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.]


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.



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


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


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.


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.


A sect of Zen Buddhism emphasizing quiet illumination.


These are the five positions of Guest and Host.


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


The primordial Buddha.

The Family Tradition of the Lin Chi School


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


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


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


Be careful.


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 (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 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 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 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.

The Eleventh Gate – Man Gong’s Net

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

This is a very famous kong-an. Zen Master Man Gong always taught his students not to make anything. If you practice strongly, don’t make anything and don’t want anything, then you can attain no hindrance. Then this kong-an is not a problem. But if you are thinking, if you still have I, my, me and checking mind, then you cannot get out of the net. This net is life and death and includes everything. Even if you are a Buddha, if you have thinking, you cannot escape the net.

Man Gong’s net is an attack kong-an. “I caught a big fish” is a strong teaching style. It drops down a large (000 size) hook for you. If you touch this fishing hook ,you will have a big problem! It’s just like a boxing match: hit, hit, hit… then you must defend yourself. So, how do you hit Man Gong’s net? How do you take away Man Gong’s idea? Man Gong’s idea made the net. So, you must hit that.

Kong-an practicing is very important–it means, put it all down. In Zen, we say if the Buddha appears, kill the Buddha; if an eminent teacher appears, kill the teacher; if demons appear, kill them. Kill everything that appears in front of you. That means don’t make anything. If you make something, then you have a hindrance. If you can completely put it all down, then you have no hindrance and your direction becomes clear. So, our practicing direction is to make our situation, function, and relationship in this world clear. Why do you eat every day? If that is clear, then our life is clear and we can help this world. Moment to moment our job is to do bodhisattva action and help all beings. Man Gong’s net makes our direction and its function clear. Only help all beings. But that is just an explanation. Explanations can’t help you! An answer is necessary.

Earth, Air, Fire and Water – Repaying the universe

In 1986, I visited Swami Satchidananda’s yoga ashram in West Virginia for the opening ceremony of the Lotus Shrine, a beautiful ecumenical pavilion. They had a dedication ceremony and had invited many teachers. All the teachers were asked to give a short talk and do some chanting from their tradition. I talked to them about how every day we breathe in air, breathe out air. We breathe in and breathe out all the time but we never pay for this most vital of our needs. The sun shines every day and nourishes our bodies with sunlight and energy for all things to grow. We live on this earth and use its resources, but we don’t pay any money to the air or the sun or the earth.

Our body is made up of four elements: earth, air, fire, and water. Everything we eat or use is also made of these four elements. So these four elements are us and we are these four elements. This means we are the universe and the universe is us. But how do you show your gratitude to the universe? If you understand that, you understand your correct job as a human being. A human being’s correct job is to make harmony with everything in the universe – with the sky, with the tree, with the dog, with the cat, with everything. If you have this harmony mind, you cannot kill an animal or kill a tree. That’s the correct idea. This correct idea appears when you put down your opinion, condition, situation and moment to moment keep correct function, correct situation, correct relationship. Then you and the four elements become one.

After the talk, we tried the Om Mani Padme Hum chanting. In the middle of the Thousand Eyes and Hands Sutra, we have this mantra: Om Mani Padme Hum. These four words mean the four elements of earth, air, fire, and water. If you try this chanting, then taking away your opinion, your condition, your situation is very easy. You become one mind; you and the universe are never separate. You return to your original nature.

In Korea, there is a school of Buddhism called Jing Gak Jong. Their mantra is Om Mani Padme Hum and they chant it all day long. It’s the same style as the Kwan Seum Bosal chanting that we do in our school. Om Mani Padme Hum means Kwan Seum Bosal. They both mean original mind. Also, Om Mani Padme Hum means eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, mind.

In India, Om is a sacred sound, sacred mantra. The whole universe begins with Om. In our Thousand Eyes and Hands Sutra, we have another mantra: Om Nam. Om Nam means cleaning our minds, cleaning this world. If you use something, it becomes dirty and then you need to clean it, like your clothes or your body. When you use earth, air, fire, and water – the four elements and the universe – without giving anything back, your mind becomes dirty. So we use Om Nam to clean our minds.

If you try Om Nam or Om Mani Padme Hum forty-nine times in the morning and evening, then everything becomes clean: your stomach, your head, your job, your house, your universe. Why forty-nine times? In the Oriental belief system, seven is a holy number. Seven times seven is forty-nine, so we try a forty-nine day kido or forty-nine day ceremony after someone dies.

If you try mantra practice, your mind will become quiet. But if you become attached to this quiet, then you have a problem. Another time, many years ago, I went to Swami Satchidananda’s ashram. They do a lot of very wonderful chanting. It’s like samadhi; people close their eyes and feel very peaceful and almost sleepy. I gave a talk and shouted KATZ! Everybody was very surprised. Brother David (Steindl-Rast, an eminent Benedictine monk) was sitting next to me and he said, “Soen Sa Nim, everybody was surprised. They woke up.” I said, “Not wake up. Everybody got enlightenment!”

I explained that if you only stay in your mantra, you enter nirvana. But, if you only stay in nirvana, you cannot save all beings. Wake up means entering anuttara samyak sambodhi. So “KATZ!” is not “KATZ!”; it is anuttara samyak sambodhi. So this time when I went again to Swami Satchidananda’s place, he saw me and said, “KATZ!” I also said, “KATZ!” Then everybody laughed.

So our direction means, how do you make your center strong? You must decide for yourself what kind of practice you want to do everyday. Once you decide something, you must do it, and do it at the same time every day. If you have a special situation such as a guest coming and you cannot do your practice at your decided time, then doing it some other time is okay. But if nothing is happening and your lazy mind appears and you don’t do your practice, then your center will not become strong. When you stay at a Zen center or go to a Zen center, you do together action with other people: chanting time, chant; sitting time, sit; bowing time, bow. Doing together action will take away your karma. It will help you let go of your opinions, conditions, and situations. Doing together action will help your lazy mind disappear.

Sometimes your “don’t like” mind gets very strong. But like/dislike doesn’t matter. If you continue to practice, like/dislike mind will become weaker and weaker. Making this mind completely disappear is very important. Why? Strong like/dislike mind means your direction is not clear. Then your practice is “only for me” – I like that, I don’t like that. But if your direction is clear, you understand that your practice is only for other people. With that mind, any kind of situation is no problem. You only practice. That’s a very important point.

There is a story that illustrates this. It is about my teacher, Zen Master Ko Bong. He didn’t like chanting; he only liked to sit. One time he was staying in a small temple in the mountains. The abbot of the temple had to go away for a few days. While he was gone, a woman came up to the temple with rice and other food. She asked my teacher to do a ceremony for her. Without hesitation, Ko Bong Sunim said, “Okay, okay,” even though he didn’t know the ceremony chanting.

The woman washed the fruit and cooked the rice and put everything on the altar. Then Ko Bong Sunim picked up the moktak and did some strong chanting. But this chanting was not Buddhist chanting; it was Taoist chanting. He had studied Taoism, so he knew one Taoist sutra. He chanted for one hour. The woman was very happy and said to him, “Thank you very much.”

On her way down the mountain, the woman met the abbot of the temple. She explained to him how Ko Bong Sunim had done the ceremony for her. The abbot was very surprised. He said, “But he doesn’t know any chanting!” The woman responded, “No, no, he did some fine chanting. I understand this kind of chanting.” This woman had been a nun and she understood that what Ko Bong Sunim had chanted was not Buddhist chanting, but she was impressed by his try mind, his only do it mind.

When the abbot came up to the temple, he said to Ko Bong Sunim, “I met a woman who told me you did a ceremony for her.” “Yeah, no problem.” “But what kind of chanting did you do? You don’t know any ceremony chanting!,” the Abbot said. Ko Bong Sunim said, “Oh, I did some Taoist chanting.” They both burst out laughing.

This is a story about only do it mind. When you just do it, there is only one mind. That mind is very important. It doesn’t matter whether you do Buddhist chanting or Christian chanting or chant “Coca-Cola.” In one mind there is no subject, no object, no inside, no outside. Inside and outside have become one. Then you connect with everything. You can connect with God, with Buddha, with a dog, with a cat, with a tree, with the sky, with everything. One mind means becoming completely still.

So when you try Om Nam or Om Mani Padme Hum or Kwan Seum Bosal or any mantra, just do it. Then your opinion, your condition, and your situation will disappear. If you come to a Zen center, then waking up, together bowing, together chanting, together sitting, together eating becomes very easy. Then just doing it is very easy, because it’s together action. In the beginning, you will have strong like/dislike mind: “I don’t like Zen center food,” “I don’t like bowing,” but if you do together action, then slowly, slowly this mind disappears. Then you can control your feelings, your condition, your situation. Then you can believe in yourself one hundred percent.

There is no life, no death; no coming, no going; no time, no space. You make time, so time controls you; you make space, so space controls you. But if your practice is strong, you can use time, you can use space. Then moment to moment you can do anything. Then you see clearly, hear clearly, act clearly. If somebody is hungry, give them food. It’s not good or bad; it’s only bodhisattva mind. But if you have this kind of mind, “Ah, I have done bodhisattva action for this person,” then that’s a big mistake.

One time, my great-grand teacher, Zen Master Kyong Ho, was walking with his student Yong Song Sunim, who was to become a famous Zen Master in Korea. Kyong Ho Sunim was a person of wide mind and wide actions. Yong Song Sunim was a person of kind mind and kind actions. As they were walking, they saw a group of children who had captured some frogs and were torturing them. So Yong Song Sunim offered some money to the children and bought the frogs from them. Then he put them back in the pond.

They started walking again. Then Yong Song Sunim said, “Today I brought free life to many frogs. That certainly is good karma for me and for the frogs.” Immediately Kyong Ho Sunim said, “That’s wonderful action, but you will go to hell!”

Yong Song Sunim was very surprised, “You said it’s wonderful action. But why do you say I will go to hell?” “The frog are free but you will go to hell,” said Kyong Ho Sunim. Yong Song Sunim begged him to explain. Kyong Ho Sunim said, “You keep saying ‘I’ brought free life to the frogs; this ‘I’ will go to hell.” Then Yong Song Sunim understood and bowed to him.

Therefore, anytime you have “I,” you have a problem. Our teaching is only do it. Don’t make I. When you do a good action, it’s not “I make good action”; it’s your original job as a human being. It’s your payment to the four elements, to the sun, the moon, the stars, the universe. A helping action is not good, not bad. Nature does its job without making good or bad. Water is flowing; is that good or bad? Sky is blue, tree is green; is that good or bad?

Don’t make anything. Just do it.