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

Q305. It is said that we should know the mind prior to thinking. How can we know the mind prior to thinking?

A. ‘Have to know the mind prior to a thinking’ is a very common saying in Zen circles. This makes sense. The problem is that people, not grasping the point of the saying, follow the words: They struggle to divide their mind into two, and distinguish the mind prior to thinking from the mind after thinking.



The core teaching of Buddhism is non-duality, oneness. Your mind is not dual or multiple.  You should know that the mind which is producing thinking at this moment is not different and separate from the mind prior to thinking, but it is the very mind prior to thinking that you want to know. The mind that is reading this writing at this moment is the mind you should realise. There is no other mind than this.


Student: “What is the mind prior to thinking?”

Master: “Why do you ask me where your tongue is?”



©Boo Ahm


All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway

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

Q254. You always advise us not to follow language, but how can we understand you unless we follow your language?

A. There is a well-known saying ‘If following words, you will fall into the hell. If not grasping the meaning of words, you will be deluded’. When I tell you not to follow my language, I don’t mean that you should ignore my language but that you should not follow the superficial meaning of it.


When pointing to the moon, we can use a finger, a wooden stick, a plastic stick or an iron stick. We can point to the moon even with a fork or a knife if we are asked what the moon is in the middle of eating. Regrettably, people pay all their attention only to studying and analysing the things used to point to the moon: what they are made of, how old they are, what shape they are and so on.


When I use a lot of different words and expressions to point to the true-self, my language is like the things above used to point to the moon. If you accept my words in the way you understand general knowledge, you are like a person who studies the stick or the spoon used to point to the moon. Then, you are said to follow or be deceived by language. If you are deceived by language like this, you will be immersed in illusions and even all Sutras and the Bible will become illusions.



Student: “What’s the true-self?”

Master: “Don’t follow my language.”



©Boo Ahm


All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway

Enlightenment, final goal, Koan, Meditation, self, true self, Zen

Q112. Why do you explain the true-self to us while saying it can’t be expressed with words?

A. It’s true that it can’t be explained with words, but paradoxically we can’t avoid using words to express it.
When masters, saying that it can’t be expressed with words, use words, we should know that they have another intention in using their words besides using them as a language. This alternative intention is primary and the language is secondary. So masters used to advise their students not to follow the secondary forsaking the primary. You should know their teachings are not the true-self itself, but signposts to the true-self.


©Boo Ahm

All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway

Koan, Meditation, Truth, Zen

Q42. Why can’t we see things as they are?

A. It is not because things don’t show themselves as they are, but our eyes and ears are veiled by illusions that have been accumulated since our birth.

I remember reading an article about implanting false memories. It said it is possible to manipulate and create false happy memories in mice during sleep, adding that they succeeded in creating false and happy memories in mice. The fact is that numerous information or knowledge has been implanted in us and the process is ongoing even at this moment; it will continue to our death and remain in us in the name of memory.

Memories become verbalised or are turned into languages for expression and conveyance, which makes languages essential to our life. Over time, we are so used to our languages that we can’t stop identifying words with our memories. A word always reminds us of a set memory associated with the word, which we are so accustomed to that we take words for reality. For example, a lady was so shocked to hear the terrible news that her daughter, studying abroad, had been killed by a car accident that she passed out and got sick in bed. A few days later, the news turned out to be wrong and she found that her daughter was in fact alive and could be around as usual soon. The lady was shocked and fainted because she took the words about her daughter for reality regardless of the truth. This is a good instance that shows how we mistake words for reality. In short, to identify words with reality is called ‘illusion,’ ‘form,’ or ‘boundary’ in Zen.


In our life, we not only get illusions implanted in ourselves but also implant them in others, and we often manipulate them in order that we may implant the ones that seem favourable to us. What counts here is that, when making our decisions, or choices, like whether a certain illusion is favourable to us or not, we depend on the illusions implanted in us. In a word, illusions create illusions, and we are so addicted to illusions that we cannot tell them apart from our reality, that is to say, we are trapped in the world of illusion. The purpose of Zen is to free people from the trap of illusion.

Of course, our life requires a lot of illusions and our education might mean to provide students with illusions that are thought to be necessary and useful in their future. Who dares to deny the fact that all the civilisations modern people enjoy rest on illusions? However, languages can be an obstacle in seeing things as they are, and conveying memories as they are, just as water gets in the way of a ship’s speeding up – though it is essential in the ship’s moving.

The purpose of Zen, it can be said, is to enable people to enjoy both the world of illusion and the world free of illusion at once.

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

Buddhism, Enlightenment, Meditation, Practice, Zen

Q28. In Zen practice, it seems that we try to find our way of a kind of trap. Furthermore, it appears that we make this more complicated by our use of language and thinking. How is it that we initially find ourselves in this situation? Is the idea that we are even in such a predicament, not itself also an obstacle to our understanding of truth?

A. In Zen practice, you can feel the same way as if you were in caught in a trap. It seems that the harder you struggle to get of it, the more complicated you make it. As a matter of fact, that is the way you feel when you strive to find your way out of it by the use of language and thinking. Such a Zen practice is compared to a struggling insect caught in a spider’s web.

P1150430a_thumb - Copy

Trying to free yourself from it through language and thinking is like trying to wash a mud-stained dress with muddy water because it is your language and thinking that are the trap keeping you bound. We are so addicted to the trap that we cannot distinguish ourselves from the trap. Actually, we can’t see a trap as a trap because our eyes are veiled by the trap. To rid yourself of the trap of language and thinking and see yourself free of the trap is the purpose of Zen practice and that is to see yourself as you are. Remember you can’t escape the trap by means of your language and thinking, and keep the question “What am I when my body is not me?” When your practice is going well, your life seems to become simpler.

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