Zen On Success

- By Andrzej Stec JDPSN, excerpt from Q & A at Kwan Um Daejeon Zen Group July, 2016
Question: There’s one word in this life that has been helping me but at the same time also giving me suffering. That word is “success.” What is success? And what is a successful life?
Andrzej Stec JDPSN: What do you want? (Silence)
I heard that that 95% of people don’t know what they want. Maybe 3% know what they want but can’t get it. There’s 2 % left. The next 1% know what they want, get it but are not happy. The one last percent of people know what they want, know how to get it, get it and they’re happy with it. A teacher in our school taught, “Be careful what you want because you might get it. When you get it, you might not like it.”
What is true success? If you ask Buddha, the greatest success is to become Buddha. The main Buddha halls in Korea are called, “Dae Woong Jeon”, which means “Hall of Great Heroes”. Hall of No.1 winners. From Buddha’s point of view you cannot get anything higher than becoming Buddha. Before getting enlightenment, Shakyamuni Buddha was the biggest loser in India. He had a kingdom and he lost it. He lost his wife, considered the most beautiful woman in India. He lost all his wealth. He lost his son. He didn’t get enlightenment and he lost his Dharma friends; five friends who just deserted him. When he finally sat under the bodhi tree, he was the No.1 loser in India. That’s the point. To become a great winner, one has to become a great loser first.
If you know what you want, this will become your dream. Let’s say, if it’s a small dream, when you get it, it comes with small success. If you fulfil your small dream and get success, you should be happy with it. If you have a big dream, you get big success. You can get anything you want, really. But there’s a catch - you cannot keep it. You will lose it and all your effort will be for nothing. That’s why desire makes so much suffering.
Nowadays, some people make money by teaching others how to get what they want with less work. After World War II, if you were busy doing many things and multi-tasking, it was considered successful. Nowadays, this is No.1 bad advice. If we are busy, we may be only efficient. We are doing many things in the right way but they are not necessarily important. We are not necessarily productive. Being productive means doing less but doing the right things.
That means first, what we want has to become clear.
We can decide; do many unimportant things and get busy, get tired, get stressed, get sick. We call that living in ‘Shallowville’ - nowadays we live in Shallowville. Of the six billion people on the planet, most of us are mediocre. In the end, perhaps we can get some small success but cannot keep it.
Or, do that one thing and do it well. Few people can do one thing and go really deep, do the deep work and find very big success. Yet all those actions take a lot of energy and time. Maybe money and fame come along with it. Maybe also prestige and respect but still in the end, we cannot keep any of them.
In Zen we say, “Don’t want anything, then you get everything,” - but nobody believes that. Most people want something not knowing that the very thing they want is not good for them. Now you have a choice: don’t know what you want and get busy; know what you want 100%, go for it, get it and then lose it, or, don’t want anything and get everything. Three kinds of success - which one do you like?
This is really a serious question. Those here today (indicating audience) are mostly middle-aged, right? Nobody here today just graduated from high school. I see that some of us are getting grey hair. In the West, we say, “going on the downhill road”. Einstein said, “If you don’t get great insight before 30 years-old, it’s too late,” but I don’t believe that because he didn’t know about meditation. You can keep young and fresh if you meditate, it helps. Your brain age doesn’t matter. The question is, how do we want to spend the rest of the time that’s left for each one of us?
Those who came here at six o’clock or later, all of us got closer to death by two hours. Actually that’s true for everybody. Other people in this city spent these last two hours in different ways and this is a fact. This body will not stay forever. When we die and how we die, nobody knows but time doesn’t wait for anybody. We all got closer to our end on this planet by two hours. Then, for what kind of success do we spend the remaining precious time in our life? Where do we want to invest? In becoming famous? Making a little more money? Getting a house? Putting our energy into our children to get married well? Maybe we want to give the rest of your life to our country? That’s a little better than just for ourself. Or maybe put the rest of our life to stop wanting anything, to find the Truth. Not the relative truth, human “truth” which is always changing. Everybody’s confused because there are so many truths. One day a scientist will say, “Coffee is bad for you, don’t drink it.” Next new researcher says that coffee is good for you and you can take two cups a day. Who will you believe? Even what we’re saying now is also Buddhist truth, right? Subjective truth. Anybody can say anything. Whatever I say, don’t believe it either.
Every human being has one big responsibility - you have to attain your Truth. Have no doubt. Don’t run around asking other people for advice. This is my personal definition of success. Everybody is different. Each of us who came here has a different reason to come here. Small happiness is better than big suffering. Zen doesn’t say, “Don’t go to work tomorrow, don’t take care for your research, don’t care about your company, give away all your money, or stop talking to your parents or your children.” You can have it all. You can have small happiness and big happiness. Just follow Dharma. When you get small happiness, enjoy it but don’t get attached to it. Don’t stop working for the great success. Small happiness, big happiness, better than big suffering and this practice will help you. If your mind is clear, you’ll enjoy a cup of tea. It will give you great joy. If you share this cup of tea and nice conversation with your parents, husband, wife, children or friends, it will become bigger happiness. But don’t forget to do meditation, don’t forget to practice. Don’t settle for small happiness. Go for the big one. You can get it all.
Thank you very much for taking one more step. You spent these last two hours of your life in a great way. All of you will get great success - just don’t quit. Everyday your life will get better and better. Whatever this world is going through, you will be able to deal with it and even use it to get more happiness. It is said that in a revolution, there are always winners and losers. We have to become winners of our own revolution. The one thing that will help us is by keeping our Bodhisattva direction.

Instant Feedback

Do you drive? I don’t. People who drive had to learn that skill from someone. They didn’t figure it out on their own. You didn’t either. How long it took for you to learn driving ?
If it was quick, you might have a talent for driving, but would you also give some credit to the instructor?
What makes a good instructor? First, he/she has to give you correct instructions, then they have to do the next important thing: give you feedback.
Informative feedback is as important as clear instructions. How quickly you receive feedback is even more important than the feedback itself. The faster the feedback comes, the faster we can adjust our course and master our skill. So, good instructors are those who not only give you informative feedback but give it to you in real time.
That is why in sports, great coaches are videotaping every element of an athlete’s training. Then as soon as possible, show it to the athlete and correct any mistake to refine the next repetition. This is not happening once but over and over again. The main focus is on weaknesses, not on strengths. This principle applies to any learning process.
In Zen training we also need instant feedback. If we want to grow, we need a good instructor, a Zen Teacher who can provide us with clear instructions and instant feedback about our weaknesses but is also very supportive. Like a good parent.
In our tradition we use kong-ans to make our lifes correct. Kong-an interviews are extremely important to speed up the wisdom growth of a practitioner. They provide instant feedback to your Zen training. These days, everyone can get access to any meditation instruction instantly. Just google the word “meditation”. However, without instant feedback provided by a qualified instructor, we can run into trouble.
Sangha, the group of fellow practitioners, is another source of feedback. If you don’t have a Zen Teacher available on daily basis you’ll need a good friend.
Good friend is not a person who give you high five no matter what you do or say. Good friend is a person who is not afraid to point out your hidden faults, which is the most valuable feedback. If you have at least one friend like that you are a rich person. Invest in that relationship.
If you are aiming for mastery, you need feedback. Everyone needs feedback, including instructors. Great coaches and teachers have another specific quality; they don’t consider themselves “Masters”. They constantly improve their skills. Mastery is a process which never ends.
Unfortunately, the higher the position, the less feedback we might get and it’s often given too late. As an old Zen saying goes: “The arrow passed downtown,” points to that. The CEO’s of fallen enterprises, communities and nations repeat the same mantra: “Nobody told me!” The responses they get are usually, “Yeah, but you were always holding a gun!”
If you are looking for effective growth, consider two things: finding a keen eyed instructor, good friend and a community where the leadership promotes an instant feedback culture on every level without “holding a gun”.

Don't Bother with the Branches - Go for the Root

"There are three extremely hard things: diamond, steel and knowing yourself"- Benjamin Franklin

"Self awareness" is a catchy word these days. Everyone sees the benefit of knowing oneself better. It helps with everything; career, relationships, self improvement, productivity and overall happiness.

A personal coach recently suggested an exercise on how to become more aware of ourselves. He suggested to ask 20 questions about our life and belief system. Here are some of them:

What am I good at?
What am I bad at?
What’s the most important thing in my life?
What stresses me out?
How much sleep do I need?
What’s my definition of success?
What do I think about myself?

Then he suggested to answer each question with the first thing that comes to mind, but not to answer with ‘don’t know’.

In Zen we take the opposite approach. Don't bother with branches. Instead, go for the root.
10,000 small questions return to one big question: What am I?

The more we ask this one question, the more "don't know" becomes the answer.
In the beginning, this doesn’t make any sense, right? Logically. We may doubt that this is not practical, especially if the answer is "don't know". How can "don't know" help me understand myself?

This is in fact the shortest cut to self awareness. When we truly ask ourselves, “What Am I?” what really happens?

Eventually, we return to this state of “don’t know”. When we can keep this true "don't know", our mind transforms. Our mind becomes clear and we don’t hold ideas and opinions. When we are clear we will understand what we are really good at, what makes us tired and what is our dream job. Our answers won't be shallow that "first just pop up". Instead, they are deep and lasting insights that can truly benefit ourselves and others.

Clear meditation practice means understanding our direction, and Just Do It .

You Are the Proof

Dharma Talk to Complete 7-day Buddha’s Enlightenment Day Retreat Su Bong Zen Monastery, Hong Kong, January, 2016 (Excerpt)_ Andrzej Stec JDPSN

Studying Buddhism is studying yourself. What are you? Did you have a chance to look at yourself tonight? Or were you too tired? (Laughter from the audience)
What are you? (Silence) Don’t know. Studying ourselves is, keeping don’t know. If you keep don’t know, you will forget about yourself. Thinking becomes less. Your mind becomes clearer, clearer, and then Boom! Wisdom comes back. You are Buddha. Everything is truth. You are truth, and you are the proof.
What is missing right now? You still don’t believe in yourself? Do you still need somebody to tell you? Why is that? Why do you have to listen to somebody like me? Do you really need a teacher?
Zen means becoming completely independent. It does not depend on Buddha or Zen masters, or even meditation. If we depend on something, we make something important. We give away our power. Then Buddha controls us, teacher controls us, politicians control us, boss controls us, wife or husband controls us or money controls us. We are not free. Why? Because we still don’t believe that we are perfectly fine. If these seven days and last night (all night sitting) were not enough proof for you, then I’m afraid you have to do it more often.

Long time ago when I was living in Korea at Hwa Gye Sa, there was a group of lay women. Every Saturday they would do what we did tonight. They didn't dim the lights though, instead they were brightly left on. It means you have light in your eyes so you don’t fall asleep. They were not sitting 30 minutes and walking 15 minutes like we did tonight. They were sitting one hour sessions, starting at 9 p.m. and finishing at 6 a.m. They also had interviews with Zen Master Seung Sahn. Then they would go home and cook breakfast for their family like every Korean wife. After that, they would take care of the whole family the entire Sunday. Their kong-an practice was extremely sharp. That’s because their lives and practice were not two separate things.
What is the proof really?
We may think when we come here and sit, that our Zen practice is great. What about when we get up from the cushion and go into the world again? I often say to everybody, not to tell anyone that you are practicing - just keep it to yourself. Don’t call yourself an expert. Don’t talk about Buddha Dharma if you don’t understand it. If we say “I’m practicing”, we better prove it with our life. In the end, there is only one thing – do we deliver or not? Talk is cheap, plans are easy to make. What really counts is execution. Did you deliver? Did you put the food on the table? Did you pay off your debts? Did you get hired? Are you in a bad relationship? Are you always fighting? You cannot make a harmonious marriage? Or maybe your children don’t feel loved? And then we say we are practicing Buddha Dharma? Better not say it.
This training today was only about one thing and we should be really proud of it; that we decided something and we delivered it. Now our center is stronger. It was difficult, but we did it. The point is, don’t lose this momentum.
Read more of Andrzej Stec JDPSN’s teachings here.

Zen for the "Maybe Generation".

                                                                                                              ASH changes “Be Marlboro” into “Be Tobacco-Free”

Perhaps you have heard this already: More Young People Can't Make Up Their Minds

If not, here is a simple explanation: Millennials are the generation born around year 2000 who probably right now are posting on Snapchat, Instagram or even Facebook.

They are constantly bombarded by their devices with countless choices. What to wear, eat, who to date, what to listen to, and what meditation style is the coolest ?

Having smart phone notifications on all the time additionally contributes to shortening attention span and diminishing focus.

Because of that they can't decide, and whenever facing a choice, become paralyzed.

In an evil twist, Marlboro started an add campaign targeting young people:
"Dont Be Maybe, Be Marlboro".

Here are some messages from Marlboro's ads: "Maybe Never Will", "A Maybe Never Reaches The Top", "A Maybe Is Never Invited", "Maybe Never Wins", "Maybe Never Fall In Love".

For Marlboro, the message is clear; being "Maybe" isn't cool. If you want to be cool make up your mind and smoke our cigarettes.

Zen practice offers a more healthy alternative for those who want to learn how to avoid becoming one of the Maybes.

By doing correct Zen practice, you will become more clear about what you really want. Also you will become more centered, which will help to achieve your goals effectively.

No amount of cigarettes will make anyone a Just Do It person, quite the opposite. It makes you a slave to cigarettes, just like being a slave to Maybe. It's time to make some choices that really help our lives.


Zen Master Seung Sahn used to teach his students: "When you are doing something just do it."It's not clear who came first with this slogan, Nike or Zen Master Seung Sahn.Nevertheless, this idea might be interesting not only for athletes or Zen students.There is still a common believe that those who can do several things at a time are more productive and multitasking is still a virtue in the professional world today.
On the other hand, various scientific research has been done on the subject proving that our brain can handle only one thing at a time. (see article from NYT  and  LifeHack ). Now what kind of time are we talking about ? One hour, 20 minutes or maybe a second?In Zen, time is a creation of our thinking and it's length is quite subjective.
Past is just a memory, future is a fantasy, and even when we say "now" it's already gone, so there is no way we can Just Do It in the past, future or even "now".
One Moment ( ksana in Sanskrit)  lasts 1/60 of the time you need to make one finger-snap.
These days in the era of nuclear clocks our moment is even shorter : 1 /∞ time. Since this is the case we might think that in such a short time we can't do anything, not even think.
 For example one human reflection takes up ninety ksanas. So, in moment, there is no thinking . No thinking means that there is no time, no space, no subject, no object and no action.
The point is not to get stuck in the moment. If we don't get stuck in the moment we can do anything

How can you not get stuck in the moment?