One Sunday evening, after a Dharma talk at the International Zen Center of
New York, a student asked Seung Sahn Soen-sa, "Why do you chant? Isn't sitting
Soen-sa said, "This is a very important matter. We bow together, chant
together, eat together, sit together, and do many other things together here at
the Zen Center. Why do we practice together?
"Everybody has different karma. So all people have different situations,
different conditions, and different opinions. One person is a monk, another is a
student, another works in a factory; one person always keeps a clear mind,
another is often troubled or dissatisfied; one person likes the women's
movement, another doesn't. But everybody thinks, 'My opinion is correct!' Even
Zen Masters are like this. Ten Zen Masters will have ten different ways of
teaching, and each Zen Master will think that his way is the best. Americans
have an American opinion; Orientals have an Oriental opinion. Different opinions
result in different actions, which make different karma. So when you hold on to
your own opinions, it is very difficult to control your karma, and your life
will remain difficult. Your wrong opinions continue, so your bad karma
continues. But at our Zen Centers, we live together and practice together, and
all of us abide by the Temple Rules. People come to us with many strong likes
and dislikes, and gradually cut them all off. Everybody bows together 108 times
at five-thirty in the morning, everybody sits together, everybody eats together,
everybody works together. Sometimes you don't feel like bowing; but this is a
temple rule so you bow. Sometimes you don't want to chant, to sleep; but you
chant. Sometimes you are tired and don't want to but you know that if you don't come
to sitting, people will wonder why; so you sit.
"When we eat, we eat in ritual style, with four bowls; and after we finish
eating, we wash out the bowls with tea, using our index finger to clean them.
The first few times we ate this way, nobody liked it. One person from the
Cambridge Zen Center came to me very upset. 'I can't stand this way of eating!
The tea gets full of garbage! I can't drink it!' I said to him, 'Do you know the
Heart Sutra?' 'Yes.' 'Doesn't it say that things are neither tainted nor pure?'
'Yes.' 'Then why can't you drink the tea?' 'Because it's filthy" " (Laughter
from the audience.) "'Why is it filthy? These crumbs are from the food that you
already ate. If you think the tea is dirty, it is dirty. If you think it is
clean, it is clean.' He said, 'You're right. I will drink the tea."' (Laughter.)
"So we live together and act together. Acting together means cutting off my
opinions, cutting off my condition, cutting off my situation. Then we become
empty mind. We return to white paper. Then our true opinion, our true condition,
our true situation will appear. When we bow together and chant together and eat
together, our minds become one mind. It is like on the sea. When the wind comes,
there are many waves. When the wind dies down, the waves become smaller. When
the wind stops, the water becomes a mirror, in which everything is
reflected-mountains, trees, clouds. Our mind is the same. When we have many
desires and many opinions, there are many big waves. But after we sit Zen and
act together for some time, our opinions and desires disappear. The waves become
smaller and smaller. Then our mind is like a clear mirror, and everything we see
or hear or smell or taste or touch or think is the truth. Then it is very easy
to understand other people's minds. Their minds are reflected in my mind.
"So chanting is very important. At first you won't understand. But after you
chant regularly, you will understand. 'Ah, chanting-very good feeling!' It is
the same with bowing 108 times. At first people don't like this. Why do we bow?
We are not bowing to Buddha, we are bowing to ourselves. Small I is bowing to
Big I. Then Small I disappears and becomes Big I This is true bowing. So come
practice with us. You will soon understand."
The student bowed and said, "Thank you very much."