Early in the morning on Nov. 4, 1993, the Venerable Seongcheol of the Korean Buddhist Jogye Order passed away. He died at the age of 82, 58 years after he was accepted as a Buddhist monk.
Seongcheol used to meditate sitting up all night. It was probably due to this prolonged Buddhist training that he preferred to leave the world while meditating in a sitting-upright position.
The monk’s meals were simple and plain. He didn’t use salt and his side dishes were only several pieces of crown daisy leaves, five pieces of thinly sliced carrots and one-and-a-half spoonfuls of marinated black beans. He also ate soup consisting of sliced potatoes and carrots, together with a small bowl of rice, enough food for a small child. Moreover, he took only half a bowl of plain gruel instead of rice for breakfast.
Some people might call it the “original well-being diet,” but it was apparent that Seongcheol did not dine in this manner because he wanted to lead a healthy life.
When he ate, he did not want to indulge. Seongcheol said there were more people who were “eaten by food” than people who “ate” food. If people mix up the purpose and the means to achieve it, it becomes routine for people to cheat others, then get cheated themselves in return.
Seongcheol used to say, in his rough South Gyeongsang province dialect, “Don’t cheat!”
By this, he meant to say that we should not cheat others or ourselves. One who cheats others is like a pickpocket, but deceiving oneself is like being a burglar.
However, people who live without knowing they are robbers, deceive themselves. It is because they cannot see their genuine identity. They cannot see themselves properly because the mirror in their mind is obscured by tons of dust on the surface. So, we must clear the dust away from the mirror in our minds.
The Venerable Seongcheol used to hold firmly and meditate, throughout his whole life, on the topic, “What is this?”
Asking the question, “What is this?” to oneself clears off the mirror in one’s mind. After all, it’s a struggle not to cheat ourselves by pursuing our genuine self. The monk also said, “If the whole volume of 80,000 wooden blocks of the Tripitaka Koreana kept in Haein Temple were summed up, it could be just one Chinese character, sim, which means mind.” He also said, “Even if we wear worn-out clothes, we should not let our minds wear out.”
Seongcheol preached about three kinds of diseases, the ones caused by money, sex and the desire to become a celebrity. Among the three, the most dreadful is a disease caused by the desire to become a celebrity. If one were to catch a disease caused by the desire for money or sex, people around him would see him critically.
But when one is caught by the disease of the desire to become a celebrity, people give applause and cheers to flatter him, although they are reluctant to do so.
Therefore, the disease caused by the desire to become a celebrity becomes a chronic one that cannot be easily cured.
After all, the celebrity disease prevents one from seeing himself or herself clearly as a result of the cycle of cheating and being cheated.
If we see ourselves clearly after cleaning the mirror in our minds, we will find the gold mine that is within ourselves and find that we are pure gold ourselves.
Trying to find a gold mine, leaving the one in ourselves neglected, is like saying that one has no money although he lives in a house made of gold.
As the Venerable Seongcheol said, happiness is not what one receives or gives, but rather what we create in our mind.
Therefore, we must do our best to create happiness. If we exert with all of our efforts, help from others will follow. If we fail, it is due to a lack of effort. There is no fate that can’t be overcome.
It has already been a long time since the Venerable Seongcheol passed away, but his teachings are still alive and awaken us like the whip that Buddhist monks use to wake up monks who fall asleep during meditation.
In this era of confusion where people cheat others and are being cheated, and even North Korean agents stalk the streets, we must stay awake, even when being hit with the whip.
And let’s not be devoured on the dining table of this treacherous era, but prepare a new table for a new era so that we ourselves and our descendants will dine properly.