The Mirror of Zen is a text that was written by a teacher named So Sahn. He is one of the most revered Zen Masters in the history of Seon Buddhism. He was a Korean teacher and he tried to distill Zen teachings from over 50 sutras into a container that could easily be understood.
So Sahn lived in the 1500s. He became a monk at the age of 21 and dedicated himself to lifelong study. He lived in a time of great peril, when Korea was at war with Japan.
In these days there was some debate over whether practice should be centered on meditation or sutra study. Several different branches of Buddhism arose because of this debate, putting different levels of emphasis on different aspects of the Dharma. There were some saying we should just study the words of the Buddha and we really don’t have to practice ourselves. There are others who say that we just have to practice, that studying in any way is a distraction from our practice, we just have to sit like the Buddha did.
So Sahn dedicated himself to trying to bridge that gap. He thought that sutra study and practice were equally important. That’s actually a pretty common opinion these days, but not in So Sahn’s time.
It’s with this in mind that he wrote “The Mirror of Zen,” which is at once a study of core Zen concepts and also a practice manual. It’s a tiny little book. It can be read in just a couple of hours, but it has incredible depth.
As a note, although I’m going to go through this text in great detail, I’m also skipping a few sections. Some parts of it are about how to be a good monk. Since I believe no one reading this is a monk, I thought those areas would be unnecessary to include.
Daniel Scharpenburg is a meditation instructor and dharma teacher in Kansas City. He regularly gives teachings through the Open Heart Project, the largest virtual mindfulness community in the world. Find out more about Daniel on his website and connect with him on Facebook.
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