Zen at the Bank

From a talk given during Kyol Che in 1982.

Somebody asked me if we should tell people that we practice Zen. I think we all have a hindrance of being embarrassed about it. I don't mention it often, but if someone asks me where I live, I tell them. I think it's good for them to get this in their consciousness.

One day years ago I was in a bank with Soen Sa Nim. There was a long line behind us and people were anxious to get out. When we finally got to the teller, a woman who had handled a lot of Zen Center business asked, "What is Zen?"

Soen Sa Nim was standing right next to me. I knew he would want me to give her a Dharma talk. But I just said, "Oh, it's nothing," took the money and ran out. How can you answer in two words or less, "What is Zen?"

As soon as we got to the car, Soen Sa Nim said, "Why not give her good teaching? Just say, Zen is understanding yourself. What are you?" At that time, it would have been really embarrassing for me to say that. It still would be. But I can see how that would have helped the woman more than what I did.

We need to expose our practice to people, and we have to expose ourselves to the practice. We have to accept that it's our job. Soen Sa Nim shaves his head and wears those monk clothes so when people see him, they know something is going on. A lot of us are still hedging it, walking on the fence, not ready to completely give ourselves to it.