Does the path of cultivating certain virtues (Sanskrit: pÄramitÄyÄna) lead indeed to perfection and attainment? Does this Buddhist path differ from our practice of Zen? Or is it the same or part of it? If you say it differs, I will hit you. If you say it is the same or part of it, I will also hit you. If you say nothing, I also hit you.
Then what is the meaning of cultivating virtues for us Zen students?
I will here focus on the third of the Mahayana paramitas, which is called ksanti paramita, the perfection of patience or forbearance or tolerance.
When I came to Korea in 1993 to live and work, I was so happy that I had found a place where I could live with my Korean wife, work as a cultural scientist and, most of all, that I could practice Zen with our Korean sangha and be close to Zen Master Seung Sahn, who at that time mostly stayed and taught in Korea. Soon I became a regular visitor at our Hwa Gye Sa Temple in Seoul, and met and listened to Zen Master Seung Sahn's dharma teachings.
However, I soon discovered that many foreign Zen monks and nuns, including some of my dear dharma friends from Europe, wouldn't stay long in Korea, and that many of them disrobed and left the school. One time I asked Zen Master Seung Sahn, It looks like this traditional environment here in Korea makes it very difficult for our Western Zen students. How can we help them to stay and practice here? Then he answered me in a strange way: The first rows in Napoleon's army used to be only drummers. They walked on the battlefield right in front of all the other soldiers, and in so they were among the first to fall.
I am sure that Zen Master Seung Sahn was sorry for all those Western monks and nuns in Korea who endured difficulties and hardships, and he tried to help them. But he knew that Korean Buddhism would not change in a short time, and that all those who really wanted to practice with him in Korea needed to accept this.
This ability to accept is what the Buddhist scriptures call ksanti paramita, or patience. It has several dimensions: first, the ability to endure personal hardships, at least temporarily; second, patience with others; and third, accepting whatever appears and what cannot be changed right away. In short, the ksanti paramita's meaning is: No problem!
In order to do this, we must get clear. Which means that we must first accept and believe in ourselves. Then we can develop trust. If we are clear, the situations we face and our relationships become clear. We experience truth and can accept whatever appears, just as it is. No doubts. No battle. No despair. Only then can we do what is necessary and help this world.
This is Zen. And this is the practice of cultivating the virtues of perfection.
Today we have a wonderful and growing sangha with monks and nuns and laypeople from East and West in our temples in Korea. Thank you to our teachers. And congratulations to all of you who have struggled hard and have finally attained the ksanti paramita: no problem!