Finding balance in Zen practice

Question and answer between Zen Master Seung Sahn and his student

Q Many of people who run Zen centers and our school get over-tired from all the responsibility and worry and emergencies. Then they feel: "I don't like this. I don't want to practice. I don't want to do my job." We call this "burn-out." What can we do about it?

So you have a baby. It’s your baby. This baby has many problems. At night it cries, shits, or crawls around a lot. That's not so bad if you just take care of it. So the Zen center is your baby. If it becomes separate from you, this "I don't like it" mind appears. What is your direction, the purpose of your life? You must take responsibility for the whole universe, for all beings. You must find your original job, then this "burn-out" mind will not appear. If you hold onto your situation, your condition, your opinion, then this mind appears.

When I stayed in Korea, I had no problems, I was a Zen Master and everyone took care of me – kept my rooms clean, did my laundry, brought me food. I stayed in beautiful houses; going anywhere was no problem.

When I came to the United States I had no money, so I went to work in a laundry. Nobody knew that I was a Zen Master. I was a laundry man, picking up all the dirty clothes, washing them, being sent all around every day. At night I had a lot of pain and was tired, but I always practiced.

Some other old monks who have come to the United States to work found it very hard. They worked and were too tired to practice. This means the mind is very important. I never worked this hard with my body in Korea, not just eight hours a day, but twelve hours at the laundry job. Even with the hard work, I always practiced bowing and chanting in the morning and evening. If I didn’t do any outside job, I couldn't get money to pay for my apartment and food. But that was my job.

So direction is very important. If your direction is not clear, burnout appears. If your direction is clear, it never appears. Even if you are dying, if your direction is clear, it's no problem. So we practice. If you have energy, no problem. If you have no energy, burn-out appears. Every day correct practicing is necessary.

Earlier this summer, I was very sick before going to Paris. Breathing was so difficult, I almost died one night. Then I went to Paris on a charter flight, and there were many problems: standing in long lines, carrying a lot of baggage, so I got very sick again. My body had no energy. Diabetes means not much pain inside, but having no energy. Everything is very uninteresting. The "I don't care" mind appears. If your mind is not affected by your body condition, then you will have lots energy to help others including the Zen Center.