September 14, 1977
Dear Soen Sa Nim,
How are you? I hope you are well, even though you are working so hard. Everyone at the Cambridge Zen Center says hello to you and to our West Coast family.
I must tell you something. This summer, I came to believe in Buddhism 100%, so I am very happy. Before, there was a lot of fighting in my mind about whether or not to practice. But this summer, a lot of bad karma disappeared. This fighting stopped, so practicing became possible. Also, I was able to quit smoking — something I thought I’d never be able to do in a million years. How did this happen?
Do you remember two years ago when a lot of bad karma appeared in my mind, and I moved out of the Zen Center and stopped practicing? Then you gave me the mantra: “Gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate, bodhi svaha.” Within three months I was back at the Zen Center, practicing. Then you said, “O.K., your mind is stronger, so now you must breathe in, ‘Clear mind’ and breathe out, ‘Don’t know.”‘ I did this practice for a while,, even though I did not like it. But, at the beginning of the summer, my old bad karma again appeared — “I hate Zen; I don’t want to practice.” So I started doing the mantra again. And again, this bad karma disappeared.
Now, I don’t understand mantras. All I know is that when I begin to lose my direction, this mantra sets me straight again. Is it O.K. to do it all the time even when my mind is strong? Some people say that using a mantra is a very lowclass practice. Is this true? Please tell me about using a mantra.
Thank you for teaching me about Buddhism.
September 21, 1977
Thank you for your letter. How are you? The West Coast family says hello to you and the Cambridge Zen Center family.
You say that you believe in Buddhism 100%. 1 am glad to hear that! Congratulations on your practice becoming very strong. You also said that you stopped smoking; that is wonderful.
In your letter, you wrote about mantra and don’t-know mind. Some people say that using a mantra is low-class. That is wrong. It is their thinking that is low class. The Compass of Zen* says, “Without thinking, sutra practice, mantra practice, yom bul (repeating the Buddha’s name) practice, and Zen practice are all the same, but if you are attached to thinking and attached to words, all practices are different.” When we eat, some people use chopsticks, some use forks, some use spoons, some use fingers. What you use is not important — did you get a full stomach? Whether you use a mantra or kong-ans is not important. What matters is how you keep just-now mind moment to moment. If you understand this, you can always keep enough mind. This means that you already have freedom from life and death, and you understand the True Way and how to help other people. That is the Great Vow, not only in this lifetime but for numberless lifetimes to come to save other people.
You already have the mantra “Gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate, bodhi svaha.”‘ You have very good karma with this mantra, so use this good karma for all beings. Don’t check your mind; don’t check your feelings; don’t check other people’s minds. Only go straight — don’t know with your mantra — then, no problem.
Many people want to climb to the top of a mountain. One person begins to climb from the south side of the mountain; someone else begins from the north side, another from the west side, and another from the east side. They only go straight and arrive at the top, but the person on the south side thinks the direction of the person on the north side is wrong. Each thinks the others’ direction is wrong. Don’t check another’s direction; this is no good. All arrive at the top, at the same point; that is most important.
There is one important point about mantra practice you must understand. With mantra, getting one mind and samadhi are very easy. But you cannot find your True Way if you are attached to mantra. Only mantra has no direction. However, “Who is doing the mantra?” means having a direction. Having a direction means keeping a question and letting your cognition become clear so you can perceive your correct situation. This is Great Love, Great Compassion, and the Great Bodhisattva Way. So only mantra is one mind, but if you keep the great question and mantra, that is clear mind.
Only-go-straight don’t-know mind is clear like space. There is no subject, no object, no inside, no outside. When you are doing something, you must do it. If you are not thinking, that is correct mantra and correct don’t-know mind. What does the cat say? What does the dog say? You already understand.
I hope you only go straight — don’t-know with your mantra, soon become a great Bodhisattva, finish the Great Work of life and death, get Enlightenment, and save all people from suffering.
Yours in the Dharma,
*The Compass of Zen is a book Soen Sa Nim compiled containing teaching of the major schools of Buddhism.