"Even if we hear about Kum Kang San mountain over 1000 times,
we can`t recognize it without having seen it.
No matter how often we hear and read the sutras
we can`t get the benefit without doing it by ourselves"
*Born at Sin Do Ahn in Chung Cheong Nam do-province, Korea in 1928
*Became a monk by Kum-Oh sunim`s teaching at Kapsa in 1944
*Ordained as Bhikku By Ko-Am sunim at Pum-U-sa Temple in 1955
*Became the Abbot of Pub Ju-sa Temple in 1972
*Became the Chairman of apprenticeship countermeasure committee of Chogye Order in 1980
*Became the chairman of reformed administration of Chogye Order in 1994
*Became a member of senior committee of Chogye Order in 1997
*resident at Kong Lim-sa Temple at Goesan
"Reading books spoils the monks." Always my master Kum Oh sunim warned his disciples that the only correct way to practice zen was sitting first , sitting second and sitting last. He meant the true monk was a man who practiced zen and was enlightened at last. He got angry whenever he met students studying with letters or books. Becoming a monk was due to enlightenment, so he believed studying with letters or books was not enough. Thus was his philosophy.
Once I asked " Why should we only practice zen?"
"Here is a man writing Kum kang san mountain over 1000 times and reciting it 1000 times in this room. No matter how many times he writes and recites it without having been there he can`t know about it . Which one knows better about business between the man who has 3 years experience in commercial school or the other man who has the experience of managing his own business for 3 years. Attached to letters or sentences in sutras is only knowledge. Even though he writes Kum Kang san mountain as many as 1000 times, recites the height and width of it, it is only knowledge if he has never been there."
I have used this explanation whenever students may have asked me a similar
question. Then they understand well.
In 1944, before the Independence of our nation, I came to Sin Won-sa Temple at Kye Ryong mountain and watched the young monks studying the sutra "The Book for the Beginner to Wake " and I set my mind to be a monk. But my teacher prevented me from studying such books, what was worse, he didn`t let me read "The Book for the Beginner to Waken." He only let us only practice zen.
Under such a teacher, how could I have the chance to study the sutras? Looking back now, he warned us not look upon the sutras as only letters. When we look upon the sutras only as letters, we can be blind to the truth inside due to our prejudice and our arrogance. According to the sutra, after crossing the river, the ferry should be thrown away. Kum-Oh, our master didn`t allow us to complete sutra in letters only because he was anxious that his students would be arrogant without having practiced it by themselves.
I started monkhood life from October of that year and obtained the Samini ordination the next year. I could commence zen meditation easily through my master`s instruction.
Most of all, Kum Oh sunim`s attitude forward zen meditation and his speech were mirrored by all his disciples. He practiced with a speechless dharma talk to his students. He looked like a fierce lion especially when he was in the retreat. He wouldn`t lay down for weeks even at night. He taught that " Struggling with sloth is also good practice."
When we were at Hwa Um-sa Temple, Kum Oh sunim let the students beg in the village once or twice a year regularly of the same as the times as Buddha himself. This way he made his students know about the common world and people. The monks could be humble and gratified by the offers. So, I used to beg when I was out of temple. I think it is necessary for zen student monks` praying to beg for laymen`s offering.
Zen students receive Kong-An to study zen. But occasionally some students , through their own fault, receive Kong -an wrongly. For example, according to "the Sixth patriarch`s sutra " I have one thing that stands as high as the sky to the ground, shines like the sun, and is as dark as lacquer. It is as big as the whole universe and it is as tiny as dust. It is nameless and formless. What do you think this is?" No one answered except Shin Hae who stood up and bowed. " All the buddhas named it Enlightenment." The Sixth Patriarch said. " I said it has no name . Why do you make a name.?" What is this? It is the mind. Everybody has a mind but nobody truly knows it. According to the 6th patriarch`s speech, we refer to this Kong-An as "What is this?" Some one called it `who drives our body` -a very good idea. Only reciting `what is this` cannot be helpful. Reciting the Kong An alone will drive us to defilement.
In the old days, zen masters said when we study by Kong-an, do the same as a cat capturing the mouse. What does this mean? How does a cat capture a mouse? She never forgets her prize, and never looks around. She stares at the mouse`s hole with all her energy. Like the cat, we should think of our Kong An with one mind. "Like a hen sitting on the eggs." The eggs will be rotten if the temperature changes for long. So the hen does not move away from her eggs long. Like the hen we should keep the Kong An.
Do not hurry! When we go to Seoul, if you run with anxiety then you would give up soon. The beginner should remember this. Worse, when we come across
failure we don`t like to find the cause. You should be careful not to be desperate, or feel useless. Like an ox, we should walk and walk continuously, then we can arrive. We can be sick and discomposed from hurry.
Once a student came to me and asked a question. He would like to get a farm house to farm and to meditate zen. I said to him that was not bad. The next year he came to me and said he needed money to repair the house and to equip things. This time I asked him if it was a worldly life. On this question he asked me back if it was a real zen student who could continue zen practicing surrounded with worldly affairs. So I praised him. Later I heard he got followers and a kitchen host. This is a case of zen practicing changed to propagating. Did he do wrong or well? On the point of zen practicing he did wrong. But according to Buddha`s teaching he led the people close to Buddha well. I think there is no difference in zen, propagating Buddhism, reciting mantra, and worldly jobs.
Once when a student of Sakyamuni got sick due to anxiety about enlightenment, Buddha asked him, "What did you like to do before you came here?" He said he liked to play the harp. Now the teacher asked him again. " What do you do to play well?' He answered. " If the string is too tight it would cut through. And if the string is too loose, it sounds bad. Buddha compared the zen practicing to playing the harp, and warned him not to hurry. Everybody , monks, laymen, men, women, whether they are low or high can be enlightened. The sun and the moon shine always and give their rays to everyplace near or far. But when the sun rises , it gives the rays to the highest peak first. It gives its rays to everything equally without distinction but the highest peak becomes bright first. The good and the faithful can be enlightened first. We should open our ears to dharma talks and open our eyes to the sutras always. But it is vain if we do not do it by ourselves. Listening and reading gives us the chance to know about Buddhism, but nobody can attain it alone.
But old zen masters referred to zen as the string of a bow and mantra as the back of a bow. This means that the string is straight and near than the back of a bow. The back is round and far. But if we do it sincerely, there will be no difference between zen practicing and mantra practicing. Enlightenment depends on how hard we practice it.
These days we have lots of zen centers around us. We are lucky. "There is nothing as easy as zen." But zen is very hard to do. Then how is it nice for common people to practice it while carrying on their own business? Only the thinking to practice is nice. It can determine that in our next lives we will devote all our time to being full time as zen practitioners.
Only after opening our eyes we can guide others. Let`s practice for our enlightenment.
translated by Y. J. Choi