At what place can you establish mastery over your destiny within birth and death? Master Kusan

Sunrise in the trees © Buddhism NowMaster Kusan ascended the dharma seat and said, ‘As today is the halfway point of the winter meditation retreat, let me examine the eyes of the assembly. The entire earth is my eye. So speak! At what place can you establish mastery over your destiny within birth and death?’

The assembly was silent. Then the master struck his staff against the dharma seat and said, ‘If you take a fragment of tile and substitute it for your eye, you will know the place. A poem says:

‘In front of a cliff, a wooden woman sings of the unborn

A stone man within the fire, plays upon a flute.

The clouds have scattered, the wind is light,

This is a place of purity and quietude.

The whole mountain is filled with withered trees,

But the snow is bright.

‘Let me explain again about the path followed by the ancients. A monk asked Master Hsueh Feng, “What is the first phrase?7” Hsueh Feng remained silent. Afterwards the monk went to see Ch’ang Sheng who said, “That was the second phrase.” The monk returned to the master, who had him go again to ask Ch’ang Sheng. Ch’ang Sheng exclaimed, “Oh Heaven! Oh Heaven!”

‘Another monk, Chiang Shan Ch’uan said in a poem:

“This first phrase is that which even the Buddha and patriarchs don’t know.

These words of Ch’ang Sheng — 

The old Master Hsueh Feng reflected upon them in vain.

This second phrase is extremely pitiful. 

The weedy bones (wandering thoughts) are already rotten.

Why was it necessary to cry out “Oh Heaven’?”

‘Today this mountain monk is not of the same opinion. My poem says:

Hsueh Feng’s silence was the second phrase.

Ch’ang Sheng’s “Oh Heaven!” fell into the third phrase.

In the deep valley, when we look from a distance,

The snow looks like thousands of rocks.

The north wind chills the bones,

Yet the orchids flourish.

‘Reflect on this!’

The master then descended from the dharma seat.

Click here to read more teachings by Kusan Sunim

This talk was given during the Winter meditation retreat of 1975-76 at Songgwang-sa monastery in Korea.

Reprinted from Nine Mountains: Dharma Lectures of the Korean Meditation Master Kusan,  © International Meditation Center, Songgwang-sa Monastery, Chogye Chonglim, Korea.


Categories: Chan / Seon / Zen, Kusan Sunim

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4 replies

  1. This is very Good Website Buddhismmow.

  2. It is all well giving cryptic quotes but without a commentary how can this be called ‘a talk’ – or am I missing something?


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