Transmission Ceremony: Hyon Ja SSN Kwan um Zen School Europe/Zen Centre Vienna Zen Centre Vienna, Sept 26, 2020


(Raises the Zen stick over her head and hits the table with the stick.)

The 6th Patriarch said to Fada:
If your mouth recites while your mind does not practice, then the Sutra “turns” you.
If your mouth recites and your mind practices, you “turn” the Sutra;

(Raises the Zen stick over her head and hits the table with the stick.)

No Sutra,
No practice,
No turning!

(Raises the Zen stick over her head and hits the table with the stick.)

What shall we do?


– – –

Old and new friends appear on the monitor as we all take part in this “Zoom transmission”.

First: Thank you to the past, present and future teachers and to the entire Sangha!

Because the pandemic made meeting face to face impossible, we decided to transmit this ceremony using Zoom and the internet — so is a first of its kind. One might say, that it is not traditional… it isn’t the way it always used to be done…. – However, as practitioners of Zen, I think all of us enjoy the chance to wake up yet again. I hope we can leave the word “traditional” outside the door with our shoes for now and enjoy!

The different style for this transmission is important — it shows an attempt to respond and adjust in times of uncertainty. We tried- tried -tried and we found a way to come together. We turn our attention to many little windows on the monitor and greet each other. We get the wonderful chance to see Dharma friends we haven’t seen for a long time!

This ceremony was scheduled for April this year. The Vienna Zen Center had everything prepared: over one hundred participants registered, a big meeting hall reserved, hotels booked, spicy Mexican food and a Salsa teacher for the party afterwards. But when the Corona Pandemic moved into the world, everything changed. In one day all our plans evaporated.

Uncertainty completely took over our lives. The 6th patriarch told Fada that if he only recited the word, the Sutra would turn him. But if he both recited and practiced, he would turn the Sutra.

In the same sense, would uncertainty turn us, or would our practice and the wisdom arising from practice, help us turn uncertainty into a ceremony that would reach our Sanghas?

– – –

An eminent teacher told me long ago, that our fate knocks on the door three times. Corona was the first knock. We buckled up and locked down and increased our practice. But there was much more to come.

The second knock was when my dear friend and colleague became gravely ill.
The third knock crashed over my head and through my heart, when beloved friends, two great Zen teachers in Europe, Myong Hae Sunim PSN and Olek Suk PSN passed away within 6 weeks of each other. The impermanence of their leaving felt so permanent.

In the beautiful book “The Hidden Lamp” I read this Kong-an:

A woman who grieves says to the Chan Master:
“Master, truly—permanence is impermanent, but absence is permanent.
He answers: Indeed so.”
What did this woman understand?

The absence of Myong Hae Sunim and Oleg Suk’s bodies is permanent. But bright light they radiated while with us, still shines for us.

Recently when talking with my Dharma brother Barry Briggs PSN about this, he sent me the following poem by Kobayashi Issa:

This dew drop world
Is only a dew drop world
And yet, and yet . . .

These last two words: and yet … and yet…point to our tentative existence, which is fragile and impermanent. Constantly transforming from one thing to another.

And yet: These two words contain the entire hopes and wishes and longing of all human beings. It is this longing that brings us back to the great question; “What am I? What is my purpose on this earth?”

And yet: If we had a second chance, what would we do or say? Which risks would we take, and would we say the loving words we meant to say but didn’t? What if we could live our lives always as if it was our second chance?

And yet: We try again- and again- to be true human beings. We turn our eyes inwardly and we never stop our investigation. This is what the 6th patriarch pointed to when he said that with wisdom and practice, we turn the sutra.

– – –

We name this ceremony a transmission, so naturally we wonder what is being transmitted? Looking at all of this from a broad perspective, the Buddha’s teaching of skillful means appears through tiny little pictures of all of us being transmitted through the air.

At the beginning of Corona Pandemic, some of us grumbled that we would never use the computer to connect, others playfully tried everything possible and pushed all the buttons. It is said that some of us follow the goddesses willingly and others of us are dragged. Which one are you?

– – –

For me one of the most powerful transmissions happened on my first visit to Zen Master Seung Sahn in the early 90s in the Los Angeles Zen Center. I asked to see him in person, because I wanted to check him out.

I already greatly valued his teaching and I had come to love the little Sangha in Berlin. But during my years with an Indian Guru, somehow everything went very wrong. I never took the responsibility to meet the Guru personally. I didn’t want to make the same mistake twice. It was important to me to personally meet this great Zen Master, and by doing so take responsibility for my participation in his community.

I went into the meeting prepared with 3 questions.
The first question was about the suffering I had experienced with the Guru and Zen Master Seung Sahn listened intently. His answer was astonishing: without missing a beat, he said: “ALREADY PAST!” – In that moment my mind stopped and all the drama that had happened was wiped away.

My second question was: How do I respond to the Guru’s students asking me what I know about him? Should I tell them or not?”
In an instant Zen Master Seung Sahn said: “TELL THEM YOU FORGOT!”
He wasn’t telling me to lie to them. It wasn’t even about them. He was pointing again to the very moment in that room with him. Again, what great clarity to wake up to where I was!

The third question was about constructing a Zen temple in Berlin, Germany. We had a small Sangha at that time and because of the generosity of a Sangha friend, we started to talk about building a big Zen center. Should we wait until the Sangha grew, or should we start right away to build? – Zen Master Seung Sahn told me: “This is the only real question you have asked today. Start right away to build.”

When I left that first meeting, it was clear to me that even if I never saw him again, I had received the full attention of an awakened mind and it had changed me forever. Almost 30 years later I am here, participating in the school he established. The Berlin Zen Center has offered a place for the Dharma to everyone now since then.

– – –

These are “interesting” times. The Corona Pandemic has revealed with razor sharpness, our fragility, our vulnerability.

We live in a time of huge planetary catastrophes, as we notice with great sadness the fires and floods and storms across the globe. People by the millions are beginning to immigrate towards other places on the earth.

We also face an enormous uncertainty in how we communicate: by immersing and isolating ourselves in the ever- increasing use of the internet and smart phones, people find themselves very alone.

We perceive the great increase in “my opinion, my ideas, my way”, and notice a tremendous increase in mental suffering and anguish. Where is the wisdom to digest the trillions of words spoken about our dilemma?

– – –

It is painfully apparent that the condition of the world is turning people. What would our condition be if it was the other way around? If through action based on wisdom, we would turn the world instead?

What are the skillful means needed for these times? The practice has given us the treasure of Sangha. It is our place of refuge and flowers in our together action.

– – –

(Raises the Zen stick over her head and hits the table with the stick.)

The Buddha taught infinite dharmas to help infinite karmas.

(Raises the Zen stick over her head and hits the table with the stick.)

No dharmas— no karmas— no time

Infinite ways to help all beings! Let’s start!


– – –

Soon we turn our computers off. We will make lunch for the family and let’s share an extra portion with the neighbor.

Deutsche Version

Hyon Ja Soen Sa Nim Transmission Speech @ YouTube

Transmission Ceremony: Hyon Ja SSN Kwan um Zen School Europe/Zen Centre Vienna Zen Centre Vienna, Sept 26, 2020

Transmission Ceremony: Hyon Ja SSN
Kwan um Zen School Europe/Zen Centre Vienna
Zen Centre Vienna, Sept 26, 2020