Zen Master Seung Sahn

I often talk about primary point. What is primary point? When you have a scale and there is nothing being weighed, the indicator points to zero. You put something on it, and the pointer swings to “one pound.” You take it off, the pointer goes back to zero. This is primary point. After you find your primary point, then good feelings come, bad feelings come, so your pointer swings in one direction or the other. But this doesn’t matter. Don’t check it. When the feeling is over with, the pointer swings back to zero.

But if you haven’t found your primary point, then it is like taking a heavy object off of the scale and having the pointer stay at “ten pounds.” Or the pointer moves back only part-way, it doesn’t go completely back to zero. Then you have a problem. Your scale does not weigh correctly. Maybe if you put a heavy object on it, it will break completely.

So first you must find your primary point. Then you must keep it very strongly.

A taxi has weak shock absorbers, so it hits a small bump and bounces up and down. A train has strong shock absorbers, so it is very steady. If you keep your primary point, your mind-spring will become stronger and stronger. You will meet big problems and your mind will move less and less. A big problem comes, your mind moves, but soon returns to primary point. Finally, your mind will be very strong; it will be able to carry any load.

Then saving all people is possible.


Zen Master Bon Yeon (Jane Dobisz)

A long time ago in China, Zen Master Joju visited a hermit and asked, “Do you have it? Do you have it? The hermit held up his fist. “The water is too shallow to anchor here,” said Joju and went away. Later Joju met another hermit and asked him, “Do you have it? Do you have it?” The second hermit help up his fist.

“You are free to give or take away, to kill, or give life,” said Joju, bowing to him. Two hermits; same question, same answer. Why did Zen Master Joju approve of one and disapprove of the other?

How much do you believe in yourself? 20%? 50%? or 100%? Everyone is always telling us, “You must go this way,” or “You should live that way,” Our parents, our spouses and children, our friends, society, religion, culture, the economy, the Internet, the media – they all have their own idea for us. How we should think, act, pray, spend, save, communicate, and feel. Who can compete with that? It’s a very tall order.

You’d hate to think that your whole life could just be a patchwork molded by all these forces. We know that to some extent we will be influenced by them, but isn’t there one thing, somewhere,  that is not dependent on all of this?

There’s one way to find out. Throw away all of the above and see what happens. Never mind about Joju’s approval or disapproval. Ask your own true self the same question and see if you trust what appears.

The most important thing is to stay nimble, stay with things they are, and keep awake. There’s going on retreat and there’s returning home or as they call it in the Zen tradition, “returning to the marketplace.” There’s clarity in solitude, and there’s clarity as you drive your car on Route 95 during rush hour.

Even the slightest hint of holiness or righteousness will take you away from just doing it. Keen-eyed people can see it coming from miles away and they’ll run for their lives. Who can blame them? If you have a Zen idea, it’s still that: an idea.

Let your mind go anyplace without hindrance.


Barry Briggs, Ji Do Poep Sa Nim

Some years ago, I studied aikido, the Japanese martial art. I was a spectacularly poor aikido student, ungainly and resistant. But I did persist in trying.

Once, during a weekend workshop, I was partnered with an imposing, nearly immovable black-belt who had trained for many years. In one exercise, I was the attacker and he was the defender. Because I was inept, I couldn’t really execute the attack properly and both of us were frustrated.

Suddenly he grabbed my arm, pulled me up against his chest, and whispered, “Come closer. When you’re close to me, I can’t hurt you.”

Now, he was almost certainly referring only to the aikido exercise. But of course his words have a resonance that goes beyond the martial arts studio. And I understood them in that larger sense.

I took the words home and really tried to examine what they meant in the context of my own life. And the truth is, I couldn’t bring the teaching alive at that time.

That’s not very surprising. After all, coming closer can seem deeply counterintuitive – we’re wired to move away from things that appear unsafe, a useful response when we encounter a Siberian tiger.

But most of us don’t regularly meet tigers — we only encounter our partners, friends, coworkers and ordinary strangers. And with these dear people, pulling away usually doesn’t produce a good outcome. In fact, pulling away almost always produces suffering.

In our teaching tradition, we have a wonderful tool for working with the tendency to pull away. We call it “don’t know mind,” the mind before any thinking appears. When you keep “don’t know mind” strongly, then you become one with the entire universe. At that moment, there is no pulling away.

Our practice cultivates “don’t know,” thereby bringing us into intimate relationship with whatever the world presents, moment after moment. Another name for this is Great Love.