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Q325. At the moment I die or when I fall asleep, does the world cease to exist?

A. Who, or what, dies or falls asleep when you die or sleep? When everything is empty, which of ‘I’, ‘death’, ‘sleep’ and ‘the world’ is not empty? Saying that everything is empty means that all of them are empty, too.

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However, when your sleep is not empty, the places such as your bed, your room et cetera where you sleep are not empty, either. When they are not empty, things and people related to the places are also not empty. When the things and people related to the places are not empty, other things and people related to these things and these people are also not empty. If we keep expanding in this way, we reach the conclusion that if your sleep is not empty, all the world is not empty, either. So, ancient masters would say that when even a grain of dust is not empty but real, all the world is real.

 

Therefore, saying that the world is empty but your sleep isn’t makes no sense at all. When your sleep is not empty but real, the world is also real. When your sleep is empty, the world is empty. To sum up, when you think that you fall asleep, the world exists. When you, however, think that your falling asleep is empty, the world is empty as well. Whatever things may happen, whether they exist or not depends upon your view.

 

©Boo Ahm

 

All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway

Buddha, Buddhism, emptiness, empty, Meditation, Photography, Truth, Uncategorized, Zen

Q321. Student: “What is emptiness?”

A. Master: “If I answer your question, I become menial.”

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Commentary:

Don’t blame the master for not answering.

He is soiling himself to answer the question.

What he is worried about is not his becoming menial but your becoming menial.

 

 

©Boo Ahm

 

All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway

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

Q313. What is the true-self and what is an illusion?

A. The true-self is an illusion and an illusion is the true-self. When you can see, for example, the cup put before you as empty, it is the true-self, but it is an illusion when you can’t see it as empty and see it only as a cup. This is true of everything that you can see and hear; your wife, your friends, your puppy, et cetera. In other words, when you can see things as empty, everything is the true-self. When you can’t see things as empty, everything is an illusion.

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A thing doesn’t determine on its own whether it is seen as the true-self or an illusion, but it depends on whether or not you can see it as empty. When you can see everything as empty, you are said to have attained the eye of wisdom or enlightenment. So, an ancient master would say that if you get the eye of wisdom, all the rubbish heaps turn into treasure heaps. When you are enlightened, everything including yourself is perfection itself to you. That is referred to as the Pure Land or the Buddha Land.

 

Student: “What is the true-self?”

Master: “There is nothing that is not the true-self.”

Student: “Why can’t I see it?”

Master: “Because you seek it while seeing it.”

 

 

©Boo Ahm

 

All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway

Buddha, Buddhism, emptiness, empty, illusion, Photography, root, true self, Truth, Uncategorized, Zen

Q310. What does ‘should not follow the secondary while forsaking the primary’ mean? How can I do this?

A. The primary means emptiness or the true-self and the secondary forms or illusions. This means that you should not follow illusions while forsaking the true-self. But this doesn’t mean to sort out the true-self from illusions, but means to realise that illusions are no other than the true-self. If you fall into the division of the true-self and illusions and regard illusions as different and separate from the true-self, you come to think that you should follow the former and avoid the latter. This is to be deluded by the illusions of the true-self and illusions, which is to follow the secondary while forsaking the primary. You can stop this by ceasing to discriminate.

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©Boo Ahm

 

All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway

Buddha, Buddhism, emptiness, empty, illusion, Meditation, Photography, Truth, Uncategorized, Zen

Q301. What is the difference between form and emptiness?

A. No difference at all. Form is emptiness, and emptiness is form. Whether it is form or emptiness is in the eye of the beholder. The problem is that we are so addicted to seeing things only as form that we can’t see them as emptiness.

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It is like seeing a golden lion only as a lion without knowing that it is gold. The purpose of Zen meditation is to be able to see both the lion and gold, or form and emptiness, at the same time and to realise that the essence of the lion is gold, and that the essence, gold, never changes even if the form of the lion is changed into whatever other form.

 

 

©Boo Ahm

 

All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway

Buddha, Buddhism, emptiness, empty, Enlightenment, final goal, illusion, master, Meditation, student, Uncategorized, Zen

Q294. Student: “It is said that everything is empty to the enlightened. Is Bodhidharma enlightened?”

A. Master: “Empty.”

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Commentary:

What counts is not whether Bodhidharma is enlightened but whether you are.

©Boo Ahm

 

All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway

Bible, Buddha, Buddhism, emptiness, empty, illusion, master, Meditation, Photography, Practice, Religion, student, suffering, Uncategorized, Zen

Q289. Why should we give without expecting anything in return?

A. When you give help to someone, you should not expect anything in return for it but rather forget it. If you do expect anything, then it is not help but business disguised as help. This may result in your harming yourself later.

 

If you remember the favour you bestowed on someone and expect something in return, you are more likely to feel disappointed, or even betrayed by his refusal when you ask him for help than you would be if you did not give him any help. You are also likely to be less grateful when you are helped because you are apt to take his help for granted, rather than thank him for it, while thinking of it as repayment of the debt he owes you for your help. In the end, your help will cause you anger or unhappiness, or deprive you of happiness. It’s like your hurting yourself.

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So, ancient masters always advised people to do without doing. When you realise that everything is empty and think that your help is also empty, you can be said to help without helping. As an expedient means to teach how to do without doing, they would say, “Don’t even let your right hand know what it did, not to mention your left hand.”

 

 

©Boo Ahm

 

All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway

Buddha, Buddhism, emptiness, empty, Enlightenment, final goal, Happiness, illusion, Meditation, Mind, Photography, Practice, root, true self, Truth, Uncategorized, Zen

Q275. I am a little frightened that I may fall into emptiness.

A. It may be due to the impression that comes from the stereotype of the word ’emptiness’ that you have such a feeling. Some people are worried that if they fall into emptiness, everybody they love comes to look like a shadow or a ghost, and that they may lose the feeling of love and connection they have shared with them so far. They may also think that everything will seem to be so valueless and useless because it looks empty to them. In the end, they are afraid that they are likely to become pessimistic.

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Don’t misunderstand emptiness. The word ’emptiness’ used in Zen doesn’t mean what you have imagined so far. Its meaning is much closer to freedom than to void in that we free ourselves from all the yokes of life. Having fear of falling into emptiness is like having fear of falling into great eternal happiness because you have never experienced such happiness. Emptiness is where you are from and are to return to, so that you may obtain eternal happiness. Don’t be afraid to face this unknown happiness.

 

 

©Boo Ahm

 

All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway

Buddha, Buddhism, emptiness, empty, illusion, master, Meditation, Mind, Photography, root, self, student, suffering, true self, Truth, Uncategorized, Zen

Q274. You say that everything is from the true-self. Is suffering also from the true-self?

A. Yes, it’s from the true-self as well. There is nothing that is not from the true-self. Everything from the true-self, however, is empty and neutral since the true-self is empty. It follows that not only the cause of suffering but also suffering itself is inherently empty and neutral. Whether a phenomenon is seen as a blessing or suffering is determined by our discrimination. A thing, or an incident, becomes suffering only because we think of it as suffering. Rain, for example, can be a blessing to umbrella sellers but a suffering to fan sellers, even though the rain has no intention to do good to the former or harm to the latter.

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To conclude, suffering is from our discrimination that comes from ignorance of the emptiness of everything. To realise the truth that suffering is empty is to escape from suffering.

 

Student: “How can I remove my suffering?”

Master: “Don’t be deceived by yourself.”

 

 

©Boo Ahm

 

All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway

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

Q271. What does the phrase ‘You should neither hold on to the meaning of the Sutras nor let go of it’ mean?

A. Holding on to the meaning of the Sutras means keeping the words without perfect understanding, in other words keeping food undigested in the stomach. Letting go of it means to ignore and forget it. For better understanding, let’s take the following as an example.

 

Buddha had a student who was notorious for having killed many people and even tried to kill Buddha before becoming a monk. One day this monk happened to visit one of Buddha’s lay students, when his wife was having a hard time being in labour. The layman said to the monk, “Please relieve my wife of this terrible suffering with your power.” The monk responded, “I still don’t have such divine power. I will go and ask my master, Buddha for this favour for your wife.” Upon returning to Buddha, the monk explained the situation and asked him what he should do. Buddha answered, “You go back to the house, and tell her that you have never killed anyone.” The monk did as he was told to, and then, on hearing his words, she was relieved of her suffering.

 

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This metaphor implies that everything is empty.

 

When Buddha said to his disciple, “Tell her that you have never killed anyone”, he meant that whatever bad and cruel things, or whatever good and beautiful things we may do, they are all empty, so the young monk’s murder was also empty. He likened her childbirth to the young monk’s murder. The woman in labour, on hearing what the monk said, realised the truth that the suffering she was going through was also empty, just as the murders the monk committed were empty.

 

We should understand what the Sutras say, in the same way that the woman in labour understood Buddha’s remark passed on by his student. The moment she heard Buddha’s message, she made it part of herself. If she had ignored, let go of the message or remembered it only as a meaningful saying, or held on to the meaning of it, she couldn’t have been relieved of her suffering.

 

Master: “What did Buddha tell his student to say to the woman in labour?”

Student: “He told him to say, ‘I’ve never killed anyone’.”

Master: “Why did Buddha tell him to say so?”

Student: “Because He wanted to teach her that everything is empty.”

Master: “You are still holding on to the meaning of Buddha’s teaching.”

Student: “Then, what did He say?”

Master: “He didn’t say anything, and his student didn’t go to her house.”

 

©Boo Ahm

 

All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway