebody suggested saying the four great vows in the morning. I thought this was a good idea, because we do one hundred and eight bows, which are the bows of repentance; these four great vows provide our direction. First wake up, then bow to the teacher in gratitude, then recite the four great vows to reaffirm our direction, then bow one hundred and eight times in repentance for all our mistakes.

PP: When you do a solo chant in the morning, before the Heart Sutra, what is the meaning of that?

ZMSS: That means praying for the whole world. The first part says we want all beings to get off the wheel of samsara and allow the wheel of dharma to go around and around and take away all peoples’ suffering. The second part means wishing for harmony in all parts of the world – east, west, south, and north. This part is praying that all beings become one mind, become world peace, become Buddha. The third part means praying that all students in the Kwan Um School of Zen and all of Buddhism get enlightenment. The last part is a recitation of the ten precepts.

PP: Why do people take off their shoes when coming into the temple?

ZMSS: That’s Korean and Japanese style, not Chinese or Indian. Korean and Japanese use ondol or tatami floors inside the house; if you wear street shoes inside the house, the floors get dirty. So the relationship is clear; if you take off your shoes, the house or the temple stays clean.

PP: Korean Buddhist statues are always large and colorful; other traditions use smaller, simpler statues. Why is there this difference?

ZMSS: This is not only Korean style; Chinese use much bigger and more colorful statues. In India, Thailand and Cambodia, they use very big statues, very colorful. But that is not Hinayana style, only Indian or Thai or Cambodian style. In Hinayana, they have Shakyamuni Buddha statues, but no bodhisattvas. Bodhisattvas are part of Mahayana tradition. Chinese style is very colorful, so they have large and colorful statues of the various bodhisattvas. In Korea, they have only middle size statues, not quite as big as Chinese style. Buddhism came from China to Korea and then went to Japan. There, during the period of Nara Buddhism, they built a very large Buddha at Todaiji which was the largest Buddha in the world. Also, during the Kamakura period, they built a huge Buddha outdoors. For many people, when they look at the huge Buddha, a very strong feeling of awe or reverence arises; for a very short time, this feeling takes away their karma, their small I. For some people, when they look at a small Buddha, there is no such feeling. But for some people, looking at a small and simple Buddha, there is a deep feeling. So people have different consciousnesses. In China, Korea and Japan, big and colorful Buddhas and bodhisattvas have a deep impact on the people’s consciousness.

PP: What is the meaning of the morning bell chant? Please explain some of the lines.

ZMSS: The morning bell chant comes from the Avatamsaka Sutra. This sutra talks about the interdependence of all beings. So all animals, birds, human beings, demons, and beings in hell hear the sound of the bell, wake up, get enlightenment, and become Buddha. So, this sound penetrates all six realms of existence – heaven, astral, human beings, animals, hungry ghosts, hell – and takes away your ignorance; wisdom grows up, you get enlightenment, and save all beings. Together, we all become Buddha.

There is a line in the chant that says, “Everywhere everything is equal.” This means in universal nature, everything is equal; there is no form, no name. So at the time when you just hear the sound of the bell, universal nature appears, name and form disappear, and everything becomes equal.

Another line says, “Together you and I simultaneously attain the way of the Buddha.” This means we are all equal – all animals, all birds, and all human beings are all equal – and all attain enlightenment at the same time through hearing the sound of the bell. When you hear the sound of the bell, it means you wake up; wake up means going beyond time and space. Time and space are a hindrance caused by thinking; so hearing the sound of the bell makes this thinking disappear, makes time and space disappear, and all become Buddha at the same time.

At another point, it talks about “great love, great sadness, our great teacher.” Great love is substance, and great sadness is compassion. If other people are suffering, I am sad and compassionate. If everyone is happy, I am happy. “Our great teacher” means we are connected to everything else in the universe, and everything is teaching us the lesson of great compassion and great love.

PP: The Great Dharani, which we chant, is a long mantra and has no translation. What is the origin of this dharani and what is its meaning?

ZMSS: In Buddha’s lifetime, one monk broke the precepts and was very unhappy. So the Buddha taught him that karma comes from your mind; if mind disappears, karma also disappears. If you hold your mistake, your karma will never go away. Then the Buddha gave this monk the Great Dharani mantra in order to take away his holding and thinking mind.

PP: Why do we do one hundred and eight prostrations in the morning? Why one hundred and eight?

ZMSS: In Korean tradition, there are one hundred and eight names for Buddhas and bodhisattvas. So in that style, one hundred and eight bows mean repeating these names. Another tradition says that human beings have one hundred and eight delusions and we bow to cut off these delusions.

PP: When people take precepts, you give them dharma names. How do you pick these names?

ZMSS: First, I pick a family name for the whole group that is taking precepts on that day; then I separate men and women; then I perceive what kind of name fits what kind of person.

PP: When someone takes monk’s or nun’s precepts, as part of the ritual you sprinkle water on his or her head and touch it with a sword. What is the meaning of this ritual?

ZMSS: It is symbolic of cutting the last hair, the last ignorance. Becoming a monk means going from ignorance to light. When you shave you have to use soap and water; otherwise it’s very hard. So we use the water from the altar for this symbolic purpose; the sword is symbolic of the mind sword, the sword of wisdom that cuts through ignorance. So this is cutting the last hair.

PP: What is the meaning of the repentance ceremony?

ZMSS: Everybody makes mistakes; how do we correct our mistakes? In some forms of Hinayana Buddhism, if you make mistakes, then you have to give up your precepts. But in Mahayana and Zen, if you make mistakes, you can do a repentance ceremony. There are big mistakes and small mistakes. Big mistakes cause many problems for other people; small mistakes cause a problem only for ourselves. Doing one hundred and eight bows every morning is a repentance ceremony for our small mistakes. For big mistakes, there is a public ceremony; then our mind becomes clean, and also other people’s minds become clean. If we don’t do this kind of ceremony, then everyone is holding “my mistake” and making more karma. In the Catholic Church, if you make a mistake, you can go to the priest and confess your mistake, then feel relieved and complete. The repentance ceremony is like that. But Catholic ceremonies are secret; in Buddhism there are no secrets, everything is open. If you make a mistake, then have a public ceremony, one can forgive and move on without holding.

PP: You often encourage your students to do forty-nine and one hundred day retreats. Why forty-nine days? Why one hundred days?

ZMSS: We have two eyes, two ears, two nostrils, and one mouth. That’s a total of seven holes in our head. The number seven is considered lucky in the Orient. Also, seven times seven is considered a good number. The 100-day retreat is a little bit not correct. Originally a retreat was done for three months, ninety days. The number 100 comes from Taoism. For Taoists, ten is a lucky number, so their retreat time is ten times ten. In China, Buddhism and Taoism got intertwined, so many Buddhist rituals have come from Taoism.

PP: What is the role of women in Korean monasteries? Should their role be different in American Zen?

ZMSS: In Korea, a nun is the same as a monk, except nuns cannot officiate at a precepts ceremony. Nuns can become teachers and Zen Masters; they can get transmission but cannot give transmission. That’s the tradition from China. But that’s not a problem in America. Buddhism is always adapting itself to the culture of the country where it goes, so Korean style is not absolute in America. We can change it. Changing the transmission rule is no problem, but we cannot change the precepts rule.

PP: How can we make Zen practice more interesting for Americans?

ZMSS: Traditionally, in China and Korea, only monks did Zen practice. But Zen has come to the West and here lay people practice Zen, so this has changed the character of Zen. Now we teach Zen in everyday life. Sitting Zen all the time is not possible for lay people. Everyday life Zen means learning mind sitting. Mind sitting means the mind that is not moving. How do you keep not-moving mind? Put down your opinion, condition, and situation, moment to moment; when you are doing something, just do it. This is everyday Zen.

Under the traditional rules for monks, they cannot go to the theater or restaurants, cannot do this, cannot do that. Their precepts are always telling them this is no good, that is no good. So monks only sit Zen all the time, then get enlightenment and understand truth. That’s old-style Zen. In that style, there is not much teaching about great love, great compassion, the great bodhisattva Way. But for lay people this teaching of great love, great compassion, great bodhisattva way is very necessary. To attain that, it is important to keep a not-moving mind; then correct situation, correct function, and correct relationship appear by themselves in everyday life.

PP: Some people don’t like any kind of form, especially chanting. How should we approach them?

ZMSS: This is Western mind, always strong like and dislike. But there are many people who like chanting very much. Chanting means doing together action with other people; then this together action takes away your opinion, your condition, and your situation very easily. That’s the teaching of chanting meditation. If people don’t like Korean chanting, then maybe some time in the future we will chant everything in English. But remember that our school is not only in America, but also in Poland, Germany, Spain, and other parts of Europe. So if someone from America goes to Poland, it’s the same form, same chanting; then you have the feeling of being part of a large international family. Then your mind becomes bigger and you are at one with the world; you “become world peace.”

PP: Could you talk a bit more about chanting as meditation?

ZMSS: Meditation means not-moving mind. As I said before, old style meditation means body sitting, but mind sitting is more important than body sitting. When you chant you first have one mind, not-moving mind; that’s mind sitting, chanting samadhi. You keep chanting “Kwan Seum Bosal, Kwan Seum Bosal, Kwan Seum Bosal,” then you perceive sound; that’s clear mind. Clear mind is wake-up mind; wake-up mind is enlightenment. So in chanting, samadhi mind is the first step; this is one mind. The next step is perceive sound; this is clear mind, enlightenment. If you attach to samadhi, then you have a problem. That’s a very important point.

PP: How do you see the relationship between Korean Buddhism and American Buddhism changing in the next ten years?

ZMSS: These days I don’t stay so much in the United States; my travels are in Korea, Europe, Australia, and other places. So now most of the teaching in the United States is being done by the Ji Do Poep Sa Nims. Before, everybody was my student, but now the Ji Do Poep Sa Nims have their own students. Now the Ji Do Poep Sa Nims will decide the Kwan Um School of Zen’s direction; they understand American mind better than me. I taught only Korean style Buddhism; now the Ji Do Poep Sa Nims are teaching American style Buddhism, so that’s already changing.

PP: When do you plan to give transmission? We are all waiting.

ZMSS: Spring comes, the grass grows by itself. (laughs)

We are All Like Rocks

An excerpt from a letter written by Mu Bul Su Nim from Korea:

Before Soen Sa Nim left Korea, we had the great fortune to meet Mrs. So. She has been working for almost a year on getting a bell made for the Providence Zen Center. She went to great trouble and expense to find the right poet and sculptor and foundrymen to do the job. We happened to be here in Seoul just when everything came together, on the day the bell was to be cast. We took a long taxi ride to the town where the foundry was and we all watched for about an hour as the men very carefully assembled the mold. The form for the inside shape of the bell was in one piece, but the outside was made up of three collar-like pieces which had to be placed over the inside form just so. The master foundryman checked each step very carefully. This bell is very big, about six feet tall, and a single mistake at this time would mean a whole year’s work shot to hell, so the tension could almost be felt as the final piece of the mold was put in place.

Then, very quickly, the men rushed around getting the chain falls ready to carry the pot of molten bronze and to pour the bronze from the furnaces outside. Then, as they started pouring the red hot liquid from the furnaces into the pouring pot, Soen Sa Nim said something like this, “Originally this metal was ugly rocks. Then the rocks were heated for a long time over a very hot fire until finally they became liquid. Now this liquid will be poured into a mold and take the shape of a big beautiful bell, and when it cools someone will strike the bell and the beautiful sound will fill the whole universe.”

Then everything was ready and the men started pouring the liquid bronze into the mold. They poured from two pots, from both sides, and they were very careful to pour both at the same speed, and not to spill. Two men guided each pot which was supported by a chain fall, and their faces were wet with sweating from the work. It seemed it would take forever to fill the huge mold, but finally the master foundryman gave the order to stop pouring and the men backed off the pouring pots. It wasn’t quite done yet though. On a Korean temple bell, there is a tube coming out of the top of the bell which carries the air out of the bell when it is struck, making it resonate choong …. like a wa, wa, wongwongwongwong …. chong.

This had to be filled from the top, so one of the men took a longhandled ladle filled from one of the pouring pots and slowly and carefully filled the tube until the red metal overflowed onto the top of the mold.

Then it was finished. The whole room breathed a sigh of relief. The master foundryman was happy. He said the pouring had gone well.

“So,” Soen Sa Nim said, “we are all like rocks. And when we practice hard we heat up our hearts making a big hot flame which melts our condition, situation, and opinion until we become like molten metal, ready to assume the shape of a great Bodhisattva, who, when struck with a cry for help, makes a big, deep sound which resonates and fills the whole universe, and makes everybody happy.”

So I hope you keep such a mind, and save all people from suffering.

The Walls are White – The Rug is Blue

One morning after chanting at the Providence Zen Center, Seung Sahn Soen Sa gave a Dharma talk, and afterwards one student asked, “What is Buddha?”

Seung Sahn Soen Sa said, “The walls are white. The rug is blue.”

“I don’t understand,” said the student.

Seung Sahn Soen Sa hit him and said, “Just seeing is Buddha nature. If you want to understand the realm of Buddha, keep a mind which is clear as space. So let all thinking and all externalized desires fall far away. Let your mind go anyplace, with no hinderance.”

The student asked, “What is keeping a mind which is clear as space?”

Seung Sahn Soen Sa answered, “It is enlightenment nature. Above, the abode of Buddhas. Below, the six realms of existence. One by one, each thing is complete in it. One by one, each thing has it. It and dust interpenetrate. It is already apparent in all things. So, without cultivation, you are already complete. Understand, understand. It is very clear.”

Then Seung Sahn Soen Sa held up the Zen stick and said, “Do you see?”

And hitting the floor with the stick, he said, “Do you hear?”

The student nodded his head.

“Already you see clearly. Already you hear clearly. Then, what are this stick, this sound, and your mind? Are they the same or different?”

The student said, “They are the same.”

“If you say ‘the same,’ I will hit you thirty times,” said Seung Sahn Soen Sa, “and if you say ‘different,’ I will also hit you thirty times.”

“Why?” asked the student.

“KATZ!” shouted Seung Sahn Soen Sa. “Three times three is nine.”

The student bowed and said, “Thank you. I understand the meaning of your shout, but, I don’t understand three times three is nine.”

Seung Sahn Soen Sa said, “O.K., then here is a poem for you:

The four elements (earth, fire, water, and air) disperse as in a dream.
The six dusts (perceptions), roots (senses), and consciousnesses are originally emptiness.
To understand that the Buddha and the eminent teachers return to the place of light:
The sun sets over the western mountains.
The moon rises in the East.”

NOTES: The six dusts or perceptions are color, sound, smell, taste, touch, and ideas. The six roots or senses are the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind, and the six consciousnesses arise from the six corresponding senses.

Wake Up!

From a talk by Zen Master Seung Sahn on December 5, 1992

Buddha’s story is very interesting because he had a very good situation, but he gave up this good situation to have a suffering situation. He did suffering practice for six years, and then BOOM! got enlightenment. So today is Got Enlightenment Day. Everybody understands this day, but when Zen Master Man Gong celebrated this day, he called it “I Lost Enlightenment Day.” That’s a famous story.

Man Gong Sunim was the disciple of a very great monk, Zen Master Chun Song, who did not give the usual style of teaching. Only some people understood. Chun Song Sunim’s temple was in the To Bong Mountains of Korea.

It was wintertime. Buddha’s Enlightenment Day was coming, so many people came to the temple. They were very cold, so everyone went outside and cut trees to make firewood.

But there was a law against cutting down trees, so a policeman came and took this great Zen Master to the police station. He asked Chun Song Sunim, “Why did you cut down these trees?”

“You already understand.”

“WHY?! It’s not correct!”

“What is ‘correct’? What is ‘not correct’?”

“That is the rule!”

“Who makes the rule?”

“The country!”

“Oh! That’s a country rule. I don’t care about country rules. My rule is important.”

“You cut trees, and now you must go to jail. You speak strangely. Who are you?”

“I am a monk.”

“Where do you come from?”

“My mother’s ——–.” (Zen Master Chun Song was famous for his scatalogical speech.) A very strange thing to say to a policeman, right?

“WHAT? Where is your hometown?”

“My father’s ——–.”

“You’re crazy!” shouted the policeman. “Go away!” And he let Chun Song Sunim go. That was Zen Master Chun Song’s action.

On Buddha’s Enlightenment Day, Chun Song Sunim said, “Buddha is number one stupid man!” Everybody asked themselves what this meant.

“Everybody already has enlightenment. Why did he sit for six years, see a star, and then get enlightenment? That’s stupid! If you see a star, you get enlightenment NOW!”

So everybody wondered: now see a star, now get enlightenment? Where is this star?

Nobody understood. “HERE! HERE! This is the star!” But still nobody understood. Then he hit the floor with his Zen stick and yelled “KATZ!!” Still nobody understood him. But under the floor a sleeping dog was woken by the hit. Jumping up, it hit its head. The dog howled.

“Only this dog has enlightenment,” Zen Master Chun Song said.

This Universe Gives Us Everything

From a talk at Empty Gate Zen Center in Berkeley California in April 1984.

Question: A lot of us spend a lot of time trying to get rid of our bad karma and just end up accumulating more karma.

Zen Master Seung Sahn: Is karma good or bad? Karma is not good, not bad. If you don’t like karma, then take away your mind and all karma will disappear. All karma is from your mind. If your mind disappears, your karma will disappear. That’s the point. When mind and karma both become empty, that is returning to your true self.

But if I have bad karma, how can I make it function correctly? How can I not be attached to my bad karma? By helping other people. In Korea there is a man like Robin Hood. He does many bad actions, takes money and gives it to poor people. So this is bad action, but how does it function? Even if you have bad karma, if it’s not for you but for other people, it becomes good karma. Likewise, good karma which is only for you becomes bad karma.

So it’s very important how your good or bad karma functions. So don’t be attached to it, don’t check whether you have good karma or bad karma. You have karma, so how you use it is very important. The correct function means only helping other people, making other people happy. Then it’s OK.

Once a man had very good music karma. That is very wonderful, but he used it for bad action. The music was so beautiful that people would lose consciousness, then another man would take their money. That is using good karma and making bad action. So bad karma is ok. How do you use it? How can you make it function correctly? Everybody has karma, and any karma is ok. The correct function of karma is very important.

Q: Where do good karma and bad karma arise from?

ZMSS: Good and bad have no self nature. You make the category “good,” so you have good. You make the category ”bad,” so you have bad. Zen practice is about not making “good” and “bad.” When you practice, what is your original face? If you think, “I am bad,” then you have bad.  Don’t think that, don’t be attached to “I am bad.”  Just bring your attention back to the question “What am I doing?”  If you do a bad action or make a big mistake, and you think “I am bad,” then that bad never disappears.

The mistake was made already, so how do we make it correct? How to make it correct is a very important point. Don’t be attached to bad, and soon return to “What am I doing now?” If you do a bad action to someone, say “I am sorry.” Then it is all finished. Understand?

Someone told me this story. A man and his girlfriend decided to do something together. In the daytime he went to the office and was working very hard. Time passed. He forgot to meet his girlfriend. She was very angry. How could he explain so that his girlfriend would feel good?

Someone suggested that he say, “I was so busy I forgot.” Or, “I didn’t feel so good, so I didn’t go.” When you are in a situation like this, many opinions occur to you. You check how your mind was at that time. Zen means don’t check your past mind. Never check that. Only go straight. Already you made a mistake, so you go to your girlfriend and say, “I am sorry, I made a mistake. If you don’t like me, then kill me, please.” She will not kill you. But first, you have to make everything correct, then there is no good and bad.

Q: So what you are saying is, we are all bound by the law of karma and it’s better to give than to receive.

ZMSS: Don’t check on giving and receiving, just DO IT! (laughs) “Just do it!” is very important. If you love somebody, then only love is enough. Don’t check. If you are checking, that’s like saying, when you like somebody, “I love you, why don’t you love me?” – that’s not love. Love is unconditional. Only giving, only giving, just as this earth, this universe, gives us everything.

Every day we breathe in, breathe out. Nobody pays money for that. Living in this world, food is very important, clothes are very important, a house is very important. For all these things we must pay money. If for only ten minutes you do not breathe, you die. But no one says “Thank you very much” for their air.

The universe always gives us this air. This air has no hindrance, it connects with everybody, not just human beings. The air connects with trees and animals and sky. We are all connected by this breathing in, breathing out. When you sleep, when you’re awake, whether you have good thinking or bad thinking, you breathe in and breathe out. Always. If you stop, you die. So this much is given to you, this air. This is love mind. Think about it.

Also, if we had no sun, we would die. If we exploded all the missiles that Russia and America have, a cloud would cover the earth. No sun could penetrate this cloud. The earth would grow cold – then what? Everything would die. So this sunlight is very important, but no one says, “Thank you very much, sun.”

Next is water, very important. For water we pay money. We don’t pay the water, we only pay to have the water brought here from the mountain. Nobody pays the water any money. Also, if we had no earth, then what? We could not grow any food, any trees, any flowers.

Air, fire, water, earth – the four elements. The universe takes these elements and makes your body. That’s your life’s root. Correct roots. Nowadays, human beings don’t understand their roots. “I go to the factory, I make money, so I make a living. I don’t have to believe in God, I don’t owe the universe anything. What’s the big deal? I have money, I take care of myself.” This style of thinking. We have all forgotten our human roots. If you have no air, no ground, you cannot stay alive.

Anytime you do not believe in love, you die. What is your life? The whole universe is only giving, giving to you, We call that unconditional love. It has no condition. So you must also give to this universe. Loving and helping this universe is necessary. Don’t make atom bombs, don’t kill animals, don’t pollute the air or anything.

Many people have seen the movie “Never Cry Wolf.” Human beings never understand their correct situation. Human beings are the number one bad animal. We have destroyed much of nature, air, water and trees. Then we say we want world peace. Not possible. That is number one stupid!

So that is not so good. Human beings must just now WAKE UP – that is important. If we do not wake up, we cannot continue this human world, ok? It will soon disappear.

Q: If all the animals in the world can exist in peace without human beings, then why are we here? (Laughter)

ZMSS: Why are we here? I ask you, why do you eat every day? (Laughter) If everyone gives to each other, then there’s no problem. The universe gives us everything. We are holding our I-my-me, our “I want this?” so this earth has a problem.

You must understand correct love. There’s the famous story about two women arguing about a baby, Each one said, “This is my baby.” The the King said, “Bring the baby here, I will divide it in two. You take half, you take the other half.” He picked up his sword to kill the baby and one woman said, “Oh, you take this baby!” to the other woman. That is unconditional love. Not for myself, but only love others.

Two Kinds of Teaching

From a kong-an talk, April 30, 1978, London

The letter we just read from Dropping Ashes on the Buddha was from a professor, very complicated. “I am a professor, I have this position, my position, etc.” Sometimes having a good position cannot help you. Also it cannot help other people. If this good position is not only for me, but only for helping other people, then this position is a very great position.

It’s like Kwanseum Bosal. Kwanseum Bosal doesn’t want earrings, necklaces, beautiful clothes. These are not necessary. If you see pictures of the Bodhisattva she is very beautiful, but this is not necessary. But everyone likes beautiful earrings, beautiful necklaces, beautiful clothes. They see the pictures and think, “Oh wonderful, I believe in this Bodhisattva.” This style of thinking appears. But Buddha’s picture, you know, is nothing at all. Only very simple clothes, simple face, no necklace, no earrings. So Buddha’s teaching and the Bodhisattva’s teaching are different.

Buddha’s teaching is only truth. But many people don’t like Buddha’s teaching. Why? Everyone has desire mind. So when someone is hungry, how does Buddha teach him? “You are hungry, but if you keep hungry mind, no good! Put it all down.” This teaching is not possible! First you must give the person food, then he will have enough mind. Then you can say, “Where does this hungry mind come from? You eat a lot, this is no good. Not good for your body. If you eat too much when you’re hungry you will hurt your stomach, so only eat a little.” First give the person food, then give correct teaching. This is necessary. If you say, “You are hungry. This is no good. Put it all down. Then you won’t be hungry. Only drink water. For three days, five days, one month, this is possible. Why do you let desire mind appear?” This is not bad teaching, but he will not listen. Nobody will listen.

So Buddha’s teaching is the original true teaching. But the Bodhisattva understands all humans’ desire mind. Then she first satisfies these desires. Then next, cut: “Desire is no good!” So Buddha’s teaching is only straight. The Bodhisattva’s teaching is always together teaching with human beings. So Buddha’s teaching is only intellectual. The Bodhisattva’s teaching is first emotional, then intellectual. This is different.

At the time of Buddha there were three great men: Buddha, Vimalakirti, and Devadatta. Buddha already got enlightenment and was teaching all people. Vimalakirti also got enlightenment, he was teaching all laymen, Bodhisattva teaching. Buddha was teaching only true teaching, Vimalakirti, only Bodhisattva teaching to laymen. So Devadatta was thinking, “I have no job.” He also got enlightenment. So he always had bad speech for Buddha. “Buddha doesn’t understand, he only goes around saying, ‘I am Buddha.’ This is no good.” He always had bad speech for Buddha, so he went to hell. But hell was no problem, going to hell was OK. Already he had special energy and understood everything.

Buddha’s disciples sometimes visited Vimalakirti, sometimes visited Devadatta. So one day Ananda visited Devadatta. “You always had bad speech for Buddha, so you went to hell. How do you feel?”

Devadatta smiled and said, “Even if I stay in hell, my happiness is like staying in heaven. No problem.”

Then Ananda said, “Oh, then you won’t want to get out of hell. Hell is good, you can stay in hell.”

Then Devadatta said, “Shakyamuni Buddha will come here and take me out.”

Ananda said, “Shakyamuni Buddha is teaching all people, he’s spending his whole life teaching the six realms. Why should he come here?”

Devadatta replied, “Shakyamuni Buddha is spending his whole life teaching the six realms, so he will come here.” This hit Ananda, boom! Do you understand? This is a very short dialogue, but inside it has a bone.

Having a bone means: Who is Shakyamuni Buddha? Where is hell? Where is heaven? This style talking is nothing at all. We say form is emptiness, emptiness is form. He already got enlightenment. He said making hell is possible, making heaven is possible, also he understood everything. “You only understand Shakyamuni Buddha. Shakyamuni Buddha will come here and take me out,” means, “I am Shakyamuni Buddha.” So this kind of talking has a meaning. Devadatta understood Ananda’s mind, so Ananda could not answer. (Ananda was only Buddha’s secretary, not his number one disciple. That was Mahakashyapa.)

Shakyamuni Buddha and Vimalakirti never said, “I,” Devadatta talked about “I,” so made hell. This is the only difference. All three got enlightenment, all three had magic, but Devadatta was checking himself. “I have no job.” He could teach other people, but he says, “Shakyamuni Buddha is teaching everyone so I have no job.” So he only has bad speech for Buddha and goes to hell, but this hell is not hell. He has this much power, this much magic, very clever. But there is one point, like a small hair. One hair, “I.” So he goes to hell. If he cuts this “I,” then no problem. Finally he says, “Buddha will come here and help me, I will get out.” This means, “Buddha and I have the same mind.” That time he cuts “I.” So that time Buddha and Devadatta become one. Before, he never talked this way.

So someone may have a lot of power and understanding, get enlightenment, yet still have the small “I.” It’s like one hair. One ignorance hair, the last hair. So how do you cut this one ignorance hair. Go straight, don’t-know, OK? Don’t-know-mind is very important. Don’t-know mind has everything, can fix everything.