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The Empty Hand

One day, a monk named Eom Yang visited Zen Master Jo Ju and said: "I have come here empty handed."

Zen Master Jo Ju replied: "Well, then put it down."

The monk was baffled and asked: "I already told you that I have come here empty handed. Then what thing should I put down?"

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Dong San Asks for Water
Catch the Sound of a Cicada and Bring It
The Sumeru Gong-An
Here Is One Thing
The Snowflakes of Layman Pang
Is the Mountain Moving or Is the Boat Moving?
"Cutting the Cat into Pieces" of Zen Master Nam Cheon
Mahakasyapa's Smile
"Up a Tree" of Zen Master Hyang Eum
The Empty Hand
A True Sentence
Just like this Is Buddha
What Is it Being neither the Spoken nor the Unspoken?
"Three-Three" in front, "Three-Three" behind
What Is the Real Treasure-House?
The Gong-An of the Three Barrier Gates
Zen Master Gu Ji's One Finger
What Is the True Self (Dharmakaya)?
Zen Master Seo Am Calls Out: "Master!"
All Sounds Are Buddha-Sounds
Deok San and the Rice Cake Seller



Dong San Asks for Water

Dong San, who later was to become a great Zen master and the founder of the Soto School, was once, in hot summer, walking along a mountain pass. He was very thirsty but around him there was neither a spring nor a well. Fortunately, a beautiful young woman with a jar on her head passed by.

Dong San approached her happily, saying: "Please, Bodhisattva, give me some water!"
The young woman answered: "I will do so with pleasure - if you give me an answer to a question first."
"Please ask," replied Dong- an.

The young woman put her jar down so that Dong San could see the pure and clear water in it. She asked him: "Venerable monk, is there dust in this water or not?"

Dong San felt very sure about this and therefore answered without hesitation: "The water is completely clear and no dust is in it."

Upon hearing his answer, the young woman coldly said: "The venerable monk should not make other people‘s water dirty," and she left, putting the jar back on her head.

---

What does this mean?
If you had been in Dong San‘s place through which answer could you have been able to drink from the water in the woman's jar?


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

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Catch the Sound of a Cicada and Bring It

One day, in hot summer, Zen Master Man Gong was eating watermelon with his students under a tree at Po Dok Sah Temple.

At that time they heard the singing sounds of lots of cicadas from the forests of all ten directions.

Zen Master Man Gong said: “You all hear those cicadas‘ sound. If you can bring me the sound of a cicada, you will get this watermelon for free; but if you cannot do so, you must pay for it.“

All students became very uncomfortable because they had no money with them.
Then one of them abruptly stood up and immitated the sound of a cicada with his own mouth.
The Master said: “No, you must pay for it.”

Another one made a circle on the ground and, sitting down in its center, said: “In form: no Buddha; in Buddha: no form.”
Yet another student pretended with his hands to fly like a cicada.
And so on many of them gave different answers but Zen Master Man Gong kept saying: “No, you should pay for it.”

Finally, the monk Bo Wol gave a correct answer.
Man Gong smiled and said: “You understand my mind.”

---

If you had been there, what would you have replied?
What was Bo Wol’s answer?


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

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The Sumeru Gong-An

One day, a monk asked Venerable Zen Master Un Mun:
“When I don't give rise to any thought, is there an error or not?”
Zen Master Un-Mun said:
“Sumeru!” (i.e., the error is as big as Mount Sumeru, the king of mountains)

---

If thought should arise, there could be either sin or error.
But if no thought arises, there could not be any error.
So why did Master Un Mun say that even when the student did not raise
a single thought that the error was nonetheless as big as Mount Sumeru?

Now, any of you, give me a word!


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

Here is One Thing

One day, the Sixth Patriarch Hui Neng said:

"Here is one thing.
It has no top, nor bottom;
No name and no form.
Its brightness is that of the sun,
Its darkness is that of pitch-black.
It always resides in the midst of movement,
But it cannot be attained in movement.

What would you call it?”

---

Honourable practitioners, please bring me your answer to the afore-mentioned question.
The way of Buddhism does not lie in refinement of thought.
Life and death travel so fast that there is no time to lose oneself in contemplation.
If you cling to your own thinking, you will not be free even from a single blade of grass.
Continuously attracted by the objective world, you will lose your mind even when looking at
the skirt of the stone girl.

The mountain has never said: “I am a mountain.”
The water also does not say: “I am water.”

Sky, earth, Buddha, God - What is the true master that is calling all of them like this?

Where does it come from? What is this?


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

The Snowflakes of Layman Pang

When layman Pang (Korean: Bang Geo Sa) took leave of Zen Master Yak San, Yak San ordered ten Zen monks to escort him to the foot of the mountain.

Snow was coming down in large flakes while the group was walking down the mountain, and soon the whole mountain was covered with large white snow-flakes. The layman pointed to the snow in the air and said: “Oh, good! Flakes, flakes of snow; not even a single flake does fall on any place.”

At that time one of the zen monks, named Jeon (Chin.: Chuan) asked: "Then where do they fall?”
At once, the layman slapped him in the face.

Jeon said: “Even a layman should not be so rude!”

"Even though you call yourself a zen monk ,
the King of Death will still not let you go,” replied layman Pang.

Jeon asked: “Then, how about you, layman?”

The layman again slapped him in the face and said:
“Your eyes see like a blind man,
your mouth speaks like a mute.”

Later on, Zen Master Seol Du (Chin.: Hsueh Tou) commented:
“When the layman was asked for the first time,
he should have made a big snow ball and hit the monk with it.”

---

I want to ask all of you: If you had been layman Pang, how could you have answered to the monk‘s question “Where do the snow flakes fall?”

You might say: “Just in front of my eyes," or: "All over the mountain.”
But such an answer can be given even by a blind man. Then: How would you answer?

The ten thousand dharmas return to one. You should know exactly this "one". And yet, if you search separately for the one, it will at once disappear. Then how?
First of all: Put it all down and silently behold where all snow flakes vanish and die away.

Zen Master Seol Du suggested that the layman Pang should have made a snow-ball and hit the monk with it but my opinion is different. And why? Because the Venerable Zen Master's act would have been too merciful.

If I had been layman Pang and I was asked like that I would first have asked: “What is the very one searching for the place onto which all snow-flakes are falling?” If he had still not seen correctly the very place then I would have belabored him with a big stick.


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

Is the Mountain Moving or Is the Boat Moving?

Once, Zen Master Man Gong was taking a boat ride to An Myon Do Island together with several of his students.

On the way, pointing to a mountain, Zen Master Man Gong asked his students:
“Is it the mountain or is it this boat that is now moving?”

All students were embarrassed at their master’s sudden question.
In this situation Hae Am stepped forward and replied:
“Neither is the mountain moving, nor is the boat moving.”

“Then what is moving?”, asked Man Gong.

Hae Am answered: “It is the mind that moves.”

“How can you prove that?”, Man Gong continued asking.

Hae Am took a handkerchief out of his pocket and showed it waving.

Man Gong watched this scene of Hae Am’s answering and asked him in a satisfied tone:
“When did your housekeeping (i.e., your practice) become like that?”

Hae Am replied: “It’s been like this for a long time.”

---

(hitting the dharma table with the Zen staff)

Do you understand the meaning of Hae Am's waving of his handkerchief ?
Then: What is your mind and how can you escape from all adversities of your life in samsara?


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

"Cutting the Cat into Pieces" of Zen Master Nam Cheon

At the monastery of Zen Master Nam Cheon one day the monks of the eastern and western halls were arguing about the ownership of a cat. The monks of the estern hall said the cat to be theirs but the monks of the western hall said: "No, this cat is ours, not yours". When Nam Cheon saw this he at once held up the cat and said: "If you have attained the path, give me a word. Then I will not kill this cat."
No one of the community replied, so Nam Cheon cut the cat into two pieces.


I want to ask you: If you had been a member of that community, how could you have saved the life of the cat?
The dance of Nam Cheon's grasping a cat with one hand and holding a sharp sword in the other hand cannot be free from the scornful smile of Mahakasyapa.

---

When Jo Ju came back to the temple in the evening Zen Master Nam Cheon told him about the incident. Jo Ju immediately took off his straw sandals, put them on his head, and left.
Nam Cheon said: "If you had been there, you could have saved the cat".


I want to ask you again: As soon as Jo Ju heard his teacher's story, why did he leave, having put his straw sandals on his head? How could this act of Jo Ju's have saved the cat's life?
Straw sandals are shoes which are put on one's feet.
Nevertheless: Why did Jo Ju put them on his head?


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

Mahakasyapa's Smile

When Shakyamuni Buddha was teaching the Sad-Dharma-Pundharika-Sutra (The Lotus-Sutra) at mountain Grdhrakuta, He once ascended up the high rostrum and kept silence.

The assembled mass of people was very much amazed. One minute passed, two minutes passed, three, and four minutes passed. Finally Buddha held up a flower and showed it to the public without speaking. No one in the assembly, however, understood, and all were puzzled. Just at that time, Mahakasyapa who sat far behind, them was silently smiling.

Buddha at once found the smile of Mahakasyapa and said: “I have the treasure of the eye of the authentic Dharma, the ineffable mind of nirvana, and the reality without form. I have entrusted it all to Mahakasyapa.”

So Mahakasyapa became the first in the line of patriarchs after Buddha.
Ever since that event, the “Why did Mahakasyapa smile?” became a great question for practitioners. It is asked in this sense: “What does it mean that Mahakasyapa smiled?”

Later, an eminent teacher said: "The smile of Mahakasyapa at Buddha's holding up a flower was a scornful smile (i.e. the smile of Mahakasyapa was a kind of mockery about Buddha's holding up a flower).

Now I want to ask you: Why did Mahakasyapa give a scornful smile to Buddha? Because of what?


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

”Up a Tree” of Zen Master Hyang Eum

Zen Master Hyang Eum once stepped up on the rostrum for giving his dharma speech and said:

"What is this? This one is a matter of great significance in human life.
It is like a man hanging high up in a big tree by clenching his teeth into a branch.
His two hands and feet are tied fast so that he cannot get hold of a branch with them.
In this situation a high official, a judge, stands under the tree and asks him: 'Why did Bodhidharma come to China?'
If he opens his mouth to answer, he will lose his life. However, if he does not give an answer, he will be killed for the crime of evading his duty.
You are, as it were, hanging down from that tree. How can you stay alive? Give me a word!"


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

The Empty Hand

One day, a monk named Eom Yang visited Zen Master Jo Ju and said: "I have come here empty handed."

Zen Master Jo Ju said: "Well, then put it down."

The monk was baffled and asked: "I already told you that I have come here empty handed. Then what thing should I put down?"

Zen Master Jo Ju said: "If you do not want to put it down, take it and go back."

---

I want to ask all of you: If you had been the monk, what thing should you have put down?

Whosoever always wanders from place to place carrying around something unnecessary - just like the monk - without even realizing it. How poor and deluded! Watch your hand! What thing do you carry in your hand?
However, even if you actually were to have some real thing in your hand this would not matter. What Zen Master Jo Ju is asking about is not such a thing. Then what?
Hurry, give me a word!


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

A True Sentence

1) Under the sea runs a mud-cow, chewing the moon in her mouth.

2) In front of a rock sleeps a stone tiger, holding a baby in his paws.

3) The steel snake drills into the eye of the diamond.

4) An elephant, carrying Mount Konlyun on his back, is pulled by a little bird.

One of the above sentences contains a truth that can give or take life.
Please, give me a word!


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

Just like this Is Buddha

"The devine light clearly manifests itself.
It is completely beyond roots and dusts.
The body always presents itself truly.
However, it is inexpressible in words and terms.
The true nature is not tainted.
It is perfect in its original state of being.
So, to remove illusion, just this is Buddha."

---

The word "Buddha" in the last line of the above sentences is not compatible with the meaning of this stanza. How could it be "Buddha" to remove all illusions?

Please find a different, more fitting term for the word "Buddha“.


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

What Is it Being neither the Spoken nor the Unspoken?

Here is an interesting story about Zen.

A seeker of the out way asked the Buddha, "I do not ask about the spoken or the unspoken. What about this?"
The Buddha remained silent.
The outsider admired and said, "Great kindness of the Buddha and great compassion have opened up my clouds of illusion and let me gain the way".
After the outsider had left, Ananda asked the Buddha, "What did the outsider realize, that he said he had gained the way?"
The Buddha said, "Like a good horse, he runs as soon as he sees the shadow of the whip".


Commentary by Ven. Zen Master Young San Seong Do:

Remaining Buddha silent mercifully awakens him to "What is it making the spoken and the unspoken, and being attached to them?".
Then what did the outside-seeker attain about silence of Buddha ?


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

"Three-Three" in front, "Three-Three" behind
(A dialogue between Manjusri and U-Tscho)

A long time ago, in China, there lived a monk called U-tscho (Chin.: Wu Cho; Kor.: Mu-tschak Mun Hee). One day he got on the way to the monastery of Manjusri to meet the great Boddhisattva Manjusri himself through practicing intensively. On the way, an old man with an oxen cart came walking up.

The old man asked U-tscho: “Where do you come from?”

U-tscho answered: “I come from the south.”

Then the old man said: “From the south? How is the Buddha-Dharma carried on in the south? ”

U-tscho replied: “As the end of the Dharma is approaching, only a few monks keep the precepts.”

The old man continued asking: “How many do gather?”

U-tscho said: “Three to five hundred.”

Then, it was U-tscho turn to ask: “How is the Buddha-Dharma carried on hereabouts?”

The old man answered: “Common people and sages live side by side: snakes and dragons intermingle.”

U-tscho asked: “How many do gather?"

The old man replied: “Three-three in front, three-three behind.”

At this point, the conversation was finished. U-tscho continued his journey and kept thinking about the old man´s last answer. What was it supposed to signify?
He started wondering who this old man might have been. But when he turned around to look for him, the old man and his oxen cart had already disappeared. Suddenly U-tscho realised that the old man had to have been the Bodhisattva Manjusri. U-tscho went back home and practiced with the Koan “Three-three in front, three-three behind” and attained enlightenment.
He became an eminent Zen master.


Commentary by Ven. Zen Master Young San Seong Do:

Here we have a very interesting dialogue. While U-tscho, through his questions and answers, is attached to forms and appearances, the old man expresses himself with spiritual terms. Just now, where are you? If you replied “I am here”, your answer would be at level of U-tscho. How would you answer if you were the old man?

What does the answer of old man “Three-three in front, three-three behind” signify?


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

What Is the Real Treasure-House?

When the student Dae-ju first visited Zen-Master Ma-jo, the Master asked him, “What do you want from me?”

Dae-ju said, “I want you to teach me the dharma of Buddha”.

"What a fool you are!” said Ma-jo. “You already have the greatest jewel in the world, and yet you go around asking other people for help. I have nothing to teach you separately.”

Dae-ju bowed again and asked, “Master, would you please tell me what the treasure is?”

Ma-jo said, “Where does your question come from? What is it that you are asking me at this very moment? It is just the treasure you have. Everything is stored in that treasure-house. You are the very master of the whole universe. Because of that, you can use everything freely as you wish. But you have always given up your owns and sought for it outward.”


Commentary by Ven. Zen Master Young San Seong Do:

Do you understand what the real treasure-house is?

If you give an answer, I hit you thirty times.
Even though you do not give an answer, I hit you thirty times, too. And why?

Then: How could you be free from my thirty blows?


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

The Gong-An of the Three Barrier Gates

A practitioner cultivates Buddhas Dharma to see the Buddha nature and to escape from sufferings of life and death.

Long ago in China, Zen Master Do Sol Snim always offered the koan, called “The three barrier gates”, to seekers of the way;

Giving up all worldly affairs, to sit and practice Zen is to see his true nature. Then, where is your true nature?

To have seen your own nature, you must be free from life and death. Then, when the glitter of your eyes falls on the ground, how can you be free from your life and death?

To have escaped from life and death, you must undertand where you will go. Then, when your four elements disperse away, where will you go?

All learned audience, if you have attained anything through the questions of the above three barrier gates, please bring a word here.


Commentary by Ven. Zen Master Young San Seong Do:

If you do not attain your answer, you will go to the hell, but even though you offer a correct answer, you will directly go to the hell. And why?
If you want to know why, look up that blue sky...

The sky has never said even a word since the past without beginning. Understand? To move a bit, at once mistake.


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

Zen Master Gu-Ji's One Finger

Guji was the abbot of a small, beautiful monastery. All the world respected him because of his strong practice power.

One day, while he was meditating in the dharma room, a woman suddenly appeared with great tumult. She was dressed in monk's clothing, was wearing a large bamboo hat and held a huge, iron-ringed wooden stick in her hands. She circled Guji several times, stepped in front of him and with awe-inspiring demeanour struck her stick on the floor and cried in a thundering voice:  "Give me a word!"  Guji was very much puzzled by such rude behaviour, especially from a nun.  Upon her question, he could only roll his eyes. She struck again on the floor and shouted, "Give me a word, and do it suddenly!" but Guji was not able to utter a word. Then the nun went away. Guji was left behind shamed. This high ranking monk had not been able to utter a word before this nun!

Then came the well-known older Zen Master Yongdam. Guji, desperate as he was, reported the incident and asked the Zen Master what he would have done in his situation. Yongdam then lifted a finger and showed it to Guji. At that moment Guji realized complete enlightenment. From then on, he always gave Dharma speeches by simply lifting a finger.


The Ven. Zen Master Young San Seong Do asked the following:

If you had been in Guji's place, what would you have said to the nun?

Please, give me a word!


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

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What Is the True Self (Dharmakaya)?

One day, a student came to Zen master Jo Ju and asked: “Ven. Zen master, what is the Dharmakaya (true self)?“
The Zen master answered: "It is the medicinal herbs flower-garden.“
The student said: "Is it all I need to understand?“
"If it is not enough, then you will have to see the golden-haired lion.“


Commentary by Ven. Zen Master Young San Seong Do:

Do you know what 'the golden-haired lion' means? Have you seen the one?
If not, I will give you a hint: The golden-haired lion is just the wild pine tree on that mountain
– Do you know it?


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

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Zen Master Seo Am Calls Out: “Master!“

Zen Master Seo Am used to call out: “Master!“, while looking at the mountains in front of him, and he answered: “Yes!“ And next he would continue to request: “Never be deceived by others!“ Then he would answer: “Yes! Yes!“


Commentary by Ven. Zen Master Young San Seong Do:

What does this mean? The master who is calling and the master who is answering, are they the same or different? And which one is the true master?

Continuously you give rise to lots of things and then you are attached to them. If you stop creating something, there is nothing. Then you can attain the true master.


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

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All Sounds Are Buddha-Sounds

One day a monk visited the great Zen Master Tu Ja (Chin. T'ou Tzu) and asked him:
“'All sounds are the sounds of Buddha',says the Sutra - right or wrong?"

Ven. Tu Ja answered: “Right.“

The monk continued: “Ven. Master, doesn't your asshole make farting sounds? Aren’t those sounds also Buddha’s sounds?“

Ven. Tu Ja hit him.

Again the monk asked: “Coarse words or subtle talks, everything returns to the primary meaning of the Buddha's teaching - right or wrong?“

Ven. Tu Ja said: “Right.“

The monk said: "Then, may I call you an ass, Ven. Master?“

Ven. Tu Ja hit him.

Later on, an eminent teacher criticized: “The student monk knows how to grab the tiger's whiskers. But he doesn't know the bad smell of his own shit.”


Commentary by Ven. Zen Master Young San Seong Do:

When you cut off all discriminatory thoughts, all sounds are the Buddha's sound. But all thoughts and notions you are making now are nothing but disturbing noise. When you stop all thoughts and notions, then everything is just as it is. Then all sounds are the truth and all forms are the truth. Then you can see correctly, then you can hear correctly. Then you understand that mountain is just mountain and water is just water.


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

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Deok San and the Rice Cake Seller

Long ago in China lived the great Sutra Master Deok San, renowned throughout the country for his profound knowledge of the Diamond Sutra and for the commentaries he had written on it. One day, he heard that there were monasteries in the south where the monks did nothing all day other than to sit facing a wall. He was very upset about this and decided to go there and teach these misguided monks about the true meaning of the Buddha's teaching. He therefore set off to the south, carrying his commentaries on the Diamond Sutra on his back.

One day, lunchtime was over, he arrived at a small rice cake shop which was managed by an old woman. Deok San was hungry and said: "Please give me some rice cake. I want to satisfy my hunger [chin. literally: "I want to place a dot on my mind"]." The old woman, who had welcomed him politely, replied: "I see you are a great scholar. If you can answer one question about the Diamond Sutra, I will serve you the rice cake for free, but if you cannot answer, I will refuse to give you rice cake at all." Deok San was very indignant and exclaimed: "Ask me anything! I can answer any question about the Diamond Sutra!"

The rice cake seller said: "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.´ If so, then where can you place the dot?"

Deok San was completely stunned by this question and did not know how to respond.


Commentary by Ven. Zen Master Young San Seong Do:

What would you have answered to be able to enjoy the delicious rice cake?

I'll give you a hint: For anyone who is really hungry, the rice cake is the most important thing. Only for those who are not really hungry, the Sutra is the most important thing.


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


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