Hanam Jungwon ( 1876 ~ 1951 )


1.    Career

A boy was at school reading a The Eighteen Histories in Brief. The first sentence said, “In the ancient past, there lived a Heavenly King.” Reading this passage, the boy was suddenly filled with doubt and posed a question to his teacher. “They say that the Heavenly King lived at the dawn of time, but if that’s true, who was there before him?” The teacher, surprised at hearing such a bold question from this boy who could not be more than eight years old, replied, “Well, yes, I guess then before the Heavenly King there was the King named Pangu…” Pangu was said to be the creator of the world, existing in the ancient past before even the arising of the cosmos. However, this failed to resolve the young boy’s doubt. “Well then… who would have been there before Pangu?” The master had nothing more to reply. From that point forward, the young boy studied Confucianism for some ten years and though he exerted much energy in the search to resolve his doubt, he could never come to any solution. The young boy grew up swiftly and when he turned 21, he left home, went to Mt. Geumgangsan and became a monk. This is the man we now know as Master Hanam.


The Master was born in 1876 in Hwacheon, Gangwon-do Province. After ordaining, he was reading the Susimgyeol when he came across the following passage: 

If we wanted to find the path of the Buddha while adhering to the thought that the Buddha existed outside of our mind and the dharma existed outside of our self-nature, even if we were to undergo the most diligent ascetic practices and read every single one of the 80,000 woodblocks of the Tripitaka, this would be like wanting to cook rice by boiling sand. Rather than helping, it would simply make our toil that much worse.

Reading this, he had an awakening and began a practice of maintaining strict silence. With his fellow monks, he then went on a nation-wide pilgrimage to meet with sages of high virtue and to ascend on the path to wisdom. At that same time, Master Gyeongheo was teaching Seon practitioners at Sudoam Hermitage at Cheongamsa, and knowing this, Hanam traveled in this direction. Meeting with Master Gyeongheo, Master Hanam followed his instructions and devoted himself to Seon meditation practice. One day, he heard Master Gyeongheo issue the following passage from a four-line verse of the Diamond Sutra, “On the whole, everything with a form is illusory. If you see every form as if it weren’t form, you will immediately see the Tathagata.”


It was owing to this passage that the twenty-three year old Hanam was finally able to overcome his vexing doubts about the reality of his own self and the origin of the universe that had filled his heart since the days of his youth. 


Following this, in order to preserve this awakening, he exerted himself in purification practices. At the age of 29, he led his fellow meditators as the lead master in the Naewon Seonwon Center at Tongdosa in Yangsan. That he took the position of “lead master” is quite remarkable, considering this is usually reserved for the highest achieving elder monk. That a young man of 29 could take such a role is a testament to the respect he held among his peers, owing to the power of his practice. However, after five years, he gave up the title to begin practice on his own. This meant that rather than depending on recognition from others, he placed more importance on “self confidence.” It was during this period that one day, while engaged in his purification practice at Uduam Hermitage in Pyeonganbuk-do Province, he was sitting in the kitchen stoking the fire when he suddenly experienced a complete awakening. 


In 1925, at the age of 49, while serving in the role of lead meditation master at Bongeunsa in Seoul, he left behind the words, “I’d rather be a crane hiding his tracks for one thousand years than be a fine speaking parrot for a hundred years” and set out for Mt. Odaesan. A parrot is a bird that can only repeat or imitate the words of others. He was not the type of monk who preaches the dharma by simply memorizing the words of the old masters. He was a genuine truth-seeker who sought his own words ardently flowing from his own heart, showing us the true spirit and world of Seon.


Until his passing into nirvana, Master Hanam spent the next twenty-six years giving his undivided attention to the instruction of his disciples as well as his own training, never leaving the temple gate even one single time. In 1951, while undergoing a fifteen day fast, he sat in meditation and passed into nirvana at the age of 75 after spending 54 years in the sangha. He left behind many disciples, among whom the Venerables Bomun, Nanam, and Tanheo stand out.


2.    Writings

Though the poetry and letters of Master Hanam were compiled in the Ilballok, the only manuscript was lost to a fire at Sangwonsa in 1947. Accordingly, the Society of Hanam Disciples gathered the numerous works of Hanam scattered here and there and compiled them into the Hanam ilballok, published in 1995.


3.    Intellectual Distinction

Master Hanam did not adhere solely to Seon, but emphasized Seongyo gyeomsu, a combination of both Seon and doctrinal practice (Gyo). His translation and publishing of the Commentaries of Five Masters on the Diamond Sutra and the Bojobeobeo along with his request of his disciple Venerable Tanheo to translate Sinhwaeomgyeong hamnon into Korean script is indicative of this fact.


In fact, though Seon advocates getting rid of language and the scriptures, this should be taken to mean that the shell of the words and scriptures should be cast off, not the kernel of truth therein. Following this idea, even when Master Hanam was leading his disciples in the Seonwon hall, during breaks from meditation he would also expound on such scriptures as the Diamond Sutra and the Flower Garland Sutra.


In addition, Master Hanam practiced the “After Enlightenment Tame the Ox” practice. “After Enlightenment Tame the Ox” is a metaphor in which the pure and original nature that is within all sentient beings is described as the Ox and the practice of continued cultivation after enlightenment is referred to as “taming the Ox.”   From early on in the Seon tradition, the work of cultivating the mind has been called “searching for the Ox.” As the mind is awakened through cultivation, the “ox has been found,” but just like when one has an awakening, there are possibilities for continued awakenings, cultivating doesn’t end after enlightenment and thus it is said, “After Enlightenment Tame the Ox.” There are those who assert that in this, Master Hanam stands an inheritor of Bojo Jinul, who emphasized the “sudden enlightenment, gradual cultivation” method.


Though Master Hanam was extremely diligent in his regular ascetic practices, it is said that he avoided formality and authority. He always accepted many disciples and eschewing formalities, would enjoy sharing tea and a friendly chat with them. However, when he would encounter some problem, it’s said that he would devote himself entirely, to an almost frightening degree, in order to break through the obstacle. This aspect also emerged in his dharma sermons, where he frequently emphasized the essential role of determination:


“Determination means having a decisive mind. Facing something that must be done, it is the mind that does so with utmost certainty, or to put it another way, it is the mind of bravery, of integrity, of steadfastness. One who has established a mind like this faces things both big and small with the same determination to finish them completely. Without one’s full determination, mastering even the simplest of skills is difficult. Accordingly, how much harder it must be for someone who renounced the world to search for the truth, if they lack determination. Not even speaking of the search for ultimate truth, the pursuit of success and distinction in the smallest affairs requires a firm decision to reach one’s goals.


However, within the mundane world, we are so occupied with the five desires and passions that we are vulnerable to temptations even when we make no special effort to seek out pleasure. As a consequence, it becomes difficult to escape indulgence in these passions, and eventually we come to actively desire them. As such, how can we even dare to wish to make grand achievements, becoming a Buddha or a Patriarch?   Lacking firm determination, even the tiniest accomplishment is difficult.


Determination is not a one-time event, it must occur continuously, with each and every thought. We ultimately succeed only when we’ve reached the firm state where we no longer turn back on our decisions. Even when it can be said that we’ve succeeded, it would be wrong to forsake our original determination.”

Leader of the Fifteen Month Silence at Gakhwa Temple, Gou Sunim

Deep in the folds of the mountains, I asked a Seon Master the way. He replied, “There is only one way—good or bad it makes no difference.” Furthermore, “The solution to the wars of the world, ideology, the travails of the common-folk, and the cessation of discrimination between superiority and inferiority is in understanding ‘dependent origination’. Herein harmony abides.”

The moon shines brightest on the 15th day of the 10th lunar month (the 19th day on the solar calendar). Some two thousand revered monks enter ninety Seon meditation centers all over the nation for the winter meditation retreat. This retreat will last three months. But at Gakhwa Temple, in the Mt. Taebaeksan, in Gyeongsang-buk-do, from the 19th thirty six revered monks will begin to undergo an eighteen-hour per day meditation ordeal called “finding life through death”, which will last fifteen months.

On the 19th, I met Gou Sunim (68 years of age), who will lead this dauntless concentration of mind. He has commanded a unique respect since ascending to the rank of Venerable Master. With his whole face beaming with a smile, he says, “Although Korea’s tradition of hwadu Seon is up to the standards of Tibet, China, and Japan, it distresses me that our abbots do not display the confidence of one such as the Dalai Lama. Seon practice which is engaged only with hwadu and not real life does not represent the true nature of Seon. (Seon practice) should prepare one for life’s hard knocks. Herein lies the enlightenment preached by the Buddha”.

How must we practice Seon in modern times?

“Today’s government emphasizes a ‘get rich’ and ‘competition without end’ mentality. The Buddha stressed dependent origination. To discover the true value of oneself, one must cultivate health of mind and body. This teaches not ‘competition without end’ but ‘cultivating upward (to the source) without end’”.

Korean Buddhism imported in the West seems to lack the sense of social service of “practical Buddhism”.

“Mother Theresa’s wonderful system of service resulted from her understanding of Indian culture. Her service and austerities were a result of her freedom from ego. She worked happily until death in a manner equivalent to ‘snow falling into a well full of water’. In Seon, we compare this to a sky clotted with clouds, and the clouds thinning out. Seventy to eighty percent say they are happy to see the clouds clearing, only twenty to thirty percent recognize the sun shining through.”

What is the fundamental difference between Seon and other sects?

The biggest difference is that among the southern schools of Buddhism, all but Seon continue to seek knowledge through ‘polishing’ after achieving comprehension, whereas in Seon, after achieving comprehension, this ‘polishing’ for knowledge ceases. What this means is that, insofar as we already have original Buddha nature, there is no perfection beyond this. In his ‘Lecture on the Diamond Sutra’, Kim Yong-ok makes the unlivable classification of ‘mind as the dharma body’ and ‘body as sensual body’, but even the body is the perfect Buddha. All existence is conditional causation, while at the same time Buddha nature abides in all existence. Each scattered temple is not a nugget of gold, everything (in the universe) is a nugget of gold”.

“Before realizing the meaning of dependent origination, a monk thinks twelve times a day of returning to the layman’s world.” Master Gou says that if one understands the true nature of this dharma (of dependent origination), there is no end to perfectibility. While guiding the Gakwua Seon Center, Gou Sunim hopes to devote his merit to the salvation of others.

[Seon Master’s Episode 4] Who is it ?

Mangong’s a episode

A monk visited Master Mangong and said to him, “Where is the truth ?”
Answer : “It is in front of your eyes.”
Question : “If so, why can’t I see the truth ?”
Answer : “It’s because there ‘you’ are.”
Question : “Then, do you see it ?
Answer : “If there even ‘I’ am, it is more difficult for you to see.”
Question : “If there neither you nor I am, is it possible ?”
Answer : “When there neither you nor I am, who is it that is trying to see ?”

Mangong Wolmyeon ( 1871 ~ 1946 )


His ordination name was Wolmyeon (meaning “the face of the moon”), his dharma name Mangong. He stood as a renowned disciple of Master Gyeongheo. Together with Masters Suwol (meaning “the moon in the water”) and Hyewol (meaning “the wise moon”), the three earned their nickname as “the three moons of Gyeongheo.”



“Master Wolmyeon, ‘there is one place where every truth returns, but where on earth does that one place go [“the ten thousand dharmas return to the one, where does the one return?”]?’ It is said that if people knew but this one thing, not a single obstacle would obstruct them in all affairs. It should only go to say, what in this world does this all mean?”


Ten years after his entrance into the sangha, facing this question from someone who looked three or four years younger than him, the 21 year-old Wolmyeon suddenly saw everything in front of him turn pitch black. Up until this point, he had spent his ten years at Cheonjangsa Monastery, taking care of the odds and ends of temple life, chopping wood, making rice, doing laundry and such. Sweating with the labors of his formal studies, he hadn’t even had a chance to learn, let alone even hear such questions as “what is Seon?” and “what is earnest devotion?”


However, in facing the questioning of this young person, Wolmyeon’s single hwadu had appeared. Whether day or night, sleeping or eating or doing work, inside his head one thing and one thing only occupied him, his vexing on the hwadu: “though there is one place where every principle returns, where on earth does that one place go?” But the work required of him to serve his elder monks continued to pile up, and he was never able to devote himself fully to his proper studies. So, he left Cheonjangsa and took up residence at Bonggoksa.


One July day, after having already passed through two winters at Bonggoksa, Wolmyeon was leaning against the wall, staring at the wall opposite him on the west side of the room. The condition of “no thought” (munyeom) had arrived. This Master who had devoted himself so diligently to his hwadu was now without even a single idea about it. As if a wall had suddenly disappeared without a trace, he experienced the appearance of the irwonsang, a great circle symbolizing the inherent unity of all things.


His posture not easing even in the slightest, he continued his devoted practice and when dawn broke he went about as normal, carrying about the duties for the morning meal. He struck the temple gong, breaking the darkness, and recited a set of verses. “If you want to know all the Buddhas of the three worlds, you must come to know that all laws are created by the mind.” At that moment the boundaries of delusion fell away. In the sounds of the temple bell, the darkness that clouded his eyes revealed light. The sound of the gong had opened his eyes of wisdom. This was Master Wolmyeon’s first enlightenment experience.


However, his master, Master Gyeongheo, cautioned him that this kind of awakening was not a complete enlightenment. He encouraged Wolmyeon to devote himself to investigating Zhaozhou’s “MU” hwadu. What is Zhaozhou’s “MU” hwadu? This hwadu is based upon a dialogue that occurred a long time ago, when a monk asked of Master Zhaozhou, “does a dog also have the Buddha nature?” Zhaozhou replied “Mu!” [Ch. wu, which can be interpreted as “not,” as opposed to “no,” hinting that the question itself is wrong; and also can be interpreted as an onomatopoeia of a dog’s bark]. This exchange is the substance of one of the most powerful hwadu, as the “MU” hwadu stands out as one that has brought many masters to enlightenment.


Wolmyeon took on the “MU” hwadu and returned to his travels, touring many different meditation halls, always practicing always with ferocity. It was during this period, in 1901, that he came to the isolated Baegunam Hermitage, located on Mt. Yeongchuk in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do Province. It was here that one day, while caught in the monsoon and forced to spend a whole month doing absolutely nothing but meditation, the world came crumbling down in an instant as he heard the sound of the morning bell, until ultimately the orginal mind of the universe had appeared. At the age of 30, Wolmyeon finally had achieved his great awakening.


Following this, together with a dharma transmission verse, he received the name “Mangong” from his master Gyeongheo and became one of the main disciples inheriting his true dharma and core teachings. He was 33 at this time.


He then practiced at the major meditation hall of each famous mountain, starting with the Mahayeon Hermitage at Mt. Geumgangsan. While residing at Mt. Deoksungsan in Yesan, Chungcheongnam-do Province, he refurbished Sudeoksa, Jeonghyeosa and Gyeonseongam Hermitage and cultivated a sparkling coterie of disciples. With the renown of his efforts spreading far and wide, Master Mangong uttered these words in front of mirror after performing the evening meal offerings one day in 1946, “This guy Mangong! Though we’ve shared our lot for this past 70 some years, today is the last day. You’ve worked hard and done well.” At the age of 75, after 62 years as part of the sangha (beomnap), he entered nirvana.


His disciples, including the monks Bowol, Gobong, Hyeam, Jeongang, Geumo, Chunseong, Byeokcho, and Woldam and the nuns Beophui, Manseong, and Iryeop, among others, formed one of the major Seon lineages in the modern Korean Buddhist community. Especially notable here is the presence of nuns among his disciples. Based on the Buddha’s teaching that if women practiced they could also become Buddhas, Master Mangong taught bhiksuni (female monastics, nuns) without discrimination. It created quite a stir when Iryeop, who at that time had become famous as a “new woman intellectual,” was influenced profoundly by Mangong and became ordained as a nun. In addition, the enlightenment of his disciple Beophui, the first nun to receive a dharma transmission, when compared with even the great male Seon masters, nothing was found wanting. In making it clear to us that on the journey to find one’s true self, there is no separation between “man” and “woman,” and through understanding his disciple’s capacities and his unstinting leadership and guidance, Master Mangong shows us his eyes of wisdom.



Mangong left behind not a single written work. The only thing left to us were his Seon teachings given to his many disciples. However, his disciples compiled a volume of his dharma talks, and from this we can catch a glimpse of Mangong’s thought.


Doctrinal Distinction

Though there is a strong emphasis on “having to find ‘I’” in the dharma lectures of Mangong.Since the Buddha rejected “I,” elucidating the idea of “no-self,” why would Mangong be saying, “You have to find your “I”? What is the “I” that must be rejected and what is the “I” that must be found? The intellectual core of Mangong lies precisely in knowing the true nature of this “I” that must be rejected and the “I” that must be sought.


The “I” that we usually think of is the “I” who answers back when someone calls out, “Hey you!” However, is the answering mouth “I”? Is the eye that sees other people, “I”? Am I my feet or legs? Is my brain “me”? If not, is the mind that thinks of “me,” “me”? What in the world is the thing we call “me” and “I”?


Stepping back from this line of thought for a moment, let’s take another look at an object we can often see in our daily surroundings, the bicycle. What is a bicycle? Is the front-wheel the bicycle? Is the chain the bicycle? Are the pedals or the handlebars the bicycle? What we call a bicycle is the thing made of the parts enumerated above, something a person mounts, puts both feet on, and then is propelled forward by the spinning of the wheels. Strictly speaking, “bicycle” is something that we all agree on to call such a thing. Thererfore, if for example, this thing were missing a front-tire, or the handlebar, or the chain, or any other one single thing, then it could not be a bicycle. You only call something a bicycle when all conditions for doing so are met. Suppose it has been thirty years now that this bicycle has been ridden. So, if I were to now dispose of this bike, could I call the wheels I separate from it a bicycle? What about the chain I saved, can I call that the bicycle? No. We don’t call that a bicycle. That thing is simply a wheel or a chain. Because it now fails to meet the conditions for being a bicycle, there is now no longer a bicycle. This is precisely the “true nature” (silche) of a bicycle.


Now, let’s return to the question of the “I.” The “I” that says “yes” in response to the sound of someone calling, the “I” that is reading this right now. That’s right. This “I” too is simply the name we give to a temporarily existing “I,” something arising only when the proper conditions are met. It’s just like our bicycle, still briskly riding along.


Exactly as in the situation with the bicycle, when all of the parts come together a bicycle is formed, when each of the parts disappear the bicycle itself disappears, this arising and disappearing based on certain conditions is referred to in Buddhism as “dependent origination” (yeongi). As a result, when we think of this “I” that originated dependent on certain conditions instead as something that has a fixed and unchanging essence, it is here where our numerous attachments arise and intensify, and it is these things that are referred to as “afflictions” and “delusions.” Mangong said we should reject the clump-like “I” in this kind of fantasy and that the “I” we must search for is the “true I” or “true self.” This “true self” is not the self that is based on the conditions of dependent origination, it is “self” in name only, having no fixed essence.


This “self” is nothing other than the clear recognition of the fact that existence is dependently originated, this knowledge itself is the “true self.” Therefore, this “true self” is different from the atman concept of Indian philosophy. The atman is a concept from a philosophical perspective, meaning something like “ego,” or “individual self,” or soul. Having meaning as a “true form,” something “traversing the universe with immanent magical power,” it is an object that continues eternally. This draws a stark contrast with the conditions of dependent origination, so thoroughly discussed in Buddhist thought.


Now we know that the “I” spoken of by Mangong is something different from both the “I” that we normally think of as well as the atman spoken of in Indian philosophy. Mangong went on to also say that when one thought arises, the totality arises and that when one thought is extinguished, the totality is extinguished. He said that when the thought of “I” arises, in the time of one breath, a universe is created and destroyed. When there is thought, the entire universe appears, when thought disappears, the foundation of the universe is immediately returned to nothingness. The “one mind” (ilsim) is precisely reality. This is the totality of existence.


In order to ascertain this “true self,” Master Mangong stressed that we must practice Seon meditation. Therefore, he exerted all of his energy leading his disciples in proper Seon practice. It is perhaps because of this, and also because of the dangers inherent in the tendency for the meanings of words and letters to become fixed, that Master Mangong left behind no written works.


Therefore, he settled upon the “observing the hwadu” (Ganhwa) method of Seon meditation that totally rejects theory and speculation and observes with the spirit of “no discriminating mind,” (musim), always teaching his disciples to investigate Zhaozhou’s “MU.” In these anecdotes I’ve given you today, you caught but a glimpse of the Master’s teachings, seeing how they aimed at leading his disciples to experience truth each for themselves, in the way that the Buddha personally experienced the truth of reality. As for the rest of his teachings, I’ll have to promise that for the next time we have a chance to meet.

Regulations of the Naejang Seon Hall

(1) The goals of the Seon Hall are amended to focus on “Half Seon, Half Farming.”
(2)The doctrine of the Seon community will be based on the ideas of “Self Seon, Self Practice” and “Self Labor, Self Subsistence.” Everyone with the ability to work is included, even those who have extensive practice experience.

① All food and clothing will be perfectly in accord with the regulations of the monastic community/grove (chongnim) (i.e. where the meditation hall resides.)
② The activities of the day will strictly follow a three part schedule: scripture study in the morning, labor in the afternoon, and seated meditation in the evening.
③ During the winter retreat, seated meditation will take priority. During the summer retreat, scripture study and labor will take priority. Retreat certificates will only be granted after three years.
④ For our songs in praise of the Buddha, we will study beompae [Buddhist ritual music], elegant and in accordance with the times. In addition, Buddhist praise, self-praise, conversion and homecoming songs will be newly composed and sung in the traditional style.
⑤ Violations of the precepts, improper behavior and other bad customs are all strictly prohibited.

Hangmyoung Gyejong ( 1867 ~ 1929 )


A monk during the last years of the Joseon Dynasty, his ordination name was Gyejong and his dharma name was Hangmyeong. His secular surname was Baek and he is better known as Baek Hangmyeong, famous especially for his Buddhist poetic verse and the important position he holds within the realm of Modern Korean literature.



Master Hangmyeong was born in Yeonggwang, Jeollanam-do Province, in 1867. In 1886, at the age of 19, after the death of his parents he felt the transience of life and went on the road to see the country. One day at Guamsa Monastery in Sunchang, he had an intense and inspiring religious awakening; this was brought on by the dharma sermon he came upon, given by the lecturer at that time, Master Seoldu, and also his seeing the appearance of the monks in the meditation hall. He was thus soon ordained in January 1887, at Bulgapsa Monastery in Yeonggwang.


In 1890, after completing his requisite studies at Guamsa, he set out to see the great mountain monasteries of Korea and for some 10 years, he sought out every one of the famed Seon masters of the day. While devoted to his doctrinal studies, one day he came to the realization that given that the ultimate aim of Buddhism was the liberation from the cycle of birth and death, this liberation would be impossible if he only studied the sutras alone. So in 1902, at the age of 35, he entered into serious Seon meditation practice. After devoting himself to this practice for ten-plus years, he composed the following “Song of Enlightenment” in 1912 at the age of 45:

The past life, who was I?

The next life, who will I be?

If I know that this thing now is me

In return, how can I search for myself in what is not me?

In the spring of 1914, at the age of 47, keenly aware that the revitalization of Joseon Buddhism depended on establishing rules for the Seon monastic community and its institutions, Master Hangmyeong visited China and Japan to examine their traditions. There he met with famous monks, engaging in Seon dialogue. His Seon dialogue with Shaku Sōen, the high minister of Japan’s Rinzai Sect, who had engaged in dialogue with the likes of French existentialist philosopher Henri Bergson, is particularly famous. Master Sōen praised him, calling him the “ancient Buddha of Joseon.”


He returned to Joseon in 1915, becoming the abbot of Naesosa Monastery and Wolmyoungam Hermitage in Byeonsan. Then in 1922, he attended the first founding session of the “Friends of Seon Cooperative Society” (Seonu gongjehoe), taking upon himself one of its leadership roles. This group was formed with the aim of developing the economic independence necessary to overcome the difficult economic circumstances facing the maintenance of temple training centers at this time. In 1923, at the age of 56, he became the abbot of Naejangsa Monastery to restore it from its dilapidated state. There he founded a new meditation hall (Seonwon), led a number of Seon practitioners, and also reclaimed fields and rice paddies to establish the temple’s self-sufficiency. In 1925, he served as the leader of the “10,000 days Seon Meditation Community,” and in 1927 he became the Head Master of the Gakhwangsa Central Seonwon, which is now Jogyesa, where he roused the Seon spirit.


Having poured his energy into the revitalization of Naejangsa, on March 27, 1929, Master Hangmyeong called to his dharma heir, Maegok and told him: “Today is the day I’m going to go to my original place.” After drawing six pictures of Bodhidharma, he instructed his disciple Ugok to recite the verses of the Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment and then with a smile he silently passed into nirvana at the age of 63.



Master Hangmyeong expressed the state of mind of his awakening through 10 volumes of Seon poetry written in Classical Chinese. His Baegyangsanga (Song of Mt. Baegyangsan) speaks of the state of enlightenment using the terms of nature, giving shape to its perfectly free depth and pre-eminence from his own experience. He also expressed his perspective on the Seon revitalization movement through gasa, a style of narrative poetry developed in the early Joseon Dynasty, and it is through these 300 some verses that he came to renown. However, it is most regrettable that the compilation of his collected works, the Baengnong Yugo, (Posthumous Works of Farmer Baek)was lost just before it was printed. Today, only six of his works remain extant, including his Chamseongok (Song of Seon Meditation) and Haetalgok (Song of Liberation from Life and Death), published in the monthly magazine, Bulgyo.


Doctrinal Distinction

Master Hangmyeong’s doctrinal distinction can be seen in his writing as well as the life he led in the meditation hall. Through his Seon poetry and Buddhist odes he did not merely glorify nature, but also expressed the transience of life. Particularly in his Chamseongok, he skillfully presents the Buddhist philosophy of impermanence. In this song, he speaks of the finite nature of each of our lives, depicting how every one of us lacks the means to escape the ravages of “birth, old age, sickness and death.” Namely, it is not simply warriors and patriots who die, but also Laozi and Jesus as well. As it was only the Buddha who laid forth the theory of “neither ceasing, nor arising,” he inspired us to fully undertake the effort of resisting our delusory slumber and instead fully awaken to reality. Because it is within Seon that the truest essence of Buddhism resides, the Patriarch Bodhidharma ventured more than 10,000 li to the west in order to transmit the Indian dhyana practice to China, where he clarified the truth of the Buddha’s teachings through the Patriarchal Seon represented in the saying, “no establishment of words or letters.” Thus, he emphasized that if we want to awaken to this principle, we must come to understand that the only way that we can become Buddhas is if we put aside the sutras and instead awaken through the direct pointing to our own minds.


In addition, in order to bring about the economic self-sufficiency of temples, Master Hangmyeong inspired monks to take up agricultural labor, advocating the theory of “seonnong ilchi,” the idea that Seon practice and agricultural work should be combined. This distinction in his theory of seonnong ilchi is made directly evident in his establishment of the “Regulations of the Naejang Seonwon.” With the conviction to reclaim the Seon Buddhism of the Joseon period, he established this Seonwon at Mt. Naejangsan and gave all his energy to practice Seon meditation while simultaneously reclaiming barren wastelands in the mountainous regions around the monastery. This is why he called himself by his own nickname of Baengnong, “Farmer Baek.” Thus, he also taught his disciples a practice of “half Seon, half farming,” setting the perfect schedule as one that used the morning for scholarly studies, the afternoon for farming, and the evening for seated meditation. Utilizing the spirit of Baizhang Huaihai’s dictum that “a day with no work is a day with no food,” he expounded the unique praxis of his ideas of “self-meditation, self cultivation” (Jaseon Jasu) and “self-subsistence by self-effort” (Jaryeok Jasik) This was due to his judgment that the traditional practice of seeking alms and benefactors in order to maintain the economic support of monasteries had created the laziness and dependent predisposition of the Buddhist community.


Address : #546 Cheongryong-dong, Geumjeong-gu, BusanTel : 82-51-508-3122URL : http://www.beomeosa.org

Beomeosa is one of the three major temples in southeastern Korea. It is home to a large number of National Treasures and cultural properties, including the Main Buddha Hall (National Treasure No. 434), a three-story stone pagoda (Treasure No. 250), stone banner poles, One Pillar Gate, and a stone lantern. From the time of Avatamsaka Master Uisang of Silla to that of Zen Master Dongsan of the early 20th century, the temple has been the training place of an impressive flow of outstanding monks. There are a number of meditation centers on the large compound, including Geumeo Meditation Center.

The Way to Investigate the Hwadu

One student once asked,
“You told us to investigate and doubt the hwadu, but how should we investigate it?”

Yongseong answered,
“A person suddenly lost a treasure he had carefully carried on his person and cherished for a long time. At first, he didn’t know he had lost his valuable thing, but one day he felt with his hands where he usually carried the treasure and noticed it missing. Thus, he wondered in suspicion and doubt where the treasure was. Your investigation into the hwadu should be like this.

Another person picked up a strange object from the ground near dawn, before sunlight had fully illuminated the world. Although he examined it closely, it was yet too dark to see clearly, so he was not sure what to make of it; stuck in a boundary between knowing and not knowing what it is, he is full of suspicion and doubt. The manner of one who investigates the hwadu is like this.

When you investigate the hwadu, it is sometimes like trying to force a donkey to drink, sometimes defilements arise like hot fire, sometimes the mind doesn’t move at all as if it were a solid block of ice, sometimes it goes as well as a sailing boat in a favorable wind. But, whether your studying goes well or not, do not bear thoughts of joy or dissappointment at it; you ought to think only of your hwadu.

Also, do not take up practice for the clear and calm that arises when you sit; nor should you take exercise, speech, movement, or being calm as your practice. Do not practice with your mind like the thin air, nor should you make your mind like a wall; for studying with these attitudes is a heretical path that lead to emptiness and ruin, and the people who study thusly are dead even though they still breathe.

Therefore instead focus your investigation and doubt on this one thing that you don’t fully understand. If you study hard with a consistently focused mind, the state of sight and hearing naturally become calm; forgetting both the thing and the self, the mountains, rivers, and the great earth dissappear, and the empty space melts down. When you reach this state, you will naturally destroy ignorance [chiltong, literally, pitch-black container].”
Another student asked Yongseong, “How can I get rid of the delusions that keep appearing to me?”

Yongseong answered,
“Whether delusions arise or not, leave them alone and do not try to get rid of them. Delusions have a tendency to arise all the more when you try to get rid of them. For example, when a cow tries to run away, if you draw the rein firmly toward you, the cow follows you by its own will. Like this, if you investigate the hwadu without being bothered whether a delusion arises or not, the delusion will disappear by itself.

Also, do not try to get rid of delusions using the hwadu; if delusions overcome you even though you focus only on the hwadu, immediately let go of the hwadu and relax your mind to its natural state. Then, if you resume the investigation, your mind will be new and clean.

When you investigate the hwadu, question it clearly with an always relaxed and comfortable mind and body. If you start on the hwadu in a hurry, because the mind that arises from bodily desire is shaken; you will feel pressure on your chest and have a headache, and bleed from your nose. These symptoms occur because your mind was too hurried.

On the other hand, if you are off your guard, you are likely to lose your hwadu. Neither should you investigate the hwadu too excessively and tensely, nor should you be too lax. If the strings of a lute are too loose, its sound is not right, and also it the strings of a lute are too tight, its sound is also not right; thus studying is the same way.

Figuratively speaking, it is as if when someone wanders into the deep mountains, when all of a sudden the mountain and river comes to an end. Facing this situation, if you set one foot forward with the strength to courageously sever your ties, you will be able to see a new world where the flowers are bright and the blossoms are emerald.

While all the other studies of the world are investigated with an analytical, categorizing mind that tries to know all things, this study consists of the questioning and investigation with a focused mind of this one thing that you do not know. If you try to approach this study with a categorizing and analyzing mind, you will be unable to know anything even after 10,000 years of questioning. When you investigate the hwadu, you should not seek fun in it, but rather keep an unceasing attitude, like a mosquito sitting on a cow made of iron. For if the mosquito breaks through the iron cow with life and limb in abandon, even its body will dive straight in.
Only investigate and doubt the hwadu with a focused mind, never bearing a mind of knowing or a mind of seeking. Like when the warm spring comes back, flowers bloom and leaves spread out, so when your study ripens you will naturally seek and know.”

From the Susimjeongno (The Right Path to Cultivating the Mind)

Gyeongheo and Mangong’s a episode

Gyeongheo and Mangong, his disciple, were returning to their temple in the evening after getting some rice for their food. Especially that day, they got rice full of sack. Apart from their satisfaction, the sacks were heavy and it was still distant to their destination. Mangong felt tired and got pain on the shoulder, so it was very difficult to follow his master. Noticing this, Gyeongheo said, “I will use one method to get fast. Please see.” They were passing a certain village. Then, a beautiful young woman was coming from the opposit side of them with a water jar on the head. She was apparently a bride just over 20 years old. When Gyeongheo faced her, he held her both ears and kissed her lips. The woman screamed, dropped and broke the jar, and ran back into her house. A distubance arose. Villagers ran out of their houses with sticks or clubs and shouted, “Wicked monks, stop there.” The two monks began to run away. They ran so desperately that villagers couldn’t follow them to the last. After a while, when they took a rest, Gyeongheo said, “Was the sack heavy?” Mangong said, “Regardlessly, I don’t know how I could run so long way with it.” Gyeongheo said, “Don’t I have talent?” They laughed together looking at each other.

[Seon Master’s Episode 1] Heavy Sacks
[Seon Master’s Episode 2] A Preach for Mother
[Seon Master’s Episode 3] A Leper
Contestations over Korean Buddhist Identities

Seon Master’s Episode

1] Heavy Sacks

Gyeongheo and Mangong, his disciple, were returning to their temple in the evening after getting some rice for their food. Especially that day, they got rice full of sack. Apart from their satisfaction, the sacks were heavy and it was still distant to their destination. Mangong felt tired and got pain on the shoulder, so it was very difficult to follow his master. Noticing this, Gyeongheo said, “I will use one method to get fast. Please see.” They were passing a certain village. Then, a beautiful young woman was coming from the opposit side of them with a water jar on the head. She was apparently a bride just over 20 years old. When Gyeongheo faced her, he held her both ears and kissed her lips. The woman screamed, dropped and broke the jar, and ran back into her house. A distubance arose. Villagers ran out of their houses with sticks or clubs and shouted, “Wicked monks, stop there.” The two monks began to run away. They ran so desperately that villagers couldn’t follow them to the last. After a while, when they took a rest, Gyeongheo said, “Was the sack heavy?” Mangong said, “Regardlessly, I don’t know how I could run so long way with it.” Gyeongheo said, “Don’t I have talent?” They laughed together looking at each other.

2] A Preach for Mother

One day, Gyeongheo gathered people to preach for the sake of his mother and told his student to fetch her. His mother was very glad, so she dressed herself with new clothes and paid her respects to him, and took a seat. Thereupon, Gyeongheo took off his own clothes piece by piece until he became all naked. He said, “Mother, please look at me.” His mother waiting for a great preach was very surprised, got angry and said, “How can you preach like this ? How outrageous !” She returned to her room right away and locked the door of her room. Then, he smiled bitterly and said, “How can she be my mother ? When I was a child, she took off my clothes, washed my body, hugged and kissed me. Why can’t she do that now ? How pitiful are those worldly customs !” His students had to beg her parden saying that it had been a great and special preach.

3] A Leper

Master Gyeongheo was dwelling at Cunggyesa temple, when a leper woman knocked at the door of his room.He noticed that she had wandered lacking in love. He allowed her to enter his room. Since then, he shared his mattress together with her for a week, until his disciple Mangong said, “I notice your Dharma is supreme, but we can’t endure it. Please have her get out of here.” Gyeongheo said, “You seem to have many boundaries catching you. Then I can’t help it.” So he had to tell her to leave.

Contestations over Korean Buddhist Identities

The “Introduction” to the Gyeongheo-jip

Gregory Nicholas Evon

This article partly derives from research contained in a Ph.D. dissertation (Evon 1999), and it represents a re-articulation of certain basic points made therein. Here, the fundamental point I seek to make is simply this: there exists an inherent conflict between the assumptions that a self-conscious Korean Buddhist identity can be founded on the singular notion of purity, or celibacy, and that this singular notion of identity, in turn, reasonably can be judged to be nationalistic or patriotic in the context of the Japanese colonial period (1910-1945). Such a general notion of identity, I would argue, at once elides the contestation over identity among Korean Buddhists themselves during the colonial period and ultimately conflates religious for national identities. Further, such elision and conflation seem to be products of post-liberation discourse. Throughout this paper I will use the expression post-liberation in order to allow for a distinction suggested elsewhere: that post-colonialism ought to refer to all that follows the “beginning of colonial contact” (Ashcroft, Griffiths, Tiffin 1999: 2). In that sense, however, post-colonialism is inaccurate to the extent that it allows for little distinction between the colonial period and its aftermath.
Such a distinction is, in part, what this paper seeks to address?hence my employment of post-liberation. In this connection, it should be admitted that this paper makes some general claims in regard to post-liberation Korean Buddhist discourse without always staking these claims to definite examples. Yet as with all generalizations, these claims are not necessarily applicable to the entirety of specific cases, or to be exact, the entirety of the work of all scholars. On the other hand, at least this shortcoming can be explained partly in reference to Whitehead’s dictum that much
can be learned about an era through what it assumes rather than expresses. By the very definition of assumption, we are forced to deal with frameworks of inquiry in which ideas are embedded, or assumed. These frameworks and implicit ideas limit the questions asked and the answers given, thus demanding an “unearthing of silences” which requires “a project linked to an interpretation” so we may locate “the retrospective significance of hitherto neglected events” (Trouillot 1995: 58).1 In this paper, the neglected events to be addressed are those surrounding the publication of a Korean Buddhist text in the colonial period, and the silences are those of post-liberation scholarship on these events. This paper, then, is an interpretation.

Gyeongheo Seong-U ( 1826 ~ 1912 )


Master Gyeong-Heo is esteemed as a great revivalist of contemporary Korean Seon following on from Seon Master Hu-jeong Cheong-Heo (1520-1604).
1.      Biography
Master Gyeongheo lived during a particularly violent, agitated period of the country, when the Joseon Dynasty was collapsing and Japanese colonization was just starting. He was born as the second son of his parents at Jadong-ri, Jeonju in 1846 C.E. He lost his father at an early age, and then his mother went to live with him at Cheonggyesa Temple when he was 8 years old; there he began to live as a monk under Venerable Gyeheo. When he was 13 years old, he first learned Chinese characters from a Confucian scholar who was staying at the temple. Learning came easily to him and he was praised as a brilliant boy. In the winter of the same year, Venerable Gyeheo recognized Gyeongheo’s ability and so sent the boy to study under a famous lecturer, Manhwa, in Donghaksa Temple. Gyeongheo learned and studied not only Buddhist sutras but also the Confucian and Taoist texts. When he was 22 years, he was appointed to the post of lecturer and taught the students at the Buddhist academy of Donghaksa Temple.
When he was 33 years old, there was a major change in his life. On the way Seoul to see his previous teacher, Gyeheo, who had given up his robes and returned to secular life, a heavy storm came up. In desperation, he went from door to door in the hope of finding shelter from the rain. At each house he was rejected as the families were afraid he would bring the raging epidemic to their house. Unable to find shelter, he was forced to spend the whole night under a big tree outside the village. He struggled with fear and with death. At that moment, he suddenly realized that the truth that the principle of life and death in his heart and so actually realized are the facts that he had only known intellectually until then. Then, he said, “Even though I am totally ignorant, I must be free of words. As I search through the teachings of the great masters, I will go beyond this world.” And he made a resolution in this pious and serious state of mind. The next day he returned to Donghaksa Temple, and then and there decided to no longer teach his students. He shut the door of his room and devoted himself to investigating his hwadu. After three months of diligent practice, he attained enlightenment on hearing the question of a novice, “ A cow has no nostrils? What does that mean?”
In spring of the next year, he moved to Cheonjangam Hermitage in Mt. Yeonamsan, and continued the practice which succeeds enlightenment. He said he was continuing the lineage of Yongam who was a successor of the Cheongheo and Hwanseong. At the age of 34, he recited his Nirvana poem.
“ I heard about the cow with no nostrils,
 And suddenly the whole universe is my home.
Mt. Yeonamsan in June lies flat under the road.
A farmer, at the end of his work, is singing.”
For the next 20 years, from that time on, he founded many Seon training monasteries not only at Cheonjangam and Sudeoksa Temple, but also Beomeosa and Haeinsa in Gyeongsang-do Province, Songgwangsa and Hwaeomsa in Jeolla-do Province. He developed and spread the Seon tradition nationwide by teaching many Seon monks. He especially influenced the disciples of masters Mangong Wolmyeon, Hyewol, Suwol, Hanam and other Seon monks who have been instrumental in developing contemporary Buddhist history. These masters and monks, who succeeded the Seon tradition and lineage, made the foundation of the Jogye Order which is the center of Korean Buddhism today.
Master Gyeongheo suddenly disappeared from public view and the Buddhist world in 1905 C.E. when he was 59 years old. Up until then he had been involved in many projects, delivering a lot of dharma talks and attending many assemblies as a dharma teacher and an observer. He took to wearing secular clothes and he let his hair grow. He wandered around Ganggye in Pyeongan-do and Gapsan in Hamgyeong-do, and taught illiterate children. His disciples said that when he was 66 years old, on April 25th, 1912, he entered into final Nirvana. The following poem is his last hymn before his death.
“Light from the moon of clear mind
Drinks up everything in the world
When the mind and the light both disappear,
What is this?”
 2.      Writings
The existing writings of Master Gyeongheo were compiled by his disciples rather than written personally by him. In 1942, thirty years after his death, his disciple Mangong collected the late Gyeongheo’s materials and published a book, A Collection of Gyeongheo. This included such chapters as “Master’s Dharma Talks,” “Preface,” “Records,” “Letters,” “Activities,” “Poems,” “songs,” and his disciple “Hanam’s Activities,” and “A Short Lineage” written by Manhae Han Yong-un. The dharma talks encompass his main ideas and include “The Weeping of a Muddy Ox,” and “ How to Live as a Monk.” “The Song” emphasized the way of Seon practice and aspects of spreading Buddhism to the public while “The Preface” and “The Record” included the aims and major characteristics of The Retreat Community of Samadhi (meditation)and Prajna (wisdom).
In 1981, The Dharma Talks of Master Gyeongheo was published and this book included new material which had never been published before. For instance, “Hymns of Mt. Geumgangsan Travels,” “The 40 Verses of Seon,” “The “Biography of Master Gyeongheo written by Master Hanam,” “Thirty-eight Amusing Anecdotes of Master Gyeongheo” were added to the this edition.
Seonmun chwaryo ( The Essential Sayings of the Seon House), a collection of the Seon Masters’ sayings and studies in China and Korea compiled by Master Gyeongheo in early 1900 C.E., is well known as a text of Seon.
3. Characteristics of His Thoughts
Master Gyeongheo showed himself as a mirror of Seon practice as he made special efforts to improve the Seon tradition through the foundation of a retreat community and the re-opening of many closed Seon monasteries. He was 53 years old when he founded the retreat community was in 1899 C.E. The community succeeded the tradition of The Retreat Community of Samadhi and Praijna of Master Bojo during Goryeo. The aim of the retreat community was the attainment of enlightenment. The main characteristic of this retreat community was to have a realistic view of liberation, with the vow of rebirth in the Trayastrimsa heaven (the heaven of the thirty-three gods). This is not for people who can attain enlightenment by themselves, but for the poor and the suffering whose only hope is through faith and vow.
In late Joseon, when Master Gyeongheo lived, the Seon tradition of the Seon Order which had been established in the late Silla period, was almost non-existent and practitioners were hard to come by. It was due to the retreat community of Master Gyeongheo that the Seon tradition was revived.
He continuously taught Seon, yet he was not limited to Seon practice; he openly enjoined the practices of chanting and mantra recitation and considered them as equally beneficial. In particular, he insisted on the unification of the Seon and Doctrinal approaches.
His thought was reflected in his other writings, “Song of the Ox Herd” and “Verses of the Ox Herd.” In these works he explains how the innate Buddha Nature is discovered and developed by using the symbolism of the ox. His view was different from those of other ox herd pictures popularized at that time, he didn’t even stick to the schematic pictures, nor even the number of ten scenes. He emphasized the innate place of Self Nature rather than simply showing the stages of evolution of the black ox into a white ox. In the final stage of the series, he would teach, “The ox herder, carrying his bag and ringing a hand bell, returns to the village; this is the final stage of an accomplished man.” This statement underlines the importance of drawing compassion into worldly life, thus benefiting all human beings and all other beings as well.
Master Gyeongheo was a reformer of Seon who made Seon practical and popular; he is revered as one of the great pioneers of Seon in showing the ultimate stage of enlightenment. He always extolled the virtues of Seon not only in his dharma talks but also in his dialogues and encounters of Seon questions and answers. His unusual behavior and written message were expedient means for spreading the teachings of Seon.