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

Letting Go Of Attachment


Letting go of that attachment means that we can be in the real and what’s true. We build this capacity to stay present or we find the capacity we already have. The more we let go of attachment to self, the more we find freedom. We practice to find that place before “Self”. What I am suggesting is the more we stay with what’s true and not get caught up in "I", then we already have it. It’s not some distant fantasy. It’s already here. 

By Zen Master Bon Soeng


What Kind of World Do You Want?


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

The Meditation Pill


If I can connect with what I am doing, I can stay grounded and pay attention to those reactions, see them and not get carried away with them. It doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the good times or despair the bad times. But if I stay grounded, connected with something beyond my likes and dislikes, then there is some stability and clarity in my life because I am not jumping all around getting lost in my reactions. 

If somebody calls me something that I don’t like and that raises my anger, I then start acting out of my anger and lose any clarity that I may have found. I am in a dream of anger. I know from my own experience, I end up responding in ways that are usually less constructive and more likely just add fuel to the fire. But if I can keep connected with something and not get lost in the dream of my anger, I might be able to actually see what is happening in the moment and deal with it.
But if I think that my meditation is this pill that I take, then I’m holding on to this idea of meditation: “I’ll just get back to my meditation and that’ll do it!  I’ll feel better!” And maybe I’ll feel better while I’m doing it. But unless I am cultivating an awareness of being in the moment and being able to really perceive the moment, I am still going to get tossed around by everything that happens.

By Zen Master Bon Soeng

No Meaning is Great Meaning


Zen Master Seung Sahn used to say, “Life has no meaning, no reason, and no choice.” His next line was, “No meaning, no reason, and no choice is great meaning, great reason, and great choice.” Ultimately there is no meaning, but what do we do with the moment that we have?
So in his teaching, Zen Master Seung Sahn said Buddhism means to attain your true self and help this world. Of course it sounds linear, but it’s not really linear. It’s not first do one, then the other. But attain your true self is the answer to that question “What am I?” It’s not an intellectual “okay-now-I-know-who-I-am,” but we express ourselves moment to moment. That requires a stripping away or at least a seeing through that condition so that the greed, the anger, the ignorance is not controlling us.

Helping all beings gives us a direction in our life. Helping all beings means don’t live just for me. Living just for me leads us to selfishness and ultimately unhappiness because our chasing after our desires and trying to satisfy our desires does not work. Some of us might argue with that point, but the Buddha’s realization was ultimately we’ll end up with more desires. So an intention of helping this world already says my desire won’t be enough. So how can I use this moment to make the small world that I am living in a more peaceful, harmonious and healthy place? Sometimes that’s what we call good action. Sometimes that’s what we call bad action.  But the intention is turning ourselves towards the suffering of the world. In Buddhism, that’s called the Bodhisattva path.

Zen Master Bon Soeng

A Revolutionary Act


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

Inspiration to Practice


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.

Keep your direction clear. There is something that moves you to practice, that points you in the direction. Then find your "try mind". Inspiration is wonderful, but if we just rely on inspiration, it fizzles out and then we’re lost. So it’s not about inspiration or not inspiration. We say in Zen something very direct: “Just do it!”

So what I will suggest for you is look at your life realistically and see what you can do. Then set your sights and your direction on doing that. Likes and dislikes – that’s what you will meet when you sit down. Just do it! Don’t be too concerned about success or failure. Moment to moment, be fresh and alive. Just do what you set out to do. Not just for one week, not for one month, not for one year, not even for one decade. Day after day after day… moment to moment to moment…

By Zen Master Bon Soeng

What Is Clear Mind?


"Clear mind is like the full moon in the sky. Sometimes clouds come and cover it, but the moon is always behind them. Clouds go away, then the moon shines brightly. So don't worry about clear mind: it is always there. When thinking comes, behind it is clear mind. When thinking goes, there is only clear mind. Thinking comes and goes, comes and goes, You must not be attached to the coming or the going."

From Dropping Ashes On The Buddha

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

Right View is No View


The first of the Buddha’s Eightfold Path is clear view, or right view. Right view means clarity. Right view means letting go of "my" view to be able to perceive the moment. We all know what this is like. There are times we are involved in an argument, and in the middle of it we start laughing because we realize how stupid it is. In that moment we can see clearly.

 To see clearly, we have to let go of our own perspective, our own opinion of right and wrong, what I should do and what you should do. If we can let go of that, then it’s possible to have what the Buddha called Right View. Sometimes it is said, Right View is the complete Eightfold Path. If we can keep Right View which is No View, not my personal view but before my view, then it’s all taken care of. It is easy to say, hard to do.

By Zen Master Bon Soeng

Equation for Happiness

Buddhist practice is about coming back to the source and finding a way to find that stability so that we're not pulled and pushed around so much by everything that we like and everything we don't like. The Buddha simply said we suffer because we don't have what we want. Or we have what we want, but we're afraid to lose it. We're constantly trying to shape the world in the image that we think it should be, but it really translates into what we want. Usually, we want some safety, some security. We don't want so much change because it's hard to handle change.   


Change is hitting us all the time. But change is inevitable. There's nothing we can do about it. The reality of the world is even in that moment that we have everything that we want, the next moment it's changed. There's no stability in it. So if we judge everything by likes and dislikes, we're always unhappy ultimately. But the more we can accept and work with what is, that equation of happiness changes. Because our happiness is not only based on our likes and dislikes. There is something deeper. There is something more fundamental.

By Zen Master Bon Soeng

Believe in Yourself 100%

Zen Master Seung Sahn, our founding teacher, with his stick, used to poke us right here (pointing the stick at navel).  He'd poke us and say, "Make your center Stronger....Stronger! Stronger! You must believe in yourself 100%!"

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But what does that mean, believe in yourself? Make your center stronger and believe in your own true nature 100%. Not your idea of who you think you are. But that who you are, before the concept of yourself even arises. What I am talking about is that we make a self concept, "I am this, or I am that." Then we want everybody else to believe that, so we spend our lives convincing ourselves and others that "I am this and I am that." But maybe I am not really that. And in that trying to convince, I get farther and farther and farther away from that true nature.  

Our Zen practice is so simple: Sit down, bring your attention to your lower abdomen, then watch. Then watch your experience. Don't push anything away. Don't grasp at anything. Observe.

By Zen Master Bon Soeng

Don't Look Outside of Yourself

The Buddha's enlightenment was about realizing what we already are. The Buddha's enlightenment wasn't about finding something outside of ourselves that suddenly now make us complete. It's finding and connecting to what we already are. We already have it. It's not something that we need to create, or get from somebody else. When we hear, "we already have it, don't look outside of yourself", it can bring up a view that myself is in the boundaries of this skin. But the confusing contradiction is that when you look really deeply, this whole universe is myself. I don't stop at the boundaries of my skin.


So, don't look outside of yourself doesn't necessarily mean don't pay attention to everything around you. You are it! You and I are not separate. Our thinking makes us separate. Our self-centered "I-ness" makes us separate. But how do you really know where you and I begin?

By Zen Maser Bon Soeng


What is the Meaning of Life?


What is the meaning of life? Zen Master Seung Sahn once said, “Human life has no meaning, no reason and no choice, but 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.” This is a very interesting statement. Many people have some idea about the meaning of life. Some may even think that their idea is correct. So who is correct? What is it that gives life meaning? Where does the idea of meaning and life come from anyway? If we truly look and investigate these questions with sincerity, we realize that we really don’t know. Don’t know is the place before thinking. Before thinking, there is no life. There is no meaning. There is no “I” or “you”. There is nothing at all. 

If we take another step from this point, we can reflect this world just as it is, without adding anything to it. This is where truth is universal. This universal truth is not based on our ideas, beliefs, or opinions. It is not dependent on the color of skin, what religion we believe in, being rich or poor, nor being a man or woman. The truth is something every human being can perceive intrinsically. It is already clear in every moment. When we see this truth, we can also perceive the difficulties and dissatisfaction in our own lives which helps us to see the difficulties and dissatisfaction in the lives of others. We can see that many people are in great need of help. When we perceive that need clearly, then responding to this world is necessary. So no meaning turns into the Great Meaning, which is actually a vow to recognize our true self in every moment and help this world. Then love and compassion naturally appear in this world.

By Jason Quinn, JDPSN

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

Will My Life Work Out?


The advise that Master Wu Kwang gave is "Pay your rent on the 1st, pay your taxes on the 15th of April, and everything will work out."  He didn't say HOW they will work out.  We all think "work out" means, "Oh everything will work out well for me." That's what goes in my head, and I imagine most everybody thinks that way.  But, everybody gets sick at some point in time, everybody gets old, everybody dies.  Anything and everything that is born into this world passes from this world. So, that's how it all works out.  

What are we going to do along the way?  That's the realm of practice.  Do we keep sticking our feet into the realm of suffering?  Or do we connect with our practice center, really wonder about who we are and how to live in this world and find a way.  "Enlightenment" is a beautiful word. Buddhism loves to throw it around, and nobody knows what it means.  We all have some idea of what it would be if we were enlightened, but that's just our idea.  Anything we think about it makes it too small, too limited, and too much just a creation of our human mind. Return to the practice, come back to this moment.  What am I doing right now?  How is it possible to help the 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. 


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

Thousand Year Treasure


We either don’t get what we want, then end up dissatisfied. Or, we get what we want, but we can’t keep it. There is not one thing in this world we can keep. Or, we get what we want but it is not enough or maybe we wish it could be just a little bit different. The Buddha said the reason we are dissatisfied is because we don’t understand our original nature and we don’t see the nature of cause and effect. 

The good news is that there is another way. As the calligraphy states, “Three days of looking into self, a thousand year treasure.” Three days of looking into the self means right now in this moment, what is this? What am I doing right now? What is this “I”? If we look at that with sincerity, honesty, and openness, it is possible to return to the mind before thinking. Before thinking is our original nature. In our school we call it “don’t know”.

“Don’t know” plus action is human being’s function. When we return to this moment, we also return back to the realm of name and form. Here we can use name and form in a clear and helpful way rather than name and form pulling us around and around. That even means using this “I”. Attachment to “I” results in I like and I don’t like. Using this “I” results in how may I help. Every moment. Every breath. How may I help? The name for that is Great Love, Great Compassion, the Great Bodhisattva Way. And that is a thousand year treasure for the whole universe.

By Jason Quinn, JDPSN  
Excerpt from Inka Speech