"Completely Become One" by Zen Master Seung Sahn
The following is part of a teaching from Zen Master Seung Sahn given at the Cambridge Zen Center on Saturday, July 16, 1977. Seung Sahn is the teacher who brought my lineage to the West and there is great value in what he had to say to his students. I thought it was a good example of relating a very traditional and useful teaching to modern circumstances. I am told that the use of English here is how he often spoke.
When I was in the hospital, the doctors checked my heart. The first time they checked, there were 23-25 mistakes (premature ventricular contractions) in one minute, out of about eighty beats.
Many people have read about research by a Harvard professor who checked people with bad hearts, diabetes, etc. He checked people who did meditation and people who didn’t. People who didn’t do meditation were O.K. with medicine, but not O.K. without their medicine. But, people who tried concentration meditation got better more quickly, and were O.K. without their medicine. The Transcendental meditation people advertised this: “Meditation can fix many sicknesses.” So now, many doctors like meditation. So, my doctors said, “DaeSoen Sa Nim, you are a Zen Master, so you try!” So, I said, “O.K., I will try.” So, I tried this fix-your-body meditation. In three days, my heart was making only five mistakes. Usually, it takes about one month to recover like this, so my doctors understood this meditation was helping my body, so they were very happy.
After one week, my heart was only making one or two mistakes, and my doctors said, “This is wonderful! Most people take two or three months to come down to only one or two mistakes each minute!” So I said, “Thank you very much; you have helped me, so I can get better quickly. But this is only fix-your-body meditation. This is not correct meditation.”
“Why isn’t this correct meditation?” they asked.
“You can fix your body, your heart, your diabetes. In Korea, China, and India, there are people who do yoga. They go to the mountains and do breath-in, breath-out meditation. They can live 500 years and not get sick. Keeping their bodies for a long time is possible; even flying in the sky is possible. Trying this style body meditation, anything is possible. A body is like a car. Use the car a lot, and in three years, it is broken. Only keep the car in the garage, then keeping it for a long time is possible. But finally, after 500 years, then these yoga people die. Then what? Live a long time, then die; live a short time, then die–it is the same! Dying is the same.”
The doctors understood. “What is correct meditation, then?”
I told them, “I always try meditation. Meditation means always keeping one mind, not-moving mind.” They thought meditation meant only concentration and keeping your body still. So I said, “Meditation means keeping one mind. You must understand–What is life? What is death? If you keep one mind, there is no life, no death. Then, if you die tomorrow, no problem; if you die in five minutes, no problem.”
“What do you mean, no problem’?” they asked.
“Maybe you do fix-your-heart meditation. Then, ‘My heart is good; my body is good.’ It is very easy to become attached to this meditation. But, when you get old, and your heart is not so good, then you try this meditation. Maybe it is still not so good. Then, ‘Why doesn’t my meditation work?’ Then your body, your meditation become hindrances. If your meditation cannot help your body, then you don’t believe in your meditation. Then what? So, this style meditation is no good.
“Correct meditation means correctly understanding your situation moment to moment–what are you doing now? Only do it! Then, each action is complete; each action is enough. Then no thinking, so each moment, I can perceive everything just like this. Just like this is truth. Sick-time, only be sick. Driving-time, only drive. Only go straight–then, any situation is no problem.”
The doctors liked this; they wanted to hear more about Zen. So six doctors came to my room, and I talked to them for two hours. One doctor asked me, “I am very busy at the hospital, then going home to my family. How can I keep a clear mind?”
“Clear mind,” I told them, “means moment to moment, what are you doing now? When you are with your patients, only 100% keep doctor’s mind. When you leave the hospital and you are driving home, 100% keep driver’s mind. When you meet your wife, 100% keep husband’s mind. This means, each moment, only go straight–don’t make ‘I’, ‘My’, ‘Me’. If you make ‘I’, ‘My’, ‘Me’, then your opinion, your condition, your situation appear. Then, you have a problem.
“If, when you are with your patients, you think, ‘Where is my wife? Is she spending a lot of money?’ Then, this patient is talking to you, and you only say, ‘Oh, yeah, mmm-mmm.’ So the patient is thinking, ‘What does the doctor think?’ They don’t believe you. If you are talking to your wife, and she is telling you something important, and you are thinking about the hospital, this is just your opinion; this is just thinking; it is not your just-now situation. So, put it all down; only go straight.
“We say ‘jeon il’, completely become one. When you are doing an operation, you and this knife completely become one. When you are driving in your car, you and the car only become one. If you drive on a road with pebbles and you are not thinking, only driving, then you can feel these pebbles under your tires. Only become one means, you and your action completely become one; then you and the universe only become one — completely no-thinking mind. Inside and outside become one. The name for this is, ‘only go straight,’ or ‘put it all down,’ or ‘don’t make anything,’ or ‘keep clear mind.’”
“If you are only in the present, how can you plan for the future or choose a direction? I have to plan for my patients, and for myself, my family,” one doctor said.
So I said, “What is the purpose of life? I asked many old people in the hospital this question, or ‘What did you get out of life?’ and many said, Nothing.’ Maybe they have a good job, good family, good wife or husband, but these things cannot help them now. They want something they cannot have, and they understand this, so they say, help them, so they are suffering. Zen means attaining this nothing mind. The Buddha said, ‘If you keep clear mind moment to moment, then you will get happiness everywhere. ‘
Zen is attaining this nothing mind, and then using this nothing mind. How can you use it? Zen means making this nothing mind into big-love mind. Nothing mind means no ‘I’, ‘My’, ‘Me’, no hindrance. So, this mind can change to Great-Compassion mind, action-for-all-people mind. This is possible. Nothing mind does not appear, does not disappear. So, moment by moment, it is possible to keep your correct situation. Then your mind is like a mirror — when you are with your patients, only become one. Then helping them is possible. When you are with your family, only become one; then understanding what is best for them is clear. Just like this. The blue mountain does not move. The white clouds float back and forth.”