The True Buddha

A Dharma Speech given by Seung Sahn Soen-sa at the International Zen Center of New York on Buddha’s birthday, May 18, 1975

(Holding up the Zen stick and hitting the table)

An eminent teacher said, “Before Buddha was born and came to the Kapila Empire, he had already saved all people.”

(Hitting the table)

When Buddha was born, he took seven steps, looked in the four directions, pointed with one hand to the sky and with the other hand to the ground, and said, “In the sky above and the sky below, only I am holy.”

(Hitting the table)

Somebody once mentioned these words of the baby Buddha to Zen Master Un-mun and asked what they meant. Unmun said, “As soon as Buddha said this, I hit him and killed him and fed his body to a hungry dog. The whole world was at peace.”

Today we are celebrating Buddha’s 2519th birthday. These three sentences are all in praise of the true Buddha. If you discover the true meaning of Buddha’s birthday, then you will become the same as Buddha, and you will finish the great work.

We say that Buddha was born. But what is the true Buddha? Is Gautama Shakyamuni, who was born long ago in India, the true Buddha? Is the golden Buddha just behind me on the altar the true Buddha?

The Diamond Sutra says, “All things that appear in this world are transient. If you view all appearances as nonappearance, then you will see the true Buddha.”

The historical Buddha, who was born, became enlightened, and died, and the golden statue behind me — is either of them the true Buddha?

The Diamond Sutra says, “All things that exist are like a dream, a phantom, a bubble, a reflection; they are like dew or lightning; thus should you view them.”

If you view all things in this way, then you will see the true Buddha. This is the true meaning of our celebration today.

Then what is Buddha? Zen Master Ma-jo once answered, “Mind is Buddha, Buddha is mind.” Another time he answered, “No mind, no Buddha.” When Zen Master Lin-chi was asked what is Buddha, he only shouted, “KATZ!!!” Duk Sahn only hit the person who had asked. Dong Sahn answered, “Three pounds of flax.” Kyong Ho said, “Before you came, did you wash your bowl?”

Which of these answers is correct?

The Diamond Sutra says, “If you are attached to color and sound and want to see your true nature, you are on the wrong path.”

If you are attached to the words of eminent teachers, then you cannot understand the true Buddha. You must cut off all thinking and return to before thinking. Then your mind will be clear. A clear mind has no hindrance at all. Everything you see, hear, smell, taste, touch — everything just as it is — this is the true Buddha.

So just like this, mind is Buddha, Buddha is mind. Just like this, no Buddha, no mind. Just like this, KATZ!!! Just like this, HIT. Just like this, three pounds of flax. Just like this, did you wash your bowl? All this is the true Buddha.

So just like this, Gautama Shakyamuni, who was born 2519 years ago today, is the true Buddha. Just like this, the golden statue behind me is also the true Buddha.

All things are equal. There is no holy or unholy. But Buddha said, “In the sky above and the sky below, only I am holy.” So I will hit Buddha thirty times.

In original nature, there is no name or form, no life or death. But Un-mun said, “As soon as Buddha said this, I hit him and killed him and fed him to a hungry dog.” So I will hit Un-mun thirty times. But already there is nothing. Whom can I hit? So I will hit myself thirty times.

Where is the mistake?


In front of Buddha, the paper lanterns are shining.

Transmission to the West

Primary Point: Why did you choose the twentieth anniversary of the Kwan Um School of Zen to give transmission?

Zen Master Seung Sahn: After twenty years, there are now three disciples whose practicing is ripe and whose teaching is correct, so now it is time for transmission.

PP: How did you decide to pick these three people as new Zen Masters?

ZMSS: We have a process. First, someone finishes all the kong-ans and is tested in a Ji Do Poep Sa Nim certification ceremony. At the ceremony, anybody can ask any kind of question, and if the candidate answers with no hindrance then he or she can become a Ji Do Poep Sa Nim.

After three years, each Ji Do Poep Sa Nim is tested again by doing dharma combat with Zen Masters both outside and inside our school. Three years after they successfully complete this dharma combat, I check their teaching again. At that time, if their teaching is clear, their mind is clear, and their actions are clear, then transmission is no problem. Meditation and wisdom have come together; their practice is now ripe.

PP: When you were twenty-two years old, Zen Master Ko Bong Sunim gave you transmission. Nobody knew who you were. That style and our present process seem different.

ZMSS: Yes. Ko Bong Sunim was a freedom-style Zen Master. He did not stay at a big temple and have many students like other Korean teachers. He didn’t even want to teach Korean monks; he thought they had too much pride and didn’t practice correctly, so he only taught nuns and lay people. He wasn’t so concerned with building an organization or a teaching lineage. Ko Bong Sunim would come and go. He was a freedom-style Zen Master, so he gave a freedom-style transmission.

I do not teach freedom style. In the United States, from the beginning, I have taught correct organization: correct temple organization, correct work organization, correct school organization. Now we have correct teacher organization: Ji Do Poep Sa Nim for three years; then dharma combat with other Zen Masters; then again after three years I will check their teaching; then transmission. That’s our style.

PP: In Zen we refer to “a special transmission, outside the sutras, not dependent on words or speech.” What does this mean?

ZMSS: Three times Buddha’s mind and Mahakasyapa’s mind met and became one. Thus, Mahakashyapa became the first patriarch. The three occasions of transmission were:

First: “Sharing the cushion with Mahakashyapa in front of the Pagoda of Many Children.” Many disciples had gathered for the Buddha’s daily dharma speech. The great monks were in the front; the newer monks were seated in the rear. No one spoke as they anticipated the talk. At that time, Mahakashyapa was still a relative novice, even though he was an old man. He was out begging and arrived late to the assembly. As he walked in, his eyes and Buddha’s eyes met – their minds connected. Mahakashyapa proceeded toward the front of the crowd, to the consternation of the senior monks. As he approached, the Buddha moved over on his cushion to make room for Mahakashyapa. This was the first transmission.

Second: “Holding up a flower on Vulture’s Peak.” Again, Buddha had appeared for a dharma speech in front of a huge gathering. For several minutes he was silent. Finally, he picked up a flower. Everyone was confused except Mahakashyapa, who smiled. Then Buddha said, “My true dharma I transmit to you.” This was the second transmission.

Third: “At Niranjana River, when Buddha’s feet burst out of the casket.” After Buddha died, his disciples gathered around his gold casket. They were very sad. Also, they were very confused – he had said “no life, no death,” so how could he die? Maybe his teaching was not correct. So there was a lot of thinking. Mahakashyapa arrived late and saw this; then, he slowly began walking around the casket, with his hands at hapchang. He walked around three times; when he came to the front of the casket he bowed three times. No one knew what he was doing – why wasn’t he crying over the Buddha’s death? Suddenly, the Buddha’s feet shot through the end of the casket. Everybody was happy – only the Buddha’s body had died, not his true self. This is the story of the third transmission.

In all three cases, there were no words, just mind to mind connection.

PP: Buddha’s mind to his mind; what does that mean?

ZMSS: It’s like an auction. You make a gesture and the auctioneer’s mind and your mind connect. There is recognition. Words are not necessary. From mind to mind.

PP: When you give transmission, is this also mind to mind?

ZMSS: Yes. This tradition of mind to mind transmission has continued from the Buddha to Mahakashyapa, from Mahakashyapa to Ananda, and through our lineage to the present day.

PP: You are the seventy-eighth patriarch in your line. You gave transmission to three people; which one is the seventy-ninth patriarch?

ZMSS: They are all seventy-ninth patriarchs going back to the Buddha, and “second patriarchs” in the American extension of the lineage that began when I came to the West.

PP: Usually we think of transmission as one person. So what does this mean, three?

ZMSS: Before the sixth patriarch there was only one line of transmission; no patriarch had given transmission to more than one student. The Buddha’s robe and bowl were passed on as a symbol of the singular, direct lineage. After the sixth patriarch, five lines appeared. Later on, teachers would spawn as many as one hundred lines. My grand teacher, Man Gong Sunim, gave transmission to more than a dozen students.

PP: How do we know which of the three transmissions represents the Kwan Um School of Zen line?

ZMSS: They are all considered Kwan Um School of Zen lines because they all descend from Kwan Um School of Zen. But the first monk to receive transmission fosters the “main line,” responsible for preserving our specific tradition and practice forms. Zen Master Su Bong thus continues our main line, which is a tradition of monk to monk transmission. The Kwan Um School of Zen centers and organization follow this main line.

Zen Master Bo Mun (George Bowman) and Zen Master Soeng Hyang (Barbara Rhodes), if they wish, can begin their own schools with their own traditions, their own centers. They can also teach at the Kwan Um School of Zen centers, where they would follow the practice forms of the main line. And all the teachers who receive transmission will participate in the overall governing of Kwan Um School of Zen.

PP: When people have asked you over the years about American-style practice, you have said “when an American Zen Master appears, we will have American style.” Today, three American Zen Masters are appearing.

ZMSS: As more Zen Masters appear, their individual styles will emerge. Perhaps some of them will make their own schools. So maybe, slowly, this Korean style will disappear and be replaced by an American style or American styles. But the main line does not change.

PP: Now you are giving transmission, so you will have no job. What will you do, sir?

ZMSS: Yes, hungry time only eat, tired time only sleep, that’s all.

PP: Thank you very much.

A Three-Year Retreat

September 20, 1977

Dear Soen Sa Nim,

I am still in bed, and although I don’t have pain any more, I still have a problem with my leg. It’s numb from the knee down, so I think that I’ll have to do something besides only rest to fix my back problem. Do you know why someone would have an extra vertebra or different bone structure in each hip?

This time in bed has been like a retreat in many ways. For the first time in my life, I understand that I have no choices to make. People bring me food — I can’t choose. I can’t do what I feel like doing. Every day just comes and goes. People come and go. Sometimes it’s warm, sometimes it’s cold. I just have to stay here and let everything occur just the way it does, and I must keep my mind clear. There is no choice; I cannot act out my karma. So this sickness is very strong teaching. I understand something I never did’ before: if you are dependent on anything, you make suffering. It’s funny, because I am dependent on everyone, but at the same time my mind is not dependent.

I hope you are well. Much love to you.

Yours in the Dharma,


October 5, 1977

Dear Andrea,

Hello. Thank you for your letter.

In your letter, you said that you have no choice about any food or any action, that you are dependent on everyone, but that your mind is not dependent on anything. That is wonderful. This is correct Zen sickness: sick time, only sick. No choice, no checking, not dependent, only sick. Then sick is not sick. This is high-class practice and a high-class education.

Do you know the story about Bu Sol Go Sa? lie was a monk who wanted to do a three-year retreat with two monk friends. On the way to the mountains, he got married. A girl came running up to the three monks and cried, “If I don’t marry, I will kill myself.” Bu Sol Go Sa did Bodhisattva action and married her. His two friends said, “You are only filled with desire. This is not the action of a Bodhisattva but of a selfish man.” After many more accusing and angry words, the two monks went on their way.

Just after his marriage, Bu Sol Go Sa became very sick. Just like you, he could not move. His wife was very kind to him. She did everything for him -she washed his body, brought him food. Every day for three years he could only lie in bed and look at the ceiling..

When the two monks finished their three-year retreat and were returning home, they thought about their Dharma friend. They decided to visit him, and when they reached his house, they found his wife sweeping the front yard. The two monks said, “Hello. How are you? Where is your husband?”

“My husband has been sick for three years. He is so sick that he cannot do anything.”

One monk whispered to the other, “This is his bad karma — he broke the Precepts and got married, so he got sick for three years.” But they wanted to see their Dharma friend, so they asked if they could visit him for awhile. Although the wife was a little angry inside, she acted kindly and showed the monks into her husband’s room. They went in and started laughing. “So, you have been sick for three years. Not bad!”

When Bu Sol Go Sa saw them, he got up. “Oh, how are you? Thank you very much for visiting me.”

They were startled. “We heard that you have been sick for three years. How can you get up?”

He said, “Maybe I can get up because you did strong practicing for three years.”

Then they said, “Maybe. We worried about you every day.”

“I had so much bad karma that for three years I was sick. But you did hard training all the time. What was your practice? Please teach me. What did you understand?”

The two monks said, “Oh, we read many sutras and the speech of many eminent teachers, so we understand all the Buddha’s teachings.” For the next few hours, they told him what they had learned.

Finally, Bu Sol Go Sa said, “Yes, you understand Buddha’s speech very well. But what is Buddha’s mind?”

“Buddha’s mind?”

“Yes, what is Buddha’s mind?”

“Do you know Buddha’s mind?”

“Yes, I think if you have Buddha’s mind, anything is possible. So, we’ll try something.” Then he called his wife and asked her to help him.

She brought three long thin-necked bottles with wide bottoms, filled with water. Then Bu Sol Go Sa took three pieces of rope and tied one around the neck of each bottle, and he tied each of the other ends to a crossbeam in the living room. He brought a hammer and said to his friends, “Here is a hammer. If you hit a bottle with the hammer and no water spills out, they you have attained Buddha’s mind. Let’s try this.”

These monks were very proud. Not trying would look bad, but if they tried, they might fail. They decided to try.

First the monk who did strong mantra practice hit the bottle. All the water came splashing down. Then the sutra monk hit the bottle with the hammer, and again all the water splashed out.

Finally, it was Bu Sol Go Sa’s turn. He didn’t use a hammer. He only pointed to the bottle and shouted, “KATZ!” This “KATZ” was as loud as a cannon blast. The two monks leapt up in surprise — the bottle shattered and fell to the floor, but the water only spun around and around and did not come down.

Then the monks fell to the ground, bowed to Bu Sol Go Sa and said, “We are sorry! Please teach us!”

He smiled and said, “I cannot teach you. You already have everything. But you must find your true selves; then you can do anything.”

Then he took the bottle-shaped water and spilled it out the door.

This is the story of Bu Sol Go Sa. When you are sick, only be sick. Then you will get everything, and you will be able to do anything.

You already said that your sickness is very strong teaching for you. That is wonderful. So I ask you: your sickness and Bu Sol Go Sa’s sickness — are they the same or different? If you say the same, you can see the stars when your eyes are closed. If you say different, you are already in a dark hell with no door. What can you do?

Yours in the Dharma,

S. S.

The Three Treasure Structure of Buddhism

Modern Buddhism is comprised of three main branches: Theravada Buddhism, Mahayana Buddhism, and Zen. Although these three branches are often thought of as quite distinct, they do share a common basic structure. This common structure consists of the three treasures, or “jewels,” of Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.

Time and space, cause and effect make this world. All of this comes from thinking. Human beings’ minds are composed of emotions, intellect and will. These are called the three clouds, because if you cannot control your emotions, intellect, and will, or they do not function harmoniously, they will cloud over your true self. Then you lose your way in this world, causing more suffering for yourself and others. Because of these three clouds, Buddhism has the three corresponding treasures of Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.

Then what is Buddha? Buddha means waking up and attaining your true self. If you attain your true self, you become Buddha. But in Zen teaching, Buddha is not special. Buddha means if you attain your true self, you attain your own mind. An eminent teacher once said, “Mind is Buddha; Buddha is mind.” So how can you attain your true self? At first, when you begin practicing, you only believe in Shakyamuni Buddha and in his teaching. As you practice this teaching, you see that you can better control your thinking and emotions. And if you control your thinking and emotions, then you can take away suffering and get happiness. As a result, your mind is not moving as outside conditions constantly change. Then you can see clearly, you can hear clearly, you can smell clearly–everything is beauty, just as it is. Then you can believe that the sky is blue, the tree is green, a dog is barking, ‘Woof, woof!’ You can believe in everything. Somebody once asked Un Mun Zen Master, “What is Buddha?” He replied, “Dry shit on a stick.” Perceiving that is the same point. This is moment-to-moment life. We call this the treasure of Buddha.

Beauty does not come from the outside appearance of things. In the treasure of Buddha, “beauty” means that when your mind is not moving, everything is beautiful. I was teaching in Paris several years ago, and saw an exhibition of paintings. An important picture was hanging alone on a large wall. From across the room, you could not tell what this painting was about. As I walked up to it, this picture became clear — two old and worn-out socks, with holes in them, hanging in a frame! All dirty! But that was considered to be the best picture. Everybody in the museum was saying, “Wow, that’s number one, you know?!” But why have these dirty, worn out socks hanging in a high-class museum? What do these socks mean? What is their inside-meaning? The inside-meaning is a very important point.

The inside-meaning of this picture is that some human being did a lot of walking in these socks, putting a great deal of energy into them. With time passing, the socks became worn and full of holes–they showed a lot of suffering. So this picture of old socks is making a very important point: this picture teaches us something about a human being’s life. So although the socks are very dirty, the meaning is very beautiful. Where does this beauty come from?

True beauty comes from our not-moving mind. In Sanskrit, it’s called samadhi, which means deep meditation, unmoving. When your mind is not moving, everything is beautiful, just as it is. If your mind is moving, however, then even if a beautiful picture, a beautiful landscape, or beautiful things appear in front of you, this view quickly changes in your mind, and does not seem so beautiful. For example, when you are angry, or sad, or depressed, then even the birds chirping right outside your window sound irritating or depressing. Because you attach to feelings or outside conditions, whenever these feelings or outside conditions change, then your mind is constantly changing, changing, changing. You lose your center. Then even a beautiful landscape may seem ugly or revolting. So the most important thing is to keep a not-moving mind, moment to moment. Then you can perceive true beauty, and you can digest your understanding so that it can become wisdom.

A not-moving mind gives rise to faith. When your mind is not moving, you can believe in this world. The word for that is faith. Believing in Buddha as an “object of faith” means believing in your true self. Faith means simply that you can believe in your true self, your original nature. Then you can believe your hands, your eyes, your ears, your nose, the trees, the sky, God, Buddha — everything! Someone once asked me, “Soen Sa Nim, do you believe in God?” I said, “Of course I believe in God!” The person was shocked: “But you are a Zen teacher! How can you possibly believe in God?” “I can believe my hands. I can believe my nose. I can believe my eyes. Why not believe in everything? I believe this tree, this dog, this cat — why not believe in God?”

You can believe in everything; believing in everything means realizing that you and everything are never separate. [Hits the table.] OK? You and everything are never separate. Let’s say a husband and wife both believe in their true self. Then even though the husband’s and wife’s bodies are separate, this mind always becomes one and they are never separate. If you believe in your true self, then you can believe in everything; you and everything already become one. The name for that is “faith.” “Mind is Buddha; Buddha is mind.” You are Buddha; Buddha is you! When you see, when you hear, when you smell, when you taste, when you touch — everything is beauty, just as it is. With a not-moving mind, even shit is very beautiful! When this becomes clear, your true way appears clearly right in front of you. So the treasure of Buddha means keeping a not-moving mind.

However if you only understand this, that’s merely intellectual. If you haven’t attained your true self, you don’t truly understand what is life, what is death. So it is very important that you take away ignorance and get enlightenment. How do we do this? First, you must digest your understanding. When you truly digest your understanding, then “The sky is blue” becomes yours. That means your understanding is becoming true wisdom. Your ignorance is changing as your mind opens. When you completely digest your understanding, our name for that is “getting enlightenment.” Wisdom appears by natural process as you continue practicing, digesting your understanding. That is Dharma — the treasure of Dharma.

What is the meaning of Sangha, the treasure of Sangha? Sangha is the ethical side of our life, which means having “correct life.” Correct life comes from your will, from your center. This means taking away bad habits, and following a good way which helps all beings. If your center is not moving, then having correct life is possible. We also refer to that as “correct direction.” That’s the Buddha’s basic teaching–keeping a correct direction. “Why do I want to do this or that? Only for me, or for all beings?” In order to keep our correct direction, however, we need some basic rules or guidelines for our life. These rules, or precepts, always point us toward saving all beings. Precepts are not rules to limit our actions; precepts mean correct direction. If you follow these precepts, you attain goodness. Then only correct action appears by itself: you don’t check inside, you don’t check outside. Moment to moment just doing it is possible, because these precepts already point the way to our correct job of helping all beings. Then you can believe in your true self one hundred percent. One name for that is “freedom”; another name is “holiness.” This is also called “become Buddha.”

Buddhism has a very clear teaching structure: the treasures of Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. The Chinese characters for this reads sam bo, three treasures. There are three dimensions to sam bo. They are original sam bo, form sam bo, and true sam bo. The original three treasures are the historical figure Shakyamuni Buddha; the actual teachings of Dharma which he gave 2,500 years ago in India, before any sutras appeared; and the assemblies of monks and laypeople who followed his teachings while he lived — the original Sangha. So that’s the original Buddha, the Buddha’s original Dharma speeches, and the original Sangha of people who heard and followed his teaching. In Sino-Korean, we call that jin che sam bo, the original three jewels.

More than 2,500 years have passed since the original three jewels appeared in this world. Now we have sun jun sam bo, or form of the three jewels. Since the original Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha have disappeared, what is the form of Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha that we see today? Every temple has a Buddha statue. In Buddhist temples and in our Zen centers in the West, the Buddha statue is gold. This gold Buddha is the form Buddha — it represents the original Buddha. Today we have many sutras, as many as 48,000 sutras. These are the written records of the Buddha’s teaching. We also have books with teaching and events from the lives of eminent teachers in the history of Buddhism. That’s the form of the Dharma. And originally, while Sangha meant only those people alive at the time of the Buddha who heard his teachings and put them into practice, today there are many Buddhist communities throughout the world . This is the Buddhist Sangha, the form of the Sangha. All together, that’s sun jun sam bo, the form of the three jewels.

Then what is the true Sangha? What is true Dharma? What is true Buddha? In Korean and Chinese characters, we call this il che sam bo, which means “become-one three treasures.” Your pure and clear mind is Buddha. When your mind-light shines, that is Dharma. When your mind acts with no hindrance, that is Sangha. Buddha is your pure mind, Dharma is clear mind, and Sangha is your “no-hindrance mind.”

But what is a pure mind? What is clear mind? What is a no-hindrance mind? A long time ago, somebody asked Joju Zen Master, “What is Buddha?” He said, “Go drink tea.” Another time, someone asked Joju, “What is Dharma?” “Go drink tea.” “What is Sangha?” “Go drink tea.” In Sino-Korean, we call that shil yong sam bo, which means real three treasures. If you drink tea with a clear mind, then in that moment, you become actual Buddha, actual Dharma, actual Sangha. Joju Zen Master answered many kinds of questions with “Go drink tea!” If you don’t understand this you must go drink some tea, right now! Then you will attain the actual Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, OK?

In the Compass of Zen, it says that the treasure of Buddha means beauty, the treasure of Dharma means truth, and the treasure of Sangha means morality or goodness. In Sino-Korean, we call this jin song mi — “truth, goodness, beauty.” How are these connected? What is the relationship between truth, goodness and beauty? Everyone has seen a beauty contest on television. Many women come together and are judged on beauty. That means the judges look for each woman’s beauty, or mi. But they only look at the woman’s body and face. If her face and body are beautiful, and if her actions are graceful, then this woman wins the contest. But real jin, truth, is not only how our face and body appear: real truth and beauty are found in our mind. What does our mind look like? Usually our mind is filled with many kinds of ignorant thoughts, and that makes the mind seem ugly. If you practice hard and gradually take away ignorance, you get enlightenment. Then wisdom appears: that’s true beauty and truth.

Everybody has goodness, or song, already in their mind. One way to easily see this is by going to a movie where a good character is battling a villain. The good person is being beaten badly; maybe he or she is about to die. It looks like the villain is going to win! That’s no good! So everybody in the movie theater is thinking, “No good! No good! Get up! Get the bad person!” If the good character and the others suffer a lot at the hands of the scoundrel, then everybody watching the movie feels upset. Nobody wants the good person to die. The anxiety we feel is the innate goodness we already have in us. “Get up! Get up! Get the bad person!” This mind appears. So that’s goodness. This goodness comes from where? It comes from our nature, our true nature. Myself and all beings are not different, and are never separate. That’s why goodness is realized in Sangha. So, true goodness means correct direction — precepts.

Three Men Are Walking

Three men are walking. The first man makes a sword sound; the second man waves his hands; and the third man picks up a handkerchief.

  1. If you were there, what would be your correct function?
  2. What is the relationship?
  3. And lastly, what is the situation?

Commentary: The function of each is different, but the situation is the same.

A long time ago Cheung Sahn Zen Master would frequently ask his students this kong-an. Nobody understood. Sometimes he would use wild actions or shout, “Yahhhh! Why don’t you understand?” Still they couldn’t answer completely.

This kong-an is very important. It is an object “just like this” style kong-an. There are two kinds of “just like this” kong-ans, subject and object. Subject “just-like-this” means when you are hungry, what? Eat! Object “just like this” means if someone is hungry, what? Give them food! That is object “just-like-this” style. So, in this kong-an, what is your correct function? These three men do different actions, but the situation is the same. Their function is different but it is the same situation. What is their relationship? What is the situation? Same situation, same condition, same relationship, but the function is different: one makes a sword sound, one takes out a handkerchief, one waves his hand–different action, but the meaning is the same.

Here’s a hint: you go to a theatre where somebody is doing a one-man show. He tells a very funny story, he acts funny, talks funny, and then everybody laughs. Everybody is happy. Many different people are laughing with different styles. Somebody is laughing, “Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha.” Somebody else is laughing, “Hu, Hu, Hu, Hu!” Somebody else is laughing, “Ho, Ho, Ho, Ho!” — different laughing styles. The action is different, but the condition and the situation are the same. So, what kind of condition, what kind of situation, what kind of relationship? You must attain that. That is the object “just-like-this.”

If you don’t understand, just don’t understand. If you keep this “don’t understand” then your Don’t Know mind becomes very strong and a big Don’t Know is possible, which means great question and great doubt. If you don’t know completely, then you will get complete enlightenment. If you have only a small question, only small enlightenment is possible. There are many kinds of enlightenment–small enlightenment, middle enlightenment, big enlightenment, and then finally, no enlightenment. No enlightenment is complete enlightenment.

Throw That Book Away

From talks in Cambridge on April 1, 1999 and Providence on April 2, 1999

Question: In your book, Compass of Zen, you say that “Mu practice” is not a correct practice. But Mu is the same as Kwan Seum Bosal, so why is it not correct?

Zen Master Seung Sahn: Everything in that book was a mistake. [laughter] So throw that book away, then there’s no problem. An old master said, “Anytime you open your mouth it’s a mistake.” So if opening mouth is a mistake, then making a book is even a bigger mistake! So if you want to not make a Mistake, go to a Zen center and only practice; only go straight, don’t know. “Don’t know” is the number one good practice, okay? Try it! More questions?

Q: Also in your book, you talk about going to cut grass in the field. When you had finished, you continued on to school. Later, one of your schoolmates says, “Look at the big cut on your leg!” Then you see that you had cut your leg very badly and you had to have it sewn up. What was your teaching there?

ZMSS: Cut your leg, cut your finger, cut your neck but most important is to cut ignorance. Cut grass no problem. Cut ignorance, that’s our job, okay? If you can cut your ignorance, then you can see clear, hear clear… everything is clear. But, but if you are attached to my speech, or attached to anything, then you have problem. How do you cut? [Audience member makes a cutting gesture … I Cut your finger? Why? Mistake. No problem. Cut finger, cut neck, doesn’t matter. Cut everything, cut ‘everything! Cut everything, then no problem. If even a small hair appears-even one hair-then you will have problem. Cut everything, then you can see clear, hear clear, smell clear, everything clear. So cut everything, okay?

Q: How important is this body in our search for enlightenment?

ZMSS: Yes, not only your body-everything is important. But, everything is not important. Everything important, everything not important: which one do you like? [laughter] You have a problem. Only do it. If your checking mind appears, then a problem appears. Don’t check, okay? just do it!

Three Letters to a Beginner

Dear Patricia,

Thank you for your letter. How are you?

You said in your letter that you have read many books about Zen. That’s good, but if you are thinking, you can’t understand Zen. Anything that can be written, anything that can be said – all this is thinking. If you are thinking, all Zen books, all Buddhist sutras, and all Bibles are demons’ words. But if you read with a mind that has cut off all thinking, then Zen books, sutras, and Bibles are all the truth. So is the barking of a dog or the crowing of a rooster. All things are teaching you at every moment, and these sounds are even better teaching than Zen books. So Zen is keeping the mind which is before thinking. Sciences and academic studies are after thinking. We must return to before thinking. Then we will attain our true self.

You said in your letter that your practice has been counting exhalations to ten. This method is not good, not bad. It is possible to practice in this way when you are sitting. But when you are driving, when you are talking, when you are watching television, when you are playing tennis — how is it possible to count your breaths then? Sitting is only a small part of practicing Zen. The true meaning of sitting Zen is to cut off all thinking and keep not-moving mind. So I ask you: what are you? You don’t know; there is only “I don’t know.” Always keep this don’t know mind. When this don’t know mind becomes clear, then you will understand. So if you keep it when you are talking, this is talking Zen. If you keep it when you are watching television, this is television Zen. You must keep don’t know mind always and everywhere. This is the true practice of Zen.

The Great Way is not difficult
if you don’t make distinctions.
Only throw away likes and dislikes
and everything will be perfectly clear.

So throw away all opinions, all likes and dislikes, and only keep the mind that doesn’t know. This is very important. Don’t know mind is the mind that cuts off all thinking. When all thinking has been cut off, you become empty mind. This is before thinking. Your before thinking mind, my before thinking mind, all people’s before thinking minds are the same. This is your substance. Your substance, my substance, and the substance of the whole universe become one. So the tree, the mountain, the cloud and you become one. Then I ask you: Are the mountain and you the same or different? If  you say “the same,” I will hit you thirty times. If you say “different,” I will still hit you thirty times. Why?

The mind that becomes one with the universe is before thinking. Before thinking there are no words. “Same” and “different” are opposite words; they are from the mind that separates all things. That is why I will hit you if you say either one. So what would be a good answer? If you don’t understand, only keep don’t know mind for a while, and you will soon have a good answer. If you do, please send it to me.

You asked why I use words to teach, if understanding through words is impossible. Words are not necessary. But they are very necessary. If you are attached to words, you cannot return to your true self. If you are not attached to words, soon you will attain enlightenment. So if you are thinking, words are very bad. But if you are not thinking, all words and all things that you can see or hear or smell or taste or touch will help you. So it is very important for you to cut off your thinking and your attachments to words.

Here is a poem for you:

Buddha said all things have Buddha-nature.
Joju said the dog has no Buddha-nature.
Which one is correct?
If you open your mouth, you fall into hell.
Clouds float up to the sky;
rainfalls down to the ground.

Sincerely yours,

S. S.

Dear Patricia,

Thank you for your letter. You say that keeping don’t know mind is difficult. If you examine your thinking mind, then it is difficult. You mustn’t examine your thinking mind. Thinking is okay; don’t worry about it. If you are not upset by your thinking, then it is not difficult to keep don’t know mind. At first you will be able to keep it only for a short time. But if you practice with sincerity, it will keep growing by itself.

Your mind is like the sea. When the wind comes, there are very big waves. When the wind dies down, the waves become smaller and smaller, until finally the wind disappears altogether and the sea is like a clear mirror. Then mountains, trees and all things are reflected on the surface of the sea. There are many thought-waves in your mind. But if you continue to practice don’t know mind, this thinking will become gradually smaller, until finally your mind will always be clear. When the mind becomes clear, it is like a mirror: red comes and the mirror is red; yellow comes and the mirror is yellow; a mountain comes and the mirror is a mountain. Your mind is the mountain; the mountain is your mind. They are not two. So it is very important not to be attached either to thinking or to not thinking. You mustn’t be upset by anything that goes on in your mind. Only don’t worry and keep don’t know mind.

You say that in the beginning you were enthusiastic and now you are discouraged. Both extremes are no good. It is like a guitar string; if you make it too tight, it will be out of tune and will soon snap; if you make it too loose, it will still be out of tune and will not play. You must make it just right. Too enthusiastic is no good, too discouraged is also no good. Zen mind is everyday mind. You must keep this mind during every action — eating, talking, playing tennis, watching television — always keep don’t know mind. What is most important is how you keep your mind at this very moment. “Just now mind.” If you have free time, it is good to sit. If you don’t have free time, then just do action Zen.

But be very careful about wanting enlightenment. This is a bad Zen sickness. When you keep a clear mind, the whole universe is you, you are the universe. So you have already attained enlightenment. Wanting enlightenment is only thinking. It is something extra, like painting legs on the picture of a snake. Already the snake is complete as it is. Already the truth is right before your eyes.

It is very true that contact with other Zen students will help your practice. Together action is very important for Zen students. Bowing together, chanting together, sitting together, eating together — this means that your own situation, your condition, and your opinions can disappear much more easily. Zen work is becoming empty mind. Becoming empty mind means having all my opinions fall away. Then you will experience true emptiness. When you experience true emptiness, you will attain your true situation, your true condition, and your true opinions. I hope that you will come often to the Zen Center, do hard training, soon attain enlightenment, and save all people from suffering.

Sincerely yours,

S. S.

Dear Patricia,

Thank you for your letter. You said that I have helped your practice. This is very good. Zen practice is of the greatest importance. You must decide to practice and very strongly keep this decision. This requires great faith, great courage, and great questioning.

What is great faith? Great faith means that at all times you keep the mind which decided to practice no matter what. It is like a hen sitting on her eggs. She sits on them constantly, caring for them and giving them warmth, so that they will hatch. If she becomes careless or negligent the eggs will not hatch and will not become chicks. So Zen mind means always and everywhere believing in myself. I vow to become Buddha and save all people.

Next — what is great courage? This means bringing all your energy to one point. It is like a cat hunting a mouse. The mouse has retreated into its hole, but the cat waits outside the hole for hours on end without the slightest movement. It is totally concentrated on the mouse hole. This is Zen mind cutting off all thinking and directing all your energy to one point.

Next — great questioning. This is like a child who thinks only of its mother, or a man dying of thirst who thinks only of water. It is called one mind. If you question with great sincerity, there will only be don’t know mind.

If you keep these three — great faith, great courage, and great questioning — you will soon attain enlightenment. You said in your letter that practice is difficult. This is thinking. Zen is not difficult. If you say it is difficult, that means you have been examining yourself, examining your situation, your condition, your opinions. So you say Zen is difficult. And it is not easy. The truth is only like this. Don’t make difficult, don’t make easy. Just practice.

You said that the Zen books which you read shattered your beliefs. That’s very good. But shattered is not shattered. Before, your view was a deluded view. Now it is a correct view. What you believed before was like wanting to hold the rainbow. But the rainbow soon disappears. It never really existed. All things are like this. Before, you believed that all things existed. But now you understand that all things are emptiness. Even so, you must take one step further. Believing or not believing, shattered or not shattered — this is still the area of opposites. You must throw all these opposites away. Then the truth will be only like this. You said that everything was shattered. But this “shattered” is still an attachment to name and form. Originally, there is only emptiness. There is neither shattered nor not shattered. This is the area of the absolute. The absolute is true emptiness. True emptiness is before thinking. Before thinking is like this. Form is form, emptiness is emptiness. So your don’t know mind is true emptiness, is before thinking, is the absolute, is your true self.

The names are all different, but they are all names for clear mind. Originally clear mind has no name and no form. There are no words for it. So if you open your mouth, you are wrong. This is why whenever Zen Master Lin-chi was asked a question, he only shouted, “KATZ!” Dok Sahn would answer only by hitting the questioner. Kuji would just hold up one finger. If you are not attached to KATZ or HIT or one finger, then you will understand that the meaning behind these actions is clear mind. The different actions are just different styles of pointing to clear mind. It is impossible to explain clear mind in words, so the Zen Masters used shouting and hitting and holding up one finger to explain. You must put it down! KATZ is only KATZ, HIT is only HIT, one finger is only one finger. You must understand this. When you say, “I know I don’t know,” this is no good. Don’t examine your don’t know mind.

Life is Zen. But some people say that life is suffering. How are these different? If you make “my life is Zen,” then your life becomes Zen. If somebody else makes “my life is suffering,” then that person’s life becomes suffering. So it all depends on how you are keeping your mind just now, at this very moment! This just-now mind continues and becomes your life, as one point continues and becomes a straight line.

You like Zen, so your life has become Zen. Now you think that the world is wonderful. Your mind is wonderful, so the whole world is wonderful. If you attain enlightenment, you will understand that all people are suffering greatly, so your mind also will be suffering. This is big suffering. So you must enter the great bodhisattva way and save all people from their suffering. I hope that you only keep don’t know mind, always and everywhere. Then you will soon attain enlightenment and save all beings.

Here is a question for you: Somebody once asked the great Zen Master Dong Sahn, “What is Buddha?” Dong Sahn answered, “Three pounds of flax.” What does this mean?

I will wait for a good answer.

Sincerely yours,

S. S.

A Time of Complete Transformation

Everything that happens in this world is correct. Things go in cycles: spring, summer, fall, winter. Every year this cycle of seasons occurs. But there are longer cycles too, and this year is the beginning of both a 60 year and a 360 year cycle. It is a very interesting time.

There is a very large insect called the cicada, which grows very slowly inside a cocoon fastened to a tree. The transformation from cocoon to winged creature takes a long time, about seventeen years, and is very difficult. During this time in the cocoon, the cicada’s internal body appears disrupted. The skin, the organs, the wings, all appear not to be working. They aren’t moving. The body looks as if it were confused and broken.

Then slowly the cocoon breaks open and the new body begins to appear. A wing emerges, then a leg stretches forth. At first the cicada’s movements are slow and difficult. It crawls out of the cocoon and falls to the ground. At this stage the cicada never thinks about the sky or about flying – it only thinks about how to get food, any kind of food. Sometimes it takes three or four hours between the time it leaves the cocoon and the time it is able to fly. But this is a time of complete transformation. One moment it tries to fly and it flies!

We are very worried about the future. How can we ever fly? How can our wings possibly appear? How can we get enough food? Many problems are appearing. If we buy a business, we want to know if the future will be good for sales or bad. So we have many worries. But human beings are part of nature. Like the cicada, even if we have already emerged from our cocoon, it still takes time before we understand how to stretch our wings out and fly. Finally we will fly.

There is always change, but changing means not changing. Moment to moment, everything is complete. Everything that happens is correct. If you are attached to name and form, it means that your thinking appears and disappears. If your thinking does not appear and disappear, everything is complete. If your center is not moving, you will have no difficulty even though many new conditions will appear. If you have no center, you will always have problems. Think of it like this: not much happens in the winter months, the season of cold and ice. No leaves or flowers appear from the frozen ground. When spring comes, the ground thaws. Water goes into the soil and starts working. Everything erupts. The grass grows. Leaves appear and get bigger. Flowers appear. All the colors are changing. Everything is changing, quickly changing.

It’s the same in our minds, in our “inside” world as well as the “outside” world. During winter, for three or four months everything stays the same, so we experience no difficulty. In the spring there are many changes, so our minds move and we experience many doubts and problems. Just at this time of the ending of an old set of 60 years and 360 year cycles and the beginning of a new set, many things are happening “inside.” A strange, complicated mind is appearing.

Just now we need to practice more strongly and make our direction clear. If you are not doing hard practice or your direction is unclear, any kind of demon might take you. When you die, you will not understand where you go. What kind of hell will you go to? There are many kinds. If in this life you have killed many animals, when you die, these animals will appear to you saying, “Give me my life!”

It is necessary to die every day, and every day to give life. If in one day you die ten thousand times, you are ten thousand times alive. This life is maybe seventy or eighty years long. Many things happen in one life. We think it is so short, but to some beings, even one second is very long.

Buddha went to heaven to save his mother. He only stayed three days, but in this world, it was ninety days. During this time the king missed the Buddha. He went to see the Buddha, expecting a dharma speech, but the Buddha was not there. The king was unhappy. His mind could not rest. So he invited a very good sculptor to make a gold Buddha, and he put it on the Buddha’s seat.

Then the Buddha came back. He looked at the gold Buddha – its face and his face were the same! The king explained, “We missed you, so we made this statue just like you and put it on your seat. Is this good or bad?”

The Buddha said, “You understand form is emptiness, emptiness is form. If you think this Buddha is truth, that is me.” So Buddha statues appeared at that time.

Just like that story, if your mind, your center is strong with no thinking, then you already have infinite time and infinite space. If you have thinking, then even one hour can seem like many years. Sometimes our thinking makes many years seem like only one second. So it’s very important how strong your center is. In a changing time, a time of beginnings, it’s very important to have a strong center. At this time, if your direction is clear, then the beginning goes this way and that way. If you are not clear, the future is not clear.

Some people say the end of the world is coming. But when an old age is finished, a new age appears. Human beings are part of the natural cycle and this is a changing time for all species. This year is the beginning of the age when women will control everything, just as men have up till now: the house, the family, politics, the economy. Soon there will be many more women leading their countries. Women will become as strong as men, as it was thousands of years ago. This change from yang to yin has already begun.

When Bodhidharma came to China, he became the first patriarch of Zen. As the result of a “marriage” between Vipassana-style Indian meditation and Chinese Taoism, Zen appeared. Now it has come to the West and what is already here? Christianity, Judaism, and so forth. When Zen “gets married” to one of these traditions, a new style of Buddhism will appear.

Perhaps there will be a woman matriarch and all dharma transmission would go only from woman to woman. Why not? So everyone, you must create American Buddhism. Get enlightenment!

In this new age time, a strong center is necessary. Are you clear, everyone? No? Then more hard training is necessary. Also, your direction must become clear. Why do you eat every day? Why do you study Zen? Why do you sit? These are important questions..

Ten Thousand Demons Appear

From a letter to a student in retreat:

I hope you are victorious over all demons. If you think, ten thousand demons appear. If you cut off all thinking, you will create the clear mind. Then you will get freedom, and no hinderance. I will now ask you a big question: ‘If a person comes to Sambosa smoking a cigarette, and blows smoke and drops ashes on the Buddha, and if you are a master, what can you do?’ I wish that you will soon attain enlightenment.

From a letter to the same student on the end of his retreat:

Here is a poem for you.

A great man goes on a hundred day retreat.
He makes many demons, many gods, many animals, and many Buddhas.
One hundred days are the same as the space of one breath.
You have brushed off all dust, and have breathed in the sky and ground.
The great path is in the palm of your hand, and the great freedom is in your feet.
Spring comes, flowers are blooming everywhere.

See you later,

S. S.

The Sword that Kills and the Sword that Gives Life : Finding balance in Zen practice

Zen Master Seung Sahn with Zen Master Bo Mun

The following talk was drawn from a question and answer session between Zen Master Seung Sahn and his students at the third annual Kwan Um School of Zen Congress. Zen Master Bo Mun (George Bowman) was the moderator for this session.

Zen Master Bo Mun: Last night we met in small groups to discuss the most important issues of our practice. The major issue was balance: how to find it in the midst of formal practice as Zen students, families, jobs, relationships, etc.

There are two formal aspects to Zen practice: the killing sword and the sword that gives life. The killing sword means, how do we give ourselves to the situation? How, without repressing, do we let go of our condition, opinion, and situation and really offer ourselves to what’s going on in the moment? For most of us that requires a fair amount of hard work. Sometimes it’s painful and difficult. If we try to live that way all the time, only being “good” or only taking certain roles, most of us find that it doesn’t work. We become brittle, irritable, out of balance. We do many things with such a charge behind them that we put ourselves in precarious situations.

The other aspect is the sword that gives life: the experience of empowering ourselves, doing things which come naturally, that we love to do and find fulfillment in. When we do too many of these things, most of us get a certain softness or flatness. There’s no keen working edge to our practice. It’s hard to believe in ourselves if we go too far to that side.

So there’s a swing between “putting it all down” in formal practice, life at a Zen Center, the demands of family and job and relationships; and on the other side, empowering ourselves and being happy so that our lives are workable, so that we can be the kind of people in the world that other people would like to be.

These two aspects come up in many different dimensions. On the simplest level, they arise with the inhalation and exhalation of the breath, sitting completely and receiving experience on the cushion, and receiving what comes up in family life and all the other areas. How to balance all this was the major issue that came out of last night’s meetings.

In talking with Zen Master Seung Sahn now, it would be nice if we could get into the spirit of heckling him a little. It’s hard to do that, because whenever you ask him a question you are taking your life in your hands. I am reminded of the relationship between Ananda and the Buddha. The Buddha would give long dharma talks and then Ananda would say, “Yes, but what about men and women and what goes on between them?” The Buddha would make some reply, then Ananda would say, “Well, it’s all well and good for you to say that, you’re the Buddha (or the Zen Master). People fly you around everywhere and everyone bows to you, but we’re here, slugging it out in the trenches. How about us?” So a little bit of that spirit would be helpful. Zen Master Seung Sahn, last night many people talked about balance and doing hard training. How do we find balance?

Zen Master Seung Sahn: Many people are confused about what their job is: how much they should practice, how much they should take care of their family. Sometimes this gets unbalanced. So we must talk about our direction. Why are we living in this world? Direction is very important.

If your direction is clear, then your relationships will be clear, your outside job will be clear, your inside practicing job will be clear. If your direction is not clear, it means you are holding some opinion, condition, or situation. Then already you have lost what is important. Many people want to drink alcohol and have a good time. If this mind appears, you cannot have a correct relationship to your family or your inside and outside jobs. Your practicing will not be clear. Nothing will be clear.

Everybody has this mind: I like movies, ice cream, good restaurants. Single people want a girlfriend or boyfriend to have a good time with. We have a lot of this “wanting a good feeling” mind. Good feeling is sometimes necessary; but first, what is most important? If we understand this, then family, relationships, job, practicing will be no problem. Everything will be correct and balanced.

Question: How can we balance things which help our own and other people’s spirits grow, like music and art, that are not just having a good time or doing formal practice?

ZMSS: If you live outside a Zen center, you decide how often to go. If you go two or three evenings a week and do hard practice, then maybe one evening you want music, one evening of seeing friends, maybe one special evening like yoga or something. If your center is strong, you already have everything. If your center is not strong, then you want many things: music, art, sculpture, tai chi, karate, connecting with other religions. Then your head gets complicated. Is this necessary?

If your center is strong, in one week you can do ten or twenty different jobs without difficulty. Then coming to a Zen center once a week would be enough. But if your center is not strong, coming to a Zen center more often is very important, because you will not have a correct relationship to your family, your outside job, your music, or anything. An eminent teacher once said, “When you drink water, understand whether it is cold or hot.” Everyone understand, you understand, whether your own center is strong or not. If it’s not, then coming often to a Zen center is necessary. Having a clear direction is very important.

Q: Many people have responsibilities outside of a Zen center which they cannot give up. But if they don’t come often, their center will not remain strong.

ZMSS: Then you must decide about practicing at home and make a schedule of waking up early. Maybe you want to sleep until 6:30 am, but you must wake up at 4:00 am when everyone else is asleep and do bows. Your center will become strong. Try that. It’s difficult, but you can practice at home.

ZMBM: Recently I was at Jakusho Kwong Roshi’s center at Sonoma Mountain and he talked about what happens when they have training periods there. Whether it’s a week training period or longer, people from the community come to a meeting at the center and work out a practice schedule for themselves at home. Everyone in the sangha decides together that they’re going to take this time, whether it’s a week or a month, to make more of an effort. They might come to the zendo once a week or not at all, but everyone does it together. The people who can’t come at all do a little more than they ordinarily would.

ZMSS: I like Zen Master Wu Kwang, one of our new Ji Do Poep Sa Nims, very much because he has great love for his family and is also very responsible to his job. When he would occasionally come to our Zen center in New York Zen, his center was very strong. I would ask him, “Do you have any problems?” He would say, “No problems.”

So as an example, his not coming very often to the Zen center wasn’t a problem because his direction is clear. Before he came here, he used to go around to a lot of yoga centers and other meditation groups. Then he came here and found his correct way. He found everyday life practicing – taking care of family and his outside job; that is Zen. Moment to moment, he is practicing Zen. I understand his mind.

Why separate your family, your job, and Zen? Zen Master Soeng Hyang is a senior student, and she doesn’t do as much formal practice as before, but every day her practice is to take care of her family and go to her job. Even if you are a very good student, if you check your family, your job, your feelings, your condition, you will have a problem. So don’t check, just do it, OK?

Zen is everyday life. Everyday mind is Zen mind. If you keep this mind, no problem. Keep your direction clear and try. Make a mistake, try again. Lots of thinking, try again! Even if you live at a Zen center for a long time and do many retreats and hard training, but you still check yourself and hold onto things, still your life will be unhappy and unclear.

Moment to moment, just do it: that’s our direction. That is Zen. Then your family and your outside job and your practice are never separated. They are the same direction, the same point. Try it. If you cannot do it, then you must do a thousand bows a day.

Q: Many of the people who run Zen centers and our school get over-tired from all the responsibility and worry and emergencies. Then they feel: “I don’t like this. I don’t want to practice. I don’t want to do my job.” We call this “burn-out.” What can we do about it?

ZMSS: So you have a baby. It’s your baby. This baby has many problems. At night it cries, shits, or crawls around a lot. That’s not so bad if you just take care of it. So the Zen center is your baby. If it becomes separate from you, this “I don’t like it” mind appears. What is your direction, the purpose of your life? You must take responsibility for the whole universe, for all beings. You must find your original job, then this “burn-out” mind will not appear. If you hold onto your situation, your condition, your opinion, then this mind appears.

This isn’t a good example, but when I stayed in Korea, I had no problems. I was a Zen Master and everyone took care of me – kept my rooms clean, did my laundry, brought me food. Many people liked me, came to see me, and took me around in good cars. I stayed in beautiful houses; going anywhere was no problem.

When I came to the United States I had no money, so I went to work in a laundry. Nobody understood that I was a Zen Master. I was a laundry man, carrying heavy loads of clothes to this store and that, picking up all the dirty clothes, washing them, being sent all around every day. At night I had a lot of pain and fatigue, but I always practiced. My older students understand this!

Some other old monks who have come to the United States to work found it very hard. They wept and were too tired to practice. This means the mind is very important. I never worked this hard with my body in Korea, not just eight hours a day, but twelve hours a day at the laundry job. But even with the hard work, I always practiced bowing and chanting in the morning and evening. If I didn’t work at any outside job, I couldn’t get money to pay for my apartment and food. It was difficult. But that was my job.

Q: I understand that. If you have a baby of one or two years old, it gets up in the middle of the night. But as it gets older, you don’t have to do that anymore. Also, when you came to this country, you had to work to get money; it wasn’t for the rest of your life. There are some people (whether or not they are living in a Zen center) who are pushing themselves very hard, beyond what they can really do. Then they burn out.

ZMSS: So direction is very important. If your direction is not clear, burnout appears. If your direction is clear, it never appears. Even if you are dying, if your direction is clear, it’s no problem. So we practice. If you have energy, no problem. If you have no energy, burn-out appears. Every day correct practicing is necessary.

Earlier this summer I was very sick before going to Paris. Breathing was so difficult, I almost died one night. Then I went to Paris on a charter flight, and there were many problems: standing in long lines, carrying a lot of baggage, so I got very sick again. My body had no energy. Diabetes means not much pain inside, but having no energy. Everything is very uninteresting. “I don’t care” mind appears. If you have a lot of energy, helping other people is no problem. So getting energy is very important.

Q: How did you get your energy back?

ZMSS: I am talking to you now. That is how I get energy. If today or tomorrow, I die, no problem. Worrying only means losing energy – “Oh, what shall I do?” Worrying is number one bad. If you don’t worry about anything, then whenever you die, no problem. Only follow the situation, then slowly it will get better.

Q: To all of these questions that people ask you about balance and burn-out and getting a strong center, you always answer, “have a clear direction.” So my question is, how do I get clear direction?

ZMSS: So I ask you, why do you eat everyday?

Q: I haven’t the foggiest idea. (laughter)

ZMSS: That’s your direction. Why do you eat everyday? For what?

Q: I understand your question, but I don’t know the answer.

ZMSS: You have no answer? Then you don’t understand your direction.

Q: Right! (laughter)

ZMSS: Then I will make your direction clear. Everyday before bowing we say, “Sentient beings are numberless, we vow…”

Q: ” … to save them.”

ZMSS: Good! That’s your direction. If only your mouth is saying it, you are not doing it. So do it.

Q: But when I say, “to save all beings,” it’s not true.

ZMSS: Why isn’t it true?

Q: Because I …

ZMSS: You are checking your mind. Don’t check, OK? Just do it! I eat everyday, so only “sentient beings are numberless, I vow to save them all.” So I eat. Then this thinking appears, “That’s not true.” That’s what I mean by checking.

“I vow to save them all” means when you’re doing something, just do it, moment to moment. That is all. Moment to moment keep the correct situation, the correct function, the correct relationship. If someone in front of you is very hungry, what can you do? Don’t care? Everyone understands correct situation, correct function, only they cannot do it! We understand it only in our speech. If someone in front of you is hungry, give them food. If they are thirsty, give them a drink. Understand?

If you go to 42nd Street in New York City, there are many people begging, but other people just pass them by. If you have money, even if it’s only ten cents, give it to them. That is helping. But we cannot do even that.

Doing is very important. Small or big help, it doesn’t matter. Just do something. If you understand this, you must try, then your understanding becomes wisdom. If we don’t try, then understanding is only understanding and cannot help our true self, our direction, our life, our practice, or save all beings. So only do it. Don’t check your mind. That’s very important.