Zen

Q. My question is regarding happiness. Most of the time, I find myself seeking something, but I do not know exactly what it is that I am looking for. Is just feeling happy a practice in itself?

A. You may feel happy during your practice because you can escape from the challenges causing you agonies by directing your attention to practice away from your sufferings, but it is not the essence of Zen meditation. This is not different from drinking, or gambling in that you can enjoy temporary happiness while indulging in them by forgetting your suffering.

Struggling to achieve something we don’t know; what it is like and where it is, is said to be being deluded by illusions. The core of Zen meditation is to realise who is seeking what. I’d like to advise you to try to realise what the essence of your being is by seeing everything just as it is. When you have realised it, what you are seeking will be seen clearly before you.

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Zen

Master Boban’s ‘If you know that forms are not forms, you will not see the Buddha’

The Diamond Sutra says, “If you know that forms are not forms, you will see the Buddha.” Regarding this, Master Boban commented, “If you know that forms are not forms, you will not see the Buddha.”

Student: “Why did Master Boban contradict the Buddha’s words?”

Master: “Because you still know that forms are forms.”

Commentary:

The best food can be poison to those who cannot digest it well.

©Boo Ahm

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Zen

Rinzai 126

I tell you this: There is no Buddha, no Dharma, nothing to cultivate and nothing to realise. What are you looking outside for, blind fools? You are putting a head on top of your head. What are you lacking? Followers of the Way, the one functioning right before your eyes, he is not different from the Buddhas and patriarchs. But you do not believe it, and so turn to the outside to seek.

Commentary:

The Buddha, which is to Buddhism as God is to Christianity, is the symbol of perfection and eternity. The core of Buddhist teaching is that there is nothing but the Buddha and that we are the Buddha itself. The purpose of Buddhism is to realise that we are the Buddha itself and not to gain eternal life from the Buddha in a hidden place somewhere far away that is difficult to find. That’s why Rinzai said, “What are you looking outside for?” ‘You are putting a head on top of your head. What are you lacking?’ means that although we are perfection itself as the Buddha, we are wandering in vain to find the Buddha by following the image of the Buddha, an illusion. In other words, following the image of the Buddha, an illusion is putting a head on top of your head, which is to be deluded by the illusion of the Buddha. ‘The one functioning right before your eyes, he is not different from the Buddhas and patriarchs’ implies that everything, yourself included, that you can see and hear is the very Buddha you are looking for and that there is nothing that is not the Buddha.

Student: “If everything is the Buddha, what is not the Buddha?”

Master: “What you think of as the Buddha.”

©Boo Ahm

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Zen

Q. What is the root of fortune and disaster?

A. The root of fortune and disaster is your discriminating mind. Is fire, for example, fortune or disaster? It can be disaster when it leaves people miserable by devastating all they have accumulated and built all their lives and taking the lives of their beloved in a moment. It can be fortune when it makes people happy by being used for cooking food and heating their places when it is cold.

However, fire has neither intention to benefit people nor intention to harm them. Fire itself is neutral; not fortune, not disaster. Its value is solely determined by our views. Likewise, everything is neutral in essence. Whether it is fortunate or disastrous is up to how we see it. This is why the Buddha said that everything is from our mind.

©Boo Ahm

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Zen

The Buddha’s two feet

On the seventh day after the Buddha’s death Mahakasyapa arrived back late and circled around the coffin three times. Then, the Buddha revealed his two feet out of the coffin, and Mahakasyapa offered bows. People around were bewildered.

Student: “How was it possible for a dead body to stick its feet out of the coffin?”

Master: “A dead body cannot do it, but the Buddha can.”

Commentary:

The Buddha is not the Buddha, but the Buddha is the Buddha.

The Buddha cannot do it, but the Buddha can do it.

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Zen

Rinzai 125

Followers of the Way from everywhere, why don’t you come out without depending on anything? I only want to discuss the Dharma with you. You see, for ten or fifteen years I have not found one single man. All are like hobgoblins clinging to herbage or leaves and wild fox sprites that stick to clods of dung and are lost in sucking it. Blind old rascals who unduly squander alms given them by the faithful, and who declare loudly: “I have left home!” That is how they see it.

Commentary:

‘Why don’t you come out without depending on anything?’ means ‘why don’t you express the true-Self without depending on illusions, words?’ In ‘I only want to discuss the Dharma with you’, the Dharma means the true-Self that cannot be discussed depending on any words because it is the state beyond words. ‘Hobgoblins clinging to herbage or leaves’ symbolise those who are deluded by illusions since they cannot see things as they are. ‘Wild fox sprites that stick to clods of dung and are lost in sucking it’ indicates the practitioners who, treasuring the Sutras, or masters’ words, cling to their superficial meaning without grasping what the words point to. For example, there are people who read the Diamond Sutra hundreds of times, or even memorise it. However, no matter how many times we may read a Sutra, and no matter how many Sutras we may read, it is far from enlightenment. Even memorising all the Sutras is not different from being deluded by illusions if we fail to grasp the core of the Buddha’s teaching. That’s why ancient masters would say that all the Sutras were Maras’ talks. ‘I have left home’ means ‘I am a monk’.

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Zen

Q. How can we stop worrying about things? Worrying does not resolve anything but I cannot help it.

A. When you say that you want to stop worrying about things, do you happen to know who is worrying about what? The Buddha said that our sufferings are from our being deluded by illusions. We are drowning in the ocean of suffering since we cannot see things as they are.

Try to see yourself as you really are and the things worrying you as they really are. If you can see either the essence of your being, or that of the things that you worry about, your worries will disappear by themselves and you will realise that you are the solution itself and happiness itself.

©Boo Ahm

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Zen

The Buddha scolded Manjushri

When the Buddha was about to pass away, Manjushri entreated Him to show the Dharma again. The Buddha scolded, “Manjushri, not a word have I said for forty-nine years of my stay in this world. You ask me to show the Dharma again. Have I ever revealed the Dharma?”

Student: “The Buddha is said to have been so compassionate that he never failed to give kind and detailed answers to all questions according to each questioner’s capacity to digest his answer. Why did the Buddha scold Manjushri rather than give him a kind answer?”

Master: “The Buddha made a suitable answer according to the questioner’s capacity.”

Commentary:

Whether the Buddha made a suitable answer, or scolded, depends on your capacity.

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Zen

Rinzai 124

Of those followers of the Way who come to me from everywhere to learn the Way, there is none who does not depend on things. Whatever they bring before me, I beat it down at once. If it is in the hands, I beat it in the hands; if it comes from the mouth, I beat it there; if through the eyes, I beat it in the eyes. Up until now there has not been one who could stand alone. All fall into the traps of the old masters. I have no Dharma to give to men. I only cure diseases and undo knots.

Commentary:

‘There is none who does not depend on things’ and ‘there has not been one who could stand alone’ mean that there is none who is not deluded by illusions, that is, there is none who can truly see things as they are. ‘Whatever they bring before me, I beat it down at once’ implies that whatever question they bring to Rinzai, he, seeing through it, immediately makes a correct response. ‘If it is in the hands, I beat it in the hands; if it comes from the mouth, I beat it there; if through the eyes, I beat it in the eyes’ implies that he can cope with any question freely; if they ask the question with hands, he responds by using his hands, if they ask the question with mouth, he answers with his mouth and so on. ‘All fall into the traps of the old masters’ means that all, fooled by words, are struggling to understand old masters’ talks, or koans through knowledge. ‘I have no Dharma to give to men. I only cure diseases and undo knots’ means that Dharma can be neither given nor taken away since everything, including us, is all part of it. Rinzai’s job is to cure us of the eye disease which prevents us from seeing things as they are and to set us free from illusions, or karmas.

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Zen

Q. Although I have everything that a normal person could desire, I am still not happy. I always have the feeling that all this is very transient and as a result I’m in perpetual anxiety. What can I do?

A. In fact, the historical Buddha had the same challenge about 2,500 years ago as you do now. Although he, as a prince, had everything that a normal person could enjoy, he couldn’t be free from the question ‘How can I escape from birth, ageing, illness and death?’. The truth that he realised as a result of practising hard for six years was that all the suffering we undergo results from our failing to see things as they are.

The reason why you feel that all you have is transient and are in perpetual anxiety is that you can see nothing but transient things. This means that you are deluded by illusions. You can surmount the anxiety that you say you are in by seeing beyond what is transient when seeing things. Seeing beyond what is transient is no other than seeing everything as it is. 

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