The Argument on Seon in Late Joseon Period

From Book “Seon Thought in Korean Buddhism”, 1998

Written by Han Ki-tu


Dept. of Buddhist Studies

Won-gwang University


A. Preface


Ever since Seon was introduced to Korea, there was a drive to prove the superiority of Seon over Kyo throughout the Korean Buddhist world, especially in the late Goryeo Dynasty.

After the seventh century CE, when Seon had taken root in China and was well established, various disputes arose within the Seon School. These arguments began with the difference of opinion between Master Huineng of Southern Seon and Master Shenxiu of Northern Seon. Then the conflict between the Mahayana Seon claimed by the Northern Order and Seon of the Tathagata (Kor. Yeorae Seon) of the Southern Order became prominent in the Seon world. That is, Master Heze Shenhui claimed that the Seon of the Tathagata is superior to Mahayana Seon, and the former is named so, for it is equal to the Tathagata.

But the newly established Hongzhou Order of Master Mazu’s lineage criticized Master Shenhui, calling him a master of mere intellectual understanding, one who searches for meaning and rea­son. And the Hongzhou Order developed an independent Seon pur­port, which investigates the Dharma transmitted by Master Bodhidharma This is the Seon of the patriarchs (Kor. Josa Seon), and this Seon was claimed as being superior to and surpassing the Seon of the Tathagata.

This claim is based on the idea that Seon is superior to Kyo. The realization of Seon as being “a direct transmission, outside the texts, not relying on words and letters, direct transmission from mind to mind, seeing into one’s nature and attaining Buddhahood” is not achieved through texts but through a transmission from mind to mind. Here, the awakening of the Tathagata is the center in the Seon of the Tathagata, but what is more important is the Seon purport of the patriarchs in the Seon of the patriarchs. This pur­port of Seon later even influenced academic lecturers who studied Kyo, so that these Kyo scholars who did not have any Seon prac­tice emphasized the superiority of Seon.

In Korea, the main dispute was started by scholarly monks who lived in the southern and southwestern areas of the peninsula of Korea. They published personal records on various theories of Buddhism in 18th century and from this the disputes arose in the Seon families during the reigns of King Jeongjo (r. 1777-1800), King Soonjo (r. 1801-1834), King Heonjong (r. 1835-1849), King Cheoljong (r. 1850-1863) and King Gojong (r. 1864-1907).

The leading roles were taken by Master Baekpa Geungseon (1767-1852), Master Choui Uiseon (1786-1856), lay scholar Chusa (1786-1856), Master Udam Honggi (1822-1881), Master Seoldu Yuhyeong (1822-1881), Master Chugwon Jinha (1861-1926) and lay scholar Jeong Dasan (1762-1836), each one partic­ipating more or less directly. Beginning with Master Baekpa’s Hand Glass of Seon Literature (Kor. Seonmun-sugyong), the monks took up and started arguing about Seon. Let us investigate the main point of their argument.


B. The Beginning: Master Baekpa Geungseon’s Hand Glass of Seon Literature


Master Baekpa wrote Hand Glass of Seon Literature in order to lay out a standard by which to discriminate the relative superi­ority of the various forms of Seon. The book considers three phrases of Master Linji’s teaching as the standard, depending foe its source mainly on Records of Linji. In addition there are other ref­erences such as Master Chiso’s Insight of Man and Heaven (Kor. Incheon-anmok), Master Hwanseong Jian’s Essentials of Five Or­ders of Seon (Kor. Seonmun-ojong-kangyo), Master Cheonchaek’s Precious Storehouse of Seon (Kor. Seonmun-bojang-nok), and Essentials of Seon (Kor. Seonmun-kangyo).

Before we examine whether the Seon thesis revealed in Hand Glass of Seon is a correct way of looking at things or not, it is important to first understand the general idea of the book.

The book reveals that all Seon can be originally discriminated into three kinds, that is, Seon of the patriarchs, Seon of the Tathagata, and Seon of meaning and reason (Kor. Uiri Seon), a theory derived from the Seon teachings of the three phrases of Linji. Mas­ter Baekpa evaluates and analyses the phrases, coming to the con­clusion that the first phrase is the Seon of the patriarchs, the sec­ond phrase is the Seon of the Tathagata, and the third is the Seon of meaning and reason.


1) The “Three Phrases of Master Linji” is the Standard of Seon


Master Baekpa goes on to argue that this correct view of the three phrases solves all problems of searching for standards of Seon. The first phrase is the phrase before host and guest are divided and it is achieved when a practitioner has insight into the true void and sublime existence. Such a practitioner has a high faculty, and becomes a master of Buddhas and patriarchs, when attaining the first phrase. It is a stage of Seon of the patriarchs.

The second phrase is such in which confrontation is ceased and which removes any clue of argument. It is to reach the “three mysterious gates” of Linji, and they are the mystery in the word, the mystery in the function, and the mystery in the mystery. The first signifies the essence of language, the second the final use of language, the third the place where no language is to be found. The third phrase started from theory, but there is no language found in the end, hence the final mystery is analyzed by Master Baekpa to be that of the true stage.

The background of the true stage of the mystery is a place of truth where there is no foolishness. The three mysteries show that the way of Son starts from language and reaches the stage which cannot be expressed by language.

The third phrase is bound by form and conception. It signifies dealing with expedient means. To borrow the expression of Re­cords of Linji, it is “giving speech to arahats when they meet arahats, and to hungry ghosts when they meet hungry ghosts.” This describes the stage of teaching sentient beings in endless ways, and finding that these beings firmly believe the ways that they are being taught in.

The third phrase corresponds to the Buddhist logic of “being, non-being, and in between.” This stage is the Seon of meaning and reason.


2) Master Baekpa’s Interpretation


Having delineated the three phrases and accepted them as the standard, Master Baekpa classifies Seon traditions. One of the char­acteristics of the Seon tradition is the system of transmission which the Buddha used with Mahakasyapa. This method is the mind-to-mind transmission at three different locations and it is this that is the theory of Extraordinary Seon.

But Master Baekpa thinks that the description of Extraordi­nary Seon consists of elements from the Seon of the Tathagata and the Seon of the patriarchs.

According to Master Baekpa, the first phrase corresponds to Vulture’s Peak, where the Buddha held up a flower and Mahakasyapa smiled, and it is the principle reason of Seon of the patri­archs. The second phrase falls under Stupa of Many Sons, where the Buddha sat with Mahakasyapa, and it is the principle of Seon of the Tathagata The last phrase corresponds to the Sala Tree Grove at Kusinara, where Mahakasyapa saw the Buddha’s feet, and it is the stage of both Seon of the patriarchs and Seon of the Tathagata.

This idea caused many arguments. But it was not only Master Baekpa who began the idea.


(1) New Influence and Original Duty

“New influence” means “practice newly.” It signifies ignorant new practice depending on the expedient means of the Buddha, for the practitioner’s faculty is low. Accordingly, practice only by new influence produces results which are bounded by “corrupt practice,” that is, practice which is the result of the dirt of habit.

“Original duty” signifies finding out how to be a Buddha through reflection, without separate cultivation, and to develop the true aspect of original duty. Therefore, one is bounded by the practice of dirty habit if there is only new influence, but can pos­sibly reach the original stage of Seon if one finds out one’s original duty by reflection. It is a state of abiding in original duty, and it is regarded by Master Baekpa as being included in the Seon of the Tathagata

Master Baekpa explains that when one reaches the stage of firm progress of one’s original duty, then it is possible to reach the Seon of the patriarchs. That is, when new influence exists along with the vitality of original duty to overcome old habits, this is the Seon of the Tathagata In addition, to achieve the key point in one’s Nature is Seon of the patriarchs. The Seon of meaning and reason is a state of only new influence without finding one’s origi­nal duty.


(2) Live Sword and Dead Sword

The expressions “live” and “dead” are one of the important family treasures of the Seon family. These expressions come from a Seon phrase accepted as one of the Linji tradition which is revealed in The Blue Cliff Records (Kor. Pyogam-nok). “Dead sword” sig­nifies the cutting of all defilements and erroneous thoughts with one sword and making all equal, and the “live sword” is to save all people with a sword that is kept in its scabbard.

Master Baekpa revealed that the “dead sword’ signifies the Seon of the Tathagata, and the “live sword” Seon of the patriarchs. And “to use both dead and live” is a stage of both the Seon of the Tathagata and the Seon of the patriarchs. He further stated that this view has continued right from the time of the Buddha up to the time of the Sixth Patriarch Master Huineng.

Master Baekpa also pointed out that Master Huineng transmit­ted the Seon of the patriarchs of the “live sword” to his disciple Master Nanyue Huairang, and the Seon of the Tathagata of the “dead sword” to Master Qingyuan Xingsi.


(3) Analysis of a Stanza of Diamond Sutra

Master Baekpa analyzes a stanza of four lines of Diamond Sutra as follows:


Those who by my form did see me,

And those who followed me by voice

Wrong the efforts they engaged in,

Me those people will not see.


“Those who by my form did see me corresponds to mystery in the function” of the three phrases of Seon of the Tathagata, and the phrase of “being” in the Seon of meaning and reason. “And those who followed me by voice” corresponds to “mystery in the essence” and the in between phrase. 3″ Wrong the efforts they engaged in” corresponds to “mystery in the mystery” and the phase of non-being. Last Me those people will not see” corresponds to the Seon of the Tathagata.


(4) The Analysis of the Four Vows

The Four Vows are the fountainhead of Mahayana Buddhism. The Four Vows are as follows:


I vow to save all beings.

I vow to end all sufferings.

I vow to learn all Dharma teachings.

I vow to attain Enlightenment.


Master Huineng has advised us to discover the Four Vows in our Self Nature. To that Master Baekpa gives the following analy­sis.

“I vow to save all beings” teaches us not to ponder the three poisons of our own mind. For this, Master Baekpa’s quotes the teaching of Master Huineng, “Do not think of good or evil.”

“I vow to end all sufferings” teaches us to cut off defilements by not, thinking of good.

“I vow to learn all Dharma teachings” teaches us that to vow to attain awakening is the greatest vow of learning.

“I vow to attain Enlightenment” teaches us to vow to at­tain Buddhahood. The way to vow is completed only when one from the stage of the true void reaches sublime existence.


(5) The Division of the Five Orders of Seon into Three Kinds of Seon

Insight of Man and Heaven and Essentials to Five Orders of Seon are books which generally focused on revealing the family tradi­tions of the Five Orders. However, many Seon families criticized this attitude. In order to see this problem clearly, the family tradi­tions of identification of the main traditions of general Seon need to be considered objectively. Especially Korean Seon students regard­ed this understanding of the Seon traditions of the Five Orders of Seon as one process in and a part of Seon study.

Master Baekpa used the division of the three categories of Seon in order to discriminate their relative superiority. This certainly caused a problem to the Buddhist world of the time and to later generations as well. Also Master Baekpa’s evaluation of other orders was totally based on his understanding of the attitude taught in Linji Seon, so it was not objective.

The Five Orders are Fayan Order (Kor. Beoban), Weiyang Order (Kor. Wiang), Caodong Order (Kor. Jodong), Yunmen Order (Kor. Unmun), and Linji Order (Kor. Imje). The first three are of the lineage of Master Qingyuan Xingsi, and they are consid­ered to belong to the Seon of the Tathagata. The last two are of the lineage of Master Nanyue Huairang, and they are classified as belonging to the Seon of the patriarchs. The Five Orders, according to Master Baekpa have different family tradition as follows:


1)    Fayan Order reveals “Mind Only.”

2)    Weiyang Order reveals “essence and function.”

3)    Caodong Order reveals the way of elevation.

4)    Yunmen Order reveals cutting.

5)    Linji Order reveals the crux and function.


What is notable here is that the Heze Order (Kor. Hataek) or Southern Order of Master Heze Shenhui is omitted Master Baekpa thought that this order belongs to the Seon of meaning and reason, which is centered around mere logic. This order does not seek original duty but merely depends on new influence.


(6) The Core Point of Hand Glass of Seon Literature

To summarize the content of Hand Glass of Seon Literature, the book explains the three kinds of Seon on the basis of three phrases of Linji. Both Seon of the patriarchs and Seon of the Tathagata are regarded as the principle of Extraordinary Seon, but the Seon of meaning and reason falls under the limitation of logic. Accordingly, Seon of meaning and reason is nothing but a theory of expedients through study. Hence it is nothing but a view of Seon, which is not different from Kyo study.


C. The First Refutation of Hand Glass of Seon Literature:

Master Choui Uisun’s Four Defenses and Random Words


When Master Baekpa’s Hand Glass of Seon was introduced to the Buddhist world, Master Choui Uisun of Taedun-sa Monastery first criti­cized Master Baekpa in his Four Defenses and Random Words (Kor. Sabyeon-maneo).

In this book, Master Choui pointed out Master Baekpa’s fault of merely judging the superiority of the various types of Son according to language, saying, “Old masters said that Seon is Buddha Mind So when one achieves the mind, both teachings of masters and all worldly noises are the purport of Seon, and if one loses one’s mind, then both ‘The Buddha held up a flower and Mahakasyapa smiled’ and ‘a direct transmission outside the texts’ of Seon are merely traces of Kyo.”


(1) The Real Meaning of the “Three Phrases of Master Linji”

Master Baekpa reveals that the ranks of all of Son are, through the three phrases of Linji, divided into three different types of Son. And he provides, for the first phrase, the Son of the patriarchs, for the second phrase the Son of the Tathagata, and for the third phrase the Son of meaning and reason, and he proposes an argument on Son to substantiate his claim.

In answer to this, Master Ch’oui interprets the meaning of the three phrases from fundamentally different viewpoints. Unlike Mas­ter Baekpa who understood the three phrases separately, Master Ch’oui regarded the third phrase as a phrase in which the first and the second phrases join together. Hence, according to Master Ch’oui, the third phrase is valuable, and should not be regarded as a mere dead phrase which can be thrown away.


(2) The Origin of Seon of the Patriarchs and Seon of the Tathagata

From where do the Seon of the patriarchs and Seon of the Tathagata originate? Master Baekpa finds the origin in a discussion between Master Yangshan Huiji and Master Xiangyan Zhixian, the disciples of Master Weishan Lingyou who is the fifth generation of Master Nanyue Huairang. Master Yangshan divided Seon of the pa­triarchs and Seon of the Tathagata and he valued the former high­ly.

But according to Master Choui, there is really no way to distinguish between the two. Unlike Master Baekpa’s position, Master Choui does not consider the two in a relationship of su­periority and inferiority.


(3) The Origin of Extraordinary Seon and Seon of Mean­ing and Reason

Master Choui points out that Master Baekpa commits an error of changing the traditional purport of Seon on his own authority without any proper reason. Master Choui indicates that Seon of the patriarchs is Extraordinary Seon, and Seon of the Tathagata is Seon of meaning and reason. Hence one can traditionally divide Seon into Ex­traordinary Seon and Seon of meaning and reason, and into Seon of the patriarchs and Seon of the Tathagata. This idea was already asserted by Master Hoam and Yeondam earlier to Master Choui.

Thereby, according to Master Choui, it is false to divide Seon into Seon of the patriarchs, Seon of the Tathagata, and Seon of meaning and reason, because the last two Seon fundamentally agree with each other. He claimed that one should not make the mistake of regarding the Seon of meaning and reason as inferior to Seon of the Tathagata,


D. The Second Refutation of Hand Glass of Seon Literature:

Master Udam Honggi’s Records of Right Awakening of Seon Family

Master Udam Honggi was the 10th generation after Master Buhyu, and the Dharma grandson of Master Baekpa because Mas­ter Udam was taught by Master Hanseong Pungmyeong, the disciple of Master Baekpa But Master Udam realized that Master Baekpa’s position was wrong and wrote Records of Right Awakening of Seon Family (Kor. Seonmun-jeungjeong-nok).


(1) About the Titles of Seon

Master Udam agreed with Master Baekpa’s opinion and both of them regarded the first and second phrases of Linji as Seon of the patriarchs and Seon of the Tathagata, respectively. But he, like Master Choui, claimed that Seon of the patriarchs and Seon of the Tathagata should be regarded as the reasoning of Extraordinary Seon and of Seon of meaning and reason, respectively.


(2) The Metaphor of Son: Live Sword and Dead Sword

Live and dead swords are one of basic traditional metaphors used in Seon. To kill with the sword means to kill the thief of ignorance, and to make alive in order to represent the Buddha of Dharma-body. But Master Udam pointed out that Master Baekpa applied “dead” and “live” to the Seon of the Tathagata and Seon of the patriarchs respectively and in this way he made the direction of the Seon tradition unclear.

Master Udam found these expressions used as standard descrip­tions in the records of Master Shitou and Master Mazu. In Records of Shitou, it is written that “It is not achieved by doing this or by not doing this. Hence it is a dead sword.” And in Records of Mazu, it is written, “It is achieved by doing this and by not doing this. Hence it is a live sword.”

Hence Master Udam thinks that if the phrase of Master Shitou “It is not achieved by doing this” belongs to the third phrase, then the phrase “or by not doing this” belongs to the first phrase. Therefore, the first phrase contains the dead sword. And in the case of Master Mazu, “It is achieved by doing this” belongs to the third phrase and “and by not doing this” belongs to the first phrase. Hence both the first and the third phrases are “live sword” and they can coexist.

Master Udam finally concludes that both dead and live phrases belong to the first phrase of Linji, and it was wrong of Master Baekpa to distinguish certain aspects as belonging to the Seon of the Tathagata or to the Seon of the patriarchs.


(3) The Beautiful Coloring of Seon

In the Diamond Sutra, it is revealed that “there is no fixed Dharma which is ‘the utmost, right and perfect enlightenment.'” Therefore, Master Udam thinks that the teachings of the Buddha and the patriarchs are not bound by anything, and it is the beauti­ful coloring of the Buddha and patriarchs, that they are free.

Master Udam considers that the coloring of the Buddha and patriarchs are divided into three; the substance, the function, and in between. And the original names for the three phrases of Linji consist of the substance, the function and in between. The mean­ings of these three essentials are arranged by meaning and reason which, because they are difficult to be revealed by mere words, are seen as three mysteries.

Meaning and reason vary according to the level of faculties of the people involved To people of high faculty, meaning and rea­son are revealed as essentials and called the first phrase of Linji. The second phrase of Linji reveals three mysteries as well as reflection on the first phrase. But the reflection (the second phrase) and the body (the first phrase) for Master Udam are inter­connected, and both of them are finally one.


E. The Defense of Hand Glass of Seon Literature:

Master Seoldu Yuhyong’s Origin of Son and the Course


Master Seoldu Yuhyong is the fourth generation after Master Baekpa. Master Seoldu claimed that the Seon views of Four Defenses and Random Words and Records of Right Awakening of the Seon Family are all wrong when one looks at the origin of Seon, and that a practitioner will finally come back to Master Baekpa’s position. Accordingly, Master Seoldu wrote Origin of Seon and the Course (Kor. Seonwon-soyu) with the aim of searching for the origin of Seon. As he reveals in the preface, he claims that one should search for the origin of Seon and return to the spirit. And when the origin is revealed, it will be seen that the origin is not the position of Master Choui, but the three kinds of Seon claimed by Master Baekpa.


1) The Three Kinds of Seon


Master Seoldu claims that it should be noted that there are two aspects to Seon: the “purport of Seon” and the “explanation of Seon.” The purport of Seon signifies the realization of the Buddha Mind through Seon. As Master Seosan expounded in Mirror of Seon, “If one gets lost in speech, even ‘holding up a flower and smiling’ is all just the reactions of Kyo.” It shows the “explanation of Seon.” But “On the other hand, if one realizes it within one’s own Mind, then all of the crass words and refined talk of the world become the Seon teaching of ‘a direct transmission outside the texts.’” This is the purport of Seon.

The above quotations of Master Seosan were also already used by Master Choui when he refuted Master Baekpa. But quoting the same content, Master Seoldu puts a different commentary to it, that one should not, in fact, cast aside the “explanation of Seon” at random. Because we are able to understand the writings with the help of the “explanation of Seon” and we have an opportunity to clearly understand through these writings. This claim is meaningful in the sense that Master Seoldu developed the idea of Master Baekpa further.

Anyway, what is regarded as the most important of the “explanation of Seon” for Master Seoldu is the three kinds of Seon; Seon of the Tathagata, Seon of the patriarchs, and Seon of meaning and reason. Master Seoldu defends Master Baekpa’s division of Seon into the three, saying that it is inevitable and the normal course of action to divide Seon and use it to explain and measure the facul­ties of sentient beings.

According to Master Seoldu, the logic that Seon of meaning and reason is not Extraordinary Seon is only right, hence it is also right that the Seon of meaning and reason is not regarded as equal to the Seon of the Tathagata or the Seon of the patriarchs. In this sense, it is right to divide Seon into these three kinds.


2) The Theory of “Transmission of the Mind in Three Places”


Master Baekpa interpreted the theory of transmission of the mind at three places as follows.


1)     The First Place: The Buddha was giving a Dharma talk to the masses in the heaven and in the world at the Stupa of Many Sons when Mahakasyapa appeared. Then the Buddha sat with Mahakasyapa. This sitting is expressed as dead sword, for it is a place where no trace of Dharma is found.


2)     The Second Place: The Buddha was giving a Dharma talk at Vultures’ Peak, when the rain of many flowers fell from the sky. The Buddha held up a flower and only Mahakasyapa smiled. It is the principle of live sword, for the holding up of a flower is the Buddha’s live Dharma speech to Mahakasyapa.


3)     The Third Place: The Buddha was in Final Nirvana at the Sala Tree Grove at Kusinara, when Mahakasyapa arrived seven days after the Buddha’s passing away. Mahakasyapa tapped the coffin three times and the Buddha stuck out his two feet and Mahakasyapa vowed three times. It is Seon purport which shows the Buddha’s bestowing of both live and dead forms.


Master Seoldu explains that generations of patriarchs who received transmission of the mind at the three places did not distinguish between the “dead” or “live” sword. But it is after the Sixth Patriarch Huineng that the swords were divided and transmitted separately, for the faculties became varied. Hence the transmission was divided into “dead,” “live,” and “in between.”


F. The Last Refutation of Hand Glass of Seon Literature:

Master Chugwon Jinha’s Records of Reawakening of Seon Family


Master Chugwon Jinha was the last one who joined the argument over Seon. He learned the texts from masters Baekpa and Seoldu, but he developed his own logic of Seon, in which he criti­cizes the two masters in his Records of Reawakening of Seon Family (Kor. Seonmun-chaejeung-nok). He believed that the Seon thought of masters Choui and Udam was correct and that their arguments were right.

The master lived at a time in which national prestige was at a very low level because of annexation of the country to Japan. To Master Chugwon, the issue of the Seon argument could fall into the category of a leisurely discourse which was not right for the time. Hence it seems that he tried to reveal the problem of this argument on Seon in the sense of adjusting and arranging it rather than adding to and criticizing the problem. His position was simply to reveal the Seon position of masters Choui and Udam again as a form of conclusion.


1) The Problem of the Three Phrases and the Three Seon


Traditionally, masters have been used to the words of the Seon of the Tathagata and Seon of the patriarchs on the one hand, and Seon of meaning and reason and Extraordinary Seon on the other. But it is only Master Baekpa who put the first two Seon together and regarded them as Extraordinary Seon, looking down on the Seon of meaning and reason. Besides, Master Baekpa gave the wrong explanation about the three phrases of Linji because he arranged them wrongly and it seems wrong to contend for the superiority or the inferiority of the three Seon.

Master Chugwon pointed out that the titles Seon of the patri­archs and Seon of the Tathagata themselves are not correct. The very concept of Seon of the Tathagata being the teacher of humans and those in the heaven, and Seon of the patriarchs being for the Buddhas and the patriarchs seems wrong.

Master Chugwon emphasized that the superiority of Seon can­not be distinguished by revealing it, whether it is Seon of the patri­archs or Seon of the Tathagata, and Extraordinary Seon or Seon of meaning and reason. There must only be a difference whether the Seon is in a live phrase or in a dead phrase, and one cannot differentiate Seon of the patriarchs and Seon of the Tathagata.


2) The Problem of Seon of Meaning and Reason


In Seon, the expression “direct transmission outside the texts” is often used. Master Chugwon thought that Master Baekpa regarded “outside the texts” the same as the “extraordinary” of “Extraordi­nary Seon.” But Master Chugwon considered Master Seoldu’s “out­side the texts and “extraordinary” the same from one point of view and different from another. According to Master Chugwon, Master Seoldu considered both Seon of the patriarchs and Seon of the Tathagata to be “outside the texts” and   “extraordinary.”

Here, Master Chugwon thought that though the Seon of mean­ing and reason are not “extraordinary,” it should be regarded as “outside the texts.” The Seon of meaning and reason is, in the strictest sense, “a direct transmission outside the texts.”

What matters here is whether Seon is free from every trace of Kyo or not. When the road to reason is cut off, there opens a road to the “extraordinary.” Hence the way left for the Seon of meaning and reason is to cut the meaning and reason.


3) The Problem of “Live and Dead”


“Dead sword” and, “live sword” mean “sitting with Mahakasyapa” and “holding up a flower” respectively. Masters Baekpa and Seoldu explained that “sitting with Mahakasyapa” signifies the Seon of the Tathagata, and “holding up a flower” signifies the Seon of the patriarchs. Master Chugwon, here criticizes that “dead” and “live” should be in the same family, and they must not be separated from each other.


G. Conclusion


1) The Starting Point of the Seon Argument


The argument on Seon in the late Joseon Dynasty was started by Master Baekpa Geungseon of Seonun-sa Monastery. Master Baekpa’s idea of dividing Seon into three kinds created a dispute in the Korean Buddhist world which lasted through the 18th and 19th centuries. This argument can be criticized because it stirred up a problem of a pointless argument which was nothing but a desk theory. But it is certainly significant in the sense that the argument made the issue of searching for our Original Nature to be the Seon logic of the general Buddhist world.

Therefore, it is right to value the argument as a process of stretching for Korean Buddhist thinking before its modernization. The material on the basis of which the argument was begun was The Essence and the Songs of Seon (Kor. Seonmun-yeomsong) writ­ten in 1226 by Goryeo National Teacher Jingak Hyeshim. This book includes 1,125 hwadus and it is they that became the basis for reaching the way to awakening. On the basis of this book, there were various movements according to the different periods of time to search for simpler, better and newer methods for practicing the way.

The time of Master Baekpa was not exceptional. Master Baekpa wished to discriminate and show the superiority of Seon in order to reveal its true stages. To this end he wrote Hand Glass of Seon literature to arrange the basic texts of Seon which were most often used by students. The texts are: Master Chiso’s Insight of Man and Heaven, Master Hwanseong Jian’s Essentials of Five Orders of Seon, Master Cheonchaek’s Precious Storehouse of Seon, and Essentials of of Seon.


2) The Application of Seon of the Patriarchs and Seon of the Tathagata


Master Baekpa established three ways of reaching the final stage of Seon of the patriarchs. He identified three kinds of facul­ties, that is, high, middle, and low faculties with the first, second, and third phrases of Linji respectively. In addition he regarded the characteristics of these three phrases to be expressed as Seon of the patriarchs, Seon of the Tathagata, and Seon of meaning and reason.

What is very particular here is that Master Baekpa put Seon of the patriarchs in a higher place than Seon of the Tathagata. But this position caused a fundamental problem in that everyone won­dered how the Tathagata, that is, Sakyamuni Buddha, can be con­sidered inferior to the patriarchs.

This position that Seon of the patriarchs is superior to Seon of the Tathagata has several meanings in Seon. Firstly, Seon sees that which has been transmitted by the patriarchs as superior to the stage which the Tathagata attained Secondly, the stages of true void and sublime existence should be realized together in Seon, and the former is the stage of Seon of the Tathagata, and the latter is of Seon of the patriarchs. Thirdly, the principles of the Seon of the patriarchs and of the Seon of the Tathagata are divided and explained separately in texts. Fourthly, the Flower Garland study also distinguishes the Seon of the patriarchs from the Seon of the Tathagata.


3) The Problem of Seon Argument of Master Baekpa’s Lineage


Master Baekpa gave the explanation that Linji and Yunmen orders belong to the Seon of the patriarchs, and that Caodong, Weiyang, and Fayan orders belong to the Seon of the Tathagata, and Heze Order to Seon of meaning and reason. But these distinc­tions were very troublesome. Each of the Seon orders had its own family tradition, and it is not right to try to evaluate the superior­ity or inferiority of the different orders. Hence it is natural that Master Baekpa’s idea was severely criticized.

In this sense, lay scholar Chusa Kim Jeong-hui criticized Master Baekpa saying that “The truth of Seon is like a light new dress without stitching, just like a heavenly dress. But the dress is patched and repatched by the inventiveness of humans, and so be­comes a worn-out piece of clothing.” Chusa thought that one can only reveal the traditions of the Seon orders, but to discriminate between their relative superiority and inferiority is like fighting for food which has been begged for by a beggar. To discriminate between the Five Orders of Seon is to destroy the real meaning of Seon.


4) The Problem of Seon Argument of Master Choui’s Lineage

As Master Baekpa made a mistake, masters Choui and Udam also committed an error. They claimed that Seon should be divided into Seon of the patriarchs and Seon of the Tathagata on the one hand, and into Extraordinary Seon and Seon of meaning and reason on the other. Then, it should be accepted by the masters that the Seon of meaning and reason and Seon of the Tathagata of the three phrases of Linji are the same. But they thought that the third phrase contains both Seon of the patriarchs and Seon of the Tathagata, and then it is not clear whether Seon of the Tathagata and Seon of meaning and reason fundamentally agree or not. If the source of Seon is nothing but the overcoming of opponents, then it only creates a misunderstanding of the true quality of Seon.

In this sense, any of the positions of Master Baekpa or those of Master Choui are not something for us to agree with. But in the process of searching for solutions to the problems created by this argument, we can develop an important and significant way to realizing the essence of Seon. Hence, the masters were pioneers who cultivated the way to understanding the purport of Seon. It was a new development in a new direction of Seon on a new stage through a new way of practice, just when the Korean nation faced a period of extreme hardship, and it is for this reason that the argument was so important in the Korean Buddhist world.

Cheongheo Hyujeong ( 1520 ~ 1604 )


The Master Cheongheo Hyujeong’s ordination name was Cheongheo, his postumous name, Seosan, and his dharma name, Hyujeong.



The master was born in Anju, Pyeongan-do Province. Called Unhak at a child, he lost his parents at an early age, then followed a friend of his father to Seoul where he entered Joseon’s highest educational institution, the Seonggyungwan. At 14, though Unhak’s brilliance set him apart from others, he was despondent facing the reality of being unable to easily secure a government position, having failed his official exams and lacking any foundation within an established household. With these feelings of frustration towards his reality, Unhak and some friends decided to go on an excursion to a place where they could find the sagacious wisdom of great monks, Mt. Jirisan. In the process, he came upon someone who led his way to a new life, Master Sungin, in a tiny hermitage near Sinheungsa Monastery.


Master Sungin, who recommended the cultivation of the Buddha dharma, was questioned by Unhak, “How does the mind arise? To what in the mind does one enlighten to?” Master Sungin spoke. “The mind is not an object that can be expressed through words. Having neither appearance, color, size, nor weight, the mind belongs to a world that is impossible to access through our processes of recognition and therefore it demands that each of us experience it on our own, such that we can be able to recognize it. He then spoke of the Buddhist scriptures, stating that “If you carefully read and think deeply, bit by bit you can enter into the gate of the mind.” 


A genius well acquainted to the principle texts of Confucianism, Unhak quickly flew through the Tripitaka, the Buddhist Canon. In here he didn’t find the ethical values of filial piety, ritual, five relationships, benevolence, and virtue as represented in the Confucian classics; in the Tripitaka, he found concepts like mind, nothingness, the world of truth, facts, the law of cause and effect, impermanence, without attributes, without self, and the like, complicated philosophies and systems of thought. Unhak’s mind was shaken, as if he had taken a blow to the head from a small metal rod. “In the midst of eternity, humanity exists within the instant of each moment. Within this boundless universe, humanity is nothing more than a single speck of dust. And here I swagger as if I know it all, acting impudently.” The friends who had accompanied Unhak on this journey returned to Seoul but Unhak remained, taking on Sungin as his teacher, beginning his life as a supplicant, and vigorously studying the scriptures. He learned seon from Master Buyong, who had become enlightened solely through the practice of Seon meditation without engaging in formal doctrinal study. Though Unhak had obtained liberation of wisdom (jihye haetal) through his sagely understanding of the meaning of ‘mind,’ ‘no attributes,’ and ’emptiness,’ he had still not attained liberation of the mind (sim haetal). Therefore, he remained bound and attached to matter and appearances, unable to act freely, with his mind frustrated. The more he exerted himself trying to escape his attachments to these empty names and false appearances, the more entangled he became. It was in this state that one night he suddenly heard the cries of a cuckoo and from his meditative state (samadhi), he awakened to a world of sublime truths, totally indescribable through words or text, a beautiful Buddha world that appeared to the eye as if a mountainside of blooming spring flowers. Unhak thus finally shaved his head, and with his ordination, was born again.


At the age of 32, Master Hyujeong placed the top of his class on the examination of the monastic curriculum, and he ascended to the highest position in the Buddhist order, the master arbiter of both the order of Seon and doctrinal study (Gyo). However, thinking it wasn’t a monk’s part to take administrative office within the sangha, he resigned his post, returning to Mt. Geumgangsan where he gave his undivided attention to his practice and guiding the younger monks, while at the same time producing important writings revealing his Seon thought.


In 1592 (the 25th year of Seonjo’s reign), when Master Hyujeong was 72 years old and living on Mt. Myohyangsan, Joseon, the Land of Morning Calm, was invaded by the Japanese in the year of Imjin. He recalled the reality where Buddhism had faced only heaps of scorn and contempt owing to the violent policy of Buddhist suppression promulgated by the Confucian scholars of the Joseon court. Nevertheless, Hyujeong felt that though the nation had renounced Buddhism, Buddhism could never reject the nation, as the nation was where countless sentient beings needed saving through great compassion. Thus, he ultimately took to the battlefield. Even at his advanced age of 72, on his own accord he took command of a monk militia, and together with troops from the Ming Dynasty, he recaptured Pyeongyang and fought to the bitter end, until the war met its completion with the consummation of a peace treaty with Japan.


After leading his troops to military victory, Hyujeong bequeathed all of his military authority to his disciples and then headed back to the mountains where he devoted himself entirely to the cultivation of his practice. In January, 1604, with snow piled high around Wonjeogam Hermitage, Hyujeong concluded his sermon on the hwadu that had filled his entire life, the ‘mind’ hwadu, brought out his portrait, wrote the following lines as a final transmission to his disciples, and then assumed the lotus position, entering into nirvana. His worldly age was 84, and his age in the sangha (beomnap), 67.

80 years ago, that thing was me

80 years later, and now aren’t I that thing!

Hyujeong left behind over 1000 disciples and among them, there are at least seventy outstanding figures. Among these, four disciples in particular, Samyeong Yujeong (1544~1610), Pyeonyang Eongi (1581~1644), Soyo Taeneung (1562~1649), and Jeonggwan Ilseon (1533~1608), stand out as the most representative, as they were the leaders of the four main groups within the community of Hyujeong’s disciples.



Master Hyujeong’s written output includes a four volume, two book set of his collected works, Cheongheodangjip (collected works of Ven. Cheongheo), as well as the Seongyogyeol (Essence of Seon and Gyo), Simbeop yocho (Summary of the Mind Dharma), Seongyoseok (Interpretations of Seon and Gyo), Unsudan [a book of Buddhist rituals], Samga gwigam (Reflections on the Three Religions, i.e. Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism), Seolseon ui (Manners of Lecturing on Seon Meditiation) and the Jesandan Uimun, among others.


Intellectual Distinction

Hyujeong used the ‘mind’ as the object of his lifelong hwadu. The topic of Hyujeong’s many books, including the Samga gwigam, Seongyoseok, Seongyogyeol, and others, is ‘mind.’ 


In the Samga gwigam, he represented “mind” in terms of it being “a single thing” (ilmul). His view was that mind alone was the mother of the universe, that it was the foundation of humanity, heaven and earth. He noted how it was within the mind that the division of good and evil, along with all ideologies and assertions began, and that it was in that mind that the Buddha and all sentient beings began as well.


Starting from the main premise that “Seon is the Buddha’s mind, Gyo (doctrinal study) is the Buddha’s word,” Hyujeong advanced the idea that with Seonas principal and Gyo as subordinate, one could proceed to enlightenment, and thus he placed Seon superior to Gyo. Seon is the arrival at the wordless truth, accomplished through silence, without a word. Gyo is the arrival to the wordless world, accomplished through edification in the scriptures. Therefore, he noted that Gyo is a method that, following the teachings of the Buddha, examines every dharma, and teaches the principles of emptiness. Seon is entering directly into this principle of emptiness and experiencing it, and Patriarchal Seon, in particular, cuts into the space where meaning takes place, forming the principle of emptiness in the mind’s foundation.


In terms of practice, Master Hyujeong especially advocated Ganhwaseon. Ganhwaseon is one of the methods used in the Seon practice of investigating hwadu. A hwadu is a highly original and powerfully emblematic word problem created by the awakened Patriarchs to guide their disciples on the path to awakening, namely, a hwadu is “a mass of doubt.” Investigation here means thinking about the hwadu while practing Seon mediation. Accordingly, he said that if one investigates their hwadu with the sincerity that a thirsty person thinks about water, the mind would be awakened. However, stressing that Seon meditation practiced in a foolish mind would bring no benefit and only aggravate more foolishness, he argued that cultivation without an awakened mind was not true cultivation. Here he was inheriting Master Bojo Jinul’s dictum of seono husu (first, awakening, then cultivation), particularly the idea of dono jeomsu, “sudden awakening followed by gradual practice,” in speaking of the cultivation that is founded upon awakening.


Moreover, he warned that no matter how diligently one practices Seon, without precepts,only evil wisdom could be created, and though monks and nuns may focus on the practice of Seon meditation in order to achieve enlightenment, it was critical for them to work together in maintaining our mind’s fundamental precepts, those that help each of us guard against the temptations of one’s environment, as well as those that help us collectively purify our thoughts, words and deeds.


He also addressed yeombul, the practice of changing the Buddha’s name, and said that chanting was a practice that made it easier for your mind not to forget, but be mindful of the Pure Land of Amita Buddha. He defined yeombul as using the synchronization of mouth and mind, through the sincere and focused practice of calling out the Buddha’s name while keeping mindfulness on the Pure Land, clearly and without any confusion. He said that although foolish people engage in yeombul to be reborn in the Pure Land, to learned people it would do nothing but cleanse their own minds.


In these ways, Hyujeong displays the distinct mark of his thought. It begins with a sense of doubt about the mind, and then uses that mind to harmonize various methods of ascetic practice.

A Letter to Minister Mok In-gil

This business of enlightenment does not depend on whether you are lay or ordained, a novice or experienced, nor is dependent on the influence or the practice of the many past lives. Sudden awakening only lies within the one clear faith of the practitioner’s thought. This is why the Buddha also said, “Faith, as the root of one’s fundamental being and the mother of virtue, brings about the development of the good dharma of the fundamental unity. Faith brings about the development of wisdom’s virtue and faith infallibly brings one to the arrival in the seat of Vairocana.”

Whether presiding over domestic matters, directing public affairs at the ministry, having guests over to share some conversation, eating and having some tea, going out, standing, sitting or lying down, in the end, by all means please ask yourself, “What is all of this?” If you simply ask yourself this question ceaselessly, meditating on the truth without rest, before you know it you’ll find yourself laughing uproariously. Thereupon you’ll come to know for the first time that it is not necessary to shave your head, wear the robes, leave home, practice asceticism or sit on a cushion like a monk in order to have such an experience of awakening.

A letter written to Her Excellency Princess Sungnyeong
If you want to want to accomplish the one great thing, it makes no difference whether you reside amongst the ordained or not, among men or women, beginning or senior students. Everything lies within your final sincere singular thought. What I see that is different in the princess’s innate disposition compared to others is that from the beginning, there has never been selfishness or suspicion or a deluded mind, there has been nothing other than an entirely sincere mind searching for the complete and unsurpassed supreme enlightenment of Buddhahood. Isn’t it as if you’ve been permeated with the correct dharma of wisdom through a close association with Seon knowledge from some countless eons ago in the past? As the ancients say, “A grown man is not someone who pays attention to a woman’s figure, a grown man is someone who is endowed with the four dharmas.” These four dharmas are: one, an acquaintance with the knowledge of Seon; two, hearing the correct teachings; three, thinking about the meaning of those teachings; and four, acting in accordance with those teachings. If you are imbued with these four dharmas, it can truly be said that you are fully grown, if not, though you may have the body of an adult, it cannot be said that you are fully grown.

I pray, my princess, that you believe this teaching beyond a shadow of a doubt and that you ceaselessly focus on your hwadu everyday, twenty four hours a day, in all four of the bodies postures, whether walking, standing, sitting or lying down. If you concentrate without stopping, never resting, and question your hwadu whether in the midst of tranquility or noisiness, even if you are not trying to concentrate, you will naturally concentrate. When speaking or being silent, even if you are not questioning your hwadu, you naturally question. Awake or asleep, your hwadu appears before you and though you may want to forget it, you do not; though you may want to awake from it, you will not awaken. In this mental state, unwittingly the body is overturned and abandoned. It is here where a woman’s body changes into a man’s, a man’s body changes and becomes a Buddha. This is my most ardent and sincere request of you.
Ten Points on Seon Practice
1. When ordinary people see a visual form or hear a sound, they are unable to escape it. What shall you do to be able to escape the world of form and sound?
2. If you have already escaped the realm of sound and form, you must immediately begin studying. What is the proper way to practice?
3. If you have already begun your practice, you then need to ripen your practice, but how?
4. If your practice has ripened, you must then rid yourself of all traces. How can these traces be eliminated?
5. If all traces have been removed, you become cold and aloof, with no appetite and absolutely no vigor. Your consciousness connects with nothing, your mind not active, in this state you are like a phantom, not knowing the ways of the human world. When you’ve gotten to this point, what is the boundary between human and phantom?
6. When your practice becomes extremely intense, you become perfectly still, unvarying whether asleep or awake. Though struck, you are not perturbed; though moved, your focus is not lost. Like when a dog sees a kettle of boiling oil, though they may have an urge to lick it, they cannot, in the same way, though we may want to quit our study, we seemingly cannot. At that point, what are you going to have to do?
7. Suddenly, it seems as if a two-hundred pound weight is brought down on you, instantly crushing and breaking you. At that point, what is your self-nature?
8. If you have already awakened to your own self-nature, you must know the correct way to utilize the original function of your self-nature, in accordance with your karma. What is the correct way to utilize the original function of your self-nature?
9. If you already know the function of your self-nature, you must be freed from life and death. When your sight fails you and your body withers, how will you free yourself?
10. If you are already free from life and death, you must know where you are going. When the four elements (earth, water, fire and wind) become dispersed, where do they go?
Without knowing you were born a weakling
You drink too much blood and can’t take to the sky
By all means, don’t covet other people’s precious things
Later on, you’ll certainly have to repay in full
Admonishing the People
Because you were busy wandering through the mundane world
You didn’t realize you were growing old and gray
Wealth and fame is like a gate of misfortune engulfed in blazes
From time immemorial, how many have perished in its flames?
Buddha’s Birthday
Even though the newborn took seven steps, it was still a mistake
But pointing to the earth and sky was even worse
Were it not for those mistakes then
He might have been spared the pain of Yumen’s cudgel
A Vow
I wish, in every place that I am reborn
No matter where I am, I never retreat from the wisdom of the dharma
Like Shakyamuni, with dauntless cognition
Like Vairocana, with profound attainment of enlightenment
Like Manjusri, with great wisdom
Like Samantabhadra, with extensive practice
Like Ksitigarbha, with a limitless body
Like Guanyin, through thirty different manifestations
In the worlds of the ten directions, may I emanate in every place, without exception
Leading all sentient beings to the state of the unconditioned
Let those who hear my name be freed from the three hells
Those who see my form attain enlightenment
In this way, I will continue enlightening the world, unto eternity
Until finally, there comes to be neither Buddhas nor sentient beings
I pray to the heavenly dragons and eight types of dharma protectors
In order to protect me, do not part from me
No matter what difficulty arises, please clear the way
And help bring about the realization of this profound vow

Naong Hyegeun ( 1320 ~ 1376 )


1.    Career

Master Naong lived at a time of much upheaval at the end of the Goryeo Dynasty. Together with Taego Bou, he is regarded as a great Master who helped lay the foundation for the Buddhism in the Joseon era. His dharma name is Hyegeun, his ordination name is Naong, and he also went by the name Gangwolheon, following the name of the room where he stayed for many years. He had the title of “Bojejonja” when he served as a royal monk and was given the posthumous title Seongak.


When the master was twenty, facing the death of one of his companions, he asked his elders where people went when they died, but no one could give him an answer. With a very sad heart, he went to Mt. Gongdeoksan where he was ordained under Master Yoyeon. Following this, he went on pilgrimage to every well-known temple in the nation, practicing diligently until in 1344 (the fifth year of King Chunghye’s reign) he had a great awakening at Mt. Cheonbosan’s Hoeam-sa in Yangju.


The 14th century Goryeo of Naong’s time was at the height of crisis both politically, owing to the interference of the Yuan in their domestic affairs as well as the dynastic shift on the continent seeing the Yuan being taken over by the Ming, and socially, due to the frequent incursions of Red Turbans and Japanese pirates that were bringing excessive disorder. Moreover, with the rising tide of the Song Confucianism faction bringing an intensification of the militant criticism of Buddhism, favorable conditions for the existence of Buddhism began to narrow. Exerting themselves to overcome this crisis, numerous masters sought out the direct transmission of the Linji chan of Yuan.


At the age of 27, in 1347, Master Naong went to study in the State of Yuan, staying at Fayuan-si in Yanjing. There, he studied under the Indian Master Zhikong for two years. Master Zhikong, known as the 108th dharma-descendants of Mahakasyapa, was a master of high regard and revered as one of the “108th Great Patriarch of India.” Following his study with Zhikong, Naong went to Jingci Temple where he was instructed in the dharma by the 18th Patriarch of the Linji School, Pingshan Chulin, and received his flywhisk, signifying the approval of his enlightenment. In May 1351, he also received the approval of dharma transmission from Master Jigong along with his robes, a flywhisk, and letter written in Sanskrit. In this way, Master Naong had the rare occasion to inherit the trust and confidence of two masters.


In 1355, on the authority of Yuan Emperor Shundi, he resided at Guangji Temple as a missionary, and also received golden brocade robes and a flywhisk made of ivory from the Crown Prince.


Upon his return to Goryeo in 1358, he stayed at many temples, including Sangdu-am Hermitage at Mt. Odaesan, and in 1361, following the order of King Gongmin, he did propagation work at temples such as Singwang-sa, Cheongpyeong-sa, and Hoeam-sa. At this time he supervised the Grand Assembly of Seon Study. 


The monk’s examinations, which were regarded as prerequisites for conferral of the dharma precepts, had suffered from the stagnation brought on by various squabbles after the reign of King Gojong. However, during the reign of King Gongmin, under the supervision of Naong, the tradition of “examinations for the practice and study of Seon” was once again re-established. This holds a particularly important meaning, because the reimplementation of the monk’s exam, which was suspended after the expulsion of Shin Don, greatly helped in reinvigorating the atmosphere of Buddhism and in stimulating the spirit of the sangha. 


In 1371, he became a royal monk and served as abbot of Suseon-sa (later Songgwang-sa). Later he became abbot of Hoeam-sa, and through his temple renovation efforts he greatly promoted the teachings of the dharma, receiving ceaseless visits from people in the capital and the neighboring areas.


In 1376, while Naong was in the process of moving to Youngwon-sa in Milseong (present day Miryang) on the king’s authority, he passed away at Silleuk-sa in Yeoju on May 15 at the age of 56, after 37 years in the sangha. Among his 2000 plus disciples were Hwanam Honsu (1320-1392) and Muhak Jacho (1327-1425), the latter being known for his great contributions to the foundation of the Joseon dynasty.


2.    Writings

Master Naong’s extant literary output includes a volume work titled Sayings of Master Naong and another one volume text, Odes of Monk Naong, and beyond that, a number of texts self-published at his temples.


In 1363, Sayings of Master Naong, a collection of 61 literary gems, in the form of representative Seon sermons, commentaries on koans, letters, and Seon instructions, was compiled by Naong’s disciple Gangnyeon and proofread and published by Honsu.


3.    Intellectual Distinction

Master Naong’s intellectual distinction is his consciousness of admonition to his age, based on the foundation of thought labeled, “one mind, three treasures” ilsim sambo.  In Buddhism, the Buddha, his teachings, and the community that follows those teachings are known as the three treasures, and Naong’s teaching puts faith and devotion to these three treasures at the very center of Buddhist practice. However, these three jewels weren’t to be found someplace outside, they were said to be found in the minds of all sentient beings, and that we were to revere the three treasures in our own minds.


Moreover, he said that each being must have a clear faith in their own being, and that awakening will only ripen when, based on this confidence, one does not become attached to anything else. Based on this idea of “one mind, three treasures,” Master Naong wanted to enlighten the whole world. As everyone is possessed of the ability to become a Buddha, he focused on the fact that we must diligently give all our efforts to become aware that we maintain this capability. This was precisely his spirit of admonishment to society.


Master Naong strove to make known far and wide that it wasn’t power or profit in the mundane world, nor was it the pursuit of worldly fame that stood as our most urgent task, rather, in this present life it was the cultivation of mind that was our dire purpose. Since he claimed that anyone who practiced diligently could become a Buddha, he sincerely appealed to society, asking why they weren’t practicing. 


With this spirit of warning as his basis of Seon thought, he taught various ways to examine one’s level of study through the Assembly of Examination Seon. Moreover, through the restoration work of Hoeam-sa, he served the masses, exemplifying the concrete works he was doing to create happiness and fortune.


It is also important to note that Naong’s way was not to employ difficult dogma, but rather he pulled at heartstrings, appealing to people’s sensitivity using popular language through poems and songs in order to save all beings. This aspect of the Master’s spreading the strong feeling of enlightenment to the masses earned him great respect extending into the Joseon dynasty, and it was said that he must have been a reincarnation of Shakyamuni Buddha.


All you who seek fame and love profit / your greed never satisfied, in vain your head has turned grey

Fame and profit are gates full of fire / from time immemorial, how many thousands have perished in their flames?

From “Gyeongse,” Sayings of Master Naong


Relying entirely on mindfulness of the Buddha, striving assiduously / abandon your lust and fancies and enter into Nirvana

From “Sijeyeombul-in,” Sayings of Master Naong


Especially in his practice, Master Naong never made distinctions between the men or women among the sangha, leading everyone on the path such that they could study the dharma. Therefore, he made a checklist of ten stages to examine oneself along the path, the “10 steps of Practice.” By adopting a diverse practice regimen, emphasizing not only Ganhwa Seon but also the practice of Buddha recitation, he displayed an intellectual tolerance that was not localized within the characteristics of only one sect.


While Seon is a self-powered practice aimed towards becoming a Buddha though the awakening to one’s own mind, Pure Land is an “other power” practice based on the power of Original Vow of Amita Buddha that helps those who wish to be reborn in the Pure Land.


Based on the teaching of “one mind, three treasures” and the idea that the “mind only is the Pure Land,” he allowed for the “other-powered” practices of “contemplating the Buddha’s image” and “chanting the Buddha’s name” in order to present a diversity of practice methods applicable to the various levels of spiritual capability.


In this way, just as the essence of different metals are reborn in the melting process forged in a blast furnace, through the advocacy of a diversity of practices to work in accord with the diverse needs of the people, Master Naong embraced the masses with a light of hope during the political and social strife that

A Buddha from Korea: The Zen Teachings of T’aego

A Buddha from Korea: The Zen Teachings of T’aego

by Taego Bou

translator : J. C. Cleary

Language : Englsih

Publisher : Shambhala ( May 1, 2001 )

Category : Analects


A Buddha from Korea is intended to open a window on Zen Buddhism in old Korea. The book centers on a translation of teachings of the great fourteenth-century Korean Zen adept known as T’aego, who was the leading representative of Zen in his own time and place. This is an account of Zen Buddhism direct from an authentic source.

Customer Review from

Brilliant translation of a neglected Zen master, January 24, 2004

Reviewer: a reader (Decatur, Georgia USA) – See all my reviews

Prior to this translation, not much was known in the English-speaking world about “Korean” Zen. J.C. Cleary’s introduction is useful and informative in revealing Zen as practiced in Old Korea–the first penetration of Zen from China across national boundaries (followed by its subsequent movement into Vietnam and then Japan)–and his introduction serves as a counterbalance to our unwitting orientalism of Zen by re-newing the words of T’aego, an authentic, historical voice for a vibrant and living practice. Cleary’s translation is rich in its insinuations and ultimately startling in its clarity. Here is a passage from “How to Study Zen”: “The days and months go by like lightning: we should value the time. We pass from life to death in the time it takes to breathe in and breathe out: it’s hard to guarantee even a morning and an evening. Whether walking, standing, sitting, or lying down, do not waste even a minute of time. Become ever braver and bolder….Mind is the natural Buddha: why bother seeking elsewhere? Put down your myriad concerns and wake up.” Here it is: instant Zen: you wake up.

Taego Bou ( 1301 ~ 1382 )


National Teacher Taego Bou was the great Seon (Chan in China; Zen in Japan) master who succeeded the Seon lineage of the Linji School from China and who played an important role in the establishment of Ganhwaseon in Goryeo. At first his ordination name was Boheo but it was later changed to Bou; Taego was his Buddhist nickname; and the name given to him after his death was Wonjeung.


1. Biography

National teacher Bou was born at Yanggeun in 1301 C.E. (the 27th year of the King Chungnyeol’s reign). He became a monk at the age of 12 (the fifth year of King Chungseon) at Hoeamsa Temple under Seon Master, Gwangji; at the age of 18, he began to practice Seon in the Gajisan Mountain monastery. At that time, he was given the gongan: “Ten thousands things return to the one; where does the one return to?” At the age of 26, as he had passed the Huayanxuan(Avatamsaka: Flower Garland exam), he decided to study the sutra; he showed the attitude of a true practitioner by practicing meditation and by becoming acquainted with the doctrines as well.


Yet, Bou came to realize the limit of sutra studies and so returned to the intense practice of Seon. While practicing Seon for seven days especially diligently, he experienced awakening at Gamnosa Temple in 1333 C.E (the second year of King Chungsuk’s second reign). After that, one day when he was studying the Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment, he came to read the passage, “If everything is gone, nothing moves.” From this passage he had another enlightenment experience and so the next year, he began to investigate the “Mu” gongan ( “Mu”: literally meaning something like “none” or “non-existent”). He returned to his hometown, Yanggeun, and continued his efforts. After studying 1,700 gongans he resolved the doubts that had been plaguing him for 20 years by reading the passage of “Amdu milgyecheo,” and attained enlightenment.


After enlightenment, he went to Yuan China in 1346 C.E. (the 2nd year of King Chungmok) at the age of 46 and there he met the great master of the Linji school, Shiyu Qinggong at Cheonhoam(Tianhu in Chinese), and received his approval. After that he taught Buddhism at the request of the Yuan king, and then returned to Goryeo in 1348 C.E., becoming a teacher of the royal family in 1356 C.E. (the 5th year of King Gongmin). Master Taego Bou set up the Ministry of Union, a special office dedicated to the unification of the Nine Mountain Schools of Korean Seon at Gwangmyeongsa Temple. In this way he contributed to the settling of problems which had arisen in the different schools of the Buddhist communities. In 1382 C.E. (the 8th year of King U), he died and entered into final Nirvana at the age of 81; he had been a monk for 69 years. He had more than one thousand disciples, among whom were famous masters such as Hwanam Honsu, Mogam Chanyeong, Myoeom Joi.


2. Writings

There are two volumes of Bou’s writings: The Record of the Master Taego’s Sayings, which is composed of “sangdang” (the patriarch’s dharma talks), “sijung” (admonitions), other dharma talks, songs, chanting, verses or “chanbal,” and an appendix. These writings clearly explain Bou’s thoughts on Seon as well as other matters.


3. Characteristics of His Thought

In The Record of the Master Taego’s Sayings, the master writes that he considered Ganhwaseon, especially, Mu gongan to be important practices. 

“The word ‘Mu’ means neither ‘non-existence’ of ‘existing or not existing,’ nor ‘nothingness.’ If this is so, then what is it? In this questioning state, the practitioner doesn’t think of anything at all, not even the thought of not thinking! When a person does not think and does not even have consciousness of thinking, then a state of great calm and emptiness is reached. Do not think to much.” (The Record of the Master Taego’s Sayings)

Here, the question “What is it?” increases the level of doubt and leads to Master Zhaozhou’s “Mu kongan” (“No letter” gongan). As can be seen, Master Bou’s method of Ganhwaseon developed the process further than its initiator Dahui, the founder of Kanhuachan, and other Seon masters.


The main thrust of Master Bou’s thought was aimed at unifying other tendencies into a harmony based on Seon. First of all, he deepened the unification process of the Seon and Doctrinal schools. He thought that the understanding of the sutras is not in opposition to the practice of Seon, nor is it equal; doctrine (Gyo) is an expedient means for attaining states the lowest and middle states of consciousness which are a proto-state for gaining the subtle state. “Japhwa samaega (Verses of Samadhi on Various Flowers)” is poetry which helps to clarify the master’s views on Seon and doctrine; these poems are found in The Record of the Great Master Taego’s Writings. “Japhwa” (various flowers), here means the Avatamsaka Sutra (Flower Garland Sutra); “Japhwa samae” is “Haein-samae” (“The Ocean Seal Concentration” a meditative state). Here is a short quotation from Bou’s verses: 

“On the day the dharma talk was delivered at the center of the Bodhimanda (the bodhi site),

During the ocean seal contemplation, sayings were said without saying.

Who heard them, and who transmitted them?

These are the tongues of Manjusi (the Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Samantabhadra(the Bodhisattva of Action).

What paths were followed and heard by these Bodhisattvas?

Being in the deep concentration ocean (Samadhi hae), hidden Virochana samadhi!”

This verse implies that even in the world of the Avatamsaka Sutra it has to be admitted that the flower garlands are not in the sutra, but in the world of writing and speaking, or beyond, which is a world of release and emancipation, a world of enlightenment. Though Master Bou studied the sutras, his realization of the limits of that study made him return to Seon practice. This shows that even though he did not oppose the doctrines, his final choice was Seon.


In addition to consolidating Seon and Doctrinal schools, he also brought Pure Land and other philosophies to an agreement with Seon theory as well. For instance, he taught that recollecting Amitabha Buddha is not for rebirth in the Western Paradise by the power of the mantra, but for reminding us of the nature of Amitabha’s characteristics. When the name of Amitabha Buddha is chanted for a whole day, the mind and the chanting become one. Our True Nature, then, can be found through this practice. This chanting or the recollecting of the Buddha is not the same as that of Pure Land Buddhism, but it is similar to the investigation of the gongan. This shows that different practices are fused in Seon practice rather than being considered to be in opposition to each other.


Since the Buddhist community had become confused and corrupted at the time of Master Bou, he established the Ministry of Union which aimed at the unification of the Nine Mountain schools. He, then, set up a new Buddhist tradition by introducing Chiksu baekjang cheonggyu (The Rules and Method of Management of a Seon Monastery) and Chimun gyeonghun (Admonitions and Teaching for Monks).


As has been already stated, Master Bou established the new system of Ganhwaseon, and unified the Seon and doctrinal approaches to Buddhism based on Seon. In addition, he taught that chanting is like the investigation practice of Seon. Due to these measures, the Buddhist community settled down and the current Buddhist practice tradition came to be Ganhwaseon as had been taught by the patriarchs of the Seon tradition. Even though he was a great master, he did not live a life away from the world in a hermitage, he made constant efforts to spread Buddhism and to help all human beings. He really showed all the true traits of a national teacher.

Seon Thought of Master Baegun Gyeonghan

From Book “Seon Thought in Korean Buddhism”, 1998A. Preface

Written by Kwon Kee-jong


Dept. of Buddhist Studies

Dongguk University


A. Preface

Master Baegun Gyeonghan (1298-1374) was a Seon master who lived in the late Goryeo Period, and a contemporary of masters Taego Po-u (1301-1382) and Naong Hyegeun (1320-1376). These three great masters had a deep and close relationship with one an­other and they also shared the common experience of having gone to Yuan and learned Seon under masters Shiwu Qinggong and Pingshan Chulin, and then introduced the Linji Order (Kor. Imje) to Silla. In addition, they all tried to reform the declining Seon Dharma of the time and to correct the many faults of the samgha thus setting it on the right track again.

But though they studied Linji Seon and lived at the same time and in the same society, the characteristics of their Seon traditions differ. In order to understand this, we need to examine the study of Master Baegun and the characteristics of his Seon Dharma. One of the best ways of doing this is to look at his sayings.


B. The Philosophical Background

The background of the later Goryeo Period, especially the reign of King Kongmin (r. 1352-1374), can be considered from two viewpoints. The first is the social aspect which shows that this was a time of strong political agitation, and the second is from the philosophical point of view, Buddhism was on the decline includ­ing the Seon Order. Of the two, the second viewpoint is of special importance to us because through it we can understand the philo­sophical background of the transmission of Linji Seon.

Goryeo society, due to the influence of ceremonial Buddhism, often held various Buddhist meetings such as the taking of Eight Precepts (Kor. p’algwan-hoe) and Giving Life (Kor. panseung). Most activities were for the good fortune of the participants and the social effect of this reached a maximum during the reign of King Kongmin. In the fourth year of his reign, Master Seongeun who belonged to the royal temple inside the palace (Kor. Naewon-tang), violated his precept of celibacy but the king released him. When Master Yeonguk of the Chaeun Order wanted to punish him, he rebuked Master Yeonguk by saying, “if you are going to punish me, you should demolish the whole of Buddhism. Is there any monk who is not like me?” The refutation enables us to guess at the level of corruption prevalent at the time.1 Accordingly the new social tendency of persecuting Buddhism and promoting Confucian­ism can be considered to be the outcome of the criticism of the degradation of Buddhism.

Korean Neo-Confucianism (Kor. Seongni-hak) was established by scholars Yi Che-hyon, Yi Saek, Chong Mong-chu, Yi Seung-in and Chong To-chon in the late Goryeo Period. They openly criti­cized Buddhism and cited the general degeneration as the basis of their criticism. A memorial presented to the king by Confucian scholar, Yi Saek, who believed in Buddhism, is a good example of the situation of the time.


At the time that our founder, King T’aejo, established the nation, Buddhist temples and ordinary houses were not distinguishable from one another and their relationship was unclear. After the middle period, Buddhist followers greatly increased, so that the Five Schools (of Yeolban, Namsan, Hwaom, Peopsang and Peopseong) and the Two Orders (of Seon and Kyo) maintained temples everywhere which merely became breeding places of profiteering and self-interest. Now the followers become con­temptible and everyone has become lazy; sensible people everywhere should be greatly concerned.

The Buddha was an attained spiritual leader, but he must be ashamed of his present day followers. I, your Majesty’s ser­vant, reverently bow and humbly ask you to prepare a provi­sion according to the following restrictions: Please give monk’s licenses to already ordained monks and nuns. Please send monks with no identification to the army. Please remove any newly built temples and punish monks who do not obey. Please do not grant permission to ordinary people to be ordained as monks or nuns.2


This memorial indicates how corrupt both Seon and Kyo orders hadbecome at that time. But is not irrelevant to consider King Kongmin’s character in the context.

Master T’aego Po-u, in a speech in the fifth month of the sixth year of the reign of King Kongmin, severely pointed out the uselessness to the nation as a whole of the king’s blind faith in Buddhism.


The way of a king lies in educating people by practicing the Buddha Dharma, setting an example and teaching it, but not in blind belief in Buddhism, which is not necessary. If a king is not able to govern the nation with virtue, though he believes in Buddhism intrinsically, what will be the benefit? … The king should give up the wrong and follow the right for the nation to be free from hardship.3


This was also the time when Yuan and Ming dynasties were replaced. The uncertainty of the policy of the foreign ministry along with the trend of distrusting Buddhism after the affair of Master Shindon, who gained favor with King Kongmin and subse­quently became in charge of national administration, led to the way. Confucianism was thus able to openly criticize Buddhism and get established as the new religious direction of the nation. The Confucianism of that time had already passed the stage of its early acceptation of Buddhism by passing the following remark displaying its attitude of negotiation, “Religion is Buddhism and the study of the principles of government is Confucianism.” In this way Confu­cianism showed itself to be the new religion with a new metaphys­ical doctrinal system.

Especially Neo-Confucianism was founded with a strong, hid­den inclination towards the persecution of Buddhism so that it was inevitable that Neo-Confucianism would attack anything it could in Buddhism in order to strengthen its own position.4

With all of this in mind, let us take a look at this attack. Buddhism responded to the confrontation by concentrating in two directions. The first was internal and aimed at correcting the ruined moral fiber of the monks and establishing a pure samgha, and the second was to promote the Seon tradition through introducing the new Seon Dharma. Examples of the first include various belief and practice communities in the middle and late Goryeo periods, and integration of the second was the introduction of Linji Seon. The two, of course, cannot be completely separated from each other. But when we keep the latter in mind, the three great masters T’aego Po-u, Naong Hyegeun and Baegun Gyeonghan are of central impor­tance.

These three masters were great Buddhist philosophers who gave direction to the middle and the late 14th century with their fine thinking. They shared the common experience of having all returned after studying the Dharma of Linji Seon in Yuan, even though their aims were different. Master Po-u went to Yuan in 1346, the second year of the reign of King Ch’ungmok, and returned after he had learned from Master Shiwu Qinggong, the 18th generation of the Linji Order.5 Master Naong went to Yuan in 1348, the fourth year of the reign of the same king and returned after he had received the Dharma of Master Pingshan Chulin who had studied with Master Shiwu Qinggong under the same teacher.6 Master Baegun went to Yuan in 1351, the third year of the reign of King Ch’ungjeong and came back after receiving the Dharma of Master Shiwu Qinggong.7

At that time the Linji Order was divided into the Huanglong (Kor. Hwangnyong) and the Yangqi (Kor. Yangji) orders, and the order which the three masters introduced was the latter.   The Yangqi Order was the most popular in China because its central thought proclaimed was the idea of “the natural true person.”

The Seon tradition of the Linji Order was not, of course, first introduced to Korea in the time of these three masters;8 it had already been proclaimed by Master Pojo Chinul (1158-1210). The Linji approach of “the shortcut gate” (Kor. kyeongjeol-mun) of in­vestigating the “principal topic” called “hwadu’ (literally head (topic) of speech”) originates from the Sayings of Dahui, and Master Dahui Zonggao belonged to the Yangqi lineage of the Linji Order.9

The core of the tradition of the Linji Order lies in the Seon of investigating the hwadu (Kor. Ganhwa Seon), and it was contin­ued in books such as The Essence and the Songs of Seon (Kor. Seonmun-yeomsong) of Master Hyeshim; Stories of the Essence and the Songs (Kor. Yeomsong-seolhwa) of Master Kagun; The Assembly of the Essence and the Songs (Kor. Yeomsong-sawon) of Master Iryon; and Second Edition of the Assembly of the Essence and the Songs (Kor. Chung-pyeon-yeomsong-sawon) of Master Hon-gu. These teachings were also found in Resolving Doubts about Observ­ing the Principal Topic (Kor. Ganhwa-kyeorui-ron) of Master Chinul, and in this way the main stream of Korean Seon was finally established.10of Master Chinul, and in this way the main stream of Korean Seon was finally established.

But the existing streams of Seon introduced to Korea and incorporated into the Nine Mountains of Seon included elements of confrontation and conflict, and the reality of these problems became exaggerated and even reached the level of a national issue.


Nowadays monks of the Nine Mountains of Seon rely on the support of their own Dharma families, seriously distin­guishing between the families and judging their superiority; this leads to fights. Recently the struggle is getting more violent. They hold spears and shields in their hands and hedge fences, hence they destroy the harmony and break the good Dharma Alas! Seon was originally one family but men have made it into many families. Where can the truth of the Buddha be found? Where is equality and no-self, the pure family tradition of no formality which was continued through succeeding gene­rations of masters? Where is the will to protect the Dharma and comfort the nation of the late kings?11


Subsequently, Master Po-u presented a memorial to the king to unite all sects and strictly purify the dignity of the samgha by setting up the Pure Rules of Baizhang. Master Po-u’s proposal was adopted, so the Department of Harmonization (Kor. Wonyung-pu) was established at Kwangjo-sa in the same year.12 All monks were forced to study for the monks’ examination (Kor. kongbuseon) at Hoeam-sa under the supervision of Master Hyegeun in 1370, the 19th year of the reign of King Kongmin,13 and this constituted an effort at accomplishing the philosophical integration of the Five Schools and Two Orders. This effort speaks of the deep effect of the conviction of the masters that the active nature of Linji Seon could be the mental background for governing the nation.14

This introduction of Linji Seon and the advice of masters Po­ll, Naong and Baegun can be regarded as a presentation of the new ideology based on reforming declining Buddhism in the late Goryeo Period. It also performed the double service of making a Buddhist contribution to the nation even though it was a failure and had little effect. This was partly due to the fact that the political char­acter of the time was conservative, and the corruption of the samgha was having such a deep influence that hardly anything could be done about it.15

The series of reformations which were actively pursued, like the union of the Nine Mountains and the transfer of the capital to Hanyang (present day Seoul) from Gaegyong by Master Po-u was stopped by various political upheavals. For example, King Kongmin who had initially tried to establish a national identity through an anti-Yuan policy, allowed his understanding of Buddhism to become warped in later life as he worked hard for good fortune alone. Due to this he was killed in 1374 by some influen­tial families, showing that the sovereign power of Goryeo was actually controlled by them and not necessarily by the king.

The new movement of Goryeo Buddhism, without maturing into a philosophy for saving the nation, was overwhelmed by the strong arguments used by Confucian scholars to reject Buddhism, and so Buddhism had to walk with a declining nation towards the sun setting on its former glory and the result was a dark period of political suppression during the 500 years of the Joseon Dynasty.16

Still the introduction of Linji Seon in the late Goryeo Period had significant philosophical repercussions in its three main aspects of introspection by the samgha itself, presentation of the basic principles for the purification movement and proclamation of the Son tradition as a means of spiritual life in peaceful times.


C. The Life and Writings of Master Baegun


Master Baegun Gyeonghan was born at Kobu of Jolla-do Province in 1298, the 24th year of the reign of King Chungyeol. He was ordained early and received the pen name of Kyeonghan. He did not have a fixed teacher but wandered around Korea It is not certain when he went to Yuan but it seems that he stayed there for a year between 1351 and 1352.17 As in the case of Mas­ter Naong, he also asked Master Zhikong about the Dharma and received it from Master Shiwu Qinggong. He was recommended by Master T’aego to King Kongmin and called to a special post by the king in 1357, the sixth year of his reign but refused courte­ously. Eight years later, in 1365, the 14th year of the reign of the same king, he was again recommended by Master Naong and ac­cepted to be chief monk of Shin-gwang-sa. In 1368, he occupied the position of chief monk of Heungseong-sa, which was built as a royal temple for the king’s dead Queen Noguk-kongju from Yuan. He took charge of the monks’ examinations in the 19th year of the reign, and then stayed in various small hermitages. He passed away at Chwiam-sa in Yeoju at the age of 77 in 1374, the 23rd year of King Kongmin.

Some count the year of his death as 1375. Because they have consulted the record of Yi Ku in the preface of the Sayings of Master Baegun (Kor. Baegun-hwasang-eorok) where it is written “I have seen his greatness when I met him at Shin-gwang-sa in the fall of the year of the snake (1365), and he left ten years later.” If so, the year of his death becomes 1375, and the year of his birth is 1299 because of the record which states that he lived for 77 years.18 But then the “after ten years” mentioned in the preface could be 1374 if one counts the ten years from 1365. Hence the date of his death could be either 1374 or 1375.

The Sayings of Master Baegun is recorded by Master Seokchan, Master Baegun’s assistant, in which the prefaces of Yi Saek and Yi Ku are recorded along with the Dharma speeches, hymns, poems and letters of Master Baegun. The book was published in two volumes. Of particular interest is the Excerpts of Direct Point­ing to the Mind Essentials: Abstracted by Master Baegun (Kor. Baegun-hwasang-chorok-jikji-simche-yojeol), two volumes which is now preserved in Paris. It is the world’s first book printed with movable metal type and is therefore of great importance in the history of printing.

The Excerpts was edited when the master was 75 years old. He chose these essential writings for “direct pointing to the human mind, so as to behold the Buddha-nature and become a Buddha” from books like Jinde Records of the Transmission of the Lamp (Ch. Jinde chuandeng lu, Kor. Kyeongdeok-jeondeung-nok) and Col­lections of the Five Lamps (Ch. Wudeng huiyuan, Kor. Odeung-hoewon). It includes Dharma speeches and hymns from the seven past Buddhas through generations of masters. Though some of the ideas of the editor, Master Baegun, are included in the book, as it is a collection of excerpts, it can not be regarded as representative of the Master Baegun’s teachings.


D. The Characteristics of Master Baegun’s Seon Thought


1) The Problem of Tradition of Order

Master Baegun together with masters Po-u and Naong instigat­ed a new Seon tradition in the late Goryeo Period. However, as Master Baegun had certain characteristics which were special to him alone, he set up a unique family tradition which differs from other Korean Seon families.

In the Sayings of Master Baegun the expression “tradition of order” (Kor. chongp’ung, literally “wind of the order”) often ap­pears. What order does the word “order” refer to? Does it mean the general Seon Order, the one that differs from Kyo in the Seon and Kyo two orders, or some other specific order? It is necessary to examine this, because this inquiry is closely related to the ques­tion of whether Master Baegun’s lineage is legitimate Linji Seon or not.

In the Sayings of Master Baegun, first volume, there is a con­versation between Master Baegun and a monk. There Master Baegun says, “I am going to fan the wind of the order of 1,000 years old, so that it blossoms in good fortune in the Three Han States (Kor. Samhan).” And the monk asks, “What tune are you singing and whose wind of order are you succeeding?” Hereby Master Baegun answers, “I sold fresh wind to the bones and bought white clouds casually.”19

The phrases “fresh wind” and “white clouds” were used in the death hymn of Master Shiwu, which was sent to Master Baegun. Yi Ku wrote in his preface to the Sayings of Master Baegun in 1377 as follows:


Master Shiwu at his death sent a hymn to Master Baegun.

I bought white clouds (“Baegun” literally means white clouds) and sold fresh wind,

So the whole house is empty and poor to the bone.

To a barely remaining straw-thatched cottage,

Fire was set when I left it.20


This enables us to know that Master Shiwu transmitted his Dharma to Master Baegun.

Hence the phrase of buying white clouds and selling fresh wind signifies the transmission of the Dharma from Master Shiwu to Master Baegun, and Master Baegun’s answer indicates that the tradition of his order was that of Master Shiwu. Considering the fact that Master Shiwu was of the 18th generation after Master Linji, it can be guessed that Master Baegun had the tradition of the Linji lineage as his tradition. Moreover, the same question which the monk asked Master Baegun is also found in the Records of Linji (Ch. Linji lu, Kor. Imje-rok)as below.


(A monk) asked, What tune are you singing and whose wind of order are you succeeding?” Master Linji answered, “I asked Master Huangbo three times and was struck three times.”2I


The characters of the question are exactly the same as the one given to Master Baegun. Here, Master Linji, by telling that he asked Master Huangbo three times and was struck three times, re­veals that he is designated as the successor of the order of Master Huangbo and sings of Master Huangbo’s family tradition. We can also definitely conclude, through the same question and answer, that Master Baegun succeeded the tradition of the order of Master Shiwu and sang Master Shiwu’s family song. In addition, this re­cord shows us that Master Baegun showed his preference for Mas­ter Linji when he compared the different family traditions of the various Seon families. After he assessed the family traditions of var­ious people like Flower Garland scholar Li Tongxuan, Master Weiyang, masters Shitou and Yaoshan, he added:


(They) sometimes hit with sticks or shout, and sometimes they become the guest or the host, sometimes they take and sometimes they leave and they wielded practicality like thun­der. Hence masters Linji and Deshan alone surpass all others.22


This attitude of Master Baegun towards Master Linji continued in the relationship with Master Shiwu. Therefore Master Baegun, in the following letter to Master T’aego, wrote that both of them are disciples of Master Shiwu.


This follower planted good seed in his past life so he could join with you, great master, and so both of us are disci­ples of Master Shiwu. …Now in the world of today, apart from Master Zhikong, it is rare to see such a great master as Master Shiwu. Though the master has already passed away, his “Seon precedent” (or “case,” Kor. kongan) remains.23


But there are several problems in regard to Master Baegun as the legitimate successor of Master Shiwu. Professor Suh Yoon-kil thinks that Master Baegun did not succeed Master Shiwu’s Dharma lineage though it is certain that Master Baegun did study under Master Shiwu.24 The reason lies in the fact that Master Baegun attained awakening while he was reading from “Song of Enlighten­ment” of Master Yongjia Xuanjue one year after his return from Yuan and not while he was studying under Master Shiwu. Therefore Professor Suh concludes that the meeting between Master Baegun and Master Shiwu was not an opportunity for awakening but one in which the Dharma succession was established. In spite of this, Master Baegun is still of the same lineage as Master Shiwu according to Professor Suh.

Even though Master Baegun is not regarded as a legitimate successor of the Linji lineage, the expressions which he reveals in his Sayings enable us to guess that the family tradition mentioned by him was that of Master Shiwu who succeeded Master Linji, and so we have to accept his claim that “both of us are disciples of Master Shiwu.


2) True Teaching of No-mind


Though both masters Baegun and Po-u were disciples of Mas­ter Shiwu who succeeded Master Linji’s Dharma tradition, the two masters were quite different from each other in spreading the tradi­tion. Master Po-u himself does not use the word “Linji tradition,” and he had already attained awakening by investigating the hwadu “No” (Kor. Mu) of Master Mazu before he went to Yuan and met Master Shiwu. When he met Master Shiwu, he presented what he had realized along with his “Song of the Ancient Hermitage” (Kor. T’aego-am-ka). Master Shiwu responded by saying, “Looking at what you have realized, your study is right and your view is clear. But leave all of them.” Master Po-u replied, “It has been a long time since I have left them.”25 Master Po-u, after his return, was consistent with the teachings of the Son of investigating the hwadu.

But in the case of Master Baegun, he did not make “investi­gating the hwadu” a subject of discussion. He only once mentioned the hwadu.


This mountain monk wandered around the south and north of the Yangzi River (of China) and visited all good masters last year. They taught students using hwadus like “No” of Master Mazu, “all Dharmas return to the one” and “look for your original face before the birth of your parents” … there was no other teaching.

Finally I visited Master Shiwu at Tienhuan hermitage on Mt. Xiawushan and assisted him several days. There I learned the “true teaching of no-mind” and completely realized the utmost sublime truth of the Tathagatas.26


Considering this, Master Baegun seems to have studied investi­gation of the hwadu under Master Shiwu and realized the “utmost sublime truth” of the “true teaching of no-mind.” Master Baegun talked about the utmost sublime truth when he gave a Dharma talk.


The ways and means of old sages are as many as the sands of the Ganges River. But the Sixth Patriarch said “It is neither the wind nor the flag but the mind which moves”, and this is the utmost true teaching which transcends the main thesis as well as all forms.27


Here, “the movement of the mind” is a concept opposite to that of “no-mind,” and Master Baegun grasped not “no-mind” but “the movement of the mind” as the focus of the problem. Accordingly, “no-mind is the “utmost true teaching” and it is the es­sence of Master Baegun’s main Seon thesis. The reason that he quoted the above phrases of Master Huineng several times was to emphasize no-mind.

Subsequently, Master Baegun expressed his view of the truth as the “utmost mental impression”, 28 the “utmost sublime truth”29 or the “true teaching of no-mind and no-thought,”30and said I have already realized the ‘no-mind’ and I wish that unenlightened people may attain the same realization as I have done.”31 He again emphasized:and said I have already realized the ‘no-mind’ and I wish that unenlightened people may attain the same realization as I have done.” He again emphasized:


If I had not learned the true teaching of no-mind, how could this great liberation of today be possible? The phrase, “no-mind,” is something which surpasses myriads of causes between a teacher and a disciple, and is not to be neglected. Nothing can pay for this enormous kindness, though I try to exert myself to the utmost.32


This saying shows how ardent the shock of “no-mind and no-thought” made him become. His enthusiasm is clearly shown in his letter to the king written in the ninth month in the year of the dog, when he was asked by the king to take charge of the exami­nations. There he mentions, “This is the utmost sublime means, Sometimes it is called no-mind or sometimes no-thought.”33 Master Baegun’s method of reflecting on his study is to avoid the following nine things.


What is reflecting on study?

It is not necessarily investigating the hwadu,

nor is it necessarily considering the hwadu,

nor is it necessarily speaking as a substitute for the sayings of old masters,

nor is it necessarily speaking,

nor is it necessarily reading sutras,

nor is it necessarily writing or studying commentaries,

nor is it necessarily wandering all around searching for teach­ers,

nor is it necessarily getting away from noisiness and searching for calmness,

nor is it moving the mind and looking outside, nor is it clear­ing the mind and silently looking inside.

If you follow your own direction, being influenced by such things, then please realize that what you are doing has nothing to do with reflection on study.34


And then he gave a definition of reflection on study using old sayings that sincere students should keep in mind. “Reflection on study should be done faithfully, and awakening should be attained faithfully. One should learn no-mind and effortless action and be always free from thoughts and awake. No-thought sees the original person.”

The conclusion of Master Baegun’s thinking is that all means of investigating the hwadu and reading the sutras and studying the commentaries are inferior to no-thought. But Master Baegun warned of the misunderstanding of no-mind, saying that no-mind and no-thought do not indicate a consciousness that is similar to the earth, to a tree, to a tile or to a stone.35 Therefore he sang in his “Song of No-mind” (Kor. Mushim-ka):


If mind is deserted

Conditions become calm by themselves.

And when conditions become calm

Mind does not move by itself.

That is the so-called

True teaching of no-mind.36


As we have examined so far, Master Baegun only realized the true teaching of no-mind and no-thought and declared them as the best way. Though masters Po-u, Naong and Baegun were contem­porary masters who studied under Master Shiwu, their family tradi­tions were not the same. Especially Master Baegun claimed, “This old monk came into the world trying to hit the Dharma drum and straighten out the already disintegrated principles. You look at it closely.” The claim well shows his will to revive the Goryeo Bud­dhist world of no-principle by introducing a new line of Seon thinking and development.


3) The Stage of Awakening


The emphasis of the true teachings of no-thought are general­ly found in the Seon thought of Master Baegun. In his Dharma talk “Minor Talk on Entering HeungSeong-sa, 37 he explains equal­ity. Assuming that Anuttara-samyak-sambodhi, or total awakening is equality and that there is neither high nor low, he went on to describe this equality as not being the cutting off of the legs of a crane and then joining them to a duck, or the breaking of a mountain in order to fill up a valley. Therefore, long ones are Dharma-bodies as they are, and short ones are Dharma-bodies as they are. Dharma sticks are Dharma sticks, mountains are mountains, Water is water,  holiness is holiness, and worldiness is worldiness.

And he added that wise people can understand this but ignorant people just cling to the sayings.

Here, the stage of awakening after all indicates the stage of equality where discrimination is cut off. Accordingly, it can be considered that no-thought does not mean no thinking but it signi­fies the absolute equality of no discrimination. That is why real equality regards mountains as mountains and water as water, and never makes mountains into water or water into mountains.

Master Baegun thought that the stage of equality of no-thought is understood differently according to the different faculties. When he gave a Dharma speech, he held up a Dharma stick and showed it to his students, asking “What do we call this? Should we call it a Dharma stick, or not?” Then he answered himself:38


Ordinary men say it exists,

The two vehicles (Skt. dviyana, Kor. iseung) say it does not exist.

The self-enlightened Buddhas (Skt. Pratyeka-buddha, Kor. yeon-gak) say it a phantom,

Bodhisattvas say it is something whose present body is empty.


But such an explanation is the judgment of Kyo, and Seon never regards things in that way. The attitude of Seon is as below:


The Dharma stick is a Dharma stick,

And the Buddha hall is a Buddha hall.

Mountains are mountains, water is water and the mundane is the mundane. Why is it so?

The suitable place for all Dharmas is of itself the truth, calm­ness, extinction (Skt. Nirvana) and liberation.39


Master Baegun also thought that Seon and Kyo originally are not two. But he understood this level of awakening from the attitude of the Seon of no-thought, and he emphasized that belief is first needed above all to attain that stage. When the Buddha said “People of mind can surely attain Buddhahood,” he meant to give rise to clear thinking free from error and defilements, the utmost awak­ened mind. The reason that students think it is hard to do so is because of their lack of “belief in determination.” He emphasized that the belief in determination comes from the will for determi­nation,” and that this belief is the start of entering the truth.40


4) Presenting Dharma of Son of the Patriarchs and Means of No-mind


Master Baegun, in his writing called “Seon of the patriarchs” (Kor. Chosa Seon) explained the Seon that the patriarchs teach and use to guide their students and what it means to practice a subject of discussion. According to him, traditional Seon is the Seon of the Tathagatha (Kor. Yeorae Seon), and the Seon of the patriarchs is the Chinese style of Seon which was a new form which had not existed previously in India at the time of the Buddha.

He maintained that the main thesis of the Seon of the patri­archs is expressed by color, sound and language, and a practitioner attains awakening through these means. He explained through these examples:41


Representing the Dharma through speech can be done in this way: “Have you eaten your rice porridge?” “I have.” Then Wash your bowl. To attain awakening at that time is done like that.

Representing the Dharma through speech and sound is: “Do you hear the sound of the stream?” “I do.” Then immedi­ately, “Enter into it.” To attain awakening at that time is done like this.

Representing the Dharma by sound is this: It is to attain awakening by listening to “the sounds of crows, magpies, donkeys and dogs which are all turning the wheel of the Tathagata.”

Representing the Dharma by color and sound is: Various actions like lifting a stick, standing up a switch42, snapping the fingers and scolding are all the Seon of the patriarchs. Thus when the sound is heard, that is the time of awakening, and one attains awakening when one sees colors.


Hence Master Baegun thought that Master Lingyun attained awakening by color, Master Xiangyan by sound, and it is great that Master Yunmen was troubled with a leg and Master Xuansha with a foot.

That was the explicit explanation of the characteristics of the Seon of the patriarchs and its ways of representing the Dharma. Master Baegun, when he was in-charge of the examinations in 1370, the 19th year of the reign of King Kongmin, carefully de­fined his ways of explaining the Dharma in his writings to the king. There he wrote that the utmost sublime means of practicing the hwadu and the state of no-mind are as follows:


To express my opinion concerning study, students’ medita­tion can be examined using the hwadu, making an announce­ment, and using color, sound and speech.43


On this assumption, he then gave precise instructions and ex­amples explaining:


Firstly, the hwadu is like the “No” of Master Mazu, “all Dharmas return to the one” and look for your original face before the birth of your parents.”

Secondly, make an announcement like “the big pine in the garden,” three keun (Ch. jin) of yams” and “a dried shit stick.”

Thirdly, representing the Dharma by color is like lifting a stick or standing up a switch.

Fourthly, representing the Dharma by sound is like beat­ing it down with a stick or shouting.

Fifth, representing the Dharma by speech is like this: “Do you hear the sound of water?” “I do.” “Enter into it.”

Sixth, there is no-mind and no-thought.


This “no-mind and no-thought” were added later and they be­long to the Seon thought of Master Baegun. Explaining the sixth, he considers it the most sublime means and explains:


There is a most sublime means, namely, the teaching of no-mind and no-thought. That is according to the sayings of the Sixth Patriarch, “If one does not think at all of any good or evil, then he/she automatically enters into the original place of the mind. This state is always calm and sublime like the sands of the Ganges River,” of Master Huangbo; “If one, as a student of truth, cannot be mindless he/she cannot accomplish anything at all though he/she practices for several lives,” of Zhuoxianggong; “If a single thought does not arise, the whole appears” of the teachers like Li Wenhe; “Proceed on a straight path to the utmost awakening and do not be concerned with right and wrong.”44


Master Baegun, quoting the sayings of various people, said that no-mind or no-thought are the utmost sublime means. To him the greatest way of representing the Dharma in the Seon of the patri­archs is not the hwadu but no-mind or no-thought.


E. Conclusion


As we have seen, it is difficult to draw a conclusion as to whether Master Baegun was a legitimate successor of Master Linji or not. But what can be said for sure is that he was faithful to the family tradition of linji Seon and served Master Shiwu as his teacher. As far as investigating the hwadu, though he mentioned little about it, he did not emphasize it as much as Master Po-u did. Instead, he stressed on Seon of no-mind and no-thought, similar to the concepts of “the noble man of no work” or “the true man of no rank’ which are seen mainly in the Sayings of Linji For him, awakening is a stage of equality of no-thought, that is, a stage of considering mountains as mountains and water as water.

Subsequently, he properly classified and explained the ways of representing the Dharma of the Seon of the patriarchs and the means of guiding and teaching students. According to him, no-mind and no-thought are the most sublime ways above all other ways of the hwadu, making an announcement, through color, sound, speech, speech and sound, and color and sound. Once again, he considered the means of no-mind or no-thought more sublime than investigating the hwadu in the practice of the Seon of the patriarchs and in the training of young aspirants. These are the unique characteristics of Master Baegun’s teachings.



1.      History of Goryeo (Kor. Goryeosa)38; article of the sixth month, the fourth year of the reign of King Kongmin; and Yi Neung-hwa, Compre­hensive History of Korean Buddhism (Kor. Joseon-bulgyo-tongsa) 1, p. 312.)38; article of the sixth month, the fourth year of the reign of King Kongmin; and Yi Neung-hwa, (Kor. J) 1p. 312.

2.      Ibid. 115, chapter “Successive Records” (Kor. Yeoljeon), article on Yi Saek.

3.      Ibid. 38, chapter “Distinguished Family” (Kor. Sega), article on King Kongmin.

4.      Yi Chong-ik, “Criticism of Jeong Do-jeon’s Theory of Avoiding Buddhism” (Kor. Jeong-Do-jeon-ui-pyeoksa-ron-pip’an), in Collection of Theses of Eastern Thought (Kor. Dongbang-sasang-nonchong), 1977, pp. 308-310.

5.      “Stupa of National Teacher Wonjeung of T’aego-sa” (Kor. Taego-sa-wonjeung-kuksa-tap-bi), in Whole Survey of Korean Monumental Inscriptions (Kor. Joseon-keumseok-chongnam) 1, p.526.p.526.

6.      Monument of King’s Teacher Seon-gak of Hoeam-sa (Kor. Hoeam-sa-seon-gak-wangsa-bi), in Ibid., pp.500-501.

7.      Yi Ku, “Preface of Sayings of Master Baegun” (Kor. Baegun-hwa-sang-eorok-seo), in Whole Collection of Korean Buddhist Texts (Kor. Han-guk-bulgyo-jeoonseo) 6, p.637.

8.      Suh Yoon-kil, “The Acceptance of Linji Seon in Late Goryeo Period” (Kor. Gorywo-mal-imje-swon-ui-suyong), in Study of Korean Seon Thought (Kor. Han-guk-seon-sasang-yeon-gu)the Korean Buddhist Research Insti­tute, Dongguk Univ. Press, 1984, pp.202-208.

9.      Heo Heung-shik, “Revival of Goryeo Seon Order and Development of Ganhwa Seon” (Kor. Goryeo-seonjong-ui-buheung-gwa-ganhwa-seon-ui-jeon-gae), Gyujanggak 6, pp.11-18.pp.11-18.

10. Ko Ik-chin, “Nation-protecting Development of Goryeo Buddhist Thought” (Kor. Goryeo-bulgyo-sasang-ui-hoguk-jeok-jeon-gae) 2, in Memoirs of Buddhist Studies (Kor. Bulgyo-hakpo) 14, pp.52-53.

11. Sayings of Master Baegun (Kor. Baegun-hwasang-eorok), in Whole Collection of Korean Buddhist Texts 6, p.698.

12. Ibid.

13. Monument of King’s Teacher Seon-gak, in Whole Survey of Korean Monumental Inscriptions 1, p. 501.

14. Ko Ik-chin, Ibid, p.55.

15. Min Hyeon-ku, “Shindon’s coming to Power and Political Characteristics” (Kor. Shindon-ui-chipkkwon-gwa-keu-jeongchi-jeok-seongkkyeok), in Memoirs of History (Kor. Yeoksa-hakpo) 38 and 40, 1968.

16. Chae Sang-shik, “Developmental Phase and Tendency of Buddhist Histo­ry in Late Goryeo Period” (Kor. Goryeo-hugi-bulgyo-sa-ui-jeon-gae-yangsang-gwa-keu-kyeonghyang), in Historical Education (Kor. Yeoksa-kyoyuk) 35, 1984, p. 136.

17. Sayings of Master Baegun, in Whole Collection of Korean Buddhist Texts 6, p.656.

18. Whole Collection of Korean Buddhist Texts 6, article on “death hymn” p.668.

19. Sayings of Master Baegun I, in Whole Collection of Korean Buddhist Texts 6, p.636.

20. Ibid., p.637

21. Seoong trans., Records of Linji (Kor. Imje-rok), Dongseo-munhwasa, 1974, p.63.

22. Sayings of Master Baegun (Kor. Baegun-hwasang-eorok) 1, in Whole Col­lection of Korean Buddhist Texts 6, p.641.

23. Ibid, p. 663.

24. Suh Yoon-kil, “The Acceptance of Linji Seon in Late Goryeo Period (Kor. Goryeo-mal-imje-seon-ui-suyong), in Study of Korean Seon Thought, the Korean Buddhist Research Institute, Dongguk Univ. Press, 1984, p.229.

25. Yu Chang, “Records of Master Taego” (Kor. Taego-hwasang-haengjang), in Whole Collection of Korean Buddhist Texts 6, p.697.

26. Sayings of Master Baegun, in Whole Collection of Korean Buddhist Texts 6, p. 649.

27. Ibid, p. 642.

28. Ibid, p.646.

29. Ibid.

30. Ibid, p.657.

31. Ibid.

32. Ibid.

33. Ibid., p.656.

34. Ibid, p.652.

35. Ibid, p.639.

36. Ibid, p.663.

38. Ibid.

39. Ibid., p.641.

40. Ibid., p.641.

41. Ibid., p.654.

42. This is a yak’s tail mounted on a wooden stick which is a sign of the office and position held by special monks.

43. Ibid, p.656.

44. Ibid., p.656.

Baegun Gyeonghan ( 1298 ~ 1374 )

1. Biography

The biography of Master Baegun is only found in “The Record of Venerable Baegun’s Sayings.” He was born in 1299 in Gobu, Jeolla-do Province. There are no records indicating when precisely he left his family to become a monk, but it is emphasized that he studied and practiced with great zeal once ordained.


In the 5th month of 1351 (the 3rd year of the King Chungjeong ) he went to Cheonhoam (Tianhu in China) Hermitage on Mt. Xiawushan in Huzhou, China, where he met the Linji Master Shiyu Qinggong and asked for his teachings. In the same year he composed a verse for Venerable Zhigong, who had come from India. Zhigong was a well-known monk who deeply influenced Venerable Naong.


In the first month of 1352 he returned to Venerable Shiyu where he meditated the whole day on his doubts and realized independently the true meaning of no-mind, no-thought. Venerable Shiyu praised Baegun’s spiritual achievement and gave his sanction. After his return to Goryeo in the 3rd month of 1352, while practicing with other monks of Seonggaksa Temple, he achieved great awakening. He recorded this event with these words: 

“In the year of Gyesa (1353), on the seventeenth day of the first month, as I was seated in meditation, Great Master Yongjia’s words in the Jeungdoga (Poems on the Essence of Chan) spontaneously came to me: ‘Do not try to abandon false thoughts, do not try to grasp the True Mind. The real nature of ignorance is Buddha Nature, and the illusive empty body is the Dharma body.’ While focusing on these words, suddenly I experienced no-mind. I had no-thoughts; I was cut off from the past and from the future. When I reached this state, I suddenly saw the entire world within myself.”

In the sixth month of the following year (1354) Venerable Shiyu’s disciple Venerable Fayan brought Shiyu’s deathbed verse from China and presented it to Master Baegun. 

“Buying white clouds [Baegun means “white cloud”], selling fresh wind, empty houses poor to the core of their bones. As a small thatched hut fortunately remains, before I left I gave it to the child who played soldiers with me (another meaning of Baegun).”

Venerable Shiyu asked Fayan to carry this verse to Baegun which suggests that Venerable Shiyu considered Baegun to be his true dharma heir and not Master Taego. Afterwards, Baegun lived and taught for 11 years at Anguksa Temple in Haeju, Hwanghae-do Province. He also taught at Singwangsa Temple in Haeju and Chwiamsa Temple in Yeoju. His final verse reads as follows: 

“Originally I had no body, and no place to stay of my own either.

So spread my ashes in the four directions

Do not keep my remains in the ground belonging to some donor.”

2. Writings

Up to today, we only have “The Record of Venerable Baegun’s Sayings” and “Baegun hwasang chorok buljo jikji simche yojeol.” The former book was written by his disciples Seokchan and Daldam. It is a book which is so beautifully written that it is highly regarded. A preface to each of the two sections has been added by Yi Saek and Yi Gu.


Baegun hwasang chorok buljo jikji simche yojeol is a compilation of sayings of the Buddha and his disciples of inspiration in the study of Seon. It is an invaluable source for studying the Seon of No-Mind as taught by Master Baegun. This book is sometimes called Buljo jikji simche yojeol or Jikji simgyeong (Sutra of Pointing Directly to the Mind); it is comprised of two volumes. A copy using the newly found metal printing type was produced in 1377 at Heungdeoksa Temple in Cheongju; today one volume is in the collection of the National Library of France; it is the oldest book printed using metal printing type in the world, and in September 2001 it was designated The Memory of the World Register by UNESCO.


3. Characteristics of his Thought

The most unique aspect of Baegun’s thought is the concept of No-Mind, No-Thought. Though Baegun declared himself a descendant of the lineage of Linji Chan, he also stressed hwadu practice and the Seon of No-Mind. When he taught hwadu to his disciples he stressed “Mu” (nothingness), “Ten thousand dharmas return one,” and the hwadu “What were you before your parents were born?” One of his main teachings was that doubt produces great results. However, his most characteristic phrase was “No-Mind, No-Thought,” the teaching of which is well reflected in his poem “Musimga” (“The Song of No-Mind”): 

“As the nature of things is silent originally, it does not say ‘I am blue’ or ‘I am yellow.’ People say this is good or this is bad and their mind distinguishes. If your mind is the same as clouds and water, you are free, even though you live in the world. If your mind does not name or distinguish things, nothing good or bad arises. Foolish men try to put differentiation out of their mind, yet they do not put their mind out of their mind, while wise men try to put their mind out of their mind, yet they do not put their differentiated mind out of their mind. As mind is forgotten, the differentiated mind becomes silent by itself; as the differentiated mind is silent, mind does not arise. This is the real No-Mind.”      

In the days of Venerable Baegun, Seon practice using hwadu was popular. That he emphasized on “No-Mind, No-Thought” Seon practice was to bring more attention to the Seon tradition, whose attachment to hwadu Seon had become so strong that it was an obstacle. This was the result of the influence of Venerable Shiyu’s No-mind chan. 

Baegun considered “No-Mind, No-Thought” as the ultimate state of Seon. “No-mind” is not a state of mind in which there is no consciousness of soil, rocks and woods (the world). He constantly admonished people not to have the wrong view of No-Mind. He taught that attachment to the letter and attachment to hwadu were illnesses to be avoided; true practice is letting go. Therefore “No-Mind, No-Thought” should be studied carefully and then energetically cultivated. If you have No-Mind, you will not always be full of delusion.

Secrets on Cultivating the Mind (修心訣 Susim kyeol)

SECRETS ON CULTIVATING THE MIND, an outline of basic Seon practices, was written by Chinul between 1203 and 1205 to instruct the throngs coming to the newly completed Suseonsa monastery. A seminal text of the Seon school, Secrets presents simple yet cogent descriptions of two important elements of Chinul’s thought―sudden awakening/gradual cultivation and the simultaneous practice of samadhi and prajna―interspersed with edifying words to encourage Buddhist students in their practice. Although Secrets was lost in Korea after the destruction wrought by the Mongol invasions two decades after Chinul’s death, it was preserved in the Northern Ming edition of the tripitaka, produced in the early fifteenth century. Reintroduced into Korea around that time, it was translated in 1467 into the Korean vernacular language using the newly invented han ‘gul alphabet. It remains one of the most popular Seon texts in Korea today.

Chinul, Susim kyol (Secrets on Cultivating the Mind). Translation from Robert E. Buswell, Jr., The Korean Approach to Zen: The Collected Works of Chinul, pp. 140-159. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1983. Reprinted with the permission of the translator. For other translations of Chinul’s works, see Robert E. Buswell, Jr. Tracing Back the Radiance: Chinul’s Korean Way of Zen. Kuroda Institute Classics in East Asian Buddhism, no. 2. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, A Kuroda Institute Book, 1991.

Bojo Jinul ( 1158 ~ 1210 )


National Teacher Bojo succeeded the tradition of the Nine Mountain Schools of Korean Seon and led the Doctrinal School to be involved in the Seon School. He received Ganhwaseon (investigation of a topic of meditation) from Dahui Zonggao from China and re-founded Korean Seon by settling the Seon tradition of the Jogye Order.


1. Biography

The biographic records of National Teacher Bojo are recorded on the “Inscribed Stele of National Teacher Bojo at Songgwangsa Temple on Mt. Jogyesan” as well as in the “Record of the Reconstruction of Suseonsa Temple belonging to the Seon School of the Mahayana,” and “A Series of Biographies of Eastern Masters.” His original family name was Jeong; his ordained name, Jinul; his pen name, Moguja (lit. an ox herder); the name given to him by the nation after death was Buril.

He left his family at the age of 15 in 1173 C.E. (the third year of King Myeongjong’s reign), and received precepts from Seon Master Jonghwi of Sagulsan Mountain School, one of the Nine Mountain Schools of Korean Seon. He passed the royal examination for monks at 24 years of age in 1182 C.E. (the 12th of King Myeongjong’s reign). At that time, the exam was held on a national level as a system for qualifying monks to take up higher positions. These positions included official positions or becoming chief monk of a temple. Passing this exam was, thus, a gateway to a successful career in the Buddhist community. Yet, Jinul gave up the career offered to him and went to Bojesa Temple in Pyeongyang in order to attend the Seon assembly. It was at this time that he suggested to participators to form a retreat community. He recommended “a retreat community dedicated to the development of samadhi (contemplation or meditation) and prajna (wisdom).” As there was no resulting meeting, Bojo went down to Cheongwonsa Temple at Changpyeong, and diligently studied various texts; in particular, he read The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch. Eventually he had his first awakening and so made greater efforts to form a retreat community. In 1885, he moved to Bomunsa Temple on Mt. Hagasan and read the entire Tripitaka (Three baskets of the Buddhist texts). He turned to the study of the Avatamsaka Sutra for three years, and, when he came across a passage in “Appearance of the Tathagathas” chapter, he had his second awakening. In 1188 (the 18th year of King Myeongjong), he stayed at Geojosa Temple and founded a retreat community called “The Retreat Community of Samadhi and Prajna.” After some time he moved to Sangmujuam Hermitage, and continued with the retreat community for three years. When he read on The Record of Dahui, he attained complete enlightenment.


From that time on, he left his hermit-like life-style and participated in ordinary life, thus enacting the reality of bodhisattva action – compassion towards all beings.


In 1200 (the 3rd year of King Sinjong), he settled at Gilsangsa Temple on Mt. Songgwangsan(present-day Songgwangsa Temple on Mt. Jogyesan), and taught three primary types of meditation practice based on the philosophical view of sudden awakening and gradual cultivation. The three meditation types are “Seongjeok deungjimun,” “Wondon sinhaemun (faith and understanding according to the complete and sudden teachings),” and “Ganhwa gyeongjeolmun (Shortcut approach to observing the hwadu),” which are practices combining Seonand the Buddhist Doctrine. Bojo taught the union of practices to the Buddhist community through chanting, repentance and dharma talks depending on individual capability. King Huijong of Goryeo, who respected National Teacher Bojo, ordered a change in the name of the Mt. Songgwangsan to Jogyesan, then the name of the temple was changed from Gilsangsa to Suseonsa; King Huijong bestowed a special stele as a mark of his respect.(faith and understanding according to the complete and sudden teachings),” and “g (Shortcut approach to observing the hwadu),” which are practices combining Seonand the Buddhist Doctrine. Bojo taught the union of practices to the Buddhist community through chanting, repentance and dharma talks depending on individual capability.


In 1210 C.E. (the 6th year of King Huijong), Bojo put on his robe and delivered a series of lectures. During one of his dharma talks, he passed away (attained final nirvana) while holding his staff of office. The pagoda named “Sweet Dew” was set up and he was given the title of “National Teacher.”


Among his disciples, there were many who became national teachers. They included Jingak Hyesim, Jeongseon, Suu, and Chungdam.


2. Writings

National Teacher Bojo’s writings are Advisory writing on the Retreat Community of Meditation and Wisdom (Gwonsu jeonghye gyeolsamun); Moguja’s Secret of the Practice of the Mind (Moguja susimgyeol); Straight Talk on the True Mind (Jinsim jikseol); Admonitions to Beginning Students (Gyecho simhak inmun); Exposition of the New Translation of the Avatamsaka Sutra Vol.3 (Hwaeomnon jeoryo); Excerpts from the Dharma Collection and Special Practice Record with Personal Notes (Beopjip byeolhangnok jeoryo byeong ipsagi); Essay on the Complete and Sudden attainment of Buddhahood(Wondon Seongbullon); Studies of Ganhwaseon (Ganhwa gyeoruiron); Essential Approaches to Recollecting the Buddha (Yeombul yomun); and A Selection of the Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch (Yukjo dangyeong balmun). In addition, he wrote Jinul’s Formal Dharma Lectures (Sangdangnok) and Verses of Dharma and Moguja’s Poems which have unfortunately been lost. Debates of Solving Doubts in Ganhwa was compiled after Jinul’s death in 1215. This book emphasized the pursuit of true knowledge as followed by the Seon and the Doctrinal schools. We know that Bojo managed to quell the long-term argument that had waged between the Seon and the Doctrinal schools, and led the Seon to accept the Doctrinal School, at the same time he founded a new system of Seon teaching, as testified to in his book.


3. Characteristics of His Thought

National Teacher Bojo set up “The Retreat Community of Meditation and Wisdom” at Suseonsa Temple. This community was a movement for restoring the foundations of practice through the three learnings — precepts, meditation and wisdom; the philosophy that inspired the community came from his three awakenings. As a result of his experience, he taught three meditative techniques: Seongjeok deungjimun for general Seon practitioners, which is based on The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch’; faith and understanding according to the complete and sudden teachings (Wondon sinhaemun) for people having doctrinal knowledge especially Huayan thought; the shortcut approach of observing the hwadu (Ganhwa gyeongjeolmun) for Ganhwaseon practitioners based on The Record of Dahui.


Bojo believed in the theory of Sudden Awakening and Gradual Cultivation and so developed the practices of the Three Gateways as the practical methodology. The meaning of this philosophy is to awaken the mind first to its True Nature and then gradually to cultivate the mind.


Bojo thought that sudden awakening and gradual cultivation is the best way of practice. In Secrets of Cultivating the Mind he said, 

“One should awaken to the fact that one’s mind is truly the Buddha, and the nature of mind is no different from that of the buddhas…. Although one has awakened to the fact that one’s Original Nature is no different from that of the buddhas, the habit energies are extremely difficult to remove and so one must continue to cultivate while relying on the awakening experienced.”

He emphasized again the importance of gradual cultivation.


Bojo said the mind, which is the object of sudden awakening, is void, calm and the numinous.  

“Since all dharmas are like dreams or phantoms, deluded thoughts are originally calm and the sense-spheres are originally void. At the point where all dharmas are void, the numinous is not obscured. That is, in this mind of void and calm, numinous awareness is the Original Face.”


He said that though there are many ways to cultivate the mind after awakening, all of them involve meditation and wisdom. The core is characterized by the essence and function of Self Nature; this is the very “mind of void and calm and the numinous awareness.”


The characteristics of Bojo’s Seon thought are as follows:

  1. The first is the communicating mind. As is clear from his words, “the teaching consists of the words spoken by the World Honored One, while Seon is what the great masters transmitted.” In this way, he pursued the standard points with Seon as the essence and teaching as the function. Master Uicheon sought the standard points of Seon and Doctrine by teaching. It was Bojo who combined the Nine Mountain Schools of Korean Seon into the Jogye and, as the tradition of the Jogye was highly valued, his efforts gave rise to the inner unification of Buddhism in Goryeo, together with the Cheontae (Tiantai in China) School; these were the two directions that Buddhism took during the Goryeo Period.

  2. The rejuvenation of Buddhism based on “The Retreat Community of Meditation and Wisdom” and the foundation of cultivating Buddhism.

  3. The establishment of various ways of practice depending upon individual capability.

  4. He was the first monk to introduce and adopt Dahui’s Kanhuachan. Great Master Dahui Zonggao (1088-1163 C.E.) was the seventeenth patriarch of the Linji school. The great master was the first person to teach Ganhwaseon(Kanhuachan in Chinese) with the question and answer system based on gongan (koan), a methodology that had been conventionally practiced in the Chinese Chan lineages (Five Families and Seven Orders). Bojo vigorously introduced this Kanhuachan to Korea, and it was later fully established by his disciples and called “Ganhwaseon.”

  5. He formulated the rules of Seon and made the Jogye Order into a direct Seon tradition. This is evident from Admonitions to Beginning Students which became the required rules for “The Retreat Community of Meditation and Wisdom.” This work came to be seen as a compass to help practitioners to follow the discipline of the Buddha and it became an important dimension of the formation of the Jogye Order’s image and reputation.

Bojo called the cultivation of the mind after awakening “Action of the ox herd after awakening.” This means that even though one initially has had a sudden awakening, if defilements or delusions arise, one should get rid of them until they completely disappear, then this state can be called “complete awakening.” As previously mentioned, Bojo claimed and also demonstrated a truly practical form of cultivation in his Retreat Community of Meditation and Wisdom, and so he called himself an ox herder.