Daeheung Temple received little attention in Korea until 1592, when Seosan Daesa, at the age of 72, organized and trained a guerilla army of 5000 monks at the temple, to help protect the Korean people from the Imjin invasions.
He lived at a time when Buddhism was violently oppressed by the government, but decided that even though the nation had opposed Buddhism, the Dharma did not allow him to turn his back on the countless sentient beings who needed help. Along with General Yi Sun Shin, the monks of Daeheungsa played an important role in ending the fighting and invasions.
Long before the invasions, Seosan Daesa was a respected teacher, who traveled around the country, teaching in monasteries. He had over 1000 disciples, many of whom became prominent monks in their lifetime. His practice balanced the studying scriptures and meditation but he considered meditation the primary path to enlightenment. He wrote extensively and some of his writings are still important in contemporary Korean Seon. After reading the entire Tripitaka, the Buddhist Cannon, many of his earlier understandings were jarred and he was left in a state of confusion for some time. One night, while in Samadhi, deep meditation, the cry of a cuckoo aligned his perception, and he was awakened.
In January, 1604, at the age of 84, he gave his last teaching. When it was finished, he took out a portrait of himself and wrote these lines as a final transmission to his students:
“80 years ago, that image was me.
80 years later, I am that image now.”
With snow piled all around the hermitage outside, Seosan Daesa assumed the lotus position and entered Nirvana.
Most of this information was taken from the book, The Great Seon Masters Of Korea, but one thing it didn’t mention is that Seosan Daesa was also very fond of tea and is credited with reviving the Korean tea ceremony, which had also been abandoned after the expulsion of Buddhism. I sort of wonder if this is when Korean drinking culture took root, as tea was replaced with wine at the royal court.
When I returned from my hike and found EunBong and Fina relaxing at the guesthouse, I told her that I’d seen a little temple shop and asked if she wanted to go back and shop for some souvenirs for her friends (as if I needed to ask!).
When we made our way to the temple, after showing her the Liberation Gate, and she pointed out the Buddha’s Head to me, we found that the shop shop was also a tea-house. EunBong ordered her favorite, daechu cha (date tea), which Fina drank most of, and I tried some Sparrow’s Tongue green tea, grown and processed at one of the small hermitages in the mountain.
The last thing we did before leaving the temple, the next day, was to go back to the tea house. EunBong ordered daechu cha again, and I tried some mae-shil cha, fermented plum tea, my favorite of the Korean traditional teas. The traditional fermented teas have a sharp, sweat, tangy flavor, almost like a soft ale. In the winter, they’re usually served hot, and you can feel their energy as it spreads through you, warming you from your heart to the tip of your limbs.