Some thoughts on Hanmaum

“The name of Nirvana is One-mind. One-mind is the Womb of Tathagata”
The Lankavatara Sutra

Back on my old, now deleted, blog, ‘Marcus’ Journal’, I made a number of posts wrestling with the term Hanmaum, or One-Mind. Recently, I put together some of those thoughts for the Tricycle Community Hanmaum page, and here I’ve re-written and added to that again. I don’t pretend to have come to the end of my journey with this term, but this post reflects my learning and practice so far.

One of the highlights of that practice is found most Sunday mornings when I’m lucky enough to be able to visit the Seon Centre. And though it’s a bit too fast for me most of the time, there’s one line in the chants that is repeated and with which I have become familiar. I’m still not sure I can pronounce it right, but it goes “han-ma-u-mae-kwui-ha-li-da”, which means “I take refuge in One Mind”.

When I first came across this term, I found it slightly odd. Does it mean I take refuge in a mind? That there’s only one mind? What does that mean? To be honest, it made me somewhat uncomfortable and I prefered the untranslated term, Hanmaum. Attending the ‘Hanmaum’ Seon Centre, felt different somehow to attending the ‘One Mind’ Seon Centre.

 I looked it up and found that it was Master Won Hyo who first popularised the concept of ‘One Mind’ in Korean Buddhism after an enlightenment experience on his way to China. Waking up in a cave one night he drank from a bowl beside him; in the morning he discovered it was a skull, filled with maggot-ridden sludge.

That was the seventh century, and the term is still used today. Paul Lynch, Guiding Teacher for the Five Mountain Sangha, recently released an unpublished poem by Seon Master Seung Sahn – called ‘One Mind’. The opening of the poem, “One mind perceives/ infinite time./ One is all./ Everything is one” suggests something that is active and that connects everything.

But does this mean that there is only mind? Master Seung Sahn, commenting on the Won Hyo story in ‘Compass of Zen’ writes “Everything is created by mind alone. You made this whole universe. You made dog, and cat, and tree, and God, and mountain. You made the sun, the moon, and the stars.”

The refrain from the Sunday morning chant that prompted these thoughts is from Kun Daehaeng’s modern version of the Thousand Hands Sutra, The Thousand Hands of Compassion, and so I look at her definition. She calls One Mind “the fundamental mind that is intangible, invisible, beyond time and space, and has no beginning or end”.

A synonym, she makes clear, for Buddha-nature. “Every single life and thing in the universe has Buddha-nature… Buddha-nature is only one, so it is Hanmaum; it is inconceivably large, so it is Hanmaum; it is not an individual thing, but the interconnected whole, in which all things are working together, so it is Hanmaum.”

Strange how the idea of ‘mind’ seemed somehow impenetrable to me whereas belief in Buddha-nature comes perfectly naturally.  I discussed this with some Dharma friends at the Seonwon and noticed again, not for the first time, how body language reveals what translation doesn’t.

When I say ‘mind’ I think of the brain. If I were to point to it, I’d point to my head, and when I talk about Buddha-nature, I point to my heart. In contrast, my Dharma friends point to the heart for both Buddha-nature and for mind. They are synonymous, and for me that’s the best way to approach what could be an otherwise difficult concept.

But “Of course,” my on-line Dharma friend Barry Briggs from the Ox-Herding site wrote, “if we make “mind” (one mind, many minds, no mind), then we fall into the ditch!” and I could see his point! Seung Sahn Sunim said the important thing is to attain mind. Daehaeng Sunim, in a teaching I find very accessible, and one that meshes with my more devotional nature, talks about entrusting.

Entrusting. I love that. But it’s funny how words had snagged me. I see now how Juingong, True Self, and Hanmaum, One Mind, are all exactly the same as Buddha-nature, the term I find easiest. But again, the term is not the point. Daehaeng Sunim and all the Masters tell us words are not the point. The goal is to attain it, the practice, and what a lovely practice it is, is to let go.

Chan Poetry: One Mind

12 thoughts on “Some thoughts on Hanmaum”

  1. One of the things that struck me when I first heard Daehaeng Sunim teach were the similarities with the Tang Dynasty Chan master, Hui Hai. He too mentioned “one mind” a fair bit. John Blofeld translated that years ago, but I’d be curious to take a look at the original.

  2. “the idea of ‘mind’ seemed somehow impenetrable” – face to face cannot see the face…

    Surangama Sutra has very vivid explanation where and what mind is. Tibetan teachers have extensive explanations of mind, one mind, letting go and even there is a term Rigpa which is basically the same as Juingong, also in KunSunim’s teachings you would find “father and son”, in tibetan it is “mother and child”.
    When you take off your body, you don’t have a head or a heart, but you would still have mind.
    It is a lovely practice indeed, especially if you consider that this practice is basically suicide, it is a practice of killing yourself, your ego that is, which is very resourceful for little tricks to stay alive.

  3. Hi Nathan,

    Yes, just as I was out of the whole blogging thing, I was invited back in! LOL!

    Ther first few of my posts here will be taken straight from the old blog of course, but then we’ll see where it goes. It’s interesting being part of a group blog, and a more focused one – I’m wondering how much of ‘me’ to put here outside of solely the Hanmaum teachings!

    Anyway, thanks for finding me! LOL! Best of all though, of course, is the company you now find me in!

    And thank you for your continued efforts on Dangerous Harvests – a blog I read all the time.

    All the best,


  4. Hi Chong Go Sunim,

    Yes, it would an interesting exercise to follow the route of this term ‘One Mind’ through Buddhist history. I wonder if anyone is looking for an idea for a dissertation?! 🙂

    With palms together,


  5. Hi Tanya,

    Thanks so much for the comments and comparisons. I must admit to feeling somewhat queezy at the idea of practice as suicide! LOL! I much prefer to see the practice less as one of killing my self, than as one of allowing my True Self to shine through!

    Thank you somuch for your comment!


    1. This “killing yourself” practice in order to get free can work miracles for those who contemplated actual suicide. Think of those people you might know about, who killed themselves in despare, because they saw no way out, even if they were so talented, healthy and with money. Some countries have high level of suicide. When you feel for these people, then you think that if they knew the proper way to kill themselves, that is of killing the ego and not the body, they would’ve been fine and maybe even great practitioners.

      1. Hi Tanya,

        Yes, I can se that you have a very good point and that it can be useful. So I must admit that this might be just a knee-jerk reaction on my behalf, but I still prefer to see the practice as going beyond the ‘small self’, allowing the True Self to manifest, rather than ending it!

        Have you ever read the Lotus Sutra? It is one of my very favourite Sutras and there’s a couple of great passages spoken by the Buddha that just brim with optimism and goodness that I’d like to share with you in case you’ve not seen them before:

        “It is not my intent to lead [living beings] to extinction.
        I am the King of the Dharma, free to teach the Dharma,
        Appearing in the world to bring peace and comfort
        To all the living”
        – The Buddha, Lotus Sutra, chapter 3

        “I am the Tathagata,
        Most honored among people.
        I appear in the world like a great cloud
        To shower water on all parched living beings,

        To free them from suffering
        And so attain the joys of peace and comfort,
        The joys of this world,
        And the joy of nirvana.”
        – The Buddha, Lotus Sutra, chapter 5

        Both are from the new Geene Reeves translation, and both are, I think anyone would agree, very positive, very beautiful, life-affirming teachings.

        All the very best and with palms together,


    2. Hi, Marcus,
      I am more into Diamond sutra. There are different teachings for different personalities. Some people just want heavenly wonderful life, there are teachings for that, but that is not the highest truth. You cannot get to extinction, because you don’t even exist, basically you are nothing and yet everything. Because you ARE Buddha yourself, that is the meaning of all tantras and Kun Sunim teaches that and she teaches also just how to have a comfortable life, she teaches according to personalities and wishes. If you would want the highest truth so much that you would be willing to die for it, she would teach you that. Your mind is so vast that you cannot even believe it, so you holding on to the limits, making it a golden cage. I don’t mean you personally, just way of speach.

  6. Hi Tanya, I suspect I’m reading more into your post than you intended, and perhaps my comments are for someone who’s unfamiliar with Daehaeng Sunim’s teachings, but I feel very strongly that I have to say that this practice is NOT “bascially suicide”. That’s a really dangerous choice of words. This practice is about opening up to what you really are, and moving beyond the mistaken views that limit our horizon. So from the perspective of the limited “me,” letting go of my desires and what I’ve thought I am can be compared to dying or killing myself, but from the deeper perspective, it’s the process of being born.

    1. yes, it is the process of being born, but before you are born, you need to “die”. I was just quoting from the teaching, because you have to have courage(!) to do this practice, it is not about just being nice and accumulating good karma, and have pleasurable existance in some heavenly conditions, it is about breaking coccon of mental prison so to speak, because we are not just this separate beings who have temporary nice bodies (filled with unpleasant things and always under danger). I would not look down on desires, though, desire is the driving force that brings you toward your true self, you just have to direct it inward, or do letting go. Think of the process of being born, practice also is like going through “pregnancy” then you come out, you give birth to yourself, so before you are born, you direct your major desires inward, toward your inner self.
      “This practice is about opening up to what you really are” is more difficult to understand, because there is no reference point of who you really are, but when you say the practice is about killing your ego it makes more sence because it shows that deep within, at it’s core, you are something much more incredible and this ego thing is really not your friend

  7. Hi Marcus,
    I’ve thought about doing a history of “one mind” many times, but I always run into the same problem, me! lol I don’t have the chinese character ability, time, or training to really pull it off.

    That said, it really sounds like a home run for someone looking for a dissertation topic, doesn’t it.

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