Having searched for myself in all myriad things
True Self (Juingong) appeared right before my eyes
Ha! Ha! Meeting it now, there is no doubt
Brilliant hues of udumbara flowers spill over the whole world
– Seon Master Gyeongbong Jeongseok (1892 – 1982)
The focus of this blog are the teachings of Seon Master Daehaeng Sunim and their relevance in the life and practice of each of us in this small group of Dharma friends. We first came together in the Buddhist English Library of Seoul to study Kun Sunim’s book ‘No River to Cross’ and I think it’s fair to say that we’ve all found the book of huge usefulness in our practice ever since. I know that I’ve been drawn back to it time and time again.
One of the remarkable things about it, although I hardly know why I’m surprised, is how whenever I hear other teachings, even from other Buddhist traditions, they fit so well into the framework ‘No River to Cross’ provides. Take that first chapter,which, despite being just five pages long, gets off to such a rigorous start: “Above all else” Seon Master Daehaeng writes, and I’m sure this is the essence of so much Buddhist teaching, “you have to truly know yourself.”
It’s easy to respond with a knee-jerk reaction to this, saying “ah, but there is no self”, while missing precisely what we are being asked to do. I remember hearing Venerable U Vamsarakkhita speak in Bangkok about this. The Buddha did not tell people, he said, to cast aside their bodies and thoughts and feelings, but to examine them. And then, through this investigation, be better able to live in the moment, experiencing a richer more fulfilling life.
We are asked to find out for ourselves. And even if you find, as I heard Ajarn Brahm once put it, that you are a bus without a driver, that you are not your body, you are not your intelligence, you are not your job or even your gender, then you can just relax. As he said, you can let go. There is nothing to feel proud of, and nothing you can’t let go of. “But what” one questioner asked, “CAN we hold on to?” And Ajahn Brahm answered “Wisdom, virtue, and peace”.
A little bell went off somewhere over my head! It’s the very same! What all these teachers urge is to keep looking to see what is beyond the truth of my everyday self, to that which we can most rely on. Beyond this self, which we learn is constantly changing and connected in every way to everything else, is what? “The purpose of studying Buddhism” Kun Daehaeng Sunim writes, “is to discover who I am. Discovering who I am means returning to my foundation.”
So I come back again to Kun Sunim and see how so much wisdom is packed into so few lines. She takes us through the practice of deep investigation to a joyful meeting with the True Self in no time at all, and then tells us to have faith in that foundation and entrust everything to it. Yet what she does is actually no more than repeat the message of all the masters through all of history. What can you rely on? Wisdom, virtue, and peace: our true foundation, our True Self.
“It is like coming across a light in thick darkness; it is like receiving treasure in poverty. The four elements and the five aggregates are no more felt as burdens; so light, so easy, so free you are. Your very existence has been delivered from all limitations; you have become open, light, and transparent. You gain an illuminating insight into the very nature of things, which now appear to you as so many fairylike flowers having no graspable realities. Here is manifested the unsophisticated self which is the original face of your being; here is shown all bare the most beautiful landscape of your birthplace. There is but one straight passage open and unobstructed through and through. This is so when you surrender all – your body, your life, and all that belongs to your inmost self. This is where you gain peace, ease, non-doing, and inexpressible delight. All the sutras and sastras are no more than communications of this fact; all the sages, ancient as well as modern, have exhausted their ingenuity and imagination to no other purpose than to point the way to this. ”
– From a letter by Yengo (Yuan-wu), quoted by D.T.Suzuki in ‘An Introduction to Zen Buddhism’, Grove Press, 1964