Zen Master T’aego and the Diamond Sutra

T’aego was a Zen Master from Korea.  He was born in 1301 and died in 1382.  His collected sayings are like cracks of thunder in the night.  If you are asleep, they will startle you.

One of the practices in the Korean tradition of Buddhism is hwadu practice.  It is similar to other koan practices, but don’t let this fool you.  There is a unique relentlessness to hwadu practice that will rub your body-mind raw.

One question guiding my study of the Diamond Sutra is how can we practice it?  How can we put the Diamond Sutra into practice in our daily lives, here and now?

T’aego weaves together the Diamond Sutra and hwadu practice in his letter to Chang Hae, Layman Mugye.  He writes:

A monk asked Zhaozhou: “Does a dog have buddha-nature or not?”  Zhaozhou said: “No.”  This word No is not the No of existence and non-existence.  It is not the No of true nothingness.  Ultimately, what is it?

When you arrive here, you must abandon all with your whole body, not doing anything, not doing not-doing-anything.  Go straight to the empty and free and vast, with no pondering what to think.  The previous thought is already extinct, the following thought does not arise, the present thought is itself empty.  You do not hold to emptiness, and you forget you are not holding on.  You do not reify this forgetting: you escape from not reifying and the escape too is not kept.  When you reach such a time, there’s just a spiritual light that’s clearly aware and totally still, appearing as a lofty presence.

Do not wrongly give birth to interpretations: just bring up the meditation saying twenty-four hours a day, whatever you are doing.  Do not be oblivious of it for a moment: diligently come to grips with it and study it in fine detail.  If you keep studying like this, pulling it back and forth, when you reach the proper time, you better look back most carefully and see what Zhaozhou’s No means.  When you are [unable to turn back] like a rat going into a [hollow] horn, then views are cut off.

When those of sharp faculties get here, they empty through and smash the lacquer bucket [of ignorance] and capture and defeat Zhaozhou.  They have no more doubts about the sayings of the world’s [enlightened] people.

Even if you are awakened like this, do not speak of it in front of people without wisdom.  You must go see a legitimate teacher of the school.

Thank you for reading, for practicing, for living, for breathing, for smiling, and for striving!

(Note: This extended quote from T’aego is Number 15 in his collected sayings.  These were published as A Buddha from Korea: The Zen Techings of T’aego, translated by J. C. Cleary.  Zen Teaching Number 15 is on pages 106 – 107.)

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