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Only Don't Know: Selected Teaching Letters on Zen Master Sueng Sahn Paperback – 1 Jun 1999

5.0 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Shambhala Publications Inc; 1st Shambhala Ed edition (1 Jun. 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1570624321
  • ISBN-13: 978-1570624322
  • Product Dimensions: 14.2 x 1.4 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 759,883 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
One of the best books on Zen Buddhism I have ever read. Brilliant. Sharp, to the point, and often very funny. And after reading it, you won't want to write about it. You'll want to sit, and... 'Only don't knowww[...] :) One thing to note, though - this is a selection of letters written to and from Sueng Sahn Sunim. It is not a Zen practice instruction manual, so if that's what you're looking for, look elsewhere. But an absolutely wonderful book which I thoroughly recommend.
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Format: Paperback
It's touching and helped me realize many things that I've forgotten about. Two thumbs up and definitely would recommend to anyone interested in Zen.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
as expected.Cannot disappoint
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0x9015500c) out of 5 stars 20 reviews
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x901e5708) out of 5 stars you might taste why gong-an's are necessary in Zen buddhism? 2 Mar. 2000
By Nam s. Park - Published on
Format: Paperback
I read this book right after 'The Compass of Zen', which are written by the same author, Korean Zen Master, Seung Sahn Sunim and the same editor, Hyon Gak Sunim, who is one of his American students. Another book, 'Dropping Ashes on the Buddha' and this 'Only Don't Know' used the same style of many corespondences between the master and his students. You might taste how other people had faced with the confusion and the attraction in the paradoxical 'gong-ans'questions in Zen Buddhism. I was also very confused about the paradoxical gong-an questions and the unclear answers at 'The Compass of Zen' like other people who wrote many letters in the book. I often felt the pradoxical questions sounded funny, but something like words play. However, when I finished reading this book, I could slightly understand why the pradoxical questions are necessary and what the main purposes are? Zen practice seems to be one of the tools to "wake up" from the ignorance of self, and then to see the self as an universal existence. To reach the point,the beginners seem to train their minds detaching from the "forms and names" that they have learned, but attaining the clear minds, "like mirrors", to be able to see the unverse as it is."form is form, emptiness is emptiness". It is still paradoxical, but it is still attract. I you are interested in Zen Buddhism, you must read it.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x90147b7c) out of 5 stars Practical Advice Whatever Your Faith / Spiritual Practice 8 May 2011
By Rugger Burke - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
When asked about books that have influenced my life, Only Don't Know is at the top of the list. The writing is simple and direct on matters of love, happiness, and suffering.

The book was recommended to me by a colleague in the world of finance. The man seemed genuinely moved in relaying the positive impact the book had on him, including his relationships with his wife and children. Still questioning how the writings of a Korean Zen master had any relevance to my own life, I looked it upon Amazon and found the reviews were positive, so decided to give it a try.

The book is a collection of letters to and from Seung Sahn. Some are from Zen practitioners, others are not. Some are serious, some are funny. "I am a teacher and these kids are driving me crazy..."

What is particularly striking is how consistent Seung Sahn is in his responses. This is a man who clearly found his purpose or his calling. That alone makes the book worth a read. But there is more being offered. In each of the letters you will hear a little piece of yourself asking a question. And more often than not Seung Sahn's response provides practical advice on a way to find a positive relationship to the issue in question.

Admittedly, the advice is based on Zen practice, but it is not dogmatic, being more humanistic in nature. And if you can't separate the idea of the advice being based on the Zen tradition, then you can co-opt it to your own brand of religion or spiritual belief. The advice has value whatever your faith.

A few themes from the book for flavor:

1. Only Don't Know - Originally, there is not good and bad. But if you make good and bad in your mind, they you have good and bad... Before checking (filtering based on your biases and prejudices) is called go-straight mind - there is no problem. After checking, then feelings, I-my-me, and problems appear. A clear mind has no I-my-me.... If you keep clear mind, you will get happiness everywhere.

2. Love - If you cut off all thinking and keep this in mind: "How can I help?" the correct action will appear... That is great love.

3. Wisdom - Good and bad are our true teachers. If something has no opposite, then it has no meaning, no truth... Wisdom and practice are like two wheels of one cart.


Inspired by Only Don't Know, I went on to read others by Seung Sahn, but cannot give them the same recommendation. The Compass of Zen is a dense guide to Buddhism and Dropping Ashes on the Buddha is a lesser work of teachings and letters. This is the one to read.

Hope this review helps you.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8fb2c6b4) out of 5 stars Straight-talking Zen for America 23 Jun. 2001
By Algernon D'Ammassa - Published on
Format: Paperback
He isn't the first Zen teacher to offer his teaching via letters. (The teaching letters of Ta-Hui come to mind...) But has there ever been a more prolific correspondent? Until recent years, Zen Master Seung Sahn would answer every letter students or perfect strangers sent him, and bundles of letters would chase him from city to city as he flew around America in the seventies and eighties, teaching wherever the airlines would take him.
As far as Zen books go, it's good teaching with very little obscure dharma language. His talent was talking about Zen in a way non-scholarly Americans could understand and apply to their own lives. It's a lively collection of letters from a wide spectrum of students: from the sincere to the smart-aleck to the earnest and to the clueless. The teacher meets them all on their level, sometimes with very long letters including stories and koans.
Due to his concentrated, concise teaching style, the reader may find the letters repetitive. (When asked why he says the same thing over and over again, he has replied, "Did you hear it?") Some of the student letters may wear out their welcome, but they belong with the responses. Bear with it: there is good teaching throughout.
HASH(0x8fcbb0e4) out of 5 stars LOSE YOUR MIND: The Way of Radical MindLESSness 1 Feb. 2016
By J.I. Abbot - Published on
Format: Paperback
In light of the ever-creeping co-opting of the Buddhist practice of mindfulness into a fashion or product, I'm promoting a new movement of enlightened mindlessness...which is pretty easy to tell apart from plain old regular mindlessness.

I was introduced to radical mindlessness almost thirty years ago—by the Korean Seon (Sŏn, 禪) (= Chan = Zen) teacher Seung Sahn and in this book in particular. Get your hands on it. Or just be hip and "mind-full" everyone else lately!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x905092b8) out of 5 stars The one to own 28 Mar. 2007
By Susan E. Rogers - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is an important book to own if you are curious about zen practice and teaching. I've bought and given away many copies of this wonderful book to people who've had questions about finding a source of peace and happiness in their lives. Zen Master Seung Sahn had a wonderful common-sense approach to practice and his students were so fortunate to have these letters from him. I have enjoyed this book for years and turn to it whenever I lose my way.
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