You Have to Talk to Our Guests

by on Apr 17, 2015Zen Master Soeng Hyang

Good morning. This morning we had a wonderful thing happen with the international Kwan Um School of Zen. Even though many of us came here from far away and haven’t gotten much sleep, and even though some of us had trouble with finding enough bed padding, the vast majority of us came to practice this morning! So actually our conference began at 6 o’clock this morning. It started with our most essential teachings. We did our prostrations, we sat and we blended our voices with what I consider the strongest chanting I have ever heard.
Many people like to talk about Zen, but most people don’t like to actually do it. Zen Master Seung Sahn used to say, “99.9 percent will kill you.” That 0.1 percent is extremely dangerous. This means we must wake up to each and every moment. So we all have to be careful about learning to be aware of each thing. As Zen Master Dae Kwang said, “Be careful. Watch your step. How may I help you? What are you doing just now?” That is our practice.
When I first met Zen Master Seung Sahn, he was always very busy trying to make the temple clean, clear and inviting. My memory is that he spent hours on the telephone speaking in Korean. So many students wanted to speak with him! He also spent a lot of time trying to learn English, and planning his next dharma talk. After I had lived at the Zen center for only about two weeks, he had already given me strong teaching. I had been appointed the housemaster, and to me that meant shopping, arranging meals, cleaning the public spaces and so on. I would also make tea and cookies for our guests to eat after the dharma talks. Quite a lot of authentic responsibilities! I thought I was quite the contributor! One night after I had put out the cookies and tea for the guests and gone back to the kitchen to clean up, Dae Soen Sa Nim came out to the kitchen and said, “You have to talk to our guests.” Well, I didn’t like to talk to guests. I liked to just do the dishes, to stay in the kitchen. So I was reasonable. I said to him, “You have to understand me. I’m shy; I don’t like to talk to guests.”
Then he took his finger and he pushed it right here [points to her solar plexus]: “You don’t like to talk to guests, you. What are you?!” Whew! I went out and talked to the guests. Very beautiful lesson. Very difficult lesson.
So how do you find your correct job? There are two more important questions.
One is, “What am I?” Not small I—big I. What am I?
Also, saying “What am I doing just now? What is this?”
My next big lesson with Zen Master Seung Sahn was this. When I first moved into the Zen center I quit working and was just hanging around the temple. I was a registered nurse, but had decided that I didn’t like nursing anymore. In the 1970s, the doctors could be autocratic, and I had been placed in some difficult and painful situations while working in hospitals. As nurses, nobody listened to us. So I decided, “Oh, Soen Sa Nim is the best doctor. I’ll stay home and hang out with Soen Sa Nim and not be a nurse.”
One day Zen Master Seung Sahn said, “You’re a nurse, aren’t you?”
“I don’t like hospitals so much.”
“We need money. You be a nurse.”
So that was good. I went back to nursing, and I helped to pay the rent! I learned to integrate the Zen practice of paying attention to each moment into my nursing vocation, everything became my teacher. Good, bad or ugly, I learned to enter it all more unconditionally.
Zen is not about whether we live monastically or whether we live a lay life. Every single one of us has to ask, “What am I?” “For what and for whom?” And of course, “How may I help you?” Asking these questions completely helped me be a better nurse than I ever could have been without practice. We cannot spread the dharma. If we have this idea, “Oh, we’re having this conference; we’re going to help spread the dharma,” that’s a big mistake. Each one of us has to find out what we are; what we are in this moment. As we learn to do this, we will be able to teach others. Then the conference and the dharma are not separate. Let us all enjoy and listen to each other and have fun.
Thank you very much.

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