Compass of Zen

is a simple, exhaustive—and often hilarious—presentation of the essence of
Zen by a modern Zen Master of considerable renown. In his many years of
teaching throughout the world, the ...

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The Compass of Zen

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Compass of Zen

is a simple, exhaustive—and often hilarious—presentation of the essence of
Zen by a modern Zen Master of considerable renown. In his many years of
teaching throughout the world, the Korean-born Zen Master Seung Sahn has become
known for his ability to cut to the heart of Buddhist teaching in a way that is
strikingly clear, yet free of esoteric and academic language. In this book,
based largely on his talks, he presents the basic teachings of Buddhism and Zen
in a way that is wonderfully accessible for beginners—yet so rich with
stories, insights, and personal experiences that long-time meditation students
will also find it a source of inspiration and a resource for study.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780834823716
  • Publisher: Shambhala Publications, Inc.
  • Publication date: 9/24/2012
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Sales rank: 470,026
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

Stephen Mitchell's many books include Tao Te Ching, Parables and Portraits, The Gospel According to Jesus, and A Book of Psalms.

Zen Master Seung Sahn (1927–2004) was the first teacher to bring Korean Zen Buddhism to America, having already established temples in Japan and Hong Kong. In 1972 he came to the United States and started what became the Providence Zen Center, the first center in what is now the Kwan Um School of Zen, which now includes more than eighty centers and groups worldwide. His students called him Dae Soen Sa Nim, "Great Honored Zen Teacher," and he was the 78th Zen master in his line of dharma transmission in the Chogye order of Korean Buddhism. His books include The Compass of Zen, Dropping Ashes on the Buddha, Only Don't Know, and The Whole World Is a Single Flower: 365 Kong-ans for Everyday Life.

Hyon Gak Sunim, a Zen monk, was born Paul Muenzen in Rahway, New Jersey. Educated at Yale College and Harvard University, he was ordained a monk under Zen Master Seung Sahn in 1992 at Nam Hwa Sah Temple, the temple of the Sixth Patriarch, Guangzhou, People’s Republic of China. He has completed more than twenty intensive ninety-day meditation retreats and three arduous hundred-day solo meditation retreats in the mountains of Korea. He has compiled and edited a number of Zen Master Seung Sahn’s texts, including The Compass of Zen, Only Don’t Know, and Wanting Enlightenment Is a Big Mistake. He received inga from Zen Master Seung Sahn in 2001, and is currently guiding teacher of the Seoul International Zen Center at Hwa Gye Sah Temple, Seoul.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1: The Purposes of Buddhism

attain enlightenment,

instruct all beings.

centuries ago, the Greek philosopher Socrates used to walk through the streets
and marketplaces of Athens, teaching his students. He would say to them, "You
must understand yourself! You must understand yourself! You must understand
yourself." Then one day a student said, "Sir, you always say we must understand
ourselves. But do you understand yourself?"

"No, I don't know myself," Socrates replied. "But I understand this 'don't
know.'" This is a very interesting teaching. Buddhist practice points at the
same experience, because most human beings pass through their lives without the
slightest sense of what they are.

We understand many things about this world, but we don't understand
ourselves. So why do human beings come into this world? Why do we live in this
world? For love? For money? For respect or fame? Do you live for your wife,
husband, or children? Why do you live in this world? If someone asked you these
questions, you might very well answer, "I live for my children. I live to
earn enough money for them, or maybe just to have a good life." Most
people think like this. They live only for their family, for some fleeting
social respectability, perhaps to enjoy art or to get some powerful position.

Everyone wants to have a good situation for themselves. If you look at this
world very closely, it is easy to see that most people eat and sleep and live
merely for their own personal happiness. Yet these things are not the real
purpose of human beings' life. They are just temporary means for living in the
world. If human beings cannot find out who they are, how can they ever be truly

The Buddha came from a royal family in India some twenty-five hundred years
ago. He was a prince, named Siddhartha Gautama. He had a very good situation.
In the palace he had everything he wanted: good food, good clothes, many
beautiful women, a high seat, and a very good position. He was the son of the
king, and someday he would inherit a powerful kingdom. That's very wonderful!
But inside, Siddhartha was very unhappy, because he could not understand who he
was. He could not understand life or death. He was deeply saddened that all
beings must eventually get sick, grow old, and die. This gave him a big
question about his own nature and the nature of all beings. "What am I? I
don't know. . . ." At that time in India, the Brahmin religion of Hinduism
was followed by nearly everyone. But Brahmanism could not give the young prince
the correct answer to his burning question. So he was even more unhappy.
"Why do human beings come into this world? Why do we eat every day? What
am I?" He ate food, but there was no taste. Heard music, but it gave him
no pleasure. The beautiful palace became like a prison.

One night, Siddhartha left the palace. He left his family, his beautiful
wife, and his infant child, cut off all his hair, and became a monk. Then he
went to the mountains. For six years he practiced very, very hard. "What
am I? Don't know . . ." He courageously kept this question with
one-pointed determination. Then one morning, while sitting in meditation under
the Bodhi tree, he saw the morning star in the eastern sky. At that
moment—BOOM—Siddhartha and this star completely became one. He realized his
true substance. He realized that his mind was the universe—infinite in time
and space—and the whole universe was nothing other than his own mind. He
realized there is no life and no death. Nothing ever comes or goes. We say that
he woke up and attained his true nature. He completely attained human
consciousness: he saw that when ignorance appears, mind appears. When mind
appears, desire appears. When any kind of desire appears, life and death,
coming and going, happiness and sadness all appear. By completely keeping a
don't-know mind one hundred percent—only go straight, don't know—the Buddha
saw how to completely stop this endless cycle. He attained complete liberation
from the eternal round of birth and death in which all beings trap themselves.
He completely attained his correct way, he attained truth, and he attained the
correct kind of life he should lead. The name for that is enlightenment.

But this truth that the Buddha attained was a very high-class realization.
How could he make it function to help this suffering world? When he got
enlightenment, the Buddha perceived all sentient beings being born, suffering,
and dying; being born again, suffering, and dying; being born, again suffering,
and again dying in an endless round of torment. He saw billions upon billions
of beings caught in the beginningless cycle of birth, old age, sickness, and
death, wandering around and around and around and around, nonstop, only
following their desire, anger, and ignorance. The name for this is samsara.
"I want this. I want that. I like this. I don't like that." When he
attained enlightenment, the Buddha perceived every sentient being in a terrible
state of suffering. It was a condition to which they had become so accustomed
that it seemed normal. How would anyone ever believe what he had seen?
"How can I teach this to other people?" he thought. It was like a
man with a very high-class Ph.D. trying to teach little children what he'd
learned: how would they ever understand? Sentient beings were so controlled by
their desire minds, and so attached to their suffering way, he wondered if
anyone would ever connect with this teaching. Sutras say that for several
moments the Buddha doubted whether he should attempt to teach this. Perhaps
people would have laughed at him, or worse, killed him for his heretical
insight. The Buddha saw all this too. He could have stayed in this nirvana, his
enlightenment, a state of infinite stillness and bliss, and never come out.

But the Buddha had profound compassion for sentient beings. He got up from
his seat under the Bodhi tree, he left the stillness and bliss of nirvana, and
he went into the contentious cities and towns to teach human beings. He left
his "good situation." He did not attach to stillness and quiet. He
did not attach to his bliss. He did not stay in nirvana, a state where there is
no suffering or life or death. The Buddha returned to the noisy, fractious
world to save all beings from suffering by showing them that it was possible to
completely attain their own original nature, just as he had done. His
enlightenment experience was not for him alone. That is a very important point.
The characters for that are
ja, dae bi:

Great Love and Great Compassion. The Buddha attained enlightenment, which means
that he attained his great function and the function of all beings. This was
the beginning of Buddhism in this world.

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Table of Contents

by Maha Ghosananda
by Stephen Mitchell
Introduction: Where
Are You Going?


1. Buddhism
Purposes of Buddhism 13

Divisions of Buddhism 19

Structure of Buddhism 24

2. Hinayana

into Impermanence 49

into Impurity 68

into Nonself 77

Origination 85

Twelve Links in the Chain of Dependent Origination 94

Four Noble Truths 97

Eightfold Path 99

Three Seals of Existence 105

Kinds of Practice 108

3. Mahayana

Diamond Sutra 124

Maha Prajna Paramita Heart Sutra 130

Mahaparinirvana-sutra 140

Lotus Sutra 146

Hua-yen (Avatamsaka) Sutra 150

Song of Dharma Nature 160

View of Mind-Only and Karma 164


Six Paramitas 198

4. Zen

Classifications of Meditation 224

Vehicle Zen 229

to Language 244

Special Transmission
Directly to Mind
Your True Nature, Become Buddha
and All Cases
in Zen Meditation
Great Enlightenment
of Meditation
Three Essential
of Zen
in Zen 287

Zen Circle 291

Is Buddha-nature?
Prajna Things
Realm of Like-This
Within, You
Mind's True Light
Human Route 315

Seeing Is

Are You Going?
Master To Sol's Three Gates 333

of the Following Four Sentences Is Freedom from Life and Death?
Face 338

Master Ko Bong's Three Gates 340

Is Buddha 342

Go Straight, Don't Know 349

Appendix: The
Ten Gates

First Gate: Joju's Dog
Second Gate: Joju's "Wash Your Bowls" 363

Third Gate: Soeng Am Calls "Master!" 365

Fourth Gate: Bodhidharma Has No Beard 367

Fifth Gate: Hyang Eom's "Up a Tree" 369

Sixth Gate: Dropping Ashes on the Buddha 370

Seventh Gate: Ko Bong's Three Gates 373

The Eighth Gate: Dok Sahn Carrying His Bowls 377

The Ninth Gate: Nam Cheon Kills a Cat 382

Tenth Gate: The Mouse Eats Cat Food 388

Men Walking 389

Glossary 391
Master Seung Sahn's Lineage

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 7, 2014



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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 22, 2014

    This book always makes me think of the Laughing Buddha! Sahn bri

    This book always makes me think of the Laughing Buddha! Sahn brings humor to a practice that many seem to find solemn today. This reinforced my learnings from much admired teacher many years ago. Highly recommend.


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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 26, 2003


    As a member of the KUSZ (founded by Seung Sahn) this book meant even more to me. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and it opened my eyes to new things. You wont be dissapointed!

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