The Great Work of Life and Death

by on Aug 12, 1977Zen Master Seung Sahn

August 12, 1977

 

Dear Soen Sa Nim,

Your letter, newsletter, and picture made me cry — and I am grateful. I understand: straightforward mind, straightforward heart, straightforward speech, straightforward body.

My father died yesterday. I built a small altar in my room and sat, and I told him to recognize that all things are in his own mind — his original brightness. Too late, I was finally able to say, “I love you.” I am thankful to have your picture on the altar.

Thank you for your great kindness.

Yours,

Paul


August 18, 1977

 

Dear Paul,

Thank you for your letter. How are you?

In your letter, you told me that your father died. I grieve for you. Long ago in China when the great Zen Master Nam Cheon died, his students and all those who knew him were very sad. The custom at that time was to go to the dead person’s house and cry, “Aigo! Aigo! Aigo!” But when the Zen Master’s best student, a layman named Bu Dae Sa, heard of his teacher’s death, he went to Nam Cheon’s temple, opened the door, stood in front of the coffin, and laughed, “HA HA HA HA!!” — great laughter.

The many people who were assembled to mourn Nam Cheon’s death were surprised at this laughter. The temple Housemaster said, “You were our teacher’s best student in his lifetime. Our teacher has died, and everyone is sad. Why are you laughing?”

Bu Dae Sa said, “You say our master has died. Where did he go?” The Housemaster was silent. He could not answer.

Then Bu Dae Sa said, “You don’t understand where our teacher went, so I am very sad. Aigo! Aigo! Aigo!”

You must understand this. What does this mean? If you have no answer, I grieve for you.

Zen is the Great Work of life and death. What is life? What is death? When you attain this, then everything is clear, everything is complete, and everything is freedom.

Let’s say we have a glass of water. Now its temperature is about 60

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