Perceive Bird-Sound Bodhisattva

Zen Master Seung Sahn, circa 1974.

A wonderful photo of Zen master Seung Sahn (to his students: “Dae Soen Sa Nim,” or “great Zen master”) that I had never seen until recently. He’s clearly enjoying himself, making bird-sounds to attract sentient beings.

He had a great voice, as can be heard on the recordings of The Evening Bell Chant and The Morning Bell Chant. During his first-ever trip to Europe, in 1978, on a short visit to Venice, he constantly stood high in a swaying gondola and sang out opera arias to echo among the canalled-spaces. I heard directly from eye-witnesses to the happening, who said he was pitch-perfect and shockingly passionate in his renditions.

“Kwan um” is the name of the Bodhisattva of Compassion — “the one perceiving the sounds of the world.” Not just a “hearer,” in the conventional sense, ‘kwan um” is our own innate True Nature, that quality of awareness which is sometimes manifested as hearing, sometimes manifested as seeing, sometimes manifested as tasting, sometimes manifested as smelling, sometimes manifested as sensing touch, sometimes manifested as the free-flow non-attached apparitions of thought. What is it that hears? What is it that sees? What is it that notices taste? What is it that notices touch-sense? What is it that notices thinking?

Turning to that is turning to Kwan Seum Bosal’s true face, and Seung Sahn Sunim’s true face, and your true face, and my true face, and the Buddha’s true face, and Jesus’s true face, all beings’ true face. THIS is our practice!

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