Autobiography Part 4a: "Meeting Soen Sa Nim"

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In the the previous chapter, our hero found himself in a moving vehicle with famed Korean Zen Master Seung Sahn (whom I'll abbreviate as ZMSS, and was commonly addressed during his life as "Dae Soen Sa Nim"). ZMSS taught in a tradition that uses difficult, piercing questions, and I'd reluctantly been drawn into a dialog with him that went like this:

ZMSS: How long have you been doing Yoga?

Me: I've been meditating for about 7 years.

ZMSS: After doing Yoga for so long, have you gotten anything?

Me: Yeah, sure.

ZMSS: What have you gotten?

Me: My mind used to give me lots of problems, but as I meditate more, it gives me fewer problems.

ZMSS: If mind is such a problem, why do you make "mind"?

Me: Thinking just appears on its own.

ZMSS: Thinking is no problem; it's like clouds passing through the sky. But if you attach to thinking, you make a mind, and that's a big problem. So when you're doing something, just do it! Don't make "mind." That's true Yoga. OK?

What was that about? "Just do it"? This guy was supposed to be some extraordinary Master. How could he get away with a teaching that said so damn little?

My apartment in Berkeley was coincidentally just a few blocks away from one of the handful of Zen Centers that ZMSS had established around the world. I visited a few times to hear talks by other teachers that ZMSS had authorized, and to read from a couple of his books.

The teaching was always so simple, it was practically invisible. Human beings enter the ocean of suffering when we make something, i.e., when we attach to I/my/me-thinking like "I like/dislike something," "I want to get something," etc. But our original, before-thinking mind always shines purely, like empty space, or a clear mirror. Red appears, and this mirror-mind only reflects red. White appears, only white.

Simplicity shouldn't have bothered me. By my latter days in India, I'd already been pondering how sometimes my spiritual efforts seemed like building a house, by acquiring and stacking together special experiences and understandings. I'd decided that I really needed to do the opposite, to metaphorically tear down that building by throwing away whatever ideas I found myself clinging to.

But still... I guess I'd been holding out hope that as I kept returning to witness-consciousness, it'd eventually lead me to some lasting, substantial attainment. Famous teachers I'd read, like Ramana Maharishi, had spoken about a permanent attainment, enlightenment or self-realization or some such. I think Ramana had said it was like our self-effort was necessary to keep us bobbing on the surface of the ocean, not drowning in the world. All we could or should do is to patiently continue our efforts till God would swoop down and take us the rest of the way. Did I really need to give up all hope of this "enlightenment," and be left with nothing but "just do it"?

[originally posted here]