Practicing With “What Am I?”

Student: What is the relationship between asking “What am I?” and the flow of thoughts, perceptions, etc.? For example, do you address the question to particular thoughts, pains in the knee when sitting, etc.? When a thought comes, do you ask whom this thought is coming to? How do you work with problems such as fear and anger? Should one acknowledge the fear and then ask who is experiencing the fear? Or should they just let it all happen and pour all their energy into the great question?

Zen Master Seung Sahn: True “What am I?” is the complete question—only don’t know mind.  All your questions are thinking.  If you keep the complete “What am I?”, then you don’t know “What am I?”  All thinking has been cut off, so how can a question appear? Asking who is thinking is not the correct way. This is opposites thinking.  These are opposites questions, not the complete question, the perfect question. Pain is pain, the question is the question. Why ask the question about pain? Actions such as anger and fear are made by past karma, so the result is actions done in anger, etc.

If a person sits Zen, they will make their karma disappear and will no longer be caught up in these actions. So when you are angry, that’s alright, don’t worry. “I want to cut off anger!”—that’s thinking. Anger is not good, not bad. Only don’t be attached to it. Only ask, “What am I?” and the action will soon disappear.

By Zen Master Seung Sahn

It Will Pass

Once a student went to the Zen Master and said, “My meditation is horrible!! I feel so distracted…. my legs hurt… sometimes I fall asleep. It is just horrible!!”

The teacher replied, “Don’t worry, it will pass.”

A week later, the student came back to his teacher and said, “My mediation is wonderful!! I feel so aware, so peaceful, so alive. It is just wonderful!!”

The master replied, “Don’t worry, it will pass.”

Life and Death

In Zen we talk a lot about life and death and sometimes we may take this literally. But life and death happen in this moment, right in front of our eyes. “Life and death” point to the never-ending appearance and disappearance of phenomena. If you pay attention when you are sitting in meditation, and even sometimes in your daily life, you will notice that thoughts appear and thoughts disappear, that feelings appear and feelings disappear, that impulses appear and impulses disappear, that sounds appear and sounds disappear.

In the Wake-Up sermon Bodhidharma said, “Sages don’t consider the past. And they don’t worry about the future.” At some level we understand that yes, the past is gone and the future is not yet here, and that all we have is the present, or so we think. Bodhidharma continues, “Nor do they cling to the present.” That is a very interesting point: we have to let go even of the present. How do we not cling to the present? He concludes, “And from moment to moment they follow the Way.” If we keep a clear mind then each moment is enough, each action is complete. Moment by moment there is no life, no death. Moment by moment just like this is the truth.

By José Ramírez JDPSN

Help Each Other

The Avatamsaka Sutra says, “If you want to understand the Buddhas of the past, present, and future, then you should view the nature of the whole universe as being created by mind alone.”

We all understand what this sutra is talking about on some level. If we are happy and active, then the whole world around us becomes joyous. But, when we are sad or depressed, then even the clouds look sad and the rain turns into the teardrops of the world. Everything becomes a problem, and we are passive spectators in a world not of our making.

Stick, kasa, robes, scriptures, sutras, masters, Buddha, religions: all these are actually only placebos. But as long as we have mind, we need them. And even if we keep no mind, become completely free, we still need them. If even one being is still entangled in their difficulties and suffering, then we must put on our robe and practice Zen together with them. Because that’s what we are all about: become a fellow-being, help each other.

By Zen Master Ji Kwang