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Gong-An Zen
Anecdotes about Zen Masters

Zen Master Kyong-heo's Cow without Nostrils

Once there lived in Korea a famous sutra scholar named Kyong-heo. As time passed, he realized that he was very attached to his body and would not escape life and death if he relied solely on the sutras. He therefore decided to practice Zen.

He locked himself into a small room and practiced day and night. Whenever he started to get tired, he took an awl and pricked it into his thigh to drive away the demon of sleep. If his mind became slug-gish, he rested his chin on the tip of a sword, so that he would be killed if sleep overcame him even for a second. Thus he fought against himself for three months, without sleeping even for a moment, in order to break through the koan "Before the donkey departs the horse has already arrived". Day and night he immersed himself in doubt and asked himself what this koan mean.

One day, one of his disciples, who was also his attendant, went to the market in the nearby town where he met Mr Li, an old worldly friend of his master. The latter inquired about his friend, whom he had not seen for a long time.
The disciple told Mr Li about his master's great vow and said: "He is practising very hard alone in his little room. My master does nothing but eat, sit and lie down."
When he heard the disciple's words, Mr Li said: "If this is so, he will certainly be reborn as a cow."
The disciple became very angry: "My master will be reborn as a cow? How can you, as an old friend of his, say such a thing? My master is the greatest sutra scholar in Korea. I am sure he will go to heaven when he dies."
Mr Li replied: "That's no way to answer me!"
"Why not?" cried the disciple. "How should I have answered?"
Mr Li said: "Had I been in your place, I would have said: "If my master is truly to be reborn as a cow, he will be reborn as a cow without nostrils."
The disciple was greatly surprised and did not understand anything.
Mr Li then said: "If you do not understand this, go and ask your master."

Once the disciple had returned to his master, he knocked on the door and told him about his conversation with Mr. Li. As Kyong-heo heard the words of his disciple, he suddenly flung open the door, ran out and screamed: "That's it! A cow with no nostrils! I understand!" and he did a dance of joy.
The disciple was stunned and feared his master had gone mad. But this was the moment when Zen Master Kyong-heo had broken through his koan.

Kyong-heo immediately recited the following verses:

"Hearing, by chance, someone say 'no nostrils',
I suddenly realize that the whole world is my home.
Descending Mt. Yeon-Am in June,
A rustic with no works sings a song of peace."

Kyong-heo became a great Zen master in Korea.

Maybe now you have a better understanding of how the old masters practised and how you too should practice.

From a dharma speech by Ven. Zen Master Young San Seong Do

The Practice of Mind-Sitting

One day, a student visited Zen Master Nam-Ak Huai-Yang. He was tall, had bright eyes and asked for permission to practice under the Zen Master’s guidance. As Huai-Yang granted it, the young monk retreated into a hut, where he practiced ceaselessly, day and night.

As Zen Master Huai-Yang heard of this, he wanted to check of which kind the disciple’s practice was. So, one afternoon, he went to the monk’s hut, where he found him sitting. He shouted: "Disciple! What for do you sit day and night?" The student replied: "To become Buddha". Thereupon, the Zen Master fetched a stone and a roof tile, settled down next to the monk’s cell and started to grind the roof tile with the stone. When the noise had become unbearable, the disciple called: "Zen Master! What for do you incessantly rub the stone against the roof tile?", and Huai-Yang answered: "I want to make a bright mirror."

There, the student laughed: "That’s utterly impossible! How can you make a mirror that way?" Abruptly, Nam-Ak Huai-Yang scolded the disciple: "And how can you become a Buddha only by sitting?" The student, who was highly spiritually gifted, immediately perceived that the Master’s gesture was only an expedient in order to enlighten him. So he stood up, bowed in front of Huai-Yang and said: "Please, teach me on the mistake of my practice!"

Nam-Ak Huai-Yang said: "When the horse doesn’s want to pull the cart, do you whip the horse or the cart?" The student replied: "Who would be so foolish to whip the cart then?". Thereon, the Master expounded: "So it is. The cart stands for your body, the horse is the symbol of your mind. If you want to become a Buddha, you should strive to cultivate your mind." The disciple vowed to practice like this from now on. Later, he attained great enlightenment and became well known all over as the eighth Patriarch Ma-Jo Do-Il.

Commentary by Ven. Zen Master Young San Seong Do:

Long sitting is a good thing. Yet you should not separately make an effort to sit very comfortably or silently with your body. Instead, you should try to attain an unmoving mind. Holding your Koan, you should constantly try to see your mind and thus control it. This is true practice.
This is the practice of mind-sitting.

From a dharma speech by Ven. Zen Master Young San Seong Do

What Is the Buddha-Dharma?

Once an Upasaka (a layman) visited Zen Master Hyang Bong and said: "Master, I want to attain the Buddha-Dharma from you. Would you please teach me the Dharma?“

Zen Master Hyang Bong said: “I am sorry, but my Dharma is very expensive.”

“Expensive? How much does it cost?”

“How much can you pay?”

The Upasaka put his hand into his pocket and took out some coins. “This is all I have.”

Zen Master Hyang Bong said: “Even if you proffered me a lump of gold as big as a mountain, my Dharma is far more expensive than that.”

So the Upasaka was obliged to leave and practice Zen. After a few months of hard training he returned to the Zen Master and said: “I came to understand that the Dharma is very, very important to me. So I will do anything for the Dharma. I will sacrifice even my life for you. Please teach me the Dharma.”

Hyang Bong said: “Even if you proffered me a thousand life-spans, my Dharma is far more expensive than them.”

The practitioner was very depressed and went away again.

After several months of more intensive training he returned and said: “Now I thoroughly understand that everything is my mind. Therefore, I will give you my mind for the Dharma. Would you teach me now?”

Hyang Bong said: “Your mind? Your mind is a trifling thinking-garbage. Such a thing is useless to me. And even if you proffered me ten thousand minds, my dharma is far more expensive than them.”

Again the Upasaka left to train himself harder. After some years he finally came to understand that the whole universe was empty. So he came back to the Zen Master and said: “Now I understand how expensive your Dharma is.”

"So? Then, how expensive do you think my Dharma is?”, asked Hyang Bong.

The Upasaka made a 'Hal' (shouting): “Ak!!!”

Hyang Bong said: “No, no it’s more expensive than that.”

When he left this time he was really confused and in deep despair.

He was firmly determined not to see the Zen Master again until he would have attained the supreme enlightenment.

Eventually that day came and he revisited Zen Master Hyang Bong and said: “Master, now I truly succeeded.”

“Then, bring me a word”, said Hyang Bong.

“The sky is blue, the grass is green. The mountain is mountain. The water is water”, replied the Upasaka.

“No, no no, my Dharma is even more expensive than that”, said Hyang Bong.

This time, the Upasaka became very angry: “I have already understood. I don’t need your Dharma any more. You can take it and shove it up your ass.”

Upon hearing his furious answer Hyang Bong laughed loudly. But this made the student even more furious. He wheeled around the room and was fuming so much. But the moment he had left through the door Hyang Bong called him out: “Wait a minute!”

The Upasaka turned his head and looked at the Master.

“Don’t lose my Dharma”, said Hyang Bong.

The moment he heard these words, he attained enlightenment.

Now, dear learned audience: What is the true Dharma?

Commentary by Ven. Zen Master Young San Seong Do:

The heaven is not the heaven, earth is not earth. Where do the heaven and earth originate from?

If you would clearly understand this, the heaven comes to be the heaven, and earth would be earth. The Dharma is the no-Dharma. The no-Dharma is the Dharma. Where does all the Dharma issue forth from?

– “Aak!”

From a dharma speech by Ven. Zen Master Young San Seong Do

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