Questions & Koans

Zen

Q. Now I know that everything is empty, but I can’t see unfavourable things happening to me as empty. What shall I do?

A. To know that everything is empty is one thing and to internalise the knowledge through experience, to attain enlightenment, is another. In other words, this happens since you don’t have the faith that comes from enlightenment, direct experience of Emptiness.

P1150910a_thumb

This perception that is very common among Zen practitioners can be a good motive that spurs you to practise harder and upgrade your practice. Seek to realise why you can’t see your unfavourable situations as empty in the same way you see other situations by comparing your ways of seeing the situations. That is very helpful to your practice. So, ancient masters would say, “Unfavourable things you are faced with in your reality are good masters who can check your practice.”

©Boo Ahm

All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway

#zen #meditation #zenmeditation #enlightened #enlightenment #zenfools #photography

Zen

Nanquan’s “Dharma That Has Never Been Spoken”

Nirvana asked Nanquan, “Is there any dharma that has not been spoken by the sages in the past?”

Nanquan said, “It’s not mind, it’s not Buddha, it’s not a thing.”

Nirvana said, “Have you finished speaking?”

Nanquan said, “I am like this. What about you?”

Nirvana said, “I am not a teacher. How should I know if there is a dharma that has or has not been spoken?”

Nanquan said, “I don’t understand.”

Nirvana said, “I have said enough for you.”

_SRH6049a_thumb

Student: “What did Nirvana mean?”

Master: “He said what has not been spoken by the ancient sages.”

Student: “What did he say?”

Master: “He said what can’t be done.”

Commentary:

The reason why you don’t know the Dharma that has not been spoken by sages in the past is that you don’t know what they said.

 

©Boo Ahm

All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway

#zen #meditation #zenmeditation #enlightened #enlightenment #zenfools #photography

Zen

Rinzai 70

One asked: “What is genuine insight?”

The master said: “Entering the realms of the worldly and the sacred, the tainted and the pure, the land of the Buddha, the upper chambers of Maitreya, and Vairocana’s Dharma world, you will see them all as subject to (the law of) coming to be and ceasing to be. Buddha appeared in the world, turned the wheel of the Dharma, and then entered Nirvana. But he did not see these as the features of coming and going. Searching around birth and death, in the end you cannot attain.

 

Commentary:

What is genuine insight?’ is to ask how the enlightened see and hear things. They see all things as empty, no matter how wonderful and splendid, or ugly and dirty they are since they are aware that all of them are just illusions, which are the functions of the true-Self. So, to the enlightened ‘the worldly’, ‘the sacred’, ‘the tainted’, ‘the pure’, ‘the land of Buddha’ ‘the upper chambers of Maitreya, and Vairocana’s Dharma world’ are no better than illusions which appear and disappear according to one’s karma.

SRH_2337a_thumb

 

Buddha appeared in the world, turned the wheel of the Dharma’ means that the historical Buddha taught the principle of the Dharma and ‘entered Nirvana’ here implies his death. ‘He did not see these as the features of coming and going’ means that Buddha didn’t see these as really coming and going but saw them as illusionary, namely as empty. ‘Searching around birth and death, in the end you cannot attain’ implies that if you believe that birth and death are real, that is, are deluded by the illusions of them, you can’t attain enlightenment.

 

Student: “What is genuine insight?”

Master: “It is to see and hear what can neither be said nor be done.”

Student: “How can I do it?”

Master: “Don’t follow what I say”

 

©Boo Ahm

All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway

#zen #meditation #zenmeditation #enlightened #enlightenment #zenfools #photography

Zen

Q. What happens after we become enlightened?

A. What happens when you have mastered the four rules of arithmetic? What happens when you have become literate after a long illiterate life? Nothing happens to the world and everything is as it was, but your way of living will be changed a lot with new capability to see, know and do what you couldn’t see, know and do before.

20200210_102858b_thumb

 

When we are enlightened, we can see the perfection of everything, including ourselves, that we have previously missed seeing. In other words, enlightenment is to realise how beautiful and perfect this world where we are residing now is and that this world which is likened to the ocean of suffering is actually no other than the Heaven and the Pure Land we are anxious to enter. That’s why Enlightenment is often compared to awakening from a nightmare.

 

©Boo Ahm

All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway

#zen #meditation #zenmeditation #enlightened #enlightenment #zenfools #photography

Zen

Sakyamuni’s Flower

One day the World-Honoured One held up a flower in front of the assembly of myriads of beings, and twirled it.

Mahakashyapa alone smiled.

The World-Honoured One said, “I transmit the treasury of the true dharma eye of all buddhas to Mahakashyapa.”

Student: “What is the treasury of the true Dharma of all Buddhas

transmitted to Mahakashyapa?”

Master: “It is what cannot be transmitted.”

Student: “Why did the World-Honoured One say that he did?”

Master: “Why don’t you remember he said on his deathbed that he

didn’t say even a word?”

Student: “What is it then?”

Master: “How could I avoid calling you blind?”

_SRH5149_129a_thumb

Commentary:

The treasury can be neither transmitted nor spoken. Don’t try to have it transmitted by being deluded by words.

©Boo Ahm

All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway

#zen #meditation #zenmeditation #enlightened #enlightenment #zenfools #photography

Zen

Rinzai 69

Followers of the Way, do not be deceived by teachers who everywhere say “I know Zen, I understand the Way,” and who endlessly deliver discussions like mountain torrents. All this is action that produces hellish Karma. If one is a true learner of the Way, one does not search for the faults of the world, but rather speedily applies oneself to attain genuine insight. If one only can see with perfect clarity, then all is completed.

Commentary:

Teachers who everywhere say “I know Zen, I understand the Way”’ symbolises those who, mistaking literal comprehension as enlightenment, deliver doctrinal teachings. No matter how plausible and beautiful the rhetoric is that they may use, and no matter how many Dharma talks they may make, they are making Karma that leads to hell because they are not only being deluded by illusions but also leading others to be deluded by illusions.

_SRH2306_7_8_tonemapped_landscape_a_thumb

 

If one is a true learner of the Way, one does not search for the faults of the world, but rather speedily applies oneself to attain genuine insight’ means that a true learner of the Way should try to see all things as they are instead of pointing out their faults. ‘If one only can see with perfect clarity, then all is completed’ means that if we can see everything as it is, that is, if we can see and hear their faulty talks as empty, enlightenment is achieved.

The point here is not what we see and hear but how we see and hear. Whereas all Sutras and masters’ Dharma talks are Mara’s talks if we are deluded by words, even the sound of birds and puppies are Dharma talks if we can see and hear them as they really are. That’s why ancient masters would say we don’t recognise the Dharma talks flooded around us.

 

Student: “What is the true-Self?”

Master: “You damn fool!”

Student: “Why do you call me names when I ask for teaching?”

Master: “Because you don’t hear it as it is.”

 

©Boo Ahm

All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway

#zen #meditation #zenmeditation #enlightened #enlightenment #zenfools #photography

Zen

Q. Do we become enlightened after death?

A. This question is like ‘Do we go to the Pure Land, or Heaven after death?’. According to the Sutras, there is no birth and death in the Pure Land, or Heaven. How would it be possible for the dead to enter where there is no death?

020_6060a_thumb

Enlightenment is to transcend death. So, there is a common question ‘Have you solved the great matter?’ in monastic community. ‘The great matter’ here refers to the matter of birth and death. This question means ‘Have you transcended your death?’ or ‘Have you attained enlightenment?’ Therefore, we should transcend death through enlightenment before being faced with it.

©Boo Ahm

All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway

#zen #meditation #zenmeditation #enlightened #enlightenment #zenfools #photography

Zen

Even if I get my tongue cut out, I can’t violate what the nation prohibits.

When a monk asked Master Sukshang, “What’s the meaning of the Patriarch’s coming from the west?”, the master clapped his teeth. The monk didn’t make sense of the meaning and asked Master Goobong, “What’s the meaning of the master’s clapping his teeth?” after Master Sukshang passed away. Goobong said, “Even if I get my tongue cut out, I can’t violate what the nation prohibits.”

Student: “What’s the meaning of the master’s clapping his teeth?”

Master: “Goobong already said the answer.”

Student: “Why did Goobong say that even if he got his tongue cut out, he couldn’t violate what the nation prohibited?”

Master: “He obeyed well the national law.”

Student: “Why can’t I understand it?”

Master: “Because you violate the national law.”

_SRH5767a_thumb

Commentary:

What the national law prohibits is not your freedom but your making barriers obstructing your freedom.

 

©Boo Ahm

All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway

#zen #meditation #zenmeditation #enlightened #enlightenment #zenfools #photography

Zen

Rinzai 68

But the Zen School does not see it like this. It is truly apparent now without any further delay. All I am talking about is just medicine appropriate for curing specific ailments. In my talks there is nothing absolutely real. If you see it thus, you are a true leaver-of-home and can spend ten thousand pieces of yellow gold per day (enjoy yourself).

Commentary:

All I am talking about is just medicine appropriate for curing specific ailments. In my talks there is nothing absolutely real’ is showing us how we should accept the Sutras and Masters’ Dharma talks. Sentient beings are compared to patients who are suffering from a specific ailment and the Sutras and Masters’ Dharma talks appropriate medicine.

017_9916b_thumb

When we take medicine, it should be digested and absorbed through our bodies and disappear. The most marvellous medicine cannot help patients, if it stays undigested and unabsorbed in their stomachs, but will harm rather than cure them. Following and bearing in mind the words of the Sutras and Masters’ Dharma talks without grasping the core of them is like keeping medicine unabsorbed and intact in patients’ stomachs. This is going against Buddha’s teaching that we should not be deluded by words.

You are a true leaver-of-home and can spend ten thousand pieces of yellow gold per day (enjoy yourself)’ means that you are a truly enlightened man who can enjoy perfect freedom.

©Boo Ahm

All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway

#zen #meditation #zenmeditation #enlightened #enlightenment #zenfools #photography