Two months ago, I experienced something extraordinary when I was in the Dharma hall. While sitting in meditation, all of a sudden I seemed to disappear. I felt myself transform into bright light and become one with the universe. At that moment, I felt so blissful and lighthearted that I could have faced any hardship without fear. However, since then I have lost that feeling although I remember what it was like. No matter how hard I try to return to that moment, I can’t. The harder I try, the more oppressed I feel. Why has that feeling disappeared? Although I have a vivid memory of it, why can’t I feel it again?
When walking, you raise one foot up and then put it down in another spot, and then move the other foot ahead of it. Do you walk while clinging to each step? Or do you just walk without thinking of the footsteps you’ve already taken? You just walk, and with your mind undisturbed, you raise one foot up and then put it down, step after step.
Cultivating mind is like the movement of walking. Everything in the universe is functioning like that. Like walking, we continuously move forward. One moment we see something, and then pass by, and instantly do other things. As soon as we hear or see something, we move on to other things. We live like this naturally.
Nevertheless, whenever you find something you like, you try to cling to it. Or when you feel unhappy, you try to cling to that unhappiness. If you do not release it, you cannot move beyond that experience. Let’s learn to think differently. No matter how sad you are, it is ephemeral; no matter how happy you are, it is short-lived. If you cling to the happiness or sadness of that moment, how will you be able to stride forward briskly and freely?
We live every single day like the wind, which never sticks to any of the things it passes. Thus, like the Heart Sutra says, because every single thing changes, there is no moment when I can say, “I’m doing,” or “I’m not doing.” Hearing, seeing, speaking, reading, working, and meeting people: nothing in life is stationary for even an instant. All of it disappears like the wind; it never stays.
Nevertheless, your intellect tries to take hold of good or bad things. People tend to be unhappy because the result wasn’t what they wanted. Or they tend to hold onto a moment of happiness and never want to leave that place. Instead of doing this, just walk. This is the direct path on which you can obtain enlightenment.
In the midst of cultivating mind, you may encounter great wonder or terrible misery. But know that all of this exists to teach you so that you can improve. Therefore, regardless of what you face, let go of both good and bad things, and walk forward peacefully and freely.
Why doesn’t satisfaction last? I never feel completely satisfied with anything I do or anyone I’m with. Even when I feel great about something, it never lasts. I don’t know why I feel like this. Is there something wrong?
You won’t be truly satisfied with the things in your life until you know where you came from and who you are. You must know your foundation, your inherent nature. As long as you think of your body as “me” and think that “I” am doing everything, nothing will be able to satisfy you for very long.
Look at your body. It probably won’t last for even a hundred years. When it’s gone, what good are all the possessions and accomplishments you have accumulated? Look at fame. How many people who were famous while alive are remembered even fifty years after their death? People tend to cling to things like their body, fame, and money, and to thoughts like, “I did…,” “This is what I deserve,” “She did this to me,” etc., thinking that those things can be a wall that will protect them from hardships. So they keep building the wall higher and thicker. However, this isn’t a wall that protects them, it’s a wall that imprisons them.
The higher this wall goes, the colder their minds become. This prison of thought and clinging is more terrible and cruel than any physical prison. Even a judge’s decision can’t set you free. This is the place, however, where most people choose to spend their lives. Some even think that they are free, living within those walls.
The only way to free yourself is to let go of what you think you are. Know that your foundation, your Buddha-nature, is doing everything in the world. So, entrust all of the thoughts of “I’m…,” “me,” “He did…,” to your foundation and step forward into freedom. This is called “doing without any thought of doing.” When you catch yourself thinking things like, “I did...,” “I’m...,” immediately let go of that thought, knowing, “It’s my foundation that is doing all of this.” This is the way to tear down the wall. When you practice like this, Spring comes automatically, and the ice melts and flowers blossom.
Infinite energy and potential are contained within you. Your foundation is the source of all this energy and is connected to every single thing in the universe. This is where true satisfaction arises from. When you entrust your thoughts, feelings, and circumstances to your foundation, it responds with whatever is needed. It already knows what is needed; we just have to give it a chance to work. Entrusting is the way to do this. This foundation, your inherent nature, is truly mysterious.
Everything in this world is always moving, changing, and manifesting because of our foundation. It’s the source of everything in the universe, both the things we know, and those subtle, mysterious things that most people are completely unaware of. There’s no way that conceptualizing or planning can control our inherent nature. It’s so much greater than any words or thoughts that all we can do is just entrust ourselves to it. We become one with our inherent nature, our foundation when we unconditionally entrust everything to it. Then, whatever we truly need is naturally provided.
As long as you are looking outside yourself, you will never be satisfied. True satisfaction comes from knowing and relying upon your own inherent nature, your Buddha-nature, not from anything else.
The world seems to be unfair. People who steal and do terrible things are better off. If you live a virtuous life, you look like a fool or a victim. Why should people who don’t do anything wrong have to suffer more? If people live a good life, don’t they deserve to be rewarded for the good things they do?
You should know that whether something arises inside of you or comes from outside of you, every problem you face is something that you have caused in the past. The things you receive now, even the seemingly unfair things that happen to you, are all what you have made in the past. This is exactly the same for everyone else. Everything in your present life comes out according to the deeds and thoughts that you input in the past. However, all of these recordings are contained within your present mind, so if you erase the recording by entrusting and watching, then you can be free.
As we have evolved over millions of years, everything about how we have lived has been recorded within mind, just like a tape recording. Over countless eons, we have had so many different shapes. We’ve lived with the body of an insect, a bird, a pig, and a human being. We’ve eaten and been eaten, cheated and been cheated, helped others and been helped ourselves, and all of this has been recorded within our minds. It is this recording that is being replayed in our lives, while at the same time our reactions to the things that arise and the things we do now are being recorded. So it is hard to live freely in this life because of the influence of our past recording, and it will be hard to be free in the future, if we don’t stop recording new contents.
Because people don’t see how these things work, they sigh over the misfortunes of life, complaining about how unfair things are. However, let’s look at this carefully. You are receiving things exactly as you made them. No one can complain about it. Whether you experience joy, anger, sorrow, or pleasure, all of those are only the outcome of your own behaviors.
Thus, I keep telling you that because you made the problem, you are the one who has to solve it. And you truly can. When you entrust something to your inherent nature and watch, then it is exactly like erasing the old data. It’s like making a blank recording over the old data. This is the way we can free ourselves from the chains of the past.
In other words, everything that confronts you ? poverty, illness, family troubles, anger, loneliness, etc.? comes from your fundamental mind, that is, your true self. So, you should return it to the place it arose from. You should entrust everything to your true self. Then the past record will be erased and disappear.
Your true self, your foundation, connects the past, the present, and the future. Your true self is the only place that can communicate with the universe, and with everything in this world. In the fundamental mind, all things are directly connected to each other. Thus, you should remember that regardless of whatever confronts you, when you entrust it to the fundamental mind, your true self, things will change.
But what about good and bad, you may wonder. Of course, there is good and bad. However, there is no good or bad that remains that way forever because everyone has both good and bad within them.
It is your mind that makes you do either good or bad. A good person does not always do good nor does a bad person always do bad. Because everything changes from moment to moment, people who behave well in ordinary times may commit crimes in certain situations, and people who usually do bad things may do something good in some circumstances. Thus, people who do virtuous deeds may also do bad things and people who do bad things may also do good things. Everything always changes, so how can we say who is good and who is bad? When our minds are in accordance with the truth, we become good, but if we raise a thought incorrectly, we inevitably fall into evil ways.
A long time ago, a robber was passing through a thicket and saw a woman crying. She carried one baby in her back and held another in her arms, while taking care of a third child walking beside her. They were crying from hunger, but she had nothing to give them. They look so pitiful that the robber approached her and, pretending to be a merchant, said, “Don’t you have anything to eat? The children seem to be hungry.” The woman answered, “We have no food. My husband was arrested and we have not heard from him. Even our small hut was taken away. We have nowhere to go.” Hearing this, the robber gave her the money he had stolen and told her to buy a house with it, then he gave the children the food he had taken. Afterwards, he laughed when he realized the irony of the situation: he had given away everything he worked so hard to steal.
People behave in such various ways. On the one hand, there is the person who goes begging, even though he does not have any physical problems. On the other hand, there is the handicapped person who sells things from his wheelchair in order to earn his own living expenses. There is the person who makes a big show of giving money. But there is also the one who is concerned about the feelings of the recipient, and so gives money in a quiet and discreet way. On the one hand, there is the person who pays full price for things when the seller is poor. On the other hand, there is the person who drives a hard bargain, even when the seller is quite poor or handicapped. There are so many people, and so many minds. When I think about it, people steal because of ignorance; they do stupid things because of ignorance; they do harmful things because of ignorance. People do such things not because they are intrinsically bad, but because they do not understand their foundation, which is connected to all things.
Is there such a thing as a previous life or being reborn? I heard that in this life, we receive the results of the good and bad things we did in our past lives, and in the life to come, we will receive the results of what we have done in this life. Is there really such a thing as a previous life or rebirth?
Your previous life or rebirth is what you have created with your mind and what you receive with your mind. There is no past because you carry it with you when you are born into this world, and there is no future because it has not yet come. Thus, there is only this moment. However, there is no fixed span of time that we can actually call “a moment” either, so even the present does not exist. There is only endless change and manifestation, and the ceaseless functioning of everything. That is all. That’s why it is said that everything is empty.
However, people do not know that everything is essentially empty, and do not get rid of their attachments to the things they do. So, the things they did in the past become karmic consciousnesses, which then manifest through their lives and their bodies. Karmic consciousnesses are just like the chains of a slave.
Everything about how people lived during their past lives was recorded automatically in their minds, and later comes out automatically, according to the circumstances. There are good things and bad things, and there are favorable things and unfavorable things. People receive things according to what they have done; they reap the fruits of their actions. There are no accidents or mistakes in the results.
However, cause and effect can also be subject to change. If you can let go of everything without clinging, and return it to your true self, your foundation, then you can erase your karmic consciousnesses one by one. Usually it is said that good karma brings good results, and bad karma brings bad results, but you should know that both are nothing but the workings of your karmic consciousnesses, which result from ignorance and attachments.
In order to be born into this world, the father’s sperm and mother’s ovum combine together to make the physical body, and the eternal life and the karmic consciousnesses also merge there. The eternal life is the Buddha-nature, the true self, the inherent nature. The inherent nature is intrinsically pure and bright, and functions smoothly without any friction. So, we cannot say that the inherent nature is dirty or clean, because nothing can stick to it. The Buddha repeatedly emphasized that we should awaken to our inherent nature, our true self. The reason for this is that from the viewpoint of inherent nature, all of the good and bad things, and even death and rebirth are just tricks that our karmic consciousnesses play on us.
If you could see things from the standpoint of Buddha-nature, you would know that everyone is equal, without any discrimination of “you” and “me,” and that nothing is separate from anything else. I am the whole and the whole is me. Thus, there is no particular subject that can say, “It’s me,” or “It’s you.” Likewise, there is no subject that repeatedly passes through the cycle of birth and death. It is a mistake to assume that there is certain substance such as a spirit that is reborn again and again. However, people believe there is a subject that is reborn again because they are not awakened to their inherent nature, and mistake their karmic consciousnesses for their own fundamental self.
We cultivate our minds in order to be free from the cycle of birth and death, to attain enlightenment and nirvana. Until then, our lives are in the process of evolution. Until we can melt the chains of our karmic consciousnesses and obtain true freedom, regardless of how long it takes, we should keep polishing our minds on the way to truth, while changing our worn out bodies.
Your question suggests that you see only the forms of the visible world. The visible world is only fifty percents of everything. It would be a mistake to completely ignore it, but try not to pay so much attention to the phenomenal realm. Instead, explore your own foundation, the world of mind, which has no physical form. Let go of everything and entrust everything to your true self, your foundation, which has made you what you are today. Instead of following the endless cycle of birth and death, believe in and take refuge in your true self, which is neither born nor dies.
If you practice diligently and awaken to what your mind really is, you will know your inherent nature, which is neither born nor dies, and which is never stained by anything. Further, questions such as whether or not there are things like a soul or rebirth will be answered naturally. Thus I have to say that no one is truly evil. There is nothing for any blame to stick to. Why is it that? It’s because everything changes and moves ceaselessly, beyond time and space. We can observe that even hardened criminals are not always bad. Even those people are continuing to evolve. You would be amazed if you saw how much they’ve improved, even now. If you keep raising good thoughts from your mind for them, they begin to move along a better path. So, why don’t you lead them in the right direction and save them?
Usually, people assume that practicing Seon (Chan, Zen) means sitting in meditation. Is this how I can become a more spiritual person?
Just physically sitting down is not the way to practice Seon, because spiritual practice is done through your mind, not through your body. In this age, when people’s lives are so busy, our living itself - eating, working, driving, loving, sleeping - should all become practicing Seon. If sitting meditation were the only way to cultivate your mind, your practice would stop the moment you stand up, wouldn’t it?
A long time ago, when Ma-tsu was sitting in meditation, Seon master Huai-jang saw him, picked up a piece of roof tile, and began to polish it. Ma-tsu asked, “Why are you polishing a tile?” Huai-jang replied, “I’m polishing it in order to make it into a mirror.” (In that age mirrors were made out of polished bronze.) Huai-jang then asked Ma-tsu why he was sitting there. Ma-tsu answered, “I am sitting like this in order to become a Buddha.” Huai-jang said, “Then, you should not stand up, you should not eat, and you should not go to the toilet either. Otherwise, wouldn’t your practice stop as soon as you moved your body?” Ma-tsu awakened upon hearing this. The Buddha also tried to practice through his body for six years, but then realized that practice should be done through mind.
If you have faith in your true self, your foundation, and you entrust everything to it and observe what comes, while living comfortably in your daily life, then this is spiritual practice and the meaning of Seon. Have you noticed what happens after a car accident? The drivers stand around arguing about whose fault it was. No matter whose fault it was, the drivers were the cause, not the cars.
Likewise, our minds, not our bodies, are the source of our every word and deed. Your fundamental mind is the driver; it can take care of everything and guide you in your daily life. In other words, the driver is taking care of everything and resolving every problem in your life, so entrust everything to your fundamental mind and live smoothly.
Who makes you think, talk, and move? You may think it is obvious, “I do.” But is that “I” the one that caused you to be born into this world? Is that “I” responsible for your birth and death? What is responsible for the birth and death of every other being in this world? It is not the “I” that you tend to think of as yourself but rather your true self that is doing everything. When you realize this truth, you can leave behind thoughts like “He did that to me,” “I’m doing…,” “I did…,” “I deserve….” By the way, always view things positively. If you keep interpreting things negatively or always criticize and blame others, this will lower your own spiritual level.
When you live with faith in your true self, which is taking care of everything in your life, then your life itself becomes practicing Seon. According to circumstances, you can practice while sitting, or if you are busy, you can practice while working or driving, and you can even practice while lying down: all of this is practicing Seon. Sitting meditation, standing meditation, lying-down meditation, and working meditation are not different.
No matter what you do in your daily life, if you believe in your true self, and entrust everything to your true self, you are engaged in practicing meditation. There is nothing in life that is not the cultivation of mind. So, you should not think that practicing Seon or learning Buddhism are separate from your daily life. Not ever!
Entrust all things to your true self, then living itself becomes practicing Seon. In everything you undertake, you should trust your true self to solve the problems you face and know that only it can lead you in the right direction. This is the way to develop unwavering faith, to direct your attention inwardly, and to take refuge in your true self. If the thoughts of “I,” “me,” and “mine” die at every moment, then even though you do not sit down, everything you do becomes practicing meditation.
I’m having a hard time. The project I was in charge of did not turn out very well, so I had to quit my job. Now, I have a new job, but I’m not doing well, and the pay is also not good. It’s been like this for some time now, so my entire family is having trouble with money, and the fights between my wife and myself never seem to stop. I’m sick of everybody’s complaints. There is no peace in my home anymore. I had always hoped that my children would grow up happily because my childhood was not so good. Yet, no matter how hard I try, my life doesn’t seem to be turning out the way I wanted. I read in some book that Shakyamuni Buddha once told people, “Life is suffering.” Is that true? If so, what can I do about all of these matters?
All of us experience many things during our lives, such as illness and poverty, joy and happiness. You might think that some of those things happened just by accident. However, because you were there, those things occurred and you experienced them. In fact, all the things that we experience are the result of what we have done over a great number of eons. It’s just that when they return to us, they tend to have a different appearance, so we don’t recognize them.
What we receive today is the outcome of what we did in the past, and how we react to what we receive determines what the future result will be. Therefore, do not think that the difficulties you face now just happened by chance. Hardships are just another face of your true self, which is trying to teach you. So, don’t blame others or the era for the difficult situation you are in. Instead, you should be grateful to your true self, which is giving you another chance to change things. Forgetting about your inner self and being depressed because of difficult circumstances cannot be excused. When some hardship happens to you, you can get angry and complain about it, or you can think of it as a good opportunity to complete yourself. Which way you approach things is entirely up to you. Your future depends upon the decisions you make.
Actually, it is true that Shakyamuni Buddha said, “The world is full of suffering.” He also said, “The world is like a burning house.” These are the warnings that the Buddha gave to people who chased after only material things without reflecting upon the truth.
Most people move through their life dragging their difficulties behind them. Thus, they suffer twice: once when the difficulties come to them, and once more as they try to carry them along. Every single Buddha has also experienced hardships because those things are the results of what one has made in the past, and this applies to everyone. However, without clinging to anything, Buddhas release everything to the fundamental place, the inner self, and by doing that, whatever they encounter becomes one with the inner self and so dissolves and melts away.
Once those bad situations have arisen, there’s not much that can be done about them. But, if you let go of all those difficulties to your inner self without holding on to them and without making discriminations about them, then you will not have to suffer from carrying them with you. You will also be freeing yourself from future suffering. When you keep doing this, you will gradually attain calmness and your suffering will dissolve, and finally you will see your inner self, the truth.
However, releasing everything like this isn’t easy if you have never tried it before. So, first, you should firmly believe that the truth is within you. In other words, know that your fundamental mind has the ability to take care of everything. Next, you should understand that everything you confront is not suffering, but rather just another aspect of yourself. Then, entrust it to your inner self. Afterwards, the things you entrusted will dissolve because your inner self, your foundation, is the source of everything and the source of infinite energy.
As I said before, the best way to solve the things you face is to truly let go of everything to your inner self with firm faith because everything arises from there. This is true virtue and is the only way to live truly free.
My life has been very ordinary, but I am quite fortunate in many respects. My wife and I get along well, and my children are happy and well adjusted. Also, my work has been going smoothly. Nevertheless, I sometimes feel empty, like something is missing. Why do I feel like that, even though everything in my life seems to go well?
A wife, a lover, children, money, fame ? none of those things have the power to make you feel complete. Only by returning inward to your foundation, your true self, can you become complete.
However, many people are afraid to truly face themselves. So, they look for something outside, wandering around rather than looking within themselves. This is how they deceive themselves. If you deceive yourself like this, you can never know true peace, nor will the empty feeling go away, because both are caused by not knowing your true self. When you carefully observe your mind and live your life in touch with this inner mind, you’ll realize that peace is within you. However, if you don’t sincerely face yourself, you can never be truly free of this empty feeling, even if you achieve all of your goals such as power, money, honor, and love. This applies to everyone.
The more praise you receive from outside of yourself, the deeper the emptiness will become. Then, as many people do, you may look around outside of yourself even more, searching for the cause or for something that will get rid of the emptiness, without realizing that both the cause and the cure are inside of you. Long ago, a poet left home to look for Spring. He searched everywhere, but was unsuccessful. However, upon returning home, he saw that the apricot tree in his courtyard was blooming.
If you see the genuine “I” within you, you will attain true peace of mind and the feeling of emptiness will disappear. Yet, because your inner self, the genuine “I,” is truth itself, don’t think for a moment that things such as force, tricks, or lies can work there. So, stop trying to use such deceit to find your true self. People often try to endure the hardships they face with the hope that, somehow, things will be better tomorrow or at some other place. However, these kinds of thoughts are like delusions if you don’t know about your inner self. They can’t help you for long.
Therefore, please, face yourself honestly. Discover the genuine “I” within you. Everything in the world ? joy, sorrow, happiness, misery, and emptiness ? comes from you; it is all within you. Because everything arises from you, you are the only one who can truly solve all of those issues. This is the truth. So, entrust everything to your inner self. Let go of everything to your true self with firm faith and observe how things work together inseparably. This is the inner path, which teaches you to see all things as being not different from yourself, and which shows you that “you” and “I” are not two.
Because it is covered with soil, the root of a tree is not seen. However, nobody doubts that the tree has a root or that the root is the source of the tree’s life. We human beings also have a root, although it is not visible. This root is completely empty, with nothing to grasp, but it is the source of everything. So, you should know that we also live by relying upon our root. Our root is Buddha-nature, which is also our true self.
When we are told to believe in ourselves, many of us usually consider our physical bodies to be what we really are. However, our flesh is not eternal. We change it like we change clothes. Who then makes your body move? When the body becomes worn out, and is ready to be thrown away, who is the one in charge of taking off the old clothes and putting on new ones? It is your true self.
The true self, the Buddha-nature, is your foundation, eternal life, and the foundation that embraces the entire universe. It is light and boundless energy. It possesses all abilities and wisdom. Such a treasure is within you and within every being. So, every life is Buddha. If we awaken to the Buddha-nature that is within us, then all beings are Buddha, as they are. The Buddha came to this world not to be worshiped, but rather to teach people to free themselves by relying upon their own inherent Buddha-nature.
Juingong is the fundamental mind that each one of us is inherently endowed with, and which is directly connected to every single thing. Because of this, Juingong functions together non-dually with everything. It is this foundation, Juingong, that causes us to speak, hear, think, move, and live.
It is the true owner, the true doer, so it is called Juin (主人) and it is completely empty, that is, it is always changing, without any fixed shape, so it is called gong (空). Juingong is our true doer, which always changes and manifests every instant without any fixed form. Juingong is a description of our fundamental mind and its functions, so it could also be called “Buddha-nature,” “true self,” or “my beloved.”
Juingong is not only your Juingong, which guides you during every single moment of your life, but also the Juingong of the whole, in which all things are connected to each other and are united as one. Juingong and all other things function together non-dually. When our foundation, Juingong, gathers together with the foundation of everything else and they all function together as one, we call this Hanmaum Juingong. We can also call Hanmaum Juingong a smelting furnace, because it melts down whatever we put into it. Hanmaum Juingong is the source of all energy, so it can also be called our inner power plant.
Juingong doesn’t exist someplace else. The person who is willing to look for it will find it within themself. When we cook, we prepare the ingredients, cook them, and make a delicious meal. Like this, while living as you want and need to, the true nature of Juingong is revealed in your daily life
Han means one, great, boundless, and combined. Maum means the fundamental mind that is intangible, invisible, beyond time and space, and has no beginning or end. So Hanmaum embraces the whole universe and all the lives within it. In other words, Hanmaum means that all minds are one, and all beings, the world, and universe are all interconnected.
Among all the lives in the world, there is nothing that can be called “you” or “I.” Inherently life is one. The mind of all lives is one. Inherently life is Buddha. This inherent mind of all life is called One Mind (Hanmaum). Although each life has its own individual physical body, inherently, all lives are not separate.
When all the minds in the universe gather together and function as one, we call this Hanmaum. Like all rivers reach the sea and become one, everything in the universe is contained in Hanmaum. So Hanmaum contains all of the minds of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, as well as the minds of all things and unenlightened beings. Hanmaum transcends time and space. It existed before all things started and it will exist even after all things end.
Buddhism (“Bulkyo” in Korean) is not separate from our daily life. The first syllable, “Bul” means the everlasting foundation of life. The second syllable, “kyo” refers to valuable words of truth about the functioning of the universe and our life itself. The life and activity of all things in and of themselves is Buddhism. Thus, Buddhism teaches us the truth that all things share the same mind, the same life, the same body, work together as one and share as one. While showing us this, Buddhism encourages us to discover for ourselves who we are and what life is.