When Mind Appears
...From Seung Sahn’s The Compass of Zen
According to the Avatamsaka-sutra, your mind makes everything. It is very simple. We already talked about how our mind makes time and space. We talked about how your mind makes the same length of time either longer or shorter. Your thinking makes here and there, up and down, good and bad. Originally these things do not exist. They come from thinking. When mind appears, everything appears. When mind disappears, everything disappears. Our mind makes this whole universe. There is a famous story that explains this point.
A long time ago in Korea, there was a great Zen master named Won Hyo. When he was a young man, he had to fight in a terrible civil war. He saw many, many men killed. He watched helplessly while innocent women and children were also ruthlessly slain in the pointless give and take of battle. Lands were overrun and livestock slaughtered. This hit his mind. “Human beings have no meaning in this life,” he thought. “Why must we make so much suffering for ourselves and all beings?” so he decided that society was no good. In disgust, and yearning to find some answer to his deep question about the nature of existence, he shaved his head, became a monk, and headed for the mountains, vowing never to return until he had understood the absolute truth about the nature of existence. In a very short time, he fathomed the teachings of the great sutras. But this did not satisfy him. Even the Buddha’s own speech could not lift the heavy burden that lay on his heart like a boulder as he looked at the misery of everyday life. Seeing his condition, several of his friends told Won Hyo about a great Zen master in China who, it was reputed, had been completely enlightened as to the matter of life and death. Perhaps this master could help him. Together with another monk, Won Hyo packed away his sutras and, with backpack and straw hat, headed north across the mountains for China.
Won Hyo traveled on foot for many, many months. Although he was very tired and weak, his determination to find a teacher was unbending. One day, he ran out of water, and as night came he collapsed on the ground, very exhausted. He awoke in the middle of the night, gripped with thirst. As he groped around for something to drink, his fingers felt the edge of a cup, filled to the brim with water. Taking it with both hands, he gratefully drank the water, which Buddha himself must have sent to help him! The water felt cool and refreshing as it ran down his throat. Because he was so thirsty, it seemed like the most delicious water he ever tasted. Happy with his great fortune, Won Hyo settled back into sleep.
In the morning, Won Hyo woke and found beside him what he had taken for a cup the night before. It was a human skullcap in which some rainwater had collected. There were maggots and larvae moving around the sides. The skull wasn’t so old, too, so there were still bits of flesh clinging here and there. When he saw that, his stomach convulsed in nausea. Falling on all fours, Won Hyo’s mouth opened wide, and as the vomit poured out, his mind suddenly opened and he attained enlightenment. In that moment, he completely attained the true nature of his mind: Last night, since he hadn’t seen or thought anything of the water, it was delicious. But now, seeing the skull and thinking about it, the water suddenly became very bad and made him sick to his stomach. “Ah ha,” he realized. “Everything is created by mind alone!”
Won Hyo realized that his thinking made the water good or bad, delicious or disgusting. Thinking makes things pleasant or unpleasant. Thinking makes the whole universe! Won Hyo attained this point and realized that finding a teacher in China was no longer necessary. He returned to Korea and eventually became the National Teacher. He is known as one of the greatest Zen masters in the history of Korean Buddhism.