Hyunoong Sunim and Jaguang Sunim both ordained and trained in Songgwangsa Monastery in South Korea. They studied under the renowned Korean Zen Master KuSan Sunim.
Hyunoong Sunim also studied under the greatest living zen master of the time, JeonGang Sunim, and his Dharma heir, SongDahm Sunim. Jaguang Sunim also studied under SongDahm Sunim, having numerous private interviews with him during her years in Korea.
KuSan Sunim (1910 ~ 1983)
Zen Master KuSan Sunim, like many of the great masters, experienced great hardships in his youth. From the age of 9 he began to contemplate birth and death, and pondered if it were possible to transcend these. At the age of 14 his father suddenly passed away, so he was obliged to take over the management of his father’s barber shop and the family’s affairs.
At age 26 he came down with a painful but undiagnosed illness. A friend who was a Buddhist layman asked him, “Since the abode of the self nature is originally pure, where does your illness lie?” Contemplating these words, he was inspired to take part in a 100 day chanting retreat at YeongWonSa Monastery. The retreat was devoted to KwanSeUm, or Avalokitesvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion. During this retreat his disease was cured, and he made the decision to ordain as a Buddhist monk. In 1937, at the age of 27 he was ordained in Songgwangsa Monastery under Zen Master HyoBong Sunim, one of the greatest Zen Masters of his generation.
KuSan Sunim practiced with great diligence, doing retreats at various meditation halls over the years. In 1943 he built a hermitage to engage in more intensive practice. In 1946 he had his first major awakening and received confirmation from his teacher Master HyoBong Sunim. Four years later he received full Dharma Transmission from him.
After holding positions of Abbot for several years, he decided to return to intensive practice. He moved to BaekUnAm (White Cloud Hermitage) and embarked upon the most vigorous practice yet. He never lay down to sleep, and when he sat in meditation he would place a knife tied to a stick under his chin to ward off drowsiness. After three years he experienced a great awakening.
In 1967 he moved to Songgwangsa to take up the position of spiritual director, or Zen Master. He rebuilt the mediation hall and established regular zen training retreats.
After visiting the United States in 1972 he established the Bul-Il International Meditation Center in Songgwangsa and began accepting foreigners for traditional zen training. Over the years, foreign men and women from many different countries arrived to ordain as monks and nuns, and train under him.
KuSan Sunim remained in Songgwangsa as Zen Master, holding retreats, giving regular Dharma talks, and vehemently urging his students to practice diligently, until his death in December 1983. He is remembered with reverence and deep gratitude by all of his students.
HyoBong Sunim (1888-1966)
Zen Master HyoBong Sunim is considered to be one of the most remarkable teachers of this century in Korea. He was born in North Korea, and as a young man studied law in Japan. During the Japanese occupation he was the first Korean permitted to become a judge after returning to Korea. At this time many Koreans were sacrificing their lives for the cause of Korean independence, and many who were arrested came before Korean judges.
In 1923, when he was thirty-five years old, he had to pass a death sentence on a criminal whose case was being tried before him. This weighed deeply on his conscience. Soon after, he disappeared without a word to his wife and family, and became a wandering toffee seller, on a pilgrimage in search of Truth.
At age thirty-seven he entered the Diamond Mountains and ordained as a Buddhist monk under SeokDu Sunim. Having entered the temple at a rather late age, he devoted himself to rigorous training. When he had still not awoken after five years, he built a mud hut and completely sealed himself off from the world, receiving food once a day. In the summer of 1931 he awoke and broke out of his hut. He then joined retreats of many different meditation halls, receiving acknowledgement of his awakening from other Zen Masters, including ManGong Sunim, who gave him the nickname “wheat pounder” (referring to the mallet used to pound wheat) because he always sat strong and straight without sleeping.
Over the next 35 years he served as the spiritual head of several monasteries, including Songgwangsa. He became the first Supreme Patriarch of the Chogye Order and held this position until his death in 1966. He worked tirelessly to revive Korean Buddhism and inspire monks to practice. He passed away at the age of seventy-eight.