Happy Lunar New Year!

Gathering at Daehaeng Kun Sunim’s stupa on New Year’s morning

I hope the new year is finding you all well and growing in your practice! Things haven’t been too exciting here, but we have finished a couple of new videos. The first is a excerpt from a Dharma in 1992. The video quality isn’t particularly good, but the contents are definitely worth it.

This talk covers one of the most foundational steps of spiritual practice: how to view what we’re experiencing and encountering, and what to do with it. I specifically meant “foundational” not “fundamental,” because this is the foundation of spiritual practice. It’s like getting the first button lined up properly. Get that mixed up, and everything else after it is a bit off.
“What I’m experiencing, good or bad, is manifesting from my true self.” This seems like it could be quite unfair, and in a sense it can be, because sometimes stuff happens to us for (apparently) no other reason than we were in the way. But. The thing is, because this is a manifestation of *our* foundation, our foundation also has the ability to change it into something else.
This is key. This is hope.
If what we were experiencing was truly coming from somewhere else, from something disconnected to us, then we would have almost no control over it or ability to determine where things go from here. We would be reduced to beggars, appealing to some other source to please be kind to us. Instead, by returning what we’ve experienced to our foundation (as we go forward responding to it as best we can,) it will begin to change. Sometimes that change happens so slowly we can’t see it, and sometimes it happens in an instant. But, because this is arising from our foundation, through this connection with the whole, we have the ability to affect how things go from here.
In general, it’s best to try to return and change things before they manifest into the material realm, if possible. Once something has appeared with physical form, any change has to take that into account as well, and there often seems to be only a limited range of physical change possible in the short term. Perhaps I should do a post on the limitations of change, and why it isn’t always as instantaneous as we’d like?

The second video we have is the English text to Daehaeng Kun Sunim’s translation of the Heart Sutra, as chanted in Korean by Bo Won Sunim. He does a great job, and the contents are quite profound.

Dharma Songs!

We’ve been working on a couple of different things, and here’s one! These are translations of several of the Dharma songs used at Hanmaum Seon Center. This one is called “The path of completing myself” (나를 완성시키는 길), but it could also be read as “The path that causes me to become complete.” We have three more done that I’ll put up over the next few days.

Truly! An interview with Chong Gu Sunim, part 2

[I hope everyone’s been doing good! If you’re in Korea, be sure to stay safe; we’re getting rain by the bucketfull! ]

Chong Gu Sunim has worked as a member of the Hanmaum Seon Center Publications Department for nearly twenty years. As part of the process of publishing the complete talks of Daehaeng Kun Sunim, the Publishing Department transcribes them, checks the transcription multiple times, and then lightly edits them for spelling and grammar. In the course of this, they’ve listened to and read over a thousand Dharma talks, multiple times.

The Korean version of this interview appeared in May/June 2018 issue of Hanmaum Journal(#99). This is part two of two.

Hanmaum Journal: Sometimes when there’s something that I just can’t seem to let go of, if I read one of Daehaeng Kun Sunim’s Dharma talks, something just clicks and I can let go of whatever was bothering me and move on.

Chong Gu Sunim: Exactly. That’s because whether someone’s speaking or hitting a bell in the Dharma Hall, it’s mind that’s being communicated, and mind that’s being absorbed. So even just hearing a random sentence, that will sometimes just click as you become one with that, and your stuck parts dissolve and you can move forward. This functioning is such a precious thing, and I’ve often thought about it during the morning bell part of the early morning ceremony.

Among the stories of sunims who awakened, there was one sunim who was chanting during the early morning ceremony, and at the moment he awoke, his chanting was quietly heard in all the surrounding villages. The writers were talking about this mind connecting with other minds. In other stories, their chanting or the sounds of them hitting the bell in the Dharma Hall was heard as far away as China. This fundamental mind of ours truly has no form or shape, so it can go anywhere, embracing anything. This is what those stories were expressing.

Years ago, when I had some issue and I just couldn’t come up with a good answer, I would go ask Kun Sunim, and her answers were so amazing and deep and all-embracing. I aways left feeling that even in a thousand years, I wouldn’t have been able to come up with such a good way of looking at things. The thing is, when we’re confronted with hardship, we tend to become preoccupied with finding a solution. Instead, we should ask why the whole gave us that problem, and what is there in it that we need to learn.

“Raising up our Jujangja,” (the word for a monks staff), can also be read as raising up our center, and means combining the whole into one. It’s the place where the whole is functioning as one, and from this perspective, things just arise, and then pass away. So the real question is, what was the intention of the whole when that situation arose? What was it that I was supposed to learn? That’s what we need to ask inwardly and reflect upon. When you understand that, then you will be able to understand things at another level, and will also move beyond that problem. All beings and things are inherently connected, so true communication is possible.

When I’m struggling to understand something and pondering what it is that I’m supposed to be learning from that situation, then because I’m actively desiring an answer, something a fellow sunim says will be exactly what I need. Or it will be few words from a Dharma talk, or a verse in a ceremony that speaks to me. Because I’m searching for that answer, that meaning reaches out and connects with me. This is why people who are engaged in this spiritual practice seem to grow faster than others. They are searching on their own, and trying to grow, and so this foundation responds accordingly.

The thing is, this is available to everyone. It’s not just for select people. It’s inherent in the functioning of the universe. It’s like there’s an inner teacher that’s trying to direct our attention inwardly, and in order to pick up on this, we need to set aside “me” and what “I know,” and go forward with faith in our foundation. Then it’s like we come to the attention of our foundation.

Hanmaum Journal: Back when Daehaeng Kun Sunim first opened the Seon Center, people would complain because she was talking about things like the Dharma Realm and how it functioned, and it was so far above their own experience and understanding that it seemed pointless to hear about it. But she said that even if they didn’t understand it now, later on when they had brightened and raised their spiritual level, what she was saying would be helpful to them.

Chong Gu Sunim: She mentioned similar things in some of her Dharma talks, when she spoke of the work she had been doing to raise the spiritual level of all people on the planet. She was trying to make this world itself into a Buddha’s Realm. I was left with the impression that to the extent the spiritual level of people here moved more in tune with that of the higher realms, such a transformation was easier to achieve.

To look at the presence or absence of Daehaeng Kun Sunim’s physical body and then say that she’s here or not, is just a reflection of one’s limited level of understanding. The essence of Kun Sunim isn’t something that can be approached or known through senses based on the physical, material world. The only way to approach this essence is through our fundamental mind, Juingong. Through what’s inherent within us. You have to truly know what you are, then you can begin to understand what Kun Sunim is.

So we have to keep working at practicing, regardless of whether it seems like we’re making progress or not. We have to keep working at it until we can approach and perceive the world through our foundation. Then we’ll find ourselves the realm of the Buddhas.

When Daehaeng Kun Sunim first started working with people, she would become one with whoever came, and in that oneness, energy would move, resolving whatever hardship had been confronting the person. Those things that people needed to know through their intellect, she would teach them. She would also melt away whatever emotional states and attitudes that were blocking the person, and then teach them how to do that for themselves with whatever came up the next time, so that they could stand on their own and go forward as free and independent people.

This was her purpose in establishing the Seon Center at Anyang, as well as all of the branch centers, in the public Dharma talks she gave, and in all of the events and ceremonies held over the course of the year at the Center.

As people work at learning and applying Kun Sunim’s teachings like this, her intention soaks into them. We sunims, too, work to help new sunims and laypeople learn to use their problems and hardships as a way to deepen their understanding and spiritual practice, so that they can stand on their own.

Although we may not be able to do this as powerfully as Kun Sunim, we can still embrace others with our mind, and work to help them move forward by entrusting their situation to our foundation and raising intentions for their well-being. I don’t have the least doubt that as we do this, Kun Sunim is there working together with us.

Hanmaum Journal: Kun Sunim used to say that the world needed great numbers of experienced practitioners.          

Chong Gu Sunim: That’s right. We each have to work diligent at learning to rely upon our foundation. This is also what other people need to do as well. This need for people to undergo spiritual practice is why Kun Sunim gave so many Dharma talks. We have to learn to connect with our foundation, and then we can truly connect with others.

Everyone is practicing together with us, and it’s such a blessing. Everyone and thing has a different personality, different energy, and a different style of speaking. But not reacting to that, and instead returning it all inwardly is the number one rule of spiritual practice.

We have to keep returning everything inwardly, such that at some point everything bursts open. Then all barriers will disappear, and we can understand anything we are determined to know. This itself is the guidebook and the teacher we’ve been looking for.

We have to take what we learn through this, and use that to look for the habits and viewpoints that we haven’t yet overcome, and then apply ourselves and work hard at cutting through those things. If we let ourselves get caught up in the feeling that we know enough, or that we’ve ‘attained’ something, then it gets very easy to just drift along at that level of awareness. Then we can’t shed our current level of awareness, and we can’t experience this glaringly bright, broad, weightless mind. Further, we start accumulating states of mind that darken our perspectives, and begin to pull us back down.

Perhaps I could describe spiritual practice as always focusing inwardly and resting? Or maybe as completely returning your attention inwardly and always loving and honoring this inner place? As you practice like this, no matter what you experience, no matter how your emotions fluctuate, you look at it all as, “This is something I’m encountering due to just a bit of karmic affinity.” You recognize this yourself, and then go forward without letting it interfere with what you were doing.

My ability to practice has its shortfalls, but I am the one who has to deal with those, and the one who can truly deal with them. We each have to keep pouring our energy into spiritual practice and keep experiencing the functioning of this foundation, and then finally attain spiritual ability like that of Kun Sunim. This is what it means to care for other people. Truly.

It’s Buddha’s Birthday!

It’s Buddha’s Birthday here in Korea, and we’ve just finished up the noon service. There will be a lantern lighting ceremony at 7pm (which will be broadcast live, Korea time, on YouTube) tonight, Monday, and Tuesday. Here are some photos from last year, as well as years past. (If you don’t see masks, then its pre 2020!)

Instead of a “Bathing the Buddha” ceremony, we offer the six nurturing offerings. These are water, tea, rice, incense, flowers, and light.
The ceremony is broadcast live, and features a video Dharma talk from Daehaeng Kun Sunim, usually a talk given on Buddha’s Birthday.

This is a pre-covid photo, but there are still a lot of people! All day long I’ve been hearing the whistles of the traffic cops directing people and cars.
At night, as the hanging lanterns are lit.

Getting ready for a lot of lunches! Bibimbap for everyone!

The rice offering.

The head of the Seon Center’s foundation, Hye Su Sunim, who was Daehaeng Kun Sunim’s attendant for 30+ years.

Concluding with an encouragement to practice diligently.

10th Anniversary of Daehaeng Kun Sunim’s passing

Hi everyone,
Tomorrow will be the 10 year anniversary of Daehaeng Kun Sunim’s passing. In a way, it’s a thing, but it’s also not, because fundamentally, she never went anywhere. That said, we still hold a yearly ceremony! It will all be in Korean (sorry), but if you want to watch, it will be broadcast live on youtube at 10:30am Korea time (May 1). The regular midday ceremony will last about 40 minutes, with the anniversary ceremony immediately following. https://www.youtube.com/user/HanmaumTemple

Here are a couple of photos I took this morning at the site of her pagoda. It’s also the site of her cremation, now that I think about it.

Truly! An interview with Chong Gu Sunim, Part 1

[Hi everyone! I hope you’ve all been well! In case you didn’t already know, this coming Sunday, May 1, will be the 10th anniversary of Daehaeng Kun Sunim’s passing, and Sunday, May 8 will be the Buddha’s Birthday. In the meanwhile, here’s an interview with Chong Gu Sunim that will be appearing in May’s issue of Hanmaum Journal.]

Chong Gu Sunim has been a sunim for over 27 years, and for many of those years, he has worked as a member of the Hanmaum Seon Center Publications Department. Their job is to publish the complete Dharma talks of Daehaeng Kun Sunim. To date they have published 18 volumes of talks, in a series titled “Heogong ui Geodneun Gil” (Stepping Into Emptiness). The Publications Department starts with audio recordings, and then sorts the talks by the type of occasion or location of the talk, transcribes them, checks the transcription multiple times, and then lightly edits them for spelling and grammar. (Sometimes Daehaeng Kun Sunim used older Korean pronunciations or grammar that isn’t commonly understood by modern people.) The Korean version of this interview appeared in May/June 2018 issue Hanmaum Journal(#99). This is part one of two.

Hanmaum Journal: Given all the years you’ve been working with the Hanmaum Seon Center Publications Department, it seems like you’ve probably read more Dharma talks by Daehaeng Kun Sunim than anyone else.

Chong Gu  Sunim: I’ve certainly read a lot of Dharma talks, but I actually don’t pick up information that well from texts. I learn much better from hearing something. So even though I’ve been reading Dharma talks for a couple of decades, there’s a lot that, when I read it, it doesn’t really speak to me. The main thing, though, is that I take reading Kun Sunim’s Dharma talks as part of my practice. I’m sure you all know what that’s like. We’re reading Dharma talks as part of our own self-education, not to brag about having read a certain number of books. You yourself have to be taking the hints in the talks, and then making the effort to apply them to your practice. Then, when you see the need, you take what you’ve learned and apply to the circumstances and people around you.

HJ: What is the relationship between publishing Dharma talks and practicing?

Chong Gu Sunim: Reading Daehaeng Kun Sunim’s Dharma talks is experiencing something alive. I’ll read one part and think, “I have to live like this!” and then immediately entrust that wish inwardly. Or I’ll read another part, and realize that she’s showing me a new way to let go of something, that is to say, to see things in a new way that makes it easier for me to let go of them. This is an ongoing experience for me, though I’m sure it’s the same for everyone.

Everybody’s practice and life is different, but it comes down to the same thing – you take whatever emotions, thoughts, and experiences arise, and return them back to your foundation. If you truly want to discover your fundamental mind, you have to take everything, bit by bit as it arises, and return it inwardly. And then pay attention to what happens, see what happens, feel what happens, and adjust and go forward.

HJ: Some people are very dedicated to the collected Dharma talks, reciting them or copying them out. What are your thoughts on this and about how we should study Daehaeng Kun Sunim’s Dharma talks?

Chong Gu Sunim: Kun Sunim always used to say, do it while having faith that it is your fundamental, true self that is doing the work, then truly, the energy of your fundamental mind will flow into that task. The reason we are reading Dharma talks and practicing isn’t to find the truth within the Dharma talk, it’s to find the living Dharma talk that exists within every single thing. That’s what Kun Sunim really wanted to teach us.

Kun Sunim saw one sunim diligently reading a volume of the collected talks, and told her, “If you keep reading those with such a sincere mind, then the wild, unenlightened lives within your body will all be reborn as new lives with a higher level.” I think this is true for everyone.

HJ: With reading all those Dharma talks, it seems like it would be quite easy to get caught up in abstract, intellectual details.

Chong Gu Sunim: Those Dharma talks are practical guides to how we need to live our lives, how we can become aware of the true nature of reality, and how we can realize the realm of the Buddhas. Shakyamuni Buddha and Daehaeng Kun Sunim both realized and transcended what is called nirvana while living in the midst of this ordinary world that’s often called a sea of suffering. Their Dharma talks tell us how we can do this for ourselves. The era the Buddha lived in is exactly the same as the era we’re living in.

The method they taught was entrusting and observing. We have to live while entrusting whatever comes up to our foundation, and then going forward as we pay attention to what’s happening. Both the Buddha and Kun Sunim taught us how we can truly become one with everything, how we can live nondually. They showed us this with their lives, and pointed us towards it with their words. They showed us how each of us can experience all of this for ourselves. While living our own life and taking care of all the ordinary things of daily life, we can fully realize that every single part of our lives is also in the realm of Buddhas and is directed through this fundamental mind.

To this end, Kun Sunim was always saying that if we want to move beyond the level we’re at, we have to save the unenlightened beings that make up our body. We can have all kinds of deep experiences, and learn many important things, but if we don’t raise the spiritual level of the lives that make up our body, then even though we are all inherently Buddha, the karmic states of consciousness that are the source of those lives, which are all wrapped around “I,” will keep us from being able to live in tune with that potential.

We have to work at entrusting and becoming one with whatever comes up, and then, through that process, if we can truly dissolve those karmic states of consciousness, we can truly discover who we are and become much more expansive. However, if we just stop after one or two experiences, then it’s likely those karmic states of consciousness will remain mostly unchanged, that is to say, they haven’t been saved, and we’ll remain as we are, without any particular growth.  

Kun Sunim often said something similar, that although she was able to help people through mind, they had to dissolve the underlying karmic states of consciousness that first caused the problem. Otherwise, her help would only be a temporary solution.

HJ: In the process of spiritual practice, there’s often a lot of enthusiasm and important experiences at the beginning, but as time goes by, there are also times with it’s not as interesting. But then later, different aspects of what you realized will pop into mind when they are most needed. I imagine it’s the same with reading Dharma talks?

Chong Gu Sunim:  Yes, that’s exactly my experience when I first read Principles of One Mind (Hanmaum Yojeon). I was so amazed by what Kun Sunim was saying that sometimes it was too much for me, and I’d have to close the book. Then I’d peek at it again, and close it again! The volumes of Kun Sunim’s Dharma talks were exactly the same. “Wow! I never imagined that could be possible.” “We have to live like that, and make that kind of a world possible!” I’d have such a strong resolution, and then entrust that inwardly. Diligently reading Kun Sunim’s Dharma talks is a form of becoming one with your foundation! Her talks are like a GPS that guides us to realms of deep truths. It’s a process where the energy of your deep searching combines with the energy of her desire to show us a better way forward.

Truly, those Dharma talks are nutrients that help us grow our foundation. They’re like spiritual medicine. You consume them, and then digest them according to your own spiritual level and ability, and they lead you towards your foundation and your true self, Juingong. That’s the essence of true Dharma talks.

True Dharma talks show you how to cause your own sprout to break through the soil, and then how to raise it, and then to create the conditions for fruit to form. In so doing, you can feel the true worth of life, and you can share that feeling with others so that they feel it too.

Kun Sunim described this as traveling the path that has no fixed path where we awaken to the reality of nonduality, and can nondually save both ourselves and others. This is what we really need to be able to do, but we have such deep habits of “me” and “I,” that we don’t even see how these subtle perspectives of “I” infiltrate everything we do. The thing is, our fundamental mind, Juingong, leads and takes care of things to the extent that we have faith that it is doing things. If we have 30% faith, it takes care of 30%. This is an example of course, and it may not be that simple, but it gets the idea across. So what we have to do as spiritual practitioners is work at seeing that it is our true nature, our fundamental mind that’s doing everything.

Daehaeng Kun Sunim taught Buddhism as practiced through daily life. She really emphasized this a lot in her earlier talks. Practicing all night in temples is somewhat common in other temples, with people having sitting meditation, chanting, or reciting the sutras, but Kun Sunim wouldn’t allow people here to practice like that.

Even when she finished giving a Dharma talk, she would shoo people out and tell them to go home, saying that they shouldn’t be spending all of their time at the temple. If they had a family, they needed to be there as well. The thing about spiritual practice as Kun Sunim taught it, is that it’s not about following some detailed form or sequence of steps. Those tend to be other people’s fixed ideas.

True spiritual practice has to be done inwardly, with you working with your own unique habits and background. You entrust that and try to have faith in your foundation – this is where true transformative experiences come from. This is you developing yourself from where you are. If, instead, you are following someone else’s path, following their own framework, then you won’t be able to truly move beyond that.

This is probably why Kun Sunim said, “You have to be truly sincere. You have to truly go inwardly.” Then the doors will open. The doors of your fundamental mind. But if you are caught up in trying to follow spiritual “trends,” such as bowing 10,000 times, or meditating all night, or whatever else is popular at the time, then you’ve already taken a step back from your fundamental mind. Be deeply sincere with entrusting, and go forward seeing everything as being done by your fundamental mind.

In the next issue, Chong Gu Sunim talks more about his experiences with spiritual practice and Daehaeng Kun Sunim.

Ride the Clouds with All Buddhas!

Pagoda at the site of the hut where Daehaeng Kun Sunim practiced for many years in the 1960s, in the Chiak Mountains

This is a Dharma song written by Daehaeng Kun Sunim. It doesn’t speak much about how to practice (that’s in other songs), but instead speaks more of the beauty of freeing ourselves from the habits we’ve been dwelling in. Rather than me talking about what’s there for everyone to see, just read it through a couple of times, slowly letting it sink within you.

The one mind of all Buddhas

The one mind of all Buddhas,
shining through the dark night
the moon.
This captain,
carrying an oceanful of moonlight,
ceaselessly travels through all realms,
brightly coaxing forward, forward,
all the quietly sleeping minds.

So many different one minds,
have freed themselves
from the habits and attachments of this fleshy container,
and ride the clouds with all Buddhas,
all together,
working, sharing, helping.

The one mind of all Buddhas,
breaking through the darkness
rising like the sun.
This captain,
carrying a worldful of sunlight,
ceaselessly traveling throughout all realms,
raising and nurturing every kind of being
under the heavens
and throughout the earth.

All grow in harmony with one mind,
freeing themselves from the habits
and attachments of this body,
one with all Buddhas,
free as the wind,
sharing, helping, dancing,
together as one.

제불의 한마음

제불의 한마음은
어두운 저녘을 비쳐주는 달님처럼
한바다에 가득 찬 달빛을 싣고
끝없이 도는 선장은
고요히 잠든 마음들 속을
밝게 이끄시니 이끄시니

천차만별의 한마음들은
육신통을 벗어나
제불과 함께 구름타고
놀았노라 놀았노라

제불의 한마음은
응달진 아침을 밝혀주는 해님처럼
한누리를 가득히 햇빛을 싣고
끝없이 도는 선장은
산하 대지에 만물만생을 길러 내시니
한마음 따라 길러지는데
육신 몸을 벗어나
제불과 함께 바람따라
놀았노라 놀았노라

Video Dharma talk by Daehaeng Kun Sunim – Helping yourself and others

We have a new video Dharma talk up! Kun Sunim talks a bit about giving, the principles of how things come and go, and the ability we have within us to find whatever we truly need, as well as help those around us. It seems straight forward, but there are a lot of subtle implications and nuances, so it’s worthwhile to ponder the contents from time to time.