The Great Spiritual Master Cheonghwa was born at Mu-an in Cholla Province in 1923. After graduating from Gwangju Educational College, he went to Japan to study more. Returning home, he founded a public school and taught students at his hometown. However, he renounced the job upon seeing many conflicts between left wing and right wing ideology of that time, and left home to seek truth. He became a monk under the direction of Master Geumta at Unmun Hermitage at Baekyang sa Temple at the age of 24.
He moved through many meditation halls and hermitages over the whole country to practice, keeping silence, never lying down, and taking one meal a day. He started to instruct sentient beings when he was over 60 years old, after such a long time of practice, around 1985. With the intention of dissemination of Korean Buddhism in other countries, in 1992 he opened the Diamond Meditation Center in California, and served as a member of the Council of Elders for the Jogye Order until entering nirvana. He always focused his mind on keeping precepts and a simple life. He taught that samadhi (concentration) comes from keeping precepts, and wisdom follows samadhi.
His contribution to modern Korean Buddhism was to suggest “Seon with recollecting Buddha’s name” in an atmosphere tending toward hwadu meditation. He claimed “the Buddha’s name, for example Amitabha Buddha or Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva, is a hwadu itself that the Buddha shows us. This new way of practice is in harmony with personal spiritual capacity, without opposing hwadu meditation. It makes you find that you and Buddha are not two, to recollect Buddha’s name repeatedly while praying for what you wish.”
He passed away on November 12, 2003. He was 80 years old, 57 years of Dharma age.
His last day was the same as other days. Though he was not in good shape for the last couple of months, he had kept on taking one meal a day and never lying down as practice. He took only a simple lunch and had dharma talks with his disciples. Around late afternoon, he took a walk in the courtyard in front of the Main Hall, saying that it was time for him to leave, looking long at Ji-ri Mountain far away. He finally lied down to take a long rest after more than 40 years, and asked the disciples to “practice hard in order to help sentient beings. That is the way to pay back Buddha’s blessing.”
His last Gatha is:
I do not care about coming or going
Either to this samsara or to nirvana
Receiving Buddha’s blessings as countless as the whole universe
I deplore that my return for this is a tiny stream.
Though he went away leaving his old body, his fragrance is still with us.