The following questions and Soen Sa Nim’s responses were after a Kong-an reading on March 11, 1985, at the Providence Zen Center.
Q: Can you talk about monks and laymen? We have just finished a beautiful Hae Jae Ceremony at the new monastery. Some of us have a yearning to become monks. What is this?
A: If it is only feeling and this feeling controls you, that is desire. Maybe you go to a temple, “Oh, that is wonderful! Maybe I will cut my hair and have beautiful gray robes! I like that!” That is feeling. But if inside you see that there are many, many problems in this world, many suffering people, so that is why you want to become a monk, then this is not just feeling, OK? Intellectual. Strong will mind. “I want to save all beings from suffering so I want to become a monk.” That name is try mind. That is vow. So if feeling controls you and action appears, that is not try mind. This means that only your karma controls you. Same action, same becoming a monk, but a different style. In Korea there are many different style monks. Some have very strong feeling and go to the mountain. Many young girls go there. Maybe they have problems with boyfriend or family – “Oh, I will come here to the temple! Oh, that is wonderful!” So they become nuns. But being a nun is very difficult so soon they don’t like it and leave. So if feeling is the reason for wanting to become a monk, then if a different feeling appears, again change – no more monk. Sometimes in our School. this style appears. Somebody has a strong feeling, becomes a monk, then this feeling changes, then no more monk. Understand? So if feeling controls something and you do it, that is not try mind. Try mind means having strong direction, and behind it, Great Vow. “Human beings are numberless, I want to save them all.” That is Great Vow. Then this never changes. Feeling coming, feeling going; condition, situation changing, changing – doesn’t matter. Even if my body is sick or dies – not broken monk.
Q: So can a lay person save all beings from suffering, have a Great Vow, or only monks?
A: Of course!
Q: Then how are they different, monks and laymen?
A: For example, in our School we have two kinds of Master Dharma Teachers (Note: they are now called Ji Do Poep Sa Nims): monk and family style. The family style Master Dharma Teachers have try mind and want to do together action, but they have children, have wife, have husband, so they cannot do as much together action. But if you are a monk, then all the time together action is possible. That is how they are different.
Q: So if you have no family, is becoming a monk good?
A: I don’t know. What kind of feeling? What kind of direction? Many people have no family but cannot become monks. There is still some hindrance inside. “I want something.” So they cannot become monks. Becoming a monk is not easy.
In our family, many people who became monks now are not monks. First they had a strong feeling so they became monks, then a strong feeling appears again, so they stop being monks. This is a “feeling monk.” So a “feeling monk” doesn’t stay a monk very long. If he has a strong Great Vow, then a monk is a strong monk. Also, a “feeling monk” is OK. Then practicing, practicing and feeling comes down, down, and strong center appears. Then no problem. So becoming a monk or not becoming a monk, doesn’t matter. If you are a lay person, it is also possible to save all beings from suffering. So now all the Master Dharma Teachers are teaching you. The only difference is that if you have a family, not so much together action with the Sangha is possible. Not so much “100% my life for all beings” is possible. My family, my wife or husband, also taking care of my parents is necessary. But if you have no family, it is possible to be with the Sangha all the time. Whole life. That is the only difference. So moment to moment very important – don’t make anything, don’t check anything. Just DO IT! Only go straight.