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Inspiring Yourself to Practice (Bal-Sim-Su-Haeng-Jang)

發心修行章 발심수행장


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English translation by Wonmyong Sunim and Mark Mueller
Introduction
Inspiring yourself to Practice (Bal-Sim-Su-Haeng-Jang) was written by the Silla monk Wonhyo (617-686). It consists of 706 characters, contained in one roll. In Korea, the text is one of the three important texts in the curriculum of śrāmaneras (novices), monks and nuns in training, during their period of study in the Sutra Hall. The text stresses the need to eliminate one’s karmic bond with the world and immediately begin practice. The original Chinese text is kept at Temple and the annotated version is kept at Songgwangsa Monastery in Suncheon.
Master Wonhyo (617-686) was one of the greatest scholars of Korean history. Born in a simple family, he wrote 240 words, only twenty of which survive today. His philosophy revolved around unity, the interrelatedness of all things in the universe. He is supposed to have carried a drum with him who was inscribed with the words: “Only one who is not disturbed by anything can go beyond birth and death.”
 
There is an interesting story about his enlightenment: In those days, many monks went to study in China. Master Wonhyo and his friend Uisang(620-660) set off on the long, arduous journey expecting to be away for a very long time. One night they lay down to sleep in a cemetery. During the night, Wonhyo awoke and, feeling thirsty, he reached around for something to drink. Nearby, he found a vessel full of cool water and gulped it down grateful to satisfy his thirst. In the morning, when he awoke, he found a skull lying near his sleeping place. He realized that delicious, thirst-quenching water of the previous night was rain water which had collected in a skull. He was shocked at the interrelatedness of all things and thereby attained spiritual awakening. He returned to his homeland without ever completing his journey to China.
All the Buddhas who reside within the splendid realm of Nirvana have, throughout countless eons, discarded their desires and undergone arduous training.
Sentient beings that transmigrate within the burning house of desire have, for countless generations, failed to discard their greed and desire.
 
The gates to heaven (the Pure Land) are not blocked;
Yet, few are those who enter them.
This is because most people make their home among the three poisons1).
The evil realms2) Have no real power to seduce us, yet many enter them.
The deluded mind values the four elements3) that make up the body and the five desires4) as if they were jewels.
 
This being so, is there anyone who does not long to retire to the seclusion of the mountains in order to practice the Way5)?
Yet people do not go there; they remain caught up in desire.
Although you do not retire to the mountains to cultivate your mind, you should strive with all your energy to perform good deeds.
 
If you can renounce your own pleasure, you will become as trusted and respected as the sages.
If you can undergo that which is difficult, you will become as respected as the Buddha.
Those who greedily seek after things join the ranks of demons.
Those who give with compassion are the disciples of the Dharma King.
 
High mountains and lofty peaks are where the wise reside.
Green pines and deep mountain valleys are home to those who practice.
When hungry, such people pick fruit from trees to calm their empty stomach.
When thirsty, they quench their thirst with water from a stream.
Although we eat fine foods in an attempt to carefully preserve this body, our bodies will definitely face destruction; Even though we cover this body with soft cloth, our lives are sure to come to an end.
 
Make a small mountain cave where echoes resound into a hall to chant the Buddha’s name.
Let the sad cry of a wild goose be the heart-warming call of a friend.
While bowing, your knees may become as cold as ice, but you must not long for a warm fire.
Your stomach may writhe with hunger but you must not give in to your thoughts of food.
One hundred years pass like the blinking of an eye, so why don’t you practice? How long is a lifetime?
Can you afford to neglect practice, wasting your time on leisure?
 
It is only he who renounces all of the desires in his heart that is rightfully called a practicing monk.
Only he who no longer yearns for the ways of the world is called “Monk who has renounced the householder’s life”6).
A practitioner who is caught within the net of worldly desires is like a dog who wears elephant's hide.
A man who practices the Way yet remains attached to worldly desires is like a hedgehog who tries to enter a rat hole.
Some people, in spite of their outstanding ability and wisdom, choose to live in the busy atmosphere of the city.
All the Buddhas feel pity and concern for such people.
Other people, although they have not yet developed a deep practice, still choose to stay in the contemplative atmosphere of the mountains.
The sages feel a great joy when they see such people7).
 
There are those who are skilled and learned, but do not follow the precepts.
They are like men who are told of a cache of jewels but do not get up and go to it.
There are those who practice steadfastly, but lack wisdom.
They are like men who to go east, but mistakenly walk towards the west.
The actions of a wise man are like steaming grains of rice in order to make a bowl of rice.
The actions of a man who lacks wisdom are like steaming grains of sand in order to make a bowl of rice.
Everyone knows how to eat and drink in order to satiate their hunger; but no one seems to understand the method of training the way to transform the ignorant mind.
Practice and wisdom must exist side by side, for they are like the two wheels of a cart.
Likewise, helping oneself and helping others are like the two wings of a bird.
 
If you absent-mindedly chant for your donors over the morning offering of porridge without understanding the meaning, you should feel ashamed to face those who give alms.
If you chant during the lunch-time ceremony without attaining the essence of the words you utter, won’t you be ashamed to face great people and sages?
Everyone hates squirming insects and those who can’t distinguish between the dirty and the clean.
Likewise, the sages feel disgust with those monks who cannot distinguish between the defiled and the pure.
If you wish to be through with this world’s conflict, good conduct is the ladder that ascends to heaven.
If you wish to be through with this world’s conflict, good conduct is the ladder that ascends to heaven.
Therefore, one who violates the precepts and yet wishes to help others
Is like a bird with broken wings that puts a turtle on its back and tries to fly.
If you’re still not free from your own faults, you will not be able to free others of their faults.
 
So why do you, who violate the precepts receive that which is provided by others?
It does not benefit you in the least to merely maintain your physical body if you neglect to practice.
And all your concern for this transient, fleeting life will not preserve it.
If you’re set your sights on the virtue of the great masters, you must endure even the longest hardships.
Once you’ve set out for the lion Throne8), you must forever leave all your desires behind you.
When the cultivator’s mind is pure, All the devas9) bow in praise of him. When a follower of the Way loves lasciviousness, the good spirits leave him.
At death, when the four elements of the body scatter, you cannot preserve the body and remain in it any longer.
Today evening has already arrived; Tomorrow morning will soon be here. So, practice now before it is too late.
Worldly pleasures are unsatisfactory in the future, why do you greedily cling to them?
Enduring joy can be won through a single effort in patience; why won’t you practice?
Those who practice feel shame to see a seeker of the Way who remains attached to greed, the virtuous man laughs at the seeker who forsakes the householder’s life but is still wealthy.
 
Words, such as these written here, go on and on, yet, clinging attachment does not come to an end.
“I’ll do it next time” - such words go on and on, yet you fail to put an end to clinging.
Clinging goes on and on, yet you fail to renounce worldly matters.
Your mind is filled with endless devious plans, yet you do not make up your mind to put an end to them.
“Today will be different,” you say, yet you continue to perform evil actions every day.
“Tomorrow, tomorrow,” you say, yet few are the days when you really do something good.
“This year will be different,” you say, yet your defilements are without end.
“Next year I'll do it,” you say, yet you don’t grow in wisdom.
 
The hours pass, and too soon a day and night are over.
The days pass, and soon it's the last day of the month.
The months pass, and suddenly another new year have come.
The years pass, and in the blinking of an eye, we find ourselves at death’s door.
A broken cart cannot be driven.
When you’re an old man, you cannot begin to practice.
When you lid down, you will succumb to laziness.
And when you sit, your mind will be overwhelmed with stray thoughts.
 
For many lifetimes, you have failed to practice, Passing your days and nights in vain.
Having lived many lifetimes in vain, Will you again fail to practice during this lifetime?
This body will inevitably come to an end; who knows what body you will have next time?
Isn’t this an urgent matter? Isn’t this an urgent matter?
 
Notes:
1) Greed, hatred (anger) and stupidity (ignorance).
2) Durgati, the hell realm, the animal realm, etc.
3) Earth, water, fire and air are the four elements that everything is made up of.
4) There are two meanings:
① the objects of the 5 sense (eye, ear, nose, mouth, body); these defile the True Nature when the mind is filled with desire;
② Desire for wealth, sex, food, fame, and sleep
5) The Way refers to the path towards enlightenment  
6) When a person is ordained in Buddhism, he is said to have gone forth from household life. The idea is that leaving all the problems of family and home behind, he can better dedicate himself/herself to spiritual attainment.
7) This is because city-dwelling people have little possibility of spiritual development but those living in the country, though they may not be advanced, have a good chance.
8) This is a name for the Dharma Seat, the special platform that a great monk sits on to give a Dharma lecture. Someone aiming to sit on this seat is aiming for enlightenment and so has to give up all attachments and desires.
9) The devas are the gods, beings who live in realms of constant pleasure.
 

About the Author

Wonhyo (617~686)

Wonhyo was not a man to stick to doctrinal studies or abstract ideas. He was a man dedicated to saving not only the royal and noble families, but also the ordinary and less educated members of society who were equally suffering. He was given the name of Wonhyo which means “dawn” and he lived up to his name for he was a pioneer, not only in Korean Buddhist thought, but also in philosophical thought.