Seon Master Daehaeng: Dying and spiritual practice

This is one of my favorite Dharma talks by Daehaeng Kun Sunim, where she talks about spiritual practice and the importance of “dying.” She isn’t talking about the death of the body, but rather letting go of this sense of “me” and what “I” want. There are many aspects to this, but one question often asked is, “If I let go like this, won’t I become a fool or taken advantage of by others?” The short answer is “no.” As you let go of both sides, both good and bad, likes and dislikes, you see things more clearly, and discover the courage to do what needs to be done, whether it’s confrontation, accepting, or running away! 

One of the other incredibly huge things about this practice is that the beginning and the end are both the same. Whether you don’t know anything or are completely enlightened, the letting go and entrusting is done exactly the same.

You should entrust everything that comes up in your life – solitude, poverty, loneliness, anxiety, and illness – to your foundation and live freely. Entrusting everything is letting go of everything. This is the way to die. The phrase “First, you must die!” means unconditionally releasing everything, without any excuses or reasons, including both what you understand and what you don’t understand. When things go well, you should release them with gratitude. When things don’t go well, you should also release them with the faith that “My foundation can solve this and lead me in the right direction. Because nothing is fixed, this too can change.” You should keep letting go like this. For it is only by dying unconditionally that you can discover your true self, your eternal root.

Second, you must die again. While studying here, some of you have discovered yourself. Yet you still have not discarded your habits and your thoughts of “I,” “me,” and “mine.” So you’re happy if you see a Buddha in your dreams, but you’re scared if you see a ghost. When you feel or experience something extraordinary, you carelessly talk to others about what you experienced. What you see and hear is just an illusion, but nevertheless you still tend to cling to it. This is why you must die again.

Now do you understand why first you must die and keep what you experience to yourself, and why you must die yet again, keeping what you experience secret? Even though you are able to see or hear certain things after you discover your true self, those powers are not the Way. Even though you have obtained the five subtle powers – the abilities to know others’ thoughts and feelings, to know past lives, to hear anything, to see anything at any place, and to appear anywhere without moving your body – this is still not the Way. You can truly master the five subtle powers only when you are free from them. If you reveal what you hear, see, or know, it will only bring trouble. First, it will cause trouble for the Buddha-dharma, second, for sunims and the Seon center, and third, it will cause trouble for you.

Once you discover yourself, you enter the stage of experimenting. Don’t regard what you learn in your dreams as different from what you learn while awake. And keep everything you learn secret. Although you are able to see, hear, and know things that others are unaware of, do it without clinging to any thought of “I see,” “I hear,” “I know,” and do not reveal to others what you experience. This is a very powerful stage of practice in which you experiment with what you have learned. Your experiments result in experiences, and then you put those experiences into action. This is the meaning of dying a second time and keeping what you experience to yourself.

 Daehaeng Kun Sunim goes on to talk about the need for also dying a third time. There are a couple of very advanced aspects to that, but the main point is the need to continuously keep letting go, and to not dwell on what we experience.  (This talk has been excerpted from the book,
Wake Up and Laugh.)

10 thoughts on “Seon Master Daehaeng: Dying and spiritual practice”

  1. I love the way you make these ideas so accessible, explaining in simple terms and adding beautiful, inspiring photos – thank you!

  2. Hi Chong Go Sunim,

    Thank you so much for this post. You know, often, when I read talks like this I get a ‘aha – that’s what it means’ moment. Followed by a ‘wow – now I ought to get on and actually begin my practice for the first time in my life!’ moment!

    This was another one! Another ‘aha’ and another inspiration to start afresh. Thank you. And I agree with Jen – the photos are great! Especially that last one!

    One other point I like about this teaching, but a bit of a question too, is when Kun Sunim says: “When things go well, you should release them with gratitude. When things don’t go well, you should also release them with the faith that “My foundation can solve this and lead me in the right direction…””.

    With my devotional nature, I’m naturally drawn to the teachings when put like that! Release with gratitude, release with faith. That’s lovely and a real tool. It even sounds like a mantra.

    Gratitude is a tricky one in Buddhism. I have a natural and spontanous need to express gratitude. For all sorts! For trees and chocolate and friendships and clouds and seeing kids playing in the street. One of the great things about Christianity is being able to just say ‘thank you Lord’. We need to emphasis gratitude in Buddhism more too I think!

    And faith. Well, what can I say? How does anyone one of us even get out of bed in the morning if we didn’t have some faith? But to acknowledge that faith and live with that faith as an everyday, every minute, companion is lovely. It is a real gift for which I am so grateful! (Which brings us back to gratitude!)

    If “dying” means to entrust everything in our lives with gratitude and faith, then what a lovely dying that is! But, as Kun Sunim says, it’s not dying at all – it is living freely!

    Thank you Kun Sunim and Chong Go Sunim for this wonderful post!

    Marcus _/\_

    1. ” How does anyone one of us even get out of bed in the morning if we didn’t have some faith? ” – easily, the same way animals do
      Important thing about faith that it has to be in the right place, having faith in outside things and powers and beings can be even harmful and real practice will never happen if the faith is directed outside.
      If “dying” feels lovely, then probably ego is hiding, I don’t think “I” happily “commit suicide”, as Buddha said ‘ignorance built a fortress’.

  3. Hi Tanya,

    To be completely honest, I am a little tired of you responding to my every post and comment with abrupt ‘know-it-all’ strident declarations.

    Countless times you’ve been invited to write something yourself as a guest post here, but so far you have turned every offer down in favour of a kind of relentless sniping against me (and Joseph) since this blog started.

    I’m not saying that you don’t have some good points to make in this and other comments, but the only points you ever seem to make are those that want to contradict or otherwise score points from the person you are responding to.

    At times I have even felt reluctant to post here knowing very well that your snide comments are soon to follow. I post about my mala and you call it “playing with beads”, Joseph wonders about tempting Chong Go Sunim to tell a story and you attack him for his figure of speech.

    Perhaps I’m being oversensitive Tanya. But there seems to be so little warmth in your comments. So little sense that you want to belong to this community in a constructive way. You’ve tried to start arguments with Evelyn as well as me and Joseph and I’ve seen that some of your previous comments have even had to be moderated by the blog leader.

    So I’m not going to respond to your comment here, rather I’m going to ask you to simply try sharing your experiences and thoughts in these threads rather than – as you are doing now – going through my writing looking for points you can disagree with.

    And if you still really wish to debate, then let’s do so – and avoid this infantile sniping. And you might be right, a debate might be just what we need – and I suspect that you’d do very well. But if that is what you’d like, we could do it as a feature on the blog. At the very least, let’s do it constructively.

    Kwan Seum Bosal,

    Marcus _/\_

  4. “you attack him for his figure of speech” ?? it was a joke, Marcus, I thought it was funny how Joseph put it, so I responded with a joke

    peace out

  5. Hi Tanya,

    “no problem, Marcus, I will not even open this website anymore”

    What on earth gives you the idea that that is an appropriate response? It is a childish response.

    Tanya, you are a practitioner of Hanmaum Buddhism, the same as me and others on this site. Rather than stomping off in a huff at the slightest criticism, why not accept the offer that has been made to you time and again to become a fuller member of this group? Why not just come here in a spirit of friendship and openness? Why not even contribute to this site with an article or a photo of something? That’d be much nicer.

    (Do you have Chong Go Sunim’s email address?)

    And thank you for telling us the thing with Joseph was a joke! It says a lot about how you’ve communicated here up to now that no one thought it was a joke. It was taken as yet another overly serious criticism from you Tanya, in line with all your other criticisms. Your jokes would be better recieved, I think, if everything else you wrote wasn’t so argumentative.

    But come on, I’ve said too much and ought to shut up! All I’d like to see is for you to stop sniping at my posts and comments here and for you to engage in more positive ways. Seriously, why not write apost for us here? Tell us about the seonwon where you are, add some pictures, share something of your practice! That’d be lovely.

    My apologies if I went too far.


  6. Muy buenas tardes, Jen, Chong Ir Sunim, Marcus, Tanya, Sabio Lantz:

    Kwan Se Um Busal :

    Las ensweñanzas de la Maestra son tan practicas, al halbar de morir, es la muerte del ego, el yo chiquito, esa parte que aprisiona a nuestro Buddha Interior, creado por nosotros mismos a traves de eones de años, peor como la Maestra manifeista, tu pasado esta contigo, tu mañana aún no llega, solo existe el el hoy, el aqui mismo, ¿Entonces?, como suelo decir a mis amigos, si vives bien tu hoy, mañana tu hoy sera el pasdo, y viviviendo bien tu hoy, cambias tu pasado, y mejoras tu futuro, entonces vamos limpiando nuestro karma. Todo es posible, si realmente te enfrentas contigo mismo, para liberar a tu Esencia vital.

    La gratitud es la primera practica que uno debe realizar. Agradecer por todo, por la vida, por lo que se tiene, mientras se tenga, sin apego, todo cambia, eso sabemos, lo unico permanente es el cambio.

    Una vez, un Discipulo pregunto a su Maestro: “Maestro, ¿Donde esta el Buddha?, y el Maestro le señalo: ¿ Ves ese largo bamboo, es el largo c uerpo de Buddha, y ves ese otro, el retono,?, ¡Si Maestro!, ese es el cort cuerpo de Buddha.

    El nacer ser humano, ya es una bendición suficiente para agradecer.

    Los animales y las plantas viven en armonía con el Universo, solo nosotros tenemos la opción de elegir., y seamos sabios y elijamos armónicamente, el bien y el mal, son solo creaciones del hombre,

    Sepamos agradecer por lo” bueno”, y mentas lo tengamos, agradezcamos también por lo no tan bueno que venga, puesto que eso nos da oportunidad de crecer y conocernos.

    Fe es comunicación con nuestro Buddha interior, y Fe es que no vivimos fuera de Una Mente.

    Junto las manos en Saludo de Dharma,

    Alejandro (Mun Hye)

    P.D: como puedo subir mi foto al grupo?

    Good afternoon, Jen, Go Sunim Chong, Marcus, Tanya, Wise Lantz:

    Kwan Se Um Busal:

    The Master ensweñanzas are so practical, the Halba to die is the death of the ego, the little boy, the party that imprisons us Interior Buddha, created by ourselves through eons of years, as the Master worst manifesta, your past is with you, your tomorrow yet to come, there is only today, the right here, then?, as I say to my friends, if you live well today, tomorrow your day will be the Pasdaran, and well you today viviviendo , change your past and your future improvements, then we cleaned our karma. Anything is possible, if you really face yourself, to release your vital essence.

    Gratitude is the first practice that one must make. Thanks for everything, for life, so we have, as you have, without attachment, everything changes, so we know, the only thing permanent is change.

    Once a disciple asked his master: “Master, where is the Buddha?, And the Master pointed out:” See that long bamboo, is the length c uerpo of Buddha, and you see that one, the offspring,?, If Master, this is the short body of Buddha.

    Being born human, it is a blessing enough to thank.

    Animals and plants live in harmony with the universe, only we have a choice., And be wise and choose harmony, good and evil are just creations of man,

    Let us be thankful for what “good”, and mind what we have, thank them also for the not so good to come, because it gives us opportunity to grow and meet us.

    Faith is communication with our inner Buddha, and Fe is not live outside of One Mind.

    Hands together in greeting Dharma

    Alejandro (Mun Hye)

    P.D: how I can upload my photo to the group?

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