Questions and Koans

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Q. Does mantra have power? If so, where

Q. Does mantra have power? If so, where does it come from?

A. No, it doesn’t. As I have mentioned so far, nothing has its own nature unless we provide it with properties like power and colour. In other words, it is not because the mantra has its own power but because we think that it has power that the mantra has power. To believe that only a certain word or a certain phrase has special power is to be deluded by an illusion. Any word or any phrase can be a mantra; your wife’s name, your puppy’s name, the name of your favourite flower and so on. If you happen to feel any power while reciting a mantra, the power is not from the mantra but of your own making.

However, I don’t mean that you should not do mantra practice but that you should do it in the right way. What matters in doing mantra practice is not to believe in the power of the mantra but to try to know what is making your body recite the mantra. This practice is not different from Zen meditation in essence.

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Dongshan’s “Where Is the Fault?” Dongsha

Dongshan’s “Where Is the Fault?”

Dongshan Liangjie once invited Head Monastic Tai to have fruit with him and asked, “There is something that holds the sky above and the ground beneath. It is as black as lacquer. It is always in activity but cannot be received within activity. Tell me, where is the fault?” The head monastic said, “The fault is activity.” Dongshan shouted and then had the attendant take the fruit away.

Student: “What was the head monastic’s fault?”
Master: “He mistook an answer for a question.”
Student: “What would you have said if you had been the head monastic?”
Master: “I would have asked him back, ‘Where is the fault?’.”

Commentary:
There is nothing that is not the universe to him who knows what the universe is.

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Hsin Shin Ming: “36. Not well, the mind

Hsin Shin Ming: “36. Not well, the mind is troubled. Then why cling to or reject anything?”

‘Not well’ means ‘if or when things do not go well’. Put simply, this scripture means ‘We should not cling to or reject anything because our minds are disturbed when things don’t go well’.

The key problem is that it is impossible to live our lives without clinging to or rejecting anything because our lives consist of continuous decisions and choices, and because deciding and choosing is clinging to or rejecting something. You, for example, should cling to being sober while driving and reject drinking and driving. We should cling to taking good care of our children and reject abusing them. How could we avoid these things in our lives?

Why is the mind troubled when we cling to or reject anything? Sometimes we can’t get what we cling to, and from time to time we can’t avoid what we reject. Once in a while what we cling to turns out to be what we reject. When things don’t go as we please like this, we think that things don’t go well, and then our minds are troubled.

Our question here is how we can stop clinging to or rejecting anything, so that our minds can be free from being troubled while living our lives as usual. The answer is to see things as they are and realise that everything is empty. Our problem is that we don’t know who clings to, or rejects what, since we can’t see things as they are. When we can see things as they are, we can realise that not only the things we cling to, or reject, but we who cling to or reject them are also empty. When both the subject and the object of an action are empty, the result of the action is also empty regardless of whether it appears to be good or bad. Then, we can feel free to cling to or reject anything because our minds are not disturbed by the result of our clinging or rejecting, since we know that it is also empty.

This scripture doesn’t tell us not to cling to or reject anything at all, but rather to freely cling to or reject anything while being aware that both we and everything we cling to or reject are empty.

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Q. Am I a Buddhist if I practice Zen meditation?

Q. Am I a Buddhist if I practice Zen meditation?

A. A British man doesn’t become Korean because he eats Korean food, and a Korean doesn’t become Japanese because he learns the Japanese language unless he changes his or her nationality. Likewise, a Christian doesn’t become a Buddhist only because he practises Zen meditation.

However, you should know that being a Christian means that you think you are a Christian and not that the essence of your being is Christian. The essence of your being is neither Buddhist nor Christian. Whether you are a Buddhist or a Christian, it is no more than a sort of label you give yourself and it is not actually the essence of your being nor does it change it at all.

You should try to realise what you are when all the labels attached to you are removed.

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Yangshan’s Discourse

Yangshan’s Discourse

Yangshan was once asked by a monastic, “Does the dharma body understand a dharma discourse?” Yangshan said, “I can’t speak about it, but someone else can.” The monastic said, “Where is the person who can?” Yangshan pushed forward a pillow. Guishan heard about it and said, “Yangshan used the blade of a sword.”

Student: “Why did Yangshan push forward a pillow when asked who could speak about if the dharma body understood a dharma discourse?”
Master: “He showed the ‘someone else’ he had mentioned.”
Student: “Why did Guishan say, ‘Yangshan used the blade of a sword’ though he only pushed a pillow?”
Master: “Guishan showed his own sword that is not less sharp than Yangshan’s sword.”

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Commentary:
A sword is not words but what is hidden in them.
A foolish man doesn’t recognise his own sword while having himself cut with it.

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Hsin Shin Ming: “35. Tied by your thoughts, you lose the truth, but falling into darkness is also not good.”

Hsin Shin Ming: “35. Tied by your thoughts, you lose the truth, but falling into darkness is also not good.”

‘Tied by your thoughts’ means to try to see the true-Self with knowledge and ‘the truth’ means the true-Self. ‘Falling into darkness’ means falling into silence or stop thinking.

The reason why, when tied by your thoughts or trying to see the true-Self with knowledge, you lose the truth is that being tied by your thoughts is being tied or deluded by labels, words. However, the true-Self can be seen only when you are free from labels. The more attached you are to them, the blinder you become to the truth because they are the barrier blocking your sight of the truth.

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Some people fall into darkness by stopping thinking since they mistake stopping thinking for not being tied by thoughts. That is to make another illusion and cling to it. Not being tied by your thoughts is not falling into darkness but realising that all things, including your thoughts, are empty. When realising this fact, you can be free to think without being tied or deluded by your thoughts, which is to think without staying anywhere, just as the Diamond Sutra says.

Student: “How do I feel when I am not tied by my thoughts?”
Master: “The Earth is not round but cubic.”
Student: “What are you talking about, Sir? ‘The Earth is round’ is an unchangeable truth.”
Master: “You are tied by your thoughts now.”

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Q. What is the difference between attachment and enjoyment? If you enjoy doing something, is this likely to be classed as attachment?

Q. What is the difference between attachment and enjoyment? If you enjoy doing something, is this likely to be classed as attachment?

A. You seem to think that people without attachment ought to have no enjoyment in their lives. If we have no joy when we have no attachment, why should we try to remove it from ourselves? The purpose of removing attachment is not to make ourselves emotionless but to make ourselves happy.

To enjoy doing something is one thing and attachment is another. Attachment means to cling to possessing or doing something and then we feel unhappy and even frustrated when it is impossible to possess or do it. This happens since we don’t know that everything is empty. Attachment is not a matter of whether you enjoy doing something or not, but a matter of whether or not you have realised that everything is empty.

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Only when you are aware that both the thing you enjoy doing and you yourself who enjoy doing it are empty can you be free from attachment. That is because then, you don’t cling to enjoying doing it and are not disappointed or frustrated even if you can’t enjoy it. However, not only clinging to enjoying doing something but clinging to rejecting enjoyment is also a kind of attachment when you are not aware that everything is empty.

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Monastic Shen’s Fish and Net

Monastic Shen’s Fish and Net

One day Senior Monastic Shen and Senior Monastic Ming visited the river Huai. They saw a fisherman pulling in a net from which a carp escaped.
Shen said, “Brother Ming, look how splendid the fish is! It is just like a skilled practitioner.”
Ming said, “It is indeed. But how come the fish did not avoid being trapped by the net in the first place? It would have been much better.”
Shen said, “Brother Ming, there is something keeping you from being enlightened.”
At midnight Ming understood the meaning of the conversation with Shen.

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Student: “Ming didn’t seem to be wrong in saying that to avoid being trapped by the net in the first place would have been much better. What is wrong with Ming?”
Master: “In what Shen spoke about there is nothing better or worse, nor is there anything to avoid or go after.”

Commentary:
Doing good is not as good as doing nothing.
Having a good idea is not as good as having no idea.

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Hsin Shin Ming: “34. Leave everything alone and you will become one with the Way and be free from disturbances.”

Hsin Shin Ming: “34.  Leave everything alone and you will become one with the Way and be free from disturbances.”

‘Leave everything alone’ means putting no labels on things or seeing all things without labelling them. ‘The Way’ means emptiness, non-duality or Oneness.

 

Labelling things is to the Way as labelling different winds such as breeze, storm, hurricane, etc and differentiating them from one another is to air. Whatever names they may have, whatever directions they blow in and however strong they are, all of them are air in essence without exception and oneness as air. What they look like is just how air is.

 

Likewise, we are one with the Way, that is, we are the Way itself just as winds are air itself. We can’t cease to be the Way even for a moment. Although everything has a different name and a different shape and looks and sounds different from one another, the essence of its being is emptiness, the Way, just as the essence of all winds is air.

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We don’t realise this fact because we don’t leave things alone or cease labelling things. In other words, we have separated ourselves from the Way by labelling, or drawing imaginary lines and try in vain to return to it. Therefore, when we leave everything alone, we are said to become one with the Way. However, in fact we don’t become one with the Way but confirm that we are already one with the Way simply by leaving things alone. What or who would disturb whom in Oneness, the Way?

 

Student: “What happens when I become one with the Way?”

Master: “The Way disappears.”

Student: “Why does it disappear?”

Master: “It is not the Way anymore when you are the Way itself.”

 

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Q. What does ‘hear what can’t be spoken’ mean?

Q. What does ‘hear what can’t be spoken’ mean?

A. When you say that you know the right side, it means that you also know that there is also the left side. Arguing that you know the right side without knowing that there is the left side means that you don’t know what the right side is. Likewise, if you can’t hear what can’t be spoken, you can’t be said to hear what can be spoken.

When you speak, there is your speaking because there is also what is not your speaking. Your speaking becomes what is spoken by you because there is also what is not spoken by you just as red is red because there is also non-red colour. When you understand that your speaking is based on what is not spoken just as the right is based on the left, you can see that what can be spoken is one with what cannot be spoken. So, when you can hear what is spoken and what is not spoken at the same time, you are said to be able to hear things as they are and to hear with your eyes.

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Student: “Can you hear what is not spoken now?”
Master: “Of course.”
Student: “Can you say what is not spoken?”
Master: “Sure.”
Student: “Please, say what is not spoken.”
Master: “How can I say what is not spoken?”

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