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Getting Hate Mail? Learn to Reply Like a Zen Master


An exchange of letters confirms that wisdom is the best way to respond to hatred.

Many of us are familiar with the notion of “troll” behavior. Though it’s expanded exponentially on the Internet and through the possibility of making our personal opinions public in a mass medium (in forums, on social networks, and on blogs), such behavior is not really unique to digital media.

The “troll” is someone motivated primarily by his or her desire to annoy. They’ll refute any idea, but not pursuant to any debate, they wish only to freely contradict. Perhaps that’s why a common slogan across the Internet remains: “Please don’t feed the trolls.” This is to say, don’t fall into their game, don’t respond to diatribes, because to do so only pleases the trolls and, sadly, after years and years of these sterile discussions they’ve probably been trained better than any of us.

Unless one is a Zen master, of course, with the expertise to respond with wisdom (and style) to any person who throws their worst insults our way.

The exchange shared below didn’t take place on Facebook or Twitter, but in a couple of letters dated March of 1975. The letters were sent between the master Seung Sahn Soen-sa (Korean-born but settled in the United States) and one of his students, who apparently felt very frustrated at seeing that his doubts about existence were not resolved by Zen.

The disciple wrote to his teacher:

Please answer me soon, but you probably won’t, huh? Anyway, I’d like to tell you to go fuck yourself.

Respectfully, and hope to see you soon,

See Hoy


To this, Soen-sa replied:

You say that you are confused. If you keep a complete don’t-know mind, how can confusion appear? Complete don’t-know mind means cutting off all thinking. Cutting off all thinking means true emptiness. In true emptiness, there is no I to be confused and nothing to be confused about.

A kong-an is like a finger pointing at the moon. If you are attached to the finger, you don’t understand the direction, so you cannot see the moon. If you are not attached to any kong-an, then you will understand the direction. The direction is the complete don’t-know mind.

You must keep only don’t-know, always and everywhere. Then you will soon get enlightenment. But be very careful not to want enlightenment. Only keep don’t-know mind. Your situation, your condition, your opinions — throw them all away.

At the end of your letter you say, “Go fuck yourself.” These are wonderful words that you have given me, and I thank you very much. If you attain enlightenment, I will give them back to you.

Sincerely yours,


Thus, the Zen master offered certain proof that wisdom always triumphs, and especially over hatred.

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