Inspiring Yourself to Practice by Won-Hyo: Part 1

We’re publishing the full text of Won-Hyo’s Inspiring Yourself to Practice (Bal shim su haeng jang). Written in the seventh century in Korea, it consists of 706 Chinese characters. (The English version looks much longer!)

According to the anthology Admonitions to Beginners, printed by the Bureau of Education of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, Inspiring Yourself to Practice  is one of three staple texts for all aspiring monastics. “The text stresses the need to eliminated (sic) one’s karmic bond with the world and immediately begin practice.”

Inspiring is found in Admonitions to Beginners. Currently out-of-print, this edition needs editing and revising. The following is my rewording of the original English translation, which was produced by Mark Mueller and Won-Myong Sunim.

If you’d like to see a printing of the entire anthology Admonitions, please let us know. If there’s enough interest, maybe it could be published in the future.


For countless eons all Buddhas residing in Nirvana
have discarded their desires and trained arduously.
From endless time sentient beings have cycled
within the burning house, having failed to discard desire.

The Pure Land is not blocked.
Yet few are those who enter;
most make their home among the three poisons.
Although the lower realms lack inherent power to seduce,
many enter therein.

The deluded mind values the five desires and the four elements
comprising the body as if they were jewels.
As this is the case, is there no one longing
to retire to the secluded mountains to practice the Way?

Enmeshed in desire, folks don’t go there.
Although you don’t take refuge in the mountains to cultivate your mind,
strive wholeheartedly to perform wholesome actions.

If you can renounce pleasure,
you will be as trusted and respected as the sages.
If you can undergo that which is difficult,
you will be as respected as the Buddha.
Those who greedily seek after things join the ranks of demons.
Those who give out of compassion are the disciples of the Dharma King.

(This post was also published on a blog specifically about Pure Land Buddhism)

Why the rabbit gave the tiger a pipe

(<– continued from Why did the rabbit give the tiger a pipe?)

“Why did the rabbit give a pipe to the tiger?” the monk asked.

The only thing that came to mind was, “To save their own skin!” but lacking confidence in my thoughts, especially when it comes to Zen, I shook my head.

The monk eventually said, “Because the rabbits don’t want the tiger to eat them.”

Out of pride, I sort of wished I’d spoken my mind, but once that wore off, I thought about the answer a little more.

Initially, it seems basically selfish of the rabbit. He’s not genuinely concerned for the tiger’s wellbeing. If he were, he’d offer him something like a cup of tea, or perhaps his own flesh. I suppose back when tigers smoked pipes, they may not have been aware that it wasn’t very healthy, though. He’s only concerned about the tiger’s contentedness for his and his friend’s sake.

As I thought about it more, it reminded me of my own path. I didn’t become interested in the Buddha’s teachings for anyone’s sake but my own. I was (probably still am) self-centered, depressed, and hid behind a mask of cheerfulness not to let anyone see the real me. Eventually, I read in a book that I should shift my attention outwards, to be concerned for others. Grudgingly, I tried, because it was supposed to bring me happiness also, of course. Eventually, it started working, not because I was any happier, but because I’d genuinely started developing more concern for those around me.

So, maybe the rabbits, acting out of self-preservation, do have some concern for the tiger’s joy. And knowing rabbits, they probably have a den full of babies who are depending on their safe return, in which case, they’d be much more needed there than in the tiger’s belly!

Happy Korean New Year! Saehae Bok Mani Badeusaeyo!

Have a nice Year of the Rabbit!

One mind, many bodies… string, many kites.

Your fundamental mind, your true self is invisibly connected to all things in the world and through it all things communicate with each other and work together as one. In this way, the whole universe is functioning together as one through fundamental mind, so this working together is called One Mind (Hanmaum).

-Dae Haeng Kun Sunim

Sometimes, you just have to look up, and there’s a teaching waiting for you!




good dust, bad dust?

This Fundamental Mind can be compared to a mirror, and whether covered with dust or not, a mirror is a mirror. It remains unchanged no matter how long it is dirtied and covered with dust, and once the dust is removed, it gleams as brilliantly as ever.

Even golddust is only dust to a mirror and an obstruction to its function. In the same way, words of the sages are but dust on our Fundamental Mind and they merely darken it.

-Zen Master Song Cheol

The ignorance and dust of desires are enlightenment and the sufferings of birth and death are nirvana.

-the Maka Shikan

I suppose it depends on what teaching suits you at this moment…

Sunday Photo; Parinirvana Buddha at Wa’u’jeong Temple

About an hour and a bit south-east of Seoul, tucked in the hilly countryside of YongIn is Waujeongsa, head temple of Korea’s lesser known Yeolban Jong, the Nirvana Order.

Near the top of the path that circles the steep grounds is a small grotto shrine in which lies this beautiful Parinirvana Buddha, carved from a single Juniper tree. It’s one of the many Buddhas I love sitting in the room with.

. . .

This year, a lot of special people in my life have had their leases expire. I know I’m not particularly unique or alone in this experience. Every religion and philosophy has their own explanations and beliefs about death (it’s usually a rather important subject!) and I’ve always appreciated what Buddhism has taught me.

It’s a difficult subject to discuss definitively because how many of us remember dying? What we do have, though, is the shared wisdom of those who can see, and personally, ones I trust. The Buddha spoke of witnessing his hundreds of lives, the number in the texts is 500, just before his enlightenment. If since that time, we’ve all been reborn as humans consecutively, we can probably add another 40-50 or so lives, but assuming the possibility that we could have gone anywhere from cats and dogs to birds and bees and who knows what else, well, from a Buddhist perspective, we’ve all experienced death enough times that there ought to be some knowledge stashed down in those roots somewhere!

At Saturday Sangha, Chong Go Sunim often talks about different situations when Dae Haeng Kun Sunim has assisted in the unseen realm of someone’s passing. One of the more practical stories, rather than one of the, “Holly cow! She did what?!” ones, was that she once said, “Even if someone has already been reborn, praying for them can still help them in their current life.”

There must have been people other than me who wondered about this for her to say it, but I’m glad that she did. It’s encouraging to think our thoughts and intentions can reach that far, even beyond death.


[I’d planned on posting this, and chuckled when I opened my email this morning and saw that Carl’s post beat me to it! A good example of working together, on some level!^^. I thought twice about posting again on the same topic, but figured it’s such a nice theme, it’s worthy of investigating together… Maybe others will be inspired to add more!]

In August, on the Ox Herding blog, Barry posted about the Responsible Life, where he quickly discussed intention and the Great Vows:

The Four Great Vows

Sentient beings are numberless, we vow to save them all.

Delusions are endless, we vow to cut through them all.

The teachings are infinite, we vow to learn them all.

The Buddha way is inconceivable, we vow to attain it.

In the ensuing conversation, someone asked if the original text used the word “I” or “we”.

Chong Go Sunim responded,

In the Korean and Chinese versions, there’s no personal pronoun of I or we. Statements like this depend upon the context, and in this case, the most natural choice would be “I.”

However, I can easily imagine Seung Sahn Sunim putting a spin on it with a “we,” and no one here would complain at all. They would see that as a teaching in itself, one that compliment and enrich the usual emphasis on individual effort.

From there, Barry added,

This brings to mind two Korean phrases that I’ve heard (in translation), sometimes said in greeting or parting:

– May you become Buddha!
– May we together become Buddha!

I hadn’t really thought much about the translation before, but at the end of Ye’bul (ceremony) people turn to each other and with palms together say, “Seong Bul ha’ship’shi’yo.” In this context “Seong” is to accomplish, achieve, attain, complete, fulfill, or succeed in, “Bul” is Buddha, or Buddha-nature, and “ha’ship’shi’yo” is a very polite way of saying, “do it”. There is, indeed, no I, me, or you, but in a Dharma Hall full of people, simultaneously wishing each other to become Buddhas, the feeling of, “Let’s become Buddhas together,” emerges.

On my blog Somewhere in Dhamma, I wrote of an afternoon trip I took to YongJu Temple, with my family and friend, Carl. But one part I saved to share here. We stayed for the beginning of Ye’bul, just long enough to recite the Heart Sutra, then followed the monks as they left the hall. One monk who I’d spoken with before the ceremony waited for us by the door to say good-by. Our parting wish to him was, “Seong Bul ha’ship’shi’yo,” But he answered with palms together, a bow, and large, “Ahhh’ni’yo! Gaaaat’chi, seong Bul ha’ship’shi’yo!”

Noooo! Together, may we become Buddha!

For more on YongJuSa, you can visit my blog:


“I take refuge in the sangha”
This weekend, I did

My Dharma Brother Joseph, “Gil Do”,  and his kind and caring wife, Eunbong,
Their wisely-countenanced and
Jolly Daughter, Fina

My patient and erudite teacher and friend, Chong Go Sunim
And my Dharma Brother Marcus, “Seokjong” with his gift of mindfulness

All in kind and compassionate listening, counseling, sharing and generosity
Brought me to this place

To all I say,
Come to the temples
Be you Buddhist, Christian, Muslim, Agnostic, or Atheist
There is serenity and the tone of peace here

Penetrating and cleansing

A Holy Spirit,  a Buddha Nature, a Juingong
And you find it in yourself
And it takes you home

To freedom

Thank you,

Brothers and Sisters of the Sangha

This is Yongju Sa, in Suwon…
Where the monk said:
“Katchi Sungbulhaseyo”
Let us become enlightened ones,

How beautiful
How necessary

A Better Zennist

All the people I meet, especially people I care about and who care about me, are my potential teachers. That is just how I look at life.

I met my Zen teacher, Chong Go Sunim, in 2007 and liked what he’d said about just about everything we spoke of. I’d never met Daehaeng Kun Sunim, his teacher, but I read her books, saw her on several occasions, and I bowed to her in respect, several times.

As with anything, I don’t accept all aspects of Buddhism, or Hanmaum Zen, which in Korean is called ”Seon”, but Han-maum, or One Mind Zen has at it’s center of understanding, a beautiful way of looking at reality; namely it says that our inherent nature is interconnected with all things. It also says that if we let go our worries, concerns, and desires to this “foundation”, they will find themselves-through our conscious effort of letting go of them-solved. This takes place in the interconnectedness of all things, working together. This is called Juingong. But you could call it God, if you want.

It is just the words that are different. You see, in Hanmaum, we “put our worries and concerns in our Juingong”, but I have realized it is the same as praying to God. I mean, I realize it doesn’t involve speaking to God, but you could do that too, if you believe in God. But if I release my worries and concerns to my foundation, does God not hear this? Of course not.

What I love about Hanmaum, though, or Zen, really, is that it doesn’t conflict with science, or any faiths, if you truly understand it.

In a funny way, it’s like The Force, in Star Wars. All life is bound by and penetrated with this oneness, and its energy emanates from all things as well. To me what people call “God” is like this; in everything and everywhere, and so what you call him doesn’t matter (those of you seeing God as something moe or less than male, please pad on my use of the masculine pronoun. I do so in the interest of convention according to standard English). The proof of that is all the names he has. In English it’s God. In Korean it’s Hana Nim (First Man, or First One), and in other languages it is other things. Do you think he cares? It is your heart he hears, not your tongue. He’s God. He’s not bound by the same physical limitations that you and I are bound by. I guess I should say here that I am not arguing a case for the existence of God, but I am arguing a case for the oneness of all things, and if one believes in Juingong, or God, it really doesn’t matter, not too much to practitioners of Hanmaum, anyway, and frankly, to me, that’s beautiful; no dogma here.

To me, Zen meditation can be utilized by anyone at any time, regardless of his or her religious practice. It is a tool for peace, harmony, and relieving oneself of useless worry, greed, and harmful states of mind that give rise to our misfortunes. It brings enlightenment. The main practice in any form of Buddhism, or Zen, is to meditate, which bings one the ability to live, as opposed to unconsciously.

I think Christians and Muslims should meditate. Chistians, especially, often ask me why I cannot just follow God, saying, ‘if you did that’, you wouldn’t’ need meditation’. I love people for caring about me this much, but people who say such things-in my opinion- betray a fear of solutions that can be added to their spiritual ‘kit-bag’, and they are basically saying something tantamount to, ‘hey, I got God; who needs penicillin, or stretching before running, or hammers?’

Though I think of myself as a Zennist, and I am in awe of many of the realizations Siddhartha Gautama had, I am not a Buddhist in the strictest sense, for Buddhists believe in rebirth. I am not sure about this. Actually, I am pretty sure I do not believe in  it, insofar as it means (to some) that my whole consciousness will be reborn in another life-form. I am not sure the Buddha meant that anyway. I think reincarnation and rebirth are vastly different, anyway, but I  don’t prescribe to either notions.

Buddhists also want to be  from the cylce of existence. I do not want to be. I love existence. What else is there? It makes sense, though, that Siddhartha Gautama would have wanted to find a release from the cycle of rebith, as he was raised in a Hindu nation, and the going idea was that you could come back as a worm, or an ant. Who would want that? Sheesh! But I do believe the basic teachings of The Buddha, just as I believe in what Jesus taught*.

I am a Zennist because Zen meditation makes my Christian practice better, and by that I mean my practice of loving others. Period. And as much as I am a Buddhist, because I believe in the basic idea that everything is in our minds, Zen meditation makes my Buddhist practice better. It is a wonderful tool. And to be a better Zennist just means to meditate often, so as to stay more “in the moment”, and less in the ego.

Seong Bul Hashipshiyo,

Carl~Mahn Doe


* I am actually quite interested in the Gnostic gospels, which reflect ideas and teachings attribited to Jesus that were not permitted into the book we commonly call The Bible. For an accurate and fair assessment of  the origins and history of that book, read world renowned biblical scholar Dr. Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus: Who Changed The Bible And Why

Bongeunsa and a thousand days of prayer

I first posted this on my now deleted personal website (‘Marcus’ Journal’) in September, 2009. Apologies to all those who have read this before.

Founded in 794, I first went to Bongeunsa temple in 2002 and was amazed at such beauty in the centre of Gangnam. At that time I was in Korea with Dao, from Thailand, and sometimes went with her, and once I went with my best friend Colin when he came to stay on a visa run from Bangkok. And I’d often go alone. I’d find a quiet place to sit and I’d listen to the chanting going on in the halls and look up at the trees and the temple roofs.

I started going more regularly, this time with Ikumi (from Japan), when I went back to Korea in 2007. We’d go whenever we were in the area and one time, while we were still finding our way around the order of chants in the evening services, a kind Korean woman came over to us who could speak Japanese and penciled in for us what and when to chant, when to sit, when to stand, and when to bow.

Later, I used to go every week with my Dharma friends after Saturday Sangha discussions at the Buddhist English Library. We’d travel across the city together, stopping for coffee before going into the temple, and almost always pick up some Buddhist nick-knacks in the temple shop. I can still remember the smell of the main hall, a smell of evening sunshine, warm wood and incense.

The temple drums would be sounded outside as everyone settled into quietness, with laypeople sitting towards the sides of the temple and the monks on cushions of a different colour in the middle. The deep sound of bells marked the start of the service and the first chant was the Heart Sutra. That was followed by the Thousand Hands Sutra and then came the Kwan Seum Bosal chant with 108 bows, a practice I always dedicated to my sons.

To make a full prostration, oh-che-tu-ji, in a Korean temple, you start from a standing position and, with your palms together in front of you and your back upright, kneel on the floor. Then place your hands on the floor and bend until your forehead rests between them. Next turn your palms upwards and lift them from your elbows to the level of your ears. Put your hands back down and lift your body back into a kneel. Then stand and repeat.

I remember the very first time Ikumi and I tried to do a full 108 bows during the Kwan Seum Bosal chanting. After just fifteen minutes I’d totally lost count of the number of prostrations and my admiration for the mainly elderly temple regulars had skyrocketed. My leg muscles were trembling and I was worried I’d be sick. The ajumas in front of me were making two perfect bows to every one of my sloppy ones, and I redoubled my efforts.

We made it, but only just. After some half-bows, ju-doo, to the people around us with the wish that they may become Buddhas and three final painful full prostrations to the Buddha, Ikumi and I clung to each other as we shakily approached the temple steps. The slope down to the gate was agony. We crossed the road and headed straight for the nearest coffee shop, glad to be able to sit for a while and take the whole experience in.

Over the following months I got better at it, and by the time I took formal refuge in May 2008, performing 108 bows was a lot less of a challenge. That’s not to say I could do it particularly skillfully, and I certainly couldn’t match the incredible bowing of the monk with the glasses who was always there at the back of the hall every time we ever went to a service at Bongeunsa.

I later learnt his name was Venerable Myeongjin and that he was the abbot of the temple. His bows were perfect. Every prostration identical to the one before and the one after, and all in perfect timing. He was like a metronome for the rest of the hall, the model that everyone aspired to copy. He also looked like a really nice person, with a ready smile and a calm manner.

What I didn’t know was that Ven. Myeongjin was carrying out a 1000-day prayer retreat confined to the temple and performing not 108, but a full 1000 prostrations each day. This incredible practice started on December 5, 2006, and ended on August 30, 2009. During that period he left only once, to attend the funeral of the former President on May 29, 2009.

“To keep this promise with Bongensa Temple members as well as Korean Buddhists,” Myeongjin said in an interview just before he completed his retreat “I would often set two alarm clocks on the days I went to bed late. There has not been a single day that has passed in leisure. There were times of distress, but with the faith and support of the faithful I will finish in good shape.”

The aim, he said, was to make the temple a place of genuine practice. And from what I saw and experienced there, he achieved his goals. The people I met in that temple, both the regulars and others, were not just welcoming, but also clearly committed to practice. The main hall was always full of people bowing, sitting, and quietly chanting, and there was never any noise and always a feeling of complete devotion.

Venerable Myeongjin’s period of practice also saw membership of the temple rise from 200,000 in 2006 to 250,000 members now. Likewise, temple income also rose and, under Myeongjin’s leadership, all financial records were made available to the public. Again it seems to confirm what has been my overall impression of Korean Buddhism, an impression of openness, strength and a seriousness about the Dharma and its future.

Ikumi used to wait for me on the bench outside the shop before going together to the main hall, and after the service we’d walk around the temple buildings, or sit together quietly.  Joseph met a woman there one week who later became his wife. Carl performed prostrations with a determination we all admired. And Joe knew the chants off by heart, and I’d follow his voice as I stumbled through them myself. There are very few places in this world I love more.

Photo: The amazing picture at the top of this post was taken by my friend Joseph and is used here with permission. For more of Joseph’s great pictures of Bongeunsa, and many other places too, follow the link below. Highly recommended.


Jogye Order: Bongeunsa Abbot’s 1000-day Prayer Retreat

Wikipedia: Bongeunsa

Bongeunsa Temple English site

Joseph Bengivenni’s incredible photos