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Dharma Talks : The Kwan Um School of Zen and Providence Zen Center

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What is Happiness? What is Sadness?  

Zen Master Seung Sahn gave the following talk in London, England, towards the end of his trip to Europe in the spring of 1978.

Long ago in China there was a famous student of Zen Master Ma Jo named Han Ong. Everyone said to him, "You are lucky, you are happy." Then he said, "What is luck? What is happiness?" He always spoke like this.

He had a good horse, which he liked to ride every day. One day the horse disappeared, so everyone said, "Oh, are you unhappy? Are you sad?" He said, "What is sadness? What is happiness?" No feeling. His horse ran away, but he only said, "What is sadness? What is happiness?" Everyone said, "This man has no feeling.'' Usually, if someone is attached to something and it goes away, then he is very sad. But Han Ong only said, "What is sadness? What is happiness?''

A week later Han Ong got a very good horse; we say, jun me. This means it only has to see the shadow of the whip and it runs. This is a very clever horse. So everyone said, "You are happy. You are lucky." He said, "What is luck? What is happiness?" Only this. No feeling. Then everybody said, "This man is very lucky." His son liked the horse and rode it every day. He only had to mount the horse and it would go, so he rode around and around, very happy. Then one day while riding, he fell and broke his leg. So everyone said, "Ah, I am sorry your son broke his leg. Are you sad?" He said, "What is sadness? What is happiness?" No feeling.

Soon after this, there were many wars, with North China and South China fighting each other. All the young people had to go to the army. But Han Ong's son had a broken leg, so he could not go; he stayed at home and only helped his parents. His leg was not so bad, so he could work in the garden and help them with their chores. Everybody said, "You are lucky. You are happy." So he said, "What is luck? What is happiness?" This style speech.

This is Han Ong's famous, "What is happiness? What is sadness?" His whole life he used only this speech to teach other people. Outside, happiness appears, luck appears, sadness appears, but he is not moving. "What is true happiness? What is sadness?" Not moving. This mind is very important. Originally there is nothing. If you attach to something, then you have luck, happiness, sadness, suffering -- everything appears. If you don't attach, this is clear mind. Then there is no sadness, no happiness, no unhappiness -- they all disappear. So if you attach to name and form, if you attach to words, then your mind is also moving. Don't attach to anything. Then your mind is enough. Then appearing, disappearing, whatever happens outside doesn't matter. Then teaching other people is possible. So Han Ong's friends and all his students learned from him. Only one word: "What is sadness? What is happiness?" This means your mind moving is no good. If you make happiness, if you make sadness, that's no good. Don't make anything; don't attach to anything; don't hold anything. Then you are complete. This was his teaching.

So our Europe trip is almost finished. We too have had many kinds of happiness, appearing and disappearing. Put it all down, O.K.? Only go straight: "What is luck? What is happiness? What is sadness?" We have had a lot of luck, a lot of happiness, a lot of suffering, a lot of sadness. But what is happiness? What is sadness? What is luck? Only go straight.


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