Buddha, Buddhism, emptiness, empty, master, Meditation, One, Photography, root, self, suffering, true self, Truth, Uncategorized, Zen

Q359. Is death the end of life or a new start?

A. It is both at the same time. Is this moment the end of your past life or the start of your future? Whether it is the starting line or the finishing line depends on your view. There is no beginning without end and no end without beginning, which is like left and right in that there is no left without right and no right without left. In fact, beginning and end, and right and left are all imaginary labels produced by you, and they can be changed anytime according to your perspective.


Ask yourself what death is instead of whether it is the end or a new start. Ask yourself whether you are alive or dead. If you are alive now, were you alive or dead 500 years ago before your birth? If you had been dead then, it would mean that something dead became a living thing like you. If you had been nothing then, it would mean that nothing became something. Does it make sense? Furthermore, no one can deny the truth that we are part of the universe. And the universe is neither alive nor dead. It means that we are not dead and not alive as well.


If there is no beginning and no end, death is neither beginning nor end. When there is no start and no end, birth is neither start nor end, either. In brief, birth and death are also imaginary labels like start and end.


Student: “Is death the end of life or a new start?”

Master: “Are you right or left?”


©Boo Ahm


All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway

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

Q348. Kyogen said, “Let’s suppose a man is hanging by his teeth from a branch of a tree that is leaning over a precipice. His hands grasp no branch, his feet rest on no limb, and under the tree another man asks him, ‘Why did Bodhidharma come to China from the West (India)?’ If the man in the tree does not answer, he misses the question, and if he answers, he falls and loses his life. Now what shall he do?”

A. Student: “How can you both answer the question and save your life?”

Master: “In danger.”

Student: “Who is in danger?”

Master: “You are in danger.”



Don’t stumble over the lines drawn on flat land by you.

They can’t catch your feet however tangled they are.

Don’t be scared of your shadow.

It can’t harm you however horrible it may look.

©Boo Ahm


All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway

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

Q343. If everything is empty, why should I try to keep my empty life without giving it up?

A. Don’t be deluded by the word ’empty’ but try to experience through your whole body what it actually means. Saying that everything is empty doesn’t mean that everything is void and useless or nothing. This, on the contrary, means that it is unlimitedly useful and infinitely valuable beyond its labels. And the purpose of Zen meditation is to help people to realise the unlimited value of it that has been neglected so far because we are deluded by the labels. So, ancient masters would say, “Once you realise emptiness, all rubbish heaps turn into piles of treasure.”




Student: “Why should I try to keep my empty life without giving it up?”

Master: “When your life is empty, there is no life to give up.”



©Boo Ahm


All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway

Buddha, Buddhism, Meditation, Photography, Practice, Truth, Uncategorized, Zen

Q331. What is Samsara, reincarnation?

A. I have talked to you before about the world of memory, the realm of form and the world beyond memory, the realm of emptiness. Reincarnation is another expression of how the realm of form, full of endless causation, works.


As long as we are in the realm of form, we can’t avoid being subject to the law of cause and effect. There are always a start and an end, appearance and disappearance, which have their causes and effects. There is no start without an end and no end without a start, and each start and end has its cause and effect. There is no effect without cause and vice versa. What you are now is the effect of what you did yesterday, and how you live today determines what you will be tomorrow.




In brief, our life of today is the effect of yesterday and the cause of tomorrow at the same time. One step further, our present life is the result of our previous life and the cause of our future life, the life after death. In other words, we can’t avoid making cause and effect even for a moment forever. Birth and death is also part of endless causation. To conclude, reincarnation implies an endless cycle of causation, which is called the trap of causation as well.



©Boo Ahm


All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway

Buddha, Buddhism, emptiness, empty, illusion, Meditation, moment, present, root, Truth, Uncategorized, Zen

Q328. Is everything empty because it is always changing and not everlasting?

A. Absolutely not. Everything is empty not because it is always changing and not everlasting but because it doesn’t have its own fixed nature unless you grant it labels such as hard, soft, fragile, flexible et cetera. Emptiness is the state without any label or imaginary line, where there is no time.



Time is a typical imaginary line. When there is no time, no change can take place since change means the passage of time. When there is no change, there is no life and death. Therefore, when you experience the truth that you are emptiness itself, you are said to escape from the yoke of life and death.


©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, final goal, Happiness, illusion, master, Meditation, Mind, Photography, self, suffering, true self, Truth, Uncategorized, Zen

Q281. Can Zen help us to deal with our physical problems?

A. The physical problems that we experience due to aging, unexpected injuries from accidents and illnesses are, if not desirable, unavoidable challenges that all of us are subject to. The key point here is how to confront them. Our mind is to our body as a driver is to a car. In the same way that how long and how well a car runs depends upon the driver, our physical health counts on our mind.



Zen helps us to see everything as it is, so that we can avoid worsening situations by overreacting to them when faced with difficulties. For instance, there is a saying that the unreasonable fear of cancer is more dangerous than cancer itself. This is because the fear of cancer, if not surmounted, can harm patients more than cancer itself can. This is true when people can’t see things as they are. Zen meditation, by enabling us to see things as they are, helps us to know how to fear what ought to be feared and how not to fear what ought not to be feared. For that reason, I think Zen can help us to deal with our physical problems.


©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.



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.



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

Bible, Buddha, Buddhism, Enlightenment, final goal, God, illusion, master, Meditation, Mind, Practice, Prayer, Religion, root, self, sutras, true self, Truth, Uncategorized, Zen

Q257. I have been a Christian for over 20 years and believed that God is perfect. Why does He make my life so troublesome?

A. If you have true faith in God and His perfection, you should not think that your life is troublesome. Thinking that your life is problematic is contrary to the truth that God never makes any mistakes since He is perfect. When He made you what you are, He had his intention. What you are is the exact expression of his intention. The reason why you think that your life is spoiled and troublesome is that you don’t understand his intention. Instead of blaming God for making your life troublesome, you had better try to know what God intends you to be like.



Student: “Why does God make my life so hard?”

Master: “Why don’t you ask God in person?”


©Boo Ahm


All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway