To appreciate Buddhism and the practise of Zen Teachings, Compass of Zen by Zen Master Seung Sahn, founder of “The Kwan Um School of Zen”, is the guiding book from which materials are extracted and posted on this site.
October 10, 2008
December 7, 2016
The unreality of phenomena distinction
Very important for Buddha in practice /non Buddhist
Can the Buddha be understood by this perfectly formed body
Merely called a perfectly formed boy
- Phenomenal characteristics are not really such. They are called phenomenal characteristics.
A True Buddha does not have a particular form. Throw away Buddha, Throw away God.
When you see, just see
When you hear, just hear
When you smell, just smell
When you touch, just touch
When you feel, just feel
It does make an Idea. It does not say this or that
Don’t make anything. If you want Buddha, Kill the Buddha.
What is Buddha? – Idol is image for children
What you see, hear, smell, taste, touch. Just like that – that is Buddha.
TRUTH IS YOUR EXPERIENCE THIS MOMENT
What is absolute reality? Hear the making of Sound
You don’t live anywhere but here this moment.
MERIT is doing great thigs – charity, helping poor people , helping sick people
Benefit of that is Great/Huge but still it is Empty because we are attach to the merit we get or not get.
Empty doesn’t mean Gone. But because it is Empty it is Great, that is why it is great.
If it had a form or weight or colour, the merit you get, you will be measuring it.
True Merit – Its Empty so its great. You cannot conceive it. It has no beginning, no end. It cannot be limited by time or space.
You can’t describe it – that is Buddha
The Experience of That – That’s Thatagatha
All modes of mind are only one mind. Does Buddha possess all-knowing eye
Does Tahagatha possess eye of transcendent wisdom
5 Kinds of EYE: perceiving nature like Kwan Say Im Buddha
- Human Eye (see Buddha is gold in colour)
- Divine Eye ( Eye that can see form – force of thought , force of thinking
- Prajna Eye ( View of Emptiness)
- Eye of Transcendent Wisdom ( knowing how to liberate other people)
- Buddha Eye (of Non-Duality)
Same Eye, Same Perceiving Quality
Mind is Clear – same Eye
Mind is Not Clear – anxiety/ anger/fear
Mirror is not Glass – something behind it. Together it reflect clearly everything
This Formless moment, when you see clear, hear clear, smell clear, this experience is your life.
You can’t hold past mind, you can’t hold present mind, you can’t hold future mind. It only happens like this! Like that!
This moment has no time, no space. Right Here Right Now
March 15, 2016
Third Zen Patriach (606AD)
The Great Way is not difficult for those who have no preferences.
When love and hate are both absent everything becomes clear and undisguised. Make the smallest distinction however, and heaven and earth are set infinitely apart.
If you wish to see the truth then hold no opinions for or against anything. To set up what you like against what you dislike is the disease of the mind.
When the deep meaning of things is not understood the mind’s essential peace is disturbed to no avail.
The way is perfect like vast space where nothing is lacking and nothing is in excess. Indeed, it is due to our choosing to accept or reject that we do not see the true nature of things. Be serene in the oneness of things and such errorneous views will disappear by themselves.
When you try to stop activity to achieve passivity your very effort fills you with activity. As long as you remain in one extreme or the other, you will never know Oneness.
Those who do not live in the single Way fail in both activity and passivity, assertion and denial. To deny the reality of things is to miss their reality; to assert the emptiness of things is to miss their reality.
The more you talk and think about it, the further astray you wander from the truth. Stop talking and thinking and there is nothing you will not be able to know.
To return to the root is to find the meaning, but to pursue appearances is to miss the source. At the moment of inner enlightenment, there is a good beyond appearance and emptiness. The changes that appear to occur in the empty world we call real only because of our ignorance. Do not search for the truth; only cease to cherish opinions.
Do not remain in the dualistic state; avoid such pursuits carefully. If there is even a trace of this and that, of right and wrong, the Mind-essence will be lost in confusion. Although all dualities come from the One, do not be attached even to this One.
When the mind exists undisturbed in the Way, nothing in the world can offend, and when a thing can no longer offend, it ceases to exist in the old way.
When no discriminating thoughts arise, the old mind cease to exist. When thought object vanish, the thinking-subject vanishes, and when the mind vanishes, objects vanish.
Things are objects because there is a subject or mind; and the mind is a subject because there are objects. Understand the relativity of these two and the basic reality: the unity of emptiness. In this Emptiness the two are indistinguishable and each contain in itself the whole world. If you do not discriminate between coarse and fine you will not be tempted to prejudice and opinion.
The live the Great Way is neither easy nor difficult. But those with limited views are fearful and irresolute; the faster they hurry, the slower they go.
Changing cannot be limited; even to be attached to the idea of enlightenment is to go astray. Just let things be in their own way and there will be neither coming nor going.
Obey the nature of things and you will walk freely and undisturbed. When thought is in bondage the truth is hidden, for everything is murky and unclear. The burdensome practice of judging brings annoyance and weariness. What benefit can be derived from distinctions and separations?
If you wish to move in the One Way do not dislike even the world of senses and ideas. Indeed to accept them fully is identical with true Enlightenment.
The wise man strives to no goals, but the foolish man fetters himself. There is one Dharma, not many; distinctions arise from the clinging needs of the ignorant. To seek Mind with discriminating mind is the greatest of all mistakes.
Rest and unrest derive from illusion; with enlightenment there is no liking and disliking. All dualities come from ignorant inference. They are like dreams of flowers in air: foolish to try to grasp them. Gain and loss, right and wrong; such thoughts must finally be abolished at once.
If the eye never sleeps, all dreams will naturally cease. If the mind makes no discriminations, then ten thousand things are as they are, of single essence.
To understand the mystery of this One-essence is to be released from all entanglements. When all things are seen equally the timeless Self-essence is reached.
No comparisons or analogies are possible in this causeless, relation less state. Consider motion in stillness and stillness in motion; both movement and stillness disappear. When such dualities cease to exist Oneness itself cannot exist. To this ultimate finality no law or description applies.
For the unified mind in accord with the Way all self-centred striving ceases. Doubts and irresolution’s vanish and life in true faith is possible.
With a single stroke we are freed from bondage; nothing clings to us and we hold to nothing. All is empty, clear, self-illuminating, with no exertion of the mind’s power. Here thought, feeling, knowledge, and imagination are of no value. In this world of Suchness there is neither self nor other-than-self.
To come directly into harmony with this reality just simply say when doubt arises, “Not two.” In this “not two” nothing is separate, nothing is excluded.
No matter when or where, enlightenment means entering this truth. And this truth is beyond extension or diminution in time or space; in it a single thought is ten thousand years.
Emptiness here, Emptiness there, but the infinite universe stands always before your eyes. Infinitely large and infinitely small; no difference, for definitions have vanished and no boundaries are seen.
So too with Being and non-Being. Waste no time in doubts and arguments that have nothing to do with this.
One thing, all things; move among and intermingle, without distinction. To live in this realisation is to be without anxiety about non perfection.
To live in this faith is the road to non-duality, because the non-dual is one with the trusting mind.
Words! the Way is beyond language, for in it there is No Yesterday, No Tomorrow, No Today.
-by Chien-Chih Seng-Ts’an
February 9, 2014
The spirit of free enquiry is an important feature of Buddhism. The Buddha encouraged peope to investigate the truth of His Teaching for themselves before accepting it. He never expected people to practise his Teaching out of blind faith, and superstition. People should only practice what they find to be beneficial physically and mentally.
Buddhism stresses the need for self-reliance and individual effort. Each person must work out for himself the way to end suffering and attain happiness. It is his own actions that determne his future. His destiny is not determined by any external power or agent. This means that each man is responsbile for his own actions. A person can progress or develop as much as his own effort allow. Through dedication, self-discipline and wise judgement, he can search the highest gods of life.
Because Buddhism respects the rights of people to enquire freely and to choose for themselves, it is tolerant towards other faiths. Buddhism teaches one to live in harmony with all, regardless of race or religion.
Buddhism recognises that all living being are equal. It teaches universal loving-kindness and compassion not only to all men but also to all other creatures. All living being, men and animals alike share a common environment. If men want to live happily in this world, they must have concern for the welfare of others.
There is no conflict between modern scientific discoveries of today and the Buddha’s Teaching. Many thinkg that the Buddha taught about 2,500 years ago have been proven true by modern science. The importance and the power of the mind, the impermanence of things, the divisibility of the atom, the relativity of matter and energy, and even the structure of the universe – all these are contained in the Buddha’s Teaching. So a Buddhist does not have to ignore the facts about man and the universe that are gradually being revealed by science.
The Buddha’s life and His Teachings, as explained in forthcoming chapters will inspire one to develop self-reliance, moral responsibility, tolerance, compassion and wisdom and other moral qualities. These qualities will enrich one’s life and make it more meaningful to today’s world.
It is a fact that frequently those who live closest to the wonders of the world like the Taj Mahal of India or the Great Wall of China, fail to take an interest in them. They are too familiar. they seem too easily accessible. One thinks one can learn about them at any time, and so one never bothers to make a start. So too, one may have often heard the name of the Buddha, and have visited Buddhist temples, or call oneself a Buddhist and yet may not really know what Buddhism is.
Some people think that Buddhism is something which belongs to the past and can have no place in the modern world. But this is not so because Buddhism is as relevant now as it was in the past. As a way of life. Buddhism shows people how to grow in maturity and wisdom so as to understand themselves and the world in which they live.
When people begin to learn what Buddhism is, they will see that it can benefit them in many ways. At one level, Buddhism teaches the individual to cope with the events and circumstances of daily life. One develops such good attitudes towards life that one’s understandings with one’s family and with the members of the community improves. At a higher level, Buddhism teaches one to develop one’s mind to that one finally sees life as it really is.
From his own experience, the Buddha has shown that there is a way to end suffering and attain supreme happiness. Thus the Buddha’s Teaching offers hope and gives a meaning to life.
December 2, 2013
By practising the correct meditation, we can find the correct direction of our lives and attain our True Nature. We can also clearly perceive our correct situation, relationship, and function at every moment, live in wisdom and compassion, to help our families, our friends, our country and this whole world to gain peace and happiness. More than 2000 years ago, Indian Buddhism went to China. There it met Chinese Taoism. They got married and had a baby. The baby’s name is “Chan” (korean “Seon”, japanese “Zen”).
The teaching of Chan is very direct and simple and its direction is very clear. What am I?
If we look deeply into this question we will find that we do not know. This “don’t know” mind is very important.
It is before thinking, our True Nature and Universal Substance. Attaining this point, you and everything become one. Then your mind become clear like space. Everything is reflected in your mind. You can see, hear, smell, taste and feel clearly. The sky is blue, trees are green. The dog barks wow wow. Sugar is sweet. Everything is just the way it is, the truth.
Then one more step is necessary. How does the Truth function correctly and make a correct human life?
You must keep the correct situation, relationship, and function moment to moment. When you are hungry, just eat. When you are thirsty, just drink. When someone is hungry, what can you do? Give them some food. When someone is suffering, what can you do? Help them. In Buddhism we call this Great Love, Great Bhodhisattva Way.
It is special, but not special. It is just a correct human being’s life. Nowadays people have lost their correct direction – only striving for food, sleep, sex, money and fame. Chan means finding again our True Nature and the purpose of human life. – Zen Master Dae Bong
February 12, 2012
Zen Master Dae Bong
Zen and Psychotherapy Conference in Korea—May, 2006
Sunims, professors, doctors, and guests, thank you very
much for inviting me here today. I have been asked to speak
on the experience of teaching Zen.
Zen actually has no teaching. The student determines the
teaching. The Great Chinese Zen Master Im Je said, “Our
school has no doctrine. I simply produce medicine for the
disease which appears.”
The Great Chinese Zen Master Tae Hye said, “In Zen
there is nothing to cultivate. Just rid yourself of all your
opinions.” People do not have faith in the clarity and wisdom
of their own original mind, so myriad problems and
Practicing Zen is realizing suffering, the cause of suffering,
and the end of suffering. Realizing this, naturally you
want to help others.
Since all names and forms are impermanent, including
religious forms, teachings, and ideas, a Zen practitioner uses
whatever is at hand to help others.Yesterday I met a Korean
man below our temple. He said he wanted to become a monk.
I asked, “Why?” He said, “I want to get enlightenment.” I
asked him, “What will you do after you get enlightenment?”
“I don’t know.” That is a problem. I asked him if he was married.
He said “yes, with two children.” I told him he must
ask his wife’s permission. He said she would say no. She is
Christian and gets very angry when he talks about wanting
to be a monk. I said, “Then why become a monk? Buddhism
means only help others. This world is originally empty, so you
are also empty, so only help others. When you are with your
wife, 100% keep husband’s mind. When you are with your
children, 100% keep parent’s mind. When you are with your
friends, 100% keep friend’s mind. When you are working,
100% working mind. When you are driving, 100% driver’s
mind. That is practicing Buddhism. You can practice Buddhism
in your everyday life just as it is. That is Zen.”
This man said that he is very nervous. “Who is nervous?”
“I am.” Who are you?” After some time he said, “I don’t
know.” “Only keep this don’t know mind—in your lower
belly.” Then I taught him tanjeon ho-heup, a breathing
“If you keep energy in your head, then you will have
much thinking, much desire ,and much suffering. If you
keep energy in your chest, you will have too much emotion.
Then I like this. I don’t like that. This person is good. That
person is bad. This kind of thinking will appear. If you slowly
breathe in and slowly breathe out, and return your attention
and energy to your tanjeon, then your thinking and emotions
will calm down. Slowly your mind will become clear and
bright. You can then perceive this world and perceive your
job moment-to-moment and do it. Try that every day.”
When I first met my teacher, Korean Zen Master Seung
Sahn, in 1977, he was giving a dharma talk atYaleUniversity
in theUnited States. That night, a psychology professor asked
him, “What is crazy and what is not crazy?” Zen Master
Seung Sahn said, “If you are very attached to something,
you are very crazy. If you are a little attached to something,
you are a little crazy. If you are not attached to anything,
that is not crazy.” I thought, “This answer is better than my
ten years of studying and working in psychology.” Then Zen
Master Seung Sahn continued, “So, in this world everyone
is crazy, because everyone is attached to ‘I’. But this ‘I’ does
not really exist. It is only made by our thinking. If you want
to find your true self and not attach to your thinking ‘I,’ you
must practice Zen.”
I thought, “This is my teacher.”
Human suffering comes from attachment to our thinking,
to “I, my, me.” Practicing Zen means looking deeply into
“I.” What am I? If you ask this question consistently and
sincerely, finally you don’t know. This don’t know is very
important. Keeping don’t know mind is practicing Zen.
Giving others don’t know mind is teaching Zen.
Zen Master Seung Sahn said, “Don’t teach your understanding.
Only teach don’t know.”
When I was a university student, I worked as an aide in
a mental hospital at night. One night I came on duty at 11
pm. I could not find any of the staff, so I walked around the
unit. Finally, I found the doctor and nurses in one patient’s
room trying to get her to take her sleep medication. This
woman was refusing to take her medicine and kept saying
she needed to take a bus. Rita, the night nurse, came on
duty and also could not find us. Finally she found us in the
woman’s room. Rita watched the scene for a few moments
and walked over to the bed (the only furniture in the room.)
She pulled the mattress off of the bed, and as she rolled the
bed frame out of the room, she pointed to the mattress and
said to the woman, “There’s your bus. Get on it and take
a ride.” The woman was shocked and stopped arguing. We
all went out of the room, locked the door, and she slept the
rest of the night.
When this happened, I thought to myself, “I want to
get that kind of mind. I do not think I can get that from
In Zen we say, any religion is like a finger pointing to the
moon. If you attach to the finger, you will not get the moon.
So inAmericawe have Christian-Buddhist retreats, led by a
Catholic priest or Protestant minister and a Buddhist monk.
Christians and Buddhists practice Zen meditation together.
I have a Catholic priest friend named Father Hunt who likes
to say, “When you are doing sitting meditation and your leg
has pain, is that Christian pain or Buddhist pain?” That is
a very important point.
Zen Master Seung Sahn used to say, “If you practice Zen,
then if you are Christian, you can be 100% correct Christian.
If you are Muslim, you can be 100% correct Muslim. If you
are Buddhist, you can be 100% correct Buddhist.”
Zen meditation means when you are doing something,
just do it! When you are sitting meditation, just sit. When
you are chanting, just chant. When you are bowing, just
bow. When you are driving, just drive. When you are
washing dishes, just wash dishes. When you are with your
family, 100% family. When you are doing something, just
do it! At that time, there is no “I, my, me.” Where is “I, my,
me” then ?
That sounds easy. It is not, and it is. If you try, try, try,
slowly your body, mind, and situation moment-to-moment
become one. Your complicated mind becomes simple. Then
your simple mind can become empty and clear. One day
you will realize your true nature, universal substance, is
before-thinking, empty, void, pure, clear, and miraculously
functioning. You will realize what the Sixth Patriarch called
“the essence of mind.”
If you correctly attain that, your mind will be clear like
space, clear like a mirror. Everything will reflect in your
mind. Red comes, red. White comes, white. You see clearly,
hear clearly, smell, taste, touch, and think clearly. The sky
is blue. The tree is green. The dog barks, “Woof! Woof!”
Sugar is sweet. Everything just the way it is is truth. You
Then one more step is necessary. How does truth correctly
function and make a correct human life? You must keep the
correct situation, correct function, and correct relationship
moment-to-moment. When you are hungry, eat. When you
are tired, sleep. When someone is hungry, give them food.
When someone is thirsty, give them a drink. When someone
is suffering, help them. The name for that is Great Love,
Great Compassion, and theGreat Bodhisattva Way. But it
is not special. It is simply correct human life. It is Zen.
Zen practice means substance, truth, and function become
clear moment-to-moment. Teaching means that your
mind and the student’s mind become one and give direction.
You can perceive where the person is stuck and show them
Practicing and teaching Zen are not two separate activities.
If your practice is clear, your teaching will be clear. If
your practice is not clear, your teaching will be not clear.
Teaching, for me, is an experience of moment-to-moment
learning—about you, about me, about this world. I always
felt my teacher, Zen Master Seung Sahn, was a great teacher
because he had a great vow and was a great learner. He knew
how to learn from every moment. Every moment was fresh
Zen Master Seung Sahn once said to me, “Before, students
learned from teachers. Now, teachers learn from students.”
This has helped me tremendously. I never felt I had anything
to teach. Now I realize that teaching is not teaching. It is
learning: Who is in front of me? Where are we stuck? How
can I help?
A few years ago, a Korean woman approached me in the
subway inSeoul. She pulled my robe and said, “I hate these
clothes.” I said, “These are Korean clothes. Why don’t you
like Korean things?” Pulling the robe again, she said, “I hate
these clothes.” I said, “OK. You and I are about the same
height. How about you give me your clothes and I give you
mine.” Then she looked at me, smiled a little, and said, “You
are a strange man. What is your name?” I said, “My name
is Dae Bong.” “No. Tell me your real name.” “My name is
Dae Bong.” “No. I want your real name.” “I forgot. You
better ask my mother.”
“No. No. I want your real name.” “Why do you want my
name?” “I want to pray for you.” “That is OK. You can pray
for me without my name. God knows who I am.”
“No. I want your name.” I said, “OK. You get a paper
and pen and I will tell you my name.” So she got out a paper
and pen. Then I slowly said, “My name is I…love…you.”
She laughed, slapped me on the arm, and said, “You are a
funny man,” and walked away.
Korean people eat with chopsticks and spoon. Japanese
people eat with chopsticks. Western people eat with a knife
and fork. Indian people eat with just their hands. The techniques
are all different, but the direction is the same: food
into my stomach. The direction is more important than the
The most important thing in teaching Zen is helping the
student find the correct direction of practice and of human
life. Only go straight—don’t know. Why? To help all beings.
When a person finds the correct direction, everything
moment-to-moment becomes a useful technique. You can
use every circumstance to teach a person. You can show a
person how to use every circumstance to move forward, to
help themselves and others.
When I asked Korean young people ten years ago what
they thought about Buddhism, they said, “Buddhism is a
grandmother’s religion.” The Korean young people I met
did not see it as relevant to their life. Similarly, Zen practice
essentially disappeared inChinain the 1500s and 1600s
because it had become a practice of the intellectual elite. It
no longer connected with people’s everyday life.
But society is changing, and now I think that more and
more people find Buddhism, and especially Zen, interesting.
Especially in the West, Buddhist practice is rapidly growing.
It is growing in the West because correct Buddhism is not
based on belief but on practice. It is a practice of becoming
clear, of seeing one’s essential nature, that one’s true self is
identical to the entire universe, of seeing the self-cause of
suffering, and the way to overcome or end suffering. The
ideal in Mahayana Buddhism is to help all beings, not only
oneself, and not only human beings, not later but now, this
moment. This resonates strongly with the concerns of many
people in the world today.
Nowadays, all societies have lost their direction. People
only want money and comfort in this life and the next. People
kill others and themselves to get their dream. Everyone holds
their opinion, and their opinions are different, so they fight.
This is true between religions, countries, political parties,
husband and wife, parents and children. Even inside us,
our mouth and our stomach fight. My mouth says “I want
more food and drink,” but my stomach says “No! No!” So
we cannot make harmony within ourselves, with each other,
with animals, with the air, water, and earth. If we continue
this way, then soon much, much suffering will appear and
many, many people will die—from war, disease, starvation,
too little water, too much water, bad air, and natural disasters.
We human beings are making the world like this! It is not
coming from outside. Cause and effect are clear.
If we want to change this, then we must wake up! We
must find our true nature, return to correct human beings’
mind, help each other, help nature, and help all beings. This
is our human beings’ original job.
If you want to do that, then I ask you: What are you? If
your answer is clear, then your life is clear. If you don’t know,
then I hope you only go straight, don’t know, which is clear
like space, try, try, try, for ten thousand years, non-stop, attain
your true self, truth, and correct function, and save all
beings from suffering.
Traditionally, in China and Korea, only monks did Zen practice. But Zen has come to the West and here lay people practice Zen. This has changed the character of Zen. Now our teaching is about Zen in everyday life. Sitting Zen all the time is not possible for lay people. Everyday-life Zen means learning mind-sitting. Mind-sitting means not-moving mind. How do you keep not-moving mind? Put down your opinion, condition and situation moment-to-moment. When you are doing something, just do it. This is everyday Zen. For lay people the teaching of great love, great compassion and the Great Bodhisattva Way is very important. To attain that, it is necessary to keep a not-moving mind, then correct situation, correct function, and correct relationship appear by themselves in everyday life.
Zen Master Seung Sahn
If you look closely at human beings in the world today, you notice that they are not human beings. They don’t act like human beings. If a human being acts correctly, then he or she becomes a true human being. Moment to moment, what do you do? What is your correct direction? Moment to moment, what is your correct life? How do you find your correct way? How do you save all beings from suffering?
We come into this world empty-handed. What do we do in this world? Why did we come into this world? This body is an empty thing. What is the one thing that carries this body around? Where did it come from? You must understand that, you must find that. So, if you want to find that, you have to ask yourself, “What am I?” Always keep this big question. Thinking has to disappear. We have to take away all our thinking, cut off our thinking. Then our true self appears, then our true mind appears…
In this world, how many people really want practice? Many people don’t practice at all, fight day and night, and all day exercise their desire, their anger, their ignorance. When you lose this body, then you have nothing you can take with you. When this body disappears, what will you take with you? What will you do? Where will you go? You don’t know, right? If this “don’t know” is clear, then your mind is clear, then also the place you go is clear. Then you understand your job, you understand why you were born into this world. Then you understand what you do in this world. When you understand that, then you can become a human being.