Questions & Koans

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Hsin Shin Ming: “62. The wise of all times and places have personally entered this truth.”

Hsin Shin Ming: “62. The wise of all times and places have personally entered this truth.”

The wise means the enlightened, and this truth means Emptiness. ‘Entered this truth’ means to realise this truth. The term ‘entered’ was employed in order to emphasise that we should become one with the truth instead of taking it as knowledge. This scripture means that those who have realised Emptiness are referred to as the wise. This truth is called the Buddha in Buddhism and God in Christianity. People who have realised this truth are said to enjoy Nirvana in Buddhism, or the Kingdom of Heaven in Christianity.

Then, how can we enter this truth? Ancient masters would say, “You become as far as ten thousand miles away from the truth if you move even a single step.” When Jesus’s disciples said to him, “When will the Kingdom come?”, Jesus said, “It will not come by waiting for it. It will not be a matter of saying ‘here it is’ or ‘there it is’. Rather, the Kingdom of the father is spread out upon the earth, and men do not see it.”

Student: “How can I enter the truth?”
Master: “Come in now.”
Student: “I can’t. How?”
Master: “Pass through the gate.”
Student: “Where is the gate?”
Master: “Just come in.”

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Finger pointing to the moon

In Zen, people often use the phrase “finger pointing to the moon.” It is my impression that this has become a meaningless cliché. Does anyone understand what this really means? What is this “moon” that the finger is pointing to?

This is one of the most important phrases in Zen meditation. You should not take it as a meaningless cliché. To be able to clearly distinguish ‘finger’ from ‘the moon’ is enlightenment. The moon means the true-Self, Buddha or Emptiness that is the ultimate goal which we Zen practitioners should pursue. ‘Finger pointing’ refers to all actions of teaching including speaking and acting, or language and action. This means that when words are used to express the true-Self, we pay our attention not to the true-Self but only to the words themselves that are pointing to the true-Self. Words are only a kind of vessel in which to put contents, not the contents themselves.

For example, when a master was asked what the true-Self was, he answered, “A piece of cake.”. ‘A piece of cake’ is just a finger pointing to the true-Self. This is like raising your hand in order to have your attendance known to your teacher when your teacher calls the register in class.
The purpose of raising your hand is not to show what your hand is like but to get your attendance, your existence in the classroom known. Saying ‘a piece of cake’ is like raising your hand. If you understand this writing only as knowledge, you are also looking at the finger instead of the moon.

Student: “What is the moon?”
Master: “Moon.”
Student: “What is a pointing finger?”
Master: “Moon.”

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Qinglin’s “Dead Snake on the Path”

Qinglin’s “Dead Snake on the Path”
Zen master Qinglin was once asked by a monastic, “What happens if I take a shortcut on the path?”
Qinglin said, “A dead snake lies in the great road. I warn you, don’t step on its head.”
The monastic said, “What happens if I step on its head?”
Qinglin said, “You will lose your life.”
The monastic said, “What happens if I don’t step on it?”
Qinglin said, “There is no way to go around it.”
The monastic said, “What happens at such a time?”
Qinglin said, “You miss it.”
The monastic said, “Where shall I go?”
Qinglin said, “The grass is deep. There is no place to look for it.”
The monastic said, “Master, you too should be careful.”
Qinglin clapped his hands and said, “This is all poisonous.”

Student: “What is a shortcut on the path?”
Master: “You are on it.”
Student: “What is a dead snake?”
Master: “Why don’t you step on it on the spot?”

Commentary:
A shortcut is rather a thorny thicket, and a beautiful road with flowers on both sides is rather a barrier.

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Hsin Shin Ming: “61. In this non-duality nothing is different, nothing is excluded.”

Hsin Shin Ming: “61. In this non-duality nothing is different, nothing is excluded.”

Non-duality means the true-Self, Emptiness. ‘Nothing is different’ means that even though all things look, sound and feel different from each other, the essence of everything is the same as Emptiness. ‘Nothing is excluded’ means that everything is part of this non-duality, Emptiness without any exception. There are a few well known scriptures that describe this: ‘One is many, and many are one’ and ‘Emptiness is forms and forms are not different from Emptiness’. Put simply, Emptiness is many different things and many different things are not different from Emptiness.

Student: “How is everything in non-duality?”
Master: “Before your question.”

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Q. How can I overcome suicidal thoughts?

Q. How can I overcome suicidal thoughts?

A. Do you happen to know who wants to commit suicide, that is, who wants to kill whom? You should not mistake killing your body for killing yourself. Your body has done nothing wrong. If something wrong has been done, it is not your body but you that are to blame for it. Your body can’t do anything without your direction. Why do you impute your wrong doing to your innocent body? Furthermore, if you want to escape your current situation by committing suicide, how can you be sure that a worse situation is not waiting for you afterwards?

If you really want to commit suicide, try to realise who wants to commit suicide. Having a mind to kill yourself without knowing what you are is no other than being deluded by illusions.

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Fayan’s “Not Knowing”

Fayan’s “Not Knowing”

Fayan of Qingliang Monastery had a profound experience and gave up worldly affairs. He assembled a group of people and travelled away from the lake region. On their way, they were caught by a rainstorm, and the valley stream swelled up, so they temporarily stayed at Dizang Monastery. Whilst there, Fayan asked Abbot Dizang Guichen for instruction.

Dizang said, “Where are you going, Reverend?”
Fayan said, “I am wandering on a pilgrimage.”
Dizang said, “What is the purpose of your pilgrimage?”
Fayan said, “I don’t know.”
Dizang said, “Ah! Not knowing is most intimate.”
Straightaway, Fayan had great realisation.

Student: “Fayan got enlightenment from ‘Not knowing is most intimate’. I don’t understand what it means.”
Master: “Not understanding is most intimate.”

Commentary:
Enlightenment is no other than knowing what you say.

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Hsin Shin Ming: “60. To swiftly accord with that, only express non-duality.”

Hsin Shin Ming: “60. To swiftly accord with that, only express non-duality.”

‘That’ means the true-Self or Emptiness. ‘To accord with that’ means to realise the true-Self. ‘Only express non-duality’ means ‘You should know that all I say is only to express non-duality’. Strictly speaking, saying that we have to do something in order to accord with the true-Self is far from being a correct expression because we are already non-duality as the true-Self. Whatever you do; speak or walk, see or hear, love or hate, not just the subject but also the object are all from the same root, the true-Self. Even this scripture is also from the same root. Enlightenment is to realise that we are non-duality as the true-Self, not to unify two separate different things. So, ancient masters would say, “You are wrong if you do anything” when asked what they should do to accord with the true-Self. This means that we are wrong if we make even a little effort to accord with the true-Self while unaware that we are the true-Self.

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Student: “How can I accord with the true-Self”
Master: “How can you become you?”

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Q. Can anybody become the true-Self?

Q. Can anybody become the true-Self?

A. Your question is like ‘Can any wind become air?’ My answer to your question is ‘You can’t become the true-Self’, because you are already the true-Self. You are to your true-Self as wind is to air. What matters is how to realise the truth. The purpose of Zen meditation is not to turn you who is not the true-Self into the true-Self but to help you to realise the truth that you are the true-Self itself. You can’t avoid being the true-Self even for a moment. So, the Sutra says that we are like a rich beggar who has not realised that he has diamond in his pocket.

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Dry Shit

Dry Shit

One day a monk asked his master, “What is the true-Self?” The master said, “Dry shit.”

Student: “As far as I know, the true-Self is very holy. Why did the master say, ‘Dry shit’ when he was asked what the true-Self is?”
Master: “Because people are more attracted by the wrapper than by the contents when the wrapper is beautiful.”

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Commentary:
Mouth is bitter whilst mind is sweet.

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