Friday, February 10, 2012

My idea is correct

My idea is correct! These words are still reverberating, with the operatic bravado of Zen Master Seung Sahn’s deep baritone voice, and rattling around somewhere within my eighth level of consciousness. This simple statement, as with many of the euphemisms that somehow found their way into the minds of students lucky enough to have studied with this great Bodhisattva from Korea, is an extremely powerful insight into the rampant global malady of the twenty–first century. Zen Master Seung Sahn would often return to this point repeatedly; sometimes it was during public talks, and other times it was during one of the many kōan interviews that I was lucky enough to have with him. However, there was one particular morning that a group of us were lounging around in the living room after breakfast at Dharma Zen Center in Los Angeles.

Someone in the group asked, “If dharma is the truth, why can’t we just make people understand this truth, it has always seemed to me that we should not have wars and should not be killing people, yet it seems that the problems keep getting worse. Why can't you just tell the Pope and the other world religious leaders to follow the truth or the dharma?” Zen Master Seung Sahn answered the question in this way,

“It is quite common to hear people say that their own beliefs are correct, and that any other belief structures cannot be correct because there is only one true belief structure and that is the one that I adhere to! Some may even go so far as to say that if you do not believe the same thing as I believe, I will kill you! Today this is humanity’s number one problem. However, earlier you asked me what we can do about this problem. This morning I woke up at four thirty and bowed, and chanted and sat meditation. However, many of you believe that this is not enough.

Frequently I lecture on the Buddhadharma, yet the true Buddhadharma is not Buddhadharma, also, neither the sun, nor the moon, nor the star ever said, ‘I am the sun, I am the moon, I am the star.’ Likewise, Śākyamuni Buddha never said, ‘I am the Buddha;’ nor did God ever say, ‘I am God.’ The true God, just like the true Buddha has no name. Additionally, the true sun, the true moon, and the true star also have no name. All names are created by mind alone; these are names like Buddhadharma, truth, and Christ Consciousness. The only true Buddhadharma is no Buddhadharma and the ultimate truth is no truth. The true Christ Consciousness is also no Christ Consciousness, but you must watch out! If you create Buddhadharma then you will have Buddhadharma; and if you make Christ Consciousness, you will have Christ Consciousness. Nevertheless, if you cut off all thinking, and then everything in this cosmos and you will become one.

In addition, if you attach to some idea, then you only have some idea, and you lose everything in the cosmos. If you relinquish every idea of your own, then you already have everything in the universe. This means that you must, throw away Dharma, Buddha, and God, and you must also throw away your understanding. If you can do this you will then realize the true Dharma, the true Buddha, true nature, and true substance.

Once you realize this, then everything you see, everything you hear, and everything you smell, is Dharma, Buddha, and truth. If your mind perceives the correct Buddhadharma, then everything is the correct Buddhadharma. If your mind perceives the truth, then everything is the truth. If your path is correct, then everything is the correct path. This is Buddha’s teaching, that everything is made by the mind alone. However, how do you just now, moment to moment, keep your correct situation? This is the point. So if you make your idea completely disappear, then everything you see, everything you hear, and everything you do, all is Buddhadharma.”

I have been practicing Zen for more than twenty-six years, and with patience, I have slowly digested many of the extraordinarily simple euphemisms that Zen Master Seung Sahn would use. In light of the recent situations occurring throughout the world the actual subtleness of a simple statement like “my idea is correct,” has caused me to reflect upon the situation, which faces humanity in this twenty–first century. Additionally, as I have reflected upon the teachings of Śākyamuni Buddha, Jesus Christ, Mohammed and many of the other great Spiritual Master’s who have continued in this unbroken chain of enlightening this world of its darkness, it seems that we haven’t made much spiritual growth as a human race. These teachings were first revealed almost five thousand years ago and contained in the stories and metaphors of these ancient teachings are representations of the same problems that most people continue to complain about today.

Part of the problem is that we all have opinions; even Spiritual Master’s and enlightened teachers have opinions that are held close to the heart. This is a very important point, because there is a new–age belief that we can completely rid ourselves of all of our opinions. Fundamentally, it is easy to let go of the opinions that are not good for us, or cause us immense suffering, and after even a few months of practicing all meditators begin to shed some of their unnecessary and unwanted ideas. The danger is that these ideas quickly are replaced with new ideas about our own spiritual path. We begin to think that everyone should be doing what we are doing because this has helped us so much. Then we start to think that we are doing this right and begin to correct those around us. This is what Zen Master Yúnmén called, “the stink of Zen.”

Over the years, I have come to understand that the best we may aspire to achieve with some of our opinions is to not attach to them so powerfully and desperately and to see the ultimate transparency of all of our thoughts. One of the fundamental requirements of Zen Practice is to aspire to relinquish attachment to your opinions, your condition and your situation in an effort to allow the truth of each and every moment to shine though with its own undefiled luminosity. However, this is a very tall order for those of us who practice meditation everyday and still live in this modern twenty–first century world.

People are extremely dis–satisfied with their lives, their jobs, their families, their spouses, etc. However, these are just the immediate dis–satisfactions, because they are also overwhelmingly unhappy with their governments or someone else’s government; their religion or someone else’s religion. Many of the seven plus billion people on this planet think that their own religion, government, ethnicity, and so forth, are the only right views in the world. They also believe that the ‘others’ are causing them, or their county, or their religion huge problems by believing something different. Therefore, the individuals and their political leaders, and their religious leaders decide that the ‘others’ are wrong and must be prevented any further influence upon their children, community, countries and religious institutions. The human race has brought hate to the center of its focus and this has wreaked havoc upon all societies with horrible results over the last one hundred years. There have been about sixty–seven major wars since the beginning of the twentieth century. In addition, all these wars have needlessly cut short the lives of more than one hundred sixty nine million people. That, to put the number into perspective, is about half the total population of the United States. It was announced in the news that in 2005 the total global expenditures on war exceeded $1,000,000,000,000. Written out this figure is one trillion dollars.

There is an old Zen tale about Chán Master Zhàozhōu, “one day Master Zhàozhōu and a student were walking in the forest when they came upon a rabbit in the path they were travelling. The startled rabbit immediately took flight into the wild underbrush of the forest for safety. This student was confused by the rabbit’s reaction, so he asked his teacher why the rabbit was fearful as he was obviously a great enlightened master and only liberated all sentient beings from suffering. Master Zhàozhōu said, “It is because I am the best killer.” This is the most important point we can realize about our own inherent humanity. We all have the potential to take another’s life. We try to defend ourselves from our own nature, but just as we have the aspirations of unfathomable love, we also carry the potential for utter horror and destruction. Zen Master Seung Sahn would often call this our internal nuclear bomb. The point of all of this is that we cannot begin to “save all beings from suffering” until we eradicate our own internal suffering, grief and dis–satisfaction.

When I was Abbot at the Golden Wind Zen Center, I sponsored a program that was open to anyone regardless of religious orientation or membership. At many of these meetings, non-Buddhists would show up and were looking to help. When asked why they chose to come to a Buddhist Peace Fellowship meeting they invariable shared their dis–satisfaction with other “peace” organizations. Most shared that there is too much conflict within these “peace” groups and many of the members disagree with each other; consequently, the peace activists’ end up yelling and screaming in the meetings arguing about the best way to achieve peace. Even worse, some of the members of these groups express a desire to violently overthrow the government, which was Master Zhàozhōu’s point. We cannot attain outside peace before we attain inside peace, and once we attain inside peace we can begin to fulfill our vow to save all sentient begins from suffering.

Invariably, the spiritual practitioner hears, “you must relinquish all attachment to your opinion, your situation and your condition,” and Americans seem to easily relate to this goal. However, what does this process of really letting go entail? Does this mean then that there is not truth or ultimate reality? In a way, the answer to this question is both yes and no. However, understanding this aspiration in the wrong way by answering the question yes or no or both ways can be a very dangerous proposition. There was once a tendency in America to be “tolerant” of other people’s beliefs as they might relate to religious theology, after all this country was founded on the principal of religious tolerance. The Founding Fathers held these principals as the cornerstone of the enlightened Democracy in which American’s are free to live today. I am not at all questioning or demeaning the U.S. Constitution or the American Government, however, and as you might expect here comes the opinion (perhaps), America has drawn a double standard about what religious tolerance means. Some, reading this article, practice a form of religion (that religious practice may even take the form of being non-religious) while others may still have a deep connection to the root faiths that they grew up with. Some have spouses, children and significant others who practice faiths other than the primary faith that their other family members have come to practice. Furthermore, if one is practicing a religion in the spirit of the original founder there should be no conflict with any other religion or person.

This where the question has begun to get more interesting. What is our responsibility to our own self nature? Furthermore, what then is our responsibility to our parents, family, local community, religion, country and ultimately with is our relationship to humanity? Finally, what is it that we extend out to all sentient beings? This is the question that faced Śākyamuni Buddha while he sat under the Bodhi tree. This is also the ultimate test of faith that Jesus faced on the cross when he said, “Father, why have you forsaken me?” Buddha’s insight into the nature of this question resulted in the four noble truths and the eightfold path. From this humble beginning, Buddhism was born and eventually blossomed into a rich and diverse tradition with eighty four thousand scriptures illuminating the darkness of the mind. Jesus ultimately is said to have returned from death, having attained complete and utter union with God. From this insight, the Apostles set out on a path to create Christianity.

If we understand the inner meaning of Jesus’ resurrection and realize that it might possibly be a metaphor that allows us to be reborn into the world in which we have already been living. Or perhaps we may study the four noble truths, follow the eight–fold path, aspire to the four great vows and keep the precepts close to our hearts. Ultimately, to eradicate any doubts we can answer this one question for ourselves. What am I?

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  1. Truly powerful post, Sonsanim. Talk about coincidences, I was reading a passage from Baizhang about this very topic just minutes before I read your post. One hundred bows, and then one hundred more.


  2. This article resonates with me, however I have difficulty understanding these two statements: "... once we attain inside peace we can begin to fulfill our vow to save all sentient beings from suffering." and " ... we cannot begin to 'save all beings from suffering' until we eradicate our own internal suffering, grief and dis–satisfaction."

    They seem to say that beginning one thing (saving beings from suffering) first requires completion of another (eradicating our own suffering and attaining inner peace). Perhaps I just misunderstand the use of language, but to me, we begin to save all beings from suffering as soon as we do a sincere act of kindness, even if we are not yet free of all suffering ourselves.

  3. Ohhh I love this one. Must share! Thank you for your teaching!