Strong Taste of Nothing

This talk was given at the close of the first Kwan Um School of Zen Congress in July, 1983. 

Thank you very much, everyone, for coming here to do this special training and to help us with the birth of the new School. We have been meeting here for three days and the new School has appeared. What is the correct function of this School? To help other people.

This world is always changing, but the process is sometimes slow, sometimes fast. Old people experience this sense of slow or fast time, but young people never do. They don’t understand what time and space are, and that’s their right. Old people have a right to the past.

When you climb a mountain, you walk up the side for a long time, then you arrive at the top. Going up, we don’t understand what is happening. What are human beings? What is the world? But when you get to the top, you can see everywhere. You can understand what human beings are, as well as. time, space, and this world. But understanding and attaining are different.

Several years ago, I became very sick. Zen Master Seong Hyang (Barbara Rhodes) checked my heart and said, “Soen Sa Nim, you have an irregular heartbeat. If you don’t go to the hospital, you might die soon.” So I went to the hospital. The doctor told me I must meditate. “Yes, sir! What kind of meditation?” He didn’t know I was a Zen Master, so he said, “You are moving around too much, so you have this heart problem. Don’t move at all. Correct meditation is necessary.” “Yes sir!” So I did correct meditation, only one mind, lying in my bed, not moving.

(Zen Master Seong Hyang: Except that he did 108 bows every morning!)

That’s right (laughter). They checked me. They put a monitor on my chest so that my heartbeat appeared on their office monitor. So I stayed in bed, but I did bows. I could see my heart action on the monitor, and when I would turn this way and that way, my heartbeat wasn’t so good. But when I did bows, my heartbeat was very good. I checked this by watching the monitor signal. The doctor didn’t like this, but I did “correct meditation” for ten days.

Then I was almost well. The doctor was very surprised. “You are a good meditator! Most of the people with this ailment stay in a hospital for three or four months. You are almost well after only ten days.” It was only after this that he discovered I was a Zen Master. Then he asked, “What is Zen meditation?” So I lectured in the hospital.

When I was in the hospital I experienced strong questions: What is death? What is life? What is this body? I understood these things before, but I had not experienced them. I never used to think about my body. I just pushed it very hard, not checking it. As long as my body was OK, there wasn’t a problem. Dying was OK, too. But then my heart developed a problem. I wasn’t caring for my body correctly, pushing it too fast, not getting proper food or enough sleep. You must make everything correct, moment to moment. If you don’t consider your body, then your body will tell you, “You’re not taking care of me. Sometime soon, you and I will be separated (laughter)!” So I said, “Yes, I’m a little late. We have a job to do together and it’s not finished, OK?”

In the hospital, there was a very old man in the bed next to me. He was wealthy, successful, and an intellectual. He had studied philosophy, so he had some understanding. Sometimes his wife, who was also very old, came to visit him. He didn’t know when he would die, perhaps soon, but he had a very clear mind. I asked him, “When you were young, you were very strong. You made a lot of money and studied a great deal. You have a clever mind. Now your body is very sick. Maybe you will die tomorrow or the day after.”

“Yes, I don’t know when.”

“So, in your whole life, what did you get?


“That’s primary point,” I told him. “You found it. You studied philosophy but you couldn’t attain this nothing. Just now, you attained nothing. But if you hold nothing, then you will have a problem.”

“What do you mean by ‘holding nothing?…”

“It’s very sad if you are holding nothing. All your lingering attachments will press on you. If you are not attached to nothing, you will attain nothing, and there is no life or death. If you are nothing, then life and death are nothing. You are already beyond them.”

“Oh, that’s wonderful!” he said. “I didn’t understand that until now.”

It was an interesting conversation. He was old, rich, and very well-known, but he said he had gotten nothing. As you get old, this nothing gets bigger. Before you come into this world, there is nothing. When you are young, you don’t understand “nothing,” just the words. But by the time you are forty or fifty and a good friend has died or your mother and father have died, then you have experienced nothing. You have tasted nothing. If you practice hard, the taste is very strong, and you are free to help other people. But if you are holding something in your mind, you can’t taste “nothing.” If you want freedom, you must taste nothing very intensely. What is the taste of nothing?

A long time ago in China, many great scholars used a special meditation which a great Zen Master developed called “corpse practice.” Turn yourself into a corpse: “I am a corpse.” Try doing that. “What do you want, corpse?” “Cemetery!” “When?” “Right now!” If you are not a corpse, you have problems, but if you turn yourself into a corpse, all problems disappear. You can help other people without difficulty. Complete bodhisattva action is possible.

If you can become like a corpse, you can take away all your desires, even your deep lingering attachments. Sometimes a condition will appear, out of the blue, and bang! You can’t understand what’s happening. You can’t control yourself. Where did this come from? This is a lingering attachment. Some of them come from a previous life. You can continue for many years, even many lives, holding something. We also call it “deep karma.” Most people don’t understand it. A good Zen student may do hard practice and everyone thinks, “Wonderful!” Then one day a condition appears, and bang! The good student falls apart.

You must find your lingering attachments and remove them. But if your attitude is that “everything’s no problem,” then your lingering attachments are hidden. You won’t see them, even if you do hard training. It’s fine to do daily Zen practice and work, but you also need special practice: perhaps bowing 500, 700 or 1000 times every day, or sitting two extra hours each day, or doing a special mantra practice, maybe 3000 or 10,000 Kwan Seum Bosals. Every day, do regular practice with everyone together, and special practice. It’s very important. If you try this, you will see your lingering attachments. If you do special practice every day, your center will get stronger, and when lingering attachments appear, you can control them.

Everyone has their own karma. Some people’s karma is anger, or checking, or holding. Holding karma causes body problems. You might have trouble with your back or your legs, but it’s your holding mind that is the problem. Desire is OK; anger is OK. Let them be. But also make an effort to do this special practice. It will not help you to only perceive desire, anger, and ignorance. Make your practice stronger every day, and then these things will become weaker and you can control them. When desire appears, you can say, “Maybe tomorrow,” and tomorrow doesn’t have to appear. That’s what we call “dharma energy.”

We have almost finished this School Congress. I hope we will make a strong organization. We have made the outside Kwan Um School of Zen appear, but everyone already had the inside Kwan Um School of Zen a long time ago, even before Shakyamuni Buddha appeared. How can we connect these two, the inside and outside Schools? If you practice in your usual way, plus special practice, then it’s possible to connect the two. The outside School then will bring everyone into harmony. In Buddhism we call that “amita,” meaning infinite time, infinite space ocean. This world is a suffering ocean. It must change into a dharma ocean.

If you put on a light, it’s bright and you can see sick people, happy people, everything. Without light you can’t see anything. The world is the same either way; it’s only whether we have light or not that makes a difference. If it’s dark, everyone is fighting each other and suffering. Everyone cries, “Where is the door? I want to go outside!” But with the light on, why would people fight? “Oh, there’s a door here, a road there; one person can go here, another person can go out there.”

How do we get out of this suffering ocean? With mind light. When it appears, you can go out the door and down the road. Mind light changes the suffering ocean into the dharma ocean. Everyone becomes harmonious, like happy children. Everyone gets true, unchanging happiness. Some people call this “pure light’ or “nirvana.” If you attach to nirvana, you will have a problem. But if you attain the correct function of nirvana, you can save all beings in this suffering ocean.

So it’s very important that this new School has appeared. Each person’s light by itself is very small. The stronger your practice, the brighter your light becomes. Putting everyone’s light together means there will never be any hindrance. Together we multiply our light, and this dharma light is better than the sun. If a cloud appears, the sun cannot shine through it. Mind light has no such hindrance. If you see smoke, you know there’s fire. If you see horns beyond the stone wall, you know there’s an ox. That means your mind light can already see without hindrance.

Suppose somebody telephones you and their voice is sad. You will quickly understand the sadness. If they call you from Japan, you can hear them and understand their mind. The sun cannot do that; the sun isn’t shining there. Suppose your son has died and you are very sad. But he has not died; only his body has died. Everything is by natural process. You will also die someday. That’s no problem. If you love your son, you must just chant Ji Jang Bosal for him so he will get a good place in the next life. If you try that, you will soon stop crying. That is mind light. Any place you go, there will be no problem.

A long time ago, somebody wanting to kill the sixth patriarch came up behind him with a knife. The sixth patriarch saw the intruder without looking and grabbed him. That is mind light. Another Zen Master once was sleeping when someone came in the night to kill him, but he woke up and stopped him. His body was asleep, but not his mind. Anytime someone appeared with energy, it woke up the Zen Master.

You decide you want to wake up at four o’clock, then you go to sleep. Somebody bangs on the door. “Wake up!” You sit up. No one is there, but it’s 4:00 am. That’s mind light waking you up. I often experience that. Sometimes I am up late, after midnight, but even though I am tired, I still wake up at 3 am and bow every morning. At three o’clock somebody hits me or bangs on the door. That’s mind light.

Mind light is your original light. It is also try-mind. It’s not special, everybody has it, but many people don’t want it. Everyone wants something outside. If you go inside, deeply inside, then you will lose everything.

If you go outside you only get things: this cup, this money. Someday the cup and the money will disappear. What can you do? Nothing. So go inside, to primary point. Then the whole universe is yours. Your inside school will then connect with the new outside School, and saving all people is possible. Thank you.

The Way to Contemplate a Hwadu : Jeongang

To break far away from earthly desires is a great accomplishment
Quickly grab the knot and construct it in one turn.
If the cold doesn’t once pierce your bones,

How can the fragrance of apricot blossoms that pierces your nose ever come to be?

A monk once asked Zhaozhou, “Does a dog have Buddha nature or does he not?”
Zhouzhou answered, “Not” (Mu 無) and this was the origin of the ([Mu 無) character hwadu.

In the Seon school, though this “Mu character” is the target of the most praise, if we were to consider it carefully, since the Buddha said that all sentient beings have the buddha nature, why then did Master Zhouzhou answer “mu”?

When we think of this “mu” we shouldn’t make a distinction of things into two divisions, “is”/“isn’t”; “existing”/“not existing.” Cutting off subject and object, without any thought of any duality, we should only be thinking, “Why did he say ‘mu’?”

Here too we can’t make use of “the void,” nor can we apply the ideas of “form” or “formless.” In the final analysis, our unknown doubt is all that remains, and this is the only thing that you should hold up.

“Why did Master Zhouzhou say ‘mu’?”

If we say that we know that Master Zhaozhou’s “mu” was simply like a shell being cast from his mouth, then it is something we will someday meet in the Iron Room of the Lord of Hell. Only if we see the true depth of meaning in Zhaozhou’s saying “mu’” that one time can we know that it is a way to bring about liberation from samsara. It is the marrow of all the Buddhas and the discerning eye of all the Patriarchs. When “mu” is spoken, his intention is already immediately revealed. That is why for truly exceptional people, the “mu” character is something that immediately and directly brings sudden enlightenment.

All kinds of analyses of the ‘mu’ character have already been brought forth. Some say the “mu” hwadu is the “knife that severs the origin of all being,” “the padlock that opens up everything,” “the iron broom that sweeps away everything,” “the stake that fastens the donkey,” or any other endless number of phrases that come to mind.

Now I’ll give you thirty turns.

For those who study the “mu” hwadu, Master Zhaozhou’s intention behind saying “mu” does not exist within the “mu.” In fact, it’s in an altogether unexpected place. By all means, I ask of you again and again, don’t waste your time in vain. You’d be much better off searching for Master Zhaozhou’s deep intention than losing yourself in the character “mu.”

There is a good metaphorical story that relates to the behavior in this “mu” character hwadu. In the ancient Tang dynasty, there was a very unique beauty named Yang Guifei who lived at the palace as a favorite concubine of Emperor Xuang Zong. Yang and her lover An Lushan were in an unbearable situation where they missed each other desperately.

Frequently calling So-ok isn’t anything else
But me letting my voice be known to my beloved

Yang Guifei repeatedly called out to her servant, So-ok, even though she had no work for her to do. Why did Yang Guifei call So-ok’s name in that way? It was simply because she wanted her lover to hear her voice. Yang Guifei’s intention did not lay within So-ok. Her intention passed through So-ok to try and make her voice known to An Lushan.

In a similar way, the intention of the “mu” character hwadu does not lay within the “mu” character, it lays within Zhaozhou who said “mu.” Therefore, don’t investigatge “mu,” you should be delving into the intention of the one who said “mu.”

Another monk inquired to Master Zhaozhou, “What is the intention of Bodhidharma coming to the West?” To which Zhaozhou answered, ‘hair grows on the board’s teeth” Why would he say something like that? Once again, like with ‘mu,’ the answer doesn’t lay with the board’s teeth growing hair, and as such, seekers much look precisely within Zhaozhou’s intention for saying what he did.

There is absolutely no difference between asking “why did he say ‘mu’?” and “why did he say ‘hair grows on the board’s teeth’?” In practicing a hwadu like this, deluded conception can’t help but arise. This is because the entirety of the existence of sentient beings was constituted based on deluded conception. If there are any thoughts such as ‘hwadu are good,’ ‘hwadu are bad,’ ‘delusions arise,’ ‘the mind scatters,’ or anything else like that, this will cause the hwadu to lose the mystery of its purity. This means paying no attention to any arising delusions, no matter what they are, even when you are afraid. In this way, just throw everything away and leave it be.

Moreover, the unknown doubt that still remains as the only thing raised in your mind, even should it disappear, generate it again, continually stirring it up diligently such that it cannot be cut off. In this way, though you go an eternity without retreat, continuously struggling along, you never worrying that perhaps you cannot awaken to your true nature.

Did not the ancients say, “If one could resist retreat simply through faith alone, who couldn’t awaken to their original nature and accomplish buddhahood?” Furthermore, in terms of our spiritual cultivation, though it is easy to have a mind that desires a quick reward for our efforts, this is absolutely anathema. Owing to such thinking as this, our minds become impetuous and our thought cannot come easy. As a result, you would see that the hwadu would gradually grow distant and you would become unable to settle into your practice. Furthermore, as you establish your cultivation, you must not settle for a mind that is waiting for awakening. Delusions will arise on their own accord and there is no need to purposefully cultivate still further delusions such as the thought, “I must have a great awakening.”

As those of old made clear, “though many sit in meditation with their eyes closed, it becomes a habit to slip into torpor and indifference, and worse, you end up falling into the ‘ghost cave under Black Mountain.’ While you keep both your eyes open as normal, raising your back up vigorously while keeping it straight, simply raise in your mind again and again but one thing, the unknowable doubt.”

Quite often, while contemplating a hwadu, it is easy for one’s focus to become centered within one’s head. This increases the danger of having the mind that desires quick results and leaves one flushed, with a rush of blood to the head. If all of one’s heat becomes concentrated in the head, this will lead to migraine headaches. If this rushing of blood to the head becomes a chronic ailment, cultivation becomes extremely taxing. In extreme cases, hemorrhaging can occur in the head, you’ll lose control of your body and become debilitated.

When I was young, I experienced the unspeakable pain of this flushing sickness, bringing with it an unthinkable sickness, and through a self-administered cure I was able to bring about a full recovery. That self-cure was nothing more than regulated deep breathing (ho heup). This is due to the fact that the deep breathing method and seated meditation share an intimate connection and thus, I want to share some kind advice about it with you now.

While sitting erect on your knees, breathing in and out slowly, from your body’s center of gravity two finger’s widths below your navel (danjeon), gently draw back towards your rear and slowly exhale. In your next inhalation, breathe in for about eight beats. Then, according to your own lung capacity, hold your breath for a second, just until right before the point that it becomes uncomfortable. At this time, you must hold the hwadu in your danjeon and carefully reflect upon your doubt.

Also, when you practice this method of ho heup there is a bit of skill to it, so you want be able to breathe in a a way such that it is so slow, the hairs in your nose do not move. Here as well, you certainly must reflect carefully on your hwadu. Without any consideration for whether your breath is going in or out, you must simply observe with a singular intensity the doubt that nestles in your danjeon.

At first, when things aren’t going well, or too many thoughts are arising, practice this breathing method three or four times and gradually you’ll feel that you mind has refreshed and clarified and your eyes have been cleansed. Later, when your hwadu becomes pure, without even knowing it, your ho heup will naturally become naturally adept.

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

The bountiful cast-off skin rests hanging on the jade railing.

Venerable Master Seong-Cheol’s Dharma Talks

Reciting the Buddha’s Name and Seon Meditation

There are various teachings on the cultivation practices (修行精進) that will lead to attaining buddhahood and liberation. The most fundamental meritorious categories of cultivation are reciting the Buddha’s name and Seon meditation, along with cultivation of the precepts, which is the Buddhist moral code. However, these sorts of practices are not independent cultivation methods that are designed to be practiced separately. Rather, only by practicing them together, so that they mutually enhance one other, will one attain the prajñaparamita of supreme wisdom.

Some may quibble and say that in Seon meditation one need not practice reciting the Buddha’s name at all, and in the practice of reciting the Buddha’s name the support of Seon meditation is not crucial. However, originally philosophy behind the practice of reciting the Buddha’s name refers to our own original face, which is the practice of admiring and contemplating on the Buddha, the buddha-nature of true suchness (진여불성,眞如佛性), which is none other than universal life itself. Seon meditation is a practice where one removes all subjective notions and merges with the buddha-nature of true suchness, which is the original self-nature of existence. Ultimately, whether it is reciting the Buddha’s name or Seon meditation, they are both fundamentally superb methods for attaining buddhahood.

Hence in the Prajñaparamita Sutra Spoken by Manjusri (문수설반야경,文殊說般若經), it states, “When one thinks on the Buddha, he is the Buddha (念佛是佛) but when one thinks delusorily, he is an ordinary being (妄念是凡夫)..” Because the original form of all existence is originally buddha, if one recollects the Buddha, one is none other than the buddha; but if one discriminates with an ignorant mind, one is none other than an ignorant sentient being. However, if one merely considers reciting the Buddha’s name to be an expedient means and cultivates while remaining attached to the idea that the Buddha exists separately outside of one’s mind, then this sort of practice that clings to dharmas cannot be authentic recollection of the Buddha’s name. What is more, it cannot be called the Seon of reciting the Buddha’s name.

It has been said that the Seon of reciting the Buddha’s name means “the Amitabha of one’s own nature and the Pure Land of mind-only” (自性彌陀 唯心淨土). Thus, one must always recite the Buddha’s name while not departing from the thought, “the Buddha of the self-nature is the buddha-nature.” Only if one recites the Buddha’s name with the conviction that, when the mind is pure and clear, every moment and every place is the land of Ultimate Bliss (Sukhavati) can it be called the Seon of reciting the Buddha’s name. On the other hand, in referring to Seon meditation, if one either considers the practice of Ganhwaseon (observing the keyword) practice, where one investigates into the hwadu (keyword) or kongan (koan), to be the only true Seon meditation method while others are merely inferior expedient practices; or if one is attached to the idea that only the method of ‘silent illumination’ Seon, where one remains submerged in a state of quiescent contemplation, is the ultimate Seon meditation method; then, those practices cannot be the universal Seon meditation method of the buddhas’ and patriarchs’ orthodox transmission.

Daoxin (Tao-hsin 四祖道信, 580-651, the Fourth Patriarch of Chinese Chan Buddhism), in his “Dharma Gate of the Essential Expedients for Entering the Way and Calming the Mind” (入道安心要方便法門), explained and clarified that the “Pure Seon of the Tathagatas” referred to in the Surangama Sutra (楞伽經) and the “single-characteristic samadhi” and the “single-practice Samadhi” referred to in the Prajñaparamita Sutra Spoken by Manjusri are the essential truths of Son meditation practice. These are all cultivation methods that integrate the practices of reciting the Buddha’s name and Seon meditation. Also, in the Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch, Huineng (慧能, 638-713, the Sixth Patriarch of Chinese Chan Buddhism) recited three times himself, “I take refuge in the three bodies of Buddha” (歸依三身佛), and thereby in a clear and precise manner gave his instruction in the dharma. Then, in the “Transmission Chapter (Buchokpum)” [of the Platform Sutra], he emphasized instead the ‘single-characteristic samadhi’ and the ‘single-practice samadhi.’ These, too, are simply alternate expressions of the ‘reciting the Buddha’s name samadhi.’

Thus, the approach to Seon meditation of reciting the Buddha’s name is a cultivation practice that involves awakening to the buddha, by the buddha inherent in ourselves realizing that he is already a buddha. This is because when we, with all our might, open our minds completely and penetrate to the dharma-gate of the great comprehensive characteristic of the conditioned origination of true suchness, then all the myriad things in existence will originally be free from arising and ceasing and will be none other than the Buddha who is neither defiled nor pure.

Translated from “Kunsunim Beommun,” Gyegan Gwangnyun 3 (November 15, 2002)..

The Dharma Words on Peace of Mind

This Dharma meeting is really meaningful and rare. Many monks of great virtue with experienced eyes, Dharma teachers, laymen and laywomen have all gathered together. This type of meeting is not easy to have.

Sometimes I have given Dharma talks in a lecture style to my dear monks for three days or seven days. But, this is the first time I have had the chance to give a lecture to monks and nuns as well as laypeople for a whole week. It is my great honor to welcome you, ladies and gentleman of suchness, and to give this Dharma talk before you.

There are many monks of great virtue here, lecturers and abbots.  They are very respectable men who have practiced Dharma for more than 20 years. And among the lay people there are several Dharma teachers and scholars of deep learning.

Accordingly, there is not much I could say that you already don’t know. However, because of our usual busyness we often lose touch with the essential Buddhadharma, only to get lost in everyday life. This meeting is about reflecting upon ourselves together in the midst of such insufficiency.

As you all know well, the world faces many kinds of difficulties at this time. While in the past, tension arose from the battle between east and west. Nowadays, more confusion has arisen from the destruction of the communist camp. How in the world can we rescue the human race? Having a sense of basic human value is very important. But where should we look for this?

In fact, the general situation of world confusion up to this point can mainly be attributed to western culture. Therefore, as great scholars predict, western ideology cannot establish a genuine guiding principle for the so-called new civilization” of the 21st century. Other great people say that we cannot find the guiding principle for this new era except in eastern thought. We Buddhists are very sure of that. Other teachings, other cultural phenomena, have the tendency to examine individual parts, whereas Buddhas teachings see everything in wholeness.

Buddhism is monism, which sees not only human beings, but also the natural world, or anything at all, as being originally one life, following the “law of equality.” In other words, anything can be incorporated into a single truth. Therefore, this monism of Buddhist thought that observes the law of equality; we are sure that only this teaching can for the first time peacefully unite the world.

Pure Seon

For this reason, the theme of this Dharma meeting is:  Pure Seon: Cultivation and Peace of Mind. The copied materials, which were distributed to you, are very poor. If I had asked lecturer monks to do the copying, the condition would have been better, but because they were busy, I did it myself, so there are some wrong words. Please take this into account.
Seon Meditation (參禪) is a very good way to meditate, not only for we Buddhists, but also for those of other religions and people in general. Seon is a very good for our body and mind in handling distractions. Thus, these days some Christians have interest in Seon and people in general really want to practice Seon.

Now, we could have just used the word “Seon” in the title, but why did we use “Pure Seon?” You may wonder why. Because there are some people here who have not practiced Buddhist discipline formally, and would have some difficulty in understanding Buddhist jargon. I will give a full explanation. And actually I think it is important for us to correctly understand this Dharma talk on Pure Seon.
You see there is a reason why I distinguish Pure Seon from Seon. So what is Pure Seon? The period from Bodhidharma, Chinas first Seon Patriarch, to Huineng, the Sixth Patriarch, we call “the Pure Seon Period” and we call the Seon of that period “Pure Seon”.

After Huineng passed away, his disciples branched off into five schools, becoming hostile and quarreling with one another. Because of this, Seon practitioners, not to mention non-practitioners lost touch with pure Seon. As I said earlier, this Seon from Bodhidharma to the Sixth Patriarch Huineng was the purest Seon, which we call “Pure Seon”.
In short, I dont mean there are actually different Seons: Hwa-du Seon and Muk-jo Seon and the like. What I mean is that the meditation of Pure Seon is to purify our mind just as it is.

Peace of Mind

First of all, we all want to attain the state in which our mind is at peace and we are harmonious with others, living with a pure heart. This applies to any religion, not only Buddhism. All religions seek after peace of mind, the state in which the mind is comfortable and tranquil.

But especially all eighty four thousand Dharmas of Buddhism are about peace of mind. So the Buddhas teaching is about peace of mind.  This means to make our minds tranquil. There is nobody who dislikes their minds to be peaceful. When we feel anxious, our minds cannot be at peace.

To be anxious is that things don’t go our way, or we don’t know who we are, or we don’t know our minds, or we have great distress, or how can we be peaceful when we sometimes hate people.  In fact, there are many ways to be anxious.

As we know well, natural catastrophes such as earthquakes, storms, floods and droughts make our life difficult to live. In addition, there are man-made calamities such as political wrongdoings and the negative effects of the modern systems.

We can never shake off anxieties because of all these natural and man-made calamities. How can we truly live comfortably and without anxiety?

According to the Buddhadharma, we can have peace of mind even when we have failed in business, become ill, our loved ones have passed away, or we have parted with someone.

Where can we access these teaching?  Only from pure Seon; only by practicing pure Seon, can we attain such peace of mind. Accordingly, we cannot realize peace of mind apart from Pure Seon. To say this again, whenever we practice Pure Seon, we can obtain peace of mind and live happily. This can be said to be the key to Buddhas teachings.

Thus, the theme of this Dharma talk is Pure Seon: Cultivation and Peace of Mind. This Dharma talk is about how to have peace of mind in all circumstances and live happily everyday through Pure Seon meditation.

So the main idea here is Pure Seon. Pure Seon transcends all barriers. To use a contemporary common term, it is so-called “Wontong (holistic) Buddhism!” It is also called “Wongtong” ideology or “Whetong” (nonsectarian) ideology. The “Whetong” (nonsectarian) ideology is that one truth resolves everything.

From time immemorial, the teachings of the great saints along with those of the Buddha are based on the Whetong (nonsectarian) ideology. As far as Korea is concerned, Wonhyo, Uisang, Jajang of the Silla period and Daegak, Bojo, and Taego of the Goryo period and the great monk Seosan of the Lee dynasty, all these great monks were drawn toward a Whetong ideology (non-sectarianism).

Why did they follow the Whetong ideology (non-sectarianism)? A saint is one who knows the single truth of the cosmos. Because we sentient beings see everything by appearance, we discriminate between you and me, between good and bad. We can only think this way as far as form is concerned. However, saints see the fundamental base and fundamental nature of all beings.

Accordingly, when we see things from the fundamental nature, everything is one. Jesus and Confucius saw this. They saw the fundamental oneness. Could we not say this “oneness” is God or Buddha? Thus, I’ll try to represent the most precise meaning of Pure Seon.

Samadhi of Ease

We can call this a Dharma talk on peace of mind1), and a Dharma talk on ease of body.  Buddhism takes mind and body as one. Therefore, peaceful mind may well result in the ease of body.

The Dharma talk on peace of mind, the Dharma talk on ease of body or calm and precise Samadhi means the dharma talk on “enlightenment first, practice after” or “practice after realization.”

Though the copied materials contain the same contents, I extracted and put them in order again like this for you to have a deeper understanding. The old men like me who belong to the “Chinese characters generation” might not have much difficulty in understanding Chinese characters, but there are many people of the young generation, who have no knowledge of Chinese characters in spite of their Bachelor’s and Doctoral degrees.

Alas, the Dharma talk on peace of mind! Just seeing the characters makes our mind comfortable. So as I say, this dharma talk is on the relief of body. In Buddhism, we never see mind and body as two, only as one. Mind and body are one, nature and humans are also one, and to see the Cosmos as one life is the essential core of Buddha’s teachings.

Therefore if mind is comfortable, so is body. And as far as traditional Seon is concerned, we can call this calm and clear samadhi! This idea is formed by the peaceful ‘An’ character, and the clear ‘Sang’ character. This means we don’t need to hurry at all. Hurry comes from anxiety, but in fact there is no need to be hasteful, no need to go ahead, and no need to lag behind.

If we just think of ourselves and we want only to achieve only our good, our minds will not be at ease. We will not have peace of mind. Conversely, if we can be meticulous and attentive, and flexible, this is “Ansang,” calm and clear, Ansang Samadhi. Samadhi means to be absorbed in this.

Samadhi is Sanskrit, and we are normally using ‘Sammae’ in Korean, don’t we? Being absorbed in something is samadhi. Accordingly, no matter if we are sleeping, awake, sitting, standing, moving, or speaking to somebody, our mind is always calm and not in a hurry, this is to be in the state of calm and clear samadhi.

Only in this state, is our mind at peace and our body at ease. Thus, if we are to have this peace of mind and ease of body, our mindset should be enlightenment first, practice after (practicing after realization), firstly having no theoretical conflicts.  Our mind will only be at ease if we have no theoretical conflicts.

Even on an ordinary journey, if we don’t know the way well, we could become anxious and lose our way, couldn’t we? If we must know the side roads well in order to go find our way comfortably, how much more should we know with certainty the way of our course in life.

Furthermore, this era of crisscrossed entanglement of information is called the information era. This information era is a good one to live in, but because of the flood of information, how do the people live, who don’t establish their view of life and sense of values.  It is confusing to know which information to choose.

Lately, a newspaper reported that three out of five Americans have symptoms of neurosis. It is because they have a troubled mind. They are always nervous and unable to get rid of stress, however much they try. This can be the cause of disease and the seed of domestic discord, national division, and so forth.

Anyhow, how do we live now? What about tomorrow, and our practice? How are those, who have practiced a lot, practicing now? There are some who cannot answer such questions with certainty.

most important thing is by which way are we practicing? That’s the most significant thing. Thus, enlightenment first, practice after (practice after realization)! We should bear this in mind, and make efforts until we can practice like this (practice after realization).

 Translated by Han Chang-ho

The Way of Eternal Liberation : Cheonghwa

Cheonghwa ( 1923 ~ 2003 )

The Sutra of Agama says thus: ‘There is the way of eternal liberation; there exists the I that teaches it; however, some people follow it; and others do not.’ As you know, this is a memorial day of Buddha’s Nirvana. Over His death, Ananda, one of His ten disciples, who had followed Him twenty-five years, could not keep up himself but only to burst into tears.

Buddhism teaches with emphasis again and again that it transcends both life and death, because there it neither of them in truth.

Nevertheless, the intelligent and honest Ananda, even though he had studied Buddhism for twenty-five years, could not overrule himself but sobbed his heart out. He could not have been ignorant of the meaning of Nirvana. Then, why do you suppose he cried out?


Let us look brifly over the meaning of Nirvana.

Nirvana represents the exhibition of both body and consciousness. In Nirvana both body and consciousness cease to function. So was it with Buddha’s Nirvana. In His Nirvana, His body was cremated to a handful of ash and His consciousness functioned no more. Seen from the view point of our physical world, His Nirvana has left no trace of His body and consciousness.


Buddhism theaches that we should acknowledge another world that transcends our physical world, where we are able to feel and see the limitless. There are two kinds of Nirvana: one is the Nirvana of Hinayana, the lesser vehicle; the other, the Nirvana of Mahayana, the greater vehicle. It was because Ananda had not gained the utter significance of Mahayana Nirvana, though he might have grasped the meaning of Hinayana Nirvana, that he could not control himself but went on weeping bitterly when Buddha passed away.


We must be able to discern between `Initial Enlightenment’ and ‘Ultimate Enlightenment’ on the road of pursuing awakening. The initial enlightenment points to our capability to explain an awakened state by our reasoning, and the ultimate enlightenment means that we have proven the awakened state both physically and mentally. In other words, our physiology is transformed from a tinted into a pure ego; thereby we can prove Buddha’s Dharma Nature or Buddha’s Reality.


It is a regret that Ananda failed to acquire a stage of Mahayana Nirvana. He did not experience a state of immortality truly meant by Mahayana Nirvana, though our body and consciousness are to be expired in it. The tidings of Buddha’s Nirvana are to say that he entered the greater vehicle Nirvana, and not the lesser vehicle.


I am not a lecturer who gives doctrinal explanation of the scriptures, nor a Dharma teacher who is good at preaching sermons. As you see. I am a Zen monk. So I am afraid my talk would sound stilted or no so much interesting, since a monk like me will insist on telling just essence by cutting a long story short. With a view of revealing a Dharma he sometimes is ready to hit his listeners with a stick; other times he will resort to shouting all of a sudden to them instead of talking.


Once upon a time in the days of Tang China there lived a great monk named Sukdoo-Huichon, Shih-t’on Hsi-chien in Chinese. He was known to be one of the most influential Zen masters together with his contemporary monk Macho Doil, Matsu Tao-i in Chinese. One day when he was asked to deliver a sermon to a large congregation, he stated himself on the Dharma table. He tried to open and close his eyes several times, and then he left for his room finishing his Dharma talk.

I wish to make such a short preaching, even if I am not a competent Zen master. But I think I have to continue on saying because you want me to.


What does Mahayana Nirvana mean in general? It means the world of Truth where there is no samsara or no life and death. In the eyes of sentient beings life and death as well as you and I are evidently seen to exist; yet there is no room for their existence in the world of Mahayana Nirvana.


The Nirvana Sutra says that Nirvana contains four kinds of virtues: Permanence of immortality, eternal bliss, the Great Self, and utmost party. The first virtue is permanence of immortality.


Our life is seen in the light of sentient beings to have birth and death, meeting and parting, goal and evil, or right and wrong; however, it is seen by Buddha Nature that is our Original Ego, it has none of them. Nirvana is the world of eternal life where there is no birth and death, meeting and parting, good and evil, and so forth.

Another virtue is eternal bliss. Our world of human existence is a world of relativity. It is mingled with pleasure and conflict, but in the world of Nirvana that is the world of our Original Ego and the birth place of the universe there exists not a bit of suffering, but just complete happiness or pure pleasure.


A third virtue is the Great self or the True Ego, or the Real Ego. All living beings can not escape the Triple worlds that are called the world of sensuous desires, the world of beings with forms, and the world of formless beings. But the world of Nirvana, containing boundless virtue, transcends all of these. A fourth virtue is utmost purity that is not colored by any defilement at all. It is so pure a world that no trace of defilement is found there. That is where we should return in the end and also our true hometown is. We should be eager to go back there.

The world could never have been scarred by the decease of Sakyamuni Buddha or by the vanishment of His body and consciousness, who had saved countless souls for forty-five years. Nothing else could defame the place of Buddha’s True Life, or he place of Buddha’s Dharma Nature. That is the world of His True Nirvana.


We must recognize that we ourselves too have utmost purity, and it is our Mind’s eternal hometown. Every one of us is in poession of the eternity of Nirvana. Buddhism shows us the manifest way of it. It is merely owing to our idleness that we fail to go there.


In studying Buddhism we must take precautions against self-humiliation. Self-humiliation is self-distrust. He who lacks self-confidence is prone to say: ‘Of course, Sakyamuni attained Buddhahood; but I am nobody; and it is impossible for me to become a Buddha’. There is no faith in Buddhism in what he says. Unless you leave off such a sense of humiliation, you cannot achieve anything in Buddhism.


You must be aware that the life itself of yours is just as perfect as those of Sakyamuni and Bodhidarma. Ananda might have known it to some extent. And you know it, too.

Many scriptures such a the Avatamska Sutra, the Lotus Sutra, the Suramgama Sutra, or the Nirvana Sutra, tell that the sentient beings are not different Buddhas. Sometimes, unfortunately, when you encounter a difficulty, you will easily become discouraged. I can say that the quick disappointment of yours come from the fact that your karmic obstruction has not been purified sufficiently.


We cannot study for in the wisdom Sutra without noticing that every Dharma is empty. A man whose karmic hindrance is thinner can promptly understand the emptiness of all Dharmas. But a man whose karmic hindrance is thicker will not agree to the fact that everything is empty. The one will say, “Yes everything is in vanity and my body is vanity itself.”;

The former will doubt, “Why is it that all beings are void. Look! You and I are here thus. I know what love and hated are!”


It is legitimate and right for those who have doubt about emptiness to have a deep self-examination.

Through the realization of emptiness, they can grasp the tidings of the four Nirvana virtues.

We should be able to make out the tidings of the Great I or the True Ego which is possessed of the three spiritual and six spiritual powers. The three insights are: the capability to see the moral conditions of living beings in the previous lives, the capability to foresee their future conditions, and the capability to overcome all cravings and temptations. The six spiritual powers are: in addition to the above three, supernatural power, divine eyes, and telepathy. The True Ego has limitless wisdom and compassion.


Unless a man feels the virtues that he owns, he can not be called a Buddhist in the true sense of the word. Buddha tried to show us the virtues himself and to teach us that we might prove them for ourselves. In order to comprehend the merit of non-hindrance purity, which is completely out of any defilement, we should realize above all that every Dharma is empty.


Let me say something about non-existence of all Dharmas. We do not call what is aggregated temporarily by cause and conditions a being. It can not last its own unique form even a moment, for it changes second after second.

Therefore, it does not have any concept of space or any concept of time in it. We do not observe this non-existence of Dharmas owing to the thickness of our karmic obstruction resulting from three poisons-greed, hated, and delusion. So we don’t see that the whole universe is filled with Suchness of Buddha Nature.


Fortunately, modern physics clarifies the non-existence of Dharmas. It shows that every phenomenal thing is composed of atoms, electrons, protons and neutrons, not to speak of the Earth, the Mars or the Jupiter in this solar system, and even of the heavenly bodies in the galactic system of the boundless universe.


What are those small particles that constitute all things? They are nothing but intangible field energy of which the universe is made up. The intangible field energy is also called electro-magnetic field.

And they are called an electron, a proton, or a neutron when a condition is vibrating out of the universal field energy according to physical principle or chemical change. They stay only as a passing of vibration or moment of energy, and not as a unique existence. We know that these particles aggregate to form everything.


Nothing can stand still a moment because of the movement of particles. We call one kind of form a tree, another kind a man; this one I, that one you; and so forth. Now, let us suppose the forms are observed with a microscope that can reach even elementary particles. Then, neither a man nor a tree will be seen except its movement.


Pure Dharma Eye sees only genuine life itself never colored by defilement. That is what Buddha Eye sees, and that is where all things are empty.

Thus enlightened minds will see, with their pure and true eyes, wisdom eyes, and Buddha eyes, what is proven by modern physics. We see what is seen with our physical eyes, but it we could see what is seen with the divine eyes of heavenly beings, then it would be seen differently.

A man whom we hate or we love will look different. Likewise, Dharma eyes, wisdom eyes, or Buddha eyes will see differently from our physical eyes. As I mentioned, the various scenes that spread before our eyes are in fact all emptiness.


Can you comprehend the true meaning of the wisdom Sutra? Without its realization, you can not gain the Nirvana virtues of the true permanence, true happiness, true ego, and true purity. The world of Nirvana is full of immortality, supreme bliss, omnipotent ego, and non-obstructed purity. Buddha taught us where there is an extinction of the emotional fluctuation of mind there is a true calm pleasure. Where all things are extinct is the place of Nirvana. A man who sees falsehood, failing to see the Real is prone to consider the illusory existence as the real: he counts a momentary shadow to be a reality; he thinks of his body to be a substance while his invisible mind is thought of to be a reflexion, not the other way around. We should know that our mind is the master of our body and our body is a mere reflexion of our mind. Our body can not be we, because it is a form resulting from a movement of various elements of oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, carbon, and so forth according to our karmic habits.


Kierkegaard, a Danish philosopher wrote on the sickness leading to death. When you turn away from your mind which is true master of your life and attach yourself back to your body, your power your wealth, and your house – those are only the shadow of your life then, he said, will appear the very sickness that brings about death. No matter how dearly you love your body, it can not avoid death in some decades. Then what is the use of your material wealth? Death is the destiny of all living things. They are to be subjected to the law of life and death. They are bound up in the chain of cause and effect.


You may recall what I said: Buddha taught that one of the most important laws to be observed by a Buddhist is that he should renounce self-humiliation. You must know that your True-self is endowed with the three insights and six powers as well as the four Nirvana virtues. Some people like to say that such insights, powers, and virtues worked as special religious expedients only during the life time of Sakyamuni Buddha. It is true even now as then that everyone of as possesses such miraculous powers intact.


As you see, the perfect knowledge and conduct is one of the ten titles of Buddha. The perfect Knowledge means Buddha’s wisdom, which is non-hindered wisdom. Concretely, it means His three insights: Insight into destiny that can recollect former existences of sentient beings, insight of divine eyes that can foresee their future existences, and insight that is cleared of defilement. And the perfect conduct means that Buddha has completed the six Paramitas. They are: Dana, Charity; Sila, Moral conduct; Ksanti, Patience; Virya, Devotion; Dhyana, Concentration; and Prajna, Knowledge. We must be conscious that the Buddha’s Knowledge and conduct is retained in our True-Ego. So long as we have a firm belief in it, we will not have self-humiliation and we can be true Buddhists.


I would like to talk about one thing that we should abstain in studying Buddhism. That is our arrogance of superior knowledge. It is much harder to get rid of us, even when we become wise to a degree as we practice Buddhism very ardently. To be arrogant means, in terms of Buddhism, to pretend to have realized the True Ego. Not infrequently we find around us that a man who has never had a season of retreat of meditation practice nor a period of a me hundred days’ praying dare to assent that he is at the final stage of the study of Buddhism as soon as something that he has not experienced and that seems mystic appears to him. That is an arrogant attitude. Honorable Ananda had followed Sakyamuni Buddha for twenty-five years, and he continued to practice Zen meditation and repeat Buddha’s sacred name. Nevertheless, he was saddened so deeply by the loss of Buddha as to abandon himself to grief. This example of his life shows a lesson that consummation of Buddhistic study is not so easy.


People tend to profess that they have come to understand the true teaching of Buddha, even when they still have not arrived at the final stage of their praying or their meditation. It must be a conceit or an addition of arrogance it they say that they have achieved Enlightenment Dharma, when they haven’t, in fact, proven Dharma yet. Do you think you have attained the perfect realization of your True Ego? Do you have a firm faith in Baddha’s immeasurable sympathy and in His boundless compassion? Or do you believe that you have the sympathy and compassion in you? When you believe so, you will chase away self-humiliation out of you.


There are stages of enlightenment for us to take. The first stage is the so-called initial awakening that we acquire by means of our reasoning; the next is the proven awakening that is testified by our experience of meditation practice; and the third is ultimate awakening that is finalized when we have exterminated all the roots of our habit of delusive thoughts, that is when we have completed our Buddhist efforts.


To pretend as if you had perfected your study of Buddhism without having passed through this course is to fool Buddha Himself and also yourself. However, we have seen not a few such men as have behaved so, even while they are still in the process of study.


We must know that the place of ultimate awakening is not so difficult to reach as only some especially talented men can.

I will show you this by introducing a monk whose name was Tarapyo, who was a contemporary of Sakyamuni Buddha’s. Whenever I think of him or real of his life I can not but be deeply moved. He was a common village lad. He left home to become a monk at the age of 14. After two years of desperate practice, he succeeded in conquering the stage of the three insights and six supernatural powers.

It is interesting to see his life since he achieved that stage at the age of 16. He decided to attend on the visitors to his temple. He worked hard, taking good care of their tables and bed rooms. Especially, when a monk came at night he would emit flames in a radiance samadhi by lifting his left hand for the purpose of helping him.


As I have said over and over again we must admit that anyone of us is by nature endowed with the equal wondrous powers as the young monk was. It is only due to the impurity of our physiology that we are not capable of those insights and powers that remain buried in us.


Tarapyo gave off light, in a radiance samadhi, with his left hand raised. And with his right hand, he would carry food and bed clothes for visitors. We must recognize that we have the same kind of wisdom that Tarapyo had. It is called the radiance of wisdom or the light of compassion. What is known an electron, a proton or a neutron is nothing but emission of radioactivity, and the whole universe is filled with its radiance.


Today is a fine day. It is very bright in this hall with the lights on. Where does this brightness come from? From a physical operation? No, it can not. A being can not come from nonbeing. It comes from the universe. Heaven and earth are, from their origin, full of brightness. It is called light of Buddha’s wisdom and compassion.


Sometimes, men of Buddhism stop to admire, from their mouth meditation, the virtues contained both in Nirvana and in the True I. If we keep on studying we are to feel, see, and appreciate the radiance: we experience it with body, not admiring with mouth; the deeper our study is, the more radiance is. When you are completely enlightened, a perfect penetrating enlightenment will come to you. Then the universe and all beings will be transformed as light itself. The following lines sing about the universe.


From the Heaven flowers of rain fall;

When the drum of the Heaven’s beaten by Nature.


The song is found in the Lotus Sutra, or in the Avatamska Sutra, or in the Suramgama Sutra. Those who are deaf to the tidings of the song that is hidden in the Dharma-Nature of every one of them will attribute them to expediencies. But it is true that the whole universe is full of permanent mystic sounds. The more purified our soul is, the clearer heavenly sounds it hears.


We live surrounded with various kinds of sufferings. They come about from our love and hated or from frustration of our desires. I live in a mountain temple. When I come up to Seoul, I am suddenly dazed at the sights of this megalopolis. I find it very difficult to keep up myself in Seoul. Perhaps, I can hardly lead a normal life in such a tension of the urban complexity, or I may suffer from nervous prostration.


For survival in our world of enormous complexity and difference, you need to have knowledge and experience that you and I are of oneness and that there is nothing for us to love or hate. Love and hate may not look the same to people across time and space; they are not, in essence, two different things but one and the same. To know this is necessary for leading a good life without conflict and suffering.


Buddhism aims at expelling the sufferings of our life. Many people wish to be free from the sufferings, but they do not try to seek the world where there are no sufferings, which is the world of his Original Appearance, or of Suchness of Buddas Nature, or of Great Nirvana. While you neglect your practice, you can not expect to gain Suchness of Buddha Nature and taste the virtue of Nirvana.


We are accustomed to pursuing what is called five cravings: wealth, fame, sex, food, and sleep. They are, in effect, as Kierkegaard remarked, nothing but the diseases leading to decease. It is evident that they have little to do with our happiness; they only take us to the gate of death, not to the road of eternal life. If we with to find a new world of eternal life and happiness, we should clearly see that all constituent elements are empty and all phenomenal changes are impermanent. That is defined as true wisdom or wisdom of prajna. Without penetrating wisdom of prajna we can never reach the destination of eternal liberty. So we should thoroughly comprehend: ‘I am empty, and you are empty, too.’


The Diamond Sutra emphatically persuades us to detach ourselves from the so-called four false ideas: The idea about me, the idea about you, the idea about living things, and the idea about life and death. So long as you attach yourself to the ideas, there is little possibility for you to conquer eternal liberty and happiness, because they are equally sickness leading to death.


As I remarked above, Buddha is Light of life, and the universe is filled with Buddha’s boundless light. We offer prayers by calling the name of Amitabha.

If Amitabha is interpreted in terms of His title, it means a Buddha of boundless light as His light is purity itself, or a Buddha of excellent light as His light is compared to nothing,


Or a Buddha of spacious light as His light fills the whole universe, or a Buddha of amrita king as His Kingdom is happiness itself. You may have heard an old story that by drinking amrita eternal life was gained. I would like to emphasize that these features of Amitabha are the very aspects of our True self and at the same time of our native place. Some people are aware of it and try to go there; lamentably, other people do not know it and do not try to.


Which way shall we take to avoid death? True happiness of our life does not have much to do with pursuing power or wealth and with our body, our appearance, our relative and finite thoughts, or with false ideas. The teaching of Sakyamuni’s can not be found in those physical desires or false ideas; neither Jesus Christ’s nor Mohammed’s a teaching too cannot be found in them. Their teachings are the direction to leave behind such desires but to head for the gate of eternal liberty and truth and immortality.


We Buddhists should be determined to purify our life. We should decide how to live for our own true happiness as well as true happiness of our family. Our life, if it is opposite to truth or outside truth, just like a fish out of water, will not bring happiness to us. So it is quite natural that true happiness, true liberty, and even true democracy should go well with truth itself.vv


We have already observed that Buddha is the native place of all beings, in other words, the light of wisdom, purity and compassion which shines the whole void. Accordingly, if we keep an affectionate belief in Him, we should be able to feel the place and the light clearly. Whether you are feeling them or not, you ought to bear a firm belief in them because Buddha’s sayings are always true, not false in their beginning, in their middle and in their end without exaggeration.


It is a very important attitude in studying Buddhism to keep an impregnable faith in the native place of all beings where they are one and to bear the unitary Suchness of Truth and Buddha Nature of Light. The Nirvana of Buddha is immortality of permanence, happiness, Self Ego and purity. You will come to understand His death when you can value those four merits correctly, because he has not gone at all, when seen from the place of True Suchness-Buddha Nature, which is our Original Appearance. Sakyamuni has left no trace of coming and going. Likewise, we neither are born nor die, if seen from the original place of our life so there is nothing to be born or to die.


Easter Day is near at hand. The Resurrection of Christ is one of the most important doctrines in Christianity, isn’t it? But from the view point of Buddhism, the revival of life applies not only to Jesus Christ but to all of the living things.

We Buddhists define resurrection to be neither death nor rebirth. Such definition is much more than resurrection as such. As our life has no reason to die, so it has no reason to revive.


We should know that we are neither to die nor to live again. You may think that you will die someday without fail and that your friends will die, too.


It is needless to say that our body dies someday. The truth is that there is absolutely no death of our life itself. Let us suppose that somebody is expiring his last breath. He dies because the cause and conditions of his life in this world have already been exhausted. But there is neither addition to nor subtraction from his life itself. His life is not dead, only his body is. According more or less to karmic result, there are differences of feeling comfortable or painful from the state of his physical death.


There is no death in our life. He, who has penetrated the divine eye or even the demon’s eye, can see a soul go disembodied from the dead body.


Now that a Buddhist believes not merely in resurrection but also in immortality, our True Self Master, or True Mind, there is nothing for him to fear in the world. But we should not think it too easy to obtain the Original place of Suchness of Buddha Nature that contains all virtues.


Like the Phoenix in an Egyptian myth we must be burned to ash and be born again from it, if we are to win the place. Without such endeavor it is almost impossible for us to gain an everlasting life. I think we can have no other way but to have the endeavor for bringing life to Buddhism, attaining true liberty individually, restoring the Oriental Torch to our land and solving the many ideological problems of our days.


We are living constantly threatened by the shadow of death in every direction – before and behind, right and left. And we are walking towards death every day and night. In the end our body will die, which can be compared to the fish in small puddle whose water is drying off day after day, or to a moth playing around a lamp. All the appearances of the world that are falsely named have nothing to do with eternity.


You don’t have to keep a sad, degenerating sense of nobodyness in spite of your ill education or physical handicaps. We remember Dr. Hawking, an English man who visited us in 1990. He was so physically handicapped that he couldn’t move his body nor could he speak. However, he looked so happy all the time that not a cloud was seen on him.


Happiness does not lie in our appearance but in our mind, which contains countless virtues of immortality: our mind has no age, no sickness, and no death. We must feel the bottom of the mind, and we will feel it more or less to the degree of our karmic obstruction. When you come to doubt if you have the identical mind with Sakyamuni Buddha’s, Bodhidharma’s or Great Master Seosan’s it is necessary for you to repeat a thousand times reminding you that you have the same boundless virtues. You have to know that you have the same mind as they do.


What do we recollect Buddha for?

It is for affirming that we also have infinite merit like Buddha, for holding the place where we are not separated from Buddha, and for keeping us from thinking that Buddha and we are two different beings.


We are living in an age when meditation practice is highly required. Meditation practice will prove our Original Appearance and deliver us from the grave of death and guide our way of life like true teachers and parents. In a sense, it is very easy to perform meditation. Why so easy? Because it is just to follow the truth of cosmos.


As cosmic truth proceeds on its own, we can do little to help it. No matter how hard we try, we can not destroy the earth. No matter how long the earth may survive, it will but perish when the end of it turns in time. The same lot will be with the immense cosmic body including the moon and the sun. They are subjects to the law of the universe.


Consequently, when our life follows the law, it will move on like a boat sailing with the wind; if not, then it will be like one sailing against the wind. Meditation is the most proper and rational way to observe the order of the universe; in a word it is like a boat running with a fair wind.


Now that you are originally a perfect Buddha and He is in you, you are sure to be a Buddha. Everyone is to become a Buddha in the end. Only there is a difference of the time that is earlier or later for him to become a Buddha.


It is easier to become a Buddha in obedience to Buddha’s teachings than not to become. It is easier to obey your parents than not; to help others than to beat them; to speak well of them than to speak ill of them; to smile than to frown at them; not to eat meat than to eat; and to concentrate yourself on the place of Suchness of Buddha Nature than to be lost in delusory thoughts.


There are several kinds of practice such as Koan meditation, Recollection of the Buddha, and Chant of tantaric spell are all different endeavors to seek the native place of ours which we left and we should return to. These are all the same efforts to keep on thinking of the place. And we will find that our body and mind can be purified gradually hour after hour in the efforts.


We have a notion that our health is little associated with our Buddhistic study. But we should recognize that both are closely related with each other since everything is created by our mind. We exclaim, ‘Ah! All the constituents of the body are completely empty. They are in reality, but the light of Suchness of Buddha Nature!’ Those who I hate turn into the light too, if I analyze their bodies. As soon as we realize this, we will find car heart and head and eyes opening clearer. That is why our physical health is absolutely corelated with our mental health.


What is it that meditation tries to obtain? It is only to see the Real Aspect of life, not as an expedient method but as what Buddha said and not the place where you and I exist differently but as the place where all beings are of oneness.

Sentient beings see merely false aspects. They are not able to see what a sage sees. If they can see what he sees they will feel their mind and body turn all the lighter. Then they will get better thoughts and better judgments.


When you are recollecting Buddha with your mind fixed on the place of Suchness of Buddha Nature where all beings are of oneness, then you are precisely practicing Zen of Recollection Buddha; when you are chanting tantaric spell with such mind, then you are practicing Zen of tantaric spell; when you are penetrating Koan with such mind, then you are practicing Zen of Koan; and when you are continuing to last the place of your Buddha Nature undisturbed with such mind, then you are practicing Zen of silent illumination.


These days we tend to pursue too much luxury both in food and clothing, despites the fact that our body is doomed to decease in time. As we see, our body is of only a temporary use as long as we live on we live on this earth. It can not be our permanent property, and we leave it behind as nothing.

We should be cautions in order not to eat too much and wear too richly as such habits are likely to cause our mental activities to become dull.


In the beginning man was born out of the Abhasvara, the Heaven of light and sound. His body was made up of light and he ate no food. As time passed his mind changed unclear and his body got contaminated. By the result of its contamination, he has come to eat thus much.


All the Buddhas of the past, present and future, take just one meal a day.

Monk and nun, when they are ordained novice, are obliged to receive ten precepts and one of them is no eating after noon. Do not excuse yourself that such precept is necessary in India but not in Korea. We should not fail observe it. We do not need such excessive amount of calorie in maintaining our body.

Modern physiologists, ignorant our mind is true master of our life, say that a certain amount of nutrition is necessary to maintain our body. Anyway, we must know the truth that it is the Suchness of our Buddha Nature that keeps on our life.

There is no death and rebirth, no sickness but immortality in the world of Buddha Nature. Eat less, and it will be easier focusing our mind on the world of Buddha Nature.


How much do we have to spend eating? All the Buddhas of the three periods agree to take one meal a day, and they instruct us to follow them. In Sakyamuni Buddha’s days, the laity would have a rule to observe six monthly Posadhas, which meant six fast days every month: 8th, 14th, 15th, 23th, 29th, and 30th by the lunar calendar. On those days people were not allowed to eat in the afternoons. So they took only a meal before noon. If we could live such a simple life like them our life would be much purified both individually and socially. The atmosphere of our family life would be much better.


It is quite easy for us to say from the knowledge of mouth meditation: “Ah, there is no birth and death. Every existence must be an effect of Suchness of Buddha Nature. The whole universe is the very world of the Lotus Store, or the pure land of all Buddhas!” But it is another matter for us to prove this for ourselves.


These days, more often than not, I am told that monks and nuns had better quit dwelling in deep mountains and live a communal life with ordinary people in order to enlighten them, even though I see too many of them appear in big cities. On the contrary, I believe that the time has come when more practitioners of Buddhism should be produced through genuine asceticism so that they may be able to prove the place of Buddhahood, of Suchness of Buddha Nature, and of no birth and death.

They are expected to revitalize our Buddhism and society which have so many complex problems.


Mahaguppina was one of the ten great disciples of Buddha. He was a prince in a kingdom. He foresaw that he would become a monk in time. At last one day Buddha decided to call the royal son to His place to show His eighteen body-transformations. When the prince beheld Buddha’s wondrous power to transform His body through space, his spirit was awakened on the scene as he was so good-natural in quality.

Few would refuse to take the way of Buddha’s life if more and more sages are competent to perform the three insights and the six spiritual powers like Buddha – and more of His disciples would turn up in our day of uncertainty and distrust.

I mentioned modern physics holds that every phenomenal change is impermanent; all is empty, vanity and suffering. It would not make any sense if we Buddhists, who study in the House where we seek after liberation from the cycle of life and death, were ignorant of what science has already revealed.


The original nature of mine or yours, or of the whole universe is the Suchness of Buddha Nature that is full of bright light of life.


While you are absorbed in meditation, recalling Buddha or praying, not missing the place of Buddha Nature, your mind will be purified gradually.

According to the extent of your mental purity, your mind will alter the nobler. Since in the place of Buddha Nature there is no difference between you and me, as you mind approach it, it will naturally become more peaceful and compassionate, until the light of Suchness of Buddha Nature begins to shoot towards you.


It is called Pramudita, the stage of joy of having overcome previous difficulties and now entering on the Path of Buddhahood. The joy of this kind is a genuine happiness.


As I said, Zen practice is not difficult, since it bows to the truth of the universe.

Sakyamuni, Confucius, Lao-tzu, Jesus, all the sages more or less followed the truth. When subjected to the truth, both communism and capitalism will not miss the Mid Way and will carry out a most fair and impartial policy, and our behavior will be a fair and impartial one.


On this day of celebration the memorial of Buddha’s Nirvana, we should remember the true meaning of Nirvana, – not of Hinayana’s which is taken for complete disappearance through the extinction of Buddha’s mind and body – but of Mahayana’s which is considered as immortality of limitless virtues – permanence of life, true bliss of life, purity of life and substance of Self Ego. True Nirvana, that is, Mahayana Nirvana, that we should come to feel and experience in the end, is always abiding, motionless, immortal, perfectly – blessed in the world of True Ego, the Great I.

It contains wondrous wisdom as well as unhindered purity with no delusive thoughts.


I hope you will try to bear the world in your mind, because that is the short cut to proper meditation leading to Buddhahood. It is the way of true Greater Vehicle in practicing meditation and it can be accomplished by all of us – you and I.

When you decide on the way and devote to recollecting Buddha, then you are on the way of Zen of recollection Buddha; when devote yourselves to penetrating Hwadu, Koan, then on the way of Zen of Hwadu; when devote yourselves to silent illumination, then on the way of Zen of silent illumination; and when devote yourselves to tantaric spell, then on the way of Zen of tantaric spell.

Try to ground your mind in the Original birth place of all beings-which is our self Nature of eternal brilliance – and prove the Mahayana Nirvana during your life time and enjoy endless happiness. Thank you.


Namo Amitabha Buddha!

Namo Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva!




A special meeting was held on the memorial day of Buddha’s Nirvana on March 30, 1991 Christian Year, 2535 Buddhist Year. It was conducted by Korean Buddhist Broadcasting System.

In the meeting venerable Chung-Hwa Sunim was invited to preach a most precious sermon to the congregation. He is one of the most respectable Zen masters in Korea and Patriarch of Tae-An Monastery in Goksung Kun, Chonnam Province.

BBS has recorded his speech. This book is the copy of the recording. We attempted to carry his original voice lest we should scatter his Dharma Pregrance. We think this is not only an epic of truth but also a hearty cry of his to awaken people, and also a simplified and lucid Dharma talk of Buddhism. All errors of presentation in this book are, of course, ours alone.


the Golden Wheel Association of Korean Buddhism.

An Authentic Person of No Status

A foolish monk with hairy eyebrows and grey robes,

Walks along the stream leaning on his staff, his steps skillful on their own.  

Observing the clouds and mist, he is both sober and intoxicated.

To fool with mysterious changes makes the blunder even worse.

The golden breeze [of autumn] gently turns the leaves their first shade of red,

Now that the autumn moon shines brightly, the waters are even clearer.

Forgetting both ordinary person and sage, he leisurely plays his flute,

Riding Mount Sumeru backwards, he ascends freely of his own accord.

The ‘high-sky’ season has just arrived. The autumn leaves are changing colors and the moon is bright. This truly may be called a wonderful season. If we are to be called true Buddhist disciples, we must try to live our lives as “authentic persons of no status” [translator’s note: Chinese Chan Master Linji’s saying], who are free and autonomous in the eternal present.


Buddhism originally transcended Brahmanism in India and completely solved the problem of human life by illuminating from an ultimate standpoint the original, true form of human beings. Moreover, the practice that possesses from a historical standpoint the most complete realization of the profound source of Buddhism is Seon (禪). Therefore, Seon can be regarded as both the religious life-essence of Buddhism as well as a religion of free and autonomous authentic persons at its essence, which transcends the doctrinal teachings (Gyo, 敎).


The great significance of Seon is liberation from deluded consciousness and realization of one’s true self on one’s own. What we consider the ‘I’ is not the ‘true I,’ but instead the ‘attachment to I,’ which brings about disturbance and tumult because it involves the suffering and deceptiveness that derive from deluded consciousness. Thus, we must smash the ignorance of this limited ‘I’ and manifest the authentic human form.


Sometimes people who practice chamseon (“investigating Seon”) say that they are not sure if they are practicing Seon correctly, but you must understand that there is nothing clearer than practicing Seon. People talk about “chamseon, chamseon,” so we all consider it to be difficult and an exceptional religious practice, but chamseon just means to live sincerely and compassionately by fundamentally criticizing and liberating our lives, which are immersed in desire and the attachment to self.


If I were to express it simply in psychological terms, we each live our lives in accordance with our own subjective perspective. Typically, our realities are immersed in either our knowledge or our own subjective views, which derive from dualistic activities. These do not adopt an expansive human perspective that sees all phenomena in the universe as a single fundamental living substance, but instead are projections of the extremely narrow and small dualistic subjective views of an individual, which are ascertained according to the needs of each moment. Furthermore, Western philosophy treats worldview or the problem of human existence only from one limited aspect of human life, such as rationality or desire. However, Seon does not look at human beings from a single point of view, but from a holistic perspective—the perspective of a holistic human being who acts rationally and intuitively while transcending rationality and intuition.


Once, someone asked, “Is the state where subjective discriminations are extinguished the ultimate realm of Seon?” It is not. This is because the storehouse consciousness (ālayavijñāna), even though it operates in a mind-state in which the discriminations of consciousness have been extinguished, is nothing but the accumulations of our manifesting consciousness (hyeonhaeng uisik), so it does not have the capacity to recognize truth as it is.

Typically, either scholarship or thought is produced in the manifesting consciousness or the storehouseconsciousness. No matter how the construction of truth is systematized philosophically, when its scope is broadened or deepened, the system falls apart. Thus, new scholarship and philosophical systems keep developing, but they are not the correct paths for contemplating the “original face” (本來面目), which is the fundamental question facing humanity. This is because the original, true form of human beings is the single, universal life substance that transcends both consciousness and unconsciousness. As such, chamseon means to awaken to the ‘authentic person,’ by completely liberating oneself from all discriminative knowledge, thoughts, and even the unconsciousness.  


If you critique more fundamentally the binary dichotomies of good and evil, existence and non-existence, rationality and irrationality, material and mentality, and so forth, then at the foundation of all values and speculation lies this absolute dichotomy. This is the limitation of modern men who adopt the standpoint of rationality. However, an authentic person is one who has originally transcended all these dichotomous limitations, and ultimately he is originally an authentic person who does not claim to have newly attained enlightenment. This authentic person is originally unborn and unextinguished, and is not limited by time and space. He is originally pure and unsullied, free and autonomous; and while being devoid of all form, he creates forms in all their variety.


Seon suddenly transforms people who are subject to such dichotomies into authentic persons who are truly themselves, thereby severing in a single cut all ignorance and defilements. Therefore, Seon realizes the history that involves the proactive great capacity and great functioning by guiding even scientific acumen and the life impulse toward an independent position.


While a person like the monk Linji (Kor. Imje; Jpn. Rinzai) was studying scriptures, he realized that words and language are only medical prescriptions, so he decided instead to do Chan meditation. This example in turn asks us what actually solves the questions of human life objectively and with universal validity. Because chamseon is not dogmatism, which would demand that one follow its dictates blindly, one must oneself practice it and attain awakening. 


In order to practice chamseon correctly, one must earnestly investigate the hwadu (“keyword”). To investigate the hwadu means that one’s whole life substance must transcend intellectual consciousness. In the “ball of doubt” (uidan) generated by investigating the hwadu, one’s whole existence must be unified and tense. One’s body and mind have to become a single life substance, just like the moment when you start to run at the sound of the gun go off at the beginning of a hundred-meter race. If one investigates the hwadu in this manner and moreover practices genuinely, then one attains the state of the ‘silver mountain and iron wall,’ where the discriminations of consciousness are eradicated. Also, when the hwadu appears clearly while becoming more transparent, then the production and extinction of consciousness will disappear. If one practices Seon deeply, one actually can reach such a state. Although this may be a state where the production and extinction of consciousness have disappeared, one does not fall into sloth and torpor. Instead, the hwadu and the ball of doubt (uidan) become ever more clear and numinous, so that one progresses to penetrate even the level of the unconscious. When one penetrates to this ultimate state, the absolute dichotomy disappears. Pure and clear, there is not even a single thing: this is the state of ‘mountains are mountains, rivers are rivers.’ However, if one sits abiding in this state, then one has not yet passed through the gate of patriarchs. By suddenly passing through this realm, one ‘sees the nature’ and awakens to the storehouse of the right-dharma eye (Jeongbeopanjang) of clear-eyed enlightened masters of our school.


To give you a little more detail, we cannot even call this ‘seeing the nature’ or ‘awakening to the self.’ The original face is itself real and originally exists as it is. It is only because one does not have a fervent and sincere aspiration for enlightenment, and has not truly tried to practice chamseon, that one says the practice of Seon is difficult. Actually, the original face is the fundamental essence of human existence and one’s true form. What is more, some say that though the buddha-nature is inherent in people’s minds, because it is different from reality, they refer to it as internal transcendence and advocate that it is mysterious. However, an authentic person does not abide either internally or externally in our ordinary reality. The authentic person is the ‘absolute present” by being the nucleus of the present moment. This is what we call the ‘eternal now’ or the ‘absolute now.’ The authentic person becomes the fundamental nucleus that transcends time and space, and is the original, true form of human beings, which overcomes all fragmenting self-destructiveness and is thus free and autonomous.

The wooden ox walks in fire

We live in a world of dualistic consciousness. The realm created by consciousness is characterized by our perceived division of things into subjects and objects. Both consciousness and Store-house Consciousness (or unconsciousness) pertain to the level of subjectivity. They are ruled by the principle of arising and passing away. Our minds are imbalanced and impure, and we cannot escape from the round of birth and death.

In order to overcome all duality, we have to break through consciousness and Store-house Consciousness, where there is no distinction between good and evil, birth and death, subject and object, time and space. This state of mind is ultimately free and without obstruction. One can reach it neither through the mere intellect nor through the immobilization of mind. The surest and most direct way to this kind of experience is through the mass of doubt produced by the active kong-an (Ch., kung-an/Jn., koan) practice handed down in the Patriarchal seon tradition.

It is estimated that there are in all some 1700 types of kong-an within the seon tradition. Actually there are countless varieties, because the innumerable problems of human beings are all vivid motifs for kong-an. If any single selected kong-an is resolved, all of them will burst open simultaneously. I shall now introduce you to the way in which one may understand the practice of kong-an.

First of all, the practitioner should have great tenacity in pursuing the fundamental questions of human birth and death. A monk asked Chao-Chou:

“What is the motif of Bodhidharma’s coming from the West?”

Chao-Chou replied:

“The arborvitae tree is in the garden!”

This is a question about Patriarchal seon. That is to say, the monk asks Chao-Chou about the purpose of Bodhidharma’s mission, the first patriarch of seon, coming from India to China. The seon practitioner must earnestly ask himself why Chao-Chou said “The arborvitae tree is in the garden!”. He should make his whole body and mind into one great inquiry. The first step is that he has to be absorbed into the kong-an without any distinction between subject and object. He has to become one with the kong-an, free from all discursive thoughts. If he continually maintains the great inquiry, the kong-an keeps going under its own momentum. This is the second step. Persevering zealously in his practice of kong-an, all thoughts are completely extinguished. Mind at this stage is motionless like stone or iron, but the practitioner is increasingly alert and attentive with his kong-an. If he pushes himself further, he breaks through Store-house Consciousness by the force of his kong-an. His whole mind, conscious and unconscious, is broken through, and simultaneously, the mind manifests, free and without obstacles. Here, there is no distinction between good and evil, birth and death, subject and object, time and space. At this stage, the mind is ultimately liberated. If he breaks through to a further level, there is unity between the break-through and the manifestation of all things. Taken still further, he is free and dynamic because of the limitless liberation of break-though with boundless manifestation of all things. At last, he accomplishes the great life-time work!

None of these stages are separate from each other, for they are all interrelated. But this stupid old man will not allow even this.

“Why don’t I allow it? – Answer my question immediately!” “Why? Because I shall deliver my Dharma talk without allowing myself to adhere to even this ultimate stage of realization!”




When Linchi was about to pass away, he admonished San-sheng, “After I pass on, don’t destroy my secret code of insight into upright dharma (Zhengfayanzang).” San-sheng said, “How would I dare destroy the teacher’s secret code of insight into upright dharma?” Linchi said, “If someone suddenly questioned you about it, how would you reply?” At once, San-sheng started shouting. Linchi said, “Who would have thought that my secret code of insight into upright dharma would perish with this blind ass?”


[The Great Patriarch Seo-Ong’s Added Saying]


“After I pass on, don’t destroy my secret code of insight into upright dharma.” Linchi said. “If someone suddenly questioned you about it, how would you reply?” San-sheng said, “How would I dare destroy the teacher’s secret code of insight into upright dharma?”

        These refer to the state of all-pervading break-though and the simultaneous manifestation of all things.


Linchi said, “If someone suddenly questions you about it, how will you reply?” and San-sheng immediately started shouting.

        These refer to the state that is free without obstacles due to the unity between all-pervading break-though and the manifestation of all things.


Linchi said, “Who would have thought that my secret code of insight into upright dharma would perish with this blind ass?”

        This shows the state that is ultimately free and dynamic due to the endlessly liberating break-though and the boundless manifestation of mind.


[Verses by Tiantongjue]


The robe of faith is imparted at midnight to Hui-neng,

Stirring up the seven hundred monks at Huang-mei.

The eye of truth of the branch of Linchi;

The blind ass, destroying it, gets the hatred of others.

From mind to mind they seal each other;

From patriarch to patriarch they pass on the lamp,

Leveling oceans and mountains, A fowl turns into a roc.

name and word alone are hard to compare.

In sum, the method is knowing how to fly freely.


[The Great Patriarch Seo-Ong’s Commentary on the Verses]


“The robe of faith is imparted at midnight to Hui-neng” refers to the manifestation of all things.

“Stirring up the seven hundred monks at Huang-mei” refers to penetration of all things. “The eye of truth of the branch of Linchi” shows the manifestation of all things.

“The blind ass, destroying it, gets the hatred of others” indicates the state that is ultimately free due to the endless break-though into all things as well as the boundless manifestation of all things. “From mind to mind they seal each other;From patriarch to patriarch they pass on the lamp” refers to the manifestation of all things. “Leveling oceans and mountains” refers to the break-though of all things.

“A fowl turns into a roc” shows the state that is ultimately free due to the unity between the penetration of all things and manifestation of all things. “Name and word alone are hard to compare. In sum, the method is knowing how to fly freely” refers to the state that is ultimately free and dynamic due to the endlessly liberating break-though and the boundless manifestation of all things.

Thus far, I have illustrated the meaning of the practice of kong-an for the sake of beginners. Practitioners, however, should experience this state of complete break-through through their zealous practice of kong-an. This is an active expression of dharma.


[The Great Patriarch Seo-Ong’s Added Saying]


Revolving in day and night, restless in eternity,

The bright moon illuminates reed flowers,

Reflecting their identical appearances.

A young accipiter capable of

Flying far away through the sky

Pierces the air with the flap of its wings,

Free from longing for home.


[Auto-commentary on the Added Sayings]


These added sayings depict the state of the all-pervading break-through and the simultaneous manifestation of all things;the state that is free without obstacles due to the unity between all-pervading break-through and the manifestation of all things;the state that is ultimately free and dynamic due to the endlessly liberating break-though and the boundless manifestation of all things.


Speak immediately!!!


“The wooden ox walks in fire”

“A-ak!” (an abrupt roaring).


from The Dharma Assembly of the Great Seon Masters(October, 2002)

Chan Buddhism and the Philosophies of Laozi (老子) and Zhuangzi (莊子)

Among all Chinese philosophies and religions. the thoughts of Laozi and Zhuangzi are perhaps the most profound. It is often said that the Chinese have a tendency to put much weight on reality and are pragmatic by nature. Therefore, the systems of thought developed in China are usually addressed towards practical matters that can be directly applied in everyday life. While ethical and political ideologies abound in Chinese history, rarely can we find metaphysical views on life or thoughts inclined towards a craving for mystical truth.

Contrary to this dominant Chinese tradition are Laozi and Zhuangzi, figures who deal with the most profound problems of life, transcending the common-sense values and thoughts of average Chinese people. Living in times of unprecedented turmoil in China, the Age of the Warring States, Laozi and Zhuangzi witnessed constant war, where schemes and machinations were the norm. The lens of history shows that many instances of unprecedented philosophical and religious development appeared precisely within those countries suffering from chaos and hardships, as a result of efforts taken to overcome such adversity. Laozi and Zhuangzi are perfect examples of this.

When Buddhism was first introduced to China, local scholars tried to interpret Buddhism by borrowing concepts from pre-existing philosophies, mainly those of Laozi and Zhuangzi. For instance, in the Daodejing written by Laozi, there is a statement, “All the things of the world originate from being (有), and being (有) comes from nothingness (無).” The universe has a form and it is thought of as ‘being’ (有), and the origin of the universe without form is considered ‘nothingness’ (無). Accordingly, the concept of voidness1) in Mahayana Buddhism was translated and understood in terms of nothingness as used in the terminology of Laozi.

When Buddhist sutras were translated into Chinese for the first time, the word Nirvana was translated as ‘non-doing’, meaning ‘doing nothing,’ or ‘doing without deliberate manipulation.’ Bodhi was translated as ‘Tao,’ and Tathata (the truth as it is) as ‘Originally Nothing.’ Buddhism was thus regarded on its deepest levels through the template of Laozi and Zhuangzi. Of course, it would have been difficult for the pragmatic Chinese to accommodate the esoteric thought of Buddhism without borrowing from the conceptual framework of Laozi and Zhuangzi. However, the true meaning of Buddhist thought was somewhat distorted though this process, as it was not simply words, but an entire philosophy that was needing to be translated.

Furthermore, whereas Indians often employed meditation to transcend the suffering of the mundane world, leading to the development of a theoretical, epistemological logic, the Chinese, more active and realistic, preferred intuition to logic. Therefore, rather than the logical meditation into profound Buddhism as seen in India, Chinese Buddhism adopted a practical religious approach in pursuit of the dharma, that is, to experience the ultimate stage of Buddhism and cultivate the mind with intuition. This was the beginning of the Chan Tradition in China, and the subsequent Seon/Zen/Thien traditions in Korea, Japan, and Vietnam, respectively.

Some Buddhist sects consider the intuitive stages of Zhuangzi, such as ‘Sitting in Oblivion(坐忘),’ ‘Seeing the stage of transcending the limitations of reality (朝徹),’ and ‘Seeing independence (見獨)’ to be consistent with Chan, but I would like to quote a critical retort (pingchang 評唱) in case 80 of , a book that reveals the innermost depth of the truth of Linji tradition, to argue that this is not, in fact, the case.

According to the contents of the pingchang, Chan meditation initially consists of our conscious mind (心識). When we proceed deeper into our being, we arrive at the margins of ‘no mind’ (無心 ), the absolute stage undiscerned from the universe or Nature. Chan does not stop here though. With more exertion and devotion, we earn the Panna Wisdom of Buddha that pervades the Store-house consciousness, and then transcends even Buddha, to be limitlessly free and dynamic. This ultimate stage of Chan is called ‘Tao, the mind of everyday life,’ which is to eat food when hungry, drink tea when thirsty, and to be absolutely free and dynamic, restricted by nothing.

Then what of the stage told by Zhuangzi? In the book titled after his own name, there is a story about ‘Sitting in Oblivion’ in the Chapter “The Great and Venerable Teacher.”

Yanhui, a pupil of Confucius, said “I have made some gain.” Confucius asked, “What do you mean?” Yanhui replied, “I forgot virtue and justice.” Confucius commented, “Good, but not enough.” After some time, he said to Confucius again, “I made further gain.” “What is it?” “I forgot civility and music.” “Good, but still not enough.” Several days later, he said to Confucius once more, “I have made an even greater gain.” Confucius asked, “What is it?” Yanhui replied, “I reached ‘Sitting in Oblivion.'” Amazed Confucius asked, “What is ‘Sitting in Oblivion’?” Yanhui answered, “It is forgetting hands, feet and body, forgetting the action of ears and eyes, leaving the distinction of form to discard wisdom and becoming one with Tao. This is ‘Sitting in Oblivion.'” Confucius praised, “When someone becomes one with Tao, there is no good nor evil. After undergoing transformation into becoming one with Tao, there is no attachment. Wise indeed. Now it is I who should be your follower instead.”

The ‘Sitting in Oblivion’ of Zhuangzi is no more than the severing of consciousness, resting in the margins of no mind (無心 ) where all discriminations vanish, whereas Chan breaks through conscious mind (有心 ), transcends 無心 (no mind), and rises above even Buddhahood to be unlimitedly free and dynamic. To reach Panna Wisdom, one must go beyond even the margins of no mind (無心), to the stage of the eighth sense.

I will give one more example about Zhuangzi, again from “The Great and Venerable Teacher”:

For three days, rising above the world, remaining beyond, I dwell in this stage. After the seventh day, I am beyond all things, and after the ninth day, I am beyond life. Already beyond life, I can see the stage that transcends the limitations of reality, and then I see independence. Then there is no past and present, and then after this stage, I enter the realm without life nor death.

Zhuangzi mentions being outside of all things, outside of life, and then seeing through the stage that transcends the realistic limitations of human beings. In conclusion, he speaks of transcending the limitations of consciousness.

Although people are prone to confuse Zhuangzi’s thoughts with Chan, the two lie in totally different spheres. Zhuangzi remains at the boundary of the eighth sense, the margins of unconsciousness, the margins of the great Nature where there is no deliberate human manipulation. Chan transcends this stage of Zhuangzi to reach Panna Wisdom, and transcending even Panna Wisdom, it arrives at the great freedom.

Of course, this analysis is but a brief summary of the very complex differences between Zhuangzi and Chan. All of you must practice more earnestly to see the reality for yourselves.

1) Voidness: Sunyata in Sanskrit. In the Indian Madhyamaka philosophy, it refers to the ultimate nature of phenomena. It is often used to describe either non-existence or the absence of all mental and physical sensation experienced at some stages of meditation.

The etymology of Kongan : Seo-ong

The word ‘Seon’ comes from the Chinese word ‘Chan’, a transliteration of the Sanskrit word ‘Dhyâna’. Loosely translated, it means “meditative absorption.” Another definition would be “silently thinking.” ‘Jwa-seon’ (sitting-seon) thus means “meditating silently while seated.”
The sixth patriarch, Huineng, defined ‘sitting’ as externally being in the world of good and evil and yet having no thought arising in the heart, and ‘Seon’ as internally seeing the self and not straying away from it. The formal practice Seon entails one sitting upright in a room with a calm atmosphere and some burning incense, breathing deeply and steadily while thinking about something. But what is it you should think about?
Think about life.
‘What is life?’ ‘What should I do in my life?’ ‘Where have I come from and where am I ultimately heading?’ ‘What does it mean to live and to die?’ ‘What is the relationship between the universe and my life?’ ‘What is the right way to live?’ ‘What is life’s true meaning?’
Life is invaluable. There is nothing that can compensate for it. As such, we must take the most upright course through this precious life.  Living with a false vision of reality, one cannot see one’s own true self, one’s own true existence and this life is simply wasted away. It becomes a “false life.”
You must steel within yourself an ardent determination, thinking, “Life is full of defilements. Where have these defilements come from? I must liberate myself from them and realize my pure original countenance, the true image of my original self.” There is only one path to such a true awakening and you must search deeply into this only path, meditating in silence about the defilements of life, their causes, their cessation, and the means to bring it about.
In the times of Sakyamuni , there was once a disciple with such a bad memory that he could not even remember his own name and had to carry a name tag around his neck. To teach this disciple the way of the upright dharma, Sakyamuni asked him to memorize only a singe sentence, “Brush the dust away and wash the dirt off.” For three years, when he was sitting, standing, sleeping and awake, the disciple thought earnestly about only this one short sentence. As he continued to meditate on this one single hwadu, the dust in his mind was brushed away and the dirt all washed off, such that suddenly he discovered the stage of true self that is without dust, dirt, or defilements, beyond even any truth itself.
The tradition known as “Patriarchal Seon,” developed by successive patriarchs of old, is the teaching that every person, regardless of their powers of intellect or memory, can penetrate into the realm of Buddha in one sweeping stride, awakening to the pure original face, through questioning with absolute diligence one single problem, one hwadu, like the disciple spoken of above. Is this not a rather mysterious and wonderful thing?

This simple problem is equivalent to a passport that allows us through the gateway to enlightenment, and is referred to as a Kongan (Ch. kungan, Jp. koan), a metaphorical borrowing from the words gongbu eui andok (公府之案牘 ), which literally means “a case record of the public court,” and in its usage in Chan/Seon/Zen, indicates­ a singular example case through which a more universal truth can be known.

Seo-ong Sangsun ( 1912 ~ 2003 )