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Kong-on practice is a method that allows us to test the fruits of our practice of no-mind. Wrestiling with these conundrums shows us the shape of our mind, and reveals our condition, as does calligraphy, martial arts, and Zen practice. Here is a famous example:

First Gate: Jo Ju's Dog

A monk once asked Jo Ju, "Does a dog have Buddha-nature?"
Jo Ju answered, "Mu!" (No)

1. Buddha said everything has Buddha-nature.
Jo Ju said a dog has no Buddha-nature. Which one is correct?
2. Jo Ju said, "Mu!" What does this mean?
3. I ask you, does a dog have Buddha-nature?

Commentary: Silence is better than holiness, so opening your mouth is a big mistake. But if you use this mistake to save all beings, this is Zen.

Once you understand the purpose and method of kong-an practice, you can move through the wheel of Zen from 0 degrees to 360 degrees. The mind of Kwan Um Do Kwang is 270 Zen mind. In sword practice, the sword can control the whole circle from 270 degrees, thus one can reclaim one's mastery and attain to freedom.

Hair Grows on Wide Teeth

Zen Master Seung Sahn

Zen Master Jun Kang always posed the following kong-an to his students: "A long time ago, someone asked Zen Master Joju, 'Why did Bodhidharma come to China?' Joju replied, 'Hair grows on wide teeth.' If you attain this, you can see Bodhidharma's true face. If you don't understand this, you don't know Joju or Bodhidharma."

That's a famous story. Jun Kang Zen Master always used this kong-an. This is a 270 degree style kong-an. We sometimes use a circle to explain Zen. The circle can be separated into 0 degrees, 90 degrees, 180 degrees, 270 degrees and 360 degrees. Each of these four points has a meaning. At 0 degrees people are attached to name and form. That means they are attached to their bodies, attached to I-my-me, attached to everything. If you are attached to something, then you will suffer because everything is always changing, changing, changing. So if I am attached to somebody, attached to my house, attached to money or attached to fame, then when these things change my attached mind will suffer. Oh.... I lose everything! So that's 0 degrees.

90 degrees means form is emptiness, emptiness form. Mountain is water, water is mountain. Everything is always changing, changing. So Buddha teaches us that everything is impermanent. Around and around changing, changing, changing. But sometimes a Western mind thinks, "I am here and something is there. I think, therefore I am. I think so I am." But, if you are not thinking, then what? Not there? So thinking makes I. This is thinking I. "I" means thinking I. If I'm not thinking, then what? Nothing I appears?nothing, no word. If you open your mouth, it's already a mistake. Any action is also a big mistake. What's "nothing I"? In a kong-an interview, maybe someone will ask you, "What is nothing I?" That's a very important point. That's 180 degrees.

Next is 270 degrees; we say "magic." Magic means you can do anything. You can change, no problem. So any kind of thinking, no problem. That's 270 degrees.

So today's kong-an is a 270 degree kong-an. Hair grows on wide teeth. What are wide teeth? If you go to China or India, they have enshrined Buddha's teeth. But when Buddha died they cremated him, so how can we have Buddha's teeth? That's not correct! That means a mistake. Actually, that's Buddha's magic teeth. We are Zen students, not so attached to name and form. Also, "hair grows on teeth"?not possible! But possible, very possible.

That's 270 degree style; it's like a child's mind or a cartoon, anything is possible. A child's mind is very wide, not so attached to time and space. But when we grow up, time is very important?space too, is very important. Time and space start to control us; that's adult style thinking. But originally, time and space do not control us. Who makes time and space? Our thinking makes time and space. If you cut off thinking, then there is no time and no space. So everything is impermanent. Everything's impermanent means time and space go by non-stop, always around, around, changing, changing. Non-stop means not existent. Not existent means: you can't catch it, OK? That's our thinking.

Take for example, "now." If you say "now," it has already passed. So you have no "now." The Diamond Sutra says, present mind cannot get enlightenment, past mind cannot get enlightenment, and future mind also cannot get enlightenment, right? That's what gave Dok Sahn Zen Master such a big problem. So past mind, present mind, future mind cannot get enlightenment. Original mind doesn't have present, past or future. Our thinking makes present, past and future. If you cut off thinking, then there's no time or space. We have just this moment. This moment means infinite time, infinite space?one point. If you get this one point, you get everything. If you get everything, then you can do anything. That's the point.

Why did Bodhidharma come to China? Joju said, "Hair grows on wide teeth." But when someone else asked Joju the same question he said, "The cypress tree in the garden." Why are the answers different? Joju, like any great Zen Master, gets many different kinds of students. Because of this there are different kinds of teaching. It's the same with taste?everybody has slightly different taste. Some like ko chi chang, some catsup; some like sweet and some like salty. That's our tongue; our tongues decide. Everyone is a little bit different. When thinking appears, then like and dislike appear. When like and dislike appear, action appears. So, if you cut off all thinking, then everything is no problem. But if you are attached to your thinking, then you are attached to like and dislike. I like this, I don't like that. Then you will have a problem. Then suffering will appear. Originally there is no suffering, but you make like and dislike so... suffering. Your thinking makes that. So, if you cut off your thinking, then any place, any time...no problem! Try that, put it all down. Only action is very important. Most people are only thinking, thinking, thinking, but Zen means not attached to name and form. Completely put it down, everything, then... Boom! One point appears. Then correct function appears. Correct function is a correct human being.


Seung Sahn, Only Don't Know, Primary Point Press,
originally published in 1982, latest edition 1999.
Copyright Providence Zen Center. Appendix I, "Mind Meal."
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Seung Sahn, Ten Gates, Primary Point Press. This title is currently out of print.

Seung Sahn, The Whole World is a Single Flower - 365 Kong-ans for Everyday Life,
edited by Jane McLaughlin, JDPSN, (now Zen Master Bon Yeon) and Paul Muenzen,
Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1992. Copyright
Providence Zen Center. Cases #280 (gate 1), #286 (gate 2), #291 (gate 3), #283 (gate 4), #284 (gate 5), #362 (gate 6), #46(gate 7), #292 (gate 8), #293 (gate 9), #363 (gate 10), #364 (gate 11), and #12 (gate 12).
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