From a talk at Providence Zen Center in
January, 1987 and first printed in Primary Point volume 6, number
1 (June 1989) and volume 6, number 2 (October 1989).
One time someone asked Zen Master Seung Sahn
about the importance of the history of Zen, and he said, "Knowing
the history of your tradition is like coming face to face with
your ancestors. These ancestors are your roots; when you know
these roots, you also know something about yourself." So
when one studies within a certain tradition, it is a natural curiosity
to want to know about the roots of that tradition, where the tradition
has come from, and what are the sources of inspiration within
This talk is primarily about the thirteenth-century
monk Chinul, who is the founder of the native tradition of Zen
in Korea. But it is also, by necessity, a talk about the larger
spectrum of Chinese and Korean Zen traditions. One cannot really
understand Chinul's impact on Korean Zen without knowing what
went on in Korean Zen before him, and that cannot be understood
without some understanding of Zen in China.
Chinul is to Korean Zen what Hui-neng is to
Chinese Zen. Hui-neng was not only the sixth patriarch in the
line of succession from Bodhidharma, but actually he was the real
founder of Zen in China. There are four stages of development
of the Zen tradition in China. Each of these stages is associated
with a historical incident and points to a key ingredient of Zen
The first was the arrival of Bodhidharma in
China. He arrived at the court of Emperor Wu and had an interview
with him in which the Emperor enumerated the temples he had built,
all the charities and the good works he had done. He then asked
Bodhidharma, "What do you think? What is the merit of all
this?" Bodhidharma, very coolly, said, "None whatsoever."
This must have shocked the Emperor because the answer was so contrary
to everything he believed. He then asked Bodhidharma several more
questions, to which Bodhidharma gave equally unsatisfactory (to
the Emperor) answers. Finally, in frustration, the Emperor asked
him, "Who are you?" (meaning, "Who are you to be
giving me all these crazy answers?"). And Bodhidharma said,
"I don't know," (or, "I have no idea.") Obviously,
after this exchange Bodhidharma was not very welcome at the Emperor's
court, and he went off and sat in a cave at Shaolin Temple for
nine years. So, that is the first step in the tradition of Zen
in China - the example of Bodhidharma sitting motionless and facing
a blank wall. This is the way we sit even today in our dharma
The second step relates to Hui-neng. Hui-neng
was a poor, fatherless boy who used to sell firewood in the marketplace
so he could support himself and his mother. One day he heard a
monk reciting a line from the Diamond Sutra; he was maybe thirteen
years old at the time and when he heard the verse from the Diamond
Sutra, he got enlightened on the spot. This is the second step,
the tradition of sudden enlightenment. I will not get technical
about sudden or gradual enlightenment, but only know that, according
to tradition, if one's practice is mature enough and solid enough,
enlightenment will happen all of a sudden. You never know the
time or the place where it's going to happen or how long it will
take to reach this state. Students of Zen practice in the hope
that this event will happen in their life. This is the inspiration
from Hui-neng's life.
Up until the time of Hui-neng, all the monks
were reading the sutras and building temples, hoping that all
these good deeds would bring them merit in the next life. Hui-neng
said that none of this was necessary to get enlightenment. He
went even one more step and said that even meditation wasn't necessary.
That was a very radical step in Chinese Zen. Hui-neng never explained
how to get to this state of enlightenment but our own teacher,
Zen Master Seung Sahn, goes all over the world and talks only
about this "don't know" mind. He keeps saying over and
over again that if you keep this don't know mind one hundred percent
at all times, then you are already enlightened. So, if you keep
a don't know mind at all times and all places, then sitting meditation
is not necessary. This is a direct connection between Zen Master
Seung Sahn's teaching and Hui-neng's teaching. Later in this article
when Chinul and Korean Zen are discussed, it will be seen that
Chinul is also talking about one moment of effort - this moment
of effort - and that's all it takes.
The third step that took place in the history
of Chinese Zen is associated with the patriarch Ma-tsu, who was
the second generation successor of Hui-neng. Ma-tsu invented the
shock tactics of suddenly shouting at a questioner, hitting the
questioner, or suddenly calling out the questioner's name as he
was about to leave the room. Ma-tsu was a true innovator in this
regard; he wanted to break through all the conceptual thinking
we have. Hui-neng talked about arriving at this point but he never
talked about how you arrive there. It was left to Ma-tsu to invent
all those tactics of sudden shock which jar your consciousness
and make a breakthrough.
The fourth step was the compete systematization
of the kong-an system. Ma-tsu and his successors were very gifted
teachers. Some of his successors also had relatively few students,
so they could have personal encounters with their students and
be creative enough and skillful enough to bring the student to
enlightenment through a shock tactic. This was the Golden Age
of Zen, approximately from 700-900 A.D. However, as the number
of students grew, personal instruction became very difficult.
So, the Zen master used the stories of the old Zen masters to
teach their own students. In Sung China (tenth century A.D.),
this system was perfected and most effectively used by Zen master
Before Hui-neng, Zen (or Ch'an) had flourished
in northern China. Bodhidharma had stayed at Shaolin temple and
his successors were monks from the northern part of the country.
That's where they had their temples and some patronage from the
royal court. In fact, until Hui-neng, Ch'an was just one of the
many competing Buddhist sects in northern China. The story of
Hui-neng's transmission is quite well-known so it need not be
repeated here, but when Hui-neng had to flee his teacher's temple
after receiving the secret transmission, he crossed the Yangtze
River and traveled as far south as the present-day Canton. When
he finally established his temple in this extreme southern part
of China, a new kind of Zen appeared: it was rural and centered
around a community of farming monks. Northern Ch'an had relied
on the sutras, on building temples, and patronage of the royal
court, but Southern Ch'an was economically self-reliant and revolved
around the work ethic. The monks farmed the monastery land during
daytime, didn't read any sutras, didn't even have a meditation
hall or practice any formal meditation. They kept their practice
alive in the midst of doing physical labor throughout the day.
When Zen appeared in Korea, it was a direct
successor of southern Ch'an. During the period from 828 to 935,
there appeared the so-called Nine Mountain Schools of Zen. These
temples and their ethos were a mirror-reflection of what was happening
in Chinese Zen at the same time. The marvelous thing about these
nine schools is that seven of these schools were started by Korean
monks who were students of Ma-tsu's successors.
Ma-tsu is a very interesting figure in the
history of Zen. In a comparison to American history, it would
seem that Bodhidharma is like George Washington, and Hui-neng
is Zen's Thomas Jefferson. Ma-tsu is more like Theodore Roosevelt,
the rider on horseback. He was the greatest Zen teacher of his
time and it is said that there were, at times, as many as eight
hundred monks in his monastery. He gave transmission to one hundred
and thirty-nine dharma successors, and is known to history as
the Great Patriarch.
Among these one hundred and thirty-nine successors
were some of the most influential teachers in Zen history. One
was Pai-chang, who formed the monastic rules that we follow even
today, and whose successor, Huang-po, was the teacher of the famous
Lin-chi. The second was Nan-chuan (Korean: Nam Cheon), perhaps
the most brilliant of Ma-tsu's students, and the teacher of Chao-chou
(Korean: Joju). The third of these teachers is not quite so well-remembered
in history; his name was Shi-tang Chi-tsang. Three of the founders
of the Nine Mountain Schools in Korea were students of Shi-tang
Chi-tsang, one was a student of Nam Cheon and three were students
of Ma-tsu's immediate successors.
Thus our lineage is from Ma-tsu and from Hui-neng,
and this is the tradition of Korean Zen. Korean Zen is also called
Chogye Zen, after the name of the temple of Hui-neng in south
China. Zen Master Seung Sahn is the seventy-eighth patriarch in
his particular line of succession that starts with the Buddha
and continues through Hui-neng and Ma-tsu.
When the Nine Mountain Schools of Zen appeared
in Korea in the ninth century, they modeled themselves along the
same lines as the temples of Ma-tsu's successors, that is temples
in the mountains with the monks working the farm land around the
monastery and being economically self-reliant. However, the development
of Zen in Korea differed in one significant aspect from Zen in
China or Japan. In China and Japan, Zen always had a special place
of its own; it was autonomous and quite independent of Buddhism.
But that never happened in Korea for a number of reasons: Korea
is and was a very small country; it had a period of civil war
that lasted for about a hundred years in the fifth and sixth centuries;
and Buddhism played a very large part in the formation of the
United Silla Kingdom in 668 A.D.
Buddhism played the role of a state religion,
and was protected and patronized by the rulers. So, when the new
branch of Buddhism called Zen appeared in the ninth century, instead
of having time to develop its own system and institutions, it
was immediately absorbed into mainstream Buddhism and received
the same patronage from the royal court as other schools. Thus
within a hundred years of the founding of Nine Mountain Schools
of Zen, we find that Zen in Korea cannot be distinguished from
the other schools - Zen monks wore the same fancy robes, lived
in fancy temples, enjoyed all the riches of food, and had access
to the power centered at the royal court. The royal court instituted
a system of exams for Zen monks corresponding to similar exams
for other Buddhist monks. This was one way for the state to have
control over the shape and development of Zen. Traditionally,
Zen monks were always found sitting in meditation in mountain
temples, but now, here were many monks living in the city temples
and spending three years memorizing the sutras and other texts.
Thus, within a short time, Zen lost all its vitality and drive.
In the tenth and eleventh centuries Korea suffered
a series of attacks from the north by Mongolian tribes, most especially
the Khitans. There was never any peace in Korea during this time,
and as a result of these conditions, both the affairs of state
and religion fell into disorder. This was the situation of Buddhism
in Korea in the latter half of the twelfth century, when Zen Master
Chinul appeared on the scene.
Chinul was born in 1158 A.D. This was a very
interesting time for Buddhism in East Asia. Zen Master Ta-hui,
who was mentioned before and who perfected the system of kong-an
practice in China, was only one generation removed from Chinul.
As a matter of fact, Ta-hui died in 1163, five years after Chinul
was born. Also, at a time when Chinul was trying to sow the seeds
of a native tradition in Korea, Zen was brought from China to
Japan, where Zen Master Dogen became one of its great exponents.
By the year 1200, Zen had largely disappeared in China but there
was a new flowering in Korea and Japan.
But, why did Zen die out in China? First of
all, there was a severe repression of Buddhism in China in 845.
Buddhism had originally appeared in China in the first century
A.D. and it supplanted Taoism and Confucianism as the state religion
for China's dynasties over many centuries. Buddhism gained a lot
of economic and political power at the expense of Taoists and
Confucianists, so, all this time, they were conspiring against
Buddhism, trying to find ways to bring it down. In 845, Emperor
Wu came to power and he called himself a Taoist. For two years
from 845 to 847 there was extremely severe persecution of Buddhists.
The statistics of this repression are quite remarkable: two hundred
and sixty thousand monks and nuns were forced to give up their
robes; forty-eight hundred major monasteries and temples were
This was a staggering blow to Buddhism in China,
one from which it has never quite recovered. One of the ironic
effects of this persecution was that while Buddhism was wiped
out in northern China, Zen in south China was relatively unaffected.
Southern Ch'an was not a player in the power games at the royal
court, and they didn't have temples with large statues of the
Buddha with gold and precious stones. In northern China, when
the temples were destroyed, the statues made out of bronze and
copper were melted down and used for making coins. The monks of
southern Ch'an didn't even read sutras and lived the simple life
of a farming community, so they didn't have any possessions that
could be taken away. They didn't have a high profile and so they
didn't have much to lose in the persecution.
When the Sung dynasty came to power in 960
in northern China, the only form of Buddhism that was left in
the country was the southern Ch'an. The Sung emperors made it
their house religion, and as a result, it too became corrupt and
lost its vitality. Zen Master Ta-hui was the last major figure
to infuse any vitality into the system; once he was gone, there
was no teacher of his stature to sustain it.
Returning to Chinul, one finds that he was
a sickly child. His parents prayed to the Buddha and vowed that
if he recovered they would allow him to become a monk. He did
recover, and had his head shaved at the age of six or seven. This
is a very graphic example of how Buddhism benefited as a state
religion in East Asia - Buddhism was an all-permeating religion
with strange beliefs and superstitions far removed from the teachings
of the historical Buddha. This happened to many children and Chinul
was by no means unique in this respect.
At the age of fifteen, Chinul went to live
in a temple and took the formal precepts of a novice monk. One
interesting fact about Chinul's life is that he never had a formal
teacher, one who may have guided his intellectual or spiritual
development. He had a preceptor, like any other Buddhist monk,
but he always studied on his own. His self-study program was quite
remarkable and innovative for a monk of his time, for he combined
his study of sutras with Zen practice.
Ever since the arrival of Zen in Korea with
the establishment of the Nine Mountain Schools, there was a fierce
rivalry between Zen and the sutra schools and neither wanted to
have anything to do with the other. The sutra schools insisted
on studying the sutras for twenty or thirty years, and gradually
becoming a Buddha. The Zen schools started with the premise that
you are already a Buddha and all you have to do is to rediscover
that through personal meditation. Thus studying the sutras is
quite irrelevant. Chinul became the first thinker in Korean Buddhist
history to effectively resolve this conflict between the two approaches,
and it was resolved in his own experience.
Chinul had three major awakenings or enlightenment
experiences in his life. The first one was when he read the Platform
Sutra of the sixth patriarch (Hui-neng). The second awakening
was when he read the Avatamsaka Sutra and the third was when he
read the Records of Zen Master Ta-hui. Two of these documents,
the Platform Sutra and the Record of Ta-hui, are classic statements
of Zen tradition, whereas the Avatamsaka Sutra is the basic document
of the Jua-yen (Korean: Hwa-om) School, which was the most influential
sutra school in Korea. Thus, throughout his life, Chinul emphasized
simultaneous cultivation of both doctrinal understanding and personal
At the age of twenty-two, Chinul came to the
capital city to take his monk's exams, but was dismayed to see
all his fellow monks struggling for fame and power. They all wanted
to pass the exam and get a position at the royal court with prestige
and influence. As a reaction to this jockeying for power, he wrote
a manifesto urging his fellow monks to leave this worldly struggle
and retreat into the mountains to form a practicing community.
He was able to have ten other monks sign this manifesto and they
decided to meet together at some time in the future and start
the community with they proposed to call Jung Hae Sa or "Samadhi
and Prajna Community." Samadhi means meditation practice
and prajna means wisdom or intuitive understanding.
It is a tribute to Chinul's influence that
today there are at least fifteen temples in Korea that call themselves
Jung Hae Sa. Our own lineage comes from Su Dok Sa temple on Duk
Sung mountain, where one of the major temples is Jung Hae Sa.
This temple was established by Zen Master Man Gong in the early
1930's for the training of his senior students. Zen Master Seung
Sahn calls this Jung Hae Sa the primary point of our lineage;
so, Jung Hae Sa of our school and the Jung Hae Sa community that
Chinul founded have the same focus.
At this point, it is useful to note some remarkable
parallels between the lives of Dogen and Chinul. They were near-contemporaries,
Chinul being older. They were both dismayed by the struggle for
fame and power at the royal court and went into the mountains
to establish their communities of monks. They both dedicated their
lives to intensive practice and lived very pure and simple lives.
There is nothing dramatic in the lives of either Dogen or Chinul.
They both had a very strong direction in their life and dedicated
their entire energy to following that direction. It is not an
accident that Dogen is considered the most original thinker in
Japanese religious history and Chinul occupies the same lofty
position within the Korean religious tradition. It is interesting
to note that Thomas Aquinas appeared in Europe at approximately
the same time, roughly after Dogen, and became the fountainhead
of all subsequent Christian theological thinking. Thus, within
a period of fifty years, these three original religious thinkers
appeared in different parts of the world, and shaped their traditions
in such a way that their influence is felt even today.
When Chinul did not hear from his fellow monks
who had signed the Jung Hae Sa manifesto within the agreed time,
he went traveling and lived in a temple in the southwest corner
of Korea. There is speculation that he chose to live in this part
of the country because this was the only area of Korea to have
any maritime contacts with China. As a result of Khitan invasions
in the north, Korea did not enjoy any diplomatic or overland trade
relations with China. The port towns along the western coasts
of Korea were the only places where merchants could carry on any
kind of trade with China. It is possible that Chinul may have
hoped to get hold of some news of Buddhist activities in China
through these merchants. However, he never went to China.
It is also interesting to note that two of
the greatest thinkers in Korean Buddhist history, Won Hyo and
Chinul, never went to China, although it was quite common, even
obligatory for Korean monks to go to China, study under a great
teacher, and come back to establish their own temple. Won Hyo
and Chinul never made it. But Chinul did come into possession
of Ta-hui's writings during his stay in the southwest and these
writings were a lifelong influence on his thinking.
Zen Master Chinul became the first Zen teacher
in Korea to systematically use hwa-tou (kong-an) practice in the
training of monks in his community. This was also an interesting
transitional time in Korean Zen. The founders of the Nine Mountain
Schools had trained in Ma-tsu's method of shock tactics, but even
in China itself, the use of kong-ans as a teaching tool was not
adopted until the third generation after Zen Master Lin-chi in
the mid-tenth century.
By that time, it had become very difficult
for Korean monks to travel to China; also, Korean Zen itself had
lost its original vigor and was entering a period of decline.
For these reasons, it fell to Chinul to introduce this new teaching
tool in Korean Zen. His own knowledge of it came through the writings
of Zen Master Tai-hui (1089-1163).
Before we go into Chinul's method of investigating
the hwa-tou, I want to emphasize Chinul's insistence again and
again on "one mind." This is the core of Chinul's teaching:
that both the deluded mind and the enlightened mind are part of
the same landscape, the one mind. The deluded mind is not separate
from the enlightened one and the enlightened mind is not separate
from the deluded mind, and they are both within us. Most of us
have the idea that there is something outside of us that we must
look for. Chinul firmly demolishes this notion again and again
in his writings and talks. For a record of Chinul's writings,
we have a translation of Chinul's works by Robert Buswell (The
Korean Approach to Zen, University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu),
a premier work of Buddhist scholarship in America.
In Buswell's translation, Chinul's writing
is very clear; part of the reason is the writings are answers
to questions put to him in open assemblies. Thus his words become
live and have a sense of immediacy about them.
At an assembly, someone asked Chinul, "How
is it that saints and ordinary people are not the same?"
We all have this idea that we are very ordinary and are not saints,
that we are inferior, that we don't have the qualities of saints.
The questioner is asking Chinul why, if both the ordinary person
and the saint have the same one mind, they are not the same? Chinul
responded to this question, "The true mind is originally
the same in the saint and the ordinary man, but because the ordinary
man endorses the reality of material things with the false mind,
he loses his pure nature and becomes estranged from it, therefore
the true mind cannot appear. It is like the tree's shadow in the
darkness, or a spring flowing underground. It exists."
Chinul was asked, "When the true mind
is beset by delusion, it becomes an ordinary mind. How then can
we escape from delusion and achieve sanctity?" He replied,
"When there is no place for the deluded mind, that is bodhi.
Samsara and nirvana always remain equal." It becomes a very
interesting question: how can we reach this place where the deluded
mind has no place?
Chinul describes this place as "luminous
awareness." Later on, someone asked him how we approach this
place and, in response, we have an interesting exchange:
Do you hear the sound of the crow cawing? That magpie calling?
Trace him back and listen to your hearing nature. Do you hear
This is an interesting experiment all of us
can do. Anytime we hear a sound, whether it is the sound of a
jet plane overhead or a bird singing outside, all we have to do
is bring this sound inside and listen one hundred percent. If
we listen one hundred percent, there is no idea of "I am
listening to the sound." So when Chinul asked the student
what happens when you listen to the sound of a crow or the magpie,
one hundred percent, the student said, "At that place sounds
and discriminations do not obtain." That can be our experience,
too. If we really go deep into a sound, the idea of "I am
listening to a sound" disappears; then you become the sound.
Sometimes at Zen centers this happens - we
are listening to the morning bell chant, being a little sleepy,
not completely asleep but just a little bit, and the bell is hit.
All of a sudden, there is nothing but the sound of the bell resonating
deep within ourselves. Then, there is no sound and no discrimination.
"I, my, me" disappears and the whole universe is just
one sound. This place of no discrimination is what Chinul calls
luminous awareness. This is the whole point of Zen practice. Zen
Master Seung Sahn always talks about cutting off I, my, me mind.
Our mind is deluded because in every situation we apply I, my,
me to everything that appears. When we don't see things through
I, my, me, then we can see, hear, taste, and touch everything
clearly. It's that simple.
When Chinul is talking about entering into
the sound, the same can be applied to tasting, seeing, touching,
everything. In "just doing it" one hundred percent,
there is no discrimination. So, the student says, at that point
the sounds and discrimination do not obtain. Chinul says, "Marvelous!
Marvelous! This is Avalokitesvara's method for entering the noumenon.
Let me ask you again. You said that sounds and discriminations
do not obtain at that place. But since they do not obtain, isn't
the hearing-nature just empty space at such a time?" The
student says, "Originally, it is not empty, it is always
bright and never obscured." Chinul asks again, "What
is this essence which is not empty?" The student: "As
it has no former shape, words cannot describe it."
The student describes the hearing-nature as
being always bright and never obscured. We can find the same thing
in our own experience by bringing any sound within ourselves and
going deep into our hearing-nature. You will find that there is
something there, some kind of radiance; it's not just blankness.
This radiance or brightness is our luminous awareness. This brightness
does not come from the sun, it's our own original true nature.
This experience can be reached through our eye-consciousness,
nose-consciousness, tongue-consciousness, touch-consciousness,
Chinul further says, "If you believe me
to the point where you can suddenly extinguish your doubt, show
the will of a great man, and give rise to authentic vision and
understanding; if you know its taste for yourself, arrive at the
stage of self-affirmation, and gain understanding of your true
nature, then this is the understanding awakening achieved by those
who have cultivated the mind. Since no further steps are involved,
it is called sudden. Therefore, it is said, 'When in the cause
of faith, one meshes without the slightest degree of error with
all the qualities of the fruition of Buddhahood, faith is achieved.'"
Chinul is asking us to show the will of a great
person and have this complete faith. That's all we have to do:
apply this resolution and courage to every situation that appears
for us. Rather than holding onto our idea and applying I, my,
me mind to every situation, we can let go and perceive things
as they really are. It's a simple matter of whether a situation
controls us or we control the situation. Who is in control? By
control, I don't mean in a neurotic sense, but perceiving things
with complete clarity and acting clearly. This is the mind of
a saint. But if a situation clouds our vision, we act with the
mind of a deluded person. The choice is ours; we have the one
mind from which comes the action of a saint or an ordinary man.
In his writings, Chinul comes back to this
issue again and again. And he gives some interesting examples.
One of the examples he is fond of quoting many times is that of
a frozen pond. "Although we know that the frozen pond is
entirely water, the sun's heat is necessary to melt it. Although
we awaken to the fact that an ordinary man is Buddha, the power
of dharma is necessary to permeate our cultivation. When the pond
is melted, the water flows freely and can be used for irrigation
and cleaning. When falsities are extinguished, the mind will be
luminous and dynamic, and then its function of penetrating brightness
In our day-to-day life, our mind is like a
frozen pond, frozen by our conditioning so that we respond in
deluded ways and continue to wander around in the samsara of anger,
desire, and ignorance. But when we start to practice, it's like
the sun's heat; it comes down and melts the ice. The only thing
that happens through practice is that the frozen waters of our
conditioning melt and start to flow.
At another point, Chinul says, "A person
who falls to the ground gets back up by using that ground. To
try to get up without relying on that ground would be impossible."
We all have the same dilemma: how to let go of the conditioning
of anger, desire, and ignorance. Chinul says we have to use our
own deluded mind to get out of its delusion, to use our deluded
mind to awaken to the fact we are already Buddha. In this way,
the deluded mind is not a liability but a necessity. This means
we can use our delusions or any bad situation skillfully to understand
what the correct situation is.
Chinul goes on to say, "Sentient beings
are those who are deluded in regard to the one mind, and give
rise to boundless defilements. Buddhas are those who have awakened
to the one mind and have given rise to the boundless sublime functions.
Although there is a difference between delusion and awakening,
essentially both are derived from the one mind. Hence, to seek
Buddhahood apart from the (deluded) mind is impossible."
It is a remarkable statement for Korean Zen of the twelfth century,
because at that time the whole notion of Buddhism was filled with
the idea that the Buddhahood is something out there, maybe in
the Pure Land, and that you had to do these rituals or read these
sutras and then maybe someday you will become Buddha. But Chinul
says again and again, that to seek Buddhahood apart from the mind
Chinul further talks about the mind of the
saint and says: "All the sound of slander and praises, acknowledgment
and disapproval that deceptively issue forth from the throat are
like an echo in an empty valley or the sound of the wind. If in
this manner we investigate the root cause of such deceptive phenomenon
in ourselves and others, we will remain unaffected by them."
In our own daily life too, whatever appears in front of us, if
someone badmouths us or gives us a hard time, says something unpleasant,
and our minds don't move, then that's the mind of a saint. It
happens to all of us at some point that our center does not move
and we remain unaffected by other peoples' slander or bad speech.
You talked about Chinul's impact around the year 1200. What has
happened in the 800 years since then?
Mu Soeng Sunim:
Chinul established the temple called Songwang-sa and throughout
these eight hundred years it has remained the premier Zen temple
in Korea. It's a remote temple, situated in the mountains, and
has continued the tradition of Zen teaching which Chinul founded.
After Chinul, sixteen of his successors were given the title of
"national teachers." Fortunately for Songwang-sa, that
does not seem to have caused any permanent damage to them. Chinul's
successor, Hae Shim, compiled the collection of seventeen hundred
kong-ans, which is now the standard reference in Korean Zen. So,
Songwang-sa is the lasting legacy of Chinul and its influence
has continued even to this day. When the Yi dynasty came into
power in Korea in 1392, they turned to Confucianism and undertook
a very open and systematic persecution of Buddhism. So for five
hundred years, Buddhism had to go underground. At that time, there
were no temples in urban areas and Zen was practiced only in the
mountains. Songwang-sa remained the only large temple which had
a clear function in Zen training. All other Zen monks had to find
caves in the mountains or small temples.
When the Japanese armies invaded Korea in 1592,
Sosan Taesa was one of the few well-known Zen monks in Korea.
Sosan is the most famous Zen Master between Chinul and this century.
His fame came largely because of his role in organizing a monks'
militia against the Japanese. Sosan is the prime example of a
Zen monk of those dark times; he didn't have a high profile and
lived in a succession of temples in the mountains. In those years,
the lineage was handed down in a rather obscure manner. Then Zen
Master Seung Sahn's great-grand teacher, Zen Master Kyong Ho,
appeared at the turn of the last century (he died in 1912) and
revived Korean Buddhism. For about two hundred years before him,
Korean Buddhism had become almost extinct. Even at temples like
Songwang-sa, there was nothing much going on.
Zen Master Kyong Ho and his students revived
Korean Buddhism in this century. Zen Master Man Gong, Kyong Ho's
best known successor, was a very charismatic teacher and became
the first person to really popularize Buddhism, even among lay
people. The Japanese occupied Korea from 1910-1945 and tried to
abolish Korean Buddhism. In 1945, when the Japanese rule ended,
there were only four or five hundred traditional celibate monks
in Korea. Of these, about two hundred and fifty were at Zen Master
Man Gong's temple, Sudok-sa, and the rest were scattered all over
the country. Today, there are about thirteen thousand monks and
nuns in Korea. So, we have this dramatic shift from about five
hundred to about thirteen thousand monks in only forty years.
Q: Was there any lay support for Buddhism during
the years of persecution?
MSSN: The only support for Buddhism during
these years came from ladies of the royal household. There was
a Queen Regent in the mid-sixteenth century, too, who was able
to revive Buddhism for a few years. To some extent, these royal
ladies were responsible for Buddhism not dying out. Now, there
is tremendous support from lay people, and Mahayana Buddhism in
Korea is probably the strongest Buddhist church anywhere in the
world. But the focus is very different now. For five hundred years
the monks kept alive the flame of intense meditation in mountain
caves and temples, just practicing very hard and giving transmission
from one generation to the next. Now it is more a popular religion,
involved with politics and social action. It's very different
from the focus of Chinul and Sosan Taesa. They would hardly recognize
it. Chinul's community, when he first founded it at Songwang-sa,
was open to lay people; lay people could enter the monastery for
a period of time and leave any time they wanted, but while they
were there, they had to live the life of a monk. They had to give
up all connections with the outside world.
Q: What about Chinul's writings? Are any left?
MSSN: As mentioned earlier, these writings
are now available in English translated by Robert Buswell. Though
not extensive, these writings had a major impact on the subsequent
development of Buddhism in Korea. For example, in Buswell's translation,
we have a chapter called "Admonitions to Beginning Students."
Today these admonitions serve the function of temple rules in
all Zen temples in Korea. Our own temple rules, here in America,
are adapted from Chinul's guidelines. His temple rules are to
Korean Zen what Pai-chang's temple rules were to Chinese Zen.
Also, the chapter on "Secrets of Cultivating the Mind"
has been very influential on Korean monks for the last 800 years,
obligatory reading for them.
Q: What are the differences between Japanese
and Korean Zen, since you have drawn a parallel between Dogen
MSSN: Zen came to Japan through Dogen and Eisai,
but it was adopted by the samurai who had the base of their political
power in Kamakura. In Japan of the late twelfth century and early
thirteenth century, there was a clash of two kinds of religious
cultures. On the one hand, there was the imperial capital at Kyoto
where they patronized the Tendai sect and all the other sects
which had dominated Nara Buddhism for five hundred years. On the
other hand, the samurai adopted the new religion of Zen as their
own; its training and discipline seemed perfectly suited for their
purposes. A new form of Zen appeared which had not been seen in
China before. In Korea, during the eleventh and twelfth centuries,
Zen was adopted by the royal court and thus became absorbed in
the larger Korean Buddhism. In Japan, it remained separate from
Buddhism as the culture of the samurai. For the next two hundred
years, Zen developed a very distinctive personality in Japan.
But, there also, it started to die out. Between Ikkyu (who died
at the end of the fourteenth century) and Hakuin there is a period
of about three hundred years, and during this period there are
no more than three or four notable Zen Masters. Once the Kamakura
shogunate fell out of power, the patronage for Zen dried up and
Zen had to compete against the Tendai and other sects.
In Korea, during the same period, Zen was not
allowed to have any temples in the cities; the monks were not
even allowed to enter the city gates. But in Japan, Zen had always
flourished in or near urban areas. For all these reasons, there
is more continuity and a sense of uniqueness in Japanese Zen than
there is in Korean Zen.
Q: Was there ever a warrior class in China
who also adopted Zen like the samurai did in Japan?
MSSN: If we look at the history of China, we
find that T'ang unified the whole country in the late sixth century.
The T'ang was a fierce warrior race but without the same code
of conduct which the samurai had. The samurai code was much more
codified and their Zen was made to fit into their code. The T'ang
didn't have a similar impact on Chinese Ch'an (Zen). In fact,
since Ch'an was not patronized by T'ang, it remained unaffected
by whatever warrior-ideas they might have had. The contrast and
contest in China was more between Zen and Confucianism. In some
ways, Ch'an was a reaction to the institutionalized norms of behavior
which Confucianism provided for the Chinese people. Even today,
Oriental cultures are very much based on hierarchy and how you
are supposed to behave in a given situation with given people.
So the boundaries of social behavior are well-defined. A child
knows what his boundaries are, and when he grows up he knows what
his boundaries as an adult are. That's Confucian culture. So,
within the context of Confucian culture, a Zen interview with
a teacher is probably the only time when you have the freedom
to be yourself. You can hit the teacher, shout at him, you can
be your authentic self. If we read the exchanges in the Blue Cliff
Record or Mu Mun Kwan, they shed some interesting light on the
unorthodox behavior of Zen monks.
Q: What was Bodhidharma's practice when he
sat at the cave in Shaolin temple?
MSSN: From what we know of the legend of Bodhidharma,
it would seem that his practice was Shikantaza. At the same time,
his interview with the future second patriarch would suggest a
mastery of the techniques which later developed into kong-an practice.
But most certainly, he was not reading sutras at that time. The
interesting thing about Bodhidharma, though, is that when he gave
transmission to the second patriarch, he passed on a copy of the
Lankavatara Sutra along with his robe and bowls. These were the
items of transmission until the sixth patriarch. For a long time,
the Lankavatara Sutra remained a basic text of the Ch'an school
in China. Hui-neng himself had his awakening upon hearing a verse
from the Diamond Sutra, and this Sutra was also revered by Ch'an
students in China. All of this changed in the hands of Ma-tsu
when Ch'an became very experimental. Even then, it seems that
most of the teachers in Ma-tsu's lineage were well-versed in the
sutras, they just didn't refer to them in their teachings.
In closing, we have talked about how Korean
Zen became absorbed by the larger Buddhism by the time of Chinul's
birth and how Chinul was able to revive it through the elements
of sudden awakening and gradual cultivation, using both Zen practice
and sutra study for this purpose. His lifelong teaching can be
summed up in just one phrase: the self-nature is just your own
mind; what other experience do you need? In keeping with this
tradition of Korean Zen, Zen Master Seung Sahn travels all over
the world and teaches "don't know." When people ask
him how to keep this "don't know," he says "only
don't know." Thus, there is a very direct connection between
Chinul's teaching and Zen Master Seung Sahn's teaching - having
faith in your self-nature. And that's enough. In every situation,
asking "What is this?" is in itself an expression of
our self-nature. And that's our challenge and our practice.