July 1, 1980
Dear Soen Sa Nim,
It would be wonderful if you please could answer this letter before my letter of about a week ago.
Life has put a task on my way and I am very glad to feel I want and I can be of help. A short time ago I met a man of my age. We liked each other from the very beginning and it was good to be with someone who in his way is clear, open, warm, brave and understanding. Today I got a letter from him telling me that he would like to learn about Zen. He asked how to handle a situation like his and mine, asking what he could do for me, because he is fighting a cancer in his kidneys, lungs, and bones.
He has already done enough for me because he is the way he is. My job in the office is finished in three weeks time and I have no obligations. And I can manage as a temporary for a long time, as it looks now. This gives me the chance to serve and learn from a person I dearly like.
I have reread your letters to me. What can I do, apart from trying to express that we are not our body, when pain is getting hard? My friend wrote that he still often feels well — I had not noticed anything of his illness — but that the pain sometimes is devilish. He seems to hope that I, who have mentioned that I have been sitting for fourteen years now, have some yogi-knowledge. True, I can take away a headache for friends but bone cancer I happen to know is terribly painful. If you can think of anything to tell me for my friend’s sake, I would be very glad.
One hundred and eight bows to you. Thank you so much for your teaching.
Sincerely, yours in the Dharma,
July 21, 1980
Thank you for your letter. How are you and your friends?
In your letter you said a new task has appeared — helping your friend who has cancer who wants to learn about Zen. That’s a little difficult But a bad situation is a good situation. A good situation is a bad situation. You must understand that. A bad situation forces you to find the correct way. In a good situation it is very easy to get attached to good and begin to make bad karma. So we say a bad situation is a good situation and a good situation is a bad situation.
You and your friend can use this difficult situation to find the correct way, truth, and correct life. But be very careful! Originally there is no life, no death. If you want life, or you want anything, you are already dead. Wanting life will only make more suffering and a living hell.
Put down all your understanding and don’t check your condition and situation; then already you are complete. That, we say, is primary point. Which is no life, no death; no coming, no going; no high, no low; no good no bad; no holy, no unholy. We say that is the absolute. If you attain that, then you must make this primary point function correctly and make your life correct and then help other people. We call that Great Love, Great Compassion and the Great Bodhisattva Way.
You already understand that. But, in looking at your letter, I find you are holding your understanding, also holding your feelings, a little bit. If when you are doing something you completely do it, then the little bit that you are holding your feelings and understanding will completely disappear; then you can see, you can hear, you can smell — all, just like this, is the truth.
Your friend has three kinds of cancer. That is the human route. Suffering is the truth. Also pain is the correct way. Cause and effect are very clear: your friend’s previous karma has already been determined, so by natural process his sickness appears. Only correct practicing can change this natural process. Then maybe his cancer will disappear. Even if it doesn’t disappear, worrying is not necessary; it cannot help. Only go straight, try, try, try, for 10,000 years, nonstop. If you keep this mind, moment to moment, you are perfectly complete, for infinite time. Then everything is no problem.
Here is another kong-an for you: (Blue Cliff Record case #87)
Yun Men, teaching his assembly, said, “Medicine and disease cure each other. The whole universe is medicine; what is your True Self?”
So sickness, medicine, and your True Self — are they the same or different? Tell me, tell me! If you don’t understand, only go straight, don’t know, O.K.?
I hope you only go straight, don’t know, which is clear like space, help your friends and find the correct way, truth, and correct life, get Enlightenment, and save all people from suffering.
Yours in the Dharma,