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Questions from Followers

General Dharma Lecture, 7th Lunar Month, 1982, Haeinsa


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Q: Where does life come from, and where does it go?

Ven. Seongcheol : Universal law is that there is no producing and no extinguishing. So by transcending time and space, there is nothing to appear and disappear, including life.
In the Avatamsaka Sutra we find, "The One Law is nonproducing, the one Law is non-extinguishing"; and from the Lotus Sutra we have, "All Dharma is that of non-change."
We call this non-producing, non-extinguishing by various names―the ultimate, the absolute, the Dharma realm, causality, the eternally abiding, Dharmadhuta, Dharma nature. There are a thousand different names, but the meanings are all the same. They all are the basis of the universe and the basis of the Supreme Enlightenment by the Buddha who saw that all was non-producing, non-extinguishing.
This Truth is so profound, so deep, so difficult to comprehend that it can be seen only by the Wisdom Eye of the Buddha; and it cannot be found in any other religion, philosophy or thought system. Modern science is now beginning to come close to a similar explanation, which helps to make the Buddha's Teachings a bit more comprehensible to modern man. So it will be interesting to see what else science comes up with in the future, although scientific findings in no way influence the Teachings.
In this non-producing, non-extinguishing of the eternally abiding Dharma, there is only unlimited causation where increasing and decreasing and coming and going are non-existent. This is the nature of reality. To put it in more modern terms, the volume does not change; but due to unlimited causation, the influence of eyerything on all things and all things on everything, the apparent containers do.
The nature of all forms of life is the same, matter and mind are one, and there is no distinction between the animate and the inanimate. So "life" is a term that is given to both the animate and the inanimate. And you must be able to listen to the Dharma talk of the inanimate to really know the meaning of life: the totality of all forms of life is absolute, and there is no producing or extinguishing, no coming and going of it.
It may seem a bit progressive to call that which is inanimate "life" but not only the animate moves. Inanimate life, too, is just as filled with molecules with their own movement, their own spin. You must realize that all things, even a staid boulder, are actually in constant motion.
Ten billion Sakyamunis are dancing on the end of a spring breeze.

Q: Is the Buddhist ideal to deal with the existing or to transcend the existing?

Ven. Seongcheol : In Buddhism, "producing and extinguishing" is the Bhutatathata or ultimate reality. That is to say, present reality is absolute, torment and suffering are enlightenment, and sentient beings are Buddha. Fundamentality, humanity is absolute, and it both transcends and includes oneness. So there is nothing more to transcend.
You see, the Buddha came to teach us that we already are Buddha, not that we have to become Buddha. Think of it as having gold, but mistaking it for loess. You can mistake it for loess as long as you want, but that doesn't change the nature of the gold. All you have to do is rid yourself of the delusions that the gold is loess. The gold remains as it is.
In the same way, through our delusions we mistake real Buddhas for sentient beings; and even though we behave as sentient beings, our fundamental Buddha nature remains the same. So we don't have to go looking for Buddha. We just have to rid ourselves of delusions.
Sentient beings are Buddha, this world of suffering is a Buddafield, and present reality is absolute. We must eliminate our conditioned views and biases, stop living like someone in the hot summer who has no vision of winter ice, and awaken ourselves to our Buddha nature.
A person above vairocana`s torehead is standing at the center of an intersection.

Q: What do you mean by the term "restore humanity"?

Ven. Seongcheol : Humanity both transcends oneness and includes oneness, and it is absolute. This is called "original Buddha." But as sentient beings we mistake this original Buddha, call ourselves sentient beings, and behave like sentient beings. "To restore humanity" is to rid ourselves of these delusions and to confirm our fundamental nature, our original face.
We have mistaken pure gold for loess, so we must become awakened to the fact that we are pure gold. There is nothing else. It's like a facial mirror covered with dust―the dust prevents it from reflecting. So all we have to do is to clean off the mirror, and it will reflect perfectly. There's no need to go out and get a new mirror.
In Buddhism, one must make a searching examination of the dust covering the mirror of the mind, and remove every single spot of it. This is the proper function of recovering our humanity. In order to do so, we must completely eliminate all of the dust from both present consciousness and from the absolute consciousness, the Alayavijnana. Then we can clearly see our original nature, our fundamental nature, our Buddha nature.
Smash not just the mirror, but the blue sky as well, and come to see me.

Q: Can the solution to the human predicament be found in religion?

Ven. Seongcheol : It seems that most religions move from the mortal to the immortal and from the relative to the absolute. In Buddhism, however, the mortal is the immortal and the relative is the absolute.
Many other religions claim that there is an absolute which is separate from present reality, and their goal is to go from the present world of mortality and limited reality to that separate, absolute, immortal reality.
But in Buddhism, the present is the absolute and we are living in the world of the eternal. There is no need to look elsewhere.
So the problem becomes one of not mistaking the absolute for the relative. What we call the relative is at the same time the absolute. If you realize this, you will come to realize that everything is the absolute, and that everything is already "delivered." Only then will we be able to solve the problems of humanity.
The sun is high in the sky, but people are walking around with their eyes closed complaining about the darkness. We have to open our Eye to see that we are living in this glorious light. We must rid ourselves of our delusions to realize that we are already eternal in this Great Light.
A Buddha does not have to look for anything.
So what is this we call sentient beings?

Q: In this age of insecurity, how can people overcome their restlessness?

Ven. Seongcheol : The Great Tranquil Light flows gloriously and completely through eyerything, so in Buddhism we have no room for such concepts as "insecurity" "restlessness" "wandering." The Great way is wider than the universe itself and brighter than thousands of suns. So nothing should upset you, not even the end of the world.
To talk of life and death, to talk of "salvation" is to be talking in your sleep. "Buddha" and "enlightenment" are just more dust on the mirror. Just look at the fundamental Great Light!
The tips of the willows are green, and the peach blossoms
are spotted with pink.

Q: What are your thoughts on greed and materialism?

Ven. Seongcheol : Non-personal greed, that is greed for the common good, and materialism for the common good are the most priceless of jewels.
No living thing wishes to live in misery. But we must go beyond personal greed. National programs for development are good; but we have to go beyond the limited sphere of humanity, and put greed and materialism to work for the benefit of all that lives. Only then are greed and materialism jewels of any worth.
Personal greed is but poison to the heart. You must forget yourself and work for the benefit of all that lives. That has always been the fundamental wish of all Buddhas and the Great path of the Bodhisattvas. And it should be the basic approach to life for all Buddhists.

Q: Can Buddhism save society?

Ven. Seongcheol: The word "save" doesn't apply to Buddhism. Since all forms of life are absolute, all forms of life are Buddha. The prime prerequisite for becoming a Buddhist is to respect all forms of life in the same way that one should respect his parents. One should serve all forms of life the same way one should serve elders. So you see, there is only serving―no "saving" no "salvation."
I have said repeatedly that helping other forms of life is the only true Buddhist offering. Usually when people talk about helping others, they think of the rich giving to the poor, and so on. This, however, in the Buddhist sense, is not really the proper attitude. The proper attitude is to treat all forms of life with the same gentleness as one would treat an ailing parent, as one would provide a meal to a hungry teacher, as one would offer clothing to a Buddha wearing rags.
"Rescuing" implies something quite different. It's feeling sorry, selectively, for the weak and the poor. This is, in effect, an enormous insult to those people. Wherever you go there are hungry Buddhas, there are ragged Buddhas, there are ailing Buddhas, there are bag Buddhas. The Buddhist teaching is to treat everyone as one would treat one's parents, in the same way a Buddhist honors the Buddha. So there is only non-selective reverence and service―no "rescuing."
A lion doesn't howl like a wolf.

Q: What does Korean Buddhism have to do during the 1980's?

Ven. Seongcheol : There is only one uniform truth in Buddhism, and it applies to everything in the universe. It does not apply to any one geographical area, nor to any one generation. One acts according to basic Buddhist mentality regardless of time and place.
So where and when one lives is irrelevant. One always reveres all forms of life as Buddha. While espousing the absolute nature of all that lives, one eliminates personal desires and dedicates oneself completely to serving all living Buddhas. That's all. There's nothing else to do.
A thousand eons may pass but they are not past. Ten thousand ages pass by, yet everything is now.

Q: Is there anything you'd like to convey to monks and nuns who are in training?

Ven. Seongcheol : Just let me say that we think that the planet earth is a large place, but it's an invisible speck of dust compared to the universe. And this huge, immense universe is but a drop of water in the ocean compared to the Bhutatathata, the Dharma realm. And the activity of this universe is but one drop of toam in comparison to the Great Ocean. If all the Buddhas of the universe appeared at once to expound upon this, they could spend the rest of eternity explaining; yet all their talk would be but a peep in the endless Dharma realm.
All forms of life are one in this inexplicably priceless realm. So we must rid ourselves of those hollow dreams of personal fame and fortune, open this inexhaustible treasure house, and work for the benefit of all. To covet a single grain of rice is to lose 10,000 eons of food.
Think again about the example set by Shun-ch'ih, conqueror of all of China and founder of the Ch'ing Dynasty. He finally considered all of his worldly conquests and riches nothing but debauchery and cast them all aside to enter the path. So I ask all who have joined the order to devote total efforts to attaining the Great Enlightenment.
Deep in the mountains in the middle of a bright, moonlit night, an owl hoots.

About the Author

Toeong Seongcheol (1912~1993)

Master Seongcheol, standing as one of the most influential Seon Masters in the history of modern Korean Buddhism, through his exhaustive Seon spirit and his easily understood dharma lectures, led the common people to a deeper, broader understanding of Seon Buddhism.