Buddha, Buddhism, Enlightenment, final goal, illusion, Meditation, Mind, One, Photography, Practice, root, sex, sexual, true self, Truth, Uncategorized, Zen

Q 361.When we resolutely pursue our awakening, do situations arise within the illusion to deepen our practice? For example, Mara’s daughters came to tempt the Buddha, so was his attachment to sexual desire being tested? So, where we have very strong attachments, will these appear more powerfully in our life as an opportunity for us to deepen our practice?

A. In Zen we have a saying that the higher your practice is, the more powerful Mara (temptation) is. In fact, this is one of the sayings that are very often misinterpreted. Most people think that this saying means that the more your practice grows, the more powerful Mara becomes. We have this interpretation because we usually make good progress when we face a big challenge in our life as a test of our practice and try to overcome it. However, it is not true that the more your practice grows, the more powerful Mara becomes, because this would mean that as your practice became higher and higher, it would attract more and more powerful Mara.


The correct interpretation is that the greater your practice becomes, the more powerful Mara that you can surmount grows. The better your practice becomes, the more capable you become of surmounting Mara. Although you can overcome only a small Mara when your practice is weak, you can overcome much more powerful Mara when your practice develops. In other words, the richer you become, the larger and the more expensive the house that you can buy becomes. The stronger your muscles become, the heavier the weights that you can lift become.




Speaking of sexual desire, not only the Buddha but also we sentient beings have attachment to it. So, it was not that Mara’s daughters came to tempt the Buddha since his practice was of a high level, but rather that he could overcome the temptation of sexual desire which is one of the most difficult instinctual desires to surmount.


When faced with a challenge in your life, don’t think that your practice has brought it upon you, but look upon it as a test of your practice. Then your challenge will turn into your practice, and you can deepen your practice and solve your challenge at the same time. Two birds with one stone.


©Boo Ahm


All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway

Buddha, Buddhism, desire, master, Meditation, Mind, Photography, Practice, Religion, self, student, true self, Truth, Uncategorized, Zen

Q308. Desire comes from the thoughts we cling to. What is the difference between desire and a goal? Humanity will never progress without having a goal to grow in life, which is the law of nature.

A. A goal comes from desire. It is a concrete expression of your desire. I never tell you not to have desire or a goal in your life. As you said, your desire is the motive to develop the world into a better place to live in. You love your family, and your goal in life is to make enough money to help them to enjoy an easy and comfortable life. Love is also another expression of desire.


The key problem is that we don’t control desire but are controlled by it. And we have seen what miserable and even disastrous things it can lead us to do when our life is run by our desire.



What I mean is not that desire is bad and that you should not have it, but that we should be able to drive our desire instead of being driven by it through realising the root of your desire. When, aware of the root of your desire, you can run your desire instead of being run by it, your desire is called compassion. What Zen says is not that we should not have desire but that you should turn it into compassion, wise desire.

©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

desire, Enlightenment, final goal, meditaion, sex, sexual, true self, Truth, Zen

Q106. What shall I do with my sexual desire?

A. Many people think that an ascetic life is indispensable in order to practice Zen meditation, but this is incorrect, unless you are a monk or a nun.

Why don’t you consider the same question regarding your hunger or thirst? Sexual desire is also a natural feeling that normal people have, just like feelings of hunger or thirst. What matters is how to accept it. As mentioned earlier, everything is neutral in itself. Sexual desire may either be holy, or impure lust, just as hunger may be either good or bad, that is to say harmful to us. Hunger is thought to be an essential feeling for our survival, that makes life happy, but it can also lead people to a disastrous situation if not controlled. Sexual desire should be accepted in the same way, I think.


To have sexual desire is the evidence that you are alive, healthy and normal, that is, you are very suitable for Zen meditation. In summary, Zen meditation has nothing to do with sexual desire just as it has nothing to with hunger. What matters here is not whether to have sexual desire or not, but whether or not to realise the root of it. Just try to realise the root, which is the root of compassion.

©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.