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1 Traditionally, many scholars in both the East and the West talk of Buddhism’s spread and development in an excessively linear fashion. Recent scholarship now tends to recognize more and more that much cross-pollination occurred between the Buddhist traditions of Northeast Asia. There were numerous Koreans active in both China and Korea from the early years of Seon’s development.
2 A revised form of Neo-Confucianism which incorporated much of the meta-physical psychology from Buddhism and Taoism while criticizing these teachings as un-Chinese.
3 This academy has become present-day Songgyungwan University in northern Seoul.
4 The tradition of monk-soldiers continued on after Seosan’s time. Haifa century later, Hamel - a Dutch traveler shipwrecked in Korea about sixty years after the war — states in his journal that the monks in Korea had a reputation of being the bravest of warriors.
5 The three religions were Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism.
6 In fact, the word "Zen" even occurs in many English dictionaries.
7 The Koan (Kong-an in Korean) is an enigmatic story which has been passed down through the generations of the different lineages of the Seon School. It tells of the circumstances and resulting conversation that led to the enlightenment of a monk. The "punch line" is used as a focal point for "study" during meditation and it is called a hwadu. The vitality of the hwadu lies in the sincerity with which the practitioner delves into the doubt raised by the content of the hwadu. This is known as a "live word", but it is known as a "dead word" when the doubt lacks sincerity. It is hoped that by constantly concentrating on the enigmatic phrase, discursive, logical thinking can be broken through and the One Mind attained. The technique is the basic method of meditation used in most Son Schools. The Japanese Soto school does not use Koans.
8 The "phrase beyond verbalization" is probably a reference to the hwadu technique. The expression "special teachings which lie outside of the provision vehicle" is probably a general reference to various non-verbal Seon techniques aimed at eliciting a direct, intuitive awakening in the disciple.
9 Hui-neng (638-713), the Sixth Patriarch of the Seon School.
10 Shen-hui (685-760).
11 In the original text, Shen-hui is said to be a "soja", meaning the son of a concubine. The implication is that Shen-hui, although a disciple of Hui-neng’s, was not a direct Dharma heir. In the Meditation School, it is considered better not to say anything in answer to the teacher’s question, rather than using many words to explain the truth. Silence is the best and speaking only second best. So Shen-hui became the Sixth Patriarch’s illegitimate son (disciple).
12 Nan-yueh Huai-jang (677-744).
13 Literally, "eldest son."
14 Refers to Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism.
15 It is said that if a master teaches falsely, then the hair 6f his eyebrows falls out.
16 "Baste it with grease and stick flour on it" — to senselessly add to what is already perfect.
17 It is said that when Mahakasyapa arrived eleven days after the Buddha’s death, the Buddha’s two feet suddenly protruded from the cremation casket.
18 If one passes time leisurely without practicing the teachings, one will end up stretched out on the grass as a snake in a future life.
19 Pao-chi suddenly achieved awakening one day when he heard the loud wails of a passing funeral procession.
20 One day, Pao-shou Yen-chao (dates unknown) was asked, "What is your Original Face before you were born?" He stayed up all night desperately trying to answer the question, but to no avail. The next day, he went to take leave of his teacher. He told his teacher that he would find a great master to help him solve this problem. Since it was during the summer retreat season ~ a time when all are forbidden to leave the temple — his teacher told him not to leave. In January of the next year, on his way to the market, he saw two people fighting. Eventually, one man, apologizing to the other, said, "I have truly lost face." At this, Pao-shou achieved awakening.
21 This four character phrase is probably taken from the fourth line of a poem by the Chinese Seon Master Nan-yueh.
22 "Mind’s enlightened nature" is a rather loose translation. It is meant to correspond to the T’ient’ai School’s use of the term.
23 A Seon metaphor for one’s Original Mind.
24 I have rendered the Chinese character "li" as noumenon and "shih" as phenomenon. "Li" is often translated as "principle" or "reason." It refers to the absolute aspect of reality.
25 Chao-chou Ts’ung-shen (778-897).
26 Bodhidharma (d. 532).
27 "Live word" is the hwadu of Son, and "dead word" is the Kyo teachings that have no strong question of hwadu. If the hwadu has no strong question, then it too is known as "dead word."
28 Lin-chi I-hsuan (d.866) traces his lineage through Hui-neng back to Bodhidharma. He was one of the most important figures in the development of Seon and the first patriarch of the Lin-chi House of Seon.
29 The Buddha and myself are all the same and not different in that we all have the same Nature and True Mind. But the Buddhas have attained enlightenment and become free forever, while I have not realized awakening and am not free. This is because I neglected to cultivate my mind for a long time. So this anger is towards myself.
30 Yung-chia Hsuan-chueh (665-713).
31 Meng-shan T’e-yi (?)(no dates), probably Yuan Period.
32 "Mu" literally means "No" or "Not." Every sentient being has Buddha Nature just as the Buddha does - as we are told in the surras. This being the case, why did Chao-chou say "No"? This is the enigmatic question posed in this hwadu.
33 The master sometimes gestures or changes his facial expression, but the student should not be concerned by this.
34 A Son student, hearing stories about previous masters obtaining enlightenment as the master made a shout or hit with a stick, might attempt to artificially create such an experience himself. However, insight must arise directly out of one’s own practice. Any attempt to copy the experiences of previous masters is invalid.
35 Literally, "the demons originally lack a seed." A seed implies an origin independent of the mind. The text indicates that mental defilements do not arise independently from outside your own mind.
36 "Oppose" in the sense of "not becoming caught up in," not in the sense of "avoidance" or "denial." The Buddha saw his teaching as "against the current" or "going upstream," because he taught the way to freedom from suffering through the giving up of desire and attachment.
37 There was once a monk who was sitting in meditation when a mourning son came to him dragging a coffin and screaming "Why did you kill my mother?" After a fierce argument, the monk finally hit the boy with a hatchet, but then the monk suddenly looked down to see blood running from his own leg. The whole scene had been a mental delusion.
38 A monk was once meditating when a wild boar suddenly attacked him. In the ensuing struggle, the monk managed to grab the boar’s nose. The boar let out a squeal. The monk suddenly realized he was grabbing his own nose.
39 In East Asian thought, Heaven represents the active principle (yang) and Earth represents the passive principle (yin); hence these first "demons" represent the active and passive aspect of the deluded mind.
40 These three demons represent the "Three Poisons" of the mind: greed, hatred and stupidity.
41 The Buddha taught that karma (volitional action) can be both good (bearing positive results) and bad (leading to bad results). Yet, even good karma leads to rebirth in a higher realm. Since such an existence is still within the wheel of birth and death, one will eventually descend to a lower realm after one’s good karma is exhausted. To break free from the rebirth, needs wisdom.
43 Literally, the "Four Kindnesses." The lists vary but usually it is the kindness of: teacher, parents, ruler and supporters.
44 Earth, water, fire, air.
45 In other words, "have you attained the same realization as the Buddhas and the patriarchs?"
46 Gain and loss, fame and disrepute, praise and blame, happiness and suffering.
47 For monastics, this refers to those who provide alms.
48 In Northeast Asia, many people traditionally believed that the sperm mixes with a drop of mother’s blood at the moment of conception.
49 The length of a kalpa is usually illustrated as being longer than the time taken for a solid rock a cubic mile in size to be worn away by a piece of silk which is passed once over its surface every hundred years.
50 Knowledge which is devoid of insight.
51 The lacquer barrel is a metaphor for the mind which is encrusted with layer upon layer of defilements (lacquer) to the extent that it is completely black and the innate purity can no longer be seen.
52 Yueh-shan Wei-yen (745-828) was Tung-shan Liang-chieh’s (807-901) Dharma teacher and the first patriarch of the Wei-yang lineage.
53 This is the surra telling of the Buddha’s death and the events taking place. It includes the final words spoken by the Buddha.
54 The teachings of the Buddhas1 and patriarchs’ are invaluable, but they are still not truly one’s own until one personally obtains the direct insights that the teachings point to.
55 A more direct translation of the key phrases of this passage would be: "The cause completely contains the myriad fruits. The fruits completely penetrate the original cause." This line originally comes from Ch’eng-kuan’s (737-838) Hua-yen ching shu.
56 This is also sometimes called "suchness autogenesis." This doctrine, as put forward by Fa-tsang, holds that "suchness" can arouse itself to produce all things. The term combines the eternalism of the dharmata with the causationism of pratitya-samudpada (dependent origination). This theory was used in opposition to the T’ient’ai theory of "essence possession."
57 A person with an eye disease sees flowers in the sky just as an unenlightened person perceives birth/death (Samsara) and nirvana as a dichotomy.
58 A four volume work translated by Kumarajiva.
59 This sentence occurs in the Diamond Sutra.
60 In the original text, it is not clear what exactly is eradicated. According to Chinul (1128-1210), who greatly influenced Seosan, the habit-energies must be gradually eliminated after enlightenment. Seosan’s use of Chinul’s sudden-enlightenment/gradual cultivation scheme suggests that he is also referring to latent "habit-energies"; he could equally be referring to the defilements in general. Some Son practitioners have disagreed with Chinul’s contention that the habit-energies must still be eliminated after enlightenment. Master Song-ch’ol (1912-1993) ~ the Patriarch of the Korean Chogye Order from 1980 to 1993 — has gone as far as to say that Seosan’s inclusion of Chinul’s sudden enlightenment gradual cultivation scheme along with his advocacy of recitation of the Buddha’s name indicates that this book was written when Seosan was in his forties and is not a work of traditional Son. The fact that Seosan does not mention sudden enlightenment/ sudden cultivation in this work but does mention it in later writings is used to support Master Song-ch’ol’s argument.
61 The poor child is the son of the rich man in the metaphorical story found in the Lotus Sutra. The poor child is the Buddha’s child and corresponds to every sentient being.
62 Ethical conduct, mental development and wisdom (in Sanskrit: sila, samadhi, prajna.)
63 The asavas (Sanskrit asravas): sense-desire, desire for becoming, desire to hold false views, and ignorance.
64 Clairvoyance etc. which are by-products of extended meditational practice.
65 Literally, "the hundred precepts." "Hundred" or "ten-thousand" are often used in Classical Chinese as a metaphor meaning "all." Seosan is generally referring to all the precepts taken by lay people and monastics.
66 Literally, "non-recollection."
67 Ethical conduct = the five precepts.
68 Mental awareness of superior meditation.
69 Wisdom = right understanding and right thought.
70 Seosan calls defilements or delusion a "thief."
71 A mountain in Rajagir, Bihar, India where the Buddha did much of his teaching.
73 Thought, speech and action.
74 When the Buddha taught that all phenomena are impermanent, he did not forget to include his own teaching. The Buddha predicted that his teachings would eventually be altered or lost by later generations.
75 When the Buddha told his disciples that he was about to die, they asked him who they should take as a teacher after the Buddha was gone. The Buddha told them, "Take the precepts which I have given you as your teacher." In other words, those who use the precepts (training rules) of the Buddha, are always accompanied by the great wisdom of the Buddha. On the other hand, even those who were near to the Buddha during his lifetime, cannot be said to have truly been accompanied by the Buddha if they failed to maintain the precepts propounded by the Buddha. This indicates that Master Seosan considered the precepts as part of the Dharma and also reflects the possible decline in observance of the precepts during Master Seosan’s period. By writing this, maybe Master Seosan wanted to convey the importance of the precepts.
76 In ancient India, there was a monk who was attacked by bandits. Seeing that he had nothing for them to steal, they finally took his clothes and tied him up with grass. The monk, concerned that he might harm the grass if he stood up, remained tied to the ground. A king out hunting came upon the monk and freed him. Deeply impressed by the monk’s great reverence for even the smallest living thing, the king became a Buddhist.
77 One day a monk was on his alms round. He stopped at a jewelry shop and while the jeweler was inside getting some food offerings, a goose swallowed a highly valued jewel which was meant for the king. The jeweler accused the monk and the monk realized that if he told the truth, the jeweler would kill the goose. So the monk remained silent even though he was repeatedly beaten. The jewel eventually appeared in the goose’s excrement. Due to the monk’s compassion, the goose didn’t have to die.
78 If a person develops concentration (samadhi), he is able to control his births and deaths at will. We find among the sayings of the Patriarchs’ that some died sitting while others died standing up. This is due to the power of samadhi.
79 See the Vimalakirti Sutra.
80 In other words, you should not hate those who do wrong and develop a particular fondness for those who show kindness to you. Any negative or positive reaction to situations leads to mundane states of mind. This differs from the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas whose minds are not influenced by situations.
81 Generosity, moral conduct, patience, energy, meditation and wisdom.
82 Seon Master Wu-ye (762-823) used to always respond to every question put to him in this way.
83 This refers to the story of a Matangi woman-a member of the lowest caste in ancient India. A Matangi woman called Prakriti once fell in love with Ananda. She used a magical spell to seduce him and lure him to her room. At that time Manjusri saved both of them with a mantra. The woman eventually ordained and when she heard one of the Buddha’s teachings, she awakened and became an arahant. This story appears in the Surangama Sutra.
84 Literally means "praise to Amitabha Buddha." This phrase is often continually repeated as a method of concentrating the mind. It is interesting to note that Seosan revived a game which consisted of a complicated board depicting the Buddhist path and a six-sided die with one of the six syllables "Na-mu-a-mi-ta-bul" placed on each side. According to the game rules, all players must keep chanting as each player roles the die. Seosan’s efforts to reintroduce Buddhism into the dominant Confucian culture of the Yi Dynasty attest to his commitment to the revitalization of Korean Buddhism. It is important to note that this paragraph may be considered contradictory to genuine Son teaching, in which self-awakening of one’s Own Nature is emphasized. This is the deficiency that the Mirror of Seon has together with the gradual cultivation method.
85 The ten directions are: north, south, east, west + northwest, etc. + nadir and zenith.
86 The Three Dimensions or Worlds are past, present and future.
87 Each person born in Amitabha’s realm is born on a lotus leaf; hence a new lotus blooming predicts a new arrival.
88 Kuei-feng Tsung-mi (780-841).
89 Hui-yuan (334-416) became the disciple of Master Do-an (314-385) at the age of 21.
90 A disciple of Master Yen-t’ou Ch’uan-huo (828-887), he used to constantly talk to himself saying things like, "My master!" "Yes" "Wake up!" "Yes!" "Don’t you ever try to fool others!"
91 Yung-ming Yen-shou (904-975).
92 Kuei-feng Tsung-mi (780-841).
93 The burning house is a metaphor for this transient world. The Buddha spoke of the senses as burning with desire. The person who has attained enlightenment (who is "outside the gate") has burned all his karma and so does not think, speak or act through the senses in a karma-producing way; i.e. his senses no longer burn with desire.
94 Someone who earnestly pursues the proper goals of the monastic life.
95 In ancient Chinese thought, the place where people go to die. "Yellow" comes from the Chinese theory of the Five Elements, in which yellow is equated with the earth element.
96 The two extremes of asceticism and self-indulgence. The Buddha advocated the Middle Path between the two.
97 The need for renunciation.
98 The Chinese term for bat literally means "bird-rat." But a bat is neither a bird nor a rat; this gives the force to the metaphor in the above passage.
99 The True Eye being bright is a metaphor for enlightenment.
100 This paragraph means that one who doesn’t keep the precepts had better go to hell than to receive any kindness from a man of faith.
101 This sutra contains the Bodhisattva precepts. No Pali or Sanskrit version is extant. For a Korean translation, see the one put out by Posong Munhwasa.
102 The realms of Hell, Hungry Ghosts and Animals.
103 In Theravada Buddhism in particular, monks are taught to meditate on death and to imagine their own body in various degrees of decomposure. Sometimes there are special places set aside where people offer their dead bodies (in bequeaths made before death) to be left to decompose exposed so that the process can be meditated on.
104 In the Chinese text, these two definitions explain the two separate Chinese characters which make up the term for repentance and a commitment not to repeat the mistake.
105 In the Chinese text, this is an explanation of the two separate Chinese characters for repentance and shame.
106 In Korean, toryang, in Sanskrit, the bodhimandala. It means "the place of wisdom" and, by extension, "the place where one practices in order to gain wisdom."
107 In Sanskrit, the Sravaka, one who hears the teaching and the Pratyekabuddha, one who attains enlightenment on his own.
108 An ancient Chinese dynasty (BCE 249-207).
109 Han Dynasty (BCE 206-CE 25).
110 Even great kingdoms must decay and strong rulers cannot live forever.
111 Body, feelings, perception, mental formations, consciousness.
112 According to the Chinese medical tradition, man’s normal life span consists of 100 years.
113 Pai-yun Shou-tuan (1025-1072).
114 One’s innate enlightened nature.
115 Yun-men Wen-yen (864-949).
116 “Ho” is pronounced "Hal" in Korean and is used by masters to scold students, a form of teaching.
117 All of the teaching methods of Seon are mere means meant to elicit a direct understanding in the disciple. The actions, of themselves, are not truth, and are even harmful (diseases) if they are taken to be truth.
118 Those who have seen their own Self Nature, in other words, their "original share." The phrase is commonly used to refer to the enlightened masters of the Son School.
119 "The song breaking forth from a wooden doll" is the characteristic Dharma of the Seon patriarchs ~ the Dharma of non-arising. It can only be known through awakening.
120 In Seon, all ideas or notions about ultimate reality are considered to be an obstruction. One must directly experience the truth for oneself. These words were spoken by Tung-shan Liang-chieh who was the 1st patriarch of the Ts’ao-tung House.
121 Ma-tsuTao-i (709-788).
122 Pai-changHaui-hai (749-814).
123 Huang-po Hsi-yuan (d. 850).
124 One day Huang-po asked his teacher Pai-chang how he, the teacher, had attained enlightenment accompanied by the yell of "Ma-tsu’s Ho." Pai-chang said, "At that time I became deaf and couldn’t hear for three days." On hearing this, Huang-po’s jaw fell open and his tongue fell to his chin. He attained enlightenment at this moment.
125 He obtained the Great Essence — the essential Dharma of the Seon School. The Seon School avoids preoccupation with trivial matters, and instead focuses on the direct realization of Buddhahood. For this reason, it is sometimes referred to as the "Approach to the Essential."
126 Ching-shan Tsung-kao was a very famous master but he was not the legitimate successor of Yuan-wu K’o-ch’in. The legitimate successor is Hu-ch’in Shao-lung.
127 Hui-neng is said to have put a stop to the transmission of the robe and the bowl. The robe and bowl purportedly were passed down from the time of the Buddha in a single line of succession. Hui-neng’s discontinuation of the tradition allowed the transmission to branch out into many lineages, each one tracing itself back through Hui-neng to the Buddha. By Seosan’s time, most of those in the Korean Son tradition traced their lineage through the Korean Son Master T’aego who had received transmission from a Chinese master of the Lin-chi lineage. Many Korean Son adherents considered the Lin-chi lineage to be more pure; hence they referred to the other lineages as "peripheral transmissions."
128 There are several people who insist that the Yun-men House is a peripheral lineage from Ma-tsu, but it is generally accepted that the Yun-men House stemmed from Shih-t’ou Hsi-ch’ien (700-790), the heir of Ch’ing-yuan Hsing-ssu (660-740).
129 A Korean monk from Shilla.
131 Tan-hsia Tzu-ch’un (d. 1119).
132 This phrase occurs in the first chapter of the Tao-te-ching.
133 This is apparently a reference to the Confucian and Taoist classics. But what are the three principles? At any rate, Master Seosan seems to be saying that the verbal content of this book is not so different from that of the Confucian and Taoist classics. However, Buddhism (in particular, Seon Buddhism) differs in that its essence is actually beyond words in that place where knowledge and understanding have been cut off. Curiously enough, this passage has been left untranslated in all of the Korean translations that I have consulted.
134 The lineage of Hui-neng, so called because he resided on Ts’ao-ch’i (Korean, "Jogye") Mountain in China.