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.

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