The Twelfth Gate – Three Men Are Walking

Three men are walking. The first man makes a sword sound, the second man waves his hands, and the third man picks up a handkerchief.

1. If you were there, what would be your correct function?

2. What is the relationship?

3. And lastly, what is the situation?

Commentary: The function of each is different, but the situation is the same.


A long time ago Zen Master Cheung Sahn would ask his students this kong-an frequently. Nobody understood. Sometimes he would use wild actions or shout, “Yahhhh! Why don’t you understand?” Still, they couldn’t answer completely.

This kong-an is very important. It is an object “just like this” style kong-an. There are two kinds of “just like this” kong-ans, subject and object. Subject “just like this” means when you are hungry, what? Eat! Object “just like this” means if someone is hungry, what? Give them food! That is object “just like this” style. So, in this kong-an, what is your correct function? These three men do different actions, but the situation is the same. Their function is different, but it is the same situation. What is their relationship? What is the situation? Same situation, same condition, same relationship, but the function is different: one makes a sword sound, one takes out a handkerchief, one waves his hand–different actions, but the meaning is the same.

Here’s a hint: you go to a theater where somebody is doing a one-man show. He tells a very funny story, he acts funny, talks funny, and then everybody laughs. Everybody is happy. Many different people are laughing with different styles. Somebody is laughing, “Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha.” Somebody else is laughing, “Hu, Hu, Hu, Hu!” Somebody else is laughing, “Ho, Ho, Ho, Ho!”–different laughing styles. The action is different, but the condition and the situation are the same. So, what kind of condition, what kind of situation, what kind of relationship? You must attain that. That is the object “just like this.”

If you don’t understand, just don’t understand. If you keep this “don’t understand” then your Don’t Know mind becomes very strong and a big Don’t Know is possible, which means great question and great doubt. If you completely don’t know, then you will get complete enlightenment. If you have only a small question, only small enlightenment is possible. There are many kinds of enlightenment–small enlightenment, middle enlightenment, big enlightenment, and then finally, no enlightenment. No enlightenment is complete enlightenment.

True Meditation

At a recent Dharma Talk, Zen Master Seung Sahn was asked what elements contribute to make a meditation practice strong and clear. He answered:

“True meditation comes from true cognition; true cognition comes from true meditation.

There are many schools of meditation in the United States. Some meditations use breathing awareness, some focus on sound, smell, vision, or body practices to build strong concentration. Very good feeling. This is “very good feeling” meditation, but it can miss the true way. Meditation can control anger and desire, and this feels good. But why do you want this good feeling? This is very important. Meditation means not-moving mind, but meditation alone is not enough. Good feeling, then what? For correct meditation, you must find correct cognition.

Cognition means understanding. But cognition alone cannot control your mind and body. What is truth? Many people can talk about this, they can tell other people what to do, but in their day to day life they cannot live their understanding. They are hindered by their thinking, their anger, their desire. Many people have clever speech, but only clever speech is not enough. Only cognition, without practicing, is dry cognition. Without both correct meditation and correct cognition, you cannot find your true self.

When not-moving mind and understanding come together, this is Zen. This is clear mind, not dependent on feeling or words, not dependent on anything. Clear mind means keeping a mind that is clear like space, clear like a mirror. Red comes, red. Yellow comes, yellow.”

Another student said, “Lin Chi Zen Master answered every question with, ‘Katz!’ Is this true meditation or true cognition?”

Seung Sahn Soen Sa answered, “Why do you ride around on the bone of space?”

The student answered, ”What does this mean?”

Seung Sahn Soen Sa hit him thirty times.

True Kensho

The following is a reply by Zen Master Seung Sahn to a letter written to him by a student.

Dear Paul,

Thank you for your letter. How are you? In your letter you said you have two problems. First, you talked about your service in Viet Nam as a soldier and medic. As a soldier you saw many people including children die all around you. As a medic you treated wounded, suffering soldiers. You say these experiences weigh heavily on your heart and mind.

You have already seen many dead people. Some day your body will also disappear — maybe tomorrow, maybe day after tomorrow. This is true not just for your body or for the people who lost their lives in Viet Nam. Maybe this entire world will disappear tomorrow. Already all the large countries have nuclear weapons. If one person makes a mistake and pushes a button setting off all the missiles, the whole world will be destroyed in a second.

You saw many people die in Viet Nam, so you have a strong feeling. If your mind opens and you perceive this world, then you will see that moment to moment there is great danger. This will make you very unhappy, not knowing which way to turn, like a child who has lost his mother.

When Shakyamuni Buddha was a prince he had everything that he wanted but this did not satisfy him. He put it all down, cut his hair, went to the mountains, and sat under the Bodhi Tree. One day he saw the morning star and attained Enlightenment: he perceived that your True Self has no life, no death.

You must understand that. Then, no problem. What are you?

If you don’t understand, only go straight don’t know. Try, try, try for 10,000 years non-stop, O.K.? Then you can finish the Great Work of life and death, get Enlightenment, and save all beings. This is possible. Then world peace.

Next, you say that you have experienced kensho several times, but when you try for this point during zazen you end up in a struggle. We say this is “feeling kensho,” not true kensho. Ken means perceive, sho means nature. Perceive your true nature. This means attain your true nature. If you attain your true nature one time, this never disappears. But you have experienced kensho many times. What does this mean? There are many kinds of kensho like your kensho — 84,000 kenshos. Why 84,000? We have 84,000 kinds of thinking and feeling. So if you experience one feeling of kensho, then experiencing kensho 84,000 times is necessary. How many times have you had kensho? Put it all down. Who told you that you already had kensho? You make kensho, so you have kensho. This is your kensho, not true kensho.

True kensho means no kensho. The Heart Sutra says, “no attainment with nothing to attain.” This means you must attain no attainment. That is true kensho. You still want something; you still want kensho. That is a big mistake. That way you will never get Enlightenment, never get true kensho. If you want true kensho, you must make your opinion, your condition, and your situation disappear. Then the correct opinion, correct condition, and correct situation will appear. The name for this is kensho. The name for this is our True Self. The name for this is Great Love, Great Compassion, and the Great Bodhisattva Way. Not special. When you are hungry, eat. When you are tired, rest. When you see a hungry person, give him food. When you see someone sad, you are also sad. Only this. Moment to moment, you must keep your correct situation. All your actions are for other people. Put down I, my, me.

An eminent teacher said, ”Without thinking, Just like this is Buddha.” Someone asked Zen Master Dong Sahn, “What in Buddha?” He said, “Three pounds of flax.” Someone asked Zen Master Un Mun, ”What in Buddha?” He said, ”Dry shit on a stick.”.

These two answers, are they the same or different? If you say, “Same,” I will hit you 30 times. If you say, “Different,” I will also hit you 30 times. What can you do? If you don’t understand, only go straight don’t know. Try, try, try, any time, always, everywhere, O.K.?

I hope you always go straight don’t know, which is clear like space, soon finish the Great Work of life and death, get Enlightenment, and save all beings from suffering.

In the Dharma,

Seung Sahn

True God, True Buddha

Adapted from a talk during a retreat at Providence Zen Center in December, 1990.

Question: I’m a Christian, and I would like to know, is there anything you would like us to understand that we tend not to understand?

Zen Master Seung Sahn: Christianity says God made everything — good and bad, heaven and earth, human beings and animals and so on. He worked for six days, then rested.

But in Buddhism, there is no original cause or creator; there is no coming, no going, no existence, no nonexistence; all of these are opposites thinking. Sun and moon, light and dark, day and night — all these are names; the world of names is opposites thinking. “God” is also a name; it’s also opposite thinking. True God has no name, no form. In no name/no form, there is no coming, no going — no opposite thinking. That which is beyond all names and forms is always bright. That is True God.

The purpose of Buddhism is to find primary point. What is the primary point of this universe? The Bible says, “God made everything.” But what is the primary point of God? Where does God come from?

These days, not many young people are becoming monks or nuns. I was in Paris — a big Catholic university had closed its doors. No more students! Any society that has a “good situation” doesn’t have young monks, only old monks. This is a different age, a different mind, Old-style religion was to just believe in God. Now people check — what kind of religion will help me, help society? Monk or not monk is not important. They like new idea, new style religion, perhaps some meditation.

This is a time of great change and religions need to adapt; a change in teaching style is necessary. A simple belief in God is no longer enough for many people. They want to understand: What is God? What is my true self? In the Bible, it says, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” What is this “I”? Is this “I” God? Is this God separate from me? If this God is not separate from me, are God and I two or one? Through meditation practice these questions can be resolved on a deep level. Then one can truly understand religion, understand this world. In meditation all opposites become one point: mind, God, dharma, truth. You can call it many things, but this point is before all names and forms.

If you only talk about a belief in God, then there are many questions: Where is God? Inside the body or outside? Someone says God is in heaven; nowadays spaceships roam about in vast outer space, but don’t find any God because all is curved space. Here is God? Here is God? True God has no inside and outside, no name and form.

Nowadays many Christians like Thomas Merton’s books. He didn’t only analyze Biblical words. He understood and practiced Zen meditation, so he was able to connect with his true self, and wrote about this connection. That’s why his books are so popular.

Any kind of religion, any kind of style doesn’t matter. Why do this? Making this direction clear is very important; if this direction is clear, then your life is clear. If you only hold your religion, your idea, then you have a problem. If you are not holding “my religion,” not holding “my practice,” have a clear direction, and only try, try, try, then you attain something. Clear direction and try mind are most important.

Zen mind means put down any idea, any form. If your direction is clear and you completely put down everything, then you will attain something. When you attain something, you connect with everything else.

All religions are like different paths to the mountaintop. The top of the mountain is very clear; it’s the primary point. But there are many paths leading to this point; there is the eastern road, western road, southern road, and northern road. When people begin climbing the mountain, they are always fighting: “My way is correct, your way is not correct.” But from the bottom of the mountain, they cannot see the top, so they are very strongly attached to “my way.” Having clear direction and try mind means just going up, going up, one step after another. So you don’t spend energy in fighting other people or their ideas; you just practice. Then you can reach the mountaintop.

The different paths to the mountaintop are made by our mind. But what is mind? If you try to understand it intellectually, you will not find it. Our mind is very big, but it’s also small. A very sharp needle cannot touch this mind, because this mind is smaller than the tip of the needle. But our mind is also bigger than the whole universe. Sometimes our mind is very bright, sometimes very dark. If you make “my path,” you also make “my mind.” But if you let go of “my mind,” you become a Buddha. Then any path will lead you to the mountaintop.

If you control your mind, you control everything. But if you say, “I control my mind,” then what is this that controls the mind? Is it some other mind that controls the mind or is it no mind? Also, how do you control your mind? Where is your mind? Are you and your mind two things or one? Same or different? Big problem! That’s all thinking. POW! Put it all down, OK? Don’t think!

The Diamond Sutra says “All things are impermanent. A pure view is to see all appearances as non-appearances. When all appearances and non-appearances disappear, that’s complete stillness. Then you can see Buddha nature.” But if everything is impermanent, I am also impermanent; Buddha is also impermanent. Then how can I see Buddha? How can impermanence see impermanence?

If you check the words in the Bible or in the Diamond Sutra, then it’s all checking, all opposites thinking. But truth means there are no opposites. No opposites means the absolute. If you are checking, then everything is not correct. If you are not checking, everything is correct. That is Zen. The Diamond Sutra teaches that silence is better than holiness. And the Bible says “Be still and know that I am God.” This silent mind is very important. How do we transmit this silent mind from me to you? Buddha picked up a flower, and only Mahakashyapa smiled. Then Buddha said, “My true dharma, I transmit to you.” But that was a big mistake on Buddha’s part. If I was Mahakashyapa at that time, I would have said, “No, thank you, Buddha, I already have dharma.” Then Buddha would have a problem!!

So, already everybody has dharma, already everybody has truth, already everybody has the correct way and correct life. Already everybody has, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” So why does anyone need transmission from someone else? Open your mouth and it’s already a mistake. But our job is to help all beings. So, we only use this mouth to teach the dharma and help all beings. That, we say, is “tongue formula.”

If you only keep a try mind, a don’t-know mind, then your center becomes stronger, stronger, stronger. Then everything you hear, smell, see, taste, touch is better than the Buddha’s speech, better than the Bible’s speech. That’s enlightenment. Then you can save all beings from suffering.

The True Buddha

A Dharma Speech given by Seung Sahn Soen-sa at the International Zen Center of New York on Buddha’s birthday, May 18, 1975

(Holding up the Zen stick and hitting the table)

An eminent teacher said, “Before Buddha was born and came to the Kapila Empire, he had already saved all people.”

(Hitting the table)

When Buddha was born, he took seven steps, looked in the four directions, pointed with one hand to the sky and with the other hand to the ground, and said, “In the sky above and the sky below, only I am holy.”

(Hitting the table)

Somebody once mentioned these words of the baby Buddha to Zen Master Un-mun and asked what they meant. Unmun said, “As soon as Buddha said this, I hit him and killed him and fed his body to a hungry dog. The whole world was at peace.”

Today we are celebrating Buddha’s 2519th birthday. These three sentences are all in praise of the true Buddha. If you discover the true meaning of Buddha’s birthday, then you will become the same as Buddha, and you will finish the great work.

We say that Buddha was born. But what is the true Buddha? Is Gautama Shakyamuni, who was born long ago in India, the true Buddha? Is the golden Buddha just behind me on the altar the true Buddha?

The Diamond Sutra says, “All things that appear in this world are transient. If you view all appearances as nonappearance, then you will see the true Buddha.”

The historical Buddha, who was born, became enlightened, and died, and the golden statue behind me — is either of them the true Buddha?

The Diamond Sutra says, “All things that exist are like a dream, a phantom, a bubble, a reflection; they are like dew or lightning; thus should you view them.”

If you view all things in this way, then you will see the true Buddha. This is the true meaning of our celebration today.

Then what is Buddha? Zen Master Ma-jo once answered, “Mind is Buddha, Buddha is mind.” Another time he answered, “No mind, no Buddha.” When Zen Master Lin-chi was asked what is Buddha, he only shouted, “KATZ!!!” Duk Sahn only hit the person who had asked. Dong Sahn answered, “Three pounds of flax.” Kyong Ho said, “Before you came, did you wash your bowl?”

Which of these answers is correct?

The Diamond Sutra says, “If you are attached to color and sound and want to see your true nature, you are on the wrong path.”

If you are attached to the words of eminent teachers, then you cannot understand the true Buddha. You must cut off all thinking and return to before thinking. Then your mind will be clear. A clear mind has no hindrance at all. Everything you see, hear, smell, taste, touch — everything just as it is — this is the true Buddha.

So just like this, mind is Buddha, Buddha is mind. Just like this, no Buddha, no mind. Just like this, KATZ!!! Just like this, HIT. Just like this, three pounds of flax. Just like this, did you wash your bowl? All this is the true Buddha.

So just like this, Gautama Shakyamuni, who was born 2519 years ago today, is the true Buddha. Just like this, the golden statue behind me is also the true Buddha.

All things are equal. There is no holy or unholy. But Buddha said, “In the sky above and the sky below, only I am holy.” So I will hit Buddha thirty times.

In original nature, there is no name or form, no life or death. But Un-mun said, “As soon as Buddha said this, I hit him and killed him and fed him to a hungry dog.” So I will hit Un-mun thirty times. But already there is nothing. Whom can I hit? So I will hit myself thirty times.

Where is the mistake?

KATZ!!!

In front of Buddha, the paper lanterns are shining.

Transmission to the West

Primary Point: Why did you choose the twentieth anniversary of the Kwan Um School of Zen to give transmission?

Zen Master Seung Sahn: After twenty years, there are now three disciples whose practicing is ripe and whose teaching is correct, so now it is time for transmission.

PP: How did you decide to pick these three people as new Zen Masters?

ZMSS: We have a process. First, someone finishes all the kong-ans and is tested in a Ji Do Poep Sa Nim certification ceremony. At the ceremony, anybody can ask any kind of question, and if the candidate answers with no hindrance then he or she can become a Ji Do Poep Sa Nim.

After three years, each Ji Do Poep Sa Nim is tested again by doing dharma combat with Zen Masters both outside and inside our school. Three years after they successfully complete this dharma combat, I check their teaching again. At that time, if their teaching is clear, their mind is clear, and their actions are clear, then transmission is no problem. Meditation and wisdom have come together; their practice is now ripe.

PP: When you were twenty-two years old, Zen Master Ko Bong Sunim gave you transmission. Nobody knew who you were. That style and our present process seem different.

ZMSS: Yes. Ko Bong Sunim was a freedom-style Zen Master. He did not stay at a big temple and have many students like other Korean teachers. He didn’t even want to teach Korean monks; he thought they had too much pride and didn’t practice correctly, so he only taught nuns and lay people. He wasn’t so concerned with building an organization or a teaching lineage. Ko Bong Sunim would come and go. He was a freedom-style Zen Master, so he gave a freedom-style transmission.

I do not teach freedom style. In the United States, from the beginning, I have taught correct organization: correct temple organization, correct work organization, correct school organization. Now we have correct teacher organization: Ji Do Poep Sa Nim for three years; then dharma combat with other Zen Masters; then again after three years I will check their teaching; then transmission. That’s our style.

PP: In Zen we refer to “a special transmission, outside the sutras, not dependent on words or speech.” What does this mean?

ZMSS: Three times Buddha’s mind and Mahakasyapa’s mind met and became one. Thus, Mahakashyapa became the first patriarch. The three occasions of transmission were:

First: “Sharing the cushion with Mahakashyapa in front of the Pagoda of Many Children.” Many disciples had gathered for the Buddha’s daily dharma speech. The great monks were in the front; the newer monks were seated in the rear. No one spoke as they anticipated the talk. At that time, Mahakashyapa was still a relative novice, even though he was an old man. He was out begging and arrived late to the assembly. As he walked in, his eyes and Buddha’s eyes met – their minds connected. Mahakashyapa proceeded toward the front of the crowd, to the consternation of the senior monks. As he approached, the Buddha moved over on his cushion to make room for Mahakashyapa. This was the first transmission.

Second: “Holding up a flower on Vulture’s Peak.” Again, Buddha had appeared for a dharma speech in front of a huge gathering. For several minutes he was silent. Finally, he picked up a flower. Everyone was confused except Mahakashyapa, who smiled. Then Buddha said, “My true dharma I transmit to you.” This was the second transmission.

Third: “At Niranjana River, when Buddha’s feet burst out of the casket.” After Buddha died, his disciples gathered around his gold casket. They were very sad. Also, they were very confused – he had said “no life, no death,” so how could he die? Maybe his teaching was not correct. So there was a lot of thinking. Mahakashyapa arrived late and saw this; then, he slowly began walking around the casket, with his hands at hapchang. He walked around three times; when he came to the front of the casket he bowed three times. No one knew what he was doing – why wasn’t he crying over the Buddha’s death? Suddenly, the Buddha’s feet shot through the end of the casket. Everybody was happy – only the Buddha’s body had died, not his true self. This is the story of the third transmission.

In all three cases, there were no words, just mind to mind connection.

PP: Buddha’s mind to his mind; what does that mean?

ZMSS: It’s like an auction. You make a gesture and the auctioneer’s mind and your mind connect. There is recognition. Words are not necessary. From mind to mind.

PP: When you give transmission, is this also mind to mind?

ZMSS: Yes. This tradition of mind to mind transmission has continued from the Buddha to Mahakashyapa, from Mahakashyapa to Ananda, and through our lineage to the present day.

PP: You are the seventy-eighth patriarch in your line. You gave transmission to three people; which one is the seventy-ninth patriarch?

ZMSS: They are all seventy-ninth patriarchs going back to the Buddha, and “second patriarchs” in the American extension of the lineage that began when I came to the West.

PP: Usually we think of transmission as one person. So what does this mean, three?

ZMSS: Before the sixth patriarch there was only one line of transmission; no patriarch had given transmission to more than one student. The Buddha’s robe and bowl were passed on as a symbol of the singular, direct lineage. After the sixth patriarch, five lines appeared. Later on, teachers would spawn as many as one hundred lines. My grand teacher, Man Gong Sunim, gave transmission to more than a dozen students.

PP: How do we know which of the three transmissions represents the Kwan Um School of Zen line?

ZMSS: They are all considered Kwan Um School of Zen lines because they all descend from Kwan Um School of Zen. But the first monk to receive transmission fosters the “main line,” responsible for preserving our specific tradition and practice forms. Zen Master Su Bong thus continues our main line, which is a tradition of monk to monk transmission. The Kwan Um School of Zen centers and organization follow this main line.

Zen Master Bo Mun (George Bowman) and Zen Master Soeng Hyang (Barbara Rhodes), if they wish, can begin their own schools with their own traditions, their own centers. They can also teach at the Kwan Um School of Zen centers, where they would follow the practice forms of the main line. And all the teachers who receive transmission will participate in the overall governing of Kwan Um School of Zen.

PP: When people have asked you over the years about American-style practice, you have said “when an American Zen Master appears, we will have American style.” Today, three American Zen Masters are appearing.

ZMSS: As more Zen Masters appear, their individual styles will emerge. Perhaps some of them will make their own schools. So maybe, slowly, this Korean style will disappear and be replaced by an American style or American styles. But the main line does not change.

PP: Now you are giving transmission, so you will have no job. What will you do, sir?

ZMSS: Yes, hungry time only eat, tired time only sleep, that’s all.

PP: Thank you very much.

A Three-Year Retreat

September 20, 1977

Dear Soen Sa Nim,

I am still in bed, and although I don’t have pain any more, I still have a problem with my leg. It’s numb from the knee down, so I think that I’ll have to do something besides only rest to fix my back problem. Do you know why someone would have an extra vertebra or different bone structure in each hip?

This time in bed has been like a retreat in many ways. For the first time in my life, I understand that I have no choices to make. People bring me food — I can’t choose. I can’t do what I feel like doing. Every day just comes and goes. People come and go. Sometimes it’s warm, sometimes it’s cold. I just have to stay here and let everything occur just the way it does, and I must keep my mind clear. There is no choice; I cannot act out my karma. So this sickness is very strong teaching. I understand something I never did’ before: if you are dependent on anything, you make suffering. It’s funny, because I am dependent on everyone, but at the same time my mind is not dependent.

I hope you are well. Much love to you.

Yours in the Dharma,

Andrea


October 5, 1977

Dear Andrea,

Hello. Thank you for your letter.

In your letter, you said that you have no choice about any food or any action, that you are dependent on everyone, but that your mind is not dependent on anything. That is wonderful. This is correct Zen sickness: sick time, only sick. No choice, no checking, not dependent, only sick. Then sick is not sick. This is high-class practice and a high-class education.

Do you know the story about Bu Sol Go Sa? lie was a monk who wanted to do a three-year retreat with two monk friends. On the way to the mountains, he got married. A girl came running up to the three monks and cried, “If I don’t marry, I will kill myself.” Bu Sol Go Sa did Bodhisattva action and married her. His two friends said, “You are only filled with desire. This is not the action of a Bodhisattva but of a selfish man.” After many more accusing and angry words, the two monks went on their way.

Just after his marriage, Bu Sol Go Sa became very sick. Just like you, he could not move. His wife was very kind to him. She did everything for him -she washed his body, brought him food. Every day for three years he could only lie in bed and look at the ceiling..

When the two monks finished their three-year retreat and were returning home, they thought about their Dharma friend. They decided to visit him, and when they reached his house, they found his wife sweeping the front yard. The two monks said, “Hello. How are you? Where is your husband?”

“My husband has been sick for three years. He is so sick that he cannot do anything.”

One monk whispered to the other, “This is his bad karma — he broke the Precepts and got married, so he got sick for three years.” But they wanted to see their Dharma friend, so they asked if they could visit him for awhile. Although the wife was a little angry inside, she acted kindly and showed the monks into her husband’s room. They went in and started laughing. “So, you have been sick for three years. Not bad!”

When Bu Sol Go Sa saw them, he got up. “Oh, how are you? Thank you very much for visiting me.”

They were startled. “We heard that you have been sick for three years. How can you get up?”

He said, “Maybe I can get up because you did strong practicing for three years.”

Then they said, “Maybe. We worried about you every day.”

“I had so much bad karma that for three years I was sick. But you did hard training all the time. What was your practice? Please teach me. What did you understand?”

The two monks said, “Oh, we read many sutras and the speech of many eminent teachers, so we understand all the Buddha’s teachings.” For the next few hours, they told him what they had learned.

Finally, Bu Sol Go Sa said, “Yes, you understand Buddha’s speech very well. But what is Buddha’s mind?”

“Buddha’s mind?”

“Yes, what is Buddha’s mind?”

“Do you know Buddha’s mind?”

“Yes, I think if you have Buddha’s mind, anything is possible. So, we’ll try something.” Then he called his wife and asked her to help him.

She brought three long thin-necked bottles with wide bottoms, filled with water. Then Bu Sol Go Sa took three pieces of rope and tied one around the neck of each bottle, and he tied each of the other ends to a crossbeam in the living room. He brought a hammer and said to his friends, “Here is a hammer. If you hit a bottle with the hammer and no water spills out, they you have attained Buddha’s mind. Let’s try this.”

These monks were very proud. Not trying would look bad, but if they tried, they might fail. They decided to try.

First the monk who did strong mantra practice hit the bottle. All the water came splashing down. Then the sutra monk hit the bottle with the hammer, and again all the water splashed out.

Finally, it was Bu Sol Go Sa’s turn. He didn’t use a hammer. He only pointed to the bottle and shouted, “KATZ!” This “KATZ” was as loud as a cannon blast. The two monks leapt up in surprise — the bottle shattered and fell to the floor, but the water only spun around and around and did not come down.

Then the monks fell to the ground, bowed to Bu Sol Go Sa and said, “We are sorry! Please teach us!”

He smiled and said, “I cannot teach you. You already have everything. But you must find your true selves; then you can do anything.”

Then he took the bottle-shaped water and spilled it out the door.

This is the story of Bu Sol Go Sa. When you are sick, only be sick. Then you will get everything, and you will be able to do anything.

You already said that your sickness is very strong teaching for you. That is wonderful. So I ask you: your sickness and Bu Sol Go Sa’s sickness — are they the same or different? If you say the same, you can see the stars when your eyes are closed. If you say different, you are already in a dark hell with no door. What can you do?

Yours in the Dharma,

S. S.

The Three Treasure Structure of Buddhism

Modern Buddhism is comprised of three main branches: Theravada Buddhism, Mahayana Buddhism, and Zen. Although these three branches are often thought of as quite distinct, they do share a common basic structure. This common structure consists of the three treasures, or “jewels,” of Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.

Time and space, cause and effect make this world. All of this comes from thinking. Human beings’ minds are composed of emotions, intellect and will. These are called the three clouds, because if you cannot control your emotions, intellect, and will, or they do not function harmoniously, they will cloud over your true self. Then you lose your way in this world, causing more suffering for yourself and others. Because of these three clouds, Buddhism has the three corresponding treasures of Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.

Then what is Buddha? Buddha means waking up and attaining your true self. If you attain your true self, you become Buddha. But in Zen teaching, Buddha is not special. Buddha means if you attain your true self, you attain your own mind. An eminent teacher once said, “Mind is Buddha; Buddha is mind.” So how can you attain your true self? At first, when you begin practicing, you only believe in Shakyamuni Buddha and in his teaching. As you practice this teaching, you see that you can better control your thinking and emotions. And if you control your thinking and emotions, then you can take away suffering and get happiness. As a result, your mind is not moving as outside conditions constantly change. Then you can see clearly, you can hear clearly, you can smell clearly–everything is beauty, just as it is. Then you can believe that the sky is blue, the tree is green, a dog is barking, ‘Woof, woof!’ You can believe in everything. Somebody once asked Un Mun Zen Master, “What is Buddha?” He replied, “Dry shit on a stick.” Perceiving that is the same point. This is moment-to-moment life. We call this the treasure of Buddha.

Beauty does not come from the outside appearance of things. In the treasure of Buddha, “beauty” means that when your mind is not moving, everything is beautiful. I was teaching in Paris several years ago, and saw an exhibition of paintings. An important picture was hanging alone on a large wall. From across the room, you could not tell what this painting was about. As I walked up to it, this picture became clear — two old and worn-out socks, with holes in them, hanging in a frame! All dirty! But that was considered to be the best picture. Everybody in the museum was saying, “Wow, that’s number one, you know?!” But why have these dirty, worn out socks hanging in a high-class museum? What do these socks mean? What is their inside-meaning? The inside-meaning is a very important point.

The inside-meaning of this picture is that some human being did a lot of walking in these socks, putting a great deal of energy into them. With time passing, the socks became worn and full of holes–they showed a lot of suffering. So this picture of old socks is making a very important point: this picture teaches us something about a human being’s life. So although the socks are very dirty, the meaning is very beautiful. Where does this beauty come from?

True beauty comes from our not-moving mind. In Sanskrit, it’s called samadhi, which means deep meditation, unmoving. When your mind is not moving, everything is beautiful, just as it is. If your mind is moving, however, then even if a beautiful picture, a beautiful landscape, or beautiful things appear in front of you, this view quickly changes in your mind, and does not seem so beautiful. For example, when you are angry, or sad, or depressed, then even the birds chirping right outside your window sound irritating or depressing. Because you attach to feelings or outside conditions, whenever these feelings or outside conditions change, then your mind is constantly changing, changing, changing. You lose your center. Then even a beautiful landscape may seem ugly or revolting. So the most important thing is to keep a not-moving mind, moment to moment. Then you can perceive true beauty, and you can digest your understanding so that it can become wisdom.

A not-moving mind gives rise to faith. When your mind is not moving, you can believe in this world. The word for that is faith. Believing in Buddha as an “object of faith” means believing in your true self. Faith means simply that you can believe in your true self, your original nature. Then you can believe your hands, your eyes, your ears, your nose, the trees, the sky, God, Buddha — everything! Someone once asked me, “Soen Sa Nim, do you believe in God?” I said, “Of course I believe in God!” The person was shocked: “But you are a Zen teacher! How can you possibly believe in God?” “I can believe my hands. I can believe my nose. I can believe my eyes. Why not believe in everything? I believe this tree, this dog, this cat — why not believe in God?”

You can believe in everything; believing in everything means realizing that you and everything are never separate. [Hits the table.] OK? You and everything are never separate. Let’s say a husband and wife both believe in their true self. Then even though the husband’s and wife’s bodies are separate, this mind always becomes one and they are never separate. If you believe in your true self, then you can believe in everything; you and everything already become one. The name for that is “faith.” “Mind is Buddha; Buddha is mind.” You are Buddha; Buddha is you! When you see, when you hear, when you smell, when you taste, when you touch — everything is beauty, just as it is. With a not-moving mind, even shit is very beautiful! When this becomes clear, your true way appears clearly right in front of you. So the treasure of Buddha means keeping a not-moving mind.

However if you only understand this, that’s merely intellectual. If you haven’t attained your true self, you don’t truly understand what is life, what is death. So it is very important that you take away ignorance and get enlightenment. How do we do this? First, you must digest your understanding. When you truly digest your understanding, then “The sky is blue” becomes yours. That means your understanding is becoming true wisdom. Your ignorance is changing as your mind opens. When you completely digest your understanding, our name for that is “getting enlightenment.” Wisdom appears by natural process as you continue practicing, digesting your understanding. That is Dharma — the treasure of Dharma.

What is the meaning of Sangha, the treasure of Sangha? Sangha is the ethical side of our life, which means having “correct life.” Correct life comes from your will, from your center. This means taking away bad habits, and following a good way which helps all beings. If your center is not moving, then having correct life is possible. We also refer to that as “correct direction.” That’s the Buddha’s basic teaching–keeping a correct direction. “Why do I want to do this or that? Only for me, or for all beings?” In order to keep our correct direction, however, we need some basic rules or guidelines for our life. These rules, or precepts, always point us toward saving all beings. Precepts are not rules to limit our actions; precepts mean correct direction. If you follow these precepts, you attain goodness. Then only correct action appears by itself: you don’t check inside, you don’t check outside. Moment to moment just doing it is possible, because these precepts already point the way to our correct job of helping all beings. Then you can believe in your true self one hundred percent. One name for that is “freedom”; another name is “holiness.” This is also called “become Buddha.”

Buddhism has a very clear teaching structure: the treasures of Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. The Chinese characters for this reads sam bo, three treasures. There are three dimensions to sam bo. They are original sam bo, form sam bo, and true sam bo. The original three treasures are the historical figure Shakyamuni Buddha; the actual teachings of Dharma which he gave 2,500 years ago in India, before any sutras appeared; and the assemblies of monks and laypeople who followed his teachings while he lived — the original Sangha. So that’s the original Buddha, the Buddha’s original Dharma speeches, and the original Sangha of people who heard and followed his teaching. In Sino-Korean, we call that jin che sam bo, the original three jewels.

More than 2,500 years have passed since the original three jewels appeared in this world. Now we have sun jun sam bo, or form of the three jewels. Since the original Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha have disappeared, what is the form of Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha that we see today? Every temple has a Buddha statue. In Buddhist temples and in our Zen centers in the West, the Buddha statue is gold. This gold Buddha is the form Buddha — it represents the original Buddha. Today we have many sutras, as many as 48,000 sutras. These are the written records of the Buddha’s teaching. We also have books with teaching and events from the lives of eminent teachers in the history of Buddhism. That’s the form of the Dharma. And originally, while Sangha meant only those people alive at the time of the Buddha who heard his teachings and put them into practice, today there are many Buddhist communities throughout the world . This is the Buddhist Sangha, the form of the Sangha. All together, that’s sun jun sam bo, the form of the three jewels.

Then what is the true Sangha? What is true Dharma? What is true Buddha? In Korean and Chinese characters, we call this il che sam bo, which means “become-one three treasures.” Your pure and clear mind is Buddha. When your mind-light shines, that is Dharma. When your mind acts with no hindrance, that is Sangha. Buddha is your pure mind, Dharma is clear mind, and Sangha is your “no-hindrance mind.”

But what is a pure mind? What is clear mind? What is a no-hindrance mind? A long time ago, somebody asked Joju Zen Master, “What is Buddha?” He said, “Go drink tea.” Another time, someone asked Joju, “What is Dharma?” “Go drink tea.” “What is Sangha?” “Go drink tea.” In Sino-Korean, we call that shil yong sam bo, which means real three treasures. If you drink tea with a clear mind, then in that moment, you become actual Buddha, actual Dharma, actual Sangha. Joju Zen Master answered many kinds of questions with “Go drink tea!” If you don’t understand this you must go drink some tea, right now! Then you will attain the actual Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, OK?

In the Compass of Zen, it says that the treasure of Buddha means beauty, the treasure of Dharma means truth, and the treasure of Sangha means morality or goodness. In Sino-Korean, we call this jin song mi — “truth, goodness, beauty.” How are these connected? What is the relationship between truth, goodness and beauty? Everyone has seen a beauty contest on television. Many women come together and are judged on beauty. That means the judges look for each woman’s beauty, or mi. But they only look at the woman’s body and face. If her face and body are beautiful, and if her actions are graceful, then this woman wins the contest. But real jin, truth, is not only how our face and body appear: real truth and beauty are found in our mind. What does our mind look like? Usually our mind is filled with many kinds of ignorant thoughts, and that makes the mind seem ugly. If you practice hard and gradually take away ignorance, you get enlightenment. Then wisdom appears: that’s true beauty and truth.

Everybody has goodness, or song, already in their mind. One way to easily see this is by going to a movie where a good character is battling a villain. The good person is being beaten badly; maybe he or she is about to die. It looks like the villain is going to win! That’s no good! So everybody in the movie theater is thinking, “No good! No good! Get up! Get the bad person!” If the good character and the others suffer a lot at the hands of the scoundrel, then everybody watching the movie feels upset. Nobody wants the good person to die. The anxiety we feel is the innate goodness we already have in us. “Get up! Get up! Get the bad person!” This mind appears. So that’s goodness. This goodness comes from where? It comes from our nature, our true nature. Myself and all beings are not different, and are never separate. That’s why goodness is realized in Sangha. So, true goodness means correct direction — precepts.

Three Men Are Walking

Three men are walking. The first man makes a sword sound; the second man waves his hands; and the third man picks up a handkerchief.

  1. If you were there, what would be your correct function?
  2. What is the relationship?
  3. And lastly, what is the situation?

Commentary: The function of each is different, but the situation is the same.

A long time ago Cheung Sahn Zen Master would frequently ask his students this kong-an. Nobody understood. Sometimes he would use wild actions or shout, “Yahhhh! Why don’t you understand?” Still they couldn’t answer completely.

This kong-an is very important. It is an object “just like this” style kong-an. There are two kinds of “just like this” kong-ans, subject and object. Subject “just-like-this” means when you are hungry, what? Eat! Object “just like this” means if someone is hungry, what? Give them food! That is object “just-like-this” style. So, in this kong-an, what is your correct function? These three men do different actions, but the situation is the same. Their function is different but it is the same situation. What is their relationship? What is the situation? Same situation, same condition, same relationship, but the function is different: one makes a sword sound, one takes out a handkerchief, one waves his hand–different action, but the meaning is the same.

Here’s a hint: you go to a theatre where somebody is doing a one-man show. He tells a very funny story, he acts funny, talks funny, and then everybody laughs. Everybody is happy. Many different people are laughing with different styles. Somebody is laughing, “Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha.” Somebody else is laughing, “Hu, Hu, Hu, Hu!” Somebody else is laughing, “Ho, Ho, Ho, Ho!” — different laughing styles. The action is different, but the condition and the situation are the same. So, what kind of condition, what kind of situation, what kind of relationship? You must attain that. That is the object “just-like-this.”

If you don’t understand, just don’t understand. If you keep this “don’t understand” then your Don’t Know mind becomes very strong and a big Don’t Know is possible, which means great question and great doubt. If you don’t know completely, then you will get complete enlightenment. If you have only a small question, only small enlightenment is possible. There are many kinds of enlightenment–small enlightenment, middle enlightenment, big enlightenment, and then finally, no enlightenment. No enlightenment is complete enlightenment.

Throw That Book Away

From talks in Cambridge on April 1, 1999 and Providence on April 2, 1999

Question: In your book, Compass of Zen, you say that “Mu practice” is not a correct practice. But Mu is the same as Kwan Seum Bosal, so why is it not correct?

Zen Master Seung Sahn: Everything in that book was a mistake. [laughter] So throw that book away, then there’s no problem. An old master said, “Anytime you open your mouth it’s a mistake.” So if opening mouth is a mistake, then making a book is even a bigger mistake! So if you want to not make a Mistake, go to a Zen center and only practice; only go straight, don’t know. “Don’t know” is the number one good practice, okay? Try it! More questions?

Q: Also in your book, you talk about going to cut grass in the field. When you had finished, you continued on to school. Later, one of your schoolmates says, “Look at the big cut on your leg!” Then you see that you had cut your leg very badly and you had to have it sewn up. What was your teaching there?

ZMSS: Cut your leg, cut your finger, cut your neck but most important is to cut ignorance. Cut grass no problem. Cut ignorance, that’s our job, okay? If you can cut your ignorance, then you can see clear, hear clear… everything is clear. But, but if you are attached to my speech, or attached to anything, then you have problem. How do you cut? [Audience member makes a cutting gesture … I Cut your finger? Why? Mistake. No problem. Cut finger, cut neck, doesn’t matter. Cut everything, cut ‘everything! Cut everything, then no problem. If even a small hair appears-even one hair-then you will have problem. Cut everything, then you can see clear, hear clear, smell clear, everything clear. So cut everything, okay?

Q: How important is this body in our search for enlightenment?

ZMSS: Yes, not only your body-everything is important. But, everything is not important. Everything important, everything not important: which one do you like? [laughter] You have a problem. Only do it. If your checking mind appears, then a problem appears. Don’t check, okay? just do it!