A holy person came with his elephant to a remote village that was suffering from severe drought. On the back of the elephant he brought a large vessel of fresh water to the home of six blind men who always stuck together to help each other, but somehow always quarreled. After the water pot was lowered from the elephants back, down to the ground, the first blind man reached out and caught hold of the elephant’s tail. “The elephant,” he declared, “is like a piece of rope.”
The second man grabbed an ear and said, “No, the elephant is like the leaf of a banana sapling.”
The third man was holding the trunk and said, “Wrong. The elephant is very much like a huge snake.”
The fourth man had his arms around one of the elephant’s legs. “What nonsense are you talking!” he exclaimed. “It is definitely like a pillar.”
“Wrong,” cried out the fifth blind man, clinging to a tusk. “You are all misled. The elephant is certainly like the branch from a magnolia tree.”
The sixth man, rubbing the elephant’s belly, said, “Can’t any of you see? It’s obvious the elephant is like a sack of grains.”
Soon a quarrel erupted between them. While they were on the ground punching and tearing each other’s hair, they rolled right into the water vessel. All the water spilled out onto the ground while the elephant stood by looking on with an expression of pity.
Last Friday we finished our annual three month Winter Kyol Che retreat and entered into the Hae Jae period. Kyol Che is the intensive meditation retreat period and Hae Jae is the looser, less formally scheduled period in the spring and autumn. The Hae Jae period provides more of an opportunity to practice in everyday life situations. During this time, monks and nuns traditionally travel from temple to temple to visit other great masters at or meet with their Doban (Dharma friends).
To celebrate, here is a video of Zen Master Seung Sahn giving the Hae Jae talk at the end of Winter Kyol Che 2004 in Korea. This is probably one of the last recordings that capture his Dharma and it’s wonderful to see so many of his senior students practicing together in the same room. Enjoy!
Our world is supported by three columns: time, space and cause and effect. But, where do time and space come from? Also, who makes cause and effect? Time, space and cause and effect are made by thinking. Our thinking makes everything. So the three columns that support our world are created by our mind.
But if our mind disappears, then thinking disappears. If thinking disappears then time, space and cause and effect disappear; then empty world appears. Empty … completely empty. Another name for “empty world” is Substance. This is the Substance of the whole universe: human being’s substance, dog’s substance, everything’s substance.
Ten thousand dharmas return to one. This one comes from where? During interviews everybody hits the floor: BOOM! Everything becomes one point: no name, no form, no space, no cause and effect., no time … nothing at all. The name for this is the Absolute. If you open your mouth about the Absolute then you’vetruth already made a mistake. Only action.
If you keep that point for a long time, then you see clearly, hear clearly, smell clearly, taste clearly, touch clearly, think clearly, and act clearly. Which means the sky is blue; trees are green; the dog is barking – woof, woof; sugar is sweet. Then, when you see, when you hear, when you smell, everything, just as it is, is the truth. Truth is beyond time and space, cause and effect. There are no opposites. This is the Absolute. If you attain this point, you attain the truth.
How can this point function correctly? Most important in our practice is a clear direction; then a correct life is possible. This world has a lot of suffering. How can we help all beings? The name for that is bodhisattva action. If you wake up moment to moment and keep a clear mind, then correct direction and truth and correct life are always in front of you. Then your action, your life, and you are never separate.
However, if this moment is not clear, then time and space, cause and effect will control you. That means your mind makes subject/object world. If your mind is clear, then subject and object disappear. This is the Absolute. Then everything is clear in front of you, and helping this world is possible.
When someone passes away, in addition to a funeral service that usually occurs three or seven days after the death, we have a ceremony on the 49th day. Traditionally, the period of 49 days after someone dies is seen as a time for that person to check their consciousness and digest their karma. According to Buddhist teaching the bodhisattva Ji Jang Bosal helps the deceased during these 49 days to perceive their karma so when they return they are reborn to help this world, rather than continue in the cycle of birth and death. Religious Buddhism teachers that there is a life in this body, then a time of investigation or consideration, and then a new life in a new body.
But the truth is, we don’t know what happens when we die. The Buddhist teaching about death can be helpful in that it gives us a good feeling, some sense of comfort in this mystery. This framework that can be helpful in the grieving process, but the Buddha taught that originally there is no life or death. Our true self is infinite in time and space. Don’t Know Mind doesn’t have a beginning or an ending. Zen Master Seung Sahn’s teaching is to wake up in this moment and attain our true nature. When we keep a Don’t Know Mind we are addressing the big question of life and death moment to moment. The big meaning of a 49-day ceremony is to wake up just now. Actually, whenever anybody dies, they are teaching us that we must wake up, because our lives only occur in this moment [snaps fingers]. Just that.
Koan practice means pulling the rug out from under your thinking. When you do this, it becomes starkly clear that thinking has nothing to do with your true nature. Your true nature is before thinking. Kong-ans can’t be approached with your thinking, they must be approached with your confidence. This means asking, “Do I believe in myself? Can I trust life’s experience this very moment?”
We may think that confidence is an encyclopedia salesperson ringing a doorbell, confident in what she’s selling. This isn’t confidence, this is selling yourself something, selling yourself an idea and making it so strong, you can’t be open to the universe. True confidence is completely accepting your not-knowing. It’s accepting that no one knows and understanding that this is okay. When you do this, your universe becomes bigger. But when you take one idea, formulate something, and become attached to it, your universe shrinks. So let your universe become large. Let your sitting be without boundaries, and a good answer will appear all by itself.
“Enlightenment is only a name,” replied Zen Master Sueng Sahn. “If you make enlightenment, then enlightenment exists. But if enlightenment exists, then ignorance exists, too. And that already makes an opposites-world. Good and bad, right and wrong, enlightened and ignorant—all of these are opposites.
All opposites are just your own thinking. But truth is absolute, and is before any thinking or opposites appear. So if you make something, you will get something, and that something will be a hindrance. But if you don’t make anything, you will get everything, OK?”
Here’s a video about Zen practice from a Korean Buddhist TV network that includes some great footage of the Zen Center, clips of Do Am Sunim, JDPS and many other teachers in our school, including our Co-Guiding Teacher Nancy Hedgpeth, JDPSN. There’s a short interview with former PZC resident, Senior Dharma Teacher and Managing Editor of Primary Point, Tamarind Jordan where she talk about her experience with Zen and how being able to ask the question, “What am I?” is much more valuable than any answer she has found.
Bowing practice means that your body and your mind become one very quickly. Also, it is a very good way to take away lazy mind, desire mind and angry mind.
When you’re sleeping, your body’s lying in your bed, but your mind flies around and goes somewhere. Maybe you go to Las Vegas or you go to the ocean or you go to New York, or some monster is chasing you. Your body’s in bed, but your consciousness already went somewhere. When we wake up, many times, our consciousness and our body don’t quickly connect. So you wander around your house, and drink coffee, you bump into things.
Then slowly, slowly your consciousness and your body again come together. So that’s why, first thing in the morning, we do one hundred and eight bows. Through these one hundred and eight bows, your body and your consciousness become one very quickly. In this way, being clear and functioning clearly is possible.
We always bow one hundred and eight times. One hundred and eight is a number from Hinduism and Buddhism. That means there are one hundred and eight defilements in the mind. Or, sometimes they say one hundred and eight compartments in the mind. Each bow takes away one defilement, cleans one compartment in your mind. So our bowing practice is like a repentance ceremony every morning. In the daytime, in our sleep, our consciousness flies around somewhere. Also, we make something, we make many things in our consciousness. Then, we repent! So we do one hundred and eight bows; that’s already repenting our foolish thinking, taking away our foolish thinking.
Some people cannot sit. Sometimes due to health limitations or they have too much thinking, and if they sit, they cannot control their consciousness. Then, bowing is very good. Using your body in this way is very important.
The direction of bowing is very important. I want to put down my small I, see my true nature and help all beings. So, any kind of exercise can help your body and mind become one, but with just exercise, the direction is often not clear. Sometimes it’s for my health, sometimes it’s for my good looks, sometimes it’s to win a competition, but in Buddhism, everything’s direction is the same point – how to perceive my true nature and save all beings from suffering.
Our bowing takes away our karma mind, our thinking mind, and return to this moment very clearly, want to find my true nature and save all beings from suffering. This is why bowing practice is so important. If somebody has much anger, or much desire, or lazy mind, then every day, 300 bows, or 500 bows, even 1,000 bows, every day. Then their center will become very strong, they can control their karma, take away their karma, and become clear. This helps the practitioner and this world.
The practicer of Buddhism is the never-ending humbling of the ego. Humbling yourself before the world, by lowering your body you realize that you are one with everything. performing 108 prostrations is yet another path towards the realization of the True Self.
Everything in this world – the sun, the moon, the stars, mountain, rivers, and trees – everything is constantly moving. But there is one thing that never moves. It never comes or goes. It is never born and it never dies. What is this not-moving thing? Can you tell me? If you find that, you will find your true self and attain universal substance. But understanding cannot help you find that point. Even one hundred Ph.D.’s will not show you your true nature. If you were to read all eighty-four thousand sutras, learn all Buddha’s speech, and earnestly study all the teachings of all eminent Zen masters, you would never attain your true self through understanding. None of the struggle and toil that gets you this knowledge can help you as much as one moment of insight into your true nature.
Our true nature cannot be found in books and academic studies because our true nature is before speech and words. It is before thinking. If you find your before-thinking point, then it is possible to attain your true self. So, a long time ago, Descartes said, “I think, therefore I am.” This is where philosophy begins. But if you are not thinking, what? This is where Zen practice begins.