The Human Route letter
May 17, 1978
Dear Seung Sahn Soen Sa,
I don't think you know me because I have seen you only a few times. I attended a Kido with you last summer. However, I hope you will be able to give me some advice.
Last month my younger sister Sue died in a very strange and lonely way. The karma of my family is difficult and full of confusion and pain. Sue was paralyzed from the waist down for a year and a half. She tried to kill herself jumping from a balcony and broke her spine in three places. I cry as I write this. Though I was close to her before, I became much closer after that, going to Texas to visit her, talking with her, writing many letters. I loved her very much. She had a beautiful heart, very loving and seeking. Then last month she suddenly ran away in her car (she had a special car she could drive). She drove up to northern Texas, called my mother twice, and then we didn't hear from her for many days. She was finally found in the woods by the police. She had tried to get out of her car into her wheelchair, fell to the ground, dragged herself into the woods, built a fire, and died there -- probably from exposure and starvation.
For myself, these last years have also been a struggle. I was in a mental hospital twice, and the past three years have been a journey back to a normal mind. It is so terribly sad to me because, just when I was beginning to be really strong for her, to be able to truly help her, she is gone -- and I think she had much pain and anger in her heart when she died.
I have her ashes now on my altar, and I feel strong energy from them. I guess I wish to ask you two things. First, what can I do for her now? I try to find her when I sit Zen. I think of her always -- it sometimes seems as if I feel her suffering -- and every night I chant, but this doesn't seem enough. I want badly to see her, though I know I can't, to help her wherever she is, to reach her somehow and make sure she is not suffering.
Secondly, please tell me how to purify myself and my family when there are so many difficult things. I myself am such a beginner on the spiritual path -- part of the reason I went crazy was because I thought I was such a bad person. I know somewhat differently now, but could you explain a little to me about karma with much suffering and unhappiness?
I will be deeply, deeply grateful to you for any words that you can send me. As I write this letter, the tears come from inside with my sorrow and my desire to bring love where there is so much pain.
Yours in Kanzeon,
May 27, 1978
Thank you for your letter. How are you? I read your letter and I am also very sad. I understand your mind; I understand your thoughts about your sister. I understand your love for your sister. You and your sister have very strong karma, same karma. So when your sister dies, your mind also dies.
But that is all feeling. If you are holding your feelings, you cannot help your sister. Also, you cannot help yourself or your family. Let your feelings be! You must find your correct way; then your mind can shine to your sister and to your family. Then in the next life this sadness will not appear. But if you are only holding these sad feelings, in your next life this same sadness will appear.
Everything is from a primary cause and leads to a result. An action in your past life gives you a result in this life. If in this life you do not make this feeling disappear, then it will become a primary cause and in the next life there will again be the same result. The name for this is samsara. Many people do not understand this, so they are attached to a result. Because of this, when they are very sad and crying, they suffer.
If you understand karma, you will not hold onto the result, so your mind will not be tight and suffering. Crying time, only cry. When that is finished, it is finished. You must keep a clear mind. Then you will make clear, correct karma.
So don't hold onto your feelings. Don't make anything; don't be attached to anything. Put it all down! Then your mind will become clear, and your mind light will shine everywhere. That is called Dharma energy. Then your mind will shine to your sister and the rest of your family. Then the primary cause will disappear, and this suffering and sadness will not appear again.
The Human Route
Coming empty-handed, going empty-handed -- that is human.
When you are born, where do you come from?
When you die, where do you go?
Life is like a floating cloud which appears.
Death is like a floating cloud which disappears.
The floating cloud itself originally does not exist.
Life and death, coming and going, are also like this.
But there is one thing which always remains clear.
It is pure and clear, not depending on life and death.
What is that one pure and clear thing?
You must attain this true self which is not dependent on life or death, which always remains clear and pure. Then you will see your sister's original face, and you will save yourself, your sister, and your family.
If you don't understand the one pure and clear thing, then only go straight -- don't know. Let everything be! Only try, try, try for 10,000 years non-stop. This is very important.
You said you were in a mental hospital. That is very difficult. Controlling your mind when you are alone and practicing alone may also be very difficult. The best thing is for you to go to a Zen Center; practicing together with others is very important. When you are bowing together, sitting together, eating together, chanting together, and working together with other people, everybody helps you control your bad karma. Then it is easy to completely put down your opinion, your condition, and your situation.
Good and bad are your true teachers. But living by yourself, you don't understand good and bad. You cannot see your bad karma. So your bad karma always controls you, and your problem is non-stop. If you want your bad karma to disappear, please come to a Zen Center.
You want to know how to help your sister. I already told you, but if you want to do something special, Buddhism has a mantra for dead people: Ji Jang Bosal. Try Ji Jang Bosal 3,000 times a day for forty-nine days. Then your sister will be born again in a good body.
I hope you only go straight -- don't know: don't check your feelings, your mind, or your understanding, find the true way, and save your sister, your family, and all beings from suffering.
Yours in the Dharma,