Goam Sangeon ( 1899 ~ 1988 )



Master Goam was born in Paju, Gyeonggi-do Province, in 1899. At the age of 18, Goam, who used to say, “Whenever I so much as gazed at a mountain, my mind was happy; if I so much as looked at monks, I wanted to ordain,” entered the sangha in July, 1917, at Haeinsa Monastery, tonsuring under Master Jesan and taking on the ordination name Sangeon. During the 1919 March 1st Independence Movement against the Japanese colonial regime, he joined in clandestine activities in Seoul, Gaeseong and other cities. Then in 1922, he met Master Yongseong and took the full monastic and bodhisattva precepts. Following this, Goam participated in numerous retreats at various meditation halls across the country, such that over 15 years he had completed 25 full sessions. Training so diligently like this, while practicing Seon meditation at the Naewon Meditation Hall (Seonwon) at Seogwangsa in Anbyeon, Hamgyeongnam-do Province, he fathomed within the call of a cuckoo outside the deepest meaning of the Patriarchs and then crafted this verse of praise:

Being absorbed in true Seon is like a whole new world in a wine-jar

When the cool breeze blows, there are no troubles in one’s heart

In 1938, at the age of 39, while seated in the lotus position at Naewonsa Monastery in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do Province, his body was brought to a state where inside and outside had become one, and he found himself standing in front of Master Yongseong. Between the two monks, an examination of awakening unfolded, and confirming the vivid reality of Master Goam’s awakening to Buddha nature, Master Yongseong lauded him as a “a bright moon and cool breeze of antiquity,” and then gave him his dharma name Goam (“go” meaning “ancient” and “am” meaning “hermitage”) together with a verse verifying the dharma transmission.


After Master Goam attained the rank of “Great Seon Master” at Haeinsa in Februrary 1944, he traversed the nation leading Seon monks in meditation training and instructing the general public in the dharma. But this was not all, as he also maintained a strict adherence to his precepts, confirming his role as a Precept Master and displaying the tradition of the purity of the precepts. He regularly participated in Buddhist services, making no distinction whether they were large or small, and used these opportunities to transmit the bodhisattva precepts, doing so more than any other monk.


In 1967, at the age of 68, he assumed the position of the third Patriarch of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, in 1970, he served as the second Head Master of the Haeinsa Monastic Compound(Haein Chongnim), and in 1972 he served as the fourth Patriarch of the Jogye Order. Once again in 1978, he became the sixth Jogye Patriarch, but noting, “I hate continuing in the position of Patriarch,” he resigned the position. Following this, Master Goam went to Hawaii to stay with his disciple Daewon for the purpose of propagating Buddhist teachings abroad. Here he volunteered to take on the role of offering aims for the sake of the public and gave five or six dharma sermons a month. Then in 1985, he traveled to India, Southeast Asia, Australia and other countries on a pilgrimage to transmit the dharma. Even at the age of 86, he visited Europe and the United States, forsaking no one, expending all his energy to offer dharma sermons and engage in propagation activities, including offering the bodhisattva precepts to the Korean immigrants in each of the places that he visited.


In 1988, at the age of 89 and nearing the end of his years, he called together his disciples at the Yongtap Seonwon Hall in Haeinsa and told them, “Be careful as you live. The law of cause and effect is clearly present” after which he left the following “Verse of Nirvana” and passed away.

The color of the fall leaves on Mt. Gayasan are rich and deep

hereby we know the autumn of the universe

with the frost, the leaves fall and return to their roots

September’s bright full moon shines its light on the void

Among Master Goam’s numerous disciples are Daewon, the receiver of his dharma transmission and the Head Master of Hangnimsa in Gongju; Gukbong, the paragon (hanju) of the Yongtap Seonwon Hall at Haein-sa; and Jinwol, who received a doctorate from the University of California-Berkeley and now serves as the head of the Jeonggagwon Temple at Dongguk University.



Mater Goam left no written works during his life. However, after his death, a compilation of his dharma sermons, Jabi bosal ui gil (The Path of the Compassionate Bodhisattva), was published in 1990.


Doctrinal Distinction

When examining the dharma lectures of Master Goam, though his erudition in Seon teachings is quite evident, he did not focus solely on Seon. Even while he may have focused specifically on “perceiving the Buddha nature,” he did this according to the various capacities of different people, administering precepts to some, while also living a common life together with the general public. Though he displayed no extraordinary discernment into the Seon teachings, neither did he suffer from any deficiencies. To the contrary, he made up for whatever shortcomings he may have had through his compassion and humble mindedness. That said, his dharma lectures were nevertheless infused with the spirit of China’s Linji sect and the unique voice of Ganhwaseon (or observing the hwadu). The content he emphasized through his meditation retreat lectures encapsulated just such broad meanings.


His point of emphasis was this: “During the meditation season, while immersed in your hwadu or released from it, in all activities no matter what you see and hear, as in the saying ‘in all things alike, water is water, mountain is mountain’ (susu sansan dudu mulmul),this is the reality of absolute existence. You must become the hwadu.”

A sacred thing is covering the entire cosmos

you search for its inside and outside, but you can’t even see the end of your own nose

you deeply ponder your thoughts and emotions, but you can’t see your mind’s true nature

Do you know what it meant when the Buddha held up that flower?

Here, the thing that is called sacred is the original mind. Even without an extended analysis of what this sacredness is, it covers and exceeds the universe. Simultaneous with the providence of our mind’s creation is the true essence of the universe, which is also the foundation for the attainment of Buddhahood. There can be no inside or outside of the mind. Thus, if you say you are searching for mind, there is no target for you to find. Though there was nothing unique in Master Goam’s insight grasping the totality of the universe within the dharmakāya Buddha, his was a perspective realized directly through his own practice.


“When practicing Seon and learning the dharma, what is it that you seek? When you sweep away the 10,000 delusions, forgetting even the mind, everything in the universe is your true, original nature.”


When we personify Buddha nature, all of the mountains, rivers and land become our original true countenance. Yet despite such grandiose conceptions, no matter where Master Goam was, he neither set himself above others nor tried to gain attention for himself, instead, he lowered himself constantly by putting into practice direct actions of humility. This humility is the foundation on which human arrogance is conquered and it becomes a motivating force that give others a deep and lasting impression. Thus, while volunteering to give daily offerings to the Buddha while at Yujeomsa Temple on Mt. Geumgangsan, he always managed to heat the water of the baths and straighten up the shoes of the other practitioners. Moreover, even after he turned 70, he always washed his clothes by himself, never ending this type of work, even up until the final days preceding his death. In emphasizing that, “we should not distinguish between high and low sentient beings, but instead respect them all. This is precisely being of service to all sentient beings” he offers to us an inestimable instruction on how to truly act with complete humility. Criticizing traditional masculine family customs, Haeinsa’s Master Seongcheol, who asked that anyone who wanted to meet with him must first do 3000 prostrations, called Master Goam the Bodhisattva of Compassion, noting his maternal loving kindness that he offered to anyone he met. It was with just such humility and compassion that Master Goam leaves to us a different type of “family custom.”

Jeongang Yeongsin ( 1898 ~ 1975 )


His dharma name was Jeongang and his ordination name was Yeongsin.



Master Jeon-gang was born in 1893 in Gokseong, Jeollanam-do Province. At the age of seven, his mother passed away. His father then remarried, but he too also passed away when he was 13; his step-mother then abandoned not only him but her own son as well, remarrying into another family. To fill his empty stomach he was forced to take on a number of odd jobs hard to bear for one so young; he worked as a hunter’s assistant, pumped bellows at a brass foundry, and also worked as a traveling merchant.


It was during that time when after meeting a monk one day, he ended up visiting a temple. When he turned 16, he began the life of a postulant at Haeinsa Monastery. There he formed an intimate friendship with Bongnyong, a novice monk two years his elder, who had a strong personality and was well learned. Bongnyong then ended up falling ill to a sudden disease and died. In the forlorn circumstances of having already gone through the difficulties of facing the deaths of his parents and sibling, he watched as Bongnyong, whom he had depended on and had been like family to him, was cremated and turned into a handful of ash. Seeing this, he felt deeply in his heart the transience of life and death.


Pledging to himself to use this opportunity to break free from the sufferings of life and death, he became absorbed in the “MU” hwadu. His devoted himself with such intensity that though he bled fiercely from his mouth and nose he would not stop his meditation. This ferocious pursuit of the truth continued for some eight years. Pale and close to death, the 23 year old Jeongang headed for his hometown of Gokseong to spend a season at Taeansa Monastery.


One night at Taeansa, as he was passing across the stepping stones while listening to the sound of water flowing through the valley, in a flash he felt the mass of doubt that had been inside of him dissolve and the cloud of life and death wash away. After this awakening, he sought out the Seon masters of his day, Hyewol, Bowol, Yongseong, Hanam, Mangong and others, and through many dharma debates with them he received from each approval of his complete enlightenment (inga).


From then on, Master Jeongang, who had taken on the position of Head Master of the Bogwang Seonwon (Meditation Hall) at Tongdosa at the age of only 32, presided over many different meditation halls (Seonwon) across the land, including the Bokcheon Seonwon at Beopjusa, the Donghwasa Seonwon, the Seonwon at Sudoam Hermitage, and cultivated numerous disciples.


Master Jeongang never showed a single flaw in his dharma discourses and teachings. In matters of dharma he never went easy on either masters or disciples. Still, his love for his disciples was exceptional.


For example, Master Songdam, the current head master of the Yonghwa Seonwon and a disciple of Master Jeongang, was practicing the discipline of silence in those days. But when the Korean War broke out on June 25, 1950, it became very difficult for him to maintain his silence in those circumstances. Thereupon, Master Jeongang took on the management of a store in the marketplace, allowing Master Songdam to safely take refuge in the attic of the store, and therefore made it possible for him to continue his special practice. Receiving such continuing unconditional help like this, Songdam completed ten whole years of this practice but had yet to bear even a hint showing that he had gained any enlightenment. Seeing this, Jeongang, who had treated Songdam better than his own son, finally beat him mercilessly. The following day, Songdam let out a lion’s roar, and to pay back the kindness of his master, he has become a towering figure in the sangha, rising high to lead the lineage of the Korean Seon Buddhism of today.


In 1963, Master Jeongang established the Beopbo Seonwon at Yonghwasa in Incheon. Without distinguishing between monastics and lay followers, he served as a light to all practitioners, clarifying their minds through his dharma sermons. At the age of 77, in 1975, after 61 years in the sangha, at two o’clock in the afternoon on January 13th, after ascending the dharma platform, he entered nirvana at the completion of this short dharma sermon:

What is the suffering of birth and death?


Nine times nine multiplied backwards is still eighty-one.

Though the master’s body had already returned to the earth and wind, his formless dharma body remains to this day preaching the dharma, still remaining in the position of Head Master of Beopbo Seonwon; transferring the merit of his accomplished enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings.


Master Sondgam was Master Jeongang’s senior disciple and among his fifty or so other disciples were Masters Jeonggong, Jeong-u, Jeongmu, Jeongdae, and Jeongnak. In addition, these disciples also had another 200 disciples following them.


Doctrinal Distinction

Out of the many methods of Seon meditation, Master Jeongang especially emphasized the Patriarchal Seon transmitted through Live Phrase (hwalgu)investigation.


The Master said that the method of Seon meditation was the one genuine eternal truth and that this truth was the awakening to your original countenance. Moreover, he said that in awakening to one’s original face and understanding the truth of no life and death, samsara cannot take root; awakening to this truth that samsara cannot take root and being assured of this enlightenment is what is meant by the “hwalgu Seon meditation method.”


In addition, he said that Seon meditation was drilling through a gongan (Jp. koan, Ch. gongan), impossible to be analyzed by intellectual understanding. Just as you can only truly know if a glass of water is cold or warm by drinking it, if you do not have any direct experience, you can never awaken to the truth of a gongan. In this way, Seon is a path of self-awareness to bring about awakening. It is not an objective perception, but rather the work of intuitive understanding, the accomplishment of awakening to the infinite creative power that resides within, through the process of one’s exhaustive self-examination.


The representative hwadu that Master Jeongang used while cultivating his many disciples was the “panchi saengmo.” Panchi saengmo means “on a plank’s (pan) teeth (chi), hair (mo) grows (saeng)” and originates from Master Zhaozhou’s answer to the question, “What was the reason that Bodhidharma came from the west?” Master Jeongang said that when asking, “how could hair grow from teeth on a plank?” the place of totally unknowable doubt created by this hwadu was a place where neither illusion or desire could become attached.


It is totally taboo from the perspective of Seon to use as your own the analyses of the gongan by the old Patriarchs. This is due precisely to the fact that awakening can never be the simple imitation of others. Moreover, a gongan is not a riddle that can be solved through our intelligence nor can it be unwound through our logical analysis. Therefore Master Jeongang asserted that “First comes Seon meditation and second is also Seon meditation. Third, fourth, and fifth are also Seon meditation. The face of a true practitioner is the energy devoted vigorously to practicing Seon meditation for nothing other than solving the great matter of life and death.”


In addition, he said that it was wrong to search for Buddha or to exert energy in order to find Buddha, emphasizing that our own true nature was precisely the Buddha and that the Buddha did not exist separately, estranged from this true nature.


The master also completely exercised the practice of “freedom from possessions” (musoyu). Saying that true freedom never came in possessing things, he argued that such freedom could only be gained in musoyu. Telling his disciples, “after my death, don’t save my remains,” he displayed his musoyu spirit to the very end, not wanting to leave even a single ash of his cremated body behind.

Jogye Order’s 25 Temple Distirct Head Temples

Tongdosa is one of Korea’s five “Palace of the Jewel of Nirvana” temples, where the relics of the Buddha substitute for a statue. Precepts Master Jajang brought the relics, including part of the Buddha’s robes, from China and enshrined them. Consequently, the temple represents the Buddha of Korea’s three Jewel Temples and it also is a Full Monastic Training Temple, with Yeongchuk Monastery. Mt. Yeongchuksan above the temple resembles Mt. Grdhrakatu where the Buddha delivered the Lotus Sutra, and consequently the name of the temple means “Pass Through (to) Enlightenment.” In addition, all monks have to pass through the Diamond Platform at the temple, where ordinations take place. The temple has had many famous monks including Seon Master Gyeongbong; there are more than 20 hermitages scattered around the grounds; and the Tongdosa Museum is the only one in the world dedicated to the preservation of Buddhist temple paintings.

More Information> The Temple Without a Buddha Statue: Tongdosa

Tongdosa, "Pass into Enlightenment," Temple is the first of the "Three Jewels" temples of Korea representing the Buddha. It is traditionally a Seon Temple and as far as the number of buildings is concerned, 65, it is the largest temple in Korea.

Tongdosa Temple, once a center of Korean Buddhism, was built in 646, in the reign of Queen Seondeok by Master Jajang on his return from China. One of Korea’s greatest monks, Master Jajang, brought relics of the Buddha with him and these he enshrined at Tongdosa Temple.

The Diamond Precepts Platform 

Master Jajang, coming from a royal family, could have advanced well in the court; instead he chose to be a monk. The king, appreciating his abilities, continued to request him to accept a court position which he refused. In exasperation, the king threatened the monk with the death penalty if he refused again. Master Jajang calmly replied, "I would rather die keeping the laws of the Buddha for one day than live for one hundred years breaking them." Seeing the wisdom of this reply, the king permitted Master Jajang to continue his monk’s life.

Master Jajang went to China with ten other monks in 636. There he received relics of the Buddha from Manjusri Bodhisattva and then returned to Silla with different sets of texts. He built a small hermitage on Mt. Yeongchuksan and from there oversaw the building of Tongdosa.

Before entering the temple compound, the visitor has to pass over the "windless" bridge which leads into a forest of "windless" pines. Most temples have a bridge — often over a wonderful rushing torrent — before the gates to the compound. This is a symbolic purification of the individual as he or she passes from the secular world into the spiritual world.

The Main Hall at Tongdosa Temple, (National Treasure No. 144), was reconstructed in 1601 in the reign of King Seonjo; the previous one had been destroyed in the Hideyoshi Invasion. It is one of the only ancient buildings (with the Great Hall of Light) in the temple compound. The Main Hall is unique in that it has no statue, only a window looking out to a stupa. The ceiling of the hall is especially marvelous as it is covered with a beautifully executed pattern of chrysanthemums.

The Diamond Precepts Platform 

Behind the Main Hall are the Diamond Stairs which lead up to a platform. On the platform is a bell-shaped stupa or pagoda, surrounded by a stone barrier. The gate to enter into this little enclosure is very finely decorated with dragons, clouds and two protector guardians which have been hewn out of the granite doors. At the four corners of the platform there are protective deities. This bell-shaped stupa is perfectly proportioned. The base and upper part are decorated with lotus patterns, lotus blossoms, lotus petals, the Four Virtues and gods; it is believed to enshrine the relics of the Buddha which Master Jajang brought from China and is therefore the focal point of the temple. As the stupa contains relics of the Buddha, it represents the Buddha and so there is no need for a statue in the Main Hall as well.

Pagodas developed from stupas, the symbol used to represent the presence of the Buddha after his death because they enshrined his remains. After the Buddha was cremated, his remains were divided up between the eight different clans who had been his followers during his lifetime and each clan built a stupa. These cupola-shaped structures, being symbols of the Buddha, then continued to be constructed in the grounds of every new temple which came into being and their shape evolved as Buddhism was accepted in other cultures. As time went by, they were used to enshrine the remains of great monks as well. In China, the stupa evolved into a pagoda which also took on different forms. Today you can see pudo, bell-shaped pagodas, many-storied pagodas and simple, few storied pagodas all varying in shape, design and decoration depending on the period in which they were made, the amount of money offered by the donor and the skill of the craftsman.

There are many buildings at Tongdosa. Of special interest are: the museum which contains many precious ancient objects; the memorial shrine to Jajang built in 1727 containing a portrait of the master; and the Great Hall of Light. This last is a hall dedicated to Vairocana Buddha and was constructed 600 years ago; it is reputed to be the oldest in Korea. The statue and decorations are magnificent.

Of note is the lovely Nine Dragons Pond. Originally it was very large and nine dragons lived in it. However, after some time it was reduced in size and now the monks who live in the temple believe there is only one dragon (referred to as a snake) which never comes out…

There are many small hermitages in the valleys behind the temple.

Founding Date : 643Address : #583 Jisan-ri, Habuk-myeon, Yangsan-gun, South Gyeongsan ProvinceTel : 82-55-382-7182URL : http://www.tongdosa.or.kr

Gyeongbong Jeongseok ( 1892 ~ 1982 )


1. Career

Master Gyeongbong was born on April 9, 1892, in Miryang, Gyeongsangnam-do Province. When he was 14, after facing the unexpected passing of his mother, he constantly pondered life’s fundamental questions, asking such questions as, “After we die, where does our soul go?” Thinking in this way, he heard from a monk that there was a method within Buddhism by which life and death could be transcended, and in 1907, at the age of 15, he ordained at Tongdosa monastery.


Following his ordination, he graduated from the newly established Myeongsin school as well as the Buddhist studies school, upon which he was charged with administrative duties at Tongdosa. Filled with thoughts that he must become enlightened to the Buddhahood, he wasn’t able to remain enthusiastic about his work. So one day while studying the scriptures, reading the phrase, “though you may count another man’s riches all day long, you won’t even profit a half-penny’s worth,”he received a great shock and determined at that point that he would enter into Seon meditation.


In 1915, at the age of 23, he left Tongdosa to enter the Seon center at Haeinsa. However, after he received a number of messages from his vocation master (who is the monk that first shaves a novice monk’s head upon completion of his or her postulanthood) telling him to return to Tongdo-sa, he set off to travel around to numerous Seon centers and temples, immersing himself in Seon meditation practice. Only after jd could immerse himself into his hwadu to some extent, past the age of 30, did he again return to Tongdosa.


In 1925, his fellow monk with whom he had studied together, suggested one day, “By donating 20 bushels of rice each every year, we should build a center for chanting practice together.” Gyeongbong sunim felt that it would be good to provide a space for monks and laypeople to practice intensive chanting meditation together and a place of comfort for the elderly who have no place or no one to depend on. Thus, the “Society for 10,000 Days of Chanting Practice for the Elderly” was established at the Geungnagam Hermitage.


In the winter of 1927, the year he turned 35, Master Gyeongbong held a service at Geungnagam Hermitage to preach a sermon on the Flower Adornment Sutra (the Hwa-eom Sutra). Starting on the first day of the sermon, his hwadu began appearing to him with an extraordinary clarity, and on the fourth day of the services his sights bursted wide open as if a wall in front of him suddenly gave way, and he experienced the boundary of the complete and perfect image of the “universal circle” (irwonsang). The morning of the following day, he experienced the state of “not two,” where one’s self and the universe are not separate.


Though he came upon the edge of enlightenment twice, the doubt about his hwadu was still not completely released and so he again entered into absorption in his hwadu. The following early dawn, though there was no wind, the candle made a “flutter, flutter” sound and in the moment the flame danced, Gyeongbong slapped his knee, gave out a roaring laugh, and dashed outside. The heap of doubt that had persisted despite his strenuous efforts finally dissolved to make way for his self-nature. Intoxicated in the world of great freedom after twenty years since his entrance in the sangha, he danced alone under the full moon. 

Having searched for myself in all myriad things

True Self (Juingong, lit. protagonist/hero or main actor) appeared right before my eyes

Ha! Ha! Meeting it now, there is no doubt

Brilliant hues of udumbara flowers spill over the whole world

Master Gyeongbong’s first serious step in the path towards the enlightenment of all beings began at age 38 in February 1930, by his appointment to the position of Director of the Buddhist Seminary in Tongdosa. Transcending the difference between Meditative Practice and Doctrinal Study with his enlightenment, his unbending labors to awaken all beings only came to an end fifty years later. After serving in various positions, including head priest of Tongdosa, Gyeongbong took the position of head master of the Hoguk Seonwon center in November 1953 at Geungnagam Hermitage, where he would stay until his entering nirvana. During this thirty-year residence at Geungnagam Hermitage, he would guide the way of truth to monastics and lay practitioners who were seeking the dharma.


Starting at the age of 81, on the first Sunday of every month, he held regular services that drew a crowd of a thousand people that wished to hear his sermons. Even at the age of 90, with the aid of his disciples, he would rise to his position on the dharma seat to give dharma talks. Unlike other masters, he would usually preach from his own experiences, rather than relying on using quotations from the records of the Patriarchs.


On July 17, 1982, after summoning his disciple Myeongjeong, who asked, “Even after Master departs, I still wish to meet you. What is your true appearance?” he replied, “Try touching the wooden crossbar of the main gate deep in the night in the third hour” and then entered nirvana at that age of 91.


2. Writings

Adept at Chinese poetry and brush and ink, Master Gyeongbong also left behind many paintings and calligraphic works. In addition, from the age 18 until his passing at the age of 90, he unfailingly recorded the important events of each day in his journal, a work that allows us to see a detailed picture of the state of society as well as the conditions of Korean Buddhism in his day. After his enlightenment, Master Gyeongbong also engaged in continued correspondence with the acclaimed Seon masters of his time, including Masters Hanam, Mangong, and Yongseong. In particular, his correspondence with Master Hanam concerning the practice of Seon meditation is captured in twenty some letters, and owing to Master Gyeongbong’s safekeeping, those valuable texts still exist today. His disciple Myeongjeong compiled these materials in the 1994 text, Gyeongbong Daeseonsa Seonmuk, and the 1979 work, Gyeongbong Daeseonsa Beobeojip. Myeongjeong sunim, while editing works such as the compilations of the Master’s dharma talks, calligraphy and artwork, has spent over fourty years protecting the Geungnagam Hermitage from which Master Gyeongbong had departed.


3. Intellectual Distinction

To achieve enlightenment, Master Gyeongbong investigated the “what is this?” hwadu, bringing him to the edge of enlightenment on two occasions. This was the state of the “universal circle” and “not two”; the dissolving of the boundary between self and others, subjectivity and objectivity, as expressed in the singular form of a circle.  And in this he experienced that all phenomena that appears before the senses are created by the mind, and that that mind is also the ordinary mind. Therefore, he had experienced the truth that all existence as it is, in nature, is in a relationship where it and the self are not two. The only difference between the minds of sentient beings deluded by illusory thought, and those of an enlightened mind, is the ability to vividly and clearly see the universe without suffering or conflict. As described in the Master’s journal one year later, this is the experience of “Tathagata Seon.”


Nevertheless, his heap of doubt that remained though he strove so diligently in his investigation of the “what is this?” hwadu only melted away through his enlightenment while hearing the sound of a candle fluttering in the wind. This awakening was not merely an intellectual confirmation of a reflection on self-nature; it was an empirical awakening brought by the vivid confirmation of the true form of the True Self (Juingong) when he had driven himself into a state so full of doubt that there was no escape. The Juingong had in fact never been far from himself. Finally then, Master Gyeongbong had experienced the meaning of Patriarchal Seon.


Looking with the eye of enlightenment, everything became so completely self-evident. In his dharma talks, he said, “Why don’t the sentient beings understand that their eyes and ears are masked in the darkness of delusion, so they are entirely unable to see or feel this — that the immeasurably luminous realm of the Dharma nature is as it always used to be, where the light of the moon is always transparent and the wind is always fresh?”


And Master Gyeongbong also compared life to a dream. Once he said, “even if all the sentient beings in the entire universe lived for one hundred years, if they are unable to see the true Juingong, they are simply in a slumber within a dream.” He wondered why he had even sought the Buddha from so far away, the object of such fervent belief, feeling as though he existed separately in some distant realm. In the eyes of the Master, he could experience the Buddha firsthand, who was ‘right in front of my eyes, as familiar as my own name.’

North and South Lay Foundations for Buddhist Temple

A Buddhist temple in North Korea, destroyed by U.S. bombs during the Korean War, is being rebuilt by South Koreans as part of an effort to improve ties and establish a new road to national unification.

The New York Times published an article describing the efforts by South Korea in Korea’s city of Singye, or Holy Valley in English translation, to rebuild a temple destroyed during the American bombing of North Korea in its Oct. 5 edition. Writes New York Times reporter James Brooke, “But few are as rich symbolically as the temple reconstruction…materials from South Korea and labor from North Korea are joining to restore the legacy of a common religious heritage.”

The Los Angeles Times, quoting a South Korean monk overseeing the reconstruction, said the project is intended to give the North Koreans “an opportunity to revel in the culture that they share with the South.”

The Singye Temple dates back to 519. It will be one of the few Buddhist monuments that stands in North Korea after the generations of religious oppression under Communist rule. Defectors relate that persecution still exists, according to the New York Times.

For North Koreans, the temple is historic because their late leader Kim Il-sung visited it in 1947, before it was destroyed during the Korean War (1950-1953), with his son Kim Jong-il who rules the nation now.

The reconstruction, begun 11 months ago and led South Koreans monks and workers who reside at the site for the project, is estimated to cost $10 million, much of it being paid by the South Korean government.

According to the L.A. Times, foreign tourists can also pitch in by donating an average of $20 to write their names on one of the roof tiles.

Once completed in 2007, it will be opened to visiting South Koreans and foreigners coming to Mt. Geumgang, located east of the temple site. The temple is off-limits to local North Koreans at present.

The Ven. Jejeong, the South Korean head monk coordinating the reconstruction at Singye, says he cannot go outside the 6-foot-high wire fence and has no access to cell phones or e-mails.

The New York Times quoted Jejeong as saying, “From South Korea’s point of view, the rebuilding of one national historic monument today means one fewer reconstruction bills to pay when the Koreas finally join again. It is a logical extension of the South’s ‘sunshine policy’ of engagement and eventual reunification with the North.”

“I think culture is an easier path toward unification that politics or economics…That is why I was interested in this project,” he told the L.A. Times.

Hyobong Hangnul ( 1888 ~ 1966 )


Master Hyobong left his position as a judge in the Japanese colonial period after bestowing the death penalty on independence fighters and became a monk based on his own experience of the human suffering. Applying himself with lionhearted devotion, he earned the nickname of “stone mortar meditator.” He held a series of positions during his life ranging from that of the first Patriarch of the Haeinsa Monastery and its annexes, or the Gayasan Monastic Compound (Haein Chongnim), to the Supreme Patriarch of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism. His dharma was transmitted to Master Kusan, his first major disciple and the first Patriarch of the Songgwangsa Monastery and its annexes, or the Jogyesan Monastic Compound. His disciples include Master Beopjeong, famous in the present day for his collection of essays, Musoyu (Freedom from Possessions); Master Beopheung, master of Buddhist services at Songgwangsa; and famed poet Ko un, among others.



Master Hyobong was born in 1888 in Yangdeok-gun, Pyeongannam-do Province, and graduated from law school at Waseda University. After returning to Korea, he became the first Korean judge at the age of 25 and then spent ten years on the bench (1913 – 1923). However, in the tenth year of his tenure, the course of his life would face a major turning point. During the period under Japanese colonialism (1910-1945), as many of Hyobong’s compatriots were sacrificing their lives for the cause of their homeland’s independence, the colonial authorities were sending arrested independence fighters to Korean judges to escape criticism. As a result, Master Hyobong’s only recourse as a judge was to hand down death sentences to any independence fighters who would come before him. Facing his first instance as a judge where he would be forced to fulfill such a duty, he anguished for many days about the foundation of human society and over the question of how one person could ever judge another to die. Finally one morning, after anguishing like this for some days, he left his family and the bench behind, leaving his home without letting anyone know. He then wandered the entire country for three years, living as a taffy peddler. Through this experience, he cultivated contrition and asceticism while traveling on a pilgrimage in search of truth.


At the age of 37, he entered the Buddhist order as a student under Master Seokdu at Singyesa Monastery on Mt. Geumgangsan. In order to find a true master, he then embarked again on the path of the wanderer. However, after being convinced that he had to become enlightened through a practical method based on his own direct investigation and not from being entranced with the words of others, he turned his back on his two years of wandering and again returned to Singyesa. Entering into the retreat in the meditation hall at the Mireugam Hermitage near Singyesa, he said the following to his fellow monks, “Because I’ve become a monk so late, while my karmic connection with wisdom is thin, I can’t engage in any leisurely devotion. Please allow me to simply sit constantly night and day, maintaining strict silence and taking no breaks to rest or walk between meditation periods.” After receiving their consent in this way and devoting himself to this practice for three full months, his buttocks became inflamed and covered in sores, such that his clothes and his cushion were on the verge of becoming stuck together. Because he sat down once and then remained like a heavy stone mortar, devoting himself so strenuously and never budging, he earned his nickname as the “stone mortar meditator.”


Still not enlightened even after spending his first five years of monkhood practicing such strenuous devotion, one late night in 1930, at the age of 42, he constructed a tiny mud hut behind Beopgiam Hermitage. With a hole in one corner for his bodily functions and another hole to receive his food once a day, his hut was built to completely wall himself off from the outside world. He pledged that until he reached enlightenment, he would die before emerging from his tiny abode. In the summer of 1931, as the morning rain cleared, he kicked out one side of the hut and emerged. One year and six months had passed. A song of enlightenment (odosong) rang out:

In a sparrow’s house under the ocean, a deer is sitting on an egg

In a spider’s web in a burning fire, a fish is making tea

Inside this house, who can know what’s going on?

White clouds fly west, the moon moves east.

After this, Master Hyobong practiced retreats at many different meditation halls, one by one receiving a seal of approval (inga) of his enlightenment experience from each head master. In 1937, his 49th year, he went to Songgwangsa at Mt. Jogyesan. He had said that Songgwangsa felt in no way unknown to him, that it was very familiar, as if he was certain he had spent much time in a previous life living there at the seminary. Master Hyobong also received his Buddhist name here, when, in a dream, Gyobong, the 16th dharma heir to Bojo Jinul, appeared to him and said, “Bring vibrant light to this monastery” and bestowed on him his name of Hyobong, together with a set of verses (gatha). Master Hyobong also gave himself his name of “Hangnul” (Studying [Ji]nul), as both a sign of respect and as an indication of how much he had learned from the Great Master Jinul. During the ten years at Songwangsa, while filling the position of head master, he reconstructed the Monastery compound and taught many disciples.


In 1946, Master Hyobong was made the first Patriarch of the newly inaugurated Gaya Monastic Compound, a comprehensive training seminary for monks, headquartered in Haein-sa Monastery. In 1954, he participated in the preparatory committee working in conjunction with the Buddhist Sect Purification movement. In 1962, at the age of 74, he became the first Supreme Patriarch of the Unified Jogye Order and devoted much of his effort to its revival.


In 1966, at the age of 78, with his vitality now in decline, he moved to the Seoraegak Pavillion at Pyochungsa in Miryang. A few months after his arrival, on October 15th, during the morning chanting service, with the aid of his disciples he assumed the lotus position as was his ordinary training regimen and stated to those around him, “I will be going today.” Focusing to the very last moment on the ‘Mu’ hwadu that he had not stopped practicing for even one moment since he had become a monk, at ten o’clock, with his eyes closed, the Master’s prayer beads that had been fingered for so long in his right hand finally came to a stop. His “Song of Nirvana” was the final thing he left behind, a few days before passing into nirvana:

All of the dharma I have spoken

all of it superfluous

should one ask of today’s affairs

the moon is reflected on a thousand rivers 


There are no works written by Master Hyobong directly. There are only the Collection of Seon Master Hyobong’s Dharma Discourses, a collection of dharma talks and sermons compiled by the Association of Hyobong Disciples and published in 1975, and the newly revised and enlarged edition of the same, The Collected Dharma Talks of Hyobong, published in 1995.


Doctrinal Distinction

The period of Master Hyobong’s life began with the ruin of the Joseon Dynasty, continued through thirty-five years of Japanese colonial occupation, and then passed through the post-liberation period of economic ruin and ideological tumult. Within this generational backdrop, Master Hyobong, centered around Songgwang-sa, strove to inherit the spirit of the “samādhi and prajñā society(Jeonghye Gyeolsa)” established by the Goryeo era National Master Bojo Jinul (1158 – 1210). The fact that Master Hyobong came to this emphasis on Master Jinul’s dual practice of meditation and wisdom can be considered as stemming from an awareness that the sense of duty among monks to be ascetics must be recovered, given the vulgarization and Japanization of the Korean contemporary monastic sangha that was caused by the married monk system instituted during the period of Japanese colonialism. In short, he believed that the harmonizing spirit of the dual method of meditation and wisdom was the only way to solve the problems facing the contemporary Buddhist community, since Buddhism’s most fundamental issue of “awakening” depended on “the path of cultivating the mind.”


The Master once said, “Though the courtyards of the monks of the past were each set up differently, when it came to the way they led other seekers, they were all kind. The kindest among them included the Sixth Patriarch Huineng of the ancient period, Zhaozhou of the middle period, and Jinul of the later period.” In this way he clarified that he is following the teachings of the three masters. The common point among these three monks can be known in the fact that they all locate the combined study of the three practices of morality, concentration and wisdom, directly within the mind. This type of thought comes through in the following dharma talk given by Master Hyobong:

If you want to cultivate wisdom (prajñā) without having morality, the result will be an arid wisdom and you won’t be able to escape the condition of life and death. Since the three practices of morality, meditation and wisdom serve as the gate of entrance for all of the ancient Buddhas and Patriarchs, any teaching not on this path is a heretic teaching. In addition, while meditating, those who investigate a hwadu must cultivate both meditation and wisdom, for without the proper energy of concentration the hwadu will often be interrupted. During meditation, only by thoroughly awakening to your hwadu can you escape the condition of life and death. Wisdom without the vitality of meditation is like a castle in the air. (from the sermon at the winter retreat, 1 December 1958, Geumdang Seonwon Hall at Donghwasa Temple)

Like in the words spoken above, Master Hyobong understood that, “the investigation of a hwadu in Seon Buddhism is the combined cultivation of meditation and wisdom.” In short, it is precisely in the practice of the Ganhwaseon method (Observing the hwadu) that the viewpoint regarding the genuine meaning of the dual practice of meditation and wisdom becomes clear.


Renowned as a meditation center of study and virtue, Sudoksa has been the home to many Zen masters. Modern giants from the temple have included Zen Masters Gyeongheo and Mangong, and in 1984 the temple was promoted to status as a full monastic training center. The Main Buddha Hall at the temple is one of Korea’s oldest existing structures (National Treasure No. 49, built in 1308 C.E.). The temple and its branch temples have contributed more than 600 Buddhist cultural treasures stretching all the way back to the Baekje Kingdom. Many are on display at the Rose of Sharon (Korea) Buddhist Cultural Properties Museum.
Founding Date : 384Address : #20 Sacheon-ri, Deoksan-myeon, Yaesan-gun, South Chungcheong ProvinceTel : 82-41-337-6565URL : http://www.sudeoksa.com/

Myori Beophui ( 1887 ~ 1975 )


Master Beophui stands as a major star in the world of Korean Buddhist nuns (bhiksuni), serving as the first Head Master of the first meditation hall for nuns, the Gyeonseongam Hermitage at Sudeoksa, as well as instructing numerous students under her tutelage. Though perhaps not well known in the secular world, amongst her esteemed contemporaries in the monastic order, the power of her spiritual wisdom is praised, and to this day she is known by her students as an eminent nun and unforgettably kind and virtuous friend.



Born in 1887 in Gongju, Chungcheongnam-do Province, Master Beophui lost her father at the age of three. At the age of three, she was carried on her grandmother’s back to Donghaksa on Mt. Gyeryongsan where she was entrusted to the Mitaam Hermitage. When she was 14, she took the novice precepts and then at 21 she received the full bhiksuni precepts and began a study of the sutras and the Analects of the Patriarchs. In 1912, at the age of 25, she heard the news that “a spiritual Master resided on Mt. Deokseungsan,” so she set out to find Master Mangong, the spiritual heir of Master Gyeongheo. Walking alone for three full days without rest, she was utterly exhausted when she entered Jeonghyesa Monastery at the summit of Mt. Deokseungsan. Master Mangong greeted her happily, stating “I knew a meditator like her was coming,” and he took her on as his disciple.


Though a nun, she practiced Seon meditation just like the monks, becoming the first female revered master in an inestimably long time. In this, Master Mangong boldly opened a new path for female monastics to engage in the training of Seon meditation.


In 1916, at the age of 29, practicing with unstinting dedication, Master Beophui received approval of her awakening from Master Mangong during the summer retreat at Gyeonseongam Hermitage at Sudeoksa. Recognizing the opening of Master Beophui’s mind’s eye, Master Mangong gave her a dharma transmission and bestowed to her the dharma name of Myori Beophui. With this, a new chapter in the lineage of nuns in Korean Buddhism was opened.


Sangnyun sunim, who had led the expansion of Mt. Bukhansan’s Seunggasa to its present enormous size, had Master Beophui as her master from the first day of her ordination. She noted that the master only used but one room at the temple and she reminisced that, “My Master (Master Beophui) didn’t sleep more than two hours a day. During the day, she was always organizing joint work activities and clearing the seminary grounds of weeds, working her fingers until they became bent. Without anyone else knowing, she would even work with a hoe in the temple gardens under the moonlight, and when I thought she would be sleeping she was sitting down and practice Seon meditation.”

She added by saying that when people would ask Master Beophui something about the dharma, she would pretend as if she didn’t know. Her master Mangong was afraid that she might be discouraged before she could attain her place within the bhiksuni lineage, but contrary to his expectations, she flourished. As Master Byeokcho, who assumed the leadership at Mt. Deokseungsan after Master Mangong, said to Sangnyun sunim, Master Beophui’s disciple, “The merit of Master Beophui will be known even some 200 years from now.”


For almost 60 years, after Master Beophui’s enlightenment and until her passing into nirvana, she served as the head master of Korea’s first bhiksuni meditation hall, located at Gyeonseongam Hermitage, and she also instructed Seon practitioners at Yunpil Seonwon (Meditation Hall), Bodeoksa, Naewonsa at Mt. Cheonseongsa, the Seonwon at Seunggasa and other Seonwon across the country. Following Korea’s liberation from Japan, she even practiced meditation training with the second Empress Sunjeong hyo at Insujae in Jeongneung, Seoul. Following this, she returned to Sudeoksa in 1967, whereupon she became the Head Master of the Bhiksuni Chongnim Meditation Hall at Gyeonseongam Hermitage. Then on April 20, 1975, at the age of 88, she passed into nirvana having spent 85 years in the sangha.


Master Beophui’s disciples include the Masters Chunil, Suok, Yeongmyeong, Yeongho, Hyeneung, Jeonghwa, Suchan, and Sangryun.


Doctrinal Distinction

Master Beophui left us neither one line of writing, nor did she offer even one word expounding on the dharma in front of an audience. However, through her life, the silent reverberations of her dharma remain to this day. At a time in Indian society when women were looked upon simply as a type of possession, the Buddha recognized the ability of women to reach the highest pinnacles of achievement and he approved the establishment of the female monastic order. For this time, such an act was positively revolutionary. He recognized that women were similarly capable of enlightenment owing to the dignity inherent in the character of human beings. He asserted that it wasn’t by social status or gender that but rather “how one thought, how one spoke and how one acted” that determined whether one was noble or base.


However, if one looks across the breadth of Korean history, it is clear that women have continually been devalued. From far back in time, the spiritual prison women found themselves in, built by the prejudice and theories of karma among those in control of politics and religion as well as the self-abasement of women themselves, has served as a major obstacle to be overcome by female monastics. Moreover, needless to say, the aftereffects of the 500 year Joseon Dynasty practice of namjon yeobi (respect men, abase women) were also a major hurdle to overcome.


Master Beophui was thus someone who, though born into this difficult situation, still was able to achieve enlightenment as a woman. Her life was based on a gentle, sincere faith and a pure ascetic practice. Building on her deep faith and her indomitable spirit that simply did not know how to quit, she showed how her actions made her able to establish a foundation for cultivating the dharma purely relying on her staunch belief. Expressing through her sincere ascetic practices the proper appearance of an upstanding practitioner, Master Beophui conveyed a model of behavior to other Buddhists for as long as she lived. But this was not all. Always appearing as if to hide the powers of her spiritual attainment, she made constant sacrifices to help her students’ training, taking upon herself the most onerous of others’ tasks, earning inestimable merit through her lifelong service. Maintaining constant meditative concentration, both Seon and life were the same for her, and thus, with meditation, wisdom and virtue abundant, she was truly a complete person. Beginning with the time when Beophui was practicing there, Gyeonseongam Hermitage has stood out as a place fitting of its reputation as Korea’s first meditation hall for nuns, and it has served as a gathering point for many female Seon practitioners, remaining to this day the pre-eminent bhiksuni meditation hall in the Korean Buddhist tradition. This is, of course, owing entirely to the fact that Beophui served as this meditation hall’s sturdy cornerstone.


Walking or at rest, sitting or lying down, throughout all her life, with each step representing the broad-mindedness of the Buddha, Master Beophui embodied the notion that “our ordinary minds are precisely enlightenment” through her actions lived in her everyday life. This ordinary mind spoken of here is the state where that natural mind as it is sees all things as they are naturally, without any discriminating thoughts or deluded thoughts attached. The goal of Buddhist practice is to attain and maintain this mind. Though on the one hand, this may seem to be a more or less simple task, in reality, it is not quite so. This ordinary mind is not the everyday mind of unenlightened beings. It refers to the mind that accepts the whole where all confrontation and conflicts are dissolved. If we quietly look upon our minds, we’ll see that within each day there may be numerous times that we become angry, then happy, getting sad at something or other and worried about something else. All of this stems from some form of delusion or mental distinction. When something we want is lacking we get angry, when something we do is seen favorably we are happy, and when we lose someone we love, we are sad. Only when we appreciate the whole of what we have and what we are as it is, we move beyond this shifting happiness and anger. When comparing ourselves to others or to ourselves in the past, if we have less we are angry and if we have more we are happy. Without this type of comparison and distinction, we come to see everything as it is, and the fluctuations of joy and sorrow will not arise. What is happy by itself is happy, what is sad by itself is sad. This is the “ordinary mind,” this is the mind of the enlightened one.


A life lived in this way is the greatest of dharma sermons, the embodiment of the 84,000 dharmas, the edification of the masses achieved by itself. Staying at the Master’s side, the gasping mind calmed down, quarrels dissipated, and the humble mind emerged. Beophui’s enlightenment of the people came about just like this. Just in looking at her, one’s mind would become sublime, and on our own mind of faith and devotion would then arise. Though she didn’t speak with smooth eloquence or freely expound with profound erudition, she possessed a recondite power capable of bringing about change in the minds of all those she encountered.


In just this way, without a sound, those who live with ferocious intensity can, simply through the example of their living, take on the appearance of a completely perfect dharma sermon within every moment of their entire life. Within such a life, we can earnestly sense in our heart a genuine dharma message that we cannot otherwise find, even within any of the most magnificent words. This was Master Beophui’s underlying strength as well as the strength of Seon.

Questions about Seon

Question #1: What relationship does Seon meditation have with the lives people are living? In other words, even if people do not practice Seon, does it make any difference? If it does make a difference, then what is the danger in not practicing Seon meditation?


Answer #1: According to the words of Bodhidharma, “The mind is none other than Buddha, Buddha is none other than the path of enlightenment, the path of enlightenment is none other than Seon.” Accordingly, that which is called Seon is nothing more than the mind of sentient beings.


Generally speaking, there are said to be two classifications of the mind of sentient beings. First, there is the pure mind and second is the contaminated mind. The contaminated mind is the mind of ‘ignorance and the three poisons of greed, ignorance and hatred’ (mumyoung samdok) while the pure mind is the uncontaminated “true thusness” of our original nature (muru jinyeo). Muru jinyeo is the unwavering liberation, like that of all the Buddhas, in accordance with mindfulness and non-duality. Chasing after mumyoung samdok, we make so much negative karma, falling into the six levels of rebirth, endlessly spinning in the cycle of samsara. The pure mind is our correct path and a home of peace and comfort while the contaminated mind is the path of danger, a pit of fire. How could a wise person wish to fall into a pit of fire and endure endless suffering by forgoing the correct path and avoiding a peaceful abode? You have to think very deeply about this point.


Seon meditation (cham seon) is really nothing special. Cham means “to harmonize with,” rehabilitating our pure mind through our harmonization with our true self-nature and not searching about outside.


I pray only that you, together with all sentient beings, correct your mind and bodies and awaken to the unexcelled path of great enlightenment (musang daedo), I hope that you never again fall into the net of evil and unrighteousness and you quickly attain the fruits of Buddhahood.


Question #2: If we have already decided to practice Seon meditation, what kind of attitude of the mind should we have?


Answer #2: If people who practice Seon Meditation clarify the karma of the first step of the great undertaking, they understand that from the very beginning, their original mind is the Buddha, their own mind is the dharma, and as they unwaveringly believe this ultimate fundamental, gradually their doubt must disappear. However, if they are unable to come to this judgment on their own, even though they may practice for an eternity, they will never be able to enter the ultimate path of Buddhahood.


The Great Master Bojo Jinul said, “If we said that the Buddha existed outside of our minds and the dharma existed outside of our self-nature, and if we persistently adhered to this kind of mind in the search for the path of Buddhahood, then even if an eternity passed, even if we immolated ourselves, smashed our bones and used the blood and marrow to copy the scriptures, even if we endured the practice of ‘sitting without ever laying down’ and purified ourselves by eating only one meal a day every morning, even if we chanted the entire Tripitaka [Buddhist scriptures] and engaged in every type of ascetic practice, this would all account to nothing more than our own troublesome labor, as if we were trying to make rice by boiling sand.” From this we must learn the primary critical point that it is entirely up to us to awaken ourselves, to cultivate ourselves, to create the path of Buddhahood in ourselves. If we say that Buddha is outside of the mind, that Buddha is nothing more than an “external Buddha” and thus, how could the Buddha ever exist in me? That’s why it is said “The [external] Buddhas are not my path to enlightenment.”


Question #3: If one is already possessed of the mind that is aroused towards the determination of enlightenment, how must we continue in our cultivation in order to engage in sincere meditative investigation?


Answer 3: Though those who possess the great wisdom that comes with high spiritual capacities can utilize their circumstances to immediately take advantage of a single opportunity without the need for much talking at all, if we were to speak of meditative investigation, it is fitting that we question and question again the vexing words of such hwadu as Zhaozhou’s “Mu” and “the cypress in the courtyard,” Dongshan’s “three pounds of flax,” and Yunmen’s “dried shit stick.” We must investigate these hwadu relentlessly, absorbing our entire body into the effort, as if we were mosquitoes sitting on the back of an iron ox, trying to drive our proboscis into its impenetrable back. If even the tiniest thought of discrimination or any minute artifice in our practice starts to move during this time, the result will be as the ancients said, “scattered study infiltrates the mind and damages wisdom.” Thus, this is the most pertinent and profound problem for seekers of enlightenment to guard against.


As the Master Naong said, “The arising of one thought and the annihilation of another is called life and death, and thus in the moment of life and death if we give all our energy investigating our hwadu, life and death at once will exhaust itself. This immediate extinguishing of life and death is called nirvana. In nirvana, the absence of hwadu is called ‘indifference,’ and when a hwadu is no longer murky, this is called ‘the divine.’ When there is neither destruction nor confusion, the divine wisdom of the tranquil void is established.” Accordingly, it is imperative that the learned ones should make this their guiding principle.


Question #4: If we are already truly engaging in meditative investigation, what is it that we are truly exerting our energy towards?


Answer #4: As an ancient master once said, “where energy is lacking, that is where energy can be cultivated.” Likewise, a hwadu, even when not being questioned, on its own accord will inspire questioning, and even when not being investigated, the doors of the six senses naturally open to allow the investigation to arise on its own, going higher and higher, growing smoother and smoother. Only when the hwadu gets to the point that it is like the light of the moon projected on the raging sea, crashing into the waves but not scattering, swallowed by the swells but never swept away, one is nearing the great enlightenment. Arriving at this point, if the discriminating mind appears even the tiniest bit, the simple profundity is lost and the great enlightenment cannot be obtained. Thus, this is something we must earnestly guard against.


Question #5: If we have already truly established our energy and our awakening is certainly completed, what is the final state of this true awakening?


Answer #5: According to the words of an ancient master, “even if someone is without a clear and distinct awakening to the dharma, if they have some sort of awakening, they are still nothing more than a deluded person.” He also said, “if you say that you have an awakening, that is like not having been awakened.” Accordingly, if we say that awakening has a final state, then this is exactly not the final state of awakening.


If this is so, would all of the many enlightenment anecdotes of the great masters, like Master Lingyun being awakened when he saw a peach blossom, Master Xiangyan hurling a stone against a bamboo tree, Master Xuansha spraining his toe, and Master Changqing raising the bead screen, be nothing but lies handed down to us?


When Master Yangshan states, “though we can’t but say ‘awakening,’ that awakening is [once it is understood as awakening] it falls into the second grade stage,” he’s talking about awakening by half stages.


When Xuansha says, “looking at my respected elder friend daringly, I’m still not complete,” this is truly his sincere kindness.


I wonder if it is correct that these awakenings are at the final state of completion, or if it is right to say that there is no final state of awakening. What are we to do to understand this? Without speaking, I thought for a while and then composed this poem:


             Where the bright moon first springs forth, in the mix of sky and sea,

             When the crying of the monkey on the rock-wall stops.


Question #6: After awakening is already thoroughly complete, what comprises true self-discipline?


Answer #6: An ancient said, “For those who have already passed through the gate, there is no need to insist on taking the ferry again.” If awakening is already complete, how could there possibly be any need to consider self-discipline? Nevertheless, though the clouds and the moon are one in the same, streams and mountains are each different.


Not able to gather a handful of willows, they hang on the jade railing, flying in the spring wind


Question #7: After already disciplining oneself, what is it that comprises true consummation?


Answer #7: A monk asked to Master Zhaozhou, “Can the nut pine also achieve Buddhahood?” Master Zhaozhou replied, “It can.”

“When does it achieve Buddhahood?”

“You have to wait until the sky collapses into the earth.”

“When does the sky collapse into the earth?”

“Wait until the nut pine achieves Buddhahood.”


The ancients, having completely awakened to the truth of the non-arising, show here an occasion of using the mind in a topsy-turvy way, but how should we do things today? Tell quickly, tell it quick. Does the sky collapse into the earth? Does the nut pine achieve Buddhahood? It is no good if you think the sky never collapses into the earth or the nut pine never achieves Buddhahood.


After snapping his finger once he says, “I just missed making a mistake writing my footnote.”


Question #8: After already reaching consummation, how can one bring about the perfectly final conclusion?


Answer #8: As an ancient master said, “before your eyes there is no monk and here there is no old master, this is not the dharma in front of you, it is not something that reaches you through your eyes or ears.” The Seon masters of various meditation traditions speak through the standard of these words to show the extent to which their meditation has advanced. I say this here now and everybody forgets it all.


Question #9: From the very beginning of one’s initial religious awakening until reaching the very end of the path, what kind of mind is most indispensable and which precious aphorism is most suitable?


Answer #9: The very last line of Shitou Xiqian’s Cantongqi (Harmony of Sameness and Difference) states, “Humbly I beg of you who engage in Seon, do not spend your time in vain.” Later, Master Fayan heard this and said, “It is truly difficult to pay back such a veritable blessing,” and I also find it very difficult to pay back a true blessing. However, what are we to know is to be done so as to not spend our lives in vain?


Coughing for a spell, I issued a poem.


Not eating the sweet peach and persimmon

I continue up the mountain and pick a sour pear


Question #10: What difference is there between ganhwa (observing a key phrase or hwadu) and banjo (reflective illumination)? Since Seon meditators are always arguing about this, I pray you might be able to offer a detailed argument to clarify this issue.


Answer #10: I’m laughing as I speak. The melody of the previously questions all sounded the same, but with this question, the wind blows quite a different tune! Nevertheless, try and hear a bit of what I have to say.


When a big elephant comes to a river crossing and passes across the flowing waters, don’t draw any conclusion from the fact that rabbits and horses can’t touch the bottom.


Do you get it? If you don’t get it, then I’m going to speak with you today in detail about this very issue.


A long time ago, Master Yangshan asked Master Weishan, “What is the abode of the true Buddha?” Weishan answered, “by practicing reflective illumination on the boundlessness of the divine spark, through the profundity by which the absence of thought is arrived at through thought itself, conceptions are exhausted and one returns to the source. Eternally abiding in the essential nature, action and practice are not two, and this is the genuine ‘thusness’ of the true Buddha.”


Hearing these words, Yangshan immediately had a great enlightenment. Later, when Meditation Master Xinwenben heard this hwadu, he said: “though you say, ‘by practicing reflective illumination on the boundlessness of the divine spark, through the profundity by which the absence of thought it arrived at through thought itself, conceptions are exhausted and one returns to the source,’ when one departs from this, won’t there again just be some pure sickness? When someone enters into the mundane world, in going against it and adapting, what can really stain oneself or make one happy or upset? After this, brightness and darkness become completely broken down, and one is turned towards a place that is neither bright nor dark. Then, only after fully penetrating the hwadu, ‘there are memorial services at Dabeiyuan’ one truly knows the origin and one truly can know the true gist. At that time, from but one eye, the mountains, sky and earth are illuminated with the light of enlightenment, exactly as if the sky was being sliced through by a great sword; who can dare to face this light? It is only when you have such a power that you are truly able to enter easily into the ranks of the sages, diligently cultivating the practices that bring enlightenment, bringing about the fulfillment of the powers of wisdom and compassion, and there is only this path, this doctrine that brings benefit to yourself and others. There is no other way.”


Wouldn’t “trace back the boundlessness of the divine radiance” be talking about reflective illumination? And wouldn’t “Seeing the memorial service at Dabeiyuan” be referring to a hwadu?


Though Yangshan had already had a great enlightenment when hearing the words “reflect upon the divine radiance,” for what reason was Xinwenben said to have contemplated a hwadu again?


If everyone who has achieved awakening is like Yangshan, we expect there to be nothing more to say, and if we can’t reach the level of Yangshan’s awakening, our associative thinking not having disappeared, we cannot overthrow our mind of birth and death. If we can’t destroy the mind of life and death, how can we possibly be able to speak of any “great enlightenment”?


Here is where Meditation Master Xinwenben speaks particularly to those who, while practicing “reflective illumination,” are unable to be complete in their practice. Master Gaofeng also says something pertinent to this question: “When I heard the hwadu, ‘the ten thousand dharmas return to the one, where does the one return?’ I broke through the phrase, ‘dragging around a corpse.’ However, even though I became entirely absorbed into the whole earth, forgetting everything about the subjective and the objective world, composed in meditative absorption and the master of myself, when my master asked me, ‘when you are in that place of slumber where there is neither dreams nor thoughts, where is the master then?’ I had absolutely nothing to say in return, no means by which to form a response. 


My master again asked me to contemplate a hwadu, ‘the master of your wakefulness, where does he seek peace and follow the ways of heaven?’ Finally, one day when I was sleeping together with Master Doban, his wooden pillow fell to floor and made a loud noise, hearing this, it was like I had sprung out from a net, bursting free with not a single thought of deliberation, the sky above and earth below in one great peace. Yet at the same time, it was like I was someone I had always been from a long time ago, a traveler coming home as if nothing had changed.”


Here too, isn’t “where does the one return” a hwadu? And wouldn’t “look for the awakened master” be an example of banjo [careful reflection]?


Though Gaofeng had already firmly stabilized his meditative absorption and become master of himself through the hwadu “where does the one return?” what caused his master to reprimand him so that he would take up yet another hwadu, regarding “the awakened master”?


This teaching, as it is especially given to benefit those who are in the midst of contemplating a hwadu, yet unable to penetrate it exhaustively, how indeed can there be a determining of what is superior and what is inferior, or what is complete and what is partial? Here, one must know that the completion or incompletion of awakening is dependent on the sincerity or deceit of the practitioner, or whether they have or have not achieved the “ultimate unsurpassed ” (gugyeong) and not on the relative merits or depth of any particular means utilized.

I respectfully submit that one should not create incoherent views and be defeated by self-created obstacles and difficulties, according to the true teachings of all the Buddhas and the Patriarchs..


In a letter written in reply to Vice-Minister Rong, Meditation Master Dahui Zonggao explained:


Paying close attention at all times simply to those places full of the karma of daily life, when I clearly abandon any sense of right or wrong with others and receive someone else’s benefit, if I were to carefully examine that, after all, those benefits were drained from somewhere else, then normally something that is fresh becomes ripened on its own accord. When the fresh has already become ripened, then the ripened will actually become fresh. Where then is the site of ripening?

It is precisely within the five aggregates, the six bases of the senses, the twelve sense fields, the eighteen elements of cognition, and the twenty-five stages of existence, and the karmic consciousness of ignorance, where the discursive operation of mind and perception flicker day and night like the shimmering of heated air, never resting even for a single moment. Though all suffering issues forth from our wandering through life and death, with human beings as mere pawns, if these pawns have already become the focus of meditation, then cessation, enlightenment, ‘thus-ness’ and buddha nature will all suddenly become manifest.


When this manifestation arises, no further manifestation even need be considered, this is why the ancient masters, upon achieving awakening, said, ‘when the eye is reciprocated, it is as if the light of one thousand suns shines, such that you can’t escape the illumination of all things in the universe; when the ear is reciprocated, as in the deepest of valleys, there is no sound, great or small, that does not clearly echo.’ As such, in this type of endeavor, there is nowhere else to search, no other power to wish upon. Naturally, as karma is manifest, it is a vivacious and lively affair. If you cannot achieve something like this, then using your mind that is focused on the affairs of the mundane world, try to reconsider those places that have been beyond your capacity to consider. Where is that place that goes beyond your capacity to contemplate?


A monk once asked Master Zhaozhou, ‘Does even a dog have buddha nature? Or not?’


When Master Zhaozhou answered, ‘No,’ [using a single syllable represented by the character mu 無] what kind of capabilities do you suppose rest within that character? I pray you give it as much attention as possible. As there is no place allowing you to calculate or deploy your thinking, there is nothing but misery in the pit of your stomach, your mind in anguish, and this is exactly the right time for you to become awakened to the fact that your eighth consciousness does not operate together in turn with the other seven. As such, when awakening takes place, don’t just let go, you must attend only to the character ‘mu.’ As you come and go into it, the place of arising naturally becomes the place of ripening and the place of ripening naturally becomes the place of arising.

Generally speaking, isn’t carefully investigating the place of karma in daily life considered “reflective illumination?” With the mind afflicted by defiled thought, in returning to the character of “mu” and contemplating it deeply without letting go, isn’t this a hwadu? If that is indeed the case, Master Dahui likewise taught people using the method of “reflective illumination” and combined this with instruction in an overall strategy of contemplating a hwadu. But as he made indelibly clear when he said, “as cessation, nirvana, thus-ness and buddhahood is suddenly manifest, the place of arising naturally becomes the place of ripening, and the place of ripening will naturally become the place of arising,” he wasn’t simply teaching a method or strategy. If we contemplate the logic implicit within what he is saying, in the benefit gained in the two practices of contemplating hwadu and engaging in reflective illumination, how could there be deep and shallow?


We can not separately make mention one by one of the many occasions in which those of old have given us their instruction in a way similar to what I’ve been describing, maintaining no distinction between ganwha or banjo. Nevertheless, haven’t we come to learn that these days students everywhere attack one another and think of such teaching as quackery?


There are those who are in the process of investigating their assigned hwadu in accordance with the teachings, but then get to a point where they rest for a moment. Soon, they feel satisfied with their progress and no longer moving forward they try applying logical reasoning to their case. As a result, before long they do away with the course they’ve been following, as if they desire to cast away with the whole endeavor. This leaves them totally unable to understand the fact that all of the boundless means of instruction from the teachings of the Buddhas and Patriarchs have arisen from their obligation to us, such that they would go through mud and water to exhaustively create opportunities to instruct our awakening. Such people have fallen into a deep pit of cold inactivity, and are unable to budge even an inch.


There are others who, in the process of practicing “reflective illumination” in accordance with the dharma, after acquiring but a dash of accomplishment on the path, thinking they’ve accomplished this all on their own, no longer carefully investigate their mind and they come to hold eccentric thoughts. When they meet with others, they immediately talk about their progress, displaying their knowledge and wisdom. Such people are wholly unable to understand how the fundamental duty and obligation of those who wear the robes totally consumed the Buddhas and Patriarchs, piercing into the very marrow of their bones, over and over again, completely cutting them off from the very root of their being. Such people, unable to understand the light and shadows in the gate to truth, construct for themselves a personal space of enlightened luxury. If such behaviors continue and are allowed to stand, the Buddha’s righteous teaching is practically thrown in the dirt. What a lamentable, painful thing.


Your thoughts having come to this point, I dare say that your questioning shows that you know what to focus your energy on.


Given my limited knowledge and lack of study, how could I, with my few words pointing out some obvious things, possibly bring any succor to the evil and deep seeded diseases of this hopeless world? Because of this, I too am unsure and struggling with what to do.


Nevertheless, a wise person once said, “Don’t investigate dead words, but rather, investigate the living words.” This is because dead words rely on rationality, arguments, information and discursive understanding, while living words are void of rationality, arguments, diversion and grasping.


The fact that seekers who practice Seon meditation as a matter of course pursue both banjo and ganhwa in accordance with the dharma is just like when a clump of things all burn together within one fire. If you try to get to close to it, your face will burn. As there is no place to permanently affix the wisdom of the entire teachings of the Buddha, won’t there always be occasions to argue about the countless things regarding hwadu or banjo, differences or similarities. If you simply meditate lucidly on one thought that appears before you so that there is nothing else remaining, even if you ignore 100,000 dharma sermons and the infinite divine mysteries, as you apply yourself completely, seeing and acting truthfully as you practice in accordance with the dharma, you will still be able to obtain the great freedom from the cycle of life and death. Therefore, I wish only that it is exactly here that all of your thoughts may reside.


※ As the following ten questions are direct quotations taken from Patriarch Na-ong’s questions, the text is omitted at this point.


<Source: Hanam Ilballok >