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만공월면 / 滿空月面 Mangong Wolmyeon (1871-1946)

(Magyar átírás:) Mangong Volmjon


PDF: The Teachings of Zen Master Man Gong
Translated and edited by Zen Master Dae Kwang, Hye Tong Sunim, Kathy Park

Mangong Wolmyeon ( 1871 ~ 1946 )

His ordination name was Wolmyeon (meaning “the face of the moon”), his dharma name Mangong. He stood as a renowned disciple of Master Gyeongheo. Together with Masters Suwol (meaning “the moon in the water”) and Hyewol (meaning “the wise moon”), the three earned their nickname as “the three moons of Gyeongheo.”

“Master Wolmyeon, 'there is one place where every truth returns, but where on earth does that one place go [“the ten thousand dharmas return to the one, where does the one return?”]?' It is said that if people knew but this one thing, not a single obstacle would obstruct them in all affairs. It should only go to say, what in this world does this all mean?”

Ten years after his entrance into the sangha, facing this question from someone who looked three or four years younger than him, the 21 year-old Wolmyeon suddenly saw everything in front of him turn pitch black. Up until this point, he had spent his ten years at Cheonjangsa Monastery, taking care of the odds and ends of temple life, chopping wood, making rice, doing laundry and such. Sweating with the labors of his formal studies, he hadn't even had a chance to learn, let alone even hear such questions as “what is Seon?” and “what is earnest devotion?”

However, in facing the questioning of this young person, Wolmyeon's single hwadu had appeared. Whether day or night, sleeping or eating or doing work, inside his head one thing and one thing only occupied him, his vexing on the hwadu: “though there is one place where every principle returns, where on earth does that one place go?” But the work required of him to serve his elder monks continued to pile up, and he was never able to devote himself fully to his proper studies. So, he left Cheonjangsa and took up residence at Bonggoksa.

One July day, after having already passed through two winters at Bonggoksa, Wolmyeon was leaning against the wall, staring at the wall opposite him on the west side of the room. The condition of “no thought” (munyeom) had arrived. This Master who had devoted himself so diligently to his hwadu was now without even a single idea about it. As if a wall had suddenly disappeared without a trace, he experienced the appearance of the irwonsang, a great circle symbolizing the inherent unity of all things.

His posture not easing even in the slightest, he continued his devoted practice and when dawn broke he went about as normal, carrying about the duties for the morning meal. He struck the temple gong, breaking the darkness, and recited a set of verses. “If you want to know all the Buddhas of the three worlds, you must come to know that all laws are created by the mind.” At that moment the boundaries of delusion fell away. In the sounds of the temple bell, the darkness that clouded his eyes revealed light. The sound of the gong had opened his eyes of wisdom. This was Master Wolmyeon's first enlightenment experience.

However, his master, Master Gyeongheo, cautioned him that this kind of awakening was not a complete enlightenment. He encouraged Wolmyeon to devote himself to investigating Zhaozhou's “MU” hwadu. What is Zhaozhou's "MU" hwadu? This hwadu is based upon a dialogue that occurred a long time ago, when a monk asked of Master Zhaozhou, “does a dog also have the Buddha nature?” Zhaozhou replied “Mu!” [Ch. wu, which can be interpreted as "not," as opposed to "no," hinting that the question itself is wrong; and also can be interpreted as an onomatopoeia of a dog's bark]. This exchange is the substance of one of the most powerful hwadu, as the “MU” hwadu stands out as one that has brought many masters to enlightenment.

Wolmyeon took on the "MU" hwadu and returned to his travels, touring many different meditation halls, always practicing always with ferocity. It was during this period, in 1901, that he came to the isolated Baegunam Hermitage, located on Mt. Yeongchuk in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do Province. It was here that one day, while caught in the monsoon and forced to spend a whole month doing absolutely nothing but meditation, the world came crumbling down in an instant as he heard the sound of the morning bell, until ultimately the orginal mind of the universe had appeared. At the age of 30, Wolmyeon finally had achieved his great awakening.

Following this, together with a dharma transmission verse, he received the name “Mangong” from his master Gyeongheo and became one of the main disciples inheriting his true dharma and core teachings. He was 33 at this time.

He then practiced at the major meditation hall of each famous mountain, starting with the Mahayeon Hermitage at Mt. Geumgangsan. While residing at Mt. Deoksungsan in Yesan, Chungcheongnam-do Province, he refurbished Sudeoksa, Jeonghyeosa and Gyeonseongam Hermitage and cultivated a sparkling coterie of disciples. With the renown of his efforts spreading far and wide, Master Mangong uttered these words in front of mirror after performing the evening meal offerings one day in 1946, “This guy Mangong! Though we've shared our lot for this past 70 some years, today is the last day. You've worked hard and done well.” At the age of 75, after 62 years as part of the sangha (beomnap), he entered nirvana.

His disciples, including the monks Bowol, Gobong, Hyeam, Jeongang, Geumo, Chunseong, Byeokcho, and Woldam and the nuns Beophui, Manseong, and Iryeop, among others, formed one of the major Seon lineages in the modern Korean Buddhist community. Especially notable here is the presence of nuns among his disciples. Based on the Buddha's teaching that if women practiced they could also become Buddhas, Master Mangong taught bhiksuni (female monastics, nuns) without discrimination. It created quite a stir when Iryeop, who at that time had become famous as a “new woman intellectual,” was influenced profoundly by Mangong and became ordained as a nun. In addition, the enlightenment of his disciple Beophui, the first nun to receive a dharma transmission, when compared with even the great male Seon masters, nothing was found wanting. In making it clear to us that on the journey to find one's true self, there is no separation between “man” and “woman,” and through understanding his disciple's capacities and his unstinting leadership and guidance, Master Mangong shows us his eyes of wisdom.

Mangong left behind not a single written work. The only thing left to us were his Seon teachings given to his many disciples. However, his disciples compiled a volume of his dharma talks, and from this we can catch a glimpse of Mangong's thought.

Doctrinal Distinction

Though there is a strong emphasis on “having to find 'I'” in the dharma lectures of Mangong.Since the Buddha rejected “I,” elucidating the idea of “no-self,” why would Mangong be saying, “You have to find your “I”? What is the “I” that must be rejected and what is the “I” that must be found? The intellectual core of Mangong lies precisely in knowing the true nature of this “I” that must be rejected and the “I” that must be sought.

The “I” that we usually think of is the “I” who answers back when someone calls out, “Hey you!” However, is the answering mouth "I"? Is the eye that sees other people, "I"? Am I my feet or legs? Is my brain "me"? If not, is the mind that thinks of "me," "me"? What in the world is the thing we call "me” and “I”?

Stepping back from this line of thought for a moment, let's take another look at an object we can often see in our daily surroundings, the bicycle. What is a bicycle? Is the front-wheel the bicycle? Is the chain the bicycle? Are the pedals or the handlebars the bicycle? What we call a bicycle is the thing made of the parts enumerated above, something a person mounts, puts both feet on, and then is propelled forward by the spinning of the wheels. Strictly speaking, "bicycle" is something that we all agree on to call such a thing. Thererfore, if for example, this thing were missing a front-tire, or the handlebar, or the chain, or any other one single thing, then it could not be a bicycle. You only call something a bicycle when all conditions for doing so are met. Suppose it has been thirty years now that this bicycle has been ridden. So, if I were to now dispose of this bike, could I call the wheels I separate from it a bicycle? What about the chain I saved, can I call that the bicycle? No. We don't call that a bicycle. That thing is simply a wheel or a chain. Because it now fails to meet the conditions for being a bicycle, there is now no longer a bicycle. This is precisely the “true nature” (silche) of a bicycle.

Now, let's return to the question of the "I." The "I" that says "yes" in response to the sound of someone calling, the "I" that is reading this right now. That's right. This "I" too is simply the name we give to a temporarily existing “I,” something arising only when the proper conditions are met. It's just like our bicycle, still briskly riding along.

Exactly as in the situation with the bicycle, when all of the parts come together a bicycle is formed, when each of the parts disappear the bicycle itself disappears, this arising and disappearing based on certain conditions is referred to in Buddhism as “dependent origination” (yeongi). As a result, when we think of this “I” that originated dependent on certain conditions instead as something that has a fixed and unchanging essence, it is here where our numerous attachments arise and intensify, and it is these things that are referred to as “afflictions” and “delusions.” Mangong said we should reject the clump-like “I” in this kind of fantasy and that the “I” we must search for is the “true I” or “true self.” This “true self” is not the self that is based on the conditions of dependent origination, it is “self” in name only, having no fixed essence.

This “self” is nothing other than the clear recognition of the fact that existence is dependently originated, this knowledge itself is the “true self.” Therefore, this “true self” is different from the atman concept of Indian philosophy. The atman is a concept from a philosophical perspective, meaning something like “ego,” or “individual self,” or soul. Having meaning as a “true form,” something “traversing the universe with immanent magical power,” it is an object that continues eternally. This draws a stark contrast with the conditions of dependent origination, so thoroughly discussed in Buddhist thought.

Now we know that the “I” spoken of by Mangong is something different from both the “I” that we normally think of as well as the atman spoken of in Indian philosophy. Mangong went on to also say that when one thought arises, the totality arises and that when one thought is extinguished, the totality is extinguished. He said that when the thought of “I” arises, in the time of one breath, a universe is created and destroyed. When there is thought, the entire universe appears, when thought disappears, the foundation of the universe is immediately returned to nothingness. The “one mind” (ilsim) is precisely reality. This is the totality of existence.

In order to ascertain this "true self," Master Mangong stressed that we must practice Seon meditation. Therefore, he exerted all of his energy leading his disciples in proper Seon practice. It is perhaps because of this, and also because of the dangers inherent in the tendency for the meanings of words and letters to become fixed, that Master Mangong left behind no written works.

Therefore, he settled upon the "observing the hwadu" (Ganhwa) method of Seon meditation that totally rejects theory and speculation and observes with the spirit of “no discriminating mind,” (musim), always teaching his disciples to investigate Zhaozhou's “MU.” In these anecdotes I've given you today, you caught but a glimpse of the Master's teachings, seeing how they aimed at leading his disciples to experience truth each for themselves, in the way that the Buddha personally experienced the truth of reality. As for the rest of his teachings, I'll have to promise that for the next time we have a chance to meet.


‘I' and the Necessity of Finding ‘I'
From Man-gong beop-eo

The reason that human beings are the most noble of the myriad things is that they are able to find and attain ‘I.’ The essence of ‘I’ exists in absolute freedom, so one ought to be able to control everything as one pleases. But the reason we human beings do not have any freedom at any specific time or place, and the reason why nothing goes the way we wish, is that we live our lives with our ‘deluded I’ as the master and the ‘true I’ as the slave. The ‘deluded I’ is the child of the ‘true I,’ but the mind that we exercise at present is actually the perverted mind. Although the ‘true I’ is the correct mind that has neither beginning nor end, existence nor extinction, or any form, it nevertheless is ‘I’ that has no deficiency.

Once human beings forget the ‘true I,’ they are no better than dogs or pigs. What difference is there between animals that are lost because of attachment to their instinctive desires for food and sex or human beings who, being ignorant of their true face, are lost because of attachment to their superficial realities? Even though someone may be regarded as the most superior person in the world, if he does not understand his own face, then he is just a one tiny part of the turning wheel of transmigration within the four modes of birth and the six destinies.

In this Saha World where sentient beings who share their world of karma abide, others and I live similar lives. Hence, people live their lives unconscientiously, by accepting them as they appear to be. Without foreseeing the fearful events that are laid out in front of them, they live their lives heedlessly; and when death comes suddenly to them, their road ahead becomes unclear. ‘I’ is that which answers “yes” when someone calls out your name. It is free from birth and death; it does not get burned by fire, get wet in water, or get injured by a knife. Thus, it is the independent ‘I’ that is free from all entanglements. Human lives, being pulled by the chain of karma, are transmigrating repeatedly along the path of the suffering of birth, old age, sickness, and death, like a screaming prisoner who is being bound and dragged by a horse. Only with the sword of one’s own wisdom will one be able to sever that iron chain. Even for a person who is most respected in society for his extraordinary learning and personal integrity, if he does not understand this matter, then he is definitely a person who has lost the human spirit.

When the World Honored One, Sakyamuni, was born, he pointed to the sky with one hand and pointed to the ground with the other and said, “In heaven above and earth below, only I alone am venerated.” The ‘I’ he mentions here refers to the ‘[true] I.’ Although every person possesses the inherent nature to become a buddha, he is unable to attain this buddhahood because one does not know the ‘I.’ Because all things are ‘I,’ to waste even as insignificant amount of energy as that on the tip of a hair on matters other than finding the ‘I’ would be one’s own loss.

All human beings possess the three bodies of the physical body, karmic body, and dharma body. Only when these three bodies unite as a single substance and function as one can we become righteous people. Though all activities are carried out by the dharma body, because the dharma body is not separate from the physical body or the karmic body, phenomena are just that state which is free from birth and death. That state which is free from birth and death is inherent in all sentient and insentient beings, so even with the whole universe’s armaments the spirit of even a single blade of grass cannot be destroyed.

In this world, there are such sayings and phrases as ‘knowing I’ or ‘finding I,’ but we only consider ‘I’ through our own activating consciousness. We’re not even able really to imagine what ‘I’ is. ‘I,’ as that which possesses limitless life, has a diamond-like, indestructible spirit that cannot be destroyed even if one tries. Thus, the birth and death of this physical body is only like changing my clothes. If you are a human being, you should be able to put on or take off as you please your own clothes of birth and death.

‘I’ cannot be obtained through the knowledge we acquire by seeing or listening. Even the very thought of ‘I’ is already not ‘I.’ ‘I’ can only be found at the locus of no-thought, because the locus of no-thought already possesses all things. If one reaches that ultimate realm of buddhahood, one will discover that I am in fact a buddha. Ultimately, I have to discover the ‘I’ within myself.


The Buddhadharma

Once you refer to something as the Buddhadharma, it already is not the Buddhadharma.

This means that, because all things, as they are, are the Buddhadharma, as soon as you define something specifically as being the Buddhadharma, it is already lost. Materiality is that which is utilized and spirit is that which serves as the foundation; hence, the unity of materiality and spirit is referred as the Buddhadharma. The Buddhadharma is apposite in any time period and in any person’s breath. If the core of life does not become stimulated upon hearing the Buddhadharma, then that person is one who has abandoned human life.

‘Buddha’ is the mind; ‘dharma’ is materiality. Before the creation of the name and characteristics of the Buddhadharma and prior to the manifestation of the Buddha in this world, ‘I’ already existed.

If one discards the ‘I’ that is like unglazed earthenware, then one will obtain the dharmakaya (law body) that is like a vessel decorated with the seven jewels. It is not the mouth that talks nor the hands that labor. By knowing the true essence of that which talks and labors, one will become a ‘correctly made’ human being who creates true speech and labor. The Buddhadharma is the party responsible for the physical body and the numinous spirit. How unsettling must be the life of a person who goes on living without that responsible party? If one knows this, one has no choice but to return immediately to the Buddhadharma. The dharmas of the mundane world and the Buddhadharma are not two; the Buddha and sentient beings are one. Hence, by attaining that dharma of nonduality, one becomes a true human being. By knowing the Buddhadharma, even an ordinary person is an ordained monk; but if one does not know the Buddhadharma, even an ordained monk is nothing more than an ordinary person.

Just as one needs various keys in order to open various bolts, one must obtain 100,000 keys of wisdom to decipher the immeasurable, sublime principles of 100,000 samadhis. Denying the Buddhadharma is intentionally denying oneself; rejecting the Buddhadharma is intentionally rejecting oneself. This is because one is none other than the Buddha himself. Each and every sound is a Dharma discourse; each and every phenomenon is the true body of the Buddha. People say that encountering the Buddhadharma is difficult to achieve in even a billion kalpas. What sort of inexplicable reasoning is this? You just need to realize it!



When one advocates Buddhism, one has already transgressed the Buddhist teachings, because the doctrine of Buddhism is a doctrine that leaves behind the attachment to ‘I.’

The tenets of Buddhism do not reprimand evil or encourage good. Due to the fact that both good and evil are the Buddhadharma, the joys of the heavens and the Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss, as well as by contrast the hellish world of horrendous sufferings, are all the creations of that ‘I.’

It is a universal principle that one gets nothing without first paying the price and success does not come without making effort.

Because everything, as it is, is the Buddha, Buddhism is not taught by establishing fixed regulations and institutions but step by step according to one’s spiritual capacity.

What is referred as ‘mind-only’ in Buddhism— the central philosophy of the Avatamsaka-sutra, meaning that all things that exist in the universe are projections of the mind, that there is nothing that exists apart from the mind, and that the mind is the original essence of the myriads of things—is not the ‘mind-only’ that stands in distinction to ‘materiality only,’ but is instead the ultimate ‘mind-only,’ in which materiality and mentality are nondual.

Emptiness (the self-nature) produces the mind; mind produces human character; character produces conduct.

In the ordinary world, we presume that ‘the two aspects of materiality and mentality’ is a comprehensive designation for everything in the universe, but the true essence of the universe in fact exists separately. In Buddhism, we refer to the dharmakaya that transcends the spirit and the ‘True Person’ who surpasses the soul; hence, our ultimate aim is to realize them. The dharmakaya is the foundation of the physical body, the spirit, and the soul; but human beings of the Saha world are those who keep moving from life to life while exchanging bodies, spirits, and souls that have lost that foundation.

Buddhism is an educational institution that seeks to perfect the sense of ‘I’ for all of humanity. All the various and sundry religions are bridges and curricula that perfect the ‘true I.’

The profound meaning of the Buddhist teachings is a dharma that cannot be represented with words; but because each individual already possesses it, each mind can mutually respond to every other mind, allowing the past and future buddhas successively to pass on the dharma that cannot be taught or learned, given or received.


Leader of the Fifteen Month Silence at Gakhwa Temple, Gou Sunim

Deep in the folds of the mountains, I asked a Seon Master the way. He replied, “There is only one way—good or bad it makes no difference.” Furthermore, “The solution to the wars of the world, ideology, the travails of the common-folk, and the cessation of discrimination between superiority and inferiority is in understanding ‘dependent origination'. Herein harmony abides.”

The moon shines brightest on the 15th day of the 10th lunar month (the 19th day on the solar calendar). Some two thousand revered monks enter ninety Seon meditation centers all over the nation for the winter meditation retreat. This retreat will last three months. But at Gakhwa Temple, in the Mt. Taebaeksan, in Gyeongsang-buk-do, from the 19th thirty six revered monks will begin to undergo an eighteen-hour per day meditation ordeal called “finding life through death”, which will last fifteen months.

On the 19th, I met Gou Sunim (68 years of age), who will lead this dauntless concentration of mind. He has commanded a unique respect since ascending to the rank of Venerable Master. With his whole face beaming with a smile, he says, “Although Korea's tradition of hwadu Seon is up to the standards of Tibet, China, and Japan, it distresses me that our abbots do not display the confidence of one such as the Dalai Lama. Seon practice which is engaged only with hwadu and not real life does not represent the true nature of Seon. (Seon practice) should prepare one for life's hard knocks. Herein lies the enlightenment preached by the Buddha”.

How must we practice Seon in modern times?

“Today's government emphasizes a ‘get rich' and ‘competition without end' mentality. The Buddha stressed dependent origination. To discover the true value of oneself, one must cultivate health of mind and body. This teaches not ‘competition without end' but ‘cultivating upward (to the source) without end'”.

Korean Buddhism imported in the West seems to lack the sense of social service of “practical Buddhism”.

“Mother Theresa's wonderful system of service resulted from her understanding of Indian culture. Her service and austerities were a result of her freedom from ego. She worked happily until death in a manner equivalent to ‘snow falling into a well full of water'. In Seon, we compare this to a sky clotted with clouds, and the clouds thinning out. Seventy to eighty percent say they are happy to see the clouds clearing, only twenty to thirty percent recognize the sun shining through.”

What is the fundamental difference between Seon and other sects?

The biggest difference is that among the southern schools of Buddhism, all but Seon continue to seek knowledge through ‘polishing' after achieving comprehension, whereas in Seon, after achieving comprehension, this ‘polishing' for knowledge ceases. What this means is that, insofar as we already have original Buddha nature, there is no perfection beyond this. In his ‘Lecture on the Diamond Sutra', Kim Yong-ok makes the unlivable classification of ‘mind as the dharma body' and ‘body as sensual body', but even the body is the perfect Buddha. All existence is conditional causation, while at the same time Buddha nature abides in all existence. Each scattered temple is not a nugget of gold, everything (in the universe) is a nugget of gold”.

“Before realizing the meaning of dependent origination, a monk thinks twelve times a day of returning to the layman's world.” Master Gou says that if one understands the true nature of this dharma (of dependent origination), there is no end to perfectibility. While guiding the Gakwua Seon Center, Gou Sunim hopes to devote his merit to the salvation of others.


[Seon Master's Episode 4] Who is it ?

Mangong's a episode

A monk visited Master Mangong and said to him, "Where is the truth ?"
Answer : "It is in front of your eyes."
Question : "If so, why can't I see the truth ?"
Answer : "It's because there 'you' are."
Question : "Then, do you see it ?
Answer : "If there even 'I' am, it is more difficult for you to see."
Question : "If there neither you nor I am, is it possible ?"
Answer : "When there neither you nor I am, who is it that is trying to see ?"


Sŏn Master Man'gong and Cogitations of a Colonized Religion
by Mu Soeng
In: Makers of modern Korean Buddhism / edited by Jin Y. Park.

State University of New York Press, Albany (SUNY series in Korean studies), 2010.
https://terebess.hu/zen/modern_korean_buddhism.pdf Part two, Ch. 7. pp. 157-170.