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Dharma Speeches
by Zen Master Y.S. Seong Do

Dharma Speech Collection

This dharma speech collection contains a selection of dharma speeches given by Ven. Zen master
Young San Seong Do during
weekly sessions at International Zen-Temple gem. e.V.
The writings are based on notes taken by disciples after the sessions. They do not reproduce
the dharma speech in full length but focus on a single topic raised within the original speeches.
For a more literal account of the dharma speeches given by Ven. Zen master Young San Seong Do,
please refer to, for example, his dharma speech at the
10-day retreat in Sommerswalde
or in the
Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin.

You may access dharma speeches given at special occasions through the index on the left.

More dharma speeches by Ven. Zen master Young San Seong Do can be found in our Press Archive , our Gong-An (Koan) Collection, or under the heading Anecdotes about Zen Masters.

Dharma speeches by the Ven. Zen master on the Heart Sutra are available in the section On the Heart Sutra.

Liberation from the Four Notions
Zen and the Practice of the Six Paramitas
What is the True Dharma?
What is this One Thing?
Prajna - the Highest Wisdom
The Essence of Life
Liberation from Life and Death
The Three Dharma Seals of Buddhism
Zen Master Nam Cheon's Cat
"Whipping the Horse, not the Carriage" of Zen Master Huai Yang
What does "Zen Practice" mean?
Put down the Silence also!
The Two Steps of Gong-An Seon Practice
Bring me even the Cow on which you ride
Everything is the Buddha Way
Return to Your Mind - Right here and now
Put down the Good Thoughts, too
The Four Obstacles on the Zen Path
Two Ways of Buddhist Practice
Zen Is Not a Theory
Zen-Master Ho Am's Poem

Liberation from the Four Notions

It is said: "A Zen master is a person who is ideally free, and only responsible to his own self." What does this mean?

There are many ways to be "free". For example, you can be free and do this and that at your will by relying on political power, money, or even brute force. A Zen master has none of the above, and yet he is free in a perfect, ideal way. How is this possible?

The Diamond Sutra says that the world of phenomena is based on the "four notions" (laksanas). The most important and fundamental of these is the notion of a self. This is a fixed idea that something like an "I" or "self" exists. Our "self" is dear to us, and when someone says: "There is no such thing as a self!", we feel cornered and insulted, and we will defend this "self" tooth and nail. The notion of a self is grouped together with the notion of a person (for example, the thought that there are other people who are not "I"), the notion of a sentient being (this includes the notion of a cycle of rebirths) and the notion of a life span (including thoughts about the passage of time and a fate). We are totally caught up in these four illusory notions and, then, our mind constantly ejects countless individual illusions which we nurture and cherish, and with which we are obsessed.

A Zen master has abandoned the four notions through his practice; he has completely rid himself of them. Thus, when having completed his practice, he is only responsible to his own self. Even if he deliberately wished to be responsible to something special, that would be just perfectly impossible!

Once you understand the true meaning of these sentences, you can appreciate how important true practice is. Therefore, relinquish your entanglement in the four notions and see your true self by going the way of practice, with patience and perseverance, and always keeping the big question: "What is this?"

From a dharma speech by Ven. Zen master Young San Seong Do

Berlin, February 2016


Zen and the Practice of the Six Paramitas

What is the purpose of Zen practice? As you well know, it is to see your true nature. The true nature that you are searching for and the true mind of Buddha are not dual. It is the perfection of life. Here, there is neither good nor bad, neither large nor small. If that is so, then where do problems come from?

Some might say that the Three Poison Minds (tri akusala mula) create our problems. That is right. However, a practitioner needs to know that not only evil mind, but also kusala mula, the good mind, creates problems.

Where do akusala mula and kusala mula come from? From the six types of consciousness. These arise when the six sense organs encounter the six sense objects. These six types of consciousness, from which good and bad minds arise are therefore called the six thieves (Kor. yuk jeok) in the school of practice. How then can you defeat these six thieves? By cultivating the six types of consciousness by means of the Six Paramitas.

Dhana, generosity, means letting go, cutting off all illusions. Sila, or keeping the precepts, thus means to keep the mind continuously pure and clear. However, this is not easy! Therefore, great patience (ksanti) and continuous practice (viriya) are necessary.

If you practice these first four paramitas, you can finally achieve calmness and peace of mind. Through the practice of mindfulness or contemplation (dhyana), your mind will finally become clear and expansive like space. Then everything is just as it is. This is what we call enlightenment or wisdom (prajna).

Can we now say: Zen practice is different, it does not rely on the Six Paramitas? Not at all! The cultivation of the six paramitas is the true teaching of the Buddha and the great teachers. Zen practice is, however, a special path of the Six Paramitas. The Zen path is short, simple and active. It is just the totality of cultivating the six types of consciousness by means of the Six Paramitas.

If you practice so, this is living practice. And if you keep your mind as pure and clear as a mirror, then you can solve all the mysteries of your life and the entire universe.

From a dharma speech by Ven. Zen master Young San Seong Do

Berlin, May 2016


What is the True Dharma?

As Buddhists, we take refuge in the Three Jewels:

I take refuge in the Buddha.
I take refuge in the Dharma.
I take refuge in the Sangha.

If we take refuge in the second jewel, the Dharma (Kor.: Beob), then we take refuge in the Dharma that the Buddha attained through practice.

Dharma literally means "law" or "principle"; however, in contrast to worldly laws created by the mind, the Dharma of the Buddha is exactly the essential point of your mind that creates all worldly principles. As taught by the Buddha in the Diamond Sutra, everything arises from it: all situations – good and bad, life and death – arise from it. We call this point "Buddha Dharma", but should know that this is just a name which we merely use as an expedient and should not adhere to.

In the Diamond Sutra, this point is known as Anuttara Samyak Sambodhi ("the supreme perfect enlightenment").
All practitioners attempt to reach this Dharma of the Anuttara Samyak Sambodhi from which everything arises by means of continuous intensive practice. Before it is attained by practitioners, their minds are confused, full of suffering and unstable.

But how can we attain this essential point of our mind? There is no alternative course other than diligent and devoted practice, by relying from moment to moment on the koan question: What is this that creates everything?
What is this from which everything arises? What am I? What is this?

Hold this question at all times, thus continuously progressing for ten thousand years.

From a dharma speech by Ven. Zen master Young San Seong Do


What is this One Thing?

Long ago in China lived the Zen Master Hui-neng, who became well known as the Sixth Patriarch. One day, he posed the following question to a large assembly of students: "There is one thing here. It has neither name nor form. What is this thing?"

A young monk stepped forward and said: "It is the fundamental source of the whole universe, the essential point of my own mind, the Buddha nature of this practitioner."

The patriarch Hui-neng replied: "Whosoever speaks thus may perhaps in the future become a clever and famous monk, but will never attain great enlightenment."

Commentary by Ven. Zen Master Young San Seong Do:

So what is this one thing? If you do not know it, sit on your cushion, lower your gaze and look into your mind. Always keep this question in your mind: "What is this? What is this one thing without name and form? What is it that creates all things?"

But if you just sit on your cushion and indulge in other thoughts, become attached to thoughts and feelings, you will never enter the Zen gate.

So: what is this? Give me a word!

From a dharma speech by Ven. Zen master Young San Seong Do

Prajna – the Highest Wisdom

The word ‘prajna’ found in the Diamond Sutra and many other Buddhist texts is usually translated into Western languages as ‘wisdom’.  However, prajna is not ordinary, worldly wisdom that is gained through knowledge. The prajna attained through Zen practice is ultimately nothing other than your clear mind, nothing but Buddha-nature.

At the beginning, the practitioner relies on literary prajna by reading and reciting sutras and listening to Dharma speeches. Thus he attains the theoretical understanding that he is on ‘this shore’ of the ocean of suffering, and awakens the desire to reach the ‘other shore’, where the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are.

Then, through the practice of meditation, he realises contemplative prajna and understands that he is grasping at the outer, false self, which is an illusion. He then begins to seek his ‘home’, his true self or Buddha-nature. The practitioner realizes that he does not have to reach the other shore from this shore, but must come back to this shore – his true nature – from the other shore.

Anyone who finally realizes real mark prajna, perceives that there is no ‘this shore’ and no ‘other shore’. There is no ‘this’ or ‘other’, but everything, no matter how we call it, is ‘thus’.

Practice diligently and earnestly! Then, by relying on literary prajna and contemplative prajna, you will realize the highest wisdom, real mark prajna.

From a dharma speech by Ven. Zen master Young San Seong Do


The Essence of Life

What is the essence of our lives? The essence of our human lives is our mind. But what is the "mind"? Where is this “mind”?

Some people might answer: “My mind is here.” If so, would something that we see over there not be our mind?
Others might say: “My mind is just now.” Only now? Are past and future not our mind?
Because we do not know our mind we cannot truly come to rest. We might look in the outer world for a sense in life, but the things we stick to on this search are all impermanent. They cannot provide us enduring, lasting satisfaction.

As a consequence, of all things just those we rely on become new sources of suffering. And as we look for other things to replace the former one’s, we simply start to wander around on our search for security.
Thereby we cannot prevent us from having fits of uncertainty, anxiety, and pain. We suffer and have lost ourselves.

Where does the suffering in our life stem from? Does it really come from outside?
Buddha said: “All suffering originates from our selves, from our mind.” As long as we cannot control our mind, we inevitably and permanently produce new suffering. But how could we control our mind? First of all we need to see our mind.

Instead of following our sensual perceptions continuously, we should hold on to the one that gives rise to these sensual perceptions.

Who is it who sees, smells, tastes, feels and thinks?
In other words: Who am I actually?
Keep asking you this question constantly.

From a dharma speech by Ven. Zen Master Young San Seong Do


Liberation from Life and Death

The most terrible thing in our life is death. Therefore, the most urgent task of Zen practitioners is to liberate themselves from life and death.

About 2500 years ago, a prince called Siddharta Gautama left his royal home to dedicate himself entirely to the search of the highest truth. At the age of 35, the moment he caught sight of the morning star, he became enlightened and announced:
“It is wonderful that all beings bear the Buddha nature within them. [But] Only because they hold on to their illusions, they are unable to realize this [fact].”
The great enlightenment is nothing but the liberation from all illusions, the liberation from life and death. To get to this, there is no other way than seeing oneself, seeing one´s true nature.

What is it that knows that it is alive? What is it that knows that it must die?

The liberation from life and death is nothing one could carry out “some other day”.
When, but just now, would you want to realize it?

From a dharma speech by Ven. Zen Master Young San Seong Do


The Three Dharma Seals of Buddhism

The whole Buddhist doctrine with its 84,000 sutras is contained in the ‘Three Seals’: 1) Everything is suffering;
2) all things are without self; 3) Nirvana is the quiet of bliss. What does this mean?

We sentient beings unceasingly give rise to thoughts of good and bad. Then we follow our desire to seize the good and escape from the bad. Thus our mind is scattered in all directions. Once we realize that everything is suffering, it is no longer necessary to pursue this and that. This is what is called the ‘Seal of Suffering’.

Similarly, all sentient beings have a big ego to which we cling. Then we give rise to thoughts such as: “My property! My family!” and fight against others. But in fact there is no such ‘self.’ ‘Self’ is just an idea, a notion, a concept. Everything exists only for a limited time and is subject to constant change. We come and go with empty hands. Neither in our body nor in what we call our mind can a fixed self be found. This is called the ‘Seal of Non-self’.

Once we clearly realize through our practice that everything is suffering and that all things are without self, then our mind is no longer scattered here and there. Then, quite naturally and of itself, the pure and clear mind arises. For this to happen, there is no alternative course other than intensive koan practice, to cut off all attachments to good or bad, to our body or possessions.
Through our practice we can recognize that all phenomena are our mind and our mind is all phenomena, and that even ‘mind’ and ‘phenomena’ are ultimately nothing but names. Then mountain is just mountain and mind is just mind. To see our pure and clear mind and keep it thus is Nirvana. This is called ‘Seal of the Bliss of Nirvana.’

I hope you practitioners will constantly keep the question: "Where does suffering come from? Who is it giving rise to self?”, and thus realize through intensive practice the Dharma Seals of Buddhism.

From a dharma speech by Ven. Zen Master Young San Seong Do


Zen Master Nam Cheon's Cat

The Sutra says: If mind arises, all forms arise; if all forms arise, dharma arises; if dharma arises, suffering arises. That is to say: If you let a thought arise, everything arises - good, bad, true, false - and therefore also all difficulties. Thus, the following question is essential for Zen practitioners: How can I not let any thoughts arise?

Long ago in China, the great Zen Master Nam Cheon was the abbot of a temple with more than 500 disciples, who lived in two halls. One day, the monks of the eastern hall were arguing with the monks of the western hall about a little cat wandering around the garden, meowing. The monks of the eastern hall said: "That cat is ours! It belongs to us, not to you." The monks of the western hall, for their part, answered: "No, this cat is certainly ours; it has always belonged to the western hall!” When Nam Cheon heard the commotion, he entered the garden. He saw what was happening, grabbed the cat with the left hand and, with a sword in his right hand, said: "Whoever has attained the Buddha path, give me a word. But if no one gives me a word, I will kill the cat." None of the monks said a word and therefore Nam Cheon cut the cat in two pieces. Then he turned around and left.

If you had been there, would you have been able to save the life of the poor cat? Give me a word!

If you cannot even save a little cat, how do you then expect to save all sentient beings? In that case, however, you should sit with determination and continually hold the question: "Who is it that lets thoughts arise? What am I?"

From a dharma speech by Ven. Zen Master Young San Seong Do


"Whipping the Horse, not the Carriage"
of Zen Master Huai Yang

A long time ago the great Zen master and Seventh Patriarch Nam Ak Huai Yang lived in China. One of his students, Ma Jo, practised day and night sitting Zen, very intensively and earnestly. One day, Zen master Nam Ak Huai Yang approached him and asked: “Why do you sit day and night?” The student Ma Jo answered: “I want to become a Buddha!”

The next day, in the evening, the Zen master took a roof tile, sat down near Ma Jo and began to grind it on a grindstone. After a while, Ma Jo, who was sitting in deep meditation, could no longer stand the loud noise and cried out: “Venerable Zen master, what are you doing there?”

The Zen master replied: “I am grinding a roof tile. I want to turn it into a mirror.” The student Ma Jo burst out laughing and said: “But, master, I’ve never heard of anyone who made a mirror by grinding a roof tile!” Zen master Nam Ak Huai Yang at once scolded him harshly: “And I’ve never heard of anyone who has become a Buddha simply by sitting!”

Ma Jo realized that he was on a wrong path, made prostrations in front of the Zen master and asked for instruction. Nam Ak Huai Yang then said: “If the horse-carriage doesn’t move, do you whip the horse or the carriage?” “The horse of course!” replied Ma Jo. The Zen master said: “It is exactly the same with your practice. You have to whip your mind-horse and not the body-carriage.” From then on Ma Jo practised intensively with the koan and became the great Eighth Patriarch.

Practitioners: if you just sit on the cushion and follow other thoughts, you can practice one hundred years without ever achieving anything. However, if you rely on the koan question “Who am I? What is this?” from moment to moment and practise intensively, you can attain your true self.

From a dharma speech by Ven. Zen Master Young San Seong Do

Berlin, July 2014


What does "Zen Practice" mean?

You have come here to practice Zen! But what does "Zen practice" mean?

Zen practice is first of all to stop this confused, noisy, wandering mind and bring it slowly to rest. And then, once the mind has become quiet, to introspect, or to look back into one's mind.

But how can this be achieved? By sitting on a cushion, adopting a comfortable and stable posture, focussing on a point and striving to let go of all other thoughts. Then we should look deeply into the question: "Who am I?", "What is this sitting here?", "Where did I come from when I was born? Where will I go when I die?"

If we practice with perseverance and devotion, our complicated and intricate thoughts will gradually disappear like a fog, and silence, clarity and brightness will appear. Then the true self which we have lost slowly becomes visible.

We suffer because we have lost our true self: We do not know who we are and what our life is, we are often sad or anxious. When our true self becomes visible, the mind becomes calm, just like the vast ocean reflects the bright moon in the sky and the whole universe on a windless night. Then you suddenly understand: The whole universe is not separate from you. If your mind is clear, the whole world is clear; if your mind is darkened, the whole world is confused.

Therefore practitioners, if you want to live a good and happy life, you should simply try to keep your mind pure and clear at all times. However, this is not easy; it requires great zeal and great determination. It is therefore said that the practice of Zen is both very easy and very difficult.

Who am I? What is this? I hope you make a strong question and keep it at all times so as to illuminate it - for yourself and for all sentient beings!

From a dharma speech by Ven. Zen Master Young San Seong Do

Berlin, March 2015


Put down the Silence also

An eminent Zen master said: “Your everyday life is Zen.” What does this mean? How can your everyday life be Zen? A true Zen practitioner should not only practise ‘sitting Zen’ on the cushion, but also ‘moving Zen’ while walking or working; and when he lies down on the bed, he should also practice ‘lying Zen’.

There are two types of practice: Muk Jo Seon (Soto Zen in Jap.) and Gong An Seon (Koan Zen in Jap.). In Muk Jo Seon (from Korean ‘muk’ silent and ‘jo’ bright), the practitioner tries to let go of all thoughts and attain deep silence and radiant brightness while sitting on the cushion. While moving and lying down, he strives to maintain them through his practice energy. In Gong An Seon, however, the student strives incessantly to keep the one question “What is this?” (or “Who am I? Who is this?”), thus cutting off all other thoughts – while sitting, moving, or lying down.

In Muk Jo Seon, reaching deep stillness and brightness is already regarded as enlightenment; in Gong An Seon, in contrast, a final homework remains: the one question. Only by breaking through the Koan-question can enlightenment be reached.

If you’re a true practitioner, you will try constantly to keep your Koan and let go of all other thoughts. However, if you abide in any situations or thoughts, you will create an object that stands against you as the subject. Then you lose your Koan and will be entangled in the illusionary world of duality.

If you keep your Koan rightly, there is neither ‘mountain’ nor ‘water’, neither ‘brightness’ nor ‘silence’. If someone should then speak to you about brightness and silence, you could reply in great freedom: “If you like ‘silence’, then enjoy it, if you like the word ‘brightness’, then use it!”

I hope you practice diligently and use to the full your Koan-sword to take the barrier of life in your stride, without clinging to anything, such as ‘silence’ and ‘brightness’.

From a dharma speech by Ven. Zen Master Young San Seong Do

Berlin, June 2015


The Two Steps of Gongan Seon Practice

Zen practice is very simple! And yet it seems so difficult to practitioners. Why? Because it is so very difficult for us to make our mind empty, that is, to let go of all attachments. What does this mean?

In the school of Gongan Seon (Jap. Koan Zen), continuous practice with the main koan "What is this?" is of utmost importance. However, for worldly people who constantly think about their pursuits and personal relationships, it is impossible to immediately start with koan practice.

This is why we must first give everything up, put everything down (Sanskrit: upeksha). The means to this end is sitting practice, which therefore is of the greatest importance. By sitting without moving in a stable lotus position and controlling our breath, we can overcome the attachment to our physical body. But also the root of our physical body, our six sense organs, must be brought to rest. To do so, it is particularly important to focus our eyes immovably on a point while cutting off all other thoughts. We can thus achieve a very quiet, bright and joyous state of concentration.

Then, when our mind has become pure and clear through the practice of "put-it-down!", we can start to hold the big question "What is this?" in the right way, to see our true nature and attain enlightenment .

Therefore, practitioners: Apply yourself to sitting practice with great faith and with strong determination! Sit fully and put everything down! And then keep the koan, earnestly and perseveringly, whether you are sitting, moving, or lying down. Continue with this practice for ten thousand years!

From a dharma speech by Ven. Zen Master Young San Seong Do

Berlin, August 2015


Bring me even the Cow on which you ride

The practice of Zen is a form of religious practice. It is the essence of Buddhist teaching; according to some scholars, it is even the essence of all religions. Therefore, when we sit on our cushions, we should do so with great devotion. Holding our body in the right position, controlling our breath, putting down our thoughts and, finally, searching for our true nature: all of this should be done with great care and attention.

It is said that the practice of Zen is very easy and yet very difficult. It is very easy because you just have to sit on a cushion, look down, introspect and, by keeping the koan, search for your true nature. If you practise in this way then, whenever you feel confused, anxious or sad, you can simply sit down and attain a calm and peaceful mind. You can practice in any place: in the mountains or in the midst of a busy marketplace. Isn't that a wonderfully simple way to practice a religion?

However, Zen practice is difficult because we lack the faith and energy to practice. We do not sufficiently have the faith to rely on our own pure and clear nature in all situations, and we let this and that pleasure distract us instead of devoting ourselves wholeheartedly to practice. That is why we come to the Zen Temple to practice under the guidance of the Zen Master together with others and increase our practice energy. This Samadhi energy also makes our life easier and happier.

Let me tell you a true story told to me by my master, the great Zen Master Hae Am, which took place about 100 years ago.

In Korea, monks gather twice a year for a three-month intensive practice period in which they do not leave the temple. If such a practice is led by a great Zen master, the best and most enthusiastic monks flock to the monastic temple.

At the foot of the mighty mountain Ji-ri-san lies the great monastery Cheon-eun-sa, above which, half way to the summit of the mountain, lies its associated hermitage, Sam-il-am. It had been announced that the winter intensive practice at the Sam-il-am hermitage would be led by the very famous Zen Master Seong Wol. The participant list for the 50 available places was closed a month before the starting date due to the large number of applications from great monks, who wanted to practice with a pure mind and great determination.

Everything was already prepared and the daily routine had been precisely fixed, when, a day before the practice was set to begin, an over 70-year-old monk, named Ho Eun, appeared and declared that he absolutely wanted to participate. The monks were outraged, not only because there was not any free place, but also because it was impossible for this old monk to have gained the necessary experience for such an exceptionally hard practice. However, it happened that the old monk was none other than the Abbot of the main temple Cheon-eun-sa from the foot of the mountain, and could not be dissuaded from his wish despite the protest of the monks. He said: "If there's no free place for me here anymore, it doesn't matter! I'm also happy to sit in front of the door in the entrance hall. Then I'll be less likely to disrupt others when I leave the hermitage. After all, I must go about my business as Abbot and look after my family." At that time, under Japanese occupation, monks in Korea were allowed to marry.

These special requests made the other monks even angrier, but Zen Master Seong Wol, who had heard the dispute, decided that the Abbot should be allowed to participate. Hence, the old monk practised with the others, but on some evenings he would leave the hermitage to return for practice at early dawn, after a long ascent in the bitter cold, during which the icicles in his beard could be heard clanking.

After one and a half months, after the mid-session Dharma speech of the Zen Master, practitioners were allowed to discuss the Dharma among themselves and ask questions. The later Zen Master Hae Am – at that time a young monk – took the opportunity to ask Zen Master Seong Wol: "Venerable Zen Master! When I practised under Zen Master Hae Wol, there appeared one day a wandering monk, who asked the Zen Master: 'There is a saying in the Zen school which goes: Looking for a cow while riding a cow. What does this mean?' Zen Master Hae Wol answered: 'You are wandering about, asking useless questions'. Since I heard this dialogue of Dharma, I have wondered what the saying means and whether it was right of Zen Master Hae Wol to chase the wandering monk away like that. Please teach me!"

Zen Master Seong Wol then urged the young monk to ask him the same question, exactly as he had heard it at the other temple in the past. Hae Am arranged his robe, made three prostrations and asked in due form: "Venerable Zen Master, what does it mean: to search for the cow while riding a cow?" Zen Master Seong Wol replied: "Give up the cow you're looking for and bring me even the cow on which you ride!"

All present monks were very surprised and found themselves at a loss. At that very moment, the old monk cried out: "I know! Now I know it! No one here knows, only I know!” while dancing around. The other practitioners stared at the old monk incredulously; Zen Master Seong Wol, however, summoned him to his room and tested him. The old monk was able to give a perfect answer to all the koans of the Zen Master: Zen Master Seong Wol therefore announced to all participants that the Abbot had attained enlightenment.

Then the old monk wrote an enlightenment poem:

At the sound of the words: ´Bring me the cow on which you ride!`
I was suddenly aware that the whole universe is my home.
On the summit of the Mountain of Wisdom, neither increasing nor decreasing,
I sing a song of peace, while freely coming and going.

Weeping, the old monk thanked Zen Master Seong Wol: "You have saved me. Only because I met a great Zen master, I was able to realize enlightenment. As a result, I could finally free myself from my heavy karma!"

The old monk resigned from his position as Abbot, made his family be well taken care of, and next he was appointed teacher of the great temple Maha-yeum in Geum-gang-san (Diamond Mountain), in present-day North Korea.

If you intensively practice with great faith, you can melt your karma and finally save your life. Therefore, do not become attached to transient worldly affairs! Make an earnest effort, do your best!

From a dharma speech by Ven. Zen Master Young San Seong Do

Berlin, March 2016


Everything is the Buddha Way

What is the Buddha Way? The answer of an eminent Zen Master to this question is: "Everything is the Buddha Way."

There are people who never cease to inquire about the true nature of everyday reality: What is this cup? What is this chair? What is this light? - and so on. Certainly, the absolute nature of the universe cannot be understood by questioning everything in this way. Therefore no specific thing is the Buddha Way. And so nothing is the Buddha Way. Is this right?

What is the Buddha Way? This question is identical to the question: What should we do with our lives? Or: Why do we live? All questions about the meaning of our existence and the meaning of the universe can be summarized in a single question: Who is the one who is asking these questions? Who am I?

It is absolutely essential to ask this question in the right way. It is not a question that can be answered with words. It can, in fact, not be answered at all. The question itself is not ultimately composed of words. The words only serve to give our mind a direction - towards itself. If we succeed in keeping the question and thus maintaining the direction, the question will burst into certainty.

The Diamond Sutra says: "The past mind cannot be grasped at, neither can the present mind be grasped at, nor can the future mind be grasped at." This mind creates the world. There is no place where it is not. Everything is the Buddha Way.

From a dharma speech by Ven. Zen Master Young San Seong Do


Return to Your Mind - Right here and now!

In the second chapter of the Diamond Sutra, the Buddha teaches that a practitioner should "thus" abide and should "thus" subdue his mind. What does this mean?

The Buddha-mind is "thus". "Thus" means "just as it is". "Thus" therefore refers to your mind right here and right now. If ordinary people hear this statement, they immediately give rise to thoughts about "here-and-now" and cling to them, like "Ah, it's all about right here and right now". In doing so, they depart from their "thus-mind". A true practitioner, however, should immediately see that which gives rise to "here-and-now".

If you continuously strive to return to your "right-here-and-right-now mind", you can clearly see your mind's myriad illusions and remove them. To do so, there is no alternative course other than relying on the teaching of the Buddha and the Zen Master, and keeping your koan from moment to moment. If you do so, your thoughts gradually disappear and your mind comes to rest. Once your mind has become quiet and clear, you can see even the smallest idea as it approaches you and immediately enlighten it. Once your mind is pure and clear like a mirror, you can see that you and the universe are completely one. But this "one" is only an expedient means that you must relinquish.

But if you do not constantly return to your "right-here-and-right-now mind", and instead incessantly cling to situations and relationships, you will become increasingly entangled in the illusions of your own mind and become more and more confused and you will suffer. All these situations and relationships are nothing more than illusions of your mind and have no reality of their own.

Therefore, practitioners, cut off all other thoughts and return to the "right-here-and-now mind"! What is this?

From a dharma speech by Ven. Zen Master Young San Seong Do


Put down the Good Thoughts, too

When the great Korean Zen Master Wonhyo once taught that practitioners should not give rise to good thoughts, a disciple asked him whether he should give rise to bad thoughts instead. This is very foolish! Of course, you should not produce evil thoughts in your mind. This is what all saints and sages teach.

But a true practitioner should also not cling to high ideals such as "loving mind" or "great mercy". He should abandon simultaneously both the positive and negative thoughts that arise in his mind. In that sense, Chapter 5 of the Diamond Sutra says that everything that has marks is transient – and therefore an illusion that you finally must relinquish.

This means: You must even overcome the highest Dharma, the teachings of the Buddha (Buddha-Dharma)! Some people who hear this may disdain the Buddha’s teachings or speak bad of the Buddha. But that’s a gross misunderstanding! "To overcome even the Buddha Dharma" means just to attain enlightenment. Because if you attain enlightenment, there is not even "the Buddha Dharma".

If someone asks you: "Have you achieved a great Dharma after fifteen years of practising under Zen Master Seong Do?", then, if you are a true practitioner, you should answer: "Had I achieved anything, then this would be a great illusion!"

Therefore, practitioners, do not attempt to attain anything! Relinquish everything and try to see the one that attains and relinquishes!

From a dharma speech by Ven. Zen Master Young San Seong Do

Berlin, August 2015


The Four Obstacles on the Zen Path

Practitioners on the Zen Path – this is the normal course of practice – encounter four obstacles.

The first obstacle is pain. It is the obstacle of the beginner who is strongly attached to his physical body. Once this obstacle is overcome through constant practice and the practitioner is able to sit easily and comfortably, the second obstacle sets in: sleep. No matter how hard the practitioner struggles, he is always sleepy and unable to do anything against it. Once this obstacle is also overcome and the practitioner is awake from the moment he sits on the cushion, the obstacle of not-knowing arises. At this level, the practitioner does not make any progress with his koan, no matter how hard he tries. He browses through books, asks for advice from Dharma friends, but is completely stuck and dissatisfied with everything. Once the Zen student also overcomes this obstacle and starts breaking through the koans, he encounters the obstacle of knowledge. Due to his enlightenment, everything is immediately clear; he has an answer for everything and is delighted. But this obstacle also, even bigger than the last, has to be overcome.

How should a Zen student deal with these obstacles? Do not become attached to pain, do not cling to sleep, and do not grasp at ignorance or knowledge! Instead, keep the question at all times: "Who is the master who creates the pain?", "Who is it that is sleepy?" "What exactly is the one who does not know?" Or "Who is the one who knows everything?" There is no alternative course.

If you practice diligently in this way, all of these obstacles will be overcome and your mind will become as pure and clear as a bright mirror.

From a dharma speech by Ven. Zen Master Young San Seong Do

Berlin, June 2012


Two Ways of Buddhist Practice

There are many forms of Buddhist practice, such as the study of sutras, recitation of mantras, prostrations, and so on. All these practices have in common that they help us clarify our restless mind so that we can achieve peace and tranquillity. We can then master our life without friction and problems.

Although this important goal can only be achieved through practice, it is not yet the true Buddha path! This consists in attaining one's true mind by cutting of all thoughts and thus understanding everything. This is the wisdom (Skt.: prajna), which is missing in the first path. Based on this wisdom, the practitioner can then lead a life that is completely clear and free. This is therefore also called liberation (Kor.: haetal). It is taught that whoever obtains liberation becomes a teacher of all beings, even of heavenly beings!

Therefore, in order to walk the true path of the Buddha, it is necessary to completely relinquish our attachment to all thoughts. Always, in every situation, even when we sleep, we are attached to something and are thus continually drawn into various mental states, such as fatigue, sadness, or anger. The direct method to free oneself from this perpetual entanglement and attachment to these illusions is Koan Zen practice, the constant holding of the great koan question directed to our own self "What is this?"

Finally, by persistently holding the koan in any situation, not only during sitting practice on the meditation cushion, but also while walking, standing or lying down, working, arguing, or crying, the practitioner can fully control his own self. Only then is he really completely free to decide at any moment whether he wants, for example, to continue arguing or crying, or prefers not to.

If you want to achieve liberation from all the illusions in which you are entangled, then practice intensively and tirelessly with the koan.

From a dharma speech by Ven. Zen Master Young San Seong Do

Berlin, February 2017


Zen Is Not a Theory

Zen is completely different from worldly philosophies. Zen is, practically speaking, about attaining a clear and pure mind and thus putting an end to suffering.

One day the great Zen Master Majo, a Zen patriarch in China, was asked by a student: "What is Buddha?" The Zen Master replied: "The mind is Buddha."

But what is this mind? Buddha taught that the mind is the origin of the entire universe. Everything arises or ceases from the mind. Therefore, the mind is so extremely important. Yet we know nothing about it. Although we use it every day, we do not understand it.

The Sutra says: "When thinking appears, Dharma appears; when Dharma appears, forms appear; when forms appear, suffering appears." And then: "When thinking disappears, Dharma also disappears; when Dharma disappears, form disappears; and when form disappears, suffering also disappears." It's very simple.

What is the problem then? The problem is thinking. We have to cut off our thinking. When we put all our thoughts down, we can live very happily every day. It's only because of thoughts that we suffer every day, are worried and sometimes sad, sometimes angry. Not because of something outside of us, or because of others - only because of our own thinking. When we cut our thoughts off, our minds become clear and we can live freely and without fear.

To cut off thinking is not easy. That is why the Zen masters gave us an important question: "Who am I?" or "What am I?" By continually relying on this question, sadness, anxiety, or anger gradually disappear and the pure, clear, and bright mind appears.

Anyone who overcomes all their thoughts in this way can keep their own self stable, overcome all difficulties and lead a happy life.

From a dharma speech by Ven. Zen Master Young San Seong Do

Zen-Master Ho Am's Poem

In Buddhism the truth is realized by enlightening our own self. By seeing our true nature, we can correctly understand the mysteries of nature, the Buddha, and all of his teachings.

To see our true self, we must look inside and abandon all attachment to external signs and illusionary thoughts. This is very difficult, and therefore Zen masters give practitioners the question: "Who am I? What is this?" to help them greatly.

The great Zen master Ho Am wrote this poem:

Sitting silently in a mountain temple at dead of night
Extreme quietness and stillness are the original nature.
Why then does the western wind shake the forest?
A single cry of the cold (weather) geese fills the sky.

The first line describes your practice. You sit on the cushion and give up all other thoughts by relying on the koan. Then your mind becomes clear and calm, and you enter a world of quiet. You realize that absolute quietness and stillness are your original nature. If your mind is at rest, the whole universe is at rest. If you let illusory thoughts arise, everything is confused and noisy.

Nevertheless, the sound of the wind shaking the forest arises. Why is that? In the quiet of your true nature there are no sounds. A practitioner should know where this sound of the wind comes from. Everything has already been said in the second line. If something appears, it means you have let illusions arise. If a sound arises, a true practitioner sees this immediately and returns to the koan. If your practice is weak, however, you follow the noise and cling to it.

The last line describes complete freedom from everything. If you do not attach to sounds, they are not a problem. The sounds are free from you and you are free from the sounds. Only if you become attached to them and follow them, it is a big problem.

Practitioners, do not cling to outward signs or to illusions; always rely for your practice on one question only: "Who am I? What is this?" This question has the power to save you from life and death.

From a dharma speech by Ven. Zen Master Young San Seong Do

Berlin, August 2017

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