The following exchange took place after a Dharma Talk Zen Master Seung Sahn gave at the New Haven Zen Center on December 9th, 1976.
Student: Do you dream about different kinds of things now that you are a Zen Master?
Soen Sa Nim: What kind of dreams?
Student: Well, I dream about things I desire, but if you don’t desire anything, what do you dream about?
Soen Sa Nim: Yah, I have dreams.
Student: What kind of dreams?
Soen Sa Nim: You are laughing, so I am laughing. This is a dream. You say you have a dream, so I am having a dream.
Student: I understand what you say, but I can’t believe it.
Soen Sa Nim: You can’t believe the dream. So your dream is a not believing dream. Everything is a dream, O.K.? Last night you had a dream. Just now we are talking. How is it different?
Student: I can feel it’s different.
Soen Sa Nim: Feel? You say “different.” So here is a famous story. Before, in China, there were five schools of Zen: Rinzai, Soto, Poep An, Un Mun, and E An. E An and An Sahn together made one school; E An was the teacher and An Sahn the disciple.
Once E An was asleep. At that time, An Sahn was only his secretary. An Sahn happened to open the door, saw that the Zen Master was asleep, and slowly closed the door. The Zen Master woke up, asked An Sahn to come in, and said, “Just now I had a dream. Do you understand?”
An Sahn said, “Yes, just now I understood,” and washed the Zen Master’s face with water. The Master said, “Oh, thank you very much.”
Then a student named Haeng Om, later a Zen Master, came into the Zen Master’s room. The Master said, “Oh, Haeng Om, we were just talking about my dream. Do you understand my dream?”
Haeng Om said, “Yes sir,” went into the kitchen, and brought out some tea. The Zen Master said, “Ah, my students are very wonderful. You all understand my dreams.”
This is dream talking. What does it mean? A dream is just like this. Just like this is a dream. When you wake up, you wash your face. This is the correct way. Then you drink tea. This is the correct way. If you completely understand dreams, then you understand the correct way. If you don’t understand dreams, then you don’t understand the correct way.
So you must understand that this whole world is a dream. Then my desire is also a dream, my anger is also a dream, your life is also a dream. You must understand dreams. Then you will have no desires. Only doing Bodhisattva action is possible. So this is a dream, O.K.? I have a dream. Once, Martin Luther King said, “I have a dream.” Famous speech. So you must understand dreams. Understanding the dream is no good; you must attain the dream. Then you will understand your true self, O.K.? This wall is white. This floor is brown.