This is one of my favorite Dharma talks by Daehaeng Kun Sunim, where she talks about spiritual practice and the importance of “dying.” She isn’t talking about the death of the body, but rather letting go of this sense of “me” and what “I” want. There are many aspects to this, but one question often asked is, “If I let go like this, won’t I become a fool or taken advantage of by others?” The short answer is “no.” As you let go of both sides, both good and bad, likes and dislikes, you see things more clearly, and discover the courage to do what needs to be done, whether it’s confrontation, accepting, or running away!
One of the other incredibly huge things about this practice is that the beginning and the end are both the same. Whether you don’t know anything or are completely enlightened, the letting go and entrusting is done exactly the same.
You should entrust everything that comes up in your life – solitude, poverty, loneliness, anxiety, and illness – to your foundation and live freely. Entrusting everything is letting go of everything. This is the way to die. The phrase “First, you must die!” means unconditionally releasing everything, without any excuses or reasons, including both what you understand and what you don’t understand. When things go well, you should release them with gratitude. When things don’t go well, you should also release them with the faith that “My foundation can solve this and lead me in the right direction. Because nothing is fixed, this too can change.” You should keep letting go like this. For it is only by dying unconditionally that you can discover your true self, your eternal root.
Second, you must die again. While studying here, some of you have discovered yourself. Yet you still have not discarded your habits and your thoughts of “I,” “me,” and “mine.” So you’re happy if you see a Buddha in your dreams, but you’re scared if you see a ghost. When you feel or experience something extraordinary, you carelessly talk to others about what you experienced. What you see and hear is just an illusion, but nevertheless you still tend to cling to it. This is why you must die again.
Now do you understand why first you must die and keep what you experience to yourself, and why you must die yet again, keeping what you experience secret? Even though you are able to see or hear certain things after you discover your true self, those powers are not the Way. Even though you have obtained the five subtle powers – the abilities to know others’ thoughts and feelings, to know past lives, to hear anything, to see anything at any place, and to appear anywhere without moving your body – this is still not the Way. You can truly master the five subtle powers only when you are free from them. If you reveal what you hear, see, or know, it will only bring trouble. First, it will cause trouble for the Buddha-dharma, second, for sunims and the Seon center, and third, it will cause trouble for you.
Once you discover yourself, you enter the stage of experimenting. Don’t regard what you learn in your dreams as different from what you learn while awake. And keep everything you learn secret. Although you are able to see, hear, and know things that others are unaware of, do it without clinging to any thought of “I see,” “I hear,” “I know,” and do not reveal to others what you experience. This is a very powerful stage of practice in which you experiment with what you have learned. Your experiments result in experiences, and then you put those experiences into action. This is the meaning of dying a second time and keeping what you experience to yourself.
Daehaeng Kun Sunim goes on to talk about the need for also dying a third time. There are a couple of very advanced aspects to that, but the main point is the need to continuously keep letting go, and to not dwell on what we experience. (This talk has been excerpted from the book, Wake Up and Laugh.)