Illness Helps Your True Self

Our physical body is not our true self. What is our true self, our true I? Every human being must find their true I. If you find the answer to this question then freedom from suffering and freedom from life and death appears.

Don’t be afraid of your sickness. At times everybody is afraid of what will happen to their body. However, the only difference between human beings when it comes to death is: go early, go late. So again, what is a human being? You must find this! Then when you die, your direction will be clear.

Some people are strong, very smart and have a lot of power. But still, if the direction of their life is not clear, when they die their consciousness will go round and round.

Being alive is very lucky. At this time you must find your owner, your master. You must ask yourself, who is my master? If you find your master, then throwing away your body at any time will not be a problem for you. Don’t be afraid of life and death. This body is like a floating cloud that appears and then disappears. What are you?

No matter what the disease, your true self has no sickness; only your body is sick. Sickness, any sickness, helps your practice. Without sickness, there is only more wanting and desire, wanting and wanting; so you don’t understand your true self, your direction is not clear. If you die at that time, you will have a big problem.

To know that you are dying is very important. For a dying person, completely putting it all down is very easy. Letting go of desires and attachments is easy because at that time you cannot get anything. Now you are sick. What do you want? Money? Sex? Power? What do you want? Finding your true self when you know that you are dying is the easiest way. So this sickness helps your true self.

I Already Caught a Fish

Man Gong’s Net: One day, Zen Master Man Gong sat on the high rostrum and gave the speech to mark the end of the three month winter retreat. “All winter long you monks practiced very hard. That’s wonderful! As for me I had nothing to do, so I made a net. This net is made out of a special cord. It is very strong and can catch all Buddhas, Patriarchs and human beings. It catches everything. How do you get out of this net? Some students shouted, “KATZ!” Others hit the floor or raised a fist. One said, “The sky is blue, the grass is green.” Another said, “Already got out; how are you, great Zen Master?” From the back of the room a monk shouted, “Don’t make net!” Many answers were given, but to each Man Gong only replied, “Aha! I’ve caught a BIG fish!” So, how do you get out of Man Gong’s net?

This is a very famous kong-an. Zen Master Man Gong always taught his students not to make anything. If you practice strongly, don’t make anything and don’t want anything then you can attain no hindrance. Then this kong-an is not a problem. But if you are thinking, if you still have I, my, me and checking mind, then you cannot get out of the net. This net is life and death and includes everything. Even if you are a Buddha, if you have thinking, you cannot escape the net. Man Gong’s net is an attack kong-an. “I caught a big fish” is a strong teaching style. It drops down a large hook for you. If you touch this fishing hook you will have a big problem! It’s just like a boxing match: hit, hit, hit… then you must defend yourself. So, how do you hit Man Gong’s net? How do you take away Man Gong’s idea? Man Gong’s idea made the net. So, you must hit that. Kong-an practicing is very important–it means, put it all down. In Zen, we say if the Buddha appears, kill the Buddha; if an eminent teacher appears, kill the teacher; if demons appear, kill them. Kill everything that apppears in front of you. That means don’t make anything. If you make something then you have a hindrance. If you can completely put it all down, then you have no hindrance and your direction becomes clear. So, our practicing direction is to make our situation, function and relationship in this world clear. Why do you eat every day? If that is clear, then our life is clear and we can help this world. Moment to moment our job is to do bodhisattva action and help all beings. Man Gong’s net makes our direction and its function clear. Only help all beings. But that is just an explanation. Explanations can’t help you! An answer is necessary.

Hundred Proof Dragon

Sometimes a student will decide to fast during Yong Maeng Jong Jin or make a seven day retreat. He begins strong. First day, second day, only water. Third day: “… maybe I’ll have a little orange juice…” Fourth day: just a half slice of bread…” Fifth day, headache. “… think I’ll take a little nap…” Seventh day, starving, so he stuffs himself. This is what’s called “head like a dragon, tail like a snake.”

You decide something then you don’t do it. This means you don’t believe in yourself. Or in an interview, the Zen Master says: “What color is the wall?”


“Is that correct?”

You hesitate. In that gap, you’re already dead. It’s like fighting. The master attacks. How can you defend yourself? You have to attack!

“Is that correct?”

“Are you hungry?”

Ask a child, “What’s one plus two?”


“Is that correct?”

“Sure it’s correct.” He believes in himself, so he doesn’t think about it.

“One plus two doesn’t equal three…”

“It does too! My teacher said so!” A child’s mind doesn’t shake so easily. But Zen students! They cling to their thinking.

Throw a ball hard against the wall, it comes back hard. Slow, it comes back slow. If the master grabs a sword, you grab one too! This is a clear mirror. “What color is that?” This is a terrible question!

“You already know.”

“I don’t!”

“No? Then I’ll teach you: white!” This is only so-so. You have to attack.

The Human Route

Dear Seung Sahn Soen Sa,

I don’t think you know me because I have seen you only a few times. I attended a Kido with you last summer. However, I hope you will be able to give me some advice.

Last month my younger sister Sue died in a very strange and lonely way. The karma of my family is difficult and full of confusion and pain. Sue was paralyzed from the waist down for a year and a half. She tried to kill herself jumping from a balcony and broke her spine in three places. I cry as I write this. Though I was close to her before, I became much closer after that, going to Texas to visit her, talking with her, writing many letters. I loved her very much. She had a beautiful heart, very loving and seeking. Then last month she suddenly ran away in her car (she had a special car she could drive). She drove up to northern Texas, called my mother twice, and then we didn’t hear from her for many days. She was finally found in the woods by the police. She had tried to get out of her car into her wheelchair, fell to the ground, dragged herself into the woods, built a fire, and died there — probably from exposure and starvation.

For myself, these last years have also been a struggle. I was in a mental hospital twice, and the past three years have been a journey back to a normal mind. It is so terribly sad to me because, just when I was beginning to be really strong for her, to be able to truly help her, she is gone — and I think she had much pain and anger in her heart when she died.

I have her ashes now on my altar, and I feel strong energy from them. I guess I wish to ask you two things. First, what can I do for her now? I try to find her when I sit Zen. I think of her always — it sometimes seems as if I feel her suffering — and every night I chant, but this doesn’t seem enough. I want badly to see her, though I know I can’t, to help her wherever she is, to reach her somehow and make sure she is not suffering.

Secondly, please tell me how to purify myself and my family when there are so many difficult things. I myself am such a beginner on the spiritual path — part of the reason I went crazy was because I thought I was such a bad person. I know somewhat differently now, but could you explain a little to me about karma with much suffering and unhappiness?

I will be deeply, deeply grateful to you for any words that you can send me. As I write this letter, the tears come from inside with my sorrow and my desire to bring love where there is so much pain.

Yours in Kanzeon,


May 27, 1978

Dear Patricia,

Thank you for your letter. How are you? I read your letter and I am also very sad. I understand your mind; I understand your thoughts about your sister. I understand your love for your sister. You and your sister have very strong karma, same karma. So when your sister dies, your mind also dies.

But that is all feeling. If you are holding your feelings, you cannot help your sister. Also, you cannot help yourself or your family. Let your feelings be! You must find your correct way; then your mind can shine to your sister and to your family. Then in the next life this sadness will not appear. But if you are only holding these sad feelings, in your next life this same sadness will appear.

Everything is from a primary cause and leads to a result. An action in your past life gives you a result in this life. If in this life you do not make this feeling disappear, then it will become a primary cause and in the next life there will again be the same result. The name for this is samsara. Many people do not understand this, so they are attached to a result. Because of this, when they are very sad and crying, they suffer.

If you understand karma, you will not hold onto the result, so your mind will not be tight and suffering. Crying time, only cry. When that is finished, it is finished. You must keep a clear mind. Then you will make clear, correct karma.

So don’t hold onto your feelings. Don’t make anything; don’t be attached to anything. Put it all down! Then your mind will become clear, and your mind light will shine everywhere. That is called Dharma energy. Then your mind will shine to your sister and the rest of your family. Then the primary cause will disappear, and this suffering and sadness will not appear again.

The Human RouteComing empty-handed, going empty-handed — that is human.
When you are born, where do you come from?
When you die, where do you go?
Life is like a floating cloud which appears.
Death is like a floating cloud which disappears.
The floating cloud itself originally does not exist.
Life and death, coming and going, are also like this.
But there is one thing which always remains clear.
It is pure and clear, not depending on life and death.
What is that one pure and clear thing?

You must attain this true self which is not dependent on life or death, which always remains clear and pure. Then you will see your sister’s original face, and you will save yourself, your sister, and your family.

If you don’t understand the one pure and clear thing, then only go straight — don’t know. Let everything be! Only try, try, try for 10,000 years non-stop. This is very important.

You said you were in a mental hospital. That is very difficult. Controlling your mind when you are alone and practicing alone may also be very difficult. The best thing is for you to go to a Zen Center; practicing together with others is very important. When you are bowing together, sitting together, eating together, chanting together, and working together with other people, everybody helps you control your bad karma. Then it is easy to completely put down your opinion, your condition, and your situation.

Good and bad are your true teachers. But living by yourself, you don’t understand good and bad. You cannot see your bad karma. So your bad karma always controls you, and your problem is non-stop. If you want your bad karma to disappear, please come to a Zen Center.

You want to know how to help your sister. I already told you, but if you want to do something special, Buddhism has a mantra for dead people: Ji Jang Bosal. Try Ji Jang Bosal 3,000 times a day for forty-nine days. Then your sister will be born again in a good body.

I hope you only go straight — don’t know: don’t check your feelings, your mind, or your understanding, find the true way, and save your sister, your family, and all beings from suffering.

Yours in the Dharma,


Hua T’ou and Chinese Food

This piece is drawn from a conversation at lunch in Hong Kong between Zen Master Seung Sahn, another famous monk, and some students.

Monk: Dae Soen Sa Nim, what is the difference between hua t’ou* and kong-an?

ZMSS: The hua t’ou is like a pointing finger. The finger itself is not important. Direction is most important. The hua t’ou has no meaning. Its just a finger pointing. Most important is direction. Hua t’ou means your direction. A question like “Who is speaking?” has two points, subject and object. If you have two things then opposites have already appeared. Don’t make opposites. “Who is speaking?” …then thinking, thinking, thinking appears. Hua t’ou means cut off all thinking. “What is Buddha? Dry shit on a stick.” This has no thinking; it’s a direct pointing! Kong-an also means cut off all thinking. Just do it.

Monk: But, when you ask a question you want to find an answer, correct?

ZMSS: You shouldn’t want to find an answer. Now in China, Pure Land practice is very popular. Many people practice by asking themselves, “Who is O Mi To Fo, the Amitabul Bodhisattva?” That is OK but not true Zen. It’s like this: “What is Buddha? Chopsticks.” Then if thinking appears, “why chopsticks?” that’s not so good. “What is Buddha? Chopsticks.” Then, only action — use the chopsticks, eat! That’s correct. “Who is chanting?” If you are thinking, then two minds appear: chanting mind, asking mind. But hua t’ou means cut off these two minds — cut off all thinking. Da Sung Il Pung — HIT! Become One. Just do it!

Monk: But everyone is practicing, “Who is chanting 0 Mi To Fo?” Da Sung Il Pung is very high class! Nobody understands that.

ZMSS: Yes, this style of teaching has been used for such a long time that the true meaning has been lost. Today, nobody understands. During the Tang and Sung dynasties everyone understood the correct teaching. Live words are very important — that’s Zen. Not thinking words. Just perceive, then inside and outside BOOM! become one. Here is a poem for you:

Where is Amitabul now?
If you keep this question, all thinking disappears.
You return to the place of no thinking
Then your mind light is shining bright.

So, everyone, please eat!

Monk: Sir, what do you do during sitting meditation?

ZMSS: Sitting meditation, lie down meditation, walking meditation, it doesn’t matter. Right now everything must be clear in front of you.

Monk: From what I understand from your talk, when doing a mantra, reading sutra, etc. just do it. But, Chinese people, when they recite 0 Mi To Fo, they are thinking about 0 Mi To Fo, Pure Land, etc. But you say, “only do it” — is that right?

ZMSS: Yes, correct. Only do it! Then repeating 0 Mi To Fo and Zen are not different.

Monk: Then bowing time, only bow?

ZMSS: Correct. Only do it!

Monk: They don’t have Zen Masters like you in China. There, they only sit. They will not bow or do mantra practice. Also, they only stay at the temple. But you use everything as a practice.

ZMSS: Bowing, chanting, sitting — only do it. If you want anything, it’s a big mistake. If you want to go to the Pure Land or want enlightenment, you will have a problem. Only do it! Doing 0 Mi To Fo or eating, you must try. If you don’t have a try mind, everything is a problem. If you have a try mind, nothing is a problem. Please eat.

Monk: I am very happy, I cannot eat.

ZMSS: Eat, eat! Eating time, eat.

Monk: You are the live word. Now I have attained the live word!

*Hua t’ou means “head of speech.” Its the point just before thinking. Traditionally it is a word or phrase (like “Mu” or “what is this?”) used by a practitioner to cut off all thinking and return to before thinking, the original self.

How to Do It

In Florida they have dog races. It is a very popular betting sport. People go to the dog track and bet money on the greyhounds, and if their dog wins, they win a lot of money. It is very simple. Everybody understands how the greyhounds race, yah? The dogs come out of a starting gate, and start heading around the track. Meanwhile, there is an electric rabbit that is carried along the inside rail of the track. Actually this is not a real rabbit. It is a fake rabbit with real rabbit fur on it. Dogs have very keen noses, and they follow a good smell. So this rabbit fur leads them around the track. All the dogs think they can catch the rabbit if they just run a little faster. Meanwhile, some man is watching the dogs and controlling the speed of the rabbit. If the dogs are very fast that day, he speeds the rabbit up; if they are slow, he slows it down. He always keeps this rabbit just within range of the dogs so that they think they can catch it. Every single day, the dogs go around and around and around this track. Race after race after race, the dogs just follow this rabbit.

One day a very interesting thing happened at the races in Florida. There was a certain dog named Clear Mary. She was a very fast greyhound, and usually won her races. But Clear Mary was also a very clever dog. One afternoon, she ran out of the starting gate with the other dogs, as usual. The rabbit hummed around the track, and the dogs sped after it. Running, running, running, running-around, around, around, around. Every day, sometimes several times a day, these dogs did the same thing, over and over and over again. And today they were doing it again, as usual. Chasing the electric rabbit.

But in the middle of the race, Clear Mary suddenly stopped. Many of the people in the grandstand stood up, fixing their binoculars on this dog. “What is happening?” they said. “What’s wrong with that dumb dog?” Some people had placed lots of bets on Clear Mary, so they were very angry. “Run! Run! You dumb dog! What’s wrong with you?”

But Clear Mary did not move for a few moments. She looked up at the grandstand. She looked at the tail ends of the other dogs scampering around the bend. And she looked at the rabbit, whirring around the bend and over to the other side of the oval track. Everything was completely still and silent for that moment at the races that day.

Suddenly, Clear Mary leapt over the guard rail that kept the dogs on the track. She sped straight across the big center infield like a flash. Leaping at just the right moment over the other guard rail, she caught the rabbit! Boom! Ha ha ha ha ha!

So that is a Zen mind. Everybody wants something in life. Everyone only follows their karma. They follow their ideas and their opinions, and believe that this is a true life. But Clear Mary is like a high-class Zen student. She was trained very strongly for many years only to follow the rabbit. Everyday she was taught to go around the track-around and around and around. But one day she stops and takes a close look. That is just like Zen practice: stopping and taking a close look at what is happening in life. Then she perceives something clearly, and just does it, one hundred percent. She doesn’t check inside or outside. Inside and outside — boom! — become one. That is a Zen mind. It’s very simple, yah?

    – excerpted from The Compass of Zen [Shambhala, 1997 – ISBN 1-57062-329-5]

How Many Pounds is this KATZ?

The following is a letter from the Housemaster of the Providence Zen Center (now Zen Master Seong Hyang) to Soen Sa Nim, and his reply to her, written in May, 1976.

Dear Soen Sa Nim,

I hope your body is strong and you are feeling well. Everyone in Providence is fine. We are all working very hard. I think everyone is trying to understand his job. This is a big job.

This Sunday George (Bowman – now Zen Master Bo Mun) and Mu Bul Sunim gave very good Dharma talks. We only had three guests and the Providence Zen Center family. Although Mu Bul and George talked very clearly and simply, I felt like our guests did not understand their speech. Sometimes this discourages me very much. People come here, listen to our teaching, and leave. Very few people come a second time. I often feel like the Center is making some mistakes, but I don’t understand what they are.

So I will take your famous advice and only go straight – don’t check myself, don’t check other people, don’t check the Providence Zen Center. Correct?


Good things come in small packages.



Dear Bobby,

How are you? Thank you for your letter and for sending me my letters. Also, thank you for your big KATZ. Everybody understanding their jobs is very good, but I ask you, what is your big job? Big job is your original job, and original job is the great Bodhisattva way.

Nowadays things are very busy here, but it is wonderful that our family is growing. We had a high school class come here one day, and next week a class from UCLA is coming. Also, I will talk at the Center for the Healing Arts in Los Angeles next week. In June we will also have a three-day Kido on a mountaintop near Big Sur for about fifteen people.

I am a little tired these days, but I am resting now, and Mrs. Kanda is here from Japan. She is a wonderful oriental medicine doctor, and she is making me strong. Nowadays Linc is a very good Dharma teacher, and he also helps me.

Don’t worry if people do not come back to the Zen Center. Many people like honey better than water. I think water is better than honey. Honey tastes good, but if you only eat honey, it is not good for you. It is possible to take much water, but only a little honey.

Zen is very clear, simple, and necessary like water. Every day you need water, and every day you need Zen, but most people prefer honey. Zen is clear, but not interesting to them. Most people have many desires, and Zen is cutting off desire, so people don’t like this. Their whole lives are only desire. If you practice Zen, then your life is only clear like water, with no taste, like water. If you have no money, then water is very good.

If people don’t come back, this is not because of a Zen Center mistake; it is because they don’t want to fix their minds. So don’t worry. Many people are not necessary. Only a few keen-eyed students are necessary.

You said, “Don’t check myself,” and you said “KATZ!” and you said, “Good things come in small packages.” Wonderful! But, how many pounds is this KATZ?

Yours in the Dharma,


How can Sitting Save this Hungry World?

Question: What can we in America do to stop the starvation of the world?

Zen Master Seung Sahn: Did you have dinner?

Q: Yes.

ZMSS: Did you clean your bowl?

Q: Yes.

ZMSS: Good. So why is there this kind of problem? In this world, cause and effect are very clear. Everything has a primary cause. If you understand it, and remove it, then the problem will also disappear. We can save money and send food over to Africa and India; that’s okay. But many problems will remain. Taking away the primary cause is very important. It’s like a game of pool. You hit the ball directly into the pocket, and that’s one ball in the pocket. But the high-class technique is to hit this ball and that ball and other balls, so that all of them go into the pockets. Zen-style action is like that; we can give money to help hungry people, but if we hit people’s hungry minds, we can help change their minds so that they can help their own country. The high-class technique is to help people help themselves.

There are two kinds of hunger in this world: body hunger and mind hunger. Body hunger is easily solved: just feed people. But mind hungry people need food for their minds. People with mind hunger do not die. They want power, and then they want more power. They say things like “My way is correct, your way is not correct!” They want to control this world. They don’t want to lose their good situation.

Nowadays, many of the people who say they want world peace are afraid of nuclear weapons. What they want is not to die, not to lose their good situation. That is not correct world peace. Most of the politicians talk about world peace that way. Russia says, “We want world peace.” America says “We want world peace.” Which world peace is correct? These are mind hungry people, who make bombs and nuclear weapons. They talk about world peace, but it’s only a world peace of the tongue, not a true world peace. There are also many people in this world who don’t want world peace. They think the world is so evil that it should be destroyed. They also only want to keep their own good situation, so their world peace is only for themselves, not for other people. This is also not correct world peace.

“I want world peace only for myself’ — this kind of mind is unbalanced. Take away this mind hunger, and the problem of body hunger will also disappear. If we love each other, help each other, and become harmonious with each other, then world peace is possible.

You must understand this world. America makes many bombs and nuclear weapons. Why? It is not at war. If these weapons are not used, they eventually decay. But because America makes them, Russia must make them. The communist countries have less money, so they must take money from other things in order to make weapons. Eventually their economy begins to break down.

The American idea is not to fight, but to break down the economies of communist countries. When economies break down, hungry people appear. Now many people are hungry. This mind set is very bad. Do you understand? Perceive this world clearly, and you will understand where hunger comes from. Everything happens by natural process. In Africa and India (and America as well), there is much killing of animals for food. There is not so much eating of rice and vegetables, as there is in the Orient. It takes more land to raise animals for meat than it does for raising grains and vegetables. Why are many people starving? This is the result not just of this life, but of causes begun many lifetimes ago. Buddha said, if you want to understand what happened before this life, look at what you are getting now. Being very hungry means that in a previous life, one gave much suffering to other people and animals, and also took food. Today’s suffering is the result of those actions. There is great imbalance now between hungry people and people with a lot of food. At meal times we make a great deal of food, then throw away what we don’t eat, into the garbage. There are many thousands of restaurants in America that throw away food. If we were able to send all the wasted food to Africa and India, those people would not be hungry.

Also, if you want to understand the future, you must look at what is occurring now. Our mind set at this moment is the primary cause of what will happen in the future: tomorrow, the next life, generations after that. Right now your mind is making the future. Right now people are killing animals for food, people are wasting food, people are spending money on weapons instead of food. Thus we make the future with our current actions. There are many articles appearing in the news about Africa. Many people are talking about the suffering and having feelings about it, so a “how can we help them?” mind is appearing. If this helping mind gets wide enough, it will find and remove the primary causes of the world’s suffering. Many people getting this helping mind means they will get energy together, and will be able to solve the world’s problems.

There is a famous American who has created many groups to raise money for Africa. I thought this was wonderful until I read that when he gets money, 30% of it goes into his own pocket, and only 70% of it goes abroad. He has this idea, “I am wonderful because I do this.” He has become much admired, but it’s not correct. He only looks wonderful from the outside not the inside. Because of the publicity about Africa, many such groups have been formed in America, that are concerned with helping. They raise money and send it abroad, but it’s like putting cosmetics on the face. If you are hungry, you don’t need cosmetics. This kind of action is like cosmetics; it creates a sense of “I am good, I am helping,” but this “I” does not really help other people. It doesn’t address the primary cause of world hunger. It’s like a room in which many little insects appear. After cleaning the room, it’s OK for a day or two, then soon the insects appear again. Cleaning once in a while doesn’t help. Why do these insects appear? We must look for the primary cause. In this case, we find the room is very damp. If it were dry, no insects would appear. So we must make it dry by using a heater or building a fire, and making the room very hot and dry. Then the insects will not appear again. It’s the same with the problem of hungry people.

Q: Does our sitting in meditation take away the primary cause for Africa’s hunger?

ZMSS: When I came to this country fourteen years ago, I was alone. There were no Zen centers in our style. Now there are many of them around the world in our school, with many people practicing. Many people in these Zen centers are beginning to understand the correct way and the truth. Maybe in the future, our Zen centers and the many others around the world will grow and be able to teach all the people with hungry minds. Take away mind hunger, and body hunger will soon disappear. Then world peace will be possible. You want results quickly. You want to send something to the hungry people and have the problem solved tomorrow. That’s not possible. In this world, cause and effect appear sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly. This particular great suffering has taken hundreds of years to appear. So perhaps in this life it will not be possible to solve it, nor in the next one or the one after that. But we must try, life after life. That is our great vow — “Sentient begins are numberless, we vow to save them all.” For that we must each develop a strong personal center, not just in this lifetime, but life after life. Try, try, try for ten thousand years nonstop!

This is a time of complete change in the world. We are at the end of an old cycle, and the beginning of a new one. As a result, there are many imbalances, and great suffering. Hunger appears because of these imbalances. Now there are entire countries with lots of food, and countries with very little.

Imbalance is our world’s sickness: how can we cure it? Balance means understanding the truth. If you have no wisdom, you cannot become balanced. It is very important for everyone to find their human nature. That is why we sit Zen, to find our true human nature. So we are in a very important position, sitting in meditation. We must find our human nature, then together help each other become world peace. As human beings, we are all equal. We all have the same love mind, so why must hungry people appear? We must find the primary cause of this world’s sickness, and remove it. If we don’t, we can never help the hungry people.

High Class Consciousness

Kyol Che opening talk by Zen Master Seung Sahn at Shin Won Sah in December 1995.

Nowadays our world is very complicated. Also, there are many problems; many people are killing each other. The more complicated our consciousness becomes, the more problems we have. If your consciousness is a little complicated you will have a little problem; if it’s very complicated then you will have a big problem. People want something but they cannot get anything. Then their minds become narrower and narrower. Narrow mind means “only me” mind. This “I, my, me” mind is animal mind. Animal mind only goes one way. Dog, only dog way. Cat, only cat way. Snake, snake way–only my way. They don’t understand other beings so they don’t get anything; they don’t understand this world.

These days human beings are the same as animals–only my way, only my situation, my condition. Then they fight each other. Just like in Russia. The Soviet Union disappeared, then many small countries appeared and are all fighting each other. Now the whole world is becoming like this. Big countries are not fighting each other so much, but inside countries, small groups are fighting each other. So, the whole world has a problem.

This problem appears because animal consciousness is coming into human beings consciousness. Now there are too many human beings. After World War II there were only two billion people; now there are over five billion. Where do all these new consciousness come from? From animals. Why? Humans kill many animals and then they eat the meat. People at this retreat are very lucky because here you can’t eat meat. If you eat meat, then animal consciousness comes in. In the outside world people eat a lot of meat, so animal consciousness comes in. Then dog mind, snake mind, pig mind, any kind of animal consciousness can take control–only me! So, everyone is fighting each other.

Coming here to practice strongly for three months is very wonderful. If you look at this world, how many people practice correctly for three months? How many people want to find their true self–not very many! So, coming here to find the correct way, truth and correct life to help all beings is very important. Only a very high class consciousness will do that. So, you are all very lucky to be here.

Head of a Dragon, Tail of a Snake

Western Pennsylvania
November 1, 1977

Dear Soen Sa Nim,

How are you? In your last letter you asked me again, “Why does Bodhidharma have no beard?” You said I must find a picture of Bodhidharma to see that in pictures of him he always has a beard. In my last letter, I gave you a 90% answer, and the kong-an bomb did not explode. O.K.

Why does Bodhidharma have no beard?


This is a feeble shot in the dark, of course, but I hope to be emptied of answers soon. I have not been able to put all of the time and effort into your kong-an that I previously intended, due to the fact that I have been using much of my free time to study electronics in the hope of getting a good job. I have appreciated my electronics study as a Zen discipline, however, and am mastering it with a single-minded zeal and directness. Yet within me there is a need to get back to the kong-an and settle this matter. I wish to give all sentient beings the aid that only a Patriarch can give.

Too many words! Katie and I shall be very glad to hear from you again. Please take care of yourself and all beings.

Yours in the Dharma,


November 10, 1977

Dear Dave,

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

Your letter had much energy, but your kong-an answer has no energy. What’s the matter with you? You must believe in yourself one hundred percent! What are you doing now? When you do something, you must do it. That is your correct situation; that is clear mind; that is don’t-know. You think that the kong-an is separate from your life and from your job. This kong-an, don’t-know mind, clear mind, your job, your life, everything — hit! become one. Just now, what are you doing?

You said, “I have no time, so I can’t work on the kong-an.” This is very bad speech! Every kong-an points to its own correct situation. So every day, everywhere, when you keep your correct situation, moment to moment, all the situations in your everyday life are clear. Then any kong-an that tests your mind is your situation just now, and it will also be very clear.

You said that you are studying electronics. This is Zen. Electrical energy can change into anything. Sometimes it makes things hot, sometimes cold; sometimes it makes wind, sometimes light; sometimes it gives the correct time; sometimes it makes food. This original energy has no name and no form. So this energy is like your mind. If you understand one form of electricity, then you can understand electricity’s substance. When you see a light, do you know where the light comes from? Light is electrical energy; electrical energy is light. Electrical energy is part of our everyday lives. In the same way, your moment-to-moment correct action is your true self, clear mind, and the truth. So if you learn the correct way from electricity, no kong-an will stop you.

Your homework answer was “beard.” This kong-an is an attack kong-an; how can you defend yourself? You must attack! For example, in an interview, a Zen Master asks a student, “What color is the wall?”


Then he asks, “Is that correct?” If you hesitate, just then you are already dead. It’s like fighting. You must attack! When he asks, “Is this correct?” you answer, “Are you hungry?”

If you ask a child, “What is one plus two?” he says, “Three.”

“Is that correct?”

“Yes, it’s correct.” He believes in himself, so he doesn’t check himself.

“One plus two doesn’t equal three…”

“It does too! My teacher said so!” A child’s mind doesn’t move: no holding onto words or thinking.

Here’s another example. If you throw a ball hard against a wall, it comes back hard. If you throw it slowly, it comes back slowly. If the Master grabs a sword, you must grab one too! This is reflected action. “What color is the wall?” he asks you. This is a terrible question!

“You already understand.”

“I don’t.”

“No? Then I’ll teach you: white!” You must believe in yourself 100%!

When you want to do something and then you don’t do it, you don’t believe in yourself: you have the head of a dragon, the tail of a snake. So I hope you only go straight — don’t know, believe one hundred percent in your everyday life, get Enlightenment, and save all beings from suffering.

Yours in the Dharma,

S. S.