July 26, 1977
Dear Soen Sa Nim,
I hope you are well. Please, as much as possible, try to take care of your body.
I have not seen you in awhile. I, too have been traveling around teaching the Dharma. How is the family on the East Coast?
I am still living with Jennie. She is well and continues to study with her teacher. Her teacher is very good, very crazy. Many of his students think they have complete freedom to do what they want. There are many drunken parties, and the observation of precepts is practically nil. For me, it is good teaching to see such wild Dharma scenes; it surely helps cut my ideas about good and bad Dharma. Nonetheless, I am generally pretty sober — drunken freedom doesn’t appeal to me.
Nowadays, I am feeling strong in body and mind. It is easy to forget myself. I am joyed by the Bodhisattva Way.
May all beings be happy and liberated.
Much love to you and our Dharma family,
August 4, 1977
Thank you for your letter. How are you and Jennie? You worry about my body, but it is strong — no problem.
Jennie’s studying with her teacher is not good, not bad — this type of Buddhism is wonderful practicing. But the precepts are very important.
When Buddha was dying, Mahakasyapa and another great disciple asked him, “When you die, we will have no teacher. How can we continue practicing? How can we control the sangha?”
Buddha said, “I have already given you the precepts. The precepts are your teacher. If you practice correctly and keep the precepts correctly, you can control the sangha and help them find the true way.”
So, the precepts are very important. If you keep the precepts, they will be your teacher, but if you break the precepts, you kill your teacher. If you get Enlightenment, your direction is unmoving, so keeping or not keeping the precepts doesn’t matter; you will always do Bodhisattva action. But if you still have karma, if you cannot control your karma, then freedom action will arise from ignorance and only make more bad karma. When will you get out of the ocean of life and death?
The Avatamsaka Sutra says, “Drinking and sex are no-hindrance Prajna.” In other words, when you can control your karma — your desire, anger, and ignorance — then any action is no problem; whatever action you do will teach other people. My teacher, Zen Master Ko Bong, taught this way. At Jung Hae Sa Temple in Korea, the schedule consists of three months of sitting followed by three months of vacation. During vacation, everyone collects money or food and brings them back for the sitting period. When Zen Master Man Gong, my grand-teacher, was just beginning the temple, there was no money at all. The students would go around to the homes of lay people, recite the Heart Sutra, get rice or money, and return to the monastery. But when my teacher Ko Bong got rice, he’d sell it at the end of the day and go out drinking. Everyone else came back at the end of a vacation with sacks of rice. All Ko Bong brought back was wine. When he was full of wine he was also full of complaints: “This temple is no good! Man Gong doesn’t understand anything! He’s low-class!”
Once Zen Master Man Gong showed up during one of Ko Bong’s tirades and screamed at him, “What do you understand?” Everybody was waiting to see what would happen. “KO BONG!!!”
“Why are you always insulting me behind my back?”
Ko Bong looked completely surprised and offended. “Zen Master! I never said anything about you! I was talking about this good-for-nothing Man Gong!”
“Man Gong? What do you mean, Man Gong? I’M Man Gong! What’s the difference between Man Gong and me?”
“KAAAATZ!” Ko Bong yelled, loud enough to split everyone’s eardrums. That ended it.
“Go sleep it off,” Man Gong said, and he left the room.
My teacher was always drunk, used abusive speech, and showed disrespectful behavior. But he always kept a clear mind. “Man Gong? What’s the difference between Man Gong and me?” “KAAAATZ!” That katz is very important — better than money or bags of rice. Ko Bong completely believed in himself.
If you believe completely in yourself, your actions will teach other people. Also you will be able to do any action to help other people. This is the Great Bodhisattva Way.
There are four kinds of Bodhisattva action. First, there is giving things to people who don’t have something they want or need. Next, there is speaking kindly to people and showing love for them. Then there is talking about the Dharma. But if people don’t listen, then you must act together with them. Together action means if they like sex, have sex together; if they like drinking, drink together; if they like songs, sing together with them. Without any desire for yourself, your actions are only for other people. Finally, when suffering comes, they will listen to you and you can teach them.
If you have great love, then in any situation you will not be hindered by desire, anger, and ignorance. But if you do not yet have this Bodhisattva mind, then you must first attain your true self. This is very necessary.
If we are controlled by desire, anger, and ignorance, we cannot find our true way. If we keep our correct situation, moment to moment, our just-now mind becomes stronger. When we are confused or cannot control ourselves, the precepts show us what our correct situation is. So I will give you homework:
Nam Cheon Kills a Cat (“Mind Meal,” ninth gate)
Once the monks of the eastern and western halls of the monastery were disputing about a cat. Master Nam Cheon, holding up the cat and pulling out his precepts knife, said, “You! Give me one word and I will save this cat! If you cannot, I will kill it!” No one could answer. Finally, Nam Cheon killed the cat. In the evening, when Jo Ju returned to the temple, Nam Cheon told him of the incident. Jo Ju took off his shoe, put it on his head, and walked away. Nam Cheon said, “If you had been there, I could have saved the cat.”
Nam Cheon said, “Give me one word!” At that time, what can you do?
Jo Ju put his shoe on his head. What does this mean?
If you attain Nam Cheon’s Bodhisattva mind, then you understand keeping and breaking the Precepts.
I hope you always keep a mind which is clear like space, believe completely in yourself, get Enlightenment, and save all beings from suffering.
Yours in the Dharma,