Zen Master Myo Vong – I and Thou

Zen Master Myo Vong is a patriarch of korean Zen Buddhism.

California Dharma-Talk

It has been a great pleasure studying with you. My master actually told me before he passed away that wherever I go I should teach ‘Gateway To Son’ very precisely. But somehow I put it aside because I thought that I would be making several trips, here and there, and that it wouldn’t be the best time for classes. But accidentally, in Korea last summer, people asked, “Why don’t we have some kind of class even if it is only for 5 days.” So Zen Master Myo Vong began and it was very successful and then he thought that instead of talking about different subjects, I better talk about one thing at a time. So Zen Master Myo Vong chose Bodhidharmas “Mind Watching.”
Yes, it is Bodhi-dharma. Who else Can it be? The One Who makes us intro-spect upon My-self.
Who teaches no other than my mind and its movements. Do not create any doubts, you’ll be in hell abruptly. The subject was simple, but as soon as I began, the content actually surprised people. They didn”t understand. They thought that it was better to start with something more
complicated work. It is really funny but people love hard work. If you give them an easy teaching, they don’t appreciate it much. It’s just like all the universities. If you do some professional work, you feel you are learning something and you don’t mind paying a lot of money. You gladly pay. But if somebody in the street teaches you some wonderful things, and this happens everywhere in the world, people do not appreciate it. So, I’m asking you now what is the most valuable thing in the world to you? What is the most important thing that you have to have in order to support your life? And to be yourself! There are many answers, isn’t that funny? I ask you for the most important thing in your life and we end up with many different answers? Why is that? The most means only one, right? What is the most important thing? What would it be? I have asked this same question to very different groups in various places. At Texas A&M University there are many students who are Chinese immigrants. They are very often poor and have a hard time making a living so it is very typical for them to answer that money is the most important thing. But, when you breathe the air, do you have to pay for it? Isn’t water free? Well maybe not any more but one time it was free for all people and animals. The study we are doing here is the same thing. The most valuable teaching has never had a price attached to it. Now today is the last day of our retreat so let`s think about this question once more. Basically the problem arises at the beginning. The original problem arises because of the idea of “I and Thou.” That is the original problem. Because of that there is Buddha and ordinary being. Because of this, there is enlightenment and un-enlightenment. Also brightness and darkness; movement and stillness. All the contradictions arise from “I and Thou.” Because of that, people have come to believe that you have to enlighten yourself; cultivate yourself. You must have the wisdom to be calm; to meditate; to have self love or self
respect and compassion; also confession and repentance. All these terms are always relative because they are based on the relative belief in “I and Thou.” Originally there is no Buddha, no enlightenment, no ordinary being, no darkness. But as soon as we have the idea of “I and Thou” all these things happen. This is the cause of creation and it all begins with thought. Thought has to have a subject and an object. Isn”t that “I and Thou?” Because you discriminate between those two things, all worldly things happen and as long as you continue that discrimination, worldly things will last forever. So when we talk about watching your mind, we are talking about the focus on this idea of “I and Thou.” When we watch ourselves, that is what we call illumination. Most of the time we are watching others but watching is supposed to be self originated. But instead, since we do not understand the original thing, we have learned how to only watch others instead of how to watch ourselves. This finger is always pointing out, even though in order to point out, the instruction has to come from within. The wise ones see what you cannot see. Ordinary beings see only what they have seen. But this is about the seeing itself that I speak and not the external appearance. Zen Master Myo Vong was talking to a well known physicist the other day who works at NASA in Dallas. He used to be a college Physics professor but he doesn”t teach anymore because nobody in his classes could understand what he was talking about. He tried to teach his class about the basis of Physics but the students could not understand the concept of a world in constant change. They believed that equations and formulae had a solid basis and they had a difficult time understanding the movement they described. So this professor came here to study with us and he was really surprised to see how the changing world is addressed in Buddhism. People talk about creation but they never talk about who is the one that has the view of creation. What is seeing? What is appearing? What you have thought is not reality. As soon as you try to describe the things out there, it is only your own interpretation. Just like when I ask you what is the most important thing for your life; everyone had a different answer, even though there was only one question. We have to find out only one answer. It can be interpreted ten thousand different ways but still the answer must be only one. And we know that because there was only one question. It can come out different ways. Why? Because the one who listens and the one who speaks have different conditions and so it always comes out accordingly. Water does not have color, but if you put blue in the water, it becomes blue water. If you put red in the water it becomes red water. It’s the same water but you see it differently. So now, we are here to enlighten ourselves. In order to enlighten ourselves, there can be many ways, but here I will let you return to the origin by showing one gateway. What gateway? Let me give you an interesting example. Are you hearing the sound of magpies? Do you hear my voice? I want your answer. Did you hear the sound of the cricket? Are those sounds happening at the same time? Can you hear the sound of the car? Somebody is moving, did you hear that too? When you hear the sound, listen and introspect on the nature of listening. Do you know what I am talking about? There is a little change here. Go back to the listener. Listen and introspect upon the nature of hearing. Are the sounds different? Does the nature of hearing also have the sound of the cricket, of the car, my voice and other things, or does it not? No, it doesn’t. Then how did you hear all different sounds. If it’s not our nature, then where do those sounds come from? That is just amazing, isn’t it? Here, I will show you a real miracle. You can hear 100 different sounds at the same time. I once talked with a musician, an old man who played in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, who has a doctoral degree in music. He arranged symphonies. He positioned the Voices and the strings and the woodwinds and all the other instruments and Voices. Sometimes over 100 positions. Do you know what is interesting? When you hear through your ear, does your ear really hear all the different sounds? Even if you close one ear you don’t hear separate sounds. Then, what knows the different sounds, because your ear cannot tell you. The musician told me “Our thought divides the sounds after you hear it.” That is what he said. Which means that all the sounds do not come from your ear drum or from those musicians; it is all your stuff, and that is what we have been calling true mind. You cannot even find the nature of listening. You wouldn’t say it is nothing even though you cannot find it. That is why we call it empty. In Buddhism they call everything empty because when you try to find something, there is nothing there. But that nothing does not mean really nothing because when I talk you still listen. You heard something but as soon as we try to find out the nature of listening; where is it? That is what we call the empty nature. The nature of listening, hearing, talking, all those are empty. And when you realize that, it is what we call the hometown of Avalokitesvara, Kwan Yin, the Sound Perceiver Bodhisattva. That is his home. That is what Avalokitesvara is and that is what God is. Isn’t that amazing? Most Christians are afraid. That is why when asked where is God, they always have to mention heaven or some place else. What is wrong with saying that you cannot find what God is. That does not mean God isn’t. Why are they so afraid that there is nothing you can really find? Even God himself is not important, that is a secondary thing. In order to kpow God really exists, somebody has to find out, really realize that God exists and that somebody happens to be you. Nobody else but yourself. You are the one that has to see if you are wrong or right. You are the one that has to agree or not agree. Not God, he never said anything. You are the one. So what do people do? They go out and ask others: “Do you believe in God?” If you don’t you are bad and you are going to hell. But whatever you believe, it’s you not God. Have you ever notíced that God is your dependent? Believing and not-believing, all comes from you, no one else. How about the nature of knowing when you believe God exists? Where is the nature of your believing? When you don’t believe God exists, where is the nature of un-believing? That is why we say that in Buddhism everything is empty. There is no substance; no foundation. There is, in a sense, no ground to stand on. Where is it? It is nothing. But still you talk about knowing God and argue about it?
So, in the nature of your listening, are there many different sounds there? No, there are not. You distinguish between sounds but sounds are the same. One sound. Whether you like it or don’t like it is just you discriminating. Where do those discriminations come from? Don’t pass this by. Once you pass by you will never realize anything. Yet people all say “Why do we have to worry about it.’ Let’s just pass by and go on.” Go where? How can you throw away something like this? How can you dare even having the idea of throwing this away? Where did that idea come from?

Son Master Pojo’ s fragment

Zen Master Myo Vong said: So Master Pojo said, this is the way of Avalokitasvara, ‘Perceiver of the Soundf This is the way of truth, which is the way of God because God speaks without a mouth. Divine nature speaks continuously but without a mouth. Do you understand that? That which you have never understood before? I hope you understand this very clearly because that is all we have been talking about. So, really, one who has a mouth does not speak well. One who does not have a mouth actually speaks better because when you don’t have this mouth you will only use your divine nature and that one is always the best. What else can it be? So, if there are not different kinds of sounds nor any way to distinguish between them; if there is nothing at all, isn’t that empty space? Which means that in empty space the nature of sound is to be found. Can you find it? Look at this candleholder, at this staff, this recorder. Where are they? Tell me. How can they be empty space? They are sitting on this table. Where is the table then? Where is the floor? Isn’t that pretty serious stuff? Do you know where you finally have to go? Point your finger at yourself. I am the one who began this. But where am I? Where am I? If you know this all the Kong-Ans are already clear. But, they are not clear to you because you are trapped by those things out there and you forgot about what is going on. We can obviously see these objects so you wouldn’t say they don’t exist, but we call this existence empty. Why? Because there is no place where they came from and there is no place where we can say they are. You cannot say a word. What are you going to say? But we can still talk about them and this leads us to the concept of ’empty space.’ Without pre-supposing empty space you cannot even talk about a thing. It is the same with numbers. We can’t talk about numbers without the concept of zero. But there is no number zero in this world, right? Where is the number zero? Do you know where the number zero comes from? Not America or Germany or England. It was the Indians who invented the zero. There is no zero in Roman Numerals. They didn’t have a zero which is why their calculations were so long. At the other end is the concept of infinity. Neither zero nor infinity exists in our world but the minute we conceive of these, higher mathematics becomes possible. Isn’t this the same concept as the ’empty space’ we have been talking about? When we talk about this world; this world actually stands on empty space, which doesnlt even exist. Just like zero and infinity and sounds.

What is Buddhism?

Zen Master Myo Vong said: There was a Ch’an Master in China in the 9th century. At that time there were seven very famous scholars who also were famous poets. After they studied religions, science, and literature, all of them became Buddhist. But one of them was so stubborn that he refused to do so, and he would always say, “Well I think Buddhism is just nothing. They talk about enlightenment, but what can it be?” At that time, this stubborn scholar met a Ch’an Master on the street and asked him, “Look, they call you Ch’an Master, let me ask you something : What is Buddhism anyway?” The Chan Master gave an interesting answer; If it is bad, don’t do it, If it is good, come do it, Always keep your mind clean, Do not let the bad things happen inside of you, That is all that Buddha is trying to teach us, The scholar laughed saying, “Is that all? Even a three year old boy can say those things. Why is this so important?” And the Chan Master said, “Yes, even a one year old boy can say it but one eighty year old man cannot do it.” The scholar was struck silent and then became angry and he decided to test the sincerity of the Chan Master. The scholar heard that the Ch’an Master kept the precepts very well. He didn’t sleep with a woman, he didn’t do anything bad. So the scholar thought, ‘You are still a man, let me test how strong you are.” He found the most beautiful geisha, and told her, “If you seduce that monk and cause him to break the precepts, I will give you all the money I have and support you very comfortably for the rest of your life.” The woman said, “I don’t know whether I am really beautiful or not, but I have one specialty, I can easily seduce any man.” The scholar said, “If you don’t, you are going to be humiliated and I will have to kill you.” The geisha said, “You can kill me then if I fail.” The woman changed her clothes and acted like the other devotees. She put on Buddhist clothes and went to the mountain and said to the Ch’an Master, “I came here to devote myself to the Buddhist work, would you accept me?” “What can you do,” asked the Master. “I will cook and wash the clothes for you,” she said. So the Master agreed to accept her. After several days the woman changed into her pretty clothes with make-up and fragrances and tried to tempt the Master. But this old man didn’t even care at all. So she thought, “Well, I have to use my final weapon.’ So one day she served his food and then suddenly sat on his lap saying. “I’ll help you eat.” She put one spoonful of food in his mouth and began rubbing his back. Still nothing happened. She had promised to seduce the Master in 30 days and she only had three days left. Finally she gave up, knelt down and confessed, “I really have committed the wrong actions and now I have to tell you the real story of what is going on here.” “Tell me,” the master said. She told him, “Either you have to sleep with me tonight or you have to kill me, because I don”t want to be killed by the scholar.” The master said, “That is very funny. Let me help you in a different way.” Asian women usually wore a white under-cloth that was very much like paper and on that cloth the Master wrote the following poem:

Zen Master Myo Vong said:

It has been over 10 years since
I set out from Virtue Peak,
While I am seeing the physical World,
All the physical World is empty,
And all the empty World
Is not different from the physical World
How can one drop of Water from Chogye
Spill on top of Red Lotus?
(That girl’s name was Red Lotus. The Master’s name was
Tae-Jon, and Chogye was the home of the 6th Patriarch, Hui Neng.)

Ch’an Master Tae-Jon said, “Bring this poem and show it to that scholar and tell him, if he can understand what that means, he can kill you, otherwise he can’t.” When she met with the scholar, he asked if she succeeded with the master and she confessed she had not. He said she must die. She said, “Yes, I know that. But before I die, the master told me to show you this poem.” This scholar tried to figure out what the poem meant all day and night, and still couldn’t figure it out. There was one sentence that was the most difficult one to understand for him:

All the physical world is empty
And all the empty World
Is not different from the physical world.

Zen Master Myo Vong said: It didn’t make any sense to him, because he had never seen things in that way. He tried to figure it out for three days, and finally said to Red Lotus, “I cannot kill you.” Then he went to
the mountain and became the Mastersis student. Master Pojo is saying is the same thing. There is no substantial entity in the nature of your listening, hearing, seeing, feeling and tasting. So where in the world did all those things come from? We don’t know, that is why we call this empty space. Even physicists say movement is impossible without empty space. If there was not space, this book couldn’t be moved from here to there. Logicians say that we must either deny movement or deny infinity but Buddhists say neither of them is true. Infinity doesn’t exist and movement doesn’t exist. You see, when you say it can’t move it is already moving, right? Can you understand that? If it doesn’t move there can be no argument
about moving or not moving. That argument is futile because the original truth is that you do not have to know why and you cannot know why when ‘I and Thou’ are present. That is not knowledge. Knowledge is always based on some notion that you have. But what Pojo is talking about is the unknowing part; the part which knowledge cannot deal with. If you deal with those notions, that is not knowledge anymore. If you are really seeking the truth, you already have to know what the truth is. Have you ever seen any physicist talking about the final truth of physics? Have you ever seen any musician who already knows the truth of music? Nobody
knows that. Buddhists, Christians, Islam; nobody knows the truth of God or the truth of Buddha because such a thing does not exist. When you talk about truth, that is already based on what you know. But what you know is originally supposed to come from truth, right? So inorder to talk about the truth you have to know the truth. If you don’t know the truth you can’t talk about it. That is called Tautology. You are chasing your own tail. What you see in the world is what it is, and when you see what it is, that is what you see. Doesnit make sense to you? If it doesn’t make sense to you, that is a real big problem because it is what it is. When you point outside it never ends. When we try to talk about what it is, you are pointing outside.
There is never a conclusion. You will never have a conclusion unless you turn your finger around and point at yourself. This is what we call introspection. But don’t be fooled by the word ‘introspection’ because since the world is empty, introspection is also empty. But empty of what? Empty implies that there was once something there but since the world is empty there is nowhere you can go because even empty does not exist. Who is the one who sees, hears and feels? You can call that ‘divine nature’ or ‘Buddha-nature’ or ‘self-nature,’ many names, but these do not exist. And yet, the activity, the motions, the movements are there. The only way to understand these contradictions is by introspection; you must return home to where it came from. If you do not have ears you wouldn’t argue about how a crow or magpie sounds. If you do not have eyes, you wouldn’t discriminate about how your friend looks, whether he is ugly or not ugly because you don’t have a notion about it. Always let’s return to the original calm and bright divine nature.

Zen Master Pojo said,
Since it is formless and invisíble, it cannot be attained by word, It is beyond Word,

Zen Master Myo Vong said: Why use the term “beyond word?’ Because the word arises from the form. \/Vhatever you have in front of you, the next thing you have is the word. But since that is originally empty you can’t have the word either. Not because we cannot talk but because the word only gives you the outer form. So as soon as you say it, it is wrong. This is a tricky problem. You have to deal with formlessness which means you have to overcome formlessness with formlessness. If you understand this there is no contradiction. It is what we call expounding, bringing out. If you want to know the taste of ocean water, what do you do? Drink some, right? Do you have to drink all the ocean water or just one drop? One drop is sufficient, isn’t it? If you understood the truth in reality, which is the empty nature of all those things we have talked about, “Buddha- nature,” “Tathagata as-it-is,’ ‘self-nature,’ all is originally empty, calm and bright. As long as you know that, it means that you have to carry these things that are empty. What I am saying is also empty. If you are clearly aware of that, what ever I say is not empty anymore. Are you following me? Whatever I say now, if you know it, that is what you call Tao. Tao does not have any explanation for Tao. For this explanation, the name Tao is here for us instead. It is like when you meet someone and you instantly fall in love. Your eyes just spark. You never think: “Wow, I”m in love.” You don’t try to explain. It is already too late for explanations. It is already gone a long time ago. Love is already explained before any words you put. When you say you are in love, the saying is just convincing yourself. But that is still okay. It is just like tasting the ocean water; it’s not the ocean, but it is the taste of the ocean. You have to expound yourself, not just think you know the answer. That is not enough. After all this is your life, not mine. This is the life of all Buddhas and Patriarchs. What else can be done? That is it. If you know it, that is it; nothing else. Master Pojo said this is the gateway of Avalokitesvara, the Perceiver of the Sound which is the way of God. Buddhas and Patriarchs have never lived; no house, family not even friends either. Yet, whole world belong to their mouths, ears and eyes.
Zen Master Myo Vong said: Let me ask you once more; when you say that there is not a thing, no distinctions at all, just nothing, at that time donlt you mean it became ’empty space?” Pojo said, “Did you hear the sound? Then listen and introspect upon your nature of listening.” So if you really want to understand what enlightenment is, listen and introspect upon the nature of your hearing. That is all. Do not carry further doubt. If the nature of listening is formless and invisible, it can”t be big or small. All Pojo is saying is that there is neither confusion nor enlightenment, and there is neither ordinary being nor sage. There is no Buddha, there is no ordinary being and there is no “I and no thou.” In your introspection you must have endurance. Precepts help us to have endurance. They provide limits within which we can introspect and at the same time our indiscriminate thoughts and ideas of form disappear. Do not be confused by thoughts of progress or failure. The humorous thing is that the more you know the stupider you become. One time when Confucius was called a ‘stupid dog,’ he clapped his hands with joy. In my country people are very happy if you call them stupid. In this country someone might kill you for calling them stupid. So stay with the precepts and don’t try to eliminate your ignorance. You can’t do it anyway. A natural tranquility arises by itself when you closely examine the nature of your seeing and hearing. Return home. The enlightened one has few desires. The smart ones know that they are stupid and cut the desires immediately. Actually you are the brightest one if you really become stupid. So return home and introspect. Some people call me a troublemaker because I point these things out to you. I am very glad to hear that because when you are nice and comfortable your tendency is to not study. That is why when you return home it is not the comfortable place that people in this country want so badly. No, it’s a place with no foundation and no structure but it is your home and as soon as your home is on the firm foundation of introspection, all the Buddhas and Patriarchs will rest there
with you. When you can see the truth ofSumeru Mountain, the Buddhas and Patriarchs Will feel Welcome in your home One time I watched the swimmer Mark Spitz practicing. He had won seven gold medals in the Olympics and still he practiced 8 hours a day. And a famous Volleyball player once told me that he also practiced 8 hours a day. These heroes, even though they were the best in the world, still practiced that much. You have to approach your study with that determination. You cannot lapse even for a moment into “I and thou.” You have got to examine and examine and examine. Study privately and do not talk about your practice with others. When you talk, you are killing yourself. Do not try to find a way to avoid studying. Your study is most important. Nobody will teach you this. Thank you and good luck.

Zen Master Myo Vong

Zen Master Myo Vong

More information about Lambda Zen Temple. For further questions about the temple, contact us at any time. The temple gates are always open and the daily routine continues.