Making your direction clear

During the Buddha’s lifetime and for many generations thereafter, winter and summer were the times for retreats. In keeping with this tradition, both our one-week Yong Maeng Jong Jins and our Kyol Ches take place during those two seasons.

Our 90-day Kyol Che is only a month away. It is a good time to decide on one’s participation in this retreat. Last year we introduced a “Heart Kyol Che,” which consists of a personal practice commitment during the time of the retreat.

This commitment has a two-fold purpose. It is a way to participate for those of us who are not able to come to the Zen Center to sit together with others. Secondly, it is a way to support those who do come and sit. This year I would encourage everyone who is unable to do Kyol Che to participate in the “Heart Kyol Che.” Depending on one’s situation, it could range from a commitment to sit five extra minutes every day to a commitment to do part of Kyol Che and/or some kind of special practice every day.

To make such a commitment and to carry it out is extremely valuable. “Special practice” is not very special. To carry it out, though, is to make one’s center very strong and one’s direction very clear.

In the Mu Mun Kwan, a collection of traditional Zen teaching cases, we have a very interesting example of “special practice.” The twelfth case talks of Zen Master Seong Am Eon who used to call to himself every day, “Master!” and would answer, “Yes?” Then the dialogue continued: “You must keep clear!” “Yes!” “Never be deceived by others, any day, any time!” “Yes! Yes!”

The question associated with this kong-an is as follows: “Master Seong Am called to himself and answered himself; two minds. Which is the correct Master?” What is very interesting is that apparently Zen Master Seong Am carried out this performance every day for a long period of time. His “special practice” has been helping Zen students until today, and its value for our practice is likely to continue as long as there are Zen students to keep our practice alive.

It is important to understand that “special practice” is not just for us, but is for others in keeping with our vows. This “for others” may not be readily visible, but nonetheless the energy of our practice radiates throughout the world. It helps our families, our friends, our coworkers, and all beings. An eminent teacher said: “One mind is clear; the whole universe is clear.”

Those words, and the words you are reading, are just expedient means to help our life, to help our practice. The next step is to leave these words behind, and simply to do “it.” That which we call “special practice” is just another expedient means to help us do “it.”

Leave Your Mind Alone

Excerpted from a dharma talk in September, 1991

Question: I have a friend who has amnesia. Could you explain this in Buddhist terms?

WBZM: In Buddhist psychology, we speak of eight kinds of consciousness. The first five are sensory-sight, smell, hearing, touch and taste. The sixth is mind consciousness, which controls our body, and the seventh is “discriminating consciousness,” which enables us to distinguish white from black or good from bad. The eighth consciousness is that which controls memory.

Sometimes these last three consciousness are split apart and don’t function together. The result might be amnesia, or perhaps a split personality. In extreme cases one personality doesn’t know what the other personality is doing. If you are practicing, however, you return to “before thinking.” Before thinking there is no first, second, third consciousness, etc. It is before any consciousness. If you keep this “before consciousness,” then amnesia and even a more serious kind of dysfunction can heal. The sixth, seventh and eighth consciousness can work together.

Practicing means you don’t use your consciousness; you let it rest. When your arm is damaged, you put it in a sling and let it heal. Otherwise you will damage it more and more. It’s the same way with your mind; if you leave it alone, it will heal. Leaving it alone means returning to before thinking. This is the purpose of Zen meditation.

Q: I have trouble deciding things. Is there some way practicing can help?

WBZM: I have a secret technique which I’ve been teaching for several years now. Take a coin (laughter) and throw it up in the air. By the time you catch it, you usually know what way you want it to come up. You don’t even have to took. Just do it.

From the vantage point of distance, most decisions are not so important Either way will be OK. Why you do what you do is most important-is it for me or for others? If your direction is clear, then your choice is also clear. But sometimes you cannot decide what is helpful, so flip a coin. It’s OK.

Q: My desires seem to come in two varieties: low elm, like “I want that cheesecake” or “I want that woman in a bikini,” and high class, like I really want to see peace in this world” or “I want to see my family flourish.” Is this the difference you’re talking about?

WBZM: Not exactly. We talk about desire versus aspiration. Every morning at our Zen centers we recite “Sentient beings are numberless, we vow to save them all.” That vow’s direction is for others. That is aspiration.

Desire means “for me.” You said, for example, “my family will flourish.” Why only “my family?” That is desire mind. But, “May all families flourish.” Not only human families. Tree family, cat family, dog family … Then there is no I, my, me. Or someone says I want enlightenment” That, again, is desire mind.

But suppose someone says I don’t understand my true self, what is this “I”? That question takes away desire mind. If you cultivate desire, desire will grow. If you cultivate Great Question, thinking calms down and desires disappear.

Thinking itself is not a problem, but if you let your desires and thinking control your actions, then you do have a problem. Let’s say a feeling or an idea appears, and you know it’s not correct to act on it. If you’re practicing, you’ve learned to let what appears in your consciousness pass. If you’re not practicing, it’s harder to control your actions. Even though you know something’s not correct, you still do it. Or something should be done, but you don’t do it. Later you say, “Why did I do that?’ But the next time is not any different. When I was a university student, I remember vowing after each exam that the next time my preparation would begin well ahead of time. I was never able to keep that vow, which means that my laziness thinking was quite strong. I wasn’t practicing hard enough, so this lazy mind controlled me.

Q: You said “don’t check yourself, don’t check others.” What does this mean?

WBZM: When you are practicing, uncomfortable thoughts and feelings often arise. We are accustomed to running away from these things. One way we try to escape when we’re alone on the cushion is to check ourselves: “Oh, I am no good. I should not be thinking. I am a lousy Zen student.” Thinking about thinking is like putting a head on top of your head. Another way of escaping is to look at and judge others. It is much more amusing than dealing with our own predicament

Q: I saw a book named “If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him.” What does this mean?

WBZM: Zen means becoming independent. That is the Buddha’s teaching. Many people, however, become attached to teachers, attached to ideas, attached to words. It can be a kind of sickness. I heard a story about two friends walking down the street. One friend fell down, and the other one started to laugh. So the one who fell down said, “Look, that’s not very nice. In the Bible it says that even if your enemy falls into adversity, you must not laugh, or rejoice. His friend responded, “Yes, of course I read that in the Bible, but it doesn’t say anything about laughing when your friend falls down.” That’s a joke of course, but sadly we do attach to words, usually missing what they point at.

To be independent means that you find for yourself what the truth is. Don’t just take someone’s word for it, no matter how famous a person it is. If you attach to someone, you attach to someone’s ideas, judgments, opinions. So if you meet the Buddha on the road you must kill him. Those are good words! However, even more importantly, when you meet your own 1, my, me, kill them. Think of your life as a kind of a laboratory. You hear of a good formula. Don’t accept it automatically. Test it in your fife. If it really works, then use it, and teach it to others. If it doesn’t, throw it out Kill the Buddha, because you are the most important authority. That means that you must become Buddha. That means that your practicing is most important

Q: Do you mean practicing, as you people do here in this room?

WBZM: Earlier this morning I asked you “What are you?” You were stuck, and unable to answer. That is our practice. Formal practice, which is what we do twice a day in this room, is only a technique, albeit a very important one. We can easily talk about keeping a don’t know mind, but it is not always easy to actually do it. Even ten or fifteen minutes a day of formal practice can help us carry that practice into the rest of our life.

In your daily life, when you are doing something, do it one hundred percent. Then you are completely awake. If you are dreaming, wake up. Good dream or bad dream, dream of the past, the present, or the future, it does not matter. Become awake! Become an awakened one. Become Buddha.

The interview

The Zen interview is a vital part of the training in our school. While the form and content of the interview depend entirely on the student and the particular teacher’s style, the purpose is to help the student experience his or her own strengths and limitations. It is not very useful, nor even possible, to judge one’s practice, but it is possible for us to experience the quality of our practice through the Zen interview.

There is an “incorrect” and a “correct” way to approach the interview. If we are attached to being “correct,” to answering any kong-an correctly, to demonstrating always how clear and strong we are, the interview becomes quite an ordeal. It is this desire to answer correctly, to not show our weaknesses, our dirty corners, that causes fear to appear. It is not easy to be able to make mistakes, to be stupid, and yet not check that and keep on trying. Some Zen students try to avoid this situation by simply avoiding the interview. There is another extreme, which is also not very helpful for our practice. It manifests itself through an unhealthy fascination with kong-ans, and with interviews. This is especially unhealthy in the case of students whose entire practice revolves around trying to answer kong-ans. These students forget that without the fire of “don’t know,” without a steady effort, such kong-an answers and such interviews cannot connect to their lives and are quite useless.

Finally, the Zen interview is very important, but only as part of our practice. If used correctly, without avoidance or fascination, it is a very powerful tool and helps both the student and the teacher. It can provide a vital link between our meditation and our life. It is like a lab where we can safely test our practice under fire. The kong-an situations presented in the interview are usually extremely simple, and even if we make a mistake, no serious consequence occurs. Our lives are usually not so forgiving, and many of our everyday situations are very complex and full of subtleties. But, the Gordian knot they represent can be cut through. The Zen interview and kong-an teach us how to do that.

“I don’t like kong-ans”

The following exchange took place in an interview during a retreat in Norway in February:

Student: I don’t like kong-ans. That is why I come so rarely to interviews. Can you say something about that?

Wu Bong Zen Master: Sure. You don’t like kong-ans, then you must drop dead.

Student: Hmmm? I don’t understand.

WBZM: A kong-an is not special. Any of your everyday life situations is already a kong-an. If you don’t like kong-ans, you don’t like life. So, you must die. Do you want that?

Student: (laughing) No. I would like to live a little while still.

WBZM: Good. Then put down your like and dislike. When a kong-an appears, only respond. If the correct response does not appear, return to “don’t know.” In your everyday life it is the same. If any situation is not clear for you, return to “don’t know.”

Student: I understand. Thank you very much.

Good Feeling Suffering, Bad Feeling Suffering

This exchange is from a talk at the Introduction to Zen Workshop on September 9, 1990.

Question: What do you mean by suffering? I read somewhere that suffering isn’t really what one thinks it is.

Wu Bong Zen Master: There are many kinds of suffering: body pain, emotional pain, mental pain. Sometimes people are happy but this happiness is also a kind of suffering. For example, someone takes some cocaine and it makes them feel very good, this is also suffering. The root of this happiness is suffering. So, suffering does not mean just bad feeling.

Sometimes, we have good feeling suffering, sometimes we have bad feeling suffering. Someone may be very happy, because he or she is attached to something. This kind of happiness already has the seeds of suffering. The seeds of suffering come from our attachment, our expectations, our wanting something from a situation. If you have, “I, my, me” you are suffering whether you know it or not.

Q: Then does Zen mean not to think in terms of “I, my, me,” and suffering will go away?

WBZM: If you attain Zen then you will get more suffering. If you do not want suffering, you shouldn’t try Zen, because if you are practicing, then everyone’s suffering becomes yours. Then there is no “my suffering,” but still there is suffering in the world.

We talk often about compassion. Many of us want to become more compassionate, but we do not always understand what compassion is. Compassion is not some kind of a feeling. Compassion is not just feeling bad for someone or feeling pity for someone. Feeling bad for someone who is hungry will not fill that person’s stomach. Compassion means moment to moment, what do you do? When somebody is hungry, what can you do?

For example, ten years ago I was very sick and had to stay in a hospital. My doctors thought that I would soon die, so all of my friends worried about me. Among the people who came to visit me from the Zen Center was one person who was very emotional. I was exhausted after each of her visits because I had to spend a lot of my energy on cheering her up.

To make it more clear, consider a teacher’s job. Being a human being, it is not unusual for a teacher to have favorites among his or her students, and others that are perhaps even disliked. The teacher’s job, however, is to encourage, compliment, and give good grades to students when they deserve it, whether one likes them or not. Also, to give correct grades and good feedback to students who perform poorly, even if they are one’s favorites. Another name for this is compassion.

So finally, compassion simply means keeping one’s correct situation, correct relationship, and correct function, moment to moment.

Ecology of Mind

Adapted from a dharma talk given at the Buddha’s Birthday Ceremony at Providence Zen Center on April 9, 1990.


Long ago a great man came, saved all beings, and left. His coming and his going continues to teach us to this day.


Long ago, a great man said, “The True Way has no coming, and no going.” To this day, this teaching is saving us.


We too, have come into this world, have gathered here today, and will soon depart. Then, in our coming and going, how do we attain the great man’s way of coming and going? How do we attain the great man’s way of not coming and not going?


Winter has gone north. Spring has come in from the south.

Recently, Zen Master Seung Sahn attended an important meeting in Moscow, and I had the good fortune of joining him for this trip. The meeting was called the Global Forum of Parliamentary and Spiritual Leaders for Human Survival. Its primary subject was our relationship with this world, how we are destroying this world, and how we human beings can survive.

The key issue of this meeting was ecology. According to Webster’s, ecology is that branch of biology which deals with the relationship of living things and the environment.

What is our relationship to our environment? That is a question which the Buddha’s teaching addresses very clearly. In Buddha’s time there were not the same kind of problems with the pollution of air, water, and ground. The Buddha, for that reason, did not talk very specifically about those kinds of pollution. He taught us a slightly different kind of ecology, a more basic and more comprehensive kind of ecology.

This teaching is so fundamental that not only is biological ecology a natural consequence of this teaching, but so is ethical ecology, spiritual ecology, and finally through the teaching of the patriarchs the ecology of moment-to-moment correct situation, correct relationship, correct function. If we understand this way correctly, then we can understand all relationships, including our relationship to our environment, which means not only ground, water, air, sky, trees, plants, and animals, but also each other.

In view of the Buddha’s teaching, a forum for human survival is a mistake. This goal already separates human beings from the rest of this world. It is not enough to love this world so that human beings can survive. That is not true love, because true love is unconditional. In fact, at the forum, many speakers talked about love. Then what is love?

In China, long ago, Zen Master Nam Cheon came into the dharma room of his temple, where several hundred monks were fighting about a cat. Nam Cheon picked up the cat, and demanded of the suddenly silent congregation, “Give me one word. If not, I will kill this cat!” Everyone was silent, so finally the Zen Master killed the cat. Later that day when he told his student Joju about this incident, Joju removed his slippers, put them on top of his head, and walked out of the room. Zen Master Nam Cheon said, “If you had been there, the cat could have been saved.”

This kong-an is about love. When Nam Cheon challenged his students, he wanted to see if they loved the cat, or only desired the cat. Today, I ask you: If you had been there when the Zen Master demanded one word, how would you have saved the cat? And, what is the meaning of Joju’s action? If these questions become clear to you, then love becomes clear. To attain this kong-an means to attain true love. To attain true love is to become ecologically correct in our relationship with the environment.

There is a branch of science which is relatively new. It is the study of chaos. While for us the world “chaos” implies a state of utter confusion, for the scientist the word “chaos” has a very specific meaning involving an equation with a number of possible solutions at any one moment. Equations describing turbulence, meteorological phenomena, or even stock market behavior are examples of “chaotic” equations.

What is very interesting is that scientists have found that in any kind of a chaotic system there is some order. They have also found that in many systems that up to now were thought to be very orderly and very predictable, some chaotic behavior can be found at times. That’s not so much of a surprise for the followers of the Eastern sages.

The Korean flag is a good example of this. It is basically a yin/yang symbol. The yang side has a little bit of the yin color. The yin side has a little bit of the yang color. yin gives birth to yang, yang gives birth to yin. Chaos gives birth to order, and vice versa. This is because we live in a world of opposites, and if you take away one opposite, the other would not exist. If you take away man, then the word woman becomes meaningless. If you take away dark, then there can not be light. If you take away ignorance, then there can not be enlightenment.

In this world of opposites, how do we find our correct situation, correct relationship, correct function? To understand this world of opposites is to respect all of nature. It becomes foolish to dislike the night, for without it the day would not exist. To respect nature is to give up the notion of ownership of nature, of ownership of this world. To not treat this world as “my” world is to realize that it belongs to all life.

Our job then becomes more clear. Our life is not only from our parents. The ground, the water, the air, the sun and the moon, all support our life; in fact they give us our life. They are all our parents. Just as we have an obligation to our parents, this obligation extends to the whole world. That is the Buddha’s teaching. That is Zen Master Seung Sahn’s teaching. That is our true nature’s teaching. In other words, the fundamental thing is not so much polluting the environment, but polluting our mind.

Buddha taught something very simple. He taught how to deal with anger, desire and ignorance: three major pollutants. If we are able to take away this pollution, then the other kinds of pollution will also disappear. Without taking away this pollution, it is not possible to attain the true harmony with nature. Without harmony with nature it is not possible to avoid harming the environment.

In science class in elementary school, one learns what happens if we connect two containers, one full of hot water, and another one full of cold water. When the containers are joined and the water can freely mix, very soon, even without stirring, the temperature will be uniform. The hot one becomes cooler, and the cold one becomes warmer. The hot water has more thermal energy. This energy seeks a level where it is equalized, seeks a kind of balance.

We observe that everywhere in nature. At the forum some people said that this world is unbalanced. But, the world is always balanced. All of the environmental problems result in death, sickness, hunger. This is only correct. This is part of the balance equation. This is human beings’ bad energy dispersing throughout our world container. That is also Buddha’s teaching. Buddha taught us balance – in our life, how to make correct balance; in our mind, how to make correct balance; in our dealings with our family, with our friends, with the whole world, with the animals, the trees, the air, how to make correct balance.

At the forum, people talked about various environmental problems and suggested some solutions. Zen Master Seung Sahn also had a chance to talk. What he talked about was the teaching of karma. Every result in this world comes from a cause. Then any disease has a primary cause. It is very important to change the primary cause, then any sickness, any karma can be fixed, can be changed. To do that it is necessary for all of us to put down our opinions, our understanding, our “I, my, me.” Zen Master Seung Sahn by saying this, in effect, asked everyone to keep a clear mind. This means everyone can get dharma energy. Then this dharma energy disperses throughout the whole world.

This teaching is very simple, and very clear. But practicing people know that while very simple, this teaching is not always easy to carry out. It is one of a Zen student’s great sicknesses to judge one’s own practice, and to question one’s own ability to make the required effort.

Sometimes so many hindrances appear in our life, in our practice, that it is tempting to indulge in self-doubt and become paralyzed. The ecological problems confronting us appear to be overwhelming. The mental pollution, for those who attempt some kind of practice, is often more overwhelming still. How can we even begin to help this world? One of the most important teachings I received from Zen Master Seung Sahn is that there are two kinds of mind. There’s a mind that says “I can,” and there’s a mind that says “I cannot.” If one thinks “I cannot,” then one cannot. If somebody thinks “I can,” then it’s possible. Best of all, just do it. Every moment of our life the Buddha continues to give us the great present, his Dharma. The best present we offer in return is to apply this teaching to our life. Then “do it” correct balance; “do it” harmony; “do it” true love; “do it” moment-to-moment correct situation, correct relationship, correct function. Then our life is no longer ours, but belongs to the whole universe. Then ecologically correct life is not something special. It is simply the correct function of our true nature. This is indeed the great person’s way. Can we attain it right now?


If this sound is clear, then the whole universe is clear. Also the Great Way is meticulously clear. Then, where is the Great Way?


Pointing to the dharma room exit doors.

Through these doors to the dining room.

Thank you very much.

Desires and Aspirations

Question: Can we really help the world? Look at hunger, for example.

Zen Master Wu Bong: Yes, we can help. Consider hunger. We have hunger all over this world. Where does this hunger come from? It doesn’t come from economic problems. It doesn’t come because there isn’t enough food in the world to feed the hungry. It comes from the mind that wants something, from the mind that is holding something. Hunger comes from that mind.

These days we often talk about ecology. Buddha didn’t explicitly talk about ecology, but in a way Buddha always talked about ecology. What kind of ecology? He talked about the mind. He talked about anger, desire, and ignorance. Those are three kinds of pollution. If we take away these three kinds of pollution, then this world’s hunger will disappear. Not only hunger, but any kind of problem. So this world needs you; everybody must practice and attain the true self.

Question: We all have dreams or ideals. Desires seem to come in at least two kinds. Some are low class, like “I want that cheesecake.” Others are high class, such as, “I want to see peace in this world,” or “I want to see my family flourish.” Is there any difference between these?

Zen Master Wu Bong: We talk about desire, and we talk about aspiration. They are a little different. How can we help this world? Every morning at the Zen Center we recite the Four Great Vows. The first vow says, “Sentient beings are numberless, we vow to save them all.” We call that an aspiration, or a great vow. On the other hand, desire means wanting something for me. You said, for example, “my family will thrive.” That is my family. Why only my family?

That is desire mind. But, “May all families thrive” is an aspiration. Not only for human families: tree families, dog families, cat families . . . any kind of family. That has no “I, my, me.”

If one says, “This enlightenment business sounds good; I want enlightenment,” that is desire mind. This mind doesn’t even understand enlightenment, so why does it want it? But, if one says, “I don’t understand my true self; what am I?”, then this question takes away desire mind. So, if you cultivate desire, then desire will grow. If you cultivate great question, then desire disappears.

Commentary on Hyang Eom’s “Up a Tree”

Adapted from comments made following a talk at Providence Zen Center in December, 1989.

The Hua Yen Sutra, that the last speaker talked about, like other sutras, is a collection of teaching techniques that the Buddha used. When Paul finished his introductory remarks he hit the floor and said, “Wall is white.” Then he said, “That’s my dharma.” This point is really the essence of the Hua Yen Sutra, which means that our practice and all sutras finally come to one thing only … what is our correct situation, correct relationship and correct function at this moment, any given moment of our life.

Our correct situation means our work situation, our speech situation, our eye-ear-nose-tongue-body-and-mind situation. Our correct relationship is not only to other people, but also our correct relationship to the air, the water, to the ground. Out of all this our correct function appears which means that our eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind can function without any hindrance. While we talk about correct situation, correct relationship and correct function, they are in fact inseparable.

One of the kong-ans that we have in the Mu Mun Kwan is the situation that was set up by Zen Master Hyang Eom: “It is like a man hanging from a tree. He is holding to a branch by his teeth. His bands and his legs are all tied, so he cannot grasp another branch, and he cannot grasp the trunk of the tree. Then just at that time somebody comes and asks him “Why did Bodhidharma come to China?” If he does not answer, he is avoiding his duty and will be killed. If he opens his mouth to answer, he will fall off the tree and also die.” Then if you are in this tree how “Do you stay alive? It’s a very difficult situation. This is a very interesting kind of a kong-an because any understanding cannot help. Any understanding which we have will fail. We cannot do anything. Cannot move hands, cannot use mouth, but there’s one thing … just one thing that’s possible.

Zen means to attain our true self. To attain our true self means that truth can function in our life. To let truth function in our life is not to attach to life or death. Without attaching to life or death, we allow love and compassion to naturally function in our life, which means that our obligation to this world is always very clear. We say life, but life is not life. Our body has life and death, but our true life, our true self, has no life nor death. If we can let truth function in our life, then even this kind of a difficult situation is not so difficult. Then even in such a difficult situation our correct situation, correct relationship and correct function appear, which means we attain true life. Holding on to either life or death, we are like walking corpses. Not holding on to life and death, we are truly alive.

The situation that Zen Master Hyang Eom set up as a Dharma gate for us may appear somewhat exotic. If we examine our lives however, we may be able to see this situation all too often. In fact, any time that we create and hold on to some duality, we are like this man in the tree. I remember some foolish arguments I had with my parents, whom I tried to convince of the correctness of my ways. It was only when I gave up such foolish notions and simply did what was necessary, that our relationship became very intimate, very alive. Maybe that happened to some of you, maybe in some different way.

What this kong-an does is challenge us to find the true way by setting up a seemingly impossible situation. Indeed, it challenges us to the utmost, where it is not enough to be clever. How do we work then with a situation like that? The way to work with it is to leave it alone; only keep don’t know. If your practice is mantra practice then only try mantra. If you’re keeping a big question, “What am I?” or “What is this?”, only keep big question, only keep don’t know. Then the kong-an will work by itself One day the kong-an will appear vivid and completely translucent. The correct response will be there. But, it is completely redundant to want something vivid, or something translucent, or something that you do not have in this very moment. To do that is to be lost in, the dream world, to lose one’s life.

“The man hanging from a branch” kong-an, or any kong-an, is not so important. Most important is to wake up. Be alive! Then, what are you doing right now?

Buddha’s Enlightenment Day Poem – 1993

An eminent teacher said
“Enlightenment and unenlightenment
are merely empty name.”

The Buddha saw a star, got enlightenment.
What did he get?

Did you see a star?
What did you get?
Where is your enlightenment star?
In the sky?
In Hollywood?
On top of a Christmas tree?
Up, down; north, south; east, west?
Always in front of you?
Do you see it?
Tell me, tell me!!!


Bright stars lighten up the night sky.
Bright faces lighten up the dharma room

Become an Expert… Or Become a Buddha

From a talk by Zen Master Wu Bong

Question: Sometimes I feel complete, and everything is clear, but then at other times I lose that, and no longer understand. What can you say about this?

Zen Master Wu Bong: Being complete is not dependant on your feeling. Everyone is complete, you are all Buddha. Does that help your life? You have everything! I don’t have anything that you don’t have. Buddha doesn’t have anything you don’t have. Does hearing that help your life? No? So any understanding, even the most wonderful understanding, cannot help you. You are already complete, but until you realize that for yourself; until you become intimate with that; until you digest that understanding so that it becomes yours, it has no power to help you. Maybe sometimes it will make a nice feeling: “I am already complete. I am Buddha. Ahhh . . . ” But feelings change, so you will not remember that you are complete. Understanding that and attaining that are very different. So practicing is necessary.

Q: How can one be Buddha and not be Buddha?

ZMWB: I ask you, what is Buddha?

Q: I have no idea.

ZMWB: That’s correct. That’s Buddha.

Q: But what about people who don’t know that they don’t know?

ZMWB: Those people are the experts. So you have a choice in this life; you can become an expert, or you can not know, and become Buddha. Again this brings us to practicing. No matter what anybody says and no matter how well anything can be explained; it is finally all up to you. The wonderful thing about Buddha’s teaching is that Buddha taught us not to accept something just because a wise person or an expert said it. Don’t accept something because a holy book says that it’s true, or because of tradition. You must find the truth for yourself. Everyone has that capacity. You came to a dharma talk, but no matter how well things are explained and how appealing it may be to you, that alone has no power to change your life. There is a vast gulf between understanding what is being said and actually being able to do it. That’s why having a big question is very important. In Buddhism we talk about bodhicitta. Bodhicitta is propensity toward bodhi or enlightenment. Everybody has that. That question is your bodhicitta. That is the power that brought you here. Bodhicitta is called the seed of enlightenment by some Buddhist scholars, so your seed has already sprouted. Next, you must cultivate it; that cultivation we call practicing. If you take care of this question, then it can grow up, grow up, grow up. Then one day, this flower can bloom. Then you can say, (slapping his knee) “Ah ha.” This “Ah ha” is not the Buddha’s, is not Zen Master Seung Sahn’s, is not Zen Master Wu Bong’s, it is all yours. So everybody must find that, because this world needs you.