Wake Up and Laugh - Selections
Wisdom, warmth, and humor from a renowned Zen Master.
To Discover Your True Self, “I” Must Die
SUNDAY, JULY 16, 1989
Although we are always truly functioning together as one, we also clearly exist as distinct individuals. In the midst of your busy lives, you have gathered here together to explore the path of truth, of how things really are. Thank you for this. When we gather like this, you, I, and all other beings are fellow practitioners and friends in the Dharma.
Today I’d like to begin by looking at what Shakyamuni Buddha said and did when he was born into this world. He said, “Throughout the heavens and the earth, there is nothing that is not this precious true self.” Then he looked in the four directions and took seven steps. Buddhism appeared at that moment, and so did the practice of learning to rely upon our fundamental, true mind, which is the path that leads to the discovery of our true self. Although I have never been to school, nor have I read many books, here is what I think the Buddha’s actions mean.
First of all, what is the meaning of “Throughout the heavens and the earth, there is nothing that is not this precious true self”? I have always told you that your foundation is directly connected to the foundation of the universe and to the foundation of every single thing in your life. Even before the Buddha was born into this world, all beings were directly connected to each other through this foundation. Thus, if you awaken to this foundation, you can save all of the lives within your body, and you can also save all of the beings outside of your body. This is possible because all of these lives are connected to your foundation. You may have some questions about this, so let’s discuss them at the end of the talk.
Second, what is the meaning of the Buddha looking in every direction? It means that the foundation is neither emptiness nor form, thus everything is able to operate and function together as a whole. The Buddha looked in the four directions to demonstrate this. Finally, his taking seven steps shows that even in the midst of this wholeness, you and I exist as distinct beings, and every single instant of our daily life is the path to the truth. The Buddha taught us this without using words, because this is something that can’t be learned through words. The truth can never be learned through scholarship, intellectual knowledge, worldly power, fame, or theories. From the very beginning, practitioners have learned truth only by wisely investigating the fundamental questions of where we came from, where we are going, and how we should live.
These fundamental questions surround us. For example, we consist of earth, water, fire, and air. We live in the midst of these elements and sustain ourselves by eating them. You shouldn’t ignore this. You should be thankful for those elements, because all living beings originated from them and have evolved from them into the life forms of today. Everything comes from them and returns to them. Everything disappears into them and then arises from them. This is the truth. A single flower petal hanging from a tree soon falls. If the petal is protected from the wind, it may hang there a little longer, but nonetheless, before long it too will fall.
Everything around us is no more permanent than drifting clouds. We have gathered here together because we all need to overcome the illusions of this realm. Our minds inherently embrace everything, without the least exception. Through this Hanmaum, this one mind, everything—plants, bugs, animals, and even inanimate objects—ceaselessly functions together. Although everything functions together as a whole, within this there is still clearly “you” and “me.” But the very existence of “you” and “me” is empty, and in the midst of such emptiness, there exists one extraordinary thing. In order to discover it, we are cultivating mind together.
I always tell people who are new here, “First, you must die! Let go of everything and entrust everything!” But where do we let go to? We let go to our fundamental mind, our true nature. Because you exist, you experience all kinds of things. However, your fundamental mind is directly connected to the foundation of everything, so it’s possible for you to take care of whatever you experience by entrusting it to your fundamental mind. It’s like a power plant within you. This incredible power plant! If we need some energy, we can take out as much as we need. The energy of the power plant is infinite. No matter how much energy is taken out, its energy never decreases, and no matter how much energy is put in, it never overflows. The energy comes and goes; we just can’t see it.
Therefore, daily life can be practicing Seon, or Zen. Just physically sitting down is not sitting in meditation. When your mind is at ease and you have let go of everything, this is sitting meditation and practicing Seon. However, this doesn’t mean surrendering your firm, upright center of mind and just falling into emptiness. It is because you have this center that you are able to practice Seon and feel comfortable or uncomfortable. Without all of these feelings you could not attain wisdom or awaken to your true self, nor could you become a Buddha.
You should entrust everything that comes up in your life—solitude, poverty, loneliness, anxiety, illness—entrust this all to your foundation and live freely. Entrusting everything is letting go of attachments; it is the path of dying. “First, you must die!” means unconditionally letting go of everything, including what you understand and what you don’t understand. It means letting go without clinging to reasons or excuses. When things go well, you should let go of them with gratitude. When things don’t go well, you should also let go of them, knowing that “Nothing is fixed, so this situation too can change. My foundation, my true self, is the only one that can truly take care of all things. It will lead me safely along the path.” Keep letting go like this. For it is only by dying unconditionally that you can discover your true self, your eternal root.
Second, you must die again. While practicing here, some of you have discovered yourself. Yet you still have not discarded your habits and thoughts of “I,” “me,” and “mine.” So you’re thrilled if a Buddha appears in your dreams but worried if you see a ghost. And when you feel or experience something extraordinary, you carelessly talk about that experience. What you’re seeing and hearing are just illusions, but nevertheless you’re clinging to them. This is why you must die again.
Now do you understand why first you must die and keep what you experience to yourself, and why you must die yet again, keeping what you experience secret? Even though you are able to see or know certain things after you discover your true self, those powers are not the Way. Even if you have obtained the five subtle powers—the abilities to know another’s thoughts and feelings, to know past and future lives, to hear anything, to see anything at any place, and to appear anywhere without moving your body—this is still not the Way. Only when you are free from attachment to those subtle powers will you be the master of them and able to use them to help all beings. Revealing what you hear, see, or know will only bring trouble. First, it will cause trouble for the Buddhadharma; second, it will cause trouble for the temple; and third, it will cause trouble for you. Once you discover yourself, you enter the stage of experimenting. Know that what you experience while awake and while dreaming are all your true self teaching you. And keep everything you learn secret.
Even though you may be able to see, hear, or know things that others are unaware of, do it without clinging to any thought of “I see,” “I hear,” or “I know,” and do not reveal to others what you experience. At this stage of practice, you need to experiment with what you have learned. Your experiments will result in experiences, and then you should try to put those experiences into action. This is a very powerful stage of practice, so you must be careful to die a second time and keep what you experience to yourself.
If you keep everything secret and can completely let go of the five subtle powers, you will eventually be able to control them. If you’re a slave to your body, how can you take care of it and keep it healthy? Likewise, you must be able to free yourself from the five subtle powers. Although you see what others can’t see, release it. Although you hear what others can’t hear, release it. Although you know others’ minds and past lives, release all of that. Although your body is able to transcend time and place, and instantly go anywhere, you should also release that. This is keeping it secret. This is the very way to realize the truth of how mind works and attain wisdom. It is like a secret path where, through application and experiencing, you thoroughly understand this fundamental mind and become able to use it as needed. This secret gateway is inside of you. It is within you, working through your five senses. Don’t go looking for the entrance somewhere else. Discover the truth through the door that is already within you.
Third, you must die yet again. If you can keep what you experience secret and free yourself from all attachments to the five subtle powers, then at that point, even though you and others clearly exist as distinct beings, discriminations and barriers between yourself and others will utterly disappear. At this stage, you will be able to manifest such that you become others, and others become you. Your ability to respond and manifest will become so powerful.
What is manifesting? Because mind has no form, an infinite variety of different shapes can come out from it. This is called the hundred and ten billion manifestation bodies of Buddha, because Buddha responds to you as you request: If you want the mountain god, Buddha manifests as the mountain god. If you want Avalokitesvara, the Bodhisattva of compassion, Buddha manifests as Avalokitesvara. And so Buddha manifests to everyone differently. Furthermore, Buddha responds not only with physical forms but also with compassion and warmth.
Buddha manifests, transforms, and responds to every single life. Such manifestation is Buddha’s stepping down from the realm of the Buddhas for the sake of unenlightened beings and working as a Bodhisattva. This is the same compassionate action of the Lotus-Flower Buddha, the Medicine Buddha, and of Samantabhadra Bodhisattva. Buddha responds to everyone. Regardless of who they are—the spirit of a tree or the spirit of the earth, man or woman, rich or poor, old or young, someone with power or without power, intelligent or unintelligent—Buddha responds equally to them all. This is what it means to be a Buddha.
These three stages of dying again and again can be thought of as the process of perfecting a human being. However, this isn’t the completion of “me”; instead, it is where everything has been combined together and works as a whole. You still flow as yourself, and I flow as myself, yet in the midst of this, the whole, as Buddha, responds as needed. In this way, you can become anyone. According to the need, their eyes can become your eyes, and their hands can become your hands. Because you are one with them, you can understand their circumstances. Because you are one with them, you can truly know their pain. This is the compassion of Buddha, manifesting in a hundred and ten billion different forms. However, which manifestation is truly Buddha? Is it when Buddha takes the form of a worm? Is it when Buddha appears in front of you as Avalokitesvara? How about when Buddha manifests as a dog? You can’t truly call any of these “Buddha”; Buddha is always changing.
Always changing and flowing every single moment is the Way, and is truth itself. If anything is “attained,” it is the path that transcends all names and labels, the truth called “supreme, unsurpassed enlightenment.” This path and truth are what the word “Buddha” means.
If we follow the path that the Buddha taught, we will be able to go forward intelligently, with faith grounded in our true nature. Here “intelligently” means releasing everything to your true self, your foundation, and not letting yourself be disturbed by anything. Seon Master Baizhang* was teaching this when he said, “You must not dig the ground, nor not dig the ground. Why is this?” Master Baizhang also said, “When you truly understand this practice, you will be able to plant and harvest, and feed all sentient beings with one bowl of food. Further, no matter how much you give, that bowl will never be emptied.” The Buddha and countless awakened masters have also said the same thing and led us toward this path. They came to this world and, while doing without any trace of doing, showed us the path to the truth.
When the Buddha held up a lotus flower before the assembly, only the disciple Kassapa understood and replied with a smile. He smiled because his mind had become one with the Buddha. Through this exchange the Buddha was saying, “To you, I transmit this truth, the enlightenment that is not enlightenment.” He did this in order to show us that understanding the Dharma is more than words alone. To use a Korean expression, “if you hit the wall, the roof should shake.” Hearing just one phrase, you should try to understand the unspoken, underlying meanings.
For example, when people hear the word “light,” they tend to think of only the bulb and the switch. There’s no awareness of the electricity coming and going. People only notice that the light comes on when they flip the switch. Similarly, people don’t perceive where they came from or where they’re going; they only see the bulb and the fixture. However, if you can see the electric power, then you’ll better understand how the bulb and fixture work.
The most important thing is this: First, you must let go of everything and die, and keep what you experience secret. Second, you must let go of everything and die again, and not reveal what you experience. Third, you must die yet again and keep what you experience secret. Then you’ll be able to attain wisdom and respond as a manifestation of the Dharma. Without dying like this, you won’t be able to reach the point where the entire universe bursts forth from within you.
All of the learning we’ve done since childhood, the schooling, the reading, the work experience, and learning to adjust to the patterns of society, has been a lot of hard work, hasn’t it? However, none of this effort has been in vain. After you’ve realized the essence of your mind, you’ll discover that everything you’ve ever learned, even the ordinary knowledge, will be useful. It will all be helpful because worldly learning and what we learn through our fundamental mind are not separate. Neither can be thrown away; both are necessary.
Then what comes first? You all have the mind that exists before the occurrence of thoughts. This mind is called Buddha-nature and has many other names. I am always telling you that, within your body, some lives are inclined toward good and some are inclined toward harmful things; sometimes these lives make you suffer and sometimes they make you happy. But don’t be deceived by them. These lives, these karmic consciousnesses, keep causing all kinds of trouble and suffering. However, your true self, your center, is complete as it is. Your true self is upright and powerful. It is brightness itself.
Nonetheless, you tend to become worried and think negatively if, for example, you have a disturbing or strange dream. This indicates that you are not so good at handling your thoughts. When you’re thinking negatively, feeling sad or depressed, you should promptly change your thoughts, thinking, “Those feelings and thoughts all arise from Juingong, our true essence, so it’s also Juingong that can keep those kinds of feelings and thoughts from arising.” Do this and your state of mind will change before long. And yet people keep telling me things like “I feel depressed” or “I’m sick” while clinging to these thoughts. Why do they tell me these things? The one who can take care of everything is you yourself. The “you” that is your true nature can deal with whatever arises, in whatever form!
By the way, you should know that when we seek the Dharma, it’s often necessary to ask questions of each other and discuss spiritual practice. When fellow practitioners gather, it’s good for them to energetically discuss all aspects of practice and their understanding, free of excessive politeness or fear of criticism. Paying attention to other people’s experiences and observing how they act can help you a lot. From other’s experiences you can learn many things: “I should be careful not to do that” or “That’s a good way to do it,” and so forth. In this way, you can gain wisdom and even come to understand exactly what you have to do. Some of you may be thinking, “You said that we have to let go of everything and rely upon our fundamental mind, but now you’re saying that we have to work in the realm of speech and discussions?” People often wonder about this, so I’ll say something about it now.
When you’re looking for an answer, when you’re asking a question, open yourself up and do it from your fundamental mind. When you ask me a question, I’m absorbing your words and that energy, and when I speak to you, you’re hearing my words and also absorbing that energy. All of those words have been absorbed, haven’t they? Asking questions and having discussion like this, while relying upon your fundamental mind, can really help you deepen and broaden yourself.
Our fundamental mind can communicate with and connect to anything. It has no physical form, so it can become any form of energy, such as light, electricity, or magnetic energy. Because of this, each side automatically absorbs what is said. When this side speaks, that side absorbs it, and when that side speaks, this side absorbs it. Like electricity or a wireless phone, mind communicates without any trace of coming or going. All of this is the working of the profound Dharma. Where is this profound and mysterious Dharma? It’s in every part and every instant of our daily life. As I said before, when I have absorbed what you’ve said, and when you have absorbed what I’ve said, everything’s gone, no traces remain at all.
However, as the Buddha told us, in the midst of this fleeting life, where everything ceaselessly flows and changes, there is one thing that is eternal. Physical things change every moment, but their root lasts forever. We’re cultivating our minds in order to realize the eternal essence of this root, and so live freely. If you truly understand that the foundation of your mind is directly connected to the foundation of the universe, you will be able to truly hear, see, and evaluate everything throughout all visible and invisible realms. For these abilities are inherent within our foundation.
If you heard about something completely new, something you’d never even imagined, you’d probably think that it was nonsense. However, it is not nonsense to say that the foundation of human beings’ minds and the foundation of everything in the universe are directly connected. Your foundation is connected to the foundation of everything you encounter in the world. Pay attention to the world around you and see how things work. People tend to gather together according to similar karmic affinity, and fit themselves to the group’s rhythm. But life in that group isn’t always pleasant, is it? When people don’t know about this fundamental connection, they speak harshly to each other and fight. For them, life is a war, although they don’t realize it.
The last time I went to the United States, a group of Protestants and Catholics invited me to give a talk. Although we came from different cultures and religious backgrounds, I had no problem communicating with them. Why? Because the Korean word for Buddhism, Bulgyo, is not just the name of a certain group or organization. The first syllable, bul, means the eternal foundation and source of life, through which everything is interconnected. Because each one of us has this foundation of life, we have been able to evolve up to the level of human being, and will be able to become great spiritual beings like the Buddha. The second syllable, gyo, means words of truth and the teachings about life. This is like the wisdom and life experiences that a parent shares with his or her children. Thus, Buddhism, or Bulgyo, refers to everything in the world. It encompasses everything.
There are so many religions in this world besides Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Islam, and Buddhism. But in almost all of them, people believe in supreme beings that exist outside of and apart from themselves. Wherever I’ve gone, I’ve seen people blindly following images, names, or specific persons. But this can’t lead us to what’s true and essential. The Buddha taught us that the path to truth is within ourselves, saying, “Discover your fundamental mind, and in so doing, be able to perfectly take care of whatever arises and experience a truly worthwhile life. Escape forever from the cycle of birth and death, transcend time and place, and realize the truth of the universe.”
I often ask myself if I am doing everything I can to guide people in the right direction. Am I living up to my name, Daehaeng, which means “Great Actions of a Bodhisattva?” I’m often checking to see if there is some aspect or wiser way of taking care of things that I’ve overlooked. Sometimes I feel like a bright gem, but other times I feel small and worthless. Sometimes when I go for a walk, if I see a twig, I become that twig. Sometimes when I see how people and animals live, I find myself smiling. Other times my eyes are filled with tears.
The awakened masters of old used to wear bells on their shoes when they passed through tall grass and brush, and even during heavy rainstorms, they walked slowly and steadily. Why did they do so? They wore bells because they did not want to accidentally kill even a tiny life, and they took steady steps because they were always focused on the unwavering, fundamental mind. You may already know this, but if you live without any kind of self-reflection, the days fly by and before you know it, your time here is finished.
So regardless of whether you are walking, driving, or working, always remember what’s really doing all those things. Relying on your fundamental mind guides you to the correct path and allows you to free yourself and live harmoniously with your neighbors, while fulfilling your obligations. Relying upon your fundamental mind will also guide you during your future lives, for it is the act of watering your root.
Let me answer your questions today. When you ask questions, ask without any thought of asking. No matter what kind of problem you face, you should first return it inwardly, then the solution will arise. Likewise, when you want to say something, first return it inwardly, and then speak. By doing so, your anxiety will disappear and you will be composed, without rashness. Go ahead and ask whatever you want, but don’t make up a question. Rather, ask naturally. Even though you feel like you didn’t express yourself well, don’t feel bad. Feel free to say anything. That is how I speak. It’s nice when things are natural.
We’re here to learn about “doing without any thought of doing,” so just ask without worrying about anything. Your questions will be helpful for everyone. If you come forward here and ask questions, those will become spiritual food for everyone’s practice and will help guide everyone toward the truth.
QUESTIONER 1: I have been praying for all sentient beings ever since I started coming to the Seon Center. But I wonder if I have been practicing correctly. Although you tell us to let go of everything completely, whenever I recite the name of Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva, my heart aches and my eyes fill with tears. Sometimes I ask myself, “Could I become Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva? No, how could I?”
KUN SUNIM: You said that you often seek out Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva. However, you can discover Buddha regardless of the name you use. “Buddha-nature” is a name. “Ksitigarbha” is a name, and “Juingong” is also a name. All of these are just names. If you think that Ksitigarbha is great and superior to you and that you can find Ksitigarbha outside of yourself, then this is a delusion. It’s completely useless. If you seek outside of yourself, you may also develop some severe psychological problems. Ksitigarbha refers to the treasure within you, the Buddha-nature that is hidden by ignorance, by darkness. Therefore, never seek it outside of yourself. If you are always attracted to outside things, you will be far from finding your true self. Furthermore, you won’t be able to properly take care of your family or yourself.
This Buddha-nature can also be known by names other than “Ksitigarbha,” because Buddha-nature is the source of everything and encompasses everything. Because all things are combined together and continuously work together as a whole, Buddhanature can be called “Juingong” or “my inner Juingong.” Juingong includes every blade of grass and every single insect; here everything operates as one mind within a house made of earth, water, fire, and air. Because of this center, because of this treasure, your consciousness functions, and so does your good and bad karma, which are gathered together with your center. So stop reciting just the name of Ksitigarbha. Stop letting yourself be drawn outwardly. Know that everything functions because of Juingong. And don’t forget that Juingong, Buddha-nature, and Ksitigarbha all exist within you.
When I was in New York the last time, people were freely asking questions. There was even the question “Do we live to eat or do we eat to live?” Someone beside me grumbled that it was a stupid question, but I disagreed, because it gave me a chance to address an important point. I used my glass of water as an example. If you’re hot and thirsty, you open the refrigerator and go straight for the cool water. When you are dying of thirst, do you first ask yourself whether you drink water to live or you live to drink water? No, of course not. When you’re thirsty, you go straight forthe water. This is also how we should practice relying upon our fundamental mind.
Likewise, there is nothing wrong with whatever you ask. Go ahead and ask about the things you don’t understand. But it’s also okay to check your understanding, to ask about what you understand, for your question may help other’s practice. When people read books, they tend to get caught up in the meaning of the words, without thinking of the blank paper underlying the words. People pay attention only to the letters on the paper. So, in order to know the blank paper, let’s ask questions.
QUESTIONER 2: I’m so grateful to be able to meet you today. I’ve been a Buddhist for twelve years. I would like to ask you about a term I’ve heard a lot about. What is the Saha world, the Sahalokadhatu?
KUN SUNIM: The Saha world is the very place where you are living right now, the world we human beings live in. This place where we are sitting is the Saha world. To explain it another way, north, south, east, and west are all the Saha world. There are lots of different ways the meaning of “Saha world” can be expressed. Everything is within the realm we live in, in the middle of our daily life, not anywhere else. We need to think deeply about what this means, and what it means in regard to how we can follow theteachings of the Buddha, how we can cultivate self-sustaining faith, and how our body, our family, and children can live freely, without ever being caught in the cycle of birth and death.
QUESTIONER 3: Until I met you, I had practiced the teachings and mantras of one of the new religions that have arisen in Korea. Some of its teachings are about living an altruistic life and dissolving resentments. Altruistic living means saving myself and others, which seems similar to the teaching of Buddhism—saving other beings is the same as saving myself. “Dissolving resentments” refers to the resentments that people have made since the beginning of mankind, the resentments that have permeated even heaven. It means saving not only all the living beings in the present, but also dissolving the resentments that exist in the invisible realm. Also, I heard that heaven consists of nine realms, and that Buddhas and Bodhisattvas reside in the seventh heaven, while the founder of this movement resides in the ninth heaven, the highest of all. And…
KUN SUNIM: Look, in a nutshell, if they say that he’s in heaven, then he’s not there. Heaven is not heaven, and the earth is not the earth. Heaven and the earth do not exist separately. Everything depends upon our minds. People who say that they have the ability to save others cannot actually save anyone. People who can truly save don’t talk about it. If your son were drowning now, you’d dive straight in and save him. You wouldn’t waste time talking about it. You’d just do it without saying anything, without any thought of “I will” or “I did.” Even though someone talks again and again about saving people, those words are all just theories.
So instead of relying upon other people’s power, know yourself first. Even if Shakyamuni Buddha were here right now, don’t place your faith in his physical form. Place your faith in your own fundaTo mental mind. Do this and discover it; awaken, attain wisdom, and save the lives within your own body. Unless you can do this, you won’t be able to save the lives outside of your body.
QUESTIONER 3: I see.
KUN SUNIM: You must know yourself first. If you didn’t exist, could others exist? Could religions exist? Could there be a theory that someone is in heaven? It doesn’t matter to me whether they say someone is in heaven or not. That’s their opinion. However, what I want to say to you is that only after you discover your true self will you be able to know the essential teachings of your religion and whether he is really in heaven or not. If you don’t know such things for yourself, if you haven’t experienced them, how can you talk about those things? People have to know how to awaken to what’s already within themselves. So telling them things like “Place your faith in me, I’ll save you. I’m a heavenly being” is inexcusable. In helping people I’m just running errands for them; my only concern is how to do this properly and how to avoid disgracing the Buddhadharma. So my hope is that you will know yourself first.
QUESTIONER 3: I will try to know myself first.
KUN SUNIM: Good. I’m sorry if I seemed a bit harsh.
QUESTIONER 4: It is an honor to meet you today for the first time. I’ve had a question in my heart for a long time, and I hope you can answer it. A while ago, you told us that the source of all afflictions is ignorance. But I am not sure what ignorance means. I’d be grateful if you would explain this for me.
KUN SUNIM: When we say ignorance we mean “lack of light” or “darkness.” Like the soil that covers a tree’s roots, all of the karmic consciousnesses we’ve created over countless lives keep us from seeing our own root, our own true self. They are recorded within us, and it’s these consciousnesses that lead us to be reborn; so, in our lives, ignorance begins with birth. Because of this ignorance, because people don’t see their true self, they’re called “unenlightened beings.”
Even though I do not explain things well or I mispronounce some words, please understand what I meant to say!
How wonderful it is to gather like this!
QUESTIONER 5: I’ve been studying Buddhism for a long time, and recently one of my friends converted to another religion. When we meet and have a drink, we often argue with each other. I think he would be able to help many people if he were to learn your teachings, so I usually try to talk him into coming to the Seon Center. So we often have friendly quarrels.
Every morning and evening, and every night before I go to bed, I pray, “Oh, great, holy, compassionate Buddha and our Kun Sunim, the living Buddha! I am filled with deep gratitude. Through the Buddha’s compassion let me have a grateful mind and repay the kindnesses done to me, and let me lead my life harmoniously. Through this let me know and experience my true self, Juingong, so that I can help other sentient beings as well as my family.” I pray and chant this three times a day while trying to find my true self, my Juingong. But it doesn’t seem to work. So I asked my friend about it.
So he said, “Why do you trouble yourself by bowing to Kun Sunim and the image of Buddha? Isn’t that idol worship? You yourself have criticized others for behaving like that!” So I replied, “How can it be idol worship to bow to Kun Sunim? She is a living Buddha, not a statue. I bow to Kun Sunim at home and even while walking. ” He said again, “If you think so, you’re badly mistaken. That’s idol worship. Go and ask Kun Sunim whether or not you are practicing correctly. Ask her.” We argued about this a few days ago.
KUN SUNIM: Today’s questions are raising so many important points. In the future, let’s make sure there’s always time for questions after the Dharma talks.
I think your friend is right. Haven’t I said these things many times already? Never abandon your upright center. Don’t blindly believe in things or let yourself become a slave. And don’t bow to me. When you are bowing, you are not bowing to me or to the Buddha, but to your own self. I’ve always told you that the Buddha statue is your own image, that the Buddha’s mind is your mind, and that your very life is the Buddha’s life. When you understand this, your one bow can become ten thousand bows. One bow can become three bows, or it can become seven bows. It’s completely up to you. It depends entirely upon how you use your mind.
So don’t pray to me. If you raise up something and pray to it, it becomes a thing apart from yourself. Have faith in your true self, in Juingong, and entrust the situation with your friend to it. Don’t be caught up in whether or not he comes here. You might think that it would be nice if he comes here, but this is your idea, not his. Each person follows the path that seems best for her or him, because each person’s level is different. Now, a drinking glass can hold no more than a glassful. Even a barrel can hold no more than a barrelful. However, look at the ocean. It holds all the waters of the sea, and still it can receive everything that comes to it. Like this, everyone is living according to their own capacity, and every single thing has value and its place. Nothing is worthless. When you go to the store, you can see that cups are displayed with cups, bowls are displayed with bowls, and plates are displayed with plates. This is also true of human beings.
Because things work this way, if you truly want to guide your friend, you shouldn’t pray to some object or person saying, “Please make him do this.” Instead, just smile and let go of the situation with a calm mind, knowing, “My Juingong understands everything and can guide my friend. Since my Juingong and his Juingong are not separate, everything can be communicated through this foundation.” Don’t pray to certain places or things. You should not place a Buddha statue in your house and bow to it, nor should you place a bowl of water, incense, and candles in front of it and offer up prayers. If you keep praying to be saved by something outside yourself, this becomes a habit. It will cause difficulties for your children and will follow you even after death.
When there’s something you have to take care of, or something you want, completely release it. With faith, let go of everything to this fundamental place and always rely upon it in all your activities. Then what you’ve entrusted will silently manifest into the world. For example, one day your friend may say, “Hey, why don’t you take me to your temple? I’d like to go there.” Everything should be done naturally like this, without forcing it. We gathered here voluntarily. Nobody forced us. You came here because you wanted to come here, right? Long ago, a dying man wanted to take his money with him. Just then, the money said, “You spent your life following me because it was you who loved me. I wasn’t the one who loved you, so I’m not going to follow you now.” In particular, issues of religion and faith cannot be forced.
We have to believe in our own guide. This guide is our fundamental mind, the mind that exists before we are even born, and which is vastly more than what we normally think of as our mind. Having faith in your fundamental mind is like filling an automobile with the fuel that makes it run. This energy is so plentiful! Not only is there enough for you, there’s more than enough to give to others as well. Thus, believe in your Juingong, which is within you, and entrust everything to it. Just peacefully release everything. Then your practice will be well on its way.
There are so many difficult things in life, so isn’t it nice that we sit together like this and discuss and exchange ideas about how to cultivate our minds?
QUESTIONER 6: This is the first time I’ve had a chance to meet you in person, but I’ve had many talks with you through your books. In those books, you told us to let go of everything, and I have tried to do so ever since. As I keep practicing, fundamentally it seems that what I have to let go of is my own ego, the sense of “me,” rather than the things that happen to me. However, the more I think about letting go of myself, the tighter I seem to hold on.
Every time I reread your books, different aspects really touch my heart. I feel that if I just keep reading these books, I’ll be able to thoroughly grasp Juingong for myself. Yet, since I’m able to meet you today, I’d like to ask you about something. I think I haven’t made great progress in my practice because my faith is weak. So I would appreciate it if you would tell me how I can make my faith stronger.
KUN SUNIM: I think your question will help everyone here. Some people say to me, “Sunim, how can we live if we release everything?” And you say that the more you try to release, the tighter you hold on. Yet where are those words that you said? They’re already gone, aren’t they? That’s it itself! Right now we are living just like that—naturally releasing everything at every single moment. Is there actually anything that you can hold on to or anything that you can let go of? No, there isn’t. This releasing is very natural and yet, at the same time, something that can be very hard to do.
So I can well imagine why an ancient Seon master said the following: “If the Buddha hadn’t taken seven steps, looked in all directions, and said, ‘Throughout the heavens and the earth, there is nothing that’s not this precious true self,’ then he wouldn’t have caused all these disturbances. If I had been there, I would have killed him and thrown his body to the dogs.” He said this because we’ve already let go of everything. Life is changing instant by instant, with nothing to grasp on to. The very essence of life is letting go. When you met your son just a moment ago and said goodbye, the moment is already gone. It’s been let go of. But even “letting go” is just a name, a word, and a theory. Our living itself is just flowing, with nothing to cling to or let go of. Everything just passes by. We encounter so many things and do so many things and are always moving on to something else. Could you take all of this and show it to someone? No. This is what I’m talking about.
Therefore, there is nothing to grasp, and nothing to not grasp. As Seon Master Baizhang said, “You should neither dig nor not dig. You should neither greet nor not greet. Yet within this, there is something special. Do you know what it is?” Another Seon master once said, “There is something essential that gives you thirty blows if you come in and thirty blows if you go out. What is it?” In another case, someone asked a Seon master, “Where is Buddha?” The master told him to come close and then grabbed his collar and began hitting him with a cane. The man cried out, “Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!” and the master shouted at him, “Where is this ‘Ouch!’ coming from?!”
If you think deeply about this, you may realize that developing deep faith in your true self is most important. With faith, you can let go. Without faith, you can’t let go. Why can’t people believe in their true self? They believe in others so easily, but why don’t people believe in themselves? Whether you’re a great person or not, whether you’re skilled or not, that which has made you this way is you. So start with yourself! Who else can take your place on your deathbed? Can anyone be sick instead of you? Can anyone sleep for you? Can anyone eat for you? Can anyone else go to the bathroom for you? You have to believe in your true self, that which leads and moves you; what else could you take refuge in? With faith in your Juingong, just let go of everything. No matter how difficult a thing you face, release it completely to your true self, knowing, “Juingong can solve even this.” All we have to do is let go. So let go and then observe how things develop. By watching how things go, you’ll have experiences. Experiment with those, try to apply them and put them into practice. This is how you can discover your true self, awaken, and attain wisdom.
Don’t think of anything as separate from yourself. For example, in praying to someone or something, there is a strong tendency to see that which hears your prayers as existing apart from yourself. Therefore I never tell people to pray to Buddha. If they pray to Buddha, Buddha becomes something apart from themselves. I’m not saying that I don’t believe in Buddha. It’s just that so many people have, over the course of many lifetimes, developed the habit of thinking that things are separate from themselves. When they chant “Ksitigarbha” or “Avalokitesvara,” they tend to look up to them and see those Bodhisattvas as apart from themselves. Why do they do that? So I tell people not to call out to Buddha or God and to instead believe in their foundation, the one that is doing all things. I do this because I want everyone to be able to go forward together, and each to be able to walk on his or her own two feet. So I hope that all of you will reflect upon what I have said today, have strong faith, and release everything! As I said before, our natural state is letting go and moving forward.
QUESTIONER 7: When our society has so many urgent problems, how can I let go of everything unconditionally? What will become of our society if we release everything? It seems to me that if I release everything, I’ll sleep all day long.
KUN SUNIM, laughing: You asked an interesting question, but what you are thinking of is not what the Buddha taught us. What you are talking about is called “falling into emptiness.” Do you understand the difference? The reason the Buddha taught us about letting go and going forward is so that we could know the true meaning of life and feel the worth of life, so that we could live uprightly by seeing both sides, the invisible realm and the visible realm, each of which is fifty percent of the whole. Does this sound like sleeping all day long?
And you’re already letting go of everything. What has happened to all of the things you’ve felt, done, and experienced over just the last twenty-four hours? Can you show any of those to me? No, they’re gone; you’ve already let go of them.
QUESTIONER 7: I can’t show them to you, but I can remember them, so they must exist within my mind, don’t they?
KUN SUNIM: Listen, I’m not saying that you don’t have thoughts or memories, or that you don’t do anything. It’s natural to think about and take care of the things that come up in your life. I’ve never said, “Don’t make money, don’t participate in society, don’t fall in love, don’t do anything at all.” Just understand that everything is already flowing, and don’t try to cling to it. Nothing remains stationary and unchanging.
Think about how many people you meet in just a single day. First you come across one person and then another. You’re never continuously meeting only the same person, are you?
QUESTIONER 7: No.
KUN SUNIM: Right. Even the things you hear are always different, aren’t they?
QUESTIONER 7: There are some books and people who say that the world has certain rules, and that if we follow those, we can take care of most of the problems of society, and even free ourselves.
KUN SUNIM: Look! Don’t talk about theories. People who follow this path, people who explore the truth, don’t waste their time on theories.
QUESTIONER 7: But you said that blind faith is rather dangerous. Without having experienced enlightenment, how can someone like me believe unconditionally, without any doubt?
KUN SUNIM: Blind faith in others is dangerous! What I’m trying to tell you is to believe in yourself. Why can’t you believe in yourself? You’re the one who walked over here, right?
QUESTIONER 7: Well, yes.
KUN SUNIM: Can you believe the fact that you walked over here?
QUESTIONER 7: It is true that I walked over here, but…
KUN SUNIM: Then, can you believe that you’re the one who is doing everything else in your life?
QUESTIONER 7: Yes.
KUN SUNIM: Your mind knows this fact, but you can’t show it to anyone else because mind has no form. But you’re aware of it nonetheless, right?
QUESTIONER 7: Yes.
KUN SUNIM: So what I’m telling you to do is find the fundamental mind that underlies all those thoughts. To do this, believe in your inner foundation, and entrust everything to it. It’s within you and is capable of taking care of everything. If you keep entrusting like this, then what you’re doing will function in the invisible realm and will eventually manifest into the visible realm. It’s like this: if you eat something, later it will automatically come out, without you needing to think about the process. When you’re hungry, you eat something. Later you start to feel pressure inside and so go sit on the toilet, and then something comes out. This process also describes how the things we input to our foundation manifest into the world; however you look at it, it is the truth, it is natural, it is science.
QUESTIONER 7: Do you mean that we should live only by following our natural impulses?
KUN SUNIM: Of course not! Listen, if you just ask questions without reflecting inwardly, how can you make any progress? Instead of immediately asking others, entrust your questions to your foundation. Right now within your body, there are trillions of lives working together, with each doing its own job. All of these lives exist together with you, and every single one of them is connected and communicating through your foundation. So start by trusting this foundation, your foundation, with everything that arises in your life. Start by doing this, and you’ll be able to take care of your own body.
QUESTIONER 7: Unconditionally?
KUN SUNIM: Yes, unconditionally.
QUESTIONER 7: You mean that we should entrust all of our worries to this foundation, such as worries about myself, my family, and the people around me?
KUN SUNIM: If you have faith in your unseen, true self, and entrust everything to it, it will all be taken care of harmoniously.
Through this fundamental mind, all things are connected. So when you release something to it, what you’ve released is evaluated and communicated to everything. For example, in your body, the cerebrum, cerebellum, spinal cord, and all parts of your body are all connected and communicating with each other. So when you entrust something to your foundation, that thing is communicated throughout your body, because all those parts are connected together. If you can understand just this aspect, you will be able to understand everything. So don’t cling to reasons or explanations. Just entrust everything to your true self. Okay?
Are there any more questions? No? We’ve been here for a long time and your legs probably hurt from sitting so long, so let’s call it a day. Before we finish, I would like to repeat one thing.
Awakened masters sometimes said, “Discard everything! Let go of everything! There is nothing to attain.” But later they also said, “There’s not a single thing to discard.” Within these two different phrases, there was something extraordinary that couldn’t be expressed with words. To try to communicate it, some masters took a staff and hit the floor, some raised one finger, others thrust out a fist, while still others shouted “Ha!” All of those actions were showing that this extraordinary thing was right there.
Take what I’ve said here today and use it to discover what this extraordinary thing is.
How to cite this document:
© The Hanmaum Seonwon Foundation, Wake Up and Laugh (Wisdom Publications, 2014)
This selection from Wake Up and Laugh by Zen Master Daehaeng is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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