Bodhisattva Mind, Bodhisattva Action

From exchanges in Cambridge & Providence in April 1999:

Question: I am trying to decide whether the path I am on is right for me.

Zen Master Seung Sahn: You cannot find your job? So I ask you, who are you? Who is speaking now?

Q: I’m sorry?

ZMSS: Who is speaking?

Q: Who am I?

ZMSS: Only go straight is your true job. Only go straight “don’t know” — then everything becomes clear. If you are thinking, thinking, thinking, then this is not yours. Then everything is just talk talk talk! Sky never said, “I am blue.” Tree never said, “I am a tree.” American dogs say, “Bow wow.” Korean dogs say, “Wong wong.” Polish dogs say, “How how.” Which is correct dog barking? [laughter] You don’t understand? These are just human ideas of a dog barking, not a true dog barking. Your ideas control you, so most important is to take away your idea. That means, don’t keep your mind here [indicates his head]. If you keep your mind here, your understanding will control you. Other people’s ideas will control you. If you keep your mind here [indicates tantien], then your original mind will appear, your love and compassion mind. This is the tantien point, one inch below your navel. Always keep your attention here, breathing slowly. Five seconds breathing in with your stomach becoming bigger, and then ten seconds breathing out. Slow, slow, breathing out. Try, try, try, okay? Then your center will become stronger and stronger. Then you can see clearly, hear clearly and smell clearly — everything becomes clear! “Clear” means you attain truth. And then, how does truth function to help all beings? If you attain the answer to that question then the direction of your life will become clear.

Q: What are the benefits of breathing in for five and counting out for ten, as opposed to just being attentive to the breath as it happens?

ZMSS: If your mind is moving then do that. If your mind is not moving, then watching or counting is not necessary. Is your mind moving?

Q: It’s moving.

ZMSS: So if your mind is moving, then breathing in slowly, slowly, and slowly, slowly breathing out, are very important. If you try this way, soon “breathing in for five” and “breathing out for ten” is no problem. Then keeping a clear mind becomes very easy.

Q: I heard that love is not a word that is used in Zen. It seems that if we have compassion for all sentient beings, that is love, isn’t it?

ZMSS: Of course! Love and compassion, and bodhisattva action. That’s unconditional love, okay? A mother loves her child very much, but when the child is always breaking windows, breaking toys — always being bad — then the mother might spank the child, but this is compassion. It is the same with human beings: A lot of bad action! A lot of suffering! The great bodhisattva of compassion, Kwan Seum Bosal, is always trying to help all beings. This is our true compassion mind at work. Bodhisattva mind means not only for this life, but doing this life after life after life. So love and compassion mind is very important.

Q: It seems that many times people don’t know how to relate to each other. But we need to always keep our correct relationship. How do we do this? I understood this to mean that there is a specific, set relationship between people and things: student/teacher, mother/daughter, etc. But why should there be a specific correct relationship? Why doesn’t it depend on the individual?

ZMSS: Correct relationship means that you don’t hold on to “my” opinion, “my” condition, and “my” situation. If you completely put down your opinion, your condition, and your situation, then moment to moment, your correct situation, correct function, and correct relationship will appear naturally. So putting down “my” opinion, “my” condition, “my” situation is very important… but also very difficult! So practicing is very important. Please come to a Zen Center, practice, then there will be no problem. Put it all down, then there’s no problem. Then you attain great love, great compassion, and the great bodhisattva way.

Q: If my knee hurts, I know what to do: I go to the doctor, and he looks at the problem rationally, and we decide in a clear-cut way what we have to do. If you don’t feel good in your head, it’s the same principle: I go to someone, I ask them to look at this and give me a clear-cut answer about how to make it better. But there is no one on this planet who can tell you how to feel better. You can’t even hold a good feeling if you have it. Where do these feelings come from? I still instinctively treat this like my knee. When I don’t feel good at certain times, I always look for that rational answer, like running around in a cage.

ZMSS: Do you have mind?

Q: Yes.

ZMSS: Where is your mind? How big is it?

Q: I don’t know.

ZMSS: You don’t understand your mind! You are holding your mind, and checking, checking, checking! When you were born — BOOM! — you came out. Did you check then? You weren’t checking. You had baby mind. If you want something in this life and you cannot get it then whaaaaah! — crying. Checking, checking, checking! Then you have a problem. Don’t check anything — just do it — then your feelings can’t control you.

Q: So I was fine in the beginning, and now I’ve lost my way?

ZMSS: Yes. We say, “put it down — put down everything.” Then your center will become stronger, stronger, stronger. You have too much understanding; that is a problem. So put it down, okay? Who are you?

Q: [silence]

ZMSS: [laughs] Only don’t know!

Q: I would imagine, as a Buddhist monk, you are very in tune with energy. I remember you saying how you enjoyed the sixties, and enjoyed the feeling back then. I’m curious what you have to say about the energy thirty years ago — the feelings, connections, and the way human beings are to each other — and how it compares to now. People seem so uptight now! What would you say about the energy then as compared to now?

ZMSS: Sky already blue. Tree already green. That’s all.

Q: So you don’t notice a difference? [laughter]

ZMSS: If you think it’s different now, you have a problem. Not different, also have problem. Don’t make problem. The sky is already blue. The tree is already green. Do you understand?

Q: I understand.

ZMSS: Then no problem! [laughs]

Q: What is “small I” and “big I”?

ZMSS: That’s a big question. Not long ago, about ten years ago, I knew a man who studied at a university in Seoul. In the day, he went to the university and at night he worked for money to go to school. At that time, there was a lot of suffering in Korea–not much money, not much food. So he would study all day and work at night. One evening he bought some bread and sat under a tree by the road to eat. Suddenly a child appeared in front of him who was very hungry and wanted food. He started to check the situation but the poor child was right in front of him. If he didn’t eat the bread himself, he would go hungry and maybe not be able to study or work properly; but if he didn’t share the bread with this poor child, then what? The child was hungry! That thought wouldn’t leave him alone. Finally he gave the bread to the child and said, “You eat!” And the child took the bread and said, “Oh, wonderful, thank you very much!” Then, the man got a very good feeling: “Oh, wonderful!” So his stomach was hungry but his mind was full: he had a good feeling.

Nowadays in America, people are very rich. Outside they are rich; but inside, they are very poor. We must attain love, compassion, and bodhisattva action. “Bodhisattva” means to not hold my desires, to put down desire and help all beings. The name for that is bodhisattva action. That’s very important. Look at this world: a lot of nuclear weapons. America, Russia, many other countries too. If all these weapons explode, what will happen to our world? There are too many human beings! In 1945, there were two billion people — that’s after many thousands of years! Now there are six billion people. Too many human beings have appeared!

In this world cause and effect are very clear. What was the primary cause of this? What condition led to it? What was the result? Whenever something happens, you have to look at these three things. Western people eat meat every day. In the past, Asian people only ate meat on holidays or their birthday. But nowadays, in Korea or Japan or China: three meals a day, eat meat, eat meat, eat meat! We kill many animals, then this animal consciousness becomes a human being. So many of our faces look like human beings’, but inside our minds are animal. First this appeared in America and Russia, then it appeared in smaller countries. Russia controlled many countries for a long time. If you correctly control, it’s not a problem. But this was not correct, so there was a revolution in Russia. Then the smaller countries separated and started yelling, “My country! My country! My country!” Then there were many problems. Now all over Europe, there are many small countries fighting each other. Where does that come from? Dog doesn’t like cat; cat doesn’t like dog. Dog doesn’t understand cat mind, and cat doesn’t understand dog mind. No animal understands the other beings’ minds. Only human beings can understand other beings’ minds. Human beings originally have a love and compassion mind. But when “only me” mind appears, then this bodhisattva mind disappears, and we become the same as a dog or a cat. So practicing is very important. Finding your true self is very important. Then love, compassion, and a bodhisattva mind appear.

Q: If my substance and your substance are the same, then aren’t our true selves the same?

ZMSS: If it appears to be the same, you have a problem. [laughter] [hits the floor]

Q: [claps hands]

ZMSS: Do you understand that? Good. No problem! [laughs] Are our minds the same or different? Either way, this is opposites thinking. Zen means no opposites thinking: moment to moment, just do it! Then your center becomes stronger, and you can see clearly, hear and smell clearly, then everything is clear, even your thinking! The name for this is truth. The sky is blue, the tree is green; everything is the truth. What is not the truth? Then how does truth function correctly to help all beings? The name for that is bodhisattva action. Try that.

Q: In the Tibetan tradition, they have stories where one Dalai Lama dies, and before he dies he says, “I’m going to be reborn in two years in such-and-such a place.” They go and check out this baby, and the baby seems to be the Dalai Lama. Is this true, and if it is, how do they do that?

ZMSS: Go to Tibet and ask a baby! [laughter] I am a Zen Master, not a baby! That is the Tibetan tradition. They practice and practice and perceive their next life. So a master says, “When I die, I will go to this place and reappear,” and the baby appears. But nowadays, sometimes two or three babies appear, saying, “I am the old master!” “I am also the old master!” “No, I am the old master!” So now they have a problem in Tibetan Buddhism. Zen Buddhism, no problem, okay? [laughter]

Q: I’ve been very reckless in my past, and very unaware for a long time. Presently, I am becoming more aware, but my past is a bit of a hindrance to me. It clouds my ability at times to have clear thought. Is there any advantage to asking myself why I may have done these things, and how do I come back to primary point?

ZMSS: Go to a Zen Center and practice. Then, there will be no problem. Your center will get stronger and stronger. You will perceive your karma, and your karma will function correctly to help other people. That’s very important, okay? So come to the Zen Center and try that for three years. The calligraphy hanging on the wall here is very interesting. The first line says, “The great way has no gate.” “Great way” means any human being’s correct way, and it has no gate. The next line says, “Our tongue has no bone” — correct speech saves all beings, but bad speech kills many people. If you use your tongue well, you help people; if you don’t use it correctly, then you make many problems! Next line: “Spring comes everywhere.” If you look outside, small buds are in the trees. Soon, this tree will show leaves and flowers — very wonderful! Spring is coming! Then, “The willow is green; the flower is red.” When spring completely comes, the willow is green, the flower is red. This is truth — but you must attain the truth. What is not the truth? Everything in this world is the truth, but people are attached to things, so they don’t understand the truth. So put it all down. Keep your mind in your tantien, then you will see clearly, hear clearly, smell clearly, taste clearly, touch clearly, everything will be clear. Then your mind also will become clear. Then what you see, what you hear, what you smell — everything is the truth! Then, how does truth function correctly to help all beings? That is a very important point.

Our practice is “What am I?”, “Only don’t know.” When you are thinking, your mind and my mind are different. When you cut all thinking, then your mind and my mind are the same. If you only go straight, don’t know, one hundred percent, then your don’t know mind, my don’t know mind, or someone else’s don’t know mind is the same don’t know mind, because this don’t know mind already cuts off all your thinking. Cutting our thinking means our mind before thinking. This before thinking is your substance. Then, universal substance, your substance, and everything’s substance are the same substance. Sky is blue, tree is green — everything is substance. So substance is truth. Truth and you become one. That is very important. Then, everything becomes one. Thinking disappears, and then everything becomes one. When you see, when you hear, when you smell — everything becomes one. That is what we call primary point. Don’t know mind is primary point. Primary point’s name means don’t know! If you attain primary point, then when you see, when you hear, when you smell, everything is clear. Some people call it mind, Buddha, God, substance, the absolute, or consciousness, or anything! But true primary point is before thinking. Before thinking there is no speech and no words. That has no name. “Mind,” “Buddha,” “God” are names that humans make. A dog never says “mind” or “Buddha” or “true nature.”

If you practice, practice, practice, then your mind will become clear, clear, clear. Then everything’s nature — your nature, universal nature, and everything’s nature — becomes one. That one is what we call primary point. Then this stick, this sound [hits the table], and your mind–all the same, yeah? But I ask you, if you only go straight don’t know, then universal substance and your substance become one. So at that time, this stick, this sound [hits table], and your mind: are they the same or different? [audience claps hands] Very slow! [laughs] I ask again. If you keep don’t know mind one hundred percent, then this stick, this sound [hits table], and your mind: are they the same or different? [audience claps hands] Not bad! Keeping this mind is very important. If you keep this primary point in your tantien center, then your center becomes stronger, stronger, stronger. Then you can see clear, hear clear, smell clear, everything is clear. Sky is blue, tree is green. Salt is salty, sugar is sweet. Everything is truth. What is not the truth? Inside and outside become one. Then, how does truth function correctly to help all beings? That’s our practice. Hungry people come, give them food. Thirsty people come, give them something to drink. Suffering people come, help them. We call that bodhisattva action.

Q: What is your belief about the afterlife?

ZMSS: I hit you with this stick. What do you say?

Q: Ouch?

ZMSS: Correct! Already a good answer. [long silence; laughter] You don’t understand! What is life and what is death? You don’t understand. This body has life and death, but your true self has no life or death. Attain your true self, then no life or death. If you are attached to this body, then you have life and death. That’s my head. That’s my hand. That’s my body. My body is not “I,” okay? Your true “I” has no life or death. So I hit you and you say, “Ouch!” That’s your true self. That has no life or death. Okay? Good!

Q: What is the purpose of evil and hatred?

ZMSS: A long time ago, in Korea, there was a famous man who was a lot like Robin Hood — the same story. When the government did bad things and took from the people, he stole the money from bad tax collectors and gave it to needy people. His actions were bad, but they were also very good — so what is good and what is bad? If it’s only for me, then even good action is bad action. But, if it’s only for other people, then even a bad action is a good action. Very simple, yah? [laughs]

Q: How does this practice help others?

ZMSS: Where is your mind? Most people have their minds up here [indicating head]. When we see something, then we are thinking, thinking, thinking up here — not so good. The name for this is checking. Just to perceive is very important. Just to perceive this world and perceive other people and then, just do it! Don’t check, don’t judge! That’s a very important point. It is a very difficult action, but if it is difficult then go to a Zen Center and practice. Then you will perceive your mind — that is correct practicing. Attain human nature, then attain your correct situation, correct function, and correct relationship. Then you attain great love, great compassion, and the great bodhisattva way.

Q: Does Zen say that suffering is caused by thinking?

ZMSS: Thinking “for me” is suffering mind; thinking for other people is a bodhisattva love mind. This thinking is for what? What kind of thinking is this? The direction of your thinking is very important. Is it for other people or for me? If that is clear, then your direction is clear. If it is not clear then your direction is not clear. Your thinking must become clear. “Clear” means help all beings and help this world. If that is clear then your life is clear — everything is clear.

Q: You are a famous Zen Master. Do you have a self?

ZMSS: What do you want? If you want me to have a self then I will have one. If you don’t want me to have a self then I won’t. Only for you.

So, I hope you all come to a Zen Center and practice–or, if you have no time to do that, practice on your own and sit every day (or, if sitting is too difficult, walking meditation is no problem, and also driving meditation is no problem.) Keep your attention in your tantien and keep this great question, “What am I?” With a big question, your thinking goes away. Don’t know mind’s name is clear mind. If you keep clear mind, then your center gets stronger and stronger and you can perceive your condition and your situation. Then, when you see, when you hear, when you smell, everything is clear. Truth and you become one. Then, how does this truth function correctly to help all beings? The name for this is bodhisattva action. Hungry people come, give them food. Thirsty people come, give them drink. Suffering people come, help them. I hope you attain your true self, see clear, hear clear, smell clear, everything become clear, get enlightenment, and save all beings from suffering. Thank you.

Bodhisattva Clothes

One snowy evening in January 1974, Seung Sahn Soen Sa was invited to speak at the Boston Dharmadhatu. He came with several of his students who, like him, were wearing long gray robes and brown kasayas. After the Dharma talk, one person asked, “Why do you all wear uniforms?”

Soen Sa said, “Did you eat supper?”



“To relieve pain.”

Soen Sa said, “I am a monk.” There was a long silence. “Okay, I will explain. Look at our face. The nose has two holes, the eyes have two holes, the ears have two holes. Only the mouth has one. Why only one? It would have been very easy to have another hole in back of our head. We could eat rice in front and drink wine in back. But we have only one hole. This is people-karma. The cat catches the mouse — that is cat-karma. The dog barks at strangers, wong wong wong wong!– that is dog-karma. It is all karma. Do you understand?”

“I understand that I have two holes in my nose. But I choose to wear a uniform or not.”

“I am not finished yet. This is only on the way…. So life is karma. In our past lives we have made karma, and the action of this karma is our life now. I like this uniform, so I wear it. It is Bodhisattva clothing. The Bodhisattva wears necklaces and bracelets and earrings and beautiful clothing. He doesn’t wear them for himself, but only for all people. These robes have the same meaning as Bodhisattva clothing. Do you understand?”

The person said, “Is everyone in your party a Bodhisattva?”

Soen Sa said, “What do you think?”

”I think not.”

Soen Sa pointed to one of his students and said, “You ask him.”

“Are you a Bodhisattva?”

The student shook his head.

Soen Sa laughed and said, “Very good.”

The person again asked Soen Sa’s student, “Why do you wear these robes?”

“Why do you ask?”

“Because I have a great deal of difficulty dealing with uniforms.”

Soen Sa said, “You asked these clothes a question, and they are already teaching you. If I hadn’t worn them, you wouldn’t have asked me about them. I am wearing them, so you asked me your question. So I am teaching you. So these are Bodhisattva clothes.”

Becoming Human

If you look closely at human beings in the world today, you notice that they are not human beings. They don’t act like human beings. If a human being acts correctly, then he or she becomes a true human being. Moment to moment, what do you do? What is your correct direction? Moment to moment, what is your correct life? How do you find your correct way? How do you save all beings from suffering?

We come into this world empty-handed. What do we do in this world? Why did we come into this world? This body is an empty thing. What is the one thing that carries this body around? Where did it come from? You must understand that, you must find that. So, if you want to find that, you have to ask yourself, “What am I?” Always keep this big question. Thinking has to disappear. We have to take away all our thinking, cut off our thinking. Then our true self appears, then our true mind appears…

In this world, how many people really want practice? Many people don’t practice at all, fight day and night, and all day exercise their desire, their anger, their ignorance. When you lose this body, then you have nothing you can take with you. When this body disappears, what will you take with you? What will you do? Where will you go? You don’t know, right? If this “don’t know” is clear, then your mind is clear, then also the place you go is clear. Then you understand your job, you understand why you were born into this world. Then you understand what you do in this world. When you understand that, then you can become a human being.

A Bad Situation is a Good Situation: Traveling in Eastern Europe

This article was written by Mu Sang Sunim.

Traveling with Zen Master Seung Sahn in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union last spring, I was repeatedly struck by his teaching: “a good situation is a bad situation; a bad situation is a good situation.” The whole region is in upheaval. For ordinary people, getting even the simplest things can be an arduous task. And yet over and over I found people who, far from concentrating on their possessions, had a strong desire to practice and find the true way. In many ways I was reminded of America in the sixties: young people struggling to find the truth in a world that made no sense.

Scenes from a journey:

One woman and five men take novice monk/nun precepts at the Warsaw Zen Center in Poland. They are all in their early twenties. Not wasting any time, with complete faith in his students’ potential, Zen Master Seung Sahn tells them, “Each Bodhisattva has a special job. So you must each pick out some kind of practicing, only go straight, then completely understand your mind, become Ji Do Poep Sa Nims, then become Zen Masters.”

Again at the Warsaw Zen Center, a group of young students come up and ask me to teach them Soen Yu, Zen Master Seung Sahn’s breathing-energy exercises. I haven’t taught Soen Yu for years – I haven’t practiced it for years (I’ve been in a funk). But what can I do? They asked, so I teach. Slowly I remember the exercises, They feel just right. The students love them. By the end of the class we’re all very happy. People are asking me all kinds of questions – their sincerity, openness, and lack of checking amaze me, give me energy. “Now you are again Soen Yu Master,” says Zen Master Seung Sahn, half serious, half joking as usual. I’ve been practicing Soen Yu regularly ever since.

Zen Master Seung Sahn is giving a Dharma talk in a Tibetan center in Leningrad. The center is just a musty room in an abandoned building maintained by squatters, with a few Tibetan-style pictures on the wall. The room is full, about 50 people. The students are all young, with long hair and beatific smiles, just like our flower children in the sixties. Zen Master Seung Sahn says, “In this world, very few people understand their minds. Most people nowadays are totally controlled by the animal mind inside them. They only have desire. So this world is getting worse and worse – Christians say, ‘End of this world.’ But I say it is the beginning of a new world. Any fruit first has a very good form, very good color, but not such a good taste. Then later, when it becomes ripe, the form and color are not so good, but the taste is very good. Then finally, the fruit becomes rotten – then inside, the seeds are completely ripe. A new tree can be born. So you must all find your don’tknow seeds, Then no matter what occurs, for you it will be no problem.” The students gaze at Zen Master Seung Sahn intently, still smiling.

At another Dharma talk, this time in Moscow, we encounter a different kind of energy, and it requires stronger teaching. Two older men obviously believers in Communism – dominate the question period. One wants to know what Zen has to do with social responsibility. Zen Master Seung Sahn asks him, “What are you? If you understand your true self, there are no opposites. Then you and the universe become one. Then helping other people is very easy, automatic.” The man starts to argue. Zen Master Seung Sahn waves his hand -“‘Sit down please!”

Another starts to argue in the same vein. Zen Master Seung Sahn asks in the middle of the old man’s harangue, “You have a son? If you’re holding your opinion, then you and your son cannot communicate, cannot become one. But if you put down your opinion, your condition, your situation, then your son and you will have a very good relationship.” A chord has been struck – for the rest of the talk the man sits, head down, holding his face in his hands.

In Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, we have a Yong Maeng Jong Jin. Everyone is anxious about the dangers facing the country, about provocations by the Red Army. About 80 people come for the retreat from all over the Soviet Union. Do Am Sunim, Ji Do Poep Sa Nim and head of the Polish Sangha, has been coming here to teach for several months now, stirring up interest in Zen practice. In January he stood outside the Parliament building with his students, joining a large group of Lithuanians defying the Russian soldiers. A student with whom he had been talking one evening was killed by attacking Soviet soldiers the next day. The Lithuanian students admire Do Am Sunim very much for standing with them, and they are ready to meet the Zen Master.

Zen Master Seung Sahn tells them, “I understand your mind. Long ago when I was young, Korea was controlled by Japan. At that time we only wanted to drive out the Japanese. Win or lose didn’t matter – we only wanted to fight. We just did it. But if you understand your mind, then fighting is not necessary. You can keep your correct situation, condition, and opinion. “You come here to practice. That is wonderful. In this world how many people want to understand their minds? Not so many. So I say to you, you are special.”

Afterwards we have a Precepts Ceremony: thirty-three people take the five precepts, among them several youths, one of whom looks like he cannot be older than thirteen; five people become Dharma Teachers. I think about our Zen centers in America, where nowadays so few young people are involved, and wonder why it is that here people find it so easy to believe in Zen Master Seung Sahn.

The economies in this area are in disarray. In the Soviet Union we find there is a two-tiered economic system: one tier for those with dollars, another one for those with rubles. In many places, if you want to stay in a good hotel or go to a restaurant with good service, you must pay in dollars – pay a lot. And Soviet citizens are often not allowed in unless accompanied by Westerners. On the other hand, where goods and services are offered for rubles, the prices, by Western standards, are very low. A deluxe buffet breakfast in our hotel in Leningrad cost the equivalent of 30. But this is no solace for Soviet citizens, who make an average of $10 a month! The result is that ordinary Soviets feel shut out of their system. They are looking for a change – and their openness to Zen is one aspect of their search.

In the newly-capitalistic Eastern European countries there are many new millionaires – former Communists who stole from the state, and now, ironically, are set for life. Now they are becoming the prime capitalists. But there are many opportunities for ordinary people too. In Poland, sixteen and seventeen year old boys get together and pool their money. One of them gets a truck, takes it to Western Europe, buys a load of bananas, and brings it back. They divide the load, each taking some of the bananas and selling them on the street. Then they pool their profits and do it again. Everywhere you see people selling even tiny quantities of goods in little stalls on the street. So nowadays, unlike before, you can find all kinds of Western goods in Poland, Hungary, or Czechoslovakia. Most people don’t yet have the money to buy them. But the people are free, and happy to be so. And everywhere they are trying.

Riding through Leningrad in a large bus we have rented for the day, Zen Master Seung Sahn is talking to our Russian students. He finds out that now people can own their own homes. Houses are very cheap by American standards. “You buy an old building, fix it up, make a Zen center. We will help you,” Zen Master Seung Sahn says, ever alert to possibilities for encouraging his students.

People talk a lot about new business possibilities. The government is also beginning to give land to the farmers. “Soon everything will change,” says Zen Master Seung Sahn. “There will be lots of cars, the roads will be widened, everything will open up, politically and economically.” The Russian students look dubious. “You must understand,” says Dorota, a senior Zen student from Poland who is traveling with us, “ten years ago when the Solidarity leaders were in jail, Zen Master Seung Sahn told us that Solidarity would win. We all thought he was crazy. But it’s happened, now Poland’s politics have changed completely. Soon it will happen here too.”

We ride on, admiring the broad streets, the stately rows of old buildings on the River Neva – some of us seeing ghosts from the past, some of us looking deeply into a future that is ours alone to make together.

Mu Sang Sunim is director of Dharma Zen Center in Los Angeles.

Baby, no baby — no problem

From a talk at Providence Zen Center, April 29,1992.

Question: Sometimes a woman gets pregnant and she’s unsure if she wants to keep the pregnancy or have an abortion. She’s facing her karma; she needs to make a decision. Could you explain about controlling our karma in that situation?

Zen Master Seung Sahn: Having a baby or not having a baby doesn’t matter. What matters is, “How much do I believe in my true self? How much do I control my true self?” That is a very important point. If you have no babies but still cannot control your true self, then much suffering appears. If you have many babies but can control your true self, then it’s no problem.

Having a husband or not doesn’t matter. In Korea, a woman had twelve children, then her husband died. She worked, worked, worked to help her children. They all grew up and went to school, and many became professors or doctors. So, suffering when young meant being happy as she got old. Being happy when young means much suffering when getting old. Hard training when young is good.

Q: So having children was what she should have been doing. That was her karma, and that was good for her. But what if a woman has a baby, but it isn’t good for her? She doesn’t enjoy it, and she is unhappy her whole life.

ZMSS: Again, having a baby or not having a baby doesn’t matter. What matters is how much you believe in your true self. If I believe in my true self one hundred percent, then having many babies is no problem. If I cannot believe in my true self, even if I have no babies I’ll still have many problems.

Sometimes a baby helps a woman, so she becomes dependent on the baby. If you are dependent on anything, then you have a problem. Only believe in your true self one hundred percent. Try to keep your center strong.

This world already has problems. Next year there will be more problems. Then the next year there will be still more problems. Americans don’t see or understand this. In Africa, more people can see that this is a suffering world. America has too good a situation; if you have too good a situation, then suffering appears. So be careful. A good situation is a bad situation. A bad situation is a good situation. But if you are practicing, a good situation is OK and a bad situation is OK. Neither is a hindrance. That is Zen.

Attain Zero Mind, Use Zero Mind

Soen Sa Nim gave this kong-an talk on May 12, 1978, shortly after returning from his first visit to Europe.

Boring is a very important word. If you attain boring, then everything is boring. Then this is no desire, no anger, no ignorance. Desire is boring; anger is boring; ignorance is boring; everything is boring. Then, you will get Enlightenment. So boring is very important. Everything is equal. But people don’t like boring. They want something, and boring is not interesting. It’s like clear water. Clear water has no taste, but no taste is great taste. Everybody likes ice cream, but eating ice cream all day is not possible. However, if you’re thirsty, clear water is wonderful any time — better than honey, better than ice cream, better than anything. The truth is like this.

In Zen no meaning is great meaning, and great meaning is no meaning. We call this zero mind. I go around and ask, “Is zero a number?” One time in London I asked this, and somebody said, “Yes, it’s a number.”

So I said, “Yes, if you say zero is a number, you can do everything. Let’s look at this. 9 x 0 = 0. Then, 9 = 0/0. O.K.? Then, if you say it’s a number, then 0/0 = 1. So 9 = 0/0 = 1, and 9 = 1.

Then he said, “Ah, zero is not a number; that’s not possible. 0/0 = 1 is not possible.”

“O.K.; not possible is O.K. Then, 9 x 0 = 0. That means 9 = 0/0. 10,000 x 0 = 0. Then 10,000 = 0/0. 0/0 means 0/0 = 10,000 and 0/0 = 9. So 9 = 10,000.

“Zero mind can do anything. If you say zero is a number, that’s O.K. If you say zero is not a number, that’s O.K.; it doesn’t matter. Zero is everything; everything is zero. This is Zen mathematics, O.K.? So zero mind is very interesting. If you keep zero mind, then you can do everything.”

Then someone asked, “Soen Sa Nim, you talked about a child’s mind as Buddha’s mind, very simple, before memory. Before memory, all children’s minds are correct mind, Buddha’s mind, Enlightenment mind. Is this correct? Sleep time, sleep; eat time, eat. But a child only thinks of itself. Is this correct Buddha’s mind?”

I said, “Before memory, a child’s mind is no-Buddha, no-God mind. Someone once asked Ma Jo Zen Master, ‘What is Buddha?’ ‘Mind is Buddha; Buddha is mind.’ The next day someone asked, ‘What is Buddha?’ ‘No mind, no Buddha.’ Correct Buddha’s mind is no Buddha, no mind. So a child’s mind is correct Buddha’s mind.”

“Are they different, Buddha’s mind and child’s mind?”

“A child’s mind is nothing at all; it is zero mind. It’s like a clear mirror. Red comes, red; white comes, white. Only reflected action: when a child is hungry, it eats; when it is tired, it only sleeps.

I “Enlightenment-mind means using this child’s mind. A child only keeps Buddha’s mind. Using this mind is called Bodhisattva’s mind. So, child’s mind is correct Buddha’s mind; Bodhisattva’s mind correctly uses Buddha’s mind. How is it used? A child has enough mind — he only eats. But if somebody is very hungry, a child doesn’t understand. If you have Bodhisattva-mind, then if hungry people appear, you give them food; if thirsty people appear, you give them something to drink. Keeping Buddha’s mind and using Buddha’s mind are different. Keeping Buddha’s mind is correct Buddha’s mind. Using Buddha’s mind is Great Bodhisattva mind.

“Great Bodhisattva mind has a Great Vow. What is a Great Vow? That is only-go-straight don’t-know mind. Only go straight — don’t check me; don’t check my feelings; don’t check anything — only reflect everything and help all people. This Great Vow is infinite because space and time are limitless and beings are numberless. Numberless beings means numberless suffering, so my vow is a numberless vow. Its name is Great Vow. Its name is only go straight – don’t know — try, try, try vow. So I hope you will take this Great Vow, get zero mind, attain Enlightenment, and save all beings from suffering.”

As Big as the Whole Universe

From a talk at Cambridge Zen Center on July 29, 1993.

Question: How does Zen practicing take away karma?

Zen Master Seung Sahn: Zen practice does not take away karma. If you practice Zen, your karma becomes clear. If you are not practicing, your karma controls you. But if you are practicing, you control your karma. So your karma becomes clear. Good karma, bad karma, whatever karma you have becomes clear; then only help other people. That’s the point. Sometimes when a person first starts practicing Zen we talk about “taking away karma,” but those are only teaching words. Bodhisattvas have bodhisattva karma. Karma means mind action. So, karma controls me, or I control my karma and help other people. These two are different, but same karma.

Q: Bodhisattva karma is helping people?

ZMSS: Of course.

Q: But first we have to help ourselves, right?

ZMSS: Myself?

Q: To get a center.

ZMSS: Where is your center?

Q: Talking to you.

ZMSS: That is not your center. If you make “my center,” then you will have a problem. Our minds are always going around and around … seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, thinking. We see something and think, “I like that. I don’t like that.” If your mind is moving then you are not clear, because you have “my” opinion.

So, take this “around and around mind” and put it inside. At first keep your center here (points to lower belly). If you have a strong center, then your mind is not moving and your opinion disappears. If your mind is not moving, then you see clearly, hear clearly, smell clearly, taste clearly, touch clearly, and think clearly. Then everything becomes clear.

If you keep your center here at first (points to lower belly) then your center will become bigger, bigger, bigger … as big as the whole universe. The name of this is Buddha. So if you want to understand the name of the Buddha, keep a mind which is clear like space. Clear like space has no center. The universe and you are already one. So there is no life and death. But if you only keep your center here (points to lower belly), then one day your body will disappear and your center will also disappear. Then you have a problem (laughs).

Ananda Knocks Down the Flag Pole

Talk by Zen Master Seung Sahn on January 17, 1996, at the beginning of the intensive week during Kyol Che at Shin Won Sah Temple in Korea.

Winter is the traditional season for doing intensive meditation practice. This tradition comes down to us from the time of the Buddha, when monks and nuns would congregate during the three month rainy season in India to practice together.

In our school, too, serious students will take this time to do a long retreat or increase their daily practice commitment. In the middle of this three month period one week is set aside for even more intensive practice. In Korea, this is what we call Yoeng Maeng Jong Jin, which is translated as “to leap like a tiger while sitting.”

The origin of this special week of practice is very interesting. After the Buddha’s death a large convention of his enlightened followers was called to collect and formalize his teaching–to make what we now call the sutras. The head of this group was Mahakashyapa, the first patriarch. However Ananda, Buddha’s attendant, however was excluded from this group because he did not have enlightenment. This is ironic because Ananda was renowned for his phenomenal memory. It is said that he remembered everything that the Buddha said.

When he was barred from entering the assembly, Ananda became angry. He asked Mahakashyapa, “Buddha transmitted to you the Golden Brocade Robe. What else did he transmit to you?” Mahakashyapa called out, “Ananda!” “Yes, sir.” “Knock down the flag pole in front of the gate.” Ananda did not understand this, so he went to the mountains to do a seven day retreat. Seven days of very hard practicing; no sleep. Then at the end of the seven days, “Boom!” He got enlightenment.

Upon Ananda’s return to the convention, Mahakashyapa said, “If you can come in without opening the door, then OK. If not, then you cannot come in.” Immediately Ananda opened the door and went in. Then Mahakashyapa said, “OK, OK. Come in; now we can make the sutras.”

Already Appeared

On October 9 and 10, 1999, over three hundred students from fifteen countries gathered at Providence Zen Center for the Fifth Triennial Whole World is a Single Flower Conference.

Thank you very much everyone for coming to this “Whole World Is A Single Flower” conference. Already five times!

How do we get world peace? If one mind appears, then the whole world appears.

A long time ago, Buddha picked up a flower… only Mahakasyapa smiled. One thousand two hundred other people didn’t understand. That is Buddha’s teaching.

After the Second World War Zen Master Man Gong wrote, “The whole world is a single flower.”

So Buddha’s teaching, Zen Master Man Gong’s teaching, and us having the “Whole World Is A Single Flower” conference five times — are they the same or are they different? If you are thinking, you have already gone to hell. If you are not thinking, you have a problem. What can you do? All of you have been practicing for a long time; is there any less suffering in the world? So, we’ll try chanting the mantra of the world’s original sublimity together three times.

Om nam

Om nam

Om nam

Thank you very much. Already “the whole world is a single flower” appears.

Absolutes Thinking

From the 1985 Sumner Kyol Che Opening, Ceremony

Linc just said, “Zen is very simple. Dishwashing time, just wash dishes; sitting time, just sit; driving time, just drive; talking time, just talk; walking time, just walk.” That’s all. Not special. But that is very difficult. That is absolutes thinking. When you’re doing something, just do it. No opposites. No subject, no object. No inside, no outside. Outside and inside become one. That’s called absolutes.

It’s easy to talk about “When you’re doing something, just do it,” but action is very difficult. Sitting: thinking, thinking, thinking. Chanting: also thinking, thinking. Bowing time: not so much, but some thinking, thinking, checking, checking mind appear. Then you have a problem.

But don’t hold. Thinking is OK. Checking is OK. Only holding is a problem. Don’t hold. Feeling coming, going, OK. Don’t hold. If your mind is not holding anything, it is clear like space. Clear like space means that sometimes clouds come, sometimes rain or lightning or airplane comes, or even a missile blows up, BOOM! World explodes, but the air is never broken. This space is never broken. Yeah, other things are broken but this space is never changing. Even if a nuclear bomb explodes, it doesn’t matter. Space is space. That mind is very important. If something in your mind explodes, then don’t hold it. Then it will disappear. Sometimes anger mind appears but soon disappears. But if you hold it, you have a problem. Appear, disappear, that’s OK. Don’t hold. Then it becomes wisdom. My anger mind becomes wisdom. My desire mind becomes wisdom. Everything becomes wisdom. That’s interesting, yeah? So don’t hold. That’s very important point.