Here’s an easy peasy way to practice peace by numbers! Zen Master Seung Sahn simplifies this technique so that the child in us can understand. A brilliant little except from: Wanting Enlightenment is a Big Mistake.
A student at the New Haven Zen Center once asked Zen Master Seung Sahn, “You say that one must return to the mind of a child. Also Jesus talks like this. Then what is the role of intelligence in spirituality? What is the role of intelligence in understanding Zen?”
“What do you want, right now?” Zen Master Seung Sahn replied.
“I want peace and quiet.”
“Peace? What is peace?”
“No turbulence. No movement, I guess.”
“Yah, that’s not bad,” Zen Master Seung Sahn said. “Peace is a very good word. But what exactly does it mean? What is true peace?
“Sometimes we use calculators. If there is already a number on the screen, you cannot make another calculation with the calculator. The answer will not come out right. So this is why there is a button marked ‘C’. If you push ‘C’, the screen becomes clear: it returns to zero. Then any kind of calculation is possible.
“If you keep a clear mind, then you will get happiness everywhere. This is complete peace, like a child’s mind, holding nothing whatsoever. So always just push ‘C.’ If your mind is angry, push ‘C,’ and it will become clear. If your mind is sad, push ‘C’, and your mind will become clear. Don’t-know mind is push-‘C’ mind. If you have a lot of thinking, only go straight, don’t know; then your thinking will disappear.
“But when you do not return to ‘zero’ mind, from moment to moment, you cannot see this universe as it is. If you are thinking, then even if a mountain appears before you, you do not see this mountain; you only see your suffering thinking. If you keep a sad mind, and hold your sad mind, then even if a beautiful view appears, you cannot perceive it. You are only following your thinking. So you lose this world, from moment to moment. I always say, ‘When you are thinking, you lose your eyes.’ You have eyes, but when you look at something with a mind full of thinking, you do not see that thing. Also, you do not hear completely, smell completely, taste completely, or feel completely. It is like a calculator where the numbers stay stuck on the screen: you cannot do any new calculations. This is why Zen teaches that you must return to your original mind, from moment to moment. This is pushing ‘C’. We call this ‘only don’t know.’
“When Bodhidharma first went to China, he was called in to an audience with the great Emperor Wu. This emperor was notable because he had done many, many great things to support the spread of Buddhism in his country. He had built many big temples, had sponsored the construction of many pagodas, and had disbursed vast amounts from the official treasury for the feeding and clothing of monks and the translation of sutras from India. So naturally the emperor was a little curious about how much merit he had made, and asked this distinguished guest from India, Bodhidharma.
“None whatsoever,’ Bodhidharma replied. “The emperor was completely shocked, because this seemed to run against what he had thought Buddhism was mainly concerned with, which he had heard was the accumulation of good merit through good works. ‘If I haven’t made any merit,’ he asked, ‘What is the highest holy truth of this Buddhist teaching?’
“No holiness, only vast emptiness,’ Bodhidharma said.
“The emperor was flabbergasted. ‘Who do you think you are? Who are you?’
“Don’t know,’ Bodhidharma replied.
“Bodhidharma was giving the emperor very high-class teaching: don’t-know mind—completely don’t-know mind—means cutting off all thinking. Your don’t-know mind, my don’t-know mind, Emperor Wu’s don’t-know mind, Bodhidharma’s don’t-know mind, this person’s don’t-know mind, Buddha’s don’t-know mind is the same don’t-know mind.
“Don’t-know mind means all thinking is cut off. When all thinking is cut off, mind is already empty. Empty mind is before thinking. Before thinking is your original mind. So, if you use a calculator, first you must push ‘C.’ Then only zero appears on the screen. This is empty mind. Empty mind is very important, because empty mind can do anything. One times zero equals zero; two times zero equals zero; one thousand times zero equals zero; mountain times zero equals zero; anger times zero equals zero; desire times zero equals zero. If your mind returns to zero, then everything is zero. Everything is empty. Completely no hindrance. Then your empty-mirror mind can reflect this universe just as it is. That is what Jesus meant when he taught, ‘If you want to enter the kingdom of heaven, you must become as a child again.’ A child’s mind is completely empty, so it can see this world just like this. But when you hold something in your mind, you cannot reflect this world as it is, so you cannot function for others. Instead, you always get suffering.
“But this empty mind is not empty. We say it is ’empty,’ but it is not empty. You can see the sky. There is daytime sky and nighttime sky. Yes, the sky is just the sky. But the daytime sky is blue; the nighttime sky is dark. Right now, the sky over us here in the United States is blue, while the sky in Korea is dark at this hour. Why is this so? After all, the sky is the same. Who made the sky blue? Who made the sky dark? What is the color of the original sky? Who made that color? The answer is, you did. The sky never said, ‘I am blue.’ The sky never said, ‘Yah, I am dark.’ You made that.
“But if you push your ‘C’ button—only don’t know—then there is no ‘blue,’ no ‘dark.’ Everything is just-like-this. When we see sky in the day, our empty mind reflects this blueness; when seen at night, our mind reflects the darkness. That is all.”
The student was silent for a few moments, then said, “I understand your speech, but I do not believe you. In fact, if you walk into a wall, it hurts. The wall is there whether you want to believe in it or not. The idealism you talk about does not work in reality.”
Dae Soen Sa Nim laughed, “Yah, so when you walk into the wall, only ‘Ouch!’ is correct. Ha ha ha ha!! (Laughter from the audience.) You understand too much, so you are better than me! Ha ha ha ha!! I do not understand these things, but you understand a lot. You understand too much! So I ask you, why is the sky over America now blue, and the sky over Korea now dark? It is the same sky. Why?”
The student was silent. Then he shrugged his shoulders.
“Yah, you understand too much. And yet such a question becomes difficult to you. So we’ll try this way: one plus two equals three; one plus two equals zero. Which one is correct?”
The student said, “One plus two equals three, of course.”
“Correct! But ‘one plus two equals zero’ is also correct. You must understand this. You don’t know, yah? So you must come to Zen primary school, OK? Ha ha ha ha! Every school in this world only teaches that one plus two equals three. But in the school of Zen, you first attain that one plus two equals zero. This is a very important and high-class course. It costs a lot, because it is hard on your body to come here and sit! But you must understand that one plus two equals zero.
“Before you were born, you were zero. Now you are one. In the future you will die and again become zero. So zero equals one; one equals zero. Therefore one plus two equals zero. This is Zen school. Now you understand. So I ask you, one plus two equals three; one plus two equals zero. Which one is correct? Both are correct, OK?
“But one more step is necessary. In the next course, if I ask you which one is correct and you say that both are correct, I will hit you thirty times. If you say that both are not correct, I will hit you thirty times. Then what can you do?” The student exhaled deeply, “Ah, I—” His hands flopped limply in his lap. “Hnnnggg . .”
Dae Soen Sa Nim leaned forward toward him, his eyes glinting. “OK, I ask you: is zero a number?”
“Not exactly,” the man said. “Well, yes and no, I suppose.”
“If you say it is a number, it’s a number. If you say it’s not a number, it’s not a number.”
“Not exactly,” the student said quickly.
“If you say ‘not exactly,’ I will hit you. If you say that it is a number, I will hit you. If you say that it is not a number, I will also hit you! This is the second course, because if you completely attain zero—which means, if you completely attain the nature of zero—then there is no Buddha, no God, no mind, no I, no you, no name, no form, nothing at all. And so in true zero, if you open your mouth to express that or any of this, you are also wrong. This is the second course.
“So only do it—only don’t know. This don’t-know mind is already before thinking. Before thinking there is no speech, no words. So opening your mouth to express anything about it is already a big mistake. Don’t-know mind is your primary point. Maybe someone says that this primary point is ‘mind,’ or ‘Buddha,’ or ‘God,’ or ‘consciousness,’ or ‘the Absolute,’ or ‘energy,’ or ‘substance,’ or ‘nature,’ or ‘everything.’ But the true primary point has no name and no form. There are no speech or words for it. If you keep a don’t-know mind, you are already before thinking. Before thinking is your substance, and this substance has no name and no form. Then what can you do?
“When someone asked the great Zen Master Lin Chi, ‘What is Buddha?’ he only shouted, ‘KATZ!’* When someone would ask such questions of Zen Master Dok Sahn, he would only hit the questioner with his stick—boom! And when some-one would ask Zen Master Guji, he would simply raise one finger.
*KATZ! (sometimes transliterated as “HAL!”): a sudden shout originating deep in the lower abdomen, or “center.” This is used as a wordless expression that cuts off all conceptual, discriminative thinking, delivering the listener to a direct experience of non-duality.
These Zen masters did not open their mouths. They did not use words or speech: only a wordless transmission from me to you.
“But many people think that this transmission from mind to mind is something difficult or mysterious. It is not.
“I often express it like this: when I first began living in the United States, I started noticing how a certain truck would drive slowly past the Zen center every afternoon, playing strange music. I did not understand what was going on. It happened at about the same time every day, while I was sitting in meditation, so I could not see anything out the window. And every single day this music was the same. Not very high-class music! Then one day I decided to look out the window, and saw many children running toward the truck. ‘Yahhhh! Ice cream!’ they were shouting.
“So I understood. The ice cream man did not open his mouth. He only played music. Then everyone understood: ice cream. The ice cream man was using music to transmit ice-cream mind to the children’s mind, who already understood it. This is a kind of wordless transmission.
“First, there is talking about emptiness, about zero mind: ‘Zero equals one, one equals zero.’ Next, if you do not stop there, and completely attain zero, there is no talking. Only hit, only ‘KATZ!’, only lifting one finger, and then you already understand. One day the Buddha was ready to give a Dharma speech. More than one thousand disciples gathered, waiting for his speech. ‘How will he teach us about truth today?’ they wondered. ‘What kind of teaching?’ But the Buddha did not open his mouth. One minute passed. Two minutes. Five minutes. Ten minutes. ‘What is wrong? Maybe he is sick today?’ they thought. Then he reached down and plucked a flower, lifting it over his head wordlessly. The disciples all stared at him in befuddled wonderment. Only one disciple, Mahakashyapa, seated far in the rear of the assembly, smiled broadly, ‘Waahhhhh!’ Seeing this, the Buddha said, ‘I transmit my true Dharma to you alone.’ When the Buddha picked up a flower and Mahakashyapa saw that, he smiled: the dialogue was already finished. This is Zen.
“So if you attain zero, then your mind is already empty mind. Empty mind means that your mind is clear like empty space. Clear like space means that it is clear like a mirror: it reflects everything. When a red ball comes before the mirror, a red ball appears; when a white ball comes, a white ball appears. Someone is sad, I am sad. Someone is happy, then I am happy. This is the bodhisattva: no desire for myself, my actions are only for all beings. This is Great Love and the Great Bodhisattva Way. This is world peace and your true peace. You originally said that you want ‘peace,’ so I am pointing to what true peace is. Every religion and people has their different idea of peace: Christian peace, American peace, Chinese peace, French peace. It is all different, because it is all based entirely on thinking. So they are fighting over their idea of peace. That is not true peace!
“So, if you want true and correct peace, you must come to the Zen center and attain that one plus two equals zero. Then you must completely attain this zero, and then attain that the truth is just-like-this. The sky is blue, and trees are green. Your mind is an empty mirror, and perceives this world just as it is. Then from here you can function compassionately only to help all beings. This is a kind of Zen course: primary school, high school, university! Ha ha ha ha!”
The student laughed, too, and bowed. “Thank you for your teaching.”