What is Belief?

by on Apr 1, 1980Zen Master Seung Sahn

On the trip to Europe in the spring of 1978, Soen Sa Nim gave kong-an talks every morning to the small group of students who traveled with him. In West Berlin, following the morning talk, Diana Clark had this exchange with Soen Sa Nim.

Diana (D): I wish that you would talk a little more about belief. What is belief?

Soen Sa Nim (SS): How many hands do you have?

D: Two.

SS: How many fingers do you have?

D: Ten.

SS: How do you use them?

Diana claps.

SS: Correct. That is belief. I have fingers, I have hands — no thinking. Only action. Already my hands and me become one; there is no thinking. Can you believe your eyes? How? (Laughter) What color is that?

D: White.

SS: White. That is belief.

D: Okay. I understand that. But you say you must believe in yourself one hundred percent, or if you don’t believe in yourself one hundred percent, then you must believe in Buddha, or a tree, or your teacher, or something. So okay. How do you do that? I mean you can’t just make a decision to believe. I know that’s white because I see that it’s white. I know I should believe in Buddha, but… I’m not sure. How do I go from not being quite sure to belief?

SS: You want to believe something; this is already a mistake. So, put it all down and true belief will appear by itself (laughs). Very simple. The mind that wants something cannot believe in anything. Throw away this wanting mind. Try!

D: Try what? Can you try to believe?

SS: No! No! I didn’t say try to believe. Only try. Only try means only go straight don’t know; don’t know means that your ideas about this world disappear. When your ideas disappear then you and this world become one. So in true belief there is no believing in something or not believing in something because it has already become one. If you and Buddha become one, how do you believe in Buddha?!

This is one mind, try mind, go straight don’t-know mind and put-it-all-down mind. But many people hold their thinking: “What does he think about me? I think this about him.” Holding this creates opposites when originally there was no problem.

D: Thank you. I see that making “believe” and trying to believe is a mistake.

SS: Believe is only a teaching word. Don’t attach to words, okay? (Laughs.)

D: Okay. Thank you very much.