[FOUNTAIN]The Buddhist ox within

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[FOUNTAIN]The Buddhist ox within

Writer Choi In-ho traced the life of Master Gyeongheo in his novel, “Road without a Road.” Master Gyeongheo’s poem “Nothing to do is my job” greatly inspired Choi, motivating him to write the book. Born in 1849, Master Gyeongheo entered the priesthood in Cheonggye Temple at age 9, and stayed in Donghak Temple, Cheonjeongam Hermitage, Gaesim Temple, Buseok Temple, Sudeok Temple and Haein Temple, where he was a head priest. After some twenty years, he suddenly turned his back on the world and disappeared, leaving a number of anecdotes suited for a depraved monk with an ordinary perspective. He drank alcohol, ate meat and spent several months, day and night, with a sick woman. He went into the Buddhist sanctum drunk and was beaten by people for teasing a married woman. He must be the most controversial and sensational character in Buddhism since Wonhyo from the Silla era. However, Master Gyeongheo is considered the great sage who revived Zen Buddhism in modern Korea. He rekindled the flickering light of Korean Buddhism.
One of Master Gyeongheo’s famous sermons is “Simusong”, or “Verse on seeking the ox,” which is about the course of a person’s understanding of truth. In Buddhism, an ox symbolizes the way and awakening. Master Gyeongheo’s verse was about the search for an ox, discovering its traces, acquiring, raising and losing the ox, and then finally losing the person as well. “It is pathetic! The seeker of the ox, you are looking for an ox while riding on one.” “You have never lost the ox, so how can you recover it? Good and evil lies within your heart, so there is nothing to clean or sever... You cannot hide whether you have your head down or lift it up. Cloud is in the blue sky and water is in the bottle.” Master Gyeongheo pointed out the foolishness of people who cannot reach true enlightenment through his verse.
In 1942, three decades after Master Gyeongheo attained nirvana, Manhae Han Yong-un published “A Collection of Gyeongheo” and wrote, “Master Gyeongheo transcended his physical body, did not cling to trivial matters, and lived free from worldly cares.” Recently, an unpublished poem, “Simusi,” personally calligraphed by Manhae was made public. Celebrating its centennial, Dongguk University was collecting Buddhist materials, and an alumnus donated the work. Gyeongheo’s advice, “Keep your mind at peace and consider mundane affairs a mere dream whether you like them or not,” is juxtaposed with Manhae’s wisdom, “Let the lotus flower bloom again in flames.” After all, the ox is within your heart.


by Park Jai-hyun

The writer is a deputy city news editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.
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