A student came to call on Zen Master Hyang Bong and said, “Please, master, teach me the dharma.” Hyang Bong said, “I’m sorry, but my dharma is very expensive.” “Oh, then how much does it cost?” asked the student. “How much can you pay?” was Hyang Bong’s answer. The student put his hand in his pocket and took out some coins and told him, “This is all the money I have.”

Hyang Bong said, “Even if you offered me a pile of gold as big as a mountain, my dharma would still be more expensive.” The student went off and started practicing. After a few months of hard training, he returned to Hyang Bong and said, “Master, I will give you my life. I will do anything for you. I will be your slave. Please teach me your dharma.” Hyang Bong replied, “Even if you offered me a thousand lives, my dharma is still too expensive.”

The student was quite dejected. He went off and practiced diligently for several months more. Then he came back and said, “Master, I will give you my mind. Will you teach me now?” Hyang Bong said, “Your mind is a pail of stinking garbage. I have no use for it. Even if you offered me ten thousand minds, my dharma would still be too expensive.” Again the student left to do very hard training, and after some time he came to an understanding that the whole universe is empty.

So he returned to the master and said, “Now I understand how expensive your dharma is.” Hyang Bong then asked, “Well, how expensive is it?” The student then shouted, “Katz!” Hyang Bong said, “No, it’s more expensive than that.” This time the student was thoroughly confused and in deep despair. He vowed not to see the master again until he achieved a supreme awakening. Eventually that day came, and he returned. He said, “Master, now I truly understand—the sky is blue, the grass is green.”

Hyang Bong answered, “My dharma is even more expensive than that.” At this point the student got furious and said, “I already understand. I don’t need your dharma. You can take it and shove it up your ass!” Hyang Bong laughed, which made the student even angrier. He wheeled around and started to stomp out of the room. Just as he was about to go out the door, Hyang Bong called to him, “Wait a minute!” The student turned his head, and Hyang Bong said, “Don’t lose my dharma.”

From Don’t-Know Mind: The Spirit of Korean Zen, ©2004 by Richard Shrobe. Reprinted with permission of Shambhala Publications.

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