One of the more famous Zen masters in Korea was Hyobong, who was a judge during the Japanese occupation—in fact, the first Korean to be allowed to sit on the Colonial bench. But after having to sentence a man to death, he became suddenly disenchanted with the whole idea of colonial justice, resigned, and became an itinerant toffee seller, during which time he thought deeply about how he could best lead a decent life. He finally decided to become a Buddhist monk and to start proper meditation. He then chose the hwadu “No!” and in 1931—though it might be difficult to accept this kind of thing happened so recently, so much does it sound the stuff of legend—had himself walled into a tiny hermitage, with only a tiny hole for food to be passed in and out. He stayed there for 18 months, until one day in 1933 he realised that all of his doubts had been resolved. He had himself unwalled, and as a conclusion to his lengthy meditation on the hwadu “No!” wrote the following lines:At the bottom of the ocean, a deer hatches an egg in a swallow’s nest.
In the heart of a fire, a fish boils tea in a spider’s web.
Who knows what is happening in this house?
White clouds float westward; the moon rises in the east.
After which revelation, Hyobong became a Zen Master, a respected teacher, and was appointed spiritual head of the Chogye order—the principal order in Korea. Thus, while cynics might not accept the validity of the hwadu system nor the sense of the poem that resulted, it has to be accepted that the man who so meditated, and the man who came up with this answer, was appointed to a position equivalent to the head of a major Western church—a church whose rituals must seem as strange to Zen Buddhists as their ways must seem back West.
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