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Q339. What is the True Dharma the Buddha entrusted to Mahakashyapa?

A. When Shakyamuni Buddha was at Vulture Peak, he held out a flower to his listeners. Everyone was silent. Only Mahakashyapa broke into a broad smile.


The Buddha said, “I have the True Dharma Eye, the Marvellous Mind of Nirvana, the True Form of the Formless, and the Subtle Dharma Gate, independent of words and transmitted beyond doctrine. This I have entrusted to Mahakashyapa.”


Student: “What is the True Dharma the Buddha entrusted to Mahakashyapa?”

Master: “Mahakashyapa broke into a smile.”

Student: “Why did he break into a smile when the Buddha held out a flower?”

Master: “Because he didn’t see the flower.”





Don’t be deluded to think that the Buddha entrusted the True Dharma to Mahakashyapa.

This is not what can be neither entrusted nor taken away.

Don’t be deluded by thinking that the Buddha held out a flower and Mahakashyapa broke into a smile at the flower.

Had he seen the flower, he would not have broken into a smile.


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Buddha, Buddhism, Enlightenment, final goal, illusion, Koan, master, Meditation, Photography, Practice, student, true self, Truth, Uncategorized, Zen

Q336. Every time an ancient Zen master gave a dharma talk, a certain old man would come to listen. He usually left after the talk, but one day he remained. The master asked, “Who is there?”

A. The man said, “I am not actually a human being. I lived and taught on this mountain at the time of Kashyapa Buddha. One day a student asked me, ‘Does a person who practises with great devotion still fall into cause and effect?’ I said to him, ‘No, such a person doesn’t.’ Because I said this I was reborn as a wild fox for five hundred lifetimes. Sir, please tell me the correct answer and free me from this wild fox’s body.”

Then he asked the master, “Does a person who practises with great devotion still fall into cause and effect?”

The master said, “He isn’t deluded by cause and effect.”

Immediately the man had great realisation.

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Student: “What answer would you have made if you had been in his shoes?”

Master: “I would have said, ‘Such a man doesn’t fall into cause and effect’.”

Student: “Why on earth do you copy the wrong answer?”

Master: “Because of cause and effect.”

Student: “What would the old man have become if he had given a correct answer?”

Master: “A fox.”

Student: “Why would he have become a fox if he had given a correct answer?”

Master: “Because of cause and effect.”



Everything is the gate to the enlightenment.

When you know clearly what cause and effect is,

it is also the gate to the enlightenment.

When you don’t know what it is,

it is a trap that turns you into a fox.


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Buddha, Buddhism, Enlightenment, final goal, Meditation, One, Photography, present, suffering, true self, Truth, Uncategorized, Zen

Q314. I started Zen meditation in my early twenties with the goal of enlightenment and was very peaceful and happy during practice. My life, as a single mum with four children, is so busy and messy that I can’t find time to practice Zen although I am very keen for practice.

A. The best way of Zen practice is not to practise only when and where nothing happens to you but to identify everything that you see and hear with your practice. In other words, you should not separate your work from your practice but identify the former with the latter. Then, 24-hours a day can be your practice time.


In fact, everything that makes you bothered and busy is no other than the true-self that you want to see. There is an interesting story about an ancient master. One day he was going through a busy and crowded marketplace, when he saw two people quarrelling, hurling abuse at each other. Upon hearing one of the names they were calling each other, the master attained enlightenment.



Why don’t you think that the reason why your life is so busy is that the true-self is striving to show itself to you and attract your attention?  Don’t try to escape from your current situation into a better one for the sake of practice, but try to accept it as a Dharma talk and try to see and hear it as it is. The deeper your practice becomes over time, the easier and more peaceful your life will become.



©Boo Ahm


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Buddha, Buddhism, master, Meditation, One, Photography, Practice, root, student, true self, Truth, Uncategorized, Zen

Q311. What shall we do when we have no master around us?

A. Don’t think that you have no master around but think that you are not ready to meet him. Ready yourself to meet a master by asking yourself the questions that you will ask a master when you meet him. When a student is ready, a master will appear. When not ready, a student can’t recognise a master even though he appears before him. In fact, he is already beside you and always ready to help you. He is waiting to be recognised by you.



All the people and everything around you are your master. Even you yourself are your master, too. They are giving Dharma talks to you every moment. Even you yourself are giving Dharma talks all the time. The point is that you are still not ready enough to hear the Dharma talk. Make yourself ready to meet him by practising hard and, sooner or later, he will suddenly appear before you.

©Boo Ahm


All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway

Buddha, Buddhism, Enlightenment, final goal, master, Meditation, Photography, Practice, root, student, true self, Truth, Uncategorized, Zen

Q293. Is it possible to transmit enlightenment to other people?

A. ‘Transmit enlightenment’ and ‘Transmit dharma’ are very common sayings in Zen. These, however, are very incorrect expressions that can bring about misunderstanding. Enlightenment is neither a physical matter nor a type of knowledge that we can give and take in the way that we can do with gold, or the four rules of arithmetic.


Suppose that there is a person who, not knowing that he is already part of the Earth, wishes to go to the Earth. As a result of your efforts to help him, one day he realises the truth that he is part of the Earth that he has been so anxious to reach. You can say to him, “At last you have now realised the truth that you are part of the Earth.” Likewise, saying ‘You’ve now realised dharma,’ usually while giving a symbolic thing like a piece of writing or a robe, is said to be the transmission of dharma. The bowl and robe given to his student by Bodhidharma is a good example of this. Therefore, ‘Transmit dharma’ doesn’t mean to transfer dharma but rather to approve a student’s realisation of dharma.




Student: “How can I receive enlightenment?”

Master: “You should have no hands.”


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Buddha, Buddhism, Enlightenment, final goal, illusion, master, meditaion, Mind, Photography, Practice, root, self, student, Truth, Uncategorized, Zen

Q269. Should I stop reading books on Zen meditation as told by masters?

A. You don’t have to stop reading books, but should not entirely depend on books for grasping the core meaning of the books. Think of reading books on Zen as listening to masters’ dharma talks. When you come across what seems to make no sense in reading books, try to find out the meaning through practice, not by reading other books.




To consult other books to understand problems from a book is like eating more food to digest some undigested food. When some undigested food remains in your stomach, you should try to digest it by taking digestive medicine, rather than eat other food. The digestive medicine means to practice.

Undigested knowledge is to your enlightenment as undigested food is to your body. Just as what we need is not more food but digestive medicine when we suffer from indigestion, so it is not more books but practice that we need for our undigested knowledge.


©Boo Ahm


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Buddha, Buddhism, compassion, Enlightenment, illusion, Meditation, Mind, Practice, root, self, suffering, true self, Truth, Uncategorized, Zen

Q233. What’s the best way to act if I find someone’s behaviour really irritating and distracting?

A. Try to associate everything good or bad with your practice. Imagine you are being tested by a master and remember the following. Everything is neutral. Everything is non-dual. Everything is created by your discrimination. Everything is an action of your true-self. See and hear it as an action of your true-self or a Dharma talk. If you get angry, you don’t have to remember all of these things but only one of them, and try to trace your anger to its root. When you are faced with irritating and distracting behaviour, it will disappear by itself if you don’t think of it as irritating and distracting.



Student: “How can I avoid getting angry?”

Master: “Why do you try to avoid your true-self? Getting angry is none other than the action of your true-self that you are anxious to see.”



©Boo Ahm


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Buddha, Buddhism, Enlightenment, illusion, Meditation, Practice, true self, Truth, Uncategorized, Zen

Q167. What changes can we experience as a result of Zen practice and how should we deal with them?

A. Once in a while, you can have new experiences or changes in your life. For example, your life feels even more simple than usual. You start to see what you couldn’t see; perceiving every single gesture or movement of people or things as a movement of the truth, or feeling oneness with things and people around you. Also, you start to hear what you couldn’t hear; hearing all sounds as Dharma talks and as the sound of the truth. However, these are not all but just a few of many examples, and not all people have the same experiences.



When these changes happen, some people are so attracted by them that they expect the same things to happen to them again, or even believe it to be the final goal and therefore cease to practice. Also, there are people who are so bewildered or scared that they hesitate to keep practising. You should neither be attached to these experiences nor be scared of them, but leave them alone, since all of them are not only signs indicating that you are making progress, but also illusions created by your mind. Trying to experience the same again, or struggling to avoid them is making other illusions.

©Boo Ahm

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Buddha, Buddhism, Enlightenment, Koan, Meditation, Mind, now, root, self, true self, Truth, Uncategorized, Zen

Q166. How can we use our Dharma discussion as part of practice?

A. Discussions on Zen meditation and the Dharma are a very important part of our practice because we can help one another through them. In order to make the discussions efficient and helpful, special attitudes are required for these discussions, especially in the absence of a master who has can guide us.
When you ask your Zen friend a question, you should think you are not asking your friend, but Buddha the question and listen to him in the same way. When you are not satisfied with his answer, either because you don’t understand his answer or because you think he is giving a wrong answer, you should blame yourself for not understanding his perfect teaching rather than think he is wrong. You should keep in mind that he is telling you the truth regardless of whether his answer is right or wrong.



When you are asked a question, you should regard the questioner as Buddha and think you are being tested by Buddha. Be frank about your practice, and try your best to make the best answer you can. Be neither happy because he agrees with you, nor unhappy because he doesn’t, since his approval itself doesn’t advance your practice and his disapproval doesn’t disturb your progress.

When you ask, asking itself is important because the answer is in your asking. When you listen, listening itself is important because the answer is in your listening. When you answer, answering itself is important because the answer is in your answering. In summary, what matters is all in you, not out of you.
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All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway