Hae Jae Dharma Speech – 1981

This is the Dharma Speech given by Zen Master Seung Sahn at the Hae Jae Ceremony marking the end of Kyol Che at the Providence Zen Center on April 10, 1981.

When spring comes, flowers bloom everywhere. Maybe spring makes flowers. Don’t make anything, O.K.?

Today is the Hae Jae Ceremony. Hae Jae means loose, not tight, so this is our “Loose” Ceremony. Ninety days ago we held the Kyol Che Ceremony. Kyol Che means “Tight Dharma.” Tight Dharma, Loose Dharma — what is Dharma? Dharma means complete stillness, so how can it be tight or loose? That is a big mistake! So our Kyol Che Ceremony was a big mistake, and this Hae Jae Ceremony is also a big mistake. (The audience laughed.)

When human beings are born, that is already a big mistake. Practicing means using Dharma to correct this big mistake. In America, when a baby is born, people say it cries, “Waaah!” Koreans say a baby’s first cry is “Ku-aaa!” That means “Save me!” or “Help me!” A baby crying “Ku-aaa!” at the moment of birth already has I-my-me; that is a big mistake.

If you have no I-my-me, Dharma and tight are not necessary. If you do have I-my-me, Dharma has already appeared. A long time ago the Buddha said, “When mind appears, Dharma appears; when Dharma appears, form appears; when form appears, suffering appears. If mind disappears, Dharma disappears; Dharma, disappears, then form disappears; form disappears, then suffering disappears.”

When a baby first cries “Ku-aaa!” mind appears and so Dharma also appears. So “tight Dharma” is very important. How tight should it be? For 90 days, only tight, tight, tight. Then maybe “I” will become smaller and smaller and smaller. When “I” becomes like smoke and disappears, tight is no longer necessary. It has already become loose.

So today, this is what loose means. Tight, tight, tight, then what is tight? There’s nothing there. Nothing is loose. So did you get loose? Did you get nothing? If you have no I-my-me, tight is not necessary. If you have I-my-me, then today is not Hae Jae for you; you must still keep Kyol Che. That is very important, so be careful!

At the Kyol Che Ceremony we talked about understanding our True Self. That is called Enlightenment. Enlightenment is not special. It means 100% belief in your True Self. “What am I?’ You must believe in your True Self 100%. One day is 24 hours. It is possible to believe in yourself 100%. When thirsty, I drink. When I am just drinking, I can believe in myself — no thinking. There is no I-my-me, O.K.? When you are completely asleep, there is no I-my-me. Where did it go? I-my-me has disappeared, so my opinion, my condition, and my situation all disappear. If you are completely asleep, this is better than thinking or sitting. So nothing is better than something good.

Enlightenment is the name for understanding your True Self. So we will check the Mu Mun Kwan to learn how Zen Masters and students of long ago got Enlightenment. First let us look at “Pai Chang’s Fox,” the second gate of the Mu Mun Kwan. Everybody is familiar with this story. Long ago in China, Zen Master Pai Chang used to give a Dharma Talk like this, seated on a high rostrum, two times every month. Whenever he gave a talk, an old man would come to sit with the monks and listen to the speech. One day, after all the monks had left, the old man stayed behind. Pai Chang asked him, “Who are you?”

“I am not a human being. I am a fox.”

“A fox?” asked Pai Chang. “Why have you come here, fox?”

The man replied, “I have a problem, Zen Master. In the distant past, in the time of Mahakashyapa Buddha, I was a Master, the same as you. Once a monk appeared and asked me, ‘Does an enlightened man fall into samsara (cause and effect)?’ I answered, ‘He does not fall into samsara (is not subject to cause and effect).’ Because of my mistaken answer, I have been reborn a fox for five hundred generations. Now, please, Master, give me one sentence to liberate me from this fox’s body!”

Pai Chang said, “Ask me the same question.”

“Does an enlightened man fall into samsara?”

The Master said, “Cause and effect are clear.”

Upon hearing these words, the old man got Enlightenment. Bowing, he said, “I am already free from my fox’s body, which can be found in a cave on the other side of this mountain. Would you please bury it as you would a dead monk?”

That is very interesting, but Pai Chang’s speech is the worst speech. “Cause and effect are clear,” he said. How could the fox lose his fox’s body and get Enlightenment upon hearing that? I have a big question: does it mean that everybody loses their human body when they get Enlightenment? If so, they become what? God? Buddha? Which one?

Next, let’s look at another famous kong-an, the third case of the Mu Mun Kwan, “Gu Ji Raises a Finger.” Whenever he was questioned Zen Master Gu Ji would just stick up one finger. When people asked him, “What is Buddha? What is Dharma?” he just raised one finger. His young attendant saw that every day. One day when Gu Ji was away, a visiting monk asked the attendant, “What is your Master’s Dharma?” The boy stuck up one finger. When Gu Ji heard of this, he cut off the boy’s finger with a knife. As the boy ran out screaming in pain, Gu Ji called to him, “Attendant!”

“Yes, sir?” the boy turned his head.

Gu Ji raised one finger. The boy suddenly got Enlightenment.

In our school, when I ask students, “Where are you coming from?” everybody hits the floor. “What’s your name?” Hit the floor. “How old are you?” Hit the floor. The next time, I will bring a knife and hit your head O.K.? Be careful! (Everybody laughed.) Then maybe you will get Enlightenment. So ask you: this young attendant only saw one finger and — poof! — he got Enlightenment What did he attain? Maybe somebody will raise one finger. Then I will cut off your finger, O.K.? Next time, be careful!

The next question is case #7. Someone asked Zen Master Jo Ju, “I have just entered the monastery. Please teach me, Master.”

Jo Ju said, “Did you have breakfast?”

“Yes, I did,” replied the monk.

“Then,” said Jo Ju, “wash your bowls.” Hearing that — poof! — the monk got Enlightenment. That is wonderful, you know? A short cut, very easy! (Everybody laughed.) The young attendant lost a finger and got Enlightenment; this monk ate his breakfast and got Enlightenment. That’s a wonderful way to get Enlightenment. So what did they attain? It’s very simple, O.K.? All the Kyol Che people understand; they already have become Buddha. (Maybe becoming Buddha is not necessary!) But that is a very important kong-an. Did everybody get Enlightenment? You have supper before this ceremony? After supper, what did you do then?

Next, we’ll look at another kong-an about Zen Master Jo Ju, case #19 in the Mu Mun Kwan. When Jo Ju was young, he became a monk and studied all the Sutras. Finally, after many years, he began to sit Zen. For 30 years he only sat, sat, sat — not thinking, only going straight. He was almost done. Yes, he understood that everything is truth, but there was one thing he didn’t understand. So one day, when he was 60 years old and still hadn’t attained Enlightenment, Jo Ju went to visit Zen Master Nam Cheon. He asked Nam Cheon, “What is the true way?”

Nam Cheon answered, “Everyday mind is the true way.”

“Then should I try to keep it or not?”

“If you try to keep it, already you are mistaken.”

“If I do not try,” said Jo Ju, “how can I understand the true way?”

“Rock-head! The true way is not dependent on understanding or not understanding. Understanding is illusion; not understanding is blankness. If you correctly attain the true way of not thinking, it is like space, clear and void. So why do you make right and wrong?” Hearing that — poof! — Jo Ju got Enlightenment. That is very easy, too. Don’t make anything. Then your mind is clear like space. Why make something? When Jo Ju heard that,, he got Enlightenment. What did he attain? That’s the point! So everybody knows that thinking is no good. If you are thinking, you don’t understand.

Gate #23 is also a famous kong-an, “Don’t Think Good and Bad.” The Sixth Patriarch, Zen Master Hui Neng, had already gotten Enlightenment and transmission. He was traveling to South China and was pursued for a long way by Hae Myung, a very strong monk who had previously been a great general. The Patriarch, seeing Hae Myung coming, laid his robe and bowl on a stone and said, “This robe symbolizes faith; how can it be fought over? I leave it to you to take it.” He went and hid behind a tree. Hae Myung tried as hard as he could to pick up the robe and bowl, but they were as immovable as a mountain.

“Maybe the Sixth Patriarch has magical powers,” he thought. Then he said, “I don’t want this robe or bowl. I want the Dharma! I beg you, Dharma brother, please teach me!” The Sixth Patriarch came out and said, “O.K., you only want the Dharma — that’s a simple thing, not important. I will teach you: don’t think good and bad. At that time, what is Hae Myung’s original face?” Hae Myung was instantly enlightened. It was very easy. Only looking at what preceded his Enlightenment, “Don’t make good and bad. At that time, what is your original face?” it’s very easy. Did you get it, everybody? Did you get something? Are you hungry or thirsty? So it is also very easy to answer the question, “What did he attain?”

Next, we will examine case #28, “Well-Known Yong Dam.” Dok Sahn had already become a great Sutra Master. For 30 years, he only read and studied the Sutras all the time. After ten years of study, he concentrated on only the Diamond Sutra and wrote commentaries on it. When he traveled, he always carried the Diamond Sutra and heavy volumes of his commentaries. He was called Ju (Diamond), and everybody knew he was a great expert on the Diamond Sutra. One day, he heard that people were practicing Zen in South China. He knew that this was demons’ work because everybody only faced the wall for 90 days. Many times they fell asleep; many times they woke up. Sometimes their minds went to New York, Boston, Korea, Europe. Hearing about that, Dok Shan thought, “That is the work of demons. How can people get Enlightenment or become Buddha acting like demons?” So the great Diamond Sutra Master traveled to the South to teach these Zen monks correct Buddhism.

On the way, he got very hungry and thirsty at lunch time one day, so he wanted some food. He went to a tea house. (In China, where the water is very bad, tea and light food is sold at small restaurants called tea houses. It’s like a snack bar where people come to drink tea, rest, eat, or sleep.) So he went into the snack bar and met an old woman there. The old woman saw a great monk appear and said, “Oh, a Buddhist! Oh, welcome, great monk! Where are you from?”

“I am from the North.”

“Where are you going?”


“Why are you going south?”

“Because I heard that in the South, all the monks are practicing wrong; they only face the wall and sleep, sleep, sleep; then they get Enlightenment and become Buddha. They don’t understand Buddha’s teaching.” He had a lot of energy up.

“Oh, what do you teach?”

“I teach the Dharma.”

“What kind of Dharma?”

“I teach the Diamond Sutra,” he said pointing to the commentaries he carried everywhere with him.

“Oh, you are a Diamond Sutra Master. That is wonderful!”

“But you come here; I want some lunch.”

“Lunch? O.K., but first I have a question for you. If you can give me a good answer, I’ll give you anything you want to eat, free — fruit, rice cakes, or anything. But if you cannot answer, I cannot sell you anything.”

“I understand the whole Diamond Sutra. Go ahead and ask me anything.”

“O.K., O.K., I’ll ask you. The Diamond Sutra says, ‘Past mind cannot get Enlightenment; present mind cannot get Enlightenment; and future mind also cannot get Enlightenment.’ You said ‘lunch’. (In Chinese and Korean, the word for lunch, chin-shim, also means ‘point mind’; this is a pun.) You say lunch (point to mind). What kind of mind do you point to? Past mind? Present mind? Future mind? If you point to past mind, you cannot get Enlightenment. If you point to present mind, you cannot get Enlightenment. If you point to future mind, you also cannot get Enlightenment. So which mind are you pointing to?”

Dok Sahn stopped and could not say anything. He had energy up, and his face kept changing, showing many colors. He wasn’t hungry anymore. He said, “Then I ask you, is there a great Zen Master in this area?”

“Yes. The great Zen Master Yong Dam lives just a few miles south.”

“O.K. Thank you very much.” Without having any lunch, he left to see Zen Master Yong Dam. When he got to his temple, they talked and talked and talked. Being a Sutra Master, Dok Sahn referred to many points in the Diamond Sutra. Each time he did so, the Zen Master would only say, “Yes, that is correct. You are correct. Right.” Many hours passed this way, and at midnight they were still talking.

Finally a monk came in and said, “It is very late. You must go to sleep.” So Dok Sahn picked up his bag and robe and opened the door to leave. But outside it was pitch dark and he could not see where to go. He said, “Zen Master, outside it is very dark; I cannot find my direction.”

“No? O.K., then.” The Master lit a ricepaper candle and handed it to him. Just as Dok Sahn took the candle, Yong Dam blew it out. At that instant, Dok Sahn got Enlightenment.

That is also very easy! (Laughter) Zen Master Dok Sahn got Enlightenment. What was he carrying? At that time, Zen Master Yong Dam blew out the candle. Then it was dark, and he got Enlightenment. So, what did he attain?

Today everybody has heard many stories about getting Enlightenment. So I ask you, how many times have you gotten Enlightenment? Many stories talked about it, right? So getting Enlightenment is not special. Put it all down — your opinion, your condition, your situation. Then your mind has no inside, no outside, no subject, no object. Just one time, inside and outside become one — that is getting Enlightenment. If you are still keeping small things inside, you cannot get Enlightenment. Enlightenment is not special. It means when you are doing something, do it. When you see, just see. When you hear, just hear. When you smell, just smell. When you taste, just taste. When you touch, just touch, O.K.? When you’re thinking, just think. Just think, O.K.? Don’t check your thoughts. Just think. That is Enlightenment. It’s not special. Therefore Zen Master Nam Cheon said, “Everyday mind is Zen mind.”

At the Kyol Che Ceremony we looked at the following kong-ans. Someone asked Zen Master Jo Ju, “Does a dog have Buddha-nature?” He said, “Mu.” That’s not correct speech. Does a dog have Buddha-nature? Everybody understands that, so you must make Jo Ju’s answer correct. On Hae Jae day, that is your job. At this Hae Jae (“loose”) ceremony, we must correct all Zen Masters’ bad speech, wrong speech, and incorrect teaching.

A long time ago, when asked, “What is Buddha?” Zen Master Ma Jo said, “Mind is Buddha; Buddha is mind.” That is very bad teaching. I ask you: what is Buddha? What do you say? If say, “Mind is Buddha; Buddha is mind,” this stick will break your bones, O.K.? (He laughed.) The next day, when asked again, “What is Buddha?” he said, No mind, no Buddha.” The wrong direction! What is Buddha? If you live outside the Zen Center you only need to pay $35 and come here for three-day Yong Maeng Jong Jin and you will understand that. Then you will be better than Zen Master Jo Ju or Zen Master Ma Jo. That’s very cheap! (The audience laughed.)

The next one is a little bit difficult. One day Zen Master Dok Sahn went into the Dharma Room carrying his bowls. The Housemaster said to him, “The bell has not yet been rung; the drum has not yet been struck. Where are you going, carrying your bowls?” Zen Master Dok Sahn returned to his room. When the Head Monk heard about this, he understood, “The great Zen Master doesn’t understand the last word!” What is the last word? Why did the Zen Master act this way? After he made a mistake, why did he return to his room without saying anything? Maybe he was a little crazy. Maybe he was deaf. Maybe he was thinking a lot at that time. Maybe he was asleep: sometimes when you go to sleep thinking, “I want to wake up at 11:00,” somebody knocks on your door at 10:00 and you wake up, thinking you are late. So maybe he dreamed that somebody knocked, or that the bell was rung and the drum struck, so he thought he had to get his bowls and hurry to the Dharma Room. So maybe he had a dream. If he acted this way because of a dream, that’s no problem. It is very important that he made a mistake. When you make a mistake, how can you correct it? How do you make a bad situation correct? How do you make a good situation correct? Good and bad do not matter. Correcting them is important. Zen Master Dok Sahn had already made a mistake. How could he correct it? That’s the point. If you completely attain the last word, you can correct this mistake.

Next, we’ll talk about the Sixth Patriarch’s mistake. One monk said, “Theflag is moving.” Another monk said, “The wind is moving.” The Sixth Patriarch said, “It’s not the flag that is moving; it’s not the wind that is moving. Your minds are moving!” This is a bad answer and bad teaching, because when he said, “Your minds are moving’!” the Sixth Patriarch’s mind was also moving! If a clear-minded student came up and said, “You, too!” then the Patriarch would have a problem. So one monk was attached to the flag; the other monk was attached to the wind. The Sixth Patriarch was attached to mind., What are some not-attached words? Give me a freedom sentence — just like this. Everybody understands what just-like-this words are. Today is the Hae Jae Ceremony, so everybody must answer.

The next question is very important. One day Zen Master Nam Cheon, Zen Master Kui Jeong, and Zen Master Ma Gok went together to pay respects to the National Teacher. When they got halfway there, Nam Cheon stopped and drew a big circle on the ground and said, “If you can answer correctly, we’ll go on; if not, I won’t go on.”

Kui Jeong said, “Oh, I can answer.” He sat down in the center of the circle. Then Ma Gok did an Oriental woman’s bow, very gentle and slow.

Zen Master Nam Cheon said, “I’m not going.”

These two Zen Masters said, “What does this mean? Why won’t you go?”

“Because your answers are not correct and not complete.” So, everybody, what is the correct answer? That’s the point.

Getting Enlightenment is very easy; it is not difficult. Only ask what the correct situation is at that time. If your mind is clear like space, the correct situation will be reflected clearly. Before, we talked about how many people got Enlightenment. Then we exa’mined many kong-ans. They are only reflections and have no I-my-me — no opinion no condition, no situation. A reflection simply appears. That is the point.

Our Hae Jae Ceremony has lasted almost two hours. So I ask you: Hae Jae means loose; Kyol Che means tight. Tight Dharma — loose Dharma. Originally this world is complete stillness. How did you tighten your Dharma, and you did you loosen your Dharma today? Somebody may say, “Oh, that’s an easy question; I understand it.” If you say that, this stick will hit you 30 times. Somebody else may say, “I don’t understand. What is a good answer?” This stick will also hit him 30 times. Then what can you do? It is complete stillness. How did you tighten your Dharma; how did you loosen your Dharma?


Today we had supper at 5:30.

The Great Way is in Front of the Door

On June 16 we held an opening ceremony for our new home. On this occassion Zen Master Seung Sahn delivered the following Dharma message:

(Striking the table) Form is emptiness, emptiness is form.

(Striking the table) No form, no emptiness.

(Striking the table) Form is form, emptiness is emptiness. Which one of these is correct? If you make a choice, I will hit you thirty times. If you do not make a choice, I will hit you thirty times. Why? KATZ!!! Three times three equals nine.

Thank you very much for coming to this opening ceremony. But what is it that brought your body here? Is it your mind? What is mind? Where is it? What is its shape? Mind is no mind. A mountain does not proclaim, “I am a mountain!” A river does not say, “I am a river!” All names and all forms are made by thinking. Thus, mind is no mind. All things have name and form. Names and forms come from emptiness and will return to emptiness. Thus, form is emptiness, emptiness is form.

When you are thinking, your mind, my mind, and all people’s minds are different. If you cut through all thinking, your mind, my mind, and all people’s minds are the same. The mind that cuts through all thinking is the true empty mind. The true empty mind is before thinking. Your substance is before thinking. Your substance is universal substance. Before thinking, there is no speech and no language. There is no God, no Buddha, no mountains, no rivers, no things at all. Thus, no form, no emptiness.

But, “before thinking” is truly just like this. No form, no emptiness is itself a clinging to emptiness. Put it down! Then, you will have no inside and no outside; you will attain the Absolute. Everything that you see, hear, taste, and smell is the truth. God is God, Buddha is Buddha, mountains are mountains, rivers are rivers. The truth is like this. Form is form, emptiness is emptiness.

If you cut through all thinking, your mind will become clear. Just that is your true self. Thinking is desire, desire is suffering. When the mind remains clear, there is no life and no death. You will find true freedom that has no hindrance.

Your body has life and death, but your true self transcends both life and death. Today we have an opening ceremony. This is the opening of the mind’s door, the attainment of one’s true self, and the discovery of the Great Way.

What, then, is one’s true self? Does it exist or does it not? If you say that it exists, where is it? If you say that it does not, what is hearing this speech? Both of these answers are not complete. Why?

(Striking the table) KATZ!!!

Put it down, put it all down!

The Great Way is in front of the door.

Great Faith

From a talk given in 1979:

See Hoy (later Su Bong Zen Master) just talked about believing in your teacher.

How much do you believe in your true self? Ten percent? Then you believe in your teacher ten percent. If you believe in your true self fifty percent, you can believe in your teacher fifty percent. Ninety nine percent? Then you can believe in your teacher ninety nine percent.

But somebody says, “I cannot believe in my true self, but I believe in my teacher,. This means liking your teacher, not believing in your teacher. Maybe someday this person’s teacher says “Your action is no good!” Then this student’s mind moves — anger appears, or a lot of thinking. “Why does he speak this way to me?”

So liking your teacher and believing in your teacher are different. If somebody cannot believe in himself but only says, “I believe in my teacher,” then this person only follows his teacher. This means being attached to your teacher, liking your teacher, but not believing in your teacher.

If your mind is not moving, and you believe in your teacher 100%, then you already believe in your true self 100%. Then not only believing in your teacher — believing in your true self, but believing in this society, believing in this world 100% is possible. Then saving all beings is possible. So only go straight, 100% don’t know, O.K.?

Get the Gold

Traditionally Zen uses seventeen hundred kong-ans. Korean Buddhism also uses these original kong-ans. Other Zen schools made their own special collections from these, which they felt were of special importance for teaching. For example, one collection, the Blue Cliff Record, uses one hundred kong-ans; the Mu Mun Kwan is a collection of only forty-eight cases.

But, this is still too complicated, so our school made a collection of only ten kong-ans, the Ten Gates. Very simple! If you pass these ten gates, then you will understand what a kong-an is.

If you understand what a kong-an is, then you will understand how to practice correctly. Then, do it! But, if you only understand kong-ans and don’t practice, don’t try, you will have a big problem. Some people can answer many kong-ans, but they don’t try. Then the kong-an never becomes theirs. So, the purpose of the kong-an is to give us correct direction so our life can become correct. “If you go south ten miles you will find gold. Go over there and find it!”

Anyone can understand these directions, but if they don’t actually walk ten miles south they will never get the gold. “I understand that ten miles south of here there is a mountain. Inside the mountain there is a cave and inside the cave there is gold. I understand that completely.” Wonderful, but if you don’t do it, you don’t get it. So, only understanding a kong-an cannot help you; cannot help your life.

Many people can give good answers to kong-ans during an interview, but their daily life is not such a “good answer.” Desire, anger and ignorance are always controlling them.

So, understanding kong-ans is not important. A good answer or a bad answer is not so important. Answer appears, answer doesn’t appear is not so important. What is most important is your everyday life. If your daily life is clear moment to moment then kong-ans are not a problem. Then the kong-an and your life really connect.

Gathering Our Great Merit

A dharma speech about Kye Ryong Sahn International Zen Center/Mu Sang Sah.  This speech was given in Korea and is translated from the Korean. Zen Master Seung Sahn’s western students, used to his original and simple English style, will find this talk rather different, perhaps surprising. In Korean, his language is quite sophisticated. (Korean Americans tell us we don’t know what we are missing.) Also, this speech was aimed at a Korean audience, so it has a slightly different tone, and different content, from talks which Zen Master Seung Sahn gives to Westerners. It does, however, have a beauty of its own, as well as a strong direction, and for that reason we are presenting it here.

The Patriarchs and eminent teachers have always taught that true form is silent and truth is not moving. However, in the materialistic culture of today’s industrial society, reality is changing so rapidly that “yesterday” and “today” are completely different. People are so attached to making money that they seek freedom, happiness, peace and equality primarily from the external world. But because everything in the world is impermanent, even if someone attains what they want, it eventually must disappear.

Today’s westernized cultures try to find solutions exclusively in the outside world. Social reformation and revolution appear endlessly. Despite this, human beings are becoming ever more confrontational and hostile; fighting and killing each other more and more, ultimately disregarding and disrespecting even human life itself. At the same time, they do not hesitate to destroy the natural environment which is the basis of all life. Though many call out for world peace, the law of cause and effect is always very clear. We are afraid of the end of the world, yet still we cannot awaken to the fact that our own self-destruction is imminent. This is simply because we are attached to name and form.

In order to enter this gate,
Simply do not give rise to thinking.

All of us together, therefore, must let go of our “I.” We must put it all down. Only when we return to our before-thinking mind is it possible to eliminate the confrontation, hostility, fighting, and killing which are destroying the world. If your mind becomes clear like space then it is possible to attain the absolute world, then everything you see and hear will be the truth.

Mountain is blue, water is flowing.
The dog barks, “Woof, woof!”
Salt is salty. Sugar is sweet.

This is “truth world.” When we perceive clearly that the absolute and truth worlds are not different but one with our true nature, then we attain correct life, which means attaining the correct situation, relationship and function. This we call “complete world,” world peace. That is Zen.

Zen is not just for Buddhists. Rather, it is a bright ray of hope to restore the humanity of our world, a compass pointing us back toward true world peace. The original Zen tradition disappeared in China a long time ago. In Japan, Zen has became more secularized. Only Korean Buddhism has inherited the tradition of Bodhidharma퉠 patriarchal Zen and now Zen practitioners from all over the world recognize this. In some thirty countries of the world, in over one hundred and twenty Zen centers and groups, the number of people devotedly practicing Korean Zen has increased to number in the thousands. Many of these practitioners want to come to Korea to train, but regrettably we do not have adequate facilities to support them in their practice. Inspired by countless Buddhists’ deep sincerity and earnest vows, our Mu Sang Sah will become a great international Zen temple. It will became a place where practitioners from all over the world can come together and practice to attain enlightenment. Then they can return to their respective countries to open the mind’s eye of sentient beings and save them from suffering.

So, I implore all of you to consider these words and contribute generously to help build this great temple. May all beings, at the same moment, attain enlightenment.

A Free Gift for You!

Excerpted from a talk at Cambridge Zen Center on May 7, 1993

Question: What’s the relationship between karma and free will?

Zen Master Seung Sahn: Even if you decide, you cannot decide anything. When you are born, already everything has been determined. So, everything is already decided. Decide… something will happen. Don’t decide… something will happen. I ask you: Why were you born in this world? Why?

Q: I’m here talking to you so…

ZMSS: That’s just an idea. Talking, what kind of “talking to me”? “I” is not necessary. I ask you.

Q: You already know.

ZMSS: Ah, I don’t know. So, when you are born… we say “put it all down.” That means when you are born, already your karma appears. So, if you want to understand your past life, look at what you receive now. What do you get, now? If you want to understand your previous life… what do you do now?

Q: So, my question is: at this moment, is there something that I am deciding? Or is there no such thing as a decision? Am I deciding what will happen to me? Or maybe I don’t have to decide anything?

ZMSS: Decide anything?

Q: Do I have free will or don’t I?

ZMSS: Who said that?

Q: That’s the point. Is there something that decides or is there nothing that decides?

ZMSS: Of course. If you decide to come into this world, “you can decide” is possible. But even if you decide something, you cannot get anything.

Q: I was afraid of that. [laughter from the audience]

ZMSS: If I want a life that lasts a thousand years… it’s not possible! Before one thousand years, already you are dead. So, if you understand what human beings arewhat this world is really like-then you understand that you cannot decide anything. You only have this moment. If this moment is clear, then your whole life is clear. Also, your next life is clear. “This moment clear” means: “What are you doing now? Just do it!” Do not make a choice this way or that. Even with a choice you cannot get anything- that’s human beings! But if you attain this moment, you can do anything — that’s the point. You must attain this moment. Then you can do anything. If you lose this moment, you cannot do anything. I give you this as a present… very important. Also very expensive, but you don’t have to pay today. [laughter from audience] Free — good Zen Master, eh? [more laughter from audience]

Four Times Five Equals Twenty

Zen Master Seung Sahn’s closing talk at Hwa Gye Sah temple in Seoul for the 1999-2000 Winter Kyol Che

[Raises Zen stick over head, then hits table with stick.]

What is the meaning of this? Mountain is water, water is mountain. In this world, everything has name and form. Within time and space, everything is changing. Among the ten thousand different things, there is not one that is not subject to the law of change. Everybody gathered here today has eaten and then come here. During that time your body has already changed. Because of that the Heart Sutra says, “form is emptiness, emptiness is form.”

[Raises Zen stick over head, then hits table with stick.]

What is the meaning of this? Mountain is emptiness, water is also emptiness. “Empty” means beyond time and space. Beyond time and space means no name and no form. At this point we return to the substance of the whole universe, to our original substance. Completely empty. In true emptiness there are no opposites, there is only the absolute. Thus the Heart Sutra says, “no attainment with nothing to attain.” This is the world of Nirvana.

[Raises Zen stick over head, then hits table with stick.]

What is the meaning of this? Mountain is mountain, water is water.

The great Korean patriarch Seung Chol Sunim said, “Mountain is mountain, water is water.” If your mind is clear like space–clear as a mirror–then when a mountain appears, only the mountain is reflected; if water comes only the water is reflected. This mind reflects everything. We call that Annuttara Samyak Sambodhi. Here there’s no high, no low, no discrimination, only truth.

So, three worlds have appeared: Mountain is water, water is mountain, the world of name and form. Next is the absolute. That’s the world of no mountain, no water–Nirvana. And lastly is truth world. Everything we see and hear is the truth. Mountain is mountain, water is water. But which one is the correct world? Surely there must be a correct world. Which one is it? If somebody here finds the correct world, they will get thirty blows from this stick. If they cannot find the correct world, they will also receive thirty blows from this stick. Why is it that you get thirty blows from the stick even though you find the correct world?


Mountain is blue, water is flowing.

Today is the fifteenth day of the first lunar month. Many of you here have eaten walnuts and sticky rice on this full moon ceremony day. This is the beginning of a new year on the Chinese calendar. Also, today, all of our foreign Buddhist students are finishing the three month winter retreat, Kyol Che. Kyol Che means tight. So today is Hae Jae, which means to loosen. If we loosen, then we have to loosen everything. Everybody has things they are attached to, so now it’s necessary to let go of those things. If you cannot let go of all these attachments then you cannot solve the great work of life and death. Originally when we come into this world we are empty handed; also, we go empty handed. But many people find something and grab on to it, hold it and attach to it. So I ask you all: whatever you are holding, let it go!

Originally nothing can bind us, but because we are binding ourselves, we feel like we are in prison. If we let go of everything in our mind, if we let go of our attachments, then even if our body dies our true self does not die. That’s why people from eighteen different countries, as far away as Africa and from Russia, have gathered at Hwa Gye Sah and Shin Won Sah to practice and attain that point this winter. Thank you.

The blue mountain does not move. The white cloud goes back and forth. Both the blue mountain and the white cloud are originally empty. Within that emptiness four times five equals twenty. But we must understand four times five equals twenty. We all learned that in elementary school. How did four times five equals twenty appear? If you attain four times five equals twenty, then you attain to your original face, Buddha’s original face, and you finish the great work of life and death. Even though you know, you don’t understand. All grammar school students understand, but what does it really mean? I give this as homework to everybody. All the people who practiced at the Zen center already understand.

Coming empty handed, going empty handed, that is human. Where we come from, we don’t know. What thing is it that came empty handed, what is it that goes empty handed? Life is like a floating cloud which appears, death is like a floating cloud which disappears. In empty space there is no absolute truth. In time and space, truth appears and disappears. How is our life and death different than empty space? The cloud that goes back and forth has no substance. If you try to hit empty space, nothing happens. But if you hit one of us we say, “ouch!” In that “ouch” there is substance. There is one thing which is always clear, not dependent on life and death.

People from all over the world have gathered here and practiced hard for three months to attain enlightenment, that one thing. Why is it that the people who live close to the temple don’t do that? We should all do that. What’s the most important and urgent thing for us in the world? To get enlightenment is that thing. As you try Kwan Seum Bosal, you should ask yourself, “who is doing Kwan Seum Bosal?” If you attain that point, then you and the whole universe become one. Even though this is most important, our students sometimes forget this. “Maybe I will do it tomorrow,” they think, “or I’ll do it the next day,” but this mind can never do it. In this world, time will not wait for you. When you die and lose your body, where will your consciousness go? This is a very important matter.

The Buddha said, “If you want to understand your true self, keep a mind which is clear like space.” What does this mean? We have to find this consciousness, our true nature. When we keep a mind which is clear like space, we and the whole universe become one. At that time, all Buddhas appear. That’s not special.

In the big cookie factory we call earth, there are many kinds of cookies. They take many different shapes and have different names, but they are all made from the same dough. Because they are all made from the same material we can make God, we can make Buddha, we can make Demon, we can make Satan. The myriad things in our world all have different names and forms, but the taste is the same. Even people come in many different shapes and colors: western people, Chinese people, Korean people. They all have a different appearance, but their substance is the same. So, the Buddha said, “Above is the dwelling place of all Buddhas, below is the six realms, and all have the same substance. One by one, everything is complete; one by one, everything has it. One by one, everything interpenetrates everything else. One by one, each thing is complete.”

What does not have Buddha nature? What is different from your original nature? The only thing that is different is your opinions and thinking. If you cut off all thinking, then your nature, Buddha’s nature and Kwan Seum Bosal’s nature all become one. Without cultivation, without practice, even without Kyol Che, you are already complete. Clear! Clear! Do you see this? Do you hear this? This stick’s substance, your mind’s substance, and this sound’s substance–are they same or different? If you say same, you will get thirty blows from this stick. If you say different, you will also get thirty blows from this stick. What can you do? If you don’t know, then come to the Zen Center. If you have an interview, then you will understand. Very easy. Easier than drinking water when you’re thirsty. If you attain this point, then everything you see, hear and smell has Buddha nature.

The Buddha said, “All things have Buddha nature.” However, a monk asked Jo Ju Zen Master, “Does a dog have Buddha nature?” Jo Ju said, “mu,” no. So who is correct, Buddha or Jo Ju? Don’t know? Then practice. I cannot teach you this for free, you have to pay for it. You have to come here and practice Zen.

A long time ago, the Buddha was staying on Vulture Peak. There were twelve hundred great disciples assembled to hear him speak. Everybody was waiting with anticipation for the Buddha’s dharma speech. One minute, two minutes, three minutes passed, but no dharma speech. Then he just picked up a flower. None of the twelve hundred disciples could understand why the Buddha was holding a flower. However one disciple, Mahakashyapa, smiled. Then the Buddha said, “I transmit my dharma to you.” This is the well known story of Buddha giving transmission. We must all attain that point. If you only understand this through words, it’s not enough! Mind to mind, we must connect. Sometimes on television you see people at the stock market making signs with their hands. Nobody outside understands these signs, but these people understand each other. Their minds connect. But Buddha did not just connect his mind to Mahakashyapa’s, he gave his mind to Mahakashyapa.

When Lin Chi Zen Master was asked any kind of question–“What is dharma?”, “What is mind?”, “What is Buddha?”–he would just shout, “KATZ!” Dok Sahn Zen Master would just hit the questioner. HIT! Guji Zen Master would just raise one finger. What is mind, what is one finger? Did everyone attain that? No! Everybody at the Zen Center has already attained that. Maybe someone who only studies for a few days can attain that. You, too, must attain this one finger news.

Dok Sahn’s hit, Lin Chi’s KATZ!, Guji’s one finger, all are pointing to our substance. If you completely attain this point, this original substance, then everything you see, hear and smell–all are the truth. The floor is yellow, the wall is white–everything is the truth. In the Bible it says: “I am the way, the truth and the life.” This is the big road! The sky is blue, the tree is green, the dog is barking, “woof woof.” There is nothing that we can see and hear that is not the truth.

But only understanding truth cannot help us. How can we use this truth to help all beings who are suffering? That’s a big question. We call that function bodhisattva action. If somebody is hungry, give them food. If somebody is thirsty, give them something to drink. If somebody is suffering, help them. Give all beings hope. Not only this life, but lifetime after lifetime until all beings become Buddha. That is our job. That is the Buddha’s teaching. A long time ago somebody asked Jo Ju Zen Master: “What is Buddha?” He said: “Go drink tea.” Also somebody asked: “What is dharma?” He said: “Go drink tea.” “What is the correct way?” “Go drink tea.” Within his “go drink tea” there is the substance of universe, there is truth, and also there is great bodhisattva action. When the dharma speech is finished, go drink a cup of tea; then see what appears.

Our teaching is very clear: opposite world, absolute world, truth world, and function world. That’s very clear. But we have to make that our own. If you don’t understand that, then you need to go to a Zen Center and practice. If you don’t practice, you cannot attain that. If we attain that, then we can find the correct way, correct truth, correct life, and help all beings.

Today is the full moon of the fifteenth day of the first lunar month, Hae Jae. I hope everyone makes a great vow, finds the correct direction, attains their true self, gets enlightenment and saves all beings from suffering. Thank you.

Four Precepts Enlightenment

Once in Korea a man wanted to take the five precepts. But, he liked to drink. “I want to drink!”, but then he thought, “If I only drink and take the precepts that means breaking the precepts.” So, he got an idea. He invited a friend out to dinner and said, “I’ll drink for you!” As the evening proceeded the friend saw that he was drinking a lot, much more than him. “That’s not correct,” said the friend. “Now you are breaking two precepts: the one against drinking and the one against lying!”

A long time ago my teacher, Zen Master Ko Bong, gave the five precepts to Chung Dong Go Sa Nim. Everything in the ceremony went smoothly until the part where the preceptor recites the precepts. Suddenly the man stood up and said “If I cannot drink, I die!” So, now there was a problem. Immediately Ko Bong Sunim said “Then you take only four precepts.” He became the “four precepts layman” and got four precepts enlightenment. Anybody can take four precepts–no problem!

Four Kinds of Anger

Berkeley, California
November 4, 1976

Dear Soen Sa Nim,

How are you, and how is it to be back East again? We miss you here! I hope the seven-day Yong Maeng Jong Jin is going well.

It is strange how things happen, sometimes backwards. I felt very clear after the weekend you were here (even though during the weekend I thought all the dry cleaning in the world would not get my mind clear!). But two days ago I suddenly found myself screaming mad at my son to the point that I even tried to slap him. I felt just terrible that, after going to three Yong Maeng Jong Jins in five weeks’ time, sitting every day, etc., I could revert to such a totally angry mind. And over such a small thing! I went to my room and lay on my bed and started to cry in despair at myself — and then an odd thing happened. I realized that something very important had just happened and crying was not the answer.

I realized that it was time to stop worrying and feeling guilty about him and DO something to change his environment and therefore his karma. Right now he is in a very poor environment; school is not challenging, this home is not making him grow, his friends are getting into trouble and not interested in much except excitement. He has always resisted every effort to change school or to move or whatever — and I always have given in, perhaps feeling I didn’t really know the “right” answer anyway or perhaps afraid he would reject me.

This time I saw what had to be done, clear as clear: he needs to go away to a good school for at least a while, whether he likes it or not, whether he hates me for it or not. I saw that I was willing to be “100%,” finally — even if I turned out to be “wrong.” I think I really surprised him — because I got up off my bed and walked into the kitchen where he was and told him all that — and also that I was no longer willing to let him push my anger button like that.

At first he just said “no” loud and clear. But for once I did not waver but told him that I felt very strongly he should give it a try — what did he have to lose? And I told him that unless he could begin to challenge himself to try something new, he would never experience much in life.

Just before we sat Zen last night, he came in and told me he had changed his mind and would go to the school for a day and see what he thought.

I feel so good, Soen Sa Nim. I just wanted to share this with you very much. It has so much to do with the “dropping ashes on the Buddha” kong-an — I feel as if I am making some progress toward attaining an “answer” to it …. which seems (for me anyway) to have to do with that thing you keep telling us, that “Zen is believing 100% in yourself,” something I have just never been able to do. I’ve discovered that I believe 100% in my love for my son, to the point that I am willing for him to reject me or even for my idea to fail. He’s just not old enough to make total decisions for his life in every way. This is one I have to make for him. And evidently he went inside himself, knew I was right in his heart, and decided to go along with it.

Anyway — he is a different kid today, and whatever happens, yesterday was perhaps a turning point for us both.

Your teaching is beginning to get through to me, Soen Sa Nim — thank you very much.

Love, Diana

November 10, 1976

Dear Diana,

Thank you for your letter. How are you and Ezra and all your family? We have just finished the seven-day Yong Maeng Jong Jin.

After going to Yong Maeng Jong Jin your mind was clear. A clear mind is like a clear mirror, so when anger appears, angry action appears. You love your son, so you were angry. Is this correct? Don’t check your mind — at angry time, be angry. Afterwards, checking is no good.

But your previous anger and the anger you talked about in your letter are different. Before Yong Maeng Jong Jin, it was attached anger; after Yong Maeng Jong Jin your anger was only reflected anger. If you do more hard training, the reflected anger will change to perceived anger. After more hard training, perceived anger will disappear. Then you will have only love anger — inside you will not be angry, only angry on the outside. So attached anger, reflected anger, perceived anger, love anger — all are changing, changing, changing. Anger is anger; anger is the truth. Don’t worry, don’t check yourself it has already passed. How you keep just-now mind is very important.

Attached anger sometimes lasts for three hours, sometimes three days, and does not quickly return to love mind. When you were crying, you had reflected anger; it did not last long. Soon you returned to your mind that loves your son, and you knew what to do to help him. You believed in yourself 100%. After more hard training, you will have perceived anger. You will feel anger but will not show it; you will be able to control your mind. Then afterwards, you will have only love anger, anger only on the outside to help other people — “You must do this!” — but no anger on the inside. This is true love mind.

You had already done three days of hard training during Yong Maeng Jong Jin, so your mind light was shining to your son’s mind. Everything is from the primary cause; primary cause means karma. If your karma disappears, then the primary cause disappears. If the primary cause disappears, then the result will disappear. Your son’s bad karma and your karma are closely connected, so if your karma disappears, then your son’s karma will also disappear. This is your mind’s light shining to your son’s mind.

Buddha said, “If one mind is pure, then the universe becomes pure.” So, if your mind is pure, your world will be pure. Your world means your family, your friends, your country — all of them. So changing your son’s school is a very good idea. Sometimes, when the situation is bad, everything is bad; when the situation changes, then it is possible to change everything.

So, your mind light is already shining to your son’s mind. First, what is Great Love? Great Love means believing in yourself 100%. Then everything is no problem. I read your letter, and I also felt very good. All this is from your strong practicing.

But, you must finish your homework. Somebody comes to the Zen Center, smokes a cigarette, blows smoke and drops ashes on the Buddha. How do you fix the cigarette man’s mind? How do you correct him? Quickly, quickly, answer me!

I hope you only go straight — don’t-know, which is clear like space, finish your homework, attain Enlightenment and Great Love mind, and save all beings from suffering.

Yours in the Dharma, S. S.

Fixing a Pot

At a Dharma Speech at the end of the November Yong Maeng Jong Jin at the International Zen Center of New York, Zen Master Seung Sahn told the following story:

In the countryside of Korea, people used to come together for big markets that lasted several days. Once a young man went to sell his vegetables and buy some rice. While he was there he saw an old monk just standing completely still in the sun for five minutes. The monk was wearing wintertime clothes, and they were old and torn. It was summer, and the sun was very hot — Korean people don’t like this sun — but this old monk just stood still for five minutes.

The young man thought as he watched him, “This old monk, is he crazy? Does he have no consciousness, only standing still like this?” So afterwards, when the monk started walking around, the young man went up to him and said, “Excuse me, I would like to know why you stand still in the sun for five minutes.”

The old man looked at him and said, ”Lunch time.”

“Lunch time? Who is having lunch?”

The old monk showed him the inside of his robe — there were little animals, parasites, like lice. “If I move, they cannot eat, so I only stand still while they take lunch.”

The young man thought this monk must have a wonderful mind, to be so kind to little animals, so he asked him if he could become his student.

The monk looked at his face and said, “Not possible.”

“Why not possible?” asked the young man.

”Why do you want to become a monk?”

”Well, I don’t like married life. I want to find the correct way. You say you give lunch to these small animals, so I have this very strong feeling that maybe this is the correct way. So I like you, so I want to be your student.”

“Maybe,” said the monk, ”Maybe. Where do live?”

“My parents are dead, so I stay at my brother’s house. I have no place of my own; I want to come with you.”

“O.K.,” said the old monk, “come.”

Then they went walking up deep into the mountains for a long time, until they reached a small grass house.

In Korea, kitchens are outside of the house. In the kitchen there is a big pot, on a stand, with fire under it. The pot is made of steel, very heavy. It has two parts: one side for water and one side for rice.

So in this house the pot and the stand were broken. Fixing the pot means pouring a little water into the bottom of the pot and making sure it settles exactly in the middle of the bottom of the pot.

The monk said to the young man, ”You must fix this pot and stand.”

When he had finished, the young man said, “Master, I have fixed the pot.”

So the old monk went to check and said, “No good! Again!” and he dumped the water out.

The young man thought, “This Master has very keen eyes, so maybe he sees some mistake.” So, he tried again, this time being very careful and checking the level of the water in the pot. When he had finished he said, “Master, I have correctly fixed the pot.”

“O.K., I will check.” So the Master went to check the pot and again he said, “No good! Again!” and dumped the water out.

The young man was very confused. “Where is my mistake? I don’t understand. Maybe it is outside the pot, maybe the stand is not correct.” So this time, he prepared the pot and checked all around the outside, the counter area, making sure everything was clean and neat. When he finished up said, “Master, I have fixed the pot — it’s very wonderful, very beautiful!”

”No good!” said the Master, and dumped the water out.

The young man did not understand. ”Maybe the pot is good, but the kitchen is no good,” he thought. So next time he fixed the whole kitchen — the ceiling, the floor, everything. When he finished, he called to the Master, “Master! I have fixed the whole kitchen!”

”Oh, that’s wonderful! I will check,” said the Master. He went to the pot — “No good!” and turned it over again.

This happened four times, five times, six times, seven times, eight times. Each time the young man thought, “What could it be this time?” and each time the Master answered, “No good!” and dumped the water. Now this man is getting angry. Finally the ninth time, the young man thought, “I do not like this Master, this is the last time!”

So he just set the pot on the stand and said, “Master, I am finished.”

“Wonderful! Wonderful!” said the Master.

This Master was testing his mind. Zen is not dependent an anything. You must be dependent on yourself, whatever your own style is. But what is your own style? If you keep your opinions, your condition, your situation, your correct style cannot appear. So this Master tested his mind. Before, each time when the student fixed the pot, “maybe this will pass, maybe this will pass;” much thinking. The last time, no thinking.

Also this Master tested his perseverance mind. “.This young man likes me, but how much does he want to understand his true self?” Usually people try maybe four, maybe five times, then they say, “I don’t like you!” Then they go away. Try, try, try is very necessary, then some time the Zen Master will say, “Oh, wonderful!”

Only this mind, try, try, try, is very important. Try, try, try means persevere. So you must only go straight, try, try, try — then you will get your true way.