Discussions of Korean 선종 / Sŏn / Seon / Soen Buddhism.
I've recently returned to Korea to live for a stint and, as the situation allows it, have been able to re-acquaint myself with Kwan Um teaching and practice, after having practiced in a Soto tradition for 10 or so years. For a combination of reasons, I found myself drawn--for the first time in almost ever--to work with the hwadu "What am I?" (I will say, for the record, that I'm not working formally with a teacher in KUSZ but, if circumstances allow it, I will try to do so.) That I am drawn to it is, in itself, a significant shift for me (hard to ignore), as I've almost always found gong-an or hwadu work not to settle well with me, preferring instead to work with bare awareness or mindfulness. But I've taken up this hwadu, for one reason or another, and have a sense of urgency about it, but it is new for me, and I feel as much intrigue as I do discouragement: it is really tough for me to hold this sense of questioning or doubt for long. Easier when I'm doing menial tasks but still not easy. My understanding of working with a hwadu is that the doubt and question sinks so deep into your gut that, even if you do have to engage your mind in something intellectual, the hwadu is still there, functioning in the background--because this is the deepest existential question, not one put aside because you happen to be, say, watching a movie. And I have sense of this in-the-bones level of questioning, where it doesn't leave you--in just flickering moments. But just as often I also notice that it's been 10, 15, 20, 30 minutes since I last engaged the question. And those moments far outweigh the "ah, I'm really holding this" moments. I have had encouraging moments where I notice that it is my first thought upon waking up, but it's certainly not a vivid question in my mind at all moments (even when I sleep : ) W
Which makes me wonder: if you have to engineer the urgency, is it the right time? Don't the urgency and the question arise co-dependently such that your naturally inhabit the hwadu? Or, is it very normal for you to struggle gaining traction in the beginning?
I'd love to hear from people who have worked with hwadu or gong-an, especially in a KUSZ context.
Wei Wu Wei
I've been practicing in KUSZ for years. The teacher's don't really recommend to try to engineer a sense of urgency, etc. They don't recommend trying to engineer anything really. A similar question was addressed as follows:
Generally, they recommend to hold the question in the way it presents itself. And the way in which it presents itself changes and to not be attached to those changes. You have already experienced the question growing by itself, I would recommend just letting it continue to grow by itself. One could say a sense of urgency is good, but attaching to the sense of urgency, one could say that is not so good.
Kill a cat, with a dried shit stick, under a cypress tree in the courtyard, while eating three pounds of flax! Only a cow goes Moooo!
I am also a KUSZ person and when I read the OP, I immediately thought of the quote the Seeker provided.
Nothing to manufacture. Just try. To manufacture something, in order to get something, is upside down thinking.
In light of that, this may also be helpful:
Good luck and thanks for practicing,
Before I reply to anything, I just want to try this quote function, to see if I'm doing it right:
Will try more later
Hello Jok Hae,
As the “sudden elimination of conceptual thought” is at the heart of Zen is your practice essentially Zen?
My post [ “21st Century Zen” in the Zen Buddhism subforum of the Zen Practices and Philosophy Forum] explains the common ground all schools and all versions of the quest for enlightenment have..
Thanks to both the Seeker and Keith for chiming in, and while the quotes you provide are illuminating and I'd like to respond to them, I think what I was after, in my initial question, was more input from the personal perspective:
But maybe my intention wasn't totally well-communicated in that. So, to rephrase: I think it would be greatly helpful to hear the personal experiences of some who have worked with gong-an/hwadu. What was/is your experience generally like? Were you given a gong-an by a teacher? If so, how did it sit with you? Did your hwadu arise naturally? What was that experience like?
I'd also like to say that the word "manufacture"--in my initial question--seems to have pulled the conversation off in a slightly different direction than the one I'd intended. My question was a theoretical/philosophical one. I wondered if a truly held/truly perceived hwadu would actually require any effort to recall--or if it just persisted on its own. And here again is where I was also hoping for some personal input.
I should also say that much of my information about hwadu is coming from Kusan sunim's the Korean Way of Zen, in which he goes into great detail about how at first a hwadu may feel unnatural or mechanical but that over time it gains traction. I was just hoping for some personal insight into this experience.
I do love the quote by Zen Master Seung Sahn, related to not attaching to a certain experience of a hwadu--just hold it and keep practicing, over time clarity will happen on its own.
The quote from Huang Po about the error or folly of effort and the belief that practices have the capacity to bring us "closer" to enlightenment lays bear one of the largest philosophical and practical conundrums of all non-dual traditions (as far as I'm concerned): "There is no greater mystery than this: being Reality ourselves, we seek to gain Reality." (Ramana Maharshi) What role do any spiritual practices have in this, in bringing about the Uncaused, the Unborn? For me it is a deep koan when a Huang Po, a patriarch of the Zen tradition--a tradition renown for its herculean efforts, its monastic culture based on sitting meditation--says that really the Way requires no effort at all. Even in the quote from ZM Seung Sahn, he says, don't attach to growing the hwadu, just practice hard. Why make any effort if, as Huang Po says, efforts and practices are even hinderances?
I like Toni Packers synthesis of this, when she says: Until effortlessness prevails, one can't help but make an effort.
All For Now,
ZM Seung Sahn suggested to his students that Zen practice is understanding ourselves, and using that understanding to help the world. I don't know what the "sudden elimination of conceptual thought" means, so maybe in your estimation, my practice is not essentially Zen. It's okay. I generally feel that other people's views of my practice, or anything else about me for that matter, is none of my business.
I do agree that there is common ground amongst Zen traditions. If I asked my teacher about 21st century Zen, I think he would ask me something like "21st century Zen and 1st Zen - Same or different?"
This discussion is off topic, so best to leave it there and stay on topic. Thanks.
Wei Wu wrote:
So, maybe a little history will help. When ZM Seung Sahn came to America, my understanding is that he didn't just take his tradition and all it's cultural structure and just plop it down here. His vision was a Western Zen tradition, informed by his Korean roots. He really didn't want Westerners studying Korean and acting Korean...he seemed to want to create a bridge to a truly Western method of practice. I can tell you from personal experience that when Korean nationals come to our center, they hardly recognize what's going on around them. We also have no formal connection to the Chogye Order proper.
The method described in Kusan Sunim's excellent book is how the practice is taught to monastics in Korea and also in Korean temples around the world. ZM Seung Sahn was taught a different method, and he taught that method to his students in the West. So, if you were to visit Musangsa, the only Kwan Um temple in Korea that I am aware of, you would probably receive different instruction than you might be expecting.
Personally, my experience with "What am I?" is that I take up the question when I am doing formal practice and when i am doing something that doesn't take much concentration. Being a lay person means that I am unable to keep the question at all times. But that doesn't mean having a lazy mind, rather just paying attention to the matter at hand. Deeply raising the question "What am I?" while driving is hardly a safe thing to do! lol!
There is skepticism about this style of practice, for sure. It's okay. I am very grateful for it. My son practices with me now. It's kyol che season, so we are doing some bows, sitting and vows on a daily basis. I normally just sit, but my son wanted to add bows, so we are doing that too. We have a fairly vibrant Sangha at New Haven, which is truly a great treasure.
An old friend of this forum use to like to say: "Just practice and see what happens."
Here is a nice poem from ZM Ryokan about that, as well"
As long as I don't aim
I won't miss.
With the catalpa bow,
I shoot an arrow
toward the open sky.
Sorry for all the rambling...
Yes, and I've read that he even adopted certain elements from the then-newly transplanted Japanese Zen traditions, as those templates had been firmly established in American Zen students' minds. In any case, kong-an practice was (and is?) a central part of KUSZ, which is, essentially a Linchi-based tradition. Any time I've visited the International Zen Center in Seoul (Hwagye Sa)--at least when Hyun Gak Sunim was teaching there--the focus on kong-an work and the belief that kong-ans were appropriate for lay people, even outside of formal training, was relentlessly evident.
Also, in passing, it's likely that the Korean nationals who visited your center were connected with local temples where the practice is highly devotional, centered on attending the morning and evening services, where prostrations, chanting, bowing, and prayer were the corner stones of their experience. I can't speak with any degree of authority, but in my experience (having lived in Korea for 5 years) it would be pretty rare for a Korean layperson to be engaged with a Zen temple, though of course there are plenty who do.
Would you mind elaborating on this a little bit?
While I agree that Kusan Sunim was directing his teaching to monks, I think the fact that ZM Seung Sahn introduced the method (kong-an work) at all--even in a modified form--indicates that he saw a place for the work to be done among the laity. To my mind, it would seem also that he didn't just intend those on retreats to practice with gong-an, as what would be the purpose of taking up a kong-an for 3 or 5 days alone? I think (and here's where I'm looking for help) that the tradition of working with kong-an/hwadu is also intended for lay people, engaged in daily activities. But it seems trickier to integrate into daily life than "simple" mindfulness practice.
I'm so happy that your son practices with you and love your ultimate point--which is intimately KUSZ-inspired: just try, just do it, for 10,000 years, don't give up. See what happens. Love it.
Wei Wu Wei
The way I sense it: either you have the faith to go the distance alone or you don't. If you don't then you should be in regular personal contact with a teacher
I can't see you getting anything useful from a public forum. Who that can relate to what you ask will discuss it here??
ZMSS and KUSZ teachers believe that very much so! Many of the teachers are layperson themselves. Every layperson who comes to a KUSZ center is taught this questioning technique. IIRC, ZMSS even stipulated that all dharma talks in the school should have an element of this questioning technique practice. It's just taught in a less intense manner than Kusan taught it to his monks. You could say it's the same practice, just applied in a less intense manner.
Kill a cat, with a dried shit stick, under a cypress tree in the courtyard, while eating three pounds of flax! Only a cow goes Moooo!
Thanks for the confirmation. This makes sense.
Just a note that quite a few lay people in Korea practice meditation and there are regularly scheduled lay sitting groups. It is not rare. This has been growing since the '70s and '80s, partially as a result of the efforts of Kusan and others.
If you are interested in Korean practice (as noted elsewhere Kwan Um is really not Korean Buddhism, but rather a foreign cousin) and you don't speak Korean, there are now many English and other foreign language speaking monks who can help you out. There is also an international outreach effort by the Chogye Order (the Zen sect which is also the main Korean Buddhist organization) which includes an effort to reach foreigners in Korea. If you are interested I would suggest you get in touch with that office or look at their web site.
Additionally, there are groups of non-Kwan Um lay foreign Zen practitioners here and there in Korea as well as scattered foreign monks and nuns.
Wu Wei wrote:
That's all accurate, as far as I know. Kong an practice is the primary teaching technique for our group. Here is a good discussion about the practice from one of our teachers.
Given Caodemarte's contribution to discussion, I wonder if that is changing a bit, but yes, that seems to be what was reflected back to me. On one occasion, I was told rather curtly: "This wasn't what I expected." As Caodemarte mentioned, Kwan Um is considered to be a "foreign cousin". That's a nice way of putting it. For the most part, I think it is considered to be the "red-headed step child".
which leads us to:
And Wu Wei asked:
There are those that look at Kwan Um as some kind of Zen Lite or Zen for beginners. I have been told that here at ZFI in the past. We tend to be more relaxed than other styles, and folks mistake that for not being deep. For instance, we had a conversation here once about runny noses. If you sit with a Kwan Um group and your nose is running uncontrollably, you can just pull out a tissue and address the situation. No big deal. I was surprised to hear that this is VERY big deal in other groups. You let it run and don't move. That's cool, but that's not generally the way we handle things. To quote an old friend once again, it's serious, but not that serious. So, I just threw that in there to head off the criticisms before they were leveled. Lots of ways to the mountaintop, and all that.
There is one more part of what you wrote that I would like to address, but I will do that separately.
Wu Wei wrote:
In the talk I referenced above, ZM Dae Kwang talks about just this. I don't think it is just a watered down version of monk practice. Instead, it is a different way of using kong an's. ZM Seung Sahn was known to say that he didn't teach Zen, he taught "don't know". So, this don't know mind is always there for us, whether we pick up the question "What am I?" or when we are playing with our children, driving to work, etc.
ZM Wu Bong (deceased):
Wu Wei, I would like to thank you for bringing up these questions. It is helping me digest things some of what I have been taught over the years.
I did acknowledge that there plenty who do. My point was simply that if you took a small sample of practicing Korean Buddhists (pull 10 out of a hat of 100), you'd be more likely to pull out people who are more comfortable with the devotional practices than with meditation. The temple I go to in Seoul is a perfect example: go to morning or evening service and the Great Dharma Hall is full of people bowing, chanting, praying, etc., while the floor for meditation is but a drop in the bucket.
I'd also like to respond to your comments about practice opportunities here in Korea, but that'll have to wait until later.
I understand what you mean. Just pointing out that there is a lot more going on in Korean Buddhism than many think because they don't see it.
I don't think you will ever see many monks or lay in Korea using the public space for silent meditation. Most meditation is done at scheduled group meetings or privately, primarily to avoid noise and disturbance. That said, some temples often integrate a short period of mass silent meditation into services.
You will often see announcements of mediation groups (open to anybody who walks in) in Korean newspapers,especially, of course, in the Buddhist newspaper.
So clearly not as popular as mountain hiking, but available to those interested and appearently growing.
Keith and others,
I went back and re-read the quote by ZM Dae Kwong and couldn’t quite make out the different application of kong-ans that you were referring to. His quote seems to be about a non-grasping mind, in line with the Huang Po quote. That said, I have been known to miss the forest for the trees (or vice versa!).
But to my understanding, the primary purpose of holding a gong-an/hwadu is not to keep don’t-know mind—that’s probably a secondary “benefit” that could also be achieved by returning to the breath or body—but to push one towards a break through in Seeing.
As I mentioned before, I’ve never really been able to resolve the contradiction between Huang Po’s view (and other non-dual teachers, BTW), that practice is really illusory at best and folly at worst: we are already Buddha, Awake, whatever, but we don’t see it. Grasping for enlightenment starts out as any other strong desire: just grasping. But over time, it may transform.
On another topic, thanks for filling me in about the perceptions of KUSZ. I have to bring up a bit of writing I came across about a year ago that’s attributed to Hyon Gak Sunim. It is a scathing critique of both Zen students in the West and of KUSZ students in particular. It was a rather deflating read and I was wondering if this bit of writing is acknowledged by the KUSZ community. Not acknowledged as legitimate in its criticisms but just recognized as verifiably from Hyon Gak Sunim. I don’t bring this into the discussion to peddle gossip, but I found it, as I said, a pretty controversial and deflating read and wondered what other people make of it. It’s at:
http://www.treeleaf.org/forums/archive/ ... 11535.html
I'm dizzy reading this bowl of spaghetti. I hear you saying both your truth and your questions.... why do you question. Surely, we don't have the answers. I'll stand up for your observations about Huang Po and onwards.... why do you need or want our experience? .... or try to equate/compare it with other traditions and quotations? As far as I can see, it might be good to stop.... to just be.
ok, here's what struck me:
First, I can only understand hwadu from my experience with koan... it seems the same, yet koans have a few more varieties, like Heinz 57. All joking aside, we hold a question that has no answer. You are completely correct, koans/hwadu are 24/7.... they have the potential for living with us whether we are thinking/contemplating, etc. or not... so it is indeed effortless. And, it's a delightful surprise when they pop up just when they need to show us something.... too bad all these folks think that there is work to do. You have touched on the effortless part thinking that there is more... there isn't. The hwadu/koan will show you more if you get out of the way.
Not last night,
not this morning;
Melon flowers bloomed.
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