The new year

Happy New Year, everyone!
I hope it has found you all well. Things have been a bit hectic the last year, with us doing a lot of translation work, and trying to get a lot more done during the year. We now have several great new books and Dharma talks that have been translated, and are awaiting their turn in the layout process. Within a month or two, we hope to have the new, revised edition of  My Heart is a Golden Buddha available on Amazon as well. That should make ordering and shipping a lot easier, as well as lowering the shipping charges for lots of people.



Song of Sharing the Same Mind and Body
(공심공체 둘 아닌 노래)

Mountains embrace the water,
along with all sentient beings.
Flowers and butterflies
embrace each other,
dancing and dancing.
The mountains whisper to us:

Deep waters have within them
every kind of treasure.
One mind,
our foundation is the guide they always follow;
leaving no tract of their passage,
they ceaselessly go back and forth into the world.
Grasp this essence,
live freely,
release everything into this flowing emptiness,
and live like water.

Water embraces the mountains,
along with all sentient beings.
Flowers and butterflies
together cause blossoms to become fruit.
Water whispers to us:

When a tree cherishes its root,
relies upon its root,
the fruit that ripens on this tree
can freely go back and forth
from the mountains to the world,
with no coming or going.
Grasp this essence,
live freely,
release everything into this living emptiness,
and live like the mountains.

A True Human Being

The following is the short Dharma talk by Daehaeng Kun Sunim that Marcus mentioned in the previous post.  
A True Human Being

Our true mind is a great brightness that can lead us all.
This one mind, this one point
is the foundation of the Earth,
the foundation of the sun,
and the foundation of the universe.
With perfect wisdom it accepts everything and responds accordingly.
It is brightness itself,
what could possibly hinder it? 


Although this brightness is in everything,
people create divisions and labels,
and then let those rule their lives.
How could they not be hindered
and oppressed in all the things they do?


A true person is the same as a Buddha.
However, let go of even the desire to become such a person,
as well as the fear of not achieving this,
instead, take everything that arises from this empty place,
your inherent foundation,
and return it to this empty place.
If you entrust it there with sincere faith,
and are relentless about this,
then from that place, your true mind will reveal itself.

In this true mind,
a Buddha’s mind and an unenlightened being’s mind
are not separate,
there’s no clean or dirty, high or low,
nor the least hint of “I did” or “I know.”
This true mind,
this completely empty bowl,
manifests every instant,
and brightly shines upon all,
with hands that aren’t hands, feet that aren’t feet,
on the path that isn’t a path.
This is the mind of a true human being.
–Daehaeng Kun Sunim 



copyright 2010, the Hanmaum Seonwon Foundation

Herding the Ox (Part 2)

(This is the second part of Daehaeng Kun Sunim’s version of the Tex Ox Herding verses. These are traditional verses that describe the progress of spiritual practice, with the ox symbolizing our inherent nature.)

6. Riding the Ox Home

As I ride the ox,
making my way home,
it turns out he already knows the way.
Sitting on his back
and playing the flute,
its harmonious melody goes far and wide.
Hearing this sound,
the villagers all come out to welcome me.

7.  Forgetting the Ox

At last the ox and I have returned home.
My mind is utterly at peace,
the ox too is resting,
and an auspicious light
fills the entire house.
This small, thatched-roof hut
knows no worry or suffering,
and at last I can lay down the whip and reins.




8. Myself and the Ox both Forgotten   

The whip and the rope,
even the ox and myself,
are all empty, gone without a trace.
Oh this sky, so wide and open
so vast and boundless.
There’s no place for even a single dust mote to settle.
How could I ever be ensnared again?

9. Returning to the Source 

 I’ve crossed over so many mountains
in order to return to this root.
Here is my true home
in appearance like the open sky
with nothing hindering it and nothing to be gotten rid of.
The waters of a stream just flowing,
the flowers so beautiful.

10. Returning to the Town

Although I’m wearing old rags,
there’s no sense of lack.
As I mix with the many people
on the streets and markets,
their suffering fades away,
and even dead trees come to life.
Such a deep valley,
yet the turbulent waters
cannot claim me.



Everyday Korean Buddhist Practices

Following on from my piece a week or so ago about entusting and devotion, I’d like to post an updated review I wrote last year of the little booklet called “Everyday Korean Buddhist Practices” by Seon Master Ilta, translated and very kindly gifted by Brian Barry. I think Master Ilta says so much better than I can just how there need be no contradiction at all in combining a very devotional approach with the practice of uncovering one’s own true nature.

‘Everyday Korean Buddhist Practices’ is a translation and abridgement of Saenghwal Sogui Gidobop by the late Zen Master Ilta, Grand Preceptor and member of the Elders Committee of the Jogye Order. Brian Barry, temple artist, Dharma Instructor, and translator of many key Korean Buddhist texts, translated, published and distributed this work free of charge as a Dharma gift dedicated to all beings throughout the universes. He is also active on the Seoul Dharma Group and is a thoroughly nice man.

The book is divided into five sections. The first chapter is called ‘Effective Chanting’ and deals with the lay person’s approach, and the three empowerments practice brings. Part two is the main part of the book, and concerns daily practices. Many people outside of Korea who come across Seon Buddhism might perhaps think that this would deal with meditation, but most Buddhists, even many Zen Buddhists, do very little meditation at all, and this chapter deals mostly with the practices of prostrations and chanting.

I personally find it hard to maintain a prostration practice, especially here in Bangkok. There have been times I’ve started each day with 108 bows, and have benefitted enormously from it, but my favourite practice is Avalokitesvara chanting, about which Master Ilta has some interesting and useful things to say in this small book. He says it’s useful to have an image of the Bodhisattva while chanting, and I noticed with delight that Brian Barry generously included in each copy a postcard of one of his own gorgeous paintings of Kwan Seum Bosal.

Master Ilta talks about how, wishing to receive compassion, “it is both natural and essential that you lead a compassionate life yourself” and he emphases the importance of maintaining one’s resolve. He also discusses visualisation, prayer, and using beads. My own beads were a beautiful gift from my Dharma brother Joseph. Each one has the hangul for Kwan Seum Bosal carved into the wood, and they are a joy to hold. Not all the advice Master Ilta gives will apply to everyone of course, his suggestion about making as many repetitions as possible in a single breath, for example, is not something that works for me.

The final sections of the book are on special methods and spirit guidance, in which he talks about the practice of Namu Amitabul chanting, Namu Jijang Bosal chanting, chanting the Great Light Mantra, and reciting the Teaching for the Departed, the Musanggye, which Brain Barry adds as an appendix. Finally, Master Ilta concludes with a story, illustrating his central theme of one-minded devotional practice.

It is a book devoted to the everyday practices of, especially, chanting and prostrating, with a real ‘other-power’ feel to it. “In Buddhism” Master Ilta writes, “our practices are our very faith, and this faith is in the power of the buddhas and bodhisattvas to help us in times of need. So it is necessary to put our faith in them and their powers”. So how, it might be asked, does this fit in with the idea of relying upon one’s own inherant Buddha-nature?

For Seon Master Ilta there is no contradiction. The devotional practices he outlines exist for the very purpose of reaching one’s own foundation. “The nonduality of the practitioner and Buddha is the True Self” Master Ilta writes. “The only difference is that the Buddha recovered his essential nature, while we have not. The objective of our practice is to discover this true nature and to realize our full potential.”

This reminds me very much of what Daehaeng Kun Sunim also has to say about the practices of bowing and chanting. “True bowing” she writes “means keeping yourself humble and respecting Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and sages. But at the same time, know that their mind and your mind are not two, and never lose your determination and resolution.” In a section of ‘No River to Cross’ on reciting the Buddha’s name she warns against simply looking for light from outside. For Daehaeng Sunim the power of chanting is from the power of the foundation.

What ‘Everyday Korean Buddhist Practices’ does is provide a wealth of advice and suggestions on some of the technical aspects of these practices, in a way that never loses sight of the main goal – to, as Mastar Ilta puts it,  “bring about the force from within”. This marvellous little book has been widely distributed, entirely free of charge, to Seon centres around the world, and Brian even kindly sent some extra copies for the Hanmaum Seonwon here in Bangkok. It is well worth finding for both its insight into everyday Korean Buddhist practice, and for inspiration too. Thank you Brian.

Brian Barry’s webpage
Entrusting and Devotion

Herding the Ox (part 1)

The Ten Ox Herding verses describe the process of uncovering our inherent, enlightened Buddha-nature, represented here by the ox. Variations of these are popular throughout East Asia as a way of describing the spiritual path. This translation is from Daehaeng Kun Sunim’s Korean version.  For Barry, at Ox Herding 🙂

1. Searching for the Ox
On plains that stretch forward without end,
pushing through the tall grass and brush,
looking for the ox.
Going here and there,
following a nameless river
and unknown paths deep into the mountains.
Utterly exhausted,
yet still no trace of the ox,
In the gathering dusk,
only the sounds of the crickets.

                                          2. Finding Tracks of the Ox

on a river bank,
under a tree,
hoof prints of the ox!
And there,
under the sweetly flowing water,
an ox print clearly seen.
Stretching out before me
as plain as day,
hoof prints!
                                                                                         3. Glimpsing the Ox 

Somewhere a bird is singing.
Under the warm sun,
a peaceful breeze.
On the banks of the river,
the willow trees are brilliant green,
how could an ox hide here!
But look at that massive head,
and those wide horns.
What kind of strength will it take
to drag it back to the path?

4. Catching the Ox

It was a difficult fight,
but at last I’ve caught the ox.
So stubborn and willful,
its strength seemed endless,
like it could tear through mountains.
But at last the ox has come to a standstill.
Long accustomed to roaming here and there,
at last it has come to a stop.

5. Taming the ox

To tame this ox
requires a whip and some rope.
I tied the rope through its nose ring,
but still have to use the whip.
Otherwise the ox will rush about,
rolling in the mud,
or getting stuck in the marsh.
But when he’s tamed,
his gentle, true nature will show,
and he’ll follow me,
even without a nose ring.

(to be continued…)

Illuminating the Buddha Within

This is a short Dharma talk Daehaeng Kun Sunim gave for the Buddha’s Birthday.

We celebrate the Buddha’s Birthday every year,
but this year I feel strongly that we need to use this opportunity
to exert ourselves.

As you light lanterns this year,
and brighten and develop your mind,
think of the Buddha’s teachings, which showed us this path.

This life we cling to
lasts only for a season,
yet within an instant of our daily life
are all of the truths and principles
of the universe.

These are what we must awaken to;
this is what is truly urgent.
So don’t light lotus lanterns
trying to create
some small bit of good luck.

Lighting a lotus lantern reminds us that
our mind exists everywhere
throughout the universe,
and because you exist, others exist,
because others exist, everything exists.
This instant of our daily life,
where everything works together peacefully
to the extent we are harmonious,
shows us that, just as it is, light fills the world and
the Buddha is brightly present within each of us.

Each of you has the exact same Buddha-nature as Sakyamuni,
each of you was born in a Buddha realm and are being guided by the Buddha.
So just as the Buddha teaches us,
if you throw away “I,” if you throw away your egotism,
you can live brightly, free of suffering,
able to draw upon the unlimited ability within,
and send forth radiant energy.

Under the lotus lanterns

If you are continuously letting go of “I,”
if you’re truly living in the present moment,
the effects of a single thought
can reverberate
throughout the entire Dharma realm.
Living like this,
the true worth of life
becomes abundantly clear,
and as a disciple of the Buddha,
with gratitude towards the Buddha,
you can live freely, as a true human being,
able to take care of everything in creation. 

            –Daehaeng Kun Sunim

The pillar of all work on behalf of Buddhism…

In a short letter, the Korean Seon master Hanam (han-am) Sunim, said something that’s stuck with me ever since:

The pillar of all work on behalf of Buddhism is harmony.

That’s all.  Nothing fancy.  But it packs such a wallop.  Everything about interconnectedness and nonduality is right there, together with tremendous power to guide.

Am I feeling harmonious as I approach this issue?
Am I viewing the others involved in a harmonious way?
Will my intentions and behavior result in a harmonious outcome?

Although obvious in hindsight, this is such a critical issue, for we are all inherently connected, as Daehaeng Kun Sunim says, sharing the same life, the same mind, the same body, and working together as one while freely giving and receiving whatever is needed. 

There’s only helping, not “helping her.”  There’s only loving, not “loving them.”  There’s only hating, not “hating them.”  There’s only defeat and humiliation, not “defeating them.” 

May all beings know happiness and harmony, joy and wisdom, virtue and merit.

with palms together,

Seon Master Hanam Sunim

Chong Go

Protein supplements in my dinner: or, The unhappy fate of rice bugs

Technically, those gray specks in my rice weren’t supposed to be there. Perhaps if they’d been millet, added to give the rice a nice multi-grain taste. Or maybe a little wild sesame. Alas, they were neither.

Tongdo Temple, where we were undertaking our ordination training, is beautiful.  Ancient and sprawling, it is one of the few large temples to survive the destruction of the Korean War. 
    Situated in a green valley with a soaring mountain range behind, Tongdo Temple is truly a treasure of Korean Buddhism.  It also has the worst food of any large temple in Korea!

    Normally, Korean housewives will soak and wash rice before boiling it.  This ensures the rice is clean and also rinses away any rice weevils that may have been enjoying a meal before they were interrupted. With an extra 300 mouths to feed for our training session, it appeared the kitchen monk had skipped this step.

    Picking the steamed weevils out of the rice wasn’t even an option: every last morsel had to be consumed, down to a single flake of red pepper or sesame seed. We would wash our bowls afterwards, and if even the tiniest bit of food was found in the bucket that collected the water, the twenty postulants in my row would have to drink the entire bucket of wash water.

    “Well,” I thought, as I looked at the gray specks in my rice, “eating these won’t kill me. And actually, it won’t even kill them.”

    With that I began to eat, letting go, as best I could, of my fixed ideas of right and wrong, which are more often than not manifestations of ego.

    Daehaeng Kun Sunim had once gently confronted my vegetarian moral superiority, saying about the beings whose cooked flesh was sometimes served to me, “Don’t hate them because they are poor and unfortunate. Become one with them and let them experience the human level of consciousness.”


Bugs in my rice! (at the Dharma Folk blog)


 Several people have asked me to talk more about entrusting, and what Daehaeng Kun Sunim means by it.  Let me start off by saying that entrusting is probably the second-most important aspect of all spiritual practice. There’s so much that revolves around this topic, so I’ll just jump in, and if you all have questions unanswered, let’s continue the topic in the comments section.

What is entrusting?
The easy explanation is that it means trusting your root.

It’s trusting your inherent Buddha-nature, and turning over to it everything that arises, along with the things you get hung up on.  

To be even more accurate, you’re returning them back to the place they came from. Everything arises from there, so that’s the place they need to be returned to. If you want the answer to a problem, look for it at the source of the problem. If a bee or fly comes into your room, the only way for it to get back outside is the way it came in. If it came in through the doorway, and looks for the solution at the window, it will die there, hitting the window again and again. This is the feeling I get from looking for solutions in the wrong places.
Just off the top of your head, how many examples can you think of where things are made worse by searching for a solution somewhere outside the problem? If you have a relationship problem, is looking for the answer in the arms of another really going to make things better? If you’re stressed or lonely or bored, is there really any long-term relief in repeatedly looking for comfort in a bottle,  a pizza box, or the internet? Ultimately, it arose from this foundation, so that’s where we have to return it.

Root, Foundation, Buddha-nature, God, the master within, Mind

      Awakening is to know your root.
It’s got a lot of names, but it’s that which is your source and destination, your sustenance and support.

Sometimes I feel like people (unconsciously) misunderstand awakening  as a blissed-out feeling,  or a clear(er) intellectual understanding of what’s really going on in the world. This is probably there, to be sure, but this isn’t the main thing.

Your root is your source and your refuge. To paraphrase the words of the Sixth Patriarch, “Who would have guessed that my foundation was inherently complete, endowed with every kind of knowledge and ability, and able to perceive everything and respond appropriately through both the spiritual and material realms.”  This root of ours is the source of all energy, wisdom, courage, compassion, and is continuously taking care of everything. It seems that only our clinging and insistence on relying upon “me” and “my” thoughts and ideas can hinder it. 

         Daehaeng Kun Sunim gives the example of assigning a task to someone: if you give them a job, and then constantly bug them about how it’s going, they’ll throw the job back in your face. “Here, you do it!”  Or, if you keep calling to them and asking how it’s going, or give them something new to do every few minutes, how can they set about getting the task done?

What do we entrust?

We entrust everything, unconditionally.

What we know, along with what we don’t know. What we understand, and what we don’t understand. Things that go well, and things that are going badly. We have to entrust both sides, otherwise we end up (trying to) cling to those aspects that represent our fixed ideas of good and bad, pleasant and unpleasant.

Roy, at Return to the Center, asked “how to discern entrusting to my foundation / Buddha-nature from entrusting to my ego-driven storyline? Trust me on this – I have a very convincing storyline…” This is a great question, and I think this unconditional entrusting is a huge part of the answer. Somewhere in letting go of what I know and what I don’t know, I transcend this storyline. If (when!) I find myself caught up in the storyline, I let go of that too.

Barry, from Ox Herding, touched on the problem of carelessly thinking “things will turn out for the best.” Things don’t always turn out as good as they needed to be.  A big cause on the personal level, is me not entrusting both sides of the situation, or hoping for one result over another. And sometimes “best” is just a reflection of my own fixed ideas. But our root can still fill in the gaps and help things for the best in our current circumstances. However, this is often the second-best outcome. (Or third, or fourth!^^)

Similarly, how do we know what we’re feeling or sensing from within is arising from our true nature, versus our bad karma? This one isn’t easy. For one thing, we have to let go of even the things that arise from inside. Both the good and the blissful, and the wise. If they are true, they’ll return when we need them. Another sign is the tone of this inner “voice.” Is it something that violates the precepts? Is it something harsh and cruel? Something argumentative or spiteful? Those are really strong indications that what I’m sensing is just a karmic echo. No need to feel bad about them, just let go of them too, and don’t be deceived by them any longer.

Whether we see it or not, whether we can feel it or not, our Buddha-nature is there taking care of things. You don’t see the root of a living tree, yet it’s there supporting and feeding the tree. So a lot of what entrusting is, is simply getting out of the way and letting it work. Even when I don’t know it’s there, it’s still there, supporting me and sustaining me. Every breath, every cycle of our blood, every exactly produced hormone and enzyme is a miracle of the highest order.  A 100 billion lives are magically working together within just this one body.

Entrusting is a step off a hundred foot bamboo pole. It’s stepping beyond my own fixed ideas. It’s dying and traveling through that gray land where there’s nothing to grasp onto.

(Perhaps that’s why I used to love skydiving!)

However, for eons we’ve mistaken “I know,” “me,” and “mine” for a support, for something safe to stand on.

“So Neo, you think that’s ground you’re standing on right now?”



You think that floor is safer?  Far more skydivers die in plane crashes than skydiving accidents. You’re safer out of the plane than you are in it!

It was truly said that when you let go of everything you gain everything. When you’ve let go of all dualities, you become a channel for all the creativity, love, and wisdom in the universe.  

There are so many aspects to entrusting that it’s hard for me to address them all, and my own practice is still incomplete (by a lot!) so if there’s something I haven’t addressed, let’s go ahead and discuss it in the comments section.

with palms together,
Chong Go 

(The skydiving photos came from here and here. Thanks to the original posters.) 

If you do what everyone else is doing…

I posted this elsewhere, but Evelyn in Germany offered such an insightful comment that I thought it was worth reposting here.

A few weeks ago, I overheard Daehaeng Kun Sunim say the following sentence during an interview:

 If you just do what everyone else is doing, you’ll be screwed.*   

How’s that for a to-the-point Dharma talk! She was talking about the cost of following the herd, but even more than that, the cost of not making an effort to find your own, true root; and the cost of not listening to this root, your Buddha-nature.

Following the herd – in the beginning it may seem the easiest way… you don’t offend, you aren’t blamed. there are many places and opportunities ‘following the herd’ isn’t just wished but wanted from you – at school, in your job, at home. not to follow the herd implicates annoyance, dismissive treatment and a general uncertainty. you’ll think twice to dare! you try to please everybody. you run… up to the day you are at point zero. you are shattered. and yes, you are screwed. you feel desperately helpless. finally you start thinking again. who’s to blame if you aren’t where you want to be? who’s to blame when you aren’t doing what you want to do? how to untangle this situation and not to destroy everything?

You have to be brave. you have to take the risk. and you have to take the responsibility. then maybe you’ll find out wherefore you are here. it’s worth the effort…

   *The word Daehaeng Kun Sunim used was ‘mang-ha-da’, which could be literally “ruined,” but the nuance was much more like “screwed” or “up a creek.”