Buddha, Buddhism, emptiness, empty, Enlightenment, illusion, master, Meditation, Photography, student, true self, Truth, Uncategorized, Zen

Q316. How can we neither be stained by dirt while in dirt nor be attached to purity when we happen to face it?

A. Interpreted more simply, this question means “How can we live without being deluded by illusions and without being attached to enlightenment when we happen to get it?” It is possible to know, through perfect realisation of the truth, that everything is empty. In other words, when everything is empty, we should realise that not only illusions but also enlightenment is empty.



If we are attached to enlightenment after getting enlightened, this is making another illusion, just like making a new form of clay after destroying an old form of clay. You should realise that when everything is empty, you are emptiness itself, and then there is nothing to gain or lose. So, an ancient master said, “Don’t be stained by purity.” when his student asked him how he could remain pure. In other words, you should neither be deluded by illusions while living amid them nor be attached to emptiness.



©Boo Ahm


All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway

Buddha, Buddhism, emptiness, empty, Enlightenment, final goal, illusion, master, Meditation, Mind, One, Photography, root, self, student, true self, Truth, Uncategorized, Zen

Q286. Masters tell us to discard our ‘I’. How can I do it?

A. They mean that you should eliminate the illusions of you, that is, all the labels attached to you, or all the words used to describe your identity. This is because all suffering is from your mistaking the labels attached to you as you and at the same time being attached to them.


When you are deluded by labels, like this, they are referred to as illusions. The final goal of Zen is to realise that labels are not real but only imaginary lines and to see what you are like free from labels. That is called seeing your true-self, or attaining enlightenment.


Student: “How can I discard my ‘I’?”

Master: “You should know that all you believe to be you is not you but just an illusion.”



©Boo Ahm


All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway

Buddhism, desire, Enlightenment, Happiness, illusion, Meditation, Mind, poisons, Practice, true self, Truth, Zen

Q122. What are the antidotes for the three poisons against happiness?

A. The antidote for the poison of ignorance is wisdom, which means the ability to see everything as it is. That enables us to see a piece of broken rope as a piece of broken rope and rotten food as rotten food.

The antidote for the poison of greed is the precepts, which aim to control greed. We should suppress greed artificially before getting enlightened. To obey the precepts in the strictest sense, however, is not to suppress greed artificially but to have no greed to control through realising that everything is an illusion. Only then can we be said to obey the precepts. For example, when we have the wisdom to see everything as it is, we don’t have any desire to run away from the piece of broken rope, or to chase after rotten food because we can see rope as rope and rotten food as rotten food.


The antidote for the poison of anger is stillness, which naturally comes about when we obey the precepts. That is, when we obey the precepts, we have no greed. Then we need not struggle to fulfill our greed. When we don’t have to strive to satisfy our greed, there is no anger or disappointment that comes from the failure to meet our greed. Then our life becomes still.

In fact, the core of the three poisons is ignorance, and that of the three antidotes is the wisdom to see things as they are.
©Boo Ahm

All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway

Buddha, Buddhism, desire, Happiness, illusion, Meditation, poisons, Truth, Zen

Q121. What are the three poisons that prevent us from being happy?

A. The first poison, ignorance, is the lack of ability to see things as they are. For instance, we look upon a piece of broken rope as a snake, or mistake rotten food for healthy food. When we can’t see things as they are like this, we are said to see illusions as real.


The second poison, greed, is the desire to get or avoid such illusions. When we are confused into seeing illusions as being real, we want to run away from illusions like a piece of broken rope that look awful or ugly, or strive to obtain illusions like rotten food that look attractive. Such desire is called greed.

Finally, when we struggle to obtain or avoid illusions that we mistake for being real, things usually don’t go as we desire. Repeated failures to achieve our goals, whether to avoid or obtain such illusions, cause us to lose our temper. Even if we sometimes succeed in achieving such illusions, we are disappointed or upset to see that they are not what we desired and don’t give us as much happiness as we expected. Such emotion, the third poison, is called anger.
©Boo Ahm

All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway

Buddha, Buddhism, illusion, Koan, Meditation, Practice, Truth, Zen

Q104. Sometimes angels appear during my practice. Am I practising in the wrong way? What shall I do?

A. There are times like that. I am sure that you are not wide awake to your question during the experience. Some people say that they see beautiful angels or even the Buddha and Jesus Christ, some say they see their late parents or grandparents, some say that they see their previous lives, and others say they see ghosts or monsters as if having a nightmare. Do remember that everything you experience during your practice is nothing but an illusion whether fantastic or terrible. When you experience something beautiful you have never experienced in your life before, you are apt to feel attracted by it. They are only the actions of your emotions hidden in your sub-consciousness. If you feel attached to great figures like the Buddha or Jesus and scared of the terrible figures, you are fooled by illusions. Leave them alone and focus on your question, and they will disappear by themselves.

©Boo Ahm

All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway

Buddhism, Enlightenment, Meditation, Truth, Zen

Q43. How can we remove our attachment?

A. You should know what attachment is and where it comes from before trying to remove it. It comes from your misunderstanding things. When you can’t see things as they are, you come to misunderstand them, or make illusions of things. Taking the illusions for real, we overestimate them just as we regard a piece of broken glass as a piece of diamond and a piece of rope as a snake, when we struggle to obtain or to run away from them by all means. In a word, attachment is our strong desire to possess or avoid something.

To eliminate our attachment we should be able to see things as they are, that is, see things as neutral, when our attachment will disappear of itself. However, we might hold it down for a time, but we are likely to fail to remove it permanently if we try to fight it off. We can persuade ourselves not to have attachment and hold it back for a time, in the way we give up a big sum of money beyond our reach, by fooling ourselves into saying to ourselves, “More money than is necessary for an ordinary life can ruin people, so I don’t like such big money.” However, the attachment can come out any time again when such big money seems to be within our reach because we still have the root of it.

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Either focus on your question, or trace your attachment back to its root and you will feel it becoming weaker with time. On reaching the root of it, you will realise that its root is the very final goal you long to reach and that it is the same root from which your compassion stems, when your attachment turns into compassion of itself.

Not until we realise the fact that everything we value is neutral in itself: neither valuable nor worthless, can we root out our attachment.

All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway.

Buddhism, Koan, Meditation, Mind, Practice, Zen

Q20. I focus on the question and my mind tends to empty. Is this the idea? It is quite pleasant and I felt a sensation of being very heavy.

A. When you focus on the question, you can feel something new you’ve never experienced before. The feelings you mention are very normal phenomena which you can feel during the practice. What is important is that you should not attach to such feelings; that is, you should not try to maintain the feeling. Instead, you should focus on the question regardless of the sensation.

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All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway.