About Zen


The Right Way of Gong-an Seon

 : Zen meditation is to break through the Gateway to Patriarch (e.g. koan),
 : and delicate enlightenment ultimately demands the stillness of mind.

the scent of apricot tree blossom

 : Getting out of dust and pain is not an ordinary matter. 
: Play a round grabbing it tight. 
 : If apricot blossoms don’t once get over midwinter coldness,
: can they get the scent stirring up the air ?

Zen Master Seung Sahn says :

Zen is very simple… What are you?

In this whole world everyone searches for happiness outside, but nobody understands their true self inside.

Everybody says, “I” — “I want this, I am like that…” But nobody understands this “I.” Before you were born, where did your I come from? When you die, where will your I go? If you sincerely ask, “What am I?” sooner or later you will run into a wall where all thinking is cut off. We call this “Don’t know.”

Zen is keeping this “Don’t know” mind always and everywhere.

    When walking, standing, sitting,
lying down, speaking, being
     silent, moving, being still.
At all times, in all places, without
     interruption — what is this?
One mind is infinite kalpas.

Meditation in Zen means keeping don’t-know mind when bowing, chanting and sitting Zen. This is formal Zen practice. And when doing something, just do it. When driving, just drive; when eating, just eat; when working, just work.

Finally, your don’t-know mind will become clear. Then you can see the sky, only blue. You can see the tree, only green. Your mind is like a clear mirror. Red comes, the mirror is red; white comes the mirror is white. A hungry person comes, you can give him food; a thirsty person comes, you can give her something to drink. Their is no desire for myself, only for all beings. That mind is already enlightenment, what we call Great Love, Great Compassion, the Great Bodhisattva Way. It’s very simple, not difficult!

So Buddha said that all beings have Buddha-nature ( enlightenment nature ). But Zen Master Joju said that a dog has no Buddha-nature. Which one is right? Which one is wrong? If you find that, you find the true way.


Compass of Zen Teaching (by Zen Master Seung Sahn)

* The Purposes of Buddhism : First attain enlightenment, then instruct all creatures.

* The Divisions of Buddhism : Hinayana Buddhism, Mahayana Buddhism, Zen Buddhism

* The 5 Human Desires : Wealth, Sex, Fame, Food, Sleep

* 3 Kinds of Practice : Sila – Precepts, Samadhi – Meditation, Prajna – Wisdom

* 6 Paramitas : Generosity, Precepts, Forbearance, Samadhi, Practice, Wisdom

* Zen Buddhism : If you want to pass through this gate, do not give rise to thinking. Not depending on words, there has been a special transmission outside the sutras. Pointed directly to Mind, see your true nature, become Buddha.

* The Classifications of Zen : Outer Path Zen, Common People’s Zen, Hinayana Zen, Mahayana Zen, Utmost (Vehicle ?) Zen.

* Utmost (Vehicle ?) Zen : Theoretical Zen ( Form is emptiness. Emptiness is form. ) Tathagata Zen ( No form, no emptiness. ) Patriarchal Zen ( Form is form. Emptiness is emptiness. )

* Methods of Meditation : Soto Zen ; Sitting in silent meditation. Rinzai Zen ; Looking into Kong-an. Chogye Zen ; What is this ?

* The Three Essential Elements in Zen : Great Faith, Great Courage, Great Question.


Words & Phrases for Zen

** Five Disciplines for Ascetic Zen Praticians

* Don’t talk much.
* Don’t sleep much.
* Don’t read books.
* Don’t eat much.
* Don’t hang out.

**  : Zen meditation for true mind covers all the other ways to enlightenment.

**  : When you see that it is not possible for you to see, it is that you see the Dharma-nature. ( Seung Shan : If you understand “don’t know”, just this is enlightenment. )

**  Socrates said ,”Know yourself.” or “The only thing that I know is I know nothing.” That is a way to Zen. There is one Koan asking “What is this ?” Then, what does “this” in the question  mean ?  That is the same question.

What am I ?  If you know yourself, not about yourself, the question has the answer in itself  and can’t be a question. When you think you know yourself, it is not yourself, but about yourself,  that is, your attributes such as things about your body and character.

It is very important that the questioning arise spontaneously. It is possible only to the person who take his life and its intrinsic nature seriously. The questioning is like the friction of wood, which will cause the fire.The fire will at last eat all the wood from which it came. Then what happen ?

Zen Song by Na-Ong Zen Master (1320-1376)

Zen practice doesn’t need much talk,
just like whipping a running horse on.

Once the question mass cracks,
your eyes will open wide and light up the prior time to the universe.

Just stick to whadu (= koan) and don’t loose it.
Struggling with it, just continue questioning ‘What is this ?’

Endless questioning will be like a fireball,
and suddenly you will awake from the long dream of life and death.

Innumerable years of quiet zazen
made the thinking walllike and all the others forgotten.

With keen questioning through millions of thoughts,
I passed rivers and mountains, not knowing spring had come.

Raise the question of whadu every way.
Don’t keep anything but whadu.

Nothing is left, so mind is free.
All is silent, so no dust arises.

In a street or thick woods, on a plain or the seashore,
only Nirvana ecstasy is always for him absorbed in whadu.

Go right ahead without looking elsewhere.

When you take one step forward where you cannot go further,
there will truly not be any matter at all,
and you can pass through a thorny thicket, even swinging your arms.

The integrity of proud loneliness is lofty
like a great mountain,
and dhyana is free like a sea gull, forever.

Reverse a round desperately with all your strength,
and passion-free world will be clear beyond in and out.

The essence of whadu lies in great questioning.

When the question defeats the blue eyes of Boddhidharma,
you will be free to kill and revive others, hence notorious all over the world.

The subtlety of zen is from keenness.
Dull questioning cannot solve the life and death problem.

When the question cracks, space will split,
and time will fuse in a beam of cold light.

Be always earnest in pondering over whadu,
and sweep out worldly idle thoughts by the question.

Only after you let go the hold on the bottomless cliff,
the earth and space will disappear all together.

As the question cracks and passions die suddenly,
there is no shade in every direction all the way.

As the spacious spirits void all directions,
you can stroll about and relax even on the way to Eternal Hell,
accompany various people and pass like a wind.

Liberation by zen practice is not so hard,
only if you turn a thought round instantly.

Where waters end and mountains are passed,
there is no water and no mountain,
yet mountain is mountain and water is water.

The Human Route

Coming empty-handed, going empty-handed — that is human.
() When you are born, where do you come from?
() When you die, where do you go?
() Life is like a floating cloud which appears.
() Death is like a floating cloud which disappears.
() The floating cloud itself originally does not exist.
() Life and death, coming and going, are also like that.
() But there is one thing which always remains clear.
() It is pure and clear, not depending on life and death.

Then what is the one pure and clear thing?

Looking for a Cow on the Very Cow

Monk Soyo was clever from his childhood and learned a lot of Sutras, so he became a famous teacher of Sutra. However, he was not sure he would be delivered from life and death, so he went to the great zen master Seosahn to learn Dharma. From then, he learned each Sutra phrase day by day from Seosahn. The phrases had been familiar to him long before. However, he kept learning them for 3 years and was frustrated. One day when he came back from outing for a while, he noticed that Seosahn was hiding an old small book into his inner pocket, stopping to read it. This happened often. When Seosahn fell asleep, Soyo tried to steal and read it. However, Seosahn woke up startled and hid it more secretly. Soyo was angry at last and decided to leave. Then, Seosahn said, “If you want to leave, please do with this book you wanted.” There was a Buddhist song in the book like this :

 Cut a tree having no shade,
and burn down foams in water.
What a laughing stock, you mounted on a cow,
trying to look for a cow on the very cow.

Soyo went to southern part of Korea with the book and meditated the song for 20 years, but in vain. When he was 40 years old, he went to Mt. Myohyang to look up Seosahn. Then, tears flowed from his eyes. He had never been able to forget his teacher for so many days. Seosahn said, “How is it going ? Did you get it ?” Soyo said, “I don’t understand the song yet.”

Then, Seosahn said, “What a laughing stock, you mounted on a cow, trying to look for a cow on the very cow.” Just then, Soyo became fully enlightened.

True Practice (an old monk)

It was winter retreat. Just one day before the beginning of the session, an old monk asked to participate in the retreat. Although he begged so much, all the monks objected to it, because he was married and he said that he had to stay and work in his own temple at night. In fact, it was violation of the rule in the temple. However, the zen master in the session told them to accept his request, saying that his willingness to study should not be broken. Thus he could study there together.

When there was a tea party in the middle of the session, one monk asked the zen master what meaning it had to “look for a cow, on the very cow”, after bowing 3 times to him courteously. He answered, “Now that you say you are looking for a cow, being mounted on the cow, please don’t look for it, but set forth the cow you have mounted.” Upon hearing this talk by the side, the old miserable monk shouted clapping his hands, “Now, got it,” Then, all the other monks laughed saying that he had gone mad at last. However, the zen master said that it was not a laughing matter and took him to his room. After quite a while, the zen master came out and announced his getting the ultimate truth. The old monk hit the ground and cried before the zen master, saying, “I should live in the darkness forever, if you had not accepted me.”

The other monks were frustrated. Some one said he felt as if he were blind and food in mouth were sand for three days. One of them meditated for 16 days without drinking a drop of water and sleeping a wink. At last he was on the brink of death and he recovered with the aid of the others. There is no senior or junior in zen practice.

What to Polish

Master Majo is said to have made holes in 7 mats by sitting on for meditation, when he was in Master Whoeyang’s temple. He was so addicted to sitting that he looked like a dead man or a statue. Then, noticing that he made no progress, Whoeyang asked, “What are you doing ?” Majo answered, “Zazen.” Whoeyang asked again,”What for ?” Majo answered, “To become a Buddha.”

Whoeyang was polishing a brick one day. Majo heard the noise and asked, “What are you polishing the brick for ?” Whoeyang answered, “To make a mirror.” Thinking that it is not possible anyhow, Majo asked, “How can you make a mirror with a brick.” Whoeyang answered, ” Then, can you make a Budda by sitting on a mat ?” Majo asked, “What shall I do ?”

Whoeyang answered, “When an oxcart doesn’t go, do you have to hit the ox or the cart ? Under this word, Majo became fully enlightened.


Once in China, there was a great lecturer of Diamond Sutra, Ducksan, who went to the south to teach right Buddhism, because he learned in a Sutra that it takes numberless lives of polishing for a man to become a Buddha, but monks in the south taught that by pointing to one’s mind directly, they can make you become a Buddha. When he got in a restaurant for lunch, an old lady looked at him for a while and asked, “What is it you are carrying on the back ?” He answered, “It is Treatise of Diamond Sutra.” She said, “Ah, is that right ? The book reads that you cannot get past mind, present mind and future mind. If you have lunch, on which mind will you have it ?” If you answer correctly, I will serve your lunch.” He was stricken and come out of there without having lunch. As instructed by her, he looked up master Yongdam and stayed together in his room until midnight, so it was dark outside when Ducksan was coming out of the room. When Yongdam lighted a candle and would give it to him, Ducksan was trying to receive it. That moment, Yongdam blew the light out and Ducksan became fully enlightened.

A Bee

Shinchan was a Chinese zen master, whose teacher was a lecturer of sutra. When Chinchan was traveling, he met Backjang and got enlightened. Now, he came back to his teacher and was washing his teacher’s body at the request of his teacher. He said, touching his teacher’s back, “The buddha is not holy in an excellent sanctuary.” Then, his teacher turned and looked back at him. He said again, “Even if not holy, it can shed light.” Furthermore, when his teacher read a sutra and a bee was trying to get out of a window, he sang,

 ” Not going out through the open,
you are foolish to hit the screen paper of the window, instead.
Even if touching old paper for one hundred years,
when can you get out ? “

His teacher said, stopping reading the sutra, “Did you meet any one during the travel ?” Chichan said, “I learned from Backjang and want to repay you the favor.” After performing purification, his teacher asked Shinchan to preach Dharma. He rose to a seat and sang,

 “The spiritual light shines alone, so it got far out of (subjective) roots and (objective) dusts.
The (Dharma) body exposed its true shape, so it is not restricted by letters.
The true nature cannot have defect, and it is originally entire and perfect by itself.
Just leave the false fate, then it is the very, very Buddha. “

Thereupon, his teacher got enlightened.

Heavy Sacks

Kyungheo and Mangong, his disciple, were returning to their temple in the evening after getting some rice for their food. Especially that day, they got rice full of sack. Apart from their satisfaction, the sacks were heavy and it was still distant to their destination. Mangong felt tired and got pain on the shoulder, so it was very difficult to follow his master. Noticing this, Kyungheo said, “I will use one method to get fast. Please see.” They were passing a certain village. Then, a beautiful young woman was coming from the opposit side of them with a water jar on the head. She was apparently a bride just over 20 years old. When Kyungheo faced her, he held her both ears and kissed her lips. The woman screamed, dropped and broke the jar, and ran back into her house. A distubance arose. Villagers ran out of their houses with sticks or clubs and shouted, “Wicked monks, stop there.” The two monks began to run away. They ran so desperately that villagers couldn’t follow them to the last. After a while, when they took a rest, Kyungheo said, “Was the sack heavy ?” Mangong said, “Regardlessly, I don’t know how I could run so long way with it.” Kyungheo said, “Don’t I have talent ?” They laughed together looking at each other.


In the times when Japan ruled the Koreans, there was a zen master called Hyewal who was famous even in Japan. One Japanese knight heard of him and came to Korea to test Hyewal’s Dharma.

He abruptly entered Hyewal’s room and said threateningly with his sword out, “I hear you are an accomplished being. If it is true, you are supposed to survive this sword. Now, please escape from my sword.” Then he was about to hit Hyewal’s neck with the sword.

Then Hyewal said calmly, “If you want to kill me as a skilled knight, you don’t have to be accompanied.” Then the knight looked at the open door to see who was out there. This moment, Hyewal stabbed him with his wand and said, “How absent-minded you are as an honorable knight. If this baton were a knife, you should have been killed.”

The Japanese knight was astonished and ashamed of himself. He bowed to him and disappeared.

Sermon Dirt (A Man in the Moonlight)

Once, there was a man walking in the moonlight in a very cold winter. Then, he saw a glittering thing on the road. It was apparently a gold watch. He looked around him, and found that he was alone. He swiftly put it into his pocket and went home. After arriving home, he took it out and found it was a frozen spittle beginning to melt on his hand.

This is a figurative story about the 49 years’ sermon of Buddha, which is so much dirty when compared to one’s own true mind. Just before his death, Sakyamuni himself said that he had never preached a sermon. All the Buddhist scriptures are said to be a leaf with which parents soothed crying children in old days. They said,”This is money.”

Source of Happiness

Where does so-called happiness come from ?   Following is a figurative story about happiness :   A dog got a bone on the road.  He started eating and biting the bone.  The bone shed delicious broth continuously.  However, in fact, the broth was its blood flowing from its gum hurt by the bone edge.  This means that happiness comes from our own mind, not from the objective like money, status, power, etc.  If you don’t fully agree to this,  please figure out the reason.  It is said that happiness comes from the peace of mind.

One Blind Man

One blind man was walking along the winding road in a valley. One side of the road was steep slope and cliff. Absorbed in fresh air and birds’ songs, he stumbled over his step and fell over the cliff. Fortunately, however, he took the branch of a tree on the cliff and began to shout, “Help me ! Save my life!” After a while, one man heard his voice, looked into what was happening and laughed, because just one foot below his feet was flat ground. The man said to him, “Just let go of it and you will be safe.” He repeated, but the blind man couldn’t follow his word until he was exhausted, because the branch was thought to be as good as his life.

Our zen teachers tell you to let go of your holdings for your eternity, but you don’t.

Comment : Letting go of your holdings is a matter in your mind, not necessarily throwing away actual things. However, the both ways are possible and natural.

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