Don’t Know Is Your True Nature

Posted on Oct 04 , 2011 in Blog

By Zen Master Ko Bong

If you want to understand
You don’t understand
If you attain don’t know
That is your true nature


Winter Kyol Che 2012

Posted on Oct 03 , 2011 in Blog

Winter Kyol Che 2012
  • Winter Kyol Che 2012 – Opening ceremony is Friday January 6 at 7:30PM. Kyol Che begins the following morning Saturday, January 7, 2012 and runs through Friday, March 30, 2012 – led by Zen Master Soeng HyangZen Master Bon ShimZen Master Bon HaengMyo Ji Sunim JDPSNancy Brown Hedgpeth JDPSN, and Tim Lerch JDPSN.
  • Entry is on Friday January 7, 2012 at 7:30pm, or any subsequent Saturday at 8:00am.
  • Exit is on Friday, March 30, 2012, or on any Saturday at 8:00am.
  • Minimum participation is one week.
  • The intensive week, which begins February 12, includes nightly midnight practice, and is limited to those who have previously sat retreats or who have entered this retreat earlier.
  • Teaching Schedule:
    Jan. 7 - 14: Zen Master Soeng Hyang
    Jan. 14 - Feb. 5: Zen Master Bon Shim
    Feb. 5 - 18:  Tim Lerch. JDPSN
    Feb. 18 - Feb. 25:  Zen Master Soeng Hyang
    Feb. 25 - March 3:  Nancy Hedgpeth, JDPSN
    March 3 - 10:  Zen Master Bon Haeng
    March 10 - March 17:  Nancy Hedgpeth, JDPSN
    March 17 - 24:  Zen Master Bon Haeng
    March 24 - 30:  Zen Master Soeng Hyang

For more detailed information, download the Kyol Che Information Booklet (pdf format).

Retreat fees are:

$4500/entire retreat or $455/week for non-members and associate members;

$3000/entire retreat or $315/week for students, clergy and school members;

$2500/entire retreat or $245/week for Dharma Teachers and Dharma Teachers in training in the Kwan Um School of Zen.

Half price for Eastern Europeans who are members in good standing of their home zen centers (does not apply to Eastern Europeans living in the U.S.).


To register for your retreat online – fill out the retreat registration form.

You can download and print the 2012 Heart Kyol Che PDF here: 2012 Heart Kyol Che


Leave Your Mind Alone

Posted on Sep 27 , 2011 in Blog

Excerpted from a dharma talk with Zen Master Wu Bong in September, 1991

Question: I have a friend who has amnesia. Could you explain this in Buddhist terms?

WBZM: In Buddhist psychology, we speak of eight kinds of consciousness. The first five are sensory-sight, smell, hearing, touch and taste. The sixth is mind consciousness, which controls our body, and the seventh is “discriminating consciousness,” which enables us to distinguish white from black or good from bad. The eighth consciousness is that which controls memory.


Sometimes these last three consciousness are split apart and don’t function together. The result might be amnesia, or perhaps a split personality. In extreme cases one personality doesn’t know what the other personality is doing. If you are practicing, however, you return to “before thinking.” Before thinking there is no first, second, third consciousness, etc. It is before any consciousness. If you keep this “before consciousness,” then amnesia and even a more serious kind of dysfunction can heal. The sixth, seventh and eighth consciousness can work together.

Practicing means you don’t use your consciousness; you let it rest. When your arm is damaged, you put it in a sling and let it heal. Otherwise you will damage it more and more. It’s the same way with your mind; if you leave it alone, it will heal. Leaving it alone means returning to before thinking. This is the purpose of Zen meditation.

Q: I have trouble deciding things. Is there some way practicing can help?

WBZM: I have a secret technique which I’ve been teaching for several years now. Take a coin (laughter) and throw it up in the air. By the time you catch it, you usually know what way you want it to come up. You don’t even have to look. Just do it.

From the vantage point of distance, most decisions are not so important Either way will be OK. Why you do what you do is most important-is it for me or for others? If your direction is clear, then your choice is also clear. But sometimes you cannot decide what is helpful, so flip a coin. It’s OK.

Q: My desires seem to come in two varieties: low elm, like “I want that cheesecake” or “I want that woman in a bikini,” and high class, like I really want to see peace in this world” or “I want to see my family flourish.” Is this the difference you’re talking about?

WBZM: Not exactly. We talk about desire versus aspiration. Every morning at our Zen centers we recite “Sentient beings are numberless, we vow to save them all.” That vow’s direction is for others. That is aspiration.

Desire means “for me.” You said, for example, “my family will flourish.” Why only “my family?” That is desire mind. But, “May all families flourish.” Not only human families. Tree family, cat family, dog family … Then there is no I, my, me. Or someone says I want enlightenment” That, again, is desire mind.

But suppose someone says I don’t understand my true self, what is this “I”? That question takes away desire mind. If you cultivate desire, desire will grow. If you cultivate Great Question, thinking calms down and desires disappear. Thinking itself is not a problem, but if you let your desires and thinking control your actions, then you do have a problem. Let’s say a feeling or an idea appears, and you know it’s not correct to act on it. If you’re practicing, you’ve learned to let what appears in your consciousness pass. If you’re not practicing, it’s harder to control your actions. Even though you know something’s not correct, you still do it. Or something should be done, but you don’t do it. Later you say, “Why did I do that?’ But the next time is not any different. When I was a university student, I remember vowing after each exam that the next time my preparation would begin well ahead of time. I was never able to keep that vow, which means that my laziness thinking was quite strong. I wasn’t practicing hard enough, so this lazy mind controlled me.

Q: You said “don’t check yourself, don’t check others.” What does this mean?

WBZM: When you are practicing, uncomfortable thoughts and feelings often arise. We are accustomed to running away from these things. One way we try to escape when we’re alone on the cushion is to check ourselves: “Oh, I am no good. I should not be thinking. I am a lousy Zen student.” Thinking about thinking is like putting a head on top of your head. Another way of escaping is to look at and judge others. It is much more amusing than dealing with our own predicament

Q: I saw a book named “If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him.” What does this mean?

WBZM: Zen means becoming independent. That is the Buddha’s teaching. Many people, however, become attached to teachers, attached to ideas, attached to words. It can be a kind of sickness. I heard a story about two friends walking down the street. One friend fell down, and the other one started to laugh. So the one who fell down said, “Look, that’s not very nice. In the Bible it says that even if your enemy falls into adversity, you must not laugh, or rejoice. His friend responded, “Yes, of course I read that in the Bible, but it doesn’t say anything about laughing when your friend falls down.” That’s a joke of course, but sadly we do attach to words, usually missing what they point at.

To be independent means that you find for yourself what the truth is. Don’t just take someone’s word for it, no matter how famous a person it is. If you attach to someone, you attach to someone’s ideas, judgments, opinions. So if you meet the Buddha on the road you must kill him. Those are good words! However, even more importantly, when you meet your own 1, my, me, kill them. Think of your life as a kind of a laboratory. You hear of a good formula. Don’t accept it automatically. Test it in your fife. If it really works, then use it, and teach it to others. If it doesn’t, throw it out Kill the Buddha, because you are the most important authority. That means that you must become Buddha. That means that your practicing is most important

Q: Do you mean practicing, as you people do here in this room?

WBZM: Earlier this morning I asked you “What are you?” You were stuck, and unable to answer. That is our practice. Formal practice, which is what we do twice a day in this room, is only a technique, albeit a very important one. We can easily talk about keeping a don’t know mind, but it is not always easy to actually do it. Even ten or fifteen minutes a day of formal practice can help us carry that practice into the rest of our life.

In your daily life, when you are doing something, do it one hundred percent. Then you are completely awake. If you are dreaming, wake up. Good dream or bad dream, dream of the past, the present, or the future, it does not matter. Become awake! Become an awakened one. Become Buddha.


Understanding Human Nature

Posted on Sep 21 , 2011 in Blog

By Zen Master Dae Kwang

As soon as the war was over, Korea split into south and north. What everybody thought was going to bring happiness actually brought more conflicts and more suffering. It happened like that in Iraq. The war was supposed to bring peace, but what happened? So inside, Zen Master Seung Sahn had this big question: what can I do? Why is there so much suffering? He went to a temple and took some Western philosophy books with him, because he had an idea: he would read all these books, then he would understand what human beings are all about, and then he could help them.

For months, he read philosophy books. One day, an old monk who took care of the woods around the temple walked by his small hermitage. The monk saw this young man reading a book by Plato, the Greek philosopher, and was very surprised. So the monk asked him, “What are you doing?”

Zen Master Seung Sahn said, “I am reading these philosophy books so that I can understand what human beings are.”

The monk suddenly knocked the book out of Zen Master Seung Sahn’s hands and said, “That book will not help you understand human beings.”

But Zen Master Seung Sahn’s mind was very strong. He looked up at the old monk and asked, “Do you understand human beings?” Very clever. It is just like a story in the book by Plato. It was five hundred years before the modern era. A philosopher, Socrates, liked to ask everybody he met: do you understand yourself? One time a person asked him right back: Do you? And Socrates said, “No, I don’t. I don’t understand my self. But I understand this ‘don’t know’ very well.” Very interesting.

So, when Zen Master Seung Sahn asked the old monk, “Do you understand human beings?”, the old monk said, “No, I don’t, but I understand that the sky is blue and the trees are green.”

Then BOOM!

Zen Master Seung Sahn understood this man was not the usual style of monk. So he asked the old monk, “What should I do? What can I do to understand?” The old monk said, “You should do a hundred day solo retreat. Practice very hard and you will understand.” So it is just like the Buddha. He left his good situation and looked inside. Zen Master Seung Sahn did a long retreat and looked inside. You, too, can look inside. The outside situation is not so important. What is important is to look inside.


Three Steps to the Left, Around the Front of the Car

Posted on Sep 13 , 2011 in Blog

by Zen Master Bon Haeng on Jan 1, 1992

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.


A Multifaith Collaboration of Clergy

Posted on Sep 07 , 2011 in Blog

The Office of the Chaplains and Religious Life at Brown University together with Rhode Island Voices of Faith, a multifaith collaboration of clergy sponsored the Rhode Island State Council of Churches will join with civic and community leaders, to host two events on Sunday, September 11, in commemoration of the tenth anniversary of 9/11. All are warmly invited.

At 2 p.m., the public is invited to take part in the ancient practice of walking a spiritual labyrinth that will be inscribed on the Main Green. Additional peace-building and wellness activities will also be available.

At 4 p.m., the community will gather for an outdoor multi-faith service: “Remembering 9.11 Together: A Rite of Remembrance,” held on the lawn of Manning Chapel, located just inside the Van Wickle Gates at the intersection of Prospect and College Streets. Beginning with the tolling of the University’s bells, the service will include musical offerings and readings led by both the Chaplains of the University and a statewide multi-faith delegation of clergy. Closing remarks will be given by Brown University President Ruth J. Simmons.


The Dog Runs Away with the Bone

Posted on Sep 06 , 2011 in Blog

An eminent teacher once said, “Original consciousness is always clear. Beyond the six roots and six consciousnesses and six dusts, it is not hindered by speech or words. True nature is not dyed. It is already round and clear. Put down all thinking: right now is your true self.”

You say that you were attached to emptiness. But a true attachment to emptiness is without words or speech. Just understanding emptiness is different from being truly attached to emptiness.

I am glad that your sitting is getting stronger. You say that your body and mind are still not integrated. This Is thinking. If you cut off all thinking, your mind becomes true emptiness. True emptiness is before thinking. Before thinking there are no words and no things. So where is there a body or a mind to be integrated?

You must always keep “What am I?” At first the question is very small, Then it grows and grows and grows until it fills the whole universe. And then, when it bursts, the great question itself becomes enlightenment.

Here is a poem for you:

Buddha said all things have Buddha-nature.
Jo-ju said the dog has no Buddha-nature.
But Buddha and Jo-ju don’t know Buddha-nature.
The dog runs away with the bone.

Yours sincerely,

S. S.


Living in a Dream

Posted on Aug 30 , 2011 in Blog

Once someone asked Buddha, “What are you? A god? A celestial being? A holy man? A human being?”

Buddha replied, “I am awake.”

A Hindu legend:

Once there was a holy man named Narada, whose great learning impressed the gods, even Vishnu who sleeps on a bed of cobras above the dark lake of infinity and whose very own dream is the universe.

One day Vishnu came to Narada and offered him a single wish; Narada answered that he would like to understand Maya, the illusion of the worlds dreamed by Vishnu. “Very well” said the god. “Let’s go for a walk.”

So Vishnu and Narada began a trek that would take them across the whole of Hindustan: through the teeming streets of Calcutta, along the banks of the holy Ganges, into the stifling forests that belonged to the Bengal tiger, and out across the plains of Uttar Pradesh, which grew hotter and hotter until the grass disappeared and their feet trod the burning desert of Rajasthan.

In the desert, Vishnu beckoned Narada to him: “My son, I am thirsty. There is an oasis around this dune. Please go and fetch me some water.” So Narada went. He found the oasis, where spring water greened the fields of a small village. Seeking permission to draw from the well, he knocked on the door of the first hut. A young woman answered, and at the moment that Narada’s eyes met hers he forgot his mission, forgot everything from before.

Narada stayed and married the beautiful young woman. They had two children. He was very happy, coaxing grain from the soil, working beside his loving wife and watching his children grow.

Twelve years went by, and one day an unusually dark storm rolled in from the north. Thunder boomed and rain came down in sheets. Narada tried to gather his family in his arms but the flood hit too quickly and plunged them into an inky swirl that separated them all. In a frenzy, he dove and thrashed and cried the names of his wife and children, but in the dark swirling water he could grasp nothing. Exhausted and heartbroken, he gave in to the raging current and the water swept him away.

Narada awoke face down in the sand under the blazing sun. He heard a voice: “My son, where is the drink you promised me? It’s been half an hour.” Narada looked into Vishnu’s face. After a moment the god said, “Now you understand my dream.”

Vishnu dreams the entire universe; his dream is the ten thousand things. Narada is also dreaming inside of Vishnu’s dream! You and I are also living in a dream. It might be a happy dream or a sad one, a prosperous dream or a poor dream; it might be a selfish dream or a selfless dream. Maybe we are having a Zen dream or a “practicing in order to help all beings” dream.

Buddha said, “I am awake.” This is the teaching of all the Buddhas and eminent teachers. Wake up! Whenever we wake up from our dream-even if only for a single moment-we attain our original job. When we attain our original job and just do it, we are using Vishnu’s dream to save all beings from suffering.

By Tim Lerch JDPSN





No Power but Plenty of Practice

Posted on Aug 29 , 2011 in Blog

Just a quick FYI that although Providence Zen Center is without power due to Tropical Storm Irene moving through the area yesterday, practice is continuing as scheduled. We have plenty of candles to keep the Dharma Room lit. Thank You!


Inka Speech, José Ramírez JDPSN

Posted on Aug 28 , 2011 in Blog

Jose Ramirez JDPSNby  on Apr 1, 2002

[Raises the Zen stick over his head, then hits the table with the stick.] 
If you think I have an accent, you’re attached to name and form.
[Raises the Zen stick over his head, then hits the table with the stick.] 
If you think I don’t have an accent, you’re attached to emptiness.
[Raises the Zen stick over his head, then hits the table with the stick.] 
What is the original accent?
Waaaaa! Waaaaaaa! Waaaaaaaaa!

A loose translation of a stanza in the third patriarch’s poem, “Trust in Mind,” reads:

We have the tendency to think that things

are right or wrong,

And we stick to the “idea” of right or wrong.

If we do not know the true meaning of this,

Only sitting, meditating quietly, is of no use.

Zen Master Seung Sahn used to say, “If you are thinking, your mind, my mind, all the people’s minds, are different. If you are thinking, then your checking mind appears.” Yes, when we are thinking, we make, “I like this, I don’t like that.” You hear my accent and think, “I don’t like people with accents. How come they cannot speak like us?” Or, you hear my accent and say, “Oh, I love that Spanish accent, it makes me think of Ricardo Montalban!” or for the younger people in the audience, Antonio Banderas. Isn’t that the human condition of picking and choosing?

Our Zen group practices in the sanctuary of a church, and every Wednesday night when we get there, there are lots of chairs to move. We have to set up the altar; we have to unpack boxes. And after all these years of practice, my mind still goes, “Why do we have to move all these chairs? If we only had our own place, then things would be better.” But the truth is, that the moment we stop making, “I don’t like moving all these chairs,” we just move the chairs and are done with it. All the meditation in the world is not going to help us if we don’t stop picking and choosing, and start functioning according to the situation.

I was involved in some diversity activities in the company I work for, and at a meeting one time someone said: “Because I speak with an accent, it doesn’t mean I think with an accent.” My reaction to that was, “Wow, that’s great! I wish I had said that!” But it also pointed me to the fact that the original accent has no this or that, that the original accent is not dependent on words or speech. A smile is a smile in any language. A baby’s cry does not depend on words. The great mime Marcel Marceau once said, “Isn’t it amazing that the most moving moments in our lives find us without words?”

The last two verses in the stanza read:

If we do not know the true meaning of this,

Only sitting, meditating quietly, is of no use.

That reminds me of the story of Zen Master Ma Tsu. Zen Master Ma Tsu was constantly sitting in meditation in his hut. One day, his teacher, Zen Master Nan Yue, came by and said, “What are you trying to accomplish with your sitting?” “Oh, I am trying to become a Buddha!” Ma Tsu said. At that moment, Nan Yue picked up a brick and started polishing it. Shhhhhrrrrp, shhhhhrrrrp, shhhhhrrrrp… So all this grinding noise got Ma Tsu out of his meditation. He got up and said, “What are you doing?” And Nan Yue said, “Oh, I am making a mirror.” Ma Tsu said, “A mirror? There is no way you can make a mirror out of polishing a brick.” Zen Master Nan Yue said, “There is no way you can become a Buddha by doing zazen.” At the end of the exchange, Zen Master Nan Yue said: “If you are attached to sitting you will not attain the true meaning.”

I want to thank the three women in my life that have always been a mirror for the things I cannot see in myself, or that I don’t want to see in myself. The three women that at this moment are probably asking, “You’re giving inka to who?!” My wife Brenda, who for the past fifteen years has unconditionally supported this practice, and that is a practice in itself. I love you. My daughter, Oriana, for whom, like Ikkyu’s daughter, “a Zen Master is no match for her!” She is always teaching me about correct function. Whenever I travel, she makes sure I call Bill, or I let the sangha know that I will not be at meditation. And my aunt Yaya, the woman who raised me, that even though she’s a little sad because she feels I have abandoned my religion, (I was raised Catholic,) she came several times to the Providence Zen Center, and saw me become a senior dharma teacher from the back of this room.

I also want to thank Zen Master Seung Sahn for his legacy, all of you sitting in front of me. My teacher Zen Master Dae Kwang, and all the teachers of the Kwan Um School of Zen who keep “pulling the rug from underneath my feet.” And the Delaware Valley Zen Center Sangha, represented here today by Bill and Denise, for their strong effort and for their strong practice.

[Raises the Zen stick over his head, then hits the table with the stick.] 
Buddha held up a flower. What was his accent?
[Raises the Zen stick over his head, then hits the table with the stick.] 
JoJu said, “Mu.” What was his accent?
[Raises Zen stick over his head, then hits table with stick.] 
Buddha used no words. JoJu used one word. What will you use?
The baby cries, and the father changes her diaper.

from The Kwan Um School of Zen website