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Getting Familiar with Death


Author: Ven. Yich’ang Chon / English Edition / Pages: 176 / Paperback

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Ven. Yich’ang Chon (translated by Jin Young Park)


Hardcover, 176 pages


Won Publications








5.9 (W) * 8.6 (H) * 0.4 (D), inches

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When his wife died, Chuang-tzu (399-295 B. C.) sang a song, and while tapping on a liquor bottle, he told his friend, Hui-shih (380-305 B.C.):

[My wife is dead and] I was sad at first. But then I thought about  it a second time. From  the beginning, there is no life; not only is there no life, there is no form; from the beginning, not only is there no form, there is no energy (C. chi). At some point, which we cannot pin down, things become mingled together. Out of the mix- ture appears energy; energy transforms itself and creates a form; the form changes and produces a life. Death is just another step in such changes. It is like the change of the four seasons. My wife must feel very comfortable now. She is having a good sleep in that big room. If I feel sad about that and cry, I’m afraid that my sadness will be rather an obstacle to the stream of the change. That is why I stopped crying.

Chuang-tzu viewed death as just one step in the changes of the four seasons; hence, he was able to sing and drink when his wife was dead. Most people do not behave like him. For most of us, death is an uncanny and frightening event.

However, let’s view it antoher way. Death takes us to the homeland of our soul. That is the place where we resided before we were conceived in our mother’s womb. Why then does the world of death seem so strange and unfamiliar to us?

Unfamiliar as the world of death might be, nobody can be excused from the journey to that world. One’s social position or wealth does not count. Death does not discriminate; everybody must pay their dues and yet still most of us are not prepared when death happens to us. How can we, then, make the best out of this inevitable visit to the world of death? How should we prepare ourselves for the trip?

There were occasions that made me give special considera- tion to death. The first such incident took place when I began my study at the Yongsan Zen Center. That was one year after I made my vow to be a Won Buddhist nun (K. kyomu). That year, the Central Office hosted the second Won Buddhist competition which judges the participants’ knowledge concerning Won Buddhist doctrine. Every Won Buddhist was eligible to partici- pate in the contest and the participants were grouped by the regions they represented. I was seventeen and perhaps too young to realize the seriousness of the matter of life and death. But all the same, my talk at the competition was entitled, “Life and Death is the Most Serious Issue.”

The second incident occurred when I was a senior at Yuil Hangrim, the predecessor of Wongwang University. I was twenty- seven. I had headaches which became so bad that I had to quit my studies. That incident made me think about many things and finally led me to the question: “If I waste my life in this manner, how can I prepare myself for death?” I realized that my social background, which I counted as important up to that point, and my academic achievements, which I regarded as a sign of my competency, would be of no help when I had to face death.

The third occasion took place when I worked as the head of the edification section at the Chongno temple. During those days, I sometimes felt overly tired from work. At such times, I had hallucinations of the word “death” when I closed my eyes. I quickly submitted a leave of absence so that I could take care of my health.

At the East Mountain Zen Center of Won Buddhism, I once had  an  opportunity  to  teach   the   section   “On   Guidance” (K. Ch’ondop’um) in the Discourses of the Great Master. The “On Guidance” section contains teachings of proper guidance for the souls of dead people. I thought at the time that someday I should write on the topic. After that, more than twenty years passed before I published a small booklet entitled Ch’ondo (Guidance), which contains an outline of my ideas on the subject. That was after the construction of Samdong Training Center.

Since then, I have hosted many guidance ceremonies for the deceased. I came to realize that souls are not visible, a fact which, however, does not mean that they do not exist. Souls do exist, though most of the time we dismiss the idea as superstition. To provide proper guidance to dead souls is a matter of grave impor- tance. And equally important is guiding oneself while one is still alive.

In the air, in the ocean, above and below the ground, there are numerous souls of people who faced cruel form of death through unexpected accidents, during the wars, and while protesting against injustice. They have rancor, and because of that, if we do not provide proper afterlife guidance for them, they will continue to wander around the world of the living. Among our ancestors as well there must be wandering souls who need a proper afterlife guide. Guidance is also needed for innumerable fetuses that lost their hard-earned lives in their mother’s womb. I always tell myself that to save all these wan- dering souls is the responsibility of us who are alive.

My age and other people’s concern forced me to write this text. I hope that the book will help everyone guide herself/him- self in this life so that s/he can die within no death and go to death within the nonexistence of coming and going. I also hope that this book will be of some help to those souls who faced unexpected deaths for setting themselves free from rancor and to those souls who have been attached to karma for liberating themselves and achieving nirvana.

Yich’ang Chon, Autumn 1995 Samdong Training Center, Polgok, Ch’ungnam Province

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Ven. Yich’ang Chon


FOREWORD       viii


PREFACE                xii


Death is not the end, but another beginning     xv

“Guidance” (Ch’ondo) is to transfer    xviii


    WHAT IS ATTACHMENT?                    2


    THE BARRIER OF KARMA                    68

    HOW TO FREE ONESELF FROM KARMA                        83

    GUIDANCE FOR DAILY LIFE                       97

    SELF -GUIDANCE ON THE DEATHBED              113


    GUIDANCE IMMEDIATELY AFTER DEATH                         127


    FOOTNOTES        158

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