Not Just a Human World

This world is changing very fast. Recently, I went to Moscow to take part in a large conference called the Global Forum. The idea of this conference was very interesting “how can we save this world?” Soviet President Gorbachev had invited over six hundred people – prominent religious, political, scientific and business figures – from many countries. Gorbachev perceives that this world is in danger. His mind is very wide. He isn’t attached to the Communist idea.

Human beings have proven themselves to be very stupid animals. We have broken nature – broken the air, mountains, rivers; killed animals; fought each other. We don’t understand our own correct situation or the correct way. In human life, keeping the correct way is very difficult. People get money, become famous, have this possession or that, but when old age and death approach, there is much suffering. In a way, if you have much money, there is more suffering; if you have no money, there is no suffering. Also, if you have too much thinking, too much understanding, there is more suffering; if your mind is simple, there is no suffering; it is possible to accept old age and death as a natural process. This simple mind is don’t know mind. The don’t know mind does not check, does not hold, does not want, is not attached to anything. It only keeps a one-pointed, simple direction.

But if you are holding your opinion, your condition, your situation, then this world attacks you. First, your mind attacks you; then your family, your friends, all the people you meet attack you; your society, your culture, time and space, everything attacks you. If you put it all down, this world and time and space cannot touch you. Then you can control this world, you can control time and space.

Human beings always want something; this wanting and never ends, so our life is always complicated, always suffering. Putting it all down means making life very simple, like a clear mirror. The name for this mirror-mind is Great Love, Great Compassion and the Great Bodhisattva Way. Originally everything is very simple, very harmonious. Only when “I” appears do things get complicated and suffering begins. When “I” disappears, this whole world is yours. When “I” appears, you lose Us world.

For instance, in West Germany some people are wary of unification. Why? Because East Germany is very poor. So “I don’t like” appears. That’s animal mind, not human being’s mind. East Germany has had much suffering; West Germany is prosperous. We must put down our prejudices and live in the world with the sky, the trees, the air, and other people.

At this conference in Moscow, the religious and political leaders of the world got together and talked about how to save this world. Now they are all concerned about ecology, about the environment, about pollution in the air and in the water. They talked about how to fix the problems of the world, how to raise enough money, things like that. In my talk to them, I explained that this is not just the human beings’ world; our universe includes animals, birds, plants, air, sky, everything. When there is harmony in all these things, the world is harmonious. When there is no harmony, there is a problem. So the problems of this world are only a result; this result is from primary cause. If you don’t understand primary cause, you cannot fix the results. What kind of primary cause?

Today there are five billion people in the world. In 1945, at the end of the war, there were only two and a half billion people. So since the second world war, human population has grown very fast. Also there has been an economic revolution. Now many people in the West are comfortable: good house, good car, good situation. But how many people have happiness? Every day twenty-five thousand people die of hunger in poor countries of the world. But in rich countries of the world, there is much leftover food thrown into the garbage. So there is unbalance in this world. Who made this unbalance? Human beings holding on to their opinion, condition, and situation have made this unbalance, this suffering in the world.

Only a short time ago, everyone was afraid of nuclear war. Now everyone is afraid of AIDS. Always everyone is afraid of dying. But if you keep your correct function, correct situation, correct relationship moment to moment, you can never die. Then you make harmony and balance in this world; that’s how you help this world – not only human beings but the entire universe. That’s a very wide mind.

Western history always talks about change from the outside, so Western societies have many revolutions. Eastern mind means inside revolution, not outside. It means sharing our world with the sun, animals, trees, all of life. Many Western people have been attracted to meditation because of these ideas. When your life becomes correct, you become harmonious with the rest of the universe.

The Buddha always talked about this idea: love and compassion, harmony with everything in the universe. He talked about equality and love. Everything in the universe has its job: tree has tree’s job, bird has bird’s job, human being has human being’s job. Only human beings don’t understand their correct job.

So any kind of Zen practice means making your mind very simple, means don’t know mind. Don’t know mind means understanding human beings’ original job. The Buddha practiced unceasingly for six years. Bodhidharma sat for nine years. Why? He already had enlightenment, so why did he sit for nine years in the cave at Sorim? He realized that the time was not ripe for his teaching, so these nine years were a time of waiting for him. This waiting was not for himself but for all beings. So his waiting was his practice.

Bodhidharma’s waiting mind is also your mind. Putting down your opinion, your condition, your situation, and keeping correct function, correct situation, correct relationship is also Bodhidharma’s waiting mind. This is the Bodhisattva mind; this mind’s job is never finished, because this mind is only for all beings.

I hope you continue to keep this Bodhisattva Way. Don’t make anything. Moment to moment, just do it.

The Nose Says Acchhew!

Dear Soen Sa Nim,

How are you? I have heard about your sickness and that it was necessary for you to go to the hospital earlier this summer. I am sorry. But also, I have heard that now with the insulin, you are the strongest in a long time. I am very glad about this.

I have meant to write to you for some tine now, and finally, the time is ripe to do so. I was very disappointed not to be able to attend the special Dharma Teachers’ Yong Maeng Jong Jin in July, but I signed a contract last February to be in Pennsylvania at the Pennsylvania Governor’s School for the Arts at Bucknell University during all of July and half of August, teaching every day of the week except Sunday. Since it is a very intensive and relatively short program, they were unwilling to let me take the time off to travel to Providence. However, it was a wonderful opportunity to teach, because nearly every day was spent with the students from 8:00 A.M. to 10:30 P.M., after which, there was always preparation of teaching materials for the next day. So, the students and the teachers became like a big family.

Soen Sa Nim, always, when I teach music or karate, I feel as if I am teaching Buddhism. The words are usually mostly about music or karate, but beneath the words, there is always Zen. And, I think that what students learn is not so much about these subjects, but rather about how to live one’s life. This means that there is a very big responsibility on each teacher, and more and more, I understand the importance of always being clear. I did get a chance to introduce Buddhism to some of the students (all of high school age) in a direct way by devoting two classes of ethnomusic to the Buddhist chanting of Tibet, China, Korea, and Japan. I also chanted the Heart Sutra for them, which they liked very much.

In presenting one class on the music of Korea, I found that even though I have always enjoyed the A-Ak, Tang-Ak, and Hyang-Ak music, I became especially drawn to the P’ansori music. Very beautiful, very deep, and somehow ageless music. Anyway, it was a well-spent month and a half, and I felt close to the people, as though brought there magnetically by very strong karma.

Now, I am back teaching at Yale for the last time, but am also concerned about a job which I am applying for at Bard College. Bard is just a short ways across the Hudson River from Woodstock, at the foot of the Catskill Mountains, and I am very strongly attracted to it. Bard is, or has the reputation for being, a very open (receptive to unusual ideas) school, and it sounds like a place where perhaps there may be support for not only teaching music, but also Zen and karate. It is also interesting to me, because of your ties to Woodstock, and so I shall be watching to see if anything comes of it. Karma!

This morning, something unusual happened. I have been reading the kong-an book each morning in between bowing and sitting, to catch up with the kong-ans that I missed this summer while I was gone. And today, I came to your Dharma talk on Primary Point. Your words rang like a bell as I began to sit, and I spent the whole sitting doing my best to control either hysterical sobs and tears or laughter. Even now (much later), this wells up within me. After many years of sitting Zen, I feel as though I just now cut the first thread on the net of ignorance. How can I thank you for your words on Primary Point?


Sunday, I gave the Dharma talk and attempted to explain the term “non-action”, which appears in many books on Zen or Taoism. I said that no matter what appears, good or bad, there is this place or point which cannot be touched, whether you are sitting, or bowing, or chanting, or thinking, or eating, or sleeping, or shitting; it is unmoving. And so this morning, I read about Primary Point. How wonderful! I am indebted to your teaching.

For one hundred lives
I have looked for the nose on my face,
and only this morning did I find a mirror!
The earth smells damp in this September rain.

More than ever before, I must continue to bow, to sit, and to chant, to finish the Great Work, and save all beings from suffering.


September 19, 1977

Dear David,

How are you and your family? Thank you for your letter. You were worried about my body. Nowadays, my body is very strong, no problem.

You could not come to the Dharma Teachers’ Yong Maeng Jong Jin; I heard that you were very busy. When you are busy, but you get not busy, this is better than Dharma Teachers’ Yong Maeng Jong Jin. This means moment-to-moment clear mind. Clear mind is moment-to-moment keeping your correct situation. This means busy is not busy.

You taught at the Governor’s School for the Arts. That is wonderful. Your letter said only teaching music, but other times, you are always teaching music, karate, and Zen. Our mind has three aspects. First will. Will makes goodness. Next, emotion. Emotion makes beauty. Next, intellect. Intellect makes truth.

So, these three aspects come from one mind. You have one body, one mind. When you are teaching karate, you must teach strong will, complete goodness. Next, when you are teaching music, you must teach high emotion. High means everybody together becomes one mind; low means only for myself. This is perfect beauty. Next, when you teach Zen, you must teach correct intellectual style. Then, your students attain the correct way. Those three kinds, which are complete goodness, perfect beauty, and correct true way, make great love, great Bodhisattva, great compassion. The name for this is great man. So, you are already a great man, because you always teach karate, music, and Zen. How wonderful this is!

You like teaching the Heart Sutra and Korean music. Korean music all comes from Buddhism. Now, it is separated into A-Ak, Tang-Ak, Hyang-Ak, and P’ansori. Those all came from Korea’s mother music, Yoeng Sahn He Sahn. You know the story of Buddha picking up a flower. Nobody understood. Mahakashyapa smiled, and Buddha said, “I transmit my Dharma to you.” That event was set to music, called “Yoeng Sahn He Sahn” (Gathering at Yoeng Sahn Mountain). Before, in Korea, Buddhism was the national religion. So, all music was dependent on Buddhism, and comes from Yoeng Sahn He Sahn. So, I think your liking Korean music means in your mind, you already have Buddhist music karma, which is to use music to cut off all thinking and become clear and pure. Buddha picked up a flower; nobody understood. Only Mahakashyapa smiled. But, if we look at this, already Buddha’s mind, everybody’s mind, Mahakashyapa’s mind is the same. Clear and pure. So your teaching music is the same as Buddha’s mind.

You may be near Woodstock. That is very good karma. Right now, we are taking a rest about Woodstock. Maybe in the future, we will make a big monastery over there. Maybe in five years, or ten years, or twenty years, or next life. Someday. But this means Woodstock and the East Coast Zen Centers have very strong karma. Also, this Woodstock mountain location where the farm-church that we like is, is a very wonderful location. Never before did I see such a good location in America.

In your letter, you said, “I feel as though just now, I cut the first thread on the net of ignorance.” That is wonderful! Now, you have found your original face. So, you can believe in yourself 100%. That is your karma. But, you can control your karma, so I say no problem. Already, you have your direction. Already, you have great vow and great way. Great vow is infinite space, and great way is infinite time. So. your great vow and great way come together — numberless lives of great Bodhisattva action.

Congratulations on your great Bodhisattva way.

Finally, you got Katz! This Katz makes numberless Buddhas. Don’t lose this Katz! Getting Katz is very easy. Keeping Katz is very difficult. Katz is Katz.

Your poem is very wonderful. Here is a poem for you:

A man for one hundred lives
Was looking for his nose.
Finally, he got nose is high,
Mouth is low.
The mouth says Katz!
The nose says Acchhew!

I hope you always keep your Katz! keeping a mind which is clear like space, a clear light shining always, and everywhere, make all suffering disappear from the three worlds.!

Yours in the Dharma,


No Hindrance

One day, a nun visited Zen Master Song Sahn. “What is dharma?” she asked.

“No hindrance.”

“Then what does ‘no hindrance’ mean?”

Song Sahn replied, “Why do you wear clothes?”

At this, the nun stripped naked and walked to the door.


1. What is dharma?

2. If you were Zen Master Song Sahn, at that time what would you do?

3. The nun stripped naked. Is that no hindrance?


COMMENTARY:  A tree understands tree’s job, and water understands water’s job. What is a Zen Master’s job? What is a nun’s correct job? If you are attached to speech, you will go to hell like an arrow. If you digest speech you can kill all Buddhas and bodhisattvas. Which one do you like? Put it all down. Go to the store and drink iced tea.


This nun doesn’t understand correct “no hindrance.” What is true no hindrance? At interview time if a teacher asks you, “What is no hindrance?” maybe you hit the floor. Not good, not bad. Maybe someone else says, “Ah, sky is blue, tree is green.” Not good, not bad. But one more step is necessary. What is complete no hindrance? No hindrance means, only help other people. That is true no hindrance.

In the eighteenth century, the French Revolution completely overturned society. All the French people said, “Ah, I am free, I am free!” At that time some people were in a restaurant where there was no smoking allowed, but one man was smoking. A man came up to him and said, “Why are you smoking inside?”

The smoking man said, “Ah, no hindrance–free, everything is free.”

Then the first man hit him. PTCHEW!

“Why did you hit me?”

The first man said, “I am free!”

So that’s not free, OK?  If you are attached to free, then freedom will kill you.

If you completely keep the rules, then you’re truly free. Completely free means freedom from life and death. If life and death are no hindrance for you, then complete freedom is possible. This kind of freedom is not for me, but for all beings. If hungry people come, give them food; thirsty people, give them drink–only help. That is the bodhisattva way.

First question. What is dharma? Dharma means everything; when you see, when you hear, when you smell, everything is the dharma. That is 100% dharma.

Second.  If you are Zen Master Song Sahn, at that time, what would you do?  This nun is not correct!  How do you hit her mind?

Third.  The nun stripped naked.  Is that no hindrance?  That is not no hindrance. No hindrance means not holding anything. Not holding anything means, help other people. That is no hindrance, OK?

If you still have like/dislike mind, then you are not free. Take away like/dislike mind, then there are no opposites. Then you can see clearly, hear clearly, smell clearly, taste clearly; everything is clear. Then you can understand your correct situation, correct function, correct relationship. Then do it! Only do it, OK? If you are checking, then you have a problem. So, completely put it down. Then do it. That is freedom.

No America, No Russia

Dear Jim,

Thank you for your letter. How are you?

You ask me to recommend a practice or meditation. So I ask you, what do you want? If you want something, you don’t understand correct meditation. Then I ask you, what are you? If you understand, then you understand your correct way. If you don’t understand, then you must keep 100% don’t know mind. Any time, any place. Only go straight. Don’t check your feelings, don’t check anything. Only don’t know.

Zen is not dependent on Buddha, not dependent on God, not dependent on sutras or any Zen Master. Depend on your true self. This is the correct way.

You talk about politics and world problems.. What is good? What is bad? Good and bad have no self-nature. But many people make good and bad and become attached to their good and bad. So good and bad is only their opinion. Americans’ opinions are made by American society and politics; Russians’ opinions are made by their society and politics. So if America says good, Russia says bad; if Russia says good, America says bad. Why? Their opinions are different. So good and bad are different. What is correct good? What is correct bad? Russians and Americans are attached to their opinions, so they fight. In each society, within each person, it is the same — belittling, fighting, quarreling. If you make your opinion, your situation, and your condition disappear, then your mind, my mind, everybody’s minds are the same. Then there is no American, no Russian, no Chinese, no Japanese, no Korean. Same eyes, same ears, same nose, same mouth, same body, same mind. Then world peace. So Zen is first making your opinion, your situation, and your condition disappear. Then you will get the correct opinion, correct situation, correct condition.

The name for this is clear mind. Many people have no clear mind. Their karma controls them. If you have clear mind, you can control your karma, so no more fighting. That is the true way.

An eminent teacher said, “If you want to understand the realm of the Buddha, keep a mind which is clear like space.” So let all thinking, all external desires fall away. Then your mind can function without hindrance.

So what is keeping a mind which is clear like space? Its name is don’t know. Don’t know already cuts off all thinking. Cut-thinking mind is empty mind; empty mind is before thinking. Your before-thinking mind is your substance, my before-thinking mind is my substance. Then your substance, my substance and universal substance are the same. When you keep don’t know, you are everything, and everything is you. You and everything become one. This is called primary point.

So don’t know is not don’t know — don’t know is primary point. Primary point’s name is don’t know. But somebody says, primary point is mind, or Dharma, or God, or substance, or nature, or the Absolute, or energy, or everything. But primary point has no name, no form, no words, no speech. Only when you keep don’t know mind, then you are everything, everything is you.

So I ask you: the tree and you, are they the same or different? If you say, “the same,” I will hit you thirty times; if you say, “different,” I will also hit you thirty times. What can you do? If you don’t understand, only go straight, don’t know. Sometime, ask the tree. Then the tree will teach you everything. The tree is better than me, better than Buddha, or the sutras.

You say you want transformation. This is correct. But one more step is necessary. Zen is the revolution of our minds. Then we break all worlds of opposites and become the absolute world. Then everything is complete, equal — perfect freedom. Communism is only outside revolution. Zen is both inside and outside revolution: inside and outside become one. Then your mind is clear like space, like a mirror. Red comes: red. White comes: white. When you see the sky, only blue. When you see the tree, only green. Just like this. Just like this is truth. So everyday mind is Zen mind. When you are hungry, just eat. When you are tired, just sleep. Only this. Don’t make anything, don’t check anything. Then you will get everything.

I hope you always keep a mind which is clear like space, soon find your true self, get Enlightenment, and save all people from suffering.

Yours in the Dharma,


A New Zen is Appearing

What are the Kwan Um School of Zen’s roots in the past? What is the Kwan Um School of Zen today? What is its future?

1. Only practicing

First in the Kwan Um School of Zen history is the fact that Buddha appeared in this world and attained enlightenment. He taught his students that everything is impermanent. He taught them about form going to emptiness, and how to attain nirvana. He gave many dharma speeches and his disciples only “did it” — practiced what they heard. There were no writings and not much discussion, not much checking. At first, Buddhism was only practice and nirvana was the highest experience — “Make my mind the universe.” Then Buddhism changed.

2. From emptiness comes true form

After the Buddha died, his disciples gathered in four meetings to write down what Buddha had said. These writings, called “sutras,” are not what the Buddha said, just as the Bible is not what Christ said. They are the words of the disciples. The conventional form of the sutras was to state in the first line, “Thus I have heard … ” Through the ensuing years the disciples created what is now called Mahayana Buddhism. It teaches that from emptiness comes true form, which is truth. If you keep an empty mind, your mind is clear like space, clear like a mirror. When red comes, red. When white comes, white – everything is perfectly reflected. That became the highest teaching and can be found in sutras like the Lotus Sutra and the Platform Sutra. After Mahayana Buddhism appeared, there was much discussion, many opinions — “Buddha taught this, Buddha taught that … ;” much checking. Only studying Buddhism became more prevalent than practicing it. Within 800 to 1000 years after Buddha’s death, there were many volumes written about Buddhism and intellectual dissension with other religions. Also, the sects within Buddhism argued with each other. Still there was more studying of the sutras than practicing, more talking than dharma combat.

3. “Don’t know practicing”

Then Bodhidharma appeared, about 1500 years ago. He went from India to China, where Buddhism had already appeared some 300 years before. It was not a “pure” Buddhism, it was only “praying Buddhism” — “pray and get happiness, pray and get whatever you want” Buddhism. Many Indian monks went to China teaching this. When Bodhidharma went to China, he saw that it was not correct Buddhism and began to change it.

There is a famous story about his first visit to the emperor in southern China, who told Bodhidharma that he had built countless temples, copied countless sutras, and given supplies to countless monks. So he asked Bodhidharma how great was his resulting merit. Bodhidharma replied, “No merit at all.” That was the beginning of the destruction of “praying Buddhism.” The emperor then asked, “What is holy teaching?” And Bodhidharma replied, “Vast emptiness with nothing sacred in it.” The Emperor was completely baffled. “Who are you?” he demanded, and Bodhidharma replied, “Don’t know.” (That is when don’t know appeared, our don’t know — the same as Bodhidharma’s don’t know.) Bodhidharma explained, “If you don’t know, and I don’t know, that’s don’t know mind. That’s my teaching.” At that, the Emperor became his student, and at last attained enlightenment

Then Bodhidharma went to northern China to its capital city, Chang An. At that time there were already many famous temples, but he did not stay in any of them. Instead he went to a holy cave near Shao-Lin and sat. (When we traveled to this mountain in 1986, we saw that it was very high and barren.) There were no gardens, so what did Bodhidharma eat for nine years? And what did he do, only facing the wall, for nine years?

That is what we might call “hibernation practice” — like a snake or a frog going into the ground and not eating anything. Just breathing in and breathing out, very extended breathing in and out. If you practice like this, go “underground” and do this extended breathing practice, then not eating even for nine years is no problem. In Korea there is a famous monk who has not eaten anything for sixteen years.

4. Mind to mind transmission

After nine years Hui-Ko (the future second patriarch) went to Bodhidharma and said, “Please teach me what is dharma.” Bodhidharma replied, “Even if I told you, you would not believe me.”

Then Hui-Ko reportedly cut off his own arm. “Oh Master, the pain is terrible! My mind is in awful pain! Please put my mind at rest.”

“Give me your mind and I will put it at rest.”

“I cannot find it.”

“Then I have already given you ‘rest mind’.”

Then Hui-Ko attained enlightenment.

This was the first Zen teaching – only mind to mind connecting, teacher’s mind and student’s mind becoming one. Transmission went from mind to mind. Here’s another example: the fourth patriarch was very sick when he was thirteen. The Buddhists used to meet in a big house, eat together and hear dharma speeches, but he was so ill that he could not go out. So after one speech, the Master came to visit him.

The boy said to him, ,Master, I have very heavy karma. Please take it away so that I can become strong and study Buddhism.”

The Master replied, “Oh, you have heavy karma? I will take it away. Show me your heavy karma.”

The boy said, “I can’t find my heavy karma.”

“I have already taken it away. You are not sick.”

“Oh, I am not sick. Why should I be sick?”

All his sickness disappeared and he attained something, so he became a student and got transmission.

5. Don’t make anything

The next change in the teaching came with the sixth patriarch, who taught about cause and effect, about “making nothing.” “If you don’t make the cause, you have no effect…… Don’t make anything. Then you are nothing; then no trouble.”

His poem answering the fifth patriarch was: “Bodhi has no tree, clear mirror has no stand. Originally nothing, where is dust?” When he gave that poem to the fifth patriarch, he got transmission.

6. The beginning of kong-ans

Enlightenment stories about the patriarchs and famous teachers began to be told over and over and used as teaching devices. For example, the sixth patriarch was famous for this kong-an:

Two monks were watching a flag ripple in the wind and arguing over which was moving, the flag or the wind. Overhearing them, the sixth patriarch said, “Neither the flag nor the wind is moving; it is your mind that is moving.” This was very simple teaching.

When the seventh patriarch appeared before him, the sixth patriarch asked him, “Where are you coming from? What kind of thing comes here?” “Don’t know.” This is where the “what am I?” kong-an appeared. It was the same question that the Buddha sat with for six years. Buddha, Bodhidharma, and the sixth patriarch, all asked “what am I?” and answered, “don’t know.”

Huai Jang sat in his temple for eight years with “don’t know.” He would ask his visitors, “What thing do you bring here?” They might answer, “If you say it’s a thing, that is not correct.” So a kind of word-fighting began to appear, which we call dharma combat. At this point it was still very simple teaching.

After him came the eighth patriarch, Ma Jo. A country boy asked, “What is Buddha?” Ma Jo answered, “Mind is Buddha, Buddha is mind.” Later his answers to this question grew more complicated. For a while he used to say, “No mind, no Buddha.” And later, “Buddha is not a thing, is not mind, is not dharma, then what is it?”

There is the famous story of Ma Jo and Pae Chang, riding together in a ship and seeing the geese flying north. Ma Jo asked, “The geese, where are they going?” Pae Chang answered, “North.” “North?,” Ma Jo exclaimed, and twisted Pae Chang’s nose very painfully. Pae Chang got enlightenment. When he returned home, he cried and cried. A friend asked him, “Why are you crying?” “Go ask the Zen Master.” So the friend asked why Pae Chang was crying. Ma Jo told him, “Ask Pae Chang.” The friend went back and said to Pae Chang, “The Zen Master said to ask you.” Then Pae Chang began laughing. So, crying and laughing, are they the same or different?

7. Simple, one-point answers to kong-ans

After Pae Chang came Hang Guk, then Rinzai (Lin Chi), and at the same time many other lines appeared: Un Mun, To Ban, Da Hui, Wi San, and many other Zen Masters. Then the answer to the question, “What is Buddha?” became “Dry shit on a stick.” “Three pounds of flax.” And Joju gave his famous answer to the question, “Why did Bodhidharma come to China?” “The cypress tree in the garden.”

These were one point answers, very simple, very direct. After that many schools appeared, and there was some fighting between them. Many techniques also appeared, many different intellectual styles. Before, the teaching had been very simple. When these intellectual styles of teaching appeared, dharma combat also appeared. Thus we have the Blue Cliff Record and the Mu Mun Kwan. There was much discussion as the wisdom of Zen developed. Practicing was very clear, but it was considered just one of several special techniques.

8. Magic or 270o style

Zen began to look much more complicated to ordinary people. The practice of Zen and people’s everyday, normal lives grew far apart. With esoteric sayings like “The wooden chicken cries, the stone tiger flies in the sky,” people didn’t understand. Zen became a practice only for the elite; in other words, your hair appears higher than your head.

“Do you see the horn of the rabbit?” Everyday people didn’t understand this kind of talk. You had to look at the hidden meaning behind the words, because the words themselves were not the true meaning. This went on for a while, then more direct talk appeared again. “What is Buddhism?” was answered with “Spring comes, the grass grows by itself.” “What is the true way?” “The sky is blue, the tree is green.” — direct, one sentence answers.

In the past, the answer had been a single word or action — “What is Buddha?” Hit! One point. Then the answers to this question went through many changes. One sentence answers appeared, and later, more complicated forms. But they were all teaching truth.

9. Correct function of an enlightenment experience

Truth means, how can you attain your true self, how can you attain your truth? How can you attain the correct way? This is still the primary teaching in Japan, Korea, and China. They start with how to attain the truth, the true self. But it is also very important to attain the correct way. What is the correct function of truth, the correct function of your true self? This they do not teach.

So the Kwan Um School of Zen has appeared in the United States. Some schools are focused on an enlightenment experience: what is enlightenment? They want to attain this truth, but they are missing the correct function of an enlightenment experience. Attaining your true self doesn’t matter.

When we first begin, both ways are necessary: attaining enlightenment and its correct function. If we attain the correct function of our true self, we attain truth. This is correct attainment. If we want to attain our true self, a correct life is necessary. So we say, put it all down, don’t make anything, moment to moment keep correct situation, correct function. Moment to moment, do it!

Doing it means we have already attained our true self. But we don’t understand that, we don’t believe that, so we must keep trying. Then correct function and attainment happens all at the same time. That is the Kwan Um School of Zen teaching. Only attaining truth is “monk Buddhism”: only keep your hair cut and go to the mountains, practice your whole life. Correct function is not necessary because you have no wife, no children, and no connection to society.

But everyone else has hair, has a wife or a husband, children, a job. How do we connect this everyday life and Zen? This is a very important point. In the Kwan Um School of Zen, it doesn’t matter whether you are a monk or a layman. Everybody “does it” and at the same time attains true self, enlightenment. Correct function with correct life, at the same time.

10. Using kong-ans to make our lives correct

Our teaching is kong-an practicing. In the past, kong-an practicing meant checking attainment, checking someone’s enlightenment. Now we use kong-ans to make our lives correct. This is a different way of using kong-ans than the traditional Zen way. In the light of our teaching, some of the kong-ans are correct and helpful, some are not. Whether they are correct or not doesn’t matter.

We use kong ans to make our direction correct, to make our practice and our life correct. That is the teaching of the Kwan Um School of Zen. “Kwan Um” means perceive sound. This means perceive your true self. At the same time, perceive inside and outside. Perceiving this world sound means perceiving that many, many people are suffering.

If you can hear this sound of suffering, then helping is both possible and necessary. That is the bodhisattva way. How to help other people is our practice and our job. It’s not only attaining enlightenment, it’s enlightenment’s job. Enlightenment is a monk’s job, but only someone like a Zen monk has the circumstances to do it: no family, no job, everyone giving support.

Lay practice is not like a monk’s job — it is how to help other people. First your family, then your friends, then your country and all beings: helping them is your obligation. If you want to help correctly, put down your opinion, your condition, your situation. If you do not put down these things, you cannot help. If you put them down, then true love appears. This means not special. Just keeping your moment to moment correct situation is very simple. The name for that is love, compassion. That is the practice of the Kwan Um School of Zen today.

It’s a change in Zen practice and teaching. In order to do that, we need a school that both parents and schoolchildren can attend. This is not the old style. Korean Zen has not come here without changing. Many changes have been necessary. We do kong-an practice, but some Korean monks looking at our Zen style have said, “That’s not Zen.” Yes, it’s not Zen. Zen doesn’t matter. Original Zen is not Zen. Nothing is Zen. In fact, we don’t understand what Zen is.

Ever since its beginning, Zen has undergone many changes. It started with Bodhidharma, then after the sixth patriarch it changed. Five schools of Zen appeared, all different. Many sicknesses appeared, Zen sicknesses. The five schools in China died. Why? Because they could not connect with everyday life, with society. If we do not correct this, today’s Zen will also die. If it is only monastic Zen, it will soon die. In China, Korea, and Japan there are no groups of lay people staying in Zen centers, doing together action, meditation and practice. This has begun in America. It has never happened before — it’s new, a new Zen.

So it is necessary to have a new direction and new practices. We don’t call it American style, it’s just everyday life and correct direction. Zen is a kind of revolution. In the future, what will happen? This kind of practicing will be very important: how does your practice connect with your life? How does your practice help other people? If it helps you, it will help other people, help this world. Then your practicing will connect with world peace.

There are many opinions in this world. Americans have American opinion. Russians have Russian opinion. All religions have their own opinion. They are attached to something. That is this world’s sickness. In the future, it will be necessary to teach this kind of practice: “You must wake up!”

Then what does being human mean? Being human means no meaning, no reason, no choice. But if you attain no meaning, you get great meaning. That is: put down any kind of opinion, any condition, any situation, then your life becomes complete. This will help your family, your country, this world. This teaching means that if we practice sincerely and share our wisdom and teach correctly, there will be no more fighting among religions, among countries, no more atom bombs. If we take away the weapons, this money can go to India and Cambodia. Then world peace is possible. That’s the Kwan Um School of Zen’s future.

The New Year Comes and Finds Its Seat

A poem given at the New Year’s Day Ceremony

The New Year comes to the West a little late,
because it is coming past the East.
So very hungry and thirsty. “I want food.”

Quickly eats something. “Oh, very salty —
This is salt.
Ah, here is honey.
Oh, very sweet.
Where is the bread?’

The bread says, “Don’t touch me. Who are you?”

“I am the New Year.”

”Are you? I don’t believe you.”

“Why don’t you believe me?”

“How can I believe you?
I don’t know the New Year.
Where are you coming from!”

“I don’t know.”

‘So I cannot believe you.
If you want food, you must find your seat.”

“What am I?
Where is my seat?
I don’t know.”

The New Year asks the dog,
“Do you know the New Year?”

“Woof! Woof! Woof!”
The dog only understands woof New Year.

Next, the New Year asks the cat,
“Do you understand the New Year?”

“Meow. Meow. Meow.”
The cat only understands meow New Year.

But the New Year is thinking about woof and meow not new, not old.
Everyday woof, woof.
Everyday meow, meow.
No new, no old.

The New Year cannot find itself and its seat.

At that time, two people are fighting:

“The New Year is not necessary.”

“The New Year is necessary.
If there is no New Year, how can we understand age?”

“In our true self. there is no life, no death.
If you’re attached to age, then you have life and death.”

“But the New Year came in today.
Who made the New Year? God?”

“No, no.”


“No, no, no.”


“No, no, no.”

“Then what?”

“Time is empty.
So the New Year is not the New Year.
The New Year is also empty, only made by your thinking.
So the New Year is not necessary.”

Hearing this, the New Year loses itself.

So the New Year asks Zen Master Duk Sahn,
”Do you understand the New Year?”

”Where are you coming from?”

”I’m from time.”

”Time? Time comes from where?”


The Zen Master only hits the New Year.

At that time, the New Year completely understands NOTHING, nothing at all.
No time, no New Year, no name, no form, complete emptiness.

“Then, what am I?
Everybody says,
‘Happy New Year! Happy New Year!’ ”

The New Year is confused.
Complete nothing.
But everybody says, “Happy New Year!”
“What shall I do?”

So he asks another Zen Master, Lin Chi,
“I am the New Year. Where is my seat?”

Lin Chi Zen Master shouts, “KATZ!!!” Keep clear mind!”

”Aha! Now I understand!
Keep clear mind.
Everything is just like this.
Keep clear mind.”

“Nice day today. Happy New Year.
The sky is blue. The snow is white.
Just like this.”
He understands.

“Everywhere. Everywhere.
My seat is everywhere.
The whole universe is my seat.
The New Year is everywhere.”

The New Year is dancing around.
But a little child is laughing,
”Ha, ha, ha. You’re a fool.
You still don’t know your seat.”

The New Year is surprised.
“My seat is everywhere!”

“No, no, no!”

”Oh? Then where is my seat?”

”One more step. Come in here.”
She points to a calendar. “January 1, 1977.
That is your seat.”

At that time, popcorn, ice cream,
bread, cookies, cake, bananas,
apples, oranges, tea, drinks,
music — la, la, la, la, la, la.

My Dharma Speech Is Already Finished

Talk by Zen Master Seung Sahn at Mu Sang Sa temple at the close of Winter Kyol Che 2001

[Raises Zen stick over head, then hits table with stick.]

The meaning of this hit is: becoming tight is becoming loose; becoming loose is becoming tight. The Heart Sutra says, “Form is emptiness, emptiness is form.” Because all things in this world have name and form, we can also say that this is “opposites world.” In this opposites world we have becoming tight and also becoming loose. Today is Hae Jae, the end of the winter retreat, which means to loosen. Kyol Che, the name for our three month winter retreat, means to tighten. In the opposites world there is always contention.

[Raises Zen stick over head, then hits table with stick.]

The meaning of this hit is originally there is not even one thing. The Sixth Patriarch taught us that all things in this world, all the myriad things have name and form. All these names and forms are created by the mind. And even the mind itself does not exist. However much we search, we cannot find the mind. So, if there is not one thing at all that we can find, then what is it that becomes tight, what is it that becomes loose? We call that nirvana world.

[Raises Zen stick over head, then hits table with stick.]

In this world, becoming tight is just tight, becoming loose is just loose. If we read the Heart Sutra, we finally come to Anuttara Samyak Sambodhi, unexcelled supreme enlightenment. This is the area where tightening is just tightening, loosening is just loosening. First I talked about opposites world. Here everything is very distinct—becoming tight, becoming loose—very clear. Then I talked about nirvana world: no tight, no loose. Then I talked about truth world: tight is tight, loose is loose. Of these three worlds, which one is the real world? Form is emptiness, emptiness is form; is that world the correct world? No form, no emptiness—nirvana world; is that the correct world? Form is form, emptiness is emptiness; is that the correct world? If somebody says that they found the correct world, this stick will hit them thirty times. If they cannot find the correct world, this stick will also hit them thirty times. Why is that?


Today is the full moon day of the first month. We call that Hae Jae day—the first day after a three month intensive meditation retreat.

A person’s head becomes whiter and whiter as he gets older, but the color of the mountain remains green. In the end, both the mountain and the person return to emptiness. Today is the end of Kyol Che. That means don’t attach to the world of name and form. If you don’t attach to the world of name and form, there’s nothing left but our moment-to-moment world. What am I doing in this moment? That’s most important.

Actually my dharma speech is now finished. However, many people don’t understand so I will explain a little more. Usually we would say that my mind brought me here to listen to this talk. But where is mind? From where does it appear and where does it go? We don’t understand that. That is human. You carry your mind around everywhere but you don’t know what it is. We are always proclaiming, “I, I, I,” but we don’t understand “I.” So the big question is: What is human? A famous Zen poem says: “Coming empty handed, going empty handed —that is human. When you are born, where do you come from? When you die, where do you go? Life is like a floating cloud which appears. Death is like a floating cloud which disappears. The floating cloud originally does not exist. Life and death, coming and going are also like this. But there is one thing which always remains clear. It’s pure and clear, not depending on life and death. Then what is that one pure and clear thing that pulls this body around?” What is the meaning of all these people from foreign countries coming here to our temple in Korea to practice Zen? Because of that one pure and clear thing they come here.

If you find that one pure and clear thing, then you become the Tathagata Buddha. Another famous poem says: “If you want to understand the realm of Buddha keep a mind which is clear like space. Let all your thinking and all external desires fall far away. Let your mind go anyplace with no hindrance. Buddha’s world is the world of no hindrance. Then what is keeping a mind which is clear like space? If you don’t understand that, then listen to the following: It is enlightenment nature. Above is the dwelling place of all Buddhas. Below are the six realms of existence. One by one each thing has it. One by one each thing is complete.” Everything has the same nature as the Buddha. All of you—even a dog, a cow, a cat, a bird—all have the same essential nature. That nature is originally clear like space. The poem goes on to say, “It (original nature) and dust (the world of name and form) interpenetrate. It is already apparent in all things.”

From that place we can understand Zen Master Un Mun when he says: “Buddha is dry shit on a stick” or when Zen Master Dong Sahn says: “Buddha is three pounds of flax.” We don’t need to do meditation for many, many years and wait and wait and wait until this place appears. There is no place that is not Buddha’s place. There is no place that does not have Buddha nature. Even though everything we see, hear and smell has Buddha nature, we don’t recognize it, because of all our thinking. If we put it down, all of our thinking, completely put it all down, then we become one with the whole universe. Then everything we see, hear, smell… is Buddha. Everything has Buddha nature.

[Raises Zen stick over head.]

So, holding up the Zen stick—do you see?

[Hits table with stick.]

Do you hear? Already you see clearly and hear clearly. Then, are this stick, this sound and your mind the same or different? If you say they are the same, this stick will hit you thirty times. If you say different, this stick will also hit you thirty times. Why is it that you get hit whether you say same or different? Why?


Three times three is equal to nine.

Even though my dharma speech is now completely finished, some people are still not clear. My mind is the thing that carries around this body. But I don’t understand, “Where is my mind?” If you understood your mind clearly—where it was, how it is—then everything I said to you would be very clear, but you don’t know that. Everybody who did the retreat understands this question.

Honey and sugar are both sweet. But how do you explain the difference between the sweetness of honey and that of sugar? It’s impossible to explain. Even if you wrote many volumes on the subject you still couldn’t explain the difference. But if you come up here and I put honey and sugar in your mouth… aah! then you will understand the difference. You must experience it. Even though you read everything about it, you still wouldn’t understand. Fortunately we have a Zen center here at Hwa Gye Sa where people can come to get a taste. If you try and practice in the Zen center, then at some point you will understand, “Ah, that’s my mind. That’s the place where my mind stays.” Then gradually where your mind is, how it is, will always appear in front of you.

A long time ago in China, whenever he was asked a question, Zen Master Lin Chi always shouted KATZ! Any time someone asked Zen Master Dok Sahn a question, he would only hit them. If Zen Master Gu Ji was asked a question, he held up one finger. Dok Sahn’s hit, Lin Chi’s KATZ and Gu Ji’s one finger, are they the same or different? If you say they are the same, this stick will hit you. If you say they are different, this stick will still hit you. What can you do? That’s the first course.

Somebody asked Zen Master Dong Sahn, “What is Buddha?” He replied, “Three pounds of flax.” A monk asked Zen Master Un Mun, “What is Buddha?” He answered, “Dry shit on a stick.” The first three Zen Masters did not open their mouths to answer… only action. But the next two Zen Masters opened their mouths, teaching us truth. If we keep on practicing, finally we enter this realm of enlightenment. Then everything we see, hear, smell, taste and touch… all is clear. Before our idea of self, our “I,” was obstructing the truth. But, if you take that away, then there’s nothing preventing us from becoming one with the universe.

So, what is the truth? Everything we see, hear, smell, taste and touch… all are the truth. The sky is blue, a tree is green, a dog is barking, sugar is sweet. Even though we live in the truth all the time, we forget our “don’t know” truth. That’s because of the thought, “I.” The thought of myself is blocking the truth. So if you have no “I,” if you have no idea of self, then everything is truth. For this reason, the great monks of old said, “Attaining my true self and getting enlightenment is easier than drinking water when you’re thirsty.” Why is it that we don’t know such an easy thing? Because we have so much thinking. What will we do with all that thinking? We must practice to take away our thinking. If you have a mind, give it to a passing dog. If you give away your mind, then you and the whole universe become one. At that time, everything you see and smell is real, everything is truth. The whole world is truth.

Zen teachers during the Tang and Sung dynasties only taught about this “truth world.” Eventually, Zen disappeared in China because there was no teaching of how human beings should function correctly moment to moment. But fortunately, there have been great teachers who have handed down correct Zen teaching. What is correct teaching? What is correct function? Our job is to help all suffering beings. If a person is hungry, give them food. If someone is thirsty, give them water. If someone needs our help, just help them. That’s our correct function.

In our teaching three points are clearly stated: substance, truth and function. First, we teach substance by using one action, such as holding up a finger, shouting KATZ or just hitting the floor. Next, we teach about truth world: the cushion is yellow, the floor is brown, the wall is white, the sky is blue. There is nothing that is not truth. Everything is truth, everything is clear. If we can attain this truth world, then we can use it to help suffering beings everywhere. We call this the Bodhisattva Way. In our school, substance, truth, and function are very distinct and clearly taught.

Buddhism is very consistent in its teaching, its practical application and its function. Almost all religions have some kind of opposites thinking. For example, I must call upon God for help, I must pray to God, or I must reach a God outside of myself. But Buddhism teaches that if you practice and attain your true self, then you become Buddha. In the Christian Bible, Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” But most people don’t understand the meaning behind this. What is the meaning of “way”? Way means to return to substance. What is the meaning of “truth”? Everything you see, hear, smell and taste is already truth.

What is not truth? The sky is blue, the tree is green, the dog is barking, sugar is sweet. Even though we live this truth all the time, we don’t know truth because we don’t know ourselves. What is the meaning of “the life?” The life means helping all beings. When they are hungry, give them food. When they are thirsty, give them drink. Whenever you meet suffering beings, only help them. Buddhist teaching shows us how to find the correct way, truth, and correct life and use that to save all beings from suffering.

Our practicing family should all be very clear about this. We should not forget this when we are chanting. At that time we should ask ourselves: “Who is chanting?” When we are bowing we should ask: “Who is bowing? Who is doing these things?”

When the Korean War broke out, there was a widow whose only son had to go to war. Because she was completely devoted to her son, she worried about him all the time: “I have to make sure he gets married; I have to make sure he gets a good house and has nice things; so I must work hard while he is away.” Every day, even though she worked very hard and kept long hours, she never forgot about her son, even in her dreams. When her son comes back, the widow will be very happy.

Just as this widow thinks only of her son, our students should never forget the Buddha’s teaching. They should never forget their direction. As we keep this great question in our everyday lives—this great “don’t know”—we can only look forward to the moment when suddenly it appears and we become clear. Just as this widow always looks forward to the day her son returns, we should always keep our great don’t know mind. Always keep the great question in everything we do, when we chant, when we eat, in everything until the day we attain enlightenment and can save all beings from suffering.

Monks & Laymen

The following questions and Soen Sa Nim’s responses were after a Kong-an reading on March 11, 1985, at the Providence Zen Center.

Q: Can you talk about monks and laymen? We have just finished a beautiful Hae Jae Ceremony at the new monastery. Some of us have a yearning to become monks. What is this?

A: If it is only feeling and this feeling controls you, that is desire. Maybe you go to a temple, “Oh, that is wonderful! Maybe I will cut my hair and have beautiful gray robes! I like that!” That is feeling. But if inside you see that there are many, many problems in this world, many suffering people, so that is why you want to become a monk, then this is not just feeling, OK? Intellectual. Strong will mind. “I want to save all beings from suffering so I want to become a monk.” That name is try mind. That is vow. So if feeling controls you and action appears, that is not try mind. This means that only your karma controls you. Same action, same becoming a monk, but a different style. In Korea there are many different style monks. Some have very strong feeling and go to the mountain. Many young girls go there. Maybe they have problems with boyfriend or family – “Oh, I will come here to the temple! Oh, that is wonderful!” So they become nuns. But being a nun is very difficult so soon they don’t like it and leave. So if feeling is the reason for wanting to become a monk, then if a different feeling appears, again change – no more monk. Sometimes in our School. this style appears. Somebody has a strong feeling, becomes a monk, then this feeling changes, then no more monk. Understand? So if feeling controls something and you do it, that is not try mind. Try mind means having strong direction, and behind it, Great Vow. “Human beings are numberless, I want to save them all.” That is Great Vow. Then this never changes. Feeling coming, feeling going; condition, situation changing, changing – doesn’t matter. Even if my body is sick or dies – not broken monk.

Q: So can a lay person save all beings from suffering, have a Great Vow, or only monks?

A: Of course!

Q: Then how are they different, monks and laymen?

A: For example, in our School we have two kinds of Master Dharma Teachers (Note: they are now called Ji Do Poep Sa Nims): monk and family style. The family style Master Dharma Teachers have try mind and want to do together action, but they have children, have wife, have husband, so they cannot do as much together action. But if you are a monk, then all the time together action is possible. That is how they are different.

Q: So if you have no family, is becoming a monk good?

A: I don’t know. What kind of feeling? What kind of direction? Many people have no family but cannot become monks. There is still some hindrance inside. “I want something.” So they cannot become monks. Becoming a monk is not easy.

In our family, many people who became monks now are not monks. First they had a strong feeling so they became monks, then a strong feeling appears again, so they stop being monks. This is a “feeling monk.” So a “feeling monk” doesn’t stay a monk very long. If he has a strong Great Vow, then a monk is a strong monk. Also, a “feeling monk” is OK. Then practicing, practicing and feeling comes down, down, and strong center appears. Then no problem. So becoming a monk or not becoming a monk, doesn’t matter. If you are a lay person, it is also possible to save all beings from suffering. So now all the Master Dharma Teachers are teaching you. The only difference is that if you have a family, not so much together action with the Sangha is possible. Not so much “100% my life for all beings” is possible. My family, my wife or husband, also taking care of my parents is necessary. But if you have no family, it is possible to be with the Sangha all the time. Whole life. That is the only difference. So moment to moment very important – don’t make anything, don’t check anything. Just DO IT! Only go straight.

Mind is Like a Blackboard

From a letter:

When you don’t make ‘small I,’ and you don’t make professor, and you are not attached to the Koan teaching, all thinking returns to your true self and your mind is clear. Mind is like a blackboard. You make pictures on it like ‘small I,’ professor, mountain, etc. When you erase it, everything disappears, and then you must make only the Bodhisattva picture. That means no desire for myself, only must help all people. So I wish you to

Here is a poem for you:

Color body and Karma (thinking) body come from where?
Before thinking there is no name and no form,
There is infinite time and infinite space.
The children chase butterflies with a net,
Wind comes and an apple falls to the ground from a tree.

I hope you will get enlightenment soon and become a great man.

See you soon,


The Medicine Buddha

Primary Point: You often use the phrase Yaksa Yorae Bul when discussing healing. What does this phrase mean?

Zen Master Seung Sahn: Yaksa means Medicine Teacher; Yorae means Buddha Nature; Bul means Buddha. So Yaksa Yorae Bul is the “Teacher of Buddha-Nature medicine,” or “Medicine Buddha.”

PP: What is the origin of this Buddha?

ZMSS: Hinayana Buddhism refers only to Shakyamuni Buddha, the historical Buddha. In Mahayana Buddhist beliefs there are many Buddhas and bodhisattvas, as well as many demons. Hinayana Buddhism means attaining a very simple mind – if you are not holding anything, you already become Buddha. If you achieve non-self, you become Buddha. But Hinayana Buddhism was originally geared to monastic practice, whereas Mahayana Buddhism evolved with a strong lay influence. In society there are many kinds of individuals; they want something – money, sex, fame etc. Much desire, much thinking. With each thought, one Buddha “appears,” also one demon “appears.” If you have no thinking, Buddhas and bodhisattvas are not necessary. If you have much thinking, many demons appear, so many Buddhas and bodhisattvas appear to help you. That is Mahayana Buddhism.

PP: From a Buddhist point of view, what does it mean to be sick?

ZMSS: There are three kinds of sickness: body sickness, mind sickness and dharma sickness. Body sickness means my body gets hurt and I have some kind of pain. Sometimes we create body sickness through lack of control; for instance, the mouth wants food but our stomach says, “No, no.” So mouth and stomach fight; we eat too much and sickness appears from this imbalance.

Mind sickness means I am attached to something, or want something very badly. All human beings have these five basic desires – fame, sex, food, sleep, money. These five desires make mental sickness. Sometimes body sickness will follow – you cannot eat, sleep or digest your food.

PP: What if someone with a body sickness “puts it all down” but is still sick?

ZMSS: If you put it all down, you may still be sick or in pain, but you do not suffer. If you attain not-moving mind, pain and sickness do not produce suffering.

PP: Does all body sickness come from karma?

ZMSS: Sickness comes both from “before-life” karma and from this-life karma. Before-life karma means: every day I act correctly, but my body doesn’t function properly. For instance, my eyes and ears are no good. But my actions are correct. That’s before-life’s karma.

This life’s karma means I have made bad actions in this life – anger, desire, ignorance. Then sickness appears. This kind of sickness is made by your this-life karma.

PP: What if the sickness comes from your parents?

ZMSS: As I said before, my eyes and ears are no good. That’s another sort of before-life karma, karma inherited from your family, what you call genetic.

PP: What does it mean when a baby is born, becomes very sick and dies?

ZMSS: This is before-life karma. This baby had very short karma with its parents, so it had to appear and finish that karma.

PP: Is it important that someone understand whether they are sick from before-life karma or this-life karma?

ZMSS: Yes. If you practice, this will become clear. During an interview someone asked me, “I want to do correct practice, but sometimes this mind will appear: ‘I want to kill someone!’ This style of thinking never appeared before; it only came up during meditation. What’s happening?”

So, I told him it was his before-life karma. During meditation your mind becomes more clear, so the old karma becomes uncovered and comes to the surface. This karma was already present in your consciousness. If you practice, you get to see and understand this karma already present in the mind. But if you don’t practice, someday this karma will control your life.

PP: What is dharma sickness?

ZMSS: When you become a teacher of a religion or ideology, and say “I already understand all of this, I have no problem. You must listen to me.” That’s dharma sickness.

PP: So believing in some idea, some teacher, is a problem?

ZMSS: Being attached to something, making something is always a problem. Many Christians become attached to “God.” “My God and your God are different.” So you make your “God.” Zen means put it all down. Don’t make anything. If you meet God, kill God. If you meet Buddha, kill Buddha.

PP: How does the Medicine Buddha help in eliminating suffering?

ZMSS: All sickness comes from the mind. If mind disappears, sickness disappears. If you put it all down, there will be no sickness, and you attain freedom from life and death. But it is hard for us to let go of our mind. Mahayana Buddhism teaches that if you cannot let go of your mind and your desires, a Buddha or a bodhisattva will “appear” to help you. So, if you try the Yaksa Yorae Bul mantra, all your sicknesses – whether of body, mind or dharma sickness – will go away.

PP: You often suggest different mantras to help different people. What do these different mantras mean?

ZMSS: According to Mahayana practices, if you try certain mantras, certain bodhisattvas will help you. For instance, if you have great suffering, try Kwan Seum Bosal mantra; then Kwan Seum Bosal (the bodhisattva of compassion) will help you. Or you may not have much suffering but need wisdom for your direction – what is truth and correct life? – then try the mantra for Munsu Bosal (Manjushri), the bodhisattva of wisdom. If you have wisdom but don’t understand correct action then you cannot help other people. So you must use the mantra for Pu Hyon Bosal, the bodhisattva of action. That will give you energy for moment to moment, correct action. Then you can help other people. Ji Jang Bosal is the great vow bodhisattva; his great vow is to save all beings. When you die, Ji Jang Bosal helps you get a good rebirth. Thus each bodhisattva has a separate job.

PP: Nowadays there is a controversy about people being kept alive by advanced medicine or technology. They can stay alive, but have no brain – only a vegetable. So many people ask, “Is this person alive or dead?” Or, “Should we let this person die?” Is that correct action or not correct action? What does Buddhism say about this kind of situation?

ZMSS: The question in this kind of situation is: how much energy does the sick person take from other people? Sometimes with some energy, a very sick person can be saved. Sometimes despite all the energy being given, the sick person cannot be saved. When this person dies, they must in a future life “return” all of this energy they took. If you die without taking so much energy, you do not “owe” as much the next time. If someone is dying and taking so much energy, it is not incorrect to allow them to die. But if they are not taking people’s energy, why die? The teaching of Buddhism is: does my action help other people or does it take too much energy from them and cause them a problem?

PP: Sometimes people are in a coma – cannot see, hear, taste, touch. They are attached to a machine, but there is some consciousness working. The machine is keeping them alive. Why live?

ZMSS: That is a basic question for everyone, not just the sick people. Why do you live? Why do you die? Why does a tree or a cat appear? Why does this tree or cat die? If you practice, you understand your correct job, direction, and situation as a human being. If you are not practicing, how are you different from a tree or a cat?

PP: If someone pulls the plug on this man who is in a coma, does he have sufficient consciousness so that he will have some emotion inside, like anger or happiness?

ZMSS: This consciousness is like half-tree, half-animal. In this consciousness there is no like or dislike; because they don’t have like or dislike, they cannot create any karma.

PP: So will this kind of person have a good rebirth, because they have no karma when they die?

ZMSS: They are dying with no karma in that moment but they may have very strong consciousness (residue) from this lifetime. That consciousness is like mercury; it may separate into different “globs” like mercury does; sometimes these globs remain separate, but sometimes they may join with similar consciousnesses and be reborn as a strong personality like Gandhi or Hitler.

PP: Nowadays many people have problems with drugs and drinking. What kind of karma is this? How can these people be helped?

ZMSS: Sometimes it may be before-life karma, but sometimes it may be because of doing “together action” with others: “I don’t want to use drugs or alcohol, but my friends say, ‘you try,’ and so I do that.” This kind of mind already understands that drugs or alcohol are no good. So if they want to fix their mind, they can fix it with meditation. But if they don’t care and are only interested in having a good time, they cannot fix it. Your mind makes everything. Buddha said, “All things are created by mind alone.” So your mind creates sickness and you fix your sickness with your mind. That’s interesting, no?

PP: Yes. Thank you very much.