Deep in the folds of the mountains, I asked a Seon Master the way. He replied, “There is only one way—good or bad it makes no difference.” Furthermore, “The solution to the wars of the world, ideology, the travails of the common-folk, and the cessation of discrimination between superiority and inferiority is in understanding ‘dependent origination’. Herein harmony abides.”
The moon shines brightest on the 15th day of the 10th lunar month (the 19th day on the solar calendar). Some two thousand revered monks enter ninety Seon meditation centers all over the nation for the winter meditation retreat. This retreat will last three months. But at Gakhwa Temple, in the Mt. Taebaeksan, in Gyeongsang-buk-do, from the 19th thirty six revered monks will begin to undergo an eighteen-hour per day meditation ordeal called “finding life through death”, which will last fifteen months.
On the 19th, I met Gou Sunim (68 years of age), who will lead this dauntless concentration of mind. He has commanded a unique respect since ascending to the rank of Venerable Master. With his whole face beaming with a smile, he says, “Although Korea’s tradition of hwadu Seon is up to the standards of Tibet, China, and Japan, it distresses me that our abbots do not display the confidence of one such as the Dalai Lama. Seon practice which is engaged only with hwadu and not real life does not represent the true nature of Seon. (Seon practice) should prepare one for life’s hard knocks. Herein lies the enlightenment preached by the Buddha”.
How must we practice Seon in modern times?
“Today’s government emphasizes a ‘get rich’ and ‘competition without end’ mentality. The Buddha stressed dependent origination. To discover the true value of oneself, one must cultivate health of mind and body. This teaches not ‘competition without end’ but ‘cultivating upward (to the source) without end’”.
Korean Buddhism imported in the West seems to lack the sense of social service of “practical Buddhism”.
“Mother Theresa’s wonderful system of service resulted from her understanding of Indian culture. Her service and austerities were a result of her freedom from ego. She worked happily until death in a manner equivalent to ‘snow falling into a well full of water’. In Seon, we compare this to a sky clotted with clouds, and the clouds thinning out. Seventy to eighty percent say they are happy to see the clouds clearing, only twenty to thirty percent recognize the sun shining through.”
What is the fundamental difference between Seon and other sects?
The biggest difference is that among the southern schools of Buddhism, all but Seon continue to seek knowledge through ‘polishing’ after achieving comprehension, whereas in Seon, after achieving comprehension, this ‘polishing’ for knowledge ceases. What this means is that, insofar as we already have original Buddha nature, there is no perfection beyond this. In his ‘Lecture on the Diamond Sutra’, Kim Yong-ok makes the unlivable classification of ‘mind as the dharma body’ and ‘body as sensual body’, but even the body is the perfect Buddha. All existence is conditional causation, while at the same time Buddha nature abides in all existence. Each scattered temple is not a nugget of gold, everything (in the universe) is a nugget of gold”.
“Before realizing the meaning of dependent origination, a monk thinks twelve times a day of returning to the layman’s world.” Master Gou says that if one understands the true nature of this dharma (of dependent origination), there is no end to perfectibility. While guiding the Gakwua Seon Center, Gou Sunim hopes to devote his merit to the salvation of others.