For Zen Master Seung Sahn’s enlightenment story, see

Wrote to someone,

“Recently been reading Zen Master Seung Sahn. He is also very clear. The teachers in his lineage teaching in the Singapore dharma center Kwan Yin Chan Lin are also consistently clear in terms of realisation of anatta.

As I wrote:

What’s important is that the insight must be clear. The teachings must be clear. It’s impossible to overcome the propensities of dualism without the correct insights. I’m not bothered about the terms, words they use or even whether he or she is unconventional or traditional.

For example, recently I started reading Zen Master Seung Sahn writings. I noticed that although he uses the term true self a lot, his insights are clearly anatta. He is not talking about a background or ultimate self behind everything.

Seung Sahn said “your true self has no outside, no inside. Sound is clear mind, clear mind is sound. Sound and hearing are not separate, there is only sound.”

Thusness also said, “Seung Sahn is anatta. Self/self is not important to him at all””

(Update by Soh: we are mistaken about this. See

Nowadays OCR softwares are very powerful. I took a photo of a page from a book using my phone, used the free app Office Lens to convert the image into text in word document. It is fast and accurate.

Here’s a teaching by Zen Master Seung Sahn which is converted using OCR, it’s from the book  “Only Don’t Know: The Teaching Letters of Zen Master Seung Sahn”, also it’s somewhat relevant to my previous encounter with a Zen Master from this lineage (See Total Exertion):


Toronto, Canada
January 29, 1977

Dear Soen Sa Nim,

I miss you very much and wish that I did not live so far away from you. Every day I sit Zen and bow 108 times— Lawlor and I do this together. But often when I'm bowing and sitting, I am thinking:

"What will I make for dinner? What shall I wear to work? Thinking is no good." All thinking!

You say—"Put it all down. Only go straight." But isn't there some balance about practice? Maybe I should do more sitting. You talk about strong sitting. What is this?

What am I? I ask this more and more through my day. But there is so much thinking!

I hope you are well, and I send you my great love.


February 22, 1977

Dear Sherry,

How are you? Thank you for your letter.

You told me that you and Lawlor have been practicing  gether every day—that is wonderful. A lot of thinking, no thinking, a little thinking—it doesn't matter. You say, "thinking is no good." This is no good. This is being attached to your thinking. Only try, try, try, and your thinking will rest. Then finally, at bowing time, only bow; at sitting time, only sit; at chanting time, only chant. This is possible. If you keep practicing, this will happen.

In your letter you asked me about balance in your practice and about strong sitting. If you are attached to something, your mind and your body will be unbalanced. If you don't make anything, your mind and your body become one, and will be perfectly balanced, and everything will be complete and clear.

Strong sitting means not checking your mind and feelings. At times everyone has many thoughts and feelings while sitting. This is correct. Don't worry. But many people check themselves. "I am no good. What do other people think of me? I am always thinking. How can I cut off all thinking? How do you only go straight? How do you put it all down?" This is being attached to thinking. Thinking itself is not bad or good Just don't be attached to thinking. Don't worry about every. thing. Thinking is thinking; feeling is feeling. Don't touch. Only go straight—don't know. That is strong sitting.

If you keep this strong-sitting mind, your mind will be clear moment to moment. Clear mind means keeping your correct situation. When you drive, just drive. Then when you come to a red light, stop. When it turns green, go. That is the correct situation. Correct situation means just-like-this.

I understand your mind. Your mind constantly checks your mind. But if you practice and try every day, your checking mind will rest, and you will be able to keep a just-like-this mind. Then when you see the sky, only blue; when you see a tree, only green. Your mind is still. Then saving all beings is possible.

I hope you only go straight— don't know, keep a mind which is clear like space, attain Enlightenment, and save all beings from suffering.

Yours in the Dharma,

S. S.

You can find many similar teachings by him in
Zen Student: Could you speak about when you sit zazen away from Zen Center, and you sit alone? Could you speak about that?
Suzuki-rōshi: Oh, sit alone. By yourself? True zazen, you know, cannot be sit by yourself, you know. That you sit there means that every one of us [is] sitting with you. That kind of zazen is true zazen. Even though you are sitting in Japan or Tibet, you know, you are sitting with all the people in the world. That kind of feeling you must have in your zazen. You include — your practice include everything. That is our practice, you know. When you are you on your cushion, everyone sitting on their own cushion. That is our zazen.
Uji Koan, 3:
The way the self arrays itself is the form of the entire world. See each thing in this entire world as a moment of time.
Things do not hinder one another, just as moments do not hinder one another. The way-seeking mind arises in this moment. A way-seeking moment arises in this mind. It is the same with practice and with attaining the way. Thus the self setting itself out in array sees itself. This is the understanding that the self is time.
Malcolm's translation:

“Hey, hey, apparent yet nonexistent retinue: listen well! There is no object to distinguish in me, the view of self-originated wisdom; it did not exist before, it will not arise later, and also does not appear in anyway in the present. The path does not exist, action does not exist, traces do not exist, ignorance does not exist, thoughts do not exist, mind does not exist, prajñā does not exist, samsara does not exist, nirvana does not exist, vidyā itself does not even exist, totally not appearing in anyway.”
-- Unwritten Tantra

Kyle Dixon shared:

= The Importance of Emptiness and Nāgārjuna's Madhyamaka in Dzogpachenpo =

From Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso:

"Furthermore, since one must rely on Nagarjuna’s reasonings in order to realize the essence of Dzogchen, it is the same for Mahamudra. Those who studied at the shedras (philosophical universities) in Tibet studied 'The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way' and Chandrakirti’s 'Entering the Middle Way' and other similar texts over the course of many years. Mahamudra and Dzogchen were not studied, however, because it is the Middle Way texts that are filled with such a vast array of different arguments and logical reasonings that one can pursue the study of them in a manner that is both subtle and profound. 

In the Mahamudra teachings as well, we find statements such as this one from Karmapa Rangjung Dorje’s Mahamudra Aspiration Prayer:

'As for mind, there is no mind! Mind is empty of essence'
If you gain certainty in mind’s emptiness of essence by analyzing it with the reasoning that refutes arising from the four extremes and with others as well, then your understanding of Mahamudra will become profound. Otherwise, you could recite this line, but in your mind it would be nothing more than an opinion or a guess.

If you study these reasonings presented in 'The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way', when you receive Mahamudra and Dzogchen explanations of emptiness and lack of inherent reality, you will already be familiar with what is being taught and so you will not need to learn anything new. Mipham Rinpoche composed a brief text called 'The Beacon of Certainty', in which he states: 'In order to have perfect certainty in "kadag" (primordial purity) one must have perfect understanding of the view of the Consequence or Prasangika school. Kadag, or original, primordial purity, is the view of Dzogchen, and in order to perfect that view, one must perfect one’s understanding of the Middle Way Consequence or Prasangika school’s view. What this implies is that the view of Dzogchen kadag and the view of the Consequence or Prasangika of Chandrakirti's school are the same."
From Tulku Tsullo's instruction on the view of Dzogchen:
"Therefore, whether in sutra or in tantra, there is consensus that the only direct antidote to the ignorance of clinging to things as real - which lies at the root of our karma and disturbing emotions - is the wisdom that realizes emptiness. So for Dzogchen practitioners, too, it is extremely important to realize emptiness."
The sgra thal gyur tantra states:
"Nonexistent therefore appearing, appearing therefore empty. The inseparable union of appearance and emptiness with its branches."
Zilnon Zhepa Tsal said:

"How could liberation be attained without realizing emptiness? And how could emptiness be realized without the Great Perfection [Dzogchen]? Who but I offers praise such as this?"
The Dalai Lama states:

"We need a special form of wisdom - the wisdom that realizes emptiness - to act as the direct antidote to the cognitive obscurations. Without this wisdom, which can be realized through the Great Perfection... we will not have the direct antidote to the cognitive obscurations. So this point is conclusive."
Khenchen Rigdzin Dorje [Chatral Rinpoche's heart disciple] states:
"The Madhyamika consider the Prasangik as the perfect Rangtong view. The Dzogchen trekcho view as Kadag (primordially pure view) and the Prasangik view is the same. The emptiness is the same, there is no difference... It is important to understand that the words primordially pure [kadag] is the Dzogchen terminology for the Prasangic Emptiness. [The ancient Nyingmapa Masters like Long Chenpa, Jigme Lingpa, Mipham, were] Prasangikas [Thalgyurpas]... the Prasangika Madhyamika sunyata [tongpanyid] and the Dzogchen sunyata are exactly the same. There is no difference. One hundred percent [the] same."
Longchenpa says:

"This system of the natural great perfection is equivalent with the Consequentialist [Prasangika] Madhyamaka’s usual way of considering freedom from extremes and so on. However, emptiness in Madhymaka is an emptiness counted as similar to space, made into the basis; here [in Dzogchen] naked pellucid vidyā pure from the beginning that is not established; that, merely unceasing, is made into the basis. - The phenomena that arise from the basis are apprehended as being free from extremes, like space."
David Germano:
"While a detailed analysis of the relationship of these classical Great Perfection texts to the Madhyamaka Prasangika tradition is quite beyond the scope of my present discussion, at this point I would merely like to indicate that even in The Seventeen Tantras (i.e. without considering Longchenpa's corpus) it is very clear that the tradition embodies an innovative dialectical reinterpretation of the Prasangika notions of emptiness, rather than a mere sterile 'diametric opposition' to them that Karmay suggests."

Ju Mipham Rinpoche states in his Madhyamakālaṃkāra:
"Without finding certainty in primordial purity (ka dag), just mulling over some 'ground that is neither existent nor nonexistent' will get you nowhere. If you apprehend this basis of emptiness that is empty of both existence and nonexistence as something that is established by its essence separately [from everything else], no matter how you label it (such as an inconceivable self, Brahmā, Visnu, Īśvara, or wisdom) except for the mere name, the meaning is the same. Since the basic nature free from the reference points of the four extremes, that is, Dzogchen (the luminosity that is to be personally experienced) is not at all like that, it is important to rely on the correct path and teacher. Therefore, you may pronounce 'illusionlike,' 'nonentity,' 'freedom from reference points,' and the like as mere verbiage, but this is of no benefit whatsoever, if you do not know the [actual] way of being of the Tathāgata’s emptiness (which surpasses the limited [kinds of] emptiness [asserted] by the tīrthikas) through the decisive certainty that is induced by reasoning."

Chögyal Namkhai Norbu states:

"...Madhyamaka explains with the four 'beyond concepts,' which are that something neither exists, nor does not exist, nor both exists and does not exist, nor is beyond both existing and not existing together. These are the four possibilities. What remains? Nothing. Although we are working only in an intellectual way, this can be considered the ultimate conclusion in Madhyamaka. As an analytical method, this is also correct for Dzogchen. Nagarjuna's reasoning is supreme."

"That view established intellectually we need to establish consciously in dependence upon one’s capacity of knowledge and on convention. The way of establishing that is the system of Prasanga Madhyamaka commented upon by the great being Nāgārjuna and his followers. There is no system of view better than that."

From Jigme Lingpa:

"I myself argue ‘To comprehend the meaning of the non-arising baseless, rootless dharmakāya, although reaching and the way of reaching this present conclusion 'Since I have no thesis, I alone am without a fault', as in the Prasanga Madhyamaka system, is not established by an intellectual consideration such as a belief to which one adheres, but is reached by seeing the meaning of ultimate reality of the natural great completion."

Chokyi Dragpa states:

On the path of trekchö, all the rigidity of mind's clinging to an "I" where there is no "I", and a self where there is no self, is cut through with Madhyamika Prasangika reasoning and the resulting conviction that an "I" or a "self" does not exist. Then, by examining where mind arises, dwells and ceases, you become certain of the absence of any true reality."

Again from Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso:

"The great scholar and master, Mipham Chokle Namgyal, said, 'If one seeks to master the basic nature of alpha purity, or kadak, it is necessary to perfect one’s understanding of the view of the Prasangika, or the Consequence School.' Alpha purity describes the basic nature of mind as it is expressed in the dzogchen descriptions. If one wishes to realize dzogchen, alpha purity, or trekcho, as it is also called, then one must perfect one’s understanding of the Consequence School. That is, one must realize that the nature of reality transcends all conceptual fabrications; it cannot be described by any conceptual terms. This is the aspect of the 'expanse.' If one recognizes this, then it is easy to realize the mahamudra because, as Milarepa sang:

'The view is original wisdom which is empty
Meditation clear light free of fixation
Conduct continual flow without attachment
Fruition is nakedness stripped of every stain.'"

From Acarya Dharmavajra Mr. Sridhar Rana:

"The meaning of Shunyata found in Sutra, Tantra Dzogchen, or Mahamudra is the same as the Prasangic emptiness of Chandrakirti, i. e. unfindability of any true existence or simply unfindability. Some writers of Dzogchen and Mahamudra or Tantra think that the emptiness of Nagarjuna is different from the emptiness found in these systems. But I would like to ask them whether their emptiness is findable or unfindable; whether or not the significance of emptiness in these systems is also not the fact of unfindability- no seeing as it could also be expressed. Also some Shentong scholars seem to imply that the Shentong system is talking about a different emptiness. They say Buddha nature is not empty of qualities therefore, Buddha nature is not merely empty, it also has qualities. First of all the whole statement is irrelevant. Qualities are not the question and Buddha nature being empty of quality or not is not the issue. The Buddha nature is empty of Svabhava (real existence). Because it is empty of real existence, it has qualities. As Arya Nagarjuna has said in his Mula Madhyamika Karika: 'All things are possible (including qualities) because they are empty', Therefore the whole Shentong/ Rangtong issue is superfluous. However, in Shentong, Buddha nature is also empty and emptiness means unfindable. In short, the unfindability of any true existence is the ultimate (skt. paramartha) in Buddhism, and is diametrically opposed to the concept of a truly existing thing called Brahman, the ultimate truth in Hinduism."

from Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche:

"The practice of tregcho is essential when it comes to realizing the originally pure nature of mind and phenomena. This nature is emptiness, the basic state of the Great Perfection. For this reason, a thorough grounding in the view of Madhyamaka can be a great help when receiving instructions on tregcho. With the correct view of emptiness, one can meditate effectively on original purity [ka dag]."

and a final warning from Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso:

"If we still believe in existence, if we have some type of belief in something substantial, if we think that there is something that truly exists, whatever it might be, then we are said to fall into the extreme called eternalism or permanence. And if we fall into that extreme, we will not realize the true nature of reality."

I shared this video and commented that it was a good description of total exertion.

Someone asked "What do you mean? Can you say more?" so I further elaborated -

Total exertion is direct realization of each manifest activity as arising with all conditions in seamless interdependency, where one feels that the whole universe is giving its best to make this moment possible.

I started having glimpses and insights into this about one or two years after my initial realisation of anatta (the direct realisation and penetration of the false dichotomy of subject-action-object through contemplating the verse in Bahiya Sutta) back in 2010. Anatta demolishes the background subject so that there is only the entirety of manifestation, and then you may penetrate further -- this entirety of manifestation is a seamless activity with no self-nature anywhere. When I experienced this I called it the "dharma body". To put it in laymen's term, it's like the universe as your body (but the word universe doesn't really capture the dynamic, interdependent and empty nature of it well).

Let me give you an example. Recently, I was sitting in meditation with my sister. Then as usual I entered into a blissful state. In that state, I saw that it's not me sitting here, like there is no I, no sister, no baby, etc, but it's really all these factors that is "meditating" plus much more... all the way back to the time of the Buddha! The living presence of Buddha and its sangha and the whole lineage is right here, same time and in communion. This breath is the universe. Suddenly some passages by Dogen made perfect sense*

Also, I just visited a Zen temple earlier today to meditate. Something that the novice monk said after the meditation struck me - chanting as "together action". He didn't elaborate what he meant by that but I intuited its meaning and purpose. To me what this means is this - when we practice as a community, we are enacting "together action" so that it is not you that is chanting but the chanting as a whole arising seamlessly that is chanting. But "together action" is in fact every moment! This breath is together action with all the conditions, the whole community and lineage. Carrying your meditation cushion and waiting for your turn to place that cushion back to its original place -- together action, not 'you' action.

Walking on the street, you look at the traffic and maneuver your way to reach your destination, the traffic and people walking are as much an inseparable part of the activity which you call 'your walking', each moment of walking is doing together action with all conditions. The same for driving a car. If you lose the "zone", if you get distracted and are not practicing "together action", watch out! Lives can be lost.

When you are walking in the park, the legs moving arise in tandem with the whole universe moving. The tree in front is manifesting the way it is in accord with all other conditions like the wind, light, the way I am moving and looking, etc. The tree has no tree-ness in itself or apart from me and I have no me-ness apart from the interplay that is manifesting the tree. When I see and interact with others, it's not I interacting with others as I and others are empty and dissolved in the interplay. Truly it is like a node of Indra reflecting all other nodes, each node is not other than all others nodes, there is neither self nor others.

'Self' and 'others' are learnt and is a result of the ignorance of our true nature. The structures of language or convention posits that when we encounter something it is always 'I' am touching/encountering a 'thing' as if there is a real subject interacting with an object. I am I and interacting or talking with a real other as discrete entities.

Although in actual experience it's just all conditions in total exertion but when spoken in language it appears separate. The structure of language is dualistic.. which is not a problem in itself when taken conventionally or as dependent designation but instead we wrongly reified them into things with its own existence in and of themselves.


The Buddhas and Ancestors manifest before our very eyes whenever we respectfully serve the Buddhas and Ancestors by bringing Them up through our presenting of Their story. They are not limited simply to some past, present, or future time, for They have undoubtedly gone beyond even ‘going beyond Buddha’.

Shobogenzo, Busso, Hubert Nearman

The robe of the right transmission of the buddhas and patriarchs is not arbitrarily transmitted from buddha to buddha. It is the robe transmitted from the former buddha to the later buddha, and from the ancient buddha to the contemporaneous buddha. In order to transform the Way, to transform the buddha, and to transform the past, present, and future, there is a right transmission from past to present, from present to future, from present to past, from past to past, from present to present, from future to future, from future to present, and from future to past. It is the right transmission only between a buddha and a buddha.

- Dogen
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