You Already Understand! -Seung Sahn

Bodhidharma, founder of the Zen lineage, is said to have described Zen this way: A special transmission outside the scriptures / Not depending on words and letters / Pointing directly to the human mind / Seeing into ones nature and attaining buddhahood. Theres no better example of Zens direct, penetrating spirit than these exchanges between the late Seung Sahnone of the great Zen masters to have lived and taught in the United Statesand his students.
Someone asked Zen Master Seung Sahn,

What do you think about the beginning of this world

The beginning of this world came from your mouth. Ha ha ha ha! Do you understand

The student was silent.

Then I will explain: what is this world You must understand that point first. You make time, space, cause and effect. In three seconds, when you asked that question, you made this whole world. Physics used to teach that time and space, and cause and effect, are absolutes. But modern physics teaches that time, space, and cause and effect are subjective. So you make this whole world, and you make your time and space.

The student said, I still dont understand.

Zen Master Seung Sahn replied, OK, so first you must understand, what is time One unit of time is an hour. But my thinking sometimes makes this hour very long, or very short. You go to the airport to pick up your girlfriend. You havent seen her in a long time. You wait at the airport, and the airplane is very late. Five, ten, twenty, thirty minuteswaiting, waiting, waiting. Even another half hour passes. Ten minutes seems like a whole day. So this one hour feels like a very, very long time because you want to see her very much, and you sit there saying, Where is the plane Why hasnt it arrived yet But yet some other time, you go dancing with friends, and dance all night, and even one hour seems to pass by very quickly. Now that same amount of time measured as one hour seems very short. A whole hour has already passed It seems like only a minute! So mind makes one hour very long or very short. Time depends on thinking, because time is created by thinking. The Buddha taught this, and we can test it in our everyday life. Everything is created by mind alone.

It is the same with space: Spain is here, and New York is there, Korea is over there, and Japan is over here. People in Spain say, This way is north, thats south, east, and west. But on the opposite side of the earth, Korean people say that north is here, south is over there, and east and west are here and here. If I stay here, my north, south, east, and west are like this. If I am not here, my north, south, east, and west disappear. Cause and effect are also the same: if I do some good action, I go to heaven; bad action, go to hell. Thats cause and effect. But if I dont make anything, where do I go

So I make time, and space, and cause and effect. I make my world; you make your world. A cat makes a cats world. The dog makes the dogs world. God makes Gods world. Buddha makes Buddhas world. If you believe in God 100 percent, then when you die, and your world disappears, you go to Gods world. If you believe in Buddha 100 percent, then when your world disappears, you will go to Buddhas world. But if you believe in your true self 100 percent, then you make your world, and thats complete freedom: heaven or hell, coming and going anywhere with no hindrance.

Zen Master Seung Sahn looked at the questioner. So I ask you, which one do you like

The student was silent.

Anytime you open your mouth, your world appears.

The student asked, So, who was the first person to open his mouth

You already understand!

Amid general laughter, the student was silent for a few moments. Then he bowed deeply.


A student had the following exchange with Zen Master Seung Sahn:

What is enlightenment

Enlightenment is only a name, he replied. If you make enlighten-ment, then enlightenment exists. But if enlightenment exists, then ignorance exists, too. And that already makes an opposites-world. Good and bad, right and wrong, enlightened and ignorantall of these are opposites. All opposites are just your own thinking. But truth is absolute, and is before any thinking or opposites appear. So if you make something, you will get something, and that something will be a hindrance. But if you dont make anything, you will get everything, OK

The student continued, But is enlightenment really just a name Doesnt a Zen master have to attain the experience of enlightenment in order to become a Zen master

The Heart Sutra says that there is no attainment, with nothing to attain. If enlightenment is attained, it is not true enlightenment. Having enlightenment is already a big mistake.

Then is everyone already enlightened

Zen Master Seung Sahn laughed and said, Do you understand no attainment


No attainment is true attainment. So I already told you about the Heart Sutra. It says, There is no attainment, with nothing to attain. You must attain no attainment.

The student rubbed his head. I think I understand

You understand So I ask you, what is attainment What is there to attain

Emptiness, the man replied.

Emptiness Zen Master Seung Sahn asked. But in true emptiness, there is no name and no form. So there is also no attainment. Even opening your mouth to express it, you are already mistaken. If you say, I have attained true emptiness, you are wrong.

Hmmm, the student said. Im beginning to understand. At least I think I am.

The universe is always true emptiness, OK Now you are living in a dream. Wake up! Then you will soon understand.

How can I wake up

I hit you! [Laughter from the audience.] Very easy, yah

The student was silent for a few moments, while Zen Master Seung Sahn eyed him intently. I still dont get it. Would you please explain a bit more

OK. Can you see your eyes

Yes, I can.

Oh How

By looking in a mirror.

Thats not your eyes! That is only a reflection of your eyes. So your eyes cannot see your eyes. If you try to see your eyes, its already a big mistake. Talking about enlightenment is also like that. Its like your eyes trying to see your eyes.

But my question is, when you were a young monk, you had the actual experience of enlightenment. What was this experience

I hit you! Ha ha ha ha!

The student was silent.

OK, one more try. Suppose we have before us some honey, some sugar, and a banana. All of them are sweet. Can you explain the difference between honeys sweetness, sugars sweetness, and bananas sweetness


But each has a different sweetness, yah How can you explain it to me

The student looked suddenly even more perplexed. I dont know

The Zen master continued, Well, you could say to me, Open your mouth. This is honey, this is sugar, and this is banana! Ha ha ha ha! So if you want to understand enlightenment, its already making something. Dont make anything. Moment to moment, just do it. Thats already enlightenment. So, first understand your true self. To understand your true self, you must understand the meaning of my hitting you. I have already put enlightenment into your mind. Ha ha ha ha! [Extended laughter from the audience]

Crazy Mind

After a Dharma talk at the Cambridge Zen Center, a student asked Zen Master Seung Sahn, Is there such a thing as a clean mind

If you have mind, then you must clean your mind. If you have no mind, cleaning is not necessary. So I ask you, do you have a mind

Do I

Do you

Yes, I do.

Where is it

The student looked puzzled for a moment. Where is it

Yes, where is it How big is your mind


This much [holding arms open wide] or this much [narrowing them together]

The student tilted his head back and stretched his arms open wide. This much right now.

Ooohh, only that Thats very small! [Much laughter from the assembly.] Thats not your original mind. Originally, your mind is the whole universe; the whole universe and your mind are the same. Why do you make just this much So that is a problem. Since you make this-much mind, now you must dry-clean your mind. Use dont-know soap. If you clean, clean, clean your mind, it will become bigger, bigger, and biggeras big as the whole universe. But if there is any taint, it becomes smaller, smaller, smaller. But actually, you have no mind, I think.

You think I have no mind

Yes, no mind.

The student was silent.

You dont understand, yah Do you have mind

Well, I dont understand a lot of  I dont understand a lot  umm  I  [Laughter.]

The Sixth Patriarch said, Originally nothing: where can dust alight So maybe you have no mind.

After a long silence, the student brightened a bit. OK, you talk about right livelihood, you talk about having monk karma and wanting to practice Zen  umm  and my question is  not to live in a Zen center  to live in the world its very difficult to practice, umm  to coincide practice and livelihood, umm . So the mind that meets the mind thats conflicted is the mind Im speaking with  from  umm

Yah, your mind is a strange mind, Seung Sahn said.

A strange mind

Yah, strange mind. Nowadays everybody has a strange mind, because inside its not correct, not meticulous, not clear. This strange mind is like an animals mind, not really a human beings mind. It is maybe eighty percent animal mind, twenty percent human mind. So that is strange, thats crazy. Nowadays there are many, many crazy people. But everybody is crazy, so this crazy is not special. Even a Zen masters speech is crazy. Yesterday I said in a dharma speech, The sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Those are crazy words. The sun never rises in the east nor sets in the west. The sun never moves! Only the earth moves, around and around the sun, so why make this speech about the sun rising in the east and setting in the west Thats crazy! [Laughter.] So that means: crazy is not crazy. Not crazy is crazy. [He looks at the questioners face.] Do you understand that Crazy is not crazy; not crazy is crazy.

The student started to say something, but stopped.

Ha, ha, ha! Now complicated! Thats no problem. Zen teaches that if you have mind, you have a problem. If you dont have mind, then everything is no hindrance. But everybody makes mind, so there are many problems in this world. Say you own a hotel. Mind is like this hotels manager, who should be working for you. Usually, everything is OK in the hotel, but this manager is always causing problems: I want this, I want that. I like this, I dont like that. I want to be free, go here, do that  That is mind, OK The Buddha taught, When mind appears, dharma appears. When dharma appears, form appears. When form appears, then like/dislike, coming/going, life and death, everything appears. So if you have mind, you have a problem; no mind, no problem. Here are some very popular words: Everything is created by mind alone. These are good words; they have a good taste. Your mind makes something, and something hinders you. So dont make anything! Take your mind and throw it into the garbage. Only dont know!

The student sat, expressionless.

So Zen practice means you fire this low-class hotel manager, because hes doing a bad job in your high-class hotel. You must take control of your hotel, which means you control your eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind. The owner must be strong. If the manager doesnt do his job correctly, the owner must say, You are no good! Why didnt you fix these things! Thats your job! Why did you take all the money! Im going to fire you! Then this manager will be afraid, Oh, please dont fire me! Please! Then the owner must say, You listen to me, OK OK, OK, Ill only follow you from now on!

You must hit your mind, OK Tell your mind, You must listen to me! If your mind says OK, then no problem. If not, you must cut this mind. How You must use your dont-know sword. Always hold on to this dont-know sword: mind is very afraid of it. If you keep this dont-know sword, then everything is no problem.

Brightening up considerably, the student bowed and said, Thank you very much for your teaching.
Why Zen Seems Difficult

After a dharma talk at the Cambridge Zen Center, someone asked Zen Master Seung Sahn, Why does Zen seem so difficult


Yes, the man said. Why does it seem so difficult I didnt say it was, but why does it seem so difficult

Seem difficult Zen is very easy; why make difficult

The man persisted, All right, Ill ask you as a psychologist: why do I make it difficult

A psychologist said that Who said what

Why do I or anybody make Zen difficult

You say difficult, so its difficult. A long time ago in China there lived a famous man named Layman Pang. His whole family was a Zen family. Layman Pang used to be rich, but then he realized that many people dont have enough food to eat. So he gave all of his land to the farmers. He had many precious jewels and other possessions, but he thought, If I give things away, theyll only create desire-mind in other people. So he took a boat out to the middle of a very deep lake and dumped all his priceless possessions overboard. Then he and his daughter went and lived in a cave; meanwhile, his wife and son moved into a very small house. Sometimes the Pangs would visit Zen temples to have dharma combat with the monks. They had a very simple life, and practiced very hard.

One day, someone asked Layman Pang, Is Zen difficult or easy

He replied, Its like trying to hit the moon with a stick. Very difficult!

Then this man thought, Oh, Zen is very difficult. So he asked Layman Pangs wife, Your husband said Zen is difficult. I ask you, then, is Zen difficult or easy

She said, Oh, Zen is very easy! Its like touching your nose when you wash your face in the morning!

The man could not understand. He thought to himself, Hmmm  Layman Pang says Zen is difficult; his wife says it is very easy. Which one is correct So he went to their son and said, Your father said Zen is very difficult; your mother said it is very easy. Which one is correct

The son replied, If you think its difficult, then its difficult. If you think its easy, then its easy. Dont make difficult and easy!

But the man was still not satisfied, so he went to the daughter. Everyone in your whole family has a different answer to my question. Your mother said Zen is easy. Your father said Zen is difficult. And your brother said dont make difficult and easy. So I ask you, is Zen difficult or easy

Go drink tea.

Seung Sahn Sunim looked at the student who asked the question and said, So, go drink tea, OK Dont make difficult. Dont make easy. Dont make anything. From moment to moment, just do it!

Tollbooth Bodhisattva

One afternoon, Zen Master Seung Sahn and several of his students were driving down Route I-95, from Providence, Rhode Island, to New York City. They chatted from time to time as they drove, with the students asking him questions about various things. At one point they stopped at a tollbooth. The driver handed the tollbooth operator some money, and was waiting for his change. One of the students said to her through the open window, Nice day, isnt it

Yes, she replied. But, my goodness, where did all this wind come from After she gave them their change, they drove off.

The car was quiet for several miles. Then Zen Master Seung Sahn turned to his students and said, That was no ordinary woman at the tollbooth. That was Kwan Seum Bosal [the bodhisattva of compassion] asking you a great question: Where did all this wind come from What a wonderful koan! You must always be alert to the teaching that comes your way, all the time. Let go of your mind and then you can see whats actually in front of you. So I ask you, where did all this wind come from

No one could answer.

OK. Ill give you a hint. Zen Master Man Gong wrote a poem that will help you:

Everything is born by following the wind;
everything dies by following the wind.
When you find out where the wind comes from,
there is no life, no death.

When you have an answer like-this,

You see nature through spiritual eyes.

2006 by the Kwan Um School of Zen. Reprinted by arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc.

Seung Sahn was the first Korean Zen master to live and teach in the West. He was founding teacher of the Kwan Um School of Zen, an international organization of more than one hundred centers and groups.  Seung Sahn died in 2005.  This article is excerpted from a new book of his teachings, Wanting Enlightenment Is a Big Mistake, to be published in August 2006 by Shambhala.

Joju Investigates


A travelling monk asked an old woman the road to Taizan, a popular temple supposed to give wisdom to the one who worships there. The old woman said: `Go straight ahead.’ When the monk proceeded a few steps, she said to herself: `He also is a common church-goer.’Someone told this incident to Joju, who said: `Wait until I investigate.’ The next day he went and asked the same question, and the old woman gave the same answer.

Joju remarked: `I have investigated that old woman.’

Mumon’s Comment: The old woman understood how war is planned, but she did not know how spies sneak in behind her tent. Old Joshu played the spy’s work and turned the tables on her, but he was not an able general. Both had their faults. Now I want to ask you: What was the point of Joju’s investigating the old woman?

When the question is common
The answer is also common.
When the question is sand in a bowl of boiled rice
The answer is a stick in the soft mud.

Sudden Enlightenment

Sudden Enlightenment of Mahāyāna tradition exerts prior nature of enlightenment (bodhi), Buddha-nature (Tathāgata-garbha), Innate Purity or Nirvāṇa and is realized through direct intuition or intuitive leap of discernment of Ultimate Truth (Paramārtha Satya) without gradual empirical development or progressive cultivation through meditation. Intuitive discernment is insight (vipaśyanā) into the true nature of all phenomena (dharmas). In contrast, Gradual Enlightenment of the Theravāda tradition does not exert prior nature of Innate Purity or Nibbāna which is developed empirically through gradual progressive three-fold training of morality (sīla), concentration (samādhi) and wisdom (paññā). Enlightenment is the fruit of non-discriminative knowledge (nirkalpita-jñāna) by which the illusion of the diversifying differentiations are intuitively realized.

For instance, during the Chinese Tang Dynasty, the 6th Chinese Chan Patriarch, Hui-neng (638-713 C.E) founded the Sudden School of Chan Buddhism which paved for the subsequent development of Chan/Zen Buddhism in the modern China, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, Vietnam and in the west today. It was the 28th Indian Dhyāna Master and the first Chan Patriarch in China, Bodhidharma ( 470-543 C.E) who initiated this Sudden Enlightenment method of without relying on the Buddhist scripture, directly pointing into the mind, perceiving the Buddha-nature and obtaining Sudden-enlightenment. The Buddha-nature, an Ultimate Truth, is discerned when the insubstantiality or selflessness of person (pudgala-nairātmya) and that of all phenomena (dharma-nairātmya) are intuited or insightfully perceived. All forms of substantialism (nairātmya) are rejected.  The sharpness of Sudden teaching is that the Ultimate Truth (Paramārtha Satya) is perceived directly instead of the conventional gradual method of progressive cultivation. It commences with the knowledge of the Conventional Truth (Saṃvṛti Satya), and graduates gradually into the domain of Ultimate Truth.

The Chan masters point directly at the real moon in the sky (symbolizing the Ultimate Truth) instead of investigating the illusive reflected moon in the water (symbolizing the Conventional Truth) before approaching the real moon in the sky. Gradual Dharma cultivation commences from the reflected moon and consummates at the real moon in the sky. Perception of Buddha-nature is the manifestation of the Buddha-mind. Buddha-mind is the pure consciousness which abides in non-discriminative wisdom (nirvikalpena vihārena). Non-discriminative wisdom is equated with equanimity (upekṣā). It is the liberated consciousness of the Awakened One. Equanimity perfects human character formation.

Let’s examine the early historical fact about the origin of Chinese Chan Buddhism in China in the 6th century C.E in imperial China. Bodhidharma employed the Sudden method to awaken the second Chinese Chan Patriarch, Hui K’o to the experience of Instantaneous Enlightenment. The dialogue of Instantaneous Enlightenment between Bodhidharma and Hui K’o is recorded in the Record of Chan Case History in China known as Pi-yen-lu thus:

Hui K’o: My mind is not appeased.Sir, may you appease my mind?
Bodhidharma: Bring forth your mind. I’ll appease it.
Hui K’o: I’ve sought my mind but it could not be found.
Bodhidharma : Then, I’ve already appeased it.

Immediately, Hui K’o was instantaneously enlightened. This is an ideal example of Sudden teaching to evoke Sudden Enlightenment. Another very celebrated example of Suddenism was the Sudden Awakening of Hui Neng (638-713 C.E) after he had accidentally heard a verse in the Diamond Sūtra when he was selling fire wood in a motel. His master Hong Jen (601-674 C.E) confirmed his enlightenment breakthrough and instructed him on the entire scripture of the Diamond Sūtra. Consequently, he was fully enlightened. The 6th Chan patriarchship was awarded secretly to him immediately. He was advised to leave the temple immediately to prevent others from harming him out of jealousy and dissatisfaction because he was illiterate and only a lay ordinary worker at the horse-yard behind the temple. Hui-neng had no prior practices nor education  before his Sudden-awakening to the Saddharma. His sharp karmic root was attributable to his prior practices in the previous lives. Hui-neng expounded the conception of Sudden Enlightenment in his Platform Sūtra of Sixth Patriarch that Sudden Enlightenment breakthrough is preceded by prior gradual, progressive development or cultivation.

Chan Buddhism is a typical example of Sudden teaching to activate Sudden Enlightenment. The Hua-yen Sūtras, The Perfection of Wisdom Sūtras, Diamond Sūtra, Heart Sūtra, and Platform Sūtra of 6th Patriarch are typical good examples of sudden teachings. They are ideal for those who have undergone prior practices or those who have acquired sharp karmic roots from previous lives.

According to Śākyamuni Buddha, Sudden Enlightenment cannot arise without prior gradual development or cultivation. Development (bhāvanā) must precede enlightenment breakthrough. Gradual practices are just preparations for Sudden Enlightenment. Whoever is suddenly enlightened in the present life must have undergone gradual training or prior practices in the previous life. In this sense, the Sudden teachings of Mahāyāna tradition do not conflict with the Theravāda tradition. Those have been instantaneously enlightened is considered to have employed the dry method (vipassanāyāna) without prior practices of meditation, that is without prior development of jhānas (mental concentration or absorptions ). Those, who are gradually enlightened are said to have utilized the wet method (samathayāna) characterized by prior development of jhānas. The distinction between the dry vehicle and the wet vehicle is expounded in the Pāli Nikāyas of the Theravāda tradition. The Sudden method is expounded in the Yuganaddha Sutta (AN.4.170) as the 4th pathway to obtain Nibbāna. The first three pathways are gradual methods of enlightenment. Sudden method permits the enlightenment breakthrough through the sudden arising of Perfection of Wisdom (prajñā-pāramitā) without prior development of mental absorptions (Jhānas).

Sudden enlightenment is non-sectarian. The experience of gnosis can be found n Hindu, Christian, Islamic and many other religious traditions. God-realization or Gnosis is a form of Sudden Enlightenment experience in which the ego is annihilated through wisdom developed or the illusion of the multiplicity of the empirical world is penetrated or intuited into. The ultimate Truth is realized all at once and the False Self is replaced by the True Self or the consciousness is absolutely purified with the annihilation of the egoistic or selfish self which exists illusively.

The common principle to attain self-enlightenment or gnosis is that the illusive selfish self or lower self, which leads to the fallibility of human species, must be eliminated by dispelling ignorance (avidyā) which obstructs wisdom (prajñā).

Joju’s Dog

A monk asked Joju, a Chinese Ch’an master: `Has a dog Buddha-nature or not?’Joju answered: `Mu.’ [Mu is the negative symbol in Chinese, meaning `No-thing’ or `Nay’.]

Mumon’s comment:s To realize Zen one has to pass through the barrier of the patriachs. Enlightenment always comes after the road of thinking is blocked. If you do not pass the barrier of the patriachs or if your thinking road is not blocked, whatever you think, whatever you do, is like a tangling ghost. You may ask: What is a barrier of a patriach? This one word, Mu, is it.

This is the barrier of Zen. If you pass through it you will see Joshu face to face. Then you can work hand in hand with the whole line of patriachs. Is this not a pleasant thing to do?

If you want to pass this barrier, you must work through every bone in your body, through ever pore in your skin, filled with this question: What is Mu? and carry it day and night. Do not believe it is the common negative symbol meaning nothing. It is not nothingness, the opposite of existence. If you really want to pass this barrier, you should feel like drinking a hot iron ball that you can neither swallor nor spit out.

Then your previous lesser knowledge disappears. As a fruit ripening in season, your subjectivity and objectivity naturally become one. It is like a dumb man who has had a dream. He knows about it but cannot tell it.

When he enters this condition his ego-shell is crushed and he can shake the heaven and move the earth. He is like a great warrior with a sharp sword. If a Buddha stands in his way, he will cut him down; if a patriach offers him any obstacle, he will kill him; and he will be free in this way of birth and death. He can enter any world as if it were his own playground. I will tell you how to do this with this koan:

Just concentrate your whole energy into this Mu, and do not allow any discontinuation. When you enter this Mu and there is no discontinuation, your attainment will be as a candle burning and illuminating the whole universe.

Has a dog Buddha-nature?
This is the most serious question of all.
If you say yes or no,
You lose your own Buddha-nature.

The Right Way of Kongan

The Right Way of Kongan

Zen meditation is to break through the Gateway to Patriarch (e.g. koan),

and delicate enlightenment ultimately demands the stillness of mind.
 the scent of apricot tree blossom

Getting out of dust and pain is not an ordinary matter.


Play a round grabbing it tight.

If apricot blossoms don’t once get over midwinter coldness,

 can they get the scent stirring up the air ?

Words & Phrases for Zen

** Five Disciplines for Ascetic Zen Praticians

* Don’t talk much.
* Don’t sleep much.
* Don’t read books.
* Don’t eat much.
* Don’t hang out.

** : Zen meditation for true mind covers all the other ways to enlightenment.

** : When you see that it is not possible for you to see, it is that you see the Dharma-nature. ( Seung Shan : If you understand “don’t know”, just this is enlightenment. )

**  Socrates said ,”Know yourself.” or “The only thing that I know is I know nothing.” That is a way to Zen. There is one Koan asking “What is this ?” Then, what does “this” in the question  mean ?  That is the same question.

What am I ?  If you know yourself, not about yourself, the question has the answer in itself  and can’t be a question. When you think you know yourself, it is not yourself, but about yourself,  that is, your attributes such as things about your body and character.

It is very important that the questioning arise spontaneously. It is possible only to the person who take his life and its intrinsic nature seriously. The questioning is like the friction of wood, which will cause the fire.The fire will at last eat all the wood from which it came. Then what happen ?


Belief Inscription


It’s not difficult to get the ultimate enlightenment, if you just don’t discriminate things.

 If you don’t love or hate, then everything will be thoroughly clear.

When there is any slight discrimination, the difference will be like that between the heaven and the earth.


If you want the ultimate truth to appear, don’t follow or go against things.

 The conflict between following and departing will be like a desease of your mind.

 Without knowing this delicate meaning, you are just trying to keep your thought quiet

( Omitted).

Zen Song by Na-Ong Seon Master

Just stick to Hwadu (= koan) and don’t loose it.
Struggling with it, just continue questioning ‘What is this ?’

Endless questioning will be like a fireball,
and suddenly you will awake from the long dream of life and death.

Innumerable years of quiet zazen
made the thinking walllike and all the others forgotten.

With keen questioning through millions of thoughts,
I passed rivers and mountains, not knowing spring had come.

Raise the question of hwadu every way.
Don’t keep anything but hwadu.

Nothing is left, so mind is free.
All is silent, so no dust arises.

In a street or thick woods, on a plain or the seashore,
only Nirvana ecstasy is always for him absorbed in hwadu.

Go right ahead without looking elsewhere.

When you take one step forward where you cannot go further,
there will truly not be any matter at all,
and you can pass through a thorny thicket, even swinging your arms.

The integrity of proud loneliness is lofty
like a great mountain,
and dhyana is free like a sea gull, forever.

Reverse a round desperately with all your strength,
and passion-free world will be clear beyond in and out.

The essence of hwadu lies in great questioning.

When the question defeats the blue eyes of Boddhidharma,
you will be free to kill and revive others, hence notorious all over the world.

The subtlety of zen is from keenness.
Dull questioning cannot solve the life and death problem.

When the question cracks, space will split,
and time will fuse in a beam of cold light.

Be always earnest in pondering over hwadu,
and sweep out worldly idle thoughts by the question.

Only after you let go the hold on the bottomless cliff,
the earth and space will disappear all together.

As the question cracks and passions die suddenly,
there is no shade in every direction all the way.

As the spacious spirits void all directions,
you can stroll about and relax even on the way to Eternal Hell,
accompany various people and pass like a wind.

Liberation by zen practice is not so hard,
only if you turn a thought round instantly.

Where waters end and mountains are passed,
there is no water and no mountain,
yet mountain is mountain and water is water.

The meaning and essence of Seon : Gou

A Dharma by Venerable Gou Sunim
I wish to talk about the meaning and essence of Seon, which is the meaning of meditation. As it is not an easy topic, I will first talk about the essence of Seon.

The essence of Seon is impossible to discuss or even to speak about, let alone listen to. I cannot show the essence of Seon using the spoken word. Therefore I will resort to another method. I will explain the essence of Seon by the metaphor of the finger pointing to the moon. I hope you can see the essence of Seon by this objective explanation.

Let me give some examples of Seon. The Awakened One exposes the essence of Seon to an audience. Even though we are enlightened on the spot, it is like scratching ourselves until there is a tumor; we had better leave the itch alone. This is the actual essence of Seon.

Practice, attainment or awakening to something, all of these sayings are superfluous. They are like a snake’s legs. If a snake has legs, it can’t crawl and so they are useless.

But most people understand Seon as merely investigating hwadu. This understanding is actually wrong.

What on earth is Seon? Do we need Seon in our life? Do we really have to practice? Whether we do or whether we don’t, what difference does it make? We need to think these questions over carefully. Why do we practice Seon? Are we doing Seon because we have too much time on our hands? Why do we practice Seon? If we didn’t practice, what would happen, what would be the difference in our lives?)
Well… First of all, let us think over these questions seriously. Why do we have to do Seon? After knowing the answer then we must ask how we should do it, if we feel we have to.

These two things we are going to investigate today.
What on earth is Seon? You are listening to my talk now. This is Seon for Seon is not something else. You are listening to my talk and looking at me. This is exactly what Seon is. You are Seon and your self is that very same Seon.

Let me put it in other way. Seon is the Buddha and the Buddha Nature. These words are the same. The Mahaparnirvana Sutra says, “All sentient beings and non-sentient beings have Buddha Nature.” And in early Buddhist sutras it is said that “All existence be it form or formless is the result of dependent origination,” and “Seeing dependent origination is seeing the dharma, and seeing the dharma is seeing the Buddha.” That is to say, existence is equal to dependent origination; dependent origination is equal to the dharma; and the dharma is equal to the Buddha. That is, the Buddha is equal to the existence of beings and beings are the same as the Buddha. We are Seon itself and the truth itself.

You have to know this before you do Seon, meditation. If you think “I must practice Seon in order to become a Buddha,” this is wrong. If you do Seon in this way, it wastes time and does not work well. The being itself is Seon and it is also the Buddha. You have to accept this from today. This is the saying of the Buddha. I have given you examples and explained, “All beings have Buddha Nature” from the Mahaparanirvana Sutra and “Seeing the dharma is seeing the Buddha” from the Agamas. If you don’t listen to the Buddha’s words, you don’t need to come here. So don’t waste your time.

You should often reflect on the saying, “All beings have Buddha Nature.” If you think of the Buddha Nature as simply part of your body, whether it is the mind or your character, this is a grave misunderstanding. The Mahaparnirvana Sutra describes the Buddha Nature, it describes Buddhahood, “The Buddha Nature neither exists nor does it not exist. It is neither present nor not present, and as this duality of existence and non-existence comes together, it becomes the Middle Way.” You do not see the Middle Way but you tend to always see just one side, this is the existence of the Buddha Nature. Therefore you may think that grass includes some gold, this little bit of gold being the Buddha Nature and the rest not. But you are wrong for the grass is the Buddha! Even the grass! This body is the Buddha, and this mind is the Buddha. Even though this is true, we do not think our body is the Buddha.

To think that we will become a Buddha through practice or study is not right thinking. We are inherently Buddhas. We consist of the same substances and the same functions as the Buddha. We are not different. But we are not aware of this because of our illusion. What illusion is this? This illusion is that we have a self. So now, if we know that we do not have a self, then we are a Buddha. And now, if we apprehend no-self, then our functioning is the same as the Buddha. It is not at all different. But, if we just believe “I am a Buddha” without clearly understanding the fact, this is nothing but blind faith. It is blind faith without understanding and so it is very dangerous. As soon as we really know why we are a Buddha, we will save time on practice and decrease our suffering – which has always merely been caused by our delusion anyway.

How is it that we are all Buddhas? This is important. Understanding this naturally follows on when we know we are a Buddha. Let me explain more carefully so that you can understand.

As I mentioned before, the Buddha taught us, “Whether with or without form, all beings exist relying on dependent origination. Thus, the person who sees dependent origination sees the dharma; the person who sees the dharma sees the Buddha.” This can be interpreted in another way, “Everyone exists in the Middle Way.” If you think now of existence or of non-existence, it is because you think you have a self. You are reborn and you exist. Everything is thought of and presumed by “I.” Why on earth does this “I” exist?

You know the words of the Heart Sutra, “The five aggregates are all empty.” Do you remember? What are the five aggregates? They are matter, sensations, perceptions, mental formations and consciousness. Matter is here not only referring to the body but to everything having form. It is called “rupa” in Sanskrit. If you think only your body is matter, then the rest of the aggregates, namely sensations, perceptions, mental formations and consciousness, are mind, aren’t they? By the way, the Heart Sutra clearly states, “The body and mind are all empty.” But why do we think we have an “I”? If you believe that you have an “I,” it is not according to the Buddha’s teachings. If you do not want to believe in the Buddha’s words, you don’t need to come to the temple. When we accept the Buddha’s teaching, we can be disciples of the Buddha and we are then qualified to come to the Main Buddha Hall. Many people don’t agree with this, and then they go and pray for good fortune, even going as far as to ask for a giant amount of money to fall from the heavens or blah blah blah… No way, it’s wrong!

You should accept the fact that there is no “I.” It is because beings exist relying on dependent origination. This truth was explained in the Flower Garland Sutra (the Avatamsaka Sutra), the Lotus Sutra (the Saddharmapundarika Sutra), the Diamond Sutra, in the Theravada School and in Seon.

Seon, in particular, emphasized experience and became the one tradition of Buddhism which continued the theory of an inherent Buddha Nature. Therefore, Seon is considered by many to be a good vehicle. Other doctrines accept different expedients or methods for awakening, like a finger pointing to the moon. But Seon does not admit these systems. Only the moon is important; the pointing finger is not admitted. This is a characteristic of Seon.

It is empty because of dependent origination. There is no “I.” So the Buddha teaches us that there is no permanent self. As we are taught that this is our existence, let us experience Seon, and then think about what the difference is between the experience of Seon and living in delusion. Previously I clearly said that there is no big difference in the aspect of function between the Buddha and us but we are not aware of it because of our illusions.

Let us look at it another way. Suppose you and I each pursue happiness in our own way. Then there would be several ways to pursue happiness. But the fact is that we are all searching for happiness externally. Sakyamuni Buddha was born as a prince and so he lived in fine conditions. But even though the conditions were good at one time, they are changeable so that good becomes bad and bad becomes good. It is thus a conditioned happiness.

What kind of happiness can we hope to experience in the awakened world after knowing no-self? The Chinese Seon master, Wu-men, asked his audience, “After knowing the world of no-distinction, what comes up to the Awakened One? What is going on in the Awakened One after awakening to ‘emptiness’?” This is very important. But nobody answered. Then Master Wu-men said, “After awakening to emptiness, every single day is a good day!” That the good and the bad come and go is not true happiness. This is not complete happiness. After we know no-self, emptiness, dependent origination and the Middle Path, our life and thoughts should be good every single day. And then every single day becomes a good day and everything we do is good, too. Even “birth, ageing, sickness and death” are good. When you chant in front of the Buddha, we often hope for good health, not to grow old and not to die. Actually even though I don’t wish to be confronted by old age, sickness and death, I will be inevitably. But if we know emptiness, dependent origination and our inherent Buddha Nature, then we become wise and we know that birth, ageing, sickness and death are the truth.

In the small retreat hut where I stay, there is a large window through which I can see the beautiful mountains. In winter the scene is all white, covered with snow; in spring everything is growing new buds; in summer there is shade from the trees; in fall the colorful autumn leaves are so wonderful to look at. I have never felt that this living picture is bad. I enjoy the natural changes of the seasons. This is the same as birth, ageing, sickness and death. Look at these natural things, ageing and death, as if they were the changing seasons.

If we all knew our inherent Buddha Nature, then our world would not be as chaotic as it is. All around the world, there are many wars and all the problems continue. I have heard that more than 100 countries in the world allot large portions of the national budget for waging war and military protection. If all this money was put together then the total, even without the American budget, would save all the people in the world who are dying of hunger and disease.

You may think “What is this monk talking about? He seems to be talking as if in a dream.” No, I am not talking as if in a dream; my ideas are possible.

Many people fight and enter into confrontations which continually lead to reactions which lead to another war. Even at the time of the Buddha it was the same. The country of the Buddha’s clan was small and it continuously suffered from the aggressions of its neighbors. Then the Buddha thought about how all beings could live in peace and harmony together without war. Finally the Buddha found the answer: beings themselves are born in this way, they cause the wars themselves.

Thus, I used to say to my disciples whenever they visited me after finishing their meditation retreat. “From history we learn that we should know that the only way to world peace and freedom from conflicts within the society, within the family and between individuals is the Middle Way, which is the Buddha’s teaching!”

I’d like to talk now about the Buddha’s teaching in clear and simple terms. The teaching of the Buddha has changed our world history and our personal history. You have to accept this!

Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh visited Korea. He contributed quite a lot to the boom in Buddhist practice in Seoul. And His Holiness the Dali Lama’s books are dedicated to Buddhist practice as well, though I did not read one of them. I met and talked with the Dalai Lama for three hours in Dharamsala. By the way, Tibetan Buddhism is definitely different from Korean Buddhism. In short, Tibetan Buddhism is an expedient form of Buddhism. One Finger! Tibetan Buddhism is equivalent to this finger, while Korean Buddhism tends to see the moon more directly thanks to the Seon tradition. This is a main trait of Korean Buddhism.

I heard that the book Anger written by Thich Nhat Hanh sold a lot. This book presumably tells about how to calm yourself down at the moment of anger. Let us consider whether the Buddha was ever angry after attaining enlightenment.

At that time the Buddha was living in Northern India and wandering around barefooted. After wandering from village to village, he would settle near one village for taking a rest under the trees that are often found outside the villages of India, even today. On one particular occasion, he did not receive a warm reception, and even then he did not get annoyed or turn his back and return the way he had come. At that moment, one old man called out to the Buddha and so he stopped to answer. The man said, “Everyone is upset in this kind of situation and their faces changes and they get annoyed. How come your face didn’t change at all?” The Buddha said, “When I was visiting the previous village before coming here, I was welcomed. And they asked me for advice and so I taught them as best I could. Then all of the people brought me gifts. But I did not need those things and so I gave them back. But as soon as I reached this village, your people yelled at me. As I did not take the good things, why should I take the bad things?” The Buddha was not angry at all.

The Buddha transcended the “I” and the “you.” He always said, “The state beyond duality is our True Nature: it is to see Buddhahood and to attain enlightenment.” Heterodox people condemned the Buddha’s sayings, “His words are obscure. They neither exist nor do they not exist, it is all nonsense.” They came to argue and even to attack the Buddha. They would come to see him with confidence in their arguments. But the Buddha didn’t respond at all, he just smiled. Then they became angry and spat at the Buddha. Ananda, the disciple who looked after the Buddha, felt upset. But the Buddha said to them, “Have you finished?” Finally they gave up and went away. Then, the indignant Ananda asked the Buddha why he did not scold them. On hearing this, the Buddha said, “I felt compassion for them just now, yet now I feel more compassion for you.”

When we function in the duality of “you” and “I,” we respond with anger or hatred. How, after all, did the Buddha react? He reacted with compassion or loving-kindness. What is compassion? What is loving-kindness? Loving-kindness is to give pleasure to others and compassion is to share other’s suffering. Loving-kindness and compassion both purify and settle our own emotions and so unite with our True Nature. Thus, the function of his reaction was not dislike but compassion and so anger had no place. This is Buddhism. When anger does not appear in this kind of situation then this is Buddhism. From today on, whenever you get angry, you should feel ashamed of your self. This is the way to love yourself. If you hate or get angry with someone, this is nothing but cruel treatment of yourself. It is a self-insult. When you didn’t know this, you may have thought that you would feel better after responding with anger. But this is wrong. This is an insult to yourself. There is a saying in the Platform Sutra, “See your mistakes rather than seeing others’ mistakes.”

This is not merely a formal set of words for worldly life. Even though someone insults you, it is completely up to you whether you accept it or not. Thus, this is the way to learn to love myself. Some of you may misunderstand that Buddhism is to sacrifice yourself. Many people think Buddhism is a self-sacrificing religion. This is not correct. Buddhism is not the teaching of sacrificing myself but of loving myself. Therefore, the person who loves him or herself can love others with compassion. To help others is to help myself; to help myself is to help others. I am talking about the function of Buddhahood.

There are several differences between Korean Buddhism and Southeast Asian and Tibetan Buddhism. We have an inherent Buddha Nature; only the moon is the essential reality. The finger pointing to the moon is just a method and not the real substance. Only the moon is true.

Let me give one more example. A man who used to empty the night soil saw the Buddha and approached him. The man was from the lowest class of the lowest caste. So he felt so sorry to even look at the Buddha, even though he was pleased to see him. This was because he thought of himself as mean and lowly and he knew that the Buddha was from a noble caste. The man’s thinking was based on a differentiation between “you” and “I,” pure duality. This is really a self-insult as well. We are living with many self-insulting thoughts through our wrong views. The comparing mind comes from this duality, from “you” and “I.” The night soil carrier was insulting himself when differentiating between lowly and noble; thus it was painful for him to see the Buddha and so he ran away. But the Buddha followed him. And finally the man could not run any further and so he said to the Buddha, “World Honored One, why are you following me? I am in such agony at seeing you.”

The Buddha said, “When did I torture you? Did I insult or beat you? Why do you think that it is I who makes you suffer?” The man replied, “I am a lowly, miserable person. How can I dare to come to see one such as you? I cannot even get close to you let alone sit next to you. Being this close to you is already difficult to bear. Please, don’t follow me or come close to me.”

The Buddha said, “You have the wrong idea. The caste system was made for powerful men so that they might be served by people like you. It is not an inherent way. When a baby is born, it is neither lowly nor noble.”

Then the man said, “How can I think otherwise with my terrible job of carrying night-soil?” The man considered his job to be low. And so the Buddha said, “You seem to be so concerned with what is noble and what is low. Why do you concern yourself about such things? Why do you stick to your delusive thoughts? Why don’t you see things as they are? Since you attach so much importance to the noble and the mean, I will explain it to you.”

“Even a king, even a noble man can be annoying, this is what we call lowly.” The Buddha continued, “The man who does a job disliked by others is noble. You are such a noble man.” After this explanation, the man was no longer scared.

Heaven and hell are in our minds. This is included in my talk today. For we should think, how can we be happy with what we think and with the way we live? Even Sakyamuni Buddha suffered before renunciation. After renunciation he found various principles such as dependent origination which I mentioned earlier.

Racial, ethnic and religious conflicts are serious problems in the world of today. These conflicts are due to attachment, egoistic attachment, and the bias that only my idea is right. The 6th patriarch, Hui-neng, taught, “Don’t think of virtues and don’t think of vices. In this state what is your True Nature?” In this state, no vice can come up when compassion or generosity arises. It is not a matter of destroying or dispelling vice. This idea is wrong.
When I deliver a dharma talk, some of you may think I have very negative views about wealth and power. No, it is not that I am negative, and neither was the Buddha.

And I will tell you another story. In the Diamond Sutra, the Jetavana grove which is also known as Anathapindika’s Park is described. Anathapindika is the name of the rich merchant, Sudatta, who donated the Jetavana monastery to the Buddha. Anathapindika was a man who cared a lot for the poor and homeless. He was a very rich man. How rich he was! Before building the Jetavana monastery, Prince Jeta, who owned the grove, agreed to sell it on one condition which was that Anathapindika must cover the grove with gold coins. You know what happened. He did it! Anathapindika covered the whole grove with gold coins and was able to do so because he was so rich.

As he listened to the Buddha’s teaching he began to feel ashamed of his wealth. Then he consulted the Buddha. He said, “If I cannot practice your teachings because of my wealth, I will give everything to the poor and then I will study.” He was a man who deeply understood the Buddha’s teaching. Such a man is very rare indeed. Many people want much more, which is a real problem. On hearing Anathapindika’s words, the Buddha said, “May you have even more, even though you are already very rich.” This means that he deserved much more because he was such a wise man.

Many people live in luxury; they waste their money and do bad things. In this case the wealth hurts them. Those kinds of rich people are common in our society. And some of them even look down on and harm the poor. But, Anathapindika did not harm others with his wealth but did everything he could to help others. He had such a great capacity. Where does this capacity come from? It is because he transcended the limited mind of “you” and “I.” As the duality is transcended, such a capacity appears by itself. After that, whether a rich person or a poor person, the haves and the have nots, he or she comes to live in the Middle Way.

The Diamond Sutra describes this value in these words, “A good man or a good woman performs as many charitable acts of self-denial as the grains of sand in the Ganges in the morning, and again performs as many at noon and in the evening, and continues to do so throughout numberless ages. On the other hand, a person who learns and practices would be more blessed and of incomparable value.” Though we do not practice everyday as we should, we must know that learning the Buddha’s teaching and living in this way we are happier than living with attachment and greed and with the egocentric duality of “you” and “I.”

We should know the value of the Buddha’s teaching and therefore necessarily practice. The main reason is that as we are born in way we should return to our True Nature.

For instance, when you have a machine which works well and it starts to malfunction, then you should repair it and make it work properly again. It is the same for us.

How can you bear to waste your life not living up to your full capability! Therefore we should live up to our potential and see our True Nature.

Until now I have concentrated on the reasons for learning the Buddha’s teaching. Now I wish to talk about the best and most efficient way of recovering our True Nature. This is the very Seon that we practice. Ganhwaseon is the Seon of holding a “hwadu.” I did not say that it is to have doubt but I said that is to hold. Holding! I presume many people understand hwadu practice to be focusing the mind or focusing on a question. Is there anyone who does not practice like this?

Most people think that they are doing hwadu just in order to focus on a question. Generally people think this way. Almost 90% of the people that I have met think this way. But, hwadu is neither for focusing the mind nor for asking questions!

This is very important. What is hwadu if it is not for focusing the mind or for asking questions? The original expression, “doubt hwadu,” was first used around 1000 years ago. One of the representatives of this view was Master Ta-hui who is my favorite Seon master of the Chinese Chan tradition. He was the one who actively insisted on the practice of Hwadu Seon. He really began to teach the investigation of the question. What else did the previous masters teach? Let me give an example by going back a further 250 years, this means around 1250 years ago. Let me talk about Venerable Ma-tsu. Unfortunately I have never seen any records written during the life time of Ma-tsu. How did they teach Seon or, as we call it, Patriarch Seon? Let me give one example from Venerable Neukdam. One day Neukdam-Beopi went to see Master Ma-tsu. He asked the master, “What is Seon?” Then Ma-tsu answered, “I can’t talk about this in public.” After saying that Ma-tsu looked at Neukdam-Beopi. Ma-tsu saw that Neukdam was wondering what the master was talking about. Current masters might say, “Have a question, then bring your answer.” But Ma-tsu did not talk like this. He said, “Come again tomorrow.” Thus, Neukdam visited Ma-tsu early the next morning. As he was very curious to know the answer to his question, he couldn’t sleep all night. He kept mulling over the meaning of “I cannot talk about this in public.” He spent the whole night wondering what the master had meant. He kept thinking, “I asked about Seon but the answer was not related to Seon. Because he said that he could not talk about Seon in public… What do these words mean? What is it?” It was because of the “don’t know” mind with which naturally doubts arises. But often people hold a hwadu in order for doubt to arise or in order to focus their mind. No way! It is wrong! Holding the doubt for doubt’s sake is wrong! It is the reverse. This is important. Maybe in those days of the great Seon masters they did not actually say to keep the doubt. I believe they did not really say this.

I am not saying Master Ta-hui was wrong. In actual fact Ta-hui said, “Do have doubt about it,” which means that the practitioner doesn’t know and so Ta-hui himself might not know that answer to the question, so he would say to the practitioner, “Have doubt about it.” Ta-hui did not say to hold a hwadu in order to have doubt. We have misunderstood.

And so Neukdam went to Ma-tsu and said, “You told me to come today. Please, tell me what Seon is.” And Ma-tsu said, “I didn’t talk yesterday because of there being so many people present. But, I cannot talk to you today as there are not many people present.” He said the opposite.

This includes the principles of existence of all beings. Sometimes the principles of existence are said to be like this. “Is no-mind truth or is the everyday mind truth?” These words were recorded in Seonyo, Essential teachings of Seon. This is the actual saying, “I will not talk because of the presence of many people, or I will talk only as many beings are present.” This hwadu is beyond “you” and “I” and beyond “being present or being absent.” At least as long as we have thoughts of “you” and “I” we do not understand this hwadu. We can only understand as long as we do not have a subjective or objective mind. The moment we hear Master Ma-tsu’s words, “I cannot talk because of so many people being present,” we have a doubt. “Huh?” we think and simultaneously we should awaken, “Boom!” The objective and subjective have to disappear. That is why hwadu is given. Hwadu is not given for us to have a doubt. When I have the mind of object and subject, this saying without the mind of object and subject, “Today I will not talk because of many people,” is heard. The moment it is heard, the object and subject should be broken up. But it isn’t. Therefore, naturally doubt comes up, “Oh, what is that?” Then the separated mind of object and subject disappears in one strike, “Boom!” That is why Seon masters give hwadu.

This is hwadu. This is the practice and this is Seon. This is neither for asking questions nor for focusing the mind. You should know this clearly.

When all of this is not working well, the person has an unavoidable doubt. This belongs to the lower level of Seon practitioners. Thus, this person is called in Seonyo, a “Sukmaek” in Korean, which means a foolish person. The literal meaning of “Sukmaek” is the person who can’t distinguish between beans or barley. Beans are round, while barley is flat. Such a foolish one doesn’t know the difference. And so the foolish have doubts about the practice of Seon. Actually, this state of mind has to be broken or awakened from at the instant of hearing. But it does not work in this way. Therefore the questions are inevitably required for hwadu practice, because this is a way of practice as well.

The reason for doing hwadu practice is neither to raise doubt nor to attain mental focus. We should break the dual thinking such as “you” and “I” and “existence and non-existence,” which are not necessary. We inevitably have a doubt during our hwadu practice because of our dual thinking. I am not saying that having doubt is bad. Though having doubt, you should know this fact. Having doubt is not the best way or the ultimate vehicle or the most efficient practice. This idea is vain. Many people, not only the profane but also the sacred, think in this way. Even some monks look down on the monks who do not practice Seon and even consider them as not real monks. This thought leads you away from the proper way rather than to true Seon. This thought should be removed. This is absolutely the wrong idea. With this thought you cannot know the real, true hwadu; you cannot get rid of dual thinking.

You should get away from the mental concept of “I.” Before enlightenment the Buddha said, “There must be something else after attaining enlightenment.” That is, the Buddha thought there should be something to gain after enlightenment when he was practicing. Yet, after enlightenment he found that there was nothing to gain. This is because everything had already been achieved and completed by himself.

The records of Seon discourses say, “Awakening to the fact that there is nothing to awaken to is to see the Buddha Nature.” This means that if we think there is enlightenment and that we will get something after enlightenment, it may mislead us.

Therefore we should know that all of us are inherently Buddhas. Why are we all Buddhas? It is because everything is empty. As we begin to practice with this truth, it saves time and is far more effective. If we investigate hwadu from the point of view of our inherent Buddha Nature, whatever obstacles come, they are easily overcome. For instance, let us assume that some obstacle arises. If you know you are inherently a Buddha, the mental shock that you receive decreases and disappears easily. It is because you already know that everything is empty and there are no entities to fear. If we practice hwadu with some expectations such as learning or awakening to something, obstacles arise and shock us. So you face the difficulties and need quite a lot of time to overcome the problems.

The other important thing is that if we know and understand and believe our inherent Buddha Nature, even though we don’t attain a great awakening in this life, we know what is right and wrong. We should keep in mind our inherent Buddhaness. In Seonyo the following simile occurs. “Seon practice is like filling a well by pouring buckets of water into it.” Think about this. Is the well going to become full of water by pouring buckets of water into it? No matter how much water we pour into the well, the well will not be filled. “Seon practice is like catching the reflection of the moon in water.” Can you catch the moon on the surface of the water? It is impossible. Though people think there is something to attain or to awaken to, there is nothing to awaken to. Right now this moment, hearing and seeing, is Seon. Think of the present moment. The present moment!

Hidden Treasure of Korean Buddhism : Mu Ryang

Dharma Talk by Mu Ryang Sunim at Ja Kwang Sa, Korea, May 16, 2004

(Holding the stick in the air and hitting the table)
Mountain is water. Water is mountain.
In the Heart Sutra we just recited it says, “Form is emptiness and emptiness is form.” This is the fundamental Buddha’s teaching of impermanence, which means everything is changing, changing, changing.
(Holding the stick in the air and hitting the table)
No mountain. No water.
This means “no form, no emptiness.” If we are thinking, and attached to the changing world of form, then we get suffering. But if we cut off all thinking, then there is no form and no emptiness, also no suffering; also no I and no you. Descartes, the famous French philosopher, said, “I think, therefore, I am.” But if I am not thinking, then what?
(Holding the stick in the air and hitting the table)
Mountain is mountain. Water is water.
This means “form is form and emptiness is emptiness.” Everything is just as it is. So, we have three statements: Mountain is water, water is mountain. No mountain, no water. Mountain is mountain, water is water. Of these three statements, which one is correct? Which one is the truth?
KATZ! (Shout)
Mountain is high. Water is flowing.
Today I would like to thank all of you for coming here. Especially I would like to thank Chong Ah Sunim for having these talks every month. It must be very difficult to schedule monks, nuns, and teachers from all around the world. I appreciate his effort very much.
Most especially, though, I would like to thank my teacher, Zen Master Seung Sahn; today I am borrowing his dharma and sharing it with all of you. Seung Sahn Sunim has spent the last 40 years bringing this hidden treasure of Korean Buddhism to people all over the world. So I owe him a debt of gratitude.
Today I would like to speak a little bit about his lineage in Korea. So I will tell a few stories of Zen Master Man Gong, and his teacher, Zen Master Kyung Ho, who lived over one hundred years ago. Behind this temple here, in Gye Ryong Mountain, there are many famous temples. One of them is called Dong Hak Sa, where a lot of Buddhist nuns live and study the sutras. It has always actually been a sutra temple.
It is interesting to look at the shape of mountains.
I was a geology major in college, so I have some interest in topography, which is closely related to the Korea tradition of wind-water geography (feng shui).
Dong Hak Sa’s location is unique because there is one mountain which the temple is facing directly. It looks high and conical, like the point of a calligraphy brush, sticking up. It is actually called, ‘Mun Pil Bong’ or ‘Calligraphy Brush Mountain.’ Tradition has it that because it is there right in front of the temple, people who go that temple naturally just want to pick up a book and starting reading words. So that temple always has been a sutra study temple: not much Zen meditation practice but more sutra study.
Kyung Ho Sunim practiced there. First he was a student and then he became a sutra teacher there at a very young age. He was famous for being very unorthodox as well as quite smart, and he learned the sutras quickly. Normally in a sutra school, there is a very organized, correct and proper way of studying sutras. First, monks put on their ceremonial robes and kasas, and then sit properly and correctly. I see that you all do things very well here, that you have been taught by Chong Ah Sunim to follow the rules very carefully, so you will be very good in these sutra schools. But Kyung Ho was not like that. Instead of sitting properly and reading sutras upright, he would relax in the rest area room and would read the sutras lying down on his back. Some monks were very upset and told their Sutra Master, who then got very angry. “Kyung Ho! Why are you reading the sutra like that? That is very disrespectful! ” And Kyung Ho said, “Oh! No, teacher! I am not being disrespectful. If we read sutras like that, then our breath and our saliva can go all over the sutras but I want to care for them properly so I keep them over my head. ” So then what could the Sutra Master say? Anyways, Kyung Ho was like that. He was not your normal monk.
He got a very big question traveling through a town where everybody had died of cholera. Suddenly he realized that he had been studying the Buddha’s sutras which deal with life and death, impermanence, and questions like, ‘what are human beings?’ and ‘what is the truth?’ He had been studying these sutras for many years, and still he was afraid of dying. So he returned to his temple, Dong Hak Sa, and said to all of the monks, “I cannot teach you any more. Go away! ”
He closed himself in a room. One attendant would pass food through the door everyday. Kyong Ho Sunim was sitting there with this big question. ‘What is life and what is death? Only don’t know!’ And in order to stay awake or keep alert when he was starting to falling asleep, he would hit his thigh with an awl to wake up. He did this for many months. Finally upon hearing of the cow with no nostrils, he got enlightenment. Later he became a famous Zen Master. I mentioned he was very unorthodox. Instead of shaving his head and wearing correct monks clothes, he was kind of a ragged, hippy monk. He went all around Korea, wandering around from temple to temple. Like a cloud or water, just flowing with no hindrance. He was famous all over Korea.
Many years had passed and this temple, Dong Hak Sa, was still a sutra temple. Even today it is a sutra temple. It is very hard to change the karma of a temple. A temple takes on the character of the land which supports it, and then it builds up a tradition. So this was still a sutra temple; the monks had sutra study courses twice a year for many months each. Then there is a break, after which they come back and study again. At that time, there was a young monk studying at this temple. His name was ‘Man Gong’. Actually he had a different name before becoming a Zen Master but for simplicity we’ll say Man Gong. He was a thirteen-year old boy. His father had brought him to the temple when he was very young, so he had already been studying sutras for a few years.
There was a graduation ceremony for the monks who finished the course and the Sutra Master got up and gave a talk. He said, “I hope that you all study hard, learn Buddhism and become like great trees which can make a big temple, or become like big bowls, which are able to contain a lot of dharma. The sutras say that water takes the shape of the container into which it flows. So if it goes into a round container, then it becomes round. If it goes into a square container, then it becomes square. Therefore, always keep good company. Then your friends will help you to be diligent and study hard.” That was the end of his talk.
After that, it was customary to ask guests to give congratulatory talks. At that time, Zen Master Kyung Ho, the ‘hippie’ monk was there. So the Sutra Master said, “Please master, give us a few words.” But Kyung Ho said, “No, no, no.” He refused, but he was asked again, “No, no, no.” So he was asked a third time. If you ask somebody three times to do something, they are fairly obligated to do that. Finally Kyung Ho said, “O.K.” So he got up . He was very striking figure compared to everybody in the sutra school with shaved head, correct clothes, and sitting very properly like monks. Here was a hippy monk who had long hair, long beard, broken and ragged clothes. It was a quite of contrast.
He got up and said, “You are all monks. Your life is already for all people, so you don’t have to worry about petty personal attachments. Wanting to be a great tree or a big bowl is a hindrance. It will prevent you from becoming a real teacher. Rather than wanting to become a great tree, become a very skilled carpenter who can use a great tree to build a temple and can use a small tree to make some very beautiful decoration. So great trees have great uses and small trees have small uses. ” He then continued, “Instead of becoming a great bowl to contain the Dharma, be like the water which flows into the bowl. It takes the shape of its container, and then eventually it flows out of that container and continues on its way. Water has no hindrance, just like dharma.” (The character in Chinese for dharma (法) is water (水) plus go (去): ‘water flowing’). “So be like water flowing. Keep both good friends and bad friends. Don’t reject anything.” Finally he said, “My only hope is that you completely cut off discriminating thinking.” Then he left. That was the end of his talk, and like a lot of monks; he just went right out the door and kept going.
Everybody was very impressed. Man Gong heard this speech and ran out after him, saying, “Master! Master! I want to be your student.” Kyung Ho shouted, “Go away!” Man Gong persisted, “No, no, I want to be your student.” Kyung Ho said, “You are too young to study Buddhism.” But Man Gong said, “People are young or old, but in Buddhism, is there youth or old age?” Kyung Ho said, “You bad boy! You’ve killed and eaten the Buddha! O.K., come with me.”
So Kyung Ho took the boy with him and Man Gong became his student. However, Kyung Ho was a hippie monk. He could not have a little boy tagging along, so he took him to his dharma brothers’ temple, which was near Su Dok Sa, called ‘Chun Jang Arm’. It was a small little hermitage. Man Gong Sunim stayed there for many years. This story took place maybe 120 or 130 years ago.
I thought that I would also tell you my own story of meeting my teacher. I was a student at college, and I wanted to be a philosopher, among other things. Foolishly I jumped right into existential philosophy, which I don’t recommend you do. If you want to study philosophy, then start at the beginning with Plato or other classics, and work your way through history. Impatiently I waded right into existential philosophy. I read Sartre and Camus, and I was struck that human life has no meaning, no reason, and no choice. This gave me a lot of thinking and many questions: What is life? What am I? So I started searching. A friend suggested Yoga meditation, so I tried that for some time. That was very peaceful and comfortable; but still I couldn’t find out what is truth? or what is the purpose of our life?
Finally I happened upon a Zen center in New Haven, and heard a dharma talk by this Korean Zen Master named Seung Sahn. He said in his dharma talk, “Human beings have no meaning, no reason, and no choice.” I felt, that’s right, exactly! Then he said, “But if you throw away, ‘I’, ‘my’, and ‘me’, then you will get great meaning, great reason, and great choice.” Then I said, “That’s what I want! But how? How do I do that?” Then he said, “When you are doing something, just do it. When you eat, just eat. When you are talking, just talk. When you are walking, just walk. When you are driving, just drive. When you play golf, just play golf. When you are working, just work. Inside and outside become one. Then just do it.” That dharma talk really hit my mind. So I became his student. Shortly after that I moved into the Zen Center.
Zen Master Seung Sahn always asks people three questions. So I will ask them to you. The f irst question is, ‘Why do you eat everyday?’ That means ‘Why are you living in this world?’ What is the purpose of your life? For whom? There is a famous movie, which is, ‘For whom the Bell Tolls’. That is actually the line from a famous poem, written by an Englishman, John Donne, which starts out, ‘No man is an island onto himself’ And finally after many lines, it ends with, ‘Never ask for whom the bell tolls… it tolls for thee.’ It tolls for you. So why are we living in this world, for whom? Only for me? So ‘Why do we eat everyday?’ Somebody maybe says because I am hungry. Yeah, that is true. Dog is hungry, cat is hungry, snake is hungry, and pig is hungry. So they eat. But how are human beings different from animals? Is there not one thing which makes us different?
Then the next question is, ‘Why is the sky blue?’ Nowadays in Korea, it is quite hard to see blue sky. Maybe there are a lot of clouds or maybe its our exhaust. In Los Angeles where I used to live, it’s also hard to see blue sky. But at Tae Go Sa, in the mountains, the sky is blue almost everyday. In a year, over 300 days are clear blue sky. But why is the sky blue? Which means what is the truth? Everybody knows that the sky is blue. But why is the sky blue?
One student of my teacher, who lived in Paris, practiced meditation. He had a young daughter; at that time she was about 6 or 7 years old. He would sit in his room at home and do meditation. One day his daughter asked him, “Daddy, why do you practice meditation?” And he said, “I want to understand the truth.” “Oh, then do you understand the truth?” said the daughter. He answered “Of course!” “O.K., then I have a question for you. Why is the sky blue?” He couldn’t answer. He was really embarrassed, shocked, and surprised. His daughter asked this question and he could not answer. So he told that story to Seung Sahn Sunim, who said, “Yeah, your daughter is better than you; she has a more simple mind.”
So why is the sky blue? Maybe some scientist can give us an answer. “Well, the sun is shining, and light rays are coming down, hitting the molecules in the sky, and they reflect it in a certain way. So blue color is what our eyes see. However, that is only an explanation. Zen is not about explanation. Zen is about demonstration and experience. So why is the sky blue? What is the truth?
Then the third question is, ‘When does sugar become sweet?’ This means in our life, how do we live from moment to moment? How do we live? When does sugar become sweet? So those three questions he would ask to his students. I was his secretary for a few years; almost every letter he would write he would ask those questions: Why do you eat everyday? Why is the sky blue? And when does sugar become sweet? Many western people heard this teaching and got a big question. That’s wonderful. If you get a big question, then you’ve gotten a big treasure, a big present. If someone explains a lot and answers all of your questions, that’s really too bad. They took something away from you. So Korean Zen Buddhism is really wonderful because it gives us this big question. ‘What am I? What is this? What is the truth?’
So now back to the story. Zen Master Kyung Ho took Man Gong to this temple, Chun Jang Arm and left him with his dharma brother. This dharma brother said, “First, a monk has to learn how to eat cold rice. This means that a monk has to learn how to do chanting ceremonies. When the monk does ceremonies, rice is offered on the altar; at first it is hot, but then it starts cooling down. By the end of the ceremony, the monk is really hungry, but the rice is already cold; so the monk has to learn how to eat cold rice. So Man Gong Sunim had to learn how to do ceremonies. For five years, he lived at Chun Jang Arm and only did ceremonies, everyday. He was young and handsome, and his voice was really good so he became well known in the local community. Thus, many people would come and ask him to do ceremonies.
Five years had passed since Kyung Ho Sunim left him. He was already 18 years old. Buddha’s birthday was approaching. Everybody knows that this is the busiest time for a temple because many people come and ask for ceremonial offerings to Buddha. Especially in those days, people would have individual ceremonies a lot, so from early morning, before it became light, until after dark, Man Gong was just chanting the whole day, doing ceremonies for people, and he became very tired and hungry. Finally the last ceremony was finished and he cleaned up everything on the altar, wrapped it all into a cloth, and he went out of the dharma room.
Suddenly, a young boy appeared in front of him, and this boy said, “Sunim, can I ask you a question?” Man Gong said, “O.K.” So this young boy said to him, “I heard that ten thousand dharmas return to one.” And Man Gong immediately said, “Of course!” Then the young boy said, “But where does this one return?” Man Gong couldn’t answer. ‘Ten thousand dharmas return to one; where does this one return?’ Nothing appeared in his mind. He had studied sutras and chanting, but nothing prepared him for this. So he got a big question. He was really embarrassed as the young boy taunted, “You don’t know!” and left.
So Man Gong Sunim took all the offerings and put them in the abbot’s room, went back to his own room, and just lay down. Looking up at the ceiling, his mind was only ‘Where does the one return? Only don’t know’. He kept this big question. One day passed, two days passed. He stayed in his room; he didn’t come out, and he wasn’t eating anything. Finally, the abbot thought, ‘Oh, he must be thinking about some woman.” He called him and said, “Man Gong! What are you doing? Are you thinking about some woman?” Man Gong said, “No sir, it’s not that.” And he told the story of the young boy appearing with the question that ten thousand dharmas return to one. Then the abbot said, “Of course, they return to one.” Man Gong said then, “No, no, then the boy said, “Where does the one return?” Then the abbot brushed the question off, saying, “How should I know?” But Man Gong said seriously, “Yeah, but I have to know.” So the abbot said, “Ah! One more monk has become garbage.” There is an expression in Korean, which is translated, ‘Garbage human being becomes a monk. Garbage monk becomes a Zen student. Garbage Zen student becomes Buddha.’ So the abbot said, “Another monk has become garbage. You need to go to a Zen center, and practice meditation.” Ten thousand dharmas return to one, where does the one return?’ This is very important actually. Where does this one return?
We take everything for granted in our life; food, clothes, house, energy, where do they come from? For example, today, did any of us walk here from our house? Probably everybody took a car or a bus, or from a longer distance took a train, or like me, took an airplane. So we all came here using gasoline or diesel or some other kind of petroleum fuel. Nowadays our life is completely dependent on petroleum or fossil fuels. One hundred years ago, when this story took place, Man Gong and Kyung Ho Sunims and everybody else only walked. The only form of transportation was their own two legs walking somewhere; or maybe a horse if they were lucky. But the horse was also similar to humans: give it food, and it goes. But, in one hundred years, our whole existence has changed completely.
Now, instead of walking, we ride a car, bus, train or airplane, all of which is borrowing energy from fossil fuels. This in turn comes from plants which grew from sunlight and died a long time ago. All of our energy ultimately comes from the sun. But for the last 150 years or so, we have been borrowing ancient energy that was made by the sun millions of years ago. I say borrowing because this burning of fossil fuels comes with an inconceivably high price tag, called global warming.
During the last century and a half, humans have been ‘fruitful and multiplied’, beyond any reason. Look at a graph of human population over time. The increase in population and the increase in use of fossil fuels are nearly the same curve. From about 1850, the human population, which had been less than one billion people throughout all time, began a sudden increase, correlated with the sudden increased burning of coal in the industrial revolution. Then, as oil use became more dominant, the population growth exploded from two billion in the 1920’s to almost seven billion today. Our life is now completely dependent on oil and other fossil fuels. When I lived in Korea 20 years ago, Korean people mostly used charcoal briquettes or coal, which is also fossil fuel. There is a lot of coal in Korea, but it is very polluting to burn, so people don’t like it. But there are no known oil resources in South Korea.
So nowadays petroleum is imported from some place far away. It is the same in America. The U.S. has some oil resources, but demand for fuel is so much higher than domestic supply that it imports a lot of oil. Our life is completely dependent on oil. If this oil flow suddenly stops, maybe soon there will be again be a big coal industry temporarily in Korea. But in America, life as we know it will grind to halt without oil. We couldn’t grow food because we couldn’t pump water. We couldn’t transport the food anyways. People would start starving and then fighting each other for food. Society will break down quickly without any oil. Even today this problem has become obvious around the world: wars escalating in the oil-rich middle east, involving America, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and in the future, certainly more countries.
Of course, there are many reasons for this conflict. One of them is people’s differing ideologies: Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist. Many people think ‘my way is correct: yours is wrong’. However, beneath that, there is a struggle for resources. Who is going to control energy? Right now, the U.S. wants to control the oil supply so we send a lot of soldiers to other countries. In America we do not experience this because we don’t see soldiers on the street much. If you go to other counties in Europe, Africa, or Asia, there are soldiers everywhere. When I lived in Korea, there were also soldiers everywhere. So people are used to that. But in America we don’t feel this. We are living in a bubble in America, an oil bubble. That oil bubble may burst very soon.
This should be alarming to us. Now there are almost seven billion humans in this world. In the future, how will all of us eat? How can we live with the finite resources remaining? Simple, actually. All we have to do is share. Simple, but not easy. Our habit is that we want to keep things only for ourselves. Countries are also like that. If we keep this mind, then in the future, as population increases even more, the world will be in a state of perpetual war. Each country or region will be fighting to keep what it has or capture what it lacks. So the solution is to share.
Everything-food, water, energy- comes from a single source: our sun. The more directly we can live from the sun, the more equal is the chance for all beings to live and prosper. How? We can reduce our dependence on fossil fuels by developing solar, wind and water power. We can try to grow our own food. We can walk. We can share. This all came from the question ‘where does the one return?’ If we keep a big question, then our mind becomes very wide. Then it is easier to change our human karma, to walk together and to share. But if we already understand everything and have no question, then there is only I, my, me, so it is hard to change.
So Man Gong Sunim also had only this question, ‘Where does the one return? So he left Chun Jang Arm and went to a temple in the same province called, ‘Jang Gok Sa’. Nowadays, it too is a nuns’ temple. It is famous because it has an iron Buddha statue in the dharma room. At that time, though, it was a Zen temple. Man Gong stayed there and practiced very hard, keeping this question: ‘Where does the one return? Only don’t know.’ After a while, he was sitting one day in the Zen hall. It is not like here. This is a beautiful colorful dharma hall. A Zen hall has no windows and no beautiful colors. It’s just white wallpaper. There is nothing but yellow floor and white walls. Zen monks just sit looking at the floor or facing the walls.
But one day Man Gong Sunim was facing the wall, and suddenly a hole opened in the wall and he could see outside. He saw fields and farmers working in the fields, and he was really surprised, “Wow!” Then he looked up at the ceiling and saw sky. He was incredibly happy, and next morning early he went into the masters’ room and said, “Master! Master! I understand! I got enlightenment.” And the Master said, “What do you understand?” “Ah! I penetrated the nature of all the things. I can see right through the wall and see right through the ceiling.” And the Master said, “Is that the truth?” Man Gong answered, “Yeah, I have no hindrance.” Then the Master picked up his stick, and hit him over the head. THWACK! Man Gong was shocked and his eyes bulged out. The ceiling came back and the walls came back. Then the Master said, “Where is your truth now?” Man Gong bowed and said, “I am sorry.” The Master said, “Do you understand your mistake? What you have experienced was only an illusion or a fantasy. So don’t attach to anything which appears, only keep this ‘Don’t Know mind’.
So Man Gong was really thankful to return to this teaching again. Actually this happens to a lot to people who practice. Something appears, and we think that we’ve got it. Then something disappears and we are back to zero. In Korea there is an expression, ‘Ten years of practice returns to Amita Buddha’, which means returns to nothing. We always have to start again. So Man Gong started again. For three more years, he practiced hard.
One day he was doing the morning bell chant, which is ‘the Avatamsaka Sutra’, and one line is, ‘If you wish to understand all the Buddha’s of past, present, and future, then you must understand that the whole universe is created by the mind alone.’ That is a well known Buddhist teaching, that the whole universe is created by the mind alone. He was hitting the bell, DONG!, and suddenly his mind opened and he got enlightenment. He got up, went right over and kicked the monk next to him. The monk said, “Are you crazy?” And then he realized, “Did you get enlightenment?” Man Gong Sunim became famous. For one year, he just went around countryside going to every sutra temple or zen temple, hitting monks or kicking them. Eventually, everyone knew Man Gong Sunim got enlightenment
About a year passed. He went to a big ceremony at his original temple, Dong Hak Sa. His teacher, Kyung Ho Sunim was there. Man Gong thought, “I got enlightenment. Also my teacher got enlightenment. We are the same. But because he is my teacher, I will bow to him.” So he went in and bowed to his teacher. Kyung Ho Sunim said somewhat subtly, “I heard that you got something.” Man Gong replied, “Uhm, something appeared.” So Kyung Ho then said, “O.K., I have a question for you.” He put down on the floor a fan and a calligraphy brush, and then asked, “the fan and the brush, are they the same or different?” Man Gong said, “The fan is the brush and the brush is the fan.” Just like I said mountain is water and water is mountain, which means form is emptiness and emptiness is form. Everything is changing, changing, and changing. But everything has the same substance. So if we don’t attach to name and form, then we know that everything is the same. Man Gong got this point. That was his enlightenment. We say he understood one but he didn’t understand two.
So Kyung Ho Sunim very patiently tried to explain to him the next step, but Man Gong was very stubborn. He was not listening. So finally Kyung Ho said, “O.K. In the funeral ceremony, the monks ring a bell and do some special chanting. One of the lines is, ‘The statue has eyes, and tears silently drip down.’ What does this mean?” Man Gong said, “I don’t know.” Kyung Ho challenged him by saying, “If you don’t understand this, how can you say that brush is the fan and the fan is the brush.” Man Gong replied, “Ah! I am very sorry, please teach me.” So Kyung Ho Sunim gave him another kong-an: “In the sutras it says, ‘All beings have Buddha nature,’ which means all beings can get enlightenment. But somebody asked the famous Chinese Zen Master Joju, “Does a dog have Buddha nature? And Joju said, ‘Mu!’, which means No. So Buddha said that all beings have Buddha nature. Joju said Mu. There are many questions here: which one is correct, Buddha or Joju? Also what does Joju mean by Mu? So he asked Man Gong, “What does this Mu mean?” Man Gong didn’t know. Kyung Ho then said, “O.K., only keep that question. What does this mean? Don’t know!” So again Man Gong was brought back to this, ‘Don’t know’. That’s the greatest treasure any teacher can give a student, returning them to ‘not knowing’.
The famous Greek philosopher Socrates used to go around Athens saying, “You must understand yourself; or know thyself.” That made people very uncomfortable. Finally, they made him drink poison. People don’t want to have questions. But before that, he would often go around and say, ‘Know Thyself’. One day one of his students said to him, “Teacher, you always tell us to understand our true self. Do you understand your true self?” And Socrates said, “I don’t know, but I understand this don’t know.” That is Socrates’ famous ‘Don’t know philosophy’. This is also the same as Korean Zen Buddhist practice, ‘What am I?’ Don’t know! So anybody can practice Zen. Always just return to this ‘Don’t know’. So anything which appears in our mind – thinking or feeling or illusion or fantasy – see it, let it go, and return to ‘Don’t know’. What is this? Don’t know. That is really the hidden treasure of Korean Buddhism. People think it’s nothing much, but practicing in that way is wonderful. Let’s try that!
So Man Gong Sunim did just that. He let go of his attainment and went back to the Zen center and practiced again for another three years very strongly. Finally, one day he heard the great temple bell sound and suddenly had another awakening. Then he wrote a letter to his teacher, Kyung Ho Sunim: ‘Thank you very much; now I understand. – Kimchi is salty, sugar is sweet’. Everything is just as it is. Earlier, I said, “Mountain is mountain and water is water.” Things are just as they are. Kimchi is salty and sugar is sweet Very simple. Why did it take so many years of hard practice to figure that out? We can only try.
Man Gong Sunim became a great Zen master and went to Su Dok Sa, which he built up into a well-known training place for monks, nuns, and laypeople. His teacher had long since retired and went to a village and just taught young kids how to write Chinese characters. He lived a very simple life.
Man Gong Sunim was already a very famous Zen Master. One day he wanted to go and pay his respects to Kyung Ho Sunim, so he told everybody at the temple that he would be away for a few days. He put on his backpack and departed. Finally, after arriving, he bowed very deeply to Kyung Ho Sunim, opened his backpack and took out a bottle of rice wine and some dried fish. Then he said to his teacher, “Nowadays, when somebody brings wine, I drink wine. When somebody brings fish, I eat fish.” This means no hindrance. Anything is O.K. Coming is O.K..and going is O.K. Su Dok Sa has become famous among Korean Buddhist temples for this kind of no hindrance style mind.
So Man Gong got that mind, and was sharing with his teacher, and his teacher said, “Ah! You are wonderful, but I can not do that.” Man Gong was surprised, “Why not? You are my teacher. Why can’t you do that?” meaning – don’t you have the same kind of no hindrance mind that I do? And Kyung Ho Sunim replied, “I will explain: I like garlic.” Actually monks traditionally don’t eat garlic. They don’t eat garlic, onions, shallots, scallions – five things in the onion family which made too much energy for monks. But Kyung Ho Sunim said, “I like garlic, so I go and buy one bulb of garlic, and then I break all up. Each clove I plant in the ground; those cloves grow into bulbs of garlic, and I pick those. Then I take those apart and again plant each clove of each bulb and then those grow into bulbs of garlic. Finally, I have a lot of garlic; I pull it all up, keep some, and take the rest and go in to town, and give out garlic to everybody.” Then Man Gong Sunim understood, ‘Ah! not for me, only for all beings’. So, wine coming, drink wine; fish coming, eat fish. That’s O.K. No hindrance. But only for me? How to help all beings? So Kyung Ho Sunim said, “I like garlic so I make a whole bunch of garlic and then give to all beings.” Man Gong Sunim got this mind and thanked him very much. And that mind he has transmitted down to his students; and they to their students, and so on. So there have been many generations of Zen practitioners, monks, nuns, and lay people, who have gotten this mind from Kyung Ho and Man Gong Sunims’ example.
So I wanted to share that with you today. In English we say this is like ‘carrying coals to Newcastle’ or maybe in Korea, ‘carrying coal to Youngwol’, where they used to mine a lot of coal. This means that bringing things people already have in abundance. I am telling you this story but you are Korean Buddhists; you already know these stories so it is strange that some American monk is telling Korean people this beautiful Korean story.
But, how are we going to live in this world? Perhaps we need to change the way we do things. Any living thing, from the smallest bug or a single-celled animal or plant, all the way up the food chain to a whale or an elephant or a human being, always will eat as much as it can. We are all consumers. We try to consume as much as we can. That’s the law of survival. Eat as much as we can now, later on we do not know if there is going to be anything, so we eat. That’s O.K. when everything is in balance, but our world is out of balance, because there are too many human beings. If we all keep consuming the way we have been, soon there will be no more food, no more water, and no more oil.
When I was growing up on the east coast of America, there was an outbreak of gypsy moths. Gypsy moths are a kind of caterpillar. They descend from the trees on a little string, and then they go into other trees and eat the leaves. That year there were so many caterpillars that all the trees lost their leaves. Scientists said, “Next year if the trees lose their all their leaves again, the trees will all die.” So people were very afraid. Then the following year, there were no more caterpillars, no more gypsy moths. They had eaten all the leaves the previous year and they all suddenly starved because there was no more food. So nature always returns to a state of balance by itself.
Our human world is now becoming increasingly more chaotic due to overpopulation and the resulting myriad problems. Nature will eventually restore balance to this world. From our human point of view, that could be catastrophic. Before that happens, we need to wake up and change our way of living. We can reduce our consumption and share our resources. That is a very tall order for the entire world, but individually, each of us can do something. We can look at our life, and then we can act on that.
Understanding this is very easy. We can read a book, pick up a magazine or newspaper, and we can realize, ‘Yeah! That is correct!’ But actually doing it is entirely different. How do we do it? First, our direction must become clear. Why are we living in this world? Then we must always try. Which means practice. There are many kinds of practice: Yoga practice or Christian practice or Muslim practice or Buddhist practice. Any kind of practice is helpful which allows us to look inside, which gives us a little space from our thinking habits. Then our mind gets some peace and freedom. That is wonderful; try it! Probably all of you have some connection to Buddhism. So if you are connected to Buddhism already, then try some Buddhist practice. Find some community -Ja Kwang Sa here is very good- and practice meditation, bowing and chanting; anything to cut thinking. Then look inside, get energy, and then we can change; one person by one person by one person. Actually this world can support twice as many human beings as now. It can, but only if we share. We have to live together and act together and not hold on to our own situation.
My teacher often talked about a life boat on the ocean. There are only two people in the life boat. There is only enough food for one person to make it to shore. So what do you do? Spilt the food in half, both eat, and then together die. Isn’t that our situation anyways?
I really want to thank you all for coming here today and listening to me. In addition, giving me the opportunity to come here and speak. I hope we all continue to find the truth and what it means to be human living in this world, find some way and share it with other people. As my teacher always says, “I hope you only go straight, don’t know, try, try, try for ten thousand years non-stop.” Let’s do it! Thank you very much.