Head of a Dragon, Tail of a Snake

Western Pennsylvania November 1, 1977

Dear Soen Sa Nim,

How are you? In your last letter you asked me again, "Why does Bodhidharma have no beard?" You said I must find a picture of Bodhidharma to see that in pictures of him he always has a beard. In my last letter, I gave you a 90% answer, and the kong-an bomb did not explode. O.K.

Why does Bodhidharma have no beard?


This is a feeble shot in the dark, of course, but I hope to be emptied of answers soon. I have not been able to put all of the time and effort into your kong-an that I previously intended, due to the fact that I have been using much of my free time to study electronics in the hope of getting a good job. I have appreciated my electronics study as a Zen discipline, however, and am mastering it with a single-minded zeal and directness. Yet within me there is a need to get back to the kong-an and settle this matter. I wish to give all sentient beings the aid that only a Patriarch can give.

Too many words! Katie and I shall be very glad to hear from you again. Please take care of yourself and all beings.

Yours in the Dharma,


November 10, 1977

Dear Dave,

Thank you for your letter. How are you and Katie?

Your letter had much energy, but your kong-an answer has no energy. What's the matter with you? You must believe in yourself one hundred percent! What are you doing now? When you do something, you must do it. That is your correct situation; that is clear mind; that is don't-know. You think that the kong-an is separate from your life and from your job. This kong-an, don't-know mind, clear mind, your job, your life, everything -- hit! become one. Just now, what are you doing?

You said, "I have no time, so I can't work on the kong-an." This is very bad speech! Every kong-an points to its own correct situation. So every day, everywhere, when you keep your correct situation, moment to moment, all the situations in your everyday life are clear. Then any kong-an that tests your mind is your situation just now, and it will also be very clear.

You said that you are studying electronics. This is Zen. Electrical energy can change into anything. Sometimes it makes things hot, sometimes cold; sometimes it makes wind, sometimes light; sometimes it gives the correct time; sometimes it makes food. This original energy has no name and no form. So this energy is like your mind. If you understand one form of electricity, then you can understand electricity's substance. When you see a light, do you know where the light comes from? Light is electrical energy; electrical energy is light. Electrical energy is part of our everyday lives. In the same way, your moment-to-moment correct action is your true self, clear mind, and the truth. So if you learn the correct way from electricity, no kong-an will stop you.

Your homework answer was "beard." This kong-an is an attack kong-an; how can you defend yourself? You must attack! For example, in an interview, a Zen Master asks a student, "What color is the wall?"


Then he asks, "Is that correct?" If you hesitate, just then you are already dead. It's like fighting. You must attack! When he asks, "Is this correct?" you answer, "Are you hungry?"

If you ask a child, "What is one plus two?" he says, "Three."

"Is that correct?"

"Yes, it's correct." He believes in himself, so he doesn't check himself.

"One plus two doesn't equal three..."

"It does too! My teacher said so!" A child's mind doesn't move: no holding onto words or thinking.

Here's another example. If you throw a ball hard against a wall, it comes back hard. If you throw it slowly, it comes back slowly. If the Master grabs a sword, you must grab one too! This is reflected action. "What color is the wall?" he asks you. This is a terrible question!

"You already understand."

"I don't."

"No? Then I'll teach you: white!" You must believe in yourself 100%!

When you want to do something and then you don't do it, you don't believe in yourself: you have the head of a dragon, the tail of a snake. So I hope you only go straight -- don't know, believe one hundred percent in your everyday life, get Enlightenment, and save all beings from suffering.

Yours in the Dharma,

S. S.