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

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Bodhisattva Clothes  

One snowy evening in January 1974, Seung Sahn Soen Sa was invited to speak at the Boston Dharmadhatu. He came with several of his students who, like him, were wearing long gray robes and brown kasayas. After the Dharma talk, one person asked, "Why do you all wear uniforms?''

Soen Sa said, "Did you eat supper?''

"Yes.''

"Why?"

"To relieve pain.''

Soen Sa said, "I am a monk." There was a long silence. "Okay, I will explain. Look at our face. The nose has two holes, the eyes have two holes, the ears have two holes. Only the mouth has one. Why only one? It would have been very easy to have another hole in back of our head. We could eat rice in front and drink wine in back. But we have only one hole. This is people-karma. The cat catches the mouse -- that is cat-karma. The dog barks at strangers, wong wong wong wong!-- that is dog-karma. It is all karma. Do you understand?''

"I understand that I have two holes in my nose. But I choose to wear a uniform or not."

"I am not finished yet. This is only on the way.... So life is karma. In our past lives we have made karma, and the action of this karma is our life now. I like this uniform, so I wear it. It is Bodhisattva clothing. The Bodhisattva wears necklaces and bracelets and earrings and beautiful clothing. He doesn't wear them for himself, but only for all people. These robes have the same meaning as Bodhisattva clothing. Do you understand?''

The person said, "Is everyone in your party a Bodhisattva?''

Soen Sa said, "What do you think?"

''I think not.''

Soen Sa pointed to one of his students and said, "You ask him.''

"Are you a Bodhisattva?"

The student shook his head.

Soen Sa laughed and said, "Very good.''

The person again asked Soen Sa's student, "Why do you wear these robes?"

"Why do you ask?''

"Because I have a great deal of difficulty dealing with uniforms.''

Soen Sa said, "You asked these clothes a question, and they are already teaching you. If I hadn't worn them, you wouldn't have asked me about them. I am wearing them, so you asked me your question. So I am teaching you. So these are Bodhisattva clothes.''


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