Questions & Koans

Zen

Q. Is it possible to go to Heaven without having a religion?

Q. Is it possible to go to Heaven without having a religion?

A. Going to Heaven is to a religion as mastering arithmetic rules is to a school. This is like asking if it is possible to learn arithmetic rules that are usually taught at school without going to school. We can see many people master their favourite subjects by teaching themselves or through home-schooling without going to school.

I think that it is possible if we try in the right way. A religion itself is not Heaven but only an institution in which we can learn how to go to Heaven, just as a school itself is not arithmetic rules but an institution for teaching and learning them.

©Boo Ahm

All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway

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Zen

Baizhang’s “Gate of Essential Nature”

Baizhang’s “Gate of Essential Nature”

During a work period at his monastery, Baizhang was ploughing the ground. A monastic heard the sound of the drum ending the work period. At that moment he held up his hoe, burst into laughter, and went back to the monastery.
Baizhang said, “Wonderful. This is Avalokitesvara entering the gate of essential nature.”
After Baizhang returned to the monastery, he sent for the monastic and asked, “What did you see to make you laugh like that?”
The monastic said, “I was hungry. As soon as I heard the drum, I returned to have the noon meal.”
Baizhang laughed.

Student: “Why did the monastic burst into laughter on hearing the sound of the drum?”
Master: “Every sound is a gate to the true-Self.”
Student: “Why did the monastic say, ‘I was hungry’ when he was asked by the master?”
Master: “Every sound is the sound of the true-Self.”

Commentary:
Realising that the ground you are ploughing with your hoe is the Pure Land is enlightenment.

©Boo Ahm

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Zen

Rinzai 35

Rinzai 35

Do you want to know the Buddha? None other than he who here in your presence is now listening to the Dharma. Just because you lack self-reliance, you turn to the outside and run about seeking. Even if you find something there, it is only words and letters and never the living spirit of the patriarchs. Do not be deceived. Venerable Zen students, if you do not meet Him at this very moment, you will circulate in the Three Worlds for ten thousand Kalpas and a thousand births. And, pursuing agreeable situations, you will be reborn in the wombs of asses and cows.

 

Commentary:

Master Rinzai is saying that the Buddha is none other than he who is listening to his Dharma talk. In other words, it is the Buddha that is controlling your body to read this writing now. ‘Turn to the outside and run about seeking’ means to look for something else, following words and forsaking him who is listening to Rinzai’s Dharma talk. ‘Even if you find something there, it is only words and letters and never the living spirit of the patriarchs’ means that if you, not knowing that he who is listening to Rinzai’s Dharma talk is the Buddha, try to find something or someone else by following words, you will get at most some knowledge about the Buddha but not the core of the Patriarchs’ teachings.

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Rinzai is showing compassion one more time by revealing the Buddha by saying, ‘If you do not meet Him at this very moment’, which means, ‘If you, not recognising the Buddha that you and I are revealing now, follow my words’.

 

‘Circulate in the Three Worlds for ten thousand Kalpas and a thousand births’ means to struggle in the ocean of illusions, or the ocean of causation and reincarnation. And, ‘pursuing agreeable situations, you will be reborn in the wombs of asses and cows’ means that if you go after agreeable situations and avoid offensive situations, say, if you are deluded by the illusions of ‘agreeable’ and ‘offensive’, that is, if you fail to stop discriminating, you cannot escape from the suffering of reincarnation.

 

Simon: “Rinzai told his students to see the Buddha at this very moment. How can I see Him at this very moment?”

Boo Ahm: “Thank you for showing Him to me.”

 

©Boo Ahm

 

All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway

 

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Zen

Q. Non-attachment vs keep fighting; which is better?

Q. Non-attachment vs keep fighting; which is better?

Let me ask you back. Non-attachment vs keep eating; which is better? Non-attachment vs keep taking care of one’s children; which is better? Non-attachment or keep seeing a doctor; which is better? You should not mistake non-attachment for giving up everything. When you are not attached to anything, you should not have attachment even to ‘not keeping fighting’ because clinging to ‘not keeping fighting’ is also a kind of attachment. True non-attachment is not whether you do something or not, but whether you cling to it or not, or whether you can see it as empty or not.

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Let’s suppose that you play with a paper plane with your children. You can stop playing with it anytime without your mind being hurt whenever things require you to stop it, whereas your children feel sorry or unhappy when they are forced to stop playing, for one reason or another, when they are preoccupied with it.

 

For example, when the paper plane happens to break for some reason during the play, you don’t feel your emotion swayed, whereas your children, heartbroken or disappointed, may burst out crying. Your attitude towards the same paper plane is quite different from your children’s because you have no attachment to it, but your children do. Having non-attachment to a paper plane doesn’t mean that you should not play with it together with your children but means that you don’t cling to it.

 

©Boo Ahm

 

All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway

 

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Zen

Nanquan Kills a Cat (1)

Nanquan Kills a Cat (1)

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: “What did Nanquan mean by cutting the cat in two?”

Master: “He doused the people with water who were feeling thirsty whilst being in the water.”

Student: “What did Zhaozhou mean by taking off his straw sandals and walking away with them on his head?”

Master: “He doused Nanquan with water.”

 

Commentary:

A gale is not different from a breeze in that both are air.

 

 

©Boo Ahm

 

All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway

 

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Zen

Rinzai 34

Rinzai 34

But students nowadays do not succeed because they suffer from lack of self-reliance. Because of this lack, you run busily hither and thither, are driven around by circumstance and kept whirling by the ten thousand things. You cannot find deliverance thus.
But if you can stop your heart from its ceaseless running after something by being deluded by each illusion, you will not be different from the Buddha and patriarchs.

Commentary:
Self-reliance means the belief that you are the true-Self itself. ‘Being driven around by circumstance and kept whirling by the ten thousand things’ means to be deluded by what you see and hear, that is, illusions. ‘Run busily hither and thither’ means both wandering around in the hope of getting enlightenment from someone else and following words. ‘Stop your heart from its ceaseless running after something’ means to stop discriminating, following words, or being deluded by illusions. In other words, running after something is as vain as exhausting ourselves by chasing shadows, which drives us away from our goal, enlightenment. So, if we stop being deluded by illusions and running here and there after something, we are not different from the Buddha and patriarchs because we can realise that we are the true-Self when we are not deluded by illusions.

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To attain enlightenment doesn’t mean to find something hidden somewhere else, or to get something we don’t have from someone else. We should know that Buddha and all the Patriarchs didn’t try to give us something new which we don’t have but tried to find us what we have lost whilst having it in our hands. In other words, their job was not to bestow something valuable such as genuine insight upon sentient beings but to get sentient beings to realise that they are already equipped with it. They never tried to give us something but rather tried to rid us of illusions because genuine insight reveals itself only if we are not deluded by illusions. That’s why masters are often called thieves.

©Boo Ahm

All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway

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Zen

Q. After my wife passed away, I told my young son that his mother had left us forever and has gone to God’s house. My son wants to fight with God and bring his mother back, saying that God is very bad and should not have taken his mother away. He asks, ‘Where does God live?’

Q. After my wife passed away, I told my young son that his mother had left us forever and has gone to God’s house. My son wants to fight with God and bring his mother back, saying that God is very bad and should not have taken his mother away. He asks, ‘Where does God live?’

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A. Your young son’s question ‘Where does God live?’ is a beautiful question that is worth trying to find the answer to. When you come to know where God is, you can also find out where your wife is because she has gone to where God resides. Your child is right. You must fight with the bad god who your son thinks took your wife away since he is not the true God but a fake god, an illusion of god. The true God never does such a mean thing as taking a mother and wife from her children and husband. When you defeat the bad god, you will not merely come to know where the true God lives but also see Him in person.

©Boo Ahm

All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway

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Uncategorized

Zhaozhou’s Cup of Tea

Zhaozhou’s Cup of Tea

Zhaozhou asked a newly arrived monastic, “Have you been here before?”
The monastic said, “Yes, I have been here.”
Zhaozhou said, “Have a cup of tea.”
Later he asked another monastic, “Have you been here before?”
The monastic said, “No, I haven’t been here.”
Zhaozhou said, “Have a cup of tea.”
The monastery director then asked Zhaozhou, “Aside from the one who has been here, why did you say, ‘Have a cup of tea’ to the one who had not been here?”
Zhaozhou said, “Director.”
The director responded, “Yes?”
Zhaozhou said, “Have a cup of tea.”

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Student: “Why did Zhaozhou always say, ‘Have a cup of tea’?”
Master: “Because there is nothing else.”
Student: “I can drink tea. Why am I still not enlightened?”
Master: “Because you drink tea with a mouth.”
Student: “How could I drink tea without using a mouth?”
Master: “What is left in the cup after you drink tea?”
Student: “Nothing.”
Master: “Drink it. It is not what you can drink with a mouth.”
Student: “How could I drink it?”
Master: “It’s already in your mouth. Why don’t you enjoy its taste?”

Commentary:
Don’t die of thirst while floundering in inescapably deep water.

©Boo Ahm

All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway

Uncategorized

Rinzai 33

Rinzai 33

Nor do you need to look for worthiness; it will arise by itself.
Followers of the Way, the old masters had ways of saving men. Do not let yourselves be deluded by anyone; this is all I teach.
If you want to make use of genuine insight, then use it right now without delay or doubt.

Commentary:
‘Worthiness’ here means genuine insight, or the true-Self. ‘Saving men’ means to save people from the world of illusions which is compared to a burning house, that is, to get them to attain enlightenment. Old masters’ ways of saving men were to stop people from being deluded by anyone, or any illusions since the worthiness arises by itself only if we are not deluded by illusions. So, Rinzai said that all he taught was to tell his students not to be deluded by anyone. By saying to his students ‘If you want to make use of genuine insight, then use it right now without delay or doubt’, Rinzai, revealing the true-Self, suggested that his students themselves were none other than the true-Self they were looking for.

Student: “What is an illusion?”
Master: “All words are illusions.”
Student: “How can we explain genuine insight, the true-Self if all words are removed?”
Master: “The true-Self explains itself when all words are removed.”

©Boo Ahm

All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway

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Uncategorized

Q. Why did Jesus say, “Leave your hometown, your relatives, your parents and your homes, and go to the land I am going to show you.”?

Q. Why did Jesus say, “Leave your hometown, your relatives, your parents and your homes, and go to the land I am going to show you.”?

A. You should not mistake this for a message that entices, or encourages you to leave, or betray your beloved people, including your parents who gave birth to and have taken care of you in order to follow him. He even said, “Love your neighbours as yourselves.”

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Your hometown, your relatives, your parents and your homes here imply the illusions which are so strongly attached to you that they are very difficult for you to remove. The land he says he is going to show you implies Heaven in Christianity and the Pure Land, enlightenment in Buddhism. In other words, it means that if you remove all illusions, you will go to Heaven.

Student: “How can I go to Heaven?”
Master: “Throw away the illusion of Heaven.”

©Boo Ahm

All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway