About Seon Master Daehaeng
Seon Master Daehaeng was born in Seoul, in 1927, and is widely regarded as one of Korea’s foremost seon(zen) masters. She awakened at a young age and spent the decades afterwards applying what she experienced.
For many years she had struggled with the question of why people suffer. Seon Master Daehaeng realized that ultimately the answer was ignorance. People were unaware of the non-dual foundation that connects all existence. Unaware of this inherent connection, people lived as if they were disconnected from everyone else. Unaware of the ever-changing nature of reality, people tried to grip and immobilize that which is ever flowing. Unaware that their foundation is endowed with all of the ability of the universe, people thought themselves weak and helpless, limited to the kindness of others or the ability of their intellect.
Thus, people suffered because their behaviors and thoughts were not in harmony with the underlying truth of our world. And because people didn’t know about this inherent foundation, with its infinite ability, they also didn’t know how to free themselves from the suffering they had made.
So Seon Master Daehaeng began teaching people to entrust, to let go of, everything that confronts them to their inherent foundation, and then to go forward while observing. By continuing to apply and experiment with what we understand, a small grain of faith can grow into a great ball of flame that burns up all attachments and habits of the body and mind. Once this cloud of habits and discriminations has lifted, our inherently bright foundation, our true nature, can shine through.
She emphasizes that every single one of us is endowed with this bright foundation. We all have latent within us the wisdom and abilities of all Buddhas. Thus, while seon masters have traditionally taught only monks and a few nuns, Seon Master Daehaeng was determined to teach spiritual practice in such a way that anyone, regardless of their occupation, gender, or family status could practice and awaken.
So in 1972 Seon Master Daehaeng established Hanmaum Seon Center as a place where everyone could come and learn about their true nature and how to live with freedom, dignity, and courage. And even today, she is still there teaching only this.
*about Kun Sunim vs. Seon Master: both are correct, but Kun Sunim is a more frequent, natural expression. Sunim is the generic term of respect for a Buddhist nun or monk, and Kun is used to indicate great or venerable. It’s used for someone of outstanding attainment, or sometimes just out of respect for one’s age. On the other hand, Seon Master will convey more information about the person to non-Korean speakers. So it’s kind of a toss up!
*Seon vs Zen: In a sense Zen has become a generic term, but having lived in Korea for many years, it’s clear that much of what’s called Zen is actually Japanese culture, and not particularly Buddhist or a reflection of this fundamental Buddhanature we all share. I use Seon because this is the term in the language that Daehaeng Kun Sunim speaks, although publishers often prefer Zen in order to give potential readers an indication of a book’s contents.