“Top man cannot see his own karma”

In times past in Asia and during the spread of the dharma in the West, newly recognized Zen masters frequently went off on their own to practice and teach the dharma, often starting their own centers of teaching. One time I spoke with Zen Master Seung Sahn about this and asked him, “Why did you create teacher groups to oversee our school?” He said, “Top man cannot see his own karma.”

 I feel this is brilliant. Teachers working in groups as peers helps us to see our own karma and helps our practice and wisdom to grow. Teachers themselves—and thereby all students—benefit from this arrangement. During our lifetime, it has been possible to travel fairly easily, meet each other, share our experiences and practice, and get feedback from our peers. Students get to meet and study with different teachers of the same school. This situation is a treasure.

As we are experiencing during the current pandemic, traveling is not so easy now—in many cases, impossible. We are fortunate to still be able to connect digitally. Someday even that may not be possible. I hope we will continue to connect, support, share, and learn from each other while we can. This is one of the great strengths of our school and the practice and teaching which Zen Master Seung Sahn gave to us.

By Zen Master Dae Bong

Great Faith, Great Courage, Great Doubt

Great faith doesn’t mean faith in something, or faith that things will turn out your way. Faith needs no object. It’s living life in the way your foot meets the ground in walking. Your foot never wonders if the ground is there for it.

Great courage means not giving up. Changing course is no problem, but you have to keep going. Great courage doesn’t have to be dramatic either. Every time you do something that’s a little difficult or a little unpleasant, and do it without complaining, and do it until you’re finished, that’s great courage, right there.

Great doubt is most important. People think religion is about belief, but it isn’t. What am I? What is this universe? What should I do? These are not questions that can be answered once and for all. Don’t evade them. Find a spiritual practice that helps you look at them steadily, and then practice with great faith and courage.

Belief comes and goes. Even if you believe in God your whole life, your idea of God is always changing. But spiritual practice is not dependent on belief, and it can last a lifetime.

Zen Master Bon Hae

Four Compartments of an Ox’s Stomach

Many people are using an Ox to give us encouragement for the Year of Ox.

On our first day of the lunar year, Zen Master Seong Hyang told us on Zoom about the Ox having a stomach with four compartments, and each compartment having a different function. Oxen will eat almost every kind of grass they can find; that’s why they need four compartments to breakdown and digest the grass. First, they swallow without much chewing; then when the oxen are free, they will chew on the cud, a portion of food that returns from the first compartment, the rumen, to the mouth, and so forth.

As the food breaks down from different compartments of the stomach, billions of enzymes and digestive juices mix with the food. After the whole process is completed, essential nutrients are extracted and sent to the bloodstream, and the rest go to the intestines. Zen Master Soeng Hyang encouraged us to live like the Ox with a four-compartment stomach to digest our karma.

This inspires me dearly.

In our school, Zen Master Seung Sahn gave us some tools to transform our karma, similar to the four compartments of the Ox’s stomach. This whole process of digestion is very interesting. The same is true for our practice. Every day we interact with many people, including family, friends and colleagues. At the same time, many emotions, thinking, business, finance, relationships, the recent pandemic crisis, etc. are jamming our mind. Our mind has to digest all sorts of information, and often we have no time to filter it out. That’s why we need to have time to practice every day in order to digest the things that appear in our life and turn them into something very useful to ourselves and those around us.

Our digestive enzyme is “Don’t Know”. Whenever our discriminating, blaming, labelling, depression, or anxiety mind appears, it is like the cud coming back to the mouth. We use our breathing in and out from our lower belly to digest all the opposite thinking and conditioning in our everyday life. Our habits of clinging are still there as they go to the second compartment of the stomach, where we have the enzyme of “Don’t Hold.” Intellectually we understand, but still inside our mind, we have these lingering emotions and thinking. We need to do more practice of sitting, bowing and chanting to help the process. The third stomach is using the enzyme of “What Is this? What am I? What am I doing right now?” to speed up the process of “Putting It All Down“. The fourth compartment contains the most productive enzyme of “Just Do It”. Now the digested karma are ready to be used correctly in each situation, relationship and function.

Ox year is a golden year for transforming our karma. May all our karma become Great Love, Great Compassion and Great Wisdom. This will be our wonderful year!

Zen Master Dae Kwan

Mind Revolution

Buddha said very clearly that humans have five main desires: food, sleep, sex, money, fame. As we grow these five desires all become stronger. So the real Mind Revolution comes from looking back at ourselves. Looking into “I.” Don’t worry about finding anything. Just by looking into “I,” things change. You don’t have to believe in Buddhism. It is not Buddhism; it is just a human being having a big question. That’s all.

The five desires are important to satisfy, but if that is all your life is, you will never be happy. Look back at yourself. What am I? Don’t know. That is the true treasure—so valuable. Then you can change your relationship with the five desires and even use them to help all beings. That is the real Mind Revolution.

–Zen Master Dae Bong

Empty Means Everything Is Clear

Many people try to control their thinking. First, they try to solve their thinking. They try to make bad thinking correct. They try to make themselves right. That’s usually the first course. The meaning is – “if I can justify my thinking, I can justify my life.” But after many attempts, they find it doesn’t work. So the second course is to blame your friends. But soon you understand that it also doesn’t work. You are very unhappy. If you keep that condition, then very soon you have no friends. Why? Because with this condition, only you are the best. That means strong only “I am.” Then if you keep this “I am”, you and this world become separate. It means that you become crazy. Crazy people have no idea, only “my action.”

But somebody understands –“I cannot fix my thinking by my rationalization.” Then they also understand –“I cannot fix my life only by blaming other beings.” Separating ourselves from this world has many ways, not only by becoming crazy. Good movies, good friends, good books, with many kinds of things, we’ve already separated ourselves from this world. Those things are not good or bad by themselves. If we use those things only for ourselves, then we separate ourselves from this world. But if we don’t use those things only for “me” then we become in harmony with this world. That means attaining your correct relationship to your things.

“Separate from this world” means become empty. Human beings’ “empty” is –you and this world are separate. Buddha’s “empty” means –empty is not empty, empty is clear. In this, clear has everything. It has you, me, God, Buddha, dog, cat, tree, man, woman, good, bad, like, and dislike, because everything is clear. Then how do you use these things? That’s important.

–Zen Master Su Bong

How Do You Practice?

We lead these very complicated lay lives. We are not monks, we are not nuns, and we all have responsibilities. The question is how do you practice?

The more you practice, the more you have time for it. You are never too busy to practice. Never. You can always get up just a little bit earlier and at least sit on the cushion for 10 minutes, or at least bow for 15 minutes. You can always do that. And that means touching our true nature. So if you don’t touch your true nature, then what is your life?

So we have these ideas about these busy busy lives that we have, and that’s just an idea. “Oh I am so busy, I am so busy.” Is there anyone who never goes on Facebook? Never surfs the web? Never checks email? Never turns on the TV? Never listens to the radio? Never does things like that?

No. We all find a little time here and a little time there and a little time somewhere else. So why not find time to touch your true self, find your true nature? Why not do that? Try not practicing then see what happens to your life. If you have been practicing for a while and then you stop practicing, you very quickly find out why you practice.

–Zen Master Bon Hae

Now Is The Time

Nobody guarantees our life. So if there is anything that you think may be useful, just now is the time to use it. In our life, past mind cannot be attained. Present mind cannot be attained. If you say “present,” it is already not present, already gone. If you lose this moment, you can never regain it.

We follow Buddha’s example. Buddha means awakened. If you are going to awaken, tomorrow is too late. One hour from now is also too late. Even one second from now is too late. Just this moment, wake up. I hope each of you will make correct practice in your life and attain this wake-up. Then one more step is most important: use this wake-up to help all beings.

–Zen Master Wu Bong

Four Seasons

Flowers in Springtime
Moon in Autumn
Cool Wind in Summer
Snow in Winter
If you don’t make anything in your mind,
for you it is a good season

From the Mu Mun Kwan

Fight Between Two Wolves

Recently I heard a story about two wolves. In this story, a grandfather was teaching his grandchildren about life. He said to them, “A fight is going on inside me. It is a terrible fight between two wolves. One wolf expresses fear, anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, hatefulness, and lies. The other wolf expresses joy, peace, love, hope, humbleness, kindness, friendship, generosity, faith, and truth. These wolves are always fighting with each other”. “My grandchildren, this same fight is going on inside of you. And not just you, but inside every other person too.”

The children thought about it for a minute. Then one child asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win the fight?” The grandfather replied, “The one you feed will win.”

So which wolf do we choose to feed? Do you see that we have a choice? If we cling to our anger, how can we let go of it and feed instead the wolf of kindness and understanding?

The only way we can choose wisely is to come to the place before anger and kindness. In our Zen school, we call that place “before thinking.” And then we return to moment-mind. Remember that you have a choice about which wolf you feed. When you are fully alive in each moment, then the two wolves of opposites completely disappear. When we do anything 100 percent, then opposites disappear. Then our correct situation, correct relationship, and correct function become clear. And then we can really help this world.

From Inka Speech by Myong Hae Sunim, JDPSN

Clear Karma

Question: How does Zen practicing take away karma?

Zen Master Seung Sahn: Zen practice does not take away karma. If you practice Zen, your karma becomes clear. If you are not practicing, your karma controls you. But if you are practicing, you control your karma. So your karma becomes clear. Good karma, bad karma, whatever karma you have becomes clear; then only help other people. That’s the point. Sometimes when a person first starts practicing Zen we talk about “taking away karma,” but those are only teaching words. Bodhisattvas have bodhisattva karma. Karma means mind action. So, karma controls me, or I control my karma and help other people. These two are different, but same karma.

Zen Master Seung Sahn