Who are you? By Beopjeong

Tea cup with flowerHaving come down with a cold, I couldn’t properly smell or taste anything. Even though I hadn’t eaten seaweed soup (miyeokguk) for a long time, I was completely unable to know whether it was too salty or too bland. Feeling like that one bright morning, listening to the call of the the cuckoo from the forest nearby, I drank the nectar of the new tea sent from the Gwangju Tea Company, but it seemed like I could only taste the fragrance.

I set out the undergarments I had soaked yesterday in the brook to dry on the line in the backyard. Straightening up the jars of rice, I took some grains that had spilt out and set them on the windowsill for the birds to eat. In the field, I planted three rows of peppers and kale. Since frost comes here until the end of May, I purposefully planted them rather late.

Some hand has pulled down the wind chime that was hanging from the empty space in the eaves of my cabin. Since an animal would come and go without leaving a trace, this certainly had the mark of a human’s work. Since this is a mountain valley far from the sea, instead of real fish, there is a fish hanging from the chime. Even so, someone must have wanted to take it down, boil it and eat it. If not, it may have turned into a dragon and taken flight. With the chimes having been missing for a while, this caused me to think about this and that. Wanting a chime like the one I had before, I searched for another but now without one, I just go on without. I’m enjoying the desolation in the absence of the sound of the chimes.

Starting a few days ago the peonies bloomed. Even though in the southern regions the blooming had already long begun, in the middle of this mountains, the period for rose bushes to come into bloom is not until after June. Because of the altitude here in the mountains, the colour of the blooming flowers is especially clear. Even though it is bothered by the cold and strong winds, the appearance of the blooming flowers is remarkable.

Of all the language that I don’t like very much, one word in particular is “Buddha.” This is because when words like buddha or bodhisattva are just tossed from one’s mouth. They are like needles to my ear.

Some days ago on the temple grounds, a man with a bushy beard and a strange glint in his eye approached and bluntly questioned me.

“Sunim, let me ask you something.”
“What is it?”
Staring directly at me, he spoke disdainfully, “What kind of person is that called Buddha?”
I shot back immediately, with similar disdain, “Who the hell are you to ask a question in such a manner?”
Hesitating, he had nothing else to say.

Don’t get distracted. Don’t look for the Buddha anywhere apart from your own mind.   When you are a really free person, you hesitate nowhere when you are only “you and self.” Even when living in the common world, if you don’t become attached to or imbued with worldly things, you can become your true self. If the individual “you” had a total metamorphosis into the “total you,” you’d be able to remove yourself from the swamp of the everyday nitpicking into how you “really are” and how I “really am.” The current that turns “you and I” into an “us” without difference is exactly our mind. If I dwell in a mind of negativity soon that place will be made into hell. If I dwell in the mind of positivity, soon that place will be made into heaven. No one makes that for me, I make that by myself. Because of this, it is said that “the mind is precisely Buddha” and that “outside of the mind there is no Buddha.”

Beopjeong Sunim having tea with another Sunim.

The people who have had the greatest effect on the history of the Seon sect are the 6th patriarch Hui-neng and Mazu Daoyi. Mazu’s strength of absorption was incredible and under his tutelage the flowering of Seon came to full fruition. Mazu entered the sangha at a young age and after becoming a monk he went to Namak Mountain where he diligently practised Seon. At that time, Master Huairang was dispensing his teachings at Banya-sa at Namak Mountain and at the very moment he saw Mazu, he pointed out his big mistake.

Coming closer to the his disciple, the master asked him a question.

“What are you doing there?”
The disciple Mazu answered frankly. “I’m doing Seon.”
“If you are doing Seon, what will that do?”
“I’m doing Seon in order to become a Buddha.”
The next day the master went in front of his disciple doing Seon and polished a brick, feverishly grinding it with a stone.
“What are you trying to do, polishing a brick?”
“I’ll polish it and make it into a mirror.”
“What? Can you really polish a brick and make a mirror?”
At that time, the master took on a serious look and spoke.
“That’s right. If you are merely sitting do you think you can become a Buddha?”

These words shook the disciple’s consciousness to attention.

“Then what do I have to do?”
“When the ox cart doesn’t move do you have to hit the cart or hit the ox? In Seon, sitting or lying down makes no difference. Buddha wasn’t always sitting motionless in the same spot. With no attachments, having nothing to take or throw away, this is Seon!”

Hearing this teaching, the disciple’s mind ripened. After paying obeisance to his master, he then asked another question.

“How do you carry your mind such that you are able to have no attachment and dwell in the perfect state of spiritual concentration?”

“The cultivation of the mind’s wisdom is the same as sowing seeds, my giving teachings of the dharma is like rain coming from the heavens. Luckily, because you have met circumstances such that you are able to receive my correct teachings, before long you will to see the true spiritual path.

Listen to my poem:

In the field of the mind, there are a multitude of seeds
If there is the right amount of rain, the seeds will all sprout
Because there is no appearance of the flower of the mind’s samadhi how can it be accomplished or destroyed?

Hearing this poem, the very moment it came to his ear, he became his original self. After that, Mazu served his master diligently for ten years. During this period, he perfected his spiritual path. Though there were numerous eminent disciples under the tutelage of Huairang, history tells us that it was only Mazu who inherited his master’s spirit.

Mazu’s teachings can be summarized in a few words by saying “the mind is precisely the Buddha.” From this teaching, countless accomplished spritual seekers have poured out.

Once when an aspirant came looking for Mazu, Mazu looked at the aspirant’s imposing figure and spoke like this.

“Good lord! The main hall is really magnificent. However, there isn’t a Buddha residing in that hall.”

After paying obeisance to Mazu, the aspirant courteously queried him.

“I have read many of the sutras, and even though I understand the gist of them, I can’t understand the teaching that ‘the mind is precisely buddha.’”

The master spoke, “The mind that is not understanding is precisely Buddha. Outside of that, there is nothing that is separate from that.”

“But then what is the secret teaching transmitted from Boddhidharma?”

“You’re just wasting your mind paying attention to that useless stuff! Just leave then and come back later.”

The aspirant rose, bowed to the master, and as soon as he started to take leave of his master, Mazu, facing the back of the aspirant’s, let out a cry.


As soon as the aspirant turned his head, Mazu asked him “What is this?”

This question brought the aspirant a huge awakening.

There is another story that is transmitted to us. A hunter who hated even the very sight of a monk was chasing a deer and happened to come upon Mazu’s hermitage. The hunter asked Mazu if he hadn’t seen the fleeing deer.

“Who are you?” Mazu said.

“I’m a hunter.”

“Well then, how many animals can you snare with one arrow?”

“Well of course, I can get one animal with one arrow.”

“If that’s all, then your talent is really poor.”

The hunter’s rage began to burn inside him. “If that’s so, do you know how to shoot an arrow any better?”

“Of course I know!”

“How many animals could you get with just one arrow.”

“As for me, with one arrow I could catch a whole flock.”

“Reverend, how could you speak of doing such butchery like that?”

“Knowing well as you do then, how come you don’t shoot yourself?”

Only then did the hunter muster a response. “I don’t know that method.”

“Oh, this man! He has been doing nothing but suffering the accumulation of eternity’s ignorance and defilements. Luckily, his circumstances have brought him to this day where he finally finds the light!”

The hunter put down his arrow and took up the path toward becoming an aspirant. With the sound concentration of his mind, in the end he came to discover his original self. His name is one of some renown as an historical figure of the Seon tradition, Seokgong Hyejang .

Though I’ve written this on account of that man I met in the temple yard, I don’t know if he will ever read it and receive any benefit.

Don’t search outside of the mind.

Thanks to www.koreanbuddhism.net

Beopjeong SunimBeopjeong Sunim (1932-2010)

Following the path of honest poverty, as he resides in an empty cabin left vacant by slash and burn farmers, searching for firewood and cultivating a patch of land in a Gangwon-do Province mountain valley, Beopjeong Sunim distinguishes himself as among the most genuine spirits of the age, through the exhaustiveness of his over 30 years of silence and freedom from possessions and his putting into practice a life both fragrant and pure.

More teachings by Beopjeong Sunim here.

You can see a trailer of the film ‘Monk Beopjeong’s Chair’ here

Categories: Beopjeong Sunim, Biography, Buddhism, Buddhist meditation, Chan / Seon / Zen, History

Tags: , , , , ,

3 replies

  1. He seems quite angry, I have to say.
    Is it truly the behaviour of a buddhist to become angry with someone for asking a question?
    Also the teacher Mazu and his teacher seem to go out of their way to ridicule their students. Is that necessary for the learning process?
    And all this reverence seems arrogant and vain, if you ask me.
    Of course if I asked him that he would probably just shout at me…

  2. richness is making poverty bloom


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