From Dropping Ashes on the Buddha by Seung Sahn
Grove Press 841 Broadway NY NY 10003 LC: 75-37236 ISBN: 0-8021-3052-6

One spring afternoon, three students were having tea in Seung Sahn Soen-sa's room at the Providence Zen Center. One student said to Soen-sa, "Many people have come to Zen as a result of their experience with psychedelics, or 'special medicine,' as you call it. Is taking psychedelics good or bad?"

Soen-sa said, "The question of good or bad is not important. It is neither good nor bad. What is important is why they take this medicine. Do you understand?"

Another student said, "What do you mean by good and bad?"

Soen-sa said, "Taking the medicine in order to understand is good. Taking the medicine because of the good feelings it gives you is not so good."

"Then it's possible to come to an understanding through special medicine?"

"It is possible. Many people are attached to name and form. They take this medicine and for five or ten hours it is the same as death. They have no hindrance from their body and their body's desires. It is like a dream. There is only the free action of their consciousness, the free play of the Karma I. So they understand that all life is empty. Life is death; death is life. They understand very clearly that fighting and differences among people are unnecessary, are just the result of wrong thinking. They no longer desire to be rich or successful. Rich or poor, success or failure--it is all the same. It comes to the same thing when you are dead."

The first student said, "You've just convinced me to take special medicine twice a day!"

Soen-sa said, "Taking it once or twice can be very helpful. But taking it more often is dangerous. It is very easy to become attached to special medicine. You are already a Zen student. So you already understand that life is empty; you understand what the true way is. When your body is sick, it is sometimes necessary to take a strong drug. But when you are healthy, you don't take drugs. So this special medicine cures some sickness, but it creates other sicknesses. After you take it, you have many attachments. You don't feel like working. You don't want money. You only want to relax or work in the garden or listen to music or enjoy art."

"Not make money? Heaven forbid!"

"This is an attachment to natural-style or hippie-style living. It is no good for a Zen student. Many people take special medicine and understand themselves. But their understanding is only thinking. It is not attainment. True attainment of emptiness means that all thinking has been cut off. There are neither likes nor dislikes. Natural-style living is good. Plastic-style living is good. There are no attachments to anything."

The third student said, "Soen-sa-nim, many different people practice Zen. I practice Zen; businessmen and lawyers practice Zen. I have an attachment to natural-style; they have an attachment to big-business-style. You don't say to them that they must give up business and only practice Zen, and you don't say to me that I must give up natural-style and only practice Zen. It's just different karma, isn't it?"

Soen-sa said, "Your life is natural-style; that's good. Businessman-style living is also good. What is important is why you are living this way. If you desire money for yourself or if you desire natural-style for yourself--this is no good. If you cut off your desires, then business is not business. It is Bodhisattva business. Natural-style is not natural-style. It is Bodhisattva action. So you can use business or natural-style living to teach all people the true way."

"You can teach natural-style living?"

"Yes, teaching natural-style is very good, as long as you are not attached to it. Natural-style is very high-class Bodhisattva action."


"True hippies have no hindrance. If I have no money, that's okay. If I don't have a house or a bed, that's okay. I can sleep anywhere, I can eat any food. My whole life is freedom. I am free to do anything. Having no hindrance means not being attached to anything. So this hippie-mind is very good; it is a very high-class mind. But many young people are attached to hippie-style or natural-style living. This is no good. If you are attached, then hippie-style becomes a hindrance. You must cut off all thinking and all desires for yourself. Then you will soon attain enlightenment. The hippie-mind is only one hair's-breadth away from enlightenment. If a hippie could cut off his attachment to being a hippie, he would soon discover, 'Oh, this is enlightenment!' One of my first students in America had very long blond hair, which he wore in a pony-tail. One day I said to him, 'I think it would be good if you cut your hair.' He said, 'No no, I like my hair the way it is.' I said, 'If you are attached to your hair, you cannot attain enlightenment.' 'Okay, then I will cut my hair.' 'Fine. Now you don't need to cut it.' So he learned that being a true hippie is having no attachments. Afterwards, he did hard training and soon understood."

The first student said, "Is it possible for a businessman to have no hindrance?"

Soen-sa said, "Only if he has no desire. If he is working and earning money in order to help other people, then Zen is business, business is Zen. They are not two. All jobs are the same. Most people don't understand this. They are only interested in making a lot of money or becoming successful. This is small I. But if I make money to help all people, then business is good business. It is Big Business!"

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