Grandmaster Joon Pyo Choi Biography: To Haeng, part 12

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     During the summer break, I would travel just as I had as a youth. I had no money, so I hitchhiked across the country, seeking the Buddhist temples, so that I might extend my knowledge of Zen, Tao, and Confucianism. These three had come through China to Korea. Confucianism of course started in China. Zen came there from India, but through China first. Buddhism became very strong in Korea.

     Visiting those temples was a big part of my life. It’s in my blood to seek answers. It's part of me to go off and explore. I had an amazing curiosity and the need to get on a train or a bus, and find someplace new, exploring for days and even weeks at a time. When I was a teen, this distressed my parents greatly. When I was college, there was no one to stop me from going. No one worried that I was gone.

     I went to ask questions, to expand my spiritual knowledge. The monk-like style, this pursuit of spiritual wisdom, goes by the word Tao. It crosses all Korean philosophies. A Taoist is a disciple who is pursuing enlightenment through spiritual experiences. It is called To Haeng, and is common to many religions. "To" means pain and trouble. "Haeng" means action. It is the hardship of life that leads to enlightenment. Just as Jesus spent 40 days in the desert, and the Buddha spend 38 years in study, and the Dharma spent nine years in a cave, people who pass through pain and strife, obtain spiritual wisdom along the way.

     The Buddha went to Yung Chin, which is the Mouth of Spirits in India. He stayed there for many years, looking at the sunshine. And one morning he awoke, looked at the sunshine, and was enlightened.

     The Dharma, who brought Zen Buddhism to China and who founded the Shaolin Temple, sat for nine years in a cave before he came out and started teaching his spiritual wisdom.

     The story of the Dharma is an important one. He was born in India as a tribal prince. According to the legends, at the age of 100, he crossed the Yang Ji Gong, which is the connection between India and China, by fashioning a boat from leaves.

     There are two styles of Buddhism in China. To Soon and Ta Soon. To Soon is the Zen style of enlightenment. Before you can teach, you must be enlightened. Before you can walk, you must open your eyes. Ta Soon is the study of Buddhism step by step. With steady study, you accumulate knowledge and become wise enough to be enlightened over time.

     With the Zen style, you open your eyes and are awakened. You see who you are. You understand the origin of life, yourself, and the universe. You know where you are to go. You know the correct direction in that moment. This idea of Zen Buddhism came from India to China by way of the Dharma. I have been in that same cave that the Dharma sat in for nine years. I was there and I discovered things about myself there.

     The Dharma crossed over from India into China. He was a master of Zen Buddhism and his goal was to teach it to China. At the time, the Buddhism studied in China was the Ta Soon Boojo style: learn and study over time, that you may reach enlightenment.

     Enlightenment meant leaving the chain of the cycle of the Karma. Birth, growing old, growing sick, and dying is the cycle. Everything in the universe goes in that cycle. If you cultivate good in your life, if you reach enlightenment, then you break free of the cycle of Karma. If you do bad things, then you will have a worse cycle. You will be born as a mosquito or a pig or a cow. This is the idea of reincarnation. Without enlightenment, the cycle continues on and on unless you fall so low that you end up on the burning shores of Hell.

     With To Haeng, or the hardship of life, enlightenment comes to you. Through the action of strife, the action of life, the action of discipline, this comes to you.

     All religious leaders recognize the need for To Haeng. Jesus suffered in the desert for 40 days. Moses brought his people from bondage in Egypt after 40 years.

     I wanted to experience this as well. I lived as a monk to go through To Haeng. I was a martial artist, who was connected to Zen Buddhism, Daoism, Confucianism, and now Christianity.

     One book that I read with enthusiasm was the Quo Gong Ti Gun, or the Zen Student's Bible. Ti Gun means "bible" or "guidelines". Quo Gong means "exemplary study". The Zen Student's Guideline was written by Master So Soung, which means "Western Mountain." So means "west". Soung means "mountain". He was one of the most enlightened masters of Zen in Korea. Late in the Li dynasty, around the 17th or 18th century he wrote the book. It was a small paperback, which I devoured from start to finish. I was 20 or 21 at the time, so everything was vibrant to me. I soaked up all of its words.

     The things of Christianity that influenced me most were the sacrifices of the disciples, like Peter and Paul. They sacrificed their lives for their beliefs, helping people, saving people. They, like Christ, were crucified for their beliefs. That impressed me.

     My goal was to live like that. I wanted to believe in something so sincerely that I would be willing to sacrifice my life for it. For that to happen, I had to become enlightened. I had to be strong mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. This had always been my goal from an early age. Researching the history of my family, knowing that my ancestor had helped create the Chun Do religion, I knew that it was part of my genetic inheritance, woven into me at a cellular level.

     In ancient times, we Koreans would say that the ghost of your ancestors is living inside you. If you wanted the ghost out, you must visit an exorcist. In the past, we had no knowledge of our genetics. We saw it as a ghost, when in reality it was our essence within the DNA inside us. It was the summation of our parents, grandparents, and great grandparents, going back as far as life.

     According to Zen Buddhism, according to So Soung, inside of you is an entire universe. At the beginning of this universe is nothingness. But nothingness cannot exist, because it is oneness. As soon as you say there is nothing, you have admitted that there is something.

     The Dharma, also known as Bodhidharma, came from India into China. He was a prince in India, but decided to bring the philosophy of Buddhism into China. China, at that time, was divided into just a few dominant countries, where kings led from within castles with armies to protect their holdings. The Dharma arrived in one particular country of the Yung Dynasty. The country was practicing Ta Soon Buddhism: Buddhism is learned slowly, over time. Enlightenment builds up. A student of Ta Soon Buddhism follows the teachings and guidelines. The student does good things. In the end, the student reaches heaven as an enlightened human.

     The Chinese governments used the religion to control the people. The emperors and the religious people worked together, very similarly to how the Catholic Church helped European leaders exploit and use the peasants of Europe. The religious leaders took money from the emperors in exchange for keeping the people loyal to the government.

     In certain times, the religious leaders would control the kings. At others, it was reversed. Always the two factions were at odds, fighting each other, while the people were in the middle of it. In China, when the Dharma arrived, the Buddhist Masters were the councilors to the king. The religious leaders were on the king's cabinet.

     The Dharma was invited to the Yung Dynasty court. The king had heard of him and wanted to know more from him of his style of Buddhism. He arrived in the court, and all the Zen masters were there to watch. The Dharma was dressed in rags, as a monk. His clothes were raggedy and baggy. He did not look like the king's cabinet members. Those Zen masters were dressed in beautiful robes signifying their rank near the King. They dressed to impress the people they controlled.

     The Bodhidharma was dressed as a beggar. The king's advisors looked down on him for his dress and did not treat him with respect. The king was still interested in this beggar who was known as a great Zen Master, so he invited him to come forward.

     The king asked him, "I did so many good things according to the Buddhist teachings. I built seven temple, no, ten temples, and then I gave the food to the poor people, and I gave them medicine, and this and that, all of that. So, what power is that worth after I die? Am I going to Heaven or Hell? If I go to Heaven, which part of Heaven will I go to? If I go to Hell, which part of Hell will I go to?" In Buddhism, there are different levels of Heaven and Hell, similar to Limbo in Christianity.

     He asked the Dharma this question in front of all his advisors and courtiers. The Dharma did not answer.

     The king asked again. Again the Dharma did not answer. After the third time, the Dharma was silent for a moment longer and then he replied.

     "You did not do anything."

     The king was shocked.

     His Buddhist advisors had told him what to do to reach Heaven. They had explained the prophecies from Heaven. They had preached from the bibles and guidelines, and the king had done what was asked. But now a Zen master from India, where Buddhism had come from originally, came to his court and said he had done nothing to advance his cause in the afterlife. Everyone at court was offended.

     It was clear to the Dharma that the king was not ready to learn from him. The nobles attempted to assassinate him, but the Dharma escaped. He traveled south to Noble Mountain: Swing Fung. It is 1400 meters tall and quite steep. He climbed the mountain and found a cave. The Dharma entered the cave and sat down. He remained there for 9 years, staring at the wall. That was his To Haeng, his act of hardship so that he might reach enlightenment. He mediated in that cave for 9 years.

     One disciple, known as Hagar or Shin Song, had followed him from court, so that he might learn true wisdom. He wanted to gain enlightenment, so that he might escape the cycle of reincarnation. He found the Dharma in the cave and brought his food and water each day. Each day when he did that, he asked the Dharma, "What is it I must do? How can I be enlightened? What is truth?"

     Each day, the Dharma did not answer. He did not even turn his head.

     In the third year, Hagar was depressed and disappointed that he had not been given an answer. His mind was thirsty to be enlightened, to learn from Bodhidharma. He stood in the snow outside the cave and demanded that the Dharma tell him the answers to his questions. He held a knife in his right hand and demanded answers.

     Hagar shouted, "If I do not get answers from you today, I will kill myself! I will cut off my arm. That is how powerful my thirst of truth from you is."

     The Dharma did not answer.

     Hagar in anger and frustration struck off his arm with the knife. The blood flooded out onto the white snow. This is a famous image from Buddhism.

     The Dharma finally turned to Hagar and spoke. "If you show me your troubled mind, then I will tell you the truth."

     With that one statement, Hagar was enlightened.

     After this had happened, the sun came out and the snow evaporated into the air. Because of the blood, a red cloud, or Hong, formed above them. The red cloud became the name for their study. Kung Fu means "study". Wushu means "martial arts". The Dharma's and Hagar's study was called Hong Kung Fu: Red Cloud Study.

     So Hagar became the Dharma's student. After 9 years in the cave, the Dharma emerged from the cave and went to found the Shaolin Temple. There are many more stories of the Dharma after this.

# # #

     These stories were a great influence on me. Living as I was on campus in the dojo, living by myself, I had no master to teach me and no friends nearby to learn with. I had to teach myself. To teach myself discipline, I gave myself rules. For instance, if I did certain things or thought certain things, if I had temptations such as women or certain foods or anything I would enjoy, there would be punishment. Anything that would disturb a monk in deep studies was forbidden. To be a monk, to learn Zen Buddhism, to participate in my To Haeng, I had to have rules that I lived by. If I violated those rules, I gave myself fasting, three days minimum without food. I broke the rules many times, and fasted for three days many times because of it.

     If I continued to break my own rules, I shaved my own head. And if I broke the rules again, I hit myself. These rules were stricter and more vigorous than monks living in temples. They followed the rules of a master. I didn't have that. To obtain a high level of discipline, I had to live to my higher standards. To learn humility, I wore beggar's cloths. With a shaved head, an empty belly, and beggar's clothes, I tried to achieve my own To Haeng.

     I could have sought out a temple and a master to study with. I could have become a monk in a monastery. Yet, I chose to attempt it on my own. I went to college to be a student, but became an instructor of Taekwondo immediately. I was alone on campus at night and on the weekends, and I had the opportunity suddenly to act like a monk. While I tried to gain the highest level of martial arts skills, I could attempt to reach my own enlightenment. I could study So Soung, the Dharma, Christ, and Tao. I could enhance my mind from the books I scoured.

     This was my own To Haeng.

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