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


Television Zen

Posted on Aug 23 , 2011 in Blog

(Response to a letter. From the book Dropping Ashes on the Buddha)

Dear Patricia,

Thank you for your letter. How are you?

You said in your letter that you have read many books about Zen. That’s good, but if you are thinking, you can’t understand Zen. Anything that can be written, anything that can be said – all this is thinking. If you are thinking, all Zen books, all Buddhist sutras, and all Bibles are demons’ words. But if you read with a mind that has cut off all thinking, then Zen books, sutras, and Bibles are all the truth. So is the barking of a dog or the crowing of a rooster. All things are teaching you at every moment, and these sounds are even better teaching than Zen books. So Zen is keeping the mind which is before thinking. Sciences and academic studies are after thinking. We must return to before thinking. Then we will attain our true self.

You said in your letter that your practice has been counting exhalations to ten. This method is not good, not bad. It is possible to practice in this way when you are sitting. But when you are driving, when you are talking, when you are watching television, when you are playing tennis, how is it possible to count your breaths then? Sitting is only a small part of practicing Zen. The true meaning of sitting Zen is to cut off all thinking and keep not-moving mind. So I ask you: what are you? You don’t know; there is only “I don’t know.” Always keep this don’t know mind. When this don’t know mind becomes clear, then you will understand. So if you keep it when you are talking, this is talking Zen. If you keep it when you are watching television, this is television Zen. You must keep don’t know mind always and everywhere. This is the true practice of Zen.

The Great Way is not difficult
if you don’t make distinctions.
Only throw away likes and dislikes
and everything will be perfectly clear.

So throw away all opinions, all likes and dislikes, and only keep the mind that doesn’t know. This is very important. Don’t know mind is the mind that cuts off all thinking. When all thinking has been cut off, you become empty mind. This is before thinking. Your before thinking mind, my before thinking mind, all people’s before thinking minds are the same. This is your substance. Your substance, my substance, and the substance of the whole universe become one. So the tree, the mountain, the cloud and you become one. Then I ask you: Are the mountain and you the same or different? If you say “the same,” I will hit you thirty times. If you say “different,” I will still hit you thirty times. Why?

The mind that becomes one with the universe is before thinking. Before thinking there are no words. “Same” and “different” are opposite words; they are from the mind that separates all things. That is why I will hit you if you say either one. So what would be a good answer? If you don’t understand, only keep don’t know mind for a while, and you will soon have a good answer. If you do, please send it to me.

You asked why I use words to teach, if understanding through words is impossible. Words are not necessary. But they are very necessary. If you are attached to words, you cannot return to your true self. If you are not attached to words, soon you will attain enlightenment. So if you are thinking, words are very bad. But if you are not thinking, all words and all things that you can see or hear or smell or taste or touch will help you. So it is very important for you to cut off your thinking and your attachments to words.

Here is a poem for you:

Buddha said all things have Buddha-nature.
Joju said the dog has no Buddha-nature.
Which one is correct?
If you open your mouth, you fall into hell.
Clouds float up to the sky;
rainfalls down to the ground.

Sincerely yours,

Seung Sahn


Summer Kyol Che 2011 Opening Ceremony Talk

Posted on Aug 21 , 2011 in Blog

Dharma Talk given by Zen Master Hae Kwang at Providence Zen Center, August 1, 2011.


A Free Gift for You!

Posted on Aug 16 , 2011 in Blog

Excerpted from a talk at Cambridge Zen Center on May 7, 1993

Question: What’s the relationship between karma and free will?

Zen Master Seung Sahn: Even if you decide, you cannot decide anything. When you are born, already everything has been determined. So, everything is already decided. Decide… something will happen. Don’t decide… something will happen. I ask you: Why were you born in this world? Why?

Q: I’m here talking to you so…

ZMSS: That’s just an idea. Talking, what kind of “talking to me”? “I” is not necessary. I ask you.

Q: You already know.

ZMSS: Ah, I don’t know. So, when you are born… we say “put it all down.” That means when you are born, already your karma appears. So, if you want to understand your past life, look at what you receive now. What do you get, now? If you want to understand your previous life… what do you do now?

Q: So, my question is: at this moment, is there something that I am deciding? Or is there no such thing as a decision? Am I deciding what will happen to me? Or maybe I don’t have to decide anything?

ZMSS: Decide anything?

Q: Do I have free will or don’t I?

ZMSS: Who said that?

Q: That’s the point. Is there something that decides or is there nothing that decides?

ZMSS: Of course. If you decide to come into this world, “you can decide” is possible. But even if you decide something, you cannot get anything.

Q: I was afraid of that. [laughter from the audience]

ZMSS: If I want a life that lasts a thousand years… it’s not possible! Before one thousand years, already you are dead. So, if you understand what human beings arewhat this world is really like-then you understand that you cannot decide anything. You only have this moment. If this moment is clear, then your whole life is clear. Also, your next life is clear. “This moment clear” means: “What are you doing now? Just do it!” Do not make a choice this way or that. Even with a choice you cannot get anything- that’s human beings! But if you attain this moment, you can do anything — that’s the point. You must attain this moment. Then you can do anything. If you lose this moment, you cannot do anything. I give you this as a present… very important. Also very expensive, but you don’t have to pay today. [laughter from audience] Free — good Zen Master, eh? [more laughter from audience]


Shoot The Buddha

Posted on Aug 09 , 2011 in Blog

After a talk at the Cambridge Zen Center, a young woman said to Zen Master Seung Sahn, “Tomorrow is my son’s birthday, and he told me he wants either a toy gun or money. But I have a problem: as a Zen student, I want to teach him not to hurt or crave things. So I don’t want to give him a toy gun or money.”

Zen Master Seung Sahn replied, “A toy gun is necessary! [Laughter] If you give him money, he will only go out and buy a toy gun. [Laughter]

“Your son wants a toy gun. This gun means: ‘How do you use it correctly?’ That’s very important–more important than just having a gun or not. If you use this gun correctly, you can help many people, but if it is not used correctly, then maybe you will kill yourself, kill your country, kill other people. So the gun itself is originally not good, not bad. More importantly, what is the correct function of this gun? So you can buy this gun, and give it to your son. Then you talk to him and tell him, ‘You must use this gun correctly. If Buddha appears, kill him! If the eminent teachers appear, kill! If a Zen Master appears, you must kill! If anything appears, you must kill it, OK? [Laughter] Then you will become Buddha!’ [Much laughter] So you must teach your son in this way. The gun itself is not good or bad. These are only names. Most importantly, why do you do something?”


Peace Walk…Save the Date

Posted on Aug 07 , 2011 in Blog















Hyon Gak Sunim and Dae Soeng Sunim visit PZC

Posted on Aug 05 , 2011 in Blog

Today we were honored by a short visit from Hyon Gak Sunim and Dae Soeng Sunim. We spent some time talking over coffee in the kitchen before taking them for a small tour of the temple grounds. Here are some photos we took while walking around, enjoy!

Diamond Hill Zen Monastery

Walking up to the monastery.

Group photo in front of ZM Seung Sahn Memorial Pagoda

Group shot in front of Diamond Hill Monastery

Inside Jung Wol Gak Hermitage

Observing the mushroom logs.

House Master Troy Rapp showing Hyon Gak Sunim the chickens.

One more teaching moment before going.






Vegetarian Dinner | Meditation Instruction | Long Sitting

Posted on Aug 04 , 2011 in Blog & Upcoming Events

Wednesday Open House Free and Open to the Public

5:30pm Public vegetarian dinner
6:30pm Meditation instruction class
6:30pm Special Chanting
7:00pm Regular Chanting
7:30pm Two sitting periods with walking meditation in between.



Our Wednesday open house, like most of our public programs, is always free, but any donations are gratefully accepted. If you would like to make a donation to our center, you can do it securely online with credit card or PayPal.


How To Eat

Posted on Aug 02 , 2011 in Blog

An eminent teacher said, “A day without work is a day without eating.”
There are two kinds of work: inside work and outside work. Inside work is keeping clear mind. Outside work is cutting off selfish desires and helping others.
First work, then eat.
Eat in silence. Do not make unnecessary noise.
While eating, attend only to yourself. Do not be concerned with the actions of others.
Accept what is served with gratitude. Do not cling to your likes and dislikes.
Do not seek satisfaction in eating. Eat only to support yourself in your practice.
Though you may eat good food all your life, your body will die.

The Great Way is not difficult.
Simply cut off all thought of good and bad.
Salt is salty,
Sugar is sweet.

(From the Temple Rules by Zen Master Sueng Sahn)