Whole Life a Lie

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In our Zen tradition, we have the story of Dok Sahn, who was a sutra master in northern China. He had heard about the Zen practitioners in southern China who sat all day long facing the wall and did nothing. He said, "This is crazy! They're not studying sutras. How do they expect to get enlightenment?" Dok Sahn was so sure of himself that he knew he had to personally go and teach these monks the true way. Apparently, he was a very famous sutra master and had some standing in the Buddhist community.

He walks hundreds of miles to go teach these crazy Zen monks a lesson. As he approaches the first monastery, Dok Sahn stops at a tea house and encounters the woman who runs it. She sees him carrying a bundle of books and says, "Oh, what's in that bundle?" The sutra master replies, "That's the Diamond Sutra. I am a great Diamond Sutra master. I am going to teach these monks a lesson. They'll learn the Diamond Sutra, then they'll understand the true way."

So the tea house woman says, "That's very interesting. But I have a question for you. If you can answer this question, you can have your lunch for free. If you can't answer, you have no lunch." Dok Sahn was very prideful so he responded: "I can answer any question about the Diamond Sutra. I know it all." "I already understand," the sutra master boasts. "OK, you ask me. No problem."

The tea house woman says, "In the Diamond Sutra it says, 'Past mind can't get enlightenment, present mind can't get enlightenment, future mind can't get enlightenment. 'With what kind of mind will you eat your lunch?" The sutra master was stumped.

Dok Sahn couldn't answer at all. Suddenly, this great question appeared: "What is this? I don't understand everything." Just like the Buddha, who realized that his whole life had been a lie. just like me sitting in that classroom, realizing I didn't know what was going on.

Reaching this point is very important in our practice. Because it's at such a moment we truly understand don't know mind. We truly realize great doubt. What is this? If we're really honest, and truly practice, we are able to hold great doubt. We don't hold it like an idea, but as a direction in our life. "I don't understand. What is this?" Not knowing is the heart of our kong-an practice. 'What is this?" Who is it that thinks they know everything? We're all crazy. Why? Because we hold so tightly onto our opinions, our ideas, our feelings, our desires, our anger, trying to hang onto a little bit of security in this very insecure world.

Read more of this dharma speech