Posting these thoughts below by Hyon Gak Sunim:
"Zen students of today: It's mostly just about stress-reduction. Even the best students have in their mind to reduce the amount of stressful collision with thinking, not transcending "good" and "bad" up to a place which can be much more morally challenging than the traditional categories they lived with until now. Zen Master Seung Sahn said, "Zen students with just a little experience can be most difficult: They think they have sight of the way, and then unconsciously just use the Dharma to justify prolonging their own subtle karmic paths."
Zen Master Seung Sahn regularly offended and even brutalized his closest students' thoughts and actions, pointing every action toward thwarting their habit-filled reactions. His intense verbal beatings of the thoroughly hapless Mu Shim Sunim are legendary in the monks' corps. My second teacher, Zen Master Bong Cheol, used to yell and throw things at students who remained attached to their habits of conceptual thinking -- the "good" ones as well as the "bad" ones. There are the moldy stories of Chinese masters beating students with their shoes when they remained attached to provisional views.
Zen is the practice of completely letting everything go -- it has never been simply a teaching of some sleepy and soft peace. "How do you take a step off a 100-foot flagpole?" This is a central koan (kong-an) of Zen. In the KUSZ, you can answer it with an acted-out gesture, and some weekend-teacher will tell you that you are correct; in real life, where my teachers fuctioned, it can take an entire lifetime to truly pass this. And yet how many Zen students really pass this gate?
Zen, nowadays, has fallen into the hands of so many with so little intensive practice. It is becoming an arm of psychology. SO, so many are being allowed to KEEP their psychology while being waved through the gate of the gate of the kong-ans. How sad! Like allowing some deluded bomb-strapped Taliban-type to enter the gates of the most sacred base -- today's Zen students (especially in the KUSZ) are not so different.
Opposing the ignorance and habit-energies of our students has always been the most vital business of Zen. It has never been -- and should never be -- a popularity contest. The ongoing failure of the teaching level of the KUSZ and like-minded movements -- apart from the EXCELLENT, unsurpassable teachings of Zen Master Seung Sahn -- is that there is a general weakness on the part of teachers to genuinely offend and piss off their students, by not fronting them with the tools which show them the negative habits of their students' own karmic tendencies.
So, it is stress reduction, nowadays. There are few teachers willing enough to confront the students. If the teacher does that, the "student" can check the Internet and go off and find a "teacher" who will pet and praise their karma.
I practiced in the Zen halls of Northeast Asia for 20 years -- in China, Korea, and Japan. I was challenged and confronted by people as illustrious as Zen Master Seung Sahn, Ven. Harada Roshi of Sogenji, and Bong Cheol Sunim. And I even received "inka" (formal recognition) from Zen Master Seung Sahn. Yet it is rare, and rare, and rare indeed enough to find a student in the West truly worthy of shouldering the real and genuine work that Zen really represents. (Especially in Germany, where there are so many tight and highly-restrictive, hyper-rational categories and definitions of what is "right" and "wrong.")
The thing that first attracted me to Zen was its danger, its unrelenting, sharp edge. Its Zen teachers who were willing to let go of any facade to embrace the impossible of our before-thinking nature.
This is what attracted me. But it is not what attracts today's doyens of Zen. They are often just simplistic, book-heavy types who want the technology of meditation to give them a temporary respite from their stress, their memories of suffering and the abuse we all receive. They want a teaching which will help them to figure out a relationship for them, a path they are too timid to take for themselves, a clean and nice way to a more comfortable acceptance of their karma.
But they do not want fundamerntal challenge.
Zen students of today. They accomplish a partial Kyol Che -- not even the full 90 days!! -- and they think they have a view of what is a teaching or a teacher. They are all not worth the cushion they sit on. For them, Zen is a high-class form of stress-reduction -- nothing more, no matter how well they describe it in Dharma talks.
My second teacher, the famous Zen Master Bong Cheol, used to throw food at me when I expressed conceptual insights into Zen. By the time I met him, I had already accomplished some 30 ninety-day Kyol Ches. I had endured the most demanding Zen temples in Korea. On top of this, I had already attained "inka" from the great Zen Master Seung Sahn. I had already received deep praise from some of the "leading" Zen monks in Korea.
But even this was not enough. He demanded a rigorous, point-to-point insight which lies outside the accepted categories of even my own root teacher. Needless to say, he was NOT interested that I received "inka" from someone. His job was only to push and throttle me until the real "me" presented itself.
In the end, he gave his temple to me before dying.
But Zen students today. They are usually seekers after a psychological "peace" which Zen never promises, and hardly really provides.
Half-assed failed meditators who wish to be coddled, always wishing for "the next retreat" to solve their problems with their girlfriend or boyfriend, or their inability to take a step off a hundred-foot flagpole and become a monk (if that's required), or a man (if that's where they are), it is Zen as medicine, as cure.
But Zen was never meant to be a cure, at least anywhere where I learned it.
Zen is the TECHNOLOGY of INSIGHT into the DISEASE itself, and the teacher stands there ready to help the view -- sometimes pushing you further into the sickness to gain your own innoculation, and sometimes standing back to let you find your own fatality. It was always meant to be radical, but Zen students of today wish it to become as domesticated as Paris Hilton's puppy.
Zen students of today, especially in the West, in Europe: A bunch of people standing around waiting for an ideal they will never see. Hyper-rationality, pure and simple. They get their Buddhism from YouTube, and they wish their Buddhism to remain as safe as that, too -- "I can delete when necessary."
Thank GOD I met the banged-up and dangerous teachers I met. Thank GOD I met the wild animals who yelled and cursed and even BEAT me and other monks until we retreated from our habitual views into the greater freedom of our true self. My teacher once denied FOOD to a Western monk living in his temple, demanding that until that monk lived up to HIS practice regimen, there would be no other survival. Another teacher demanded one monk undergo a year of exile and TOTAL silence until he had faced his karmas. Zen Master Seung Sahn famously exiled my elder Dharma brother, Dae Bong Sunim, for one year, and would strongly hang up the phone whenever Dae Bong Sunim called in, whimpering and sad, from his one-year retreat. And my Teacher refused to even MEET one student -- for several years! -- because of that monk's choice to pursue a PhD, at age 67, instead of sticking to the cushion and looking into his nature in the few years remaining left to him in this life. (The separation nearly drove the monk to suicide, but it also drove him strongly to practice!)
We cannot do that, in the West. In Germany, to radically fuck with a student's cozy hyper-rationalism will cost you the relationship.
So be it. What a good thing and a relief that is. It gives a lot of job opportunities to the weekend-teachers who pet your psychologies.
Better Zen practice to survive, than the sleepy pussy-footing of this weekend-teacher mutual-petting endure.
Tomorrow is the four-week anniversary of the death of my second teacher, the great Zen Master Bong Cheol. This message is posted out of deep and abiding gratitude to him -- that he so rudely and irrationally challenged and abused my self-safe concepts of Buddhism and practice. May I meet you, dear Teacher, again and again, from life after life, receiving the rude swipes of food that you throw at my clean clothing, until the end of suffering is attained for all beings."
Not-Two Zen Center
-hyon gak sunim