The Great Work of Life & Death  

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.



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�. If you reduce the temperature to 20�, it becomes ice. If you raise the temperature above 212�, it will become steam. As the temperature changes, H2O in the form of water appears and disappears, but H2O does not appear and does not disappear. Ice, water, and steam are only its form. Name and form change, but H2O does not change. If you understand the temperature, then you understand the form. Your true self is like this.

But what is your true self? Your body has life and death. But your true self has no life, no death. You think, "My body is me." This is not correct. This is crazy. You must wake up!

Steam, ice, and water are all H2O. But if you are attached to water and the water becomes ice, then you say the water disappeared. So it is dead! Raise the temperature and the water is born again! Raise the temperature again; the water disappears and becomes steam, and the water is again dead!

On the Zen Circle, this is the area from 0� to 90�. If you are attached to something and it disappears, you suffer. If you are attached to doing only what you like, you suffer. Don't be attached to water, O.K.? Being attached to water is being attached to form. Form and name are always changing, changing, changing, nonstop. So form and name are emptiness. Another way to say this is that form is emptiness, emptiness is form. This understanding is 90� on the Zen Circle.

But name and form are made by thinking. Water does not say, "I am water." Steam does not say, "I am steam." If you cut off all thinking, are you and the water the same or different? "Same" and "different" are made by your thinking. How can you answer? There is no form, no emptiness -- no words. This is 180� on the Zen Circle. If you open your mouth, you have already made a mistake.

If you cut off all thinking, you will see everything just as it is. Without thinking, water is water; ice is ice; steam is steam. No ideas hinder you. Then your correct relationship to H2O in any form appears by itself. We call this just-like-this. This is 360� on the Zen Circle. Just-like-this mind is clear mind. Clear mind has no I-my-me. Without I-my-me, you can perceive your correct relationship to H2O and use it without desire for yourself. You will not suffer when water disappears and becomes ice or steam.

Your father's original face has no death and no life. His body appears and disappears, but his Dharma body does not appear and does not disappear. You must recognize that all things are in your own mind. Just this is finding your true self. Great Love, Great Compassion, and the Great Bodhisattva Way come from this attainment. You must find this.

I hope you only go straight -- don't know, soon find your father's original face, get Enlightenment, and save all beings from suffering.

Yours in the Dharma,

S. S.

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