Zen Master Seung Sahn

Kill Cow – Get Enlightenment
Question: My husband has an idea to open a seafood restaurant in China. He has a very good plan and it seems that we can make money from that business. But having a restaurant, especially a seafood restaurant, means that you kill many lives. So I asked him not to open this restaurant, but I don’t have enough grounds to convince him. How would you convince him, sir?
Zen Master Seung Sahn: There was a man in Buddha’s lifetime. His everyday job was killing cows. He could not change his job because of the way Indian society worked at that time: there were Brahmins, very high class families, next the king’s family, next usually farmers, then the lowest class families, who would kill cows or jobs of this sort. So this man killed cows every day. The cow would come, then "Boom!" The cow said "Muuuuu!", then died.
The man never changed this job, but he didn’t like it. He talked to his parents, but it was impossible to change it. One day Shariputra, a disciple of the Buddha’s, passed by the man’s working place. Shariputra had completely attained the sutra on emptiness. The man went over to him, bowed and said, "I am sorry, I have a question. Buddha and the precepts say ‘Don’t kill any life.’ My job is killing cows every day. I make a lot of bad karma. What shall I do?"
Shariputra said "Who kills the cow?"
"I kill the cow."
"Who are you?"
"Don’t know."
"Only keep this don’t know mind, and kill cows. Then you don’t make bad karma." Then Shariputra left.
The main continued to kill cows every day, but in the meantime he asked himself "Who is killing the cow?" This question became bigger, bigger, bigger. While killing cows, he did not feel guilty, only the big question: "Who is killing the cow?"
One day a cow appeared. He only kept his big question: "Who is killing the cow?" Then ‘Boom!’, he killed the cow. The cow said "Muuu!" The man heard this ‘Muuu!’ and ‘Boom!’ got enlightenment. "Our true self has no life, no death. I am one of the Buddhas."
Any kind of business is no problem. That’s very important. If its only for you, then you will have a problem. But, if you make a lot of money, and build a temple, then you help many other people Then your direction is clear. That’s bodhisattva action. Okay? Try that. Question: Thank you, sir.

Opposite Worlds, Absolute World, Complete World, Moment World
Excerpted from a lecture series entitled "Compass of Zen," delivered by Zen Master Seung Sahn at retreats in 1988.
Human beings have a lot of opposite thinking: like/dislike, good/bad, happiness/sadness, coming/going and so on. This opposite thinking creates opposite worlds within each one of us and our ignorance makes us hold on to these opposite worlds. These opposite worlds are ways in conflict with each other, so there is tension and suffering. This is the basic teaching of Hinayana Buddhism: all suffering comes from opposite thinking.
The Buddha taught how to go from opposite worlds to absolute world. Absolute world means the world before thinking. What is before thinking? Descartes said, "I think, therefore I am." If I am not thinking, then what? Descartes did not explore this question but Buddhism has always talked about before-thinking. If I am not thinking, there is no I. If there is no I, there are no opposite worlds because opposites are created by "I." When "I" disappears, opposite worlds also disappear; this is called emptiness or nirvana.
So it is said that when mind disappears, dharma disappears; dharma disappears, name and form disappear, name and form disappear, coming and going, life and death, happiness and suffering, all these opposite categories also disappear. When there are no opposites, it is nirvana. Its name is Absolute, its name is Stillness, its name is Emptiness. So going from opposite worlds to absolute world is to move into the nirvana world. This is the teaching of Hinayana Buddhism.
Mahayana Buddhism begins at the point of emptiness, the absence of self-nature of things. If you attain "no self," it is possible to move to complete world. Complete world means if your mind is complete, everything in the universe is complete. The sun, the moon, the stars, everything else in the universe is complete, one by one. Complete means truth. When you cut off all thinking there is no "I"; when there is no "I" your mind is clear like space. Clear like space means clear like mirror; clear like mirror means a mind which just reflects: sky is blue, grass is green, water is flowing, sugar is sweet, salt is salty. The mirror-mind only reflects what’s in front of it. In the mirror-mind what you see, what you hear, what you smell, what you taste, what you touch – everything is just like this. Just like this is truth. Just like this is complete world, so complete world is truth world.
If you attain truth and complete world, you can understand correct situation, correct function, correct relationship. Then helping others is possible; helping others means only to love others, to have compassion for others. We call love and compassion the Bodhisattva Way. So, the teaching of Mahayana Buddhism is how to follow the Bodhisattva Way, how to help others. If you want to follow this path, you must attain the truth world first; truth world means keeping moment to moment correct situation, correct function, correct relationship; truth world means great love, great compassion, great Bodhisattva Way. This is the teaching of Mahayana Buddhism.
Next is Zen Buddhism. Zen Buddhism never talks about opposite worlds, never talks about absolute world, never talks about complete world. It only points straight to our mind, to our true self. "What is Buddha?" "Dry shit on a stick." This is a Zen answer. There is no talk here, no explanation. Only just a swift, direct pointing that cuts through all discriminations. In the history of Zen many people got enlightened as a result of this style of direct pointing and were able to help many people. So in Zen there is no speech, no words, only practicing. Talking about opposite worlds or absolute world or complete world is an intellectual style where more explanation, more analysis becomes necessary. Zen only points to the moment world, the world of this moment. This moment is very important; it has everything in it. In this moment there is infinite time, infinite space; in this moment there is truth, correct life and the Bodhisattva Way. This moment has everything, also this moment has nothing. If you attain this moment, you attain everything. This is the teaching of Zen Buddhism.

Q&A about God at Brown University
On Tuesday nights The Providence Zen Center holds a meditation session at the Dharma Room (Manning Chapel) at Brown University. The following is an account of one of the exchanges which has taken place there.
After one of the Dharma Teachers was finished with his introductory remarks, he asked those congregated to direct their questions to Zen Master Seung Sahn, Soen Sa Nim. One of the visitors asked if there was a God.
Soen Sa answered "If you think God, you have God, if you do not think God, you do not have God."
"I think that there is no God. Why do I have God if I think God?"
"Do you understand God?"
"No, I don’t know."
"Do you understand yourself?"
"I don’t know."
"You do not understand God. You do not understand yourself. How would you even know if there was a God or not?"
"Then, is there a God?"
"God is not God, no God is God."
"Why is God not God?"
Holding up the Zen stick, Soen Sa said "This is a stick, but it is not a stick. Originally, there is no stick. It is the same with God for originally there is no God. God is only name. The same is true of all things in the universe."
"Then is there no God?"
"The philosopher Descartes said, ‘I think therefore I am.’ If you do not think, you are not, and so the universe and you are one. This is your substance, the universe’s substance, and God’s substance. It has no name and no form. You are God, God is you. This is the ‘big I,’ this is the path, this is the truth. Do you now understand God?"
"Yes, I think that there is no God, and I have no God."
"If you say that you have no God, I will hit you thirty times. If you say that you do, I will still hit you thirty times."
"Why will you hit me? I don’t understand. Please explain."
"I do not give acupuncture to a dead cow. Today is Tuesday." replied Soen Sa.

Four Precepts Enlightenment
Once in Korea a man wanted to take the five precepts. But, he liked to drink. "I want to drink!", but then he thought, "If I only drink and take the precepts that means breaking the precepts." So, he got an idea. He invited a friend out to dinner and said, "I’ll drink for you!" As the evening proceeded the friend saw that he was drinking a lot, much more than him. "That’s not correct," said the friend. "Now you are breaking two precepts: the one against drinking and the one against lying!"
A long time ago my teacher, Zen Master Ko Bong, gave the five precepts to Chung Dong Go Sa Nim. Everything in the ceremony went smoothly until the part where the preceptor recites the precepts. Suddenly the man stood up and said "If I cannot drink, I die!" So, now there was a problem. Immediately Ko Bong Sunim said "Then you take only four precepts." He became the "four precepts layman" and got four precepts enlightenment. Anybody can take four precepts–no problem!

Losing It is Getting
This is an excerpt from a talk given by Zen Master Seung Sahn to the members of Hwa Gye Sah, our temple in Seoul, on the evening before Buddha’s Enlightenment Day. Traditionally Buddhists will stay up all night practicing meditation on this night in emulation of the Buddha before his great enlightenment.
[Raises Zen stick over head, then hits podium with stick.]
Attaining enlightenment is losing enlightenment. Losing enlightenment is attaining enlightenment.
In our world everything has name and form. Everything that has name and form follows the flow of time and space–changing, changing, always changing. Not one thing remains the same. Buddha taught us that our world is impermanent. If we completely attain impermanence then we can find the one unchanging thing, the one unmoving thing. Since everything is changing, mountain becomes water, water becomes mountain. Everything appears and disappears. We call that the law of appearing and disappearing. So, attaining enlightenment is losing enlightenment. Losing enlightenment is attaining enlightenment.
One hundred years ago all the people gathered here today were not alive. Over the last one hundred years you all were born and appeared as a Korean person or as a Western person. But a hundred years from now, will you still be alive? No! you will have to die. So we see that everything is changing, changing. Your body will soon be gone. Where is the master of this body? Where will the owner of this body go? In order to find the answer to that question you have come here to Hwa Gye Sah. You’ve become a member of Hwa Gye Sah. You chant and practice Zen here with other people.
[Raises Zen stick over head, then hits podium with stick.]
What is the meaning of this hit? This means no enlightenment to attain, no enlightenment to lose. A long time ago an eminent Patriarch said, "keep a mind which is clear like space." If we look ever more deeply into our true self and try to find it, then we see that it is completely empty–empty and clear like space. "Complete emptiness with nothing to attain" is our original mind — our original substance. That’s where we come from and that’s where we go. For that reason there is nothing to attain; nothing to lose. All opposites are cut off: good, bad, right, wrong, holy and unholy. If all opposites are cut off, we call that
complete emptiness. That is our original face, primary point.
In order to attain that point we’ve all gathered here to stay up all night practicing until Buddha’s Enlightenment Day. You see many Western people here with big noses. They have been staying up many nights during Kyol Che practicing very late into the night. There are also four Russian people here practicing. How come our Hwa Gye Sah members don’t come here and practice more? Even if you stay up this one night, is that enough? We have to do it. We have to attain where we came from and where we go. We gather here to enlighten ourselves.
If you practice hard then the true way appears in front of you very clearly. Then even though you lose your body, still your way is clear. So we must attain that. We must attain our true selves. All of us should stay up tonight and ask ourselves, "What am I?" After all, who is carrying around this body? If we always keep this great question we will attain one clear and pure thing. If we attain that, then we attain our true selves.
Raises Zen stick over head, then hits podium with stick.]
What is the meaning of this?
This means that enlightenment is just enlightenment. Getting enlightenment is just getting enlightenment. Losing enlightenment is just losing enlightenment. Not so long ago, the great patriarch Song Chol Sunim said, "Mountain is mountain, water is water." First we said that mountain is water, water is mountain. Next we went to the place where there is no mountain, no water. Now we say, "mountain is mountain, water is water." This is the place of attaining my true self. So, mountain is just mountain, water is just water. Our true self is like a clear mirror — a great round mirror. In this clear mirror everyhing is reflected. Mountain is just mountain reflected; water comes, just water is reflected. If we completely empty our mind it’s like a clear mirror. Then everything in our world is reflected in my mind: mountain is reflected, water is reflected, everything is just reflected. We call that "truth like this," the world of truth. We also say that is true form or just truth.
First, we talked about the world of impermanence. Attaining enlightenment is to lose enlightenment. Losing enlightenment is getting enlightenment. Mountain becomes water, water becomes mountain.
Next we went to the world of emptiness. Attainment is emptiness; also, no attainment is emptiness. Mountain is emptiness and water is emptiness. Complete and true emptiness.
Then, taking one more big step from the world of emptiness we come to the world of truth. Here everything is just as it is. Mountain is mountain; water is water. Attaining enlightenment is just attaining enlightenment; losing enlightenment is just losing enlightenment. We call that truth.
Now three different worlds have appeared. Of these three worlds, which one is the correct? Once again: Mountain is water, water is mountain. That’s the world of impermanence. Next, no mountain, no water. That’s the world of emptiness. And lastly mountain is mountain, water is water — truth or moment world. If we have time and space, then all things exist. If we transcend time and space, then we come to the world of emptiness. Taking one more step, we come to the world of truth. In the world of truth everything we see, hear, smell, taste and touch is always teaching us. Every moment is truth. The sky is blue, the dog is barking: woof woof, sugar is sweet. This is the world of truth.
So, which of these worlds is the correct? Which is the world that we attain? Which is the world of enlightenment? If somebody says that they found which is correct then this heavy Zen stick will hit you thirty times. Yes, there is a correct world. But, if you say that you found it, this stick will hit you thirty times. If you say you cannot find it, then this stick will also hit you thirty times. Why is that? Whether you find it or not, you get hit thirty times. Why?
Outside the snow is shining white. Inside the electric lights make it possible for us to see each other very clearly. With this my dharma speech is finished.
Here we see that one more world has appeared. We call this the world of function. Outside the snow is white, inside the electric lights shine clearly. So, we talked about impermanence world, the changing world. Then we talked about complete emptiness, the world of emptiness. Last we talked about truth world — everything is truth. Then, going from truth world through KATZ! — primary point — we arrived at moment world, function. We call that the Great Bodhisattva Way. So, first attain the truth, then attain the bodhisattva way. World after world, lifetime after lifetime, I vow to follow the bodhisattva way, until all beings become Buddha. I vow to follow the Great Bodhisattva Way until all beings are saved from suffering. That’s Ji Jang Bosal’s great vow, the Great Bodhisattva Vow.
Carrying this great vow, we live our lives. That’s our purpose in our life. And not only this life, but lifetime after lifetime, until all beings are saved. That’s how we should live. Then my purpose in life is very clear. I eat breakfast early in the morning and lunch later in the day — for what? Why do I live in this world? Consider this right now. In Dongdaemun market and Namdaemun market many people come and go every day…very busy, very greedy. Aside from the time they spend making money, they have no time. Why do you live in this world? All of you who have gathered here today on the eve of Buddha’s Enlightenment Day; you are just like Buddha: you also want to attain to your true self. You gathered here to practice just as the Buddha did under the Bodhi tree. You are here to find out what you are.
So, really ask, "Who am I?" This is my head, this is my hand, this is my body. But is this me? What is the true me? What is the one thing that brought this body to Hwa Gye Sah and is now sitting in this dharma room? What is that one thing? You have to find that thing, the one thing that brought this body here. If you are just attached to some kind of material thing, if you are just emotionally moved by some kind of material thing, than how are you different from a cow or a pig? How are we different from any animal? "This is a person," we say to ourselves. "This is not an animal." But we have to understand our human being’s function before we can call ourselves a human being. We have to understand our human being’s correct way before we can say that we are not just an animal. The Buddha saw the morning star and got enlightenment. When he saw the morning star, he attained his true human nature — the way of a human being. If you attain to your human nature, then you can be called a human being.
Buddhism is not really religion. Our Buddhism means attain something, attain enlightenment. Look at this world… look at our country, Korea. Look at all things in this world changing. Recently several people wanted to become President of Korea. They spent a lot of money and time but they could not become President. If we look closely we see many people in this world who are ruled by the five desires of food, sex, money, sleep and fame. Many people live just for those things. If we throw those desires away, then we can find the correct way.
We should ask: "How can I attain to the true way? How can I save all beings?" That is the important question! We need a great vow. We need a great vow and strong will to save all beings. Even though I die, if I make this great vow, this vow will bring me back again as a human being. I will again seek the bodhisattva way; again come to Hwa Gye Sah; again attain to my true self; again save all beings. We have to make a great vow to save all beings. If we don’t make this great vow then, after we die, how will we be reborn? What will happen to us? Don’t stay in the five desires. Leave the five desires and live in the world of the great bodhisattva vow.

Before the ancient Buddha was born,
There was this one thing — lucid, round and clear.
Na Mu Ah Mi Ta Bul
Originally nothing, but today
White snow covers the world.
Na Mu Ah Mi Ta Bul

Tomorrow is Buddha’s Enlightenment Day. Just like Buddha, we have gathered here to attain something. Someone tries Kwan Seum Bosal, Kwan Seum Bosal, Kwan Seum Bosal: Who is trying Kwan Seum Bosal, who is that? Who is chanting? What is that thing that chants? What is that thing that tries Kwan Seum Bosal? We call that "don’t know"; we call that "cut off all thinking"– before thinking. We come here and try to keep a before thinking mind.
For six years the Buddha kept "What am I?" and kept "don’t know." But in front of the Buddha many beautiful women were dancing; demons appeared, many things appeared. He understood that all these things came from his mind. They appear and disappear over and over again. If I have no mind, then nothing appears. So, I ask all you Hwa Gye Sah members, do you have mind or not? If you say you have mind, this stick will hit you. If you say you don’t have mind, this stick will also hit you. Will you say you have mind, or will you say you have no mind? You must understand how to answer! If you want to understand how to answer, you have to earnestly and sincerely practice Zen.
A long time ago Shakyamuni Buddha sat under the bodhi tree for six years. Then one morning he saw a star and got enlightenment. In our world many kinds of religion have appeared: Judaism, Christianity, Islam. Today many people believe in these religions. In the Buddha’s time, also, there were many kinds of religion. But the Buddha left all these beliefs behind and went to the mountain. He only asked himself, " What am I?" Then he attained enlightenment. So Buddhism is a religion of enlightenment, not of belief. Of course, we say somebody becomes Buddha or somebody attained dharma. All these things are nescessary, but they are only teaching words. Originally Buddhism means attain my true self, attain "Buddha is mind, mind is Buddha." You must attain to that! OK?
The Sixth Patriarch, Hui Neng, unlike the Buddha, had a very simple situation. Every morning he helped his mother; went to the mountains, got firewood, sold the firewood, got money and bought food. He did not get married; he only went to the mountain every day and supported his mother–a very simple mind. But look at our minds; they are very complicated. We have many things to do: save money, make investments, etc. But the Sixth Patriarch’s mind was very simple…too simple.
One day on his way home after selling the firewood, he encountered a monk who was reciting the Diamond Sutra. Just as he passed by he heard the monk recite the line, "don’t be attached to anything that arises in your mind." BOOM! he got enlightenment, attained his true self and "what am I." He had never learned Chinese characters or studied Buddhist texts. All he did was to go to the mountains and get firewood to help his mother. But he attained enlightenment upon hearing one line from the Diamond Sutra.
Then he asked the monk: "What book is that? What text are you reading?"
"This is the Diamond Sutra. If you go to the North, you will find the Fifth Patriarch, Hung Jen. He has thousands of disciples and teaches the Diamond Sutra."
He went back and told his mother about what had happened. After arranging for his mother’s care, he traveled north until he found the Fifth Patriarch’s temple. He said, "I’ve come here to practice with you. I want to learn the dharma from you."
The Fifth Patriarch asked, "Where did you come from?"
He said "I’ve come from the South."
"From the South? Ah, barbarians from the South have no Buddha nature!"
Then Hui Neng said, "Human Beings have North and South, but in Buddha nature is there North and South?"
What a beautiful way to answer. That is the speech of an enlightened person — remarkable. How could this kind of speech appear from somebody who just worked in the mountains cutting wood and helping his mother? It can only appear if you attain something, if you have enlightened yourself. At this point the Fifth Patriarch already understood his mind and said, "You go into the rice pounding room and work." Later, as everybody here knows, the Fifth Patriarch secretly gave him transmission.
So, how do you attain an enlightened mind? It took the Buddha six years, but the Sixth Patriarch heard just one word and attained enlightenment. Some people just hear one word–BOOM!–get enlightenment. People can attain enlightenment in just one instant; it doesn’t always take six years. Every day we chant, everyday we sit in the dharma hall. How come we are not enlightened people? How come we have not gotten great enlightenment? Our minds are complicated, that’s why. The Sixth Patriarch’s mind was very simple, so he easily got enlightenment. A complicated mind takes a long time. However, we look, we see, and even though it takes time, we can get enlightenment.
Among the Buddha’s disciples, Ananda was one of the foremost. Known for his phenomenal memory, he remembered everything that the Buddha taught — just like a tape recorder. If you said to him, "At this time, at this place, what was the dharma speech?" he could tell you precisely. In the Buddha’s time there were no sutras. It was not until after the Buddha died that the sutras were made. Many people wanted to hear about what the Buddha had taught, so they asked Ananda. One problem was that Ananda had not yet attained enlightenment himself. At one time five hundred great arhats gathered to compile the sutras. All of these great monks had gathered, but Ananda could not join them because Ananda had not yet attained enlightenment. He approached his senior brother Mahakasypa and asked him, "Older brother, besides the golden kasa and bowls, what else did the Buddha transmit to you? What else did you get from the Buddha?"
Mahakasypa said, " Ananda."
Ananda replied, "Yes."
"Knock down the flag pole in front of the gate."
So what does that mean? He asked Mahakasyapa what he got from the Buddha, and Mahakasyapa said "knock down the flag pole in front of the gate." Ananda went away and for seven days only practiced. He didn’t eat. He didn’t lie down. He stood constantly and meditated on this question. That’s the origin of the seven day Yong Maeng Jong Jin practice that our western monks are now doing. Tomorrow, when we see the morning star, it’s all finished. On the seventh day it is said that Ananda got enlightenment. Then the five hundred arhats welcomed Ananda into their assembly. Mahakasyapa said, "Without opening the door, come in."
What does that mean, "Without opening the door, how can you come in?" The meaning is that all five hundred arhats were finally willing to accept Ananda into the assembly. Then all the sutras were composed. Every sutra says, "Thus have I heard…" Those are Ananda’s words. "Thus have I heard" means "I heard from the Buddha such and such teaching at such and such time." If you look at our sutras today, they all have this mark on them.
The First Patriarch was Mahakasypa. The Second Patriarch was Ananda. But Mahakasypa became a monk much later than Ananda. Ananda left home and became a monk twenty years before Mahakasypa. Even though Ananda became a monk before Mahakasypa, because of the dharma he later became Mahakasypa’s disciple, and became the Second Patriarch. So that is the history of the second dharma transmission.
For seven days we have been practicing very hard. Tomorrow morning, look at the morning star, then we will attain something, OK? I hope you all get enlightenment. This is how the Buddha’s dharma was transmitted through Mahakasypa to Ananda.
Next, let’s consider the great Korean Zen Master, Sosan Dae Sa. He was originally from Pyong-Ando Province in what is now North Korea. As a child he demonstrated great intelligence, so at an early age his stepfather took him to Seoul, where he could learn Confucian texts. After several years of study he stood for the civil service examination. He was required to write an essay for the test. He also wrote the essays for his friends. When the test results came back he was very surprised: all his friends passed; only he did not pass! Again he tried; he wrote very well and finished all the essays. But, again he did not pass. A third time he took the test–again he failed. Why was that? Then he finally understood: It was because of his background. He came from Pyong-Ando–the northern part of Korea. All his friends were from other parts of Korea: Chungchong Do, Kang-Won Do, etc.
After several tries, his stepfather suggested that he should go somewhere where he could rest and just read books. The young man wanted to go to Hein Sah and his stepfather agreed. Upon arriving at Hein Sah temple he found many, many books that he could read. Of course, you all know that the 84,000 sutras are housed there. He found that reading about Buddhism was more interesting than Confucianism or Taoism. The Buddhist Sutras talked about how to solve real human problems. Suddenly he realized how lucky he was that he didn’t get a position in the government. If he had, he would never have known the wonderful teaching of the Buddha.
One day Sosan was sent into town to buy brushes and ink. Upon returning to the temple he had to respond to a call from nature. The temple had an old-style outhouse which was built very high off the ground. It was said that the outhouse was so high that if shit dropped when a traveler left Taejon, it wouldn’t land until the traveler reached Seoul! That’s how high this toilet was! So, as Sosan Taesa was squatting over the hole he happened to look down below–way below!–and saw many small animals. As soon as his fresh shit hit the bottom, worms, rats, many kinds of animals would rush and dive into it, eating ravenously. After contemplating this scene for a while it struck him that the people in the market place were no different. They are always looking for something, always seeking something, always going for something new, always trying to make a profit off something. Ahh… his mind opened. He understood something. Up to now, he thought, I have been just like one of those worms, diving into new shit; always looking for another pile of shit. Now it’s time for me to really practice. Only reading sutras is not enough–that can’t help me. I have to do some serious practice. What am I? Who am I?
With that, he decided to become a monk. He shaved his head, put on gray robes, and went to Myo Hyang San Mountain. There he practiced very hard. First he did a hundred-day retreat, then he did another. On the first hundred-day retreat his mind didn’t really open. On the second hundred-day retreat, everything appeared clearly in front of him. At that time his mind opened widely and he saw that the world is always turning, turning, turning. Everything is always changing. But within all that change there is one thing that is not changing. In order to find that one unchanging thing, we have to attain our true nature.
What did Sosan attain? One morning he awoke very early to do a kido. From far away he heard a chicken crowing and attained his true self. Listening to the sound of a chicken crowing he said, "I’ve finished the great work of life and death. All of you who haven’t attained enlightenment, tomorrow morning, try listening to the sound of a rooster crowing. Listen to that and finish a great man’s work." He became very famous in the history of Korea. He and Samyan Taesa helped save the country from the Japanese invasion of 1592. That is the story of Sosan.
Zen Master Pao-Chi practiced very hard but still everything was unclear in front of him. One day at a funeral he heard the bell of the funeral crier. As the monk rang the bell he chanted. As soon as Pao-Chi heard this chant–BOOM!–his mind opened, he got enlightenment. The line that opened his mind was: "In front of the door lies the land of stillness." Hearing that line, he got enlightenment.
Many stories of masters attaining enlightenment involve hearing one thing. Zen Master Bao Zho was asked by his teacher, "What is your original face before you were born?" He stayed up many nights, desperately trying to answer this question, but to no avail. On his way to the market one day he saw two people fighting. Eventually one man apologized to the other, saying, "I have truly lost my face." At this Bao Zho achieved awakening. He attained "losing his face." Then he truly understood his original face. If you keep this great question, then any time, any place, you can get enlightenment. The Sixth Patriarch got enlightenment hearing the Diamond Sutra. Bao Zho got enlightenment hearing two people fighting. Also, you can hear a bird or the bellow of a cow–any kind of sound–and get enlightenment.
Tomorrow is Buddha’s Enlightenment Day. That is the day the Buddha saw a star and got enlightenment. If you really want to attain enlightenment, then the big question must become very strong. It must be earnest and sincere. If you have this big question: "Who is chanting Kwan Seum Bosal? Who is sitting Zen?" then it’s possible to get enlightenment.
These days I am always teaching that human beings are not human beings. Human beings have to act correctly, then they become human beings. Moment to moment, what do you do? What is your correct direction? Moment to moment, what is your correct life? How do you find your correct way? How do you save all beings from suffering? We come into this world empty-handed. What do we do in this world? Why did we come into this world? Our 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. If you want to find that, you have to ask yourself, "What am I?" Always keep this big question. Thinking has to disappear. You have to take away all your thinking; cut off all your thinking. Then your true self appears; then your true mind appears. Everybody assembled here tonight, ask yourself sincerely, "What am I?", and keep this great don’t know. Maybe you try Kwan Seum Bosal, or maybe you try Om Mani Padme Hum, but only if you do it with complete sincerity will this great question–this don’t know mind–explode. Then you will attain enlightenment!
In this world how many people really want to practice? Many people don’t practice at all. All day and night they fight and only exercise their desire, their anger and their ignorance. When you lose this body, you will have nothing to take with you. When this body disappears, what will you take with you? What will you do? If this don’t know 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 to do in this world. When you do that, then you can become a human being. Tonight I will give you homework–a kong-an to work on. A long time ago a monk asked Zen Master Un Mun, "What is Buddha? Un Mun said, "Dry shit on stick." What is that? What in the world does that mean? Dry shit on stick. If you keep practicing…ahh! Buddha is dry shit on stick! Everything in this world is Buddha. All things–not just dry shit on stick, but everything in the world. All are Buddha.
So I ask you, how long is this dry shit stick? You must attain that, then we can say that you are really a Zen disciple. How long is dry shit on stick?–you must find that. It is very important to find that. Then you can understand your original face. You can understand what brought you to Hwa Gye Sah. You can find Buddha’s original face. You can have the energy to save all beings and you can keep the great bodhisattva vow. Lifetime after lifetime the great bodhisattva way opens for you. All our Hwa Gye Sah members, ask yourself, "What am I?" Keep a great "don’t know" mind. Tonight we will stay up all night, attain our true selves, attain universal truth, and save all beings from suffering.
Zen Master Seung Sahn chants while hitting with the Zen stick three times.
Vowing to join with all sentient beings throughout the universe,
Together we enter Amita’s Ocean of Great Vows.
Na Mu Ah Mi Ta Bul
In order to save all beings in numberless worlds,
Together, you and I, at the same time, attain Buddhahood.
Na Mu Ah Mi Ta Bul


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