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Gulukhan Bucheonimke Gwiuihamnida
Gulukhan Galeuchime Gwiuihamnida
Gulukhan Sunimdulke Gwiuihamnida
– The Three Refuges 
 

I am constantly struck by just how valuable an opportunity we have here in Bangkok to study the Dharma. In order to practice Therevadan Buddhism in English there is the wonderful Littlebang Sangha, and for those of us drawn towards Korean Zen, there is the Bangkok Seon Club. Not only is it amazing to be able to study Seon Buddhism at a Korean temple while living in Thailand, but the friendliness and support of the group is something not often encountered, and very precious. 

Hyaedan Sunim

We start each meeting by chanting the three refuges, though in the Korean tradition it’s more of a song than a chant, then we bow and take our places for a short meditation. The sit is led by Hyaedan Sunim, who marks the start and finish with three strikes of the seon stick, and then we always place our cushions onto benches, which we move into a square, to briefly read a few pages of Kun Daehaeng Sunim’s book ‘No River to Cross’, and start the discussion. 

Looking back through my notes from the past year of discussions, I see that we’ve covered a great deal of ground. One of the meetings that was most useful to me was from last August in which we talked about faith. I have a naturally devotional approach, and Kun Sunim’s teaching – to believe in, let go to, and observe the workings of Buddha-nature – has provided a better understanding of my faith, and a beautiful and adaptable practice I can go back to again and again. 

Many of the people in the group have been studying Zen for decades in various traditions, and although I admit the discussions sometimes become a little too complicated for me to follow, I always enjoy what I am able to understand and I am impressed at how people are able to share ideas and experiences regardless of language differences. Eun Young, our wonderful translator and an inspiring practitioner, deserves huge thanks for this. 

Bodhisattvas filling the sky around us

 But, of course, discussion has its limits. As Kun Daehaeng teaches in chapter two, “The eternal self cannot be described by words, and it cannot be revealed through discussion. Trying to know it conceptually is like trying to know the world while trapped inside of a barrel.” Hyaedan Sunim describes it as being like a bird which has flown into a room. Banging its head against the window won’t free it. 

Rather, the bird must stop its frantic activity, rest, and examine how it came to be in the room in the first place. Then the way out will be clear. This reminded me a lot of Phra Cittasamvaro Bhikkhu’s comments last year in his talks on ‘the way of wisdom’. He warned against too much conceptualisation and also suggested that simple resting, using time in practice to observe rather than engage, leads to peace and liberation. 

entrance to the Bangkok Hanmaum Seon Center

I’m glad I went back to look at this again. As well as that part of me that welcomes resting in faith, I also have a tendancy to try to work things out, to try to find the ‘right’ answer. Too often this ends up in pointless discussions, especially on the Internet. The beauty of our monthly Sangha meetings is that it is a place where real, meaningful discussion can happen, and where we can learn the practice of letting go. A practice I have had to return to again today, a practice I return to again and again. 

Our meetings are also a lot of fun. After the discussions, and sometimes they go on very late, many people continue talking and sharing in a nearby restaurant till well after the last train has stopped running. Thank you again to everyone who makes these evenings possible. And click on the link below for details of the next one on June the 26th. 

Links:
Littlebang: home page
Littlebang: details of next Seon Club

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(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.

 

 

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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

Suddenly,
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…)

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 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.) 

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