The cat, the Little Girl and the Zen Master: a true story

For meditation masters like the late South Korean Zen teacher Seung Sahn, meditation is a direct and accessible experience. He show us that an open, curious, balanced, and joyful mind is not an unreachable goal that requires years of practice and study. On the contrary, these qualities of awakening can be accessible in moments of simple presence that brings a fresh outlook on life and the world.

Katz was a cat who was living at the Cambridge Zen Center, where Seung Sahn was teaching. Katz had just died after a long illness and had been buried according to Buddhist rites. A seven-year-old girl, Gita, was very preoccupied by the death of Katz. The day after the ritual, she approaches Soen-sa:

“What happened to Katzie? Where did he go?”

Soen-sa said, “Where do you come from?”

“From my mother’s belly.”

“Where does your mother come from?” Gita was silent.

Soen-sa said, “Everything in the world comes from the same one thing. It is like in a cookie factory. Many different kinds of cookies are made — lions, tigers, elephants, houses, people. They all have different shapes and different names, but they are all made from the same dough and they all taste the same. So all the different things that you see — a cat, a person, a tree, the sun, this floor — all these things are really the same.”

“What are they?”

“People give them many different names. But in themselves, they have no names. When you are thinking, all things have different names and different shapes. But when you are not thinking, all things are the same. There are no words for them. People make the words. A cat doesn’t say, ‘I am a cat.’ People say, ‘This is a cat.’ The sun doesn’t say, ‘My name is sun.’ People say, ‘This is the sun.’

So when someone asks you, ‘What is this?’, how should you answer?”

“I shouldn’t use words.”

Soen-sa said, “Very good! You shouldn’t use words. So if someone asks you, ‘What is Buddha?’, what would be a good answer?”

Gita was silent.

korean zen master Seungsahn
Seung Sahn, a teacher of Soen, South-Korean Zen.

Soen-sa said, “Now you ask me.”

“What is Buddha?”

Soen-sa hit the floor.

Gita laughed.

Soen-sa said, “Now I ask you: What is Buddha?”

Gita hit the floor.

“What is God?”

Gita hit the floor.

“What is your mother?”

Gita hit the floor.

“What are you?”

Gita hit the floor.

“Very good! This is what all things in the world are made of. You and Buddha and God and your mother and the whole world are the same.”

Gita smiled.

Soen-sa said, “Do you have any more questions?”

“You still haven’t told me where Katz went.”

Soen-sa leaned over, looked into her eyes, and said, “You already understand.”

Gita said, “Oh!” and hit the floor very hard. Then she laughed.

Extrait de Dropping Ashes on the Buddha : teachings of zen master Seung Sahn, Grove Press.

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Nicolas Escoffier

Meditation and healing

As a seeker of wisdom and IFS practitioner (level 2), I am dedicated to supporting individuals on their path of self-discovery, healing, and transformation. Drawing from 12 years of meditation practice in Asia and my background in neuroscience, I offer a guidance shaped by modern and ancient healing approaches. It honors each of my client’s unique history, values, and spirituality, to support them in moving towards greater meaning and well-being.

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