36,000 Mornings

36,000 Mornings

Dear Soen Sa Nim,

Tried to register for the Berkeley Yong Maeng Jong Jin, but it was already full. Hope to make the chanting retreat in October.

One evening, I was eating dinner in the cafeteria at Prudhoe Bay. Everything was quite normal, and I was conversing pleasantly with a friend. I looked around the hall, and it suddenly seemed to me that everyone was dead; death seemed absolutely palpable. I do not mean that I saw corpses all over; no, everyone was just sitting and eating, but they all, everyone, seemed dead. The atmosphere was saturated with death. Interestingly, this was not a frightening experience, but seemed quite objective, almost scientific in tone. It lasted for about forty minutes. It has happened on two subsequent occasions, though not so long.

I do not know what to make of this experience. Anything? Should I "put it down," use it?

You asked if I was the same as a tree or different. My answer -- if a wall is blocking your path, walk around it.

I am very glad that you are feeling better and are out of the hospital. The last Newsletter was especially interesting to me, since I had practiced another form of meditation for about four years before eventually becoming dissatisfied with it. Your explanation of the difference between other forms of meditation and Zen was very revealing to me.

Yours in the Dharma,


September 16, 1977

Dear James,

How are you? Thank you for your letter. You could not come to the Berkeley Yong Maeng Jong Jin, so I could not see you. That's O.K. You said maybe you will come to the chanting retreat. That is wonderful.

You said, "Suddenly, it seemed to me that everyone was dead, not corpses, but they just seemed dead." How about you? Were you dead or alive? What is death? What is life? I think maybe you like life. If you make death, you have death. If you make life, you have life. Death and life are originally nothing; they are made by your thinking. Your body has life and death, but your true self always remains clear, not dependent on life and death.

So, I ask you, what are you? If you don't know, only go straight. Put it all down. Don't check inside, don't check outside. Outside and inside become one. What are you doing now? If you are doing something, you must do it! Don't make anything. Only go straight.

Long ago in China, there was a famous Zen Master, Ko Bong. Before he became a Zen Master, he always kept the kong-an, "Where are you coming from; where are you going?" He only kept don't-know mind, always, everywhere. One day, he was sweeping the yard in front of the Dharma Room. At that time, the great Zen Master Ang Sahn appeared and asked him, "What are you doing?''

He said, "I am working on my kong-an."

"What is your kong-an?"

''My kong-an is, 'Where are you coming from; where are you going?'''

"Oh? Then, I ask you, who is coming; who is going?''

He could not answer. Then, the Zen Master became very angry, grabbed his shirt at the neck, and shouted, "Why are you pulling around a corpse!?" Then, he pushed him very hard; Ko Bong fell back on the ground, and the Zen Master went away.

Ko Bong's whole world was dark. There was only a big question, and he was very angry. "Why don't I know myself? What am I?" Don't know. He couldn't see anything; he couldn't hear anything; he couldn't taste anything; he couldn't feel anything; he couldn't smell anything. For seven days this went on. After seven days, he saw the Fifth Patriarch's picture. Beneath the picture, it said,

One hundred years, 36,000 mornings. Before, I am you. Now, you are me.

He saw this, and his don't-know mind exploded. Inside and outside became one. Subject and object, all opposites worlds disappeared. Complete absolute. He could see the sky - only blue. He could hear a sound - only a bird's song. All, just like this, is the truth. After that, he got Transmission from Zen Master Ang Sahn and became a great Zen Master.

So, I ask you, why are you pulling around a corpse? Tell me! Tell me!

Yours in the Dharma,