Posted in buddhism, podcast

Perceptions and Reality: Wonhyo’s Story

 

I gave a talk recently about the power of our minds, the way our perceptions can shape the way we see the world.

You can listen to it here: Perceptions and Reality

In that talk I told the story of a Korean monk from the 600s named Wonhyo. I wanted to write this to talk about Wonhyo a little.

Wonhyo was a really important figure in the history of Buddhism in Korea. He lived in the 600s. His importance in the spread of Buddhism into Korea can’t be overstated and all of the schools of Buddhism in the country view him as an important figure. He wrote hundreds of Buddhist texts. In addition to his own work he wrote many commentaries on classic Buddhist texts from the various schools.

I like all that, but I like him more because he was kind of a weirdo. I like the Buddhist teachers that seemed crazy. Wonhyo did what other Buddhist teachers didn’t do. A lot of his time that wasn’t spent writing was spent out in the streets. He went to public places and taught regular people about Buddhism. Not only did he do that, but he didn’t always wear robes, he actually gave up being a monk to get married. Not only that, but he also included singing, dancing, and other forms of entertainment in his dharma talks.

Anyway, I spent that time telling you who Wonhyo was so that I could tell you his origin story. I like his story and I think that maybe it tells us something about ourselves.

When Wonhyo was a young monk he wanted to journey to China. Like many historical teachers, Wonhyo became convinced that the “real” Buddhism hadn’t come to his country yet. So, he wanted to go to China to find a better and more authentic Buddhism. So, he and a friend decided to take a journey to China together.

They were just walking and it was a long journey by foot.

One night on their journey they got caught in some terrible weather. It was a torrential downpour and they didn’t know what to do. They couldn’t keep walking in it. They found a cave, which they thought was some kind of temple dug into a mountain. They went inside to stay for the night and try to sleep. It was very dark and hard to see in this little cavern.

They slept for a while and Wonhyo woke up in the middle of the night. He looked around a little and stumbled on something round. He assumed it was a gourd and he held it to his mouth.

I guess in those days catching water in a gourd and drinking it was a thing people did.

There was water inside and he thought it was the best water he had ever tasted, it was refreshing and delicious.

The next morning the two friends woke up and discovered that their cave was a tomb. There were skeletons everywhere. Wonhyo looked down at the gourd he had found the night before and discovered it was skull full of dirty water. He threw up immediately.

It’s said that Wonhyo attained Enlightenment in that moment.

Why?

Because he saw that he had an incredible ability to reshape reality with his perception. He thought it was a gourd, and so he tasted really good water. His expectation changed the tasted of the water.

After this experience Wonhyo decided to go back home. He gave up being a monk and started spreading the teachings as a layman.

I think his story tells us a lot about ourselves. We expect an interaction or experience to be a certain way, and then we make it true.

How many times have you thought you’d have a bad day and it turned out you were right?

Is that because you were right? Or because your perceptions made it true?

It’s hard to really know. The hope is that with our meditation practice our minds get better and better at distinguishing things like that. If you can approach your day and just be present in it without predicting if it will be good or bad, I think that’s best.

Our perceptions tend to shape our reality and that causes us to avoid facing the truth.

 

 

 

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Posted in Mirror of Zen

Mirror of Zen

The Mirror of Zen is a text that was written by a teacher named So Sahn. He is one of the most revered Zen Masters in the history of Seon Buddhism. He was a Korean teacher and he tried to distill Zen teachings from over 50 sutras into a container that could easily be understood.

So Sahn lived in the 1500s. He became a monk at the age of 21 and dedicated himself to lifelong study. He lived in a time of great peril, when Korea was at war with Japan.

In these days there was some debate over whether practice should be centered on meditation or sutra study. Several different branches of Buddhism arose because of this debate, putting different levels of emphasis on different aspects of the Dharma. There were some saying we should just study the words of the Buddha and we really don’t have to practice ourselves. There are others who say that we just have to practice, that studying in any way is a distraction from our practice, we just have to sit like the Buddha did.

So Sahn dedicated himself to trying to bridge that gap. He thought that sutra study and practice were equally important. That’s actually a pretty common opinion these days, but not in So Sahn’s time.

It’s with this in mind that he wrote “The Mirror of Zen,” which is at once a study of core Zen concepts and also a practice manual. It’s a tiny little book. It can be read in just a couple of hours, but it has incredible depth.

I went through this text in great detail, but I also skipped the sections about how to be a good monk, since I don’t believe anyone reading this is a monk, I thought those areas wouldn’t be necessary.

Mirror of Zen: Part 1

Mirror of Zen: Part 2

Mirror of Zen: Part 3

Mirror of Zen: Part 4

Mirror of Zen: Part 5


 

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