To know when to stop,
to know when you can get no further by your own action,
this is the right beginning!
– Chuang Tzu
This blog, in its current form, has its origins in the friendships forged some years ago in a weekend Dharma study group that met at the Buddhist English Library in Seoul. The group was led by the wonderful Chong Go Sunim and was attended by a good mix of both Korean and non-Korean Buddhists. Through the group, in May 2008, during the period of the Buddha’s birthday celebrations, Joe, Joseph, Carl and myself became what we like to call Dharma Brothers when we took refuge together, in a ceremony with Chong Go Sunim, at the main Hanmaum temple in Anyang.
Most Saturdays I’d meet Joe at the veggie restaurant an hour before Sangha started, and we’d lend each other books, wonder who’d attend, make vague plans for the Sunday, and then go up to the Library. BELS, the Buddhist English Library in Seoul, is close to Angkuk station, exit six, and consists mostly of one long room lined with books on all aspects of Buddhism, and down the middle of the room are laid a long row of low tables and thick brown Korean temple cushions for people to sit on. It’s a wonderful place.
We’d arrive, bow to those already there, enjoy the snacks that many people had brought and just catch up. Chong Go Sunim in his grey robes would be sat at the end just in front of the Buddha image, and I’d usually place myself opposite the wall of books, with Joe and Carl on the other side of the table. Joseph was often there too, giving up his beloved trips to the mountains to be with us. Rinchen Gyatso Sunim often attended too while he was in Korea, in his bright Tibetan robes.
Chong Go Sunim had certain themes he’d refer back to, the core of his teaching. One was ‘Trusting Our Root’ and I remember one particular week when he made this the specific object of study. He started off with the above quote from Chuang Tzu – perfect for a room full of people who, by their own admission, tended to read and analyse too much and so (speaking for myself) actually slow down progress. We broke into groups and I remember talking to Ami about the Tao and Juingong and Buddha-nature and to Shin Hee about stopping. We discussed relying on our selves, and on other-power.
Everyone has a different practice. Some people, like myself, are more devotional than others and see things in terms of reliance upon the object of devotion, with everything given as a gift. Others see things more in terms of allowing their own Buddha-nature to shine through. I don’t believe that one approach is any more advanced than the other, and neither do I think you have to choose between them, or even see them as different. The key, for me, however, is that it connects to the deepest part of yourself.
And I remember, in summing up, Chong Go Sunim gave us a quote from Venerable Master Lin Chi; “Friends, I tell you this: there is no Buddha, no spiritual path to follow, no training and no realization. What are you so feverishly running after?” Amazing message, isn’t it? Just stop and relax, it says, let go. After a short meditation a few of us would go out for some food and on to a coffee shop, later in the evening we’d go to a Bongeunsa to do some chanting, some bowing, or just to stop.
At other times we met up at the main temple in Anyang, with Chong Go Sunim providing cups of tea on the large table in the International Section till late at night, and there was a wonderful little tea shop just a little way up the road too. The connections made during that time are still strong, and evident not just through this blog. I’m still learning the simple truths I came across there, about letting go and trusting, and am so grateful that the Sangha, in whatever new forms it takes, is always present, teaching, learning, and sharing.