The First Noble Truth

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The First Noble Truth is "All things are suffering." Life is suffering. The word in Sanskrit is duhkha. Sometimes it is translated as "unsatisfactory". Situations, this world, and our lives are not what we want them to be. There's almost always a gap between what we want and what is. In as much as we cannot accept that gap, we suffer. 

Our inability to accept life as it is and want things to be different creates the suffering in our lives. Out of that gap grows all the coping mechanisms that individually we create to try to heal the pain or the disappointment. We lose ourselves into a dream because we're hoping that will take away that fundamental pain. 

By Zen Master Bon Soeng

Clear Intention

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If we are not clear on our intention, then our life is haphazard and we just increase the suffering in the world. But if our intention is clear, it is possible in the moment of action, correct function can appear. Maybe in that moment, we put down our I, mine, me......our desire, anger, and ignorance. Then our eyes are clear enough to perceive the suffering in the world and we're able to offer a hand to help.

One day, Zen Master Seung Sahn was talking to a student in a retreat and he said, “If you think you can, maybe you can. If you think you can’t, you cannot.” So how we hold our mind is very important. A Don’t-Know mind is not a stupid mind. A Don’t-Know mind is not a slothful mind. A Don’t-Know mind is not a desirous mind. It is a clear, open, alive, moment of wonder, with the intention to help this world. That combination can light up the world and offer a little peace and maybe a little help to the suffering that goes on. But if our mind is all clouded with desire, anger, and ignorance, we are part of the problem and we are just increase the suffering of the world.

By Zen Master Bon Soeng

Everything is Changing

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Everything is always changing. That’s the truth of our human world. The earth is spinning on its axis. That moves the wind, that moves time, that moves space and it creates change. We either like what we have and don’t want to lose it so we fight the change. Or we think our life should be different than it is, so we want it to change and we want the world to change in a particular way. But there are all these outside forces that are at play that we don’t have control over, so we suffer. The truth is everything is always changing. Freedom comes when you allow the change to happen. Suffering comes when we resist the change. So simple.

By Zen Master Bon Soeng

What Is Enough Mind?

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"Enough mind" means you’ve got enough. You don’t need anything else. The First Noble Truth states that life is suffering. Sometimes we say life is unsatisfactory. Why is it unsatisfactory? It always needs to be a little bit different. But if life doesn’t need to be any different than it is now, where is the dissatisfaction? That’s "enough mind."

We suffer because we either want things to be different than they are now, or we’re afraid that they’re going to change and we’re going to lose what we have. So if we can just go with what is, there’s no suffering. But there’s a little bit of a problem even with that. Because if we don’t suffer, we have no empathy. So "enough mind" includes the suffering. It doesn’t get rid of the suffering. It may get rid of the sense that things should be different, but it doesn’t mean we just fall into a puddle and allow things to get all messed up. "Enough mind" frees us to actually deal with the problem.

By Zen Master Bon Soeng

Got Enlightenment?

The Buddha saw a star and got enlightenment. That's the myth of the Buddha, that's the story that's been told for 2,500 years. Buddha had this experience. Zen Master Man Gong said, "I saw a star too and I lost enlightenment." Everybody thinks "Got Enlightenment" is what we want. But Man Gong says he lost enlightenment. What does that mean? If you think about it, is enlightenment something you get? Or lose? How do you get it? How do you lose it? We don't know.  

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 So already, we're starting to wonder what is this thing we call enlightenment? There is this concept. There is this idea. It's been talked about for 2,500 years. In America, we've been practicing Buddhism for 50 or 60 years. Everybody wants enlightenment. I want enlightenment, so I'll do these difficult practices because I'll get something. But there's a big problem with that. Who gets it? And what is it you want? And if I want something, maybe that gets in the way of getting it. Because the Buddha's enlightenment was about the recognition of the emptiness of this sense of self.  

Our conventional view is that I am here, I have this life, I can get something. But the Buddha in his enlightenment realized that himself and the whole universe were not separate. There is no separate self. Each thing in the universe is connected and a part of the whole. So to say "I separate from You" creates this false dichotomy. Out of this false dichotomy, all suffering grows. So if Buddha got enlightenment, he already lost it. Because there's no Buddha to begin with. There's no Buddha separate from anything else.

By Zen Master Bon Soeng

I'm Going To Get Something

That idea “I’m going to get something” is the killer. "It’s going to be great". Sometimes it’s great, but sometimes it is not. But any idea separates us from what actually is going to happen. So, whether the retreat is 1 day, 3 days, 8 days, 28 days, 90 days.......our whole life is a retreat.

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So it’s all about letting go of the ideas that bind us. And do it! What’s the real experience? Everybody who does any length of retreat knows that sometimes it’s okay, sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad. By the end of the retreat, people are basically pretty happy, probably because it’s ending (laughing from the audience). We go through any number of experiences. It’s really about not getting stuck in our judgments of them, and in almost believing that they’re permanent. It's just allowing things to come and go… come and go… come and go.

It’s our ideas that tie us up. If we let go of the idea, then whatever is..... is. But if we like one thing and we don’t like the other thing, then we grasp towards what we like and we push away what we don’t like. That is the basic definition of suffering. That pushing and pulling is basically the definition of suffering. If we stop pushing and stop pulling, it is revealed just as it is at this moment. That is the essence of the practice. It is not any big deal.

By Zen Master Bon Soeng

Practice Prison

Like or dislike is what creates a prison that we live in. So if you only practice when you want to practice and then don’t practice when you don’t want to practice, that’s a fundamental problem. You are following the winds of your desire, and that’s what leads to suffering. The Buddha’s teaching is very simple. We suffer because of our desire, our anger, and our ignorance. So if our practice is based on desire, all it does is lead us to more suffering.

By Zen Master Bon Soeng

Attaching To Preferences

Our preference is always for the good feeling. If we have the good feeling, we feel like things are right. But if we have the bad feeling, we think things are wrong and we need to somehow fix it so it will be right. The problem with that is we are attached to one particular result and in the process, we amplify our suffering.

Because we want something, we suffer. Probably for all of us we hear that and think, well that’s a nice idea but that’s very difficult to live our lives without preferences. I think once we go there, we get stuck in an absolute “either/or” consciousness so we fall again back into duality.

The less we hold on to our preferences, the more freedom we have and the less we try to manipulate the world around us which really doesn’t work really well anyway. We can’t really control everything that happens to us. If we have a preference and we attach strongly to that preference, we are constantly trying to control our world. So we’ve made ourselves, in a way, separate from the world and made the world something to manipulate.

But if we can loosen the grip of those attachments and allow things to be as they are, it’s then possible to change our stance and to, in a sense, merge with it. We say become one. Then we can find our place in it, and we can be in it rather than trying to make it something.

By Zen Master Bon Soeng

Great Effort

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

The First Noble Truth

The First Noble Truth is "All things are suffering." Life is suffering. The word in Sanskrit is duhkha. Sometimes it is translated as "unsatisfactory". Situations, this world, and our lives are not what we want them to be. There's almost always a gap between what we want and what is. In as much as we cannot accept that gap, we suffer. 

Our inability to accept life as it is and want things to be different, creates the suffering in our lives. Out of that gap grows all the coping mechanisms that individually we create to try to heal the pain or the disappointment. We lose ourselves into a dream because we're hoping that will take away that fundamental pain. 

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

 

Understand Yourself

The basic teaching of the Buddha was that if you want happiness, don’t go chasing after the things that you want or like, and don’t push away the things that you don’t like. It's chasing after what you want and the resisting of what you don’t want that causes suffering. The very simple truth, the Buddha said, was if you can stay present in this moment and accept what’s here, happiness actually arises. In a way that’s counterintuitive and a little bit preposterous. Happiness is not about getting what I want and not getting what I don’t want. If I just chase after that, I will actually suffer rather than be happy. That’s the basic Buddhist teaching.

The strategy we usually have to find some semblance of peace and happiness actually makes the situation worse, not better. Don’t take the Buddha’s word for it, don’t take my word for it. Investigate your own life. What happens when you chase after what you like? It’s not about understanding this teaching, it’s about finding out in your own life what works and what doesn't work. What brings love, peace and joy? What brings hate, suffering and despair? That’s all. You find your own way. The investigation that we do for ourselves is where the real gem is. You can do it from a Buddhist perspective, you can do it psychologically, you can do it in other religions, that’s all fine. It doesn't matter which way you do it. But the point the Buddha taught was “don’t take anything for granted or on faith, find out for your self”. What distinguishes Zen and Buddhism in general is that it gives a practice to actually find out your own truth. You don’t have to accept anybody else's idea. But to do that you have to understand yourself. 

By Zen Master Bon Soeng

Clear Intention

If we are not clear on our intention, then our life is haphazard and we just increase the suffering in the world. But if our intention is clear, it is possible in the moment of action, correct function can appear. Maybe in that moment, we put down our I, mine, me......our desire, anger, and ignorance. Then our eyes are clear enough to perceive the suffering in the world and we're able to offer a hand to help. 

One day, Zen Master Seung Sahn was talking to a student in a retreat and he said, “If you think you can, maybe you can. If you think you can’t, you cannot.” So how we hold our mind is very important.  A Don’t-Know mind is not a stupid mind. A Don’t-Know mind is not a slothful mind. A Don’t-Know mind is not a desirous mind. It is a clear, open, alive, moment of wonder, with the intention to help this world. That combination can light up the world and offer a little peace and maybe a little help to the suffering that goes on. But if our mind is all clouded with desire, anger, and ignorance, we are part of the problem and we are just increase the suffering of the world.

By Zen Master Bon Soeng

Everything is Changing

Everything is always changing. That’s the truth of our human world. The earth is spinning on its axis. That moves the wind, that moves time, that moves space and it creates change. We either like what we have and don’t want to lose it so we fight the change. Or we think our life should be different than it is, so we want it to change and we want the world to change in a particular way. But there are all these outside forces that are at play that we don’t have control over, so we suffer. The truth is everything is always changing. Freedom comes when you allow the change to happen. Suffering comes when we resist the change. So simple.

By Zen Master Bon Soeng

What Is Enough Mind?

"Enough mind" means you’ve got enough. You don’t need anything else. The First Noble Truth states that life is suffering. Sometimes we say life is unsatisfactory. Why is it unsatisfactory? It always needs to be a little bit different. But if life doesn’t need to be any different than it is now, where is the dissatisfaction? That’s "enough mind."

We suffer because we either want things to be different than they are now, or we’re afraid that they’re going to change and we’re going to lose what we have. So if we can just go with what is, there’s no suffering. But there’s a little bit of a problem even with that. Because if we don’t suffer, we have no empathy. So "enough mind" includes the suffering. It doesn’t get rid of the suffering. It may get rid of the sense that things should be different, but it doesn’t mean we just fall into a puddle and allow things to get all messed up. "Enough mind" frees us to actually deal with the problem.

By Zen Master Bon Soeng



 

Why Be In This Moment?

The question always comes to, “Why do that?” So now we’re present, now what?  Is it for our own enjoyment? That’s okay, that’s nice; we all want our own enjoyment. But that brings us back to suffering because we’re only happy as long as it brings us joy. As soon as that joy is gone, we’re not happy anymore, and then we leave the moment.
 
So why be in the moment?
What’s our intention?
What’s our direction?
What is it that we are after?

By Zen Master Bon Soeng

Got Enlightenment?

The Buddha saw a star and got enlightenment. That's the myth of the Buddha, that's the story that's been told for 2,500 years. Buddha had this experience. Zen Master Man Gong said, "I saw a star too and I lost enlightenment." Everybody thinks "Got Enlightenment" is what we want. But Man Gong says he lost enlightenment. What does that mean? If you think about it, is enlightenment something you get? Or lose? How do you get it? How do you lose it? We don't know. 

So already, we're starting to wonder what is this thing we call enlightenment? There is this concept. There is this idea. It's been talked about for 2,500 years. In America, we've been practicing Buddhism for 50 or 60 years. Everybody wants enlightenment. I want enlightenment, so I'll do these difficult practices because I'll get something. But there's a big problem with that. Who gets it? And what is it you want? And if I want something, maybe that gets in the way of getting it. Because the Buddha's enlightenment was about the recognition of the emptiness of this sense of self.

Our conventional view is that I am here, I have this life, I can get something. But the Buddha in his enlightenment realized that himself and the whole universe were not separate. There is no separate self. Each thing in the universe is connected and a part of the whole. So to say "I separate from You" creates this false dichotomy. Out of this false dichotomy, all suffering grows. So if Buddha got enlightenment, he already lost it. Because there's no Buddha to begin with. There's no Buddha separate from anything else.

By Zen Master Bon Soeng

Lost in a Drunken Stupor

Buddhism teaches us that we make our own life.  We're quick to blame other people.  We're quick to make a dream life of our likes and dislikes.  We fall into a fantasy, and sometimes it's said, "like a drunken stupor".  We get lost in a drunken stupor of our likes, dislikes, our opinions, our conditions.  

Each one of us brings all of our conditioning right into this moment, but we don't see it.  We see a reflection of it in the world around us, so we judge, and we try to fit the world into our image.  What doesn't fit, we don't like, and what does fit, we like.  

So in that sense, we make our own suffering.  Or in that sense of urgency, you might say we make our own hell.  We think of hell as something that comes to us after we die, but really we're making our own hell right here, right now. We are all guilty of it, nobody escapes.  Through practice, we can find our way through it.  Through practice, through wisdom, through our own experience, we can begin to break out of the hell that we make when our conditions make the hell of our lives.

By Zen Master Bon Soeng

I'm Going To Get Something

That idea “I’m going to get something” is the killer. "It’s going to be great". Sometimes it’s great, but sometimes it is not. But any idea separates us from what actually is going to happen. So, whether the retreat is 1 day, 3 days, 8 days, 28 days, 90 days.......our whole life is a retreat. 

So it’s all about letting go of the ideas that bind us. And do it! What’s the real experience? Everybody who does any length of retreat knows that sometimes it’s okay, sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad. By the end of the retreat, people are basically pretty happy, probably because it’s ending (laughing from the audience). We go through any number of experiences. It’s really about not getting stuck in our judgements of them, and in almost believing that they’re permanent. It's just allowing things to come and go… come and go… come and go.

It’s our ideas that tie us up. If we let go of the idea, then whatever is..... is. But if we like one thing and we don’t like the other thing, then we grasp towards what we like and we push away what we don’t like. That is the basic definition of suffering. That pushing and pulling is basically the definition of suffering. If we stop pushing and stop pulling, it is revealed just as it is at this moment. That is the essence of the practice. It is not any big deal.

By Zen Master Bon Soeng