Kong-Ans: Mind-To-Mind Connection

This interview with Zen Master Seung Sahn about his system of kong-an practice. 

PP: What are kong-ans? How did they become part of Zen practice?

Zen Master Seung Sahn: Kong-an means public case, public exchange, public situation, or public document. In old China, when they made a copy of a government document, they put a “chop” or seal on the copy in such a way that half of the seal was on the original and half on the copy. So when they had to verify the authenticity of the copy all they did was to match the two halves.

In Zen tradition, kong-an means the student’s understanding of a question is one-half and matches the teacher’s understanding of the same question, which is the other half. When student and teacher share the same understanding it is called mind-to-mind connection.

If you want to practice correctly, you must ponder over old Zen enlightenment stories. If you understand their mind at the moment of enlightenment, that means your kong-an practice is correct. Nowadays, all Zen Masters use the old Zen Masters’ enlightenment stories to teach their students. This is kong-an practice.

In the beginning there was no kong-an practice. Then the future seventh patriarch, Huai-jang, came to visit Hui-neng, the sixth patriarch. Hui-neng asked him, “Where do you come from?” Hui-jang replied that he came from Sung Shan mountain. Hui-neng asked again, “What is this thing that has come here?” Hui-jang could not answer.

That became the first kong-an in Zen tradition – “What is this?” It became a big question for Huai-jang and it took him eight years to understand.

Even before that there were situations in Buddhist history which became the basis of reflection by future Zen monks. Buddha sat down under the Bodhi tree with a big question: “What is life? What is death?” When Bodhidharma came to China, the future second patriarch came to visit him. Bodhidharma would not talk to him. To show that he was sincere in his quest, the second patriarch cut off his arm and presented it to Bodhidharma. Seeing this, Bodhidharma asked him, “What do you want?”

The second patriarch said, “My mind is not rested. Please pacify it for me.”

Bodhidharma said, “Bring me your mind and I will pacify it.”

The second patriarch was nonplused: “I cannot find my mind when I look for it.”

“There,” said Bodhidharma, “I have pacified it for you.”

So this question, “What is mind?,” became an inspiration for Zen monks.

Many questions came out of these stories: What is this? What is life? What is death? What is mind? All these questions became kong-ans and people started to use these questions for their own practice.

PP: Why do you use kong-ans in your practice?

ZMSS: Kong-ans are not special. But we use them to teach correct way, truth, and life. We use them to teach how it is possible to function correctly in everyday life. Sometimes old Zen Masters’ answers to a question are not correct, but they used the situation to teach correct function, correct life to others.

For example, Joju’s answer when asked if a dog has Buddha-nature (“MU!” or “no”) is not correct, but he used mu to teach correct life.

Two monks were fighting over whether a flag was moving or the wind was moving. Hui-neng, the sixth patriarch, who was passing by, said, “It’s your mind that’s moving.” Again, this is not correct, but he used “your mind is moving” to teach correct life.

One time Buddha held up a flower. None of the 1200 monks present understood. Only Mahakashyapa smiled. Buddha said, “I give my dharma transmission to you.” This was not correct, but Buddha used “My dharma I transmit to you” to teach correct direction, correct life.

So kong-ans are only a technique to teach correct direction, correct life. Zen students should not be attached to correct answers or incorrect answers by the patriarchs. We use kong-ans to perceive directly how to function correctly in everyday life.

PP: Can’t clear mind be attained without kong-an practice?

ZMSS: Yes, it is possible. Kong-ans are only one technique. It’s like this: American people use forks and knives. Chinese people only use chopsticks. Korean people use chopsticks and spoons. Indian people only use their hands. But they all have a full stomach when they eat, no matter how they eat.

PP: Isn’t kong-an practice asking something?

ZMSS: If you make something, you have a problem. We use kong-ans to take away your opinion. When you take away your opinion, your mind is clear like space. Clear like space means only reflect action. Zen means correct conditional reflection. It means you respond to each situation correctly, meticulously. It means to understand your correct job in this moment. That means moment-to-moment correct relationship If you practice correctly, this moment-to-moment correct situation, correct function, correct relationship will appear by itself.

If some one holds a kong-an, is attached to kong-ans (“I am doing kong-an practice”), or wants something from kong-an practice, then he or she will have a big problem. If you only keep one kong-an or “don’t know,” all the time without making anything, then correct direction and correct life will appear by themselves.

PP: What, then, is the best way to keep a kong-an?

ZMSS: Old-style kong-ans give us a great question: What is life? What is death? What is mind? What is this moment?

Correct kong-an practice means great question plus great faith and great courage. Great question means no intellectual-style thinking. An eminent teacher said, “Ten thousand questions are all one question.” So one question means only don’t know. No thinking at all. Just do it. That’s correct kong-an practice.

But if you are attached to a kong-an or this style of practicing, then you have a big problem. A kong-an is only a finger pointing to the moon. If you are attached to the finger, you can’t perceive the moon. The most important thing is your direction. This direction is “only don’t know.”

PP: What is the relevance of kong-an practice from ancient China to contemporary American society?

ZMSS: In correct kong-an practice, there is no American mind, no old China mind, because correct kong-an practice is keeping a before-thinking mind. In ancient days, people used only kong-ans and practiced very hard to get enlightenment.

Now we use kong-an practice differently in our school. Enlightenment, no enlightenment doesn’t matter. We use kong-an practice to make our direction clear, to help in our daily life. So don’t attach to a kong-an. Use a kong-an to function correctly, make your moment to moment life clear.

PP: What is the best way to answer a kong-an? How does one open oneself up so that a direct and “correct” response is possible?

ZMSS: Put down everything, put down your opinion, your condition, your situation. Moment to moment, only don’t know. Then a correct response will appear by itself. Hitting the floor or shouting KATZ is only a technique. Sometimes using this technique is necessary, sometimes it’s not necessary.

PP: Are there dangers in kong-an practice?

ZMSS: If you only want to “understand” kong-ans, then you have a big problem. It’s a kind of sickness. Then a very strong “I-my-me” mind appears. Sometimes people are attached to a good answer. That is not correct kong-an practice.

PP: Do you think that trying to pass the ten gates leads to a sense of competition? Does it lead to a sense of pride? Isn’t trying to “solve” kong-ans particularly dangerous in our goal-oriented society?

ZMSS: Correct practice is necessary. When you don’t practice correctly, then your “I” mind appears, then competition appears, then pride appears. If you correctly “attain” kong-ans, than this kind of mind never appears. Kong-an practice means cutting off all (analytical) thinking. That means throwing away our attachments to our conditions, opinions, and situations. American mind is intellectual, very analytical. The intellectual mind cannot pass kong-ans. Correct kong-an practice means your mind becomes very simple. In simple mind, there is no “I-my-me.” Then practicing kong-ans is no problem.

Our style of kong-an practice means not holding the kong-an. The old style was to go into the mountains, cut off the outside world, and just work on one kong-an. Our style of practice is to learn how to function correctly in everyday life through kong-an practice.

So, when you are doing something, just do it. In that doing, there is no thinking, no subject, no object. Inside and outside become one. In our style of practice, correct kong-an practice, correct life, and correct direction are all the same. If we make our everyday life clear, then kong-an practice is no problem. Then kong-an practice is not special.

If our everyday life is clear, then kong-an practice is not necessary. Then kong-an practice is not for us, it is only to teach other people. So we use kong-ans, old kong-ans and new kong-ans, only to teach other people.

Sometimes a person’s own life can be very clear, but they don’t understand how to teach other people how to function correctly in everyday life. Also, they don’t understand how to teach truth and correct way. When clear life, truth, and correct way come together in a meticulous way, moment to moment, that’s a kong-an. Only “my life is clear” is not enough. For example, if you eat only one kind of food all the time, your body will have a problem. So, your body uses different kinds for a good balance, for a correct body.

PP: Can you explain your system of kong-an teaching? What are the different kinds of “like this” kong-ans you use?

ZMSS: We use four kinds of “like this” kong-ans:

1. Without like this   = true emptiness = primary point
= silence
= complete stillness


Example kong-ans: “What is true emptiness?” “What is complete stillness?”

2. Become one like this  = KATZ! = correct demonstration of primary point
= hit

Example kong-ans: “Buddha picked up a flower, Mahakashyapa smiled. What does it mean?”

3. Only like this = meaning is truth = true function of primary point

Example kong-ans: “Spring comes, grass grows by itself.” “3 x 3 = 9.” “What is Buddha?” “Three pounds of flax.”

4. Just like this = just doing is correct life = one-point correct function

Example kong-ans: “Go drink tea.” “Go wash your bowls.”

We can understand these four kinds of kong-ans in this way. You go into the interview room; the teacher places a cup and a pen before you and asks you if the cup and the pen are the same or different. The four kinds of “like this” answers will be:

Without like this: maintain complete silence, a don’t know mind.Become one like this: hit the floor or shout KATZ!

Only like this: saying “cup is cup, pen is pen.”

Just like this: drink from the cup, write with the pen.

So, “just like this” is just doing it, correct function, correct everyday life.

Ko Bong’s Try Mind

Zen Master Ko Bong (1890-1962) was one of the greatest teachers of his time. He was renowned for refusing to teach monks, considering them too lazy and arrogant to be Zen students. He was also very well known for his unconventional behavior.

Ko Bong Sunim didn’t like chanting. He only did sitting meditation, no matter what. That was his practice. One time, as a young monk, he was staying in a small mountain temple. The abbot was away for a few days, so Ko Bong Sunim was the only one around. One morning an old woman climbed the steep road to the temple carrying fruit and a bag of rice on her back. When she reached the main Buddha Hall, she found Ko Bong Sunim seated alone in meditation.

“Oh, Sunim, I am sorry to bother you,” she said. “I have just climbed this mountain to offer these things to the Buddha. My family is having a lot of problems, and I want someone to chant to the Buddha for them. Can you please help me?”

Ko Bong Sunim looked up. Her face was very sad and very sincere. “Of course,” he said. “I’d be happy to chant for you. No problem.” Then he took the bag of rice off her back and they went to the kitchen to prepare the food offering. As they started to wash the fruit he said to her, “I don’t know how to cook rice. You cook the rice, and I’ll go start chanting.”

“Yes, Sunim. Thank you very much.”

Ko Bong Sunim returned to his room to put on his formal robes. But, because he never chanted, he didn’t know any Buddhist chants. So, he dug out an old Taoist sutra from among his things and brought it back to the Buddha Hall. Then he picked up the moktak and started hitting it while reading out of the Taoist book. Usually it’s appropriate to do certain chants for different occasions, like the Thousand Eyes and Hands Sutra, but Ko Bong Sunim didn’t know about this. He only banged the moktak and chanted the Taoist sutra out loud, right from the book. After an hour or so of this, he finished.

The old woman was very, very happy. “Oh, thank you, Sunim. You are very kind. I feel much better now!” She left the temple. As she was walking down the mountain road, she passed the abbot, who was returning to the temple. “Hello, Mrs. Lee, are you coming from the temple?”

“Yes,” she said. “There are many problems in my family right now, so I went up to pray to the Buddha. Ko Bong Sunim helped me.”

“Oh, that’s too bad,” the abbot said.

“Oh, why?”

“Because Ko Bong Sunim doesn’t know how to do any chanting. Maybe someone else could…”

“No, no,” she said. “He did very well. He helped me very much!”

The abbot looked at her. “How do you know how well he did? These are very special chants! Ko Bong Sunim doesn’t know how to do them — he doesn’t know chanting.”

“Yes, I understand.” This woman used to be a nun, so she was quite familiar with all the various chants. She knew that Ko Bong Sunim was only chanting a Taoist sutra. “What is correct chanting? He did it very well. He only chanted one hundred percent. Words are not important. The only important thing is how you keep your mind. He had only try mind — only do it.”

“Oh, yes, of course,” the abbot said. “I suppose mind is very important.” They said good-bye and went their separate ways. When the abbot reached the temple, he found Ko Bong Sunim, seated in meditation. “Did you just chant for Mrs. Lee?”


“But you don’t know anything about chanting.”

“That’s right,” Ko Bong Sunim said. “I don’t know anything about chanting. So I just chanted.”

“Then what kind of chants did you do?” the abbot asked.

“I used an old Taoist book.”

The abbot walked away, scratching his head.

This is a very interesting try-mind story. It means, from moment to moment only “do it.” Only keep a try mind, only one mind: do it mind. When chanting, sitting or bowing, only do it. Practicing will not help if you are attached to your thinking, if your mind is moving. Taoist chanting, Confucian chanting, Christian chanting, Buddhist chanting: it doesn’t matter. Even chanting, “Coca Cola, Coca Cola, Coca Cola. . . ” can be just as good if you keep a clear mind. But, if you don’t keep a clear mind, even Buddha cannot help you. The most important thing is, only do it. When you only do something one hundred percent, then there is no subject, no object. There’s no inside or outside. Inside and outside are already one. That means you and the whole universe are one and never separate.

The Bible says, “Be still, and know that I am God.” When you are still, then you don’t make anything, and you are always connected to God. Being still means keeping a still mind, even if your body is moving or you are doing some activity. Then there’s no subject, no object, a mind of complete stillness. That’s the Buddha’s complete stillness mind. When sitting, be still. When chanting, be still. When bowing, eating, talking, walking, reading or driving, only be still. This is keeping a not moving mind, which is only do it mind. We call that try mind.

Ko Bong Holds a Ceremony

In a Dharma Talk, Zen Master Seung Sahn once told this story about his teacher, Zen Master Ko Bong.

When he was a young monk, my teacher, Ko Bong Su Nim, was travelling in the mountains. He visited a small chanting temple in a beautiful spot and decided to stay there for a week. There was only one other monk there, the abbot of the temple. After a few days the abbot asked Ko Bong Su Nim to stay alone in the temple while he went to visit the house of a student. Ko Bong Su Nim. said, “O.K., no problem,” and the abbot left.

At noon a woman came to the temple carrying a large amount of rice and fruit and asked for the abbot. “He is visiting a student,” said Ko Bong Su Nim.

“Oh, I wanted to have a ceremony,” said the woman.

“Fine, we can have a ceremony,” said Ko Bong Su Nim. So she cooked the rice, got everything ready, and put the rice and fruit on the altar.

Ko Bong Su Nim. did not understand the first thing about ceremonies. He had been a monk for a few years, but he had stayed in a Zen temple, where the monks only sit Zen. In Korea, ceremony monks take care of ceremonies; sutra monks study the sutras; Zen monks just sit. So Ko Bong Su Nim. didn’t know when to bow or how to hit the moktak.

“Time to begin,” said the woman.


Ko Bong Su Nim read the sutras a little, but he didn’t have them memorized. However, he did remember some Taoist texts he had studied before he became a monk. So he began hitting the moktak and chanting a Taoist sutra. Sometimes he would bow. He just made it up as he went along, and he kept it up for about an hour, just chanting. At the end, the woman said, “Thank you very much. That was a wonderful ceremony!” Then she left.

On her way down the mountain she met the abbot of the temple coming home. “Oh,” he said, “did you visit the temple?”

“Yes, and we had a wonderful ceremony.”

“Ceremony? That monk knows nothing about ceremonies!”

“We had a Taoist ceremony.”

The woman had been a nun, so she knew all about Buddhist ceremonies. During Ko Bong Su Nim’s ceremony she had sat in the back of the hall, laughing and laughing. But she said to the abbot, “It was wonderful. Throughout the whole ceremony he kept one mind. Sweat was pouring down his face. It was all wrong, but it was wonderful!”

When the abbot returned, he said to Ko Bong Su Nim, “I hear you had a good ceremony today.”

“It was terrible! All I could remember were some Taoist texts.”

“The woman said it was wonderful.” said the abbot. “She used to be a ceremony nun. She said you went straight ahead, with completely no hindrance, so she said it was a wonderful ceremony.”

“Really?” Ko Bong Su Nim and the abbot had a good laugh.

“She was very happy. She said you hit the moktak as if your life depended on it. Only one mind.”

So this is a correct ceremony: only one mind. Whether it is a Buddhist text or a Taoist text doesn’t matter. Understanding or not understanding the correct form is not important. What is important is this child’s mind; we call this Buddha’s mind, just going straight, without thinking, keeping try mind. So you must attain this Buddha’s mind, O.K.? O.K.

Kill Cow – Get Enlightenment

Question: My husband has an idea to open a seafood restaurant in China. He has a very good plan and it seems that we can make money from that business. But having a restaurant, especially a seafood restaurant, means that you kill many lives. So I asked him not to open this restaurant, but I don’t have enough grounds to convince him. How would you convince him, sir?

Zen Master Seung Sahn: There was a man in Buddha’s lifetime. His everyday job was killing cows. He could not change his job because of the way Indian society worked at that time: there were Brahmins, very high class families, next the king’s family, next usually farmers, then the lowest class families, who would kill cows or jobs of this sort. So this man killed cows every day. The cow would come, then “Boom!” The cow said “Muuuuu!”, then died.

The man never changed this job, but he didn’t like it. He talked to his parents, but it was impossible to change it. One day Shariputra, a disciple of the Buddha’s, passed by the man’s working place. Shariputra had completely attained the sutra on emptiness. The man went over to him, bowed and said, “I am sorry, I have a question. Buddha and the precepts say ‘Don’t kill any life.’ My job is killing cows every day. I make a lot of bad karma. What shall I do?”

Shariputra said “Who kills the cow?”

“I kill the cow.”

“Who are you?”

“Don’t know.”

“Only keep this don’t know mind, and kill cows. Then you don’t make bad karma.” Then Shariputra left.

The main continued to kill cows every day, but in the meantime he asked himself “Who is killing the cow?” This question became bigger, bigger, bigger. While killing cows, he did not feel guilty, only the big question: “Who is killing the cow?”

One day a cow appeared. He only kept his big question: “Who is killing the cow?” Then ‘Boom!’, he killed the cow. The cow said “Muuu!” The man heard this ‘Muuu!’ and ‘Boom!’ got enlightenment. “Our true self has no life, no death. I am one of the Buddhas.”

Any kind of business is no problem. That’s very important. If its only for you, then you will have a problem. But, if you make a lot of money, and build a temple, then you help many other people Then your direction is clear. That’s bodhisattva action. Okay? Try that.

Question: Thank you, sir.

Keep the Great Vow

During his visit to Europe last spring, Zen Master Seung Sahn gave a kong-an talk after the morning sitting each day. What follows is part of a talk he gave in London.

Enlightenment is a name. This name is only a teaching word. Originally there is no Enlightenment. Already everybody has everyday Enlightenment. Drinking coffee — coffee Enlightenment; walking — walking Enlightenment; watching television — watching-television Enlightenment; driving your car — driving Enlightenment. Moment to moment, only Enlightenment, Enlightenment, Enlightenment. Enlightenment means clear mind. Clear mind means there is no subject, no object, no inside, no outside. Outside and inside already become one. If you have becoming one, what do you want? That’s all! That’s enough!

So moment to moment keep clear mind, moment to moment get Enlightenment. It’s not special. If you make special, if you make Enlightenment and un-Enlightenment, you cannot get Enlightenment. This mind already separates Enlightenment and un-Enlightenment, so it makes Enlightenment special. So no Enlightenment. The Heart Sutra says, “No attainment with nothing to attain.” You must attain no Enlightenment. There is nothing. Nothing is also not correct. When you drink, only drink. When you are tired, only sleep. If someone is hungry, give them food. That’s all. It is very simple.

Everybody has too much understanding, so they are not simple. Not being simple, they want Enlightenment, they make something. If you want Enlightenment, maybe you spend your whole life practicing, but you cannot get it. Even if you spend an infinite time sitting Zen, you cannot get Enlightenment. So we say, put it all down. But many people want something. This wanting something comes from our karma. Everybody has karma. When karma appears, you lose clear mind. When karma appears, you lose yourself. So this mind is not clear.

Long ago there were great monks and scholars who had great understanding. The understood all philosophies -Taoism, Confucianism, Buddhism. They understood, but they completely digested this understanding. If you digest all your understanding, then your mind is very simple. But if you understand many things, read a lot of books, talk a lot, experience a lot, but you cannot digest this, then you cannot get your own things. You have many things that belong to others. So this mind is very complicated. It cannot decide. This means your intellect controls you. If you put other ideas into your mind, you must digest them. Then they become yours. This is very important. So scholars long ago took everything in and then digested it. But their mind was nothing. It’s like a computer. A computer can do many different operations, but when it’s resting, it’s nothing! Push a button — click, click, the answer appears. Very simple. So put everything into your mind, then digest it, then when you use it, pick out the right thing. Then the answer appears.

So the ancient scholars and great Zen Masters’ speech, understanding, and actions always became one. But people today cannot digest, so their understanding goes this way, their actions go that way.

One day Mang Gong Su Nim, my grand-teacher, visited Kyeong Ho Su Nim, his teacher. It was Kyeong Ho Su Nim’s birthday, so Mang Gong Su Nim brought some meat, drink, and some rice cakes with him. Kyeong Ho Su Nim was very happy to see Mang Gong Su Nim.

“You are so busy, how can you find time to come?”

Mang Gong Su Nim said, “No, no, Master, I am not busy. It’s your birthday, so I’m visiting you. You already have everything, so I’m just bringing you this food.” So he took out the meat, the alcohol, and the rice cakes.

Kyeong Ho Su Nim said, “Oh, wonderful! Where did you get all this?”

Mang Gong Su Nim said, “Nowadays I have no hindrance. If someone gives me wine, I drink. If they don’t, I don’t drink. If someone gives me meat, I eat. Meat and rice are the same. If they don’t, I don’t eat. If rice cakes come, I eat rice cakes.” This style talking.

The Kyeong Ho Su Nim said, “Oh Mang Gong Su Nim, you are wonderful. But my mind is not this style.”

“Oh? What is your style, Master?”

“I cannot get freedom. I want something. Maybe I want garlic. In the temple there is no garlic, so I go to the city, I buy some garlic, I put it in the ground, it grows up, a lot of garlic appears, then I eat it.”

When Mang Gong Su Nim heard this, his mind went, “Bong!” “Zen Master,” he said, “I am sorry. Before I didn’t understand. Now I understand.”

Mang Gong Su Nim’s mind was only original Enlightenment. Kyeong Ho Su Nim’s speech was final Enlightenment. In original Enlightenment, everything is no hindrance. Seeing just like this is truth; hearing just like this is truth; everything just like this is truth. So there is no hindrance. Everything is O.K. Practicing is O.K., not practicing is O.K..

This is already past primary point. Attaining primary point is first Enlightenment; only like this is original Enlightenment. Final Enlightenment means, not only for me. I want something, for all people. This means, you must keep the Great vow. Then you must go straight. Don’t check yourself. If you say, “Something comes, I eat; nothing comes, I don’t eat,” there is no vow there, there is no Bodhisattva, no great love, no compassion. Coming is O.K., going is O.K., suffering is O.K., not suffering is O.K. This style mind is no good. You must go straight, do hard training for other people. This is correct teaching. So soon Mang Gong Su Nim understood: “Ah, I am sorry.”

So I hope you only go straight don’t know, do hard training for other people, attain Enlightenment, Great Love, Great Compassion, and the Great Bodhisattva Way, and save all people from suffering. Thank you.

Keeping a Zen Mind

A visiting student asked Seung Sahn Soen Sa after a Sunday night lecture, “When practicing Zen, how can one keep a Zen mind?”

“Do you understand your mind?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, it is just this ‘don’t know’ mind that should be kept while practicing.

“But then is this mind thinking?”

Soen Sa replied, “That which cuts through all thinking is the great question ‘What am I?'”

“How can one keep this question while practicing and attain satori?”

“While practicing one must have great faith, great courage, and great sincerity.

The student then asked, “What is great faith?”

“Great faith is believing I am already Buddha. This Is faith in oneself. This faith must be unwavering. Just as a hen sits on an egg for twenty days constantly, just so must this faith be maintained. If the egg is left without heat for an hour it will not hatch. Likewise great faith must be kept constantly while practicing Zen.”

Next, Soen Sa was asked about great courage.

“When a cat is chasing a mouse and the mouse runs into a hole, the cat’s total concentration is on the hole. When the cat only concentrates on the hole, there is no thought of cat, only total focus on the hole into which the mouse ran. Likewise a man in the army, when fighting in battle, does not think of life and of death; he only thinks of killing the enemy. With this rigor and courage Zen should be practiced.”

“What is great sincerity?”

“A baby only wants its mother. A man in a desert without water only wants water. A man who hasn’t eaten for three days only wants food. With such sincerity Zen should be practiced. Only the question – “What am I!” Each person has will, intellect, and feeling. ‘Not thinking will’ becomes great faith, ‘not thinking intellect’ becomes great courage, and ‘not thinking feeling’ becomes great sincerity.”

What is ‘not thinking’ will, intellect, and feeling?”

“When will, intellect, and feeling become one, this is not thinking. Only the great question ‘What am I?’ is left. Cut all thinking and become ‘I don’t know mind.’ This ‘don’t know mind’ is the three — faith, courage and sincerity.”

“Thank you, I understand.”

“Who understands?”

“I understand.”

“What are you?”

The student did not answer. Soen Sa hit him and asked, “Do you understand?”

“I don’t know!”

“This ‘don’t know’ mind is the three — great faith, great courage, and great sincerity.”

“Thank you!”

Inka Means Strong Center and Wisdom

In the old Chinese tradition there are two kinds of transmission: secret transmission and public transmission. The sixth patriarch had secret transmission, because at that time seven hundred monks were living in the Zen Master’s home temple. The head monk had been practicing for many years with the fifth patriarch and everyone thought he would get transmission. But this sixth patriarch was not a monk, he was a layman. If he got transmission, maybe many monks would kill him. So he got a secret transmission at night and went away. For eighteen years he only hid. Then he cut his hair and became a monk. That was secret transmission.

Ma Jo Zen Master got transmission from Pai Chang in a big public ceremony. That’s a famous story. Before transmission is what we call “inka,” which means your practicing is okay. It’s possible for you to teach other people. Inka means many Zen Masters are possible. Transmission means only one Zen Master.

Inka and transmission are different. Our “Ji Do Poep Sa Nim” title is like the Japanese title “sensei.” In Korea, we call it “Chong Yong Sun” — your practice is okay, teaching other people is possible. This title has almost disappeared in Korea, although it still exists in China. In Korea we now have the title “Ip Sung Sunim.” — “head monk.”

Now we have the Ji Do Poep Sa Nim ceremony, which is very important. Why? In this ceremony we come together and believe him or her. How strong is his or her center? If the Zen Master gives inka or transmission only privately to this person, sometimes the other students don’t understand. So our Ji Do Poep Sa Nim ceremony means that everyone can come to Providence Zen Center and ask any kind of question, and he or she must answer. Good answer, bad answer, doesn’t matter. How much the candidate believes in himself or herself one hundred percent is the most important point.

Even my teacher, Zen Master Ko Bong, had young Zen Masters coming to him, challenging him. There is a famous story of the time a young Zen Master asked him: what did the monk whisper in Zen Master Duk Sahn’s ear? This is from a famous kong-an. Duk Sahn Zen Master hadn’t heard the drum (announcing meals) but he carried his bowl into the dharma room. That was a big mistake, so this is a mistake kong-an. So what did the monk say to him?

My teacher was stuck. He was thinking a little bit, like everyone does (even Zen Masters), and he was stuck. This young Zen Master wanted to become a great Zen Master, so he came and hit my teacher. When my teacher could not answer, the young Zen Master said, “Aigo! Aigo!” This means, “You are already dead!” Then he went away.

After one week the young Zen Master understood. So he came back and said, “Thank you for your teaching.” This kind of thing happens. So whether the answer is good or bad doesn’t matter. The Ji Do Poep Sa Nim test means how much does he or she believe in himself or herself one hundred percent? This is very important. Zen means believe in your true self one hundred percent.

When asked “what is Buddha?,” Ma Jo Zen Master used to say, “Mind is Buddha, Buddha is mind.” That’s not correct. These are bad words. Then next he said, “No mind, no Buddha.” These are bad words, too. If somebody gave that answer today, they would get hit! But that’s okay.

So in this ceremony we check two things: center and wisdom. Checking the center means, does the answer appear quickly or not? If there’s no hesitation, that’s a strong center. If the answer is sometimes a little slow in coming, that means the center is not clear. Next, we check whether the answer is correct or not. Correct answer means wisdom.

In the future some other people may become Ji Do Poep Sa Nims. Wisdom and a strong center are necessary. A strong center means your mind is not moving, your mind is clear like space. You can reflect action. Whether or not your answer is correct, you can reflect action. That is center.

In the future, everyone must practice strongly and many Ji Do Poep Sa Nims will appear, to help our School and help all beings. Thank you.

Illness Helps Your True Self

Our physical body is not our true self. What is our true self, our true I? Every human being must find their true I. If you find the answer to this question then freedom from suffering and freedom from life and death appears.

Don’t be afraid of your sickness. At times everybody is afraid of what will happen to their body. However, the only difference between human beings when it comes to death is: go early, go late. So again, what is a human being? You must find this! Then when you die, your direction will be clear.

Some people are strong, very smart and have a lot of power. But still, if the direction of their life is not clear, when they die their consciousness will go round and round.

Being alive is very lucky. At this time you must find your owner, your master. You must ask yourself, who is my master? If you find your master, then throwing away your body at any time will not be a problem for you. Don’t be afraid of life and death. This body is like a floating cloud that appears and then disappears. What are you?

No matter what the disease, your true self has no sickness; only your body is sick. Sickness, any sickness, helps your practice. Without sickness, there is only more wanting and desire, wanting and wanting; so you don’t understand your true self, your direction is not clear. If you die at that time, you will have a big problem.

To know that you are dying is very important. For a dying person, completely putting it all down is very easy. Letting go of desires and attachments is easy because at that time you cannot get anything. Now you are sick. What do you want? Money? Sex? Power? What do you want? Finding your true self when you know that you are dying is the easiest way. So this sickness helps your true self.

I Already Caught a Fish

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

This is a very famous kong-an. Zen Master Man Gong always taught his students not to make anything. If you practice strongly, don’t make anything and don’t want anything then you can attain no hindrance. Then this kong-an is not a problem. But if you are thinking, if you still have I, my, me and checking mind, then you cannot get out of the net. This net is life and death and includes everything. Even if you are a Buddha, if you have thinking, you cannot escape the net. Man Gong’s net is an attack kong-an. “I caught a big fish” is a strong teaching style. It drops down a large hook for you. If you touch this fishing hook you will have a big problem! It’s just like a boxing match: hit, hit, hit… then you must defend yourself. So, how do you hit Man Gong’s net? How do you take away Man Gong’s idea? Man Gong’s idea made the net. So, you must hit that. Kong-an practicing is very important–it means, put it all down. In Zen, we say if the Buddha appears, kill the Buddha; if an eminent teacher appears, kill the teacher; if demons appear, kill them. Kill everything that apppears in front of you. That means don’t make anything. If you make something then you have a hindrance. If you can completely put it all down, then you have no hindrance and your direction becomes clear. So, our practicing direction is to make our situation, function and relationship in this world clear. Why do you eat every day? If that is clear, then our life is clear and we can help this world. Moment to moment our job is to do bodhisattva action and help all beings. Man Gong’s net makes our direction and its function clear. Only help all beings. But that is just an explanation. Explanations can’t help you! An answer is necessary.

Hundred Proof Dragon

Sometimes a student will decide to fast during Yong Maeng Jong Jin or make a seven day retreat. He begins strong. First day, second day, only water. Third day: “… maybe I’ll have a little orange juice…” Fourth day: just a half slice of bread…” Fifth day, headache. “… think I’ll take a little nap…” Seventh day, starving, so he stuffs himself. This is what’s called “head like a dragon, tail like a snake.”

You decide something then you don’t do it. This means you don’t believe in yourself. Or in an interview, the Zen Master says: “What color is the wall?”


“Is that correct?”

You hesitate. In that gap, you’re already dead. It’s like fighting. The master attacks. How can you defend yourself? You have to attack!

“Is that correct?”

“Are you hungry?”

Ask a child, “What’s one plus two?”


“Is that correct?”

“Sure it’s correct.” He believes in himself, so he doesn’t think about it.

“One plus two doesn’t equal three…”

“It does too! My teacher said so!” A child’s mind doesn’t shake so easily. But Zen students! They cling to their thinking.

Throw a ball hard against the wall, it comes back hard. Slow, it comes back slow. If the master grabs a sword, you grab one too! This is a clear mirror. “What color is that?” This is a terrible question!

“You already know.”

“I don’t!”

“No? Then I’ll teach you: white!” This is only so-so. You have to attack.