Is there a hwadu that is exactly right for a practitioner?

Do not distinguish between a hwadu that is right or not right for oneself. There is no good and bad in hwadu themselves. It is just that according to the person there are hwadu that are taken up well and those that are not. The karma that is matured over billions of eons differs person to person, and so among the practice methods there are some that are right for one and others that are not.  There are some hwadu, according to the individual, that produce doubt well and others that do not. This means that according to the personality that the practitioner is born with or gained through the course of their life, there clearly are hwadu that excite an earnest doubt.  Looking at this point, the teacher who can select well a hwadu that is right for the crux of the practitioner we call a clear-eyed lineage teacher.

The hwadu is a wonder drug used by the teacher that is pertinent and matches each different practitioner’s ability. The teacher gives a person who is attached to non-existence a hwadu to awaken that practitioner to that attachment, and to a person who is attached to existence he gives a hwadu in order to awaken that person to that existence. In doing so, the practitioner will easily catch doubt about the hwadu presented by the teacher.

It is not proper for the practitioner to judge by themselves whether or not the hwadu given by the master is right or not right for one. To say “right and not right” itself means one has already fallen into discrimination. One must doubt the hwadu given by the master. Not investigating the hwadu and establishing the right and wrong of it is to be mistaken in one’s mental resolution, for that arises because one’s belief in the master is insufficient.

A hwadu is an extremely sharp sword that at a stroke cuts off mistaken views such as empty cleverness and the mind of birth and death. Therefore in hwadu there are no good hwadu or bad hwadu. Moreover, there are no separate hwadu that are right or not right for one. One must consider the hwadu that one has received oneself, no matter what hwadu it is. All are good teachings that were presented in order to find one’s own original face. And so one must take up the hwadu presented to one and earnestly give rise to doubt.  But if the teacher examines one and presents one with another hwadu, as the hwadu one had taken up until then had been unsuitable, one can change it and try the other.

But before the teacher presents one again with hwadu, even though the hwadu one is investigating does not give rise to a genuine doubt and then immediately it does not seem to be right for one, if one takes it up very earnestly, there will be a time when a genuine doubt occurs. And when occasionally the hwadu is not well taken up, one must constantly seek the teacher and find a method of increasing one’s mental resolution. And so one resolves the mind and resolves the mind again, and one must work to produce doubt.

If one wishes to investigate hwadu, how must one resolve the mind?

Self-awareness of the feeling of transience and irrationality

We have said previously that a genuine mental resolution must come first in order to investigate hwadu. So then how must one resolve the mind so that can investigate the hwadu well?

Mental resolution requires an earnest desire that manifests a fundamental freedom that transcends the suffering of life and death. If one does so one must be self-aware of the falsity and uselessness of the worldly values and give rise to a feeling of transience that touches one about that. Moreover, one must make a proper self-examination of the confusion of value judgments that lack a basis in the realities of an incomplete and irrational life. What is most important above all else is that there is an earnest, burning desire that tries to seek one’s own original face.

Many Seon teachers felt thoroughly the transience of life, became monks and trod the path of practicing Seon. Seon Master Naong of the Goryeo period and the monk Hamheo (1376-1433) of the Joseon period, after witnessing the death of close friends at a young age, became monks and took the path of Seon practice. They discerned the falsity of life and the transience of the body, and to overcome that they lead lives as Seon practitioners.

Seon Master Gyeongheo, who revived the modern Seon of Korea, seeing the misery of a village of corpses which had died from an infectious disease, resolved his mind and began to meditate. Gyeongheo, who was a great lecturer in the late Korean Empire, left one day in the summer of 1879 to see his former ordination master. When he arrived at a village near Cheonan, he tried to escape a storm that suddenly blew up by sheltering under the eaves of a house. Then he knocked on the door. But for some reason or other, the house-owner drove him away willy-nilly. The situation was the same at the next house and the one after that. In finding out the reason, a villager said, “Now in this village an infectious disease is circulating virulently, and so people even die standing. So how could they receive guests?”

Gyeongheo, hearing these words, felt his hair stand on end, and felt a dread as if death was approaching him then and there. He felt keenly the fact that the knowledge of the scriptures that he had familiarized himself with up till then had no power at all in the face of death the moment he came to know that death can occur in the instant of a breathe, and that death is not distant.

Is it for life alone? Even the loved one or the darling children and the beloved mother cannot be with one forever. They are existences that will disappear sometime in the midst of transience. What can one do at such times? The worldly desires, such as money, success, fame and scholarship that people compete for and pursue in the end disappear in the midst of transience. And this worldly desire afflicts one with the frustrations that bind life to this and that. What must one do at times of such distress?

Life is also irrational. Listen carefully. Life is full of contradictions. Although we are living, ultimately we are walking towards death step by step. Yesterday’s good suddenly changes into today’s evil, and the good here also passes for evil there. For me to live I have to trample on others ruthlessly. Moreover, the judgments I hand down are not certain, but go here and there.  There is no conviction and according to the circumstances it changes. It is often said, “Hung in a nose, it is a nose-ring; hung in an ear it is an ear-ring.” This is because one cannot be insightful or clear about everything oneself.

The Path Seeking One’s Original Face that Transcends the Sorrowful Sea of Life and Death

It is said in Seon that the path to overcome the irrational life that is full of suffering and the feeling of impermanence and one’s own limitations is in seeking for one’s own self. If one can seek the characteristics of the genuine self, one can be free and independent from all things, and of course one’s own self can be elucidated along with the surrounding world. Because it is not dark one is confident and without hesitation. Even after making a judgment one does not regret, and one comes to understand that life and death originally do not exist.

However, despite the characteristic of the self that lives so freshly, we live left behind in the dark. If one does not know one’s true characteristics, every day is difficult. If one tries to shake off this trouble, one has to give rise to a genuine desire and mental resolution to seek the I, and if one does so one needs discernment into transience and a knowledge of the self without pretense.

There are also some people who look at scriptures or books, or listen to the sermons of monks and having resolved their mind, generate a huge doubt. The hall lecture is fine, the small-group consultation is fine, and the mass sermon is fine. The Seon lectures that specially establish correct views must be frequently heard. When it is impossible to hear the lecture, the method of listening to a recording of the lecture of the teacher is also possible.

In the investigation of hwadu, if one gives rise to a genuine doubt about one’s original face in the midst of life, one will issue forth the mind that will produce a resolution without fail, and one must enter into and immerse oneself in it without retreat. There are the words, “Indeed, what is this?” The reason that one must know that “what” is because all right and wrong discriminations and good and evil or pure and impure arise in that site of the mind. In the Seon Gate this is called the mind of birth and death. If one cannot be enlightened to the original face, one will not be able to discard the rebirth of the mind of birth and death.

Mental Resolution and the Investigation of Hwadu

In the study of hwadu, when one has attained a genuine mental resolution, it is easy to generate an earnest doubt. At the stage where the mental resolution cannot be achieved at all, even if one tries to take up the hwadu, one will not be able to take it up well or be able to generate doubt. Once one has resolved the mind and taken up the hwadu properly, the strength is applied to study and one does not pant after anything outside of the mind and one becomes like a wall.

What is Mental Resolution?

Mental resolution (balsim) is an abbreviation of ‘resolution of the mind for bodhi’ (balborisim), which is the earnest thirst that one will be genuinely enlightened. This is the earnest mind that would live freely and happily forever having lost the various troubles of birth, old age, illness and death. The mental resolution is, “Since I am originally Buddha, why can’t I live like that?” or “Even though I have discarded living the life that is troubled by all the discriminations of right and wrong, I have an earnest desire that I can live a good life everyday.”

Seon Master Linji said as follows:

There is a true man who is not bound by anything in his red lump of bodily flesh. That person always enters and leaves through your faces and so you cannot see him. Look at him, look. (Linji lu)

That very thing that eats food, sleeps and works, enters and leaves in front of one’s eyes whenever. This is my governor, my true appearance, my genuinely free person. But we do not know this and continue to live painfully. We live a life like a slave who only follows after somebody and rushes to the outside. Even in such circumstances the genuine governor clearly and definitely comes and goes in front of one’s eyes. It shouts, sings, eats and sleeps. One must see it. Indeed, what is this governor? It is concerning this that the genuine mental resolution must occur. And so Seon Master Linji repeatedly told his disciples to look at that governor.

If one tries to resolve the mind in this way one must be matured in ability. Just riding on the hwadu from the teacher is not conquering the hwadu.

The limitations of thought and philosophy and the study of hwadu

Even though one has entered the Dharma Gate, read books and come to a dim understanding of the principles of Seon, ultimately, if one cannot be unreservedly awakened to the doubt about the hwadu, one will give rise to the acute demand that, “Oh, I am sure to be truly enlightened to that.” That thirst has to arise of itself. Only then is the hwadu taken up properly. There will be no further disturbance by who did what, and what words one heard. This is study. Having studied doctrine and the scriptures, the generations of patriarchs who transmitted and discovered Seon, all in this way tried to confirm their own minds and give rise to an earnest mental resolution. In seeking their genuine self, they saw the limitations of philosophy and thought and shifted to an association with Seon.

If so, why must one be enlightened to the ‘genuine self’ only through hwadu? Can’t it be elucidated through the theoretical thinking of philosophy and thought? Let us look at this question by taking up the case of a famous Western philosopher. The father of modern Western philosophy, Rene Descartes said, “I think therefore I am.” The thinking I itself is most important and the nature of that thinking is a distinguishing feature only of humans, and that thinking is the most definite proof of one’s own existence. He said this is so because it is only when one is thinking something that one can be certain that one exists. However, the I that Descartes spoke of is not the genuine I (self) that is spoken of in Seon. That is the I that thinks with reason, the I that changes moment by moment. Because it thinks with reason it is the I that is further covered by its own thought and coloring, and is only the relative I that is formed in the relationship with you. That is not the genuine I. Seon is the searching for the I as emptiness, the genuine I that is apart from the I as emptiness, the genuine I that is apart from the I that is transient and changeable. This I as emptiness is the governor. This governor is the original I that transcends the changeable I of “I think.”

If so, why is the study of hwadu the most excellent thing in the path of searching for one’s own genuine subject? This is because all thinking cannot think of that thinking by itself. The moment the subject of the thinking becomes the object of thinking, that subject of thinking has lost its life as a subject already. The genuine I cannot be considered through thought and there is no path to elucidate it through the function of reason. The original I can only be enlightened to where the path of thought and the path of language have been cut off. The hwadu will lead us to the site of our original share (of enlightenment) where the paths of the mind are cut off, the path of language is cut off, and there is no division of subject and object.

What is Hwadu?

Seon Master Wumen Huikai (1183-1260) said,

Meditation is the penetration through the barrier gate of the patriarchs. Marvelous enlightenment has to cut off the paths of all thought. If one does not penetrate the barrier of the patriarchs and does not cut off the path of thought you will be no different to a phantom who lives attached to grass or a thicket. (Wumen guan)

If one tries to become a patriarch one has to penetrate through the barrier gate of the patriarchs that cut off the paths of thought and of language. In Seon this gate of the patriarchs is called hwadu. Only by penetrating through the barrier gate of the hwadu that lacks a firmly shut gate can one abandon samsara and become a patriarch. If one cannot penetrate this gate of the patriarch one will live the life of a phantom that is dependent forever on others and will be unable to stand up straight on one’s own.

The Definition of Hwadu and Gongan

Hwadu is made up of the word hwa, which means speech or story, and du, which is a meaningless suffix. So hwadu is just a word for speech. But we must note that Seon masters use this word in a particular way. Hwadu is a special language of Seon masters that blocks all passages for thought and discrimination.

Such words cannot be grasped with everyday thought. Hwadu have the power to remove the thought and discrimination of conceptual thinking. Therefore hwadu have discarded the everyday norms, and are called exceptional words beyond the norm. This is because they are absolute words that cannot be attached to in accordance with the function of rational thinking.

The words that we use everyday are relative words. We use words such as exist and not exist, you and I, go and come, good and bad. But answers such as, “The cypress tree in front of the courtyard” and “A dried-up shit-stick” to questions such as, “What is the meaning of the Patriarch coming from the West?” and “What is the truth?” are exceptional, absolute words that transcend the relative words. These are true words that cut off the paths of speech and thought. One should be directly enlightened to such hwadu.

There are also times when the du of hwadu is not used simply as a suffix. At such times, hwadu means “the head of the word,” and indicates the world before the word comes out. One may also see that hwadu means the definition of words preceding daily speech.  Hwadu are presented by the teacher to the pupil and the student must wrestle in a bout with life and death in taking up this hwadu.

Hwadu are also called gongan and gochik. All mean the same. Gongan also is the public (gong) of transcending public and private, and gochik is the go (past) that transcends time and space, and hwadu is a word that transcends words. In other words, gochik are the just rules of law, the Dharma/Law that was recognized by the ancient worthies. That is they are “the laws that were via words,” and the “laws of the patriarchs of the past.” Being just, the discriminating mind must not intervene in them.  Therefore they are called public cases (gongan). If one zealously practice in accord with that Dharma one is sure to be able to see the nature. Gongan are thus said in the sense that they are “standard cases” that will allow one to be enlightened if one practices according to that Law that transcends both sides. In this way gongan are a basis of absolute criteria and judgments in the practice of meditation.

One may be directly enlightened through such hwadu, gongan and gochik. But if (the Master) says wake up, and one cannot wake up even when it is presented, one has no option but to take up the hwadu. As even doing this is a method of awakening, one just puts it down. One must know clearly that hwadu is not simply a method to produce a doubt.

The Life of Hwadu

Seon sees, says and does everything in the place apart from the world of thoroughly relative concepts. But, if one cannot be enlightened directly to the hwadu, one should from that time onwards enter into doubt. As mentioned before, this is because one cannot be attached to or follow the functions of rational thought in hwadu. No matter what one does, it is like being in a maze that one cannot solve. As Seon Master Wumen said, it is the path of the mind that is cut off, the path of words that is cut off, and one fumbles around and cannot touch anything. There are no traces to be sought and not even any signs.

Seon Master Yunju Daoying (?-902) said with respect of this;

“You are just like hunting dogs looking for an antelope who only follow after the antelope’s tracks. What if the antelope’s horn suspends it from a branch and it is hidden? The hunting hounds will not only be unable to see the antelope’s prints, they will also not even be able to get a scent of the antelope’s breathe.”
A monk asked, “What is the meaning of the antelope being hidden by being suspended by its horns from a branch?”
“Six times six are thirty-six. Do you understand?”
“I do not.”
“Don’t you know the meaning of having no traces?”
(Chanlin Baoseng zhuan, fasc. 1, Biography of Daoying, Zokuzōkyō 137)

Thus when one takes up the hwadu, the paths of seeking via thought must be cut off, for even that without traces must be completely cut off. Here the hunting dog is compared to the function of recognition that discriminates and gropes for the tracks of various concepts and thoughts. The core of Ganhwa Seon practice is the investigation of the hwadu that cuts of the tracks of language and thought, and where these traces disappear, one becomes free and independent. The hwadu cuts off all the paths of thought of the meditation practitioner, and the body and mind become full with the heat of doubt, and finally it leads to the state when the levee of doubt breaks with a crash. This is not permitted and that is not permitted; negation is not allowed nor is affirmation. If one takes up the hwadu in this way, all of heaven and earth must become one mass of doubt. And so one must attempt to reach the situation where one can neither go forward nor retreat.

One cannot consider the hwadu through recognition and thought. To consider it through thought is called ‘cleverness’. ‘Cleverness’ in Chinese characters is chihae (understanding through knowledge). On the one-pillar (entrance) gate of most Korean monasteries there are the words, “One who comes through this gate must not retain understanding through knowledge.” This has the sense of, “If you wish to come through this gate, do not use cleverness.” Each time we come through a one-pillar gate, we must get the meaning of these words. Not only when one goes through the one-pillar gate, but at any time and place, we should proceed in practicing with this meaning in mind.

With the earnest mind, and not with the mind that considers and discriminates, one immerses oneself in the hwadu and becomes one with the hwadu, and finally when one has conquered the hwadu, one will obtain some news. In this way, as soon as one conquers the barrier of the patriarchs, one will likely become the lone hero of the world.

Seon Master Wumen said,

The great Way has no gate. The path is everywhere. If one bores through this barrier gate, you will walk independently in the world. (Wumen guan, Wumen’s Preface)

Chapter 1. The Stage of the Decision and Choice of the Hwadu

What is Hwadu?

Seon Master Wumen Huikai (1183-1260) said,

Meditation is the penetration through the barrier gate of the patriarchs. Marvelous enlightenment has to cut off the paths of all thought. If one does not penetrate the barrier of the patriarchs and does not cut off the path of thought you will be no different to a phantom who lives attached to grass or a thicket. (Wumen guan)

If one tries to become a patriarch one has to penetrate through the barrier gate of the patriarchs that cut off the paths of thought and of language. In Seon this gate of the patriarchs is called hwadu. Only by penetrating through the barrier gate of the hwadu that lacks a firmly shut gate can one abandon samsara and become a patriarch. If one cannot penetrate this gate of the patriarch one will live the life of a phantom that is dependent forever on others and will be unable to stand up straight on one’s own.

The Definition of Hwadu and Gongan

Hwadu is made up of the word hwa, which means speech or story, and du, which is a meaningless suffix. So hwadu is just a word for speech. But we must note that Seon masters use this word in a particular way. Hwadu is a special language of Seon masters that blocks all passages for thought and discrimination.

Such words cannot be grasped with everyday thought. Hwadu have the power to remove the thought and discrimination of conceptual thinking. Therefore hwadu have discarded the everyday norms, and are called exceptional words beyond the norm. This is because they are absolute words that cannot be attached to in accordance with the function of rational thinking.

The words that we use everyday are relative words. We use words such as exist and not exist, you and I, go and come, good and bad. But answers such as, “The cypress tree in front of the courtyard” and “A dried-up shit-stick” to questions such as, “What is the meaning of the Patriarch coming from the West?” and “What is the truth?” are exceptional, absolute words that transcend the relative words. These are true words that cut off the paths of speech and thought. One should be directly enlightened to such hwadu.

There are also times when the du of hwadu is not used simply as a suffix. At such times, hwadu means “the head of the word,” and indicates the world before the word comes out. One may also see that hwadu means the definition of words preceding daily speech.  Hwadu are presented by the teacher to the pupil and the student must wrestle in a bout with life and death in taking up this hwadu.

Hwadu are also called gongan and gochik. All mean the same. Gongan also is the public (gong) of transcending public and private, and gochik is the go (past) that transcends time and space, and hwadu is a word that transcends words. In other words, gochik are the just rules of law, the Dharma/Law that was recognized by the ancient worthies. That is they are “the laws that were via words,” and the “laws of the patriarchs of the past.” Being just, the discriminating mind must not intervene in them.  Therefore they are called public cases (gongan). If one zealously practice in accord with that Dharma one is sure to be able to see the nature. Gongan are thus said in the sense that they are “standard cases” that will allow one to be enlightened if one practices according to that Law that transcends both sides. In this way gongan are a basis of absolute criteria and judgments in the practice of meditation.

One may be directly enlightened through such hwadu, gongan and gochik. But if (the Master) says wake up, and one cannot wake up even when it is presented, one has no option but to take up the hwadu. As even doing this is a method of awakening, one just puts it down. One must know clearly that hwadu is not simply a method to produce a doubt.

The Life of Hwadu

Seon sees, says and does everything in the place apart from the world of thoroughly relative concepts. But, if one cannot be enlightened directly to the hwadu, one should from that time onwards enter into doubt. As mentioned before, this is because one cannot be attached to or follow the functions of rational thought in hwadu. No matter what one does, it is like being in a maze that one cannot solve. As Seon Master Wumen said, it is the path of the mind that is cut off, the path of words that is cut off, and one fumbles around and cannot touch anything. There are no traces to be sought and not even any signs.

Seon Master Yunju Daoying (?-902) said with respect of this;

“You are just like hunting dogs looking for an antelope who only follow after the antelope’s tracks. What if the antelope’s horn suspends it from a branch and it is hidden? The hunting hounds will not only be unable to see the antelope’s prints, they will also not even be able to get a scent of the antelope’s breathe.”
A monk asked, “What is the meaning of the antelope being hidden by being suspended by its horns from a branch?”
“Six times six are thirty-six. Do you understand?”
“I do not.”
“Don’t you know the meaning of having no traces?”
(Chanlin Baoseng zhuan, fasc. 1, Biography of Daoying, Zokuzōkyō 137)

Thus when one takes up the hwadu, the paths of seeking via thought must be cut off, for even that without traces must be completely cut off. Here the hunting dog is compared to the function of recognition that discriminates and gropes for the tracks of various concepts and thoughts. The core of Ganhwa Seon practice is the investigation of the hwadu that cuts of the tracks of language and thought, and where these traces disappear, one becomes free and independent. The hwadu cuts off all the paths of thought of the meditation practitioner, and the body and mind become full with the heat of doubt, and finally it leads to the state when the levee of doubt breaks with a crash. This is not permitted and that is not permitted; negation is not allowed nor is affirmation. If one takes up the hwadu in this way, all of heaven and earth must become one mass of doubt. And so one must attempt to reach the situation where one can neither go forward nor retreat.

One cannot consider the hwadu through recognition and thought. To consider it through thought is called ‘cleverness’. ‘Cleverness’ in Chinese characters is chihae (understanding through knowledge). On the one-pillar (entrance) gate of most Korean monasteries there are the words, “One who comes through this gate must not retain understanding through knowledge.” This has the sense of, “If you wish to come through this gate, do not use cleverness.” Each time we come through a one-pillar gate, we must get the meaning of these words. Not only when one goes through the one-pillar gate, but at any time and place, we should proceed in practicing with this meaning in mind.

With the earnest mind, and not with the mind that considers and discriminates, one immerses oneself in the hwadu and becomes one with the hwadu, and finally when one has conquered the hwadu, one will obtain some news. In this way, as soon as one conquers the barrier of the patriarchs, one will likely become the lone hero of the world.

Seon Master Wumen said,

The great Way has no gate. The path is everywhere. If one bores through this barrier gate, you will walk independently in the world. (Wumen guan, Wumen’s Preface)

PART 2: The Stage of real consultation (the study stage)

  • Chapter 1. The Stage of the Decision and Choice of the Hwadu
    • What is Hwadu?
    • Mental Resolution and the Investigation of Hwadu
    • If one wishes to investigate hwadu, how must one resolve the mind?
    • Is there a hwadu that is exactly right for a practitioner?
    • When and from whom can one receive a hwadu?
    • Does one have to investigate only one hwadu in a lifetime?
    • For most hwadu, does one use only the existing 1,700 gong-an?
  • Chapter 2: The Role of the Supervisor
    • The Role of the Master and the Methods of Supervision in Ganhwa Seon
    • Meeting with a good teacher
    • The mental attitude of a practitioner seeking a teacher
    • Can one question when the master in the patriarchal lineage lectures?
    • Can long-term practitioners supervise? Are there no other methods?
    • How must one polish one’s own practice in the Seon cloister?
  • Chapter 3. The Stage of Investigation of the Hwadu
    • How is the hwadu concretely investigated?
    • The Reasons one must possess the Mind of Great Faith, the Mind of Great Indignation, the Mind of Great Doubt
    • What are the feeling of doubt, the ball of doubt, form into one piece, and the silver mountains and iron walls?
    • The Differences between Investigating the Hwadu and Contemplating the Hwadu
    • When one is not possessed by hwadu, may one use mantic power or chant hwadu or be mindful of hwadu?
    • Live Phrases and Dead Phrases
  • Chapter 4: Overcoming the Malfunctions
    • Methods of Removing Ten Malfunctions in the Investigation of Hwadu
    • The Difference between the Mind of Rapid Result and the Mind of Indignant Outburst
    • The Method of Controlling Rising Gi
    • Methods of Controlling Dullness and Restlessness
    • Method of Overcoming Sexual Desire and Sleep
  • Chapter 5: The Investigation of Hwadu Method in Everyday Life
    • How much must one practice in silence and can one enter into study in movement?
    • How does one overcome the contrary realms and the favorable realms during the course of daily study
    • What is the relation between hwadu investigation and the place?
    • Can one take up a hwadu while working as a layperson?
  • Chapter 6: Investigation of Hwadu and the Stage of Samadhi
    • Investigation of hwadu and alert tranquility
    • When investigating hwadu, what must one do about the tasteless?
    • What is the samādhi spoken of in Ganhwa Seon?
    • What are the Three Stages of Movement and Calm in One Thusness, Dream and Awakening in One Thusness, and Waking and Sleeping in One Thusness?
    • Can sentient beings of superior ability conquer the hwadu at the end of a word?
    • Why should one be careful about the calm realm?
    • What is to be done if the hwadu is pure and is enlarged to mystical phenomena?

 

What is the Relation between of Practice of Ganhwa Seon and the Precepts

The Relationship of Seon and Precepts

The three studies of precepts (vinaya), meditation and insight are the core of Buddhist practice. So Seon Master Seosan said, “If the precepts (are kept) entirely and strongly, and the water of meditation is clear and pure, the moon of insight will appear therein.” (Seon-ga gwi-gam). The Buddha said, “The Way is a house. The precepts are the foundations. The fundamentals of practice are the precepts.” The Chanyuan qinggui also emphasizes that Seon practitioners must keep the vinaya and precepts.

It is dangerous for a practitioner of Ganhwa Seon to even think it is OK to ignore the vinaya and precepts. However, because in Chinese Seon cloisters one had to live self-sufficiently, a separate pure regulations was instituted which contained items not in the vinaya that were necessary for the life of a Seon cloister. Seon Master Guishan said, “The Buddha first of all instituted the vinaya and precepts to give a lead to those who had resolved the mind (for the Way),” and so requested that Seon practitioners keep thoroughly the vinaya and precepts.

If one is enlightened, the precepts are perfected

If one is enlightened then the three studies of precepts, meditation and insight are perfected. The life of an enlightened one does not violate the precepts. This is called the Way accompanies precepts (do-gong-gye). If like the Buddha one comprehends the Way, then the precepts will just simply follow.  The practice of meditation and the practice of the precepts are perfected together. If so, automatically the actions of the body and the mind mature and do not transgress in the slightest.

In respect of this, Seon Master Huineng also said that if one is without thought and sees the nature, meditation and insight cannot be divided. If one reaches the realm of no-thought through practice the three studies of precepts, meditation and insight will be fully present.

As the Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch says, in Patriarchal Seon the precepts are the active and spirited form of life of the self-nature that originally lacks error. Seon Master Huineng Yuanwu emphasized the practice of precepts grounded in the self-nature, saying, “Keep the pure practice of the precepts, and without thoughts that are attached to the practice of precepts, even if one practices boundlessly, do not leave any thought of studying.”

Patriarchal Seon asserts strongly the vinaya and precepts in a natural and lively sense as something the source of the mind originally was furnished with, rather than a precepts and vinaya in the sense of a control of the sensation system of the body. In such a life, even the violation in thought disappears and every moment of life accords with the vinaya and precepts which are perfected, and they both flow along together as a whole. And so all actions by the enlightened are natural, pure and become as clean as the brilliance of the morning sunlight.

Seon Master Boshan Wuyi in the Sanchan jingyu said that if one opened the eyes of enlightenment, even the words “burning incense and cleaning are all the service of the Buddha,” would point to this principle.

It seems that for practitioners of Ganhwa Seon, keeping the precepts is an extremely natural, everyday housekeeping. In the case of meditation practitioners, during the period of the summer and winter retreats, the precepts are thoroughly and strictly observed of course, and even when the retreat is ended and they go out on pilgrimage (haeng-gak) they must strictly observe the precepts. Lay practitioners also, whether in practice sites or in the midst of daily life must keep the precepts well. If one establishes correct views and practices, the precepts will naturally be perfected in ordinary life. That practice and life go their separate ways is not the true characteristic of a practitioner. That practice and life are united is the natural characteristic of the practitioner. The practice of the precepts of the genuine practitioner does not lie in trying to keep them firmly. Rather, they are a proper characteristic of an active and spirited life that is as natural as the flowers blooming or the leaves of grass budding.

The necessity that one must understand the doctrine before the practice of Ganhwa Seon

Master Seosan said the following:
If after knowing the start and end of one’s own practice, one discards the doctrinal studies and tries to take a thought that is front of one’s eyes and investigates it in detail, one is sure to attain something. This is the path that lives by shaking off the body that is bound. (Seon-ga gwi-gam)

 

These are the words sa-gyo ib-seon. The characters literally mean “discard the teachings and enter into Seon.” Gyo is a word that indicates the Buddhist teachings have been bound up crudely in letters beginning with the sutras. “To discard doctrine,” as Master Seosan says, does not mean from the start to “ignore or deny the doctrine” but to put down the teachings after one has fully understood the doctrine.

 

If doctrines are the expression by the Buddha in words about the state of enlightenment, then Seon is the disclosure of the enlightened mind by the Buddha without words. If we are to use a metaphor for doctrine then it is like a map for climbing up a mountain, and Seon is the act of treading on the mountain and going up to stand on the summit. If one enters into Seon practice without a thorough understanding of doctrine, a dangerous result can come, just like a person who climbs up a high and dangerous mountain without a map. The doctrine is the building up of correct views, a teaching that one cannot do without.

 

On the other hand, after one has understood doctrine one must put it down completely and directly enter into the practice of Seon. Just as one cannot have climbed up a mountain by merely looking at a map, if one is attached to doctrine only, one cannot see the moon and will most likely look only at the finger.

 

Master Seosan said, “To reach the wordless through no words is Seon, and to reach the wordless through words is doctrine.” However, “to reach the wordless through no words” is not easy. Even though a Seon practitioner, it can be dangerous to recklessly enter into the world of Seon from the start. The words, “I do not need medicine” are appropriate to a person who has no illness, but a person with an illness must have medicine. For those practicing meditation, the scriptures and the recorded sayings are really necessary, just like a stick is to blind person.

 

Although it is said, “Seon is to reach the wordless without words,” the Tripitaka contains a huge number of Seon recorded sayings. In those Seon collected sayings are recorded detailed points about how one should enter Seon. When we consider the appearance of so many recorded sayings, it means that Seon from the start could not be separated from words. The important thing is not to be hung up on words. The wordless state is the state that realizes one’s own nature ultimately.

 

However, one cannot enter the world of truth the Buddha was awkened to only by understanding the Dharma preached by the Buddha. This is because that world is apart from language and from discrimination. No matter how much explanation one hears about the taste of water, if one does not try to drink it directly oneself, one cannot know it. No matter how much one hears of the method of riding a bike, one cannot ride a bike through that alone. It stands to reason that one can ride a bike by trying and falling off a number of times. If one tries to see the world of truth, one must directly experience it. To reach this principle the practitioner must sa-gyo ib-seon and experience Seon after having put down the doctrine he had learnt.

The Reason for Valuing a Correct World View in Ganhwa Seon

The Buddhist world-view: the Middle Way, conditional production, no-self and emptiness

Buddhism begins from the Buddha’s enlightenment. Therefore the Buddhist world-view, view of life and values that the Buddha was enlightened to as the conditional production Dharma are the core that has to be cherished in any form of Buddhism. Ganhwa Seon is the same. The world that the Buddha and patriarchs were awakened to cannot be different. Ganhwa Seon does not have a different world-view or set of values. To say that Ganhwa Seon is an excellent practice and that it is the actualization of enlightenment right here does not mean it has a different “state of enlightenment.”

The Buddha said, “If you see conditional production you see the Dharma; and if you see the Dharma you see the Tathāgata.”

The conditional production Dharma is that this and that, you and I, good and evil, the world and the universe, while being mutually dependent, exist without ego. The whole universe enters into a mote of dust, and when a single, beautiful rose blooms, the universe blooms with it.

Where the principle of conditional production is unfolded, that is where all existence is empty, being non-existent. If all existence is only the ‘solitary I’ then no form of you can come into I. When life is manifested as no-self, the conditional production Dharma is again vivified, and while maintaining that mutuality of I and you, they are joined together as an entirety.

The proper characteristic of conditional production is also called the Middle Way, in which the relative world such as I am, you are, to be and not to be, like and dislike, and all this and that are simultaneously cut off. The core of early and Mahayana Buddhism is this “Middle Way conditional production.” It is the Middle Way because you and I are not independent realities, but exist within the relationship and because it achieves an harmonious totality in which such styles as I am unconditionally good and you are unconditionally evil do not confront each other. Śūnya (emptiness) thought expresses this conditional production, no-self and Middle Way even more dynamically. The core of the Vajracchedikā Sūtra and the Prajñāpāramitāhŗdaya Sūtra is the emptiness that is the Middle Way conditional production.

Emptiness is like pristine space. Pristine space does not increase or decrease, and does not come into being or disappear. That is buljeung bulgam bulsaeng bulmyeol. Our very existence is like that. And we must see that directly.

Patriarchal Seon is the Sect that most reliably shows one the Middle Way conditional production.

Patriarchal Seon is the sect that most faithfully experiences the Middle Way conditional production, which is the core thought of the Buddha, and has succeeded to it. Moreover, the Ganhwa Seon that is at the root of Patriarchal Seon is the practice method that most rapidly wakens one through the mind and the body to the principles of conditional production and that Middle Way via the hwadu.

The Buddha explained the reality of existence, and the proper characteristics of the world as conditional production. Therefore conditional production is the universal truth, the principles of the existence of the universe and the reality of life. A non-conditional production thought and action is a fiction and an illusion. The path to thoroughly awaken to all illusion and fiction is meditation. And so shouting and beating appear as ordinary matters. This is from where Seon Master Linji’s active and spirited Seon style derives.

If one clearly opens one’s eyes to the fact of the conditional production Dharma that is the basis for all existence, then naturally the practical deeds of empathetic compassion will flow forth. This is because the conditional-production style awakening destroys the fences that divide ‘I’ and ‘other’ in a moment. Seon practitioners must accompany the understanding of the correct views of the Middle Way with the practice that follows from that, and must stand firmly on such a world-view and set of values.

Seon practice that has not properly established a world-view grounded in the Buddha-Dharma can also fall at the slightest provocation into mysticism, functionalism, the ism of meditation and even into straightforward health promotion. Furthermore, a Seon that cannot change the quality of life falls into the supremacism of enlightenment and has the danger of making enlightenment itself a tool or objectivizing it. If one has not even got a basic understanding of the Buddha-Dharma, and one only sits unconditionally deep in the mountains, one cannot be a practitioner of Ganhwa Seon.

How must one practice the basic practices of Ganhwa Seon?

If one is woken up, even though one meets any sense-realms there will be no entanglements. That is to become an unencumbered person of the Way. When one has a fervent desire to know that and to have a conviction about one’s original face that lacks entanglements one can resolve the mind (for the Way). One must have a sincere mind that (asks), “What is the genuine?” Then one can step out on the path of meditation that seeks the genuine self. So let us see what is needed in the fundamental practice related to that mental resolution. That can be divided into various types.

 

Firstly, the most important requisite for mental resolution is the firm belief that one originally is Buddha. Even so, the present I must have a cold self-reflection that the original appearance is one of wandering around in the sufferings that are unrelated to it. So now one must ignite the earnest and sad mind that says it will definitely seek its original form. At that time one takes up a hwadu.

 

Secondly, one must live embracing compassion, wisdom and the power of vows. The mind of compassion for others being the same as oneself that wishes to rescue beings who are groaning in the midst of suffering is the mind of the Mahayana bodhisattva and the mind of the Buddha. This practice in this world of pain is for wiping away that pain of the world. This is because that is my pain. Furthermore, in order to remove oneself from that pain one must open up the eyes of wisdom. The power of the vow is a pledge to endlessly practice compassion through the eye of wisdom and to set up awakening without fail. These three kinds of mind are the basic requisites that one must certainly possess before entering into practice.

 

Thirdly, one must foster a zeal for practice that definitely cannot be diverted. As it is not easy to produce a genuine doubt in the investigation of the hwadu, a continuous effort is required. One must earnestly make an effort in trying to take up the hwadu unceasingly and not be easily discouraged. Looking at it in this way, in no time one begins to take up the hwadu. To achieve this one must nurture the zealous power that does not step back, does not retreat.

 

Fourthly, before entering into Ganhwa Seon, one must believe deeply in the rules of causation preached by the Buddha and one must make an effort to live correctly, thinking of the next life that is incurred through evil actions. Therefore, one must be tender and correctly mindful of each one of one’s words, actions and thoughts. Seon Master Guishan Lingyou (815-891) said, “If one’s voice is gentle, the echo is favorable; if one’s appearance is graceful, the shadow will be decent.” On the threshold of death, because of the evil karma one has committed, so as not to be afraid, one must be continuously zealous in practice to have a good mind. One must have a practice of thorough knowledge of the Vinaya. Further, it is hoped one would bear in mind the point that one will be free if one frees oneself from causation, if one is enlightened through the hwadu, and is prepared to be tied to the response of causation that traps one in the net of karma for age after age and life after life if one cannot see the nature through hwadu.

 

Fifthly, one must have a sure understanding of hwadu and the method of meditation. It is important to understand in detail what hwadu are, how to select a hwadu, how it must be investigated and what the malfunctions are that can occur while practicing hwadu. Only then will the firm belief be produced that one will be able to discover one’s own original face through the practice of hwadu.

 

Sixth, the most important thing is to establish correct views.

 

It does not matter whether a practitioner fully possesses all of these conditions and is firm in mental resolution (for the Way) and has entered into the gate of Ganhwa Seon. One must know that the basic practice of the earlier stage is absolutely necessary for one to produce the great mental resolution if one was not a person of superior ability who practiced countlessly in the gate of practice in one’s past lives.