Tag Archives: Seung Sahn

You have no choice

Shared by Zen Master Wonji Dharma.

17201214_10210934051520137_2127645084600163154_n“Everything is already determined and has no meaning.  I had met with Zen Master Seung Sahn in a private interview back in about 1992. I have spoken often about this particular interview and even posed Zen Master Seung Sahn’s comments to many of the other teachers in the Kwan Um School of Zen, many of the comments I received were less than satisfying. Apparently, he hadn’t made this particular statement to very many people so they weren’t sure how to respond.

“I don’t remember the particular gongàn I was working on at the time, but I had a question about it and honestly, I wish I remember what question I asked him at the time; yet his response really shocked me at the time and I was extremely confused. Nevertheless, his response to my question was “You don’t understand! You have no choice!” I remember thinking, “WHAT? This isn’t Zen Buddhism.” So, I said to him, “Did you just tell me that I have no choice?” Daesonsa-nim said, “Yes, everything is already determined and you have no choice.”

“This confused the shit out of me, so in desperation, I said to him “That sounds like Catholic Determinism, are you telling me that everything is written in a book written by the Dao or God?” He then looked me squarely in the eyes, “You don’t understand, so you are confused.” I asked him to please explain it to me and he said “Look, everything is already determined, and you have no choice. And until you realize that you have no choice, only then do you get a choice.”

“He continued, “Everything has no meaning, no reason, and no choice, and we have our practice to help us understand our true self. Then, we can change no meaning to Great Meaning, which means Great Love. We can change no reason to Great Reason, which means Great Compassion. Finally, we can change no choice to Great Choice, which means Great Vow and Bodhisattva Way.”

“At this point, I bowed to him and thanked him for the interview and frankly I wasn’t sure what it meant. His statement became a huàtóu for me and I sat with it for a very long time, and eventually I digested his comments.”    –Wonji Dharma


Understanding will not help you

whole-world_-single-flower“Zen means understanding your true self. “What am I?” That is a very important question: What is the one pure and clear thing? If you find the one pure and clear thing, you will have freedom from life and death. How is it possible to attain freedom from life and death? First, it is necessary that your direction becomes clear; if your direction is clear, then your life is clear. Why do you practice Zen? Why do you eat every day? You must find that!


“Put it all down –your opinion, your condition, and your situation. Moment to moment just do it. Then there’s no subject, no object, no inside, no outside. Inside and outside already become one. Then your direction and my direction, your action and my action are the same. . .


“Most people understand too much. This understanding cannot help your life. Descartes said, “I think, therefore I am.” So “I” makes “I.” If you are thinking, then what? Even if you have a big experience, if you cannot attain the one pure and clear thing, then all your understanding and experience cannot help your practice. Therefore Zen practice is not about understanding. Zen means only go straight, don’t know. “


–Zen Master Seung Sahn, The Whole World is a Single Flower

Why not believe?


“A not-moving mind gives rise to faith. When your mind is not moving, you can spontaneously believe in this world’s beauty. You can believe that this whole world is already truth. The name for that is faith. So, unlike other religions, believing in Buddha as an object of faith actually means believing in your true self. Faith means simply believing in your true self, your original nature: you are already Buddha! Then you can believe your eyes, your ears, your nose, your tongue, your body, and your mind. You believe the trees, the sky, Buddha, God – everything! Someone once asked me, “Soen Sa nim, do you believe in God?

“I said, “Of course!”

“The person was very shocked. “You are a Zen teacher. How can you possibly believe in God?

“I believe my eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind – why not believe everything? I believe this green tree, the blue sky, a barking dog, the smell of incense – why not believe in Buddha or God?”


–from The Compass of Zen by Zen Master Seung Sahn

Universe in a brush stroke

snow leapard“When you understand yourself, it is very easy to paint or write poems or do calligraphy or tea-ceremony or karate. You paint effortlessly; you write effortlessly. Why? When you are painting or writing or doing any action, you become totally absorbed in that action. You are only painting; you are only writing. No thinking gets between you and the action. There is only not-thinking action. This is freedom.

“If you are thinking, your mind wanders away from your action, and the flow of your painting or writing will be blocked, your tea-ceremony will be still or clumsy. If you are not thinking, you are only with your action. You are the tea that you’re drinking. You are the brush that you’re painting with. Not-thinking is before thinking. You are the whole universe; the universe is you. This is Zen mind, absolute mind. It is beyond space and time, beyond the dualities of self and other; good and bad, life and death. The truth is just like this. So when a Zen person is painting, the whole universe is present in the tip of his brush.”

–Zen Master Seung Sahn