A First Step

After a Sunday night lecture at the Providence Zen Center, Seung Sahn Soen-sa said to his students: “If you discard all thoughts of attainment, you will then come to see the real purpose of your quest. Some of you want to reach enlightenment quickly and as soon as possible become Zen masters. But as long as you have a thought like this, you’ll never attain anything. Just cut off all thoughts and conceptions, then, as you work hard on your kong-an, all your questions and doubts will come to form one great mass. This mass will grow and grow, until you don’t care about eating or sleeping or anything but finding the answer to the great question. When you reach this state, enlightenment won’t be far away.”

Student — If we didn’t want to get enlightened, why would we be taking the trouble to come here?

Soen-sa — Desire and aspiration are two different things. The idea that you want to achieve something in Zen meditation is basically selfish. “I want to get enlightened” means “I want to get enlightened.” But aspiration isn’t for myself, it isn’t a merely individual desire, it transcends the idea of self. It is desire without attachment. If enlightenment comes, good. If it doesn’t come, good. Only don’t touch. Actually, this is enlightenment.

Student — Could you explain why?

Soen-sa — Originally there is no enlightenment. If I attain enlightenment, it’s not enlightenment. As the Heart Sutra says, there is “no attainment, with nothing to attain.” Enlightenment isn’t enlightenment. It’s just a teaching word.

Student — What does it teach?

Soen-sa — When you are hungry, eat. When you are tired, sleep.

Student — Sometimes I feel that meditating is very selfish. I really don’t feel I’m going to help others get enlightened by sitting Zen. I don’t even know what that means.

Soen-sa — What are you? What is this self that is feeling selfish? If you understand this, you’ll know that there is no real difference between your self and all beings in the universe. Ultimately, they are one and the same. You include all beings. So if you’re coming here for yourself, you’re coming for all beings.

Student — What you said is as clear as day. But I still feel selfish when I come here and my children want me to be with them at home.

Soen-sa — Let me ask you this: If you could do anything your heart desires, what would you want to do most of all?

Student (laughing) — Get enlightened.

Soen-sa — And after you get enlightened, what will you do then?

Student (after a few moments) — I don’t know. (Laughter.)

Soen-sa — You want most of all to attain enlightenment. And you don’t know what in the world you’ll do with it. That not knowing is your true self. As long as you keep the desire to attain enlightenment, you’ll never attain. But desire brings you here to sit Zen. So come and sit. That is a first step.

Finding Your Primary Point

Zen Master Seung Sahn gave the following Dharma Talk at the Providence Zen Center the evening before the April Yong Maeng Jong Jin this year.

I often talk about primary point. What is primary point? When you have a scale and there is nothing being weighed, the indicator points to zero. You put something on it, and the pointer swings to “one pound.” You take it off, the pointer goes back to zero. This is primary point. After you find your primary point, then good feelings come, bad feelings come, so your pointer swings in one direction or the other. But this doesn’t matter. Don’t check it. When the feeling is over with, the pointer swings back to zero.

But if you haven’t found your primary point, then it is like taking a heavy object off of the scale and having the pointer stay at “ten pounds.” Or the pointer moves back only part-way, it doesn’t go completely back to zero. Then you have a problem. Your scale does not weigh correctly. Maybe if you put a heavy object on it, it will break completely.

So first you must find your primary point. Then you must keep it very strongly.

A taxi has weak shock absorbers, so it hits a small bump and bounces up and down. A train has strong shock absorbers, so it is very steady. If you keep your primary point, your mind-spring will become stronger and stronger. You will meet big problems and your mind will move less and less. A big problem comes, your mind moves, but soon returns to primary point. Finally your mind will be very strong; it will be able to carry any load. Then saving all people is possible.

Finding Your Lion Body

Zen Master Seung Sahn gave the following Dharma Talk at the Providence Zen Center the evening before the April Yong Maeng Jong Jin this year.

I often talk about primary point. What is primary point? When you have a scale and there is nothing being weighed, the indicator points to zero. You put something on it, and the pointer swings to “one pound.” You take it off, the pointer goes back to zero. This is primary point. After you find your primary point, then good feelings come, bad feelings come, so your pointer swings in one direction or the other. But this doesn’t matter. Don’t check it. When the feeling is over with, the pointer swings back to zero.

But if you haven’t found your primary point, then it is like taking a heavy object off of the scale and having the pointer stay at “ten pounds.” Or the pointer moves back only part-way, it doesn’t go completely back to zero. Then you have a problem. Your scale does not weigh correctly. Maybe if you put a heavy object on it, it will break completely.

So first you must find your primary point. Then you must keep it very strongly.

A taxi has weak shock absorbers, so it hits a small bump and bounces up and down. A train has strong shock absorbers, so it is very steady. If you keep your primary point, your mind-spring will become stronger and stronger. You will meet big problems and your mind will move less and less. A big problem comes, your mind moves, but soon returns to primary point. Finally your mind will be very strong; it will be able to carry any load. Then saving all people is possible.

Finding Your Lion Body

Dharma Speech given by Zen Master Seung Sahn during the Opening Ceremony of the Centre Parisien de Zen – Kwan Urn, Paris, France, April 12, 1997.

[Holding up the logo of Centre Parisien de Zen Kwan Um.]

Has everybody already seen this picture? If not, look closely. Here is the lion’s head. Here is the lion’s tail. But in the middle there is no body. [Laughter from the assembly.] Who made this mistake? [Sustained laughter from the assembly.] If you find the missing part, then there is no longer any mistake. But in fact we do have a mistake. The reason for this is because nobody understands why they came into this world. It was a mistake to come into this world, because this world is a suffering world. So does anybody understand why they came into this world?

Everybody needs a body to connect their head to their tail. That is very important! [Loud laughter from the assembly.] If you connect your head and tail, then your life becomes wonderful. But if you cannot connect them, then your head is always in the East while your tail is in the West. Then a problem appears. “Oh, goodness! Where is my head? Where is my tail? I don’t knowww… ” [Loud laughter from the assembly.]

So even by being born in this world, we have already made a big mistake. Then for our whole lives we cannot connect our head and our tail: that is another mistake. How do we make our life correct? How can you connect your head and tail and make a correct life? Today’s Opening Ceremony for the Paris Zen Center means that the answer is very clear: Come to a Zen Center and practice.

But let us return to this logo for a moment: Behind the image of a lion we see the logo of the Kwan Um School of Zen. This logo is a very interesting design. Its meaning teaches us the Buddhist Way: the Zen Way, the Mahayana Way and the Hinayana Way. Inside this logo are many kinds of teachings. So if you come here to practice, there are many ways that you can find your lion’s body. Today we begin to try that way, the practicing way, OK?

Nowadays this world is too complicated. This comes from the fact that human beings have too much desire, anger, and ignorance. Human beings are the number one bad animals in this world. Cats, dogs, and even lions are not so bad. Only human beings make problems: they make nuclear weapons, political problems, all the while polluting the earth, the air and the ocean. Human beings really are the number one bad animal. So it is very important for us to clean this world. Perhaps everybody understands this kind of speech. Yet exactly how do we clean this world?

We have a “cleaning mantra.” Everybody place your hands together in front of you in a prayerful position, or “hap chang,” and please say together OM NAM. We’ll chant this mantra seven times together.

[The Assembly stands and chants together, slowly.]

OM NAM … OM NAM … OM NAM… OM NAM… OM NAM … OM NAM … OM NAM.

Thank you very much, everybody, for practicing hard and helping to clean this world.

The sky is blue.
The tree is green.
The ground is yellow.

If somebody is hungry, give him food!
If somebody is thirsty, give her something to drink!
If suffering people appear, help them!

That is all.

Fighting Monks

An excerpt from a talk given by Zen Master Seung Sahn on December 3, 1998 to the students beginning the ninety-day winter retreat at our school’s temples in Korea.

Q: I want to ask you about the fighting at Chogye Sah Temple. You always talk about putting everything down, but on the television news we see pictures of Korean monks fighting with each other at Chogye Sah Temple in Seoul, the head temple of Korean Buddhism. Why are they fighting?

ZMSS: A long time ago in Korea a famous book appeared which predicted the fate of our country. The book said, “When true monks do not live in the temples anymore, only outside, [laughter] then it’s the end of the world!” So, that means it is almost the end of our world.

Many religions are nowadays saying it’s the “end of the world.” That means there are too many human beings down here! Everybody understands: in 1945 there were two billion people in the whole world. Now, only fifty years later, there are over five billion people! All these consciousnesses come from where? All this is from animal consciousness. So today there is a lot of fighting everywhere–just like animals. In the old days–east or west, it didn’t matter–people understood correct human being, correct parent, son and daughter, correct situation, condition and relationship. But now many people don’t understand correct situation, correct function, correct relationship.

When I first went to America many of my students were hippies. They didn’t like their parents. Long hair, long beard, dirty hat, dirty clothes, dirty shoes, no bath, everything dirty! Their parents didn’t like that! What is good, what is bad? They didn’t care. Back then all young people did together action: they slept together, ate together and took drugs together. They didn’t like their parents, didn’t like society, didn’t like school, didn’t like anything. That’s the hippie mind. Now these hippies are almost 50 or 55 years old. [laughter] Now many of them have children too and…oh, the same thing! Being a parent means understanding this world, this recurring situation.

That was the time of the Vietnam war. Many people didn’t like the war. They wanted to fix the world, but they didn’t know how to fix it. Then the hippies grew up, and the same thing again! They still cannot fix the world; cannot make it correct.

Then slowly a new mind appeared and they began to understand what our world is like. They come to understand correct practicing. In the 70s many people were practicing yoga. But with yoga practice, your body is okay and your mind is pure, but the direction is not clear. Next, they became interested in meditation which gave them a peaceful feeling, or would maybe lead to special magical powers. Here also, the direction was not clear. So what to do? Then Zen Buddhism came to the United States and they said, “Aaaaahh!” The direction became clear: attain enlightenment, find the correct way, and choose correct life, save all beings. The Bible said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” The Christian point and Buddhism’s point are the same point. Many younger people practicing at that time who had a hippie idea turned to Buddhism. What is the correct way? What is correct practice? Now, many people understand. Still, many people like magic and special things. But magic… okay, that’s interesting, but can I attain my true self that way? Not possible! If you want to attain your true self and help this world, then come here and sit. Only go straight “don’t know,” don’t make anything for ninety days, OK? That is most important! So, you are very lucky to come here to Shin Won Sah or Hwa Gye Sah to practice.

THE FAMILY TRADITION OF THE SUTONG (SOTO) SECT

THROUGH EXPEDIENT MEANS THE FIVE POSITIONS ARE OPENED AND THE THREE CAPACITIES ARE WELLMANEUVERED.

Five plus three equals eight.
Five plus three equals zero.
Which one is correct?
If you open the mouth I will hit you.

WITH THE PRECIOUS SWORD ALL THE WOOD OF THOUGHTS IS PRUNED AND A CLEAR THOROUGH WAY IS MADE CONNECTING TO EVERY CORNER, AND THUS ALL THE THINKINGS ARE WONDERFULLY CUT OFF.

Originally there is nothing, so how can one use a sword?
Do not follow your shadow, Great Path has no gate.
Sky is blue.

IT IS THE INFINITE LIGHT PRIOR TO THE BIRTH OF THE YIUM BUDDHA, AND IT IS THE SIGHT PRIOR TO THE CREATION OF NATURE.

Before Yium Buddha, before creation of nature and the present – how are these different?
Be not deceived by the demon’s show.
An old monk is sitting and nodding under a pine tree.

DO YOU WANT TO KNOW THE SUTONG SECT? PRIOR TO THE BIRTH OF BUDDHAS AND THE CREATION OF NATURE, IT DOES NOT FALL TO RIGHTNESS, PREJUDICES, BEING, NOR NON-BEING.

Before thinking, no Buddha, no Mind.
Pierce through past, present, and future.
In thousand rivers, thousand moons.
With no cloud in sight the sky is clear.

SUTONG SECT

A sect of Zen Buddhism emphasizing quiet illumination.

THE FIVE POSITIONS

These are the five positions of Guest and Host.

THE THREE CAPACITIES

Poor, medium, and excellent. This refers to three kinds of students.

YIUM BUDDHA

The primordial Buddha.

The Family Tradition of the Lin Chi School

KED, SWORD IN HAND, ONE KILLS BUDDHAS AND PATRIARCHS.

Do not kill.
Do not revive.
Do you know Buddha?
Then put it down.

PAST AND PRESENT ARE JUDGED THROUGH THE THREE HYUN AND THE THREE YO, AND THROUGH THE FOUR POSITIONS OF GUEST AND HOST, SNAKES AND DRAGONS ARE DISCERNED.

Spring comes from the South.
Winter goes North.
When a hungry child cries his mother gives him milk.

WITH THE PRECIOUS SWORD OF THE DIAMOND KING, THE EVIL SPIRITS ARE CLEARED AWAY.

The eyes are ten thousand.
The hands are ten thousand.
What are demons?
Wind comes and blows away all dust.

WITH THE DIGNITY OF A LION, THE SOULS OF ALL BEASTS ARE TORN TO PIECES.

Katz!!!
Be careful.

DO YOU WANT TO KNOW THE LIN CHI SECT? THUNDER AND LIGHTNING IN THE BLUE SKY, AND RAGING WAVES ON THE PLAIN.

Lin Chi’s eyes are in his feet.
His feet are hanging from the bone of space.
The startled rabbit runs into the thicket.
Many bright stars are in the sky.

LIN CHI

Lin Chi (died 866) was a disciple of Huang Po, and the founder of the school that bears his name (in Korean, Yimje; in Japanese, Rinzai).

THREE HYUN

Three Hyun are the three kinds of substances:

  1. The substance abiding in the Origin.
  2. The substance abiding in words.
  3. The substance abiding in substance.

THREE YO

Three Yo are the three summaries

  1. Perception is the Great Nature.
  2. Perception is the Great Action.
  3. Perception and Great Action are simultaneous.

THE FOUR POSITIONS OF GUEST AND HOST

The four positions are:

  1. Guest in Guest.
  2. Guest in Host.
  3. Host in Guest.
  4. Host in Host.

Family Karma

From a talk at the Seoul International Zen Center

Question: Recently I saw a calligraphy of yours in the U.S. which said, “Freedom from family karma.” What does this mean? Why is this important?

Zen Master Seung Sahn: The basis of the family is emotion. Emotional connections make the family. But, emotion and love are different. Emotion means opposites feeling: like/dislike, good/bad, mine/yours. Love means there are no opposites–only giving, giving, giving–always giving.

Understanding is in our head; emotions are in the heart. Our center–the tantien–is just below the navel. If you keep all your energy there, then you can digest your understanding and your emotions. Emotions are then changed into great love and great compassion. Also, your understanding then becomes wisdom. So, when your center becomes strong you can control your feelings, your condition, and your situation. When these become clear, then our true job appears: help all beings. That’s the great bodhisattva way.

Everything is a Dream

The following exchange took place after a Dharma Talk Zen Master Seung Sahn gave at the New Haven Zen Center on December 9th, 1976.

Student: Do you dream about different kinds of things now that you are a Zen Master?

Soen Sa Nim: What kind of dreams?

Student: Well, I dream about things I desire, but if you don’t desire anything, what do you dream about?

Soen Sa Nim: Yah, I have dreams.

Student: What kind of dreams?

Soen Sa Nim: You are laughing, so I am laughing. This is a dream. You say you have a dream, so I am having a dream.

Student: I understand what you say, but I can’t believe it.

Soen Sa Nim: You can’t believe the dream. So your dream is a not believing dream. Everything is a dream, O.K.? Last night you had a dream. Just now we are talking. How is it different?

Student: I can feel it’s different.

Soen Sa Nim: Feel? You say “different.” So here is a famous story. Before, in China, there were five schools of Zen: Rinzai, Soto, Poep An, Un Mun, and E An. E An and An Sahn together made one school; E An was the teacher and An Sahn the disciple.

Once E An was asleep. At that time, An Sahn was only his secretary. An Sahn happened to open the door, saw that the Zen Master was asleep, and slowly closed the door. The Zen Master woke up, asked An Sahn to come in, and said, “Just now I had a dream. Do you understand?”

An Sahn said, “Yes, just now I understood,” and washed the Zen Master’s face with water. The Master said, “Oh, thank you very much.”

Then a student named Haeng Om, later a Zen Master, came into the Zen Master’s room. The Master said, “Oh, Haeng Om, we were just talking about my dream. Do you understand my dream?”

Haeng Om said, “Yes sir,” went into the kitchen, and brought out some tea. The Zen Master said, “Ah, my students are very wonderful. You all understand my dreams.”

This is dream talking. What does it mean? A dream is just like this. Just like this is a dream. When you wake up, you wash your face. This is the correct way. Then you drink tea. This is the correct way. If you completely understand dreams, then you understand the correct way. If you don’t understand dreams, then you don’t understand the correct way.

So you must understand that this whole world is a dream. Then my desire is also a dream, my anger is also a dream, your life is also a dream. You must understand dreams. Then you will have no desires. Only doing Bodhisattva action is possible. So this is a dream, O.K.? I have a dream. Once, Martin Luther King said, “I have a dream.” Famous speech. So you must understand dreams. Understanding the dream is no good; you must attain the dream. Then you will understand your true self, O.K.? This wall is white. This floor is brown.

“Enlightenment Day”

This is an excerpt from a talk given by Zen Master Seung Sahn to the members of Hwa Gye Sah, our temple in Seoul, on the evening before Buddha ‘s Enlightenment Day. Traditionally Buddhists will stay up all night practicing meditation in emulation of the Buddha before his great enlightenment.

(Zen Master Seung Sahn hits the table with his stick)

What is the meaning of this?

This means no enlightenment to attain, no enlightenment to lose. A long time ago an eminent Patriarch said, “Keep a mind which is clear like space.” If we look ever more deeply into our true self and try to find it, then we see it is completely empty — empty and clear like space. Complete emptiness and nothing to attain is our original mind — our original substance. That’s where we come from and that’s where we go. For that reason there is nothing to attain; nothing to lose. All opposites are cut off: good, bad, right, wrong, holy and unholy. If all opposites are cut off we call that complete emptiness. That is our original face, primary point. In order to attain that point we’ve all gathered here to stay up all night practicing until Buddha’s Enlightenment Day. You see many Western people here with big noses. They have been staying up many nights practicing very late into the night. There are four Russian people also here practicing. How come our Hwa Gye Sah members don’t come here and practice more? Even if you stay up this one night, is that enough? We have to do it. We have to attain where we came from and where we go. We gather here to enlighten ourselves. If you practice hard then the true way appears in front of you very clearly. Then even though you lose your body, still your way is clear. So we must attain that. We must attain our true selves. All of us should stay up tonight and ask ourselves, “What am I?” After all, who is carrying around this body? If we always keep this great question we will attain one clear and pure thing. If we attain that, then we attain our true selves.