T'aego, nature poet and Zen master
T'aego is considered a great teacher who brought the Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism to Korea. He had two profound experiences of Enlightenment in his life, and was recognized with a National Master, leading the entire institution of Buddhism in his time. In his official capacity, he tried to unite the various schools of Zen Buddhism to only one. Although he served the king for several years, he preferred the stillness of the nature of the forest, the rivers and the mountains to live. However, he served the king with all will to eliminate corruption in monasteries and to restore a purer form of Zen practice of his time. His writings reflect a deep appreciation for nature pointing to the Eternal Essence and Buddha Mind in everything. His style was unpretentious and simple, particularly in his use of koans.
T'aego could write in a very encouraging way, while he could make very sharp comments, scolding slack and corrupt practitioners in society, the royal court, and in the monasteries. He considered his duty to fight for the purification of the entire country and religious institutions, asking others to help him in a battle for the return to integrity, ethics, and core values.
Many times T'aego made references in his teachings to the classic koha of Zhaozhou: "Does a dog have a Buddha nature?" The answer "Mu" means "no" but with the sense of denial and emptiness. It was used as a “hwadu, ” a key word to focus the mind on meditation and eliminate all discriminative thinking, absorbing unity with Mu, and opening to the original essence, the foundation of the mind, or the true face that one has since before the birth of your mom and dad. It also demonstrates the use of hwadu by recommending turning back by tracking the light of consciousness to its origin, wondering at the same time who is the one asking when writing:
“Still, who is it that recognizes impermanence and birth and death like that? And who is the one who needs to ask about the Path? If you can appreciate this with certainty ... then, as we say, 'The face is unique and wonderful: the light shines in the ten directions.' (Cleary, 1988: 108). ”
In addition, he demonstrated Pure Land teachings by recommending the recitation of the name of Amitabha Buddha to reach the pure land of our attentive and present consciousness, that is, our essential nature . Much of his poetry reflects the symbolism of Taoism and nature, pointing out the direct path to Enlightenment, the non-self, Buddha Nature, Emptiness, and impermanence. In his poem number 33 entitled "The song of spontaneous joy in the mountains" reads:
“… I prefer to share spontaneous joy always with rivers and rocks… I cannot let worldly people know of this joy… among the ups and downs of cliffs and rivers flowing with strong currents, loneliness is sweet. A small hermit on the hillside is enough shelter for the body. In addition, white clouds can rest there. Have you not seen the song of the old monk T'aego? In his song there is inexhaustible joy. Spontaneous joy, spontaneous singing - what is there to do? It is the joy of knowing fate in the sky of bliss. Why spontaneous singing, spontaneous joy? I don't know anything about this joy that I enjoy. There is meaning in this: do you recognize it or not? However, it is difficult for people to understand in their daily activities. In the depths of the intoxicated Illumination we play the lute without strings. ” (Cleary, 1988: 126-7)
This spontaneous joy in the midst of nature is the promise of spiritual practice and development, touching our true essence, the one that is everywhere in every moment, even though it is difficult to perceive in the distractions of everyday life. Not knowing T'aego of what he enjoys, he is referring to joy beyond thinking, reason, and analysis, the quality of everything that arises here and now. We can wake it up, experience it, in the stillness of the non-mind, beyond discriminative thinking, where we can hear the lute without strings, the sweet melody of the silent sound, the silence full of sound, which is called the Nothing of inner perception of our true essence, which is anything but silent. At the end of the same poem, T'aego writes:
“… Leaving in vain the reverberations of an empty name: how can there be silence? Those who know it well are hard to find. Even more rare are those who rejoice while practicing it in action. You should observe the joy of T'aego in this. The ascetic dances drunk. A mad wind rises in the myriad valleys. Spontaneous joy does not know the progress of the seasons. I simply watch the flowers of the cliff open and fall. ”(Cleary, 1988: 126-7)
This ascetic drunk dancing is a metaphor referring to the moment when he releases himself from rigid attachment to thought and reason, leaving ecstatic bliss to manifest spontaneously. However, after all, it is simply the flow of life right here and now in front of our eyes, the natural opening and falling of flowers hanging over a hidden river. We continually wake up to this perfection in our practice, our meditation, and our life, if we simply awaken our minds, the inner flowering, letting this also happen, repositioned again and again by another, in the constant flow of life .
Another important image for T'aego in his poetry is the use of the moon to represent the complete uniqueness of the Buddha's Mind, without movement, but reflected in the mind of each being, in all life experiences:
In his poem number 41 entitled "Moonlight Pong" reads:
In the vast space of the silent sky
Round light shines alone
It is reflected to the depths of the lake
The light is divided by the myriad waves separating
The clear wonderful lighting ...
It spreads in every direction like a great wave never left over
The moon shines on the lake: they are no different
The lake reflects the moon: they are not equal
Neither different nor equal: this is Buddha ...
This is the moonlight illuminating the lake, a spiritual land where there is no "achievement"
It is not just a single color of an autumnal midnight. (Cleary, 1988: 135)
Here we have T'aego illustrating the calm and clear silent light of enlightenment, which lies deep within our being. The light that is there is what is reflected everywhere. Our true Mind is Buddha, the one that is immanent and transcendent at the same time, the one that is one with everything, while all forms are different, the teaching of inter-dependent co-origin, a contrast of opposites intrinsically interconnected with each other. another, in a game of creation, appearance, and change. At the bottom of our being, we see the reflection of the moon, our Buddha Mind, essentially empty of any independent existence, simply the clear light of being. Be that as it may, this luminous consciousness perceiving the infinite forms of the universe can at the same time illuminate the dark darkness of our own ignorance, showing us the way to liberation.