“Dear Friends, Delaware Valley Zen Center has resumed in person practice at the New Ark United Church of Christ, 300 E Main St, Newark, DE 19711. Practice night is now, Wednesdays at 6:30pm. We will continue an online practice the 3rd Wednesday of each month and have Kong-an interviews on that night. Updates regarding the in-person practice will be sent to the current mailing list. If you wish to be added to the practice schedule email list, send an email to DVZCinfo@gmail.com and request to be added to the weekly practice update list. ”
Everyone is welcome to practice with us.
There is no need to let us know in advance before attending regular practice. If you do, we’ll be sure to expect and welcome you. Comfortable clothing is recommended, as many of us sit on cushions on the floor. This is not required – other members prefer to sit in chairs.
There is nothing special to know before attending. You do not need to have practiced zen or even meditated before. We can give some simple instructions before practice if anyone needs them.
There is no charge for our regular meditation practice. We have a donation link where you may leave an anonymous donation.
We look forward to meeting you and hope we can be helpful in some way.
The Kwan Um School's Zen Centers are conducting many online practice offerings.
When the monk came to Baoshou and asked, “Sir, when the ten thousand things come at you all at once, what can you do?” Baoshou responded, “Don’t try to control them!”
My sense is that the monk was struggling with the many troublesome thoughts, emotions, and feelings that arise in mind. Perhaps you also have similar concerns. And perhaps, like this monk, you also want relief. Who among us doesn’t want relief from the ten thousand things? Baoshou gave the monk the best possible guidance: “Don’t try to control them!”
Of course, we do try to control the ten thousand things. We do everything possible to arrange the world so that it won’t trouble us. And—as maybe you’ve noticed—the world really doesn’t cooperate with our attempts at control. Actually, the world doesn’t care much about our likes and dislikes. It isn’t interested in what we want or don’t want.
It occurred to me some years ago, when I was trying to control a difficult situation, that maybe there was another way. Perhaps, rather than demanding cooperation, I could respond to what the world asked of me. I could bring myself into alignment with the ten thousand. That’s possible for any of us.
And, in fact, that’s our practice tradition—to sit in community, breathe in, and ask a question—“How is it, just now?”—and perceive what appears. How do the ten thousand things manifest in this moment? And then, on the exhalation, don’t know—returning to the One, returning to primary point.
There are many Zen practitioners who spend a lot of time sitting Zen and going off for weekend retreats. They also have other responsibilities, like family obligations, work, or school. Is it selfish to leave our responsibilities to go sit Zen? I usually travel by airplane several times a year. At the beginning of the flight, the flight attendants announce the pre-flight safety instructions. I remember one of the first times I was traveling without my family and one of the flight attendants was giving instructions about the oxygen masks and said, “If you are traveling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your mask on first, and then assist the other person.” Hearing that, I thought, “What? No way! I would put it on my children first!” But after thinking about it for a moment, I realized that I probably couldn't help anyone if I were dead!
I often tell one story about a pair of acrobats. One was the teacher, who was an older man. He had little money and his wife had died many years ago. The other was Sarah, a young girl and his student. These acrobats were street performers with an interesting act, and they made enough money so they could eat. The teacher would balance a tall bamboo pole on his head while Sarah climbed slowly to the top. Once she got there, she remained still while the teacher walked. Both of the acrobats had to focus intently to avoid any accidents. One day, the teacher said to Sarah, “I will watch you and you watch me so that we can help each other maintain concentration and balance to prevent any accidents.” But Sarah responded, “Teacher, I think it would be better for each of us to watch ourselves. To look after oneself means to look after each other. That way, I am sure we will avoid any accidents.”
This is the reason we take the time to practice Zen. There are many benefits of practicing meditation, but ultimately it means how we make our life clear and help others. We take the time to look inside and realize there is no difference between "self" and "other". Then it is possible to bring this clarity and realization into every aspect of our lives.
The word Zen literally means meditation, and in Zen schools we sit meditation a lot. All the Zen schools teach how to have a correct sitting posture and how to breathe correctly. All of this is very important, but Zen is not a “body-sitting” method; it is rather a “mind-sitting” lifestyle.
In our school, Zen sitting means cutting off all attachment to thinking and returning to our before-thinking mind. “When walking, standing, sitting, lying down, speaking, being silent, moving, being still—at all times, in all places, without interruption: ‘What am I? Don’t know.’”
Don’t-know is our unmoving self-nature, and when we return to don’t-know everything becomes clear. Clarity means that our inherent wisdom starts functioning meticulously, “like the tip of a needle.”
As Sixth Patriarch said, “At the very moment when there is wisdom, then meditation exists in wisdom; at the very moment when there is meditation, then wisdom exists in meditation.” They are not two different things.
In the beginning of practice, we tend to divide our time into “meditation” and “post-meditation.” It’s easier to keep don’t-know on the cushion than off the cushion, but our goal is to remove this division and practice “mind-sitting” all the time. If we keep don’t-know while walking, that is walking meditation. If we can keep it while eating, that is eating meditation. If we can keep it while washing dishes, that is working meditation. The more we meditate, the more we can keep correct situation, correct relationship and correct function. We are no longer blind dogs but keen-eyed lions, just like Buddha. By Andrzej Stec JDPSN
Don't Know Compass
If you keep a don't know mind one hundred percent, then your demons cannot find you. Suffering cannot find you. Karma, problems, life, death, coming and going, good and bad; nothing can touch you when you only keep a don't know mind. This don’t know mind is your most important treasure; it can do anything. It is not dependent on God or Buddha, Hinayana, Mahayana or Zen. It is not dependent on life or death. If you want to get out of the ocean of suffering, only one kind of compass is necessary; your don’t know compass. It is always inside you. When you use this, then you can find that your correct direction always appears clearly in front of you, moment to moment.
If you know what you want, it will become your dream. If it’s a small dream, when you get it, it comes with small success. If you fulfill your small dream and get success, you should be happy with it. If you have a big dream, you get big success. Actually, you can get anything you want, but there’s a catch—you cannot keep it. You will lose it and all your effort will be for nothing. That’s why desire makes so much suffering.
In Zen we say, “Don’t want anything, then you get everything”—but nobody believes that. Most people want something, not knowing that the very thing they want is not good for them. Now you have a choice—don’t know what you want and get busy; know what you want 100 percent, go for it, get it and then lose it; or, don’t want anything and get everything. Three kinds of success—which one do you like?
Everybody wants to practice in a place like this, in the middle of the mountains, completely quiet, surrounded by nature, with nobody around to bother you. But this kind of practice is also attachment: attachment to practice. If you attach to a good situation, if you want to practice only in peace and silence, or in a beautiful environment, you are missing the true direction of Zen practice.
Yes, we practice to attain enlightenment, but attaining enlightenment is not enough. We practice to attain a clear mind and a strong center, but then what? How do you use your clear mind in your everyday life? How do you use your strong center to help others? How do we share our practice with others? This is the true job of enlightenment.
Barbara Pardo JDPSN
True Dharma Is No Dharma
The student asked, “What is dharma?”
Dae Soen Sa Nim said, “When I’m hungry I eat; when I’m tired I sleep. Do you understand?”
“I think so, but I’m not sure this is understanding.”
“Then ask me again,” said Dae Soen Sa Nim.
“What is dharma?”
“Today I left Krakow at 8:40 and arrived here after half an hour. Is that enough? Dharma is not dharma. The sun, the moon, the stars do not say, ‘I am the sun, I am the moon, I am the stars.’ Buddha did not say, ‘I am Buddha.’ God does not say, ‘I am God.’ The true God and the true Buddha have no name. Also the true sun, the true moon, the true stars have no name. All names are made by thinking. Dharma, karma, Buddha nature are also all names. So the only true dharma is no dharma. True truth is no truth. True karma is also no karma. If you make dharma, you have dharma. If you make karma, you have karma. If you cut off all thinking, everything and you become one. But if you have something, you only have something, you lose everything. If you throw away everything of your own, then you will get everything. This means, throw away dharma, Buddha, God, throw away your understanding. Then you will get true dharma, true Buddha, true nature, true substance—you will get everything. Then everything you can see, you can hear, you can smell—everything is dharma, everything is Buddha, everything is truth. If your mind is correct dharma, then everything is correct dharma. If your mind is truth, everything is truth. If your way is correct, then everything is the correct way. That is Buddha’s teaching. Everything is made by thinking. So how, just now, moment to moment, do you keep your correct situation? That point. So if you make your idea completely disappear, then everything you see, you hear, you do, all is dharma.
A couple of years ago I was walking to to work, a walk which takes me through several busy intersections in Cambridge. My mind was filled with the day's activities and plans. Consequently, my attention at that particular moment was not with the moment as it was unfolding. I was crossing a particularly busy intersection; a blind man was walking beside me, waving his stick back and forth. As this man was walking, his stick hit a car parked right in the crosswalk. I glanced over and you could see an expression of "what is this?" on his face. He didn't know how to overcome this obstacle in his path. Perhaps he thought he had lost his way or that he had not counted his steps correctly. As I watched, another man looked up and said: "Three steps to the left, around the front of the car." And I said to myself, "That's wonderful. But where was l?" This is our practice. It is not some great, expanded commitment to the universe. It's not some hope of how things can be in the future. It is not some longing for things to be as they were in the past. It is only in this moment, responding spontaneously: what can each one of us do that is of service? Our task as we go through our daily lives is to cultivate this practice that we are already connected with. Only don't know; how can I be of service? I often wish it were more complicated, but just can't seem to find more to it. That's all there is.
Someone once asked Jesus, “When will the final rest for the dead take place, and when will the new world come?” People wanted to know that from the Buddha, too. They would ask, “What is Buddha? What is dharma? Show me the way!” We all think, this life is not so great, so when is it going to get better? Jesus answered, “What you look for has already come, but you do not know it.” The Buddha said it's like a fish swimming in water and saying, “I'm thirsty.”
Sometimes it's easier for someone else to see your Buddha-nature than it is for you. But the work begins with each of us. It's in our center. We have to find our guts, our ability to be in balance with those five things: food, sex, sleep, fame, wealth. Dying without ever really knowing who we are can seem easier than finding out what we're responsible for in this life.
Each of us has the ability to open to "what am I?," whatever the situation. There are tremendous opportunities to learn, to get out of the safe zone and into the regions that are more difficult. What's important is to be uncontrived, not to have an idea, but to open up each moment to what's going on right now. We may need to prepare the soil, but we always have the mustard seed. Nobody is ever born without it."
Zen Master Soeng Hyang
Enlightenment's Correct Job
Attaining my true self simply means moment to moment I keep a correct situation, correct relationship, and correct function in this world. I function clearly in this universe to save all beings.
So getting enlightenment and teaching other beings are not two things, because when you return to your mind before thinking arises, at that point, everything completely becomes one. At that point, how could you not help all beings? Your correct situation, correct relationship, and correct function appear clearly in front of you. Helping other beings is enlightenment's correct job - it is really not all that special. This is the true purpose of Buddhism.
Precepts ceremonies are about commitment: first a commitment to practice; then a commitment to help run practice; then a commitment to helping people learn about practice ....
Taking precepts is very important. In fact, taking precepts is extremely important. But the functional demarcations marked by ceremonies and vestments, while useful, are not so important.
The first five precepts are basic to every human being. Here’s an abbreviated version: don’t kill, don’t lie, don’t steal, don’t get blotto, don’t be a jerk about sex. You got a problem with that? I didn’t think so. Everyone should take those precepts every day. Everyone should live by those precepts. But that’s still not the true meaning of the precepts.
The true meaning of the precepts is very simple: for whom do you live your life? If you keep strictly to the precepts so you’ll be a good person, get good karma, maybe get reborn in some nice Buddhist heaven or at least keep out of some gruesome Buddhist hell, then you have not kept any precept. Not one.
The root cause of suffering, the reason we need the precepts, is exactly this idea: “I am here; someone else is over there.” “There is only one thing from the very beginning,” said the great 17th century Korean Zen master So Sahn. But we think there are many things, that only some of them are ours, and that only our things matter. And, acting on this, we cause tremendous damage.
“There is only one thing from the very beginning,” said So Sahn, and he went on to say, “It cannot be described or given a name.”
photo by Ting Dotson
How To Control Thinking?
One morning a student asked Seung Sahn Soen Sa, “How can one control thinking while sitting Zen?”
Soen Sa replied, “If you are attached to thought, your practice and your thoughts are different. if you are not attached to thoughts, thinking is practicing, practicing is thinking. This is called only practicing.”
The student asked, “What is only practicing?”
“When you first start driving, you cannot give your attention to sights or sounds, or else you will crash. However, after much practice, you can talk, look at things, and listen to the radio without any problem. Talking and sightseeing have become only driving. Your seeing, hearing, and speaking are non-attachment. It is the same with Zen. ‘Only Zen’ contains walking, eating, sleeping, talking, and watching television. All of these have become unattached thinking. This is only practicing.”
“What is attachment thinking?”
“While driving, if you are attached to your thoughts, you will go through a stop sign and get a ticket; you will cross the center line and have a crash; you will, thinking that you are going to New York, instead head for Boston. In this way, attachment to thinking leads to suffering.”
The student said, “Thank you very much. I understand well.”
“Since you understand, I will now ask you, are thinking and not thinking different? Are they the same?”
“When I am thirsty, I drink.”
“Very good. Go drink tea.
You Can Become Buddha
So you have a choice in this life; you can become an expert, or you can not know, and become Buddha. Again, this brings us to practicing. No matter what anybody says and no matter how well anything can be explained; it is finally all up to you. The wonderful thing about Buddha’s teaching is that Buddha taught us not to accept something just because a wise person or an expert said it. Don’t accept something because a holy book says it is true, or because of tradition. You must find the truth for yourself. Everyone has that capacity.
You came to a Dharma talk, but no matter how well things are explained and how appealing it may be to you, that alone has no power to change your life. There is a vast gulf between understanding what is being said and actually doing it. That’s why having a big question is very important. If you take care of this question, then it can grow up, grow up, grow up. Then one day this flower can bloom. Then you can say, (slapping his knee) “Ah ha.” This “Ah ha” is not the Buddha’s, is not Zen Master Seung Sahn’s, is not Wu Bong’s, it is all yours. So everybody must find that because this world needs you.
The most important thing is to stay nimble, stay with things they are, and keep awake. There’s going on retreat and there’s returning home or as they call it in the Zen tradition, “returning to the marketplace.” There’s clarity in solitude, and there’s clarity as you drive your car on Route 95 during rush hour.
Even the slightest hint of holiness or righteousness will take you away from just doing it. Keen-eyed people can see it coming from miles away and they’ll run for their lives. Who can blame them? If you have a Zen idea, it’s still that: an idea. Let your mind go anyplace without hindrance.
Several years ago, after I had been teaching in the West for some time, some of my American students were having a meeting to discuss the use of certain practice forms in the Kwan Um School of Zen. During the meeting, one of the students asked, if everything is One, why I had to teach Asian-style Buddhism, why l taught Mahayana style, and Zen. "Doesn't this make 'same' and 'different`?" she asked. This is a very interesting question. I answered. "Yah, I don't teach Korean or Mahayana or Zen. I don't even teach Buddhism. I only teach don't know. Fifty years here and there teaching only don't know. So only don't know. OK?" Only don't know, always and everywhere. Our don't-know mind can do anything. From The Compass of Zen by Zen Master Seung Sahn
We say karma, but actually karma is our mind habit, the usual way that we do things. So if, every morning, you have to have a cup of coffee before you start work, if you do that everyday everyday, then that creates a very strong habit... But when you practice you are changing your habit. So for example if you go for a meditation retreat, and there is no coffee, you can’t drink coffee. You're sitting there thinking “I want coffee. There is no coffee.” Then what can you do? Then you just have to come back and pay attention to your breath again. Then again this thought: “I want coffee, I really need coffee.” But you can’t get up and go and get it, so you just have to... ahhh. [Imitates resting into a meditation position.] But what that is doing, is that by taking the energy that normally goes into coffee, and putting that energy into just being aware of what’s going on, you're not putting any more energy into that coffee so much. Then if you do that for some time, then slowly slowly slowly this "I need coffee" thing isn’t so strong for you. It may appear and you see it and go “OK. No coffee today, that’s fine." So then at that time already you are starting to transform your karma. This is a very simple example but that’s really changing your habits. So you can do this with any of your habits. —Myong An Sunim JDPS
Question: How does Zen practicing take away karma? Zen Master Seung Sahn: Zen practice does not take away karma. If you practice Zen, your karma becomes clear. If you are not practicing, your karma controls you. But if you are practicing, you control your karma. So your karma becomes clear. Good karma, bad karma, whatever karma you have becomes clear; then only help other people. That’s the point. Sometimes when a person first starts practicing Zen we talk about “taking away karma,” but those are only teaching words. Bodhisattvas have bodhisattva karma. Karma means mind action. So, karma controls me, or I control my karma and help other people. These two are different, but same karma.
What is sitting meditation?
It means no obstacles or hindrances, without our mind giving rise to thinking, whether the outside circumstances are good or bad. That is what we call sitting. To meditate means to realize inwardly the not-moving-mind is our True Nature.
- Six Patriarch Platform Sutra
The First Door of Liberation: Thich Nhat Hanh’s Vision of Emptiness and Interbeing
Imagine, for a moment, a beautiful flower. That flower might be an orchid or a rose, or even a simple little daisy growing beside a path. Looking into a flower, we can see that it is full of life. It contains soil, rain, and sunshine. It is also full of clouds, oceans, and minerals. It is even full of space and time. In fact, the whole cosmos is present in this one little flower. If we took out just one of these “non-flower” elements, the flower would not be there. Without the soil’s nutrients, the flower could not grow. Without rain and sunshine, the flower would die. And if we removed all the non-flower elements, there would be nothing substantive left that we could call a “flower.” So our observation tells us that the flower is full of the whole cosmos, while at the same time it is empty of a separate self-existence. The flower cannot exist by itself alone.
We too are full of so many things and yet empty of a separate self. Like the flower, we contain earth, water, air, sunlight, and warmth. We contain space and consciousness. We contain our ancestors, our parents and grandparents, education, food, and culture. The whole cosmos has come together to create the wonderful manifestation that we are. If we remove any of these “non-us” elements, we will find there is no “us” left.
Emptiness does not mean nothingness. Saying that we are empty does not mean that we do not exist. No matter if something is full or empty, that thing clearly needs to be there in the first place. When we say a cup is empty, the cup must be there in order to be empty. When we say that we are empty, it means that we must be there in order to be empty of a permanent, separate self.
About thirty years ago I was looking for an English word to describe our deep interconnection with everything else. I liked the word “togetherness,” but I finally came up with the word “interbeing.” The verb “to be” can be misleading, because we cannot be by ourselves, alone. “To be” is always to “inter-be.” If we combine the prefix “inter” with the verb “to be,” we have a new verb, “inter-be.” To inter-be reflects reality more accurately. We inter-are with one another and with all life.
There is a biologist named Lewis Thomas, whose work I appreciate very much. He describes how our human bodies are “shared, rented, and occupied” by countless other tiny organisms, without whom we couldn’t “move a muscle, drum a finger, or think a thought.” Our body is a community, and the trillions of non-human cells in our body are even more numerous than the human cells. Without them, we could not be here in this moment. Without them, we wouldn’t be able to think, to feel, or to speak. There are, he says, no solitary beings. The whole planet is one giant, living, breathing cell, with all its working parts linked in symbiosis.
We can observe emptiness and interbeing everywhere in our daily life. If we look at a child, it’s easy to see the child’s mother and father, grandmother and grandfather, in her. The way she looks, the way she acts, the things she says. Even her skills and talents are the same as her parents’. If at times we cannot understand why the child is acting a certain way, it is helpful to remember that she is not a separate selfentity. She is a continuation. Her parents and ancestors are inside her. When she walks and talks, they walk and talk as well. Looking into the child, we can be in touch with her parents and ancestors, but equally, looking into the parent, we can see the child. We do not exist independently. We inter-are. Everything relies on everything else in the cosmos in order to manifest—whether a star, a cloud, a flower, a tree, or you and me.
I remember one time when I was in London, doing walking meditation along the street, and I saw a book displayed in a bookshop window with the title My Mother, Myself. I didn’t buy the book because I felt I already knew what was inside. It’s true that each one of us is a continuation of our mother; we are our mother. And so whenever we are angry at our mother or father, we are also being angry at ourselves. Whatever we do, our parents are doing it with us. This may be hard to accept, but it’s the truth. We can’t say we don’t want to have anything to do with our parents. They are in us, and we are in them. We are the continuation of all our ancestors. Thanks to impermanence, we have a chance to transform our inheritance in a beautiful direction.
Every time I offer incense or prostrate before the altar in my hermitage, I do not do this as an individual self but as a whole lineage. Whenever I walk, sit, eat, or practice calligraphy, I do so with the awareness that all my ancestors are within me in that moment. I am their continuation. Whatever I am doing, the energy of mindfulness enables me to do it as “us,” not as “me.” When I hold a calligraphy brush, I know I cannot remove my father from my hand. I know I cannot remove my mother or my ancestors from me. They are present in all my cells, in my gestures, in my capacity to draw a beautiful circle. Nor can I remove my spiritual teachers from my hand. They are there in the peace, concentration, and mindfulness I enjoy as I make the circle. We are all drawing the circle together. There is no separate self doing it. While practicing calligraphy, I touch the profound insight of no self. It becomes a deep practice of meditation.
Whether we’re at work or at home, we can practice to see all our ancestors and teachers present in our actions. We can see their presence when we express a talent or skill they have transmitted to us. We can see their hands in ours as we prepare a meal or wash the dishes. We can experience profound connection and free ourselves from the idea that we are a separate self.
In Buddhism, Buddha taught that suffering comes from opposite mind, opposite thinking. Instead of just being connected and appreciate being here, we are fantasizing about different things. But, because we are sitting here and we practice for some time, we know that this kind of thinking is not really helpful. We know that from experience, not from blind faith or listening to someone, not from listening to books, but our own experience.
So, we return to this moment. We might make it break, we might impose, and then we begin again. This is the usual process. We recognize we acknowledge, we are not here, we travel in time and space, but then we start again. We begin again. Again, we are connected to our don’t know, to our big mind, to our before thinking. And when we are connected, when we are one with the situation, then we have a good feeling. It is a happy feeling, so we are happy.
The point is with this practice, just following the teaching, we don’t need to be dragged down, we can do something, we can have some initiative. We can reflect, and apply our training, our teaching to every moment.
Student: Will you share Prajna on how Karma relates to severe suffering, especially with childhood sickness, disability, and abuse?
Zen Master Jok Um: I find it best to describe karma as a shorthand for the way things unfold -- the vast, layered, complex and ungraspable web of cause and effect throughout time and space. Though it's ungraspable, it's also discernable as each mind-moment arises, since each mind-moment is the emergence of all these elements in a specific place, in a specific way, with a specific flavor. If you have a spoonful of vanilla ice cream, you know immediately it's vanilla, cold, smoothe, and how good the brand is. Maybe if you have unusually good intuition, you may discern something about the people who picked the vanilla beans. Ultimately, though, there's a point beyond which you can't see, and you just have to trust. It's way of saying that each conditioned phenomena is exactly the way it is, and the way it is makes sense, in that lots of things came together in a way that created precisely this. Since all is in constant emergence, karma allows room to see how transformation happens, and to see where you stand it its ecosystem, and therefore what's in your hands and what's not in your hand. Perceiving karma, then, is more about what you see -- clear discernment -- and much less about figuring anything out. And like everything else, the more you look well, the richer your vision.
This allows room to be puzzled, of course, or frustrated, or joyful, or sad. It thus also allows room to discern how difficult, painful, abusive circumstances came to be, how they affected and still affect you, how little freedom of movement you would have had, necessarily, as a child, and what range of freedom of movement you might have access to as an adult. In a way, it makes the experience of the world larger. You might enjoy the novel Flatland, if you haven't read it already -- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flatland
-- it's a mathematical dimensional reverie that speaks eloquently, if in image, of the human mind and experience.
So karma is not an explanatory system, not linear, not fatalistic, not assigning blame, and in a way, opening up the path to fuller agency.
When you are asked a kong-an and you hit the floor, at that moment you become one with the kong-an. You actually become one with the whole universe. That doesn't have correct or incorrect, like or dislike. It’s already complete. There is incredible power in that moment of complete not knowing. When we return to don’t know, our job is always right in front of us. In fact, our whole life is just that moment! But if we immediately re-enter the realm of like or dislike, then we can never find our job.
The “Mind Meal” of our school has 12 courses, 12 gates. These 12 gates are actually no different than our everyday life. This is what I call the 13th gate! That’s your moment-to-moment life. How do you respond to that kong-an? Do you like it? Do you dislike it? Do you dodge difficult situations? Do you try to create comfortable situations? Practicing helps us to see that the 13th gate is always right in front of us, but with this gate, there isn't a Zen master sitting across from us to verify whether or not we are correct. That’s when kong-an practice takes root, becomes real and is not just an exercise in how clever we can be. If we are willing to respond directly out of our intuition, our innate wisdom, then any kong-an is no problem.
One time Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson went on a camping trip. After a hearty meal and a bottle of wine, they crawled into their tent and went to sleep. Some hours later, Holmes woke up and nudged his faithful friend. "Watson, look up and tell me what you see."
"I see millions and millions of stars."
"And what does that tell you, my dear Watson?"
Watson pondered for a moment, knowing that once again he was being tested. Finally he was ready. "From the point of view of astrophysics, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies with potentially billions of planets. We circle a small sun on the edge of a medium-sized galaxy. Astrologically, I observe that Saturn is in Leo, so we should be careful tomorrow. Chronologically, I deduce that the time is approximately a quarter past three. Theologically, I can see that God is all-powerful and that we are small and insignificant. Meteorologically, I suspect that we will have a beautiful sunny day tomorrow." Satisfied, he relaxed back into his sleeping bag. But soon, knowing Holmes, some doubt crossed his mind. Finally, he turned to his friend and asked, "What do you see?"
"Watson, you missed the point... someone has stolen our tent!"
Sometimes our minds are like this. In fact, there is a saying in Buddhism that it's easy to see a flea on the nose of a person one mile away, but very difficult to see an elephant standing on your own nose. But even at that time, our original nature is perfectly clear. Recently in a talk given in Korea at the end of the three-month winter retreat, Zen Master Seung Sahn said, "What is different from your original nature? The only thing that is different is your opinions and thinking. If you cut off all thinking, then your nature and Buddha's nature become one... without cultivation, without practice." What a deal!
One day Officer Yu Kan said to Zen Master Nam Cheon, "Gae Poep Sa once said, 'Heaven, earth and I have the same root; the ten thousand things and I are one body.' This is outrageous!"
Nam Cheon pointed to a tree in the garden and said, "People these days see this flowering tree as in a dream." What does this mean? If you attain that, even Sherlock Holmes would be surprised.
If you want enlightenment, this enlightenment is far, far away. If you don’t want enlightenment, you can see, you can hear, you can smell, everything is enlightenment. So put it all down—“I want something.” If you keep I-me-my mind and do zen in this way, for infinite time you cannot get enlightenment. If you make I-me mind disappear, then already you have enlightenment. O.K.?
Only go straight—don’t know. Don’t check your mind; don’t check your feelings; don’t check your understanding; don’t check something. Only go straight— don’t know; for 10,000 years try, try, try. That is very important.
Zen Master Dae Bong responds to a question: Is there a God or creator? Is Buddhism a religion or just practicing Buddha's teachings?
Clear Mind Is Like The Full Moon
Clear mind is like the full moon in the sky. Sometimes clouds come and cover it, but the moon is always behind them. Clouds go away, then the moon shines brightly. So don’t worry about clear mind: it is always there. When thinking comes, behind it is clear mind. When thinking goes, there is only clear mind. Thinking comes and goes, comes and goes. You must not be attached to the coming or the going.
The world is full of suffering. How can it be stopped? Every human being has a seed of compassion and wisdom that must be very carefully nurtured. It is our responsibility to find this seed and do everything we can to make it grow. First, you must believe that you have this seed. Then you must ask yourself with all the strength you have, ”What is this seed?”
If you truly search for it, you will understand that everyone is just like you. Everyone has it. You will have no more desire for yourself; you will only want to teach everyone how to find their seed. Enlightenment is believing in yourself. Enlightenment is finding your seed. But your job is not over yet. Your mind must become strong enough to be totally wise and compassionate moment to moment in any situation. This is much more difficult than attaining Enlightenment.
Thinking is both linear and sequential. As such it is a separation from the experience found in each moment of our lives. Not thinking as I’ve often said is suppressive. It is impenetrable and without life. Non thinking on the other hand is the foundation of samadhi. It does not cling to thoughts. All dualism, the idea of self and other dissolves in non thinking. Simply stated, it is to let go of all clinging and dualistic preferences.
The scriptures inform us: “When both body and mind are at peace, All things appear as they are, Perfect, complete, lacking nothing.”
The ultimate purpose of our practice is moment to moment awareness. A practical way of saying this is to manifest the dharma in each and every activity through the activities of our every day life.
Shakyamuni Buddha said, “When you see, there will just be the seen. In hearing, there will just be the heard. In the sensed, there will just be the sensed. In cognition, only what is cognized. Don’t identify with any of it! By not identifying with the non stop thinking process you find no location or position to take in a like or dislike worldview. Seamless meditation is devoid of any duality. The result is clarity. No agenda, no objects of thought.
If we look at this world, it will break our hearts. We have to trust that. That breaking heart bleeds wisdom and compassion. And we have to welcome it in. Welcome in the breaking heart. Zen Master Seung Sahn would say to us, “Put your practice where the pain point is.” That idea saved my life.
No matter how unpleasant, we just put our don’t know exactly where the pain is. It’s the sign. This is “rowing our wisdom boat,” yeah? This is an old metaphor. We are rowing this prajna ship, this wisdom boat. This activity of finding the pain point and putting our attention there, our don’t know. What is this? Having that courage: that’s rowing the wisdom boat. And we don’t just do it at a ceremony. We don’t just do it on a retreat. We do it all day long. And we can trust that.
The Heart Sutra says: “Avalokiteshvara, while practicing deeply.” You are Avalokiteshvara. You are Kwan Seum Bosal.
Look deeply into the pain point, and exactly what there is to do will appear. People naturally find this. My family naturally took care of itself the best it could. So, what appears “broken” is how we become whole. And when we're rowing this wisdom ship, we are going to get tired. Or we're going to be sick or we're going to be in too much pain to row. So, we rest. And somebody else will row for us. When we feel stronger, then we can row again.
We come into this world empty-handed. What do we do in this world? Why did we come into this world? This body is an empty thing. What is the one thing that carries this body around? Where did it come from? You must understand that, you must find that. So, if you want to find that, you have to ask yourself, "What am I?" Always keep this big question. Thinking has to disappear. We have to take away all our thinking, cut off our thinking. Then our true self appears, then our true mind appears. In this world, how many people really want practice? Many people don't practice at all, fight day and night, and all day exercise their desire, their anger, their ignorance. When you lose this body, then you have nothing you can take with you. When this body disappears, what will you take with you? What will you do? Where will you go? You don't know, right? If this "don't know" is clear, then your mind is clear, then also the place you go is clear. Then you understand your job, you understand why you were born into this world. Then you understand what you do in this world. When you understand that, then you can become a human being.
We sit, looking, perceiving how the thoughts are coming, going, coming, going. This is actually all that we are doing. Our work during sitting time is to sit and watch as thoughts are coming and going. And don’t touch this; then the thought itself is Buddha.
There is no good thinking and bad thinking. There are thoughts. We don’t welcome them, but we don’t reject them. And so we sit, straight but relaxed. We just naturally watch, without manipulation, just relaxed. But the thinking, the sounds that we perceive are not that important, too. Our minds just reflect these things, but it comes and goes.
But one thing: we stay awake, aware of what is coming, what arises. And we let go, by itself. This awakening from moment to moment is very important. In this way, we can be master of our house. We don’t get controlled by others, or by our mind.
So we don’t need to keep saying, “How may I help you” All this is bullshit. This is only speech. If we, from moment to moment, awaken and be aware of what is coming, that is already a big help. So I hope we keep clear mind from moment to moment, save first ourselves from suffering, and at the same time others.
Student: What is the relationship between asking “What am I?” and the flow of thoughts, perceptions, etc.? For example, do you address the question to particular thoughts, pains in the knee when sitting, etc.? When a thought comes, do you ask whom this thought is coming to? How do you work with problems such as fear and anger? Should one acknowledge the fear and then ask who is experiencing the fear? Or should they just let it all happen and pour all their energy into the great question? Zen Master Seung Sahn: True “What am I?” is the complete question—only don’t know mind. All your questions are thinking. If you keep the complete “What am I?”, then you don’t know “What am I?” All thinking has been cut off, so how can a question appear? Asking who is thinking is not the correct way. This is opposites thinking. These are opposites questions, not the complete question, the perfect question. Pain is pain, the question is the question. Why ask the question about pain? Actions such as anger and fear are made by past karma, so the result is actions done in anger, etc.
If a person sits Zen, they will make their karma disappear and will no longer be caught up in these actions. So when you are angry, that’s alright, don’t worry. “I want to cut off anger!”—that’s thinking. Anger is not good, not bad. Only don’t be attached to it. Only ask, “What am I?” and the action will soon disappear.
There are two kinds of hunger in this world: body hunger and mind hunger. Body hunger is easily solved: just feed people. But mind hungry people need food for their minds. People with mind hunger do not die. They want power, and then they want more power. They say things like “My way is correct, your way is not correct!” They want to control this world. They don’t want to lose their good situation.
Nowadays, many of the people who say they want world peace are afraid of nuclear weapons. What they want is not to die, not to lose their good situation. That is not correct world peace. Most of the politicians talk about world peace that way. Russia says, “We want world peace.” America says “We want world peace.” Which world peace is correct? These are mind hungry people, who make bombs and nuclear weapons. They talk about world peace, but it’s only a world peace of the tongue, not a true world peace. There are also many people in this world who don’t want world peace. They think the world is so evil that it should be destroyed. They also only want to keep their own good situation, so their world peace is only for themselves, not for other people. This is also not correct world peace.
“I want world peace only for myself’ — this kind of mind is unbalanced. Take away this mind hunger, and the problem of body hunger will also disappear. If we love each other, help each other, and become harmonious with each other, then world peace is possible.
We understand many things about this world, but we don’t understand ourselves. So why do human beings come into this world? Why do we live in this world? For love? For money? For respect or fame? Do you live for your wife, husband, or children? Why do you live in this world? If someone asked you these question, you might very well answer, “I live for my children. I live to earn enough money for them, or maybe just to have a good life.” Most people think like this. They live only for their family, for some fleeting social respectability, perhaps to enjoy art or to get some powerful position. Everyone wants to have a good situation for themselves. If you look at this world very closely, it is easy to see that most people eat and sleep and live merely for their own personal happiness. Yet these things are not the real purpose of human beings’ life. They are just temporary means for living in the world. If human beings cannot find who they are, how can they ever be truly happy?
Your family doesn't like your practicing Buddhism. Many people have that situation — that's not only your situation. Somebody doesn't like you to practice Buddhism; somebody else doesn't like you to study Confucianism; yet somebody else doesn't like you to become Catholic; and somebody doesn't like anybody to become anything. Why is that?
Because they love you. All human beings want to protect the people they love. Because all human beings have an idea of what is correct life and what is good for their family and their children. Everybody has that. So I am Buddhist, but my sister wants to become Catholic, but I know Buddhism is #1, so I say to her, "No, no, sister, don't do that, okay? Better for you to follow Buddhism—that's #1." Then she says, "No." Then I begin to worry, oh, maybe my sister will soon go to hell, soon get captured by demons — many kinds of thinking.
A teacher the other night said that all his family are Christians and many of them are Catholics. But he said, "They all like me". Why? Because Catholic or Buddhist or Taoist or Muslim or anything doesn't matter. That's only our outside name and form — I am Buddhist, I am Catholic, I am a man, I am a woman, I am a doctor, I am a garbage man. I am Buddha. But what is most important?
Most important is to return to correct human being. Correct human being means find your job in this world, which means "Who are you?" If you find "who are you", then you will find your original job. If you find your original job, then not only everybody, but this whole universe will love you.
We can get very metaphysical. You are the universe, the universe is you, but that's all speech. How many people hate the air? How many people hate the mountains? Or the water or the trees or the animals or the fish? All human beings have done many bad things to destroy the things we love. We do not intentionally destroy those things that help us, and we never dislike those things. So if you attain your true self, it means “you are the universe, the universe is you."
“You are the universe, the universe is you" has no love. But has what? Has correct relationship. So if you are practicing Buddhism, then you'll find your correct relationship to your family and this world. If you find out "who are you", then everything is no problem.
Song of the Grass-Roof Hermitage
I’ve built a grass hut where there’s nothing of value. After eating, I relax and enjoy a nap. When it was completed, fresh weeds appeared. Now it’s been lived in – covered by weeds.
The person in the hut lives here calmly, Not stuck to inside, outside, or in between. Places worldly people live, he doesn’t live. Realms worldly people love, he doesn’t love.
Though the hut is small, it includes the entire world. In ten square feet, an old man illumines forms and their nature. A Great Vehicle bodhisattva trusts without doubt. The middling or lowly can’t help wondering; Will this hut perish or not?
Perishable or not, the original master is present, not dwelling south or north, east or west. Firmly based on steadiness, it can’t be surpassed. A shining window below the green pines — Jade palaces or vermilion towers can’t compare with it.
Just sitting with head covered, all things are at rest. Thus, this mountain monk doesn’t understand at all. Living here he no longer works to get free. Who would proudly arrange seats, trying to entice guests?
Turn around the light to shine within, then just return. The vast inconceivable source can’t be faced or turned away from. Meet the ancestral teachers, be familiar with their instruction, Bind grasses to build a hut, and don’t give up.
Let go of hundreds of years and relax completely. Open your hands and walk, innocent. Thousands of words, myriad interpretations, Are only to free you from obstructions. If you want to know the undying person in the hut, Don’t separate from this skin bag here and now.
Shitou Xiqian (700-790) translated by Dan Leighton and Kaz Tanahashi
“Zen Master Seung Sahn said there are two central questions for every human being.
Number one: What are you doing right now?
Number two: Why do that?
These two questions point to how we live our life, moment to moment, and our great vow.”
By Zen Master Dae Kwang
In the quote above, these two questions essentially ask the great question of “What am I?” This question helps to keep our mind clear. We call this our ‘inside work’.
But there are two kinds of work: Inside work and outside work. Inside work is keeping a clear mind. Outside work is cutting off selfish desires and helping others. This is Zen.
Being concerned only about inside work is not correct Zen practice. Focusing only on inside work means trying to find peace of mind only for me.
Including outside work into our individual practice means living with a direction for others and not only for myself. How can we help others? What can each one of us do that is of service?
Loving-Kindness Of The Bodhisattva
Real kindness is not a sentiment that arises depending on the situation and the people we are dealing with. Nor is it a reciprocity with which we show our affection to those who are sympathetic to us. Nor is it a mood that is sometimes there and sometimes not there. Kindness is a fundamental attitude in life that is based on letting go. That means, even if I have opinions, judgments, and feelings, I do not hold on to them. The truth is, whenever this I-my-me loses its focus, the connection with all beings that is already there is expressed in kindness.
The first vow of four great vows in Zen reads: “Sentient beings are numberless, we vow to save them all.” Oddly enough, we often need to save innumerable living beings from our own ideas, opinions, and judgments rather than from their own misery. Seen in this way, the work of saving sentient beings begins with becoming aware of our own delusions.
Retreats help us to become aware of the cause of our inadequacy in this world, which is rooted in our self-centered belief that we are separate. In a retreat, all alone in seclusion from the world and undisturbed by everyday life, we have the opportunity to touch the deeply hidden layer of our being, which we call “don’t know.” This don’t know reveals the fundamental unity of all beings in every moment of what is. And so, it unveils the hidden wonder and the mystery of being alive in this world.
“Don’t know” is kindness, and from “don’t know” the loving-kindness of the bodhisattva is born: “How can I help you?”
In life we have dreams, we have hopes, we have ideals. But what does it mean to have a dream? Everything in this world is in flux. No matter how real we may think things are, everything passes. We all think our life is special, but no matter how happy we are or how much we achieve, we all die.
We live in a dream, in delusion. We can see the beautiful flowers and hear the birds’ lovely songs, but we don’t see what is alive inside that experience. We see a superficial layer of the world and acknowledge that as important. We don’t see that it’s all transient, a dream of a dream. Instead of realizing that we are living a dream, we take the superficial to be real and permanent. But in Buddhism we recognize it all as a dream and awaken to what is real.
It is not bad to have a dream. Because we dream, we can achieve things. But have humans become any better for all the things that have been discovered and created? Have our values improved? Is the world any more at peace? We chase dreams, but we forget to realize ourselves. We have to see the reality and value of who is alive right here and now. When we awaken to the splendid value of each person, we no longer need to depend on dreams and hopes and ideals. Instead, we can depend on our own life right at our very own feet.”
Seed Of Compassion And Wisdom
I don’t really think of Zen students or Zen teachers. I think of Zen practitioners. We are all practitioners, whether we practice a lot or a little. Whether as a student or a teacher, our job is to practice. For those of us who are laypeople, we will sometimes be able to practice a lot, and sometimes only a little. But we need to keep practicing. As students, that is the biggest gift we can give our sangha. As teachers, that is the bone of teaching. But how do we encourage each other?
I was going through the Kwan Um website and came across a letter that Zen Master Soeng Hyang (Barbara Rhodes) wrote to her sister in 1978, a year after receiving inka but long before she was Zen Master Soeng Hyang. She was about to sit a 100-day retreat, and her sister wanted to know why. Bobby wrote, “The world is full of suffering. How can it be stopped? Every human being has a seed of compassion and wisdom that must be very carefully nurtured. It is our responsibility to find this seed and do everything we can to make it grow.
“First, you must believe that you have this seed. Then you must ask yourself with all the strength you have, ‘What is this seed?’ If you truly search for it, you will understand that everyone is just like you. Everyone has it. You will have no more desire for yourself; you will only want to teach everyone how to find their seed.
“Enlightenment is believing in yourself. Enlightenment is finding your seed. But your job is not over yet. Your mind must become strong enough to be totally wise and compassionate moment to moment in any situation.”
So that’s what we need to do: find that seed and nourish it to flower into compassion. To see this seed in others so that, without our having to say anything directly, their own seed is encouraged to flower.
That’s what Zen Master Seung Sahn was like. He didn’t have to say it directly, but it was clear that he really believed in us. And that’s what we have to offer each other: to really believe in each other. To believe in our don’t-know mind, our strong center, our direction. To believe in our Buddha nature: yours, mine, everyone’s. To me, that’s the essence of being a Zen student: practicing and nourishing that seed in ourselves and in everyone else
Imbalance is our world’s sickness: how can we cure it? Balance means understanding the truth. If you have no wisdom, you cannot become balanced. It is very important for everyone to find their human nature. That is why we sit Zen, to find our true human nature. So we are in a very important position, sitting in meditation. We must find our human nature, then together help each other become world peace. As human beings, we are all equal. We all have the same love mind. We must find the primary cause of this world’s sickness, and remove it.
Since most people are not aware of their karma, they cannot connect the dots between cause and effect. Only sometimes, when results happen immediately after the cause—for example, when we put our finger into boiling water—are we able to connect those dots and learn the lesson. With karma, we only have a choice: either karma is controlling us, or we are controlling our karma. We practice to be in charge of our lives and help others: I control my karma; my karma does not control me.
When we control our karma, we can change it. Most karma is lingering karma, “leftover” karma. This lingering karma is the most difficult to fix, because it is created by very small, insignificant actions repeated every day. We keep repeating and repeating some actions or thoughts over a long time, and in the end, we get the big result of those actions. Surprise! If we really look closely, we will see that big karmic results were created by some kind of lingering karma. So it’s important to be aware of our daily, small habits.
If we want to change our karma, we’ve got to understand our habits first. The next step is to attain that understanding. Being aware that we have some negative habits is the first step, but it is not enough. Understanding can’t help. Attaining the habit means this understanding has some energy. Only then are we able to decide, “I’m going to change it!” After we make a strong decision, we need to have a method of how to change it.
The skillful way to start the whole process is to create what Charles Duhigg calls a “keystone habit.” This one new habit can start a domino effect of changing not only one but many habits over time. Don’t worry about the rest of our karma— only do that one thing. If we try to change too many things at once, we fail. For the Zen student, nothing could be a better keystone habit than the habit of meditating first thing in the morning. In the morning, everyone’s willpower is the strongest. While sitting still and by simply breathing with the lower belly, we can recharge our willpower battery. There is no way to change ourselves if we have a weak center, that is, if our willpower battery is depleted.
So let’s start our day with some practice, just 10 minutes every morning. Over time, this one small habit of 10 minutes meditation every morning will trigger a domino effect of positive changes in our life. Zen Master Ko Bong used to say, “Don’t worry about your karma; just make a habit of strong practicing.”
Founded in 1999, Delaware Valley Zen Center (DVZC) offers to the community an environment for Zen practice. Our weekly practice includes chanting, sitting meditation and walking meditation. DVZC is one of more than sixty centers and groups worldwide affiliated with the Kwan Um School of Zen, an international organization founded by Zen Master Seung Sahn. Our guiding teacher is José Ramírez, JDPSN, who received Inka in April 2009. The Delaware Valley Zen Center (DVZC) is a 501(c)3 non-profit religious corporation of the State of Delaware. All donations are tax deductible to the full extent allowed by law. DVZC is supported, administered and maintained by its members.
The Kwan Um School of Zen, an international community of Zen Buddhists, condemns police violence targeted at African-Americans and the larger, systemic racism that engenders this violence. As Buddhists, we are called to wake up to the reality of our world and to be of service to all beings. We support the goal of racial equality and affirm that we will work within our own organization and with others everywhere to create a more just and egalitarian nation and world.
Our school is named for the Buddhist bodhisattva of compassion, Kwan Se Um Bosal, whose name means “one who hears the cries of the world.” It is time for all of us to listen more closely to the voices the victims of racism and state violence. For those of us born to white privilege, it is time to recognize that much of the “progress” our country has made toward racial and economic equality has been a delusion.
In listening, let our actions be led by those whose cries have gone unheard and unheeded for centuries. Our enlightenment is the world’s enlightenment, and it must shine everywhere. The Australian activist Lilla Watson said “If you have come to help me, you’re wasting your time; but if you recognize that your liberation and mine are bound up together, we can walk together.”
One action is worth a thousand words. That one action of a white police officer murdering with impunity, a black man, George Floyd, by placing his knee on George Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and forty seconds is just the tip of the iceberg. Can our practice lead us to compassionate engagement with our communities? Can it help us to step out of our comfortable white social bubble and see that we have been complicit and added to racial injustice just by not seeing or hearing the cries of our brothers and sisters?
Without quoting the Buddha or the Bodhisattvas, what is our path? How do we open up to our innate compassion and wisdom? How do we stop all thoughts of self and other and enter into JUST THIS? The only true way we can be in a clear relationship with this planet and all of its many manifestations is to be willing to break the wall of self and other, and see things just as they are. Let us use our sadness and confusion as fuel and take a deeper look at our responsibility to each other. There’s never been a better time than right now!
In the dharma,
Zen Master Soeng Hyang (Bobby Rhodes) Zen Master Wu Kwang (Richard Shrobe) Zen Master Jok Um (Ken Kessel) Kwan Haeng Sunim Garret Condon