Seungsahn in October 2002
|Title||Dae Jongsa - Seonsanim|
(Great Zen Master)
|Other names||Dae Soensa-nim|
Dok-In Lee / 이덕인 / 李德仁
August 1, 1927
|Died||November 30, 2004 (aged 77)|
|Religion||Jogye Order of Korean Seon|
|School||Kwan Um School of Zen|
|Other names||Dae Soensa-nim|
Chang Sik Kim
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Seungsahn Haengwon (Korean: 숭산행원대선사; Hanja: 崇山行願大禪師; RR: Sungsan Haeng'weon Daeseonsa, August 1, 1927 – November 30, 2004), born Duk-In Lee, was a Korean Seon master of the Jogye Order and founder of the international Kwan Um School of Zen. He was the seventy-eighth Patriarch in his lineage. As one of the early Korean Zen masters to settle in the United States, he opened many temples and practice groups across the globe. He was known for his charismatic style and direct presentation of Zen, which was well tailored for the Western audience.
Known by students for his many correspondences with them through letters, his utilization of dharma combat and expressions such as "only don't know" or "only go straight" in teachings, he was conferred the honorific title of Dae Jong Sa in June 2004 by the Jogye Order for a lifetime of achievements. Considered the highest honor to have bestowed upon one in the order, the title translates "Great Lineage Master" and was bestowed for his establishment of the World Wide Kwan Um School of Zen. He died in November that year at Hwagaesa in Seoul, South Korea, at age 77.
Seung Sahn was born in 1927 as Duk-In Lee (modern romanisation: Yi Deog'in) in Sunchon (순천), South Pyongan Province of occupied Korea (now North Korea) to Presbyterian parents. In 1944, he joined an underground resistance movement in response to the ongoing occupation of Korea by the Empire of Japan. He was captured by Japanese police shortly after, avoided a death sentence, and spent time in prison. Upon his release, he studied Western philosophy at Dongguk University. One day, a monk friend of his lent him a copy of the Diamond Sutra. While reading the text, he became inspired to ordain as a monk and left school, receiving the prātimokṣa precepts in 1948. Seung Sahn then performed a one-hundred day solitary retreat in the mountains of Korea, living on a diet of pine needles and rain water. It is said he attained enlightenment on this retreat.
While seeking out a teacher who could confirm his enlightenment, he found Kobong, who told him to keep a not-knowing mind. In the fall of 1948, Seung Sahn learned dharma combat while sitting a one-hundred day sesshin at Sudeoksa—where he was known to stir up mischief, nearly being expelled from the monastery. After the sesshin was concluded, he received dharma transmission (inka) from two masters, Keumbong and Keum'oh. He then went to see Kobong, who confirmed Seungsahn's enlightenment on January 25, 1949 and gave him dharma transmission as well. Seung Sahn is the only person Kobong gave Dharma transmission to. He spent the next three years in observed silence.
Drafted into the Republic of Korea Army in 1953, he served as an army chaplain and then as a captain for almost five years, taking over for Kobong as abbot of Hwagaesa in Seoul, South Korea in 1957. In the next decade, he would go on to found Buddhist temples in Hong Kong and Japan. While in Japan, he was acquainted with the kōan (Korean gong'an) tradition of the Rinzai school of Zen, likely undergoing kōan study with a Rinzai master.
Coming to the United States in 1972, he settled in Providence, Rhode Island and worked at a laundromat as a repairman, spending much of his off time improving upon his English. Shortly after arriving, he found his first students at nearby Brown University, most of whom came by way of a recommendation from a professor there. Among these first students was Jacob Perl (Wubong), who helped to found the Providence Zen Center with the others.
In 1974, Seung Sahn began founding more Zen centers in the United States—his school still yet to be established—beginning with Dharma Zen Center in Los Angeles—a place where laypeople and the ordained could practice and live together. That following year, he went on to found the Chogye International Zen Center of New York City, and then, in 1977, Empty Gate Zen Center. Meanwhile, in 1979, the Providence Zen Center moved from its location in Providence to its current space in Cumberland, Rhode Island.
The Kwan Um School of Zen was founded in 1983 and, unlike more traditional practice in Korea, Seungsahn allowed laypersons in the lineage to wear the robes of full monastics. Celibacy was not required and the rituals of the school are unique. Although the Kwan Um School does utilize traditional Seon and Zen rituals, elements of their practice also closely resemble rituals found often in Pure Land Buddhism, Chan Buddhism, and the Huayan school. In 1986, along with a former student and Dharma heir Dae Gak, Seungsahn founded a retreat center and temple in Clay City, Kentucky called Furnace Mountain—the temple name being Kwan Se Um San Ji Sah (or, Perceive World Sound High Ground Temple). The center functions independently of the Kwan Um organization today.
Over his tenure as Guiding Teacher, Seungsahn appointed many Dharma heirs. He created the title Ji Do Poep Sa Nim (JDPSN) for those not ready for full dharma transmission but capable of teaching at a higher capacity. In 1977, Seungsahn was hospitalized for cardiac arrhythmia and it was then discovered that he had advanced diabetes. He had been in and out of hospitals for heart complications for years preceding his death, and in 1987 began spending much less time at his residence in the Providence Zen Center. Starting in 1990, and under invitation from Mikhail Gorbachev, Seungsahn began making trips to the Soviet Union to teach. His student, Myong Gong Sunim, later opened a practice center in the country (Novgorod Center of Zen Meditation).
Seungsahn implemented the use of simple phraseology to convey his messages, delivered with charisma, which helped make the teachings easier to consume for Western followers. Some of his more frequently employed phrases included "only go straight" or "only don't know". He even went so far as to call his teachings "Don't Know Zen", which was reminiscent of the style of Bodhidharma. Seungsahn used correspondences between him and his students as teaching opportunities. Back-and-forth letters allowed for a kind of dharma combat through the mail and made him more available to the school's students in his absence. This was another example of his skillful implementation of unorthodox teaching methods, adapting to the norms of Western culture and thus making himself more accessible to those he taught. He was a supporter of what he often termed "together action"—encouraging students to make the lineage's centers their home and practice together.
Seungsahn also developed his own kōan study program for students of the Kwan Um School, known today as the "Twelve Gates". These twelve kōans are a mixture of ancient cases and cases which he developed. Before receiving inka to teach (in Kwan Um, inka is not synonymous with Dharma transmission), students must complete the Twelve Gates, though often they will complete hundreds more. One of the more well known cases of the Twelve Gates is "Dropping Ashes on the Buddha", the Sixth Gate, which is also the title of one of his books. In the book The Compass of Zen, this kong-an is transcribed as follows: "Somebody comes to the Zen center smoking a cigarette. He blows smoke and drops ashes on the Buddha." Seungsahn then poses the question, "If you are standing there at that time, what can you do?" Not included in this version of the kōan is the Kwan Um School of Zen's following side note on the case, "[H]ere is an important factor in this case that has apparently never been explicitly included in its print versions. Zen Master Seung Sahn has always told his students that the man with the cigarette is also very strong and that he will hit you if he doesn't approve of your response to his actions."
When Seungsahn first began teaching in the United States, there was an underemphasis in his message on the significance of zazen. Under advice from some students, however, he soon came to incorporate zazen into the curriculum more frequently. More than a few of his earliest students had practiced Zen previously under the Sōtō priest Shunryū Suzuki, laying out a convincing argument about how zazen and Zen were seen as inseparable in the Western psyche.
Throughout the 1990s, Seung Sahn made trips to Israel, which led to the 1999 opening of the Tel Aviv Zen Center. His remaining years were spent in particularly poor health. He had a pacemaker put in his chest in 2000, followed by renal failure in 2002. In June 2004, he was given the honorific title Dae Jong Sa "Great Lineage Master" by the Jogye Order in commemoration of his accomplishments, the highest title the order can grant.
There is a belief that Seung Sahn made too many students Dharma teachers. He also upset some in the Jogye Order by allowing lay Dharma teachers to wear long robes - while the Korean Jogye Order also gives the title poep sa (Dharma teachers) to laypeople, long robes are reserved for monks in Korea. In the beginning of the Kwan Um School of Zen, people became Dharma Teachers rather quickly, mostly out of need in order to run practice. The Kwan Um School currently has a rigorous process in place for people to become Dharma teachers. Usually there is a one-two year period for someone to take the five precepts and then about another two year period for someone to become a Dharma teacher in training. This is followed by another two years to become a Dharma Teacher and then at least five years to become a Sr. Dharma teacher.
Seung Sahn was accused of carrying out sexual relationships with students secretly while supposedly celibate. The first accusations of sexual relationships between Seung Sahn and students came about in 1988. Sonia Alexander, former director of Cambridge Zen Center, has claimed that Seung Sahn had carried out long-term sexual relationships with a number of his female followers. Journalist Rick Fields confirms this, writing “the supposedly celibate Korean Zen master Seung Sahn (Seon-sa-nim) revealed long-term relationships with two students.” According to Sonia Alexander, when questioned about the nature of these relationships Seung Sahn stated that "it wasn't [romantic] love, it wasn't lust." These alleged relationships caused Alexander to end her involvement with the Kwan Um School, believing in retrospect that she had been used over the years only to help build more Zen Centers for the lineage. In addition to Alexander, author Sandy Boucher spoke with several other women who lived at the Cambridge Zen Center at the time, one of whom said that in her opinion Sonia was very much in the minority in feeling used and that Seung Sahn's affairs had not been hurtful to the women involved. Notwithstanding her reservations, Alexander still has reverence for Seung Sahn, feels her time spent in the school was to her benefit, and subsequently rejoined the Kwan Um School as a Senior Dharma Teacher in 2011.
According to author Timothy Miller, “the Kwan Um organization has had to struggle with disclosures of controversial sexual conduct on the part of its leader; Seung Sahn was generally understood by his followers to be a celibate monk, and the revelation that he had had affairs with female students caused some members to leave the movement.”
Commenting during this period, Soenghyang (Barbara Rhodes) - now head Zen Master of the Kwan Um School of Zen - said they were "just people learning to live as a community" and their teacher was "just trying to learn the same thing." 
Zen Master Seung Sahn did publicly admit the nature of the relationships and did two repentance ceremonies. The Kwan Um School of Zen has since developed and enforced an ethics committee that has very strict guidelines for teacher/student relationships and consequences for unethical behavior of any member of the school.
|1||Mahākāśyapa||摩訶迦葉 / Móhējiāyè||Ma-Ha-Ca-Diếp||Makakashō||마하가섭 / Mahagasŏp|
|2||Ānanda||阿難陀 (阿難) / Ānántuó (Ānán)||A-Nan-Đà (A-Nan)||Ananda (Anan)||아난다 (아난) / Ananda (Anan)|
|3||Śānavāsa||商那和修 / Shāngnàhéxiū||Thương-Na-Hòa-Tu||Shōnawashu||상나화수 / Sangnahwasu|
|4||Upagupta||優婆掬多 / Yōupójúduō||Ưu-Ba-Cúc-Đa||Ubakikuta||우바국다 / Upakukta|
|5||Dhrtaka||提多迦 / Dīduōjiā||Đề-Đa-Ca||Daitaka||제다가 / Chedaga|
|6||Miccaka||彌遮迦 / Mízhējiā||Di-Dá-Ca||Mishaka||미차가 / Michaga|
|7||Vasumitra||婆須密 (婆須密多) / Póxūmì (Póxūmìduō)||Bà-Tu-Mật (Bà-Tu-Mật-Đa)||Bashumitsu (Bashumitta)||바수밀다 / Pasumilta|
|8||Buddhanandi||浮陀難提 / Fútuónándī||Phật-Đà-Nan-Đề||Buddanandai||불타난제 / Pŭltananje|
|9||Buddhamitra||浮陀密多 / Fútuómìduō||Phục-Đà-Mật-Đa||Buddamitta||복태밀다 / Puktaemilda|
|10||Pārśva||波栗濕縛 / 婆栗濕婆 (脅尊者) / Bōlìshīfú / Pólìshīpó (Xiézūnzhě)||Ba-Lật-Thấp-Phược / Bà-Lật-Thấp-Bà (Hiếp-Tôn-Giả)||Barishiba (Kyōsonja)||파률습박 (협존자) / P'ayulsŭppak (Hyŏpjonje)|
|11||Punyayaśas||富那夜奢 / Fùnàyèshē||Phú-Na-Dạ-Xa||Funayasha||부나야사 / Punayasa|
|12||Ānabodhi / Aśvaghoṣa||阿那菩提 (馬鳴) / Ānàpútí (Mǎmíng)||A-Na-Bồ-Đề (Mã-Minh)||Anabotei (Memyō)||아슈바고샤 (마명) / Asyupakosya (Mamyŏng)|
|13||Kapimala||迦毘摩羅 / Jiāpímóluó||Ca-Tỳ-Ma-La||Kabimora (Kabimara)||가비마라 / Kabimara|
|14||Nāgārjuna||那伽閼剌樹那 (龍樹) / Nàqiéèlàshùnà (Lóngshù)||Na-Già-Át-Lạt-Thụ-Na (Long-Thọ)||Nagaarajuna (Ryūju)||나가알랄수나 (용수) / Nakaallalsuna (Yongsu)|
|15||Āryadeva / Kānadeva||迦那提婆 / Jiānàtípó||Ca-Na-Đề-Bà||Kanadaiba||가나제바 / Kanajeba|
|16||Rāhulata||羅睺羅多 / Luóhóuluóduō||La-Hầu-La-Đa||Ragorata||라후라다 / Rahurada|
|17||Sanghānandi||僧伽難提 / Sēngqiénántí||Tăng-Già-Nan-Đề||Sōgyanandai||승가난제 / Sŭngsananje|
|18||Sanghayaśas||僧伽舍多 / Sēngqiéshèduō||Tăng-Già-Da-Xá||Sōgyayasha||가야사다 / Kayasada|
|19||Kumārata||鳩摩羅多 / Jiūmóluóduō||Cưu-Ma-La-Đa||Kumorata (Kumarata)||구마라다 / Kumarada|
|20||Śayata / Jayata||闍夜多 / Shéyèduō||Xà-Dạ-Đa||Shayata||사야다 / Sayada|
|21||Vasubandhu||婆修盤頭 (世親) / Póxiūpántóu (Shìqīn)||Bà-Tu-Bàn-Đầu (Thế-Thân)||Bashubanzu (Sejin)||바수반두 (세친) / Pasubandu (Sechin)|
|22||Manorhita||摩拏羅 / Mónáluó||Ma-Noa-La||Manura||마나라 / Manara|
|23||Haklenayaśas||鶴勒那 (鶴勒那夜奢) / Hèlènà (Hèlènàyèzhě)||Hạc-Lặc-Na||Kakurokuna (Kakurokunayasha)||학륵나 / Haklŭkna|
|24||Simhabodhi||師子菩提 / Shīzǐpútí||Sư-Tử-Bồ-Đề / Sư-Tử-Trí||Shishibodai||사자 / Saja|
|25||Vasiasita||婆舍斯多 / Póshèsīduō||Bà-Xá-Tư-Đa||Bashashita||바사사다 / Pasasada|
|26||Punyamitra||不如密多 / Bùrúmìduō||Bất-Như-Mật-Đa||Funyomitta||불여밀다 / Punyŏmilta|
|27||Prajñātāra||般若多羅 / Bānruòduōluó||Bát-Nhã-Đa-La||Hannyatara||반야다라 / Panyadara|
|28||Dharma / Bodhidharma||Ta Mo / 菩提達磨 / Pútídámó||Đạt-Ma / Bồ-Đề-Đạt-Ma||Daruma / Bodaidaruma||Tal Ma / 보리달마 / Poridalma|
|CHINESE NAME||LIFE DATES||VIỆT NAME||JAPANESE NAME||KOREAN NAME|
|28 / 1||達磨 / Ta-mo||?||Đạt-Ma||Daruma||달마 / Dal-Ma|
|29 / 2||慧可 / Hui-k'o||487–593||Huệ-Khả||Eka||혜가 / Hye-Ga|
|30 / 3||僧璨 / Seng-ts'an||?–606||Tăng-Xán||Sōsan||승찬 / Seung-Chan|
|31 / 4||道信 / Tao-hsin||580–651||Đạo-Tín||Dōshin||도신 / Do-Shim|
|32 / 5||弘忍 / Hung-jen||601/2–674/5||Hoằng-Nhẫn||Kōnin||홍인 / Hong-Ihn|
|33 / 6||慧能 / Hui-neng||638–713||Huệ-Năng||Enō||혜능 / Hye-Neung|
|34 / 7||南嶽懷讓 / Nan-yüeh Huai-jang||677–744||Nam-Nhạc Hoài-Nhượng||Nangaku Ejō||남악회양 / Nam-Ak Hwe-Yang|
|35 / 8||馬祖道一 / Ma-tsu Tao-i||709–788||Mã-Tổ Đạo-Nhất||Baso Dōitsu||마조도일 / Ma-Jo To-Il|
|36 / 9||百丈懷海 / Pai-chang Huai-hai||720?/749?–814||Bách-Trượng Hoài-Hải||Hyakujō Ekai||백장회해 / Paek-Chang Hwe-Hae|
|37 / 10||黃蘗希運 / Huang-po Hsi-yün||?–850||Hoàng-Bá Hy-Vận||Ōbaku Kiun||황벽희운 / Hwang-Byeok Heu-Iun|
|38 / 11||臨濟義玄 / Lin-chi I-hsüan||?–866/7||Lâm-Tế Nghĩa-Huyền||Rinzai Gigen||임제의현 / Im-Je Eui-Hyeon|
|39 / 12||興化存奬 / Hsing-hua Tzun-chiang||830–888||Hưng-Hóa Tồn-Tương||Kōke Sonshō||흥화존장 / Heung-Hwa Chon-Jang|
|40 / 13||南院道癰 / Nan-yüan Hui-yung||d 930?/952?||Nam-Viện Huệ-Ngung||Nanin Egyō||남원도옹 / Nam-Weon To-Ong|
|41 / 14||風穴延沼 / Feng-hsüeh Yen-chao||896–973||Phong-Huyệt Diên-Chiểu||Fūketsu Enshō||풍혈연소 / Peung-Hyeol Yeon-So|
|42 / 15||首山省念 / Shou-shan Shen-nien||925/6–992/3||Thủ-Sơn Tỉnh-Niệm||Shūzan Shōnen||수산성념 / Su-San Seong-Nyeom|
|43 / 16||汾陽善昭 / Fen-yang Shan-chao||947–1024||Phần-Dương Thiện-Chiêu||Funyō Zenshō||분양선소 / Pun-Yang Seon-Jo|
|44 / 17||慈明楚圓 / Tz'u-ming Ch'u-yüan||986–1039||Thạch-Sương Sở-Viên||Jimyō Soen||자명초원 / Cham-Yeong Cho-Weon|
|45 / 18||楊岐方會 / Yang-ch'i Fang-hui||992–1049||Dương-Kỳ Phương-Hội||Yōgi Hōe||양기방회 / Yang-Gi Pang-Hwe|
|46 / 19||白雲守端 / Pai-yün Shou-tuan||1025–1072||Bạch-Vân Thủ-Đoan||Hakuun Shutan||백운수단 / Pae-Gun Su-Dan|
|47 / 20||五祖法演 / Wu-tsu Fa-yen||1024–1104||Ngũ-Tổ Pháp-Diễn||Goso Hōen||오조법연 / O-Jo Peob-Yeon|
|48 / 21||圓悟克勤 / Yuan-wu K'o-ch'in||1063–1135||Viên-Ngộ Khắc-Cần||Engo Kokugon||원오극근 / Hwe-O Keuk-Keun|
|49 / 22||虎丘紹隆 / Hsü-ch’iu Shao-lung||1077–1136||Hổ-Khâu Thiệu-Long||Kukyū Jōryū||호구소융 / Ho-Gu Sor-Yung|
|50 / 23||應庵曇華 / Ying-an T'an-hua||1103–1163||Ứng Am Đàm Hoa||Oan Donge||응암담화 / Eung-Am Tam-Hwa|
|51 / 24||密庵咸傑 / Mi-an Hsi-chieh||1118?/1138?–1186||Mật Am Hàm Kiệt||Mittan Kanketsu||밀암함걸 / Mir-Am Ham-Keol|
|52 / 25||破庵祖先 / P'o-an Tsu-hsien||1136–1211||Phá Am Tổ Tiên||Hoan Sosen||파암조선 / Pa-Am Cho-Seon|
|53 / 26||無準圓照 / Wu-chun Yuan-chao
(無準師範 / Wu-chun Shih-fan)
(Vô Chuẩn Sư Phạm)
|무준원조 / Mujun Wenjo
(무준사범 / Mujun Sabeom)
|54 / 27||雪巖惠朗 / Hsüeh-yen Hui-lang||Tuyết Nham Tổ Khâm||Setsugan||설암혜랑 / Seon-Am Hye-Rang|
|55 / 28||及庵宗信 / Chi-an Tsung-hsin||Cật Yêm Tông Hâm||급암종신 / Keu-Bam Chong-Sil|
|56 / 29||石屋淸珙 / Shih-wu Ch'ing-kung||1272–1352||Thạch Ốc Thanh Củng||Sekioku Seikyō||석옥청공 / Seo-Gok Cheong-Gong|
|CHINESE NAME||KOREAN NAME||LIFE DATES|
|57 / 30 / 1||太古普愚 (Tàigǔ Pǔyú)||태고보우 / Tae-Go Bo-Wu||1301–1382|
|58 / 31 / 2||幻庵混修 (Huànān Hùnxiū)||환암혼수 / Hwan-Am Hon-Su||1320–1392|
|59 / 32 / 3||龜谷覺雲 (Guīgǔ Juéyún)||구곡각운 / Gu-Gok Gak-Un|
|60 / 33 / 4||碧溪淨心 (Bìxī Jìngxīn)||벽계정심 / Byeok-Ge Jeong-Shim|
|61 / 34 / 5||碧松智嚴 (Bìsōng Zhìyán)||벽송지엄 / Byeok-Song Ji-Eom||1464–1534|
|62 / 35 / 6||芙蓉靈觀 (Fúróng Língguān)||부용영관 / Bu-Yong Yeong-Gwan||1485–1567/1571|
|63 / 36 / 7||淸虛休靜 (Qīngxū Xiūjìng)||청허휴정 / Cheong-Heo Hyu-Jeong
(서산대사 / Seo-San Dae-Sa)
|64 / 37 / 8||鞭羊彦機 (Biānyáng Yànjī)||편양언기 / Pyeon-Yang Eon-Gi||1581–1644|
|65 / 38 / 9||楓潭義諶 (Fēngtán Yìchén)||풍담의심 / Pung-Dam Eui-Sim||?–1665|
|66 / 39 / 10||月潭雪霽 (Yuètán Xuějì)||월담설제 / Wol-Dam Seol-Je||?–1704|
|67 / 40 / 11||喚惺志安 (Huànxīng Zhìān)||환성지안 / Hwan-Seong Ji-An||?–1729|
|68 / 41 / 12||虎巖體淨 (Hǔyán Tǐjìng)||호암체정 / Ho-Am Che-Jeong||?–1748|
|69 / 42 / 13||靑峰巨岸 (Qīngfēng Jùàn)||청봉거안 / Cheong-Bong Geo-An|
|70 / 43 / 14||栗峰靑古 (Lìfēng Qīnggǔ)||율봉청고 / Yul-Bong Cheong-Kwa||?–1823|
|71 / 44 / 15||錦虛法沾 (Jǐnxū Fǎzhān)||금허법첨 / Geum-Heo Beop-Cheom|
|72 / 45 / 16||龍岩慧彦 (Lóngyán Huìyàn)||용암혜언 / Yong-Am Hye-Eon|
|73 / 46 / 17||永月奉律 (Yǒngyuè Fènglù)||영월봉율 / Yeong-Wol Bong-Yul|
|74 / 47 / 18||萬化普善 (Wànhuà Pǔshàn)||만화보선 / Man-Hwa Bo-Seon||?–1879|
|75 / 48 / 19||鏡虛惺牛 (Jìngxū Xīngniú)||경허성우 / Gyeong-Heo Seong-Wu||1849–1912|
|76 / 49 / 20||滿空月面 (Mǎnkòng Yuèmiàn)||만공월면 / Man-Gong Weol-Myeon||1871–1946|
|77 / 50 / 21||高峯景昱 (Gāofēng Jǐngyù)||고봉경욱 / Ko-Bong Gyeong-Uk||1890–1961/2|
|78 / 51 / 22||崇山行願 (Chóngshān Xíngyuàn)||숭산행원 / Seung-Sahn Haeng-Won||1927–2004|