The following is a reply by Zen Master Seung Sahn to a letter written to him by a student.
Thank you for your letter. How are you? In your letter you said you have two problems. First, you talked about your service in Viet Nam as a soldier and medic. As a soldier you saw many people including children die all around you. As a medic you treated wounded, suffering soldiers. You say these experiences weigh heavily on your heart and mind.
You have already seen many dead people. Some day your body will also disappear — maybe tomorrow, maybe day after tomorrow. This is true not just for your body or for the people who lost their lives in Viet Nam. Maybe this entire world will disappear tomorrow. Already all the large countries have nuclear weapons. If one person makes a mistake and pushes a button setting off all the missiles, the whole world will be destroyed in a second.
You saw many people die in Viet Nam, so you have a strong feeling. If your mind opens and you perceive this world, then you will see that moment to moment there is great danger. This will make you very unhappy, not knowing which way to turn, like a child who has lost his mother.
When Shakyamuni Buddha was a prince he had everything that he wanted but this did not satisfy him. He put it all down, cut his hair, went to the mountains, and sat under the Bodhi Tree. One day he saw the morning star and attained Enlightenment: he perceived that your True Self has no life, no death.
You must understand that. Then, no problem. What are you?
If you don’t understand, only go straight don’t know. Try, try, try for 10,000 years non-stop, O.K.? Then you can finish the Great Work of life and death, get Enlightenment, and save all beings. This is possible. Then world peace.
Next, you say that you have experienced kensho several times, but when you try for this point during zazen you end up in a struggle. We say this is “feeling kensho,” not true kensho. Ken means perceive, sho means nature. Perceive your true nature. This means attain your true nature. If you attain your true nature one time, this never disappears. But you have experienced kensho many times. What does this mean? There are many kinds of kensho like your kensho — 84,000 kenshos. Why 84,000? We have 84,000 kinds of thinking and feeling. So if you experience one feeling of kensho, then experiencing kensho 84,000 times is necessary. How many times have you had kensho? Put it all down. Who told you that you already had kensho? You make kensho, so you have kensho. This is your kensho, not true kensho.
True kensho means no kensho. The Heart Sutra says, “no attainment with nothing to attain.” This means you must attain no attainment. That is true kensho. You still want something; you still want kensho. That is a big mistake. That way you will never get Enlightenment, never get true kensho. If you want true kensho, you must make your opinion, your condition, and your situation disappear. Then the correct opinion, correct condition, and correct situation will appear. The name for this is kensho. The name for this is our True Self. The name for this is Great Love, Great Compassion, and the Great Bodhisattva Way. Not special. When you are hungry, eat. When you are tired, rest. When you see a hungry person, give him food. When you see someone sad, you are also sad. Only this. Moment to moment, you must keep your correct situation. All your actions are for other people. Put down I, my, me.
An eminent teacher said, ”Without thinking, Just like this is Buddha.” Someone asked Zen Master Dong Sahn, “What in Buddha?” He said, “Three pounds of flax.” Someone asked Zen Master Un Mun, ”What in Buddha?” He said, ”Dry shit on a stick.”.
These two answers, are they the same or different? If you say, “Same,” I will hit you 30 times. If you say, “Different,” I will also hit you 30 times. What can you do? If you don’t understand, only go straight don’t know. Try, try, try, any time, always, everywhere, O.K.?
I hope you always go straight don’t know, which is clear like space, soon finish the Great Work of life and death, get Enlightenment, and save all beings from suffering.
In the Dharma,