No Thinking, No Suffering

It’s our thinking that creates good and bad, right and wrong, sorrow and joy. When we actively engage in “no thinking” there is both no suffering, and no consolation. Read a striking story of the Zen master Seung Sahn adapted by Charlie Badenhop.

There is a story told by the Zen master Seung Sahn. Many years ago there was a young man living in Korea, and the young man felt that his life was quite empty. So he shaved his head and went up into the mountains to live the life of a monk. He studied diligently for a number of years, but still felt that he did not really understand how to be free.

The young man had heard of certain Zen masters living in China so he gathered his meager belongings and started a long and arduous journey across arid plains.

Every day he would walk for many hours, and would stop only after finding a patch of land that had a source of water. Finding water was not at all a simple task in such dry lands, but a task necessary for preserving his life. There were many times he had to walk until quite late in the evening before finding a suitable location in which to rest and be refreshed.

One day was particularly hot, and the monk walked on endlessly, unable to find an oasis. As day turned into a moonless night, the pace of his walking slowed considerably so that we would not fall and hurt or kill himself. When he did finally find a shaded area he collapsed on the ground and slept for several hours. He woke up some time after midnight and he was tremendously thirsty. He crawled around on his hands and knees in the darkness, and ran across a roughly made cup that must have been left by a previous traveler. The custom of leaving a cup with some water in it, for the next traveler to drink from was quite common. He drank the meager amount of water in the cup and he felt very blessed and very at peace with the world. He laid down again and slept quite comfortably until awaking to the light of the early morning sun.

Upon sitting up he saw what the night before, he had taken to be the roughly made cup. It was a shattered skull of a baby wolf. Ths skull was caked with dried blood, and numerous insects were floating on the surface of the small quantity of filthy rain water still left in the bottom portion of the skull.

The monk saw all of this and immediately started to vomit. He had a great wave of nausea, and as the fluid poured forth from his mouth, it was as if his mind was being cleansed. He immediately felt a deep sense of understanding. Last night, since he couldn’t see he assumed that he had found a cup which had been left by a fellow traveler. The water tasted delicious. This morning, upon seeing the skull, the thought of what he had done the night before made him sick to his stomach. He understood that it was his thinking, and not the water, that made him feel ill. It was his thinking that created good and bad, right and wrong, delicious and foul tasting. With no thinking there was no suffering.

Having realized this, his journey was complete, as he no longer needed to find a Zen master.

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