How must one polish one’s own practice in the Seon cloister?

Takma (polishing) means the grinding and polishing of a precious stone. No matter how beautiful the gem, if the rough stone is not polished, the bright light cannot shine forth. From the past in Seon cloisters the practitioners polished their study without rest, and having tallied with their place of the original share of enlightenment, they valued greatly the process leading to enlightenment.


The Buddha also reproached practitioners for gathering and idly gossiping, and said one must not talk unless it is about study. And he said one should rather constantly gather together and talk about the Dharma. Practitioners must have the attitude of polishing and refining one’s own capacity for the Dharma endlessly just as the Buddha said.


Seon Master Weishan Lingyou said in his Weishan jingce, “Since heads face each other and noisily clamor about the trivial worldly affairs and they only seek pleasure in that at that time, they do not know that will be a cause of distress and the ending of pleasure.”


Therefore, monastic practitioners, not only in Seon cloisters that vigorously practice, but also in the Seon cloisters of lay Buddhists, must establish an atmosphere for mutual polishing.


Although it is most desirable that Seon practitioners receive teaching and examination from teachers, in some circumstances, companions of the Way, while talking of the Way with each other must advance towards the correct Dharma and put in order that attitude of mind.


If one reads the Chanyuan qinggui, one can know that a tradition of the school styles of Patriarchal Seon was a climate of mutual dialogue concerning the Dharma among the companions of the Way. If practitioners foster an atmosphere in which the companions of the Way polish (their practice), in being humble towards each other, they must have a mental attitude that suggests good ideas to the companions of the Way and for inspecting their own study.


The Seon cloister is a place where practitioners gather to fully practice meditation. In particular, the Seon cloisters of Korea are practice places of the valued Ganhwa Seon, which possesses a distinctive Seon style difficult to find in other cultural spheres. This style is one of receiving a hwadu from a master and investigating it. In Seon cloisters, practitioners who have a long history of practice are called gucham (old practitioners) and those who do not have much of a history are called sincham (new practitioners). Although there are no exact criteria for dividing long-term practitioners from new practitioners, normally in the Seon room a gucham must have accumulated the practice experience from completing retreats over twenty-five years or more. Even lay persons are not generally excluded from this.


The roles of long-term practitioners are very important. In circumstances where one cannot quickly receive guidance concerning all sorts of problems that appear in the course of practicing Seon from a clear-eyed teacher in the vicinity, the new practitioners therefore have no option but to depend on the long-term practitioners. Long-term practitioners must be models for other practitioners in doing the very best and always think of the valuable Dharma of the Buddha. They have to display the characteristics of a correct practitioner and be an exemplar for the new practitioners, and through such practice they must receive the respect and trust of new practitioners.


There is one point that one must be careful of in polishing. If one tries to polish in circumstances where one does not know the path of study operating between the practitioners, it can disturb the correct views one has established and emotional opposition can arise. Because study is a very exact and deep progress, if there is the slightest error, subtle differences in interpretation can emerge. At such times, the brewing of trouble and opposition through excessive attachment to one’s own opinions is not the proper behavior of a practitioner who must establish correct views. Moreover, that being so, if one avoids polishing and exchange idle chat, that cannot make one a genuine practitioner.

Can long-term practitioners supervise? Are there no other methods?

It is proper that one must receive supervision and examination of practice from a teacher. It is ideal and desirable that the Seon director of the monastery and Seon cloister or the monks who are masters in the lineage play this role. From the past the Seon director or the monks who are masters in the lineage have played this role, and finally they gave the seal of approval of the enlightenment.


In Korea also, the role of the master in the lineage until modern times has continued to some extent, but currently it is a reality that there are many places where people practice without a Seon director or master in the lineage. Because of that, according to the situation, one can also receive supervision from a long-term practitioner who has supervisory capabilities. Even though one definitely has not the supervision of a person such as a teacher, if one lives venerating an excellent long-term practitioner monk, the direct and indirect influence one receives is great. In particular, beginning practitioners can hear much beneficial advice from them.


In relation to this, Seon Master Wuzu Fayan said the following in his Songzi xingjue fayu (Dharma words sending off the pilgrim):

    If among the assembly there are long-term Seon monks or companions on the Way who can select the Dharma, always request them for their teaching, and if not, if one sees the words that the patriarchal monks have studied, this is the same as personally seeing the patriarch.

The long-term Seon practitioners who can supervise Seon must have the insightful eye that can select the Dharma. If they have that insightful eye, the long-term practitioner monk or the heads of the Seon cloisters can be shown one’s own study and one can receive guidance from them. But in reality, when it is difficult to meet a teacher who can give the seal of approval of one’s study and who can discern the Dharma-opportunity and supervise one’s meditation, one can consider the following plan.


One must properly manage and prepare a guide that can examine one’s study. In circumstances where this is impossible, and when one cannot find a teacher, there is a method that prepares a plan that can examine one’s own study by oneself. That is by depending on the guide books of practice or the recorded sayings of the patriarchs.

Can one question when the master in the patriarchal lineage lectures?

Each single rule that the assembly practicing in a Seon cloister must keep and practice is made clear in the Chanyuan qinggui. The first person in Seon School history to have opened a specialist Seon practice monastery was Baizhang Huaihai (749-814) and he made the Chanyuan qinggui for it. Therefore these pure regulations are called the Baizhang qinggui. However, that Baizhang qinggui is currently lost, but instead the Chanmen guishi written by Yang Yi remains, and so we can see one aspect of those pure regulations. They are also called the Guqinggui (Old Pure Regulations).

The Chanmen guishi states as follows concerning the guidance of the assembly by the elders of the time and the role played by the masters in the lineage then:

    All the assembly of the monastery question in the morning and must gather in the evening. When the elders go up the Dharma-hall and lecture, the assembly involved in livelihood etcetera, and the practitioner assembly all line up and be seated, and lend their ears and must listen to that Seon sermon. The guest and the host who question and reply, and dig out the tenets of the lineage all indicate that they live according to the Dharma. (Chanmen guishi)

When Seon monasteries were first made in China, the Master in the lineage (josil; at that time, the abbot or the elders), had the Seon monks undertake the minor (individual) consultation lectures morning and night, and at fixed times they went up to the hall and gave lectures. In this way, while conducting the lectures, the master in the lineage accomplishes the Seon dialogue and the promotion of the Dharma, and through this process examines each and every person’s study.

The form of the question

So then, does the master of the lineage when lecturing give permission for questions? The content of the lecture and its form is not fixed. Even further, the person who gives the sermon in revealing his own vivid Seon opportunity is not limited to any form. Because the master is free in showing the Dharma, the students also do not need to be restricted by form. When he meets with a student who candidly reveals his own Seon opportunity, the master rather can dynamically develop his own teaching.

For the master, although the lecture is the place where he reveals the scenery of the original location of a proper lineage master that matches the student’s ability, for the students it is also where his study is examined and the dialogue in which the seal of approval is received. Therefore there is a need to actively question the master. But there are points of caution.
First, one must question in conformity with the rules.
Second, one must ask in conformity with the time.
Third, one must achieve one’s own genuine interpretations.

The mental attitude of a practitioner seeking a teacher

The mental attitude of the practitioner

For a practitioner beginning mental resolution, the seeking of an excellent teacher and coming to know an excellent teacher was truly important. But even more important was the attitude and determination of the practitioner who was seeking the teacher. The important moral element that the practitioner has to possess is the believing mind and mental resolution, and the spirit of forgetting the body for the Way, discarding the body and mind for enlightenment.

The practitioner must give rise to a great mental resolution to be enlightened on the basis of the firm belief that one is originally the Buddha. Without this basic condition, the sincere mind that has to seek out a teacher will not arise. In the state of non-mental resolution, the consultation of teachers all over will just be as the words say, nothing more than bowing to the teachers, and it will be difficult to face one’s lot as a wandering practitioner all alone.

Let us look at the story of the second patriarch of the Seon lineage, Seon Master Huike, personally seeing his master, Bodhidharma, as introduced in the Zutangji.

When Huike lived in his village he studied Confucianism and Taoism for a long time. But his mind was not at ultimate repose, and to obtain that peace of mind he sought out the patriarch Bodhidharma who was facing a wall at Shaolin Monastery. At first Bodhidharma would not listen to the entreaty of the monk Huike who asked to be made a disciple. Even though he made the request a number of times, the patriarch wordlessly just gazed at the wall, was silent and did not reply.

The time was December, winter, and so the snow fell in sheets. Huike stood in the courtyard and begged, but he did not hear a single word asking him to come in. The snow kept falling until it was about to reach Huike’s knees. When it was deep in the night, the lower half of Huike’s body was buried in the snow. But even so he kept his hands together in obeisance and just stood. He did not retire. And only then did Bodhidharma look around at Huike and let out a word.
“What do you seek that you have come here?”
“What I seek is you, Master. Please open wide the gate of ambrosia (of the teaching) and save this sentient being.”
Patriarch Bodhidharma said, “The supreme enlightenment of the Buddha is the fruit of hard practice over many eons. You, with a trivial intention wish to hear this greatest of teachings.”
So Huike, with the guidance he had, cut off his own left arm and took it to the patriarch. He was showing his determination in forgetting his body for the Dharma by discarding (a part of) his own body. As soon as he did this, Bodhidharma accepted Huike as a disciple.
“When the Buddha and the bodhisattvas sought the Dharma they did not consider the body as a body. Now since you have cut off your arm and shown your faith, you are worthy to seek the Dharma.”
Huike asked, “My mind is not at ease. By all means, please put my mind at ease.”
The patriarch replied, “Bring that uneasy mind to me and I will calm your mind for you.”
“Even though I seek the mind, I cannot find it.”
“If you cannot find it, how can that be your mind? I have already calmed your mind.”
Hearing these words, Seon Master Huike then and there was greatly enlightened.

In order to seek the Dharma from his master, Seon Master Huike showed the enlightened awareness he had treasured by cutting off his arm. Until he even cut one arm off, from where would the mind to seek the Way that forgot the body for the Dharma have emerged so that he could become a pupil? That emerged of course from the earnest desire to seek the original face of his mind. The passion to seek the Dharma does not even take into account the question of living or dying. Similarly, through an earnest desire, Seon Master Huike staked his life and sought the then teacher, Bodhidharma. After confirming the mental attitude that he kept, Bodhidharma permitted him to become a disciple and gave him instruction, and he was immediately enlightened then and there.

How should a practitioner receive a teacher?

A master for a practitioner has a very different meaning than a worldly master has. The master of a practitioner, being a person who directs the student’s whole life, is an object of devotion to whom the student must commit his whole life and receive him on that basis. And so the object that empties us of our form of self genuinely is only the master. If one thinks on this point that the master is right and on that point I am correct, such a master cannot play a role of a true master.

Sometimes, because of a long accumulated bad karma, one only sees the master’s failings as major, and is disappointed. If then one criticizes him that is an error. For example, just as when the moon is bright one cannot see the stars in the night sky, so likewise if the faith is deep, the mind that sees the failings of the master completely disappears. Therefore, when one comes to see the master’s faults, one must consider that one’s own faith is insufficient. In this sense, the student must be honest with himself. While looking back regarding oneself, and while shedding light impartially and fairly again and again on one’s own mental resolution, one must have a mind of humility endlessly.

Meditators who study Seon must stake their whole life on the master they have selected for themselves. Once one has made a selection, one must have an attitude of pushing on until the end. Of course, the master must be a clear-eyed lineage master who has correct knowledge and views. Even if he is not a clear-eyed lineage master, one must venerate as a master a person whose practice and life, words and actions are at one. The practitioner must believe in and follow that master. Once one has come to accept the master’s guidance, one must serve the master with an absolutely humble mind that has put aside egotism and subjectivity from within one. This study develops as far as one believes.

Meeting with a good teacher

A good master is called a seonjisik (teacher/one of good knowledge). A teacher is like a boatman who ferries one across a river or a guide who leads one along strange roads. If one tries to go on an unfamiliar and strange road, one can come across unexpectedly steep or windy paths, or sheer precipices and rough waters. The road of seeking the way to enlightenment is the same. If one tries to practice, one encounters various favorable and unfavorable environs, and at such times one needs a clear-eyed master, a teacher.

Seon Master Boshan Wuyi (1574-1630) describes the meeting with a teacher in his Canchan jingyu as follows:

The teacher is like a fabulous doctor who nimbly cures severe illnesses, and is like a great donor who can give to his heart’s content. A practitioner must never have the attitude of being completely satisfied with his own study and not try to meet a teacher. If one is captured by one’s own opinions and do not try to seek a teacher, there will be a great illness in one’s Seon practice, and so one must clearly know there is no worse illness than this. (Canchan jingyu 19).

Even though born as a careful person and having encountered the Buddha-dharma, if that person has no master to guide him towards enlightenment, that practitioner, even if he has ended all the sufferings, not only can he not reach his destination, but also if he makes the slightest error, he can lose his life before he can reach his destination. Therefore, although it is the same with other practices, in the practice of Seon especially one must meet a good teacher and enter through the correct path so that one can be enlightened.

If one reads Seon recorded sayings, many processes in which the student meets with a teacher and is awakened are introduced. The meeting of the Seon master and the practitioner, as it is the point that is linked to the enlightenment, at times achieves the core stage of Seon practice.

The Sixth Patriarch Huineng tossed up the question, “Do not think of good; do not think of evil. Just then, what is your original face?” at the monk Huiming who was chasing after him. Hearing these words, Huiming was enlightened then and there and became Huineng’s disciple, and he changed his Dharma name to Daoming.

The role of a good master, an excellent teacher, is so important. Practitioners of meditation must believe in and depend on the teacher.

The generations of Seon masters have investigated the hwadu given by their masters, and when their bodies and minds had become a mass of doubt, when they met a certain opportunity, they were enlightened. Here the most important thing is said to be the master making the practitioner produce an earnest doubt. Without solving the problem one gives rise to an unendurable, burning thirst and is made to take up the hwadu. Therefore Seon Master Xiangyan was moved to tears, saying, “Master, the kindness you have given to me surpasses that from my parents.” Seon Master Linji, who venerated two masters, Huangbo and Dayu, and was enlightened by them, in this way stressed this kindness:

At a blow of Dayu’s staff I entered the realm of the Buddha. This deep kindness, even if my bones were ground up for a hundred eons and my body broken, and I bore Mt Sumeru on my head round and round, would be difficult to repay. (Zutangji).

If one cannot meet a good master

If one cannot meet a good teacher despite much effort, one must cherish the earnest thought of establishing the motivation to seek a teacher. If one does not change one’s mind about earnestly seeking a master, then at some time one will meet a good master. Monks in the past, without knowing who is a teacher and who is a person (seeking) the Way, made a vow to earnestly find a teacher, and so constantly confessed that at a certain decisive moment they were able to meet a teacher.

There also were practitioners who venerated the life of the Buddha and the Dharma of the Buddha as their master and proceeded on the path of seeking the Way. The life of the sons of the Buddha and the life of practitioners is to actualize the life of the Buddha. For that reason, practitioners had definite criteria that they had to follow in the career of the Buddha and his thought.

If it is difficult to discover a good master around one, the fall-back policy is possible by depending on masters of the past. In recent times, besides reading the recorded sayings, because now one can hear the physical voice of lectures recorded on tape, one can by oneself endlessly excite the indignation and initiation of mind through such Seon lectures.

The most important thing the practitioners have to rely on is not humans, it is the Dharma, and it is the kernels of what those words convey, and not the discriminative knowledge of cleverness, but the clear and transparent wisdom. And no matter who sees it, one must depend on the words of the universally valid and true scriptures as some criteria for understanding. When one looks at it in this way, beginning with the essential digest scripture in Seon, the Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch, only the various recorded sayings of the patriarchal teachers are proper.

What should be done when there is no teacher around to examine one?

When there is no proper master in the vicinity, one must seek a bright-eyed master no matter how far away. In the past, practitioners left on distant paths to find a teacher.

Korean monks also were willing to go over distant paths to find a teacher. Among Gyeongheo’s students there was a Seon Master Suwol. He practiced the Way at Cheonuen-sa Monastery on Mt Chiri (near south coast), and to find his master Gyeongheo, over a number of years he pursued his master and found him in the northernmost border region.

Again, in order to personally see Seon Master Suwol, who had a high reputation as a teacher at that time, the eminent monk of modern Korean Buddhism, Seon Master Geumo (1896-1968), was willing to travel over dangerous roads to distant Manchuria. This is because only a teacher can lead one well on the path of study. And so they went over distant roads and were willing to travel far in their search. Of course, for lay people it is the same. In order to encourage one’s mental resolution and to examine one’s study, one must have the proper guidance through the negotiation with the teacher.

The Role of the Master and the Methods of Supervision in Ganhwa Seon

The role of the master in Seon practice is important to the extent that he controls the practitioner’s life. In the Seon Gate the proper method of study is after mental resolution to search for a master and ask him of the Dharma, and through the process of investigating that Dharma to resolve the doubt and then to receive the seal of approval from the master.

The master performs the role of scrutinizing every action of the student and leads the student properly, and when their abilities are matured, they test what they are enlightened to, and propound the Dharma to waken them to that sense of insight, and enlighten them. If signs of a subsiding of the mental resolution are displayed, the master again arouses that mental resolution through dialogue. Even though they brandish the stick and the shout, the master examines the student’s study. If sometimes the student shows hints of retiring from the practice of the hwadu, the master grants a pertinent teaching to invigorate and encourage the student, and leads the student to again earnestly investigate the hwadu.

In this way the master has a role of examining the student’s study as to whether it is what it should be and to whether he has maintained the mental resolution, whether or not he is proceeding along the path of proper study, and to see if his enlightenment is authentic etcetera. He has the decisive and important role of finally giving the student the seal of approval.

The Biyanlu informs us about the relationship between the master and student in the process of enlightenment. Seon Master Jingqing, who appears in these recorded sayings, used the method called jultak as a means of showing the method to later students according to their ability. This “pecking and picking” means “pecking and picking at the same time.” Jul is when a chick comes out, and from inside the egg it produces the sound, a tap, tap, by pecking. Tak is the mother hen picking on the shell in unison with the chick. Only when the chick’s pecking and the mother hen’s picking occur at the same time will the chick break out from the egg with a peck.

For about twenty-one days the mother hen whole-heartedly turns the egg and broods on it, keeping it warm at body temperature. And then when the body heat of the egg is the same as that of the mother hen, the chick inside the egg tries to break the shell and emerge and pecks at the egg with its beak. At that very moment the mother hen picks at the shell from the outside. If at that time the mother hen is lazy about hatching the egg, the egg will rot. Only when the mother hen and the chick are thus mutually of one mind and all is done properly will the chick come out of the egg.

The master and the student must be so close as to be able to read each other’s inner mind, and study together and reveal the mind, and they must be able to examine it. The master sincerely broods over the student as to whether or not he has produced genuine doubt about the hwadu. And then when the time has ripened and the minds of the master and student are one, the shell of ignorance that wraps around the mind of the disciple drops off with a bang and he emerges from it. And so then the master, like when the Buddha held up a lotus flower and showed it and the disciple, the Venerable Kāśyapa smiled as response from a deep impression, forms the relationship of transmission from mind to mind.

Of course, not all the teachers through the generations guided their students with only the jultak method. However, only when the master and student came to investigate the hwadu with this method of jultak did they study as they should. This is the correct path of study.

Chapter 2: The Role of the Supervisor

The Role of the Master and the Methods of Supervision in Ganhwa Seon
The role of the master in Seon practice is important to the extent that he controls the practitioner’s life. In the Seon Gate the proper method of study is after mental resolution to search for a master and ask him of the Dharma, and through the process of investigating that Dharma to resolve the doubt and then to receive the seal of approval from the master.

The master performs the role of scrutinizing every action of the student and leads the student properly, and when their abilities are matured, they test what they are enlightened to, and propound the Dharma to waken them to that sense of insight, and enlighten them. If signs of a subsiding of the mental resolution are displayed, the master again arouses that mental resolution through dialogue. Even though they brandish the stick and the shout, the master examines the student’s study. If sometimes the student shows hints of retiring from the practice of the hwadu, the master grants a pertinent teaching to invigorate and encourage the student, and leads the student to again earnestly investigate the hwadu.

In this way the master has a role of examining the student’s study as to whether it is what it should be and to whether he has maintained the mental resolution, whether or not he is proceeding along the path of proper study, and to see if his enlightenment is authentic etcetera. He has the decisive and important role of finally giving the student the seal of approval.

The Biyanlu informs us about the relationship between the master and student in the process of enlightenment. Seon Master Jingqing, who appears in these recorded sayings, used the method called jultak as a means of showing the method to later students according to their ability. This “pecking and picking” means “pecking and picking at the same time.” Jul is when a chick comes out, and from inside the egg it produces the sound, a tap, tap, by pecking. Tak is the mother hen picking on the shell in unison with the chick. Only when the chick’s pecking and the mother hen’s picking occur at the same time will the chick break out from the egg with a peck.

For about twenty-one days the mother hen whole-heartedly turns the egg and broods on it, keeping it warm at body temperature. And then when the body heat of the egg is the same as that of the mother hen, the chick inside the egg tries to break the shell and emerge and pecks at the egg with its beak. At that very moment the mother hen picks at the shell from the outside. If at that time the mother hen is lazy about hatching the egg, the egg will rot. Only when the mother hen and the chick are thus mutually of one mind and all is done properly will the chick come out of the egg.

The master and the student must be so close as to be able to read each other’s inner mind, and study together and reveal the mind, and they must be able to examine it. The master sincerely broods over the student as to whether or not he has produced genuine doubt about the hwadu. And then when the time has ripened and the minds of the master and student are one, the shell of ignorance that wraps around the mind of the disciple drops off with a bang and he emerges from it. And so then the master, like when the Buddha held up a lotus flower and showed it and the disciple, the Venerable Kāśyapa smiled as response from a deep impression, forms the relationship of transmission from mind to mind.

Of course, not all the teachers through the generations guided their students with only the jultak method. However, only when the master and student came to investigate the hwadu with this method of jultak did they study as they should. This is the correct path of study.

For most hwadu, does one use only the existing 1,700 gong-an?

A gongan is a word that cuts off the path of thought. It is another word for hwadu. From the past, patriarchal monks of China and Korea were enlightened through investigating gongan. This (word) gongan derives from the sense of “government official documents.” This means the absolute criteria through which one must observe the standards.

“The scenery of the original land” of the patriarchal teachers who lead the practitioners to enlightenment are words that indicate that standard. Therefore the Old Man of the Three Religions who wrote the preface to the Biyanlu said, “What the patriarchal teachers taught and show are the gongan.”

In this way, the gongan are records of the words and deeds and enlightenment of past Seon masters. There are many gongan, and usually it is said there are 1,700. This derives from the opportune conditions and words and deeds of the 1,700 Seon monks who appear in the Jingde chuandeng lu. But if one looks at the representative gongan collections; the Wumen guan, the Biyanlu and the Seonmun yeomsong etcetera; in reality 1,650 gongan appear.

If one observes the content of the dialogues of the Seon masters that were adopted for gongan, there were no special forms or rules. Gongan such as “a dried shit stick,” “the cypress in front of the courtyard,” “a dog has no Buddha-nature” etcetera were made in order to show in this present here and now the original sites of the mind of people. Doing so was “direct pointing at the mind of humans, seeing the nature and becoming Buddha.”

Seon Masters who had an experience of enlightenment used various methods to awaken the students to this original mind. Here the concrete locality that deeply confronted the master and student was animated, and with that special location as a background, this exceptional method that transcends all the conventional everyday life appears through the particular words and deeds of the Seon master that come out of the world of awakening. To the students who asked, “What is enlightenment?” or “What the hell is the mind?” Seon Master Linji would shout, “Ah” and Seon Master Deshan would strike with a staff. It is here that the lively Seon style of ‘Linji’s shout’ and ‘Deshan’s staff’ was first unfolded. Because a monk asked Zhaozhou, “What is the mind?” he said, “Have a cup of tea.” Such actions, bringing awakening on the spot, were to Seon Masters everyday actions.

Ever since Seon Master Dahui systematized Ganhwa Seon in the Song Dynasty, Seon practitioners, under the direction of their teachers, selected one of the many gongan and investigated it. Therefore it is proper that the Seon practitioners of today also receive a selection of one of the 1,700 gongan from their teacher.

If so, can only these 1,700 gongan become genuine hwadu? In the past, practitioners of Ganhwa Seon made and studied as gongan, i.e. hwadu, the contents of scriptures or the words and deeds of the patriarchal teachers as revealed in their recorded sayings. Moreover, the Seon masters of Ganhwa Seon also made gongans from those parts where they fully revealed their own opinions of the words of preceding Seon masters. If one reads the recorded sayings of Seon masters, the teachers frequently displayed sections where they critically evaluated the words of the Buddhas and patriarchs, but when they left it just as those words said, or were not denials of these person’s words or critical of them, they were offering them up as another gongan.

There are people today who advocate the necessity of having new gongan to suit the current age. However, as gongan are not understood through language or knowledge, there are no bad gongan that are separated from good gongan. And so a clear-eyed lineage master can examine the peculiarities of modern people and present a new gongan that will cut off the paths of language and thought.

But one must not think in terms of “the gongan of the past are inferior and the new gongan are superior.” This means it is wrong to think in terms of old gongan and new gongan, and that each gongan is appropriate only to that age. Today, purely for the reason only that it is old, it is unfortunate for one to evaluate lowly and unreasonably the gongan of the remarkably perfect teachers of the past.

Does one have to investigate only one hwadu in a lifetime?

The investigation of hwadu is that one must take up only one hwadu and continually study it. One must not change hwadu indiscriminately. The change of hwadu derives from an insufficient faith in the teacher. If one has complete faith in the teacher who gave one the hwadu, one will not even entertain the slightest thought of investigating another hwadu.

A practitioner should only immerse himself in the one hwadu presented by the teacher, no matter what hwadu it is. This is because if one conquers one hwadu one will be naturally enlightened by other hwadu. Seon Master Dahui said, “Since a thousand or ten thousand doubts are only one doubt, if one conquers doubt in only one hwadu, one simultaneously conquers a thousand or ten thousand doubts.” And he said, “If one clearly discerns one, one discerns all, just as if one cuts a skein of thread. If one cuts it once, one simultaneously cuts all (the threads).”

No matter what hwadu it is, if one conquers only that hwadu one will conquer all 1,700 hwadu. Therefore it is not necessary to change various hwadu and investigate them. If one looks at the realities of taking up hwadu of recent times, there are some people who receive one hwadu, but when it does not work out even a bit, if they wish they try to take up another hwadu. But one should not constantly change hwadu in this way. In fact, in conditions where the mental resolution does not work, it is not easy to take up a hwadu. And so, if one takes up this hwadu and one is not obsessed by it, taking up another hwadu in the end likewise means one will not be obsessed by it. While one goes on changing hwadu a number of times and one takes them up, neither gruel nor rice will do, and one will only waste one’s valuable time. Just as a well-digger who digs a little here and a little there in the end will not get any water, one cannot promise a good result by changing hwadu as one wishes.

To emphasize it, one must enter into, earnestly doubt, and have the sole hwadu presented by the teacher. Therefore Seon Master Naong said, “At all costs do not investigate one and then change it for another hwadu. All day long, whatever you do, you must just take up only one hwadu.”

Even if one is not well obsessed with a hwadu, if one tries to take it up untiringly and without ease, one day the time will come when one will naturally be obsessed by it. When we do archery, at first the arrow frequently misses the target, but if one tries to continue it a number of times, in the end one hits the target exactly. Taking up hwadu is the same. If one tries to tirelessly and closely investigate the hwadu, the time when one is obsessed with hwadu will come naturally. The mental attitude that pushes on consistently not putting aside the hwadu, with the serious mind that “if I am not awakened in this life, when in this body will I be saved and in which life” is important. One has to take up the hwadu maintaining a fierce spirit endlessly thought by thought, when one goes to the toilet or when eating, or sitting and lying down, coming and going, day and night.

In this way it is important that one has one hwadu and scrupulously acts on it, and one must not practice by changing the hwadu frequently. If one looks at the recorded sayings of various Seon masters, one can know that nearly all of them investigated only one hwadu during their entire life. In cases when one truly cannot do anything one can practice by changing the hwadu at the direction of one’s master.

When and from whom can one receive a hwadu?

Although said repeatedly, the hwadu is properly taken up when one has resolved the mind. If one forcibly and impetuously takes up the hwadu in the circumstances when the mind is not resolute, illnesses will result. It is often said that one tries to ride a hwadu. But hwadu are not given and received at any time. The teacher judges whether or not the practitioner has resolved the mind or not, and gives the practitioner an appropriate prescription. The upright teacher looks at the practitioner’s ability and presents him with a hwadu.

Because hwadu are words that cut off the paths of thought, only teachers who know how to use these words, using them practically, can give an appropriate hwadu to the practitioner. If a hwadu is presented by a person who does not know the meaning of the hwadu, this instead produces a reverse result that can only end in disappointment.

Because the study of hwadu is developed from out of the teaching and an absolute faith in the teacher, if a person does not have this, if that person gives a hwadu or takes up a hwadu for themself, it will be difficult to have certainty in the study of hwadu. Only when a genuine teacher presents a hwadu that one can stake one’s entire life on, does that hwadu have power. The examination of hwadu study must be conducted by the teacher who presented the hwadu, and while maintaining an earnest mental resolution, one can deeply enter into the hwadu.

The reason for investigating the hwadu is in order to enter into the world of enlightenment. The hwadu is conquered in the barrier gate entered via enlightenment and in order to completely open and clear away and exit this gate that has no gate, one needs the great role of a teacher like this. In so doing, one must definitely receive the hwadu from a teacher, and also the examination at every point must be received from the master.

The generations of patriarchal teachers and the teachers of the world constantly say, “It is as rare as one in ten thousand for one to be enlightened alone without a master.”

In the lineage school, in order that the practitioner has no fabrication or lies, the school style has been maintained that first of all the practitioner is examined by an enlightened Seon master and then sealed by him. Therefore it is proper that one seek a teacher worth staking one’s life on, receiving his selected hwadu and engage in study of it.

But there are exceptions. National Teacher Bojo Jinul of the Goryeo period studied without a regular master. National Teacher Taego Bou, after being enlightened by himself, went to China in search of a clear-eyed lineage master. He received a seal of approval from Chan Master Shiwu. Seon Master Gyeongheo, the reviver of modern Seon, did not receive a hwadu directly from a master. Thus there are those who think that there may be no impediment to selecting the hwadu oneself and studying it. However, the teachers who are mentioned here as examples, must be understood as cases of those one-in-ten thousand practitioners of supreme ability.

And one must clearly know the point that such people, by using the many Seon recorded sayings and scriptures, were always depending on the words of the Buddha. Besides, after his enlightenment, National Teacher Taego Bou, in order to receive a seal of approval of his own state, traveled as far away as another country, China.

But when one cannot find a proper teacher, one can take up the hwadu by oneself as a fall-back policy. But in this case one must have firmly established the condition of the mental resolution and correct views. Moreover, one must properly know the method of taking up the hwadu and the path of conducting study. And even during the course of studying hwadu one must be devoted to continuing the effort to find a teacher. This is because the examination of the practice of hwadu and the seal of approval of enlightenment are only given by a teacher.