One Person’s Energy Helps All People: On Family and Practice
Primary Point: In many families now, both the husband and wife have to work. They also have children and social responsibilities. How can the parents make a living, raise a family and still have time to practice?
Zen Master Seung Sahn: If you have children and both parents are working, it can be very difficult to practice, especially if you live outside of a Zen center. So, some kind of together action practicing with children is necessary. Simple exercises like breathe in, breathe out; hands up, hands down, like in Tai Chi; make a circle with your arms and breathe deeply. Children like doing these kinds of exercises with their parents. You can do this together action at home every morning and evening, just for ten minutes. Then, maybe you can sit for awhile, with the children joining you for a few minutes. Husband and wife should also do one hundred and eight bows every day, together. Altogether, the practice should take one hour every day.
PP: How old should the children be?
ZMSS: At least seven years old. Doing some kind of tanjien practicing (breathing in and out from the hara – the area just below the navel) is very important. Then, their consciousness becomes very clear. When children are growing up, they cannot control their feelings. They often have only “I want” mind – anger mind. If you do breathing practice with them, it will help them. Do any kind of exercise where you breathe in slowly and breathe out slowly. This is the most important practice for children. It will help their mind and your mind. When everyone has a clear consciousness, there is less fighting and more harmony in the family – not as much anger or desire. If a family is not practicing, then their centers are not strong – only “my opinion is correct;” that kind of mind appears. If a family practices together, it’s better than watching television or going to a dance. Practicing together will make a family’s center stronger and stronger. Then, there is not so much fighting, not so much holding “my opinion.”
PP: What if they are so busy they cannot practice together?
ZMSS: Too busy is only speech. Only a lazy mind says “I have no time to practice.” When you wake up, if you can practice even for ten minutes, no problem. But if you say, “I am busy, I cannot do that,” that’s lazy mind. If someone says to you, “If you don’t do one hundred and eight bows tomorrow, I will kill you,” then tomorrow morning you will do one hundred and eight bows.
PP: Then, how does a family make this practicing important?
ZMSS: Together the family decides a practicing time, the same time and schedule every day. Every day they wake up, and practice ten minutes or twenty minutes or thirty minutes.
PP: Sometimes children don’t want to wake up.
ZMSS: If children can’t practice every morning, that’s no problem. In that case, pick a time in the evening for family practice. In China children start breathing exercises when they are seven or eight years old.
PP: Sometimes, one person in a relationship wants to practice and the other doesn’t. The practicing person wants to do retreats. The person who does not practice becomes jealous of all the time spent in daily practice or retreats. What can the practicing person do?
ZMSS: Then, some clear, persuasive talk is necessary. Say to your husband (for instance): “When I am not practicing, I have more anger mind, more like/dislike mind. If I go to a retreat, I can become more clear, we can help each other more and love each other more. But if I don’t practice, I will be more angry, and fight with you more. Do you like that?” Then, the husband may see that this is true. Also if you are already strong, then going outside for practice is not so important; just sitting and walking meditation at home is OK. Not only sitting and walking; keep a practicing mind at all times.
PP: So, you say to only follow the situation.
ZMSS: “Only follow the situation” means keep an “inside practicing” mind. Then, you can practice in any place, any situation. Then, your dharma is working, your center is strong, and your dharma spreads to your husband or wife.
PP: You often talk about the importance of expressing gratitude to your parents. How does one do this?
ZMSS: There are many ways of expressing your gratitude to your parents. You can practice yourself and clean up your karma; then, many people will respect you and also think highly of your parents because you are a good person. If you have the resources, you can make a meditation room or building where other people can practice. Then, merit comes to your whole family, not only you but your parents and your children.
PP: What if you don’t have the means to provide a practice place for other people?
ZMSS: Then, you can go to a center to practice or only do good actions for other people. If you have no money, you can go to the center or temple and just clean the bathrooms. If you don’t like cleaning bathrooms, then only give food to hungry people. Many kinds of action for other people are possible. This is the bodhisattva way.
PP: Many people have a parent who has a drinking problem or is depressed. What can children do to help?
ZMSS: In this situation, strong practicing for the parent is necessary. Do Kwan Seum Bosal mantra three thousand or five thousand times every day for the parents. Try, try, try. Then, merit will appear by itself. How? When you do Kwan Seum Bosal practice very strongly, you get universal energy. This universal energy is absolute energy. Absolute energy controls the opposites energy of your parent (or child) – the like/dislike, the anger mind. Because you are practicing only for your parent, your absolute energy can change your parent’s opposite energy slowly, slowly. If you have only good speech and good action for them, then you will be able to help.
PP: What about when you see your children or parents and they are very angry, and don’t even want to talk to you. What can you do?
ZMSS: Same thing. Only good speech, good action. Never have an angry mind toward your parents. Then slowly, change becomes possible. Everyone in a family shares the same karma cycle. A father and son have the same karma cycle, mother and son have the same cycle. That’s why they are part of the same family. When you are practicing strongly, it’s like a television antenna. It connects the energy cycle between members of a family. When you practice strongly, your antenna is a sending antenna; your parent’s or child’s or husband’s antenna is a receiving antenna. You send them strong, clear energy and they receive it and gradually conform to the same cycle as your strong practicing cycle.
PP: Thus, it is because you are so close that your strong practice can help your parents?
ZMSS: Yes. If one person is practicing strongly, then the whole family is getting good energy from this person and becomes a happy family. One person’s energy helps all people. The absolute energy of this person controls the cycle of the whole family.
PP: Can you see this energy?
ZMSS: No, this energy cannot be seen. It’s like the force of a magnet. You cannot see it, but the force is there. This energy can change your family’s karma.
PP: Some people say that even before you are born you have decided who your father or mother are going to be. Is this true?
ZMSS: That’s try mind. In a past life, you did together action with your parents and created strong karma with them. Thus, in this lifetime you are together. Parents have created karma with their children and children have created karma with their parents. If you have strong karma in this life with your parents or with your children, then in the future maybe your parents will be your children or your children will be your parents. The name for this is samsara.
PP: In what other ways does family karma appear?
ZMSS: Family karma is always clear. If you are fighting with your family in this lifetime, next lifetime you will also fight and have much suffering. If you practice together with your family or practice strongly for them, then next lifetime you will have harmony and a good situation for your family. What matters is the kind of together action you do with your family. Good karma/bad karma comes from the kind of together action you do with and for them.
PP: Are different parents possible?
ZMSS: Yes. If you have a bodhisattva mind and only help other people, then the whole universe is your family. You have not so much attachment to your own family. You have big mind, big family. Then, it is possible to connect with many, many people as parents or children.
PP: Does a country also have karma? Is this similar?
ZMSS: Country karma is a very big version of family karma. In the ocean there are big waves, and within these big waves are smaller waves. Within the smaller waves, there are still smaller waves. The big waves are like the country karma and the smaller waves correspond to family karma. The smallest waves are individual karma. All waves are always moving up and down: changing, changing, changing.
PP: This country karma seems impossible to change, it is so big.
ZMSS: Yes, country karma is very difficult to change. But if one strong person with a clear direction, any direction, appears, then country karma begins to change.
PP: Like China ? ?
ZMSS: Like China or Russia, yes. In this century they have had strong leaders like Mao and Lenin. These people had very strong karma with their country, so they could change their country’s karma.
PP: Is this good or bad?
ZMSS: Good or bad is not the point. The point is changing the karma, whether it’s country karma or family karma or individual karma. Before this lifetime, you and your country shared karma. That’s why you were born where you were.
PP: How do family karma and individual karma come together? Many people in poor countries lead simple and pure lives, yet they have much suffering. Is this family karma or country karma? Or something else?
ZMSS: This is all together action karma. In India, people have much suffering. But why does a person get born as an Indian? It comes from doing together action with these people in a previous life. Thus, someone becomes an Indian, an American, a Korean. In some past life I had much together action with Korean people, so I became Korean, have Korean parents, was born in the country of Korea. If in some previous life I had made together action with Americans then I would have been born in America to American parents.
PP: But if you are practicing strongly ?
ZMSS: If you practice strongly then you become free. You don’t share as much karma with your native land. For example, one of my students was born in India, then came to America, practiced strongly and became a monk. He has not much together action with Indian people, not much suffering. Strong practice helps him and his country. That’s very important. I came to America to help American people; that also helps my country. If one person is strong, then slowly, slowly, helping your country is possible. Helping the whole world is possible.
PP: You are then free of country karma?
ZMSS: Yes, then you are free. Then, any country is no problem. If you practice strongly then any country or any family is no problem. You will always have a good situation. If you don’t practice, you will make more together action with the same country and same family. Same action, same suffering. If your country is suffering, you also suffer; you suffer and your country is also suffering. But if you practice strongly, your country may be suffering but you are not suffering. It is possible for you to help your country and your family – not only your family and country, but also the whole world. Only practice can make it possible.