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

Q347. My thoughts of doom and the resultant feelings of fear or terror have become almost constant. I am trying to overcome it in many ways, but the fear is too strong to overcome. What more can I do? Please tell me there’s nothing to fear.

A You are showing a good example of being deluded by illusions. You say that you are overwhelmed by the fear of doom. What is doom? The key problem here is that you don’t know what doom is even while suffering from the fear of it. You are being harassed by something imaginary drawn by you. Being pleased or troubled with imaginary figures, like this, is said to be being deluded by illusions, which can be compared to a dream. You are dreaming of being chased by the fear of doom. In fact, not only you but also all of us are dreaming in that we are being deluded by illusions. The reason why others don’t have such feelings of fear as yours is that each of us is dreaming a different dream. The best way to overcome the fear is to wake up from your dream, that is, to realise what you fear is.

You seem likely to become a good Zen student because curiosity about the doom of death and illness was the starting point of Buddhism. Buddha, when young, had such strong curiosity concerning the doom of birth, ageing, illness and death that he gave up even his succession to the throne. His strong curiosity led him to enlightenment, which is to know clearly what the essence of these is. After enlightenment, he said that our life is like a dream and that we should wake up from the dream in order to attain eternal happiness.


What matters is not for me to tell you that there is nothing to fear but for you to realise it in person. I’d like to tell you to wake up from your nightmare instead of telling you that there is nothing to fear.

©Boo Ahm


All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway

Bible, Buddha, Buddhism, Enlightenment, illusion, master, meditaion, One, Photography, Practice, Religion, root, self, student, true self, Truth, Uncategorized, Zen

Q344. What do you think of Easter in Christianity?

A. Easter is a Christian holiday when Christians remember the death of Jesus and his return to life. The death of Jesus means removing illusions, and his return to life means the revealing of the true-self. So, Easter is a great lesson that reminds us of the Christian teaching that we should remove illusions and see the true-self, the true Jesus.

The Bible describes well how the true-Jesus exists in Luke 24:15, 16: ‘As they walked and discussed, Jesus himself drew near and walked along with them; they saw him, but somehow did not recognise him.’ He is always with us wherever we are. He is with you even at this moment when you are reading this writing. The problem is that we don’t recognise him, because we are deluded by illusions. The purpose of Christianity is to recognise him. To recognise him is to attain eternal life in Christianity, or enlightenment in Buddhism.


True Easter is not a specific day of the year but the day when we can recognise the true-Jesus. Following the literal meaning is being deluded by illusions and far from the true teaching of Christ.

Student: “How can I see the true Jesus?”

Master: “Thank you for showing the true Jesus.”

©Boo Ahm


All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway

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

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.


©Boo Ahm


All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway

Buddha, Buddhism, Enlightenment, final goal, Happiness, Meditation, Photography, Practice, root, sutras, true self, Truth, Uncategorized, Zen

Q335. If everything is empty, is it important to actually attain enlightenment? After enlightenment, can you really hold on to it? Are you then walking around as ‘an enlightened being’? In my opinion, it’s impossible to sustain that experience because it’s empty. Is it a bit like trying to hold onto quick sand?

A. Enlightenment doesn’t mean ‘void’ or ‘valueless’ but means ‘perfection’, ‘perfect freedom’, ‘perfect happiness’ or ‘unlimited possibility’.


Attaining enlightenment is compared to a patient’s recovering perfectly from serious illness after taking good medicine. A patient is always ill wherever he is, whatever he does. He walks around as an ill being, and drinks tea as an ill being. However, once he has recovered perfectly from illness, he is well all the time whatever he does, wherever he is. He walks around as a healthy being and drinks tea as a healthy being. He is quite different from what he was when he was ill. He never wants to return to the previous state because he remembers how terrible he felt while ill and can feel how much happier he is now than before.



The difference between attaining enlightenment and recovering from illness is that you, once getting enlightened, can’t return to the unenlightened state, while you can lose your health again if not taking care of it. Whatever you do, wherever you are, you are always in the state of enlightenment forever without any effort to stay in, or sustain the state. So, a Sutra says that once you pass the gate of enlightenment, the gate is closed behind you forever.



©Boo Ahm


All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway

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

Q319. Many people say that they know what enlightenment is and that their way is the true way. How can we tell if a teacher is really enlightened or not?

A. It is true that it is almost impossible for unenlightened people to tell whether a teacher is enlightened or not. Only the enlightened have an eye for the enlightened, just like only those who know maths can tell if a maths teacher has real capacity. However, I am going to tell you a few essential requirements that I think a teacher should be equipped with as a teacher, regardless of whether he is enlightened or not.



A teacher should:

  1. Be able to give you a clear definition about what enlightenment, the final goal is.
  2. Be able to give you a persuasive explanation about what his way of practice has to do with enlightenment, or why you should practice in his way.
  3. Be able to give you sufficient Dharma talks explaining the True-self and how to see it in detail.
  4. Welcome all your questions and give you satisfactory answers to them.


If someone satisfies all these conditions, he is worth following as a teacher, I think.


©Boo Ahm


All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway

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


All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway

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

Q296. How is it possible to remove all at once and not gradually the illusions that we have made up for decades?

A. Our practice is like trying to brighten an old room that has been dark since it was made, even though it is installed with a nice electric light. We are looking for the light switch of the old room that has never been lit so far. The key problem is that we have no idea of the switch; where it is and what it is like, because we have never used it, or even seen it before. We can be said to be fumbling for the switch in the dark room. It may take time to find it, but it doesn’t take time to lighten the room once you find the switch. The moment you switch on the light, all the darkness will disappear. Likewise, all illusions disappear at the moment you attain enlightenment.




Student: “How can I remove all the illusions in an instant that I have made up for decades?”

Master: “It takes no time and no effort to remove them because they are empty.”


©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.”



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

©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.





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




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

Q227. In Buddhism it is said that only humans can attain enlightenment. This seems to put humans on a pedestal and make them separate from other animals. How can this be true when we also say that everything is one?

A. The words ‘only humans can attain enlightenment’ have the same meaning as ‘only you can attain enlightenment’. This doesn’t mean that you are superior to others but that no one else can take the place of you in both attaining enlightenment and getting the whole world enlightened. In other words, only when you yourself are enlightened can you have all other things including other animals enlightened.



We can’t realise the truth that humans are one with and not separate from other things such as plants and animals or the living and the non-living, until we attain enlightenment. It is said that once you attain enlightenment, all the universe attains enlightenment as well at the same time. That is, you can have a firm belief that we are not separate from other animals and that everything is one, only when you can see things as they are. Even if all other people of the world should get enlightened, their enlightenment can never allow you to enjoy the truth that everything including you is perfectly one, as long as you stay unenlightened.


©Boo Ahm


All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway