The Human Route

Dear Seung Sahn Soen Sa,

I don’t think you know me because I have seen you only a few times. I attended a Kido with you last summer. However, I hope you will be able to give me some advice.

Last month my younger sister Sue died in a very strange and lonely way. The karma of my family is difficult and full of confusion and pain. Sue was paralyzed from the waist down for a year and a half. She tried to kill herself jumping from a balcony and broke her spine in three places. I cry as I write this. Though I was close to her before, I became much closer after that, going to Texas to visit her, talking with her, writing many letters. I loved her very much. She had a beautiful heart, very loving and seeking. Then last month she suddenly ran away in her car (she had a special car she could drive). She drove up to northern Texas, called my mother twice, and then we didn’t hear from her for many days. She was finally found in the woods by the police. She had tried to get out of her car into her wheelchair, fell to the ground, dragged herself into the woods, built a fire, and died there — probably from exposure and starvation.

For myself, these last years have also been a struggle. I was in a mental hospital twice, and the past three years have been a journey back to a normal mind. It is so terribly sad to me because, just when I was beginning to be really strong for her, to be able to truly help her, she is gone — and I think she had much pain and anger in her heart when she died.

I have her ashes now on my altar, and I feel strong energy from them. I guess I wish to ask you two things. First, what can I do for her now? I try to find her when I sit Zen. I think of her always — it sometimes seems as if I feel her suffering — and every night I chant, but this doesn’t seem enough. I want badly to see her, though I know I can’t, to help her wherever she is, to reach her somehow and make sure she is not suffering.

Secondly, please tell me how to purify myself and my family when there are so many difficult things. I myself am such a beginner on the spiritual path — part of the reason I went crazy was because I thought I was such a bad person. I know somewhat differently now, but could you explain a little to me about karma with much suffering and unhappiness?

I will be deeply, deeply grateful to you for any words that you can send me. As I write this letter, the tears come from inside with my sorrow and my desire to bring love where there is so much pain.

Yours in Kanzeon,


May 27, 1978

Dear Patricia,

Thank you for your letter. How are you? I read your letter and I am also very sad. I understand your mind; I understand your thoughts about your sister. I understand your love for your sister. You and your sister have very strong karma, same karma. So when your sister dies, your mind also dies.

But that is all feeling. If you are holding your feelings, you cannot help your sister. Also, you cannot help yourself or your family. Let your feelings be! You must find your correct way; then your mind can shine to your sister and to your family. Then in the next life this sadness will not appear. But if you are only holding these sad feelings, in your next life this same sadness will appear.

Everything is from a primary cause and leads to a result. An action in your past life gives you a result in this life. If in this life you do not make this feeling disappear, then it will become a primary cause and in the next life there will again be the same result. The name for this is samsara. Many people do not understand this, so they are attached to a result. Because of this, when they are very sad and crying, they suffer.

If you understand karma, you will not hold onto the result, so your mind will not be tight and suffering. Crying time, only cry. When that is finished, it is finished. You must keep a clear mind. Then you will make clear, correct karma.

So don’t hold onto your feelings. Don’t make anything; don’t be attached to anything. Put it all down! Then your mind will become clear, and your mind light will shine everywhere. That is called Dharma energy. Then your mind will shine to your sister and the rest of your family. Then the primary cause will disappear, and this suffering and sadness will not appear again.

The Human RouteComing 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 itself originally does not exist.
Life and death, coming and going, are also like this.
But there is one thing which always remains clear.
It is pure and clear, not depending on life and death.
What is that one pure and clear thing?

You must attain this true self which is not dependent on life or death, which always remains clear and pure. Then you will see your sister’s original face, and you will save yourself, your sister, and your family.

If you don’t understand the one pure and clear thing, then only go straight — don’t know. Let everything be! Only try, try, try for 10,000 years non-stop. This is very important.

You said you were in a mental hospital. That is very difficult. Controlling your mind when you are alone and practicing alone may also be very difficult. The best thing is for you to go to a Zen Center; practicing together with others is very important. When you are bowing together, sitting together, eating together, chanting together, and working together with other people, everybody helps you control your bad karma. Then it is easy to completely put down your opinion, your condition, and your situation.

Good and bad are your true teachers. But living by yourself, you don’t understand good and bad. You cannot see your bad karma. So your bad karma always controls you, and your problem is non-stop. If you want your bad karma to disappear, please come to a Zen Center.

You want to know how to help your sister. I already told you, but if you want to do something special, Buddhism has a mantra for dead people: Ji Jang Bosal. Try Ji Jang Bosal 3,000 times a day for forty-nine days. Then your sister will be born again in a good body.

I hope you only go straight — don’t know: don’t check your feelings, your mind, or your understanding, find the true way, and save your sister, your family, and all beings from suffering.

Yours in the Dharma,


Hua T’ou and Chinese Food

This piece is drawn from a conversation at lunch in Hong Kong between Zen Master Seung Sahn, another famous monk, and some students.

Monk: Dae Soen Sa Nim, what is the difference between hua t’ou* and kong-an?

ZMSS: The hua t’ou is like a pointing finger. The finger itself is not important. Direction is most important. The hua t’ou has no meaning. Its just a finger pointing. Most important is direction. Hua t’ou means your direction. A question like “Who is speaking?” has two points, subject and object. If you have two things then opposites have already appeared. Don’t make opposites. “Who is speaking?” …then thinking, thinking, thinking appears. Hua t’ou means cut off all thinking. “What is Buddha? Dry shit on a stick.” This has no thinking; it’s a direct pointing! Kong-an also means cut off all thinking. Just do it.

Monk: But, when you ask a question you want to find an answer, correct?

ZMSS: You shouldn’t want to find an answer. Now in China, Pure Land practice is very popular. Many people practice by asking themselves, “Who is O Mi To Fo, the Amitabul Bodhisattva?” That is OK but not true Zen. It’s like this: “What is Buddha? Chopsticks.” Then if thinking appears, “why chopsticks?” that’s not so good. “What is Buddha? Chopsticks.” Then, only action — use the chopsticks, eat! That’s correct. “Who is chanting?” If you are thinking, then two minds appear: chanting mind, asking mind. But hua t’ou means cut off these two minds — cut off all thinking. Da Sung Il Pung — HIT! Become One. Just do it!

Monk: But everyone is practicing, “Who is chanting 0 Mi To Fo?” Da Sung Il Pung is very high class! Nobody understands that.

ZMSS: Yes, this style of teaching has been used for such a long time that the true meaning has been lost. Today, nobody understands. During the Tang and Sung dynasties everyone understood the correct teaching. Live words are very important — that’s Zen. Not thinking words. Just perceive, then inside and outside BOOM! become one. Here is a poem for you:

Where is Amitabul now?
If you keep this question, all thinking disappears.
You return to the place of no thinking
Then your mind light is shining bright.

So, everyone, please eat!

Monk: Sir, what do you do during sitting meditation?

ZMSS: Sitting meditation, lie down meditation, walking meditation, it doesn’t matter. Right now everything must be clear in front of you.

Monk: From what I understand from your talk, when doing a mantra, reading sutra, etc. just do it. But, Chinese people, when they recite 0 Mi To Fo, they are thinking about 0 Mi To Fo, Pure Land, etc. But you say, “only do it” — is that right?

ZMSS: Yes, correct. Only do it! Then repeating 0 Mi To Fo and Zen are not different.

Monk: Then bowing time, only bow?

ZMSS: Correct. Only do it!

Monk: They don’t have Zen Masters like you in China. There, they only sit. They will not bow or do mantra practice. Also, they only stay at the temple. But you use everything as a practice.

ZMSS: Bowing, chanting, sitting — only do it. If you want anything, it’s a big mistake. If you want to go to the Pure Land or want enlightenment, you will have a problem. Only do it! Doing 0 Mi To Fo or eating, you must try. If you don’t have a try mind, everything is a problem. If you have a try mind, nothing is a problem. Please eat.

Monk: I am very happy, I cannot eat.

ZMSS: Eat, eat! Eating time, eat.

Monk: You are the live word. Now I have attained the live word!

*Hua t’ou means “head of speech.” Its the point just before thinking. Traditionally it is a word or phrase (like “Mu” or “what is this?”) used by a practitioner to cut off all thinking and return to before thinking, the original self.

How to Do It

In Florida they have dog races. It is a very popular betting sport. People go to the dog track and bet money on the greyhounds, and if their dog wins, they win a lot of money. It is very simple. Everybody understands how the greyhounds race, yah? The dogs come out of a starting gate, and start heading around the track. Meanwhile, there is an electric rabbit that is carried along the inside rail of the track. Actually this is not a real rabbit. It is a fake rabbit with real rabbit fur on it. Dogs have very keen noses, and they follow a good smell. So this rabbit fur leads them around the track. All the dogs think they can catch the rabbit if they just run a little faster. Meanwhile, some man is watching the dogs and controlling the speed of the rabbit. If the dogs are very fast that day, he speeds the rabbit up; if they are slow, he slows it down. He always keeps this rabbit just within range of the dogs so that they think they can catch it. Every single day, the dogs go around and around and around this track. Race after race after race, the dogs just follow this rabbit.

One day a very interesting thing happened at the races in Florida. There was a certain dog named Clear Mary. She was a very fast greyhound, and usually won her races. But Clear Mary was also a very clever dog. One afternoon, she ran out of the starting gate with the other dogs, as usual. The rabbit hummed around the track, and the dogs sped after it. Running, running, running, running-around, around, around, around. Every day, sometimes several times a day, these dogs did the same thing, over and over and over again. And today they were doing it again, as usual. Chasing the electric rabbit.

But in the middle of the race, Clear Mary suddenly stopped. Many of the people in the grandstand stood up, fixing their binoculars on this dog. “What is happening?” they said. “What’s wrong with that dumb dog?” Some people had placed lots of bets on Clear Mary, so they were very angry. “Run! Run! You dumb dog! What’s wrong with you?”

But Clear Mary did not move for a few moments. She looked up at the grandstand. She looked at the tail ends of the other dogs scampering around the bend. And she looked at the rabbit, whirring around the bend and over to the other side of the oval track. Everything was completely still and silent for that moment at the races that day.

Suddenly, Clear Mary leapt over the guard rail that kept the dogs on the track. She sped straight across the big center infield like a flash. Leaping at just the right moment over the other guard rail, she caught the rabbit! Boom! Ha ha ha ha ha!

So that is a Zen mind. Everybody wants something in life. Everyone only follows their karma. They follow their ideas and their opinions, and believe that this is a true life. But Clear Mary is like a high-class Zen student. She was trained very strongly for many years only to follow the rabbit. Everyday she was taught to go around the track-around and around and around. But one day she stops and takes a close look. That is just like Zen practice: stopping and taking a close look at what is happening in life. Then she perceives something clearly, and just does it, one hundred percent. She doesn’t check inside or outside. Inside and outside — boom! — become one. That is a Zen mind. It’s very simple, yah?

    – excerpted from The Compass of Zen [Shambhala, 1997 – ISBN 1-57062-329-5]

How Many Pounds is this KATZ?

The following is a letter from the Housemaster of the Providence Zen Center (now Zen Master Seong Hyang) to Soen Sa Nim, and his reply to her, written in May, 1976.

Dear Soen Sa Nim,

I hope your body is strong and you are feeling well. Everyone in Providence is fine. We are all working very hard. I think everyone is trying to understand his job. This is a big job.

This Sunday George (Bowman – now Zen Master Bo Mun) and Mu Bul Sunim gave very good Dharma talks. We only had three guests and the Providence Zen Center family. Although Mu Bul and George talked very clearly and simply, I felt like our guests did not understand their speech. Sometimes this discourages me very much. People come here, listen to our teaching, and leave. Very few people come a second time. I often feel like the Center is making some mistakes, but I don’t understand what they are.

So I will take your famous advice and only go straight – don’t check myself, don’t check other people, don’t check the Providence Zen Center. Correct?


Good things come in small packages.



Dear Bobby,

How are you? Thank you for your letter and for sending me my letters. Also, thank you for your big KATZ. Everybody understanding their jobs is very good, but I ask you, what is your big job? Big job is your original job, and original job is the great Bodhisattva way.

Nowadays things are very busy here, but it is wonderful that our family is growing. We had a high school class come here one day, and next week a class from UCLA is coming. Also, I will talk at the Center for the Healing Arts in Los Angeles next week. In June we will also have a three-day Kido on a mountaintop near Big Sur for about fifteen people.

I am a little tired these days, but I am resting now, and Mrs. Kanda is here from Japan. She is a wonderful oriental medicine doctor, and she is making me strong. Nowadays Linc is a very good Dharma teacher, and he also helps me.

Don’t worry if people do not come back to the Zen Center. Many people like honey better than water. I think water is better than honey. Honey tastes good, but if you only eat honey, it is not good for you. It is possible to take much water, but only a little honey.

Zen is very clear, simple, and necessary like water. Every day you need water, and every day you need Zen, but most people prefer honey. Zen is clear, but not interesting to them. Most people have many desires, and Zen is cutting off desire, so people don’t like this. Their whole lives are only desire. If you practice Zen, then your life is only clear like water, with no taste, like water. If you have no money, then water is very good.

If people don’t come back, this is not because of a Zen Center mistake; it is because they don’t want to fix their minds. So don’t worry. Many people are not necessary. Only a few keen-eyed students are necessary.

You said, “Don’t check myself,” and you said “KATZ!” and you said, “Good things come in small packages.” Wonderful! But, how many pounds is this KATZ?

Yours in the Dharma,


How can Sitting Save this Hungry World?

Question: What can we in America do to stop the starvation of the world?

Zen Master Seung Sahn: Did you have dinner?

Q: Yes.

ZMSS: Did you clean your bowl?

Q: Yes.

ZMSS: Good. So why is there this kind of problem? In this world, cause and effect are very clear. Everything has a primary cause. If you understand it, and remove it, then the problem will also disappear. We can save money and send food over to Africa and India; that’s okay. But many problems will remain. Taking away the primary cause is very important. It’s like a game of pool. You hit the ball directly into the pocket, and that’s one ball in the pocket. But the high-class technique is to hit this ball and that ball and other balls, so that all of them go into the pockets. Zen-style action is like that; we can give money to help hungry people, but if we hit people’s hungry minds, we can help change their minds so that they can help their own country. The high-class technique is to help people help themselves.

There are two kinds of hunger in this world: body hunger and mind hunger. Body hunger is easily solved: just feed people. But mind hungry people need food for their minds. People with mind hunger do not die. They want power, and then they want more power. They say things like “My way is correct, your way is not correct!” They want to control this world. They don’t want to lose their good situation.

Nowadays, many of the people who say they want world peace are afraid of nuclear weapons. What they want is not to die, not to lose their good situation. That is not correct world peace. Most of the politicians talk about world peace that way. Russia says, “We want world peace.” America says “We want world peace.” Which world peace is correct? These are mind hungry people, who make bombs and nuclear weapons. They talk about world peace, but it’s only a world peace of the tongue, not a true world peace. There are also many people in this world who don’t want world peace. They think the world is so evil that it should be destroyed. They also only want to keep their own good situation, so their world peace is only for themselves, not for other people. This is also not correct world peace.

“I want world peace only for myself’ — this kind of mind is unbalanced. Take away this mind hunger, and the problem of body hunger will also disappear. If we love each other, help each other, and become harmonious with each other, then world peace is possible.

You must understand this world. America makes many bombs and nuclear weapons. Why? It is not at war. If these weapons are not used, they eventually decay. But because America makes them, Russia must make them. The communist countries have less money, so they must take money from other things in order to make weapons. Eventually their economy begins to break down.

The American idea is not to fight, but to break down the economies of communist countries. When economies break down, hungry people appear. Now many people are hungry. This mind set is very bad. Do you understand? Perceive this world clearly, and you will understand where hunger comes from. Everything happens by natural process. In Africa and India (and America as well), there is much killing of animals for food. There is not so much eating of rice and vegetables, as there is in the Orient. It takes more land to raise animals for meat than it does for raising grains and vegetables. Why are many people starving? This is the result not just of this life, but of causes begun many lifetimes ago. Buddha said, if you want to understand what happened before this life, look at what you are getting now. Being very hungry means that in a previous life, one gave much suffering to other people and animals, and also took food. Today’s suffering is the result of those actions. There is great imbalance now between hungry people and people with a lot of food. At meal times we make a great deal of food, then throw away what we don’t eat, into the garbage. There are many thousands of restaurants in America that throw away food. If we were able to send all the wasted food to Africa and India, those people would not be hungry.

Also, if you want to understand the future, you must look at what is occurring now. Our mind set at this moment is the primary cause of what will happen in the future: tomorrow, the next life, generations after that. Right now your mind is making the future. Right now people are killing animals for food, people are wasting food, people are spending money on weapons instead of food. Thus we make the future with our current actions. There are many articles appearing in the news about Africa. Many people are talking about the suffering and having feelings about it, so a “how can we help them?” mind is appearing. If this helping mind gets wide enough, it will find and remove the primary causes of the world’s suffering. Many people getting this helping mind means they will get energy together, and will be able to solve the world’s problems.

There is a famous American who has created many groups to raise money for Africa. I thought this was wonderful until I read that when he gets money, 30% of it goes into his own pocket, and only 70% of it goes abroad. He has this idea, “I am wonderful because I do this.” He has become much admired, but it’s not correct. He only looks wonderful from the outside not the inside. Because of the publicity about Africa, many such groups have been formed in America, that are concerned with helping. They raise money and send it abroad, but it’s like putting cosmetics on the face. If you are hungry, you don’t need cosmetics. This kind of action is like cosmetics; it creates a sense of “I am good, I am helping,” but this “I” does not really help other people. It doesn’t address the primary cause of world hunger. It’s like a room in which many little insects appear. After cleaning the room, it’s OK for a day or two, then soon the insects appear again. Cleaning once in a while doesn’t help. Why do these insects appear? We must look for the primary cause. In this case, we find the room is very damp. If it were dry, no insects would appear. So we must make it dry by using a heater or building a fire, and making the room very hot and dry. Then the insects will not appear again. It’s the same with the problem of hungry people.

Q: Does our sitting in meditation take away the primary cause for Africa’s hunger?

ZMSS: When I came to this country fourteen years ago, I was alone. There were no Zen centers in our style. Now there are many of them around the world in our school, with many people practicing. Many people in these Zen centers are beginning to understand the correct way and the truth. Maybe in the future, our Zen centers and the many others around the world will grow and be able to teach all the people with hungry minds. Take away mind hunger, and body hunger will soon disappear. Then world peace will be possible. You want results quickly. You want to send something to the hungry people and have the problem solved tomorrow. That’s not possible. In this world, cause and effect appear sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly. This particular great suffering has taken hundreds of years to appear. So perhaps in this life it will not be possible to solve it, nor in the next one or the one after that. But we must try, life after life. That is our great vow — “Sentient begins are numberless, we vow to save them all.” For that we must each develop a strong personal center, not just in this lifetime, but life after life. Try, try, try for ten thousand years nonstop!

This is a time of complete change in the world. We are at the end of an old cycle, and the beginning of a new one. As a result, there are many imbalances, and great suffering. Hunger appears because of these imbalances. Now there are entire countries with lots of food, and countries with very little.

Imbalance is our world’s sickness: how can we cure it? Balance means understanding the truth. If you have no wisdom, you cannot become balanced. It is very important for everyone to find their human nature. That is why we sit Zen, to find our true human nature. So we are in a very important position, sitting in meditation. We must find our human nature, then together help each other become world peace. As human beings, we are all equal. We all have the same love mind, so why must hungry people appear? We must find the primary cause of this world’s sickness, and remove it. If we don’t, we can never help the hungry people.

High Class Consciousness

Kyol Che opening talk by Zen Master Seung Sahn at Shin Won Sah in December 1995.

Nowadays our world is very complicated. Also, there are many problems; many people are killing each other. The more complicated our consciousness becomes, the more problems we have. If your consciousness is a little complicated you will have a little problem; if it’s very complicated then you will have a big problem. People want something but they cannot get anything. Then their minds become narrower and narrower. Narrow mind means “only me” mind. This “I, my, me” mind is animal mind. Animal mind only goes one way. Dog, only dog way. Cat, only cat way. Snake, snake way–only my way. They don’t understand other beings so they don’t get anything; they don’t understand this world.

These days human beings are the same as animals–only my way, only my situation, my condition. Then they fight each other. Just like in Russia. The Soviet Union disappeared, then many small countries appeared and are all fighting each other. Now the whole world is becoming like this. Big countries are not fighting each other so much, but inside countries, small groups are fighting each other. So, the whole world has a problem.

This problem appears because animal consciousness is coming into human beings consciousness. Now there are too many human beings. After World War II there were only two billion people; now there are over five billion. Where do all these new consciousness come from? From animals. Why? Humans kill many animals and then they eat the meat. People at this retreat are very lucky because here you can’t eat meat. If you eat meat, then animal consciousness comes in. In the outside world people eat a lot of meat, so animal consciousness comes in. Then dog mind, snake mind, pig mind, any kind of animal consciousness can take control–only me! So, everyone is fighting each other.

Coming here to practice strongly for three months is very wonderful. If you look at this world, how many people practice correctly for three months? How many people want to find their true self–not very many! So, coming here to find the correct way, truth and correct life to help all beings is very important. Only a very high class consciousness will do that. So, you are all very lucky to be here.

Head of a Dragon, Tail of a Snake

Western Pennsylvania
November 1, 1977

Dear Soen Sa Nim,

How are you? In your last letter you asked me again, “Why does Bodhidharma have no beard?” You said I must find a picture of Bodhidharma to see that in pictures of him he always has a beard. In my last letter, I gave you a 90% answer, and the kong-an bomb did not explode. O.K.

Why does Bodhidharma have no beard?


This is a feeble shot in the dark, of course, but I hope to be emptied of answers soon. I have not been able to put all of the time and effort into your kong-an that I previously intended, due to the fact that I have been using much of my free time to study electronics in the hope of getting a good job. I have appreciated my electronics study as a Zen discipline, however, and am mastering it with a single-minded zeal and directness. Yet within me there is a need to get back to the kong-an and settle this matter. I wish to give all sentient beings the aid that only a Patriarch can give.

Too many words! Katie and I shall be very glad to hear from you again. Please take care of yourself and all beings.

Yours in the Dharma,


November 10, 1977

Dear Dave,

Thank you for your letter. How are you and Katie?

Your letter had much energy, but your kong-an answer has no energy. What’s the matter with you? You must believe in yourself one hundred percent! What are you doing now? When you do something, you must do it. That is your correct situation; that is clear mind; that is don’t-know. You think that the kong-an is separate from your life and from your job. This kong-an, don’t-know mind, clear mind, your job, your life, everything — hit! become one. Just now, what are you doing?

You said, “I have no time, so I can’t work on the kong-an.” This is very bad speech! Every kong-an points to its own correct situation. So every day, everywhere, when you keep your correct situation, moment to moment, all the situations in your everyday life are clear. Then any kong-an that tests your mind is your situation just now, and it will also be very clear.

You said that you are studying electronics. This is Zen. Electrical energy can change into anything. Sometimes it makes things hot, sometimes cold; sometimes it makes wind, sometimes light; sometimes it gives the correct time; sometimes it makes food. This original energy has no name and no form. So this energy is like your mind. If you understand one form of electricity, then you can understand electricity’s substance. When you see a light, do you know where the light comes from? Light is electrical energy; electrical energy is light. Electrical energy is part of our everyday lives. In the same way, your moment-to-moment correct action is your true self, clear mind, and the truth. So if you learn the correct way from electricity, no kong-an will stop you.

Your homework answer was “beard.” This kong-an is an attack kong-an; how can you defend yourself? You must attack! For example, in an interview, a Zen Master asks a student, “What color is the wall?”


Then he asks, “Is that correct?” If you hesitate, just then you are already dead. It’s like fighting. You must attack! When he asks, “Is this correct?” you answer, “Are you hungry?”

If you ask a child, “What is one plus two?” he says, “Three.”

“Is that correct?”

“Yes, it’s correct.” He believes in himself, so he doesn’t check himself.

“One plus two doesn’t equal three…”

“It does too! My teacher said so!” A child’s mind doesn’t move: no holding onto words or thinking.

Here’s another example. If you throw a ball hard against a wall, it comes back hard. If you throw it slowly, it comes back slowly. If the Master grabs a sword, you must grab one too! This is reflected action. “What color is the wall?” he asks you. This is a terrible question!

“You already understand.”

“I don’t.”

“No? Then I’ll teach you: white!” You must believe in yourself 100%!

When you want to do something and then you don’t do it, you don’t believe in yourself: you have the head of a dragon, the tail of a snake. So I hope you only go straight — don’t know, believe one hundred percent in your everyday life, get Enlightenment, and save all beings from suffering.

Yours in the Dharma,

S. S.

Hae Jae Dharma Speech – 1981

This is the Dharma Speech given by Zen Master Seung Sahn at the Hae Jae Ceremony marking the end of Kyol Che at the Providence Zen Center on April 10, 1981.

When spring comes, flowers bloom everywhere. Maybe spring makes flowers. Don’t make anything, O.K.?

Today is the Hae Jae Ceremony. Hae Jae means loose, not tight, so this is our “Loose” Ceremony. Ninety days ago we held the Kyol Che Ceremony. Kyol Che means “Tight Dharma.” Tight Dharma, Loose Dharma — what is Dharma? Dharma means complete stillness, so how can it be tight or loose? That is a big mistake! So our Kyol Che Ceremony was a big mistake, and this Hae Jae Ceremony is also a big mistake. (The audience laughed.)

When human beings are born, that is already a big mistake. Practicing means using Dharma to correct this big mistake. In America, when a baby is born, people say it cries, “Waaah!” Koreans say a baby’s first cry is “Ku-aaa!” That means “Save me!” or “Help me!” A baby crying “Ku-aaa!” at the moment of birth already has I-my-me; that is a big mistake.

If you have no I-my-me, Dharma and tight are not necessary. If you do have I-my-me, Dharma has already appeared. A long time ago the Buddha said, “When mind appears, Dharma appears; when Dharma appears, form appears; when form appears, suffering appears. If mind disappears, Dharma disappears; Dharma, disappears, then form disappears; form disappears, then suffering disappears.”

When a baby first cries “Ku-aaa!” mind appears and so Dharma also appears. So “tight Dharma” is very important. How tight should it be? For 90 days, only tight, tight, tight. Then maybe “I” will become smaller and smaller and smaller. When “I” becomes like smoke and disappears, tight is no longer necessary. It has already become loose.

So today, this is what loose means. Tight, tight, tight, then what is tight? There’s nothing there. Nothing is loose. So did you get loose? Did you get nothing? If you have no I-my-me, tight is not necessary. If you have I-my-me, then today is not Hae Jae for you; you must still keep Kyol Che. That is very important, so be careful!

At the Kyol Che Ceremony we talked about understanding our True Self. That is called Enlightenment. Enlightenment is not special. It means 100% belief in your True Self. “What am I?’ You must believe in your True Self 100%. One day is 24 hours. It is possible to believe in yourself 100%. When thirsty, I drink. When I am just drinking, I can believe in myself — no thinking. There is no I-my-me, O.K.? When you are completely asleep, there is no I-my-me. Where did it go? I-my-me has disappeared, so my opinion, my condition, and my situation all disappear. If you are completely asleep, this is better than thinking or sitting. So nothing is better than something good.

Enlightenment is the name for understanding your True Self. So we will check the Mu Mun Kwan to learn how Zen Masters and students of long ago got Enlightenment. First let us look at “Pai Chang’s Fox,” the second gate of the Mu Mun Kwan. Everybody is familiar with this story. Long ago in China, Zen Master Pai Chang used to give a Dharma Talk like this, seated on a high rostrum, two times every month. Whenever he gave a talk, an old man would come to sit with the monks and listen to the speech. One day, after all the monks had left, the old man stayed behind. Pai Chang asked him, “Who are you?”

“I am not a human being. I am a fox.”

“A fox?” asked Pai Chang. “Why have you come here, fox?”

The man replied, “I have a problem, Zen Master. In the distant past, in the time of Mahakashyapa Buddha, I was a Master, the same as you. Once a monk appeared and asked me, ‘Does an enlightened man fall into samsara (cause and effect)?’ I answered, ‘He does not fall into samsara (is not subject to cause and effect).’ Because of my mistaken answer, I have been reborn a fox for five hundred generations. Now, please, Master, give me one sentence to liberate me from this fox’s body!”

Pai Chang said, “Ask me the same question.”

“Does an enlightened man fall into samsara?”

The Master said, “Cause and effect are clear.”

Upon hearing these words, the old man got Enlightenment. Bowing, he said, “I am already free from my fox’s body, which can be found in a cave on the other side of this mountain. Would you please bury it as you would a dead monk?”

That is very interesting, but Pai Chang’s speech is the worst speech. “Cause and effect are clear,” he said. How could the fox lose his fox’s body and get Enlightenment upon hearing that? I have a big question: does it mean that everybody loses their human body when they get Enlightenment? If so, they become what? God? Buddha? Which one?

Next, let’s look at another famous kong-an, the third case of the Mu Mun Kwan, “Gu Ji Raises a Finger.” Whenever he was questioned Zen Master Gu Ji would just stick up one finger. When people asked him, “What is Buddha? What is Dharma?” he just raised one finger. His young attendant saw that every day. One day when Gu Ji was away, a visiting monk asked the attendant, “What is your Master’s Dharma?” The boy stuck up one finger. When Gu Ji heard of this, he cut off the boy’s finger with a knife. As the boy ran out screaming in pain, Gu Ji called to him, “Attendant!”

“Yes, sir?” the boy turned his head.

Gu Ji raised one finger. The boy suddenly got Enlightenment.

In our school, when I ask students, “Where are you coming from?” everybody hits the floor. “What’s your name?” Hit the floor. “How old are you?” Hit the floor. The next time, I will bring a knife and hit your head O.K.? Be careful! (Everybody laughed.) Then maybe you will get Enlightenment. So ask you: this young attendant only saw one finger and — poof! — he got Enlightenment What did he attain? Maybe somebody will raise one finger. Then I will cut off your finger, O.K.? Next time, be careful!

The next question is case #7. Someone asked Zen Master Jo Ju, “I have just entered the monastery. Please teach me, Master.”

Jo Ju said, “Did you have breakfast?”

“Yes, I did,” replied the monk.

“Then,” said Jo Ju, “wash your bowls.” Hearing that — poof! — the monk got Enlightenment. That is wonderful, you know? A short cut, very easy! (Everybody laughed.) The young attendant lost a finger and got Enlightenment; this monk ate his breakfast and got Enlightenment. That’s a wonderful way to get Enlightenment. So what did they attain? It’s very simple, O.K.? All the Kyol Che people understand; they already have become Buddha. (Maybe becoming Buddha is not necessary!) But that is a very important kong-an. Did everybody get Enlightenment? You have supper before this ceremony? After supper, what did you do then?

Next, we’ll look at another kong-an about Zen Master Jo Ju, case #19 in the Mu Mun Kwan. When Jo Ju was young, he became a monk and studied all the Sutras. Finally, after many years, he began to sit Zen. For 30 years he only sat, sat, sat — not thinking, only going straight. He was almost done. Yes, he understood that everything is truth, but there was one thing he didn’t understand. So one day, when he was 60 years old and still hadn’t attained Enlightenment, Jo Ju went to visit Zen Master Nam Cheon. He asked Nam Cheon, “What is the true way?”

Nam Cheon answered, “Everyday mind is the true way.”

“Then should I try to keep it or not?”

“If you try to keep it, already you are mistaken.”

“If I do not try,” said Jo Ju, “how can I understand the true way?”

“Rock-head! The true way is not dependent on understanding or not understanding. Understanding is illusion; not understanding is blankness. If you correctly attain the true way of not thinking, it is like space, clear and void. So why do you make right and wrong?” Hearing that — poof! — Jo Ju got Enlightenment. That is very easy, too. Don’t make anything. Then your mind is clear like space. Why make something? When Jo Ju heard that,, he got Enlightenment. What did he attain? That’s the point! So everybody knows that thinking is no good. If you are thinking, you don’t understand.

Gate #23 is also a famous kong-an, “Don’t Think Good and Bad.” The Sixth Patriarch, Zen Master Hui Neng, had already gotten Enlightenment and transmission. He was traveling to South China and was pursued for a long way by Hae Myung, a very strong monk who had previously been a great general. The Patriarch, seeing Hae Myung coming, laid his robe and bowl on a stone and said, “This robe symbolizes faith; how can it be fought over? I leave it to you to take it.” He went and hid behind a tree. Hae Myung tried as hard as he could to pick up the robe and bowl, but they were as immovable as a mountain.

“Maybe the Sixth Patriarch has magical powers,” he thought. Then he said, “I don’t want this robe or bowl. I want the Dharma! I beg you, Dharma brother, please teach me!” The Sixth Patriarch came out and said, “O.K., you only want the Dharma — that’s a simple thing, not important. I will teach you: don’t think good and bad. At that time, what is Hae Myung’s original face?” Hae Myung was instantly enlightened. It was very easy. Only looking at what preceded his Enlightenment, “Don’t make good and bad. At that time, what is your original face?” it’s very easy. Did you get it, everybody? Did you get something? Are you hungry or thirsty? So it is also very easy to answer the question, “What did he attain?”

Next, we will examine case #28, “Well-Known Yong Dam.” Dok Sahn had already become a great Sutra Master. For 30 years, he only read and studied the Sutras all the time. After ten years of study, he concentrated on only the Diamond Sutra and wrote commentaries on it. When he traveled, he always carried the Diamond Sutra and heavy volumes of his commentaries. He was called Ju (Diamond), and everybody knew he was a great expert on the Diamond Sutra. One day, he heard that people were practicing Zen in South China. He knew that this was demons’ work because everybody only faced the wall for 90 days. Many times they fell asleep; many times they woke up. Sometimes their minds went to New York, Boston, Korea, Europe. Hearing about that, Dok Shan thought, “That is the work of demons. How can people get Enlightenment or become Buddha acting like demons?” So the great Diamond Sutra Master traveled to the South to teach these Zen monks correct Buddhism.

On the way, he got very hungry and thirsty at lunch time one day, so he wanted some food. He went to a tea house. (In China, where the water is very bad, tea and light food is sold at small restaurants called tea houses. It’s like a snack bar where people come to drink tea, rest, eat, or sleep.) So he went into the snack bar and met an old woman there. The old woman saw a great monk appear and said, “Oh, a Buddhist! Oh, welcome, great monk! Where are you from?”

“I am from the North.”

“Where are you going?”


“Why are you going south?”

“Because I heard that in the South, all the monks are practicing wrong; they only face the wall and sleep, sleep, sleep; then they get Enlightenment and become Buddha. They don’t understand Buddha’s teaching.” He had a lot of energy up.

“Oh, what do you teach?”

“I teach the Dharma.”

“What kind of Dharma?”

“I teach the Diamond Sutra,” he said pointing to the commentaries he carried everywhere with him.

“Oh, you are a Diamond Sutra Master. That is wonderful!”

“But you come here; I want some lunch.”

“Lunch? O.K., but first I have a question for you. If you can give me a good answer, I’ll give you anything you want to eat, free — fruit, rice cakes, or anything. But if you cannot answer, I cannot sell you anything.”

“I understand the whole Diamond Sutra. Go ahead and ask me anything.”

“O.K., O.K., I’ll ask you. The Diamond Sutra says, ‘Past mind cannot get Enlightenment; present mind cannot get Enlightenment; and future mind also cannot get Enlightenment.’ You said ‘lunch’. (In Chinese and Korean, the word for lunch, chin-shim, also means ‘point mind’; this is a pun.) You say lunch (point to mind). What kind of mind do you point to? Past mind? Present mind? Future mind? If you point to past mind, you cannot get Enlightenment. If you point to present mind, you cannot get Enlightenment. If you point to future mind, you also cannot get Enlightenment. So which mind are you pointing to?”

Dok Sahn stopped and could not say anything. He had energy up, and his face kept changing, showing many colors. He wasn’t hungry anymore. He said, “Then I ask you, is there a great Zen Master in this area?”

“Yes. The great Zen Master Yong Dam lives just a few miles south.”

“O.K. Thank you very much.” Without having any lunch, he left to see Zen Master Yong Dam. When he got to his temple, they talked and talked and talked. Being a Sutra Master, Dok Sahn referred to many points in the Diamond Sutra. Each time he did so, the Zen Master would only say, “Yes, that is correct. You are correct. Right.” Many hours passed this way, and at midnight they were still talking.

Finally a monk came in and said, “It is very late. You must go to sleep.” So Dok Sahn picked up his bag and robe and opened the door to leave. But outside it was pitch dark and he could not see where to go. He said, “Zen Master, outside it is very dark; I cannot find my direction.”

“No? O.K., then.” The Master lit a ricepaper candle and handed it to him. Just as Dok Sahn took the candle, Yong Dam blew it out. At that instant, Dok Sahn got Enlightenment.

That is also very easy! (Laughter) Zen Master Dok Sahn got Enlightenment. What was he carrying? At that time, Zen Master Yong Dam blew out the candle. Then it was dark, and he got Enlightenment. So, what did he attain?

Today everybody has heard many stories about getting Enlightenment. So I ask you, how many times have you gotten Enlightenment? Many stories talked about it, right? So getting Enlightenment is not special. Put it all down — your opinion, your condition, your situation. Then your mind has no inside, no outside, no subject, no object. Just one time, inside and outside become one — that is getting Enlightenment. If you are still keeping small things inside, you cannot get Enlightenment. Enlightenment is not special. It means when you are doing something, do it. When you see, just see. When you hear, just hear. When you smell, just smell. When you taste, just taste. When you touch, just touch, O.K.? When you’re thinking, just think. Just think, O.K.? Don’t check your thoughts. Just think. That is Enlightenment. It’s not special. Therefore Zen Master Nam Cheon said, “Everyday mind is Zen mind.”

At the Kyol Che Ceremony we looked at the following kong-ans. Someone asked Zen Master Jo Ju, “Does a dog have Buddha-nature?” He said, “Mu.” That’s not correct speech. Does a dog have Buddha-nature? Everybody understands that, so you must make Jo Ju’s answer correct. On Hae Jae day, that is your job. At this Hae Jae (“loose”) ceremony, we must correct all Zen Masters’ bad speech, wrong speech, and incorrect teaching.

A long time ago, when asked, “What is Buddha?” Zen Master Ma Jo said, “Mind is Buddha; Buddha is mind.” That is very bad teaching. I ask you: what is Buddha? What do you say? If say, “Mind is Buddha; Buddha is mind,” this stick will break your bones, O.K.? (He laughed.) The next day, when asked again, “What is Buddha?” he said, No mind, no Buddha.” The wrong direction! What is Buddha? If you live outside the Zen Center you only need to pay $35 and come here for three-day Yong Maeng Jong Jin and you will understand that. Then you will be better than Zen Master Jo Ju or Zen Master Ma Jo. That’s very cheap! (The audience laughed.)

The next one is a little bit difficult. One day Zen Master Dok Sahn went into the Dharma Room carrying his bowls. The Housemaster said to him, “The bell has not yet been rung; the drum has not yet been struck. Where are you going, carrying your bowls?” Zen Master Dok Sahn returned to his room. When the Head Monk heard about this, he understood, “The great Zen Master doesn’t understand the last word!” What is the last word? Why did the Zen Master act this way? After he made a mistake, why did he return to his room without saying anything? Maybe he was a little crazy. Maybe he was deaf. Maybe he was thinking a lot at that time. Maybe he was asleep: sometimes when you go to sleep thinking, “I want to wake up at 11:00,” somebody knocks on your door at 10:00 and you wake up, thinking you are late. So maybe he dreamed that somebody knocked, or that the bell was rung and the drum struck, so he thought he had to get his bowls and hurry to the Dharma Room. So maybe he had a dream. If he acted this way because of a dream, that’s no problem. It is very important that he made a mistake. When you make a mistake, how can you correct it? How do you make a bad situation correct? How do you make a good situation correct? Good and bad do not matter. Correcting them is important. Zen Master Dok Sahn had already made a mistake. How could he correct it? That’s the point. If you completely attain the last word, you can correct this mistake.

Next, we’ll talk about the Sixth Patriarch’s mistake. One monk said, “Theflag is moving.” Another monk said, “The wind is moving.” The Sixth Patriarch said, “It’s not the flag that is moving; it’s not the wind that is moving. Your minds are moving!” This is a bad answer and bad teaching, because when he said, “Your minds are moving’!” the Sixth Patriarch’s mind was also moving! If a clear-minded student came up and said, “You, too!” then the Patriarch would have a problem. So one monk was attached to the flag; the other monk was attached to the wind. The Sixth Patriarch was attached to mind., What are some not-attached words? Give me a freedom sentence — just like this. Everybody understands what just-like-this words are. Today is the Hae Jae Ceremony, so everybody must answer.

The next question is very important. One day Zen Master Nam Cheon, Zen Master Kui Jeong, and Zen Master Ma Gok went together to pay respects to the National Teacher. When they got halfway there, Nam Cheon stopped and drew a big circle on the ground and said, “If you can answer correctly, we’ll go on; if not, I won’t go on.”

Kui Jeong said, “Oh, I can answer.” He sat down in the center of the circle. Then Ma Gok did an Oriental woman’s bow, very gentle and slow.

Zen Master Nam Cheon said, “I’m not going.”

These two Zen Masters said, “What does this mean? Why won’t you go?”

“Because your answers are not correct and not complete.” So, everybody, what is the correct answer? That’s the point.

Getting Enlightenment is very easy; it is not difficult. Only ask what the correct situation is at that time. If your mind is clear like space, the correct situation will be reflected clearly. Before, we talked about how many people got Enlightenment. Then we exa’mined many kong-ans. They are only reflections and have no I-my-me — no opinion no condition, no situation. A reflection simply appears. That is the point.

Our Hae Jae Ceremony has lasted almost two hours. So I ask you: Hae Jae means loose; Kyol Che means tight. Tight Dharma — loose Dharma. Originally this world is complete stillness. How did you tighten your Dharma, and you did you loosen your Dharma today? Somebody may say, “Oh, that’s an easy question; I understand it.” If you say that, this stick will hit you 30 times. Somebody else may say, “I don’t understand. What is a good answer?” This stick will also hit him 30 times. Then what can you do? It is complete stillness. How did you tighten your Dharma; how did you loosen your Dharma?


Today we had supper at 5:30.

The Great Way is in Front of the Door

On June 16 we held an opening ceremony for our new home. On this occassion Zen Master Seung Sahn delivered the following Dharma message:

(Striking the table) Form is emptiness, emptiness is form.

(Striking the table) No form, no emptiness.

(Striking the table) Form is form, emptiness is emptiness. Which one of these is correct? If you make a choice, I will hit you thirty times. If you do not make a choice, I will hit you thirty times. Why? KATZ!!! Three times three equals nine.

Thank you very much for coming to this opening ceremony. But what is it that brought your body here? Is it your mind? What is mind? Where is it? What is its shape? Mind is no mind. A mountain does not proclaim, “I am a mountain!” A river does not say, “I am a river!” All names and all forms are made by thinking. Thus, mind is no mind. All things have name and form. Names and forms come from emptiness and will return to emptiness. Thus, form is emptiness, emptiness is form.

When you are thinking, your mind, my mind, and all people’s minds are different. If you cut through all thinking, your mind, my mind, and all people’s minds are the same. The mind that cuts through all thinking is the true empty mind. The true empty mind is before thinking. Your substance is before thinking. Your substance is universal substance. Before thinking, there is no speech and no language. There is no God, no Buddha, no mountains, no rivers, no things at all. Thus, no form, no emptiness.

But, “before thinking” is truly just like this. No form, no emptiness is itself a clinging to emptiness. Put it down! Then, you will have no inside and no outside; you will attain the Absolute. Everything that you see, hear, taste, and smell is the truth. God is God, Buddha is Buddha, mountains are mountains, rivers are rivers. The truth is like this. Form is form, emptiness is emptiness.

If you cut through all thinking, your mind will become clear. Just that is your true self. Thinking is desire, desire is suffering. When the mind remains clear, there is no life and no death. You will find true freedom that has no hindrance.

Your body has life and death, but your true self transcends both life and death. Today we have an opening ceremony. This is the opening of the mind’s door, the attainment of one’s true self, and the discovery of the Great Way.

What, then, is one’s true self? Does it exist or does it not? If you say that it exists, where is it? If you say that it does not, what is hearing this speech? Both of these answers are not complete. Why?

(Striking the table) KATZ!!!

Put it down, put it all down!

The Great Way is in front of the door.

Great Faith

From a talk given in 1979:

See Hoy (later Su Bong Zen Master) just talked about believing in your teacher.

How much do you believe in your true self? Ten percent? Then you believe in your teacher ten percent. If you believe in your true self fifty percent, you can believe in your teacher fifty percent. Ninety nine percent? Then you can believe in your teacher ninety nine percent.

But somebody says, “I cannot believe in my true self, but I believe in my teacher,. This means liking your teacher, not believing in your teacher. Maybe someday this person’s teacher says “Your action is no good!” Then this student’s mind moves — anger appears, or a lot of thinking. “Why does he speak this way to me?”

So liking your teacher and believing in your teacher are different. If somebody cannot believe in himself but only says, “I believe in my teacher,” then this person only follows his teacher. This means being attached to your teacher, liking your teacher, but not believing in your teacher.

If your mind is not moving, and you believe in your teacher 100%, then you already believe in your true self 100%. Then not only believing in your teacher — believing in your true self, but believing in this society, believing in this world 100% is possible. Then saving all beings is possible. So only go straight, 100% don’t know, O.K.?