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, illusion, Meditation, Mind, Religion, root, self, true self, Truth, Uncategorized, Zen

Q217. What happens to our true-self when our bodies die? How can we, as living creatures, ever know this while we are still alive?

A. The reason why we can’t know what happens to our true-self when our bodies die, is that we can’t see the situation now, I think.

Let me ask you a question, ‘2 + 3 = (  )’. What is the suitable number for the blank? I am sure you know that the correct answer is ‘5’ because it is such a simple question. How can you work out the right answer when there is nothing visible, not even a number in the blank?



You know the right answer since you can clearly understand the visible thing, ‘2 + 3’. If you don’t understand even one of the three visible things, ‘2’, ‘+’, and ‘3’, you can’t know the appropriate number for the blank. Likewise, if you can see everything as really it is, clearly knowing all things that you see and hear, then you can perfectly perceive invisible things as clearly as if you saw them now, in the same way that you would know the right number for the blank, as clearly as if you saw the number ‘(5)’ written there.


©Boo Ahm

All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway

Buddha, Buddhism, desire, Happiness, illusion, Meditation, poisons, Truth, Zen

Q121. What are the three poisons that prevent us from being happy?

A. The first poison, ignorance, is the lack of ability to see things as they are. For instance, we look upon a piece of broken rope as a snake, or mistake rotten food for healthy food. When we can’t see things as they are like this, we are said to see illusions as real.


The second poison, greed, is the desire to get or avoid such illusions. When we are confused into seeing illusions as being real, we want to run away from illusions like a piece of broken rope that look awful or ugly, or strive to obtain illusions like rotten food that look attractive. Such desire is called greed.

Finally, when we struggle to obtain or avoid illusions that we mistake for being real, things usually don’t go as we desire. Repeated failures to achieve our goals, whether to avoid or obtain such illusions, cause us to lose our temper. Even if we sometimes succeed in achieving such illusions, we are disappointed or upset to see that they are not what we desired and don’t give us as much happiness as we expected. Such emotion, the third poison, is called anger.
©Boo Ahm

All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway

Enlightenment, Meditation, Practice, Truth, Zen

Q49. Do we become emotionless, not feeling sad or happy after reaching the final goal?

A. Many people think we will not have feelings like sad, anger, pride, lust, happiness and so on after reaching the final goal. Some people use being emotionless as a scale to measure how much progress they have made in meditation progress. This is one of the most common wrong ideas about Zen meditation. Why should we continue our life, not to mention practising to reach the final goal, if we become emotionless like a wooden craft? We have the same feelings: feel sad when seeing sad things, angry when encountering unjust situations, and happy when seeing happy things.

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When we’ve reached the final goal, we can see things as they are, which means we can see things as neutral. Then we see things like a movie: we are sad during a sad movie and happy during a comic play. What counts is that we never become frustrated however sad the movie is and never become so attached to the movie as to disturb our life, since we know it is not real. Likewise, when coming upon a sad situation in reality, we feel sad but never feel so frustrated as to damage our life because we know it is neutral in itself. Meeting with a good thing, we feel happy but never become so proud of, or attached to it, as to mess up our life because you know it is also neutral in itself.
In a word, we have the same feelings but in a different dimension.

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.