One of the sharpest teachings of Dae Soen Sa Nim (Zen Master Seung Sahn). He was constantly pointing directly to our original nature, and nothing else. He considered our “outside” forms and conditions, our personal karmic orientations, but what mattered most in his teaching was how deeply we realized our True Self, or not. Education level, or length of time sitting, or family background, even cleverness or “usefulness” for his work didn’t rate much with him: How much do you believe in your True Self, the strong attainment of “only-don’t-know.” Which is, by the way, what Socrates expressed his greatest certainty about.
Some years ago, at the height of the financial crisis in Greece, a yoga teacher from Greece visited us in Munich. She was very upset by the appalling condition into which Greek society had been plunged by its banking overlords in Berlin and Paris and London and Den Haag. She was anguished with the very real suffering that is, even now, tearing Greek society apart, sending its youngest and best minds overseas in search of better opportunities. My heart went out to her completely, and it still does today.
But as she went on and on, and after I had listened and commiserated with genuinely empathetic sadness, it was time for some Dharma. “Anyway,” I said to her, by now at her wits end as to how to endure this situation striking everyone she knew back home. “The fortunate part of this is, you are not Greek. So, you can also let this go, and it should not control you.”
She was shocked. Her eyebrows rose up. “Sunim, what do you mean.” Touching her chest with the palm of her hand, she said, “I am proudly Greek and I will always be Greek, even in the next life, if I can control it! How could you say such a thing?”
“You are not really ‘Greek.'”
Her eyebrows went up further, and all sorts of hand gestures appeared, most of them centered around her sternum. “Oh, you think we are now some new European entity, like the Germans or others want us to be? No! I was born Greek and I will always be Greek, and nobody can take that away from us, even though that is what they are now trying to do through all of this banking crisis. They are trying to take away our Greek identity. But I am Greek, and even we are suffering, I am proud to be Greek. I will never give that up because of anyone.”
“You don’t seem to really get it: you are not Greek. I know you worry about Greece, and the Greek people. And I am very sad, too. But at least know you are really not Greek, so, while you suffer, you can also let it go. It does not really touch you.”
“What nonsense is this you are giving me, Sunim? Are you crazy or something?”
“In your original nature, there is no ‘this’ or ‘that,’ no God or Buddha, no time or space. In the Heart Sutra, we chant that there is no ‘pure or impure,’ and it does not increase or decrease. So, there is also no Germany or America or Korea or Greece. Therefore, you are not Greek. Your body might come from other Greek people, but your True Self is not Greek or German or American, and it is not male or female, or Christian or Buddhist. It is like empty space, clear and without any hindrance. For this reason, it has no life or death, and it never comes or goes.”
The student did not really get the point, it seems. And she never really progressed in her meditation practice, and now has lots and lots of suffering.
Seung Sahn Sunim always pointed us to that no-hindrance reality of our don’t-know nature. And this insistence is why he was such an astounding Teacher, and still is.