Running Errands for the Dharma-realm

If you’re doing what the Universe needs done,
the Universe will support you.

Years ago I read this by the thinker and inventor R. Buckminster Fuller, and was really impressed.  He went on to say that if no support is forthcoming, you’re probably not working on what the Universe needs, and you need to change direction asap. 

My own teacher says something similar:

A practitioner is someone who is merely running errands for the Dharma-realm.

the all-reaching hands and feet of Buddha

I’ve found practicing like this has so many amazing aspects. One of the first is the feeling, the change in focus when I quietly ask, “What does the Dharma-realm need done?” 

Life also has a different feeling of worth when things are no longer about what “I” want, or just entertaining my desires. And I’ve found that when I’m making an effort to live like this, what I need seems to naturally appear.  [Need, not want :-)! ]

One of the effects of this is sometimes I’m called to do things or go places that don’t fit into “my” plans, or that “I” can’t stick an explanation onto. Sometimes I can later see why that was needed, but other times I still have no idea what was truly going on. Just that I met people I would never have met otherwise, or shared a kind word with someone I wouldn’t have encountered had things happened according “my” plans.

Of course, I have to be careful that I’m not just listening to my karma, (the precepts are real handy here!) but the analogy that comes to mind is water. You can’t make a hole in water for more than an instant, because the water all around it responds and fills in the hole. Likewise, you can’t pile up water, because where there is extra, it spreads out and automatically goes to places that need more.  I suspect that we also become like this as we learn to work on behalf of the whole, and dissolve the barriers of “I” and “mine” that imprison and cut us off.  With this wall gone (or at least weakened!), if we lack something it flows to us, and when we have extra, we naturally send it where there is lack.

working on behalf of the whole

doing what the Universe needs done

running errands for the Dharma-realm
These seem like such wonderful guides – please share your experiences!

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

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.”

Practicing through our fundamental mind

Practitioners don’t get caught up in labels
such as “man” or “woman,”
nor the preconceptions that go with such labels.
They’re focused on going forward while relying upon this fundamental mind.
Even if their situation seems unfair,
they see it in a positive light, and are at peace.
They don’t stir up the intellect and “I,” or give rise to plans and goals,
instead, they take the events of their daily life,
and entrust them to their fundamental mind.
While entrusting these things,
if they give raise a thought free of “I” and “mine,”
that thought will manifest into the world.
This is why this practice is so convenient and practical,
it reaches everywhere and communicates with everything.

It’s so hard to be born as a human,
but it’s even more difficult
to become a true human being.
It’s not something that someone else
can give you,
nor are great physical hardships necessary.
Listen often to Dharma talks,
try to practice through mind,
experience what happens
and know for yourself.


Belief and confidence are essential to this process.
Don’t worry about whether your practice is going better or worse than others.
Don’t try to achieve everything all at once,
steady and consistent is the key.
Steadfast faith in your fundamental Buddha-nature,
and consistently entrusting everything to it
is the most important thing.

In this new year,
I hope that you all will live together non-dually,
living as one,
working together as one,
and freely giving and receiving whatever’s needed.

                                        —Daehaeng Kun Sunim
copyright 2010, The Hanmaum Seonwon Foundation