Zen master explains death to a little girl

  • AoN
  • 28. 10. 2016


Hishida Shunso (1874 - 1911) "Cat and Plum Blossoms"



Zen master Seung sahn recalls a conversation he had with a seven-year-old girl, after the death of a cat called Katz, that was beloved at the Cambridge Zen Center. The cat was given a traditional Buddhist burial, but one day after that the little girl came to the great Zen teacher for some explanation.


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

Seung Sahn said, “Where do you come from?”

“From my mother’s belly.”

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

Seung Sahn 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.”

Seung Sahn 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.

Seung Sahn said, “Now you ask me.”

“What is Buddha?”

Seung Sahn hit the floor.

Gita laughed.

Seung Sahn 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.

Seung Sahn said, “Do you have any more questions?”

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

Seung Sahn leaned over, looked into her eyes, and said, “You already understand.”

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


As she was opening the door, she turned to Seung Sahn and said, “But I’m not going to answer that way when I’m in school. I’m going to give regular answers!”

Seung Sahn laughed.



taken from “Dropping ashes on the Buddha: The Teachings of Zen master Seung Sahn"