Kyol Che Man Cham – 1982

Zen Master Seung Sahn gave this formal Dharma speech (Man Cham) at the opening ceremony for the 1982 Winter Kyol Che at PZC.

(Soen Sa Nim ascended the High Stand and sat down. Holding the Zen stick and hitting the rostrum:)

Is it Buddha?

(Holding up the Zen stick and hitting the rostrum:)

Is it Dharma?

(Holding up the Zen stick and hitting the rostrum:)

Is it the true way?

Everybody already has Buddha, Dharma, and the true way, but some people understand, some don’t understand. A long time ago someone asked Zen Master Lin Chi, “What is Buddha?” He only shouted, “KATZ!” Someone asked Zen Master Dok Sahn. He only hit. Someone asked Zen Master Gu Ji. He only held up one finger. All three Zen Masters made a big mistake. But when someone asked Zen Master Un Mun, “What is Buddha?” he answered, “Dry shit on a stick.” Not bad! When someone asked Zen Master Dong Sahn, he said, “Three pounds of flax.” Also not bad.

Next, what is Dharma?

Zen Master Lin Chi again shouted, “KATZ!” Zen Master Dok Sahn hit the floor. Zen Master Gu Ji held up one finger. These answers are O.K., but one more step is necessary.

Someone asked Zen Master JoJu, “The Ten Thousand Dharmas return to the one. Where does the one return?” JoJu said, “When I was in Ch’ing Chou I made a robe. It weighed seven pounds.” That answer is O.K., but we must find JoJu’s mistake.

(Holding up the Zen stick and hitting the rostrum:)

Next, what is the true way?

Zen Master Lin Chi again shouted, “KATZ!” Zen Master Dok Sahn only hit the floor. Zen Master Gu Ji only held up one finger.

But once JoJu asked Zen Master Nam Cheon, “What is the true way?”

Zen Master Nam Cheon replied, “Everyday mind is the true way.” What is everyday mind? When you are hungry, eat. When you are tired, sleep. If someone is hungry, give them some food. If someone is thirsty, give them something to drink. That is everyday mind.

Then JoJu asked him, “Then shall I try to keep it or not?”

The Zen Master replied, “If you try to keep it, you’re already making a mistake.”

JoJu asked again, “If I do not try to keep it, how can I understand the true way?”

Then Zen Master Nam Cheon said, “The true way is not dependent on understanding or not understanding. Understanding is illusion. Not understanding is blankness. If you completely attain the true way, it is clear like space. So why do you make right and wrong?” When JoJu heard that, he got Enlightenment. So I ask you, what did JoJu attain?

Today is Kyol Che Day, the first day of our 90-day retreat, Sam Dong Kyol Che. Sam Dong means winter, Winter Kyol Che. We have ninety days to find our mind, the Dharma, and the true way – Buddha, Dharma, and the true way. Buddha is not special. What is Buddha? Buddha is clear mind. Mind-light is Dharma. Mind without hindrance is the true way. But Buddha, Dharma, and the true way – where do they come from? They come from our mind. But where does our mind come from?

If someone says, “I have already found my mind,” then he has already become blind, he cannot see anything. Someone else says, “I don’t know my mind.” But you cannot hide your body. Then where can you find your mind? If you find your mind, you have a problem. If you don’t find your mind, you also have a problem. What can you do?


1 + 89 = 90.

At this point, Soen Sa Nim chanted a four-line poem in Korean. After each two lines, the Sangha joined him in strongly chanting, once, “Namu Amitabul,” bowing together to the sound of the moktak. Soen Sa Nim then read the poem in English:

The Great Way is not difficult;
Only do not make distinctions.
If you want to understand that
There are many cars on Highway 95.

So, for 90 days, what will you do? The Great Work of Life and Death. Shakyamuni was born in Kapila Palace. He was a prince and it was possible for him to become a king. But he had a big question: “What is a human being? What are birth, old age, sickness and death?” He wanted to understand those questions. The Human Route is coming empty-handed, going empty-handed. When you are born, where do you come from? When you die, where do you go? If you understand that, you understand the true way. So where are you coming from? Where do you go? That’s a very important point.

The true way is not difficult. Don’t make distinctions; then everything is the true way. When you see, when you hear, when you smell, when you taste, when you touch, when you are thinking – everything is the true way. But if you are checking your mind, checking outside, checking something – then you have already lost the true way. So don’t make anything. For 90 days we do the Great Work of Life and Death. What is life? What is death? An eminent teacher said,

Life is like a floating cloud which appears.
Death is like a floating cloud which disappears.
Originally the floating cloud does not exist.
Life and death, coming and going are also like that.

That is our life; that is our death. If you understand that, then you have no problem. Your body is like a floating cloud. But there is one thing that always remains clear, that is not dependent on life and death. What is that one pure and clear thing? If you attain that, then you will get Freedom from Life and Death.

We have three kinds of freedom from life and death: first, Wisdom of Freedom from Life and Death; next, Attainment of Freedom from Life and Death; next, Correct Function of Freed from Life and Death.

First, Wisdom of Freedom from Life and Death – what does this mean? Our body is like a floating cloud: it appears and disappears, appears and disappears. But there is one thing that always remains clear and is not dependent on life and death. If you understand that, then you will get Wisdom of Freedom from Life and Death. When you go for an interview, the Master Dharma Teacher (now called a Ji Do Poep Sa Nim) will ask you, “Where are you coming from? When you die, where will you go?

Everybody who has sat one Yong Maeng Jong Jin already understands. It is necessary to digest this understanding and make it yours. After one year, two years, three years, four years, seven years, slowly, slowly you digest this understanding and it becomes yours. Then you can control your feeling, your condition, your situation. And your center will not move. There is no life, no death – you are very strong. Any kind of condition, any kind of situation, any kind of feeling can appear, coming and going, and your center won’t move. At that time, you attain freedom from life and death. This means life and death without hindrance; no matter what kind of situation, condition, or feeling is coming, going, your center is not moving. That is a very important point! So more practicing is necessary – only go straight, more practicing, practicing, practicing. Then your unmoving center can function correctly in every situation and relationship.

Some people try a mantra – only, “Kwan Seum Bosal,” or “Gate, Gate,” or “Om Mani Padme Hum” and try to attain samadhi. Samadhi is not-moving mind. Not-moving mind is the Absolute – there are no opposites. No opposites means there is no life, no death. No matter what kind of condition comes, only “Kwan Seum Bosal,” Whatever kind of bad feeling comes, you don’t care, only “Kwan Seum Bosal,” So your situation and condition and feeling are no hindrance. This samadhi mind is the Attainment of Freedom from Life and Death. But you still don’t understand correct function. It is necessary to go straight, go straight, more and more. Samadhi mind means no mind, so you have no direction.

Next, to attain no hindrance mind control, more practicing is necessary. No hindrance means you don’t care – any kind of feeling, any kind of condition, any kind of situation is no hindrance. And controlling your mind means that when your feelings come and go and your condition changes, you can control your feeling, condition and situation; then correct action is possible. So then, moment to moment, correct function, correct situation, correct relationship are possible. When somebody is hungry, give them food; when somebody is thirsty, give them something to drink. If somebody is sad, be sad with them; if somebody is happy, be happy together – that is correct function. Correct function means your correct situation and correct relationship. That is the Function of Freedom from Life and Death.

For 90 days we are practicing, which means doing the Great Work of Life and Death. We make life and death correct; to make them correct means to completely understand what life is and completely understand what death is. To completely understand means that there is no life, no death. If somebody has a bad feeling, I have a bad feeling that means together you live and die.

There are three kinds of Freedom from Life and Death. First, understand the Wisdom of Freedom from Life and Death. Life is death; death is life. Next, no life, no death. Next, Freedom from Life and Death. If somebody cries, I cry. If somebody is sad, I am sad. That is using life and death to save all beings. So, after 90 days, you can completely understand life and death.

How can you understand life and death? How can you understand this kind of practicing mind?

Our school has Ten Gates. Today, I will talk about these Ten Gates. Then everybody will practice for 90 days and include the Ten Gates in your practicing. Then your practice and the Ten Gates will make Wisdom of Freedom from Life and Death, then Attainment of Freedom of Life and Death, and then the complete functioning of Freedom from Life and Death.

First Gate: Someone asked JoJu Zen Master, “Does a dog have Buddha nature?” JoJu said, “Mu.” (“No”).

The first question is this: Buddha said all things have Buddha nature. Buddha nature means substance. All things have this substance or Buddha nature. But JoJu said the dog has no Buddha nature. Which one is correct?

The second question is: JoJu said “Mu.” What does “Mu” mean?

The next question: I ask you, does a dog have Buddha nature? What can you do? Older students all understand that, but understanding cannot help you. The understanding must become yours. You must attain the correct function of Freedom from Life and Death – only understanding the Wisdom of Freedom from Life and Death cannot help you.

Second Gate: A monk once asked JoJu, “I have just entered the monastery. Please teach me, Master.”

JoJu said, “Did you have breakfast?” “Yes,” replied the monk. “Then,” said JoJu, “wash your bowls.” The monk was enlightened.

What did the monk attain? This is very simple. “Please teach me.” “Did you have breakfast?” “Yes, I have.” “Then wash your bowls.” That’s the correct function, correct relationship. That is everyday mind. This is an everyday-mind kong-an.

The First Gate has three kong-ans. The first is called attached-like-this kong-an. The second two are just-like-this kong-ans. The Second Gate kong-an is a just-like-this kong-an. What did the monk attain? If you attain that point, you understand moment to moment correct situation, correct function, correct relationship. This monk attained his correct situation.

Third Gate: Seong Am Zen Master used to sit every day in the Dharma Room facing the blue mountain. He used to call to himself every day, “Master!” and would answer, “Yes?” “You must keep clear!” “Yes!” “Never be deceived by others, any day, any time!” “Yes! Yes!”

Seong Am used to call to himself and answer himself – two minds. Which one is the correct Master? Some people have not only two minds, three minds, four minds, five minds, or eighty minds, but many, many minds – pain mind, sad mind, sex mind, money mind – many kinds of mind. Seong Am has only two minds: “Master!” “Yes!” “Keep a clear mind!” – two minds. Which one is the correct master? Two minds become one. If you become one, there is no mind, no master. If you attain no mind, no master, then you attain your true master. To attain this, first your master and your mind must disappear; then you are nothing. If you are nothing, then your eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and body can work correctly and you can see your master – everything is your master. At interview time, the Master Dharma Teacher will ask you this kong-an, and you must give a good answer.

Fourth Gate: Hok Am Zen Master said, “Why does Bodhidharma have no beard?” What is Bodhidharma’s original face?

I ask you, why does Bodhidharma have no beard? This is an attack kong-an. Here is an example: there is a very famous painter, and everybody wants him to draw their face. They will pay him much money to do this. “Please, will you draw my face? Make a picture of me?”

So he makes a portrait of you, and when he is finished with it, there is your finished portrait. Look at that! No hair! It is like a monk! You are very surprised. He is a famous painter! Why no hair? So what can you do? Already you have paid much money, and he is a famous painter! Maybe there is some meaning! Then what do you ask him?

In the same way, Bodhidharma has a beard. Then why does Hok Am Zen Master ask, “Why does Bodhidharma have no beard?” That, we say, is an attack kong-an. There are many kinds of attack kong-ans. Another example is this: you clean your body in the Zen Center shower room. But where do you clean your mind? That’s an attack kong-an. Here is another example: this world is complete stillness. Where do the sun, the moon, and the stars come from? These are all attack kong-ans. So, again I ask you, “Why does Bodhidharma have no beard? Tell me! Tell me!

Fifth Gate: Next is a famous kong-an: Hyang Eom’s “Up a tree.” Master Hyang Eom said, “It is like a man up a tree who is hanging from a branch by his teeth; his hands cannot grasp a bough, his feet cannot touch the tree (he is tied and bound). Another man under the tree asks him, “Why did Bodhidharma. come to China?” If he does not answer, he evades his duty (will be killed). If he answers, he will lose his life. If you were in the tree, how could you stay alive?

You are hanging by your teeth, so you cannot open your mouth. Also, you cannot move your hands; you cannot move your body. You cannot do anything. That, we say is a Kyung Chul Mun kong-an. Everything is stopped. Nothing is possible, but one thing is possible. What is the one thing? Only one way. Not two ways – you only have one way. If you find that, then a good answer is possible. The question is, “Why did Bodhidharma come to China?” If you open your mouth to answer, you are already dead! If you do not answer, you evade your duty as a Bodhisattva and will be killed. If you were in the tree, how could you stay alive? That is the big question.

If you pass this Gate, you have finished half of the kong-ans. We have about 1,700 kong-ans. If you pass this Gate, you will have passed the equivalent of 850 kong-ans. So this is a difficult kong-an. If you only pass the kong-an, it’s not interesting. If it becomes yours, then O.K. – your mind and your body and your world become one and function correctly. At that time you attain freedom, correct function, and Freedom from Life and Death is possible. So attain Freedom from Life and Death. That means there is no life, no death. But if you only have that, you have a problem, so we will check the next kong-an.

Sixth Gate: Dropping Ashes on the Buddha. Somebody comes to the Zen Center, smoking a cigarette. He blows smoke and drops ashes on the Buddha. If you are standing there at that time, what could you do?

This is a famous kong-an. Students of one year and even older students still don’t understand this kong-an. Maybe after three or four years they still don’t understand. But if you only go straight – don’t know, try, try, try, then maybe after three years it is possible to pass this Gate. In this kong-an, this cigarette man thinks, “I already have Enlightenment. I already have this Buddha or Dharma, or true way.” He is very attached to his idea that he has attained universal substance; he has attained freedom from life and death. No life, no death he has attained one point. But he still has a problem because he is attached to one point, attached to emptiness – substance, everything is the same.

An eminent teacher said, “One by one, each thing is complete and each thing has it.” For example, this is a stick. The stick’s substance and your substance – are they the same substance? When you are thinking, your mind and my mind are different. When you cut off all your thinking, then your mind and my mind are the same. If you keep don’t-know mind 100% only go straight – don’t-know – then your don’t-know mind, my don’t-know mind, everybody’s don’t-know mind are all the same don’t-know mind. This same don’t-know mind has already cut off all our thinking. To stop thinking is no thinking. No thinking is empty mind. Empty mind is before thinking. Your before-thinking mind is your substance; my before-thinking mind is my substance – then everybody’s substance is all the same substance. When you keep don’t-know mind 100%. only go straight – don’t know, then already you are the universe and the universe is you. You and everything already have become one. That, we say, is primary point. So Don’t-Know is not Don’t Know; Don’t Know is primary point. Primary point’s name is Don’t Know. Somebody said primary point is mind, or Buddha, or God, or nature, or substance, or Absolute, or energy, or holiness, or consciousness. But the true primary point has no name, no form. There is no speech, no word, because the primary point is before thinking. Only keep don’t-know mind 100% and then you and everything have already become one.

Then if you keep this Don’t-Know, this stick and you – are they the same or different?

(Soen Sa Nim hits Zen stick on the rostrum.)

Do you understand this point? If you are only attached to this point, there is no you, no I, no mind, no Buddha, nothing at all. So you think, “Ohhhh, I am already enlightened!” So it is possible for you to come to the temple smoking a cigarette and drop ashes on the Buddha – no problem. But you don’t understand your correct situation, correct function, correct relationship moment to moment. Everyday mind is Zen mind. But this man has only attained Freedom from Life and Death. He doesn’t understand his correct function. So one more step is necessary. When he is dropping ashes on the Buddha, at that moment what can you do? How can you teach him?

So, during the 90 days of hard training, passing this kong-an is very important – not only for Kyol Che people, but for outside working people. Sometimes the people outside Kyol Che do better than the people who sit Kyol Che. Who is better? After the 90 days, we will check, O.K?

Seventh Gate: Ko Bong’s Three Gates. This is a very famous kong-an.

The First Gate is: The sun shines everywhere. Why does a cloud obscure the sun?

Don’t attach to the Zen Master’s speech. The Zen Master often uses bad speech to check his student’s mind. Why is this? Is it good or bad? Is it correct or not correct? It is an opposites question. When wind comes, maybe the cloud covers the sun. But this style thinking is no good. Just perceive, just intuition. Zen mind means just intuitive mind.

Ko Bong’s Second Gate is: Everyone has a shadow following him. How can you not step on your shadow?

How can you step or not step? Why does the cloud cover the sun? These are opposites questions. I already told you that these questions are to check the student’s mind. Usually in this life, we keep an opposites mind: I like, I don’t like; coming, going; good, bad. Always, kong-ans use opposites. Here we are working with opposites thinking. Is your mind working without opposites thinking? Do you have no hindrance? If you completely become one mind, there are no opposites. Then intuition is possible. So a kong-an is like a fisherman’s baited hook when he goes fishing. He covers the hook with good food. Then always, if the fish wants something or is hungry, he touches the hook and then dies. Your mind usually wants something: I want hard training; I want to become a good Zen student; I want to be correct, moment to moment; I want to give a good answer. So you want – it is not a bad want, it’s a good want. But if you want, whether it’s good or bad doesn’t matter. Already you are dead. So I ask you, how can you not step on your shadow? Then, if you are already thinking, the Master Dharma Teacher hits you! “Keep a clear mind!” (Laughs) If not, you have a problem.

Ko Bong’s Third Gate is: The whole universe is on fire. Through what kind of samadhi can you escape being burned?

I have heard that there are spaceships that are now carrying atom bombs around this earth. Sometime, if somebody pushes a wrong button on the control tower, then the spaceships will explode, and this world will disappear. So, at that time, how can you stay alive?

If you do 90 days of hard training, this world can disappear and you will have no problem. If you don’t do hard training and this mind is thinking, thinking, thinking, then you will have a problem. So, through what kind of samadhi can you escape being burned?

Eighth Gate: Duk Sahn carrying his bowls. In China, Korea, and Japan, this is a famous kong-an,

One day Duk Sahn came into the Dharma Room carrying his bowls. Seol Bong, [the] Housemaster, said, “Old Master, the bell has not yet been rung, and the drum has not yet been struck. Where are you going carrying your bowls?”

Duk Sahn returned to the Master’s room. Seol Bong told Am Du, [the] Head Monk. Am Du said, “Great Master Duk Sahn does not understand the last word.”

The last word means correct situation. In other words, Am Du was saying that his teacher didn’t understand his correct situation or function.

When Duk Sahn heard of this he became very angry and sent for his Head Monk Am Du. “Do you not approve of me?” he demanded.

Then Am Du whispered in the Master’s ear. Duk Sahn was relieved.

The next day on the rostrum, making his Dharma speech, Duk Sahn was really different from before. Am Du went to the front of the Dharma Room, laughed loudly, clapped his hands and said, “Great joy! The old Master has understood the last word! From now on, no one can check him.”

There are three questions from this story. The first question is: the Zen Master did not understand the last word. What was the last word? The next question is, what did Am Du whisper in the Master’s ear? The third question is, how was the Master’s speech different from before?

I asked a famous Zen Master, “Do you understand the last word?” The famous Zen Master said, “When you are hungry, eat; when you are tired, sleep.” I said, “Not bad, but not enough. Hungry time, eat – that is hungry-time last word. Sleepy time, sleep – that is sleepy-time last word. But what is Duk Sahn’s last word?”

Then I asked the Zen Master, “Do you understand what he whispered in the Zen Master’s ear?” Then he imitated whispering, “shee-shee-shee.” I said, “You are a monkey! Only shee-shee-shee – then you cannot hear. Only a monkey does that. The Head Monk said something. What did he say? Only shee-shee-shee – that could be a passing-water sound! What kind of words did Am Du use?”

Am Du’s words were two kinds. At first Duk Sahn Zen Master was very angry. First you must take away his angry mind. It is like a wife and husband – they love each other very much, but one day the wife talks to her husband’s friend: “My husband this, this, this.” Then her husband hears that and is very angry at his wife: “You do not believe in me!” If you were the wife, what could you do? What would you say to your husband? First you must give him good speech, and second you must make clear the correct situation. Just saying you’re sorry is not enough.

If you were Am Du, the Head Monk, then you would have to first make clear your correct situation and correct relationship with the Zen Master. Then the Zen Master would understand, and his angry mind would disappear. Then, second, you would have to offer correct teaching about the last word. Then the Zen Master would be relieved.

How was Duk Sahn’s speech different than before? Before, maybe Duk Sahn didn’t understand the last word. Maybe this time he understands the last word. Before, what kind of Dharma speech did he give? His Dharma speech before that doesn’t matter. This time, what kind of Dharma speech did he give? That is a very important point. If you finish all that, then you can understand correct function, correct situation, correct relationship. That means you understand the last word. Then you can become a great Zen Master!

Why did many problems appear in this kong-an? Duk Sahn Zen Master only returned to his room. He was asked where he was going carrying his bowls, and he only returned to his room. That was a mistake. The drum had not yet been struck, and he carried his bowls to the Dharma Room, so he was not correct. At that time, if you were the Zen Master, what could you do? One sentence to the Housemaster is necessary. Whether it is a mistake or no mistake doesn’t matter – if you make a mistake, use your mistake and make it correct. Then the Housemaster would say, “Oh, Zen Master, now I understand! Thank you very much.” Then the Housemaster would not have spoken to the Head Monk, and the problem would not have appeared.

So, the last question is, if you were the Zen Master and someone asked you where you were going carrying your bowls, at that time what could you do? This kong-an is a little difficult, so you must understand this. If you finish this kong-an, it is possible for you to become a Master Dharma Teacher! Does everybody want that? Then try!

Ninth Gate: Nam Cheon kills a cat. Nam Cheon Zen Master was in his room one day. Outside it was very, very noisy the 250 monks of the Western hall and the 250 monks of the Eastern hall were fighting over a cat. “This is my cat!” “No! This is my cat!” “No, this is our cat!” Fighting. Very noisy. So the Zen Master became very angry because his monks were not practicing Zen – they were only fighting, and their minds had all become cat minds. So the Zen Master picked up this cat and shouted, “You! Give me one word and I will save this cat! If you cannot give me one word, I will kill it!”

He is checking the students’ minds to see if they truly love the cat or if they are only attached to the cat. If they are only attached to the cat, they cannot answer. If they are not attached to the cat – if they only love the cat – then saving the cat’s life with a good answer is possible. But the 500 monks could not answer. There was only silence. They were only attached to the cat; they did not love the cat. So finally Nam Cheon Zen Master killed the cat.

At that time JoJu was Nam Cheon Zen Master’s disciple. That evening, when he returned from outside the temple, Nam Cheon told JoJu what had happened. “So I killed the cat. If you had been here, what would you have done?” JoJu Zen Master took off his shoes, put them on top of his head, and walked away. Then Nam Cheon Zen Master said, “If you had been there, I could have saved the cat.” That is the story, a famous story.

So, first question is, when Nam Cheon Zen Master holds up the cat and says, “Give me one word; then I will save this cat. If not, I will kill it!” – what can you do? That is a love kong-an. If you have Great Love and Great Compassion, this kong-an is no problem.

Also, here is a hint: a long time ago during the time of King Solomon, there was an argument about a baby. Two women each said, “This is my baby!” So Solomon said, “Bring this baby, and I will divide it in two. Then each of you can take half.” Then one woman said, “Oh, you take the baby – it is yours.”

Then who is the true mother? This is a love story. If you have Great Love inside, then you have a Zen mind.

Master Dharma Teacher George talked about unconditional. Unconditional means Great Love, Great Compassion, Great Bodhisattva Way. So unconditionally sit; unconditionally DO IT! Unconditionally practice. Don’t check your condition. Unconditional – very important! This is Great Love. So if your mind is unconditional, this unconditional mind has no I, my, me. I do everything for all beings – for husband, for wife – that is Great Love. Then it would be possible to save the cat.

The next question is: JoJu walked away with his shoes on his head. Then Nam Cheon Zen Master said, “If you had been there, I could have saved the cat.” What does this mean? Why did JoJu put his shoes on his head and walk away? What does this mean? So keep your correct situation, correct condition, correct idea action. If you attain this kong-an, then you attain Great Love, Great Compassion, Great Bodhisattva Way. This means moment to moment keep your correct situation, correct function, correct relationship.

Tenth Gate: The mouse eats cat food, but the cat bowl is broken.

What does this mean? Does everybody understand? Some may understand, but understanding cannot help you. You must attain, and then this kong-an becomes yours. That kong-an, we say, is subject just-like-this. Mouse, cat food, bowl, broken. So mouse bowl is broken. For example, some day your stomach is not feeling very good, and you want ice cream. Then, “Oh, I have a quarter – I can get some ice cream.” Then you go to the ice cream store and buy cream for 25�. Then you eat it, and then you feel very good! Wonderful! So a quarter is 25�; 25� buys ice cream; ice cream is gone. Then – wonderful! So the quarter is changing, changing, changing – wonderful. Mouse, cat food, cat bowl, broken, then what? Everybody is very clever. Very clever means they don’t understand. You must become stupid – then you can get the point, of this kong-an. This kong-an is very easy, too simple. Can you see your nose? Yes, I can see my nose. Can you see your eyes? Not possible! If you want to see your eyes, you must put down your want-to-see mind. Then you can attain your eyes. It is the same as if you want to understand your mind – it is not possible. You must attain your mind. Someone may say, “I have already attained my mind.” That is not possible – that is crazy! That is a clever mind. To become stupid means to have a simple mind. Thinking mind becomes don’t-know mind, becomes simple. Become simple, become simple. Stupid people only DO IT! The clever mind is checking, checking, checking all the time, or holding something, attached to something. If you want to understand this kong-an, then you must become stupid.

So for 90 days, do stupid practicing, O.K? Also, outside working people must become stupid. How can you become stupid? Always take the don’t-know medicine. Don’t-know medicine is very strong. You can digest any kind of understanding and become simple. Also, don’t-know medicine is a wonderful kind of medicine. For any sickness, any kind of problem, any kind of want, the don’t-know medicine can fix it and make it correct. Number one medicine! So only go straight – don’t know. Then you can pass the Ten Gates – try, try, try. If you pass all Ten Gates, then this world will almost become yours. Becoming yours means you will attain the Function of Freedom from Life and Death. Then correct function, correct relationship, correct situation is possible. This is a very important point! If you pass these Ten Gates, I will give you a present of an Eleventh Gate!

Eleventh Gate: Three men are walking. The first man makes a sword sound; the next man takes out a handkerchief; the third man waves his hand.

What does it mean? You don’t understand this? Then only go straight – don’t-know, and you can attain this Gate.

This kong-an is object just-like-this. Subject just-like-this means when you are hungry, what? Eat! That is subject just-like-this. If somebody is hungry, what? Give them food! That is object just-like-this. These three men have different actions, but the situation is the same. The function is different, the condition is different, but it is the same situation. So, what is the relationship? What is the function? 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. For example, 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, we say, is object just-like-this.

Today we are checking all the Ten Gates and the Eleventh Gate – the three men walking kong-an. Why are we checking this? Because if you don’t understand them, you must keep don’t-know mind to become stronger. If you don’t understand, don’t understand, don’t understand, then your Don’t-Know mind becomes very strong and a big Don’t-Know is possible, which means Great Question or Great Doubt. Completely don’t-know, then you will get complete Enlightenment. If you have a small question, only small Enlightenment is possible. There are many kinds of Enlightenment – small Enlightenment, middle Enlightenment, big Enlightenment, then finally, no Enlightenment. No Enlightenment is complete Enlightenment. The Heart Sutra says, “No attainment with nothing to attain.”

George is teaching the 90-day Kyol Che people; Linc and Bobby are teaching the members working outside of Kyol Che, so we will have strong outside practicing and strong inside practicing. Only go straight – don’t-know. Don’t make anything, O.K? Don’t check anything, don’t hold anything, don’t want anything, don’t attach to anything. If you want something, then you have a problem; if you want Enlightenment, then you have a #1 big problem. Then you will have a headache, an energy-up headache. Don’t want anything; don’t attach to anything. “I want to sit correctly,” “I want to be a correct Zen student,” “I want correct practicing.” If you are attached to any kong-an, then you have a problem. So don’t check, don’t hold, don’t want, don’t attach – which means don’t make anything. Then your mind is already complete.

Enlightenment is not special. Put it all down, everything! Only Don’t Know. Then Don’t Know will open by itself. In the springtime, all flowers open up by themselves. If you go to a greenhouse in the wintertime, you will find many flowers – only hothouse flowers. That’s O.K., but they are not correct, not strong. Outside, spring comes, the grass grows by itself. Flowers are blooming. That is the true way.

So I hope you only go straight, Don’t Know, for ninety days, and don’t make anything. Then your center will become stronger, stronger, stronger. Then you will be able to control your feeling, your condition, and your situation. Then first, attain the Wisdom of Freedom from Life and Death. Next, attain Freedom from Life and Death. Finally, attain the Correct Function of Freedom from Life and Death.

So I ask you: First, the Wisdom of Freedom from Life and Death; next, the Attainment of Freedom from Life and Death; finally, the Correct Function of Freedom from Life and Death which one is best? If you find which one is best, then the dog is laughing, “Ho. Ho! You are just like me.” That is wonderful. If you cannot find the best one, then the Stone Tiger is laughing, “Ha, Ha, Ha! You are stupid.” More practicing is necessary! If you want to know which one is best, then go outside and ask the snow, “Why are you white?” Then the snow will give you a good answer.

Soen Sa Nim’s penetrating Korean chanting again filled the Dharma Room, and again, after each pair of lines, the Sangha joined him wholeheartedly in chanting, once, strongly, “Namu Amitabul,” to the sound of the moktak. During the chanting Soen Sa Nim hit the rostrum three times with his stick, the final time just as the chanting finished. He then descended from the High Stand.

Kyol Che Dharma Speech – 1981

The following is a condensed version of the formal speech given by Zen Master Seung Sahn at the Kyol Che Opening Ceremony on January 10, 1981. In accordance with Korean tradition, Providence Zen Center Head Dharma Teacher Louise Sichel bowed to Zen Master Seung Sahn three times and led him to a high podium. Then Chogye International Zen Center Abbot Mu Jin Su Nim chanted three times a request for Zen Master Seung Sahn to share his teaching.

One day long ago in China, the great Zen Master Lin Chi was walking past the Dharma Hall. Just then two monks appeared and at the same time they yelled “Katz!” at each other. Seeing this, an attendant asked the Zen Master, “Zen Master! At the same moment these two monks yelled ‘Katz!’ Is there a host and a guest?”

“Yes, there is,” replied the Zen Master.

“Then which one is host and which is guest?”

“You ask them.”

So today I ask you: which one is the host and which one is the guest? You must attain that. How do you attain that?


Already host and guest clearly appear.

Then Zen Master Seung Sahn chanted a poem:

10,000 Dharmas return to One
Where does the One return?
When a dog barks: woof, woof,
Know that the guest is at the front gate.

Tomorrow we begin our 90-day Kyol Che. That is very special. But also it is not special. It is special because in this world everybody only keeps I-my-me mind — holding something, checking something, wanting something, attached to something — for their whole lives. But the people who will sit Kyol Che want to let go of everything and practice. If you let go of everything, your mind will become clear like space. Then your eyes are clear, your ears are clear, your nose is clear, your tongue is clear, your body is clear, your mind is clear. If you see clearly, then what? The sky is blue. If you hear clearly, then the dog barking, “Woof, woof,” is very clear. If you smell clearly, then the smell of incense, the smell of shit, are very clear. If you taste clearly, sugar is sweet; salt is salty. If your touch is clear, cold is just cold; hot is just hot. If you think clearly, when you are hungry, eat. Very clear. Not special.

So everything is truth. But how much do you believe that? Every day we use truth, but we don’t understand truth. We are living in truth, but we don’t understand it. Why don’t you understand it? Because you don’t believe your eyes, ears, nose,, tongue, body, and mind. The sky is blue — nothing special. But you don’t believe that. “That’s the truth? I don’t know…”

So practicing means practicing believing in my true self. What am I? Don’t know. But everybody has their opinions. They also have their condition and situation. So they can’t believe their eyes. They only see their opinion.

If you want to become clear, you must let go of everything in your mind. That is the first point. Then you can see clearly; you understand truth. Then you understand what is correct and what is not correct.

Nowadays, in the United States, many relationships are broken. Do you know the expression, “Blood is thicker than water”? That is not true now in America. Many people think, “I don’t like my brother. I don’t like my parents. I like my cat. I like my dog. My dog and cat are better than my parents.” That is not correct! This is a little crazy. Zen means finding your correct relationship and understanding your correct function and situation.

Today I’m going to talk about some great Zen Masters. Sometimes their speech was not correct. Also their teaching was not correct. So I am going to hit these great Zen Masters, O.K.? First we will look at the 29th case of the Mu Mun Kwan. One day the Sixth Patriarch was visiting a temple. The temple flag was flapping in the wind. As the Sixth Patriarch approached the temple he came upon two monks arguing. One monk said, “The flag is moving.” The other monk said, “No, no — the wind is moving!” They argued back and forth. Then the Sixth Patriarch said,, “It is not the flag; it is not the wind. It is your minds that are moving.” Then the monks said, “Ahh, you are correct — our minds are moving! Thank you very much.”

But this is not correct. Maybe Georgie would say, “You too! Your mind is moving too.” (Soen Sa Nim laughs.) Possible, yah? One monk is attached to the flag, one monk is attached to the wind; the Sixth Patriarch is attached to mind. What are some not-attached words? You must find them. Ninety days. Try, O.K.?

Next, Zen Master Jo Ju also made a mistake. In the Blue Cliff Record, the 45th case, it says that a monk asked Jo Ju, “The ten thousand Dharmas return to One. Where does the One return?” In the opening poem I answered, “When the dog is barking, know that the guest is at the front gate.” Not bad, O.K.? But Zen Master Jo Ju said, “When I was in Ch’ing Chou I made a cloth shirt. It weighed seven pounds.”

Too long! “When I was in Ching Chou” is not necessary. Also, “I made a cloth shirt” is not necessary. “This shirt weighs seven pounds” is enough! Why is a long answer necessary? His answer is like this: if you draw a snake, then the snake is enough. But then you give it legs; and then you put socks on them! (Laughter.) When Jo Ju says, “I was in Ch’ing Chou,” that is adding legs. When he says, “I made a cloth shirt,,” that is the socks. Just now what do you see? What do you hear? Return to the point. A simple answer is enough.

Jo Ju was a great Zen Master. There are many good answers to this kong-an, but this bad answer helps our practicing. He made a mistake, so we are talking, so that’s very good for our practicing. When you put your thinking in order, you can answer any kong-an correctly. Then you can find your correct situation and your correct relationship to all things.

Once you believe in your true self, you can understand other people’s situations. Then you can help your family, then your friends, then your country, then all beings. If you cannot help your parents, how can you help the people in Cambodia? If your wisdom grows and your action is correct, then one action helps your parents, your friends, your country, and all beings. Never separate. That’s the point, O.K.?

Kyol Che means Tight Dharma. In Kyol Che you cannot go out, you cannot act on your desires and your ideas. So you must use Kyol Che to make your great-faith rope, great-courage rope, and great-question rope tight. When these ropes are tight around your feelings, opinions, condition, and situation, then your small mind will die. Then this tight rope is no longer necessary. Then this tight great-faith rope becomes a great vow; your tight great-courage rope becomes great compassion and your great-question rope becomes only going straight on the Bodhisattva path, life after life. So you must make this change.

That’s your direction. But an eminent teacher said,, “Originally there is nothing — complete stillness.” Complete stillness is no mind. What can be tight? So if your mind is tight, you have a problem. But if your mind is not tight you also have a problem because you still have your opinions, condition, and situation. So if you say your mind is tight, this stick will hit you thirty times. If you say your mind is not tight, this stick will also hit you thirty times. Today is the opening of Tight Dharma. What can you do? Tight? Not tight?

I will show you. An eminent teacher said that if you are attached to emptiness, you lose your body. But if you don’t completely attain emptiness, then you continue to be trapped by samsara. So what can you do? Only go straight don’t know. If you try that for 90 days, nonstop, then you will understand, O.K.?

Long ago a monk asked Zen Master Jo Ju, “The 10,000 Dharmas return to One. Where does the One return?”

Jo Ju said,, “When I was in Ch’ing Chou I made a cloth shirt. It weighed seven pounds.” At the beginning of this talk I said, “When a dog barks, know that the guest is at the front gate.”

Is Jo Ju’s answer correct, or is my answer correct?’ If you find the correct answer, I will hit you thirty times. If you cannot find the correct answer, I will also hit you thirty times. What can you do?


The dog is barking — “Woof, woof.” The shirt weighs seven pounds.

Kwan Seum Bosal’s Hat

Closing talk at Mu Sang Sa temple for the 2000 Summer Kyol Che

Thank you all very much for coming here and practicing for three months in our Kyol Che retreat. Kyol Che means “tight.” Today is the end of the retreat and the beginning of a three-month period which we call Hae Jae. Hae Jae means loose, not tight. If you have mind, then tight-style practicing is necessary. But if you have no mind, then both Hae Jae and Kyol Che are not necessary. So, Hae Jae and Kyol Che mean you still have mind, you still have a problem. So, coming here to practice is very important.

Hae Jae and Kyol Che mean to practice together. Together action is very important. Among practicing people there are three types: Low-class: these people cannot practice by themselves. Outside conditions and situations easily control them, so they always have a problem practicing. That’s low-class. Middle-class: This type of person has a problem when they are in a city. If they go to a mountain to sit, no problem. At that time they and nature become one. But a high-class student can go to a city – go anywhere – no problem. Any kind of action is no problem. That’s a high-class student. You can understand for yourself if you are a high-, middle- or low-class student. I cannot say. Next, you must decide your direction. Deciding to practice is very important. Why do you come into this world? Human beings originally have no meaning and no direction. But if you can find your correct direction and help all beings, then great direction appears. That’s your job. That’s a human being’s correct job.

So what is a human being’s correct job? Human beings are originally nothing. The Sixth Patriarch Hui Neng said “originally nothing.” But that’s just an idea; you must attain “nothing” and find your correct job. This is very important. The Heart Sutra says no eyes, no ears, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind. This is our practicing technique. See, not see. Hear, not hear. Taste, not taste. Only one mind. One mind means no eyes, no ears, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind. Then Anuttara Samyak Sambodhi appears; this is truth. Open eyes. Open ears. Open mouth. Open your body. Open your mind. Then you can see: my job AAAAAAHHH… I understand my job! Understanding your job means Anuttara Samyak Sambodhi. That’s “truth.” You must attain truth. Next, how does truth correctly function? Truth’s correct function is to help all beings. That’s a very important point. That’s the meaning of gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha. Everyone attains nirvana together – together action. Nirvana is the place of together action.

So, our Kyol Che is also a together action place. Together put it all down: my opinion, my condition, my situation. Then correct opinion, correct condition and correct situation appear. Then do it! Don’t check. Don’t check inside, don’t check outside, don’t check any side. Only this moment, what is your job? Moment to moment what’s yours? Your body is not yours – it will soon disappear. What is yours? This world has many things: sky, tree, animals, house, everything. In your pocket, you have money. That’s your money? No, haha!! That’s not yours. What is yours? Everything is always changing, changing. Time and space always are controlling you. Time and space control everything. Then how can we take away time and space? Everybody understands primary point. BOOM! OK? So I ask everyone, where are you coming from? [Everyone hits floor.] Very good! You have already cut off all thinking. That’s primary point. If you understand primary point, you understand the universe.

So first, you must become one. If you can become one then slowly your eyes open, then ears, tongue, body, and mind open. Open mind is Anuttara Samyak Sambodhi. Anuttara Samyak Sambodhi means that the truth appears. Sky is blue, tree is green, dog is barking woof woof, floor is yellow, cushion is brown – everything is the truth. What is not the truth? Everything is the truth! Before nothing – attain nothing. Nothing nothing nothing nothing nothing. Then next attain truth. If you attain the truth, then what? Then the Heart Sutra says: gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha. That means together action. Together action is to help all beings. And not only in this life; life, after life, after life continue to try, try, try. That’s our direction.

This world is stupid. If you watch television, or listen to the radio, you will hear politicians say, “I am this and this and this. You choose me and I will do this, I have this and this.” But what do they really have? Ha ha. “I, I, I, I,” then “I, I, I, I.” Ha ha. That’s stupid! “I, I, I, I.” But we have no “I.” Very important is to take away this “I.” Then WOW, I understand my job! Only help all beings.

Usually human beings are always checking: “I could become famous, I could have a lot of money.” Then their “I, I, I, I” becomes stronger and stronger. That’s a problem. Look at animals. Animals never help each other. Mother or father helps a little baby animal, but when they grow up, watch it! That’s animal mind. A dog doesn’t understand a cat’s mind. A cat doesn’t understand a snake’s mind. A snake doesn’t understand a bug’s mind. They don’t understand each other. It’s like the Soviet Union: BOOM! it disappears. Then many countries appear with many countries fighting each other. Many problems. That’s our human world: only my opinion, my condition and my situation. Only holding, holding, holding – many problems.

Nowadays many human beings kill a lot of animals. Not only one by one. Then they eat them. So, today if you go to a city and look at the people they have a human being’s face but their action and mind are not human beings’. Snake, lion or cat. Not so much human beings’ mind. What percent human beings’ mind do people have these days? But all of you came here to practice for three months or even just a short time – that’s a very important mind. That’s a correct human being퉠 mind. That’s a human being’s correct direction.

If you look around this world you see that most people don’t understand correct direction. They don’t understand correct practicing. So everyone coming here to practice – that’s very wonderful. That means: find my true self and find correct way, truth and correct life. But this three months is a short time. Think about Buddha; he sat under the bodhi tree for six years! Only three months – not enough, ha ha. Look at the Buddha, sitting under the bodhi tree. He didn’t eat so much. He didn’t move so much – he only sat. Not moving, then finally one morning he saw a star and PTCHEEUU!! he got enlightenment. So everyone who came here to practice got some enlightenment, yeah? Small enlightenment, not big enlightenment, ha ha. Small enlightenment is OK; big enlightenment is OK, it doesn’t matter. But if your direction is clear then someday you will be the same as Buddha. Everybody will be Buddha. Buddha’s enlightenment is possible. That’s our direction.

So today is Hae Jae day. Hae Jae means to take away your like/dislike mind. That means take away life and death mind, take away opposites thinking. Completely take “I” all away, then that is Hae Jae. Your minds are of many types: money type, desire type, so one by one take them all away…  take away, take away. Sitting time is usually no problem, but when you come out your mind moves a lot. If you see or hear something, then your mind is moving – ah wonderful! I like this, I don’t like that; many minds appear. Then you will have a problem. If your like/dislike mind appears, then you will have a problem. If your like/dislike mind becomes smaller, smaller, smaller… then nothing. No mind, then no problem. If you have mind, you have a problem. Our direction is to take away like/dislike mind.

The statue on the altar behind me is Kwan Seum Bosal. Kwan Seum Bosal means great love, great compassion, that’s our great love and compassion mind. Our job is only to help other people life after life. If you look closely you will notice that Kwan Seum Bosal always wears a hat. Amitabul Buddha lives in this hat so he can control all the Buddhas and bodhisattvas. Amitabul doesn’t believe in Kwan Seum Bosal, so he must live in the bodhisattva’s hat; he’s always checking Kwan Seum Bosal’s action. Ha ha ha! So today is Hae Jae – be careful! – your true Amitabul in your hat is always watching you! Ha ha ha. So, moment to moment, put it all down: put down your idea, your condition and your situation, then the correct way will appear right in front of you. The name for that is the great bodhisattva way. That is the meaning of the Heart Sutra’s gate gate paragate parasamgate – we all go to nirvana together. That is the Buddha’s teaching.

So everybody practiced strongly for a short time or three months. That experience is your treasure. Your treasure is very important. This treasure will grow, grow, grow, until it fills the whole universe; this is very important. Then on Hae Jae day return to your home or stay at the temple, but continue to practice. Continue practicing means don’t forget your correct direction. Life after life after life continue the Bodhisattva way. That’s correct direction. So, I hope everybody practices hard moment to moment, keeps your correct direction, and helps save all beings from suffering. Thank you.

Kong-Ans: Mind-To-Mind Connection

This interview with Zen Master Seung Sahn about his system of kong-an practice. 

PP: What are kong-ans? How did they become part of Zen practice?

Zen Master Seung Sahn: Kong-an means public case, public exchange, public situation, or public document. In old China, when they made a copy of a government document, they put a “chop” or seal on the copy in such a way that half of the seal was on the original and half on the copy. So when they had to verify the authenticity of the copy all they did was to match the two halves.

In Zen tradition, kong-an means the student’s understanding of a question is one-half and matches the teacher’s understanding of the same question, which is the other half. When student and teacher share the same understanding it is called mind-to-mind connection.

If you want to practice correctly, you must ponder over old Zen enlightenment stories. If you understand their mind at the moment of enlightenment, that means your kong-an practice is correct. Nowadays, all Zen Masters use the old Zen Masters’ enlightenment stories to teach their students. This is kong-an practice.

In the beginning there was no kong-an practice. Then the future seventh patriarch, Huai-jang, came to visit Hui-neng, the sixth patriarch. Hui-neng asked him, “Where do you come from?” Hui-jang replied that he came from Sung Shan mountain. Hui-neng asked again, “What is this thing that has come here?” Hui-jang could not answer.

That became the first kong-an in Zen tradition – “What is this?” It became a big question for Huai-jang and it took him eight years to understand.

Even before that there were situations in Buddhist history which became the basis of reflection by future Zen monks. Buddha sat down under the Bodhi tree with a big question: “What is life? What is death?” When Bodhidharma came to China, the future second patriarch came to visit him. Bodhidharma would not talk to him. To show that he was sincere in his quest, the second patriarch cut off his arm and presented it to Bodhidharma. Seeing this, Bodhidharma asked him, “What do you want?”

The second patriarch said, “My mind is not rested. Please pacify it for me.”

Bodhidharma said, “Bring me your mind and I will pacify it.”

The second patriarch was nonplused: “I cannot find my mind when I look for it.”

“There,” said Bodhidharma, “I have pacified it for you.”

So this question, “What is mind?,” became an inspiration for Zen monks.

Many questions came out of these stories: What is this? What is life? What is death? What is mind? All these questions became kong-ans and people started to use these questions for their own practice.

PP: Why do you use kong-ans in your practice?

ZMSS: Kong-ans are not special. But we use them to teach correct way, truth, and life. We use them to teach how it is possible to function correctly in everyday life. Sometimes old Zen Masters’ answers to a question are not correct, but they used the situation to teach correct function, correct life to others.

For example, Joju’s answer when asked if a dog has Buddha-nature (“MU!” or “no”) is not correct, but he used mu to teach correct life.

Two monks were fighting over whether a flag was moving or the wind was moving. Hui-neng, the sixth patriarch, who was passing by, said, “It’s your mind that’s moving.” Again, this is not correct, but he used “your mind is moving” to teach correct life.

One time Buddha held up a flower. None of the 1200 monks present understood. Only Mahakashyapa smiled. Buddha said, “I give my dharma transmission to you.” This was not correct, but Buddha used “My dharma I transmit to you” to teach correct direction, correct life.

So kong-ans are only a technique to teach correct direction, correct life. Zen students should not be attached to correct answers or incorrect answers by the patriarchs. We use kong-ans to perceive directly how to function correctly in everyday life.

PP: Can’t clear mind be attained without kong-an practice?

ZMSS: Yes, it is possible. Kong-ans are only one technique. It’s like this: American people use forks and knives. Chinese people only use chopsticks. Korean people use chopsticks and spoons. Indian people only use their hands. But they all have a full stomach when they eat, no matter how they eat.

PP: Isn’t kong-an practice asking something?

ZMSS: If you make something, you have a problem. We use kong-ans to take away your opinion. When you take away your opinion, your mind is clear like space. Clear like space means only reflect action. Zen means correct conditional reflection. It means you respond to each situation correctly, meticulously. It means to understand your correct job in this moment. That means moment-to-moment correct relationship If you practice correctly, this moment-to-moment correct situation, correct function, correct relationship will appear by itself.

If some one holds a kong-an, is attached to kong-ans (“I am doing kong-an practice”), or wants something from kong-an practice, then he or she will have a big problem. If you only keep one kong-an or “don’t know,” all the time without making anything, then correct direction and correct life will appear by themselves.

PP: What, then, is the best way to keep a kong-an?

ZMSS: Old-style kong-ans give us a great question: What is life? What is death? What is mind? What is this moment?

Correct kong-an practice means great question plus great faith and great courage. Great question means no intellectual-style thinking. An eminent teacher said, “Ten thousand questions are all one question.” So one question means only don’t know. No thinking at all. Just do it. That’s correct kong-an practice.

But if you are attached to a kong-an or this style of practicing, then you have a big problem. A kong-an is only a finger pointing to the moon. If you are attached to the finger, you can’t perceive the moon. The most important thing is your direction. This direction is “only don’t know.”

PP: What is the relevance of kong-an practice from ancient China to contemporary American society?

ZMSS: In correct kong-an practice, there is no American mind, no old China mind, because correct kong-an practice is keeping a before-thinking mind. In ancient days, people used only kong-ans and practiced very hard to get enlightenment.

Now we use kong-an practice differently in our school. Enlightenment, no enlightenment doesn’t matter. We use kong-an practice to make our direction clear, to help in our daily life. So don’t attach to a kong-an. Use a kong-an to function correctly, make your moment to moment life clear.

PP: What is the best way to answer a kong-an? How does one open oneself up so that a direct and “correct” response is possible?

ZMSS: Put down everything, put down your opinion, your condition, your situation. Moment to moment, only don’t know. Then a correct response will appear by itself. Hitting the floor or shouting KATZ is only a technique. Sometimes using this technique is necessary, sometimes it’s not necessary.

PP: Are there dangers in kong-an practice?

ZMSS: If you only want to “understand” kong-ans, then you have a big problem. It’s a kind of sickness. Then a very strong “I-my-me” mind appears. Sometimes people are attached to a good answer. That is not correct kong-an practice.

PP: Do you think that trying to pass the ten gates leads to a sense of competition? Does it lead to a sense of pride? Isn’t trying to “solve” kong-ans particularly dangerous in our goal-oriented society?

ZMSS: Correct practice is necessary. When you don’t practice correctly, then your “I” mind appears, then competition appears, then pride appears. If you correctly “attain” kong-ans, than this kind of mind never appears. Kong-an practice means cutting off all (analytical) thinking. That means throwing away our attachments to our conditions, opinions, and situations. American mind is intellectual, very analytical. The intellectual mind cannot pass kong-ans. Correct kong-an practice means your mind becomes very simple. In simple mind, there is no “I-my-me.” Then practicing kong-ans is no problem.

Our style of kong-an practice means not holding the kong-an. The old style was to go into the mountains, cut off the outside world, and just work on one kong-an. Our style of practice is to learn how to function correctly in everyday life through kong-an practice.

So, when you are doing something, just do it. In that doing, there is no thinking, no subject, no object. Inside and outside become one. In our style of practice, correct kong-an practice, correct life, and correct direction are all the same. If we make our everyday life clear, then kong-an practice is no problem. Then kong-an practice is not special.

If our everyday life is clear, then kong-an practice is not necessary. Then kong-an practice is not for us, it is only to teach other people. So we use kong-ans, old kong-ans and new kong-ans, only to teach other people.

Sometimes a person’s own life can be very clear, but they don’t understand how to teach other people how to function correctly in everyday life. Also, they don’t understand how to teach truth and correct way. When clear life, truth, and correct way come together in a meticulous way, moment to moment, that’s a kong-an. Only “my life is clear” is not enough. For example, if you eat only one kind of food all the time, your body will have a problem. So, your body uses different kinds for a good balance, for a correct body.

PP: Can you explain your system of kong-an teaching? What are the different kinds of “like this” kong-ans you use?

ZMSS: We use four kinds of “like this” kong-ans:

1. Without like this   = true emptiness = primary point
= silence
= complete stillness


Example kong-ans: “What is true emptiness?” “What is complete stillness?”

2. Become one like this  = KATZ! = correct demonstration of primary point
= hit

Example kong-ans: “Buddha picked up a flower, Mahakashyapa smiled. What does it mean?”

3. Only like this = meaning is truth = true function of primary point

Example kong-ans: “Spring comes, grass grows by itself.” “3 x 3 = 9.” “What is Buddha?” “Three pounds of flax.”

4. Just like this = just doing is correct life = one-point correct function

Example kong-ans: “Go drink tea.” “Go wash your bowls.”

We can understand these four kinds of kong-ans in this way. You go into the interview room; the teacher places a cup and a pen before you and asks you if the cup and the pen are the same or different. The four kinds of “like this” answers will be:

Without like this: maintain complete silence, a don’t know mind.Become one like this: hit the floor or shout KATZ!

Only like this: saying “cup is cup, pen is pen.”

Just like this: drink from the cup, write with the pen.

So, “just like this” is just doing it, correct function, correct everyday life.

Ko Bong’s Try Mind

Zen Master Ko Bong (1890-1962) was one of the greatest teachers of his time. He was renowned for refusing to teach monks, considering them too lazy and arrogant to be Zen students. He was also very well known for his unconventional behavior.

Ko Bong Sunim didn’t like chanting. He only did sitting meditation, no matter what. That was his practice. One time, as a young monk, he was staying in a small mountain temple. The abbot was away for a few days, so Ko Bong Sunim was the only one around. One morning an old woman climbed the steep road to the temple carrying fruit and a bag of rice on her back. When she reached the main Buddha Hall, she found Ko Bong Sunim seated alone in meditation.

“Oh, Sunim, I am sorry to bother you,” she said. “I have just climbed this mountain to offer these things to the Buddha. My family is having a lot of problems, and I want someone to chant to the Buddha for them. Can you please help me?”

Ko Bong Sunim looked up. Her face was very sad and very sincere. “Of course,” he said. “I’d be happy to chant for you. No problem.” Then he took the bag of rice off her back and they went to the kitchen to prepare the food offering. As they started to wash the fruit he said to her, “I don’t know how to cook rice. You cook the rice, and I’ll go start chanting.”

“Yes, Sunim. Thank you very much.”

Ko Bong Sunim returned to his room to put on his formal robes. But, because he never chanted, he didn’t know any Buddhist chants. So, he dug out an old Taoist sutra from among his things and brought it back to the Buddha Hall. Then he picked up the moktak and started hitting it while reading out of the Taoist book. Usually it’s appropriate to do certain chants for different occasions, like the Thousand Eyes and Hands Sutra, but Ko Bong Sunim didn’t know about this. He only banged the moktak and chanted the Taoist sutra out loud, right from the book. After an hour or so of this, he finished.

The old woman was very, very happy. “Oh, thank you, Sunim. You are very kind. I feel much better now!” She left the temple. As she was walking down the mountain road, she passed the abbot, who was returning to the temple. “Hello, Mrs. Lee, are you coming from the temple?”

“Yes,” she said. “There are many problems in my family right now, so I went up to pray to the Buddha. Ko Bong Sunim helped me.”

“Oh, that’s too bad,” the abbot said.

“Oh, why?”

“Because Ko Bong Sunim doesn’t know how to do any chanting. Maybe someone else could…”

“No, no,” she said. “He did very well. He helped me very much!”

The abbot looked at her. “How do you know how well he did? These are very special chants! Ko Bong Sunim doesn’t know how to do them — he doesn’t know chanting.”

“Yes, I understand.” This woman used to be a nun, so she was quite familiar with all the various chants. She knew that Ko Bong Sunim was only chanting a Taoist sutra. “What is correct chanting? He did it very well. He only chanted one hundred percent. Words are not important. The only important thing is how you keep your mind. He had only try mind — only do it.”

“Oh, yes, of course,” the abbot said. “I suppose mind is very important.” They said good-bye and went their separate ways. When the abbot reached the temple, he found Ko Bong Sunim, seated in meditation. “Did you just chant for Mrs. Lee?”


“But you don’t know anything about chanting.”

“That’s right,” Ko Bong Sunim said. “I don’t know anything about chanting. So I just chanted.”

“Then what kind of chants did you do?” the abbot asked.

“I used an old Taoist book.”

The abbot walked away, scratching his head.

This is a very interesting try-mind story. It means, from moment to moment only “do it.” Only keep a try mind, only one mind: do it mind. When chanting, sitting or bowing, only do it. Practicing will not help if you are attached to your thinking, if your mind is moving. Taoist chanting, Confucian chanting, Christian chanting, Buddhist chanting: it doesn’t matter. Even chanting, “Coca Cola, Coca Cola, Coca Cola. . . ” can be just as good if you keep a clear mind. But, if you don’t keep a clear mind, even Buddha cannot help you. The most important thing is, only do it. When you only do something one hundred percent, then there is no subject, no object. There’s no inside or outside. Inside and outside are already one. That means you and the whole universe are one and never separate.

The Bible says, “Be still, and know that I am God.” When you are still, then you don’t make anything, and you are always connected to God. Being still means keeping a still mind, even if your body is moving or you are doing some activity. Then there’s no subject, no object, a mind of complete stillness. That’s the Buddha’s complete stillness mind. When sitting, be still. When chanting, be still. When bowing, eating, talking, walking, reading or driving, only be still. This is keeping a not moving mind, which is only do it mind. We call that try mind.

Ko Bong Holds a Ceremony

In a Dharma Talk, Zen Master Seung Sahn once told this story about his teacher, Zen Master Ko Bong.

When he was a young monk, my teacher, Ko Bong Su Nim, was travelling in the mountains. He visited a small chanting temple in a beautiful spot and decided to stay there for a week. There was only one other monk there, the abbot of the temple. After a few days the abbot asked Ko Bong Su Nim to stay alone in the temple while he went to visit the house of a student. Ko Bong Su Nim. said, “O.K., no problem,” and the abbot left.

At noon a woman came to the temple carrying a large amount of rice and fruit and asked for the abbot. “He is visiting a student,” said Ko Bong Su Nim.

“Oh, I wanted to have a ceremony,” said the woman.

“Fine, we can have a ceremony,” said Ko Bong Su Nim. So she cooked the rice, got everything ready, and put the rice and fruit on the altar.

Ko Bong Su Nim. did not understand the first thing about ceremonies. He had been a monk for a few years, but he had stayed in a Zen temple, where the monks only sit Zen. In Korea, ceremony monks take care of ceremonies; sutra monks study the sutras; Zen monks just sit. So Ko Bong Su Nim. didn’t know when to bow or how to hit the moktak.

“Time to begin,” said the woman.


Ko Bong Su Nim read the sutras a little, but he didn’t have them memorized. However, he did remember some Taoist texts he had studied before he became a monk. So he began hitting the moktak and chanting a Taoist sutra. Sometimes he would bow. He just made it up as he went along, and he kept it up for about an hour, just chanting. At the end, the woman said, “Thank you very much. That was a wonderful ceremony!” Then she left.

On her way down the mountain she met the abbot of the temple coming home. “Oh,” he said, “did you visit the temple?”

“Yes, and we had a wonderful ceremony.”

“Ceremony? That monk knows nothing about ceremonies!”

“We had a Taoist ceremony.”

The woman had been a nun, so she knew all about Buddhist ceremonies. During Ko Bong Su Nim’s ceremony she had sat in the back of the hall, laughing and laughing. But she said to the abbot, “It was wonderful. Throughout the whole ceremony he kept one mind. Sweat was pouring down his face. It was all wrong, but it was wonderful!”

When the abbot returned, he said to Ko Bong Su Nim, “I hear you had a good ceremony today.”

“It was terrible! All I could remember were some Taoist texts.”

“The woman said it was wonderful.” said the abbot. “She used to be a ceremony nun. She said you went straight ahead, with completely no hindrance, so she said it was a wonderful ceremony.”

“Really?” Ko Bong Su Nim and the abbot had a good laugh.

“She was very happy. She said you hit the moktak as if your life depended on it. Only one mind.”

So this is a correct ceremony: only one mind. Whether it is a Buddhist text or a Taoist text doesn’t matter. Understanding or not understanding the correct form is not important. What is important is this child’s mind; we call this Buddha’s mind, just going straight, without thinking, keeping try mind. So you must attain this Buddha’s mind, O.K.? O.K.

Kill Cow – Get Enlightenment

Question: My husband has an idea to open a seafood restaurant in China. He has a very good plan and it seems that we can make money from that business. But having a restaurant, especially a seafood restaurant, means that you kill many lives. So I asked him not to open this restaurant, but I don’t have enough grounds to convince him. How would you convince him, sir?

Zen Master Seung Sahn: There was a man in Buddha’s lifetime. His everyday job was killing cows. He could not change his job because of the way Indian society worked at that time: there were Brahmins, very high class families, next the king’s family, next usually farmers, then the lowest class families, who would kill cows or jobs of this sort. So this man killed cows every day. The cow would come, then “Boom!” The cow said “Muuuuu!”, then died.

The man never changed this job, but he didn’t like it. He talked to his parents, but it was impossible to change it. One day Shariputra, a disciple of the Buddha’s, passed by the man’s working place. Shariputra had completely attained the sutra on emptiness. The man went over to him, bowed and said, “I am sorry, I have a question. Buddha and the precepts say ‘Don’t kill any life.’ My job is killing cows every day. I make a lot of bad karma. What shall I do?”

Shariputra said “Who kills the cow?”

“I kill the cow.”

“Who are you?”

“Don’t know.”

“Only keep this don’t know mind, and kill cows. Then you don’t make bad karma.” Then Shariputra left.

The main continued to kill cows every day, but in the meantime he asked himself “Who is killing the cow?” This question became bigger, bigger, bigger. While killing cows, he did not feel guilty, only the big question: “Who is killing the cow?”

One day a cow appeared. He only kept his big question: “Who is killing the cow?” Then ‘Boom!’, he killed the cow. The cow said “Muuu!” The man heard this ‘Muuu!’ and ‘Boom!’ got enlightenment. “Our true self has no life, no death. I am one of the Buddhas.”

Any kind of business is no problem. That’s very important. If its only for you, then you will have a problem. But, if you make a lot of money, and build a temple, then you help many other people Then your direction is clear. That’s bodhisattva action. Okay? Try that.

Question: Thank you, sir.

Keep the Great Vow

During his visit to Europe last spring, Zen Master Seung Sahn gave a kong-an talk after the morning sitting each day. What follows is part of a talk he gave in London.

Enlightenment is a name. This name is only a teaching word. Originally there is no Enlightenment. Already everybody has everyday Enlightenment. Drinking coffee — coffee Enlightenment; walking — walking Enlightenment; watching television — watching-television Enlightenment; driving your car — driving Enlightenment. Moment to moment, only Enlightenment, Enlightenment, Enlightenment. Enlightenment means clear mind. Clear mind means there is no subject, no object, no inside, no outside. Outside and inside already become one. If you have becoming one, what do you want? That’s all! That’s enough!

So moment to moment keep clear mind, moment to moment get Enlightenment. It’s not special. If you make special, if you make Enlightenment and un-Enlightenment, you cannot get Enlightenment. This mind already separates Enlightenment and un-Enlightenment, so it makes Enlightenment special. So no Enlightenment. The Heart Sutra says, “No attainment with nothing to attain.” You must attain no Enlightenment. There is nothing. Nothing is also not correct. When you drink, only drink. When you are tired, only sleep. If someone is hungry, give them food. That’s all. It is very simple.

Everybody has too much understanding, so they are not simple. Not being simple, they want Enlightenment, they make something. If you want Enlightenment, maybe you spend your whole life practicing, but you cannot get it. Even if you spend an infinite time sitting Zen, you cannot get Enlightenment. So we say, put it all down. But many people want something. This wanting something comes from our karma. Everybody has karma. When karma appears, you lose clear mind. When karma appears, you lose yourself. So this mind is not clear.

Long ago there were great monks and scholars who had great understanding. The understood all philosophies -Taoism, Confucianism, Buddhism. They understood, but they completely digested this understanding. If you digest all your understanding, then your mind is very simple. But if you understand many things, read a lot of books, talk a lot, experience a lot, but you cannot digest this, then you cannot get your own things. You have many things that belong to others. So this mind is very complicated. It cannot decide. This means your intellect controls you. If you put other ideas into your mind, you must digest them. Then they become yours. This is very important. So scholars long ago took everything in and then digested it. But their mind was nothing. It’s like a computer. A computer can do many different operations, but when it’s resting, it’s nothing! Push a button — click, click, the answer appears. Very simple. So put everything into your mind, then digest it, then when you use it, pick out the right thing. Then the answer appears.

So the ancient scholars and great Zen Masters’ speech, understanding, and actions always became one. But people today cannot digest, so their understanding goes this way, their actions go that way.

One day Mang Gong Su Nim, my grand-teacher, visited Kyeong Ho Su Nim, his teacher. It was Kyeong Ho Su Nim’s birthday, so Mang Gong Su Nim brought some meat, drink, and some rice cakes with him. Kyeong Ho Su Nim was very happy to see Mang Gong Su Nim.

“You are so busy, how can you find time to come?”

Mang Gong Su Nim said, “No, no, Master, I am not busy. It’s your birthday, so I’m visiting you. You already have everything, so I’m just bringing you this food.” So he took out the meat, the alcohol, and the rice cakes.

Kyeong Ho Su Nim said, “Oh, wonderful! Where did you get all this?”

Mang Gong Su Nim said, “Nowadays I have no hindrance. If someone gives me wine, I drink. If they don’t, I don’t drink. If someone gives me meat, I eat. Meat and rice are the same. If they don’t, I don’t eat. If rice cakes come, I eat rice cakes.” This style talking.

The Kyeong Ho Su Nim said, “Oh Mang Gong Su Nim, you are wonderful. But my mind is not this style.”

“Oh? What is your style, Master?”

“I cannot get freedom. I want something. Maybe I want garlic. In the temple there is no garlic, so I go to the city, I buy some garlic, I put it in the ground, it grows up, a lot of garlic appears, then I eat it.”

When Mang Gong Su Nim heard this, his mind went, “Bong!” “Zen Master,” he said, “I am sorry. Before I didn’t understand. Now I understand.”

Mang Gong Su Nim’s mind was only original Enlightenment. Kyeong Ho Su Nim’s speech was final Enlightenment. In original Enlightenment, everything is no hindrance. Seeing just like this is truth; hearing just like this is truth; everything just like this is truth. So there is no hindrance. Everything is O.K. Practicing is O.K., not practicing is O.K..

This is already past primary point. Attaining primary point is first Enlightenment; only like this is original Enlightenment. Final Enlightenment means, not only for me. I want something, for all people. This means, you must keep the Great vow. Then you must go straight. Don’t check yourself. If you say, “Something comes, I eat; nothing comes, I don’t eat,” there is no vow there, there is no Bodhisattva, no great love, no compassion. Coming is O.K., going is O.K., suffering is O.K., not suffering is O.K. This style mind is no good. You must go straight, do hard training for other people. This is correct teaching. So soon Mang Gong Su Nim understood: “Ah, I am sorry.”

So I hope you only go straight don’t know, do hard training for other people, attain Enlightenment, Great Love, Great Compassion, and the Great Bodhisattva Way, and save all people from suffering. Thank you.

Keeping a Zen Mind

A visiting student asked Seung Sahn Soen Sa after a Sunday night lecture, “When practicing Zen, how can one keep a Zen mind?”

“Do you understand your mind?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, it is just this ‘don’t know’ mind that should be kept while practicing.

“But then is this mind thinking?”

Soen Sa replied, “That which cuts through all thinking is the great question ‘What am I?'”

“How can one keep this question while practicing and attain satori?”

“While practicing one must have great faith, great courage, and great sincerity.

The student then asked, “What is great faith?”

“Great faith is believing I am already Buddha. This Is faith in oneself. This faith must be unwavering. Just as a hen sits on an egg for twenty days constantly, just so must this faith be maintained. If the egg is left without heat for an hour it will not hatch. Likewise great faith must be kept constantly while practicing Zen.”

Next, Soen Sa was asked about great courage.

“When a cat is chasing a mouse and the mouse runs into a hole, the cat’s total concentration is on the hole. When the cat only concentrates on the hole, there is no thought of cat, only total focus on the hole into which the mouse ran. Likewise a man in the army, when fighting in battle, does not think of life and of death; he only thinks of killing the enemy. With this rigor and courage Zen should be practiced.”

“What is great sincerity?”

“A baby only wants its mother. A man in a desert without water only wants water. A man who hasn’t eaten for three days only wants food. With such sincerity Zen should be practiced. Only the question – “What am I!” Each person has will, intellect, and feeling. ‘Not thinking will’ becomes great faith, ‘not thinking intellect’ becomes great courage, and ‘not thinking feeling’ becomes great sincerity.”

What is ‘not thinking’ will, intellect, and feeling?”

“When will, intellect, and feeling become one, this is not thinking. Only the great question ‘What am I?’ is left. Cut all thinking and become ‘I don’t know mind.’ This ‘don’t know mind’ is the three — faith, courage and sincerity.”

“Thank you, I understand.”

“Who understands?”

“I understand.”

“What are you?”

The student did not answer. Soen Sa hit him and asked, “Do you understand?”

“I don’t know!”

“This ‘don’t know’ mind is the three — great faith, great courage, and great sincerity.”

“Thank you!”

Inka Means Strong Center and Wisdom

In the old Chinese tradition there are two kinds of transmission: secret transmission and public transmission. The sixth patriarch had secret transmission, because at that time seven hundred monks were living in the Zen Master’s home temple. The head monk had been practicing for many years with the fifth patriarch and everyone thought he would get transmission. But this sixth patriarch was not a monk, he was a layman. If he got transmission, maybe many monks would kill him. So he got a secret transmission at night and went away. For eighteen years he only hid. Then he cut his hair and became a monk. That was secret transmission.

Ma Jo Zen Master got transmission from Pai Chang in a big public ceremony. That’s a famous story. Before transmission is what we call “inka,” which means your practicing is okay. It’s possible for you to teach other people. Inka means many Zen Masters are possible. Transmission means only one Zen Master.

Inka and transmission are different. Our “Ji Do Poep Sa Nim” title is like the Japanese title “sensei.” In Korea, we call it “Chong Yong Sun” — your practice is okay, teaching other people is possible. This title has almost disappeared in Korea, although it still exists in China. In Korea we now have the title “Ip Sung Sunim.” — “head monk.”

Now we have the Ji Do Poep Sa Nim ceremony, which is very important. Why? In this ceremony we come together and believe him or her. How strong is his or her center? If the Zen Master gives inka or transmission only privately to this person, sometimes the other students don’t understand. So our Ji Do Poep Sa Nim ceremony means that everyone can come to Providence Zen Center and ask any kind of question, and he or she must answer. Good answer, bad answer, doesn’t matter. How much the candidate believes in himself or herself one hundred percent is the most important point.

Even my teacher, Zen Master Ko Bong, had young Zen Masters coming to him, challenging him. There is a famous story of the time a young Zen Master asked him: what did the monk whisper in Zen Master Duk Sahn’s ear? This is from a famous kong-an. Duk Sahn Zen Master hadn’t heard the drum (announcing meals) but he carried his bowl into the dharma room. That was a big mistake, so this is a mistake kong-an. So what did the monk say to him?

My teacher was stuck. He was thinking a little bit, like everyone does (even Zen Masters), and he was stuck. This young Zen Master wanted to become a great Zen Master, so he came and hit my teacher. When my teacher could not answer, the young Zen Master said, “Aigo! Aigo!” This means, “You are already dead!” Then he went away.

After one week the young Zen Master understood. So he came back and said, “Thank you for your teaching.” This kind of thing happens. So whether the answer is good or bad doesn’t matter. The Ji Do Poep Sa Nim test means how much does he or she believe in himself or herself one hundred percent? This is very important. Zen means believe in your true self one hundred percent.

When asked “what is Buddha?,” Ma Jo Zen Master used to say, “Mind is Buddha, Buddha is mind.” That’s not correct. These are bad words. Then next he said, “No mind, no Buddha.” These are bad words, too. If somebody gave that answer today, they would get hit! But that’s okay.

So in this ceremony we check two things: center and wisdom. Checking the center means, does the answer appear quickly or not? If there’s no hesitation, that’s a strong center. If the answer is sometimes a little slow in coming, that means the center is not clear. Next, we check whether the answer is correct or not. Correct answer means wisdom.

In the future some other people may become Ji Do Poep Sa Nims. Wisdom and a strong center are necessary. A strong center means your mind is not moving, your mind is clear like space. You can reflect action. Whether or not your answer is correct, you can reflect action. That is center.

In the future, everyone must practice strongly and many Ji Do Poep Sa Nims will appear, to help our School and help all beings. Thank you.