Questions & Koans

Zen

Rinzai 39

This trinity of the Buddha’s body is none other than he here before your eyes, listening to my expounding of the Dharma. You can come to this seeing only by not running and searching outside.

 

Commentary:

‘This trinity of the Buddha’s body is none other than he here before your eyes, listening to my expounding of the Dharma’ means that ‘the trinity of the Buddha’s body’ is no other than what is controlling your body now. Even your reading this writing is the function of the trinity of the Buddha’s body. That’s why I tell you to ask yourself what makes your body drink tea when drinking tea and what is leading your body to walk when walking.

 

‘You can come to this seeing only by not running and searching outside’ means that we can come to see this trinity by not chasing illusions, words and forms. Not chasing illusions, words and forms means not being deluded by them, which is ‘not discriminating and not differentiating’.

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In brief, what is controlling your body at this moment is the trinity of the Buddha’s body, which is revealing itself clearly before you all the time. In order to realise it you should stop discriminating and differentiating, that is, you should not be deluded by illusions.

 

Student: “How can I avoid being deluded by illusions?”

Master: “Don’t be deceived by my words.”

Student: “How?”

Master: “Don’t miss what is beyond my words by clinging to them.”

 

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Zen

Q. How can we enter the place mentioned in Psalm 91 of the Bible which says, ‘Whoever dwells in the secret place of the most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.’

The secret place of the most High implies the Pure Land and the Almighty Buddha in Buddhism. Both are not separate and different from each other but the same as one. The Buddha is sometimes referred to as the Pure Land or the Buddha Land when it is described as a place we should reach.

The reason why it is called the secret place is not that it is hidden but that we can’t recognise it easily although we are actually in it all the time.

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Being enlightened means realising that everything is the Buddha. When you are enlightened, you come to know that everything, including you, is the Buddha and there is nothing that is not the Buddha. We can enter the place by realising that we are the very place itself that we yearn to enter. The purpose of Buddhism is to help people realise that they are the Pure Land itself.

 

Student: “How can we enter the secret place?”

Master: “You are wrong if you move even a step.”

 

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Zen

Hearing the Sound of the Wooden Fish

Guishan was sitting in the dharma hall one day. The head of the kitchen hit the wooden fish announcing the noon meal. The fire attendant threw a piece of wood he was holding into the fire, clapped his hands, and burst into laughter.

Guishan said, “Someone in the assembly should get him here and ask him what’s going on.”

The fire attendant said, “I did not have the morning meal, so I was hungry. That’s why I was happy to hear the sound of the wooden fish.” Guishan nodded.

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Student: “Considering the fire attendant’s words, is he enlightened or not?”

Master: “What do you think of his words ‘I didn’t have the morning meal, so I was hungry’?”

Student: “I think he was hungry.”

Master: “You missed what he showed by clinging to his words.”

 

Commentary:

What matters is not what others say but whether you grasp it or not.

 

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Zen

Rinzai 38

Do you wish to be not different from the Buddhas and patriarchs? Then just do not look for anything outside. The pure light of your heart at this instant is the Dharmakaya Buddha in your own house. The non-differentiating light of your heart at this instant is the Sambhogakaya Buddha in your own house. The non-discriminating light of your own heart at this instant is the Nirmanakaya Buddha in your own house.

 

Commentary:

‘To be not different from the Buddhas and patriarchs’ means to attain enlightenment, since enlightenment is to realise that we are the Buddha. ‘Look for anything outside’ means to follow words and to believe that there is something else other than your mind. The union of Dharmakaya, Sambhogakaya, and Nirmanakaya in one Buddha is the holy Trinity in Buddhism. The first implies the essence of the Buddha, the second the action of it and the third the form of it. ‘Your own house’ implies the true-Self.

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‘The pure light of your heart’, ‘the non-differentiating light of your heart’, and ‘the non-discriminating light of your own heart’ that imply the function of the true-Self are oneness, not separate from each other. ‘The pure light’ is ‘non-differentiating light’, which is ‘the non-discriminating light’. They all mean that the function of the true-Self is pure because it is non-differentiating light and non-discriminating.

 

Whatever you do, it is the function of the true-Self, the holy Trinity. Even saying, “Dharmakaya” is also the function of the holy Trinity.

 

Student: “What is Dharmakaya?”

Master: “A cup of coffee.”

Student: “What is Sambhogakaya?”

Master: “A cup of coffee.”

Student: “What is Nirmanakaya?”

Master: “A cup of coffee.”

 

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Zen

Q. Is it possible to learn enlightenment like an academic subject?

I have never heard of or read about anyone who attained enlightenment in this way. If it were possible, many of the scholars of Buddhism would be enlightened. Academic learning is like trying to know what kimchi, one of the typical Korean foods is by studying the recipe for kimchi, whereas Zen meditation is like eating kimchi in person. Getting knowledge of kimchi is one thing and eating it in person is another.

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Academic learning is a process of teaching and learning through language, namely words. From the viewpoint of Zen meditation, trying to get enlightened through academic learning is like trying to extinguish flames by spreading gasoline, instead of water over fire, because academic learning provides people with words or labels, whereas enlightenment is to see and hear everything without any labels.

So, masters would say that trying to attain enlightenment through academic learning is like striving to burn a huge mountain with the glow of a firefly.

 

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Zen

Nanquan Kills a Cat (3)

Once Nanquan saw the monastics of the eastern and western halls arguing over a cat.

He held up the cat and said to the monastics, “If you can say a turning word, I will not kill it.”

No one in the assembly could answer. So Nanquan cut the cat in two. Later he told the story to Zhaozhou. Zhaozhou took off his straw sandals, put them on his head, and walked away.

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Student: “Why did Nanquan cut the cat in two?”

Master: “Because you saw it.”

Student: “Why did Zhaozhou take off his straw sandals, put them on his head and walk away?”

Master: “Because you didn’t see him.”

 

Commentary:

It’s because you killed the cat that mice are swarming here and there.

 

 

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Zen

Rinzai 37

Venerable Ones, there is no place of rest in the Three Worlds; it is like a house on fire. This is not a place for you to stay long. The murderous demon of impermanence strikes in a single instant, without choosing between high and low, old and young.

 

Commentary:

‘The Three Worlds’ which are the World of Desire, the Visible World, and the Invisible World implies the World of Forms, the world of illusions where we sentient beings reside. ‘The Three Worlds’ is also compared to a burning house which is bound to collapse sooner or later. This symbolises our lives that are doomed to end before long. We sentient beings are compared to those who are struggling to stay alive for as long as possible there. ‘The murderous demon of impermanence’ implies ‘collapse of the burning house’ or ‘death’. This is not a place for you to stay long because no one can avoid death which comes to us in a single moment, without previous notice regardless of whether we are old or young, high or low and rich or poor.

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The only way to survive the fire is to escape from the house because there is no place of rest as long as we are in the Three Worlds. The purpose of Zen practice is to help people to escape from the Three Worlds, the burning house.

 

Student: “How can I get out of the burning house?”

Master: “Get out of there quickly.”

 

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Zen

Q. How can we confirm the existence of God? Why doesn’t God reveal Himself?

Q. How can we confirm the existence of God? Why doesn’t God reveal Himself?

A. According to the Bible, God is everywhere all the time, God is in us and we are in Him and it is impossible to escape His reach. If the Bible doesn’t tell a lie, we should be able to see and hear Him anytime. Why are we doubtful of His existence now? It is not because God is hiding His existence but because we don’t recognise Him, even though He is always with us. The reason why we don’t recognise Him is that we can’t see things as they really are. We can confirm the existence of God by seeing everything as it is.

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The purpose of having a religion, you should know, is not and should not be to pray or make offerings to an unknown god but to confirm the existence of God in person by recognising Him. The former is not religion but merely superstition, which we should not mistake for religion.

 

Student: “Why doesn’t God reveal Himself?”

Master: “Because you are blind.”

 

 

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Zen

Nanquan Kills a Cat (2)

Nanquan Kills a Cat (2)

Once Nanquan saw the monastics of the eastern and western halls arguing over a cat.

He held up the cat and said to the monastics, “If you can say a turning word, I will not kill it.”

No one in the assembly could answer. So Nanquan cut the cat in two. Later he told the story to Zhaozhou. Zhaozhou took off his straw sandals, put them on his head, and walked away.

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Student: “Why did Nanquan cut the cat in two?”

Master: “I see the cruelty of a sentient being.”

Student: “Why did Zhaozhou take off his straw sandals, put them on his head and walk away?”

Master: “I see the foolishness of a sentient being.”

Commentary:

Why can’t you see the huge elephant while seeing a speck of dust on it so clearly?

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Zen

Rinzai 36

Rinzai 36

Followers of the Way, as I see it, you are not different from the Buddha.

Today in your manifold activities, what is it that you lack? The numinous flow of the Six Senses never ceases. Whoever can see it like that is, for all his life, a man who has nothing further to seek.

Commentary:

‘You are not different from the Buddha’ implies that we are all the Buddha itself. What we should keep in mind is that the Buddha came to this this world not to give us something such as blessing, or good fortune, but to let us realise that we are already perfection itself, which lacks nothing, by ridding us of all illusions. Worshipping or praying to the Buddha for blessing or good fortune is the last thing that we should do because it is making an illusion of Buddha. ‘In your manifold activities, what is it that you lack?’ means that all your activities; speaking, working, walking, talking and so on, are all perfect as actions of the Buddha, the functions of the true-Self. It is because you see and hear them with your eyes and ears covered with illusions that they look defective and imperfect.

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‘The Six Senses’ which means seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, and thinking are referred to as the six thieves before enlightenment because they lead us to discriminate and make illusions. After enlightenment, realising that everything is the true-Self, they are called all the numinous functions of the true-Self, which is in line with the words ‘Illusions are no other than the true-Self’. ‘See it like that’ means to see all illusions as the numinous functions of the true-Self. ‘A man who has nothing further to seek’ implies an enlightened man who, having realised that he is perfection itself, doesn’t struggle in vain to attain enlightenment.

In conclusion, to be able to see the Six Senses and all that we perceive through them as the numinous functions of the true-Self is enlightenment, which is to realise that we don’t differ from the Buddha.

 

Student: “What is the numinous function of the true-Self?”

Master: “How could you ask me such a question without it?”

 

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