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Dropping Ashes on the Buddha: The Teachings of Zen Master Seung Sahn

really liked it 4.00  ·  Rating details ·  980 ratings  ·  91 reviews
“Somebody comes into the Zen center with a lighted cigarette, walks up to the Buddha statue, blows smoke in its face, and drops ashes on its lap. You are standing there. What can you do?” This is a problem that Zen Master Seung Sahn is fond of posing to his American students who attend his Zen centers.

Dropping Ashes on the Buddha is a delightful, irreverent, and often hil
Paperback, 256 pages
Published February 18th 1994 by Grove Press (first published 1976)
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Tom Quinn
Apr 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
A very fine bunch of essays to read when you find yourself taking life too seriously.

For that matter, also a very fine bunch of essays to read when you find yourself not taking life seriously enough.

To be a bat's a bum thing
A silly and a dumb thing
But at least a bat is something
And you're not a thing at all
No, you're not a thing at all

3.5 stars out of 5 - although these are 5 star ideas and make for wonderful reading, the book as a whole earns a lower score overall because of how often the essa
Ksenia Anske
Dec 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
If you want to learn about zen and laugh your ass off at the same time, this is a book for you. Actually, this is a perfect book for writers. On letting go. If you're blocked, it will get you unblocked. And if it won't, come to me and I will hit you with a stick thirty times and shout in your face: "KATZ!!!" That ought to do it. By the way, I'm buying it to reread in times of despair, and suggest you do too. As a bonus, it will turn your mind inside out and thoroughly empty it, and you will atta ...more
Feb 14, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Favorite quote: You can take your dharma and shove it up your ass!
Ian Sims
Apr 17, 2018 rated it liked it
While Dropping Ashes on the Buddha is certainly a good read, I can't help but wish it were quite a bit shorter. The best zen texts (or religious texts, for that matter) are always the most succinct, and Dropping Ashes on the Buddha suffers from diminishing returns. The first time Seung Sahn quotes Jo-Ju, I found it to be a novel question for zen students. The twentieth time, I was just powering through something I'd already read a dozen times.

And it's the same with all of his popular kong-ans (
John Stepper
Mar 18, 2018 rated it liked it
Equal parts enlightening and infuriating. The method of teaching seems purposefully designed to provoke and confound students. Perhaps it is how the book is edited, for there are a few times when Seung Sahn actually tries to explain what he means in a way that advances a students understanding. But many of the selections seems focused more on presenting a paradox that has no answer, and leaving the students (and me) wondering, lost. Again, that may well be the point. It just seemed (based on rea ...more
Jan 22, 2021 rated it did not like it
'Dropping Ashes on the Buddha' came highly recommended, but left me deeply disappointed.

The book, a collection of letters and talks, is supposed to impart the wisdom of Zen Master Seung Sahn, a Korean Buddhist Zen master who divided his time between Massachuessets, Providence, and New York. Over the course of the book, however, I came to the conclusion that Seung Sahn was a fraud.

The Master attributes powers to Zen that simply don't exist, asserting that Zen masters can do things like fly and w
Brian Park
Mar 01, 2010 rated it it was amazing
An amazing book of Buddhist koans (kong-ans) taught by the late Seung Sahn. Seung Sahn is a Zen master and takes a very simple approach to his teaching, which makes this book especially accessible for the casual reader. To get the most out of this book, I'd suggest having some background info on Buddhism before delving in.

The book is a collection of lectures and conversations between Seung Sahn and his students. I got the impression that most of these occurred in between the late 60s and early 8
Jan 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
beautiful book. every little story and letter had something remarkable to teach in a very new and fresh way.
Dharmamitra Jeff Stefani
May 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Any Buddhist, Zen Practitioners especially
• So, Here's the Scenario: "Someone comes into the Zen Center with a lighted cigarette, walks up to the Buddha Statue, blows smoke in its face, and dops his ashes on the Buddha's lap. You are standing there. •What can/will You Do?"

•Wondrous Zen! The First book I was ever given, about the Dharma...and What an introduction it was! Albeit too bizarre, at the time. However, as things go in cycles, I would come back to this exact copy of "Dropping Ashes On The Buddha" (Original, first edition, paperb
Jan 29, 2008 rated it it was amazing
i like it so much, i got a tattoo of the cover
Jan 19, 2010 rated it really liked it
A fun if sometimes bizarre read. Koan-intensive, lots of Seung Sahn focus, with some new information on Zen (from my perspective). /me slaps the ground.
Jan 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: z-2017
This book is a hard read, but I am so glad I finished reading through it. Unlike other spiritual books, this one isn't a guided instruction so much. Instead, the story here takes you through the riddles and 'questions and answers' the Zen master has with his students and those that approach him.

The biggest takeaway I got this book, is always to keep "don't know mind". "Don't know mind" in essence refers to the state of looking at the world, and yourself - without having preconceived notions. How
Audrey Greathouse
Jun 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This was the book that finally let me wrap my mind around Zen. I just finished it, and read it's page-long chapters one a day for months in order to slowly go through it and try to meditate on the teachings.

Eastern philosophy is really hard to grasp when you are coming from western civilization and a strong grounding in western philosophy. Unlike so many other books and discourses, Seung Sahn's traditional Korean teachings were distributed in America during the 1970s. He takes a fantastic legacy
Aaron Gertler
Feb 05, 2017 rated it really liked it

Helped me feel unattached for a few hours, even in a very distracting environment. Wonderful accompaniment to the start of a meditation habit. Shows a side of the world that is easy, in these times, to forget about, but which was and is very real. Somewhat repetitive, but the form fits the content. Close to five stars.
Aug 09, 2007 rated it it was amazing
The book that finally made sense of Zen koans for me.
Jul 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
A drastic jump straight into the practices and excercises Zen Buddhists employ. Abandon logic, structure, and what you held relevant, as this book will surely catch you off guard.
Emily Fortuna
May 27, 2019 rated it did not like it
It is possible I don’t have enough background in Zen Buddhism to understand and appreciate this book.

I’ve studied other forms of Buddhism and meditation but Seung Sahn has a peculiar approach that really did not connect with me, but I imagine others may get a lot out of this book. In particular, for people like me, I find it much more effective to approach meditation with a very “gentle mind” — no judgement, no ”trying”, and particularly no admonishment when I inevitably slip in focus.

Seung Sa
Vignesh Yelluri
I guess I didn't understand anything substantial or meaningful yet from this book. I should read it again to understand the depth and meaning of it.

Until then, I can never rate this book.
Sally Boyer
Aug 21, 2017 rated it it was ok
The message gets a little redundant, as does the ridiculous communication style. However, there were some basic gems that spoke to me:

"If you make difficult, it is difficult. If you make easy, it is easy. But if you don't think, the truth is just as it is. Tell me now--how are you keeping your mind at this very moment?" (P29)

"Desire, anger, and ignorance cover up our clear mind. If we cut off all thinking and return to empty mind, then your mind, my mind, and all people's minds are the same. We
Nov 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
My review:

1. Katz!
2. If you read the book I will hit you thirty times, if you do not read the book I will hit thirty times
3. The sky is blue, the grass is green
Jul 01, 2017 rated it did not like it
Shelves: non-fiction, religion
It's rare that I can't get through a book, but this one was just too lacking in any thoughtful vantage points. It's a series of letters between a Zen master and his students. There are countless stories but no story line. They mostly involve a student asking a question and a Zen master giving either a threat or confusing reply. There are also lessons like "The rocks in the stream and the tiles on the roof understand true emptiness" (so why don't you?). And there are some explanations about the n ...more
Brittin Kemp
Mar 06, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: bad
My review is with great attachment to the need for quality and the ability to understand its contents in a book. I was unable to get anything out of this book except for confusion. What is up with the hitting (as many reviewers have asked before me) and how is that in line with Buddhist teachings? This is a serious question. I am new to this quest for enlightenment. Perhaps I'm naive in my perception of Buddhism and that smacking people or threatening to smack them from simple inquiry is standar ...more
Jan 11, 2009 rated it it was amazing
The Korean Buddhism that i learned about in the
Empty Circle Zen group in Hobart is based onthe teachings of Seung Sahn. I think this is a very good book to read to understand Seung Sahn, maybe not so much Buddhism.
Christine Vranas
May 22, 2019 rated it did not like it
I guess I wasn’t enlightened enough to understand it . “Emptiness is form and form is emptiness... I hit you thirty times... the Buddha is shit on a stick...”
I really think the book should have been called “ acid drops on the Buddha.”
Apr 11, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Collection of talks and letters between Seung Sahn and student that are short and easy to read. He addresses a lot of questions that come up for students in practice.
David Birt
Jul 04, 2011 rated it liked it
I liked the opening discourse on the Zen circle. I have always been fascinated by koans. Must admit to getting fatigued though from being threatened with being hit 30 times in every interaction.
Jan 21, 2017 rated it liked it
A very Zen book. KATZ!!!! Knowing you don't know. Not doing is doing.....get the picture? ...more
Jul 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
"The mouse eats cat-food, but the cat-bowl is broken."

Do you understand what that question means? "All you need to understand is that a quarter is twenty-five cents."

Most of the teaching in Dropping Ashes on the Buddha uses this type of teaching using a kong-an (or koan for those more familiar with Japanese Zen than Korean Zen). A more mainstream one would be "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" Many people find these kong-ans, and especially the ensuing answers, infuriatingly nonsensical.
Apr 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
I'm torn between whether to rate it 3, 4 or even 5. In some sense it's a truly brilliant book, deserving the highest regard, on the other hand it can be hard to follow and easy to misinterpret, easy to cast aside, worthy of mediocre score.
As a work of written word it's nothing spectacular, but as a method for showing the reader how think in a zen manner, it does its job better than any other book on the topic I've come across. Dropping Ashes on the Buddha doesn't really explain Zen, it's not a
Paul Miller
Jul 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
One Sunday, while Seung Sahn Soen-sa was staying at the International Zen Center of New York, there was a big ceremony marking the end of one hundred days of chanting Kwanseum Bosal. Many Korean women came, with shopping bags full of food and presents. One woman brought a large bouquet of plastic flowers, which she presented smilingly to an American student of Soen-sa's. As soon as he could, the student hid the flowers under a pile of coats. But soon, another woman found them and, with the great ...more
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Katz ! 1 3 Mar 29, 2013 11:09AM  

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24 likes · 4 comments
“Once Seung Sahn Soen-sa and a student of his attended a talk at a Zen center in California. The Dharma teacher spoke about Bodhidharma. After the talk, someone asked him "What's the difference between Bodhidharma's sitting in Sorim for nine years and your sitting here now?"

The Dharma teacher said, "About five thousand miles."
The questioner said, "Is that all?"
The Dharma teacher said, "Give or take a few miles."

Later on, Soen-sa asked his student, "What do you think of these answers?"
"Not bad, not good. But the dog runs after the bone."
"How would you answer?"
"I'd say, 'Why do you make a difference?' "

Soen-sa said, "Not bad. Now you ask me."
"What's the difference between Bodhidharma's sitting in Sorim for nine years and your sitting here now?"
"Don't you know?"
"I'm listening."
"Bodhidharma sat in Sorim for nine years. I am sitting here now."

The student smiled.”
“The Great Way is not difficult if you do not make distinctions. Only throw away likes and dislikes, and everything will be perfectly clear. So” 1 likes
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