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

4.03  ·  Rating details ·  771 ratings  ·  72 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 ...more
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
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 ...more
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
Feb 14, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Favorite quote: You can take your dharma and shove it up your ass!
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 ...more
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.
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
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.
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,
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.
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.
Jan 29, 2008 rated it it was amazing
i like it so much, i got a tattoo of the cover
Aug 09, 2007 rated it it was amazing
The book that finally made sense of Zen koans for me.
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.

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
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 ...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 ...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.
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?
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.
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
Juli Hoffman
May 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I am not a Buddist, but I like some of the fundamental truths in Buddhism. This book is a series of letters and stories from Zen Master Seug Sahn Soen-sa during the 1970s.

If you're looking for a book that lists a bunch of rules, prayers, and meditations...this book is not for you. However, by reading the stories, the letters, the kong-ans, I feel like I have a deeper and clearer understanding of Zen Buddism than I've ever had before. At the end of the book, Ko Bong says, "The mouse eats
Michael Brenyo
I wanted to like the book, but I couldn't help but feel that it was a little shallow. It is highly repetitive and seems to constantly hit on the same points over and over again. I also know that in its own way, this is the point of the book. Everything is nothing, nothing is everything, don't get attached to words, live in the moment, etc... But the book just doesn't come off as particularly helpful. I also don't understand how hitting people is supposed to help.

Lastly, everything fell a little
Sep 22, 2019 rated it liked it
Sueng Sahn was a very interesting and unique master. I found myself laughing while reading this, which i was not expecting. This book taught me a lot about Zen, but it was also confusing to me at times. At page 200, I started to skim a little bit because the chapters were very similar and I still didn't understand some of his teachings. Now, I would rate this book 3 stars, but in the future when I have been practicing Zen longer and understand more , I'll read this book again and may rate it ...more
Adii Pienaar
This was a tough read, because many individual sentences and / or paragraphs don't make "sense". There are some core themes that shines through and this was valuable (enough so that I stuck around until the end of the book). And here & there, I did manage to stumble on inspiration and a broadened perspective.

There are many parts of Buddhism that resonates passionately with me and this won't be the last book I read on Buddhism. Overall though I think (making "that" mistake again) this book
Elizabeth Mcnair
This book is based on the dialogue between Korean Zen Master Seung Sahn and his American students. Consisting of dialogues, stories, formal Zen interviews, Dharma speeches, and letters using the Zen Master’s actual words in spontaneous, living interaction with his students. At times very funny, other times-I did not understand. This is one book I am going to have to go back and read again and possibly again to get the full understanding.
Gerry LaFemina
Nov 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
THis book of Zen teachings, letters, and anecdotes are riddled with poems, with passages that read like prose poems, repeated phrases, andnumerous repeated kong-ans, all lovingly compiled by Stephen Mitchell. It's a delightful read for anyone who wants some more poetry and some more zen in their ife.
John Goodell
Aug 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
An excellent collection of letters, conversations, lectures and teachings from a Korean Zen master's time in the United States.

Sahn's teaching style is unique. He makes his students laugh but can also be frustratingly difficult to comprehend when attempting to illustrate a point. Still, it is a book that makes you think, and I found very useful to read in spurts throughout the day, every day.
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Katz ! 1 3 Mar 29, 2013 11:09AM  

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Stephen Mitchell was educated at Amherst College, the Sorbonne, and Yale University, and de-educated through intensive Zen practice. He is widely known for his ability to make old classics thrillingly new, to step in where many have tried before and to create versions that are definitive for our time. His many books include The Gospel According to Jesus, The Second Book of the Tao, two books of ...more
“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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