Kusan Suryeon ( 1909 ~ 1983 )


Spending fifteen years as the first Patriarch of the Jogye-san Monastic Compound(Jogye Chongnim) headquartered in Songgwang-sa, Master Kusan devoted much his life’s energy to propagating Buddhism, through such activities as the founding of the Bulil International Seon Center. Directly and indirectly, some fifty of his disciples from both Korea and abroad are spreading the teachings of Korean Seon Buddhism around the world.



Master Kusan was born December 17, 1909, in a small village in Mt. Jirisan in Namwon, Jeollabuk-do province. At the age of 14, after his father’s sudden death, he took over management of his father’s barber shop and family affairs, spending his young years in anguish. At 25, after coming down with an unknown illness, his moans of agony were interrupted by the words of a wandering Buddhist ascetic. “The body is the mind’s reflection. Since the seat of one’s original nature is pure, where can disease take root?” Hearing these words gave Kusan a sudden religious awakening. At that moment he decided to head to Yeongwonsa Monastery on Mt. Jirisan, to take part in a 100-day practice of devotion to the Bodhisattva Gwaneum. With his disease cured during the 100 days of prayer, Kusan decided to be ordained into the sangha. In 1937 at the age of 28, he received the precepts to become a novice monk at Songgwangsa Monastery from Master Hyobong.


Following this, with Songwangsa as his base, Master Kusan spent five years practicing ardently at various meditation halls (Seonwon). In 1943, to engage in serious practice, he built the “Correct Awakening” (Jeonggak) hermitage near the Sudoam Hermitage at Cheongamsa. For two years, he practiced with ferocity. In 1946, his master Hyobong became the first Patriarch of the Gayasan Monastic Compound (Gaya Chongnim) headquartered in Haeinsa, and Master Kusan took on the administrative responsibilities of the temple and also built and resided in the Beobwangdae Hermitage, midway up Mt. Gayasan, all while maintaining a diligent training regimen. In 1950, with the onset of the Korean War, the monks of Gayasan Monastic Compound scattered, and Kusan went to Eungseoksa in Jinju where he continued his Seon investigation. During the winter retreat in 1951, at the age of 42, Kusan penned his verse of enlightenment and submitted it to Master Hyobong:

The world’s outer appearance is originally emptiness

Do people point to emptiness because the mind resides there?

For the withered tree above the crags, there are no seasons

when spring arrives flowers bloom, in fall, it bears fruit

Master Hyobong accepted this verse and endorsed Kusan’s enlightenment. Beginning in 1954, he assisted Master Hyobong as an avid supporter of the Buddhist purification movement. In 1966, with Master Hyobong’s passing, Kusan returned to Songgwangsa, following his master’s dying request to “restore Songgwangsa [which was mostly destroyed in the Korean War] and train many great people there.” Following the developments at Haeinsa, after three years effort the Jogyesan Monastic Compound (Jogye Chongnim) was established, the second Chongnim in Korea, at Songgwangsa in 1969.


As the first patriarch of the Monastic Compound, Master Kusan instituted a fundamental training program for his disciples, and as one of the three jewel temples, Songgwangsa, the “Sangha Jewel Monastery,” overflowed with the energy of its vivid restoration, the likes of which had not been seen since the days of National Master Bojo Jinul. To say nothing of the Korean monks, monks from the United States, Europe and elsewhere also came to Songgwangsa, constantly maintaining the highest levels of intensity in their training. In 1973, after attending the inaugural service at Sambo-sa in Carmel, California, in the United States, Kusan returned to Songgwangsa with a few foreign disciples and other practitioners to found Korea’s first international Seon meditation center, “Bulil International Seon Center,” opening a new chapter in the globalization of Korea’s traditional Seon teachings. Kusan continued along these lines, pouring his energy into the international propagation of Korean Buddhism, founding temples around the world, including Goryeosa in Los Angeles in 1980, Bulseungsa in Geneva in 1982, and Daegaksa near Carmel, California.


One day the following year, in 1984, as the restoration of Songgwangsa, together with the winter retreat, was coming to an end, Kusan let his disciples know that the karma of his life here was meeting its completion and left behind the following requests: “don’t give my body any injections, perform the cremation in sitting meditation posture, live together in harmony without harm to the Seon tradition, do not live as a monk deceiving yourself, and devote yourself continuously to awakening.” He also left his “death verse”:

As the leaves of fall burn more crimson than the flowers of spring

All of creation is completely laid bare

As living is empty, and dying too, is also empty

I go forth smiling, within the ocean-like absorption of the Buddha

On the afternoon of December 16th, at the Samiram Hermitage in Songgwangsa where he had first met his master Hyobong, surrounded by his many followers, Kusan assumed the lotus position and his seventy-four years of life came to a quiet end with his passing into nirvana.



Among Master Kusan’s written works are his 1975 book, Seven Perfections, aimed at bringing Buddhism back into daily life, and his 1976 book, Nine Mountains, an English version of his dharma talks, written for the benefit of his foreign disciples. After receiving much attention from scholars of Buddhism and eastern philosophy around the world, Nine Mountains was revised and published in Korean as Seok Saja (Stone Lion). After Master Kusan’s passing, his foreign disciples published Seon! My Choice, a compilation of their impressions and experiences regarding Korean Buddhism and their Seon training at the Bulil International Seon Center. In 1985, Master Kusan’s disciples Stephen Batchelor and Martine Fages edited an English compilation of his dharma teachings, The Way of Korean Zen. The Society of Kusan Followers also published Kusan Seonmun (Seon Teachings of Kusan) in 1994, a volume of the Master’s Seon sermons, and Kusan Seonpung (Seon Tradition of Kusan)in 1997, a collection of his dharma sermons delivered in the early 1980s while touring the United States, Taiwan, Europe and elsewhere.


Doctrinal Distinction

Master Kusan’s practice was an exhaustive hwadu training. After gaining experience with the hwadu, “what is this?” Kusan then took up Zhaozhou’s “MU” hwadu, leading his disciples in this practice as well. This hwadu was meant to lead one to understanding the state of mind that exists before saying “MU!” Kusan described his struggle this way:

“Investigating this hwadu, my investigation and the saying of “mu” coincide. In this state, I come even to defer sleep and forget meals. Standing alone, I reach to the point where I am alone, facing every enemy I’ve ever made during the past 10,000 years, wanting to sleep but unable, put in a position where I cannot go left or right, straight ahead or back, until finally, the place I have been leaning on exists no more, and I become unafraid of tumbling into emptiness. Thereafter, one day, I suddenly yell, ‘Ha!,’ and I’m left feeling as if heaven and earth have been overturned. When other people enter this place whose depth is unfathomable, they laugh out loud to themselves and do nothing but smile.”

He also explained that even after achieving an awakening, until you are able to precisely communicate your experiences to others, while pushing yourself to continuously refine your own opinions and understanding, you must engage in purification practices; then you must work to relieve the sufferings of all sentient beings.


Though Master Kusan spent 45 years practicing his hwadu with precisely this kind of discipline, he never stinted from getting involved in doing the work of the Buddha. Whenever he had a spare moment free from his practice, he could not keep still, such that he earned the nickname, “the working monk.”

Moreover, he never failed to join with the rest of the Buddhist community to participate in worship services, cooperative cleaning or building efforts, food offerings, or other such activities. In this way, the ever-thoroughly practicing Master Kusan emphasized the practice of making Buddhism a part of daily life, based on the idea that it was wrong to think of Buddhism as the sole preserve of a singular class of people, like monks and nuns, or that you have to live in the mountains to practice. Combining these methods under one teaching, Master Kusan promoted the “seven perfections” movement. He taught that a good way for Buddhist practitioners to implement the truth of Buddhism within their daily lives was to use six days of each week to practice each of the six bodhisattva perfections: charity on Monday, morality on Tuesday, perseverance on Wednesday, effort on Thursday, meditation on Friday, and wisdom on Saturday, and then to use Sunday as a service day, the day to practice the perfection of all works together.   

Jogye Order’s 25 Temple Distirct Head Temples

Haeinsa Temple is one of the three Jewel Temples representing the Dharma or Teachings as it houses the 81,258Tripitaka Koreana woodblocks – designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. It is one of the 10 Avatamsaka (Garland Sutra) temples established during the Silla Dynasty as well as one of the five full monastic training temples and the repository of a long tradition of preserving the Zen tradition. It has been home to many outstanding Zen masters and the current Patriarch of the Jogye Order, Ven. Beopjeon, resides at Haeinsa.
Founding Date : 802Address : : #10 Chiin-ri, Gaya-myeon, Hapcheon-gun, South Gyeongsang ProvinceTel : 82-55-931-1001URL : http://www.haeinsa.or.kr

Goam Sangeon ( 1899 ~ 1988 )



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

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

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

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


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


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


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

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

hereby we know the autumn of the universe

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

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

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



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


Doctrinal Distinction

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


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

A sacred thing is covering the entire cosmos

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

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

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

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


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


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

Jeongang Yeongsin ( 1898 ~ 1975 )


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



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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

What is the suffering of birth and death?


Nine times nine multiplied backwards is still eighty-one.

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


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


Doctrinal Distinction

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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Jogye Order’s 25 Temple Distirct Head Temples

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

More Information> The Temple Without a Buddha Statue: Tongdosa

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

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

The Diamond Precepts Platform 

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

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

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

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

The Diamond Precepts Platform 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gyeongbong Jeongseok ( 1892 ~ 1982 )


1. Career

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


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


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


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


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


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

Having searched for myself in all myriad things

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

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

Brilliant hues of udumbara flowers spill over the whole world

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


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


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


2. Writings

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


3. Intellectual Distinction

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


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


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


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

North and South Lay Foundations for Buddhist Temple

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hyobong Hangnul ( 1888 ~ 1966 )


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



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


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


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

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

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

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

White clouds fly west, the moon moves east.

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


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


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

All of the dharma I have spoken

all of it superfluous

should one ask of today’s affairs

the moon is reflected on a thousand rivers 


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


Doctrinal Distinction

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


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

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

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


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