When Mind Appears

From Seung Sahn’s The Compass of Zen

According to the Avatamsaka-sutra, your mind makes everything. It is very simple. We already talked about how our mind makes time and space. We talked about how your mind makes the same length of time either longer or shorter. Your thinking makes here and there, up and down, good and bad. Originally these things do not exist. They come from thinking. When mind appears, everything appears. When mind disappears, everything disappears. Our mind makes this whole universe. There is a famous story that explains this point.

A long time ago in Korea, there was a great Zen master named Won Hyo. When he was a young man, he had to fight in a terrible civil war. He saw many, many men killed. He watched helplessly while innocent women and children were also ruthlessly slain in the pointless give and take of battle. Lands were overrun and livestock slaughtered. This hit his mind. “Human beings have no meaning in this life,” he thought. “Why must we make so much suffering for ourselves and all beings?” so he decided that society was no good. In disgust, and yearning to find some answer to his deep question about the nature of existence, he shaved his head, became a monk, and headed for the mountains, vowing never to return until he had understood the absolute truth about the nature of existence. In a very short time, he fathomed the teachings of the great sutras. But this did not satisfy him. Even the Buddha’s own speech could not lift the heavy burden that lay on his heart like a boulder as he looked at the misery of everyday life. Seeing his condition, several of his friends told Won Hyo about a great Zen master in China who, it was reputed, had been completely enlightened as to the matter of life and death. Perhaps this master could help him. Together with another monk, Won Hyo packed away his sutras and, with backpack and straw hat, headed north across the mountains for China.

Won Hyo traveled on foot for many, many months. Although he was very tired and weak, his determination to find a teacher was unbending. One day, he ran out of water, and as night came he collapsed on the ground, very exhausted. He awoke in the middle of the night, gripped with thirst. As he groped around for something to drink, his fingers felt the edge of a cup, filled to the brim with water. Taking it with both hands, he gratefully drank the water, which Buddha himself must have sent to help him! The water felt cool and refreshing as it ran down his throat. Because he was so thirsty, it seemed like the most delicious water he ever tasted. Happy with his great fortune, Won Hyo settled back into sleep.

In the morning, Won Hyo woke and found beside him what he had taken for a cup the night before. It was a human skullcap in which some rainwater had collected. There were maggots and larvae moving around the sides. The skull wasn’t so old, too, so there were still bits of flesh clinging here and there. When he saw that, his stomach convulsed in nausea. Falling on all fours, Won Hyo’s mouth opened wide, and as the vomit poured out, his mind suddenly opened and he attained enlightenment. In that moment, he completely attained the true nature of his mind: Last night, since he hadn’t seen or thought anything of the water, it was delicious. But now, seeing the skull and thinking about it, the water suddenly became very bad and made him sick to his stomach. “Ah ha,” he realized. “Everything is created by mind alone!”  

Won Hyo realized that his thinking made the water good or bad, delicious or disgusting. Thinking makes things pleasant or unpleasant. Thinking makes the whole universe! Won Hyo attained this point and realized that finding a teacher in China was no longer necessary. He returned to Korea and eventually became the National Teacher. He is known as one of the greatest Zen masters in the history of Korean Buddhism.


14 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Sean
    Sep 21, 2012 @ 08:11:15

    Thanks for your article on Wonhyo! But I have a question:
    You refer to Wonhyo as a “Zen Master”… But Wonhyo lived in Silla from 617-686 and I have read that the Seon/Zen tradition was brought to Silla by Doui in 821, and that the Seon school was unified and organized into a major school of Korean Buddhism by Jinul (1158-1210).

    Having heard this, I naturally scratch my head and wonder – how could Wonhyo be a “Zen Master” two-hundred years before Seon/Zen was known and six-hundred years before Seon/Zen was systematized into a unified school in his country?

    (I have seen universal agreement on these dates, but to cite a source, just for instance: http://international-zen-temple.de/en/zen/transmission.htm) I’m not trying to be aggressive – if there is a reason why Wonhyo could be called “one of the greatest Zen masters in the history of Korean Buddhism”, I’m eager to hear it, but from what I know so far it sounds anachronistic.


    • The Buddhaful Tao
      Sep 21, 2012 @ 10:15:59

      Hi Sean,

      Thank you for your reply and insight on the subject. You may be correct regarding the issue of anachronism. As I stated at the beginning of the article, the passage was taken from the Korean Zen Master Seung Sahn’s book “The Compass of Zen.” I can only assume that he referred to him as a Zen Master as a way of honoring Wonhyo since he apparently influenced Zen Buddhism in Korea.


  2. Sean
    Sep 21, 2012 @ 21:14:31

    Thank you for your open-minded response. I think you’re probably right that Zen followers believe it is an honour to call anyone a “Zen Master”, just as a Mormon probably believes they could honour the Catholic Saint Thomas More by calling him a “Mormon Father”, or the Russian Orthodox Church calling Martin Luther King JR a “Russian Orthodox Priest”. You see my point – it’s not at all clear that Wonhyo would accept the title of Zen Master, and it’s deeply misleading to teach people that he was one. That’s all. As a side note, the Jogye Order – the Seon organization of Korea – does not claim Wonhyo as a Zen monk, for obvious reasons. So this is a fringe claim. I just think it is hard to get information about Korean Buddhism, and calling Wonhyo a Zen Master only confuses things.


  3. The Buddhaful Tao
    Sep 22, 2012 @ 00:02:50

    Thank you for your insight again. I respect your perspective, however I do not think the sect, school, or order is the important thing that Seung Sahn, or myself, was trying to express. The message is what is most important. Whether or not he was Korean, Indian, Japanese, Chinese, American, Buddhist, Muslim, Christian, Zen, Mahayana, or Vajrayana is of little importance compared to the message. These are illusions that separate us from a deeper understanding of what was said. Also, as a side note, the link you provided also refers to Wonhyo as a Zen Master. I quote, “The Venerable Zen Master Wonhyo, born in 617 C.E., began his life as monk at the Hwangnyongsa Temple.” There are many sources that refer to him as a Zen Master, but I have not come across any that explicitly say he is not.

    I respect your contributions to the post and I have learned quite a bit. Out of respect for you and your concerns regarding Wonhyo, I can remove the final sentence because I do not think that is the important thing from Seung Sahn’s passage and I do not want this issue to be a distraction. If you are so passionate about this issue, I would suggest you contact the publishing company that publishes and/or distributes Zen Master Seung Sahn’s “The Compass of Zen.”


  4. Sean
    Sep 22, 2012 @ 10:10:21

    Okay, thanks again for this discussion on an important and deeply influential monk.

    Does it matter what school or persuasion of Buddhism Wonhyo wrote from and practised?
    Can’t we just take the neutral view that it doesn’t matter?

    Well, the “neutral” view here is that Wonhyo practised Zen. In reality, “Zen” differs from “Seon” in important ways – the koans and the teacher-relationships are different. And then, Wonhyo didn’t even practice Seon! So his beliefs and practices are unlike those in Zen in many ways. However, the term “Zen” is so ubiquitous in Western sources on Buddhism, a great lot just gets “neutrally” herded into the narrow term “Zen”. This is a prime example, where a story that might encourage someone to look up something about Buddhism or Wonhyo begins by oversimplification.

    If you believe Buddhist schools are no more interesting than the Four Noble Truths, then it makes no difference. But if you believe, as I do, that the schools differ in real, interesting, and important ways, then masking differences in the service of the dominant school of Zen, showing no interest in the historical flowering of many schools and practices does a disservice to the complexity and dialogue that exists within Buddhism. Let me be clear – I am not hostile to Zen or Seon. I consider myself closest and most interested in Seon Buddhism. I don’t consider myself a devotee of Wonhyo, though I deeply admire him. But I am more interested in the diversity of Buddhism, and believe that to be more inspirational and powerful than any false uniformity. I think you will agree with me about that.

    I am not sure, but you also seem to reserve some doubt as to whether Wonhyo might not have been a Seon Buddhist. I admit, I am not an expert and something surprising may explain the situation to me. I am aware that the source I offered claims Wonhyo was a Zen Buddhist – but it also agreed to the anachronism of that claim by showing the dates. I was not trying to say this is the first time I encountered this probably error – indeed, the proliferation of it is what inspired me to say something. I also mentioned the Jogye Order of Korea – they are the experts on Zen in Korea of course, and they do not claim Wonhyo. Neither, I admit do they say “Wonhyo was not a Zen monk”. Show me a source that denies that Martin Luther King Jr was a Russian Orthodox Priest.

    I am grateful for this conversation and I enjoy it very much, so thanks for providing a forum for discussion on this subject.

    To summarize:

    The meaning of “Zen” is drained,
    The lifelong work of Wonhyo is discarded,
    and the diversity of Buddhism is denied.


  5. The Buddhaful Tao
    Sep 22, 2012 @ 10:41:29

    Well, I believe your analogy referring to Russian Orthodox and Martin Luther King Jr. is a simple one because there is no respected publication that lists Martin Luther King Jr. as a Russian Orthodox, and no one from a Russian Orthodox church has referred to MLK Jr. as Russian Orthodox.

    In addition, you mention that the Jogye Order of Korea, experts on Zen in Korea, do not claim Wonhyo as a Zen Master. I am in no way an expert on the topic, but it would be interesting for you know that Zen Master Seung Sahn, the author of the article you are disputing, is the 78th patriarch of the Jogye Order. So yes, essentially the Jogye Order of Korea has claimed Wonhyo as a Zen Master. It’s unfortunate that this is the summary you have decided to take away from this passage instead of its intended message. I apologize that it has been presented in a “misleading” way.


  6. Sean
    Sep 22, 2012 @ 11:22:20

    As an example of disproof that Wonhyo was a Zen or Seon monk:

    The following articles are from Volumes 1-10 of a publication available online at buddhism.org.

    There are 22 articles that name Wonhyo.

    Most of those articles contain NO REFERENCE to “Zen” or “Seon”.

    Articles WITH reference to Zen or Seon:

    Robert Buswell
    “Wonhyo and the Commentarial Genre in Korean Buddhist Literature”
    1 reference (Zen)
    In a footnote on page 59, as an example of a book “Essays in Zen Buddhism” that attempts to interpret Wonhyo, but in which “there is something quite constrained and far-fetched”.

    Charles Muller
    “Revew of Cultivating Original Enlightement: Wony’s Exposition of the Vajrasamadhi-Sutra”
    1 reference (Zen)
    On page 180, describes the Vajrasamadhi-sutra as text which greatly influenced Zen (and many other schools), meaning Wonhyo’s commentary had a very wide influence.

    Jin-Young Park
    “Wonhyo’s Writings on Bodhisattva Precepts…”
    5 references (Zen)
    page 155 – explains that James Whitehill’s interpretation of Buddhist ethics is the context of “the discourse on Zen Buddhist ethics in American Buddhism”.
    page 155 – he cites a book by Whitehill, “The Mind of Clover: Essays in Zen Buddhist Ethics and others”, as support for his claim that Whitehill thinks as he does.
    page 157 – he distinguishes Mahayana ethics from Zen, and says “Like Zen Buddhists who try to …, Mahayana ethics… etc…”
    page 164 – “The function of faith in Wonhyo’s bodhisattva ethics has much in common with the faith in Zen Buddhism in the way it is explained in the hwadu practice”. !! a deeply telling passage because it distinguishes Wonhyo from Zen!
    page 167 – this is a “References” page, and so Whitehill’s book, quoted above (on page 155) appears again.

    Lastly, there is an article, without references to Zen or Seon, called “Wonhyo’s View of the Huayan Doctrine”. This was the Chinese school of Buddhism that Wonhyo was partly influenced by. Huayan became Hwaom in Korea, and eventually merged with Seon. This is the closest connection Wonhyo has with Zen, but it is rather distant –
    for one, although his good friend Uisang was explictly a member of this school, Wonhyo never was actually a member – though he could have been had he been so inclined.
    Second, the school was similar in many ways with Seon, but distinct, and to this day retains some differences with the Seon tradition. Also, over the centuries that passed between the Hwaom that Uisang followed and Wonhyo first encounter, and its later merge with the Seon school, the tradition had changed dramatically, and lost its foothold, so even claiming Uisang as a “Seon” practitioner is dubious.

    Here is a passage from that article which should cast doubt on calling Wonhyo a follower of Huayan – which is the dubious path by which Wonhyo is associated with Zen, I suppose:
    “Two of the most important Buddhist scriptures that constructed Wonhyo’s Buddhism, the Vajrasmadhi Sutra and the Da-sheng-Qi-xin-Lun did not appear in Chinese Buddhism”
    page 113

    And the final line in the article: “Wonyo’s failure to observe celibacy, which is mandatory for a yogi to attain the highest mental state, removes him from the mainstream of Chinese Huayan Buddhism.”

    Wonhyo was not a Seon/Zen monk.
    Huayan Buddhism has affinities with Seon/Zen, but,
    Wonhyo was not a Huayan Buddhist.

    And – it is wrong to disseminate falsehoods about Wonhyo.

    That’s my case!

    Of course, I couldn’t have articulated it, or known it, until we began this conversation – so I cannot claim to have come to this in isolation or without the stimulation of our conversation! So, thanks again – this forum has been a real benefit and excitement to me!

    I hope you will consider revising the text, or publishing a correction to warn readers at the top of the text, in light of this new evidence.


  7. Sean
    Sep 22, 2012 @ 11:33:53

    Wow! No, I didn’t realize Seung Sahn was part of the Jogye Order! Well that is a shock! It doesn’t change the history or the question, of course, but it does complicate things, because now we must either say: there is some complicated way in which Wonhyo’s very individual approach to Buddhism that drew on many doctrinal schools was somehow equivalent to the “Seon” tradition… a claim which is highly dubious given the information collected in the articles on Wonhyo, OR, the Jogye Order somewhat dishonestly claims Wonhyo for their own. I know Wonhyo is a hugely famous character in Korea – there is a bridge in Seoul named after him and this story you’ve told is very well known, even amongst non-Buddhists. So, I can see why it would be advantageous to try and brush up against the prestige of Wonhyo, but, yeah – out of charity I will allow that there might be some strange contingency where Seon reaches back two hundred years in time and claims Wonhyo, but I think it’s far more likely that calling Wonhyo “Zen” is just plain dishonest. Sad, really!

    I get the sense that you don’t like doctrinal discussions? I apologize if that’s the case. History and philosophy are exciting to me, so, I’m engaged in a way that makes it as enjoyable as it is challenging and curious. I hope I haven’t offended you in this process, even though I have of course challenged the historical accuracy of this stuff! I still love this site and appreciate all the work you guys are doing! Just trying to help!


  8. Sean
    Sep 22, 2012 @ 12:25:51

    Maybe I should give it a rest, but this is another site with an account in line with what I’ve been saying:


    It seems as plain as knowing 821 is greater than 686 to realize that Wonhyo never heard of Zen. Nobody Wonhyo ever met heard of Zen. Nobody Wonhyo met had ever met anyone who had ever heard of Zen.

    At first the prevalence of the claim that Wonhyo was a Zen master induced me to believe, but I now am confident it’s nonsense.


  9. The Buddhaful Tao
    Sep 22, 2012 @ 12:36:57

    Doctrinal discussion is nice, but I think it unnecessarily complicates things and creates illusory divisions – as we have seen in this discussion. 🙂 Yes, it’s interesting and good to know, but I am more concerned with the ultimate message. It reminds me of a quote from Lao Tzu, “A leader is best when people barely know he exists, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it our selves.”

    Regarding your comment about Wonhyo never knowing Zen, it is also true that Jesus never knew Christianity, Islam, or any sect of the two; however, they all pay homage to Jesus in some respect or another by considering him one of their own.

    I have, however, enjoyed this discussion immensely and have learned a great deal thanks to your insight and contribution. I think one thing we can agree on, is that there is much to learn. Your insight and contribution is always welcomed.


  10. Sean
    Sep 22, 2012 @ 12:56:19

    I agree that “The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao”, as Lao Tzu puts it, and that doctrine shouldn’t distract us from the focus. I’m glad to see we share so many interests!

    However, the entire Christian theology is built on the concept that Jesus could never have been a Muslim. The Islamic theology is built on the idea that Jesus was not the Christ. This is where doctrinal issues become important – if Islam is true, Christianity is false, and vice-versa.

    As for Jesus never knowing Christianity – if you are a Catholic, you believe Jesus gave the keys of heaven to Peter, and so created the church. In that case, Jesus not only knew Christians, but commanded that Christianity be organized into a church, etc…

    So, the homage that the Muslims pay to Jesus is subversive to the homage that Christians pay him. Calling him a great human insults those who call him the one great god. I think that’s an unfortunate and divisive way of thinking, but I think it’s implied in monotheistic thought. I admire, though, those monotheists who ignore that logical implication in their philosophy.

    I don’t think doctrinal differences are illusory – that seems to imply that what a person believes makes no difference. The creationist/evolution wars are a good example of the contrary – some people’s belief in the literal truth of the bible has massive influence on public policy. What people believe informs the choices and behaviours they pursue – it has a big influence on our world. Doctrine is about what is true, what works, and what is useful – that can sometimes be divisive, but, for me anyways, it is always important to seek, to question, and to examine, precisely because ideas are so important.

    But now we’re falling off topic a little – anyways, I enjoyed this immensely and our discussion led me to reflect and think a great deal. Thank you!


  11. miumiu バッグ 2012
    Sep 15, 2013 @ 23:43:22

    miumiu 財布 2012


  12. Dylan
    Nov 04, 2013 @ 15:00:40

    Hi. Who is the artist of this amazing painting?


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