“Spiritual practice means having faith that there is a great treasure within your mind, and then finding it. Learning to discover the treasure within you is the most worthwhile thing in the world. If you can put this into practice, you can live freshly, with a mind open like the sky, always overflowing with compassion. What could be better than this?”
– Daehaeng Sunim
Blogging last week I shared about discovering images of the female Buddha in Vietnam. This week I want to share my encounter with the female Buddha inside the pages of a book by an astounding Korean Zen master, Daehaeng Sunim.
I discovered her googling: women, Buddhism and Asia. I was looking for quotes by genuine women teachers from the countries where I was photographing the female deity of compassion, Guanyin.
To my delight, the book, No River to Cross, popped up on my screen thanks to the translation of her work by Robert Buswell of UCLA. If you’re a Buddhist, a feminist or enthralled by a good adventure story this is a must read.
For the adventurous in spirit, her tale unfolds on both outer and inner levels. First we read about her life in the woods from age six after her family home is destroyed and they are forced to hide in exile from the Japanese occupation.
Also escaping her father’s rages, Sunim begins to meander farther and farther from the rudimentary hut her parents construct in the forest. She sleeps on the ground and eats grass to fill her stomach. More than once she narrowly escapes death in the dark of night when she intuitively stops herself from walking over the edges of cliffs.
Over the next several years her isolated wanderings become the setting for extraordinary transpersonal experiences. Sunim connects to a universal father and experiences an overwhelming sense of love and wholeness. She later comes to understand this loving figure as symbolic of the basic goodness within us all.
A lifetime pursuit of questioning began during her early years of transience. Her quest became more refined when she encountered a friendly monk who offers her food and guidance. It is only later that she discovers he is the most venerated teacher in Korea and has the opportunity to formally receive him as her spiritual guide.
After committing to the rigorous training to become a nun, Sunim throws it off for something more difficult, twelve additional years of solitary wandering working with the questions arising in her heart. Later she returns to complete her training astounding her teachers with a treasury of understanding.
The amazing details of her story are only a small part of No River to Cross. Even better yet are the wise and celebratory reflections she offers in her teachings. I’ve passed this book to Buddhist colleagues who are thrilled to discover a new and passionate voice. My mystic Christian friends resonate with the accessibility of her insight.
For the first time in the history of Korea, monks are becoming the students of a nun, Daehaeng Sunim. Twenty-five centers of study have sprung from the organization she founded over thirty years ago. Her clarity resonates with scholars and lay people alike.
“Just get rid of ignorance and delusions, and you will know that you are a Buddha and that you are already complete as you are. If you awaken to this, you will burst out laughing at how much effort you spent in order for you to become yourself. This is the laughter of peace and joy.”