What is “I”?

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What is this thing that I call, “I”. What is it really? We think we know who we are—we have stories about ourselves. But what is it really? We have our own limited human perception of things, and that's good, that helps us somewhat. But it's not the truth. We create stories and ideas then we believe them and we get farther and farther away from the experience of the moment. This question, “What am I? What is this?”, brings us back to the moment. If we can stop the story for a moment, then we can actually experience, “What is this?”.

By Zen Master Bon Soeng

Great Effort

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Great Effort, I think of as the hinge-point of our practice. If we don't have this great effort, then we really don't have a practice. Because unless we bring our practice to the difficult parts of our lives, it's not much of a practice. In fact, what often seems to happen is many people will practice when things get difficult in their life, but as soon as things start to get better, then they don't feel like they need it anymore. So in a sense for a Zen practice, great effort really needs to be applied when things are going well, because that's the time it's easy to fall asleep. When we're suffering it's easy to keep this great question, “What am I? What is this life about?” But when things are going well, we can get very complacent.

Zen Master Seung Sahn used to say, “A good situation is really a bad situation, and a bad situation is really a good situation.” This is in a sense what that means. If things are going well, you can easily lose your direction. You can easily fall into selfishness and self-centeredness. But when things are difficult, then you have to call into question all your different assumptions, your different beliefs and ideas.

By Zen Master Bon Soeng

Self Doubt vs Great Doubt

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Self Doubt is quite different than Great Doubt. Self Doubt is more like, "I am no good, what am I doing? "I should be able to do this better." It’s centered on “I”. This "I" is a construct. The fundamental concept of suffering is that attachment to "I". With this self image, this concept and idea of what I think I should be, we get disappointed and lose our way.

Great Doubt is “What is it?” So when we feel disappointment, we can hold it with a question, “What is it?” Then we look and pay attention to our experience. Pay attention to what is happening in the moment. Then we can see clearly, hear clearly, taste clearly, and think clearly. We are not lost in that commentary.

By Zen Master Bon Soeng

The Doorway Into Liberation

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So what am I? We think we know, but we really don't. That not-knowing is the doorway into our liberation. When we walk through that doorway of not-knowing, we let go of the concept, we let go of the belief, we let go of the idea. We ask, “What is it?” If we can let go of what we think we know, then it’s possible to see what’s actually going on. But as long as we hold on to our belief and hold on to our story, we will miss the truth. So it is that doorway of not-knowing that opens up the world to us.

By Zen Master Bon Soeng

The Teachings Are Not It

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This sitting, being with ourselves, and wondering who we are is the heart of Zen practice. Teachers can guide us, but we have to sit there with ourselves, we have to sit and wonder. I say with ourselves, but who is it that we’re sitting with? Once you use this kind of language suddenly there’s more than one person. I’m sitting with myself. Who’s "myself" and who’s "I"?

So fundamentally the heart of this Zen practice is the question: What? Who? That’s a question that always comes up in Zen: what is truth? Is it my idea? Is it my opinion? Is it what I believe? It’s actually not my job to tell you what truth is. You have to find it. You experience it. The books, the talks, the teachings, are helpful, but they’re not it. Each one of us finds it.

By Zen Master Bon Soeng

What Kind of World Do You Want?

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All of us are involved in situations, with ourselves, other people, other animals, other beings, the whole planet. All day long, every day. How do we decide what to do? 

One way to decide: If we go into the situation with the direction of helping the situation, then that’s the way we enter in and that’s the path to world peace. If that’s my direction and that’s my intention, my action is going to grow out of that. If I go into the situation thinking about what am I going to get for myself, and that I don’t really care much about what happens to all of you, that’s another way to go into the situation. If my direction/ intention is to get what I want for me, then my action and my way of interacting with the moment is going to come out of that. 

Those are two very different perspectives, and they lead to different worlds. So what kind of world do we want to create? That sounds like an esoteric question, but it’s a question that we answer every moment in our lives. That’s our ultimate responsibility. How do we answer that question? Right now, in this situation.

By Zen Master Bon Soeng

Zen is Not Self Improvement

Mind makes everything. If we don't get underneath that, it's all playing with the branches and the leaves. We can have a better life, but not really getting to the base of it. Our teaching is keep a great question. The great question in Zen practice is "What Am I?". "What Am I?", you could say, is "What Is Mind?" Then bring that doubt to this very moment. 
 
We often say Zen is not really about self improvement. What is the self that you want to improve? Who are you really? That's the fundamental point. And until we really deal with that question, we are not really getting to the base of practice. Because our desires, our beliefs, and our opinions drag us around. Until we doubt them, investigate them, and use the moment as an investigatory tool, we're just playing around. 

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Moment to moment to moment to moment, we're being reflected and we always have an opportunity to ask the question and observe what is. As we are lost in our mind, in our thinking, our desire, our fears, our confusion, we don't see anything. It's all colored. It's all mirrors. So our teaching is to pierce through the mirror and come back to the moment.

By Zen Master Bon Soeng

Great Faith

Faith is a tricky word. For me, I have to bring Great Question to the word faith, because it's not, traditionally in Western religion when we think of faith, like faith in God, faith in some supernatural thing, or experience outside of ourselves.

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Faith in Buddhism has nothing to do with anything outside of ourselves.  It does not necessarily have to do with something supernatural or esoteric.  In a sense, it's faith in our own true nature. It's faith in a sense that if I can be willing to let go of that certainty. And if I am willing to have the courage to meet the moment, something authentic, real and natural can emerge. Something that I may not understand.  Something that may look nothing like I may expect.  But there's a faith that if I just continue on, true nature will reveal itself.  It's already present in all things.  In the sense, you can say it's faith that using great question and great courage is enough. Not needing the certainty of an answer, but trusting the question.

By Zen Master Bon Soeng

No "I", No "You"

One day a student asked Zen Master Man Gong, "Where is Buddha's teaching?"
"Right in front of you." Man Gong replied.
The student said, "You say, 'in front of you', but I cannot see it."
"You have 'I', so you cannot see."
"Do you see?" the student asked.
Man Gong answered, "If you make 'I' you cannot see. But if you make 'you', it is even more diffucult see."
The students asked, "If I have no 'I', no 'you', then who is speaking?"
The student was then instantly enlightened.

Question About Kong-ans (Koans)

Question: If you read to many books about kong-an practice, or kong-ans in general, do you run the risk of having your interviews tainted? 

Zen Master Bon Soeng: It's not the interviews you have to worry about, it's your own mind. Interviews will take care of themselves. But too much thinking about kong-ans only confuses the issue. Kong-ans about before thinking mind. So reading about it a little bit might help you get a feel for something, but a lot of thinking about it only gets you lost in the dream of what you think it's supposed to be. Kong-ans aren't really about the answers, kong-ans are about raising great doubt. Everybody comes into interviews, and it's a tricky situation because I ask you a question, and traditionally you're expected to know the answer. So of course you want to be able to give me the right answer. But that's just your ego-mind. "I want to be good". "I don't want to be bad". "I don't want him to think I'm stupid". Zen Master Seung Sahn used to tell us all the time, “More stupid is necessary!”  

Everything is turned on it's head. So, it's about not knowing. Kong-an practice can be very frustrating because you don't leave the room until you get one wrong. So don't worry about getting the answer. Kong-ans are about raising great doubt. Stopping the mind for a moment, and opening to wonder. You can read about them, but that wont help you. Back in the early 1900's, a Japanese monk published all the answers for all the kong-ans. That doesn't help. It's not about the answer, it's about the question. So, try to move away from the answer to the question. Then the answer will take care of itself. 

What is “I”?

What is this thing that I call, “I”.  What is it really? We think we know who we are—we have stories about ourselves. But what is it really?  We have our own limited human perception of things, and that's good, that helps us somewhat. But it's not the truth.

We create stories and ideas then we believe them and we get farther and farther away from the experience of the moment. This question, “What am I? What is this?”, brings us back to the moment. If we can stop the story for a moment, then we can actually experience, “What is this?”  

By Zen Master Bon Soeng

What Is The Answer?

We're actually more focused on the question than the answer because answers change. There's not one fixed answer. The point of questions is to open us up to the experience of our lives. So, this moment is the answer. Our practice is to open up to this moment. It's usually our ideas, our opinions, our beliefs, our fears, and all of the psychological commentary that goes on in our mind, that separates us from the moment. So we're inquiring and asking to open up to right now, just to be in the moment completely.

By Zen Master Bon Soeng

Self Doubt vs Great Doubt

Self Doubt is quite different than Great Doubt. Self Doubt is more like, "I am no good, what am I doing?  "I should be able to do this better." It’s centered on “I”.  This "I" is a construct. The fundamental concept of suffering is that attachment to "I". With this self image, this concept and idea of what I think I should be, we get disappointed and lose our way.

Great Doubt is “What is it?” So when we feel disappointment, we can hold it with a question, “What is it?” Then we look and pay attention to our experience. Pay attention to what is happening in the moment. Then we can see clearly, hear clearly, taste clearly, and think clearly. We are not lost in that commentary. 

By Zen Master Bon Soeng

 

The Teachings Are Not It

This sitting, being with ourselves, and wondering who we are is the heart of Zen practice. Teachers can guide us, but we have to sit there with ourselves, we have to sit and wonder. I say with ourselves, but who is it that we’re sitting with? Once you use this kind of language suddenly there’s more than one person. I’m sitting with myself. Who’s "myself" and who’s "I"? 

So fundamentally the heart of this Zen practice is the question: What? Who? That’s a question that always comes up in Zen: what is truth? Is it my idea? Is it my opinion? Is it what I believe? It’s actually not my job to tell you what truth is. You have to find it. You experience it. The books, the talks, the teachings, are helpful, but they’re not it. Each one of us finds it.

By Zen Master Bon Soeng

Zen is Not Self Improvement

Mind makes everything. If we don't get underneath that, it's all playing with the branches and the leaves. We can have a better life, but not really getting to the base of it. Our teaching is keep a great question. The great question in Zen practice is "What Am I?". "What Am I?", you could say, is "What Is Mind?" Then bring that doubt to this very moment. 

We often say Zen is not really about self improvement. What is the self that you want to improve? Who are you really? That's the fundamental point. And until we really deal with that question, we are not really getting to the base of practice. Because our desires, our beliefs, and our opinions drag us around. Until we doubt them, investigate them, and use the moment as an investigatory tool, we're just playing around. 

Moment to moment to moment to moment, we're being reflected and we always have an opportunity to ask the question and observe what is. As we are lost in our mind, in our thinking, our desire, our fears, our confusion, we don't see anything. It's all colored. It's all mirrors. So our teaching is to pierce through the mirror and come back to the moment.

By Zen Master Bon Soeng

Great Faith

Faith is a tricky word. For me, I have to bring Great Question to the word faith, because it's not, traditionally in Western religion when we think of faith, like faith in God, faith in some supernatural thing, or experience outside of ourselves.

Faith in Buddhism has nothing to do with anything outside of ourselves.  It does not necessarily have to do with something supernatural or esoteric. In a sense, it's faith in our own true nature.  It's faith in a sense that if I can be willing to let go of that certainty. And if I am willing to have the courage to meet the moment, something authentic, real and natural can emerge. Something that I may not understand.  Something that may look nothing like I may expect.  But there's a faith that if I just continue on, true nature will reveal itself.  It's already present in all things.  In the sense, you can say it's faith that using great question and great courage is enough. Not needing the certainty of an answer, but trusting the question.

By Zen Master Bon Soeng

 

Question About Kong-ans (Koans)

Question: If you read to many books about kong-an practice, or kong-ans in general, do you run the risk of having your interviews tainted? 

Zen Master Bon Soeng: It's not the interviews you have to worry about, it's your own mind. Interviews will take care of themselves. But too much thinking about kong-ans only confuses the issue. Kong-ans about before thinking mind. So reading about it a little bit might help you get a feel for something, but a lot of thinking about it only gets you lost in the dream of what you think it's supposed to be. Kong-ans aren't really about the answers, kong-ans are about raising great doubt. Everybody comes into interviews, and it's a tricky situation because I ask you a question, and traditionally you're expected to know the answer. So of course you want to be able to give me the right answer. But that's just your ego-mind. "I want to be good". "I don't want to be bad". "I don't want him to think I'm stupid". Zen Master Seung Sahn used to tell us all the time, “More stupid is necessary!”  

Everything is turned on it's head. So, it's about not knowing. Kong-an practice can be very frustrating because you don't leave the room until you get one wrong. So don't worry about getting the answer. Kong-ans are about raising great doubt. Stopping the mind for a moment, and opening to wonder. You can read about them, but that wont help you. Back in the early 1900's, a Japanese monk published all the answers for all the kong-ans. That doesn't help. It's not about the answer, it's about the question. So, try to move away from the answer to the question. Then the answer will take care of itself. 

What is “I”?

What is this thing that I call, “I”.  What is it really? We think we know who we are—we have stories about ourselves. But what is it really?  We have our own limited human perception of things, and that's good, that helps us somewhat. But it's not the truth. We create stories and ideas then we believe them and we get farther and farther away from the experience of the moment. 

This question, “What am I? What is this?”, brings us back to the moment. If we can stop the story for a moment, then we can actually experience, “What is this?"  But as the story is just running, we're just believing the old stories again and again and again.

 

By Zen Master Bon Soeng

What Is The Answer?

We're actually more focused on the question than the answer because answers change. There's not one fixed answer. The point of questions is to open us up to the experience of our lives. So, this moment is the answer. Our practice is to open up to this moment. It's usually our ideas, our opinions, our beliefs, our fears, and all of the psychological commentary that goes on in our mind, that separates us from the moment. So we're inquiring and asking to open up to right now, just to be in the moment completely. 

By Zen Master Bon Soeng

Self Doubt vs Great Doubt

Self Doubt is quite different than Great Doubt. Self Doubt is more like, "I am no good, what am I doing?  "I should be able to do this better." It’s centered on “I”.  This "I" is a construct. The fundamental concept of suffering is that attachment to "I". With this self image, this concept and idea of what I think I should be, we get disappointed and lose our way.

Great Doubt is “What is it?” So when we feel disappointment, we can hold it with a question, “What is it?” Then we look and pay attention to our experience. Pay attention to what is happening in the moment. Then we can see clearly, hear clearly, taste clearly, and think clearly. We are not lost in that commentary. 

By Zen Master Bon Soeng