Jon Habat-Zinn is one of Dae Soen Sa Nim’s original Western students. Later, he went on to use his meditation work in the service of helping patients afflicted with various physical and mental ailments, and is now internationally recognized as one of the founding exponents of what is called “mindfulness-based stress reduction,” or MBSR.
When I was writing the book Wanting Enlightenment is a Big Mistake, I asked him to please consider contributing a foreword for the book. He agreed without the slightest hesitation.
In the Foreword he offered, he related a funny story from the 1970s about Dae Soen Sa Nim and his insight into “crazy”:
“One night, with [Dae] Soen Sa Nim sitting next to me, I gave the Wednesday evening public talk at the Cambridge Zen Center. When it was over, he answered the questions. It was his way of training his students to become teachers. It was a pretty interesting and challenging training regimen. The very first question came from a young man halfway back in the audience, on the right side of the room, who, in the way he asked the question (I forget entirely what the import of it was), demonstrated a degree of psychological disturbance and confusion that caused a ripple of concern and curiosity to pass through the audience. As usually happens in such situations, many necks craned, as discreetly as possible of course, to get a look at who was speaking. Soen Sa Nim gazed at this young man for a long time, peering over the rims of his glasses. Utter silence in the room. He massaged the top of his shaven head as he continued gazing at him. Then, with his hand still massaging his head, still peering over his glasses, with his body tilted slightly forward toward the speaker from his position sitting on the floor, Soen Sa Nim said, cutting to the chase as usual: ‘You craaazy!’
“Sitting next to him, I gasped, as did the rest of the room. In an instant, the tension rose by several orders of magnitude. I wanted to lean over and whisper in his ear: ‘Listen, Soen Sa Nim, when somebody is really crazy, it’s not such a good idea to say it in public like that. Go easy on the poor guy, for God’s sake.’ I was mortified. All of that transpired in my mind and probably the minds of everybody else in the room in one momentary flash. The reverberations of what he had just said were hanging in the air. But he wasn’t finished. After a silence that seemed forever, Soen Sa Nim continued: ‘. . . but . . . [another long pause] . . . you not crazy ennuffff.’ Everybody breathed a sigh of relief, and a feeling of lightness spread through the room. This interchange didn’t follow a predictable script for meeting suffering with compassion, but I felt in that moment that everyone had participated in and witnessed an enormous embrace of compassion and loving-kindness, Soen Sa Nim-style.”
Here is a teaching-video that Pablo “Yorae” Rodas and I made yesterday in the Zen Center from a recent snippet which was taken while following this great nearly-free spiritual monkey and Zen Center Regensburg resident Housemaster on a midsummer night’s walk after Evening Practice. The video was spontaneously filmed, without planning, unexpected, in the moment; the teaching is eternal. Thanks to Ji Bong.