Mirror of Zen Blog

Albert Einstein and “The Compass of Zen”

The Compass of Zen is based on pure observation, not belief or philosophy or speculation or even some moldy referents. In that sense, in its most simplistic, meditation is a scientific insight — not religion. The “Theory of Relativity” is explained perfectly by Zen, in a way no religion would ever attempt. Short, straight, absolutely to the point — at the speed of light:

Albert Einstein: To simplify the concept of relativity, I always use the following example: if you sit with a girl on a garden bench and the moon is shining, then for you the hour will be a minute. However, if you sit on a hot stove, the minute will be an hour.


Zen Master Seung Sahn, The Compass of Zen (1997): 

“Your thinking makes past, present, and future, so you have time. You make time. And the time that you make is your time, not my time or anybody else’s time. Let us say someone is waiting for his wife. They are supposed to meet at 5:00 pm, but it’s already 6:30 and she hasn’t arrived yet. If she is late, he will be at least a little angry with her. This is the view of “my” mind, “my” time. It may be that she is late because she is working on something in the office, and she is getting something done. “Her” time may be passing quickly, and she’s not going to get angry. But while I am waiting in the car, “my” time is passing slowly, and “my” time is being wasted. “My” time is suffering-time, passing slowly. But “hers” may not be the same; she may be working hard, meeting a deadline, and that same period of time is actually passing too quickly for her to get it done.

This is “my” mind. We make our time either good or bad, happy or sad. We make time with our thinking minds. We make time either long or short. We make it good or bad. Here is another example: At 8:00 o’clock pm, you go to a disco, and you are dancing with all your favorite friends. It’s a wonderful party. Everybody is having a very good time. Then at one point you look at your watch: “Oh, it’s already 11:30! Almost time to go home! That’s too bad!” Three or four hours pass like maybe one hour. But then on another occasion you go to the airport to pick up your girlfriend. You have not seen her for one month, and you are very, very excited. But this plane is one hour late. The minutes pass so slowly. It seems like a very, very long time. “Why is this plane not coming? I want to see her soon. But the airplane is not coming!” This one hour waiting for your girlfriend is a very, very long time, and it feels like one month or one year! Ah, suffering! [Loud laughter] But at the disco, dancing with your friends, the same exact measurement of time feels like it passes in five minutes. “Only one hour. That’s too bad!” Ha ha ha ha! So your mind makes one hour either long or short. It all comes from your thinking: How do you keep your mind, right now? What kind of mind do you have?

Our thinking also makes space because originally space, too, simply does not exist. America is here, and Korea is over there. America has north, south, east, and west; Korea also has north, south, east and west. But America’s north, south, east, and west are different from Korea’s north, south, east, and west. “I am here. I have north, south, east, and west. When I disappear, where is my north, south, east, and west?” Does a dead man have north and south? There is nothing, yah? Ha ha ha ha! Also two men stand facing each other. One man lifts his right arm and points it straight at the wall to his side. “That’s the right wall.” But to the man facing him, that is the left wall! Which one is correct? If there are one hundred people in a big room, each facing a uniquely different direction, and each one does this, maybe you will have a problem. [Laughter] This is where all war and conflict come from. The reason for this is because everybody makes their “left” and “right,” and everybody believes that their “left” is the correct one. So as we see, we make our time and space, and we make our cause and effect, and all these then control our lives.”

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