Questions & Koans

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Q. What is the ultimate goal in this life?

Q. What is the ultimate goal in this life? Should we aim to become enlightened, or postpone enlightenment and help other beings?

A. Enlightenment is one thing and helping other beings is another. To postpone enlightenment to help other beings, or to put off helping other beings in order to attain enlightenment doesn’t make any sense.

I can make a guess as to why you have such a question. According to some Sutras, Bodhisattvas postpone becoming Buddha until they have finished saving all sentient beings. This phrase is so misleading that many people misunderstand it. In order to have a clear understanding, you should know what Bodhisattva means in the first place.

When we realise that everything is empty, everything is one as Emptiness. Emptiness is a state without any discrimination. This state is referred to as Buddha, Oneness, Emptiness, non-Duality and Mind. This state is impossible to describe because it is perfection itself and eternity itself. There is are no sentient beings who should be saved and no saints who will save them in this state. This is so perfect that ancient masters would say that we are wrong even if we only open our mouths to describe it.

When Buddha, or the enlightened make discriminations, or when they see Emptiness as Forms, their actions are called Bodhisattva or Buddha’s compassion. In summary, Buddha and Bodhisattva are not separate from each other, but just one. Bodhisattva is the way Buddha looks when making discriminations to help sentient beings and Buddha is the way Bodhisattva looks when making no discrimination.

So, the scripture ‘Bodhisattvas postpone becoming Buddha until they have finished saving all sentient beings’ means that Buddha, the enlightened, never minds making discriminations in order to help sentient beings, instead of only staying in Emptiness. Helping others after enlightenment is compassion and helping others before enlightenment is practice for enlightenment.

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Who is their master?

Who is their master?

To Tozan, Master Hoen the Fifth Patriarch said, “Shakyamuni and Maitreya Boddhisattva, both are His slaves. Well, tell me: Who is He?”

Student: “Who is He that is powerful enough to work Shakyamuni and Maitreya Boddhisattva?”
Master: “Their master.”
Student: “Who is their master?”
Master: “The one who has just summoned them at His will.”

Commentary:
Don’t be foolish to serve your slaves as your masters.
They have no intention to become your masters.

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Hsin Shin Ming: “53. This ultimate state is not bound by rules and descriptions.”

Hsin Shin Ming: “53. This ultimate state is not bound by rules and descriptions.”

‘This ultimate state’ means Emptiness, the true-Self that is the essence of our being. ‘Is not bound by rules and descriptions’ means that it is so perfect and limitless that no rules and no descriptions can express it. The greatest scientific rules such as ‘The earth moves round the sun’, or ‘Water turns into ice when the temperature drops below zero’ that are called the truth in realm of form can’t bind it.

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When we say that everything is empty, there is no exception. However, when faced with common sayings that are referred to as truth, or facts such as ‘The earth is round’ or ‘The sun is hot’, we are tempted to think that they are not empty but real. The more reasonable and the more logical words sound, the more likely we are to forget that they are empty. So, ancient masters would say that common sayings that sound reasonable and logical are a stake to tether a donkey, which is a symbol of our discriminating mind.

So, this scripture is telling us not to be deluded by illusions, however reasonable and logical they may look and sound.

Student: “What is not empty?”
Master: “It’s also empty.”

©Boo Ahm

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Q. I was born and raised Catholic and although I’m not practising, I will always believe in Jesus. However, since I started meditating and learning about Buddhism I find it to be more comforting than Catholicism. I find this confusing. What should I do?

Q. I was born and raised Catholic and although I’m not practising, I will always believe in Jesus. However, since I started meditating and learning about Buddhism I find it to be more comforting than Catholicism. I find this confusing. What should I do?

A. The confusion you are facing now results from not knowing what religion is. Religion is not an end but a means. In other words, your life is not lived for the sake of Catholicism, but Catholicism is just a means you chose in order to make your life happy. If a Westerner feels more comforted and healthier when eating Korean food than when having Western food, should he find it confusing? Should he feel guilty about eating Korean food instead of Western food? He never lives for the sake of eating Western food but eats Western food as a means to live a healthy life. Whatever religion you may choose, religion is only a means to attain happiness, just as food is simply a means to keep your body healthy, no matter which country’s food you may choose to eat.

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You don’t have to be converted to Buddhism, if you like the mood of Catholicism, just as you need not change your nationality for the purpose of eating Korean food. Learn and practise what you like, where you like, in your own favourite way.

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Jinhua’s Ancient Mirror

Jinhua’s Ancient Mirror

A monastic asked Jinhua, “How is it when the ancient mirror is not yet polished?”
Jinhua said, “An ancient mirror.”
The monastic said, “How is it after it is polished?”
Jinhua said, “An ancient mirror.”

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Student: “Why did Jinhua say the same answer to two different questions?”
Master: “Because your mirror is not yet polished.”

Commentary:
It is not because the ancient mirror is not yet polished but because you have an eye disease that the ancient mirror doesn’t seem to be polished.

©Boo Ahm

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Hsin Shin Ming: “52. When such dualities cease to exist, even Oneness itself cannot exist.”

Hsin Shin Ming: “52. When such dualities cease to exist, even Oneness itself cannot exist.”

This scripture means that in order to describe the true-Self, even though we call it Oneness for convenience’ sake, Oneness is also an incorrect expression. One is used to compare with other numbers such as two, three and four. When there is only One and nothing else, it is not One any longer just as red is not red any more when all there is, is red.

So, ancient masters would say, “You are wrong even if you only open your mouth to describe the true-Self.” In summary, the scripture means that the true-Self is so perfect that it is beyond description. That’s why Buddha kept silent when someone asked him what the true-Self was.

©Boo Ahm

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Q. Is there ‘No Self’ in Buddhism?

Q. Is there ‘No Self’ in Buddhism?

A. ‘No self’, or ‘No I’, is a frequently mentioned expression that is the of the core of Buddhism. It is also one of the many phrases that are most commonly misunderstood or misinterpreted. What, or who, is it that asks this question and is reading this writing if there is ‘No I’ or ‘No Self’?

The ultimate goal of Buddhism is to attain enlightenment, which means to realise the truth that everything is empty. When we realise that everything is empty, we simultaneously realise that everything is Oneness as Emptiness.
This means that I belong to Oneness, that is, I am part of Oneness. When I am Oneness, there is nothing or nobody else except me, Oneness. Then, it is said that there is no ‘I’, or no ‘Self’, because there is nothing or nobody to distinguish me from, just as the colour red is not red any more when all there is, is red.

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Therefore, ‘No self’, or ‘No I’, means not that there is no ‘I’ at all, but that you are all there is and all there is, is you. Then you can see your neighbours as yourself.

©Boo Ahm

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Guizong Holds Up a Fist

Guizong Holds Up a Fist

Once Guizong was asked by Governor Libo, “I am not asking about the Three Vehicles and the Twelve Divisions of Sutras. But what is the meaning of Bodhidharma’s coming from India?”
Guizong held up his fist and said, “Do you understand?”
Libo said, “No, I don’t.”
Guizong said, “You have studied extensively, yet you don’t know what a fist is!”
Libo said, “Truly, I don’t understand it.”
Guizong said, “If you meet a true person, you are fulfilled in the Way. If you do not meet a true person, you spread worldly truth.”

Student: “Why did Guizong hold up his fist when asked the meaning of Bodhidharma’s coming from India by Libo?”
Master: “He gave a very kind answer to Libo.”
Student: “Guizong told Libo that if Libo met a true person, he would be fulfilled in the Way. Who is the true person?”
Master: “Can you lift your fist?”
Student: “Of course, I can.”
Master: “That’s it.”
Student: “I don’t understand what you mean.”
Master: “That’s it.”
Student: “What do you mean by ‘That’s it’?”
Master: “That’s it.”

Commentary:
If you are not deluded by illusions, every single word from your mouth is the Way and there is no action that is not the Way.

©Boo Ahm

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Hsin Shin Ming: “51. Consider the movement in stillness and the stillness in movement, both movement and stillness disappear.”

Hsin Shin Ming: “51. Consider the movement in stillness and the stillness in movement, both movement and stillness disappear.”

Here movement stands for illusions, and stillness means Emptiness. ‘Consider the movement in stillness’ means to realise that illusions are in Emptiness and Emptiness is in illusions. ‘Both movement and stillness disappear’ means that both the illusion of ‘illusion’ and the illusion of ‘Emptiness’ disappear. So, this scripture says that if we realise that illusions are not separate from but are one with Emptiness, both the illusion of ‘Emptiness’ and the illusion of ‘illusion’ will disappear.

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To cling to Emptiness and to struggle to avoid illusions is to make yet another error of being deluded by the illusions of ‘Emptiness’ and ‘illusion’. When we realise that illusions and Emptiness are not separate from each other but are one, the one is neither an illusion nor Emptiness. Then, there is neither an illusion nor Emptiness. This means that both movement and stillness disappear. In summary, realising that illusions and Emptiness are one means that they disappear; this is enlightenment.

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Q. What can be said about what is within all the impermanent changing forms?

Q. What can be said about what is within all the impermanent changing forms?

A. All the impermanent changing forms are to what is within them as all winds are to air. All the impermanent changing forms are from and based on what is within them, just as all winds are from and based on air. The impermanent changing forms are compared to the storehouse of the jewel. What is within them is called Emptiness, Buddha or Oneness in Buddhism and God or Jesus in Christianity, which is compared to the jewel. The purpose of Zen meditation is to realise what the jewel is and to become able to see all the impermanent changing forms and what is within them simultaneously. To become like this is known in Buddhism as attaining enlightenment and in Christianity as attaining eternal life.

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©Boo Ahm

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