From a talk at Cambridge Zen Center on July 29, 1993.
Question: How does Zen practicing take away karma?
Zen Master Seung Sahn: Zen practice does not take away karma. If you practice Zen, your karma becomes clear. If you are not practicing, your karma controls you. But if you are practicing, you control your karma. So your karma becomes clear. Good karma, bad karma, whatever karma you have becomes clear; then only help other people. That’s the point. Sometimes when a person first starts practicing Zen we talk about “taking away karma,” but those are only teaching words. Bodhisattvas have bodhisattva karma. Karma means mind action. So, karma controls me, or I control my karma and help other people. These two are different, but same karma.
Q: Bodhisattva karma is helping people?
ZMSS: Of course.
Q: But first we have to help ourselves, right?
Q: To get a center.
ZMSS: Where is your center?
Q: Talking to you.
ZMSS: That is not your center. If you make “my center,” then you will have a problem. Our minds are always going around and around … seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, thinking. We see something and think, “I like that. I don’t like that.” If your mind is moving then you are not clear, because you have “my” opinion.
So, take this “around and around mind” and put it inside. At first keep your center here (points to lower belly). If you have a strong center, then your mind is not moving and your opinion disappears. If your mind is not moving, then you see clearly, hear clearly, smell clearly, taste clearly, touch clearly, and think clearly. Then everything becomes clear.
If you keep your center here at first (points to lower belly) then your center will become bigger, bigger, bigger … as big as the whole universe. The name of this is Buddha. So if you want to understand the name of the Buddha, keep a mind which is clear like space. Clear like space has no center. The universe and you are already one. So there is no life and death. But if you only keep your center here (points to lower belly), then one day your body will disappear and your center will also disappear. Then you have a problem (laughs).