Question: You said earlier that on your hundred day retreat, you felt like you had enough sitting. What kind of mind did you have, that made you think like that?
Zen Master Su Bong: I had “I am” mind, which means “Oh, I’m already finished. I can do anything. I have freedom.” That mind.
Q: What did Zen Master Seung Sahn say to you?
ZMSB: I said to him, “Soen Sa Nim, now half of the retreat is over and it’s no problem.” Before, I had talked about always having this mind that wanted to try something, especially if someone said don’t do it. When I went on this retreat, the mind I had was not retreat mind. Lots of people go on retreats and think, “I’m going to practice hard for 90 days and only follow my schedule, and I will do it!” That’s try mind. When I went on retreat, I made up my schedule and then said, “I’ll see what it’s like.” So I didn’t have try mind, I had “see what it’s like” mind, kind of like “checking it out” mind.
When fifty days came and I wanted to leave, it was no problem. I had to hitchhike a long way, six or seven miles to the outskirts of a little town, to get to a public phone. I called Zen Master Seung Sahn and said, “The next fifty days are no problem. My body can do it. If you say, ‘stay,’ then I will stay. But why should I do that?” Asking him meant I thought I already had freedom mind and it wasn’t necessary to finish the retreat.
Zen Master Seung Sahn said, “You must only try.” I said, “Yes, I can, but why?” Then he said, “For all people,” and slammed down the phone. It took me two hours to get back home, and the only thing in my mind was “For all people – what on earth does that mean?” I asked him, why sit? And he said, for all people. What does this sitting do for all people?
For the next forty days I only had this question. I had no choice. It wasn’t that I asked myself the question; it was there all the time. “For all people – what on earth could that possibly mean?” It was there while I was eating, while sleeping, while practicing. I just wanted to vomit. I wanted it to be out and done with. I didn’t care whether I found an answer or not; I just didn’t want the question any more. Then one day I was sitting and all of a sudden it wasn’t there at all. I didn’t understand anything, but it wasn’t there. I was very happy.
Q: Did you finish the retreat?
ZMSB: Yes. That happened on the eighty-seventh day. I only had thirteen days more. Those last thirteen days were just a bliss-out because I didn’t have this frustrating question. It was like going to the beach and lying around, but better than that. I could just do it: get out, chant, sit, wash my clothes. I thought that was wonderful. When I came down from my retreat, I still had that good feeling for three days afterwards – “only do it” mind. Any kind of action, I could only do it. Some people said, Korean people like to take you out after a retreat like that, it’s a big deal. So let’s take you out to dinner. Let’s do this or that. Anything, I could do it. Then after 3 or 4 days it was done. “I” appeared, then all karma appeared. Then again, only sitting, still sitting, still trying, only go straight, don’t know.
Zen Master Su Bong, who died in July 1994 while leading a retreat in Hong Kong, was Zen Master Seung Sahn’s designated successor as School Zen Master.