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

Q363. Why did the pagan say that Buddha had cleared away the clouds of his mind and had made him enter into awakening?

A. A pagan asked Buddha, “Without words, without silence, will you tell me the true Self?” Buddha kept silent. The pagan bowed and thanked the Buddha, saying, “With compassion you have cleared away the clouds of my mind and have made me enter into awakening.” After he left, Ananda asked the Buddha what he had attained. The Buddha said, “A good horse runs even at a shadow of the whip.”


Student: “The pagan asked Buddha to tell him the true Self without words and without silence, but Buddha kept silent. Why did the pagan say that Buddha had cleared away the clouds of his mind and had made him enter into awakening?”

Master: “It is because you are deaf that you say that Buddha kept silent. What Buddha expounded sounded so loud that it broke the pagan’s eardrums.”

Student: “What is the shadow of the whip that Buddha mentioned when he was asked by Ananda?”

Master: “You are not a good horse.”





The pagan and Ananda took the same medicine.

The former became well thanks to the medicine,

but the latter is giving dry coughs with it caught in his throat.

Why don’t you hear what Buddha expounded while hearing what the pagan said?

Why don’t you see the shadow of the whip that the pagan saw?

You are not only deaf but also blind.


©Boo Ahm


All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway

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

Q362. Buddhism talks about non-attachment. Should we therefore try to be unattached to meditation and Buddhist teaching?

A. It is true that we should try to be unattached even to meditation and Buddhist teaching. However, it is not that we attain non-attachment by suppressing our desire, but that non-attachment comes by itself as a result of our realising that everything is empty.


The core teaching of Buddhism is to realise that everything is empty through seeing everything as it is. When we realise that everything is empty and that there is nothing to be attached to, our attachment perishes of its own accord. Unless we realise that everything is empty, we might be able to control or suppress our attachment for quite some time, but we can’t remove it for good.




Buddhist teaching and meditation are like medicine for curing us of attachment. Once we get well after taking medicine, we don’t need it any longer, and our attachment to medicine disappears naturally. However, you won’t be cured of the disease, attachment, if you only keep away from medicine while you are sick. Keeping away from medicine in order to remove your attachment to medicine while you are sick is making matters worse and making another strong attachment to non-attachment.


Student: “How can I attain non-attachment?”

Master: “Don’t discard your attachment.”

Student: “Why do you tell me not to discard my attachment?”

Master: “Because your attachment is the very non-attachment.”


©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, Photography, root, self, suffering, true self, Truth, Uncategorized, Zen

Q329. Why does Zen compare us sentient beings to a patient?

A. As soon as we are born, we are all doomed to an incurable illness, ageing, which leads to death, that no one can avoid. While we have many kinds of painkillers for the illness, there is no medicine to cure it. Whenever we feel the pain of hunger, we take a painkiller, food.



However, over the course of time, the illness worsens to the extent that no painkiller can help us, and leads us to death in the end. Therefore, we sentient beings are compared to a patient. The purpose of Zen is to help people to be cured of the fatal illness, ageing. So, ancient masters would refer to enlightenment as the solution to the matter of birth and death.


©Boo Ahm


All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway

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

Q327. Student: “How can I keep my plot of mind free from light and shade?”

A. Master: “Telling you the way is very easy. But I am afraid that I may induce you to make light and shade.”

Student: “Please, tell me the way.”

Master: “Everything is empty.”

Student: “I already know that, too.”

Master: “That is making light and shade in your plot.”




However efficacious medicine may be, an internal medicine will cause trouble if put into eyes or ears.


©Boo Ahm


All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway

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


All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway

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

Q220. What does commitment to Zen practice really mean if Zen practice is also an illusion?

A. It is true that Zen practice is also an illusion. However, the point is that, while saying that everything including Zen practice is an illusion, we actually don’t know the truth clearly because we have never acquired it through experience. It follows that we still mistake illusions for reality while saying that everything is an illusion with our mouths. If you can see everything as an illusion, you don’t need Zen practice any more. Ancient masters would say, after enlightenment, that all the efforts they had made in order to attain enlightenment were of no use at all. However, you should remember that only after enlightenment did they mention such words as a token of their realisation that everything is empty and an illusion.




As long as you are not enlightened, Zen practice is important and necessary as a means to enlightenment until you realise the truth that everything is an illusion. Zen practice can be compared to medicine for a patient. However effective and essential a medicine may be to a patient, it is of no use at all or even harmful to a healthy person. Once the patient becomes well, the medicine is not medicine any more to him. However, it is very useful and important as a medicine to a patient until he gets well.



©Boo Ahm


All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway

Buddha, Buddhism, empty, illusion, Meditation, Mind, Practice, suffering, Truth, Uncategorized, Zen

Q 175. Is it okay to try to heal ourselves through mind-control instead of taking medicine when we are sick because everything is from mind?

A. There are people think they can cure themselves of any illness through mind-control by a kind of meditation practice instead of taking medication because everything is created by mind. They are misunderstanding the words, ‘Everything is created by mind’. They are unaware of the fact that medication is also created by mind, while saying that everything is created by mind. When you are well, there is no medicine. But everything that you take can be medicine when you are ill. If you think of daily food as important medicine and take it as sincerely as if you take medicine, then your everyday food can play more than the role of daily food that only meets your hunger, in your recovering from illness. Besides, if you regard your medicine as being rather good food that can make up for your nutritional deficiency instead of being just a medicinal substance, you can escape from or at least alleviate the stress, or the obsession that you have to take medicine.



©Boo Ahm

All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway

Buddha, Buddhism, Enlightenment, final goal, Meditation, Zen

Q131. Do we have to keep practising to maintain the final goal after reaching it?

A. Would you try to reach the universe even while knowing that you are part of it? Once you realise the fact that you cannot escape being part of the universe whatever you may do, why should you keep struggling to reach the universe? Likewise, once you reach the final goal, you don’t have to make any effort to maintain or stay in it because you can’t escape from it; you are the goal itself. Instead, you may well pity and help those who strive to reach the final goal to realise that they are already there.

There are people who insist that we should continue to practice even after reaching the final goal. They believe that we will fall back to what we were if we do not continue practicing. In fact, we can no more return after reaching the final goal than a hatched chicken can go back into its egg. Once we reach the final goal, we will even feel that all the effort made was useless because we will realise that we were like a man struggling to reach his home while sitting in his living-room. If someone makes even a little effort to reach or stay in the universe, it shows that he still doesn’t know what the universe is. Likewise, if someone makes an effort to maintain or stay in the final goal, that is evidence that he is still blind to what the final goal is.


Though medicine is essential to a patient,
It is of no use to him any more once he gets well.

©Boo Ahm

All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway

God, Meditation, Practice, Zen

Q115. Should I stop going to church and praying to God in order to practice Zen meditation?

A. I never discourage anyone from doing anything. Whatever you do is up to you. I am only asking you to try to realise who or what does it when you do something. You very often don’t know what you are doing since you don’t know who is doing it. How could you get your thing done well when not knowing who is doing what?


I never ask you stop going to church or praying to God but encourage you to know what leads your body to church when you go to church and what makes your body pray when you pray to God.
Just ask yourself what is making your body do what you do, whatever you may do.
©Boo Ahm

All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway