Myori Beophui ( 1887 ~ 1975 )


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



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


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


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


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

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


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


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


Doctrinal Distinction

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


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


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


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


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


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

Questions about Seon

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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

“When does it achieve Buddhahood?”

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

“When does the sky collapse into the earth?”

“Wait until the nut pine achieves Buddhahood.”


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


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


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


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


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


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


Coughing for a spell, I issued a poem.


Not eating the sweet peach and persimmon

I continue up the mountain and pick a sour pear


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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

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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


<Source: Hanam Ilballok >

Hanam Jungwon ( 1876 ~ 1951 )


1.    Career

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


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

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

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


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


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


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


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


2.    Writings

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


3.    Intellectual Distinction

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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

How must we practice Seon in modern times?

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

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

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

What is the fundamental difference between Seon and other sects?

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

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

[Seon Master’s Episode 4] Who is it ?

Mangong’s a episode

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

Mangong Wolmyeon ( 1871 ~ 1946 )


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



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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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



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


Doctrinal Distinction

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Regulations of the Naejang Seon Hall

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

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

Hangmyoung Gyejong ( 1867 ~ 1929 )


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



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


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

The past life, who was I?

The next life, who will I be?

If I know that this thing now is me

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

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


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


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



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


Doctrinal Distinction

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


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


Address : #546 Cheongryong-dong, Geumjeong-gu, BusanTel : 82-51-508-3122URL :

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

The Way to Investigate the Hwadu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Fundamental Mind of Supreme Enlightenment (Daegak)

What is the meaning behind Buddhism being called daegak (Supreme Enlightenment)?

I shall analyze this in two explanations. First, the things we commonly comprehend as the biggest things around us are the sky, the earth, the sea, the air, and the like. But what we call “big” in Buddhism are not those things. When we refer to the “bigness” of the original and natural mind in Buddhism, it is not big in the sense that the sky, the earth, sea or air can be compared with it; in fact, is it so big that nothing can become a thing that can be contrasted with it. Enlightenment is not something that can be stated, like “I am enlightened” or “I am becoming enlightened.” Therefore, it is impossible to teach the fundamental mind of enlightenment with words or writings, or to show it with any concrete shape.

Even though the air is full of electric currents and the sea is full of salt, it’s impossible to listen to the electric current in the air with our ears, or see the salinity of the sea with our eyes. Likewise, though there is definitely an essential nature of Supreme Enlightenment (daegak), since it doesn’t have any specific name or form, you cannot see it with your eyes, hear it with your ears, or think about it with your mind.

Though it is said this essential nature of Supreme Enlightenment originally doesn’t exist because it has no name or form, it doesn’t mean that is really nonexistent. Because there’s nothing, neither is it mind, nor Buddha, Dharma, or Sangha, nor is it a ghost, nor is it any thing, nor the sky or the earth. At the same time it is both immensely big, immensely small, immensely empty, immensely spiritual, immensely firm and strong, but immensely soft at the same time, so it’s not analyzable through thinking.

Though this nature has no name or form, it links the past and the present, surrounds the universe, exists as a subject of the sky, the earth, and humans. As a king of all the laws, it is so big and broad that there’s nothing comparable; so lofty that there is no equal. Also, it has been even before the heaven and earth, so there is no beginning, and it will exist even after the end of days, so there is no ending. This big and round essential nature of enlightenment shows that heaven and earth and the self have the same root and the universe and the self are the same body.

This nature is equal in every body. Just because some are sages, it doesn’t mean they have more of this nature than ordinary men. Also, since there is no becoming, dying, any particular shape, or name for this nature, when it’s in the sky it becomes a part of the sky, in the earth it becomes a part of the earth, and in humans it becomes a part of humans. This is the fundamental mind of attaining divine enlightenment.

Second, attaining divine enlightenment for oneself, then guiding other people to the way of enlightenment, are not two things but one, so it is called the final enlightenment. Every person is pure and undefiled just where s/he is, and it shows that the enlightenment itself is always there, inside of them. Even though enlightenment always exists inside of them, if s/he doesn’t realize it, s/he is ordinary. Even though they realize it’s there, if they don’t strive, they also are ordinary. Why is that?

Even if something is gold, if it is not tempered several times, it cannot become pure gold. But after it becomes pure gold there is no change. Attaining the true mind through striving is like becoming pure gold. This is called actualizing enlightenment.

The original enlightenment (Buddhahood) and actualizing enlightenment are not two things, so it is the final enlightenment, and if somebody realizes everything mentioned above, now they can be said to have attained divine enlightenment.