When The Dream Disappears

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So we all have these dreams. We have the dreams of our likes, our dislikes, this story that we weave about ourselves. We carry this story of ourselves, but the story is not true. It’s factually not correct. We embellish, we make it up as we go along and then we protect it. "I am this." "I don’t like that." "I want this." This is our dream. So the Buddha taught in the Diamond Sutra that our life is like a dream, like a phantom, like a bubble. Appearing and disappearing. What is it? If it’s not our dream, then what is it? That’s the realm of our Zen practice.

Zen isn’t concerned very much about form. It’s not really concerned very much about ritual. It’s really not a religion. It doesn’t care about having some mystical experience. It’s not about getting a particular state of mind. It’s asking the question, What am I? What is this? Don’t-Know. Because if we don’t know, then the dream disappears. The dream is everything we know, everything we believe, the whole story we have about ourselves. But if we enter into not knowing, where is the dream then? If I don’t know, then what? That’s the point of Zen practice.

By Zen Master Bon Soeng

Accepting Your Life

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You have to accept your life. Accept does not mean "like", accept does not mean it's a good idea or a good thing. Accept means that's the truth. One of the important things that the Buddha talked about was that what we perceive and what we think is not necessarily the truth. Because the truth gets colored by our opinions, conditions, and situations.

Zen Master Seung Sahn talked about letting go or putting down our opinions, conditions, and situations in order to actually see clearly what it is that's going on in front of us. That is a key point that comes up over and over again in Zen practice and Zen literature. If you can't see clearly, then you're acting on faulty information. If you act on faulty information, you come up with faulty results. So it's almost a prerequisite to be able to clearly perceive what is the situation and accepting "what is" is a good start.  

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

Experiencing the Dharma

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The dharma can be taught. You can speak the words and learn about it, but the only real value it has in our lives is if we have some experience of it. Otherwise, it's just one more competing theory that exists in this world and there are enough competing theories already. We really don't need another one. So Zen always brings you back to your experience. I can tell you something, anybody can tell you something, but that's not the truth. You have to find it for yourself. 

Purpose of Zen

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That's Zen mind. It's not being perfect. It's not being able to do everything right, and do it in such a way that somebody will tell this wonderful story about you that a thousand years from now people will still be talking about. It's simply paying attention, meeting the moment and helping. Our teacher, Zen Master Seung Sahn said, "The purpose of Zen is to attain your true self and help others." So the helping others, that's pretty clear. Not judgmental, not with any sense of superiority. Attain your true self. What am I? Just help. 

By Zen Master Bon Soeng

The Meaning of Meditation

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Zen literally translates as, “meditation,” so meditation is the heart of zen practice. Meditation in the dharma room, meditation when you're driving, meditation when you're sitting at the dinner table with your families, all of it. Meditation means asking the question, "What am I?", staying with don't know, and observing from a place of not knowing. What is happening right now?

But if you stay in your stuck conditioned mind blaming everybody else for what's going on, it will never change. Because everything is just a repetition of what happened before. It may have a little bit of a new face because it's a new moment, but generally speaking, it's just a repetition of what's happened before. It's been said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. But what Buddhism teaches, that unless we change our karma, unless we can see who we are and act differently in this very moment, life will just keep repeating itself over and over again.

By Zen Master Bon Soeng

A Revolutionary Act

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What practice offers us in a very simple way, is to connect to the moment. Put aside that dream of I, my, me and act, not making a big deal about it. Then go on moment to moment, meeting these moments.

The more we stay in the dream of who we think we are, the less able we are to connect with what is actually happening in front of us and find some simple, fresh and alive way to respond to the moment.  I think in a lot of ways, the simple way of Zen practice is a revolutionary act, because it alters a structure of what “we think” and allows us to drop into "what is."

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

The Meditation Experience

Each one of us will get some idea of meditation. Any image or idea we have about Zen, or meditation, or by extension of our lives and our story, is wrong. The only thing we can possibly know is what's happening right now. Everything before it is a dream, everything after it is supposition, and anything even in the moment that we're pondering, is just an idea. So Zen means meditation, meditation means what's happening right now; what actually is going on.

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. 

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

Authentic Natural Self

"Before thinking" is easy to talk about but difficult to practice. Our desire, anger, and ignorance are so powerful, so encompassing and solid that we don’t even recognize their impact. Many people who first hear about before thinking find it absurd. Others feel that it is impossible to not attach to their thinking.

This leads us to the realm of Zen practice. Though our delusion seems enormous and our suffering feels so daunting and profound, Zen practice offers us a way to deconstruct our delusion. We can live a more centered and grounded life, in order to work with our desire and anger, so that we can reconnect with that authentic natural self which is always shining and free.

By Zen Master Bon Soeng

When The Dream Disappears

So we all have these dreams. We have the dreams of our likes, our dislikes, this story that we weave about ourselves. We carry this story of ourselves, but the story is not true. It’s factually not correct. We embellish, we make it up as we go along and then we protect it. "I am this."  "I don’t like that."  "I want this."

This is our dream. So the Buddha taught in the Diamond Sutra that our life is like a dream, like a phantom, like a bubble. Appearing and disappearing. What is it? If it’s not our dream, then what is it? That’s the realm of our Zen practice. 

Zen isn’t concerned very much about form. It’s not really concerned very much about ritual. It’s really not a religion. It doesn’t care about having some mystical experience. It’s not about getting a particular state of mind. It’s asking the question, What am I?  What is this?  Don’t-Know. Because if we don’t know, then the dream disappears. The dream is everything we know, everything we believe, the whole story we have about ourselves. But if we enter into not knowing, where is the dream then?  If I don’t know, then what? That’s the point of Zen practice.

By Zen Master Bon Soeng

Don’t Know Mind

This basic teaching we have is Don’t-Know Mind. We want to know, we think we know, we think we’re supposed to know. There’s all of this bias toward knowing. But we don’t really know. We have this radical teaching – how about admitting the truth that we don’t know and go from there. If we really live that, it changes everything. 

Don’t-Know doesn't mean stupid. It means What Is It? Suddenly our eyes are open, we’re vibrating with energy because we wonder, “What?”… rather than, “Oh yeah, I know that!”

Suzuki Roshi’s quote was, “A beginner’s mind is wide open and questioning. An expert’s mind is closed.” So this Not-Knowing actually gives us life. It gives vibrancy and energy to the world we live in. This kind of I-Know shuts everything down and we get stuck. Yet all the signals from everything around us say we’re supposed to know. The competition is who knows the most, but look at the result.

We fill our minds up with all this stuff, and it gets stale and dead. Not knowing is what opens us up and comes alive. In Buddhism and in Zen, there are a lot of different ways to talk about this very same thing. Sometimes we call it Don’t-Know Mind, sometimes we call it Beginner’s Mind, sometimes we call it Before Thinking Mind.

It all comes down to this, (Zen Master hits the floor). Clear it away. Return to zero. What do we see, what do we smell, what do we taste, what do we touch? Everything is truth. What we know blocks the truth. Returning to not knowing opens us up.

By Zen Master Bon Soeng

Right Speech

Question: As far as keeping that open mind, that Don’t-Know mind, how does that relate to our preconception that it is good for me to have right speech?

Zen Master Bon Soeng: It would raise the question, “What is right speech?” It’s a nice idea to have right speech, but right speech this moment may not be right speech this moment. There isn’t a formula that you can fill in. There are ways that you can talk about right speech in general, but in specific, it depends on the moment. Zen is not theoretical. So all of these ideas play out in the very moment that we’re alive. It doesn’t matter what we say about right speech. In this moment, what is right speech? Everything is concrete and actually alive in the moment, not our understanding about it.

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

Accepting Your Life

You have to accept your life. Accept does not mean "like", accept does not mean it's a good idea or a good thing. Accept means that's the truth. One of the important things that the Buddha talked about was that what we perceive and what we think is not necessarily the truth. Because the truth gets colored by our opinions, conditions and situations.
 
Zen Master Seung Sahn talked about letting go or putting down our opinions, conditions and situations in order to actually see clearly what it is that's going on in front of us. That is a key point that comes up over and over again in Zen practice and Zen literature.  If you can't see clearly, then you're acting on faulty information. If you act on faulty information, you come up with faulty results. So it's almost a prerequisite to be able to clearly perceive what is the situation and accepting "what is" is a good start.  
 
By Zen Master Bon Soeng