About a month ago, I went back to the hermitage where I had lived a long time ago to rest for a couple of days. At that time, two aspirants came to me to request that I become their master. With one word, I refused.
After having received their precepts, these aspirants wished to become fully ordained monks, and having to select a master these aspirants wanted to select me. The reason I refused was because I didn’t want to become a “master by name only.” In addition, it was also because I had no idea what kind of people these men were, nor did they know me. Not having trod the same path together, in a situation where there was no open door for our understanding each another, you cannot develop a master/disciple relationship.
But more than anything, I didn’t want to get tied down to any one place and wanted to live free from attachments, and thus I wanted to rid myself of the yoke of being a master. This “non-attachment” is also the reason why I left communal living to live on my own. More than a refusal, if I were to more accurately express myself, my reason lay in the question, “How could I fearlessly become another person’s master?”
If we speak of the relationship between teacher and student, even though almost anything is acceptable, at the very least, if not spiritual echo resonates in the master/disciple relationship, then this end up being nothing more than an adornment of the mundane world. Just as if when one person trains tens of disciples and then can’t even remember the names he himself has given to them, if these kinds of master/disciple relationships are produced on a mass scale, for the sake of the truth-seeker’s conscience, I can never find this acceptable.
When those aspirants again came looking for me, earnestly hoping that I would become their master, I couldn’t help but unleash my age-old secret method. I told them how it would be, pressing them by asking if they would be able to act according to my demands. Fine, if so then from henceforth you will sincerely live the life of an aspirant for three years, after which I will serve as the master who will give you your required precepts. They agreed with my intentions. Then, I added one more thing.
Presently, the commonly used period for an aspirant is one year, more or less. Even though at temples with lax discipline this period may be only 3 or 4 months, this method is never advisable. That which is easily created easily collapses. This is like the result of a harmful construction project that fails within a short amount of time.
As those who have gone through it know it well, during their time as aspirants, monks can’t but envy the cloaks and garments of the fully ordained. Even if they can speed up their ordination by only a day, these aspirants will flee the daily tasks given within the private quarters, such is their desire to become a fully ordained monk and wear the special robes.
In the majority of situations, even more than a year as an aspirant is considered difficult, to say nothing of a three-year period. One time, as the date for receiving precepts drew near, two aspirants came to me to request that I become their master. Given that “master” has the meaning of one who bestows benefit, how could I possibly be able to suddenly act as their beneficent master? In addition, that day being our first meeting, it was one between perfect strangers. After I told them that since I would therefore have to have some time to train them as a master, I told them to come back 6 months later to receive their precepts. As expected they never returned. Since they then received their precepts from another monk, I know nothing of their whereabouts. We clearly know the lesson that what is built easily also easily collapses.
I realize more and more as each day passes how difficult it is to be another person’s master. There’s a saying among monks that “in one disciple, there is one hell.” The number and intensity of difficulties is indeed like that. Though teachers can instruct through writing or by castigating their students, the proper leadership to bring someone towards enlightenment cannot be done through speech or writing.
Though the true master doesn’t teach by opening his or her mouth, the wise disciple at the master’s side is always learning anew. Masters give all of their passion and dedication to the training of their disciples such that they are able to awaken themselves. In order for the disciples to have their intrinsic nature bloom through their own efforts, the master does nothing but endlessly concentrate and provide help.
Even with a multitude of knowledge, having attained prestigious degrees, a scholar with an uncomfortable mind came looking to question the master.
“Master, my mind is so very uncomfortable. Can you please make my mind peaceful?” The master replied, “Really? Bring your mind here. I’ll make it peaceful.” After pausing for quite a while, the scholar then pleaded, “Even though I search all over for my mind, I can’t find it.” Then the master answered smiling, “Even if you found it, how could that be your mind? Now I have pacified your mind. Do you understand?”
As the sound of these words ended, the scholar had a grand awakening.
In the history of the Seon sect, there is the famous “Peaceful Mind dialogue” between Buddhadharma and Hui-ko. This is not a teaching of the method by which a master gives his student a peaceful mind, rather, it is the casting off of discomfort and the immediate pacification of the mind, right here and right now. This is the wise master’s skill and teaching.
From the disciple’s perspective, more than anything, the disciple must first have faith in the master. Through utter devotion and dedication, the master’s personality echoes through one’s self. Like a starving person searching for food, when one searches sincerely for a master with all of one’s heart, they will certainly meet their master. Only by sincerely and seriously searching will one’s karma come to fruition and then one will find oneself face to face with their master.
If one learns as much as one can from their master, they must then leave the master. The disciple who waits in reliance on his master is like a shadow or copy of their master, never able to become an original person. It is only when one throws off the master’s bridle and creates their own unique world that they can repay a master’s beneficence.
The skillful disciple must be able to overcome their master. At the same time, the skillful master has to help the student such that the disciple is able to vault beyond himself. The idea of the disciple attaining an excellence beyond the master is expressed in the old sayings, “the dye that comes from the indigo plant is bluer than indigo” and “even though ice comes from water, it is colder than water.”
Looking back, both before and after I entered the monkhood, my life has been shaped by the beneficence of countless teachers. Though there were many teachers who literally taught me directly, there are also many masters from the past whose beneficence has been passed down through their writings and the writings about them. I can’t think that these many masters have just appeared before me by chance. It becomes clear that because I have searched and striven ardently, my masters’ replies are the echo of my search.
In particular, we are encouraged by those Seon masters who went beyond convention, tradition and established values, giving teachings that continuously awaken our souls. In addition, as we tread the truth-seeking spiritual path, their teachings open our eyes to see where on that path the never-withering soul of everlasting youth lays.
The 9th century Seon master Linji said as such:
“If you want to correctly attain awakening, don’t become distracted by great beings. Whatever is in front or behind you, kill it. If you meet the Buddha, kill the Buddha; if you meet the Patriarch, kill the Patriarch; if you meet the holy one, kill the holy one; and if you meet the master, kill the master. Only then, you will get enlightened. Obstructed by nothing, you will become perfectly free.”
Buddha or Patriarch, sage or master, in dependence on them one can become seized in their great worth, but then because you are seized with their great worth you won’t be able to forge your own path and therefore I tell you that you must go beyond them. This lesson means that you don’t become their slave and that you become your own independent person. The assertion of the Seon master is that you become a free person, never subordinate no matter where you are.
When we speak of master and disciple, in the end, what are we really saying? This distinction only exists when the student enters the path. To those who see with their own eyes, there is neither master nor disciple. Every person is seen only as equal.
Do you want to meet a true master?
Don’t look outside; scrutinize your own self. Find your master within your own spiritual self.