Questions and Koans

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Q. Can we attain enlightenment without g

Q. Can we attain enlightenment without giving up our everyday life?

A. First, you should know what enlightenment is. Enlightenment is the ability to see our reality or everything as it is. When you can see all things as they are, you come to realise clearly what life is, and all the questions you have had so far about life are solved naturally. Speaking of escape from reality, trying to escape from reality without knowing what reality is, is as foolish as struggling to avoid one’s own shadow. Wherever we go, our life is to face reality and living itself is reality. How could we escape from reality? This thought results from being unable to see things as they are. To practise means to try to see reality before our eyes as it is. Practising out of reality is impossible. Therefore, enlightenment is attained through practice based on the reality in which you are in your life.

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Shitou’s Great and Small Canon Qingyuan

Shitou’s Great and Small Canon

Qingyuan said to Shitou, “Everyone is saying that there is something happening in the city of Caoxi.” Shitou said, “There is someone who doesn’t say something is happening in Caoxi.” Qingyuan said, “How did you get the Great Canon and the Small Canon?” Shitou said, “It all comes from here and nothing is lacking.”

Student: “Whom did Shitou mean when he said, ‘There is someone who doesn’t say something is happening in Caoxi’?”
Master: “I am always trying to show him to you.”
Student: “What are the Great Canon and the Small Canon?”
Master: “You have them, too.”
Student: “Where is here when Shitou said, ‘It all comes from here’?”
Master: “Someone who doesn’t say, is there, and you are there, too.”

Commentary:
Here.
Nowhere else.
Everything is from here, but everything disappears into here.

©Boo Ahm

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Hsin Shin Ming: “44. They are like unto

Hsin Shin Ming: “44. They are like unto dreams or flowers in the air, the foolish try to grasp them.”

Here ‘they’ means things, forms or dualities, and ‘like dreams or flowers in the air’ means not real but empty imaginary forms or illusions of our own making. ‘Try to grasp them’ is the description of how sentient beings live their lives.

We sentient beings spend our whole lives struggling to gain what we think will bring us happiness. What we strive to achieve, however, is not real but illusionary. In other words, we waste our lives pursuing happiness by chasing after illusions neglecting the essence of our being that is the source of true happiness. Ancient masters would compare our vain effort to trying to grasp the horns of a rabbit. The Diamond Sutra says, “If you see everything as a dream, as a phantom, and as a bubble, you will see the true-Self.” The true-Self also means the Pure Land, the essence of happiness. So, the best way to happiness is not to attain things but to realise the essence of our being by seeing ourselves as we are.

©Boo Ahm

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How does one meditate and become in tune

How does one meditate and become in tune with one’s true-Self?

You are already one with your true-Self. You feel that you are separate and different from your true-Self because you divide and separate the true-Self into two; you and the true-Self by making discriminations. So, you can’t actually become in tune with the true-Self because ‘becoming in tune with’ only happens between separate things. You don’t become in tune with your true-Self through Zen meditation, rather you realise the fact that you are the true-Self itself through it.

Student: “What should I do to be in tune with the true-Self?
Master: “What should you do in order to be you?”

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A monastic asked Yaoshan, “What is the most precious treasure of the Way?”

A monastic asked Yaoshan, “What is the most precious treasure of the Way?”

Yaoshan said, “Don’t flatter others for your own benefit.”
The monastic said, “How is it when one does not flatter others?”
Yaoshan said, “Even if an entire nation were offered, it would not be accepted.”
Student: “Why did Yaoshan tell the monastic not to flatter others for his own benefit?”

Master: “Because we can’t get any benefit by flattering others.”
Student: “Why wouldn’t an entire nation be accepted even if it were offered?”
Master: “Because what can be offered and accepted is not precious.”

Commentary:
Flattering others for your benefit is begging your servants for charity.

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Hsin Shin Ming: “43. All dualities come only from ignorant inference.”

Hsin Shin Ming: “43. All dualities come only from ignorant inference.”

All dualities here means forms or illusions and ignorant inference implies discriminations. All dualities are how emptiness or non-duality seems when it is divided into many by our imaginary lines created through discriminations. Though each of them seems to have different shapes, different size and different nature from one other, they are the same in essence as emptiness. All the characteristics they have are not innate but are given to them by us. Diamond, for example, is not diamond and is not precious unless we label it as so. There is no difference at all between a handful of soil and a fist sized diamond if we don’t discriminate and label them as such. When we, having realised this fact, are not deluded by them, these dualities are called forms. They are referred to as illusions when we, ignorant of this fact, are deluded by them.

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Student: “What happens when all dualities disappear?”
Master: “Nothing happens.”
Student: “How can we live if nothing happens?”
Master: “When nothing happens, death also doesn’t happen. Why are you worried about death?”

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Q. How does a Zen practitioner walk through hell?

Q. How does a Zen practitioner walk through hell?

A. I am going to write this assuming that a Zen practitioner means a man who has been enlightened through Zen practice. He walks through hell because hell is not hell to those who are enlightened. Rather, he rather can change hell into paradise or the Pure Land by walking through it. It can be compared to Bill Gates, one of the richest men in the world going to an orphanage or a refugee camp. His going to these places doesn’t make him poor or miserable, like the orphans or refugees there. Wherever he goes and stays, he is still rich. When he goes to such miserable places, he doesn’t become miserable like people there but rather can turn the places into better places to live in. Likewise, an enlightened man can change hell into the Pure Land by delivering his teaching to the people there.

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When you chop an earthworm into two pieces

When you chop an earthworm into two pieces

Changsha was once asked by Emperor’s Secretary Du, “When you chop an earthworm into two pieces, both pieces keep moving. I wonder, in which piece is the Buddha nature?”
Changsha said, “Don’t have illusory thoughts.”
Du said, “How are we to understand that they are both moving?”
Changsha said, “Understand that water and fire are not yet separated.”

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Student: “How should I understand that water and fire are not separated?”
Master: “The sky and the earth are from the same root.”

Commentary:
An answer is from where a question is from.
What are they like before they are a question and an answer?

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Hsin Shin Ming: “42. Quietude and noisiness come from ignorance; Enlightenment has no likes or dislikes for them.”

Hsin Shin Ming: “42. Quietude and noisiness come from ignorance; Enlightenment has no likes or dislikes for them.”

‘Quietude’ and ‘noisiness’ mean being peaceful and being troubled in our life. ‘Ignorance’ here means being deluded by illusions without knowing that everything is empty. To rephrase the scripture, we are peaceful when we get what we like and are removed from what we dislike, and troubled when we fail to obtain what we like and are forced to accept what we dislike, because we are ignorant that everything is empty. However, when we have realised that what we like and what we dislike are all empty and that they are just illusions created by us, we can be free from being deluded by them and enjoy them as if we enjoy a movie.

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So, once you realise that all things are empty, they become condiments that enrich your life, whereas they become poison leading you to the suffering from quietude and noisiness when you don’t know that they are empty.

Student: “How can I cease to like quietude and dislike noisiness?”
Master: “You should not mistake quietude for noisiness.”

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Q. What does it mean to see the world like a mirror? How can I see like that?

Q. What does it mean to see the world like a mirror? How can I see like that?

A. Once an ancient master asked one of his students, “How do you see the world?” The student answered, “I see the world like seeing a mirror.” Then, the master said, “Your comment is good but not perfect.” The student asked back, “How should I see the world, Sir?” The master said, “You should see the world just like a mirror seeing the world.”, and the student monk was deeply touched.

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You should be able to see the world not like seeing a mirror but like a mirror seeing the world. A mirror reflects everything as it is, whatever is before it, without discriminating. No matter how beautiful a flower you may put in front of it, it never thinks of it as a beautiful flower and never craves for it. It just reflects the flower as it is. However dirty a thing may be in front of it, it never dislikes or distorts it but just reflects it as it is. In order to see the world like this, you should be able to see the world as empty.

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