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Hidden Treasure of Korean Buddhism

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(Holding the stick in the air and hitting the table)
Mountain is water. Water is mountain.
In the Heart Sutra we just recited it says, “Form is emptiness and emptiness is form.” This is the fundamental Buddha’s teaching of impermanence, which means everything is changing, changing, changing.
(Holding the stick in the air and hitting the table)
No mountain. No water.
This means “no form, no emptiness.” If we are thinking, and attached to the changing world of form, then we get suffering. But if we cut off all thinking, then there is no form and no emptiness, also no suffering; also no I and no you. Descartes, the famous French philosopher, said, “I think, therefore, I am.” But if I am not thinking, then what?
(Holding the stick in the air and hitting the table)
Mountain is mountain. Water is water.
This means “form is form and emptiness is emptiness.” Everything is just as it is. So, we have three statements: Mountain is water, water is mountain. No mountain, no water. Mountain is mountain, water is water. Of these three statements, which one is correct? Which one is the truth?
KATZ! (Shout)
Mountain is high. Water is flowing.
Today I would like to thank all of you for coming here. Especially I would like to thank Chong Ah Sunim for having these talks every month. It must be very difficult to schedule monks, nuns, and teachers from all around the world. I appreciate his effort very much.
Most especially, though, I would like to thank my teacher, Zen Master Seung Sahn; today I am borrowing his dharma and sharing it with all of you. Seung Sahn Sunim has spent the last 40 years bringing this hidden treasure of Korean Buddhism to people all over the world. So I owe him a debt of gratitude.
Today I would like to speak a little bit about his lineage in Korea. So I will tell a few stories of Zen Master Man Gong, and his teacher, Zen Master Kyung Ho, who lived over one hundred years ago. Behind this temple here, in Gye Ryong Mountain, there are many famous temples. One of them is called Dong Hak Sa, where a lot of Buddhist nuns live and study the sutras. It has always actually been a sutra temple.
It is interesting to look at the shape of mountains.
I was a geology major in college, so I have some interest in topography, which is closely related to the Korea tradition of wind-water geography (feng shui).
Dong Hak Sa’s location is unique because there is one mountain which the temple is facing directly. It looks high and conical, like the point of a calligraphy brush, sticking up. It is actually called, ‘Mun Pil Bong’ or ‘Calligraphy Brush Mountain.’ Tradition has it that because it is there right in front of the temple, people who go that temple naturally just want to pick up a book and starting reading words. So that temple always has been a sutra study temple: not much Zen meditation practice but more sutra study.
Kyung Ho Sunim practiced there. First he was a student and then he became a sutra teacher there at a very young age. He was famous for being very unorthodox as well as quite smart, and he learned the sutras quickly. Normally in a sutra school, there is a very organized, correct and proper way of studying sutras. First, monks put on their ceremonial robes and kasas, and then sit properly and correctly. I see that you all do things very well here, that you have been taught by Chong Ah Sunim to follow the rules very carefully, so you will be very good in these sutra schools. But Kyung Ho was not like that. Instead of sitting properly and reading sutras upright, he would relax in the rest area room and would read the sutras lying down on his back. Some monks were very upset and told their Sutra Master, who then got very angry. “Kyung Ho! Why are you reading the sutra like that? That is very disrespectful! ” And Kyung Ho said, “Oh! No, teacher! I am not being disrespectful. If we read sutras like that, then our breath and our saliva can go all over the sutras but I want to care for them properly so I keep them over my head. ” So then what could the Sutra Master say? Anyways, Kyung Ho was like that. He was not your normal monk.
He got a very big question traveling through a town where everybody had died of cholera. Suddenly he realized that he had been studying the Buddha’s sutras which deal with life and death, impermanence, and questions like, ‘what are human beings?’ and ‘what is the truth?’ He had been studying these sutras for many years, and still he was afraid of dying. So he returned to his temple, Dong Hak Sa, and said to all of the monks, “I cannot teach you any more. Go away! ”
He closed himself in a room. One attendant would pass food through the door everyday. Kyong Ho Sunim was sitting there with this big question. ‘What is life and what is death? Only don’t know!’ And in order to stay awake or keep alert when he was starting to falling asleep, he would hit his thigh with an awl to wake up. He did this for many months. Finally upon hearing of the cow with no nostrils, he got enlightenment. Later he became a famous Zen Master. I mentioned he was very unorthodox. Instead of shaving his head and wearing correct monks clothes, he was kind of a ragged, hippy monk. He went all around Korea, wandering around from temple to temple. Like a cloud or water, just flowing with no hindrance. He was famous all over Korea.
Many years had passed and this temple, Dong Hak Sa, was still a sutra temple. Even today it is a sutra temple. It is very hard to change the karma of a temple. A temple takes on the character of the land which supports it, and then it builds up a tradition. So this was still a sutra temple; the monks had sutra study courses twice a year for many months each. Then there is a break, after which they come back and study again. At that time, there was a young monk studying at this temple. His name was ‘Man Gong’. Actually he had a different name before becoming a Zen Master but for simplicity we’ll say Man Gong. He was a thirteen-year old boy. His father had brought him to the temple when he was very young, so he had already been studying sutras for a few years.
There was a graduation ceremony for the monks who finished the course and the Sutra Master got up and gave a talk. He said, “I hope that you all study hard, learn Buddhism and become like great trees which can make a big temple, or become like big bowls, which are able to contain a lot of dharma. The sutras say that water takes the shape of the container into which it flows. So if it goes into a round container, then it becomes round. If it goes into a square container, then it becomes square. Therefore, always keep good company. Then your friends will help you to be diligent and study hard.” That was the end of his talk.
After that, it was customary to ask guests to give congratulatory talks. At that time, Zen Master Kyung Ho, the ‘hippie’ monk was there. So the Sutra Master said, “Please master, give us a few words.” But Kyung Ho said, “No, no, no.” He refused, but he was asked again, “No, no, no.” So he was asked a third time. If you ask somebody three times to do something, they are fairly obligated to do that. Finally Kyung Ho said, “O.K.” So he got up . He was very striking figure compared to everybody in the sutra school with shaved head, correct clothes, and sitting very properly like monks. Here was a hippy monk who had long hair, long beard, broken and ragged clothes. It was a quite of contrast.
He got up and said, “You are all monks. Your life is already for all people, so you don’t have to worry about petty personal attachments. Wanting to be a great tree or a big bowl is a hindrance. It will prevent you from becoming a real teacher. Rather than wanting to become a great tree, become a very skilled carpenter who can use a great tree to build a temple and can use a small tree to make some very beautiful decoration. So great trees have great uses and small trees have small uses. ” He then continued, “Instead of becoming a great bowl to contain the Dharma, be like the water which flows into the bowl. It takes the shape of its container, and then eventually it flows out of that container and continues on its way. Water has no hindrance, just like dharma.” (The character in Chinese for dharma (法) is water (水) plus go (去): ‘water flowing’). “So be like water flowing. Keep both good friends and bad friends. Don’t reject anything.” Finally he said, “My only hope is that you completely cut off discriminating thinking.” Then he left. That was the end of his talk, and like a lot of monks; he just went right out the door and kept going.
Everybody was very impressed. Man Gong heard this speech and ran out after him, saying, “Master! Master! I want to be your student.” Kyung Ho shouted, “Go away!” Man Gong persisted, “No, no, I want to be your student.” Kyung Ho said, “You are too young to study Buddhism.” But Man Gong said, “People are young or old, but in Buddhism, is there youth or old age?” Kyung Ho said, “You bad boy! You’ve killed and eaten the Buddha! O.K., come with me.”
So Kyung Ho took the boy with him and Man Gong became his student. However, Kyung Ho was a hippie monk. He could not have a little boy tagging along, so he took him to his dharma brothers’ temple, which was near Su Dok Sa, called ‘Chun Jang Arm’. It was a small little hermitage. Man Gong Sunim stayed there for many years. This story took place maybe 120 or 130 years ago.
I thought that I would also tell you my own story of meeting my teacher. I was a student at college, and I wanted to be a philosopher, among other things. Foolishly I jumped right into existential philosophy, which I don’t recommend you do. If you want to study philosophy, then start at the beginning with Plato or other classics, and work your way through history. Impatiently I waded right into existential philosophy. I read Sartre and Camus, and I was struck that human life has no meaning, no reason, and no choice. This gave me a lot of thinking and many questions: What is life? What am I? So I started searching. A friend suggested Yoga meditation, so I tried that for some time. That was very peaceful and comfortable; but still I couldn’t find out what is truth? or what is the purpose of our life?
Finally I happened upon a Zen center in New Haven, and heard a dharma talk by this Korean Zen Master named Seung Sahn. He said in his dharma talk, “Human beings have no meaning, no reason, and no choice.” I felt, that’s right, exactly! Then he said, “But if you throw away, ‘I’, ‘my’, and ‘me’, then you will get great meaning, great reason, and great choice.” Then I said, “That’s what I want! But how? How do I do that?” Then he said, “When you are doing something, just do it. When you eat, just eat. When you are talking, just talk. When you are walking, just walk. When you are driving, just drive. When you play golf, just play golf. When you are working, just work. Inside and outside become one. Then just do it.” That dharma talk really hit my mind. So I became his student. Shortly after that I moved into the Zen Center.
Zen Master Seung Sahn always asks people three questions. So I will ask them to you. The f irst question is, ‘Why do you eat everyday?’ That means ‘Why are you living in this world?’ What is the purpose of your life? For whom? There is a famous movie, which is, ‘For whom the Bell Tolls’. That is actually the line from a famous poem, written by an Englishman, John Donne, which starts out, ‘No man is an island onto himself’ And finally after many lines, it ends with, ‘Never ask for whom the bell tolls… it tolls for thee.’ It tolls for you. So why are we living in this world, for whom? Only for me? So ‘Why do we eat everyday?’ Somebody maybe says because I am hungry. Yeah, that is true. Dog is hungry, cat is hungry, snake is hungry, and pig is hungry. So they eat. But how are human beings different from animals? Is there not one thing which makes us different?
Then the next question is, ‘Why is the sky blue?’ Nowadays in Korea, it is quite hard to see blue sky. Maybe there are a lot of clouds or maybe its our exhaust. In Los Angeles where I used to live, it’s also hard to see blue sky. But at Tae Go Sa, in the mountains, the sky is blue almost everyday. In a year, over 300 days are clear blue sky. But why is the sky blue? Which means what is the truth? Everybody knows that the sky is blue. But why is the sky blue?
One student of my teacher, who lived in Paris, practiced meditation. He had a young daughter; at that time she was about 6 or 7 years old. He would sit in his room at home and do meditation. One day his daughter asked him, “Daddy, why do you practice meditation?” And he said, “I want to understand the truth.” “Oh, then do you understand the truth?” said the daughter. He answered “Of course!” “O.K., then I have a question for you. Why is the sky blue?” He couldn’t answer. He was really embarrassed, shocked, and surprised. His daughter asked this question and he could not answer. So he told that story to Seung Sahn Sunim, who said, “Yeah, your daughter is better than you; she has a more simple mind.”
So why is the sky blue? Maybe some scientist can give us an answer. “Well, the sun is shining, and light rays are coming down, hitting the molecules in the sky, and they reflect it in a certain way. So blue color is what our eyes see. However, that is only an explanation. Zen is not about explanation. Zen is about demonstration and experience. So why is the sky blue? What is the truth?
Then the third question is, ‘When does sugar become sweet?’ This means in our life, how do we live from moment to moment? How do we live? When does sugar become sweet? So those three questions he would ask to his students. I was his secretary for a few years; almost every letter he would write he would ask those questions: Why do you eat everyday? Why is the sky blue? And when does sugar become sweet? Many western people heard this teaching and got a big question. That’s wonderful. If you get a big question, then you’ve gotten a big treasure, a big present. If someone explains a lot and answers all of your questions, that’s really too bad. They took something away from you. So Korean Zen Buddhism is really wonderful because it gives us this big question. ‘What am I? What is this? What is the truth?’
So now back to the story. Zen Master Kyung Ho took Man Gong to this temple, Chun Jang Arm and left him with his dharma brother. This dharma brother said, “First, a monk has to learn how to eat cold rice. This means that a monk has to learn how to do chanting ceremonies. When the monk does ceremonies, rice is offered on the altar; at first it is hot, but then it starts cooling down. By the end of the ceremony, the monk is really hungry, but the rice is already cold; so the monk has to learn how to eat cold rice. So Man Gong Sunim had to learn how to do ceremonies. For five years, he lived at Chun Jang Arm and only did ceremonies, everyday. He was young and handsome, and his voice was really good so he became well known in the local community. Thus, many people would come and ask him to do ceremonies.
Five years had passed since Kyung Ho Sunim left him. He was already 18 years old. Buddha’s birthday was approaching. Everybody knows that this is the busiest time for a temple because many people come and ask for ceremonial offerings to Buddha. Especially in those days, people would have individual ceremonies a lot, so from early morning, before it became light, until after dark, Man Gong was just chanting the whole day, doing ceremonies for people, and he became very tired and hungry. Finally the last ceremony was finished and he cleaned up everything on the altar, wrapped it all into a cloth, and he went out of the dharma room.
Suddenly, a young boy appeared in front of him, and this boy said, “Sunim, can I ask you a question?” Man Gong said, “O.K.” So this young boy said to him, “I heard that ten thousand dharmas return to one.” And Man Gong immediately said, “Of course!” Then the young boy said, “But where does this one return?” Man Gong couldn’t answer. ‘Ten thousand dharmas return to one; where does this one return?’ Nothing appeared in his mind. He had studied sutras and chanting, but nothing prepared him for this. So he got a big question. He was really embarrassed as the young boy taunted, “You don’t know!” and left.
So Man Gong Sunim took all the offerings and put them in the abbot’s room, went back to his own room, and just lay down. Looking up at the ceiling, his mind was only ‘Where does the one return? Only don’t know’. He kept this big question. One day passed, two days passed. He stayed in his room; he didn’t come out, and he wasn’t eating anything. Finally, the abbot thought, ‘Oh, he must be thinking about some woman.” He called him and said, “Man Gong! What are you doing? Are you thinking about some woman?” Man Gong said, “No sir, it’s not that.” And he told the story of the young boy appearing with the question that ten thousand dharmas return to one. Then the abbot said, “Of course, they return to one.” Man Gong said then, “No, no, then the boy said, “Where does the one return?” Then the abbot brushed the question off, saying, “How should I know?” But Man Gong said seriously, “Yeah, but I have to know.” So the abbot said, “Ah! One more monk has become garbage.” There is an expression in Korean, which is translated, ‘Garbage human being becomes a monk. Garbage monk becomes a Zen student. Garbage Zen student becomes Buddha.’ So the abbot said, “Another monk has become garbage. You need to go to a Zen center, and practice meditation.” Ten thousand dharmas return to one, where does the one return?’ This is very important actually. Where does this one return?
We take everything for granted in our life; food, clothes, house, energy, where do they come from? For example, today, did any of us walk here from our house? Probably everybody took a car or a bus, or from a longer distance took a train, or like me, took an airplane. So we all came here using gasoline or diesel or some other kind of petroleum fuel. Nowadays our life is completely dependent on petroleum or fossil fuels. One hundred years ago, when this story took place, Man Gong and Kyung Ho Sunims and everybody else only walked. The only form of transportation was their own two legs walking somewhere; or maybe a horse if they were lucky. But the horse was also similar to humans: give it food, and it goes. But, in one hundred years, our whole existence has changed completely.
Now, instead of walking, we ride a car, bus, train or airplane, all of which is borrowing energy from fossil fuels. This in turn comes from plants which grew from sunlight and died a long time ago. All of our energy ultimately comes from the sun. But for the last 150 years or so, we have been borrowing ancient energy that was made by the sun millions of years ago. I say borrowing because this burning of fossil fuels comes with an inconceivably high price tag, called global warming.
During the last century and a half, humans have been ‘fruitful and multiplied’, beyond any reason. Look at a graph of human population over time. The increase in population and the increase in use of fossil fuels are nearly the same curve. From about 1850, the human population, which had been less than one billion people throughout all time, began a sudden increase, correlated with the sudden increased burning of coal in the industrial revolution. Then, as oil use became more dominant, the population growth exploded from two billion in the 1920’s to almost seven billion today. Our life is now completely dependent on oil and other fossil fuels. When I lived in Korea 20 years ago, Korean people mostly used charcoal briquettes or coal, which is also fossil fuel. There is a lot of coal in Korea, but it is very polluting to burn, so people don’t like it. But there are no known oil resources in South Korea.
So nowadays petroleum is imported from some place far away. It is the same in America. The U.S. has some oil resources, but demand for fuel is so much higher than domestic supply that it imports a lot of oil. Our life is completely dependent on oil. If this oil flow suddenly stops, maybe soon there will be again be a big coal industry temporarily in Korea. But in America, life as we know it will grind to halt without oil. We couldn’t grow food because we couldn’t pump water. We couldn’t transport the food anyways. People would start starving and then fighting each other for food. Society will break down quickly without any oil. Even today this problem has become obvious around the world: wars escalating in the oil-rich middle east, involving America, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and in the future, certainly more countries.
Of course, there are many reasons for this conflict. One of them is people’s differing ideologies: Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist. Many people think ‘my way is correct: yours is wrong’. However, beneath that, there is a struggle for resources. Who is going to control energy? Right now, the U.S. wants to control the oil supply so we send a lot of soldiers to other countries. In America we do not experience this because we don’t see soldiers on the street much. If you go to other counties in Europe, Africa, or Asia, there are soldiers everywhere. When I lived in Korea, there were also soldiers everywhere. So people are used to that. But in America we don’t feel this. We are living in a bubble in America, an oil bubble. That oil bubble may burst very soon.
This should be alarming to us. Now there are almost seven billion humans in this world. In the future, how will all of us eat? How can we live with the finite resources remaining? Simple, actually. All we have to do is share. Simple, but not easy. Our habit is that we want to keep things only for ourselves. Countries are also like that. If we keep this mind, then in the future, as population increases even more, the world will be in a state of perpetual war. Each country or region will be fighting to keep what it has or capture what it lacks. So the solution is to share.
Everything-food, water, energy- comes from a single source: our sun. The more directly we can live from the sun, the more equal is the chance for all beings to live and prosper. How? We can reduce our dependence on fossil fuels by developing solar, wind and water power. We can try to grow our own food. We can walk. We can share. This all came from the question ‘where does the one return?’ If we keep a big question, then our mind becomes very wide. Then it is easier to change our human karma, to walk together and to share. But if we already understand everything and have no question, then there is only I, my, me, so it is hard to change.
So Man Gong Sunim also had only this question, ‘Where does the one return? So he left Chun Jang Arm and went to a temple in the same province called, ‘Jang Gok Sa’. Nowadays, it too is a nuns’ temple. It is famous because it has an iron Buddha statue in the dharma room. At that time, though, it was a Zen temple. Man Gong stayed there and practiced very hard, keeping this question: ‘Where does the one return? Only don’t know.’ After a while, he was sitting one day in the Zen hall. It is not like here. This is a beautiful colorful dharma hall. A Zen hall has no windows and no beautiful colors. It’s just white wallpaper. There is nothing but yellow floor and white walls. Zen monks just sit looking at the floor or facing the walls.
But one day Man Gong Sunim was facing the wall, and suddenly a hole opened in the wall and he could see outside. He saw fields and farmers working in the fields, and he was really surprised, “Wow!” Then he looked up at the ceiling and saw sky. He was incredibly happy, and next morning early he went into the masters’ room and said, “Master! Master! I understand! I got enlightenment.” And the Master said, “What do you understand?” “Ah! I penetrated the nature of all the things. I can see right through the wall and see right through the ceiling.” And the Master said, “Is that the truth?” Man Gong answered, “Yeah, I have no hindrance.” Then the Master picked up his stick, and hit him over the head. THWACK! Man Gong was shocked and his eyes bulged out. The ceiling came back and the walls came back. Then the Master said, “Where is your truth now?” Man Gong bowed and said, “I am sorry.” The Master said, “Do you understand your mistake? What you have experienced was only an illusion or a fantasy. So don’t attach to anything which appears, only keep this ‘Don’t Know mind’.
So Man Gong was really thankful to return to this teaching again. Actually this happens to a lot to people who practice. Something appears, and we think that we’ve got it. Then something disappears and we are back to zero. In Korea there is an expression, ‘Ten years of practice returns to Amita Buddha’, which means returns to nothing. We always have to start again. So Man Gong started again. For three more years, he practiced hard.
One day he was doing the morning bell chant, which is ‘the Avatamsaka Sutra’, and one line is, ‘If you wish to understand all the Buddha’s of past, present, and future, then you must understand that the whole universe is created by the mind alone.’ That is a well known Buddhist teaching, that the whole universe is created by the mind alone. He was hitting the bell, DONG!, and suddenly his mind opened and he got enlightenment. He got up, went right over and kicked the monk next to him. The monk said, “Are you crazy?” And then he realized, “Did you get enlightenment?” Man Gong Sunim became famous. For one year, he just went around countryside going to every sutra temple or zen temple, hitting monks or kicking them. Eventually, everyone knew Man Gong Sunim got enlightenment
About a year passed. He went to a big ceremony at his original temple, Dong Hak Sa. His teacher, Kyung Ho Sunim was there. Man Gong thought, “I got enlightenment. Also my teacher got enlightenment. We are the same. But because he is my teacher, I will bow to him.” So he went in and bowed to his teacher. Kyung Ho Sunim said somewhat subtly, “I heard that you got something.” Man Gong replied, “Uhm, something appeared.” So Kyung Ho then said, “O.K., I have a question for you.” He put down on the floor a fan and a calligraphy brush, and then asked, “the fan and the brush, are they the same or different?” Man Gong said, “The fan is the brush and the brush is the fan.” Just like I said mountain is water and water is mountain, which means form is emptiness and emptiness is form. Everything is changing, changing, and changing. But everything has the same substance. So if we don’t attach to name and form, then we know that everything is the same. Man Gong got this point. That was his enlightenment. We say he understood one but he didn’t understand two.
So Kyung Ho Sunim very patiently tried to explain to him the next step, but Man Gong was very stubborn. He was not listening. So finally Kyung Ho said, “O.K. In the funeral ceremony, the monks ring a bell and do some special chanting. One of the lines is, ‘The statue has eyes, and tears silently drip down.’ What does this mean?” Man Gong said, “I don’t know.” Kyung Ho challenged him by saying, “If you don’t understand this, how can you say that brush is the fan and the fan is the brush.” Man Gong replied, “Ah! I am very sorry, please teach me.” So Kyung Ho Sunim gave him another kong-an: “In the sutras it says, ‘All beings have Buddha nature,’ which means all beings can get enlightenment. But somebody asked the famous Chinese Zen Master Joju, “Does a dog have Buddha nature? And Joju said, ‘Mu!’, which means No. So Buddha said that all beings have Buddha nature. Joju said Mu. There are many questions here: which one is correct, Buddha or Joju? Also what does Joju mean by Mu? So he asked Man Gong, “What does this Mu mean?” Man Gong didn’t know. Kyung Ho then said, “O.K., only keep that question. What does this mean? Don’t know!” So again Man Gong was brought back to this, ‘Don’t know’. That’s the greatest treasure any teacher can give a student, returning them to ‘not knowing’.
The famous Greek philosopher Socrates used to go around Athens saying, “You must understand yourself; or know thyself.” That made people very uncomfortable. Finally, they made him drink poison. People don’t want to have questions. But before that, he would often go around and say, ‘Know Thyself’. One day one of his students said to him, “Teacher, you always tell us to understand our true self. Do you understand your true self?” And Socrates said, “I don’t know, but I understand this don’t know.” That is Socrates’ famous ‘Don’t know philosophy’. This is also the same as Korean Zen Buddhist practice, ‘What am I?’ Don’t know! So anybody can practice Zen. Always just return to this ‘Don’t know’. So anything which appears in our mind - thinking or feeling or illusion or fantasy - see it, let it go, and return to ‘Don’t know’. What is this? Don’t know. That is really the hidden treasure of Korean Buddhism. People think it’s nothing much, but practicing in that way is wonderful. Let’s try that!
So Man Gong Sunim did just that. He let go of his attainment and went back to the Zen center and practiced again for another three years very strongly. Finally, one day he heard the great temple bell sound and suddenly had another awakening. Then he wrote a letter to his teacher, Kyung Ho Sunim: ‘Thank you very much; now I understand. – Kimchi is salty, sugar is sweet’. Everything is just as it is. Earlier, I said, “Mountain is mountain and water is water.” Things are just as they are. Kimchi is salty and sugar is sweet Very simple. Why did it take so many years of hard practice to figure that out? We can only try.
Man Gong Sunim became a great Zen master and went to Su Dok Sa, which he built up into a well-known training place for monks, nuns, and laypeople. His teacher had long since retired and went to a village and just taught young kids how to write Chinese characters. He lived a very simple life.
Man Gong Sunim was already a very famous Zen Master. One day he wanted to go and pay his respects to Kyung Ho Sunim, so he told everybody at the temple that he would be away for a few days. He put on his backpack and departed. Finally, after arriving, he bowed very deeply to Kyung Ho Sunim, opened his backpack and took out a bottle of rice wine and some dried fish. Then he said to his teacher, “Nowadays, when somebody brings wine, I drink wine. When somebody brings fish, I eat fish.” This means no hindrance. Anything is O.K. Coming is O.K..and going is O.K. Su Dok Sa has become famous among Korean Buddhist temples for this kind of no hindrance style mind.
So Man Gong got that mind, and was sharing with his teacher, and his teacher said, “Ah! You are wonderful, but I can not do that.” Man Gong was surprised, “Why not? You are my teacher. Why can’t you do that?” meaning – don’t you have the same kind of no hindrance mind that I do? And Kyung Ho Sunim replied, “I will explain: I like garlic.” Actually monks traditionally don’t eat garlic. They don’t eat garlic, onions, shallots, scallions – five things in the onion family which made too much energy for monks. But Kyung Ho Sunim said, “I like garlic, so I go and buy one bulb of garlic, and then I break all up. Each clove I plant in the ground; those cloves grow into bulbs of garlic, and I pick those. Then I take those apart and again plant each clove of each bulb and then those grow into bulbs of garlic. Finally, I have a lot of garlic; I pull it all up, keep some, and take the rest and go in to town, and give out garlic to everybody.” Then Man Gong Sunim understood, ‘Ah! not for me, only for all beings’. So, wine coming, drink wine; fish coming, eat fish. That’s O.K. No hindrance. But only for me? How to help all beings? So Kyung Ho Sunim said, “I like garlic so I make a whole bunch of garlic and then give to all beings.” Man Gong Sunim got this mind and thanked him very much. And that mind he has transmitted down to his students; and they to their students, and so on. So there have been many generations of Zen practitioners, monks, nuns, and lay people, who have gotten this mind from Kyung Ho and Man Gong Sunims’ example.
So I wanted to share that with you today. In English we say this is like ‘carrying coals to Newcastle’ or maybe in Korea, ‘carrying coal to Youngwol’, where they used to mine a lot of coal. This means that bringing things people already have in abundance. I am telling you this story but you are Korean Buddhists; you already know these stories so it is strange that some American monk is telling Korean people this beautiful Korean story.
But, how are we going to live in this world? Perhaps we need to change the way we do things. Any living thing, from the smallest bug or a single-celled animal or plant, all the way up the food chain to a whale or an elephant or a human being, always will eat as much as it can. We are all consumers. We try to consume as much as we can. That’s the law of survival. Eat as much as we can now, later on we do not know if there is going to be anything, so we eat. That’s O.K. when everything is in balance, but our world is out of balance, because there are too many human beings. If we all keep consuming the way we have been, soon there will be no more food, no more water, and no more oil.
When I was growing up on the east coast of America, there was an outbreak of gypsy moths. Gypsy moths are a kind of caterpillar. They descend from the trees on a little string, and then they go into other trees and eat the leaves. That year there were so many caterpillars that all the trees lost their leaves. Scientists said, “Next year if the trees lose their all their leaves again, the trees will all die.” So people were very afraid. Then the following year, there were no more caterpillars, no more gypsy moths. They had eaten all the leaves the previous year and they all suddenly starved because there was no more food. So nature always returns to a state of balance by itself.
Our human world is now becoming increasingly more chaotic due to overpopulation and the resulting myriad problems. Nature will eventually restore balance to this world. From our human point of view, that could be catastrophic. Before that happens, we need to wake up and change our way of living. We can reduce our consumption and share our resources. That is a very tall order for the entire world, but individually, each of us can do something. We can look at our life, and then we can act on that.
Understanding this is very easy. We can read a book, pick up a magazine or newspaper, and we can realize, ‘Yeah! That is correct!’ But actually doing it is entirely different. How do we do it? First, our direction must become clear. Why are we living in this world? Then we must always try. Which means practice. There are many kinds of practice: Yoga practice or Christian practice or Muslim practice or Buddhist practice. Any kind of practice is helpful which allows us to look inside, which gives us a little space from our thinking habits. Then our mind gets some peace and freedom. That is wonderful; try it! Probably all of you have some connection to Buddhism. So if you are connected to Buddhism already, then try some Buddhist practice. Find some community -Ja Kwang Sa here is very good- and practice meditation, bowing and chanting; anything to cut thinking. Then look inside, get energy, and then we can change; one person by one person by one person. Actually this world can support twice as many human beings as now. It can, but only if we share. We have to live together and act together and not hold on to our own situation.
My teacher often talked about a life boat on the ocean. There are only two people in the life boat. There is only enough food for one person to make it to shore. So what do you do? Spilt the food in half, both eat, and then together die. Isn’t that our situation anyways?
I really want to thank you all for coming here today and listening to me. In addition, giving me the opportunity to come here and speak. I hope we all continue to find the truth and what it means to be human living in this world, find some way and share it with other people. As my teacher always says, “I hope you only go straight, don’t know, try, try, try for ten thousand years non-stop.” Let’s do it! Thank you very much.

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