A Three-Year Retreat
September 20, 1977
Dear Soen Sa Nim,
I am still in bed, and although I don’t have pain any more, I still have a problem with my leg. It’s numb from the knee down, so I think that I’ll have to do something besides only rest to fix my back problem. Do you know why someone would have an extra vertebra or different bone structure in each hip?
This time in bed has been like a retreat in many ways. For the first time in my life, I understand that I have no choices to make. People bring me food — I can’t choose. I can’t do what I feel like doing. Every day just comes and goes. People come and go. Sometimes it’s warm, sometimes it’s cold. I just have to stay here and let everything occur just the way it does, and I must keep my mind clear. There is no choice; I cannot act out my karma. So this sickness is very strong teaching. I understand something I never did’ before: if you are dependent on anything, you make suffering. It’s funny, because I am dependent on everyone, but at the same time my mind is not dependent.
I hope you are well. Much love to you.
Yours in the Dharma,
October 5, 1977
Hello. Thank you for your letter.
In your letter, you said that you have no choice about any food or any action, that you are dependent on everyone, but that your mind is not dependent on anything. That is wonderful. This is correct Zen sickness: sick time, only sick. No choice, no checking, not dependent, only sick. Then sick is not sick. This is high-class practice and a high-class education.
Do you know the story about Bu Sol Go Sa? lie was a monk who wanted to do a three-year retreat with two monk friends. On the way to the mountains, he got married. A girl came running up to the three monks and cried, “If I don’t marry, I will kill myself.” Bu Sol Go Sa did Bodhisattva action and married her. His two friends said, “You are only filled with desire. This is not the action of a Bodhisattva but of a selfish man.” After many more accusing and angry words, the two monks went on their way.
Just after his marriage, Bu Sol Go Sa became very sick. Just like you, he could not move. His wife was very kind to him. She did everything for him -she washed his body, brought him food. Every day for three years he could only lie in bed and look at the ceiling..
When the two monks finished their three-year retreat and were returning home, they thought about their Dharma friend. They decided to visit him, and when they reached his house, they found his wife sweeping the front yard. The two monks said, “Hello. How are you? Where is your husband?”
“My husband has been sick for three years. He is so sick that he cannot do anything.”
One monk whispered to the other, “This is his bad karma — he broke the Precepts and got married, so he got sick for three years.” But they wanted to see their Dharma friend, so they asked if they could visit him for awhile. Although the wife was a little angry inside, she acted kindly and showed the monks into her husband’s room. They went in and started laughing. “So, you have been sick for three years. Not bad!”
When Bu Sol Go Sa saw them, he got up. “Oh, how are you? Thank you very much for visiting me.”
They were startled. “We heard that you have been sick for three years. How can you get up?”
He said, “Maybe I can get up because you did strong practicing for three years.”
Then they said, “Maybe. We worried about you every day.”
“I had so much bad karma that for three years I was sick. But you did hard training all the time. What was your practice? Please teach me. What did you understand?”
The two monks said, “Oh, we read many sutras and the speech of many eminent teachers, so we understand all the Buddha’s teachings.” For the next few hours, they told him what they had learned.
Finally, Bu Sol Go Sa said, “Yes, you understand Buddha’s speech very well. But what is Buddha’s mind?”
“Yes, what is Buddha’s mind?”
“Do you know Buddha’s mind?”
“Yes, I think if you have Buddha’s mind, anything is possible. So, we’ll try something.” Then he called his wife and asked her to help him.
She brought three long thin-necked bottles with wide bottoms, filled with water. Then Bu Sol Go Sa took three pieces of rope and tied one around the neck of each bottle, and he tied each of the other ends to a crossbeam in the living room. He brought a hammer and said to his friends, “Here is a hammer. If you hit a bottle with the hammer and no water spills out, they you have attained Buddha’s mind. Let’s try this.”
These monks were very proud. Not trying would look bad, but if they tried, they might fail. They decided to try.
First the monk who did strong mantra practice hit the bottle. All the water came splashing down. Then the sutra monk hit the bottle with the hammer, and again all the water splashed out.
Finally, it was Bu Sol Go Sa’s turn. He didn’t use a hammer. He only pointed to the bottle and shouted, “KATZ!” This “KATZ” was as loud as a cannon blast. The two monks leapt up in surprise — the bottle shattered and fell to the floor, but the water only spun around and around and did not come down.
Then the monks fell to the ground, bowed to Bu Sol Go Sa and said, “We are sorry! Please teach us!”
He smiled and said, “I cannot teach you. You already have everything. But you must find your true selves; then you can do anything.”
Then he took the bottle-shaped water and spilled it out the door.
This is the story of Bu Sol Go Sa. When you are sick, only be sick. Then you will get everything, and you will be able to do anything.
You already said that your sickness is very strong teaching for you. That is wonderful. So I ask you: your sickness and Bu Sol Go Sa’s sickness — are they the same or different? If you say the same, you can see the stars when your eyes are closed. If you say different, you are already in a dark hell with no door. What can you do?
Yours in the Dharma,