Master Seung Sahn's Enlightenment & Poem

Master Seung Sahn's Enlightenment & Poem

Postby mujushinkyo » Sun Jun 10, 2012 9:24 pm

As someone who at one time did a lot of Zen, I find the story of Master Seung Sahn's Enlightenment quite riveting:

One day, Zen Master Seung Sahn decided that he wouldn’t be able to help people through his political activities or his academic studies and instead, shaved his head and went into the mountains, vowing never to return until he had attained the absolute truth. In 1947, a friend gave him a copy of the Diamond Sutra. This was his first encounter with Buddhism. “All appearance is delusion. If you view all appearance as non-appearance, then that view is your true nature.” While Zen Master was reading the scripture, his mind became clear.

In October 1947, he was ordained as a monk and soon began a rigorous 100-day solo retreat at Won Gak Mountain (the Mountain of Perfect Enlightenment). He ate only pine needles which had been dried and ground into powder. He chanted the Great Dharani 20 hours a day and took ice cold baths several times a day. Despite its intensity, Zen Master Seung Sahn persisted in his hard practice. On the final day of the retreat, as he was chanting and hitting the moktak, suddenly, his body disappeared into infinite space, and from far away he could hear the sound of the moktak and his own voice. He remained in this state for some time. When he returned to his body, he understood that the rocks, the river, everything he could see, everything he could hear, everything was his true self. All things are exactly as they are. The truth is just like this. When he woke up the next morning, he saw a man walking up the mountain, some crows flying out from a tree and wrote the following poem:

The road at the bottom of Won Gak Mountain is not the present road.
The man climbing with his backpack is not a man of the past.
Tok, tok, tok - his footsteps transfix past and present.
Crows out of a tree.
Caw, caw, caw.


Now, I have no doubt that Master Seung Sahn actually had these experiences -- his mind suddenly becoming clear on reading the words from the Diamond Sutra (ken-sho), then the experience of disappearing into infinite space and returning to find that everything he saw was really his true self (satori, which in Japanese breaks down into the kanji "I" and "mind," the real Mind of the living person).

However, and this is something I was trying to get help on in another thread before it was unfortunately turned in a nonsensical direction, there are various ways of looking at this experience. For example: Is it really worth anything? Does it really change anything? Couldn't it just be a psycho-physical response to extreme stress (such as starving and exhausting yourself for a long time)?

If people feel hesitant to describe this type of experience they shouldn't. I respect that. But if you read through the Chinese and Japanese Zen literature, every "great" Zen figure has had an experience very similar to this. Here are a few examples:

"In the Sûrangama Sûtra, which has had a significant influence upon the Zen Buddhist tradition, the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara (Jap. Kannon 観音, literally 'Seeing Sound'), the 'One Who Hears the Sounds of the World', describes how she attained enlightenment by initially meditating on hearing and sound. Zen master Xiangyan Zhixian (香厳智閑, J. Kyôgen Chikan, ca. 9th C.) attained enlightenment upon hearing the sound of a pebble hitting a bamboo while sweeping the ground. Wumen Huikai (無門慧開, J. Mumon Ekai, 1183-1260) was awakened as he heard the sound of the drum that announced mealtimes. Hakuin Ekaku (白隠慧鶴, 1686-1769), was enlightened by the sound of the temple bell announcing dawn as he was meditating through a winter's night. One monk experienced awakening with the clattering of a tile breaking on the ground."

from http://laohuzen.blogspot.com/2010/01/ze ... ian-j.html

I had an experience like this. And some of my friends have had experiences like this, too. But I'd be the first to admit it can't be objectively verified, and not only that but the experience doesn't necessarily mean anything. I didn't become a Buddhist after having the experience. Maybe this Zen experience really has nothing at all to do with the so-called Buddhist Way? It's possible.

I ask these questions because I'm interested in honest responses. Please don't tell me to "go ask my teacher." My teacher has quite cruelly told me that now I'm the teacher, so I have to answer all questions by myself. Anyhow, This doesn't seem to be a matter of knowledge that one person can give to another. Who is qualified to pronounce on an experience like this anyway? What adequate pigeonhole exists into which one can insert "Tok, tok, tok . . . Caw, caw, caw?"
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Re: Master Seung Sahn's Enlightenment & Poem

Postby uan » Sun Jun 10, 2012 10:39 pm

mujushinkyo wrote:I had an experience like this. And some of my friends have had experiences like this, too. But I'd be the first to admit it can't be objectively verified, and not only that but the experience doesn't necessarily mean anything. I didn't become a Buddhist after having the experience. Maybe this Zen experience really has nothing at all to do with the so-called Buddhist Way? It's possible.

I ask these questions because I'm interested in honest responses. Please don't tell me to "go ask my teacher." My teacher has quite cruelly told me that now I'm the teacher, so I have to answer all questions by myself. Anyhow, This doesn't seem to be a matter of knowledge that one person can give to another. Who is qualified to pronounce on an experience like this anyway? What adequate pigeonhole exists into which one can insert "Tok, tok, tok . . . Caw, caw, caw?"


But you really haven't had an experience like that. Where's the "I" in their experience? You probably had a glimpse into the experience they had.
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Re: Master Seung Sahn's Enlightenment & Poem

Postby mujushinkyo » Sun Jun 10, 2012 10:54 pm

uan wrote:
But you really haven't had an experience like that. Where's the "I" in their experience? You probably had a glimpse into the experience they had.


But I really did have that experience. It's quite absurd to tell people what experiences they've had and haven't had.

Where is the "I" in Master Seung Sahn's experience? Presumably, when he described it, he said something like "I was chanting and hitting the moktak, and suddenly I was outside my body in infinite space . . . "

"He remained in this state for some time . . . " Here "he" is the "I." Changing "I" into "he" doesn't change the fact that this is a subjectivity; "he" or "I" is the same as far as this story goes.
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Re: Master Seung Sahn's Enlightenment & Poem

Postby Astus » Sun Jun 10, 2012 11:16 pm

Enlightenment by sound, a common Zen theme. But, the Shurangama Sutra's teaching on Avalokitesvara's method is not exactly the same. As for the Zen part, enlightenment by a sudden noise or other experience, it means the cutting of conceptual thinking while at the same time being aware. This is called enlightenment, an initial experience to allow oneself to do actual practice. Why is it then that while everyone has been startled now and then by a sound or other impressions, few has become enlightened? That's because they didn't know what to see. Now, you are trying to get a sense of some Zen story, but this is again just conceptual manipulation. If you want to conduct a proper analysis, you have to first study the teachings. And by teachings I don't mean Zen stories and lectures, but sutras, treatises, commentaries, and teachings about them. All Zen teachers were educated in Buddhist doctrines, as it is an essential part of the monastic training. Look at this from the Record of Linji (tr. Sasaki),

"Followers of the Way, he who is a renouncer of home must needs study the Way. Take me, for example—I started out devoting myself to the vinaya and also delved into the sutras and śāstras. Later, when I realized that they were only remedies to help the world and displays of opinion, I threw them all away, and, searching for the Way, I practiced meditation. Still later I met a great teacher. Then, indeed, my dharma-eye became clear and for the first time I was able to understand all the old teachers of the world and to tell the true from the false. It is not that I understood from the moment I was born of my mother, but that, after exhaustive investigation and grinding practice, in one instant I knew for myself."
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

"Neither cultivation nor seated meditation — this is the pure Chan of Tathagata."
(Mazu Daoyi, X1321p3b23; tr. Jinhua Jia)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T2076p461b24-26)
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Re: Master Seung Sahn's Enlightenment & Poem

Postby uan » Sun Jun 10, 2012 11:24 pm

mujushinkyo wrote:
uan wrote:
Where's the "I" in their experience? You probably had a glimpse into the experience they had.


But I really did have that experience. It's quite absurd to tell people what experiences they've had and haven't had.



My apologies. I didn't mean to tell you want experiences you've had (though the words I used came across that way). However, it would seem just as absurd for you to say that you've had the same experiences they've had. You wouldn't be able to know that either.

But when you bring up examples such as Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, you are talking about an Enlightened being who is predicted to be a future Buddha, I'm not sure Avalokitesvara or Master Seung were questioning their experiences in the same way you are.

I guess my question would be, you speak of your experience(s) in the past tense. Would the experience of master Seung and the others also be a discrete experience, or would they reside in that state 24/7?
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Re: Master Seung Sahn's Enlightenment & Poem

Postby mujushinkyo » Sun Jun 10, 2012 11:30 pm

Astus wrote:Enlightenment by sound, a common Zen theme. But, the Shurangama Sutra's teaching on Avalokitesvara's method is not exactly the same. As for the Zen part, enlightenment by a sudden noise or other experience, it means the cutting of conceptual thinking while at the same time being aware. This is called enlightenment, an initial experience to allow oneself to do actual practice. Why is it then that while everyone has been startled now and then by a sound or other impressions, few has become enlightened? That's because they didn't know what to see. Now, you are trying to get a sense of some Zen story, but this is again just conceptual manipulation. If you want to conduct a proper analysis, you have to first study the teachings. And by teachings I don't mean Zen stories and lectures, but sutras, treatises, commentaries, and teachings about them. All Zen teachers were educated in Buddhist doctrines, as it is an essential part of the monastic training. Look at this from the Record of Linji (tr. Sasaki),

"Followers of the Way, he who is a renouncer of home must needs study the Way. Take me, for example—I started out devoting myself to the vinaya and also delved into the sutras and śāstras. Later, when I realized that they were only remedies to help the world and displays of opinion, I threw them all away, and, searching for the Way, I practiced meditation. Still later I met a great teacher. Then, indeed, my dharma-eye became clear and for the first time I was able to understand all the old teachers of the world and to tell the true from the false. It is not that I understood from the moment I was born of my mother, but that, after exhaustive investigation and grinding practice, in one instant I knew for myself."


I understand what you're saying, but it's not completely so. Layman Pang, for example, didn't take ordination or study Buddhist doctrines. I have studied sutras, treatises, commentaries and teachings, yet there is still the basic question : What is this?
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Re: Master Seung Sahn's Enlightenment & Poem

Postby mujushinkyo » Sun Jun 10, 2012 11:42 pm

uan wrote:
mujushinkyo wrote:
uan wrote:
Where's the "I" in their experience? You probably had a glimpse into the experience they had.


But I really did have that experience. It's quite absurd to tell people what experiences they've had and haven't had.



My apologies. I didn't mean to tell you want experiences you've had (though the words I used came across that way). However, it would seem just as absurd for you to say that you've had the same experiences they've had. You wouldn't be able to know that either.

But when you bring up examples such as Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, you are talking about an Enlightened being who is predicted to be a future Buddha, I'm not sure Avalokitesvara or Master Seung were questioning their experiences in the same way you are.

I guess my question would be, you speak of your experience(s) in the past tense. Would the experience of master Seung and the others also be a discrete experience, or would they reside in that state 24/7?


Well, strictly as an experience following descriptions of it by Hakuin, Hsi Yun, Mumon, Joshu, &c. it doesn't seem that even the great Zen Masters are in satori 24/7, although it has a big effect on the rest of their lives (which is also true of "my" experience -- and those friends who've had the experience and talked about it with me).

In the description of Seung Sahn's experience we hear that he was in infinite space, or felt he was in infinite space, and then returned gradually to a more or less normal functioning of his mind and body, yet the experience of infinity had changed and in a way liberated him. So there was the shattering "experience," then a return to more or less ordinary life.

Some Zen people actually have that experience many different times at various levels of intensity, not just once, and can even begin to get some "stability" in it so it becomes the everyday enjoyment of their samadhi.

What's really changed? That's a fascinating question. That's one of the things I'm interested in. Has it really changed? It all seems familiar but different.

In any case, I believe a person could be an excellent "Buddhist" and never have satori in the sense of practicing equanimity and compassion and living by all the vows and precepts. Some teachers like Hakuin harshly disagree, claiming that you can't even begin to understand Buddhism until you've had kensho at least, but I think that's just polemics.

If I say I had the "same" experience it's merely because I recognize it; it doesn't seem senseless or strange to me. When I read the description of Seung Sahn's experience I felt "yes, it's just like that" (although it's true some details are different).
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Re: Master Seung Sahn's Enlightenment & Poem

Postby Astus » Sun Jun 10, 2012 11:47 pm

mujushinkyo wrote:I understand what you're saying, but it's not completely so. Layman Pang, for example, didn't take ordination or study Buddhist doctrines. I have studied sutras, treatises, commentaries and teachings, yet there is still the basic question : What is this?


Layman Pang was a literati, a very well educated person, just as less famous lay Zen followers in later times. As for the basic question, Seung Sahn's reply was always, "only don't know".
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

"Neither cultivation nor seated meditation — this is the pure Chan of Tathagata."
(Mazu Daoyi, X1321p3b23; tr. Jinhua Jia)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T2076p461b24-26)
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Re: Master Seung Sahn's Enlightenment & Poem

Postby mujushinkyo » Wed Jun 13, 2012 4:11 am

Astus wrote:
mujushinkyo wrote:I understand what you're saying, but it's not completely so. Layman Pang, for example, didn't take ordination or study Buddhist doctrines. I have studied sutras, treatises, commentaries and teachings, yet there is still the basic question : What is this?


Layman Pang was a literati, a very well educated person, just as less famous lay Zen followers in later times. As for the basic question, Seung Sahn's reply was always, "only don't know".


Of course. "Don't-know." I don't-know every day. I'm educated, but it doesn't matter. I don't believe studying sutras leads anywhere. At least not for me. What about for you?
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Re: Master Seung Sahn's Enlightenment & Poem

Postby Astus » Wed Jun 13, 2012 9:49 am

mujushinkyo wrote:Of course. "Don't-know." I don't-know every day. I'm educated, but it doesn't matter. I don't believe studying sutras leads anywhere. At least not for me. What about for you?


For me, sutras are the primary authority within Buddhism, all teachings are derived from them. The words of Shakyamuni are the Dharma, all the other works are only commentaries. Therefore, the guidance for the path is found in the sutras first. That's why they are important to me. To give a Zen example, Bodhidharma handed the Lankavatara Sutra to Huike to give an authentic basis for what he taught.
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

"Neither cultivation nor seated meditation — this is the pure Chan of Tathagata."
(Mazu Daoyi, X1321p3b23; tr. Jinhua Jia)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T2076p461b24-26)
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Re: Master Seung Sahn's Enlightenment & Poem

Postby seeker242 » Thu Jun 14, 2012 12:14 pm

Astus wrote:Enlightenment by sound, a common Zen theme. But, the Shurangama Sutra's teaching on Avalokitesvara's method is not exactly the same. As for the Zen part, enlightenment by a sudden noise or other experience, it means the cutting of conceptual thinking while at the same time being aware. This is called enlightenment, an initial experience to allow oneself to do actual practice. Why is it then that while everyone has been startled now and then by a sound or other impressions, few has become enlightened? That's because they didn't know what to see. Now, you are trying to get a sense of some Zen story, but this is again just conceptual manipulation. If you want to conduct a proper analysis, you have to first study the teachings. And by teachings I don't mean Zen stories and lectures, but sutras, treatises, commentaries, and teachings about them. All Zen teachers were educated in Buddhist doctrines, as it is an essential part of the monastic training. Look at this from the Record of Linji (tr. Sasaki),

"Followers of the Way, he who is a renouncer of home must needs study the Way. Take me, for example—I started out devoting myself to the vinaya and also delved into the sutras and śāstras. Later, when I realized that they were only remedies to help the world and displays of opinion, I threw them all away, and, searching for the Way, I practiced meditation. Still later I met a great teacher. Then, indeed, my dharma-eye became clear and for the first time I was able to understand all the old teachers of the world and to tell the true from the false. It is not that I understood from the moment I was born of my mother, but that, after exhaustive investigation and grinding practice, in one instant I knew for myself."


Does he still study the scriptures after he has entered the "exhaustive investigation and grinding practice" stage? Or does he actually throw them away?
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Re: Master Seung Sahn's Enlightenment & Poem

Postby Astus » Thu Jun 14, 2012 12:59 pm

seeker242 wrote:Does he still study the scriptures after he has entered the "exhaustive investigation and grinding practice" stage? Or does he actually throw them away?


Consider these stories.

Once, when Daopi was reading a sutra he saw a monk coming for instruction. Daopi lifted his arm and covered his head with his sleeve. The monk came up to him and affected a sympathetic demeanor.
Daopi pulled his sleeve from his head, picked up the sutra, and said, "Do you understand?"
The monk then covered his own head with his sleeve.
Daopi said, "Blue heavens! Blue heavens!"

Once while the master [Zhaozhou] was reading the Vajracchedika Sutra a monk asked, "'All the Buddhas and the Perfect Wisdom of all the Buddhas can all be attained from this sutra.' What is this sutra?"
The master said, "'Diamond Prajna-paramita Sutra. Thus I have heard. Once the Buddha was in Sravasti...'"
The monk said, "That's not right."
The master said, "I can't amend the scriptures on my own."

When the Master (Mu-chou) was reading the sutras, the Minister Chen Tsao asked him, "Master, what sutra are you reading?" The Master said, "The Diamond sutra!" The Minister said, "The Diamond sutra was transleted in the Sixth Dynasty; which editino are you using?" The Master Lifter up the book and said, "All things produced by causation are simply an illusive dream and the shadow of a bubble."

When the Master (Mu-chou) was reading the Nirvana sutra, a monk asked him what sutra he was reading. The Master picked up the book and said, "This is the last one for cremation."
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

"Neither cultivation nor seated meditation — this is the pure Chan of Tathagata."
(Mazu Daoyi, X1321p3b23; tr. Jinhua Jia)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T2076p461b24-26)
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Re: Master Seung Sahn's Enlightenment & Poem

Postby seeker242 » Thu Jun 14, 2012 10:27 pm

So basically, yes...and no. :lol:

It is interesting to note though that today, and perhaps before he died also, more experienced students in Seung Sahn's school are encouraged to read the scriptures. The schools dharma teacher and dharma teacher in training program guidelines includes the below as some of the requirments:

Versed in basic Buddhist teachings on

• Dependant Origination
• Four Noble Truths
• Eight Fold Path
• Ten Precepts
• Six Paramitas
• Five Desires
• Three Poisons
• The concepts of: interpenetration, emptiness,
mind only
• Basic content and origins of our chants
• Names and characteristics of Bodhisattvas common to our tradition

Familiar with life stories and teaching of
• Shakyamuni Buddha
• Bodhidharma
• Hui Neng
• Lin Chi
• Kyong Ho
• Man Gong
• Ko Bong
• Seung Sahn
• Other Buddhist stories to be used in dharma talks etc.

Familiar with
• Heart Sutra
• Diamond Sutra
• Platform Sutra
• Mu Mun Kwan
• Blue Cliff Record
• Hwa Yen (Avatamsaka) Sutra
• Lotus Sutra
• Vimalikirti Nerdesa Sutra

Seung Sahn often did just reply "Don't know" and in a simple manner when he gave public talks. But considering the people who he was talking to, mostly always many beginners, not really all that inappropriate. He goes into much greater detail about things in the books he wrote, which students are also encouraged to read.
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Re: 'Don't Know Mind'

Postby Wayfarer » Fri Jun 15, 2012 9:03 am

The idea of 'don't know' is not a confession that you can't find you're way home or know how to cook a meal. It is basically an acknowledgement of the uselessness of knowledge in the face of the mystery of life. Normally we know many things about all kinds of matters, and, as far as that goes, it is useful and necessary. Same with learning a lot of scriptures. Many of them are for 'pointing out' - they are directing your attention to the nature of reality itself at this moment. But the nature of life itself, or reality itself, at this moment, is something else again. Acknowledging that does not really contradict the idea that you can be well versed in scripture and so on, nor is it 'feigning ignorance' or 'playing dumb'. It is pointing out the limits of knowledge as such, and of always being full of ideas about 'what you think you know'. That's what I think it is driving at.

The other observation I would make about the original post is that while I have not had any such experiences, it seems to me that those who did, really put themselves on the line for it, so to speak. They weren't simply curious, or trying out a hypothetical question. Quite often they were from social situations where life was considerably less comfortable than it is for a lot of us, and I imagine the process of seeking out the truth was really very dangerous, in some ways. There was no assurance that you would find what you were seeking, and no assurance that you would be safe or well looked after. I have the feeling that this is a factor in those very intense experiences that are related in these stories.
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Re: Master Seung Sahn's Enlightenment & Poem

Postby LastLegend » Fri Jun 15, 2012 2:30 pm

Astus wrote:
For me, sutras are the primary authority within Buddhism, all teachings are derived from them. The words of Shakyamuni are the Dharma, all the other works are only commentaries. Therefore, the guidance for the path is found in the sutras first. That's why they are important to me. To give a Zen example, Bodhidharma handed the Lankavatara Sutra to Huike to give an authentic basis for what he taught.


True.
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NAM MO A DI DA PHAT (VIETNAMESE)
NAMO AMITUOFO (CHINESE)

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must not be afraid of losing your bodies and your lives―
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