Interview with Korean Zen Master, Boo Ahm.
Why can’t we achieve permanent happiness?
As long as we are alive, all of us want to be happy all the time regardless of age and sex. We always try to be happy by keeping ourselves occupied. Whatever we do, the purpose of doing what we do is to make ourselves happy. What do we do? We struggle to make as much money as possible thinking that the more money we have the happier we will be. We have religions because we expect them to bring us happiness. We get married, and sometimes get divorced. We indulge in gambling and even take drugs. There are too many things we can do, many things we do and many things we have done. For the sake of happiness, some are willing to do illegal or immoral things. However, many people still have not been successful in achieving happiness.
Why don’t we succeed in achieving happiness, even though we are always doing our best to be happy? Let’s consider an example of how people strive to achieve happiness. We can see people pray to God or Buddha for happiness. When I ask them if they can see God or Buddha, no one answers that they can. This is a typical way that shows how we chase after happiness. If we are to pray to God or Buddha, we, above all, should know the object of prayer. That is, we should at least be able to see and hear Him. Praying to Him for happiness, without knowing whom we are praying to, is the way we pursue happiness without knowing what it is like and where it is.
When his disciples said to him, “When will the kingdom come?” Jesus said, “It will not come by waiting for it. It will not be a matter of saying ‘here it is’ or ‘there it is.’ Rather, the kingdom of the Father is spread out upon the Earth, and men do not see it.”
In conclusion, the reason why we are not happy is that we cannot see happiness itself, even though it is around us everywhere. In other words, we are struggling in vain to find happiness while being surrounded by happiness because we can’t see it. So, to seek happiness without being able to see happiness, is to play a very hopeless game where our chances of winning are very slim indeed.
Why can’t we see happiness?
Why can’t we see happiness? Does it hide itself when we try to see it and reveal itself only before rich or powerful people? The reason that we can’t see happiness is not that happiness hides itself, but that we cannot see happiness as it is. Why then can’t we see happiness as it is? It’s because we can’t see things as they are.
So, Jesus said, “Recognise what is in your sight, and that which is hidden from you will become plain to you. For there is nothing hidden which will not become manifest.” ‘Recognise what is in your sight’ means ‘See everything as it is’. Not being able to see things as they are means being deluded by illusions. It is like mistaking a piece of broken rope for a poisonous snake or a piece of broken glass for diamond. Scared of the former, we try to avoid it, and desiring the latter, we struggle to grasp it.
In summary, the reason why we can’t see happiness is that we cannot see things as they are because we are deluded by illusions.
How can we see everything as it is?
It is much simpler than you think. We can see everything as it is if we can see ourselves as we are, because we can see things only through ourselves. You can see everything as it is when you can see yourself as you are.
So, Zen is said to be a kind of a practice to see ourselves as we are. Then how can we see ourselves as we are? Let’s take a car for example. When you say, “My car is small but very economical”, what does “My car” mean? When you say, “My car”, it means that you own a car and a car belongs to you. It never means that you are your car. Likewise, when you say, “My body”, it never means you are your body, just like you are not your car when you say, “My car”. It means that you are not different and separate from your body. Then, the question is “What am I when my body is not me? What are you when your body is not you?”
This is a very simple but very important question for our happiness. When you can find the correct answer to this question, that is, when you see what you are when your body is not you, you can see everything as it is. Then you can see happiness and enjoy it all the time.
Jesus said, “When you see one who was not born of woman, prostrate yourselves on your faces and worship him. That one is your father.” Here, ‘See one who was not born of woman’ means to see what you are when your body is not you. Ask yourself, “What am I when my body is not me?” Try to keep the question all the time. You can apply this question to others around you such as your partner or parents. Ask yourself what your partner is when they are not their body, or what your mum and dad are when their bodies are not them, in the same way that you ask yourself what you are when your body is not you.
This is Zen practice. A Master’s task is to help you to see what you are when your body is not you.
Boo Ahm is visiting the UK in January. See details below:
The Zen Winter Meditation retreat will run from Friday 20th to Tuesday 24th January 2017, as follows: Weekend course: 6pm Friday 20th to 2pm Sunday 22nd January (£230) Mid-week course: 6pm Sunday 22nd to 2pm Tuesday 24th January (£230) Full course: 6pm Friday 20th to 2pm Tuesday 24th January (£375) (~20% Discount) Book & Pay by 10th Dec 16 to receive ~10% early bird discount on all above prices. NB: These costs include tuition, breakfast, dinner and beverages. There will be a £5 charge for lunch. Please notify us of any special dietary, or medical requirements at the time of your booking. For more information, you can contact The Zen Meditation Centre.