"The mind road has no end," says a common Zen teaching phrase. Zen Master Seung Sahn's upcoming collection of kong-ans, The Whole World Is A Single Flower, has an instructive case in this regard: number fourteen, "Where does the bell sound come from?"
One day, as the big temple bell was being rung, Buddha asked Ananda, "Where does the bell sound come from?"
Buddha said, "The bell? But if there were no bell stick, how would the sound appear?"
Ananda hastily corrected himself. "The stick! The stick!"
"The stick? If there were no air, how could the sound come here?"
"Yes! Of course! It comes from the air!"
Buddha asked, "Air? But unless you have an ear, you cannot hear the bell sound."
"Yes! I need an ear to hear it. So it comes from there."
Buddha replied, "Your ear? If you have no consciousness, how can you understand the bell sound?"
"My consciousness makes the sound."
"Your consciousness? So, Ananda, if you have no mind, how do you hear the bell sound?"
"It was created by mind alone."
By the time this story is finished, Ananda has traveled far down the mind road. In fact, the bus has come to the last stop. The bus driver has gotten off and is in the diner having a cup of coffee and a cigarette. Ananda is still sitting there.
Unfortunately, much of our life is like this too. We spend much of our time in a world of ideas and their associated emotions rather than waking up to right now.
Zen Master Kyong Ho Sunim, Zen Master Seung Sahn's great-grandteacher, concluded one of his most famous dharma speeches by saying, "My only wish for you is that you free yourselves of all conceptual understanding." This is Zen. If you are thinking, then everything in life is a problem. If you cut off all thinking, then your every action is the truth. You and the whole universe have already become one. This is clear mind, non-attachment thinking, the true way.
Kong-an practice is such a powerful meditation tool because it brings us to the end of our mind road. It allows us to directly experience this moment, not just an idea! The kong-an is not special; it is our everyday life, moment to moment. So, where does the sound of the bell come from? Will you get off the bus?