Reaction to Seung Sahn-the Buddha laughed!

Yesterday’s post, “True God, True Buddha” sparked a lot of visits. Any time you have something like “true God” in a title, that’s sure to pique people’s interest. Some come out of curiosity. Some come to argue and defend the “true faith.” And some just wonder what in the heck a Buddhist site might be saying about a “true God,” since Buddhism isn’t theistic!

And by the way, if one does practice some form of Buddhism, what’s this “true Buddha” business all about? And just who is trying to tell me what that might be!

Well, that would be Zen Master Seung Sahn! And in yesterday’s post of a talk he gave, the jovial teacher spares no one and no thing the proverbial Zen “whack” of “wake up!” Wake up from preconceptions! Wake up from attachment to words! Wake up from concepts and too much thinking!

As he said in another talk: “Zen is not dependent on Buddha, not dependent on God, not dependent on sutras or any Zen Master. Depend on your true self. This is the correct way.”

Rather than dogmatically saying what God, or Buddha, or the mind are, in true Zen fashion, he mostly says what these things are not:

The different paths to the mountaintop are made by our mind. But what is mind? If you try to understand it intellectually, you will not find it. Our mind is very big, but it’s also small. A very sharp needle cannot touch this mind, because this mind is smaller than the tip of the needle. But our mind is also bigger than the whole universe. Sometimes our mind is very bright, sometimes very dark. If you make “my path,” you also make “my mind.” But if you let go of “my mind,” you become a Buddha. Then any path will lead you to the mountaintop.

If you control your mind, you control everything. But if you say, “I control my mind,” then what is this that controls the mind? Is it some other mind that controls the mind or is it no mind? Also, how do you control your mind? Where is your mind? Are you and your mind two things or one? Same or different? Big problem! That’s all thinking. POW! Put it all down, OK? Don’t think!

The Diamond Sutra says “All things are impermanent. A pure view is to see all appearances as non-appearances. When all appearances and non-appearances disappear, that’s complete stillness. Then you can see Buddha nature.” But if everything is impermanent, I am also impermanent; Buddha is also impermanent. Then how can I see Buddha? How can impermanence see impermanence?

As usual, Seung offers no dogmatic answers, but rather gives us koans to think about and ponder, and that way leads to enlightenment. With the appearing of the “only don’t know” mind that Seung so often talks about, we find the answers reveal themselves in the quiet of true presence and attention.

By the way, this “only don’t know” state reminds me very much of what J. Krishnamurti says about meditation in “Freedom from the Known.” See:

Krishnamurti-An Uncompromising Teacher

Krishnamurti-Freedom from the Known (full text of “Freedom from the Known available here)

One of the things I love about Seung Sahn is how much he conveys the joy and humor of dharma practice. Dharma practice,  joyous and humorous? This often isn’t the popular image of Buddhism, wherein people solemnly meditate and grimly renounce the world and all earthly attachments.

Of course, that’s a caricature. If you really “get” what Buddhism is all about, you know it’s all about finding genuine happiness. You’ll find plenty of humor in this practice, and even in meditation.  And through metta, you’ll find a growing love for everyone and everything. The issues we face as humans couldn’t be more serious, but aversion to the world, whether its sorrows or its joys, doesn’t liberate, either.

Let’s give the great Master the final word:

Don’t make anything, O.K? Don’t check anything, don’t hold anything, don’t want anything, don’t attach to anything. If you want something, then you have a problem; if you want Enlightenment, then you have a #1 big problem. Then you will have a headache, an energy-up headache.

Don’t want anything; don’t attach to anything. “I want to sit correctly,” “I want to be a correct Zen student,” “I want correct practicing.” If you are attached to any kong-an, then you have a problem. So don’t check, don’t hold, don’t want, don’t attach – which means don’t make anything. Then your mind is already complete.

Enlightenment is not special. Put it all down, everything! Only Don’t Know! Then Don’t Know will open by itself. In the springtime, all flowers open up by themselves. If you go to a greenhouse in the wintertime, you will find many flowers – only hothouse flowers. That’s O.K., but they are not correct, not strong. Outside, spring comes, the grass grows by itself. Flowers are blooming. That is the true way.


About Steven Goodheart

"I have made a ceaseless effort not to ridicule, not to bewail, not to scorn human actions, but to understand them." Spinoza

9 Responses to “Reaction to Seung Sahn-the Buddha laughed!”

  1. Whoops–major typo there! Sorry. I guess that you’ll be able to make out what I was trying to say anyway.


  2. That’s funny–I’ve never thought of Buddhists as “solemn and grim” at all–quite the opposite! I believe that Yeshua was also full of joy, and laughed easily–not at all what people thought that a “Messiah” or a prophet “should” be. And yet it’s that joy–especially as opposed to the dark and bloody and downright medieval aspects of Christianity–that draws me and makes me feel that there is something real and wise in both Buddhism and in the teachings of the “real” Yeshua (I’ve always believed that a wonderful sense of humor is the surest sign of intelligence). There also seems to be a wonderful humor and lightness in much Native American spirituality, as far as I can tell (I’m hardly an expert).

    Anyway, I’ve really come to see the value in “putting down,” “throwing away,” “not-wanting”, and, especially, “not-knowing”. Thank you for both posts.


    • I didn’t think you would think of Buddhist that way, that’s for sure! But people do seem to get all “serious” about meditation. All yes, all the best teachers I know—Buddhist, Hindu, Christian, Jewish, you name it—have a wonderful sense of humor. 🙂

      During my bible study period, I’ve always felt that Yeshua, though “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” probably had an incredible, penetrating, yet kind sense of humor. And though “Jesus wept,” I bet he laughed—a lot! He was, after all, a Jew! Oy! LOL!

      And look at that motley crew of fish-smelling ragamuffins he had for disciples, one so dense, Jesus called him a “rock!” If they couldn’t make Jesus laugh, and vice versa, then I don’t know what “divinity” looks or sounds like.

      Thanks for your remarks, and “only don’t know,” 🙂

      • No, no, Steve! Jesus gave ole “Keph” that name because he was going to be the foundation for that big old Church that Jesus so desperately wanted to build! Not because he was a dolt who just couldn’t get with the program! Sheesh!

        You made ME laugh, in a big way! Oy, my side hurts….



  1. Sogyal Rinpoche on God and Emptiness « Metta Refuge - 2011/02/17

    […] Reaction to Seung Sahn-the Buddha laughed! […]

  2. If You Dislike Christianity, You’ll Hate Buddhism! « Metta Refuge - 2010/02/04

    […] Reaction to Seung Sahn-the Buddha Laughed! J. Krishnamurti […]

  3. True God, True Buddha « Metta Refuge - 2010/02/03

    […] Reaction to Seung Sahn-the Buddha laughed! « Metta Refuge on 2010/02/03 at 10:32 […]

Please Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: