Keeping a Zen Mind

by on Jul 1, 1973Zen Master Seung Sahn

A visiting student asked Seung Sahn Soen Sa after a Sunday night lecture, “When practicing Zen, how can one keep a Zen mind?”

“Do you understand your mind?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, it is just this ‘don’t know’ mind that should be kept while practicing.

“But then is this mind thinking?”

Soen Sa replied, “That which cuts through all thinking is the great question ‘What am I?'”

“How can one keep this question while practicing and attain satori?”

“While practicing one must have great faith, great courage, and great sincerity.

The student then asked, “What is great faith?”

“Great faith is believing I am already Buddha. This Is faith in oneself. This faith must be unwavering. Just as a hen sits on an egg for twenty days constantly, just so must this faith be maintained. If the egg is left without heat for an hour it will not hatch. Likewise great faith must be kept constantly while practicing Zen.”

Next, Soen Sa was asked about great courage.

“When a cat is chasing a mouse and the mouse runs into a hole, the cat’s total concentration is on the hole. When the cat only concentrates on the hole, there is no thought of cat, only total focus on the hole into which the mouse ran. Likewise a man in the army, when fighting in battle, does not think of life and of death; he only thinks of killing the enemy. With this rigor and courage Zen should be practiced.”

“What is great sincerity?”

“A baby only wants its mother. A man in a desert without water only wants water. A man who hasn’t eaten for three days only wants food. With such sincerity Zen should be practiced. Only the question – “What am I!” Each person has will, intellect, and feeling. ‘Not thinking will’ becomes great faith, ‘not thinking intellect’ becomes great courage, and ‘not thinking feeling’ becomes great sincerity.”

What is ‘not thinking’ will, intellect, and feeling?”

“When will, intellect, and feeling become one, this is not thinking. Only the great question ‘What am I?’ is left. Cut all thinking and become ‘I don’t know mind.’ This ‘don’t know mind’ is the three — faith, courage and sincerity.”

“Thank you, I understand.”

“Who understands?”

“I understand.”

“What are you?”

The student did not answer. Soen Sa hit him and asked, “Do you understand?”

“I don’t know!”

“This ‘don’t know’ mind is the three — great faith, great courage, and great sincerity.”

“Thank you!”