Naong Hyegeun ( 1320 ~ 1376 )


1.    Career

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


2.    Writings

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


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


3.    Intellectual Distinction

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


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


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


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


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


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

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

From “Gyeongse,” Sayings of Master Naong


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

From “Sijeyeombul-in,” Sayings of Master Naong


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


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


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


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

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

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

by Taego Bou

translator : J. C. Cleary

Language : Englsih

Publisher : Shambhala ( May 1, 2001 )

Category : Analects


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

Customer Review from

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

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

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

Taego Bou ( 1301 ~ 1382 )


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


1. Biography

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


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


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


2. Writings

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


3. Characteristics of His Thought

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

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

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


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

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

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

Who heard them, and who transmitted them?

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

What paths were followed and heard by these Bodhisattvas?

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

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


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


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


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

Seon Thought of Master Baegun Gyeonghan

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

Written by Kwon Kee-jong


Dept. of Buddhist Studies

Dongguk University


A. Preface

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

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


B. The Philosophical Background

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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


C. The Life and Writings of Master Baegun


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

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

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

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


D. The Characteristics of Master Baegun’s Seon Thought


1) The Problem of Tradition of Order

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

To a barely remaining straw-thatched cottage,

Fire was set when I left it.20


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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


2) True Teaching of No-mind


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

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


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

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


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


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


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

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


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


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


What is reflecting on study?

It is not necessarily investigating the hwadu,

nor is it necessarily considering the hwadu,

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

nor is it necessarily speaking,

nor is it necessarily reading sutras,

nor is it necessarily writing or studying commentaries,

nor is it necessarily wandering all around searching for teach­ers,

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

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

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


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

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


If mind is deserted

Conditions become calm by themselves.

And when conditions become calm

Mind does not move by itself.

That is the so-called

True teaching of no-mind.36


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


3) The Stage of Awakening


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

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

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

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


Ordinary men say it exists,

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

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

Bodhisattvas say it is something whose present body is empty.


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


The Dharma stick is a Dharma stick,

And the Buddha hall is a Buddha hall.

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

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


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


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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


E. Conclusion


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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12. Ibid.

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

14. Ko Ik-chin, Ibid, p.55.

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

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

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

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

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

20. Ibid., p.637

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

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

23. Ibid, p. 663.

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

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

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

27. Ibid, p. 642.

28. Ibid, p.646.

29. Ibid.

30. Ibid, p.657.

31. Ibid.

32. Ibid.

33. Ibid., p.656.

34. Ibid, p.652.

35. Ibid, p.639.

36. Ibid, p.663.

38. Ibid.

39. Ibid., p.641.

40. Ibid., p.641.

41. Ibid., p.654.

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

43. Ibid, p.656.

44. Ibid., p.656.

Baegun Gyeonghan ( 1298 ~ 1374 )

1. Biography

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

So spread my ashes in the four directions

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

2. Writings

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


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


3. Characteristics of his Thought

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

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

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

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

Secrets on Cultivating the Mind (修心訣 Susim kyeol)

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

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

Bojo Jinul ( 1158 ~ 1210 )


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


1. Biography

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

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


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


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


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


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


2. Writings

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


3. Characteristics of His Thought

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


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


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

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

He emphasized again the importance of gradual cultivation.


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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Memorial Ceremony held in honor of Seon Master Doui, founder of the JOKB

This year sees the third of its ceremony.

‘Memorial Ceremony for Seon Master Doui, founder of the Jogye Order’ was carried out at the dharma hall of the Jogyesa Temple on Sunday the 28th May at 10am. In the Service, members of the Council of Elders, including the Most Ven. Hyejeong, the Most Ven. Hwalan and the Most Ven. Dongchun, and President Jikwan and also 5 hundred of the four-fold assembly took part.

The memorial service, presided over by Jeongman Sunim, director of financial affairs Dept. of the Administrative Headquarters and conducted by Semin Sunim, Beopju Sunim and Myeonggwan Sunim, started with Buddha-giving Service carrying out the six dharma offering, the Great Dharani chanting, Imploring the Triads of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas (Geobul), Sadalani(Four matras for the safety of offerings presented to Buddhas), and praying.

Beopdeung Sunim, Chairman of the Central Council, after reading Seon Master Doui’s lifetime records, said, “We cannot but credit the founder of the Jogye Order, Doui Master with the fact that today’s Korean Buddhism has become the basis of the Patriarch Seon and the Jogye Order has been passed on constantly until today, inheriting the authentic lineage of the Order. So I pray, through this memorial service remembering his lifetime contribution, a great momentum will arise in return for all the Buddhists’ wishes to restore the Korean Buddhism.”

His excellence Beopjeon, the Jogye Order’s Supreme Patriarch granted Dharma words, on behalf of whom the Most Ven. Hyejeong, chairman of the Order’s committee of law affairs read his message as follows;

Clouds cleared away, one thousand mountains are green
Flowers blossom, all the woods smell sweet
Buddha lies in your own mind
Yet people seeking him outside
Though cherishing a great treasure
Spending away lifetime not realizing it

President, Jikwan Sunim said at the ceremony, “The National preceptor contributed to our Order and our nation’s spiritual history so much that our followers should succeed to his noble idea and make it into a tree deep-rooted in human being and a spring without running out.” and continued to deliver his memorial intent, “Today we followers, with our hands pressed in prayer, offering clean teas with our sincere devotion, and cherishing your memory of pious acts, eagerly wish your compassionate protection and providence for our Order’s future.”

The memorial service in honor of the National Preceptor Doui, after the Buddha-giving Service, followed the procedure of introducing his lifetime records by Beopdeung Sunim, chairman of Central Council, paying a tribute to his memory by President Jikwan Sunim, granting Dharma words by the Most Ven. Boseong, Vice-chairperson of Elders Council, and Tea ceremony for founder of the Order, Imploring the Triads of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas(Geobul), invocation of the spirit, Mantra for imploring Buddhas to sit down and attend this ceremony, Chant for offering tea, flower offering, Additional Sadalani, Four Vows.

Myeongjeok Doui


Inheritor of the core teachings of the Southern School of Chan Buddhism, (Kr. Seon; Jp. Zen) derived from Master Huineng, the sixth Patriarch, Doui Guksa was the first to bring these teachings to Korea and stands as the founder of the Order of Korean Buddhism.


1. Career

The lifeworks of Master Doui are made available to us based on the records of the “Doui Jeon” (Biography of Doui), in the 17th Volume of the Jodangjip (Records of the Ancestral Hall). According to the “Doui Jeon,” Master Doui lived in Myeongju, the present day Gangneung in Gangwon-do Province. His name upon entering the sangha was Myeongjeok and his Buddhist title was Doui. He was born in Bukhan-gun, located in present day Seoul, under the surname Wang. Before Doui’s birth, his father had a dream of a white rainbow spreading across the sky and entering his room, while his mother dreamt of sleeping together with a monk. Upon waking from their dreams, his parents found the room to be filled with a mysterious fragrance. About a half-month later, the signs of pregnancy arrived, but the baby was only to arrive after a 39-month gestation period. Around evening on the day of the Master’s birth, a mysterious monk suddenly appeared at the front door, holding a staff and stating the following command: “Place the umbilical cord of the baby born today at the hill by the riverside,” before he disappeared without a trace. Upon Master Doui’s parents following the advice of the monk and burying the afterbirth in the ground, some large deer came to stand guard over that spot. Though the sun continued to rise and fall, the deer never left, and though the animals saw many people visit the site, the deer did not harm them. The Buddhist name that Master Doui received upon entering the sangha, Myeongjeok, meaning “clear quiescence,” originates from the scene depicted in this story.


In 784 A.D., the fifth year of King Seondeok’s reign, Master Doui crossed the sea to visit the Tang Dynasty with ambassadors Han Chan-ho and Kim Yang-gong. Upon their arrival, he immediately went to Mt. Wutaishan whereupon he received a divine vision from the Bodhisattva Manjusri. Following this experience, and after visiting many other regions, he went to Baotan Temple in Guangfu, where he took the full monastic precepts. He then went to Mt. Caoxi (Kr. Mt. Jogye) in Guandong Province to pay homage to the shrine of Huineng, whereupon he had a most mysterious experience. On his arrival, the door to the shrine opened of its own accord, and after he bowed three times in obeisance, the door then closed again on its own.


Following this, Master Doui received instructions on meditation from Master Xitang Zhizang (735~814) at Kaiyuan Temple in Hongzhou, Jiangxi Province. As a disciple studying under Master Mazu Daoyi, Master Xitang Zhizang was the pre-eminent Chan monk of his age. In order to request Xitang Zhizang to become his master, he had to unravel the bundle of doubts that hindered him, until he finally bore through the obstacles blocking his progress. Seeing him overcome this struggle, Master Xitang Zhizang was overjoyed, as if finding a beautiful jewel in the rough or a pearl within an oyster, saying, “truly, if I cannot transmit the dharma to a man like this, there is nobody I could transmit it to.” He then renamed the Master with the appellation “Doui” (“Path of Righteousness”). Subsequently, Master Doui set out on the path of purification and went in search of the dwelling place of Master Baizhang Huaihai (749~814) at Mt. Baizhangshan to study under his tutelage. Much impressed with him, Master Baizhang is said to have lamented, “the entire Chan lineage of Mazu Daoyi is returning to Silla!”


In 821 CE (the 13th year of King Heondeok), Master Doui returned to Silla to propagate the teachings of the Chinese Southern Chan School. However, as the tradition of Scholastic (or Doctrinal, gyo) Buddhism had become firmly entrenched within Silla at that time, people looked upon Master Doui’s Seon method as rather absurd. Accordingly, judging that the circumstances were not yet ripe for the acceptance of his teachings, Master Doui retired from the world to Jinjeon-sa Monastery in Mt. Seoraksan, where he cultivated a line of disciples. In this way, his Seon method passed through his disciple Yeomgeo and bloomed in the next generation through his dharma grandson Master Chejing (804-880), leading to the establishment of the Gajisan school, one of the Nine Mountain Seon schools of the Goryeo period.


2. Doctrinal Distinction

Because no detailed materials or writings were passed down, it is difficult to definitively grasp the Seon doctrine of Master Doui. However, from the glimpses of his thought that we are able to catch from materials such as the memorial inscriptions of his disciples, as well as the knowledge that the Master’s doctrine is linked to the lineage of sixth Patriarch Huineng’s teachings, we can assume they followed the lines of the Southern Chan School of Buddhism.


In continuation with the dharma taught by Master Doui, the writings of Chejing, founder of the Gajinsan School, express the Master’s Seon doctrine as “the tenet of unconditioned spontaneity.”


In Chan teachings, the idea of “unconditioned spontaneity” refers to the way of life of following one’s original mind as it is, devoid of attachment or entanglement within the totality of existence, transcending the law of life and death, without any contrived artificiality of discriminating thought. Master Mazu, coining the term for this original mind as “ordinary mind,” asserted that “ordinary mind is precisely the way in which truth naturally functions.” Namely, if the original mind is not lost and all matters are allowed to take their course according to each situation, all things would be real and truthful and exist without contrived artificiality or entanglement. This idea is indicative of a religion of everydayness, seeking the development of a sincere life within the ordinary confines of humanity’s day-to-day existence.


In addition, we can also discern something, however fragmentary, of Master Doui’s notion of “unconditioned spontaneity” from the dialogue between him and the Head Monk Jiwon (Seungtong) of the Hwaeom School, as introduced in the Seonmun Bojangnok compiled by the Goryeo era monk, Cheonchaek.


The contents of this dialogue can largely be divided into two parts. The first part is a criticism of Scholastic Buddhism. Criticizing that Scholastic Buddhism, bound in its own dogma, was unable to ascertain the fundamental basis of the mind’s essence, Master Doui denied the tenet of the “Four Dharma Realms” as well as the “teachings of the fifty-five sages,” written in the Huayan (Kr. Hwaeom) Sutra, the basis of the Hwaeom School. In addition, he emphasized that it is only within the conditions of the immediate moment that we should look to see our own nature. The second part pertains to the establishment of the Mind-seal Dharma of the Patriarchs. In establishing his idea of the Mind-seal of the Patriarchs, Master Doui speaks about the system of cultivation based on “faith, discernment, performance, and assurance” to address the Patriarchal Seon tenet of “no thought, no practice” as follows.


“The rationality behind ‘no thought, no practice’ is nothing more than the concept of ‘faith, interpretation, performance, and evidence.’ The wisdom of the dharma taught by the Patriarch School, that does not distinguish between the ‘Buddha’ or ‘sentient beings,’ is nothing but the direct realization of the fundamental truth of reality. As a result, the Mind-seal dharma of the Masters was transmitted separate from the Five Teachings of the Hwaeom School. The reason behind the appearance of the Buddha’s material form is nothing more than an expedient means, a temporary apparition conjured for the sake of those who are unable to understand the true principles of the Patriarchs. Even though one were to spend many years reading the sutras, if that was the method one were to utilize in pursuit of realizing the Mind-seal Dharma of the Patriarchs, the goal would be difficult to obtain even if an eon were to pass.” (from the dialogue between Master Doui and Jiwon Seungtong)


The “no thought theory” mentioned here refers to the undeluded and essential original mind, using the representative doctrine of the Southern Chan School as advocated by Huineng and his disciple Heze Shenhui (684~758).


The notion of “no practice” is the idea that there is no requirement for practice on the path to enlightenment. This is a refutation of the practices that seek to perceive the mind through artificial meditation or to perfect oneself on the path of gradual cultivation. Like other Chan theories, the “no practice theory” was already elucidated by Huineng and had been well developed and widely accepted, owing to the efforts of successive generations of great masters of Patriarchal Chan, including Shenhui, Mazu, Baizhang, Huangbo, and Linji, among others.

As such, we can see how in emphasizing the “no thought, no practice” theory that joins the ideas of Mazu’s “ordinary mind” and Shenhui’s “no thought theory,” Master Doui’s core tenet of “unconditioned spontaneity” is tied to the traditional thought of the Southern Chan School.

The social values and role of Ganhwa Seon

The historical and social reality of China at the time of the foundation of Ganhwa Seon was a circumstance of great crisis. The Song had been defeated in a war with the Jin (Jurchen) dynasty and the society was disordered, the economy was in difficulty and the peasants had fallen into confusion and despair.

In such circumstances, Seon Master Dahui Zonggao systematized Ganhwa Seon and taught lay and cleric the method of investigation of hwadu while living an everyday life. He called up courage in the peasants who had fallen into misery, and in order to elucidate a wisdom that would rebuild and resurrect a collapsing state, he spread widely this active and lively Seon. Seon Master Dahui taught Seon to those people who had lost the war and fallen into despair, positively teaching them to live according to a correct set of values that had removed the idea of two sides and of egotism.

Our society today is not much different from the circumstances of China when Ganhwa Seon was established. Even though compared to the past the level of material life has improved, the maturity of the spiritual culture and the depth of education remains at a low level. Moreover, the social currents that oppose East and West, labor and capital, progressive and conservative etecetera, and the historical reality of the tragic split into North and South, is too much for our life to bear. Even further, the present address attained by human civilization is one where everywhere in the global village there is not a day on which opposition and trouble, and war does not stop.

Korean Buddhism has a feature that is different from the Buddhisms of Japan, Tibet and South-east Asia. That is Seon. In Korean Buddhism, Seon has been fixed and developed continuously. Therefore it has a more deeply examined Dharma than the Buddhism of other countries. The Seon School, that is the tradition of Patriarchal Seon and Ganhwa Seon, has been best preserved in Korea. Even though we have an impressive pride, to a major extent we have preserved a significant value in respect of Seon thought, real consultation and real practice. Is it not a reality that although there are various countries in the world and there are various religions, far from resolving the opposition and troubles between ideologies and religions or races, it has made them worse? But Buddhism does not have a history of creating wars or of extreme confrontation. If one properly knows the Seon of Buddhism, it will show mutual equality and without opposition and trouble, it can possibly resolve these problems of limitless improvement in this age of unbridled competition.

Although it is important in any age to make those Seon values widely known to the world, it is now an even more urgent and earnest task due to the extent of emergencies and disputes. Will the devastated and sterile spiritual culture of our age that has been greatly changed through the desires and individualism that have destroyed the value foundations of everything that supported our lives, not guarantee a rose-colored future and some realistic comfort to us now? The experience of Seon and the causation of Middle Way in which one can live well together in limitless improvement in our own individual duties, transcending at a stroke the fundamental problems that human beings face, must present a new plan for human civilization.

Now is the time when practitioners, lay and monastic, who are conscious of their own problems as the problems of humanity, must take the path of an intense Seon practice that will give rise to a great mental resolution that will merge together individuals and ages. Above all else, lay and monastic practitioners, while setting up a model of life through the practice of meditation, must make widely known in this land the values of Seon and must make Seon culture and thought bloom brilliantly.

And the active and lively, free and independent disposition of Seon must contribute to the freeing, wisely and peaceably, the mind of each person, and broadcast this to all members of society.

Now, at this moment, in just this place, although there are no shapes or traces, let us look directly at this actively living and moving mind.

Look directly at one’s own self.
We originally are Buddha.