In 1994, I was having a “dark night of the soul” in the midst of college at UC Santa Barbara. I didn’t know who I was, but I knew the answer must lie somewhere very far away. I saw a flier advertising study abroad in China, and I signed right up. On the way, we stopped in Korea for a week, and on a jet-lagged evening stroll, I wandered the streets of Seoul. I made my way through a dark alley to Chogye Sah Temple, where there was a large crowd gathered.
The temple abbot approached me aggressively saying “You!” then pointed into the temple building saying “Zen Master Seung Sahn!” and shoved me inside. I couldn’t understand a word of the Korean Dharma speech, but I watched as the master raised his stick above his head and shouted with the utmost confidence and energy, bringing the stick slamming down with a loud THUD! I was hooked.
Afterward, as the master was blessing his fans at the gate, the abbot introduced us, and the master turned around and shot his eyes into mine, shouting, “Where you come from?!” I experienced his question, his direction – that was transmission of Zen mind. Emerging from that spacious moment that lasted forever, I muddled some weeny response, “uh, California”. He shook his head and turned around, resuming his blessings.
Thus began my practice of Korean Zen.