Seung Sahn

‘Only don’t know.’ Brieven, gedichten en citaten van de Koreaanse sonmeester Seung Sahn Soen Sa Nim.

Seung Sahn (spreek uit: soeng sààn), 1927 – 2004, meestal gewoon Soen Sa Nim (zenmeester) of Dae Soen Sa Nim (grote zenmeester) genoemd, en geboren als Dok-in Lee, is vooral bekend geworden vanwege zijn don’t-know mind of weetnietgeest.

De Teaching Letters of Zen Master Seung Sahn bevat 1000 genummerde teksten, grotendeels zonder titel, waaronder koans, toespraken, gesprekken en brieven. Hieronder een selectie.

Redactie Hans van Dam, fotobewerking Lucienne van Dam.

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Tips: De Linji-lu, De Poortloze Poort


110

One day long ago, Seung Sahn Soen Sa was staying at a student’s house in Boston, and many people came for lunch.
One person asked, “With what mind do you practice Zen?”
“Did you eat lunch yesterday?”
“Yes.”
“The mind with which you ate lunch yesterday and the mind today—are they different or the same?”
“Different.”
“Why are they different?”
“Yesterday’s mind is past mind; today’s mind is present.”
“Where did yesterday’s mind go? Where is today’s mind coming from?”
The student couldn’t answer this question.
Soen Sa said, “The Diamond Sutra proclaims, ‘One cannot attain past mind, present mind, or future mind.’ Zen mind is no mind; mind is only name. Thus, there is no past, present, or future. If we put sugar in a glass of water, it becomes sweet; salt, it is salty; medicine, it becomes medicine. If we think good thoughts, our mind is good; bad thoughts, it is bad; no thoughts, it is empty. Emptiness is suchness of mind.”
“Thank you very much. I understand. This is Zen mind.”
“So you understand. This book and your mind, are they the different or the same?”
“They are the same.”
“You now understand that your mind is empty. This book is not empty. Why are they the same?”
For a short moment, the student’s mind overflowed with thoughts. Soen Sa hit him and asked, “Do you understand?”
“Yes, I understand.”
“What do you understand?”
“My mind is not empty.”
“Then, is it full?”
“Yes.”
“What is it full of?”
“Full is empty; empty is full.”
Soen Sa hit him once more. “Is this full or empty?”
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know. This don’t-know mind is Zen mind.”
The student bowed and thanked Soen Sa Nim.


138

After the lecture on the Buddha’s birthday, Soen Sa asked if there were any more questions.
One guest asked, “Some people say the Buddha is a divine entity, others say he was super-human and god-like, still others say he was just a wise old man who understood a little more than most. What is Buddha?”
“How did you get here?”
“By foot.”
“Why did you come by foot?”
“I had no car.”
“A man drives a car. What is it that drove your body here?”
“I don’t know.”
“The mind that doesn’t know is the Buddha.”
“Why do you celebrate Buddha’s birthday then?”
“As I mentioned earlier, the great Master Un-Moon once said, ‘On the Buddha’s birthday, as he sprang from the side of his mother, I hit him once and killed him, and gave him to a hungry dog. The entire world was at peace.’ Do you understand what this means?”
“No, I don’t.”
“This is the Buddha’s teaching. When you understand this, you will come to understand why we celebrate his birthday.”


142

One day a small boy named Sin Hae came to Hui-neng’s temple, and wanted Hui-neng’s teaching.
Hui-neng said, “You have come from far away. You are a very good boy. You want to learn Zen. Did you bring the origin of learning here? If you say you have the origin, then what is your Master? Quickly give me an answer!”
Sin Hae said, “No attachment to all things is the origin and perception is my Master.”
Zen Master Hui-neng said “Your language is very good.”
Sin Hae said, “I will ask you, when you sit Zen do you see or not see your Master?”
Just as soon as Sin Hae had said this Hui-neng hit him and asked, “Do you feel pain or not?”
Sin Hae said, “Sometimes painful, sometimes not painful.”
“Just so, sometimes I see my Master; sometimes I do not.”
Sin Hae asked, “Why sometimes see, sometimes not see?”
The Zen Master said, “When I see, I am mistaken. When I don’t see, other people are mistaken. When you feel pain, this is thinking. Thinking is for common people. When you do not feel pain, you are the same as a rock. The appearing and disappearing of feeling pain is all thinking. What you said before, ‘No attachment to all things is the origin,’ is not true. What can your Master do about perception?”
Sin Hae stood up and bowed, saying, “Teach me.”
The Zen Master said, “You should not think of good and bad; cut all thinking and all speech. Right now, what is your Master?”
Sin Hae bowed, saying, “I don’t know.”
The Zen Master said, “Keep this ‘don’t know’ mind at all times, and you will understand your Master.”
After the passing of a few years, Sin Hae said, “The ‘don’t know’ mind is origin of Buddha and of my Buddha-nature.”
Hui-neng said, “The ‘don’t know’ mind is no name and no form. Why do you say, ‘the origin of Buddha and of my Buddha-nature’!?”
Sin Hae just then understood and stood up and bowed three full bows. He went to the south and became a great Zen Master.


157

One day Seung Sahn Soen Sa stayed at the Dharma Zen Center in Los Angeles. A person came and asked him, “How are Christianity and Buddhism different?”
Soen Sa said, “They are the same.”
“Isn’t Christianity believing in God, and Buddhism is seeing nature and becoming Buddha? Why do you say they are the same?”
“Long ago an eminent teacher said, ‘Rocks, mountains, stars, and rivers all have the same nature!’ Therefore God’s and Buddha’s original natures are the same, although the names are different.”
“Christianity says that God is the creator of the existing Universe. God is all Holy, and thusly people believe in Him. Is this truth?”
Soen Sa said, “The Heart Sutra says, ‘Form is emptiness, emptiness is form.’ Then the Universe is emptiness. Emptiness is the Universe. So God is not the creator and the Universe does not exist. Only your thinking makes the Universe. If you were not thinking there would be no Universe.”
“I understand, but I am not sure what you mean about, ‘thinking makes the Universe and not thinking being no Universe.’”
Soen Sa said, “The philosopher Descartes said, ‘I think, therefore I am.’ ‘I am’ is having North, South, East, and West. The Orientals have East and West. The Americans have East and West. But East and West is different for each because their thinking is different. When you’re not thinking you have no East and West. You only become one with the Universe.”
“Thank you. I understand.”
“You are Christian. In the Bible, John 14:6, Jesus said, ‘I am the way, the truth, the life.’ This ‘I’ is what? Is it God, is it you, is it Jesus Christ?”
“I think this ‘I’ is God.”
“Now you said God. God never said, ‘I am God.’ God is not God. Only people make the name God. Your thinking is your having existence—having God. Not thinking is not having existence—only God and you are one.”
“Oh, I understand. Thank you, thank you.”
Soen Sa asked him, “Now are you God?”
“No.”
“Why no? No is thinking. You have an attachment to name. So if you say ‘no’ I will hit you thirty times. If you say ‘yes,’ I will hit you thirty times. What can you do?”
“I don’t know.”
“This ‘I don’t know’ mind is God, is Big I, is in the Bible ‘I’.”
There was silence.
Soen Sa said, “Inside it is very cold. Outside it is very hot.”


163

Every Sunday morning at the Providence Zen Center Seung Sahn Soen Sa has an interview with each of his students.
One one of these mornings a student came into Soen Sa’s room and bowed. Soen Sa asked, “What did you bring here?”
The student hit the floor.
Soen Sa said, “Is this truth?”
The student again hit the floor.
Soen Sa said, “You understand One. You do not understand Two.”
The student hit the floor again.
Soen Sa hit him thirty times, and the student left.
The next student came into the room, and Soen Sa asked, “What did you bring here?”
The student said, “I don’t know.”
Soen Sa asked, “How long have you sat Zen?”
The student answered, “I have been coming to the Providence Zen Center for three months. Before that, I did not sit Zen.”
Soen Sa asked, “Why do you sit Zen?”
“I have much thinking. I like this quietness.”
Soen Sa asked, “Where does this thinking come from?”
“I don’t know.”
Soen Sa said, “This ‘don’t know’ mind cuts all thinking and is the true quiet mind. So ask yourself, ‘What am I?’ all the time, and keep your ‘don’t know’ mind.”
The student said, “Thank you very much.”
Soen Sa said, “Next time, bring your ‘don’t know’ mind here.”
The student said, “Yes, sir,” and bowed and left.


168

After the Sunday evening lecture at the Providence Zen Center a student asked Seung Sahn Soen Sa, “What is the Koan?”

Soen Sa said, “Long ago Zen Masters would talk to their students, testing their minds to see if they had attained Satori, and to see how advanced their practice was. These Zen talks became known as Koans.”

The person asked, “Why do you now use the Koan?”

Soen Sa said, “Using the Koan is like pointing at the moon. If someone wants to see the moon it would be difficult to explain to this person with words where the moon is. However, it would be very simple just to point at the moon. The pointing hand is the Koan. The moon is the ‘before the original mind’. The hand is only showing the course to the moon. If you look at the hand you will not see the moon. If you become attached to the Koan you will not see your mind. The ‘before the original mind’ is the ‘I don’t know mind.’ The Koan cuts all thinking and makes an ‘I don’t know mind’ very to attain.”

“Then to understand my mind I should only concentrate on the Koan ‘What am I?’ and not devote myself to other things such as work?”

Soen Sa said, “When a mother sends her son to Vietnam even though she works, eats, talks to her friends, and watches television, she always keeps in her mind the question, ‘When will my son come home?’ Practicing Zen is the same. While working, while eating, while playing, while walking, and driving always keep the question, ‘What am I?’ Only sitting Zen is not Zen.”

“Thank you. There are many, many Koans, and they are all different. Why are there so many and how do you use them?”

Soen Sa said, “There are approximately 1,700 Koans. These Koans are only pointing at the student’s mind. Long ago Zen Master Dong-San when asked, ‘What is Buddha?’ would only answer, ‘Three pounds of flax.’ This answer is pointing at the student’s mind. When answering the question Dong-San was weighing three pounds of flax. If the student keeps this same mind he will keep a Zen mind. All thinking is cut and all attachments to name and form are dropped. Subsequently, the student will understand.”

The student understood, but was still a little uncertain. So, he asked Soen Sa to explain further.

Soen Sa said, “For example, a young girl lives with her parents, and her parents are strict and do not allow her to have any boyfriends. In spite of this, she has a boyfriend and they secretly meet at night. When her boyfriend comes he gives a signal by making a noise as if he were scaring birds away from the garden. If her parents are asleep she will ring a bell three times, however, if her parents are awake she will ring only twice and will not go to meet her boyfriend.”

“These signals have no meaning in themselves, they are only transmission mind.”
“The same is true of Dong-San’s answer; ‘Three pounds of flax,’ his mind and the flax were one. His answer has no meaning. It is only the transmission of emptiness, of the ‘before the original mind’ to the student.”

The student said, “Oh, now I understand.”

Soen Sa continued, “Another example: In the Orient a rich man’s house is very large. The master’s sleeping quarters are far from the entrance gate. If someone visits and knocks on the door with his hand, the knocking will not be heard by the master. Consequently, when someone comes they bang on the door with a rock, so the master will appear. Practicing the Koan is the same. It is cutting all thinking. When all thinking is cut the ‘before the original mind’ will appear.”

“The words of the Koan are not important. Only the question, the cutting of thinking, is important. Practicing the Koan is banging on the door with a big rock. Soon the master will appear. Keeping the Koan is keeping a Zen mind. A Zen mind is a clear mind. While reading, while driving, while watching television the mind is clear. This clear mind is the ‘before the original mind.’ So I wish that you all would keep this Zen mind, this clear mind, at all times and wherever you may go.”

All the students were happy. They sat Zen, chanted, and so the lecture was concluded.


181

Once one of Seung Sahn Soen Sa’s students was staying in Washington and invited his teacher for a visit to give some lectures on Zen there. At the first of the three talks, at the Yes restaurant, the student read two stories and gave a short introduction and then asked if there were any questions.
One person asked Seung Sahn Soen Sa, “How can one cut through thinking?”
“Where are you coming from?”
“New York.”
Soen Sa pointed at the person’s hand and asked, “Whose hand is that?”
“My hand.”
“And whose head is that?”
“My head.”
“And whose body?”
“My body.”
“Your body comes from New York. I did not ask where that came from. I asked where the real you comes from.”
The student shook his head for a while and finally said, “I don’t know.”
“Just now, your doubt has cut through thinking. Do you understand?”
“Yes, now I understand.”
“All right then, I will ask you a question. The Buddha once said, all things have Buddha-nature. Zen Master JoJu was once asked, ‘Does a dog have Buddha-nature?’ and he answered, ‘No.’ The Buddha said, ‘Yes.’ JoJu said, ‘No.’ Which answer is correct?”
“Both.”
“If you say they are both correct, I will hit you thirty times.”
At this much of the audience broke out laughing.
“In the Heart Sutra it is written, ‘form is emptiness, emptiness is form.’ Correct and incorrect are the products of thought. So when you say both answers are correct, I will hit you.”
“Now I understand.”
“All right, I will then ask you one more question. A master once visited one student on a mountain and asked him, ‘Do you have?’ The student raised his fist. The master said, ‘That answer will not do, it is no good.’ He then went to visit another student on a second mountain and asked the same question. The second student answered also with a raised fist. The master was delighted and said, ‘very good.’”
“Why, with the same question and same answer, did the master say one student was bad and the other one good?”
Again he could give no answer from his confusion.
Soen Sa hit the bench and said, “Your confusion over good and bad is due to your attachment. If you are thinking, your answers will be bad. When you have cut through your conceptions your answers will have no words. So, I answer thus, “ Soen Sa said, and hit the wall.
Now another person asked, “How is one able to practice and cut through thought?”
Soen Sa motioned for him to come to the front. After some hesitation he came up to the front, then stopped. Soen Sa waved him forward until he was directly in front, and then had him sit down. Soen Sa hit him on the back.
“Do you understand?”
“I don’t know.”
“That’s O.K. Keep this doubt at all times. In doing so, you will practice Zen.”
The student thanked Soen Sa and left.


182

Later Soen Sa went to a church. One of his students gave a short Dharma speech, and then asked for questions.
One person asked, “Why did you come to Washington?”
Soen Sa asked, “Why does the sun rise in the east?”
“That has no meaning.”
“Then my coming to Washington has no meaning.”

If you always keep the Bodhi-mind, you will find happiness everywhere.
You must keep the don’t know mind at all times, everywhere.
With the passing of time, the mind of great doubt and questioning grows clear, and the true self appears.


187

There was once a great Zen Master named Pop An Mun Ik (Fa-yen Wen-i.) He founded many temples, gave the Transmission to sixty-three of his disciples, and was the first patriarch of the Pop An School of Zen.

When Mun Ik was a student under Master Na Han, he was known for his phenomenal memory. He could recite many sutras word for word. He had also meditated a great deal, and his mind had become clear. He used to say to those who asked him about the Truth, “All the three worlds, all Dharmas, and all Buddhas are made by the mind alone.”

At this time in China, there were many wandering monks, who had freed themselves from all attachments and would travel from monastery to monastery and from master to master, like clouds across the empty sky. They were without hinderance.

Mun Ik had been admiring these monks and their way of life for some time. One day he decided to do as they did. He went to Na Han and said, “I’ve come to say goodbye, Master. I’m going to live the life of no hinderance from now on. So tomorrow I’ll be leaving you.”

The Master raised his eyebrows a tiny bit and said, “Fine, if you think you’re ready.”

Mun Ik said, “Oh, I’m ready all right.”

“Well,” said the Master, “let me test you, just to make sure. You often say that the whole universe is made by the mind alone. Look over there in the garden. Do you see those large rocks? Now tell me—are they inside your mind or outside it?”

Without the slightest hesitation, Mun Ik answered, “There is no truth outside the mind; all things are inside it.”

The Master chuckled and said, “You’d better go get a good night’s sleep. It’s going to be heavy traveling tomorrow, with all those rocks inside your mind.”

Mun Ik flushed with embarrassment and confusion, and looked down at the ground.

After a few moments, the master said, “When you try to understand, you are like a man dreaming that he can see. The Truth is right in front of you. It is alive, and infinitely great. How can human words contain it?”

Realizing his mistake, Mun Ik bowed and said, “Please, Master, teach me.”

The Master said, “All right, listen. Now you don’t know what the Truth is. This not-knowing is the earth, the sun, the stars, and the whole universe.”

As soon as Mun Ik heard these words, his mind shot open. He bowed deeply and said,
“Ah, Master, what else is ready now?”

Suddenly the Master shouted, “Mun Ik!”

Mun Ik shouted back, “Yes!”

“Very good,” said the Master. “Now that you are ready, you may go.”


189

After a Sunday night lecture at the Providence Zen Center, Seung Sahn Soen Sa said to his students, “If you discard all thoughts of attainment, you will then come to see the real purpose of your quest. Some of you want to reach enlightenment quickly and as soon as possible become a Zen Master. But as long as you have a thought like this, you’ll never attain anything. Just cut off all thoughts and all conceptions. Then, as you work hard on your koan, all the questions and doubts that you have will come to form one great mass. This mass will grow and grow, until you don’t care about eating or sleeping or anything
but finding the answer to the great question. When you reach this state, you will indeed quickly attain enlightenment.
Q 1: “If we didn’t want to get enlightenment, why would we take the trouble to come here?”
Soen Sa: “Desire and aspiration are two different things. The idea that you want to achieve something in Zen meditation is basically selfish. ‘I want to get enlightened’ means ‘I want to get enlightened.’ Aspiration is not for myself, it isn’t a merely individual desire, it transcends the idea of self. It is desire without attachment. If enlightenment comes, good. If it doesn’t come, good. Only don’t touch. Actually, this is enlightenment.”
Q 1: “Could you explain why?”
Soen Sa: “Originally there is no enlightenment. If I attain enlightenment, it’s not enlightenment. As the Heart Sutra says, there’s ‘no attainment, with nothing to attain.’ Enlightenment isn’t enlightenment. It’s just a teaching word.”
Q 1: “What does it teach?”
Soen Sa: “When you are hungry, eat. When you are tired, sleep.”
Q 1: “Sometimes I feel that meditating is very selfish. I really don’t feel I’m going to help others get enlightened by sitting Zen. I don’t even know what that means.”
Soen Sa: “What are you? What is this self that is feeling selfish? If you understand this, you’ll know that there is no real difference between your self and all beings in the universe. Ultimately, they are one and the same. You include all beings. So if you’re coming here for yourself, you’re coming for all beings.”
Q 2: “I don’t understand the difference between desire and aspiration. If you have the idea ‘I want to save all beings,’ isn’t there still the duality, I and all beings?”
Soen Sa: “Before you use those words, you must understand what the self is.”
Q 2: “Okay, tell me, what is it?”
Soen Sa: “Did you have dinner?”
Q 2: “Yes.”
Soen Sa: “What did it taste like?”
Q 2: “It tasted like rice.”
Soen Sa: “I will hit you thirty times.”
Q 2: “Ouch!” [Laughter]
Q 3: “Does this cat sleeping here have Buddha-nature?”
Soen Sa: “No.”
Q 3: “Do you have Buddha-nature?”
Soen Sa: “No.”
Q 3: “Do I have Buddha-nature?”
Soen Sa: “About half of it. (Loud Laughter)
Q 3: “But how can you divide Buddha-nature?”
Soen Sa: “I can’t, but you can. (Laughter)
Q 1: “What you said before is as clear as day. But I still feel selfish when I come here and my children want me to be with them at home.”
Soen Sa: “Let me ask you this: If you could do anything your heart desired, what would you want to do most of all?”
Q 1: (Laughs) “Get enlightened.”
Soen Sa: “And after you get enlightened, what will you do then?”
Q 1: “I don’t know.” (Laughter)
Soen Sa: “You want most of all to attain enlightenment. And you don’t know what in the world you will do with it. That not knowing is your true self. As long as you keep the desire to attain enlightenment, you will not attain. But desire brings you here to sit Zen. So come and sit. That is a first step.”


192

Dear Soen Sa Nim,

How are you? I hope your trip back to Providence was good and hope you still feel as strong as you did at Sambosa.

After you left I began the 21-day meditation. On the sixth day I began to feel very weak and had a high fever, but I tried to keep on for three more days. Finally Won Jang Nim said I should sleep, so I did for four days. When I tried to start sitting again I got sick again so Bo Sal Nim said I should rest a week or two and start 21 days again. Can you send a good day to start about a week or two from now? On the first days of the retreat it was hard staying inside and keeping my mind on the question all the time. Then the question began to grow more and more, and sometimes I felt completely lost. There was nothing that wasn’t wrapped up in it. When I got sick I slept all the time, and dreamed, but when I was awake I felt like I was up against a big, flat wall that I could never get through. What I want to know is, what is it that holds together the seeing and the hearing and the thinking and so on?

Sometimes I feel like when I was twelve, and my mind was full of pain. My father would ask me, “What’s wrong? How do you feel?” I answered, “I can’t find my self anymore.”

Last night I was asking Sun He, “What is the point of being alive?” She said that the point is to become enlightened, so you don’t have to live, so then you can live. But I still don’t know what the point of being alive is.

Stephen sent us a story about Ko Bong and a Sunday night lecture. They are both very good. Thank you very much.

In the Sunday night lecture you said that desiring enlightenment is an obstacle, but if you want enlightenment it can make you work very hard, and then the question makes you forget all about enlightenment.

If you really want to know the answer, and you know “enlightenment” means finding out, is that the same as wanting enlightenment?

Many people here have the flu. I hope people in Providence are healthy and happy. Is Bobby doing the evening bell song? Jacob and I are learning the chanting that goes with 108 bows. Jim works outside all day, and we are working on the garden. Jacob waxed the temple floor. Yesterday Bo Sal Nim made more kim chee than I have ever seen before. Sun He and I are making bread too.

Yesterday Jacob and I planted onions in the garden. The soil is so soft and dark.

Please send a new date for the 21-day meditation.

See you later.

Love,

Becky

29 November 1973

Dear Becky,

How are you? Thank you for your letter. Long ago an eminent teacher said, “Great work, many demons.” There are two kinds of body demons and two kinds of mind demons. One body demon makes a person sick, the other makes him sleepy. One mind demon causes much thinking—“why am I alive?” “What holds the senses together?” etc.—, the other causes an attachment to quietness, in which there’s neither thinking nor no thinking, but only a vague, cloudy mind.

You want enlightenment quickly, so you did a 21-day retreat. WHAT AM I!!! WHAT AM I!!! Energy up, sometimes a sick body, sometimes much thinking. And if you don’t push yourself, if you don’t want enlightenment, there is only a dreamy, cloudy mind. Both of these extremes are no good. It is like a guitar string. If you tighten it too much, it will snap: if you leave it too loose, it won’t play. But if you tighten it to the right point in between, you will have a fine sound.

Your string was too tight, it snapped after a few days. Now only rest is good. No more retreats for a while. Please try not to be disappointed. This is a great teaching. It is very important to learn patience, to cut off all desires, even—-or especially—-the desire for enlightenment.

You went very deeply with the koan, so that you felt you were up against a wall. You could go neither forward nor back. The name for this state is Kyong Jol Mun: speech word road cut, mind action all-place disappear, and the mind had nowhere to go. It is like a mouse who has crawled into a cow’s horn, very easy to go in, impossible to back out. This is where you have been. It’s a good state. Now you must rest all thinking. The state will be there naturally. It is there already. And eventually you will have a clear mind. It will grow until it’s as large as the universe. This is the true you!

You told the story about you and your father. Many thoughts about the past appear during meditation. Rest all that.

Your talk with Soen He is thinking, your questions are thinking. Don’t ask “Why am I alive?” but rather “Who is it that’s alive?” Understand this and you’ll understand all of life and death. Long ago an eminent teacher said, “Life is like a cloud in the sky, death is like a cloud vanishing into the sky. Originally the cloud doesn’t exist. So life and death are the same. Only one thing is always clear and doesn’t depend on life or death.”

Becky, what is this one thing?

You want to attain enlightenment. An eminent teacher said, “A person who wants enlightenment goes to hell like an arrow.” Wanting to answer the question is the same. It is desire. Desire is no good. Only rest you mind. There is where you’ll find enlightenment. At first a person thinks, “I am my body,” and lives only for his body. But if he thinks deeply about who he is, he will realize that he is emptiness. He will arrive at the place of no thinking. This is true emptiness, with no in or out, with no enlightenment or ignorance. If he can let go of this and let his mind rest, he will have no hindrance. There will be no wall. All will be freedom. And finally he will find his true self. He will understand that sugar is sweet and salt is salty. Truly understanding this is understanding yourself.

When you taste sugar and salt, who is tasting?

YOU MUST PUT IT DOWN! PUT IT DOWN!

S.S.

A poem for you:

If you want to understand the Buddha realm,
You must keep your mind clear like space.
Let all thinking and desire fall away.
Then your mind will have no hindrance.


Dear Soen Sa Nim,

Thank you very much for your letter. Getting your letter is a great relief. It is amazing how you understand my mind so well. It is as if I have been sick without knowing it for several months, and you are the doctor, the only one in the world, because you make clear the mistakes, and know what to do.

When you say “speech word road cut, mind action all place disappear” I realize you understand exactly how I feel. Having someone who understands is better than having a mother, father and friends.

I think I understand everything you wrote in the letter, but when you say,”when you taste sugar and salt, who is tasting? You must put it down! Put it down!” I don’t know. One part of me says, “ He is talking about this (way of being)…” but then another time I don’t know what or how to put down. What puts it down and what is there? I remember your advice to rest, but “put it down!” sometimes helps me rest, and sometimes raises a lot of mystery.

How are you nowadays? I hope you are feeling well.

Nowadays Jim is very happy. He told me that he had understood the koan, but he said it so quietly that I didn’t even hear what he said until a few hours later. He has been the most agreeable person in the world for about two weeks. Sun Ae says he is happy because he thinks he has found the answer.

Bo sal Nim is now retreating for 21 days. Won Jang Nim still has a cough and Kwon got pneumonia from the same sickness I had, but he’s better.
All people are hoping that you can come here in January.

See you later.

Love, Becky

Regards to all people, but especially Roger after his birthday, and Jeff for coming back.


200

[…]
Student – What do you mean by the Absolute?
Soen-sa – Where does that question come from?
Student – (silence)
Sone-sa – That is the absolute.
Stidemt – I don’t understand.
Sone-sa – No matter how much I talk about it, you won’t understand. The Absolute is precisely something you can’t understand. If it could be understood, it wouldn’t be the Absolute.
Student – Then why do you talk about it?
Soen-sa – It’s because I talk about it that you ask questions. That’s how I teach, and you learn.
Student – Well, maybe I understand. But I’m asking for the sake of others. So can’t you give me a clearer answer?
Soen-sa – Do you really understand? If so, what do you understand?
Student – You already understand.
Soen-sa – Even the Buddha doesn’t understand the Absolute. So how can I understand? If you say you understand, you don’t understand that you don’t understand.


213

A Dharma Speech given by Seung Sahn Soen-sa at Brown University on March 18, 1974

(Holds up Zen stick and hits the table three times.)
The Mahaparinirvana Sutra says, “All things are impermanent. This is the law of appearing and disappearing. When appearing and disappearing disappear, then this stillness is bliss.”

The Diamond Sutra says, “All things that appear are transient. If we view all appearance as non-appearance, then we will see the true nature of all things.”

The Heart Sutra says, “Form does not differ from emptiness; emptiness does not differ from form. That which is form is emptiness; that which is emptiness, form.”

What is appearing and disappearing? What is impermanence and permanence? What is form and emptiness? In true stillness, in true nature, in true emptiness, there is no appearing or disappearing, no impermanence or permanence, no form or emptiness.
Hui-neng, the Sixth Patriarch, said, “Originally, there is nothing at all.”

The Sutra says, “When appearing and disappearing disappear, then this stillness is bliss.” But there is no stillness and no bliss.

The Sutra says, “If we view all appearance as non-appearance, then we will see the true nature of all things.” But there is no true nature and no things.

The Sutra says, “Form is emptiness, emptiness is form.” But there is no emptiness and no form.

So when there is no thinking and no speech, already there is no appearing or disappearing, no impermanence or permanence, no form or emptiness. But to say that these things do not exist is incorrect. If you open your mouth, you are wrong.

Can you see colors, can you hear sounds, can you touch things? Is this form or emptiness? Tell me, tell me! If you say even one word, you are wrong. And if you say nothing, you are wrong. What can you do?

KATZ!!!

Appearing, disappearing—put it down! Impermanence, permanence—put it down! Form, emptiness—put it down.

Spring comes and the snow melts: appearing and disappearing are just like this. The east wind blows the rain clouds west: impermanence and permanence are just like this. When you turn on the lamp, the whole room becomes bright: all truth is just like this.
Form is form; emptiness is emptiness.

Then what is your original face?

(Holds up Zen stick and hits table)
KATZ!!!

One, two, three, four, four, three, two, one.


217

One day a student came to tea at the Providence Zen Center and asked Seung Sahn Soen-sa about the relationship between Zen and the arts.

Soen-sa said, “Zen is understanding life and death. Why are you alive?”

The student said, “I don’t know.”

Soen-sa said, “Why will you have to die?”

The student shrugged his shoulders.

Soen-sa said, “People live and die on the earth without understanding what life and death are. When you were born, you were only born. You didn’t say, as you were coming out of your mother’s womb, ‘Now I am going into the world. Help me.’ You just came, without wanting to be born or knowing why you were being born. It is the same with death. When you die, you only die. You are not free to choose.

“Zen is the Great Work of Life and Death. Descartes said, ‘I think, therefore I am.’ I think, therefore I have life and death; I do not think, therefore I do not have life and death. So life and death are created by our own thinking. They exist because we think them into existence, and they cease to exist when we cease to think.

“If you are thinking, your mind, my mind, and all people’s minds are different. If you are not thinking, your mind, my mind, and all people’s minds are the same…”

The student interrupted and said, “They’re not different and not the same. These words are only thinking.”

Soen-sa said, “Yes. If you cut off all thinking, this mind is before thinking. If you keep the before-thinking mind and I keep the before-thinking mind, we become one mind. Okay?”

The student said, “If we cut off all thinking, there’s no mind.”

Soen-sa laughed and said, “Very good. There is no mind. But its name is One Mind. Before thinking, there are no words or no speech, no life and no death. Then what is your true self?”

The student was silent.

Soen-sa said, “Zen is understanding your true self. You must ask yourself, ‘What am I?’ You must keep this great question and cut off all your thinking. When you understand the great question, you will understand yourself.

“Socrates used to walk around Athens telling his students, ‘You must know yourselves.’ Someone once asked him, ‘Do you know yourself?’ Socrates said, ‘No, but I understand this not-knowing.’ Zen is the same. It is not-knowing, not-thinking. ‘What am I?’ This is your true self.
[…]


220

Dear Soen-sa-nim,
Here are some questions for you:
How do you teach the Dharma? What do you teach? If you don’t understand, what can you say about what Zen is?
Does a person learn things? Does a person understand more?
[…]
See you soon,
Louise

Dear Louise,
[…]
In your letter, there are many questions. If you have questions, all things are questions. Why do you live? Why do you die? How can you see, smell, and taste? Why does the sun rise in the East? Why does the moon only shine at night? Why does the earth revolve around the sun? And so on and so forth.
But the 10,000 questions are only one question. The one question is, “What am I?”
In the picture you sent me, someone is holding a sword. This is a king’s diamond sword. If you cut off all thinking with it, the 10,000 questions disappear. Then tell me: what is this diamond sword? If you can find it, your life is absolutely free and your actions have no hindrance. If you don’t find it, the question demon will kill you, and you will fall into hell. So put it all down!
It is better to keep your mouth shut as spring passes.
Here is a koan: “When the bell is rung, you put on your kasa.” What does this mean?
Your eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind all deceive you. The true you is without the six roots. but the six roots use you, so you ask 10,000 questions. You must return to your true self. Then you will understand.
The butterfly alights on the flower and drinks its nectar.
Here is a poem for you:

What is Buddha?
Three pounds of flax.
Dry shit on a stick.
I don’t understand these words.
The infant is sucking on his toes.

See you soon,
S.S.
[…]


224

A student of Soen-sa-nim’s was leaving Providence to begin the Cambridge Zen Center.
Soen-sa-nim shook his hand and said, “Good-bye. I hope you soon attain enlightenment.”
The student said, “What is enlightenment?”
Soen-sa-nim hit him.
The student said, “Give me one word.”
Soen-sa-nim said, “Come back soon.”
The student smiled, bowed, and left.


228

One day a visitor came to the Providence Zen Center and asked Seung Sahn Soen-sa, “If I study Zen, will I attain enlightenment?”
Soen-sa said, “Why do you want to attain enlightenment?”
The visitor said, “I’m too upset by all sorts of things. I don’t feel free.”
Soen-sa said, “Why don’t you feel free?”
“I guess I have too many attachments.”
“Why don’t you cut through these attachments?”
“They all seem very real.”
Soen-sa said, “No one knows when he will die. It could be next year, or next week, or in the next five minutes. So put it all down, now, at this very moment. Keep your mind as if you were already dead. Then all your attachments will disappear, and it won’t matter whether you study Zen or not. Right now you think, ‘I’m alive, I am strong.’ So you have many desires, many attachments. Only think, ‘I am dead.’ A dead man has no desires.
The visitor said, “How can I be alive and dead?”
Soen-sa said, “Dead is not dead. We have eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind. But the Heart Sutra says that in emptiness there are no eyes, no ears, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind. Without my six senses I have no hindrance. It is very easy. So if I am already dead, seeing is not seeing, hearing is not hearing. It is like passing in front of a restaurant, smelling the good smells, and passing on. It is not my house, so I don’t touch.”
The visitor said, “How can I practice being dead?”
Soen-sa said, “Only keep the great question, ‘What am I?’ Now let me ask you, what are you?”
“I’m one.”
“Where does the one come from?”
“From God. God is one.”
“God? Do you understand God?”
“No.”
“You say ‘one’, you say ‘God’. This is wrong. If you make one, it is one. If you make God, it is God. All this is thinking. Without thinking, what are you?”
“Nothing.”
“Nothing?” (Hits him.) “This is pain. Can nothing feel pain?”
The visitor smiled.
Soen-sa said, “Before thinking, your mind was like a sheet of white paper. Then you wrote down one, and God, and nothing, and so on and so forth. When you cut off all thinking, you erase all these names and forms and return to your original emptiness. What am I? I don’t know. When you keep the great question, you keep the mind that doesn’t know. Don’t-know-mind is empty mind. There are no words, no speech. So there is no one, no God, no nothing, no mind, no emptiness. This don’t-know-mind is very important. I is don’t-know, don’t-know is I . Only this. This is your true self. So always keep don’t-know-mind.”
The visitor said, “My friends think I ‘m crazy because I am interested in Zen.
Soen-sa said, “Craziness is good. Crazy people are happy, free, have no hindrance. But since you have many attachments, you are only a little crazy. This is not crazy enough. You must become completely crazy. Then you will understand.”
The visitor bowed. Someone came and poured out two cups of tea.


243

Zen Dialogue with Seung Sahn Soen Sa
Cambridge Zen Center, August 29, 1974

Student A—It says in the Heart Sutra that there is no attainment, with nothing to attain. Then why are we practicing?
Soen-sa—Do you understand no attainment?
Student—I don’t know.
Soen-sa—No attainment is attainment. You must attain no attainment. So what is attainment? What is there to attain?
Student—Emptiness?
Soen-sa—In true emptiness there is no name and no form. So there is no attainment. If you say, “I have attained true emptiness,” you are wrong.
Student—Is there false emptiness?
Soen-sa—The universe is always true emptiness. Now you are living in a dream. Wake up! (Laughter.) Then you will understand true emptiness.
Student—How can I wake up?
Soen-sa—I hit you. Very simple. (Laughter.)
Student—What is this dream?
Soen-sa—This is a dream.
Student—Do I look like I’m dreaming?
Soen-sa—Yah. (Laughter.) What is not a dream? Give me one sentence of not-dream words. All is a dream.
Student—Are you dreaming?
Soen-sa—Yah! (Laughter.) You make the dream, so I am having it. It is a good dream. It is a Zen-lecture dream. (Laughter.) But how can you wake up? This is very important. Your whole past life is the same as a dream, isn’t it? The future is the same as a dream. And this present moment is the same as a dream. So tell me—how can you wake up?
Student—You put me in an impossible situation. How can I wake up if I’m sleeping?
Soen-sa—O.K., let me ask you—what is good?
Student—Good is thinking.
Soen-sa—Who made good?
Student—I did.
Soen-sa—Where does I come from?
Student—I comes from I.
Soen-sa—You understand the word “I”, but you don’t understand the true I. Where does I come from?
Student—From thinking.
Soen-sa—Thinking is also a word. Where does thinking come from?
Student (slowly, after a long silence)—I really don’t know.
Soen-sa—Very good. This is the complete don’t-know mind. Don’t know means don’t know. There are no words and no speech—only don’t know. Only don’t know means that all thinking is cut off. Cutting off all thinking is true emptiness. This is how you begin to wake up.
Student—In daily life, many people ask us for our opinions and judgments. “Do you like this? Do you like that?” Should we avoid such conversations?
Soen-sa—Why should you avoid them?
Student—Because they make me feel like an individual, a separate entity. I begin to feel my Small I more strongly.
Soen-sa—When you are walking, your hand moves back and forth, like this. (Demonstrates.) This is not-thinking action. So if you talk, don’t be attached to talking. No-attachment thinking is not thinking. If you are attached to your thinking, this creates karma. If you are not attached, you don’t create karma. Today my English teacher at the Harvard Summer School gave me some homework. Very difficult. (Laughter.) How can I do this? Don’t know. Only this big question. I eat but there is no taste. I only keep the big homework question inside. On the way home in the bus there is only my homework, so I forget to get off at Fayerweather Street. If you keep this mind, seeing is the same as not seeing, hearing is the same as not hearing, working is the same as not working. This is no-attachment hinking. Only the big question. Then talking is no-attachment action. So talking is not talking. You use your eyes, but there are no eyes. You use your mouth, but there is no mouth. If you keep a clear mind, red is red, white is white. But you are not attached to red, not attached to white. Only red, only white. “I like this” is only “I like this”. “I don’t like this” is only “I don’t like this”. This mind is the same as a child’s mind.
So here there is no attainment, with nothing to attain. This means that before thinking there are no words and no speech. If you keep don’t know mind, there is no attainment, with nothing to attain. Attainment is a name. This is thinking mind. Attainment and no attainment are opposites. Before thinking is the Absolute. No speech, no words. So there is nothing. If you open your mouth, you are wrong. Then what is attainment? Only Katz! Only hit.
[…]


249

Dear Master Lee,

My name is See Hoy. I attended some of the morning and evening sittings at Tahl Mah Sah temple while you were here in Los Angeles and live at I.B.M.C. You gave me the koan “What am I?” and a couple times we talked about how to work on koans.
I was painting a building with Lincoln and Karl a few days ago and trying to work on my koan at the same time. I didn’t know if I should work on my koan at same time as painting so I called Venerable Song Ryong Hearn and asked him. He said I should only paint so I asked if I could work on koan when driving and he said “only drive”, so I said how about when I am walking? he said “then just walk.” The next night I was sitting with Rev. Satam Lee and he said I should work on it all the time to have Big Question. I am confused. Can you tell me when I should work on “What am I?” and how? When driving? When walking? or only when sitting?
[…]

See Hoy

Dear See Hoy,

How are you? Thank you for your letter.

In your letter, you don’t know how to keep your mind. Now I ask you, what are you? Do you understand? If you don’t understand, you only don’t know. Don’t know mind cuts off all thinking. This don’t know mind, your don’t know mind, my don’t know mind, and everybody’s don’t know mind are all the same don’t know mind. So, in don’t know mind there is no you, no I, no everybody, no mind. So, true emptiness. True emptiness means before thinking. Before thinking means only like this. Your before thinking, my before thinking, and everybody’s before thinking are the same. Why? Your before thinking is your substance, my before thinking is my substance, everybody’s before thinking is their substance. The universe’s substance, everybody’s substance, and your substance become one. So don’t know mind’s name is true emptiness, or before thinking, or substance, or like this. Like this is truth.

So now I ask you: Your don’t know mind and driving, walking, painting, and sitting mind—are these the same or different? If you say they are the same, I will hit you thirty times. If you say they are different, also I will hit you thirty times. What can you do?
Long ago Zen Master Jo-Ju answered all questions with “Go drink tea.” “What is Buddha?”—”Go drink tea!” “What is Dharma?”—”Go drink tea!” “What is mind?”—”Go
drink tea!”

True Buddha is no Buddha, true mind is no mind, true Dharma is no Dharma. So only go drink tea. When you drink tea, tea, your body, and your mind become one mind. If you play tennis, when the ball comes and you hit, your racket, your body, and your mind become one, and you only hit. So, drinking tea, playing tennis, inside and outside become one mind.

Tong Sahn Zen Master weighing flax on a scale was asked, “What is Buddha?” The scale was balanced at exactly three pounds, so he answered, “Three pounds of flax.” So, like this is truth.

If you keep don’t know mind, this don’t know mind is painting mind, driving mind, walking mind. Only keep don’t know mind is only drive mind. If you keep don’t know
mind and driving mind with thinking, then they are separate. You must not be attached to the words “don’t know mind”. So only keep a clear don’t know mind. In clear don’t know mind there is no inside and no outside. Clear don’t know mind is sometimes Buddha, sometimes “KATZ!”, sometimes Dharma, sometimes karma, sometimes eating, sometimes driving sometimes painting, sometimes three pounds of flax. So you must keep don’t know mind, all the time. Then inside and outside become one. Because in don’t know mind there is no name and no form. Don’t be attached to anything.

Don’t know mind, Big Question, only driving, only walking, only painting: you must not be attached to any action. Only keep become-one-mind. So put it all down. Only: What am I?
[…]

See you later.
S.S.


261

February 4, 1975
Dear Master Seung Sahn,

Recently I read your statements in “A Dharma Message” and in the newsletters of January and November 1974 and January 1975. I thoroughly enjoyed and agreed with your comments, especially those dealing with form and emptiness. I have also read a copy of “Temple Rules”. So, I decided to respond by sharing, as well as words can indicate, this realization of the one mind or the true self.

The one mind is buddha. Mind is utterly devoid of any objectivity. People conceptualize an objective state of buddhahood or enlightenment and seek for it. But these people are using mind to seek for mind. No wonder, no matter how hard or how long they may try they will never find it. This mind, being our very self, needs no seeking. It is just who we are.

Truly, I attained nothing from complete unexcelled enlightenment. This is no thing to be attained and no one to attain it. Meditation and the vast number of similar practices are all based upon the assumption of an individual entity to practice them; and there just isn’t one. If the practiser be sought and not found, therein is reached the goal of all practices, and also the end of all practices. There is nothing to be sought and no need to seek anything; for there are no two such things as practiser and practice, meditator and meditation.

Mind, the true self, is who I am. How could I ever be apart or different from who I am? Thus, there is no practice and no attainment. Although transcending all appearances, I am immanent in all of them; for all that they are, I am. No thing is outside mind, yet mind is no thing. There are no buddhas and no sentient beings, no Nirvana and no samsara, no masters and no disciples. I who am no thing am every thing.

It is not sufficient to eschew practice; it is necessary also to eschew non-practice. Both practice and non-practice are incompatible with liberation for liberation means liberation from a practiser. As for this so-called liberation, what is the use of trying to climb out of a hole that we have never been in or trying to climb into a whole that we have never been out of? Absence of an entity to be enlightened or not to be enlightened is the double negative, the double absence, and the enlightenment of all the great masters.

All refer to themselves as I, thus indicating that all (buddhas and sentient beings alike) are nothing but mind. When sought for objectively I am eternally absent; yet I am eternally present as I. I am but there is no me. “I”, sunya, void, emptiness etc.. only means that nothing can be said about this to which it refers.

I can not be seen, for I am the seeing. Thus, I can not be grasped in any experience whatsoever, whether it be of pseudo-bondage or pseudo-liberation. Mind knows no distinctions between this and that. I am the one who has piles of bad karma, yet remains always undefiled and free from sin. I am the one who is filled with anger, though eternally peaceful. I am the one who is ignorant, though I myself am wisdom. I am the one who is arrogant; humility being the lack of anyone to have pride. I am the one who deals with money all the time.

The Great Way is not difficult.
Simply cut off all thoughts of good and bad.

I live in whorehouses and bars and have lots of sex; yet I am desireless and sober. I am disrespectful to those older than me and am never hospitable to guests. My mind is full of thoughts, yet this mind is not other than buddha and buddha is none other than this mind.

In original nature
There is no this and that.
The Great Round Mirror
Has no likes or dislikes.

I gossip all day long, yet not a word has passed my lips. I speak of petty matters with guests and ridicule the temple, though I am unattached to all that appears to occur. I am frivolous and I oversleep, though I am eternally awake. I am the one who kills, yet all have already died. I am the one who steals, though I possess everything. I am the one who is lustful, yet there is nothing to crave for. I am the one who provokes anger and arguments and who lies, exaggerates and curses.

If you open your mouth
I will hit you thirty times.
If you close your mouth
I will hit you thirty times.

I am the one who has many likes and dislikes when eating, yet I eat not a grain of rice all day. I make all the noise during silence, yet the sound of silence is non other than who I am. Who discriminates between this and that? Nobody, I do. I am lazy and too undisciplined to even sit in meditation, yet no one can match my effort. I can not sit in the correct position, nor chant nor act in accord with others. I am never in accord with others.

There being no self and no others, I never open my mouth. I interrupt the zen master before he even opens his mouth and cut off his words continuously through out his speech, yet I have always understood.

Have no desire for what you see.
Desire not; desire not.
Desire; desire.
Have no desire for desire; have no desire for desire.
Desire and deliverance must be simultaneous.
Voidness; voidness.
Non-voidness; non-voidness.
Non-obscuration; non-obscuration.
Obscuration; obscuration.
Emptiness of all things; emptiness of all things.
Desire above, below, at the center, in all directions; without differentiation!

So simple am I; devoid of mystery, majesty, divinity, or any attribute whatsoever. Being no thing, how could I have the attribute of any thing? I am neither glorious nor not glorious. I am neither anything nor nothing; neither the presence nor the absence of anything. I am this phenomenal absence, which is total intemporal presence. I am ubiquitous, both as absence and presence, since as I, I am neither present nor absent. I can never be known as an object, for I am what is knowing. I alone am (and every sentient being can know likewise).

The chinese ch’an masters of the t’ang dynasty have functioned as my masters; especially master Huang Po (The Zen Teaching of Huang Po, translated by John Blofield). The living ch’an master wei wu wei completed the transmission that is no transmission. And I myself am just an ordinary man. When the ordinary man attains knowledge, he’s a sage.

When the sage attains understanding (that there is no thing to understand and no one to do it) he’s an ordinary man. I find perfect confirmation of my understanding in the teachings of Vimalakirti, Hui-neng, the Heart Sutra, the Diamond Sutra, Padme-Sambhava, and Ramana Maharshi.

Although I have no interest or familiarity in japanese culture, chanting or sitting meditation; your statements in the newsletters and in a “Dharma Message” indicate this same simple non-conceptual understanding which is the purpose of all these words. If you wish to do so, perhaps we might start a friendship and correspondence to share this mind which is no mind. In case you are interested, I will leave my name and address at the end of this letter.

I do not believe in the existence of any object or in the factual being of anything objective whatsoever.

I do not believe in the existence of anything that can be heard, seen, felt, smelled, tasted or cognised; which is sensorially perceived and conceptually interpreted as an object, nor in that of any dream, vision, hallucination, or other kind or living experience whether empirically suffered in an apparently sleeping, walking or drugged condition.

I do not believe that there can be a “path” because there is no where to go and no one to go anywhere.

I do not believe that there can be enlightenment at the end of a non-existent “path”, because there is no such entity as a “me” to have it; and “enlightenment” if the term means anything at all, implies all that, non-objectively, I am, have always been, and always will be. Therefore, there is no thing to be acquired and no one to acquire it.

I do not believe in the existence of an objective entity which might be supposed to be writing these lines, nor in the factual existence of the words with which they may appear to be written.

Then who is responsible for this statement? Who? Nobody, I am. I am responsible, as I am responsible for every appearance whatsoever. And every other sentient phenomenon can say that also, or know it without being able to say it: every man and monkey, bird and beetle, reptile and rose, rabbit and owl.

with a hearty laugh,
sincerely,
I.M. Nome
Posthumous Postscript

Birthless and undying
How could I live?
Never having lived,
How could I die?
Timeless and infinite
Unliving, undying
Unbeing, I AM.

PPS: And so are you.

February 12, 1975
Dear I.M. Nome,

Thank you for your letter. I like your letter very much. In this letter you say many “I…”, many “emptiness” and many “no… no…”. Who makes this “I”? Who makes this “emptiness”? Who makes this “no… no…”? I think that all these things are made by your thinking. You already have freedom thinking and no hindrance thinking. Freedom thinking and no hindrance thinking are very important.

You already completely understand, but in Zen this understanding is not important. In Zen it is important to attain.

Understanding is thinking.
Attainment is before thinking.

Before thinking means no speech and no words.

So opening the mouth is wrong.

You must return to before thinking! What is before thinking? If you open your mouth I will hit you thirty times, if you close your mouth I will also hit you thirty times. What can
you do?

KATZ!

Never tell a dream to a crazy man.
Never give a sharp knife to a child.

Sincerely,
S.S.


268

One evening, after a Dharma talk at the Cambridge Zen Center, a student said to Seung Sahn Soen-sa, “You said before that the cat doesn’t say it’s a cat, it has don’t-know mind. Is the cat enlightened? But if it is, why does Buddhism teach that only humans can attain enlightenment?”
Soen-sa said, “What is enlightenment?”
“I don’t know.”
“Enlightenment is no enlightenment. If someone says, ‘I have attained enlightenment,’ this is wrong speech. Many students think, ‘I want enlightenment, I want enlightenment.’ This is very bad. They cannot attain enlightenment.
“The cat doesn’t think enlightenment or no enlightenment.”
“The cat is just a cat. I ask you, Does the cat have Buddha-nature? If it has Buddha-nature, then it can attain enlightenment. If it has no Buddha-nature, no enlightenment.”
“Hmmm… I don’t know.”
Soen-sa laughed and said, “Yah, don’t know is good. Very good.”


269

One evening, after a Dharma talk at the Cambridge Zen Center, a student asked Seung Sahn Soen-sa, “Is it necessary to have a Zen master, and why?”
Soen-sa said, “Why did you come here?”
The student was silent.
Soen-sa said, “If you are thinking, it is necessary. If you have cut off all thinking, it is not necessary. If your mind is clear, a Zen master is not necessary, Buddha is not necessary, all things are not necessary.”


280

Master Seung-Sahn,

Wednesday evening I attended a discussion you presented at Yale with the assistance of two students. I was keenly interested in merely seeing you and in hearing your words and in seeing other interested people because my interest in Zen has so far developed solely through my own efforts and my knowledge of it has come only through books. And this approach has made Zen seem remote and inapplicable to this time and life. This has, in turn, generated some feelings that my interest in Zen is an unhealthy attempt to escape this world that I do not understand. Seeing other live people, functioning with ease in this world, relieves some of those feelings and encourages my interest in Zen. This direct experience with Zen also releases a flood of questions about Zen practice. And finally we arrive at the point of this letter.

Can you recommend a specific method of zazen for a beginner? I have been practicing about one month, sitting, counting exhalations to ten. Do you recommend I continue this method or change? Also, can you give advice on the way to function day-to-day prior to a final understanding? I try doing what has to be done without discursive thinking, with some success but I have not dispelled a conviction that there is or should be a more concrete guideline for action. I think particularly about certain precepts I’ve read, sixteen in all. Are these precepts just for those who have attained understanding, ways of acting that come only from that understanding? Or can they be applied externally to one without the final understanding, serving as a reference point for actions along the way to attaining understanding?

I have also read of an event termed “sesshin” in which lay people spend a week or so at a temple or center to practice and speak with a master. Do your centers have such events? If so, please forward specific details.

I am also encountering some confusion in the relation of actual practice to the verbal history of Zen, verbal examples and explanations of the final understanding, etc. I have read histories, examples and explanations enough to feel I agree intellectually and can comprehend with my reason. But I do not understand in my bones because there has been no direct experience. So, I agree with those who say that we can’t reach understanding through words; it must come through practice. But you use words to help students understand. And I don’t understand. In reading, I have thought and thought and always come to that brick wall beyond which words cannot go. So, I’ve pretty much stopped trying to reason out what the words may indicate and try only to practice, sitting zazen and thinking about who or what writes these words, eats, sleeps, etc. But, I wonder if I am giving up on words without truly exhausting them. I fear this is a confused ccounting of confused thoughts but perhaps you can see through all my delusions.

I also discovered, through the Yale meeting, that there is a daily zendo at 7:00 A.M. at Yale. I have two small children, and a husband who works and is not interested in Zen.
These combine to make me feel it impossible to attend this local zendo yet practice with others is stressed. Am I simply not trying hard enough, being too lazy to make this zendo? What are you opinions and/or suggestions?

I have taken enough of your time and greatly appreciate your attention to my questions.
Sincerely,
Patricia

Cambridge
February 23, 1975
Dear Patricia,

Thank you for your letter. How are you?

In your letter, you said 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 in a book, anything that can be said—all this is thinking. If you are thinking, then all Zen books, all Buddhist sutras, 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 better than Zen books. So Zen is keeping the mind which is before thinking. All sciences and academic studies are after thinking. We must return to before thinking. Then we will attain our true self.

In your letter you said 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? Sitting is only a small part of practicing Zen. The true meaning of sitting Zen is cutting off all thinking and keeping 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 don’t-know mind when you are driving, this is driving Zen. 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
for those who do not 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 mind is 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 opposites words, they are from the mind that separates all things. That is why I will hit you if you say either one. So what answer would be a good one? 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 not possible. 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 attachment to words.

Here is a poem for you:

Buddha said all things have Buddha-nature.
Jo-ju said the dog has no Buddha-nature.
Which one is correct?
As soon as you open your mouth, you fall into hell.
Why?
KATZ!!!
Clouds float up to the sky.
Rain falls down to the ground.

Sincerely,
S.S.


285

Big Mistake
One Sunday evening, after a Dharma talk at the International Zen Center of New York, a
student asked Seung Sahn Soen-sa, “Does Big I ever make a mistake?”
Soen-sa said, “A big mistake.”
The student said, “Who sees the mistake?”
Soen-sa said, “It has already appeared.”


286

March 4, 1975
Dear Master Lee,

Enclosed you will find an assortment of letters I have written and never mailed to you, so here they are.

My practice is I don’t know what. It is neither good nor bad I guess but still I don’t know what. It seems I don’t know what about anything which seems different from I don’t know what.

Tell me about Shakuhachi practice. It is my ego that wants to play well. How can I just play. As I watch my playing I sense today that all things are like those music notes on the page. It says move 3rd finger. How can I learn to live each moment as when each note directs me and I fulfill that request as best I can. I don’t really know what I am saying but I must write you and I hope I mail these letters to you.

See Hoy

March 5, 1975
Dear Master Lee,

I am very confused. Since you are not here I go to sit with Venerable Hearn and sometimes Dr. Thien-An. Venerable Hearn is here only once a week for Dokusan and will be leaving for the Asian countries at the end of the month.

Once soon after you went to Providence I went to visit with Roshi Kozan Kimura. Here are a list of Koans given to me:

From you: “What am I?”; “Why has Bodhidharma no beard?”

From Venerable Hearn: “What is the sound of the flute with no holes?”

One day he said to me, “ now show me your understanding of this” and gave me the koan, “Can you drive a nail without a hammer?”

Dr. Thien-An: “Where do you find Buddha Nature?”

My answer: Galloping through it is all around. How could it leave a trace? He said: “Go work on it some more.”

Kamura Roshi said I should decide on one Master. I told him you were not here. He told me I should follow you around and go to Providence. He said he likes me to come and sit Zen with them but would not give me Dokusan lest he interfere with another’s koan.

Last night I went to sit with him and had no dokusan. Tonight I went to sit and went to dokusan. He said I should only work on one koan and asked me to meditate on “When you were born.” After all others were finished with dokusan, I went back and answered with, “Since there is no trace, how should I know.” We then talked and he asked me what other koans I had and which one I worked on. I told him I work most on “What am I?” He said it is too hard for beginners and I should work on, “when you were born.”

Please advise me, because when I sit Zen I can only ask, rather I like only to ask what am I and even at other times only what am I. I do not know what to do.

Shall I just go and sit with Kozan but have no dokusan? Shall I come to Providence, but here I have so many attachments and even to you attachment.

Sometimes I remember you asking What am I and can even get angry with you for giving me such a thing.

Even now I am attached to What am I and the thought of “When I was born” makes me want to vomit, because all these things are puzzling my head. I will sit more Zazen tonight and only think What am I. Please help me because I think only you can take “What am I” back.

Please answer me soon, but you probably won’t, huh? Anyway I’d like to tell you to go fuck yourself.

Respectfully and hope to see you soon,

See Hoy

March 22, 1975
Dear See Hoy,

Thank you for your two letters. I have been in New York since the beginning of the month, so I didn’t receive them until a few days ago. That’s why my answer is so late. I am sorry.

You say that you don’t know what your practice is, that you don’t know anything. But then you say that you are confused. If you keep a complete don’t-know mind, how can confusion appear? Complete don’t-know mind means cutting off all thinking. Cutting off all thinking means true emptiness. In true emptiness, there is no I to be confused and nothing to be confused about. True emptiness is before thinking. Before thinking, everything does not appear and does not disappear. So the truth is just like this. Red comes, there is red; white comes, there is white. When you close all the holes of the shakuhachi, there is no sound; when the holes are open, there is a high sound. Only like this. The shakuhachi is a very good teacher for you. If you don’t understand, just ask the shakuhachi. Just enter the sound of the shakuhachi, then the shakuhachi will explain to you what enlightenment is.

Dr. Thien An, Song Ryong Hearn, and Kimura Roshi are all good teachers. I think you can take your questions and problems to any of them and they will teach you well. You have many kong-ans. But a kong-an is like a finger pointing at the moon. If you are attached to the finger, you don’t understand the direction, so you cannot see the moon. If you are not attached to any kong-an, then you will understand the direction. The direction is the complete don’t-know mind. The name for “like this” is “don’t know”. If you understand “don’t know”, you will understand all kong-ans and you will soon understand “like this”.

You have many problems in your kong-an work. “What am I?”—do you understand this? Your answer is “I don’t know.” “When were you born?”—do you understand this? Your answer is also, “I don’t know.” If you are not attached to words, the don’t-know mind is the same. All kong-ans become the same don’t-know mind. Your don’t-know mind, my don’t-know mind, all people’s don’t-know minds, the “What am I?” don’t-know mind, the “When was I born?” don’t-know mind—all these are the same don’t-know. So it is very easy. Only keep don’t-know. Don’t be attached to words. This don’t-know is your true self. It is nothing at all. It is very easy, not difficult.

So you must keep only don’t-know, always and everywhere. Then you will soon get enlightenment. But be very careful not to want enlightenment. Only keep don’t-know mind.

Your situation, your condition, your opinions—throw them all away.

I think it would be very good for you to learn with Kimura Roshi. I hope you also listen to what your shakuhachi is teaching you and soon get enlightenment. At the end of your letter you say, “Go fuck yourself.” These are wonderful words that you have given me, and I thank you very much. If you get enlightenment, I will give them back to you.

Sincerely yours,
S.S.

P.S. During April, for almost the whole month, I will be staying at the International Zen
Center of New York, 40 East 20th St., New York City.


287

March 8, 1975
Dear Soen Sa,

How is it in Providence. Here it is beautiful—cool and rainy—very rare. I plan to leave here approximately July 15, and then return East to visit my mother, and you.

I have an open-my-mouth question:

Why is there all the practice with effort, if it is an effortless state we end at? Why sitting, koans, chanting, etc? In my sitting, for the last 10-12 months, there has been no (or little) difference between sitting and not sitting, only clarity. That is my koan sitting is the same as sitting doing nothing (shikantaza), and making effort is the same as no effort. Making effort leads to a direction, at the beginning opposite to the later state of no-effort; later it becomes no-effort, so why spend 3-5 years making effort when it leads to no effort? Why not start with no effort, just being mindful as in the Hinayana Vipassana method or as Krishnamurti. Why spend three to five years going away from no effort only to return?

Also, the Japanese Soto and Rinzai seem to put much more emphasis on effort—hard sitting, endless work, etc. than you do. You put less emphasis on sitting and effort in practice? Why?

Also, you say Kensho, enlightenment is “clear mind.” Maezumi and Hearn both disagree. From my own experience, I’ve experienced many times during the last 4 years states beyond clarity; states where “I” (mind and body) disappear and there is only the world seen, experienced with no separation, no space, no time, just this.

Is the latter state what you mean by “clear mind”?

If my sitting goes well, this state of oneness, of like this, occurs every few days, if it goes bad, it does not occur often at all. But now, I see there is no difference between good sitting and bad sitting, between clarity and crowded, anxious mind.

But is there any point in training that one may be called enlightened? I think not. All is enlightenment, is it not?

Also, why is it that it takes 20–30 years to complete training under a Japanese Roshi, but much less under a Korean? What is it about the Japanese method that takes so long? Are they more thorough and complete? better or worse or why?

You asked me “What do I understand?”

I understand that there is nothing to understand, nothing to be done or to be practiced, only clear mind, but no one wants to hear this, they want to drink, dance, make noise, have opinions, and endlessly talk about love and compassion which is only their idea of love and compassion.

I have little interest in becoming a teacher, very few listen anyway, and even when you talk at all, you are not being a good teacher most of the time.

So my teaching is to tell other people not to worry about the millions of different practices that one can do, only to sit. The method is not important; just sit, koan, shikantaza, breath counting. Then the real “I” functions with no thinking, no talking; then, sometime, without knowing when God or Buddha comes, like this, Reality.

Nor am I interested in attaining enlightenment. Enlightenment is only a word; either I have it now, or it will come of its own accord as long as I practice. What difference does it make?
But I am interested in how to show others that thinking, ideas, etc. are blockage to clarity,
at least in the beginning; to drop their opinions and emotions by whatever way they can.
Hope to see you in July or early August.

Sincerely,
Ed

P.S. You are wrong about Dr. Thien-An, he treats all people like children, and thus children they remain for a long time.

By profession and training, I am an economist and planner. Until one or two years ago I was greatly optimistic about the future of the world in terms of food and war etc, but knew it didn’t matter because the world was too complicated to understand in ideas what was happening, let alone with sufficient accuracy to make any significant plans. But now I know, from a deep investigation of what is going on that the world is in deep trouble, far more so than ever before, and perhaps too late in that trouble to do anything about it.

What really must be done is to revolutionize men’s minds. But it is not now merely a matter of being a good teacher. Many, many people must experience this revolution now, or all the world could die. It if does, it does, but just as a good doctor will treat all diseases as they arise, for those who are able, they must treat the diseases of mind, but quickly. There is not a hundred or a thousand years of grace period, perhaps only two or three decades before the world falls apart and there is unbelievable suffering, and when I see suffering, I suffer. This suffering must be stopped.

Ed

March 22, 1975
Dear Ed,

Thank you for your letter. I will be glad to see you when you come to the East Coast. In your letter, you talk a lot about effort and no effort. Put it all down. Why so much thinking? Why are you so attached to words? An eminent teacher said, “The ten thousand questions are one question. If you cut through the one question, then the ten thousand questions will disappear.”

What do you want? If one person makes great effort, if another person makes no effort—don’t worry. All that you need be concerned about is your own job. First finish your own great work; then you will understand everything. Sitting, walking, talking, laughing, eating—all is Zen. You must understand this.

Sitting is important. But true sitting doesn’t depend on whether or not the body is sitting. You already know the story about Ma-jo doing hard sitting and Nam Ak picking up the tile and polishing it.

You say that I say that enlightenment is clear mind. What is clear mind? Clear mind is only a name. Enlightenment is also only a name. If you say clear mind, it is not clear mind. If you say enlightenment, it is not enlightenment. Red is red; white is white. Only like this. This is clear mind; this is enlightenment. It is nothing at all. If you say that clear mind is enlightenment, I will hit you thirty times. If you say that clear mind is not enlightenment, I will also hit you thirty times. Don’t be attached to clear mind or enlightenment. Don’t be attached to Zen words. You must be very careful. Zen masters use their tongues to trick their students.

You say that when sitting is good, a state of oneness beyond clarity occurs. What is oneness? What is good sitting or bad sitting? You must not check your mind. Checking your mind is a very bad Zen sickness. As fine as your speech is, it is only thinking. Give me one sentence before thinking.

You ask why it takes twenty or thirty years to complete training under a Japanese Zen master. Under a Korean Zen master it takes infinite time. You go around comparing Japanese and Korean Zen and other kinds of Buddhism. This is your bad karma. So you are no good. This is simply not important! Put it down!

You say that you understand there is nothing to understand. But you understand enlightenment, emptiness, everything. You haven’t attained enlightenment or emptiness or everything. Understanding is thinking. Attainment is before thinking. If you open your mouth, you are wrong. I have already told you that you must keep your mouth closed. You must keep this rule!

The Third Patriarch said,

The Great Way is not difficult
for those who do not discriminate.
Throw away like and dislike
and everything will become clear.

Throw away teaching, throw away everything. If you say you are not attached to methods of practice, this is being attached to method. If you cut off your attachment, then your words (“the real ‘I’ functions without thinking or talking”) are not necessary. You say, “sometimes, without knowing when, God or Buddha comes, like this, reality.” When Buddha comes, you must kill Buddha; when God comes, you must kill God. How is Buddha or God necessary? An eminent teacher said, “I go around the six realms of existence without asking for a drop of help from Buddhas or Bodhisattvas.” Another eminent teacher said, “If I kill my parents, I can repent to Buddha. But if I kill Buddha, where can I repent?” You must understand this place of true repentence.

You say, “I am not interested in attaining enlightenment.” But you are very interested; you are very attached to enlightenment. Why do you keep saying enlightenment, enlightenment, enlightenment? What is enlightenment? You must read the Heart Sutra. If you understand the true meaning of the Heart Sutra, then you will understand your true way.

Your teaching other people is like one blind man leading other blind men into a ditch. You must open your eyes. This is very necessary.

In your P.S. you said that I am wrong about Dr. Thien An. But he has been good teaching for you. You don’t understand now, but you will in the future.

You think that the whole world is suffering, and you are afraid that the world will be destroyed. You want to save all people from suffering. So you are a great Bodhisattva, a great man. But a true great man has no words or speech—only action. I want a short letter from you next time. You must go outside and ask the tree in front of the temple what the true way is. Then this tree will teach you. Don’t write me anything else. Just tell me what the tree said to you.

Yours sincerely,
S.S.
[…]


292

What is Freedom?
One afternoon, a student came to tea at the Cambridge Zen Center and asked Seung Sahn Soen-sa, “What is freedom?”
Soen-sa said, “Freedom means no hindrance. If your parents tell you to do something and you think that you are a free person so you will not listen to them, this is not true freedom. True freedom is freedom from thinking, freedom from all attachments, freedom even from life and death. If I want life, I have life; if I want death, I have death.”
The student said, “So if you wanted to die right now, you could die?”
Soen-sa said, “What is death?”
“I don’t know.”
“If you make death, there is death. If you make life, there is life. Do you understand? This is freedom. Freedom thinking is freedom. Attachment thinking is hindrance. Suppose your parents say, ‘Your shirt is dirty; you must change it!’ If you say, ‘No, I won’t change; I am free!’, then you are attached to your dirty shirt or to your freedom itself. So you are not free. If you are really free, then dirty is good and clean is good. It doesn’t matter. Not changing my shirt is good; changing my shirt is good. If my parents want me to change, then I change. I don’t do it for my own sake, only for theirs. This is freedom. No desire for myself, only for all people.”
The student said, “If you have no desire, why do you eat?”
Soen-sa said, “When I am hungry, I eat.”
“But why do you eat, if you say you have no desire.”
“I eat for you.”
“What do you mean?”
“‘When I am hungry, I eat’ means ‘just like this’. This means that there is no attachment to food. There is no ‘I like this’ or ‘I don’t like this’. If I didn’t eat, I couldn’t teach you. So I eat for you.”
“I don’t completely understand.”
Soen-sa said, “I hit you. Do you understand now?”
“I don’t know.”
“You must understand this don’t-know mind. Then you will not be attached to anything.
So always keep don’t-know mind. This is true freedom.”


293

You Must Cut Off “Cutting Off Thinking”
One Thursday evening, after a Dharma talk at the Cambridge Zen Center, a student asked Seung Sahn Soen-sa, “When I sit Zen, should I force myself to stop thinking or should I just not care?”
Soen-sa said, “‘Stop thinking,’ ‘cut off thinking’—these are very bad expressions. They are only expedient teaching, only for beginners. If thinking never appeared, then thinking cannot disappear. If you never started thinking, how can you stop thinking? Originally there is no thinking. All things are empty. But if you think that there is thinking, then you think that thinking must be cut off. When you are sitting Zen and you want to attain clear mind—‘I must cut off thinking! I must cut off thinking!’—this is itself very bad thinking. Throw away this mind. Only don’t worry and keep don’t-know mind. ‘What am I?’ Then thinking will disappear by itself. Thinking is not bad and not good. When it appears, that is good; when it disappears, that is good. It doesn’t matter. Only keep don’t-know mind.”


294

The True Way for Women
One Thursday evening, after a Dharma talk at the Cambridge Zen Center, a student asked Seung Sahn Soen-sa, “What is the true way for women?”
Soen-sa said, “I don’t know—I am not a woman.” (Laughter from the audience) Then, after a few moments. “Okay, I ask you: what is woman?”
The student said, “I don’t know.”
Soen-sa said, “This is the true way. Only don’t-know mind. In don’t-know mind, there is no woman, no man, no old, no young, no people, no Buddhas, no self, no world, nothing at all. If you understand this don’t-know mind, you understand the true way. If you don’t understand don’t-know mind, you cannot understand the true way. Okay?”
“I don’t know.”
“Then you must keep don’t-know mind.”
“But if things are only like this, then man is man and woman is woman!”
“Yes.”
“So the true way for men and the true way for women—are they the same or different?” (Laughter)
Soen-sa said, “Ah, that is a very big question!” (Laughter) “So I ask you: man and women—are they the same or different?”
“I asked you first!”
“You have already attained the true way for women.”
“I don’t understand.”
Soen-sa said, “Then I hit you.” (Laughter) “Do you understand now?”
The student bowed.

The Perfect Posture
One Thursday evening, after a Dharma talk at the Cambridge Zen Center, a student said to Seung Sahn Soen-sa, “Suzuki Roshi, in Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, says that when we’re sitting in the perfect posture, we’re already in the state of enlightenment. Is that true?” Soen-sa said, “What is correct sitting?”
The student said, “I don’t know. You should show me!”
Soen-sa said, “If you don’t know this, you can’t understand enlightenment. Okay, I will teach you correct sitting. What are you?”
“What am I? I’m just a girl sitting.”
“A girl sitting? What are you?”
“I am Buddha sitting?”
Soen-sa said, “Many thinking!” (Laughter) “What is Buddha?”
“I don’t know.”
“Do you understand don’t-know?”
“I don’t know if I do or not.”
“This is correct sitting. Body-sitting is not true sitting Zen. What is important is mind-sitting. Don’t-know mind is not-moving mind. Not-moving mind means cutting off all thinking. This is enlightenment. This is beginner’s mind. It is just like this.” Then, pointing to the wall, “What color is this?”
“White.”
“Correct!” (Laughter) “This is enlightenment mind.”
“Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. It is very easy, isn’t it?”


301

Enlightened and Unenlightened Are Empty Names
One Thursday evening, after a Dharma talk at the Cambridge Zen Center, a student asked Seung Sahn Soen-sa, “Is an enlightened man’s behavior different from an unenlightened man’s?”
Soen-sa said, “One two three four five six. This begins with one. Where does one come from?”
“Mind.”
“Mind? Where does mind come from?”
The student couldn’t answer.
Soen-sa said, “Now your mind is don’t-know mind. You only don’t know. Where does mind come from? What is mind? I don’t know. This don’t know mind is your true mind. This true mind cuts off all thinking. So mind is no mind. Why? True mind is empty mind. Empty mind is before thinking. Before thinking there are no words and no speech. So mind is no mind. Mind is only a name; it is made by thinking. If you cut off thinking, then there is no mind. If you are thinking, you have opposites: good and bad, enlightened and unenlightened. But if you cut off thinking, there are no opposites, there is only the Absolute. Opposites words are dead words. Absolute words are live words. Buddha said, ‘All things have Buddha-nature.’ But Zen Master Jo-ju, when somebody asked him if a dog has Buddha-nature, said, ‘No.’ Which answer is correct, Buddha’s or Jo-ju’s?”
“I think I see that. They’re just words.”
“Yah, just words. Then they are the same?”
“It doesn’t matter. But what I want to know is how a man with empty mind differs in his behavior from a man with thinking mind.”
“So I ask you: are Buddha’s answer and Jo-ju’s answer different or the same?”
“Well, all things have Buddha-nature. Some people know they have Buddha-nature and some people don’t know they have Buddha-nature. Maybe the dog doesn’t know.”
Soen-sa said, “That is a very good answer. The dog doesn’t know Buddha-nature, so he has no Buddha nature. But if you gave me this answer during an interview, I would hit you thirty times. Why?”
“Uh… I’m not answering to play a game.”
“And if you asked your question about an enlightened man’s behavior during an interview, I would also hit you thirty times. Do you understand?”
“I understand the question has no answer.”
“It has many answers.” (Laughter from the audience.) “But if you have not attained enlightenment, everything is different. If you attain enlightenment, all things become one. You must understand this.”
The student bowed and said, “Thank you very much.”


303

Don’t-Know Mind
One Thursday evening, after a Dharma talk at the Cambridge Zen Center, a student asked Seung Sahn Soen-sa, “If when you’re driving you’re just driving, when you sit Zen and ask ‘What am I?’ are you just the question?”
Soen-sa said, “Just the question. The name we give to clear mind is don’t-know mind. So you must understand don’t-know. Don’t-know is don’t-know. This is very important.”
“But if I understand, then I don’t have a don’t-know mind, do I?”
“Who doesn’t know?” (Laughter from the audience) “When you keep don’t-know mind—this is don’t-know. You are don’t-know. All people are given names, like Georgie, Roger, Stephen. But when you were born, you had no name. So mind is no mind. What is mind? I don’t know. Your mind’s name is don’t-know.”
“When you’re driving, is your mind don’t-know or are you just driving?”
“Only driving is don’t-know.” (Laughter) Only keep don’t-know mind. Don’t-know, okay?” (Laughter)
“What don’t you know? (Laughter) “I mean, if you’re just driving, there’s no knowing or not knowing.”
“When you are driving, do you have mind?”
The student was silent.
Soen-sa said, “Now your mind is don’t-know mind. If you are not attached to don’t-know, there is only don’t-know.”
“Don’t-know what?”
“What color is this door?”
“Brown.”
“You say brown. This is don’t-know. Do you understand?”
“I don’t-know.” (Laughter)
“Yah, you understand don’t-know. (Laughter)
“Are you attached to don’t-know?”
“You are attached to don’t-know! Attachment to words is no good. Only don’t-know. When I drink water, I just drink water, I don’t know, okay? So don’t-know can drink water. Do you understand?”
“Why not say just that you’re drinking water?”
“Now you are speaking. Who is speaking?”
The student was silent.
“Don’t know. This don’t-know is speaking.”
“But if I’m just speaking, you don’t need to say don’t-know.”
“Originally there is no name and no form. Its name is don’t-know.”
“Some Zen masters say you must keep great doubt, which is don’t-know mind, I guess. But they say there must come a point where you break through the great doubt into great enlightenment.”
“Great doubt is don’t-know. The names are different—great doubt, great question, great don’t-know. There are many names. My first name is Duk In, my monk’s name is Haeng Won, my enlightenment name is Seung Sahn. I have many names. But none is my true name. When I was born, I had no name. The true name is no name. So great doubt, great question, don’t-know—they are all the same.”
“But when you are a baby, if your mother asks, ‘What are you?’ you don’t answer, ‘I don’t know.”
“Go ask a baby.” (Laughter)
“A baby doesn’t think ‘know’ or ‘don’t-know’—it just is.”
“Yah, it just is. Only don’t-know. The baby is not attached to the question. You are attached to the question. Don’t-know is clear mind. Don’t-know is before thinking. Don’t-know is like this. You ask me now, ‘What is don’t-know?’”
“What is don’t-know?”
Soen-sa picked up a cup of water and drank. “Do you understand? This is don’t-know.” “But why say don’t-know? If you’re thirsty, you just drink. Why does a Zen person go around thinking, ‘I don’t-know’?” (Laughter)
“If you are thinking, this is not don’t-know.” (Laughter) “Don’t-know is not-thinking. There is only don’t-know. Socrates used to go around Athens saying, ‘You must know yourself.’ Once a student of his asked him, ‘Do you know yourself?’ Socrates said, ‘I don’t know, but I understand this don’t-know.’ I don’t-know, but when I am thirsty I drink. I don’t know, but when I am tired I sleep. Only this.”
“The original question is ‘What am I?’ and your answer is ‘I don’t know.’ Who doesn’t know? You’re still stuck in the question. You’re on one end of it. Either I know or I don’t know, and they’re opposites. What if you throw the whole thing away and just live?” (Laughter)
Soen-sa laughed and said, “You’re thinking, thinking, thinking. So I will hit you thirty times!” (Laughter) “What are you?”
The student was silent.
Soen-sa said, “You don’t know. This mind. If you keep this mind, and are not attached to the words ‘I don’t-know,’ you will soon understand.”


304

Shikan Taza and Kong-an
One evening, after a Dharma talk at the Boston Dharmadhatu, a student asked Seung
Sahn Soen-sa, “What is the difference between shikan taza and kong-an practice?”
Soen-sa said, “When I was in Los Angeles last month, many people asked me about the difference between Soto and Rinzai Zen. I answered, ‘They are the same.’ Only the externals are different. Soto uses awareness of breathing to cut off thinking. Kong-an Zen uses the kong-an to cut off thinking. Only the method is different. Cutting off thinking and becoming clear mind is the same. They are two doors into the same room. So if I am attached to shikan taza or to the kong-an, then they are different. But if I an not attached, then they are the same.”
The student said, “Sometimes you hear of people struggling with kong-ans for years. That bothers me. The implication is that either they’re on the wrong path or it takes all that time to realize you shouldn’t struggle at all. Are you saying there shouldn’t be a struggle?”
Soen-sa said, “Keeping the mind that desires enlightenment is the wrong way to use the kong-an. Only keep the great question. The great question means cutting off all thinking, becoming empty mind. So the mind that keeps the great question is enlightenment! You are already enlightened, but you don’t know it. So after much hard training: ah, this is enlightenment! It is very easy. Can you see your eyes?”
“No.”
“You have no eyes? You have eyes. Can you hold your mind?”
“No.”
“You have no mind? It is the same. Can you see this cup? Can you hear my voice?”
“Yes.”
“This is your mind. My eyes can’t see my eyes. To try to see my eyes is the wrong way. My mind can’t understand my mind. So to try to understand my mind is the wrong way. If you cut off this mind, you will soon attain enlightenment. I can see this cup; so I have eyes. I can hear this sound; so I have mind. What am I? I am asking I. So there are no opposites. Having no opposites is the Absolute. So all thinking is cut off. Only don’t know, only empty mind. This is my true self. It is very easy.”


307

Dear Soen-sa-nim,

Thank you for your reply to my last letter. I have been trying to do as you advised, keeping don’t-know mind in every activity, but with difficulty. Often, the difficulties involved get me down, for it seems next to impossible to clear out all the rubbish I’ve accumulated over the years. As my mind returns to the question of whether the mountain and I are the same or different, I often cry and often leave the question. It seems an overwhelming question.

At the beginning, I was very enthusiastic and cheerful and industrious. My enthusiasm wanes and I am not very cheerful or industrious and realizing this makes me less cheerful. What advice for a failing spirit?

I look forward to the opening of a Zen Center in New Haven. Perhaps the fellowship and opportunity to speak with you and others will revitalize my practice.

Most sincerely,
Patricia

April 11, 1975
Dear Patricia,

Thank you for your letter. You say that keeping don’t-know mind is difficult. If you check your thinking mind, then it is difficult. You mustn’t check your thinking mind. Thinking is okay; don’t worry about it. If you are not upset by your thinking, then it is not difficult to keep don’t-know mind. At first you will be able to keep it only for a short time. But if you practice with sincerity, it will keep growing by itself. Your mind is like the sea. When the wind comes, there are very big waves, when the wind dies down, the waves become smaller and smaller, until finally the wind disappears altogether and the sea is like a clear mirror. Then mountains and trees and all things are reflected on the surface of the sea. There are many thought-waves now in your mind. But if you continue to practice don’t-know mind, this thinking will become gradually smaller, until finally your mind will always be clear. When the mind becomes clear, it is like a mirror: red comes and the mirror is red; yellow comes and the mirror is yellow, a mountain comes and the mirror is the mountain. Your mind is the mountain, the mountain is your mind. They are not two. So it is very important not to be attached either to thinking or to not-thinking. You mustn’t be upset by anything that goes on in your mind. Only don’t worry and keep don’t-know mind.

You say that at the beginning you were enthusiastic and now you are discouraged. Both extremes are no good. It is like a guitar-string: if you make it too tight, it will be out of tune and will soon snap; if you make it too loose, it will still be out of tune and will not play. You must tune it just right. Too enthusiastic is no good, too discouraged is also no good. Zen mind is everyday mind. You must keep this mind during every action—eating, talking, playing tennis, watching television—always keep don’t-know mind. How you keep your mind at this very moment—just-now-mind—this is very important. If you have free time, it is good to sit. If you don’t have free time, then just do action Zen. But be very careful about wanting enlightenment. This is a serious Zen sickness. When you keep a clear mind, the whole universe is you, you are the universe. So you have already attained enlightenment. Wanting enlightenment is just thinking. It is something extra, like painting legs on the picture of a snake. Already the snake is complete. Already the truth is right before your eyes.

Our New Haven Zen Center will be opening soon. It is very true that contact with other Zen students will help your practice. Together-action is very important for Zen students. Bowing together, chanting together, sitting together, eating together—this means that your own situation, your condition, and your opinions can disappear much more easily. Zen work is becoming empty mind. Becoming empty mind means having all my opinions fall away. Then you will experience true emptiness. When you experience true emptiness, you will attain your true situation, your true condition, and your true opinions. I hope that you will come often to the New Haven Zen Center, do hard training, soon attain enlightenment, and save all people from suffering.

Sincerely yours,
S.S.


323

May 31, 1975
Dear Soen-sa-nim,

How are you? I am agitated, I suppose, with what occurred during my sitting tonight and thought first of communicating with you. For one thing, please forward some more questions to me. For another, I think I see why you and all Zen literature say that one cannot think or say what Buddha is. To think what Buddha is, is to be a step removed. To say what Buddha is, is to be two steps removed. I read a book that helped me fit some things together; The Magic Animal by Philip Wylie. When I looked at the questions you presented me, fresh from the reading of that book, I saw the trick, clear as rain, I guess, anyway. But that’s why I want more questions.

Tell me quickly, wherein lies your hope? Because, if what I have perceived this night is true, I am nearly overwhelmed. What a mess! and to know that I am part and parcel of it and my children, too. What do I do?

But I am leaping where a slow walk is more appropriate. I await your answer.

Most sincerely,
Patricia

June 7, 1975
Dear Patricia,

Thank you for your letter.

In your letter you said you were agitated. As I told you in my last letter, if you think you are agitated, then you are. If you cut off thinking in your mind, there is no agitated, no happy and nothing at all. So Zen mind is how to keep just-now mind. When the agitated mind appears, you must soon return to don’t know mind: What am I? Then the agitated mind soon disappears.

But, when agitated mind appears, you hold onto it, and say in your letter, “I am agitated.” This is very bad, and I hit you thirty times.

And you said you would like more questions. What are you? If you don’t know, then only keep don’t know. Keep complete don’t know mind. This don’t know mind is bigger than the universe. In this don’t know mind there are ten thousand questions. The ten thousand questions return to the one question.

How old are you? What is your name? Why are you alive? After you die, where will you go? Only KATZ! Only hit! Only one finger! What does it all mean? Three pounds of flax. Dry shit on a stick. What does it all mean?

If you don’t know, then only keep don’t know mind. Don’t want many questions. Only: What am I?

If you understand your true self, then you will understand all the above question. You want more questions. This is thinking and desire, so I will hit you thirty times. Put it all down!

You say, “…one cannot think or say what Buddha is.” You are very attached to words and to the writings of Zen Masters. If you follow the sayings and writings of the Buddha and of Zen Masters, then you go to hell and cannot be helped. If you are thinking, all Zen Masters’ writings and all sutras become demon’s words, but if you are without thinking, sutras and Zen Masters’ writings are not necessary. The crowing of the roosters, the barking of a dog, and the honking of car horns are all better than a Dharma speech. They are true Dharma, and your true teacher.

From now on you must not read Zen books. Don’t be attached to words! The Buddha taught the Dharma in order to save all minds. If you have no thinking, what use is there for the Dharma?

I gave you some homework: once somebody asked Zen Master Dong Sahn, “What is Buddha?” He answered, “Three pounds of flax.” What does this mean? You must finish this homework.

If you don’t understand this, only keep don’t know mind. Only this don’t know mind can help you. Nothing else can.

I hope your don’t know mind will soon become clear, and you will soon get enlightenment and save all beings.

Sincerely,
S.S.


326

June 13, 1975
Dear Soen-sa-nim,

I am sorry that I have not written, but I have nothing to say. I haven’t been sitting wellenough to answer your kong-ans. No games. I am feeling awful. My life is meaningless to me. I feel an indescribable anguish all the time. I try and practice on my own, but somehow I am too weak to make any progress. I don’t have any faith in my Buddha-nature. I really shouldn’t be writing this leter because a Zen Master should not have to deal with sick fools. Master Hearn told me to get in touch with you while he was gone, because you are a great Zen Master. I am afraid that I am not much of a man or Zen student, but anything you could tell me would help. Also if you have Ven.Song Ryong Hearn’s address in Korea or Japan, could you send it to me? He was going to give it to me before he left, but when his brother died he left earlier and I did not get it. I have contacted no one since he left or since I wrote to you because I believe you can’t jump around to different masters. I am no longer going up to the International Buddhist Meditation center because there is no real practice there and a lot of nonsense. I have no poems left in me, only doubt and anguish.

In gassho,
Steve

June 17, 1975
Dear Steve,

Thank you for your letter. You have written me many letters this year. These letters were not bad, not good. But the letter which you just sent me is a very wonderful letter. It is a true Zen letter. Thinking is only thinking. Suffering is only suffering. If you were to think. “I want my mind to become clear,” this would be bad thinking. When you are suffering, you must only suffer.

So you must understand the true meaning of your letter. It told me the truth. You want to become enlightened. Without thinking, enlightenment is not possible. Thinking is enlightenment: An eminent teacher said: “Mind is constantly changing. This changing mind is itself entirely the truth. If you are not attached to your changing mind, then you will attain your true nature. Then you will understand that there is neither good not bad.” You said that you are feeling very bad. If you make bad, it is bad. If you don’t make bad, it is not bad. Don’t make good and bad. Then everything will be good.

You said, “I am not a good man, not a good Zen student.” But if you understand good and bad, then good and bad have already disappeared. Please read the Heart sutra once more. Then your mind will be clear. What is good? What is bad? You want to be a good Zen student; you want to be a good man. This is thinking. Put it down! Put it all down! If your mind is not clear, you must ask a tree or the sky to help you. Then the tree or the sky will give you a good answer.

If you are always examining your mind, that is very bad. Don’t examine your mind. You say that you have no faith in your Buddha-nature. I too have no faith in my Buddha-nature. And I have no faith in Buddha or God or anything. If you have no faith, you must completely have no faith, you must not believe in anything at all. Then your mind will become true emptiness. But this true emptiness is only a name. This true emptiness is before thinking. Before thinking is like this. It is very good that you don’t have faith in our Buddha-nature. But when you see red, there is red; when you see white, there is only white. You must let go of both faith and non-faith. Things are only as they are. I don’t know Ven.Song Ryong’s address in Korea. I am sorry. But he told me that he would meet me in Japan in August. The address there is Ko Bo temple, 2-23-5 Kasuga Bunhyoku, Tokyo, Japan.

I think that it would be good for you to visit other Zen Masters. If you have already made a strong decision in your mind about who is your teacher, then you can meet ten thousand other teachers and there will be no problem. And it would be good also to visit the International Buddhist Meditation Center sometimes. Don’t be concerned with the practice there. If you are free, then you can go there and only sit by yourself. You must always keep Big Mind.

I am sending you copies of some of the letters that I wrote to a student in New Haven. I hope that these letters will help you.

You mustn’t worry about how your practice is, whether you are making progress or not, whether you are in anguish or not. All these things are not important. They are like clouds passing in front of the moon. You must not be attached to anything that appears in your mind. Then you will attain freedom thinking. No attachment thinking is just like this. I hope that you soon attain enlightenment and save all people from their suffering.

Yours sincerely,
S.S.


342

June 26, 1975
Dear Soen-sa:

That all things are empty, is known to all men, because “how can there be something out of nothing?”

Why is this nothingness then worthy of study, when most men step beyond its fascination into the world of suffering and pleasure?

Also, what is this wholeness of the emptiness of personality?

Also, how is it that emptiness is subject to mutual causes and conditions?

Please show me in what direction lies the path.

Sincerely,
Leigh

July 16, 1975
Dear Leigh,

Thank you for your letter.

In your letter you asked some very important questions. First you said, “That all things are empty, is known to all men, because ‘how can there be something out of nothing?’” All people understand emptiness, but don’t attain emptiness. What is true emptiness? Understanding is thinking; attainment is before thinking. So, you must attain true emptiness.

Here is a question for you: The Heart sutra says, “Form is emptiness, and emptiness is form.” Then, is your body form or emptiness? If you say it is form, I will hit you thirty times. If you say it is emptiness, I will also hit you thirty times. What can you do? If you are thinking, you won’t understand. If you don’t understand, only keep a “don’t know” mind. This don’t know mind has already cut off all thinking. The “cut off all thinking” mind is true emptiness, and true emptiness is before thinking. Before thinking means no speech and no words, and so no form and no emptiness. Then you understand that “form is emptiness, emptiness is form” is no form and no emptiness. No form and no emptiness means that your substance and universal substance are the area of becoming One. This is the Absolute. Emptiness and form are opposites words. Opposites are thinking. The Absolute is before thinking.

In your second question you said, “Why is this nothingness then worthy of study, when most men step beyond its fascination into the world of suffering and pleasure?” Many of these people are thinking. Thinking means desire; desire means suffering. So, first, it is very important that you understand your true self. This is very important. Then only keep “What am I?” Don’t know! Big question!

In your third question you said, “What is this wholeness of the emptiness of personality?” Don’t make everything. “Wholeness”, “emptiness”, and “personality” are all names. Names and forms are made by thinking. If you keep before thinking mind, that is a complete don’t know mind. then there is no “wholeness”, no “emptiness”, and no “personality”, and that is true wholeness, true emptiness, and true personality. So, you must make your situation, your condition, and your opinion disappear. Then in your mind there will be no object, no subject, no conditions, no causes, and no results. All of the above are opposites words. If you are thinking, there are opposites. If you cut thinking, there are no opposites.

So you must keep complete don’t know mind. Then your mind is not moving. Not moving mind is one mind. Its name is “emptiness”, or “before thinking”, or “the Absolute”, or “substance”, or “your true self”. But since it is before thinking there are no words, no speech, no name, and no form. If you open your mouth it is wrong. You must always, everywhere, keep don’t know mind. Then you will soon get enlightenment. This is the true path.

You will truly attain first “form is emptiness, emptiness is form”. Next, you will attain “no form, no emptiness”. Then finally you will reach the complete attainment of “form is form, emptiness is emptiness”. The words in these three sentences are different, but the meaning is the same if you keep a don’t know mind. Don’t know mind is before thinking. Before thinking is clear like space. That is the “like this” mind. The sky is blue; the trees are green. Only “like this”.

I hope you will do hard training and soon become a great man.

Sincerely,
S.S


361

Dear Soen-sa-nim,

We have a house! a four bedroom house in Santa Monica. This is not the same house you looked at. This house is even better, very high-class. Carl and Susan, Eileen, See Hoy, Ed, and myself are all interested in living there. We will move in the first of December. Hope that you are very well and can see you in January. On my own I worked very hard to make a center, but it didn’t work; but when the time is right no special effort is required. I hope that you could use the gift that Eileen and I gave you.

The center will be very good for me since I practice much better with other people (I am not too good at self-discipline). More than anything else I want to see my true nature and help all beings. At this time the center needs working people to help finance it. In a few years I would like to become a full-time monk. I think this is my true vocation. I will try hard training Zen right now in my busy daily life. We have a good start for a center, one full monk Satam, two Dharma monks (10 precepts) Jack and I, and Upasakas Carl, Susan, Eileen and See Hoy,

My don’t-know mind is very big; I don’t know how big though. I don’t know life, don’t know death, I want truth but don’t know what that is either. I don’t know kong-an answers either. I will try though. To the man who flicks ashes: I bow to Buddha with all my heart and clean him with all my heart. If I can do this maybe I can pierce the man’s emptiness. The mouse kong-an means a mouse is eating from a broken bowl. You ask me what does it mean, the bowl is broken. I say fix the bowl and you will have it. When the mouth opens the bowl breaks; when it is shut the cat pounces.

Hang cat and mouse with the same rope
Tied in the knot of no-knot.
Who understands this truth?
The ink is blue; the paper white.

With a deep bow,
Love, Stephen

To Soen-sa-nim,

We are indeed lucky to have been born human,
And more so to have heard the teachings of Zen,
But most fortunate are we to have a keen-eyed Zen Master,
So helpful in teaching the way to enlightenment.

In gassho,
Steve and Eileen

November 18, 1975
Dear Stephen,

Thank you for your letter. How are you, and Carl, Susan, Eileen, See Hoy, Satam, Jack, and Ed?

I am glad you are making a Zen Center in Santa Monica. You say this new house is higher-class than the one I saw. I am happy about this. You said you will move into this house the first of December. There is a good Buddha at Tal Mah Sa. You ask Ke Jung Su Nim, and he will give it to you. When I come to Los Angeles I will bring a jukpe and moktak.

The present you gave me is on the altar in my room. Thank you so much. The card you wrote has very beautiful words, so beautiful that I have put them in the kong-an book. Your ideas about practicing together with other people are good. This can make your practice stronger. You say in the future you would like to become a full-time monk, that is your true vocation. But being a monk is an outside job. What is a true job? Keeping a mind like space and helping all people is the Great Bodhisattva job. Monk, not monk, this does not matter.

The new Zen Center already has a good family. Linc likes you. He wants to learn more about Oriental medicine, which he can do in Los Angeles. I talked to him about the Santa Monica Center, and he would like to live there. Maybe he will come to Los Angeles with me.

Read your kong-an answers. You only understand the ink is blue, the paper is white. You do not understand your homework. Why do you scratch your right foot when the left foot itches?

Don’t check your don’t-know mind, don’t check your true self, don’t check anything. Only go ahead—DON’T KNOW!

I hope you are always keeping don’t-know mind, and that you will soon attain enlightenment, and save all beings from suffering.

Sincerely,
S.S.

P.S. Please send us the new address so that we can send you the newsletter, kong-an book, and chanting books.


367

December 1, 1975
Dear Soen Sa Nim,

I hope this letter finds you in the best of health. We are fine.We almost had a Santa Monica Zen Center. We were all ready to move in with Steve and Satam. At the last minute we were told we were unable to have the house, as we were unable to come up with the deposit ($1,300). Too much money all at once—So the next proposal we got was to move next door to Roshi Kozan—with See-hoy. After too much thinking, we decided to stay where we are.

Every morning we rise as 5:00 A.M. and do 108 bows, sit one half hour and then play music. Is this good?? Bad?? Different or the same!!??

Joan from Big Sur called and told us you will be coming for a Yong Maeng Jong Jin in January. Carl and I hope to attend.

Here is a question for your mind:

How can there be thinking in a
mind that doesn’t exist? Why
do we suffer if there is no suffering??
Keeping Big Question “What Am I?”
Still Don’t Know Mind Keeps Knowing.

Thank you for our wonderful trip to Big Sur. We hope to be seeing you soon.

Our warmest regards to Bobby, Jacob, Louise, Johnny, Lincoln and the “Great Sword Master.”

Sincerely,
Susan and Carl
P.S. Enclosed are some pictures from the Wedding.

Dear Susan and Carl,

Thank you for your letter and pictures. The pictures are beautiful but the faces are so dark that everyone looks like they come from India.
Did you receive my New Year’s card and picture?
I am sorry to be answering your letter so late. I had to send about five hundred New Year’s cards so I have been very busy.

Stephen and Jack already told me about the Santa Monica Zen Center’s search for a place. I will come to Los Angeles on January 15 with Linc. So, before I arrive, you and Stephen together must find a good place. Money is no problem since the Koreans can help us. Only take into consideration how many people there will be to pay the rent and support the Zen Center each month once we have it. This is very important. Also, try to find a place which is easy for young people to get to.

In answer to your questions: first, music mind, Zen mind; Zen mind, music mind. If you are thinking, I hit you thirty times. Put it all down.

Next, DesCartes said, “I think, therefore I am.” You mentioned “a mind that doesn’t exist.” This is already thinking. I hit you sixty times.

Next, I ask you, what is suffering? Explain to me.

Next, Don’t know mind is don’t know mind. If you know, this is not don’t know mind. Don’t know mind is don’t know. Don’t check don’t know mind. That is just now mind. Just now mind is true liberation. True liberation means no hindrance, true freedom, and peace.

A few days ago Joan from Big Sur sent me a letter and in it she said how much she likes you. If you have time at the end of January, come and do Yong Maeng ong Jin with us as Esalen.
Hello to you from Bobby, Jacob, Louise, Jonny, Linc, and Kwan Jang Nim. Our whole family sends congratulations for your marriage.

Sincerely,
S.S.


372

[…]
January 4, 1976
Dear Joan,

Before you said that you understood your bad karma: now you say you only understand a little bit. Don’t worry about understanding karma. Don’t check your karma, your mind, don’t check your everything. Only go ahead with “Don’t know!” If you check all of these things you will have problems. It is very important to only go ahead: “DON’T KNOW!”

Good and bad mind is small I.
Understanding karma means karma I.
Not thinking about everything is nothing I.
Good is all right, bad is all right, everything is o.k.:
this is freedom I.
Only keep “Don’t know.” Then your mind will be clear like space. This is big I.

This big I means when red comes, then only red; when white comes, then only white. If all people are sad, then I am sad; if all people are happy, then I am happy also. There is no desire for myself, only for all people. This is the great Bodhisattva way. So, always you must not check yourself, because then you will have problems. Sometimes small I, sometimes karma I, sometimes nothing I, sometimes freedom I, all are no good. Only go ahead, “Don’t know.”

You said in your letter that you did not understand that perceived mind means don’t-know mind. Here is a story for you.

Long ago in China, there was a famous Zen Master named Ji Do. Before he became a Zen Master he had been a famous sutra Master. He only read the Mahaparinirvana sutra for ten years, but he did not understand the meaning of this sutra. So, one day he visited the Sixth Patriarch, Hui-neng, and asked him, “Master, I have read the Nirvana sutra for ten years, but I still do not understand. Please teach me.”

Hui-neng replied, “What don’t you understand?”

To this question Ji Do said, “The sutra says that all formations are impermanent. This isthe law of appearing and disappearing. When this appearing and disappearing disappear, then this stillness is bliss. ‘Then this stillness is bliss’ is the part I don’t understand.”

Hui-neng replied, “Why don’t you understand the meaning of this?”

Ji Do said, “Humans have two bodies, one is our form body and the other is our Dharma body. So, this form body has much suffering when appearance and disappearance all disappear, and it can not get this bliss that the sutra mentions. Also, this Dharma body already has no feeling, no perception, no impulses, no consciousness. It is completely empty, so how can it feel this bliss? Both the form and the Dharma bodies can not get this bliss, so I do not understand the sutra. Please teach me.”

Hui-neng said, “Oh! Who made this Dharma body and this form body?”

Ji Do answered, pointing to his body, “This is form body. Mind is Dharma body.”

Hui-neng said, “That is your thinking. If you cut all of your thinking, is there a form body or a Dharma body?”

Ji Do could not reply; there was only silence.

“Just this! Your appearing and disappearing thinking has already disappeared. This is true stillness and bliss.”

So when Ji Do heard these words he attained Enlightenment. Before he was attached to name and form, so he did not understand the true meaning.

Now I ask you, what about this perceived mind and this don’t-know mind? Are they the same or different? If you say the same, I will hit you thirty times. If you say different, I will also hit you thirty times. What can you do? Don’t be attached to words!

You say your body is strong, that you eat a lot, sleep much, and feel good. So, I am very happy. When I meet you again I will see this wonderful face.

Next, your kong-an answers.
1. Your KATZ is not good or bad, but your explanation is very bad. I hit you thirty times.
2. Do you understand this don’t-know? If not, then you must get correct understanding of don’t-know. Correct don’t-know is your true nature.
3. Your answer is like scratching your right foot when your left foot itches. You must again ask the tree about the meaning of three pounds of flax.
[…]
Your Dharma,
S.S.
[…]


382

Dear Soen Sa Nim,

Everything here is wonderful! Each day is new and interesting. We are all healthy in body and mind; we are eager to go to Su Dok Sa. The date for starting the winter retreat is November 25 so we will stay in Seoul until about the 22nd; go up to Su Dok Sa for a big ceremony honoring Mang Gong. Mu Bul, Mu Gak and I are very close. We help each other all the time. Mu Gak’s body is good and his teaching is very powerful. Every time we teach he is more clear, more to the point and more helpful to the many students who come to listen and ask questions. Mu Bul does some teaching too and everyone loves him. Usually Mu Gak and I teach together. People ask me “professor-style” questions but I don’t answer like a professor anymore—I try to point to the truth instead. So they get a little confused when the professor doesn’t answer like a professor—then Mu Gak comes in and makes it more clear for them. After morning practice, I do two hours of yoga and sit for two to three hours. I go to a nice place behind the temple buildings—it seems to be a Kwanseumbosal and many Bodhisattva helper statues (made by the Japanese). After lunch I sit again or meet with people—many Korean psychiatrists have come to talk to me, give me their written work, etc. Each day is different but we continue to see many people—especially college students. At night sometimes I go dancing or spend time with a few very nice lady friends. C.S. Kim (Los Angeles ) has been very kind—he looks after us all the time—food, bath, etc. My sitting is very steady and strong. The Question gets stronger all the time. The mouse kong-an answer is a bigger and bigger nothing all the time. Perhaps there is no meaning to it—you are only tricking us? I cannot thank you enough for the wonderful training you gave me, for your infinite kindness, generosity and patience in pushing me through the hard times. Now my body is good, food is no problem and I love being in Korea. It is not possible to write about the last arrangement but it is definitely off. I will explain when I see you in person. Love to everyone. Take care of your body.

Byon Jo

Cambridge Zen Center
November 21, 1975
Dear Byon Jo,

Thank you for your letter. How are you and Mu Bul, Mu Gak and all Zen family? Now we try Yong Maeng Jong Jin in Cambridge. Maybe 40 people everyday interview. I am very tired. Thirty five people everyday sitting. All people hard training. Jonny, Richie, Becky very good Dharma teachers. And now Dyan is housemaster. Very good. Now 10 people are living here full time. Everything is OK. You don’t worry. Only keep don’t know mind. Soon get enlightenment. Soon come here. Teach us please.

We read your letter. All people very happy. Nowadays you are very popular in Korea. That’s good. Teaching also is good. Dancing is also good. Yoga is good. Sitting is good. Mr. C.S. Kim also is good. But how is Jung Bo Sal? Your sitting, you say very strong. That is very good. You must finish mouse kong-an. This is very important.

What did you think of the big Mang Gong ceremony? How is it living at Su Dok Sa? We are going back to Esalen in January, 24-31, to do a seven day Yong Maeng Jong Jin. They like us very much. This time we go with Jonny and Richie, and also Myla and Willow. Also Susan and Carl and Steve and Satam in Los Angeles will soon open the Santa Monica Zen Center. So we send Linc. All fix. Housemaster over there. Also many learn Oriental Medicine. One woman, Rebekah Murdock, from Rochester (four years sitting with Kapleau) wrote to me. She wants to go to Korea, become nun. So first she wants to come to the Providence Zen Center to learn Korean Zen Buddhism. Maybe in the future you must help her.

You say mouse kong-an only bigger emptiness. But you don’t check mouse kong-an. Also don’t check your mind. Also don’t check your body. Only go ahead. Don’t know. This is very important. Here is a poem for you:

Don’t know say don’t know
Don’t know keep don’t know
Don’t know go away, also don’t know
Don’t know is only don’t know.

Sincerely,
S.S.


401

March 11, 1976
Dear Soen Sa Nim,

How strange it is to be writing to you, instead of just talking face-to-face. Oh well—this is something!

I”ve set a place for myself to sit, and put your smiling pictures there, too. And yesterday I met Samu Su Nim. He was very kind and generous with his time. We talked for about an hour and he told me some jokes. I was delighted—I was expecting a very stern guy from Linc’s description. He wanted me to tell him all about our Yong Maeng Jon Jin and the Los Angeles center. He ask many times, with great affection I think, for Linc.

I sat at his house last night. He’s not a no-hindrance monk, of course; e..g, he told me that there is no place for sloppy dishwater people who don’t place their mats correctly (like me). I don’t mind though. It feels really good to be sitting with other people. I don’t think I can go to Korea with you in October. I wish I could, but I’d have to quit my job to go with you right now and I don’t wnat to.

I enjoy reading the newsletters immensely, and I chant with the tapes in the mornings. In both ways, I feel that you’re not so far away.

I’m sending a little bit of money to help out with Los Angeles center. Love to Linc and many good wishes for the L.A. center.

Love and a big hug,
Sherry

March 30, 1976
Dear Jin Mi, Sherry,

How are you? Thank you for your letter. I am pleased to hear from you. It is good that you visited with the Korean monk Samu Su Nim. He understands both Korean and Japanese Buddhism. Perhaps Samu Su Nim is a good teacher for you, but it is most important to believe in yourself. Good and bad are all you true teachers. But, if you check good and bad, they will become your demons. Not only good and bad, but Buddha, God, Zen masters, and teachers will all become demons if you check them. So, if you check your mind and feelings, you will have problems. Only go straight ahead; don’t check anything.

Don’t know. Don’t know is not don’t know. Don’t know is before thinking. Before thinking is your substance and the universal substance; its name is primary point. So, don’t know is the absolute, the correct way, and true life.

If you lose don’t know mind, you lose your true way, and you will soon get suffering. Always keep don’t-know mind; go straight ahead.

You said this monk told you there is no place for sloppy dishwater people like you. What is correct and incorrect action? Why do you do something? How do you keep a just-now mind? Action is important, but most important is how do you keep a just-now mind?

Going to Korea, not going to Korea, keeping a job, not keeping a job: everything is O.K. I ask you, what is your original job? If you find it, you will get freedom from life and death.

Before, I gave you homework. Someone comes to the Zen Center, blows smoke and drops ashes on the Buddha. What can you do? He is is very attached to emptiness. You are a doctor, so you must fix his mind and correct his action.

I hope you always keep don’t know mind, soon get Enlightment, and save all people from suffering.

Yours in the Dharma,
S.S.

P.S. Thank you for your check; I am sending it to the Tal Mah Sah Zen Center. I am now staying at the Providence Zen Center. I will go to Los Angeles on May 1.


407

Dear Soen Sa Nim,

How are you? Things are O.K. Here. We are all getting along well with the Korean people. Linc is staying with me in my room since Un Dam Su Nim moved in. we can’t do too much right now because Korean people come and go all the time during sitting, chanting etc. That’s O.K., but new people to Zen wouldn’t understand this form, so none of us are too wild to invite newcomers. We will wait until you return.

I am not so happy here in Los Angeles; I like fresh air and green trees. I realize Los Angeles, trees, and air are all in my mind, but my mind would like to move to San Diego.

When I first started to sit Zen about eight years ago, I had a good beginner’s mind: just sit, just walk, birds singing at sunrise, crickets chirping at sunset. Since then I have read too many zen books, seen too many Zen masters, etc. For a long time I was very caught in Zen form: I wanted robes, I wanted titles; I was full of shit. I forgot all about Enlightenment, about finding the true way.

Ever since I was a little boy, I wanted to know: what is the meaning of our life and our death? Language root is no problem, but I don’t want words—I want understanding. I am afraid of hard training, afraid that I will only fail and become more disillusioned at the same time, I know that there are only a very few people who have attained the Way. How can I, who is one of the most attached to words and thoughts, ever make it? Many people
are suffering, and I will never be able to help them; this makes me sad.

I know that I should put it all down, but if I could, I wouldn’t have to write this letter. What can I do to come to true understanding in this life? Layman form is no good; monk form is no good; no form is O.K. Part of my problem is I don’t know what vocation to follow; business I have no heart for. I will just try and keep don’t know mind and move ahead.

We all miss you.
Love,
your student
Stephen

April 15, 1976
Dear Stephen,
How are you and all the Tal Mah Sah family? Thank you for your letter. Your letter is correct; now Tal Mah Sah is very difficult, with Korean people coming and going during sitting. But, they already called me, when I come to California, they will soon decide which house they will move to. After they move, there will be no problem.

You say you don’t like Los Angeles. That’s correct; Los Angeles air is not clear, so you like San Diego. But most important is that your mind is not clear. If your mind is clear, then i doesn’t matter whether you are in Los Angeles or San Diego. If your mind is not clear and you go to San Diego, then you will also have a problem.

You said, “When I first started to sit Zen about eight years ago I had a good beginners mind”; why did you lose your beginners? Beginner’s mind is Zen mind; in Zen mind there is no beginning and no end, so you are already finished. After, you wanted to understand more and more. This is desire, so you lost your beginner’s mind. That’s no good. You read many books, visited many Zen masters, and so there was more and more dust in your mind, so your mind is not clear. So you don’t like Los Angeles; you like san Diego.

If in your mind there is like and dislike, everywhere you will have problems. Don’t check your mind. You must make like and dislike disappear. Only go straight—don’t know. I think you are dependent on something; this is very dangerous, not Zen mind: dependent on words, dependent on Zen masters, dependent on where you live. You must be dependent on yourself. This means believe in yourself. Already you understand too much. Buddha is not necessary, the Sutras are not necessary, Zen masters are not necessary; those are all your demons. Only don’t know mind will help you. Don’t know mind is better than them.

You say you are afraid of hard training, that you will never find the true way, but many people also have your style thinking. This is perverted view. Don’t check you mind, don’t check your feelings, don’t check anything. Only go straight—don’t know. Then no problem. You say, “Only a very few people have attainded the Way.” This is not correct. Many people understand this correct way, but they keep their opinions, so they understand the true way but have not attained the true way. You also understand the true way, but only have word understanding.

Now I ask you, what are you? Just this mind. Only go straight. An eminent teacher said, “Without thinking, just like this is truth.” What am I? Don’t know. Don’t know is already cut-off-all thinking mind. If you keep don’t know mind, you have already saved all people. Don’t worry about other people’s minds and everything. This is very important. I hope you will always go straight—don’t know, soon finish the Great Work, and save all people from suffering.

Here is a poem for you:

Spring has beautiful flowers.
Summer has cool breezes.
Fall has bright leaves.
Winter has pure snow.

Is the world throwing me away?
Am I throwing away the world?
I lie around in the Dharma room;
I don’t care about anything.

White clouds floating in the sky,
Clear water coming down to the ocean,
The wind passing the Pagoda,
I surrender my whole ife to them.

Yours in the Dharma
S.S.
P.S. I am sending you two pictures.


408

Dear Soen Sa Nim,

Thank you so much for the photos and tape. I am just back from an exhausting lecture tour—and was happy to hear from you.

Will you do me a favor. I have called Sambosa tample four or five times. Each time, they hang up. I think the problem is the English. I have gone there three times now. And no one has been there. I would like you to write them the dates of the Yong Maeng Jong Jin and how much it will cost. At present, we have only six people who will be sitting. I have sent out many invitations . I think we have two problems: Esalen is a more “popular” place for doing sitting (?) and (2) over half (16) of the January group was in my healing program—kind of a captive audience. So I am “hanging out” on the phone—wanting to get the human energy activated!

Marcy is back in the hospital. This time it’s Pleurisy. God, this man’s karma is too much. It makes me weep to think of his suffering,

I am sitting a lot—

Yours,
J

Dear Soen Sa Nim,
You ask me what I want—
and I say to you
No thing!

J

April 20, 1976
Dear Jin Kwang, Joan,

Thank you for your letter. How are you? You say you gave many lectures,and you are tired—that is the great Bodhisattva Way.

I also just came back after going to many Yong Maeng Jong Jins, and I have just called Sambosa. They said you already called and that they already talked with you. Sambosa Won Jang Nim said thay cannot speak English so his son Sok Ju spoke with you. They said everything is O.K. for the May Yong Maeng Jong Jin. To tell them how much money Yong Maeng Jong Jin costs is not necessary; you and I already decided to give Sambosa $100 a day, so I already told them this. Don’t worry about money to Sambosa. In your letter you say only six people are coming. If we have a money problem, I will talk to them; that is my job.

You said you sent out many invitations and made many calls—thank you very much. But, many people are not necessary; one person is O.K., two people are O.K., but most important is having keen-eyed students. You don’t worry, O.K.? Oriental speech says one golden fish is better than ten thousand fish. A golden fish is one that soon will become a dragon. So, I don’t care if there are six people or six hundred people; I only want golden fish.

You talk about Marcy. He has bad karma, but everything has a primary cause and result. Any primary cause has dependent origination; this means something happening together. Then you get the result. But that is all karma. If karma disappears, then the primary cause disappears, and the dependent origination and the result disappear. I already talked to Marcy; he must keep don’t know, and then he will be very good. Also, Marcy and our other friends share the same karma, so we must sometimes do special mantra for him. This is the great Bodhisattva Way. If you visit him, say hello to him for me.

You say you are sitting a lot. Those are wonderful words, but I ask you, is this body sitting or mind sittin? What is correct sitting?

In Oriental speech, the tiger loves her children very much, so the tiger takes her children to high rocks and kicks them down. Then she checks to see if they come back up or not. Then when they come up, she loves them more. After she tries this many times. She wants her children to become strong. This is how she loves them. So I hit you thirty times.

I sent to you white paper, and finally I said “P.S. What do you want?” But you are attached to the P.S. words. That is, the dog runs after the bone. You don’t understand the meaning of the white paper I sent to you.

The Heart Sutra says, “No eyes, no ears, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind, no color, no sound, no smell, no taste, no touch, no object of mind, no realm of eyes, and so forth… ” You say, “No thing.” Those are all words. But what is the true meaning of this? Then I ask you, Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva has ten thousand eyes; which one is the correct eye? You already understand no eyes, no color. What answer is good?

When I met Werner Erhard, I asked him, “What is truth?” He said “Nothing.” I said, “What is nothing?” He said “Emptiness.” I said, “What is emptiness?” He said “Just like this” So I said, “If there is true emptiness, how can you speak? You must show me true emptiness. True emptiness is no speech, no words.” So he could not answer. So I told him to ask me. So he asked me, “What is true emptiness?” and I showed him true emptiness. That you understand. So I sent to you white paper. What do you do? What do you want? Words are not necessary.

If you cannot answer, you must go to the ocean; then, facing the ocean, you must shout with all your energy, “Gaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!” Then better.

You must attain before thinking. Before thinking means before words, before speech. If you return to before-thinking, then you will understand your correct words. Your correct words are natural speech, the Universal Mother’s speech. You must find it. You say thatyou have given lectures around everywhere. What do you say? Whose speech? You must find your true speech. Don;t be a tape recorder. I want your true speech.

If you want to find your true way, they you must not be dependent on words, on Buddha, on God, or anything. You must be dependent on your true self. That means 100% belief in yourself. That is your true way.

An eminent teacher said, “Without thinking, just like this is truth.” You must go straight—don’t know. That is before thinking. Before thinking is just like this. so when you keep don’t know mind, then you see then mountain is blue, the tree is green—just like this. Don’t forget—don’t know know. That’s all.

I hope you will always keep a mind that is clear like space, soon get Enlightenment, become the the Universal Mother, and save all people from suffering,

Yours in the Dharma,
S.S.
[…]


420

June 6, 1979
Providence Zen Center
Dear Soen Sa Nim,

Hello, How are you? I hope you are well. And also I hope you will accept this poem. It’s not so much in answer to the homework you gave me, but as a gift from me to you. I finally feel as if I’m part of the house here now, and my outside job is going well. They, the pople I work for, have given me a more interesting maching to run; it’s called generically a screw machine, which means simply a turret lathe in a metal box frame that runs automatically after all the settings have been made.

Hope to see you soon.

Here is the poem,
John

“GO STRAIGHT, NOT KNOWING
KEEPING CLEAR MIND”
—Seung Sahn Soen Sa Nim

Just So, Like This!
Sky is Blue
Trees are Green
Going Straight keeping
Don’t know mind,
Much or nothing depends this/

One cat Black scrambles up tall
bare pole of weathered -wood in hazy
Moonlight,

Supreme Delight/ and an old man
Named O’Brian
Stands talking with
George and L.K.W.

June 11, 1976
Dear John,

How are you? Thank you for your letter and your poem. They were both very wonderful. The poem is important, but your homework is most important; only go straight, DON’T KNOW. It is very good that you feel at home at the Providence Zen Center and that your job is more interesting now. That is also very wonderful.

You said that this new machine was interesting. This machine is better than a human because this machine always has correct action. But this machine doesn’t care about correct or not-correct action. It only goes straight ; it only works. If you keep a machine mind, you will have no problem—there are no opposites.

Only go, and only stop! Only just like this! But if you are attached to the machine, then you have no direction, and you have no mind. But if the person using the machine and the machine become one mind, then this is machine mind. When you push the letter A on the typewriter, you get A ; when you push B , you get B . You must learn from your machine and understand that this machine mind is clear mind; this is Zen mind.

Here is a poem for you:

“GO STRAIGHT, NOT KNOWING
KEEPING CLEAR MIND”

Much or nothing depends on this/
Supreme Delight
Old man and George and LKW

All these things come from where?
Do they exist, or are they emptiness?
If you open your mouth, I will hit you thirty times.
If you do not open your mouth, I will still hit you thirty times.

What can you do?
Don’t hold the stone cow’s tail
When the stone cow is running.
Then you will understand
The sky is blue, the tree is green.

Yours in the Dharma,
S.S.


444

September 5, 1976
Dear Seung Sahn Soen Sa Nim,

I read the book that was compiled by Stephen Mitchell, in which your talks and lectures are printed. Dropping Ashes on the Buddha was a real joy for me. I got very excited while reading it. I rushed through the book very fast, as I kept getting the feeling of your essence and personality. Now, I am reading it again slowly. I feel sure you will be able to help me and give some guidance to meditation.

Please have someone let me know when you will be in Chicago. Stephen wrote to me and said it would be about October 24th. He gave me the address of Bul Tah Sah, and I called there and gave them my name and address. I work in Chicago; this town I live in is like a suburb of Chicago. I want very much to see you when you are in Chicago, and perhaps come to the center in New York in November or December if you are there.

I have been sitting for about two years, without any real guidance. All that led up to my beginning to sit, I can tell you sometime when we meet. Anyway, I go to the Chicago Buddhist Temple about once a month, and Rev. Kubose is very nice, but he is a Shinto priest and not a Zen teacher. I can sit fairly well, but my mind is a mess. I try counting or saying the Nembutsu, but it doesn’t help much. To say things like “Keep a clear mind” or “Keep don’t know mind” are beyond me. (I don’t want to give you the impression that I understand your book—I love it, but I don’t really understand it.) However, all my little frustrations are unimportant, and I am sure you will be able to clear up much of the muddy water.

As I wrote to Stephen, when I read the book I feel like giving you a big hug. I’m so happy to have discovered you. Please let me know the exact date, when it is known, that you will arrive in Chicago. I’ll be there without fail.

With Love and many bows,
Harrington

September 21, 1976
Dear Harrington,

Thank you for your letter. How are you? You said that you read my book, and that is wonderful. You and I have a connection through this book, and that is wonderful. But you only read these words, and you don’t understand this book. That is because Zen is not dependent on words and speech; also it is not dependent on Buddha or Buddhism, God or anything. Zen is being only dependent on yourself. So I ask you, what are you? If you understand, you must give me an answer. If you don’t understand, only go straight-don’t know. If you keep this don’t—know mind and read this book, then you can understand its meaning. Always keep this don’t know mind; don’t lose it!

Our Zen school uses many koans, almost 1,700 in all. If you don’t understand them, an eminent teacher once said, “10,000 questions return to 1 question.” If you understand this, and return to your don’t know mind, then you will understand everything. So you must go straight-don’t know. Don’t make anything; then you will get everything.

I will go to Chicago on October 29th, so if you call Bul Tah Sah on that evening, we can arrange to meet.

I hope you are keeping a mind which is clear like space, that you will soon get Enlightenment and save al people from suffering.

Yours in the Dharma,
S.S.


445

September 1, 1976
Dear Venerable Seung Sahn,

Really have enjoyed Dropping Ashes on the Buddha; nice meeting you on the pages of the
book. The book is clear, and wonderful—the Zen comes to me directly.

I hope to see you when you are in Los Angeles. Do you know the time of your next visit?
Please send me information on the Providence Zen Center and put me on your mailing
list. Thank you.

I would like your comments now on a Zen thought that came to me while I was doing
Zazen three or four days ago. The thought is: The sky walks on two feet.

Yours truly,
Stephen

September 22, 1976
Dear Stephen,

Thank you for your letter. How are you? It is wonderful that you liked my book. Now I
am staying in Los Angeles at the Tahl Mah Sah Zen Center. We have chanting and sitting
every morning and evening. If you like, you are welome to come to join us any time. I will
be here until the end of October.

You asked for my comments on your Zen thought: The sky walks on two feet. Yes, any
words or thoughts are possible. But what is Zen? Zen is understanding myself. So I ask
you, what are you? If you open your mouth, I will hit you. If you close you mouth, I will
also hit you. What can yo do? Please give me a good answer. If you don’t understand,
then only go straight—don’t know. This thought that you asked about is thinking, and
thinking comes from where? Is it understanding? This understanding cannot help you. If
you read many books, hear many Dharma talks, and experience many things, you may
understand many things, but this understanding is still in the realm of opposites. You must
attain what is called “before thinking.” Before thinking, there is no speech and no words.
Open your mouth and you are wrong. If you keep before thinking, then your mind is clear
like space. It is like a mirror: when red comes, then only red; when white comes, then only
white. When you see the sky, then only blue. When you see the tree, then only green. This
is a just-like-this mind.

The thought you sent to me is a freedom thought. But I think you are attached to
freedom—not just like this. Put it all down and only go straight ahead—don’t know.
Don’t make anything; then you will get everything. I hope you always keep a don’t-know
mind, then soon find your true self and save all people from suffering.

Yours in the Dharma,
S.S.


452

October 4, 1976
Dear Soen Sa Nim,

It has been over a year since I last saw you. Since then, I have been keeping don’t-know mind as much as I can.

Last week I was sitting asking who am I? Who was I before I was born and who will I be after I die? Then for a flash, I died. When I finished sitting, I was very calm and quiet. I have never had such an experience before.

Monday, I was sitting at my desk where I work asking Who Am I? I began to feel light and numb. When I finished meditating I wrote this: I still feel lightheaded. My body is numb. I watched my desk talking and various things were laughing, etc. Right now my mind is blank except for what I’m writing. Everything is just like this. The mouse is eating cat food but the cat bowl’s broken means only the mouse is eating cat food but the cat’s bowl is broken. To the student who dropped ashes on the Buddha I would say: The Buddha is full of ashes and smells of smoke. To you, Soen Sa Nim, I would say, Don;t be attached to my words. I don’t know what I’m saying.

I wrote this poem:
Yesterday I locked myself out.
I beat on the door, “Let me in!”
The house only smiled.
Today I awoke in my own bed.

Today I am as I was before. I have likes and dislike, etc. If I close my eyes—nothing. I think about things to be done, etc., but it all comes back to nothing when I am finished. If you ask me now—the mouse is eating cat food but the cat’s bowl is broken, I will still say: the mouse is eating cat food but the cat’s bowl is broken—only this. If I saw you right now, I would have no questions for you. It doesn’t matter! I’m really feeling everything equally. I have calmed down since Monday. I’m not numb or light-headed, but I am quiet. I’m not trying to hold on to this quiet or let it go. I really can’t explain how I feel. The reason I’m writing is to try to make sense of how I feel now, but I can’t. I feel like I have just let go of the tree I was hanging from and I’m still in the air. I haven’t hit the ground yet, but I’m not hanging onto the tree or anything else. If I hit the ground, I hit the ground. Who cares! I only know I wanted to have a funeral for a dead fly this morning.

Sincerely,
Albert

P.S. I know you are away at this time. I hope that when you read this, you will have
returned from a nice trip.

October 15, 1976
Dear Albert,

Thank you for your letter. Your letter was wonderful but in your letter you said “I… , I… , I,I,I,” too many times. So I must ask you, what are you?

You said that you understand this mouse koan, but your answer is attached to words, and attached to “I don’t care” and attached to “ just like this.” An eminent teacher once said that this style of thinking is a cognition demon. There are two kinds of demons: form demons and cognition demons. Form demons are seeing things or colors, having your body disappear, leaving your body, etc. Cognition demons take the form of “I already understand everything. I understand all koans. The desk is laughing, this is … .., etc.” This is being attached to freedom thinking. This is just your understanding, and not true attainment.

Here is a bell. If you say it is a bell, you have attachment to name and form. If you say it is
not a bell, then you are attached to emptiness. Is this a bell or not? What should you do? Spech is no good, so if you say a bell is a bell, it’s no good. Hitting the floor, or saying the bell is yellow, is also no good. Only ring the bell. Only this one point is just like this. Your style is saying that the bell is a bell. Saying that the mouse koan is only the mouse koan is no good. I ask you, what does it mean?

Here is a poem for you:

Flowers in Springtime, moon in Autumn,
Cool wind in Summer, snow in Winter,
If you don’t make anything in your mind,
For you it is a good season.

I hope you always keep a clear mind, soon get Enlightenment, and save all people from suffering.

Yours in the Dharma,
S.S.


454

October 18, 1976
Dear Housemaster Bobby,

How are you and all of the Providence family? I heard that there are many new people staying at the house now, and I am happy to hear this.

I am sending you a newspaper article from a famous daily newspaper in Korea concerning the Providence Zen Center. It is a very good story about our Zen Center.

Here is a poem for you:

Where is my head? Where is my head? Somebody loses his head.
What am I? Don’t know. They also loose their mind.
Want to find head, want to find mind—they are fools.
Put it all down; then, just like this.

I hope you will teach the way this poem teaches to the new people at the Zen Center, and save all people from suffering.

Yours in the Dharma
S.S.


458

October 26, 1976
Dear Soen Sa Nim,

The following is an attempt to explain an understanding based on a few experiences and doing Zazen:

All is illusion. I am illusion; thinking I am is illusion. Only Nothing is also illusion. Attachment and not-attachment is a dream. Being in illusion is also thinking illusion, but Being, through illusion, exists as illusion. Only illusion!

To Be in illusion means being non-attached, even to non-attachment. Everything comes and goes according to the illusion of Buddha-nature. Buddha-nature is reality; everything has Buddha-nature. But do not be attached to the concept of Buddha-nature because that is illusion.

So why not just die and be rid of illusion? Because death is also illusion. Besides, running away from illusion is also an illusion and, therefore, increases illusion.

What then is to be done? Just Be the illusion and know you and the world are one in illusion but also separate illusions. Everything in the world is a separate illusion of Reality. I am part of your illusion, and you are part of my illusion. To seek individual Enlightenment is impossible because only part of illusion is in each individual. So, with the knowledge of illusion we must remain in illusion to teach all individuals that all is illusion. Only then will Enlightenment come to all. Then all will be the Buddha-nature and with a mind free from attachment to anything, charge directly into illusion and Be!

These words have come from thinking and Zazen and a few experiences that brought both together.
[…]
Yours in the Dharma,
Albert

P.S. Do not be attached to words—what else could I write in a letter? Would you understand—?

November 5, 1976
Dear Seung Sahn Soen Sa Nim,

I am sorry that it is not possible for me to attend Yong Maeng Jong Jin at this time. I would really enjoy speaking with you.

As of this letter I have not yet received your reply to my last letter. I’m sorry that I am writing so often; please excuse me.

I have been sitting more often, and I would like to tell you how I feel.

I have seen emptiness many times, and it is much easier to obtain a clear mind now. It’s also much easier to keep a clear mind throughout the day.

In sitting I have seen that emptiness and form are the two sides of the same coin. Form is Emptiness, Emptiness is Form! Only since seeing this have I given up attachment to both. I understand that I must sit as often as possible. There is no more thinking about enlightenment or emptiness, etc. All there is is whatever I’m doing at the time. If I sleep, only sleep; if I walk, only walk. There is no great joy any longer, only quiet.

I’m not saying that al koans are understood. Some I understand, some not. What’s the difference?

I will speak about Dharma to any who listen. If someone asks—good, if not—good. I would like to speak to you, though, because all I could tell anyone about is my experience. Some would understand,some not.

There are many things to talk about but no room in a letter. Hope to see you soon.
[…]
Yours in the Dharma,
Albert

November 9, 1976
Dear Albert,

How are you? Thank you for your two letters. I am sorry that I just returned from the West Coast, and just finished a Yong Maeng Kong Jin, so I am answering your letters very late.

Your first letter is wonderful. It’s just an illusion letter. Your speech is also an illusion. Also, you are an illusion man. But who made illusion? Where does illusion come from? If you said cut off all thinking, is there illusion? An eminent teacher said, “Don’t make anything. If you make something you are hindered by something.”

Your speech is correct. Before, an eminent teacher said, “The whole world is like a mirage.” But many people do not understand mirage. Why? Because they have mirage sickness. Mirage sickness means that you are attached to opposites thinking. If you want to fix this mirage sickness, you must have mirage medicine. Then you can fix this mirage sickness. but if you continue to keep this medicine, you fall into emptiness. So after you fix this mirage sickness, you must throw away the medicine. Then you will return to original man. Then you can see, then you can hear. Just like this is the truth.

In your letter you said, “ With a mind free from attachments to anything,, charge directly into illusion and Be!” If you are free from attachments, why are you charging into illusion? Watch you step.

Your mouse koan answer is not good, not bad. You only understand like this; you do not understand just like this. So I hit you thirty times.

Your second letter is O.K., but don’t check your mind, don’t check your feelings. Only go straight—don’t know. Don’t make emptiness, don’t make form, don’t make understand, don’t make don’t-understand, don’t make Enlightenment, don’t make Buddha. Don’t make anything; then you will get everything.
[…]
I hope you always keep a mind which is clear like space, soon finish the Great Work, and save all people form suffering.

Yours in the Dharma,
S.S.


463

October 28, 1976
Dear Soen Sa Nim,

I wish to thank you for coming to the West Coast. Your teaching is always appreciated by many, although not many new students came this time.

When you come, I am always returned to the fundamental teachings: Drop it, just straight ahead, like this, and just like this. At the end of two months, I am back again to this point. When you leave, I return to Kozan and maybe visit other teachers and do lots of reading, since each of these people emphasize a complete familiarity of all Zen koans and scriptures. Temporarily, confusion arises and a losing of the fundamental point. But even before you return, the confusion begins to disappear, and when you come, it disappears even more. After which, I have had a new teaching that has been penetrated and dropped. This allows me to become a better teacher in terms of the type of people that come to my classes at U.C.L.A., since they are academic types and are attracted by people that “know”.

Yet, I only teach about not knowing, and use the knowing to end knowing.

When you once, it is like a hand opening, relaxing. When you leave, returning to traditional Zen practive is like a hand closing, becoming tight. This closing, then opening, tensing and relaxing is good.

I hope you are fine in Providence, and that all the centers grow. It is very important that your understanding be transmitted to as many people as possible.

Thank you very much.
Sincerely,
Ed

November 11, 1976
Dear Ed,

How are you, Ed? Thank you for your letter. Your letter is not bad, not good, but you do not listen to me.

I always said, “Don’t make anything; then you will get everything.” But you make something all the time. Why make me? Why make Kozan Roshi? Why make other teachers? Why make reading books? If you don’t make anything, thenn you will not be hindered by me, by Kozan Roshi, by other teachers, or by books. ALso you will not lose the fundamental point.

So I always worry about you. You are too clever. You say, “Yet, I only teach about not knowing, and use the knowing to end knowing.” What does this mean? So I hit you thirty times.

Don’t use dead words. You are a Zen student. You must use live words. Deads words are always opposite-thinking words. Live words are just-like-this words. In just-like-this words there is no subject, no object; inside and outside only become one. So you must use live words, like “three ppounds of flax” or “spring comes and the grass grows by itself,” or “three times three equals nine.”

Next, you say, “hand opening, relaxing,” then “hand closing, becoming tight,” but I always tell you, don’t check your mind, don’t check your feelings, don’t check anything. But you are always checking, checking, checking. This is your bad karma. Put it all down! Only go straight—don’t know.

Did you finish your homework? You must finish you homework, O.K.?

I hope you always keep a mind which is clear like space, soon finish your Great Job, and save all people from suffering.

Yours in the Dharma,
S.S.


467

November 6, 1976
Dear Soen Sa Nim,

I have just finished reading your book and have found it very interesting as well as being full of mystery.

I enjoyed meeting you when you were in Toronto and spending some time with you, as well as having you stay in our house. Also thank you and Mu Bul Su Nim for sending Sherry and me the two sitting robes.

You said, quite frequently, when you were in Toronto,

(1) Only go straight ahead,
(2) Put it all down,
(3) Only keep don’t-know mind,

and all that seems very good to me, but I have a question for you—How did Ko Bong know he would see you in 500 years?

Lawlor

November 17, 1976
Dear Lawlor,

Thank you for your letter. How are you and Sherry?

You say you just finished my book—that is wonderful. But you say it is full of mystery. If you want to understand it, then it is full of mystery. Only go straight—don’t know. Then you will get everything. So put it all down!

I heard that you will come to the next Yong Maeng Jong Jin here—that is wonderful. At that time, we will talk more.

You ask me, “How did Ko Bong know he would see you in 500 years?” I ask you, do you understand Ko Bong? You don’t know. If you understand Ko Bong, already you are dead. You must make understand and not understand disappear in your mind. Then you will understand.

Here is honey and here is sugar. How do you explain to me the diffference between the sweetness of honey and the sweetness of sugar? Speech and words cannot help you, only action. So, I say to you, only go straight ahead—don’t know. Don’t check your mind, don’t check your feelings, don’t check anything. Then you will get everything, O.K.?

I hope you are keeping don’t know mind, always remain clear, soon finish the Great Work of life and death and then save all people from suffering.

Yours in the Dharma,
S.S.


473A

Poem delivered by Soen Sa Nim at the celebration of the anniversary of Buddha’s Enlightenment on December 11, 1976:

Buddha saw the star
Attained enligthenment
Seung Sahn saw the star,
Lost enlightenment.
The wind of KATZ
Blew away enlightenment and unenlightenment.
The Buddha is bright in the Dharma room.
The star is clear in the sky.


486

November 29, 1976
Dear Soen Sa Nim,

It was so good seeing you again last night at your Sunday night talk. I find it a little hard to believe that you are a mirror held before everyone … that when they are sad, you are sad, and that when they laugh, you laugh. You always seem to laugh … and that laugh usually laughs me a little, too … Thank you!

When I saw you, I asked you to describe shikantaza. You told me to ask the question during the question and answer period. When that time came, however, the question seemed out of place (to me). It didn’t seem general enough for public consumption- By the time I’d decided that that might just be my impression and that, after all, you’d told me to ask it … time was up.

So, if you can spare the time, could you tell me, now, what the practice of shikantaza consists of?

… With gassho
Sam

P.S. and could you please illustrate how the image of allowing dirty water to settle and grow clear is translated into method? I refer to the advice that is given… that any attempt to do anything… even to do nothing … stirs the water (the mind) and causes it to get cloudy.

December 23, 1976
Dear Sam,

Thank you for your letter. I am sorry that my answer is very late; I received your letter very late.

In your first question, you are very attached to my face. First you must understand your clear mind; then you will understand clear mirror. Don’t attach to my words; don’t attach to my face. Then you will understand your original face and clear-like-space mind. Clear-like-space mind is like a clear mirror. If you don’t understand, put it all down; only go straight—don’t know.

In your next question, you ask about shikantaza. Shikantaza means cutting off all thinking, keeping a not-moving mind. Many people think that shikantaza concerns only the body, but that is not the correct way. If you cut off all thinking, keeping a not-moving mind, that mind is clear like space.

But shikantaza is only half of the name. It is two phrases which come together: shikantaza ta sung il pyon. That means hit and become one. Hit and become one means to hit the world of opposites, and then make the world of opposites disappear. Becoming one means becoming the absolute. Then both together they mean cutting off all thinking, keeping a not-moving mind, hit, and become one. In other words, keep a mind which is clear like space. Then in your mind there is no inside, no outside, no subject, no object. Inside and outside become one. Then when red comes, red; when white comes, white; if somebody is sad, you are sad; if somebody Is happy, you are happy. That is the great Bodhisattva Way, Great Love. That Is the meaning of shikantaza ta sung i1 pyon.

So, Soto Zen and Rinzai Zen are not different; they are the same. Only the teaching words are different. If you are attached to Soto words, and If you are attached to Rinzai words, you don’t understand Soto, and you don’t understand Rinzai. You must find the meaning beyond.

The meaning beyond is: don’t make anything—only go straight. Then just like this, moment to moment, correctly keep your situation. When you see the sky, only blue; when you see the tree, only green. Just like this is the truth.

Next, you asked me in your P.S. about how to allow dirty water to settle and grow clear. Again you are attached to my words; you don’t understand this meaning. In your mind there are many desires, much anger, and much ignorance. When you keep only don’t-know mind, then your desires, your anger, and your ignorance become rest, become rest, become rest, become clear, and then finally all desires, anger, and ignorance disappear. Then you can see; everything is possible. But you still have your bad karma and sometimes cannot control yourself, so you cannot have everything. Don’t be attached to teaching words.

Somebody said that sugar is light sweet and honey is heavy sweet. How do you explain the difference between sugar sweet and honey sweet to someone who doesn’t understand the difference? You must practice. Don’t be attached to words. Then you will get it. Only go straight—don’t know. Don’t check your mind; don’t check your feelings. Also don’t check words. If you make something, you will have a problem with something. So I say, don’t make anything; then you will get everything.

I hope you always keep don’t know, soon finish the Great Work of life and death, and save all people from suffering.

Yours In the Dharma,
S.S.


488

Dear Soen Sa Nim,

How are you? Well, I hope. Thank you for your reply to my letter. First, you said, “I hit you 30 times. What can you do?” I can hurt, but fortunately you missed.

You asked me what I want. I would like to say that I don’t know and then have you tell me to keep this “don’t-know mind,” but I guess what I really want is to keep my “don’t-know mind” without checking myself or intellectualizing about it. When I had a koan, I realize that it is supposed to put my mind into a dead-end and this “don’t-know mind” is the actual answer. Should I still ponder these questions?

Third, you asked me where my KATZ comes from.
It comes from my pen.

How did you enjoy your visit to the aquarium? I enjoyed visiting the New Haven Zen Center last Sunday.

Sincerely,
Marty

December 30, 1976
Dear Martin,

How are you? Thank you for your letter.

First, you said, “I can hurt, but fortunately you missed.” You are like somebody who drank three cups of wine but said, “My tongue did not get wet.” So I hit you thirty times. What can you do? This is very important. Zen is just-like-this mind. Thinking is no good. When you’re hungry, what? When you’re tired, what? When you touch a hot place, what? When somebody hits you, what?

Your answers are all thinking, thinking, thinking, thinking. Thinking is no good. Thinking cannot help you. You must attain your true self. Don’t check your mind. Don’t check your feelings. Only go straight—don’t know.

I am giving you one koan:
Before, in China, famous Zen Master Hyang Eom said, “It is like a man up a tree who is hanging from a branch by his teeth. His hands cannot grasp a bough; his feet cannot touch the tree (they are tied and bound). Another man under the tree asks him, ‘Why did BodhiDharma come to China?’ If he does not answer, he evades his duty (will be killed. If he answers, he will lose his life.. If you are in the tree, how would you stay alive?”

If you understand, understand. If you don’t understand, only go straight—don’t know. Don’t check anything, O.K.?

Yours in the Dharma,
S.S.


492

Dear Soen Sa Nim,

How are you? I hear that the P.Z.C. family is growing and that the workshops are going well—that’s wonderful.

Today Kyol Che begins. We will sit for about 8 hours every day. This is less time for sitting than I expected, but I am not worried. If “don’t-know” mind is kept twenty-four hours a day, then sitting is not more important than anything else.

It is beautiful and calm here at Su Dok Sa; the monks are kind and helpful, and we all have an excellent opportunity to practice. We hope to do some Sim Gum Do every day, but so far the ground has been very wet and muddy—it has snowed a great deal this week. I have asked everyone I know not to write to me, and I have no magazines or books (except two Zen books), so that I can come to understand my attachment to reading and writing. Since I had found no answer to your koan, I thought that I would not even write to you, only keep “don’t-know” mind. But you said in your last letter, “You must finish your homework,” so I will try.

Homework—JoJu’s “Wash your bowls.” What did this monk attain?
Wash your bowls.
Only go straight.

Hapchang,
Gak Sim

P.S. For Kyol Che my job is to ring the great bell. What a beautiful sound it makes! While striking the bell, I chant so that the time between strikes will be even. The chant I use is OM SALBA MOCHA MOJI SADAYA SABAHA, which I remember from the Precepts Ceremony. Is there a better chant to use; rather, is it incorrect to use this chant in this situation?

December 19, 1976
Dear Soen Sa Nim,

How are you? I know that I wrote you a letter just a few days ago, but a new question has come up. I am not sure if I am keeping the question “What am I?” correctly. In Dropping Ashes on the Buddha, I read your letter to Byon Jo. You said that in order to keep a “don’t- know” mind correctly, you must avoid “opposites questions,” such as, “Who is thinking?,” when thinking occurs. You said that even the question “What am T?” does not appear when it is asked completely, for all thinking is cut off. I try to avoid opposites questions by simply watching thinking come and go, nor pulling it in or pushing it out. But, in order to concentrate on the question ‘What am I?,” I try to keep Zen Master Na Han’s statement in mind:

“This not-understanding is the earth, the sun, the stars, and the whole Universe.” So the color of the floor, the sounds of birds, monks, and wind outside, the smell of incense are all asking the question “What am I?” just by their being there. They are not saying “What am I?”; they simply are there, so the question is there without being said. So simply sitting without thinking is asking the great question, for all things are asking this question even without saying it or realizing they are asking it.

Please, tell me, am I entangling myself in opposites questions? One other thing. I think I understand what you mean when you say that hair is “ignorance grass” now that I have shaved my head. When you have no hair, the sun comes and you are immediately hot; the wind comes and you are immediately cold. So you learn that by putting down your opinion about appearance, you can learn directly about what is happening. Further, if you shave off all your opinions, then when red comes, only red appears. So ignorance is clinging to things which keep you from seeing clearly. I hope I have understood you correctly, and that you and everyone else at P.Z.C. are well.

Hapchang,
Gak Sim

December 30, 1976
Dear Gak Sim, Jan,

How are you? Thank you for your two letters.

You are lucky. Su Dok Sa, Dok Seung Sahn Mountain is the Diamond Mountain Temple. So, in Korea, it is very famous. Also, many great Zen Masters have appeared there: Kyung Hoe Zen Master, Mang Gong Zen Master, Kum Bong Zen Master, Jung Kang Zen Master, Ko Bong Zen Master (my teacher), and Bo Wol Zen Master. All these Zen Masters have appeared at Su Dok Sa.

You are sitting eight hours every day—not bad. But Zen is no time, no space, always, everywhere. Only go straight—this is correct Zen.

Next, your answer, “Wash your bowls,” is not good and not bad. Why wash your bowls? When you’re hungry, what? When you’re tired, what? JoJu taught him two times. You must understand this. Then you will understand correctly what this monk attained.

You asked me about OM SALBA MOCHA MOJI SADAYA SABAHA when you are ringing the bell—that is wonderful, not incorrect.

In your second letter, you asked me about opposites questions. Opposites questions is any time I am here, something is there. Whose watch is that? Already this question has a subject and has an object. This is an opposites question.

What am I? I don’t know. This means there are no opposites. I ask myself, so I say, “I don’t know.” This means I am don’t know. I am don’t know means “I” is don’t know. So I equals don’t know. Then don’t know is I, so when you can see something, don’t know sees something. Don’t know eats, don’t know is working, don’t know is sitting, don’t know is doing everything. So, your name is don’t know. So this don’t know is the big question. Big question means 100% question. 100% question means absolute question. Absolute question means no question—just like this.

A famous Zen Master, JoJu, one day asked Nam Cheon Zen Master, “What is the true
way?”
Nam Cheon answered, “Everyday mind is the true way.”
“Then should I try to keep it or not?”
Nam Cheon said, “If you try to keep it, already you are mistaken.”
“If I do not try, how can I understand the true way?”
Nam Cheon said, “The true way is not dependent on understanding or not understanding. Understanding is illusion; not understanding is blankness. If you completely attain the true way of not thinking, it is Like space, clear and void. So, why do you make right and wrong?”
JoJu suddenly got enlightenment.

So, I ask you, what did JoJu attain? Don’t make anything. Only go straight. Then you will get everything.

I hope you only keep don’t know, then soon get enlightenment, and save all people from suffering.

Yours in the Dharma,
S.S.


496

The New Year Comes and Finds Its Seat
The New Year comes to the West a little late,
Because coming past the East,
So very hungry and thirsty.
“I want food.”
Quickly eats something.
“Oh, very salty—this is salt.
Ah, here is honey. Oh, very sweet.
Where is the bread?”
The bread says, “Don’t touch me.
Who are you?”
“I am the New Year.”
“Are you? I don’t believe you.”
“Why not believe me?”
“How can I believe you?
I don’t know the New Year.
Where are you coming from?”
“I don’t know.”
“So I cannot believe you.
If you want food, you must find your seat.”
“What am I?
Where is my seat?
I don’t know.”
The New Year asks the dog,
“Do you know the New Year?”
“Woof! Woof! Woof!”
The dog only understands woof New Year.
Next, the New Year asks the cat,
“Do you understand the New Year?”
“Meow, meow, meow.”
The cat only understands meow New Year.
But, the New Year is thinking about woof and meow -Not new, not old.
Every day woof, woof.
Every day meow, meow.
No new, no old.
The New Year cannot find itself and its seat.
At that time, two people are fighting:
“The New Year is not necessary.”
“The New Year is necessary.
If there is no New Year,
How can we understand age?”
“In our true self,
There is no life, no death.
If you’re attached to age,
Then you have life and death.”
“But, the New Year came in today.
Who made the New Year? God?”
“No, no.”
“Consciousness?”
“No, no, no.”
“Time?”
“No, no, no.”
“Then what?”
“Time is empty.
So the New Year is not the New Year.
The New Year is also empty,
Only made by your thinking.
So, the New Year is not necessary.”
Hearing this,
The New Year loses itself.
So, the New Year asks Zen Master Duk Sahn,
“Do you understand the New Year?”
“Where are you coming from?”
“I’m from time.”
“Time? Time comes from where?”
Silence.
The Zen Master only HITS.
At that time, the New Year completely understands
NOTHING, nothing at all.
No time, no New Year, no name, no form,
Complete emptiness.
Then, what am I?
Everybody says, “Happy New Year! Happy New Year!”
The New Year is confused.
Complete nothing,
But everybody says, “Happy New Year!”
“What shall I do?”
So, he asks another Zen Master, Lin-chi,
“I am the New year. Where is my seat?”
Lin-chi Zen Master shouts,
“KATZ!!! Keep clear mind!”
“Aha! Now I understand!
Keep clear mind.
Everything is just like this.
Keep clear mind.
Nice day today. Happy new Year.
The sky is blue. The snow is white.
Just like this.”
He understands.
“Everywhere.
My seat is everywhere.
The whole Universe is my seat.
The New Year is everywhere.”
The New Year is dancing around.
But a little child is laughing,
“Ha, ha, ha! You’re still a fool.
You still don’t know your seat.”
The New Year is surprised.
“My seat is everywhere!”
“No, no, no!”
“Oh? Then where is my seat?”
“One more step. Come in here.”
She points to a calendar.
“January 1, 1977.
That is your seat.”
At that time, popcorn, ice cream,
Bread, cookies, cake, bananas,
Apples, oranges, tea, drinks,
Music—la, la, la, la, la, la.


498

December 30, 1976
Dear Soen Sa Nim,

I received your answer to my letter yesterday—thank you … but please be so kind as to explain your answer. You seem to use another language that I am not familiar with. I don’t know what you mean by “hit the world of opposites … and then make the world of opposites disappear.” How would you propose I hit the world of opposites? Can you give me a practical example of what you mean? Again you say, “hit and become one, “ or “Become one means become the absolute.” This last one is understandable, but again please explain how to go about it. There’s a Tibetan method, which consists of watching for thoughts. As soon as one comes up, it is dispelled by this watching process and then is no longer stray thought. I wonder if this is what you mean.

Mostly, I’d like to know how to keep “don’t-know mind.” You say near the end of your letter, “When you keep only don’t-know mind, then your desires, your anger, your ignorance become rest, become rest, become rest, become clear … “ You once asked me a string of questions consisting of “What am I?,” over and over. “What are you?” is the way they were put. I’d say, “a man.” “What else are you?” I’d say, “An American.” This continued until I ran out of answers and said, “I don’t know.” Then you said, “Good! Just keep this don’t-know mind.” Later, when I explained that in preparation for “don’t know mind” practice I’d recreate the situation or the experience of having no answer, I was told not to make “don’t-know mind.” So now I really don’t know how to practice “don’t know.” Please give me an example … a practical example of what you mean … of how to practice … step by step.

Someone said he simply repeats “don’t know” over and over … is this the way? This would seem to be a sort of a don’t-know mind,” wouldn’t it? It seems a little like meditating on “Coke Bottle,” but then someone said that you’d said that was all right too. So far as that goes, would it be all right to use the T.M. method? Anything would be all right, as long as it worked, wouldn’t it?

I’m puzzled by what you mean by “only go straight.” I think it means to simply continue with one’s practice … in which case I’d like that practice made clear … because the next thing you say is “don’t know.” I’m not too sure of what you mean by “Don’t check words; don’t check feelings” and so on. Please, if you can, give me an example.

Thank you for your kind attention. I’m sorry I’ve asked too many questions … but they’re a must if I’m to profit by what you’ve said.

Sincerely,
Sam

January 4, 1977
Dear Sam,

Thank you for your letter? How are you? You have many questions, but these questions are only one question. You don’t understand your true self, so you have many questions. If you understand your true self, then there are no questions.

So, I ask you, what are you? Maybe you will say, “Don’t know.” Maybe you will say no words. Just keep this mind. If you keep don’t know mind, there are no words, no speech. Don’t-know is don’t-know. The big question is no question; no question is big question.
The big questions is the mind that has already cut off all thinking. In this mind, the opposites world has already disappeared. The opposites world has already disappeared means the absolute. The absolute means just like this. Just like this means that everything is already complete. You must attain this mind. If you don’t know, only keep this mind, O.K.?

You want to understand something. This is a big mistake. Put it all down.

You want examples, so here is an example for you:

Jo Ju asked Nam Cheon Zen Master, “What is the true way?”
Nam Cheon answered, “Everyday mind is the true way.”
“Then should I try to keep it or not?”
Nam Cheon said, “If you try to keep it, already you are mistaken.”
“If I do not try, how can I understand the true way?”
Nam Cheon said, “The true way is not dependent on understanding or not understanding. Understanding is illusion; not understanding is blankness. If you completely attain the true way of not thinking, it is like space, clear and void. So why do you make right and wrong?”
Jo Ju suddenly got enlightenment.

What did he attain? If you don’t understand, only go straight—don’t know. Don’t make anything; then you will get everything.

I hope you always keep don’t know mind, soon get enlightenment, and save all people from suffering.

Yours in the Dharma,
S.S.


503

God and Buddha
From a Dharma Talk by Seung Sahn Soen-Sa, New Haven Zen Center,
December 9, 1976

Recently I held a two-day Yong Maeng Jong Jin at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. for a group of lay Christians, ministers, and monks. During interviews I asked each one, “Where are you coming from?” “Washington.” “Whose hand is this?” “Mine.” “Whose leg is this?” “Mine.” “Your body comes from Washington, but I’m asking you, not your body. Where does your true self come from?” “God.” Everyone answered, “God,” so I said, “Yah, you are correct, but I ask you, where is God?” “Everywhere.” Some answered, “Everywhere,” some could not answer. All the ministers answered, “Everywhere.” So I said, “Then is God in your mind or outside your mind?” Very difficult! “If you say God is inside your mind, then I say, Oh, this God is very small! If you say God is outside your mind, then I ask you, Are God and your mind the same or different? If you say they are the same, I will hit you. If you say they are different, I will also hit you.” Everyone stops, no one can answer. Don’t know. This is correct.

Buddhism first taught that there was only one Buddha, Shakyamuni Buddha. This is Hinayana style. Later, in Mahayana Buddhism, there were 84,000 Buddhas, 84,000 Bodhisattvas, 84,000 demons, 84,000 Dharmas, many sutras. In response to this, Zen Masters say, many Buddhas are not necesary. If you meet Buddha, you must kill Buddha. If you meet a Bodhisattva, you must kill the Bodhisattva. Too many, you know, so all kill. Mahayana Buddhism has too many Buddhas, so it’s no good. Also if demons come, you must kill the demons. Buddha, demon, Bodhisattva—you must kill everything. This is Zen.

Student: “Then what?”

Soen-sa: “Then hit!”

[…]


510

January 4, 1977
Dear Soen Sa Nim,

Thank you for your reply. How are you? You hit me thiry times. What can I do?
KATZ!

The lake has ice fisherman on it today.
The snow is melting off the road.

Thank you for the kong-an you sent me. I am sharing it with some close friends.

If I was in the tree, how would I stay alive?
KATZ!

I’m going to eat my lunch before I go back to work.

Sincerely,
Martin

January 19, 1977
Dear Martin,
Thank you for your letter.

Understanding cannot help you. You must attain. You used katz many times. There are four kinds of katz. The first kind is a katz of checking good and bad. Next is the katz of cutting off all thinking. Next is just katz. Next is a blind katz.

Your katz is a blind katz. “How would I stay alive?” You say “Katz.” Therefore, you are already dead. Don’t pull around a corpse.

If you don’t understand, then only go straight—don’t know, O.K. ?

Yours in the Dharma,
S.S.


512

These are the New Year’s greetings for all my brothers and sisters in Dharma.
December 19, 1976
Venerable Seung Sahn,

How are you ? Thank you for your letter. It has encouraged me very, very much.
There are two levels of my practice. I don’t know yet which of them is first. But they are: my enthusiasm for the way and, on the other hand, don’t know—unconscious level.

First of all, I may say that my enthusiasm causes to me some trouble and more, that it is the way of trouble. Enthusiastically concerned about the Way, one is living on the surface of Zen. However—seems to me—that without enthusiasm there is no practice. The great trouble of mine is my wife’s attitude toward the Way. She isn’t a Buddhist and wants not any explanation about it (can I explain it?)

Don’t Know Way—what a wonderful medicine! We are creating samsara by our thinking.
There are many samsaras: family life samsara, friends interfeeling samsara, other circumstances’ samsara…

Isn’t bad; she allows me sitting practice in home. However, sometimes things are taking wrong direction. I realize that I have to work for her better than I did before. Life alone has profited my enthusiasm and is still profiting it.

“Changes, changes, changes”—How well I remember these words spoken in Won Gak Sa—New York! Only don’t know—I’m repeating this very often now.

I’ve found that what I’ve learned coming mostly from reading books.
There is still not so much of my own. Although words help me a lot in practice (especially the words of Zen Masters of old and contemporary times.) They are also driving me in a particularly book-like life manner. But there is little more already driving me to an opposite side—real life experience. This is a complicated process which is consistent with my getting older and Zen-like life guidance.

Is it possible to “practice” the Great Doubt?
What about people who seemed to us they were born with that doubt rising spontaneously to something called “metaphysical fear”? Is it possible for everybody?
I’m experiencing such moments—short enough to forget them—when I feel we need to be saved, all human beings need some fundamental rescue. And tears go to my eyes.

Who am I? JoJu, like everybody, is truly empty-handed.

Yours in Dharma,
Anthony

January 19, 1977
Dear Anthony,

How are you, your family, and your Zen friends? Thank you for your letter.

You say that your practice has two levels, don’t-know mind and your enthusiasm. I already told you not to check your mind or your feelings. If you check, then you will have not only two levels but maybe three, four, or even ten thousand levels. Don’t make enthsiasm or don’t know. Only go straight—don’t know. 100% don’t-know mind means cutting-off-allthinking mind. This means before thinking, which is your substance. Your substance is the universal substance. So when you keep don’t-know mind, you are the universe, the universe is you. That name is primary point. Don’t-know mind is not don’t-know mind. Don’t-know mind is the primary point. The primary point’s name is don’t know.

Somebody said that the primary point is mind, Buddha, God, energy, nature, substance, the absolute, and everything. The true primary point has no name and no form, no speech and no words because it is before thinking. If you open your mouth, you are wrong. So, I say to you, don’t make don’t know, don’t make enthusiasm. Only go straight—what are you?

You say your wife doesn’t like Zen. Don’t worry. Zen is not special. You have made Zen something special, so your wife doesn’t like Zen. Zen is, moment to moment, keeping a clear mind, moment-to-moment keeping your correct situation—100% eating, 100% driving. When you are with your wife, 100% love mind. When you are at home, a 100% husband’s mind. This is Zen mind.

Why doesn’t your wife like Zen? You only want to sit. This is attachment to sitting. When it is time to sit, then sitting is O.K. But what is correct sitting? Sitting means cutting off all thinking and keeping a not-moving mind, becoming clear, and understanding your correct situation. This is Zen.

You understand that everything is always changing. You understand samsara. That is correct. But don’t become attached to the changing or to samsara. They are both the truth, and they are both clear.

You say that you have read many books. This is no good. If you read many books, then your mind will have more thinking. After you completely attain your true self, then reading books is all right. If you read many books before you attain your true self, then these books can control you.

You ask if it is possible for everyone to experience this great doubt. Everyone already has everything. Everyone is already complete. So , the Buddha said, “Already you are Buddha.” Great doubt means 100% question. 100% question means no question. No question means just like this. An eminent teacher said, “Without thinking, just like this is Buddha.” So without thinking, you are already Buddha, already complete. You must believe in yourself 100%. This is correct Zen.

You say that JoJu is empty-handed. That is good. What is empty-handed?
A monk first came into the temple and asked JoJu, “Master, I have just come to this temple. What should I do?”
The Master said, “Did you eat breakfast?”
“Yes,” replied the monk.
“Then,” said JoJu “wash your bowls.”
At this the monk suddenly got Enlightenment. What did this monk attain?

If you understand this, then you have no problem. If you don’t understand, then only go straight—don’t know. Zen is not difficult. Don’t make anything; then you will get
everything.

I hope you will always keep a mind which is clear like space, soon get Enlightenment, and save all people from suffering.

Yours in the Dharma,
S.S.


519

January 23, 1977
Dear Soen Sa Nim,

I heard you speak last November at Barre, Mass., when I practiced in Jack and Joseph’s three-month training. Being back “in the world” has been both exciting and confusing. Last night I began reading your Dharma book. I DON’T UNDERSTAND! NEVER HAVE I BEEN SO CLEAR THAT I DON’T UNDERSTAND. Also I experienced fear amidst the confusion. It seems (small I talking, as usual) useful to me to verbally and physically relate with my fellow human beings. For me, to fearlessly communicate and somewhat understand what is happening with “myself” and those around me is NEW. Often an immense amount of fear and hesitation to express truth as I experience it has marked my relations with the human being planet. SO, having just begun to practice being more open, perhaps less judgmental and critical of “myself,” I ran into your book. KATZ! Fear, like all the fears related to opening my mouth, once again appears. What do you think? What’s going on? (I suspect much desire, fear, grasping on “my” part)… Aw look, even writing this letter, I can see so many reasons not to send it, so many ways it’s incomplete. If every time I open my mouth I’m wrong, what do I do? (Go on, hit me.) Maybe I’m not quite desperate enough yet… (getting closer all the time.) Anyway, be happy.

Michael
February 1, 1977

Dear Michael.
Thank you for your letter. How are you?

Your three-month retreat at Barre, your reading my book, your KATZ, and your thinking… all these are wonderful. But from beginning to end in your letter, you are checking, checking, checking, checking. If you check you have problems. Don’t check your mind; don’t check your feelings. Also don’t check other people.

What are you? You don’t know. Then you must go straight—don’t know. Don’t make anything; then you will get everything. So I say to you, put it all down. Thinking cannot help you.

Zen means believing in yourself 100%. You must believe in yourself. You must not be dependent on Buddha or God or teachers or anything, only on yourself. Then your true self will become clearer and clearer, and some day completely clear. Then there is no subject, no object, no inside, no outside—everything becomes one. When you see the sky, only blue; when you see a tree, only green. Only just like this. So I say, don’t make anything. Put it all down. Only go straight—don’t know, O.K.?

I hope you always keep don’t know mind, soon find your true self, and save all people from suffering.

Yours in the Dharma,
S.S.


583

May 23, 1977
Dear Soen Sa Nim,

During the Cambridge May Yong Maeng Jong Jin this weekend, I was reading books on Japanese Zen. They put great stress on Enlightenment.
What is the place of Enlightenment in our practice?
What is Enlightenment?

Sincerely,
Judy
[…]

June 5, 1977
Dear Judy,

Thank you for your letter. How are you?

First, I hit you thirty times. The Heart Sutra says there is no attainment, with nothing to attain. You must attain no attainment. That’s all.

Yours in the Dharma,
S.S.


597

June 15, 1977
Dear Soen Sa Nim,

Thank you very much for your reply to my letter. It was a great unexpected gift.
I am fine, and I hope you are quite well, too.

My just now mind is a little rounder and softer than it used to be, and I sit fairly regularly. There are many distractions here in Boulder, and I am not yet as self-disciplined as I should be. I understand to some degree what you said about the presence of death, and I realize there is no choice any more doing Zazen.

[…]

I am studying at Naropa Institute here in Boulder, where there is much talk about Buddhism. Many people seem to be fascinated or confused or both. Tibetan Buddhism is very colorful and “interesting.” And the attempt to fruitfully link Buddhist understanding with our Western psychology and psychotherapy is very interesting to me. But there is also very strong emphasis on meditation practice and being responsible for one’s own karmic situation.

If I may say so, Soen Sa Nim, there is one thing that bothers me. There is so much wondering about various gurus and masters. Is so-and-so really enlightened? Is such-andsuch Buddhist teaching—which sounds like absurd nonsense—really true?—such as Dogen Zenji’s Shobogenzo. There is much pain in this understandable search, though somehow it might be better just to sit.

I am anxious to practice with other Zen students, but in the meantime, I will do my best to keep a dragon’s eye on my affairs and be kind to myself and others.

Thank you for being here.
Sheldon

P.S. My practice, which you gave me in Cambridge, is to realize “clear mind” on the inbreath, and “don’t know” on the out-breath. I will continue with this unless you should tell me otherwise.

June 19, 1977
Dear Sheldon,

Thank you for your letter. How are you? You said in your letter there are many distractions in Boulder and you said you understand that you have no choice but to do Zazen. That is wonderful! An eminent teacher once said, “Our mind goes around and around and around. That ‘around’ place is truth.” If you don’t check this “around place” and you perceive your true nature, then there is no good or bad. This is bliss. So you must not worry about anything. Only go straight.

What is Zazen? Za means correct sitting. Correct sitting means to cut off all thinking. Keeping not-moving mind is sitting. Zen means to become clear. So sit means correct meditation; Zen means becoming clear and having true cognition. Correct practicing is when correct meditation and correct cognition become one.

[…]

Also, you said that Tibetan Buddhism is colorful and interesting. Is this correct? Tibetan and Korean Buddhism are similar. There are four gates. First, there is the Sutra Gate; second, there is the Yom Bul Gate, which means repeating the Buddha’s or a Bodhisattva’s name. Next, there is the Mantra Gate; then, there is the Zen Meditation Gate.

Each gate is different, but inside the gate, if you find the Buddha Hall, the direction is the same. But many people are attached to the gate and cannot find the Buddha Hall and the correct Buddha. All the gate is is first keeping one mind, next attaining one mind, next throwing away one mind. Then you can see, you can hear that just like this is the truth, so you don’t need Buddha Hall, don’t need Buddha. Then it is possible to help other people.

Also, you said in your letter that the link between Buddhism and Western psychology is very interesting. Yah, this is correct, but most important is from where does the primary point come? So, an eminent teacher said, “Ten thousand dharmas return to one.” This means any Western philosophy or psychology, Eastern philosophies, all religions come from one, but where does this one come from? This is most important. If you don’t understand ONE and say it is only interesting, you are attached to this word and don’t understand the true meaning. So I ask you: That Original One, from where does it come?

You said all the wondering about correct teachings, various gurus and masters bothers you. What are you? If you don’t understand, only go straight—don’t know. Always and everywhere, this don’t-know mind is better than a Zen Master, better than Buddha. If you want the true way, this is already a mistake. In Buddhism, there is no true way. Any religion cannot help you. Moment to moment, how you keep just-now mind is very important. Put it all down; only go straight—don’t know. Then this don’t know has already cut all thinking, is before all thinking. Then your mind is clear like space. If your mind is clear like space, it is clear like a mirror. Red comes; there is red; white comes; there is white. Only just like this. When you see the sky, only blue; when you see the tree, only green. There is no subject, no object, no inside, no outside. Inside and outside become one, so the sky is blue; the tree is green; just like this is truth. This truth you already have, but if you make something, you lose your way. So don’t make anything; then you will get everything. So I say to you: Only go straight—don’t know! Don’t know is better than Buddha, better than God, better than all Zen Masters, better than everything.

I hope you always keep don’t-know mind, soon get Enlightenment, and save all people from suffering.

Yours in the Dharma,
S.S.


607

July, 1977
Dear Soen Sa Nim,

Thank you for your generous letter. I have read it a number of times, and now I would like to reply.

Don’t-know mind removes both problems and solutions. Thinking itself becomes an unnecessary habit. If don’t-know mind is the one point, I still have to say, “I don’t know,” regarding what the one point returns to. I don’t know.

Sitting with “don’t know” has made life seem even more uncomfortable … even thinking can no longer be resorted to. I feel certain that certain personal problems will never be solved, and that somehow I’m going to have to let go of them. Even thoughts have begun to appear equally worthless; still, there is the emotional pain. I often feel torn apart—yet maybe I should have everything as it is, just keeping sharp don’t-know mind.

Thank you for informing me about the Berkeley Zen Group. I’ve already been in contact, and it is actually the reason I decided to go to Berkeley.

Keeping “don’t know” is like a large sword. I think often I don’t use it well. Sometimes I hack away at thoughts as though they were attacking me, or pulling me astray. Sometimes “don’t know” becomes an automatic voice, part of the mind-noise. Sometimes “don’t know” seems very foolish, when the hungry-ghost pain surges through me.

Much confusion is not only “I don’t know,” but also “I must know.” When “don’t know” is okay, the matter is finished; but when “don’t know” isn’t okay, then there is confusion, pain, and great fear.

You say straight forward. Maybe straight forward is sometimes doing nothing—especially when there is inner confusion or conflict.

All this is only to tell you how my practice appears to me. If there is some mistake, would you kindly correct me. Perhaps such seriousness is out of order!

Thank you very much again for your great kindness.
Sheldon

July 14, 1977
Dear Sheldon,

Thank you for your letter. How are you?

Now, you understand don’t know. One more step: You must attain don’t know. Understanding don’t know means checking don’t know. Checking don’t know is a bad Zen sickness. Attaining don’t know means don’t check anything, which means don’t check your feelings; don’t check your mind; also, don’t check don’t know. Only go straight—don’t know.

In other words, put it all down. In other words, don’t make anything. But, if you are attached to these words, you already have lost don’t know. If you only go straight—don’t know, then you can keep your correct situation moment to moment, and it will be possible for you to act correctly.

Zen is not special. Everyday mind is Zen mind. So, what are you doing now? If you are doing something, you must do it. The name for this is don’t know. The name for this is Enlightenment, the true way, truth. So, an eminent teacher said, “What is the true way? When I’m hungry, I eat. When I’m tired, I sleep.”

This is the correct situation for that time.

Moment to moment, don’t make “I,” “my,” “me.” This means you must make your opinion, your condition, and your situation disappear. Then, moment to moment, your correct opinion, correct condition, and correct situation appear.

I am sending you “Your Mind Meal.” Sometime, read it. When your don’t-know mind and this mind meal come together, then you will understand the correct way. If you don’t understand, only go straight—don’t know.

I hope you always keep don’t-know mind, soon finish the Great Work of life and death, and save all people from suffering.

Yours in the Dharma,
S.S.


611

June 28, 1977
Dear Soen Sa Nim,

Thank you for that wonderful letter. I call it a letter and give it an adjective at the risk of your stick. You say you don’t know anything about poetry (and what a laugh as you said so), and of course it’s true. The don’t know is your poetry. And also it’s what for convenience I sometimes call mine. A remarkable (sometimes I think the most remarkable) American writer of the last century, Thoreau, said, in criticism of the lives that most everyone seemed to feel they had to lead, “How can a man find his ignorance, when he has to use his knowledge all the time?” I think he meant, by “ignorance,” something close to your (and my) and his “don’t know.” Thank you for pointing to that “don’t know”—how wonderful that it begins everywhere, and has no beginning!

[…]

I read your last paragraph over again, and ask myself again—what do you mean “don’t check your mind, your feelings; don’t check anything; only go straight ahead.” Sometimes I don’t know. And sometimes, when I don’t know, I know. Can you say something, without endangering your eyebrows? If you have a moment—it’s already so generous of you to have written to us. With deep bows from each of us,

William

[…]

July 18, 1977
Dear William,

How are you and Dana? Thank you for your wonderful letter. I think you are very busy, but you sent me a long letter. You make me so happy. Now I know your news and your experiences and your practicing.

In each sentence, your mind appears. That is your opinion. But this opinion is shining to others’ minds, so they understand what is the true direction. So, you are already a great Bodhisattva. You said this don’t know is wonderful, that it has no beginning and no ending. This is correct. Also, don’t know has no ignorance and no knowledge, also no Buddha, no God, no mind, and no universe. But, don’t be attached to don’t know. ONLY DON’T KNOW IS DON’T KNOW, which is just like this.

Just like this is: ignorance is ignorance, knowledge is knowledge, Buddha is Buddha; God is God; mind is mind; universe is universe. One by one, each thing is complete. Then, everything is complete. Therefore, a dog barking, a chicken crowing, and a car horn honking are all the truth. Already you understand. So we say don’t know means put it all down. Don’t check your mind and feelings; only go straight.

[…]

You say sometimes, “I don’t know,” and you say, “I know.” That is O.K. Only go straight—don’t know. Then you will understand don’t know. That means, don’t know is don’t know. You are don’t know; don’t know is you. So, don’t know means, you understand you. You understand you means, you are you. In other words, don’t know is don’t know, so I say: Only go straight—don’t know. Then all you can see, all you can hear is the truth. The blue mountain does not move. The white clouds float back and forth. Only just like this.

I hope you always go straight—don’t know, keeping a mind which is clear like space, soon finish the Great Work of life and death and get Enlightenment, and save all people from suffering.

Yours in the Dharma,
S.S.
[…]


621

Dear Soen Sa Nim,

I do not understand this Great Teaching, this great sickness of yours. Will you be well for your birthday celebration? Everyone hopes so. Then, there will be a Happy Happy Birthday Party! I would like to be there to see you and be with you. I will be in Iowa. I am going to a school where everyone meditates TM style (Transcendental Meditation). I am happy to go, but I remember Zen also. Always, I remember you and “go straight” and “don’t-know” mind.

fat teacher
grows skinny
Buddha belly shrinks
some are sad
some are happy
flowers, they grow
enlightenment
or no enlightenment
little self bows
one hundred times

I like to write poetry. Maybe I write you some, you tell me when I’m not going straight. Maybe I see you soon, Soen Sa Nim. Please rest.
Lynn (baby)

August 3, 1977
Dear Lynn, my baby,

How are you? Thank you very much for your letter. You worry about me. Thanks again. I am not sick; I am strong. No problem. Only my body needed a screw tightened. So, I am tightened. My body is my body, not me. The body originally is empty. Only, I am teaching the Dharma, so I must keep my body. I don’t care if my body appears, disappears, is sick, is not sick. It’s like my car. I need a car, so a car is necessary. Sometimes, my car isn’t in so good condition. So, I get it fixed; then it is in good condition again. My car is a little old. Some day, I will want to change my car. O.K.? Don’t worry.

In your letter, you said everyone does TM. Also, you say you keep don’t-know mind. That’s wonderful. Any meditation is no problem. How do you keep just-now mind is very important. If you make something, you have a problem, so don’t make anything, always, everywhere. Only go straight—don’t know. Then you will get everything.

Your poem is very wonderful. Here is my poem for you:

Before heaven and earth separated,
A great man appeared. His name is Don’t Know.
He made heaven and earth. He made everything.
But, he lost his name, and he doesn’t remember anything.
Then, he ate mountains, rivers, sun, moon, heaven, earth, Buddha, everything.
Someone asked him, “What are you?”
He said, “I don’t know.”
“What do you want?”
He said, “Now I have everything.”
“What are you doing now?”
“Only don’t know.”
“Then, don’t you know anything?”
“Originally, everything has no name, no form. I made names, so now I am making all names disappear.”
“What are you?”
“My name is Don’t Know.”
“Then, are you everything?”
“Correct.”
“Then what?”
“Only go straight—don’t know. Then you will attain don’t know is don’t know.”
“What do you mean, I will attain don’t know is don’t know?”
“That means if you are not attached to don’t know, everything is just like this. Mountains are mountains; rivers are rivers; the sky is blue; the tree is green.”
“Oh, wonderful. You are a great man.”
“Correct. I am Don’t Know.”

I hope you always go straight—don’t know, soon get Enlightenment, and save all people from suffering.

Yours in the Dharma
S.S.
P.S. I’m sending you “Mind Meal”, our newsletter, and some pictures.


626

July 25, 1977
Dear Soen Sa Nim,

Thank you for your recent letter. I have no further questions. Don’t know is no longer a weapon; somehow, it is actually an instrument of peace. The silence becomes intense; judgement comes and goes in everyday living, with less and less effect. Time seems a little purer—if this makes sense.

I wanted mainly to acknowledge your last letter, and thank you again for your great kindness. Last night, I heard a wonderful, honest, heartfelt talk, at Naropa, by Jakusho Kwang—on meditation. He is Dharma heir of the late Suzuki Roshi of San Francisco. Later, I felt something of the great compassion that exists in this world. It is so fortunate that our blindness is not complete. Perhaps there is room for everything . But I would not think about this!!

Quite some time ago, I wrote to the Providence Zen Center, asking to be sent the Newsletter, and I also asked if they could send me a picture of you. I’ve received no response of any kind so far. Could this please be handled? Especially the picture, if it is possible to send me one.

I hope we meet soon at a Yong Maeng Jong Jin in Berkeley. Until then, may I wish you good health, and thank you for your kindness.

Sincerely,
Sheldon

August 8, 1977
Dear Sheldon,

How are you? Thank you very much for your letter.You say don’t know is no longer a weapon, but an instrument of peace, and that it is very intense. That is wonderful. An eminent teacher said, “If you only go straight—hard training, you will understand your practicing by yourself. It is like when you drink water, you understand by yourself whether it is hot or cold.”

Now, you understand your don’t know. But, in my last letter, I told you don’t be attached to don’t know. If you are attached to don’t know or hold don’t know, then you make something. You say “peace”. But, only go straight—don’t know is not only peace. You will get everything. So, I say to you, don’t know is not don’t know. No name, no form, no time, no space. But, you have everything. So, only go straight—don’t know. Then, you will attain don’t know is don’t know.

You heard Jakusho Kwang. That is wonderful. If he got transmission from Suzuki Roshi, then he is a good teacher. Suzuki Roshi was a great Soto Zen Master. Soto Zen, Rinzai Zen, and our Chogye Zen are not different. Soto Zen is only shikantaza. Rinzai Zen is working with kong-ans. Our Zen is only go straight—don’t know. If you are attached to words and make something, then they are all different. If you are not attached to words and don’t make anything, then all different ways become one. So, an eminent teacher said the 10,000 Dharmas return to one. But, most important is the next question. Where does the one return? If you find it, any kind of Zen is there. So, if you have time, visit many Zen Masters and hear their Dharma speeches. But, at that time, don’t don’t be attached to the Zen Master’s speech. You must perceive your true self. The name for this is don’t know. The name for this is great compassion. That is great love and the great Bodhisattva way.

I hope you always go straight—don’t know, keeping a mind which is clear like space, soon finish the Great Work of life and death, get Enlightenment, and save all people from
suffering.

Yours in the Dharma,
S.S.
[…]


686

[…]
Dear Andrea,
[…]
You understand don’t know; also, you like don’t know very much. That is wonderful, but you must not be attached to don’t know. Holding don’t know cannot get it; throwing away don’t know cannot get it. So, I ask you, in your mind, are you holding don’t know or throwing away don’t know? Which one?

I hope that you only go straight—don’t know, which is clear like space, finish the Great Work of life and death, and save all people from suffering.

Yours in the Dharma,
S.S.


687

October 5, 1977
Dear Seung Sahn Soen Sa Nim,

Here is a poem for you:

Enlightenment is nothing special,
Inside and outside are one,
The deer with no nostrils eats trees and leaps over hills,
This fall, the maple leaves are red and yellow.

Sang Jin,
Lawlor

October 27, 1977
Dear Lawlor,

How are you and Sherry? Thank you for your wonderful poem.
Here is a poem for you:

Enlightenment is special.
Inside and outside are empty.
The deer’s snot melts the universe.
Only yellow leaves hang from the maple tree.
Your poem and my poem: Which one do you like?

Yours in the Dharma,
S.S.


691

May 19, 1977
Dear Soen Sa Nim,

I’m sorry that I had to send this letter to Grove Press, but I don’t have the address of your Zen Center and can only hope it will reach you.

I have just finished reading Dropping Ashes on the Buddha, and find myself shaken up by it. I’ve been experiencing a feeling of confusion for some time, and your book has felt like the thirty blows! And, I have a sneaking suspicion it feels that way because thirty blows is what I have coming to me.

I’ve been practicing Zazen for only four years, and consider myself to be a baby who is just learning to crawl. However, my desire and aspiration is to be able to run—even though I don’t see myself to be ready for that. My wish to know is such that I can’t seem to wait to bite off more than I can chew, and then feel sorry for myself that I can’t swallow it! My head is full of ideas, ideals, wants, etc. My practice is shikan-taza, the nature of which leaves me no point of concentration to hold onto. I tried hinting for a kong-an assignment and was given a flat “Forget it.” At which point, I did enjoy a small realization: Zen teachers are the meanest breed of humanity!

However, the book made me want (and even dare) write to you with a statement which emerged within me: “Within the impermanence of all things, life itself does not come or go, wax or wane, but rather only the various expressions of life.”

I will deeply appreciate any comment you may care to give the statement I’ve offered. I know you recently gave a sesshin in Chicago. Some of my friends from our Zazen group attended. I thought at the time I’d be able to come also, but wasn’t able to make it. Perhaps next time you are here for sesshin, you would be kind enough to let me know; I’d love to come.

Lastly, please accept my apology for such a long letter, as the book clearly indicated your love of many words!

With deepest Gassho,
Virginia

October 21, 1977
Dear Virginia,

How are you? Thank you for your letter. You said you just finished Dropping Ashes on the Buddha. That is wonderful. Also, you said, “I’ve been experiencing a feeling of confusion for some time, and your book has felt like the thirty blows!” That means that you cannot believe in yourself 100%. Those feelings of confusion, aspiration, etc., disappear, so who has those feelings? What are you? You don’t know. If you don’t know, only go straight—don’t know. Don’t check your mind; don’t check your feelings. Moment to moment, you must keep don’t know, which is clear mind. When you are doing something, you must do it.

Zen is not difficult; also, Zen is not easy. Zen is simple mind. If you understand much, there is much feeling, much confusion, so understanding cannot help you. Throw away all understanding and make simple mind. That is Zen.

When you are hungry, what? When you are tired, what? What color is the sky? What color is the tree? You already understand. The name for this is simple mind; the name for this is everyday mind; the name for this is Zen mind; the name for this is don’t know. All, just like this, is truth. That’s all. So, I say to you, if you don’t understand, only go straight—don’t know.

You said you have been sitting for four years, also, that your practice is shikan-taza. If you have no direction, then, even if you practice body sitting for 1000 kalpas, you cannot get it. Also, if you don’t understand what shikan-taza means, then even God, even Buddha cannot help you. Shikan-taza is only half the meaning: Shikan-taza, Ta Soeng Il Pyun.

Shikan-taza means cut off all thinking, keeping not-moving mind.
Ta Soeng Il Pyun means, “Hit, become one.” There is no inside, no outside, no subject, no object; inside and outside become one.

Shikan-taza is keeping a mind which is clear like space. Ta Soeng Il Pyun means using a mind which is meticulous and perfectly complete. Also, shikan-taza is correct meditation; Ta Soeng Il Pyun is correct cognition. When correct meditation and correct cognition come together, there appears correct Zen. Then, you can get Enlightenment, which means that moment to moment, when you are doing something, you must do it! Again, I ask you, when you are hungry, what? When you are tired, what? When you see the sky, what? When you see the tree, what? All, just like this, is truth. Put it all down; don’t check your mind; don’t check your feelings; don’t check anything; only go straight, don’t know.

You say all things are impermanent. You said, “Within the impermanence of all things, life itself does not come or go, wax or wane, but rather, only the various expressions of life.” So, I say to you, life and all things, are they the same or different? If you say the same, I hit you thirty times. If you say different, I hit you thirty times. What can you do? Put it all down! Only go straight.

In Chicago, there are some of my students who come to the Providence Zen Center. Sometime, I will visit Chicago; then, together we can do a Yong Maeng Jong Jin (sesshin) for three days. I have your address, and when I go to Chicago, I will tell you.Your letter is not so long. It is a wonderful letter.

I hope you always go straight—don’t know, which is a mind that is clear like space, soon finish the Great Work of life and death, get Enlightenment, and save all people from suffering.
Yours in the Dharma,
S.S.
[…]


705

A Dream of Stars
An Ancient saw a star, got Enlightenment.
What can moderns see, get Enlightenment?
Can I also see a star, get Enlightenment?
There are many stars. Which one should I see?
Shining stars, singing stars, dancing stars,
Army General’s stars, flags’ stars, cookie stars,
Shooting stars, Star Wars stars, tree stars, river stars.
I want to see the true star.
Which one is true?
Where do all stars come from?
Where do all stars go?
Time flows by. How can you find them?
If you grab them, they take flight.
If you find them, there is nothing.
In a star is a star.
In this star is a star.
The star sees the star.
Stars singing star song.
Stars dancing star dance.
An eminent teacher asked, “What is your star?”
Student facing the ground, imitating a star-search.
Then, clapping hands, laughing, Transmission.
How wonderful it is!
Find a star in the ground, become a great man!
Do you want to pick a shining star?
Do you want to find a ground star?
Stone lion appears from the clouds.
All stars are afraid;
They hide in the tiger’s shadow.
Where is North, South, East, West?
Don’t know Heaven, don’t know earth,
Don’t know road, don’t know house.
Don’t know. Don’t know. Dark. Dark.
Only don’t know.
Cliff… OUCH!… Dead… Wake up.
Heavenly star shining in the sky.
Two ground stars. Bright Dharma Room!

Zen Master Seung Sahn
Buddha’s Enlightenment Day
December 10, 1977


707

November 4, 1977
Dear Soen Sa,

Thank you for your wonderful poem. I like it a lot. Enclosed is a poem for you:

Nothing special is special.
One is empty.
No nostril snot melts the universe.
This fall, the red and yellow leaves hang from the tree.

Sang Jin

November 16, 1977
Dear Sang Jin—Lawlor,

Thank you for your wonderful poem. It is very good. I like it very much. Here is an answer poem for you:

Don’t make nothing special and special.
There is no one, no emptiness.
What is before no nostril snot and the universe?
When the wind blows, the red and yellow leaves fall down.

Yours in the Dharma,
S.S.
[…]


710

November 11, 1977
Dear Soen Sa Nim,
I hope you are well.

Don’t-know means no problem, no solution. Even expedient means (upaya) is only action. Is this correct? Is the “heart” competent where the “mind” was lost? Is there any more to death than fear?

Soen Sa Nim, I don’t know. But I have made life very difficult, and I don’t even know why or what it’s about.

Thank you for listening to the sound of these words. Thank you for your teaching-action.
I hope to see you soon, somehow.

Do Soeng, Sheldon

November 16, 1977
Dear Do Soeng, Sheldon,
Thank you for your letter. How are you?

You ask about don’t know. Don’t know is don’t know. Very simple. Why do you make problems, solutions, expedient means, action, correct, heart, competent, mind, lost, death, fear? Don’t make anything. Only go straight—don’t know. You understand too much. Understanding cannot help you. What are you doing now? That is don’t know. What do you see now? The name for it is don’t know. What do you hear now? Also, this is don’t know.

Don’t know is not special. If you don’t hold everything, there is no subject, no object, no inside, no outside. When you see the sky, blue. That is don’t know. When you hear a car sound, that is don’t know. When you taste sugar, it is sweet; salt is also salty. That is don’t know. Put it all down. Don’t check anything. Don’t hold anything. Only go straight—don’t know. What are you doing now? When you are doing something, you must do it, which is don’t know, O.K.?

If you make difficult, you have difficult. If you make easy, it is very easy. Don’t make anything. Then, you already have everything. So, I say to you, put it all down. Only go straight—don’t know.

I hope you always keep don’t know, which is clear like space, soon finish the Great Work of life and death, and save all people from suffering.

Yours in the Dharma,
S.S.


712

November 17, 1977
Dear Soen Sa Nim,

How are you today? I am silent.

Here is a poem for you:
What is a pen?—write!
What is water?—drink!
Who am I?—how do I show the Master my
mind if everything is mind?
Moment to moment—
Thousands have passed.
What is the last word?

Soen Sa Nim, I have not yet told you how glad I am to be at the Providence Zen Center, training with wonderful people and a wonderful teacher. I will work very hard. Another
poem:

If everything is mind,
Where is my mind?
Be rid of “my”
Reflect! Reflect!
The Master’s bald head is smiling.

Good morning,
Stuart

November 17, 1977
Dear Stuart,

I am fine, and you? You are silent; that is wonderful.

Your poem is very wonderful, very good. I have an answer-poem for you:

What is pen?—write
Who makes pen; who writes?
What is water? drink!
Who makes water; who drinks?
Who are you?—if you want to show me, already mistake.
True mind is no mind, not everything.
Moment to moment—what are you doing now?
When you write, use a pen.
When you are thirsty, drink water.

Nice to meet you. Welcome to our Zen Center! A good situation is a bad situation; a bad situation is a good situation. But if you keep your correct situation moment to moment, then already, you are beyond good and bad situation, and you will get complete freedom and perfect peace. Your mind is Buddha. Then, everybody and everything is Buddha. If your action is holy, then you will get paradise everywhere.

Another answer poem for you:

An eminent teacher said, “What is Buddha?”
“Mind is Buddha; Buddha is mind.”
Next day he said, “No mind, no Buddha.”
Let it be—I, My, Me, mind, everything.
What do you see now? What do you hear now?
KATZ!
The sky is gray; the car is running outside.

Yours in the Dharma,
S.S.


715

November 14, 1977
Dear Soen Sa Nim,

About a month ago, we met at the Berkeley Zen Center. I had heard a lot about you from Lynn, but meeting you was really a joy. Your presence truly inspires only-go-straight mind.

What I am learning these days is just-one-mind practice; while working, just work; while chanting, just chant; while sleeping, just sleep. Work is work, chant is chant, sleep is sleep, but with one-mind they are all one, all Zazen. The arrow has flown past Korea. Very clear.

With one breath, I destroy the universe;
With one breath, the universe destroys me.
Without any me, without any universe,
Where can hindrances reside?
Take care of your precious (big) self,

M (Mark)
P.S. See you at the Yong Maeng Jong Jin at the Clark’s in January.

November 22, 1977
Dear Mark,

Thank you for your letter. How are you?

I was also glad to see you at the Berkeley Zen Center. Lynn is a wonderful student. So, you are also a wonderful student.

In your letter, you said you are learning just-one-mind practice. That is wonderful. Working, chanting, sleeping—just do it. How wonderful it is. But, you say the arrow has already flown past Korea. Your arrow is very strong and special. When did you get it? Also, you say “very clear”. How clear is it? So, I ask you: When you are working, chanting, sleeping, at that time, you say, “One mind.” I say three minds. Which one is correct?

Your poem is very wonderful. Here is an answer poem for you:

Before one breath, the universe comes from where?
Before one breath, there is nothing.
Who made the universe and you?
Without any me, without any universe, without words,
Open your mouth, already, hindrances reside.
Why don’t you know you already got hit thirty times?

I hope you only go straight—don’t know, which is clear like space, soon finish the Great Work of life and death, and save all people from suffering.

Yours in the Dharma,
S.S.
P.S. I will see you at the Yong Maeng Jong Jin at the Clark’s in January.


724

November 22, 1977
Dear Soen Sa Nim,

Some days the wind blows fiercely.
Some days not even a leaf moves.
Liang Wu Ti built many Buddhist temples.
Bodhidharma wasn’t impressed.
Soen Sa Nim is building many Zen Centers.
I am impressed.
When the Dharma came from India,
Endless pages of gobbledeeegook became “KATZ!!”
Now that KATZ!! has come to America,
What will it become?

This is crappy poetry, but you understand my meaning.

Your friend,
(An Hanh)

December 1, 1977
Dear An Hanh,

Some days mist rises from the ocean floor.
Some days rocks hail from the sky.
Bodhidharma doesn’t know anything.
Liang Wu Ti understands happiness.
You make me a builder of Zen Centers.
I only have two empty hands.
Originally, no Dharma, no coming, no India.
Lose tongue, there is no bone.
In America, already everything is complete.
All mountains are high. All rivers flow to the ocean.

Your poem is very very wonderful. Even Buddha doesn’t understand. How can I understand
your meaning?
Yours in the Dharma,
S.S.


744

A Conversation with Zen Master Seung Sahn
December, 1977, Tahl Mah Sah

•What is Zen?

What are you?

•(Silence)

Do you understand?

•I don’t know.

This don’t-know mind is you. Zen is understanding yourself.

•Is that all Zen is?

Isn’t it enough?

•I mean, there must be a final understanding or illumination that a Zen Master has in order to be a Zen Master.

All understanding is no understanding. What do you understand? Show me!

•(Silence)

O.K., what is one plus two?

•Three

Why didn’t you tell me that? (Laughter) What color is the sky?

•Blue.

Very good! (Laughter) The truth is very simple, yah? But your mind is complicated; you understand too much. So you could not answer. But you don’t understand one thing.

•What?

One plus two equals zero.

•I don’t see how.

O.K. Suppose someone gives me an apple. I eat it. Then, he gives me two more apples. I eat them. All the apples are gone. So, one plus two equals zero.

•Hmmm.

You must understand this. Before you were born, you were zero. Now, you are one. In the future, you will die and again become zero. All things in the universe are like this. They arise from emptiness and return to emptiness. So, zero equals one; one equals zero.

•I see that.

In the elementary school, they teach that one plus two equals three. In our Zen elementary school, we teach that one plus two equals zero. Which one is correct?

•Both.

If you say “Both,” I say “Neither.”

•Why?

If you say both, then the space ship cannot go to the moon. (Laughter) When only one plus two equals three, then it can reach the moon. But if one plus two also equals zero, then on the way, the space ship will disappear. (Laughter) So I say, neither is correct.

•Then, what would be a proper answer?

“Both” is wrong, so I hit you. Also, “neither” is wrong, so I hit myself. (Laughter) The first teaching in Buddhism is “Form is emptiness; emptiness is form.” This means that one equals zero; zero equals one. But who makes form? Who makes emptiness? Both form and emptiness are concepts. Concepts are made by your own thinking. Descartes said, “I think; therefore, I am.” But if I am not thinking, then what? Before thinking, there is no you or I, no form or emptiness, no right or wrong. So even “no form, no emptiness” is wrong. In true emptiness, before thinking, you only keep a clear mind. All things are just as they are. Form is form; emptiness is emptiness.

•I’m afraid I still don’t understand.

If you want to understand, already, this is a mistake. Only go straight ahead and keep don’tknow mind. Then, you will understand everything.

•What is Enlightenment?

Enlightenment is only a name. If you make Enlightenment, then Enlightenment exists. But if Enlightenment exists, ignorance exists, too. Good and bad, right and wrong, enlightened and ignorant—all these are opposites. All opposites are just your own thinking. The truth is absolute, beyond thinking, beyond opposites. If you make something, you will get something. But if you don’t make anything, you will get everything.

•Is Enlightenment really just a name? Doesn’t a Zen Master have to attain the experience of Enlightenment in order to be a Zen Master?

The Heart Sutra says that there is no attainment with nothing to attain. If Enlightenment is attained, it is not Enlightenment.

•Then, is everyone enlightened?

Do you understand no attainment?

•No.

No attainment is attainment. You must attain no attainment. So, what is attainment? What is there to attain?

•Emptiness?

In true emptiness, there is no name and no form. So there is no attainment. If you say, “I have attained true emptiness,” you are wrong.

•I’m beginning to understand. That is, I think I am.

The universe is always true emptiness. Now you are living in a dream. Wake up! Then, you will understand.

•How can I wake up?

I hit you! (Laughter) Very easy. (Laughter)

•Would you please explain a bit more?

O.K. Can you see your eyes?

•In a mirror.

That is not your eyes; it is only their reflection. You eyes cannot see themselves. If you want to see your eyes, there is already a mistake.

•But when you were a young monk, you had the actual experience of Enlightenment. What was this experience?

I hit you.

[…]

•What kind of formal practice would you recommend to beginners? I know that at your Zen Centers in America, your students do sitting meditation for several hours each day. Is that necessary?

Meditation is important. But what is most important is how you keep your mind, just now, from moment to moment. Body-sitting isn’t necessary; it is only one kind of outside form. What is necessary is mind sitting. True sitting means cutting of all thinking and keeping a mind that doesn’t move. True Zen means becoming clear. When I asked you “What are you?” you didn’t know. There was only don’t know. If you keep this don’t-know mind when you are driving, this is driving Zen. If you keep it when you are playing tennis, this is tennis 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; just don’t be attached to distinctions. If you can let go of your own likes and dislikes, then everything will become perfectly clear.”

•Is it important to have a teacher?

Very important! Many people practice on their own and come to think that they understand. They think that they are great enlightened Bodhisattvas. But that is only their own thinking. So, it is necessary to visit a great Zen Master and win his approval. Otherwise, the blind will be leading the blind, and everyone will fall into a ditch.

In the Zen school, we have many kong-ans. Kong-ans are like tests, or like fishing hooks. If your mind is not clear, the baited hook will drop into the pool of your mind and all your thinking will appear. And you will touch the hook and be caught. But, if you have attained true Enlightenment, seventeen hundred hooks can go into your mind and you will have no hindrance. The hook drops into clear water and comes out of clear water. No fish.

[…]

If you want to understand the answers to these kong-ans, you will never understand. But if you only go straight and keep don’t-know mind, then the answers will appear by themselves. And when your mind becomes completely clear, you will be able to answer any kong-an without hindrance.

•Thank you very much.

You’re welcome.


747

14 December 1977
Dear Master Soen Sa Nim,

Would you kindly excuse my bad writing English and my wasting your precious time?

I have read your marvellous book, Dropping Ashes on the Buddha, and I have gotten the certainty of the truth of your “teaching-no-teaching.”

I have read a great number of books about Zen, but much too! I am still at the same joint. But your book has struck me, so I write you.

Would you kindly answer my letter, if that does not disturb you, with advice from your hand for beginning my practice of Zen, koan, etc. … and how to persevere in Zen.

I would like to regard you as my teacher, if you agree. Perhaps, alas! I shall never see you, because I am married and have no possibilities or money for traveling afar. But I hope I shall be able, from time to time, to receive your so valuable instructions.

With my respectful thanks, yours very kindly,
Jacques

December 26, 1977
Dear Jacques,

Thank you for your beautifully written letter. How are you?

You said you have read Dropping Ashes on the Buddha. That is wonderful. Also, you said you have read many other books about Zen. Not good, not bad. I think you understand much about Zen. Understanding means that your mind is very complicated. Your mind is complicated, so your understanding has many directions, and you cannot find your true way. Zen means that complicated mind becomes simple mind. If you want to become simple mind, you must throw away all your understanding and become iron-head, which means cutting off all thinking. Then your mind, my mind, the iron, the tree, the rocks all become one. But, this becoming one is also not correct, because cutting off all thinking is before thinking. Before thinking is without speech: no one, no many, no Buddha, no God, no you, no I, no iron. If you open your mouth, this is already a mistake. Then, what is this? If you don’t understand, then only go straight—don’t know. Then, this don’t-know medicine will fix your complicated mind, and then you will become simple mind.

Don’t-know mind is already cutting off all thinking. Cutting off all thinking is before thinking. Before thinking is your substance. Your substance is universal substance. Universal substance and your substance becoming one is called primary point. So, don’t know is not don’t know; don’t know is primary point. Primary point’s name is don’t know. Somebody said, “Primary point is mind, Buddha, God, Nature, Substance, Absolute, Holy, Energy, and everything.” But, primary point has no name, no speech, no word. Only when, at the time of keeping don’t know, I ask you: The mountain and you, are they the same or different? Tell me! Tell me!

If you say the same, I hit you thirty times. If you say different, I hit you thirty times! What can you do?

I hope you keep don’t-know mind always and everywhere, which is being clear like space, finish the Great Work of life and death, soon get Enlightenment, and save all people from suffering.

Yours in the Dharma,
S.S.
[…]


752

Dear Soen Sa Nim,

You are truly useless … how can I tell
ye … there are no ways.
Today, there is much snow with Earth
She seems to run amuck.
Somebody got hit seventy-nine times
No feeling ????
no feeling?
feeling that has no feeling?
don’t know …
What is memory?
memory then. memory when.
stored in here; stored over there
All is …
Those in sea … remember nothing—
have no memory. Mere fish of Tao …
Shine light, they come
Shut light. They wander
no memory of place of light!!
may your light wander in Tao, unseen.

Donna

December 27, 1977
Dear Donna,

Thank you for your wonderful poem. How are you? Here is a poem for you:

Somebody got hit seventy-nine times.
No feeling. Rocks Head.
Complete Rocks Head already Buddha
But not complete, only feeling is no feeling
Finally said don’t know, Wonderful!
Don’t-know medicine maybe fix
Somebody’s no-feeling sickness.
What is correct direction?
What do you want?
What are you doing now?
Don’t make anything.
Only go straight—don’t know.
In don’t know there is everything
But, if you want something, lose everything.
So only go straight—don’t know.
Then already you are complete
And have everything.
Don’t know is clear like space.
Clear like space is like clear mirror
Red comes, red; white comes, white
All just like this is truth
Sky is blue; tree is green.

Yours in the Dharma,
S.S.


766

Zen Master Seung Sahn’s New Year’s Poem 1978:

New Year said, “Merry Christmas.”
Old Year said, “Happy New Year!”
Christ said, “God nature everywhere.”
Ma Jo said, “Everything has Buddha-nature.”
Sixth Patriarch said, “Originally nothing.”
Bible said, “Be still; know that I am God.”
Still is God; nothing is Buddha.
Still is nothing.
Is God Buddha? NO! NO!
No stillness, no nothing.
No God, no Buddha … Then what?
Ice snake eats the sun.
Kapok horse crushes the earth.
God around, around, around 1978 times.
Buddha around, around, around 2522 times.
East window is bright.
West picture smiling is clear.


771A

January 11, 1978
Dear Soen Sa Nim,

Thank you very much for your letter. You are a very dedicated keen-eyed lion, and I feel very grateful for this communication with you.

In your letter, you ask several questions. Do not be attached to your questions or my answers. What is THIS? THIS is THIS. What is Zen? You hit me thirty times. What is practicing? Sentient beings are innumerable; I vow to save them all. What kind of sweet? I hit you.

You warn me that understanding cannot help. In this you are kinder than a mother and wiser than a sage. But what is there for me to understand?

While in Arizona at her parents’ house for this month, Linda called me many times on the phone and cried often because she missed me. I missed her, too, but told her, “Only don’t know, and I am already with you. In Phoenix, don’t know; in Oley, don’t know; in Providence, don’t know.”

[…]

Do not strive unnecessarily, but only work to save all beings. I bow thirty times to you in
great admiration.

Yours in the Dharma,
Dale

January 30, 1978
Dear Dale,
Happy New Year! Thank you for your letter. How are you and Linda?

You understand keen-eyed Zen Masters, which means your eyes are keen eyes. But, your answers are not good, not bad. First: What is this? You said, “THIS is THIS,” so I say to you, you are a monkey. Again I ask you: What is this? Don’t make monkey.

Next, what is Zen? You said you hit me thirty times. So I hit you thirty times. What can you do?

Next, what is practicing? You said, “Sentient beings are innumerable. I vow to save them all.” So I ask you, What are sentient beings? What are you? You and sentient beings, are they the same or different? Tell me! Tell me! If you open your mouth, I will hit you. Also, if you close your mouth, I will hit you. Don’t use dead words. You must use live words. Dead words have opposites; live words have no opposites. You must understand this. O.K.?

Next, what kind of sweet? You said, “I hit you.” You only understand one; you do not understand two. I want keen-eyed lions; I don’t want blind dogs. You don’t understand black and white. You don’t understand honey and sugar, so I say to you, don’t make blind dogs.

You asked me, “What is there to understand?” Nam Cheon Zen Master said, “The true way is not dependent on understanding or not understanding. Understanding is illusion; not understanding is blankness. If you attain the true way, it is clear like space, without right or wrong.” This means there are no opposites. So put it all down. Don’t make anything. “I”, “my”, “me”—put it all down.

You said, “You warn me that understanding cannot help … But what is there for me to understand?” “For me to understand” is already a big mistake. Don’t make anything; don’t hold anything; don’t attach to anything. Then already, you are complete. When you see the sky, what? When you see a tree, what? Only this. So if you don’t understand, only go straight—don’t know, for 10,000 years, non-stop. Only try, try, try. O.K.?

Also don’t attach to don’t know; don’t hold don’t know; don’t make don’t know. I say: Only go straight—don’t know.
[…]
I hope you only go straight—don’t know, which is clear like space, soon finish the Great Work of life and death, get Enlightenment, and save all people from suffering.
Yours in the Dharma,
S.S.


773

December 26, 1977
Dear Soen Sa Nim,

With this I wish you a healthy and serene year. I take the liberty of sending along a poem of mine for you to read.

Firmness in the face of pain,
Distraction.
To the base of belly,
To the base of breath.
Below the face of changing features,
Let them come, let them go.
Remain.
With every effort,
Gather in.
You don’t know what gathers,
Sounds like clouds and not like clouds,
That fade and bellow,
Sights you see and do not see.
You do not feel
But gather,
Do not see
But gather,
Smell or hear
But gather
Think
But gather
Know
But gather
Gather
In.
You do not know
You will not know
Not know
But gather
Gather
Gather
In
And you will fill your heart with Light.

Best regards,
Maya

January 24, 1978
Dear Maya,

Happy New Year! Thank you for your letter and donation.

This letter is late. Your letter came to Providence, but I was in Los Angeles and it followed me there, but then I went back to Providence and then to Hawaii, and now I am here in Berkeley. So your letter followed me around and around, and so I am answering late. I am sorry.

Your poem is very wonderful. You understand gathering. After gathering, what?

Here is a poem for you:

Snow comes down nine inches!
Mountain, river, houses, roads, everything white.
Look at the snow!
Mind white.
Coming road, going road remain white.
Everything gathering and separating.
Gathering is not gathering.
Who controls everything?
You? I? Buddha? God?
No! No! No! No!
Sight you see clearly,
White clouds in the sky.
Blue jay sings song in the mountain
How wonderful it is!
Big bell sounds, breaking heaven and earth!
The incense smell melts ten thousand thoughts!
How many times did you bow to the wall?
In. Out. Know. Don’t know. How different?
KATZ!
Ancient Buddha did not know
How Shakyamuni transmission to Mahakashyapa.
One thousand two hundred gather, only don’t know.
How perfectly complete it is!
Do you know Buddha’s mistake?
Do you know Mahakashyapa’s rock head?
The flower facing south window,
Outside snow nine inches.

Yours in the Dharma,
S.S.


773A

January 14, 1978
Dear Soen Sa Nim,

I had an interview with you once about a year ago, so you don’t really know me very well. I live in New Haven and just graduated from college. I used to practice hard about a year ago, and when I did, I felt very good. I felt so good that I stopped practicing; then I felt not so good. Now I am practicing Zen again and am going to try not to be attached to feeling good and bad.

I am attached to your name, “Zen Master”, and I don’t want to be. What is a Zen Master? I have the book, Dropping Ashes on the Buddha, and find it excellent. I would like to wake up, but I don’t really want to, because I don’t.

Sincerely,
Paul

January 30, 1978
Dear Paul,
Thank you for your letter. How are you? One year ago, you had an interview with me and then did hard practicing. That’s wonderful, but then you stopped practicing. Now you say you are practicing again. Not good, not bad.

When you drive, stop and go, then stop and go again, you use much of your energy and gas, and it takes much time; you have many problems, and you cannot arrive at your destination. So I say to you, only go straight—don’t know, non-stop. O.K.? If you check your feelings; if you check your mind; if you check your understanding, then your practicing stops, many problems appear, and you lose your direction. So every day try, try, try, non-stop for 10,000 years. This is very important.

What do you want? Money? Fame? Sex? Good food? Good house? What do you want? What is your life? What are you doing now? Why are you doing something? For what? When you die, where are you going? You don’t know! So I say to you, only go straight—don’t know.

If you check something, you have a problem. If you only go straight—don’t know, your mind will become simple. If you have a simple mind, then no problem. So don’t make anything; don’t hold anything; don’t attach to anything. Only go straight—don’t know. Then you are already complete. You must understand this.
[…]
I hope you always only go straight—don’t know, which is clear like space, soon finish the Great Work of life and death, get Enlightenment, and save all people from suffering.

Yours in the Dharma,
S.S.


774A

January 18, 1978
Dear Soen Sa Nim,

Thank you for your kind teaching and hope you have been well.

From your letter of November 24th, “When I hit you thirty times, you say ‘Ouch!’ So I ask you: Form is emptiness; emptiness is form. Which one? Tell me!” My answer:

Emptiness is form;
Form is emptiness.
Ouch is ouch!
What more you want?

To the Soeng Am Calls Master koan, I said, “Don’t know.” Then you gave me this koan: JoJu’s Washing the Bowls. What did the monk attain? My answer:

What is enter?
What is breakfast?
What is wash bowls?
What is monk?
What is Enlightenment?
What is attained?

Enter is breakfast; breakfast is bowls; bowls is monk; monk is enlightened; enlightened is attained; attained is writing this letter to you! JoJu’s washing his damn bowls is his problem!

Hope to get thirty blows from you again soon!
With much love and Gassho,
Virginia

January 30, 1978
Dear Virginia,

Thank you for your letter. How are you?

Your answer, “Emptiness is form; form is emptiness,” is not good, not bad. We say this style of answer is like a dog running after the bone, which means that you are attached to words. You must become a lion. A lion bites people, so when I ask you, “Is the ‘Ouch’ form or emptiness?” you must hit me. This means that the Zen Master made opposite thinking, so the hitting the Zen Master means the Zen Master and the student become one, and “Ouch is Ouch” is correct teaching. So I say to you more going straight—strong don’t know is necessary.

Next, you must understand the Soeng Am Calls Master kong-an. That is very important. Next, your answer to JoJu’s Washing the Bowls kong-an. You made “What is?” six times, so I hit you six times. Your thinking, thinking, thinking, checking, checking, checking is very bad. In Zen many words are not necessary. Only one word is enough. Sometimes no word. You must understand this. Your homework is the Soeng Am Calls Master kong-an and JoJu’s Washing the Bowls kong-an. If you don’t understand, you must only go straight for 10,000 years, nonstop, try, try, try.

I hope that you always and everywhere keep don’t know, which is clear like space, finish the Great Work of life and death, get Enlightenment, and save all people from suffering.

Yours in the Dharma,
S.S.


791

February 7, 1978
Dear Soen Sa Nim,

I had not sat before, when Sherry and Lawlor (in Toronto) convinced me to attend a threeday Yong Maeng Jong Jin. I learned more in these three days than I did in a year at University. I am hoping to attend the sesshin in April and also the summer retreat. I realize and trust my true nature and have decided that there is no better time than now to do the work.

I hear a lot about young and old beings, people in earlier and later incarnations. Is it easier for an older being to become enlightened?

“Who am I?” is what I’ve been working with, and I’ve been sitting every day, but my mind is still very noisy. Do you have advice?

I look forward to meeting you.
Martin

March 1, 1978
Dear Martin,

Thank you for your letter. How are you?

You say you didn’t sit before and you tried Yong Maeng Jong Jin at the suggestion of Sherry and Lawlor, that you learned more in those three days than you learned in a year at the University, that you hope to attend the April Yong Maeng Jong Jin and the summer retreat, and that you realize and trust your true nature and have decided that there is no better time to do the work than now. That is wonderful.

Zen is not difficult. Also not complicated. If you make difficult, you have difficult; if you make complicated, you have complicated. If you don’t make anything, don’t hold anything, aren’t attached to anything, then you are already complete. But, if you check something, you have a problem. So don’t check your mind; don’t check your feelings; don’t check your understanding. But, you want to understand something. So I ask you, what are you? If you understand, tell me! Tell me! If you don’t understand, only go straight—don’t know. Always and everywhere.

But you said your mind is noisy. Noisy is not bad, not good. Don’t check noisy; let it be. Then, noisy is noisy. Don’t know is only don’t know. Only go straight—don’t know. Then your noisy mind will rest, and don’t-know mind will become clear. Then you can believe in yourself 100%, which means you are already complete and have perfect freedom. So everyday, everyday practicing is necessary. We say, “Try, try, try, for 10,000 years, nonstop.” This mind is very important.

I hope you always keep don’t know mind, which is clear like space, soon finish the Great Work of life and death, and save all people from suffering.

Yours in the Dharma,
S.S.


794

February 2, 1978
Dear Soen Sa Nim,

Thank you for your letter.
Here in Kansas there is snow, no mountains.

Why do you make zero all the time?

KATZ!

Love,
Judy
P.S. Just heard on the T.V. about all the snow back east. Hope everyone in Providence and Boston is well.

February 8, 1978
letter #2
Dear Soen Sa Nim,

You ask me what is my true direction.

This
Just this.
Not like this.
Not just like this.
Just this.

Love,
Judy

March 1, 1978
Dear Judy,

Thank you for your wonderful letter. How are you?

You say KATZ. Is this outside zero or inside zero?

In your next letter, you wrote your true direction poem. Here is a poem for you:

What is this?
Why just this?
When not like this?
Where not just like this?
How just this?
Who are you?

Yours in the Dharma,
S.S.
P.S. All the PZC family says hello to you. Have a good day.


804

Krakow, February 17, 1978
Dear Soen Sa Nim,

Thank you for your letter. Your visit in Poland will bring us new energy for practicing. Surely you will meet people with strong determination on the Way.

A month in Europe—neither short nor long time. Maybe much of it you will spend in our country; I wish, anyway.

I received the Newsletter a few days ago. There I found Stephen Mitchell’s address. Then I sent him a letter and asked him to write the exact time you will come to Poland. On Friday, February 17, we start a four-day group sitting in Kotowice, and I hope to be there working on Joshu’s “Everyday Mind”.

Now I have a question: All Buddhists in Krakow and Kotowice are my friends. They practice two different ways—Tibetan and Zen. I don’t know to which Dharmas I owe my position, being engaged in both in the front of Buddha’s Grace.

Still, I’m working to get done my second graduation work.

Yours in the Dharma,
Hapchang,
Anthony

March 4, 1978
Dear Anthony,

Thank you for your letter and beautiful card. How are you and your family and your Zen club?

We are also excited about visiting your country. I will send you our schedule with this letter.

I asked Jacob, and he said he would go to Poland with us. So that is also wonderful. Also, you will have a four-day sitting starting April 17. That, too, is wonderful. Your letter said you are working on Jo Ju’s everyday mind. Very good. I think this kong-an will help you a lot. This kong-an’s point means that if you want to try, it is already a mistake. That means don’t check your mind; don’t check your feelings; don’t check your understanding. Only go straight—don’t know. This kong-an says the true way is not dependent on understanding or not understanding, which means your opinion, your condition, and your situation disappear; then the True Way appears, and you can keep correct opinion, correct condition, and correct situation. So I ask you: What are you doing now? When you are doing something, you must do it. This is Jo Ju’s everyday mind. I think you understand too much. But this understanding cannot help you. You must control your understanding. Your understanding controls you. That is very dangerous, because you ask me about the difference between Zen and Tibetan Buddhism.

If you keep don’t know mind, which is already cutting off all thinking, then in your mind, there is no Zen, no Tibetan Buddhism, no American, no foreign. Any mind becomes one—Buddha’s mind, Bodhisattva’s mind, Christ-mind already become one. Why do you make Zen mind? Why do you make Tibetan mind? So you have a problem. Not only Zen and Tibetan Buddhism—Christianity, Yoga, also any philosophy, psychology, any academic subject are no hindrance.

So I say to you: Don’t hold something; don’t make something; don’t attach to something. Then you are already complete. Don’t touch any thoughts or any understanding which come and go; let it be. Then, those feelings and understanding will appear and disappear by themselves. Don’t worry. Only go straight—don’t know. Don’t know, always and everywhere, is very important. O.K.?

I ask you: the “Everyday Mind is the True Way” kong-an said, “Nam Cheon said, ‘The True Way is not dependent on understanding or not understanding. Understanding is illusion; not understanding is blankness.’ Then Jo Ju suddenly got Enlightenment.” What did Jo Ju attain? Tell me! Tell me! If you don’t understand, only go straight—don’t know. Don’t make Zen; don’t make Tibetan Buddhism. That is your correct direction. If you have correct direction, Zen and Tibetan Buddhism and Yoga practicing and school learning and bad and good, everything is your good teacher. If you lose don’t know and lose your direction, even if Buddha appears and gives a special Dharma speech for you, it cannot help you. All Buddha’s speech will become a demon.

So you must keep don’t-know mind always and everywhere. Try, try, try for 10,000 years, nonstop. That is very important.

I hope you are always keeping don’t know, which is clear like space, soon finish the Great Work of life and death, get Enlightenment, and save all people from suffering.

Yours in the Dharma,
S.S.


805

March 4, 1978
Dear Student,

Thank you for your letter. How are you? You sent me a letter to Tahl Mah Sah. I just returned to Providence from Chicago, and we’re having Yong Maeng Jong Jin, so your letter followed me.

I heard the good news about the New York Zen Center. It is the same as in your letter. I just heard about the New York situation and talked about the New York Zen Center in the future with Linc and Judy. Renting a house is not good, not bad. I said to them, “I’ll help the New York Zen Center. In Los Angeles, my student has a little money which we can borrow. So we can borrow $20,000 from my student and buy one floor. Linc said we could buy a place and fix it up. This way is better than renting a house.” What do you think about this way? If you like, you and all the New York Zen Center try it one time.

The New York Zen Center’s name is International Zen Center, so we must be a correct International Zen Center. Only being an International Zen Center in name is no good. Everybody in New York is a very good student, but they also have many strong opinions and also strongly hold their situations, so the New York Zen Center doesn’t grow and isn’t a correct International Zen Center. I always say you must make your opinion, your condition, and your situation disappear. Then you are already complete. Then you have Great Love, Great Compassion, and the Great Bodhisattva Way. Then you are able to do everything. That is very important.

Then you said in your letter that you are afraid, and your chest and stomach are in pain, and you have a strong feeling. Everybody has this style sickness. So we try Zen practicing. Those things come from where? “I”, “my”, “me” mind. If you have no “I”, “my”, “me”, how do fear and pain in your stomach appear? You already understand. But understanding cannot help you. You must attain. If you want to attain, don’t check your feelings; don’t check your mind; don’t check your understanding. Put it all down. Don’t touch any understanding or any feeling which come and go. Let it be. When you check, when you are holding, then you have a problem. How strong is your don’t-know mind? If you are 50%, then your life is only 50% human. If your don’t-know mind is 90%, then your life is 90% correct. If your don’tknow mind is stronger, 99%, not good, not bad. But this 1% is stronger than 99%. You must understand this. If 1% bad karma appears, then 99% practicing mind disappears. So 100% don’t-know mind is very important.

I think your don’t-know mind is sometimes 30, 50, 80, 90, 99%. You must take one more strong step. Then complete 100%! Then your Great Faith, Great Courage, and Great Question will come together, and you can keep only don’t know. Always, everywhere. That is called Great Love, Great Compassion, and the Great Bodhisattva Way. O.K.? New York ideas, New York condition, New York situation—put it all down.

I hope you always keep don’t know, which is clear like space, soon finish the Great Work of life and death, get Enlightenment, and save all people from suffering.

Yours in the Dharma,
S.S.


812

February 27, 1978
Hello…

I’m living on Maui and managed to miss Soen Sa Nim’s visit here… I was visiting at the time… I will be back in Rhode Island May and part of June… Could you please send me the current Newsletters so’s I can see if I can come spend a Yong Maeng Jong Jin with you… Living on Maui… rite here rite now… is an unfolding just like this experience… flashing upon the perfection in all things… awareness that perfection is indeed perfect… people and environment all supportive of clearing mind… mind is clear… always… just like this… Love and Gentleness … A LOT…

Bruce

March 10, 1978
Dear Bruce,

Thank you for your letter. How are you?
I like Maui and the Maui Zen Center very much. I had a very wonderful stay there with all my Dharma friends. Also, Aitken Roshi is a very wonderful and warm great Zen Master.

In your letter, you said you want to do Yong Maeng Jong Jin with us sometime. That is wonderful. I will send you our schedule. Also, if you have a question, send a letter to our Zen Center Director, Louise.

In your letter, you like just like this. What is just like this? You said, “… mind is clear… always… just like this.” No-mind is better than clear mind. But both of these minds cannot get just like this. Just like this is not dependent on no-mind and clear mind. The Diamond Sutra said, “You cannot attain present mind, cannot attain past mind, cannot attain future mind.” What is no-mind? What is clear mind? What is just like this? Are they the same or different? Tell me! Tell me! If you understand, that is wonderful. If you don’t understand, only go straight. Put it all down, clear mind and just like this. Only don’t know. Don’t check your mind; don’t check your feelings; don’t check your understanding. Only go straight—don’t know for 10,000 years, nonstop. Try, try, try.

I hope you always keep don’t-know mind, which is clear like space, soon get Enlightenment, and save all people from suffering.

Yours in the Dharma,
S.S.


828

March 11, 1978
Dear Soen Sa Nim,

Thank you for your letter of March 1st, ‘78. You ask me about the two answers from two Zen Masters to the question, “What is Buddha?” One answer was “Three pounds of flax.” The other was “Dry shit on a stick.” And you ask me, “Are they the same or different?” I don’t understand how you can expect a monkey to answer such a difficult question.

All questions come from the mind which is ignorant, and all answers come from the same ignorant mind. Questions and answers are for fools. Philosophers have been asking and answering questions all of their lives, and they are still ignorant of Truth.

The little self asks and answers all questions, and as long as the little self is there, it will stay on this crazy wheel of questions and answers, but it will only keep going around in circles and never getting off the wheel. A question is asked; an answer is given, but the answer only creates more questions ad infinitum, sheer folly.

So why should I try to answer your question when, in Reality, there is no answer. I appreciate your letters very much; if you can find the time, please keep in touch. Please note my change of address. In finishing, I would like to include this little poem I wrote.

The sun gives warmth—the sailboat is on the lake,
The moon gives stillness—the lovers embrace,
The rose gives perfume—the baby laughs.
The air gives life—the squirrel nibbles a nut,
The mountain gives grandeur—the lion roars;
The waves meeting the shore is a symphony—the birds sing,
All is as it should be.
The sky is high—the earth is low,
All is, as it always has been,
You are you and I am me,
We are where we should be,
Nothing really changes,
Everything is in its rightful place.

Respectfully, with Love,
Norm

Dear Norm,

Thank you for your letter. How are you?

You are very attached to words. If you cannot understand, only go straight—don’t know. That is most important. “That question comes from where?” “Ignorance,” etc.—that is checking your mind. These words are all opposites thinking. Zen is a revolution of your mind, which means opposites-words disappear and become the Absolute. There is no subject, no object, no inside, no outside; inside and outside become one. Also, there is no name, no form, no speech, no words. Only see; only hear; you and the object of mind become one. Dong Sahn Zen Master was weighing flax. At that time, somebody asked him, “What is Buddha?” He said, “Three pounds of flax,” which means his mind was only three pounds of flax. So “Three pounds of flax” means no words, no form, no name. Inside and outside only become one expression. Also, this speech of mine is a big mistake. Three pounds of flax is only three pounds of flax. No meaning is big meaning. If you understand this, any kong-an is no problem. Don’t make something; don’t hold anything; don’t attach to anything. Then you are already complete. O.K.? Only go straight—don’t know. Don’t check your feelings; don’t check your mind; don’t check your understanding. Try, try, try for 10,000 years. That is very important. Put it all down. Only don’t know. O.K.?

Your poem is very wonderful. Here is a poem for you:

The sun gives cold—the sailboat has no bottom.
The moon gives noise—the lovers quarrel.
The rose has thorns—the baby cries.
The air gives death—the squirrel bites the cat.
The mountain gives goosebumps—the lion cowers.
The waves take away direction—the bird cannot find its nest.
All not as it should be is as it should be.
No sky, no earth.
All always remains still.
No yours, no mine, no I, my, me.
Don’t check, don’t check, don’t check.
Nothing really changes.
Spring comes. The willow is green; the flower is red.

Yours in the Dharma,
S.S.


831

January 18, 1978—France
Dear Master Seung Sahn Soen Sa,

Thank you very much for your good and so hoped-for letter. Would you kindly excuse me for wasting your time again.

In your letter, you asked me if the mountain and I are the same or different, and you said you ask this question only when you keep don’t know. If I keep don’t know and I answer, there is no more don’t know. Therefore, I can’t answer. I feel one with the mountain only during a split second, and already I think, wanting to continue this perception, and so on…

I am not clear about practicing don’t-know mind. Could you kindly add some teaching about this. How can I keep don’t-know mind always and everywhere? i.e., how keep Zen mind always and everywhere? Often one needs living rules and stirring words.

I have written to Stepehn Mitchell as you prescribe, so that I can make arrangements with him, because I shall be very glad to see you, if this would be possible, if you pass through France.

I hope very much you will answer.

Yours very kindly,
Jacques

P.S. What do you think about Nembutsu? And kong-an: “Who repeats the name of Buddha?”

February 7, 1978
Dear Jacques,

Thank you for your beautifully-written letter. How are you? You are my wonderful French student, so I am always glad to get letters from you, and I hope that soon, I will be able to meet you. I look forward to that.

About the mountain and you—are they the same or different? You said, “If I keep don’t know and I answer, there is no more don’t know; therefore, I cannot answer.” Then I hit you. Do you know this hit’s meaning? Already, you said don’t know is no more don’t know, which means already cutting off all thinking. When you are thinking, your mind and my mind are different. When you cut thinking, then your mind and my mind are the same. You said no more don’t know, which is 100% mind, which is before thinking.

Before, I already told you, your don’t-know mind, my don’t-know mind, somebody’s don’tknow mind are the same. Already this don’t-know mind has cut off all thinking, is before thinking. Your before thinking is your substance, my before thinking is my substance, is the mountain’s, the moon’s, the sky’s substance—they are the same. So when you keep 100% don’t-know mind, you are the universe; the universe is you; you are everything; everything is you. So don’t know is not don’t know; don’t know is everything. Don’t know and everything become one, which is called primary point. So primary point’s name is don’t know; don’t know is primary point. But somebody said primary point is mind or Buddha or God or nature or substance or energy or holy or everything. But true primary point has no name, no form, no speech, no word. If you open your mouth, it is already a mistake. If you want a speech-answer, then you cannot answer. If you keep 100% don’t know, then when I hit, this is you; this is don’t know; this is primary point. No speech or word is used.

Before, Buddha picked up a flower. No one understood, but Mahakashyapa smiled. What do you think about this? The flower’s substance, your substance, the maountain’s substance, Mahakashyapa’s substance, the smile’s substance—are they the same or different? If you say the same, I hit you thirty times. If you say different, also, I hit you thirty times. If you open your mouth, it is already a mistake. Without opening your mouth, answer me. The Buddha already demonstrated to us. Do you know this? If you don’t understand, only go straight — don’t know for 10,000 years, nonstop. Try, try, try.

You asked me how to keep don’t-know mind. When you drive, just drive; when you eat just eat. The name for this is don’t know. Don’t think about anything. When you eat, just eat. Moment to moment, just keep the correct situation; this is called don’t know, which is the same as clear mind, put-it-all-down mind, only-go-straight mind. They all have the same meaning, so only go straight—don’t know. Don’t check your feelings; don’t check your mind; don’t check your understanding; don’t check anything. Only go straight—don’t know. This means when you are doing something, you must do it. This means, moment to moment, you must keep your correct situation. O.K.?

If you want to keep the correct situation, you must make your opinion, your condition, and your situation disappear. That is very important. So again I ask you, are the mountain and you the same or different? If you open your mouth, I hit you. If you close your mouth, I hit you. What can you do?

I hope you always keep don’t-know mind, which is clear like space, soon finish the Great Work of life and death, get Enlightenment, and save all people from suffering.

Yours in the Dharma,
S.S.

P.S. Stephen Mitchell will not be able to go on the European trip with us, so please write for the itinerary to Diana Clark.


839

March 17, 1978
Dear Soen Sa Nim,

Thank you for your letter. I know you are fine.
You ask what is no mind? clear mind?
You are joying playing with attachment to words…
Just like this is here, now…

is running in warm winter rains on Maui…
is eating strawberry papaya…
is awareness of God’s perfection in all things…
is the joy of loving God
Is God loving God…
is Love loving Love…
is IS

I am joying playing with attachment to words…
Just like this.

Yours in the Force,
Bruce

P.S. Louise, will Soen Sa Nim be giving a Yong Maeng Jong Jin in Providence in June? Please? Thank you.

April 6, 1978
Dear Bruce,
Thank you for your wonderful letter. How are you?

I ask you: What is just like this? You say to me, “You are joying playing with attachment to words…” Is this correct? You enjoy playing with attachment to words, so I enjoy playing with attachment to words. If you don’t attach to words, I also don’t attach to words. If you are without thinking, I am also without thinking. Please, what is just like this? Without words. Without thinking.

Your “is” poem is wonderful. Here is “no” poem for you:

no running in warm winter no rains on Maui…
no eating enough mind strawberry papaya wonderful…
no awareness of God;everything is still and perfectly
complete…
no joy of Great Love, Great Compassion, Great Bodhisattva Way…
no God true God…
no love, Great Love…
No NO…

What do you think about “no” poem?
Here is a kong-an for you:

Soeng Am Calls Master:
Master Soeng Am Eon used to call to himself every day,
“Master!” and would answer, “Yes?”
“You must keep clear!”
“Yes!”
“Never be deceived by others, any day, any time!”
“Yes! Yes!”
Soeng Am Eon used to call himself and answer himself, two minds. Which one is the correct Master?

If you understand, tell me! Tell me! If you don’t understand, only go straight—don’t know. Then you will understand just like this.

I hope you only go straight—don’t know, which is clear like space, soon finish the Great Work of life and death, get Enlightenment, and save all people from suffering.

Yours in the Dharma,
S.S.

P.S. I will be in Los Angeles in June, not in Providence, I will be giving Yong Maeng Jong Jin in Providence in July. Please come.


841

Dear Soen Sa Nim,

How are you? I hope your body is functioning well. I am diabetic also, so I can comment. You probably won’t remember me as a personality, so I’ll speak from one Buddha-mind to another. I have been to the Center and have been sitting for five years, but have been troubled by “What am I?” for about eleven years.

I think I’m stuck in emptiness, to be direct. Nothing seems real—everything I do or think and immediately—“What is this?” I realize the self (personality) is not real, but only a social construct, one of convenience and security, but desires are still there. The dilemma is this: Should I pursue a livelihood of woodworking to support myself in a peaceful and fulfilling way, or should I throw it out and come to the Center to truly find “What am I?” Or am I making a separation where there is none? I am rendered inactive by this emptiness and have no motivation, because nothing seems worth striving for. Could you hint at a direction I might take? Thank you.

Sincerely yours,
Don
P.S. Please answer before you leave for Europe; it’s very important to me.

April 9, 1978
Dear Don,
Thank you for your letter. How are you?

You said you have been sitting for five years but have been troubled by “What am I?” for about eleven years, and you said, “I realize the self is not real, but only a social construct.” You are checking yourself. You check society, and you check the universe. That means you make something, so you have some idea. This idea is your idea, but not the correct idea. If you want to understand your true self and society and the universe, then put down your idea, your condition, and your situation. You have already done sitting for five years and “What am I?” for eleven years. If you carry your idea, you cannot get the true way in even 10,000 years. But just now, put it all down—your opinions—which are “I”, “my”, “me” mind. Then you can see; you can hear; you can smell; all, just like this, is truth. What color is the sky? What color is the tree? The dog—what does it say? The chicken—what does it say? This means if your mind is complete, everything is complete.

Complete means truth. So your mind is not complete. You said empty, not existing, so everything is empty and does not exist. “Empty” and “non-existent” are only names. You say empty, not existing. Then, I hit you thirty times. What do you say? Maybe you say “Ouch!” That is correct, which means the correct situation. If you make your opinion, your condition, and your situation disappear, then correct opinion, correct condition, and correct situation appear. When you are hungry, what? When you are tired, what? If somebody is hungry, what can you do? If somebody is thirsty, then what can you do? I hit you. Then what do you say? If you touch a hot place, what do you say? Those things are the correct situation. If you keep some of your opinions, you cannot keep the correct situation, so the correct situation and your situation are different.

Your situation has “I”, “my”, “me”. If you have “I”, “my”, “me” you have an object of mind. Correct situation means there is no “I”, “my”, “me”. Just like this is truth. There is no inside, no outside, no subject, no object. Outside and inside become one. That is correct idea, correct condition, correct situation, which means Great Love, Great Compassion, and the Great Bodhisattva Way. Then moving your hand, taking a step—every action is truth. This means you can keep correct situation moment to moment. That means you keep the correct relationship with everything. Not difficult. Also not easy. Don’t make difficult; don’t make easy. When you are doing something, do it. When you drive, when you come to a red light, stop. When you come to a green light, go. At that time, you and the car, you and outside always become one, because there is no “I”, “my”, “me”. Just driving. So, if you are doing something, you must do it. Don’t check yourself; don’t check your feelings; don’t check your understanding. If you check something, you have a problem. So I say to you, put it all down. At that time, what are you? If you don’t know, only go straight—don’t know. That don’t know is not don’t know. You don’t know you, so you are don’t know; don’t know is you. So don’t know is driving; don’t know is drinking; don’t know is playing tennis; don’t know is just sitting; don’t know has everything. So only go straight—don’t know for 10,000 years, nonstop. Try, try, try. O.K.?

Here is homework—“JoJu’s Washing the Bowls”:

A monk once asked JoJu, “I have just entered the monastery. Please teach me,
Master.”
JoJu said, “Have you had breakfast?”
“Yes, I have,” replied the monk.
“Then,” said JoJu, “wash your bowls.”
The monk was enlightened.
What did the monk attain?

If you understand, tell me! Tell me! If you don’t understand, only go straight—don’t know. O.K.?

I hope you only go straight—don’t know, which is clear like space, soon finish the Great Work of life and death, get Enlightenment, and save all people from suffering.

Yours in the Dharma,
S.S.


858

May 21, 1978
Dear Soen Sa Nim,

How are you? I am glad to think of you helping so many people out there.

I wonder if you can spot some error in my practice? I try to keep my correct situation, i.e. when sitting, thoughts continually appear and when I notice one, it dissolves. Or walking or running or talking, the same thing—I notice a thought and let it dissolve and remember what it is that I am doing. Any mistakes here? Thank you Soen Sa Nim.

Take care and please give my regards to Mu Bul Su Nim.
with love,
Ellen

May 31, 1978
Dear Ellen,

How are you? Thank you for your card. You ask me about correct practicing. Any thoughts, any feelings, any “I-my-me”, any anything—let it be. Only go straight for ten thousand years—try, try, try non-stop!

Your mistake is the same as the earth. Put down all your questions about mistakes. Then already you are complete. Don’t lose your don’t know treasure—always everywhere keep with you. This is very necessary.

Mu Bul Su Nim is Mu Bul. You don’t worry.

Have a good day! See you soon.
Yours in the Dharma,
S.S.


881

June 12, 1978
Dear Soen Sa Nim,

Who am I?

Even before I took the precepts last April this question was with me; so much so that sometimes I think I am this question. When I get up in the morning this question is in the mirror with me. When I get depressed, discouraged, or egotistical, this question pops up, turns me around, and breaks the mood that is holding me back. Sometimes I have to laugh because I do not know the answer to this question. This question is like a key that opens all doors. Yet no one ever gave me this key. Though I try, I cannot give it away, nor put it down, nor pick it up. I do not even understand the doors that it opens. Many times I think there are no doors to be opened.

When I first came to see you, you gave me the “dropping ashes on the Buddha” kong-an, but along came “who am I?” kong-an and took its place. Though I sit and think what I can do to instruct this fellow attached to emptiness who drops ashes on the Buddha, always I have to ask “who am I?” that instructs; and “who is it?” that drops ashes. When I ask such questions, even the Buddha disappears.

Dropping ashes
on sitting Buddha.
Cleaning ashes
from sitting Buddha.
One man drops;
Another man cleans.
Ten thousand kalpas
Before either fool understands.
Today the sun is shining:
After my bath
I dry my hair in the sun.

Love,
Terry

July 3, 1978
Dear Terry,
Thank you for your beautiful letter. How are you?

Who are you? Give me only one word! Many words are not necessary. Understanding cannot help you.

I know your don’t-know mind. One more step is necessary. You said you think you are the question, that it helps you when you are depressed, discouraged, or egotistical, and that it is like a key that opens all doors. This is correct. But don’t hold your feelings; don’t hold your understanding. Put it all down. Then when you drink water, you understand by yourself whether it is hot or cold. Then your correct direction clearly appears. Then no problem.

I gave you “Dropping Ashes on the Buddha.” That is homework. Don’t keep homework in your mind. Only go straight—don’t know. When this don’t know becomes 100% strong, then a good answer to homework will appear by itself. So it is very important not to hold anything, not make anything, not attach to anything—only go straight—don’t know. Even Buddha’s speech, God’s speech—throw it away. Of course, throw away your homework. Then you will find the key of the True Empty Gate. If you open the True Empty Gate, then you will get everything. So you must attain the True Empty Gate. This is most important. That is the first course. Be very careful. Don’t attach to the True Empty Gate. So I ask you: What is the True Empty Gate? Tell me! Tell me! If you open your mouth, I hit you. If you hit the floor, I hit you. Any action, I hit you. What can you do?

Your poem is not good, not bad. Please make a poem after you finish Dropping Ashes on the Buddha kong-an. If you make a poem before you finish this kong-an, you will only lose your energy. It is not necessary. O.K.?

So again I ask you: Someone came to the Zen Center, smoking a cigarette, blowing smoke, and dropping ashes on the Buddha. What can you do? This man is very strong. To any speech or action of yours, he will only hit you. If you don’t understand, only go straight— don’t know. Don’t make your understanding. Your understanding cannot help your True Self. You must attain your True Self. Then this kong-an is no problem. So this kong-an is the Great Love, Great Compassion, Great Bodhisattva Way kong-an. So only try, try, try for 10,000 years, nonstop.

I hope you always keep don’t know, which is clear like space, soon finish the Great Work of life and death, get Enlightenment, and save all people from suffering.

Yours in the Dharma,
S.S.


886

June 29, 1978
Dear Soen Sa Nim,

The morning of your departure while we meditated, I was chanting Kwan Seum Bosal when suddenly the face of your teacher appeared. The one who’s picture is on the wall of the zendo. I never thought of him before until that morning. He has a great compassionate heart and has great love for you. That day was special because of his presence. Now he is in my heart silently.

Today I will put one golden rose in your room near Kwan Seum Bosal and every week… so no matter where you are a golden flower blooms for you in gratitude for your kindness to teach us the Great Way.

Yours in the Dharma,
Sumana
P.S. Hope you are well…

July 8, 1978
(Answer on Ho Shin Bul, or Protection Buddha postcard)
Dear Sumana,
Thank you for your two letters. How are you? Sumana, Kwan Seum Bosal.

True Kwan Seum Bosal
Picture Kwan Seum Bosal
Sumana Kwan Seum Bosal
Which one is correct?
Don’t make correct and incorrect.
Already Kwan Seum Bosal, you, Ko Bong Su Nim
Not two, not one.
Then what do you say?
Every week golden rose Kwan Seum Bosal
Shines to the ten directions, the whole world.

Yours in the Dharma,


901

December 27, 1977
Kyoto, Japan
Dear Friend-in-Dharma, Seung Sahn Soen Sa:

I trust this letter will reach you. I have enjoyed the book Dropping Ashes on the Buddha very much. I’m 65 years of age.
[…]
(My existence centers around Zen and I’m content and quiet.) I’m not writing this to ask any questions—only to express admiration and respect for your “way”.

Many years ago I sponsored the late Nyogen Senzaki in New York, and he gave me the following Gatha:

“The Bamboo Shadows Sweep the Stairs,
But not a particle of dust is stirred.
Moonlight penetrates to the Bottom of the well,
But not a trace of it remains.”

“Living is Dying”, Dr. D.T. Suzuki said in Honolulu. It is only too true.
[…]
Thank you for your kindness—and courtesy—and keep up your priceless work. If you can, do write to me. Thank you.
Yours in the Dharma,
Jacob (Kyo-zen)

July 19, 1978
Dear Jacob,
Thank you for your letter. How are you?
[…]
You liked Dropping Ashes on the Buddha. That is wonderful. Also, you said you were sixtyfive years old last year. Just attained Zen age!

Our school’s first teaching is, “Where are you coming from?” “What is your name?” “When you die, where do you go?” Very simple questions. Many people don’t understand. But this don’t know is very important. So I tell them, when you are thinking, your mind and my mind and other people’s minds are different. But don’t know already cuts off all thinking. Cut-off-all-thinking mind is empty mind. Empty mind is before thinking. Your beforethinking mind is your substance; my before-thinking mind is my substance. Then our substance, my substance, and universal substance are the same. When you keep don’t know, you are everything, and everything is you. You and everything become one. This is called primary point.

So don’t know is not don’t know—don’t know is primary point. Primary point’s name is don’t know. But somebody says primary point is mind, or Dharma, or God, or substance, or nature, or the Absolute, or energy, or everything. But primary point has no name, no form, no words, no speech. Only when you keep don’t-know mind, then you are everything; everything is you.

So I ask you: The tree and you, are they the same or different? If you say the same, I will hit you thirty times; if you say different, I will also hit you thirty times. What can you do? If you don’t understand, only go straight—don’t know. Sometime, ask the tree. The tree will teach you everything. The tree is better than me, better than Buddha or the sutras.
[…]
You said your existence centers around Zen and you are content and quiet. Originally, all Dharmas are from stillness. But if you are attached to stillness, you cannot find your correct direction. I think you are not attached to quiet.

Here is a famous kong-an:

“Hyang Eom’s Up a Tree”
Master Hyang Eom said, “It is like a man up a tree who is hanging from a branch by his teeth. His hands cannot grasp a bough; his feet cannot touch the tree. He is tied and bound. Another man under the tree asks him, ‘Why did Bodhidharma come to China?’ If he does not answer, he evades his duty and will be killed. If he answers, he will lose his life. If you are in the tree, how do you stay alive?”

If you attain quiet, tell me, what is quiet?

I heard about Nyogen Senzaki Roshi. He was a great Zen Master. The Gatha is a wonderful poem.

Next, you said living is dying. These are famous words. If not living, then what? One mind appears; one mind disappears. If one mind doesn’t appear, one mind does not disappear. If you make something, and if you are attached to something, then you have life and death. Don’t hold something; don’t make something; don’t attach to something. Then you are always complete and free. There is no time, no space, no life, no death. What do you see now? What do you hear now? When you are doing something, you must do it. Don’t check your feelings; don’t check your mind; also don’t check your understanding. If you check something, you have a problem. Put it all down. Only go straight—don’t know. Always, everywhere, try, try, try for 10,000 years. This is very important.
[…]
I’m glad that you wrote to me. I hope you always keep don’t know, which is clear like space, soon finish the Great Work of life and death, get Enlightenment, and save all people from suffering.

Yours in the Dharma,
S.S.


917

July 26, 1978
Dear Soen Sa Nim,

You say, “What is your name?”
I say everything’s last name is “don’t know.”
You say I have a backseat driver (2 people). I say 3 people. “A” say yes; “B” say no; and “C” watches. “I” that watches decides. “I” that decides takes action. So “I’s” name is action. So I’s name is: “Action Don’t Know.” My name is action don’t know.

XXX

You say Zen Master with four bowls make mistake. Not understand last word. What is last word? I say last word is: NOW.

XXX

I write words. All words are thinking. What do you say?

Stay well,
Scott

August 1, 1978
Dear Scott,
Thank you for your letter. You say, “What do you say?” I hit you thirty times. Don’t make your drawing; don’t make back-seat drivers; don’t make XXX. When you hold something, make something, attach to something, you always have a problem. If you don’t make anything, don’t hold anything, don’t attach to anything, already you are complete.

You like my words. Liking is O.K. Don’t hold my words. If you hold my words, my words become demons and kill you. Not only my words—even Buddha’s words, God’s words, Christ’s words—if you hold them, they become demons and kill you. Put it all down. Only go straight—don’t know. Try, try, try for 10,000 years, nonstop. O.K.?

Yours in the Dharma,
S.S.


971

October, 1978
Dear Zen Master,

Thank you for your letter. Also thank you for explaining about “How are you,” and “If your mind is complete then everything is complete.” My answer to “How are you?” now is Don’t Know, Don’t Know.

You ask me to “put it all down” and “thinking is O.K.”—are they the same or different? Answer: today is Wednesday; the sun is shining.

Cigarette-man kong-an: The way for me to help him is to achieve only “like this” or “just like this.” Then I will know. Answer: Don’t Know, Don’t Know.

I don’t know the Heart Sutra. Autumn comes leaves fall.

I asked, “How are you” and you say, “That is wonderful speech. But already you have lost your tongue.” I say,

There is no arrow
There is no downtown
Walk on Walk on.
Walk on Walk on.
For 10,000 years nonstop

May all beings be well and happy and free from fear.
Paul

October 28, 1978
Dear Paul,

Thank you for your beautiful letter. How are you again? If you say, “don’t know” I will hit you thirty times. Zen is everyday mind. I say, “How are you?” What do you say? Don’t make special. Don’t attach to something. When you are hungry, what? When you are tired, what? When I say, “how are you?”—then what?

You say that I asked you, “Put it all down” and “thinking is O.K.”—are they the same or different? And your answer is, “Today is Wednesday; the sun is shining.” That is wonderful.

To the Cigarette-man kong-an you answer, “don’t know, don’t know.” Very wonderful, very, very wonderful! But you must teach him “like this” and “just like this”. This is very important.

You say, “I don’t know the Heart Sutra” and you say, “Autumn comes leaves fall.” Not bad! Then I ask you: Form is emptiness, emptiness is form. Next, no form, no emptiness. Next, form is form, emptiness is emptiness. Which one do you like? Tell me! Tell me!

Next you say, “Walk on Walk on. For 10,000 years, nonstop.” What is your destination? Tell me! Tell me! Only “Walk on” has no direction. If you have no direction, you are blind dog. I think you do not like being a blind dog, so you must find your correct destination.

If you don’t understand, only keep don’t know walk on for 10,000 years, nonstop. O.K.? I hope you only go straight—don’t know, which is clear like space, soon get Enlightenment and save all people from suffering.

Yours in the Dharma,
S.S.


974

September 14, 1978
Dear Soen Sa Nim,

Thank you for your wonderful letter. It came at just the right time. How are you?I have been working very, very hard, doing hard training. I am a janitor here—not much work, maybe an hour a day. I have all day to meditate. We are having a work strike now and it has lasted six weeks already. I meditate constantly, determined to reach a final understanding. This is it. There is a blind Buddha in my belly that must wake up right now and see what this is.

When this body first came to prison, I had not given it much physical exercise. Then I worked it hard—very hard—and got it into good condition. I practiced karate, judo, wrestling, ran track, lifted weights, and played hockey. Now, for the past two years, there have been many psychosomatic symptoms. Meditation helps. I only came into this world to save all people, and I must understand or it is time for this body to leave. How can I save all people if I can’t even save myself?

I need your help with my meditation. I am having problems. I see, I hear, I feel, and thoughts come. Sometimes there are scenes from the past, and I watch the play of my Karma-I. Different koans flash into my mind, but all the words are not even there. I am completely crazy right now, but I have trouble acheiving any degree of one-pointedness. What can I do? What do you suggest? I am here right now!

In your letter, you asked me two questions. I will try to answer them. First question: “So I ask you, what are you? Tell me! Tell me!” Here is my answer. But it is hard to see right away! If you look closely enough, you will surely find it…

Second question: “Soeng Am Calls Master. Which one is the correct Master? Tell me! Tell me!” Poor Zen Master. Two minds. Big trouble! Here you are…

Your poem was wonderful. Here is my last poem for you before the great awakening:

Meditation is not meditation.
Meditation is meditation!
?
Fuck poems.

Please let me know when you will be in Cambridge again. I have to apply for furloughs in advance, and I would enjoy seeing you again.
Sincerely, Stephen

October 29, 1978
Dear Stephen,
Thank you for your letter. How are you? We have just returned from our trip to Korea. I read your letter—I think you want something. If you want something, your mind is panting. Put it all down, panting! Then your mind will be breathing smoothly.

You say you have been working hard, doing hard training, and that you are getting your body into good physical condition. That is wonderful. You say that meditation helps your “psychosomatic symptoms”—that is also wonderful.

You say you watch the play of your Karma-I. If you understand your Karma-I, you can disappear your karma very easily. And you said, “I want to save all people from suffering.” That also is wonderful mind. If you want to save all people, first you must save your eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, mind. If you save them, already you save all people from suffering. If you want to save these things, then you must understand the Heart Sutra. The Heart Sutra says, form is emptiness, emptiness is form, therefore no eyes, no ears, no nose, no mouth, etc., also no color, no sound, no smell, etc., until no object of mind. If you keep this mind, your mind is clear like space. Clear like space means clear like a mirror—red comes, red; somebody is happy, I am happy; somebody is sad, I am sad. So first keep a completely empty mind. That is your substance. Then reflected mind is possible, which means correct function. There is no subject, no object, no inside, no outside. Inside, outside become one—not separate—which means when you are doing something, you must do it. There is no I, my, me.

If you want something, again appears I, my, me. So I say, when you are doing something, do it. And you must keep don’t-know mind. Don’t-know mind already cuts off all thinking, which is therefore before thinking. Before-thinking mind is the same as clear-mirror mind. My actions are for all people. We say that is Great Love, Great Compassion, and the Great Bodhisattva Way.

Your answer to “What are you?” is not good, not bad. But to open your mouth is already a mistake! So I hit you thirty times! So again I ask you, what are you? If you don’t know, only straight—don’t know, O.K.?

Next, Soeng Am calls himself and answers himself: which one is the correct Master? You don’t understand Soeng Am’s Master. You don’t understand your Master. Don’t make “poor Master” and don’t make “two minds”. If you make something, you have a problem. Also, don’t make “here” and don’t make “you”. Correct Master means no speech, no word—to open your mouth is already a mistake! What can you do? If you don’t understand, only go straight—don’t know. If you open your mouth again, you lose your tongue!

I hope you always go straight—don’t know, which is clear like space, soon finish the Great Work of life and death, get Enlightenment and save all people from suffering.

Yours in the Dharma,
S.S.


978

from “The Middle Way”
Zen Master Seung Sahn Visits Europe
by Anne Bancroft

Anne Bancroft is a member of the Buddhist Council and author of Religions of the East and Twentieth Century Mystics and Sages. She is at present working on a book entitled Zen.

Korean Zen Master Seung Sahn with six American followers came to London on the last weekend in April. They arrived at Friends International Centre, tired from travelling but exhilarated by the welcome and enthusiasm of Buddhists they had met in Italy, Germany, and Poland; and at once felt at home in the peaceful atmosphere of the International Centre where meditation at 6.0 in the morning is not considered unusual.

Master Seung Sahn, called by his pupils and friends Soen Sa Nim (Honored Zen Master) has spent six years in the States (he was previously Master of a temple in Japan) and his English although adequate is not fluent. Language, however, seems of little real importance when he presents Zen teaching, for his personality is so dynamic and so warmly at one with his audience that words seem superficial. Nevertheless they can still be very effective and when a student in Oxford asked him, “Why thirty blows for a wrong answer?”, Soen Sa Nim’s instant response of “Put it down” was understood by everyone in the room. On another occasion one word sufficed. After a Chinese meal we were walking up from Gerrard Street to Oxford Street and passed a strip club where a couple of touts were lounging about outside the doorway. When they saw Soen Sa Nim in his grey robes they sniggered and one asked, “Do you do karate?” Soen Sa Nim is short and square and very strong, from deep down in his diaphragm came the one word, “Yes!” There was silence from the touts.

The basis of Soen Sa Nim’s teaching is what he calls the “don’t-know mind”, by which he means the mind which is fresh to every situation. “Don’t make anything” is his constant advice and he means “don’t put into the situation that which isn’t there.” Our everyday ordinary mind is perfectly able to deal with all situations if we allow it to do its work freely and don’t try to possess a situation through imagination or thought, thus turning it into something different altogether. So this don’t know mind is the clear mind which doesn’t hang on to anything in the way of ideas and preconceptions, and it is thus unbounded and free to respond wholly to every situation. Asked by an Oxford graduate if this meant that one shouldn’t think at all, Soen Sa Nim said that thinking is natural to the human brain, but there should be no attachment to it. He compared the mind to an electronic calculator. As long as it is allowed to stay as don’t-know mind in its clear, straightforward state, it is like the calculator, clear and ready to deal with whatever programme is programmed into it. But when a mind thinks it knows everything, it is like a calculator which has not been cleared of its old programmes before a new programme is put in and so it cannot give the correct answer to the present situation.

During his brief stay, Soen Sa Nim gave two public lectures, one at Friends House, Euston Road and one at Wadham College under the auspices of the Oxford Buddhist Society. As well, he conducted a day’s sesshin at Dharma House in Lewisham. Tapes were made of much that he said.


994

November 3, 1978
Dear Zen Master,

Thank you for your most recent letter. I hope that you had an enjoyable trip to Korea and Japan.

It has been a long time since you have written to me, but I feel as though I am beginning to understand what you are saying when you keep asking, “What are you?” I am a part of the eternal spirit which never dies and is always present.

Is Don’t-know Mind the same as No-Mind?

Can’t I reach Don’t-know Mind through meditation?

Can you give me a short kong-an to meditate on? Or could I simply use “What are you?” as a kong-an?

Thank you for your help.
Yours in the Dharma,
Robert
[..]

November 20,1978
Dear Robert,

Thank you for your two letters. I’m now in Providence so both your letters were forwarded here. If you send your letters to Providence they will be forwarded to me wherever I am. Thank you for hoping I had a good trip in Korea and Japan. We had a good time, thank you very much. I’m sending you this month’s Newsletter so you can attain our Korean trip. In your letter you said you are beginning to understand about “What are you?” but you ask, “Is Don’t-know Mind the same as No-Mind?” My answer is to hit you, because don’t know is already having cut off all thinking, which is empty mind. Empty mind is before thinking.

Before thinking is your substance. Then universal substance and your substance are the same. Everything and you have already become one. The name of that is primary point. So don’t know is not don’t know and no mind is not no mind. This mind is primary point. Primary point is sometimes don’t know, sometimes no mind, sometimes God, Buddha, nature, substance, the Absolute, energy, or holiness. But in the true primary point there is no name, no form, no speech, and no words, because primary point is before thinking. But you ask, “Is Don’t-know Mind the same as No-Mind?” Opening your mouth is already a mistake, so I hit you. If you attain the meaning of this hit, then you attain your True Self. If you don’t understand that, only go straight—don’t know; only try, try, try for 10,000 years nonstop. Next you ask, “Can I reach Don’t-know Mind through meditation?” Of course. You also ask if you can use “What am I?” as a kong-an. You only don’t know. Don’t know is the original kong-an. Only keep this kong-an always and everywhere. That is very important.

I hope you only go straight—don’t know, which is clear like space, soon finish the Great Work of life and death, get Enlightenment, and save all people from suffering. Yours in the Dharma,

S .S
[…]


997

November 8, 1978
Dear Soen Sa Nim,

Many, many thanks for your letter. I hope this one finds you strong and well. What good exercise, hitting all those people thirty times! Before your letter arrived I decided to come and stay in California for a while; it was a nice surprise that your letter came today from a center in Berkeley as that is where I hope to stay. I shall come and see you and pay for these expensive thirty strokes! I loved your poem—(I just cannot write “I” anymore without laughing, since your last letter “I” find myself counting—eight so far). Feeling desperate and empty in London I shall come and try and drink that cup of water in California. You said “Watch your step!” but at present I cannot even see “my” feet.

letter from an empty gate
letter from a zen man
cloudy head reading it
not hearing the lion’s roar
from inside the den
he sinks his blues
in an idealized Pacific
Blue in blue
But even that’s not enough… yet…

there is an old playground poem:

“Roses are red
Violets are blue
If I am me
Then who are you?”

I look forward to seeing you.
Yours in great respect,
Dave

November 20, 1978
Dear Dave,
Thank you for your letter. How are you? You are coming to California—that is wonderful.

Now your “I’s” are fewer as before you had many, but you still have thirteen “I, my, me’s, so I hit you again thirteen times! We have five kinds of I: Small I, Karma I, Nothing I, Freedom I, and Big I. Your I is only Karma I. If your Karma I disappears, you will get Nothing I. Nothing I is before thinking. Before thinking means no words, no speech—so there is no I, my, me. Then your mind is clear like space. If you keep this mind for a long time you get universal energy, then you can do everything—that is Freedom I. An eminent teacher said, “The whole universe surrounds my body, but my mind surrounds the whole universe.” This is Big I.

So if you make “I”, you should make numberless “I’s” (not only thirteen), then your “I” will surround this universe and your “I” becomes Big I. If you cannot do this, then you must kill your “I”. This means only go straight—don’t know. Then already your “I” is dead because don’t know has cut off all thinking. Cutting off all thinking is before thinking. Before thinking there is nothing. Nothing is also not correct—there is no word, no speech, so opening your mouth is already a mistake. So only go straight—don’t know; try, try, try for 10,000 years, nonstop, then get Big I, get Enlightenment and save all people from suffering. Your poem is not good, not bad, but first you must attain your True Self, and then make your poem. The last part you say, “If I am me, then who are you?” First, I hit you thirty times. Then, here is a poem for you:

Roses are red,
Violets are blue.
Roses are red,
Violets are blue.

Yours in the Dharma,
S.S.