The Reason for Giving Importance to Correct Views in Ganhwa Seon

As long as one has resolved the mind (for the Way) according to the Buddha’s teaching, anyone can practice Ganhwa Seon. If there is a clear-eyed teacher who possesses the believing mind and genuine mental resolution, and possesses the correct views, such a person can directly enter into the practice of Ganhwa Seon without the necessity of basic or preparatory types of practice.

 

However, in the condition where there was no mental resolution and correct views about the Buddha’s Dharma, no matter how much one has taken up the hwadu, even if one has made great efforts, one cannot give rise to sincere doubt about that hwadu. So before the beginner enters into the hwadu, they have to establish a tremendous power of vows and a determined, believing mind, and initiate a genuine mind that has a direct sense of insight into the Dharma.

 

A correct view means the establishment of a sense of values that are properly based on the Dharma. These are the theses of the world-view and view of human life seen directly from the conditional production of the Middle Way. Only then can one faithfully possess the basis that one must have as a Buddhist practitioner for such things as, “What is Buddhism? What teaching is it?” or “Why must one study” and “Why must one practice?”

 

There was a traveler walking along a road. What was his objective in going along that road? If he knows his certain aim in going along the road, the traveler will be able to travel confidently along it without hesitation. Master Seosan had a verse on this topic:

 

             A traveler tramping through the snow along a path
             Should not walk in confusion.
             Today your footprints
             Become the mileposts for later people.

 

The snow-veiled plain means the present life circumstances. One must walk directly with a consciousness of the aim of the path one is going along in that snow-covered wilderness. One can be running about here and there in confusion. The firm establishment of correct views is therefore important. On the basis of these correct views, when one ventures into Ganhwa Seon, one must proceed directly and not wander.

 

The establishment of correct views begins from the understanding of the core teachings of Buddhism; conditional production, no-self, emptiness and the Middle Way. These teachings are the truths discovered by and taught by the Buddha. If a practitioner is properly cognizant of these their path becomes clear. If one is cognizant of them as one should, one has to practice and the life-objective of that practitioner must be evident. That means that what one must be enlightened to and how one must practice becomes extremely clear.

 

Having a correct understanding of conditional production and no-self produces an earnest desire to practice them throughout one’s own life. So thinking in accord with conditional production and no-self, and practicing them, will open up a way to personalize them. All Buddhist practice, beginning with Ganhwa Seon, is a path that is thus for the personalization and internalization of the Dharma of conditional production. The Dharma is to confirm that truth and to live accordingly. If one does so, finally the Dharma accompanies one and the path I am walking on becomes the path of truth. At such a time, there will be no obstacles and one can go on alone like a one-horned rhinoceros. Further, the footprints of such a person will become an excellent guide for later people to follow.

Chapter 4: The fundamental practice of ganhwa seon

The Reason for Giving Importance to Correct Views in Ganhwa Seon

As long as one has resolved the mind (for the Way) according to the Buddha’s teaching, anyone can practice Ganhwa Seon. If there is a clear-eyed teacher who possesses the believing mind and genuine mental resolution, and possesses the correct views, such a person can directly enter into the practice of Ganhwa Seon without the necessity of basic or preparatory types of practice.

However, in the condition where there was no mental resolution and correct views about the Buddha’s Dharma, no matter how much one has taken up the hwadu, even if one has made great efforts, one cannot give rise to sincere doubt about that hwadu. So before the beginner enters into the hwadu, they have to establish a tremendous power of vows and a determined, believing mind, and initiate a genuine mind that has a direct sense of insight into the Dharma.

A correct view means the establishment of a sense of values that are properly based on the Dharma. These are the theses of the world-view and view of human life seen directly from the conditional production of the Middle Way. Only then can one faithfully possess the basis that one must have as a Buddhist practitioner for such things as, “What is Buddhism? What teaching is it?” or “Why must one study” and

The Reason for Giving Importance to Correct Views in Ganhwa Seon

As long as one has resolved the mind (for the Way) according to the Buddha’s teaching, anyone can practice Ganhwa Seon. If there is a clear-eyed teacher who possesses the believing mind and genuine mental resolution, and possesses the correct views, such a person can directly enter into the practice of Ganhwa Seon without the necessity of basic or preparatory types of practice.

 

However, in the condition where there was no mental resolution and correct views about the Buddha’s Dharma, no matter how much one has taken up the hwadu, even if one has made great efforts, one cannot give rise to sincere doubt about that hwadu. So before the beginner enters into the hwadu, they have to establish a tremendous power of vows and a determined, believing mind, and initiate a genuine mind that has a direct sense of insight into the Dharma.

 

A correct view means the establishment of a sense of values that are properly based on the Dharma. These are the theses of the world-view and view of human life seen directly from the conditional production of the Middle Way. Only then can one faithfully possess the basis that one must have as a Buddhist practitioner for such things as, “What is Buddhism? What teaching is it?” or “Why must one study” and “Why must one practice?”

 

There was a traveler walking along a road. What was his objective in going along that road? If he knows his certain aim in going along the road, the traveler will be able to travel confidently along it without hesitation. Master Seosan had a verse on this topic:

 

             A traveler tramping through the snow along a path
             Should not walk in confusion.
             Today your footprints
             Become the mileposts for later people.

 

The snow-veiled plain means the present life circumstances. One must walk directly with a consciousness of the aim of the path one is going along in that snow-covered wilderness. One can be running about here and there in confusion. The firm establishment of correct views is therefore important. On the basis of these correct views, when one ventures into Ganhwa Seon, one must proceed directly and not wander.

 

The establishment of correct views begins from the understanding of the core teachings of Buddhism; conditional production, no-self, emptiness and the Middle Way. These teachings are the truths discovered by and taught by the Buddha. If a practitioner is properly cognizant of these their path becomes clear. If one is cognizant of them as one should, one has to practice and the life-objective of that practitioner must be evident. That means that what one must be enlightened to and how one must practice becomes extremely clear.

 

Having a correct understanding of conditional production and no-self produces an earnest desire to practice them throughout one’s own life. So thinking in accord with conditional production and no-self, and practicing them, will open up a way to personalize them. All Buddhist practice, beginning with Ganhwa Seon, is a path that is thus for the personalization and internalization of the Dharma of conditional production. The Dharma is to confirm that truth and to live accordingly. If one does so, finally the Dharma accompanies one and the path I am walking on becomes the path of truth. At such a time, there will be no obstacles and one can go on alone like a one-horned rhinoceros. Further, the footprints of such a person will become an excellent guide for later people to follow.

The reason for not listening to the words of the Buddha or of the generations of patriarchs when investigating hwadu

The reason in Ganhwa Seon for saying, do not look at or listen to the words of the Buddha or the patriarchs can be divided broadly into two. The first is due to something coming between the experience of Seon and the language of the scriptures, in that the experience of enlightenment transcends all language. The second is because of a reflection concerning abuses of the Seon style of the Song Dynasty.

The experience of Seon
Let us begin by looking at the first reason. In the tradition of Seon practice, all Seon practitioners were endowed with an individuality of experience. For any of them, their individual actions that could not be followed were extremely important. This was so because they thought and acted where thought and words were cut off. In having cut off the paths of thought and speech, originally only the person concerned could exactly realize that state?? So the approach via language was not permissible in informing one about the world of this experience in its ultimate state.

Seon Master Dazhu Huihai said as follows:
A disciple asked, “Why don’t you allow us to chant the scriptures? And why do you call the scriptures the words of others?”
The Master replied, “It is like a parrot that can learn the words of humans but does not know the meaning the person gives to the words. Even though the scriptures transmit the intentions of the Buddha, one cannot obtain the Buddha’s intent and so if one only chants them then one is only a person who learns the Buddha’s words. It is for that reason I do not permit it.” (Zhufang menren zanmen yulu, Manji Zokuzō 110; Dunwu rudao yaomen).

This dialogue makes it clear that the scriptures are records of the experience of the Buddha, or if not those of the said person are the words of others. That is, this speaks of the point that there is an independent world of experience that cannot be understood through language. If one falls into the words of others and not into one’s own experience, one does not only forget one’s own lineage teacher, but also becomes devoted to the confused mind. And so what the Buddha says, one must experience that true meaning oneself.

The study of scriptures that only remembers language, to the extent that it is not an subjective awakening, is “another’s affair” and so cannot provide any help with one’s own original share (in enlightenment). Although scriptures or the words of patriarchal teachers sometimes are guides for practitioners, if one clings only to them, one’s mind will be trapped and bound, and one will be deeply entangled.

In the Ganhwa Seon tradition, greater importance was placed on experience of an encounter with one’s own orgininal share (of enlightenment) rather than on the words of the Buddha or the patriarchal teachers. This means that the subjective experience by oneself was more important than the experience of the Buddha or Bodhidharma.

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Overcoming the Song Dynasty Seon that had fallen into inertia
The Song Dynasty climate of study that had excessively formalized the investigation of the hwadu for reasons other than denying the words of the scriptures and the recorded sayings of the patriarchal teachers also had other faults. The gongan is to be self-aware of one’s own original face through the subjective experience of patriarchal teachers of the past, and the practitioners of the time, without such experience just fell into the letters of the gongan and composed stereotypical Seon-like realms in verse. The person who warned against such bad habits most was Seon Master Dahui. He burnt the Biyanlu, the work of his own teacher, Yuanwu Keqin (1063-1125), because contemporary practitioners were intoxicated only with the Seon words of the Biyanlu and disregarded the essence of Seon practice.

Not establishing letters and a separate transmission apart from the Teachings, and Ganhwa Seon.

What are ‘not establishing letters’ and ‘a separate transmission apart from the teachings’?
Seon Master Huangbo said,

 

When one reaches here, one will then know that the Patriarch’s coming from the West, directly pointing at the mind, seeing the nature and being enlightened, is not in words. (Chuanxin fayao).

 

Directly seeing the mind and being enlightened is Seon. “Directly pointing at the human mind and seeing the nature and becoming Buddha,” shows this principle very well. Seon is separate from all language and letters (do not establish letters). The genuine Buddha-dharma cannot be put into scriptures. The practical content that transcends the scriptures and steps forth towards the world of enlightenment without obstruction (see the nature and become Buddha) is Seon.

 

Here the most important thing is directly pointing at and seeing the mind (directly pointing at the human mind). If one sees that mind, that is seeing the nature and becoming Buddha. However, because these four phrases of “not establishing letters, a separate transmission outside of the teachings, directly pointing at the human mind, and seeing the nature and becoming Buddha,” are the common foundations that show the true face of Seon, they are joined together. These four phrases were expressed in one standard verse in the recorded sayings, the Zuting shiyuan composed by Seon Master Muan Shanqing:

 

When the patriarchs transmitted the Dharma, at first they did so together with the Tripitaka (three collections) of sutra, vinaya and śāstra, but Patriarch Bodhidharma after transmitting mind only, tried to smash attachment and elucidate the fundamental meaning. This is the so-called, “transmission of the teaching apart from the teaching, do not depend on letters, directly point at the mind, and see the nature and be enlightened.” (Zuting shiyuan, fascicle 5)

 

The teaching of a “separate transmission outside of the teaching and not establishing letters” (gyooe byoljeon bullip munja) clearly shows that Seon is the practice that sees the moon and not the finger. In this the Seon practitioners transcend the limits that bind one to the finger and so cannot see the moon. They must directly enter into that core by the shortcut.

 

Incidents such as Seon Master Danxia burning a Buddha-statue or Seon Master Deshan burning the sutras can only be found in the tradition of Seon practice. This is the state of beyond the bounds that transcends the frame of thought. However, despite saying that it is transmitted separately outside of the scriptures, this does not mean that the attitude of ignoring the scriptures is correct. Here the words, “outside of the scriptures” means do not be attached to the letters in the scriptures. Really this is because for a person who sees the moon, all things become the truth.

 

Seon is the awakening to the original place of the real-life mind that precedes letters. It is not explanation or a method of understanding, but directly seeing the true reality of the mind as it is. If one sees, one is enlightened at that point. The directly pointing at the mind, seeing that nature and becoming Buddha of “directly pointing at the human mind, seeing the nature and becoming Buddha” speaks of this principle. As a means of directly pointing at the human mind, generations of patriarchs used Seon dialogue, twisted noses, slapped cheeks, yelled and struck with staffs. Ganhwa Seon stands in this tradition of not establishing letters.

The Investigation Method, Conditional Production, and the Structure of the Middle Way

Even though Ganhwa Seon was a method of practice perfected in the Song, this method itself was not completely new. Hwadu has a strong power that blocks the exits for all thinking. The structures of such hwadu are closely connected with the structure of the Middle Way and the conditional production preached by the Buddha.

To the question, “Does a dog have the Buddha-nature,” Zhaozhou replied, “It does not (mu).” This mu reply understood in the speculative formula of the four alternatives of 1) it has, 2) it has not, 3) it does and does not have, and 4) it neither has nor does not have, is mistaken. The form of the above four sorts of thinking are called the tetralemma. Not only are not even one of these forms of thinking recognized by the hwadu of mu, but also thinking itself is not permitted.

In this respect, Seon Master Dahui said,
If one is not attached to existence, then you are attached to non-existence (mu), and if you are not attached to either, then you are discriminating and comparing existence and non-existence. Even if one senses this disease, one soon ends up being attached to neither existence nor non-existence. For this reason former saints said, “Get rid of the tetralemma, put an end to the hundred denials. Directly break a sword into two pieces and do not think again of fore and aft, and just cut off the forehead of the thousand saints.” The tetralemma refers to the four (propositions) of existence, non-existence, neither existent nor non-existent, and while existent is non-existent. (Shuzhuang, Reply to Judicial Commissioner Zhang).

Seon Master Dahui asserted that practice must transcend the tetralemma. Also, the words “one hundred denials,” being applied as an extension of this concept of the tetralemma, means something similar to the tetralemma. Not only Seon Master Dahui, but also various Seon recorded sayings strongly assert one should transcend the tetralemma and hundred denials.

Let us look at the words of Mazu.
A monk requested the teaching, “Seon Master, tell me the meaning of the Patriarch coming from the West without using the tetralemma.” (Mazu yulu)
The practitioners of Ganhwa Seon sit and face a hwadu like silver mountains and iron walls that block all the exits of tetralemma-like discrimination. If so, let us examine how being apart from the tetralemma and the hundred denials can be in agreement with the structure of the Middle Way and conditional production.

The principle of conditional production is no different to the principle of the Middle Way. The Middle Way is a direct viewpoint about the universe and life that looks at them as being this and that as they are from the position that has abolished this and that. So the Middle Way is nothing more than the concept that means something between this and that. This way is wrong and that way is wrong. We cannot express this through speech or writing. At that time, our thoughts fall into the condition where it cannot be like this and cannot be like that. It means one cannot budge in the least, just like a mouse in a pitch-black box.

The Middle Way are words that inform one of the proper features of the Dharma-realm which is apart from this or that simultaneously. It is not easy to be enlightened to the principle of this Middle Way. The principle of the Middle Way cannot be realized through any cogitative discrimination that something is or is not.

The bodhisattva Nagārjuna (ca.150-ca. 250) was a Buddhist patriarch who wrote the Mahyamikakārika in order to re-clarify the essential doctrines of the Buddha-dharma. This Mahyamikakārika never approved of a tetralemma-like reply to the questions that it posed.

Therefore, the practice-method of Ganhwa Seon is the same in content and structure as the Middle Way and conditional production preached by the Buddha, and the tetralemma discrimination and eight-fold negation Middle Way of the Mahyamikakārika. All of these have the same aim, from the point of leading us towards the world of enlightenment by the cutting off of our discriminatory thinking.

Besides the Sixth Patriarch, Huineng and Seon Master Dahui, many other patriarchal monks consistently said one should to stand directly in the Middle Way and apart from the two sides.

Seon Master Dazhu Huihai said, “If one is not attached to existence and non-existence that is seeing the Buddha.”

The Words and Mind of the Buddha and Ganhwa Seon

The Words of the Buddha and Seon

The monk Seosan said,
The transmission of the mind by the Buddha in three places was the gist of Seon and the words that he preached throughout his life are the gate of the Teaching. So Seon is in the mind of the Buddha, and the Teachings are the words of the Buddha (Seon-ga gwi-gam).

Seon is based on the Dharma the Buddha was enlightened to and his teaching of that Dharma. From the ideological viewpoint it has a root in the words of the Buddha, and from the practical viewpoint it has succeeded to the Dharma of the transmission from mind to mind.

Although Ganhwa Seon is an excellent teaching, its aim is to be enlightened to the Buddha’s truth. That truth is no different in the slightest from the teaching the Buddha offered to us and to which the Buddha was enlightened.

The Buddha expressed the real characteristics of existence that he himself was enlightened to as the Middle Way, conditional production, no-self and emptiness. Seon is a path that plainly shows or suddenly embodies at this place here and now the truth that the Buddha illuminated. Seon Master Huineng in the Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch stressed prajñā, saying, “If one has been released, that is prajñā-samādhi.” Prajñā-samādhi is the practice of prajñā and the ground of the realization of emptiness. And so he repeated this:

Prajñā is wisdom. Every thought not foolish, always putting into practice wisdom, that is the conduct of prajñā. (Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch)

The enlightenment spoken of in Seon is the conduct of prajñā that has its foundation in emptiness and is based in that prajñā as well as conditional production and no-self.

The Buddha-mind and Seon, and the three places of mind transmission

The Buddha did not only teach through language, he also transmitted the Buddha- mind that is the original face of sentient beings through the Seon Dharma that is teaching apart from language. The Buddha transmitted the Dharma in three places through transmission from mind to mind to Venerable Kāśyapa, and this is called the three sites of mind transmission. Patriarchal Seon and Ganhwa Seon are said to have their origins in these three sites of mind transmission.

The content of the three sites of mind transmission, although a representative hwadu that constantly appears in Seon yulu (Kor.eo-rok, recorded sayings), the words of the three sites of mind transmission can also be seen in the Buddha’s scriptures. While these facts that appear in the sutras were developed in the Seon School, they were further emphasized.

Here we shall look at the three sites of mind transmission that are based in the scriptures and the logia of the patriarchs and try to see what its meaning is.

1) The raising and showing of the flower at the Mt Gŗdhrakūta (Yeongsan) Assembly.

The Gŗdhrakūta Assembly is the name given to the scene of the Dharma assembly of Mt Gŗdhrakūta where the Buddha unfolded the Dharma. The first opportune condition came to be known widely in the world through the words “yeomhwa miso,” that is, “when the Buddha lifted up a flower to show it, Venerable Kāśyapa smiled.” Raising the flower and smiling is recorded in the Dafan tianwang wen Fo jueyi jing (The Sutra in which Brahma asked the Buddha to Dispel his Doubts). The content is as follows:

At that time the Buddha was seated on the Dharma seat when suddenly he lifted up a flower and showed it to the assembly. When he did so, none of the billions of humans and gods in the assembly could grasp his intention and so were silent. But among that gathering one venerable alone, Māhakāśyapa showed a smile quietly on his face. And then he rose from his seat, put his hands together, stood upright and silently displayed a gentle visage.
At this the Buddha said the following to Māhakāśyapa, “The Tathāgata has the eye of enlightenment and the marvelous mind of nirvana, and the formless, marvellous form of truth. This cannot be expressed in letters and since it is transmitted outside of the teaching, if there is a causation with or without wisdom, it will be realized. Today, as I confer this on Māhakāśyapa, in future ages he will receive all the Buddhas’ predictions and will beome Buddha.”
(Dafan tianwang wenFo jueyi jing)

Seon began from the deeply meaningful opportune condition in which, “When the Buddha raised a flower to show it, only Kāśyapa laughed smilingly.” This is the Buddha wordlessly raising a lotus flower to show it, transmitting his mind, and there Kāśyapa was enlightened to that news and wordlessly smiled. This is the raising of the flower and the smile of the transmission from mind to mind.

2) They divided the seat and sat in front of the Pahuputraka Stupa.

The Buddha dividing his seat and sitting down with Kāśyapa is called the “divided shared seat.” This is recorded in an early scripture of the Jātaka Section, the Foshuo zhongben qi jing:

When the World-Honored (Buddha) was preaching the Dharma for the assembly in the garden of Jetavānānāthapinda in the city of Śrāvastī, Māhakāśyapa approached the Buddha with a shabby appearance. Then the World-Honored, seeing him from afar, said with praise, “Welcome, Kāśyapa,” and in anticipation, divided his Dharma seat into half and ordered him to sit there. Kāśyapa retreated, knelt and spoke:

“I am the last of the Tathāgata’s disciples and since you divided your seat and told me to sit, how can I comply?”
As he said this, a number of the assembly members thought, “What special virtue does this elder have that the World-Honored divides his seat and orders him to sit there? Is he an excellent person? Only let the Buddha clarify it.”
At that time the Buddha discerned the thoughts of the assembly and to resolve their doubts, said, “Discuss (the idea) that Kāśyapa’s great deeds are the same as those of a saint.” He also said, “I have cultivated the four dhyānas and rested the mind, and from the beginning to end have not lost anything, and bhikşu Kāśyapa also has the four dhyānas and through meditation has gained the mind of samādhi…” (Foshuo zhongben qi jing 1, Chapter 12, Māhakāśyapa’s First Coming)

The above scripture treats the fact that the Buddha divided his seat and had Venerable Kāśyapa sit there as an important event. In Seon recorded sayings this event is held to have taken place in front of the Prahuputraka Stupa and is called “The division of the seat in half in front of Prahuputraka Stupa.” If we are to summarize the material contained in the Seon recorded sayings, it would be as follows. When the Buddha was preaching in front of the Prahuputraka Stupa, the Venerable Kāśyapa came to that place. The site of the Dharma assembly was tightly packed, without a gap, and no-one would give Kāśyapa a place to sit. Then the Buddha called Venerable Kāśyapa, divided his seat and had him share it. None of the assembly members understood this and although they were bewildered, Kāśyapa alone grasped the intention.

3) Two feet shown outside the coffin beneath the pair of sala trees.
“Two feet are put out of the coffin and displayed” is called gwaksi ssang-bu (coffin displays two feet). On the river-side slope of the Ajitavatī River where the Buddha entered nirvana there were two sala trees. The Buddha entered nirvana beneath these two sala trees. After the Buddha had entered nirvana, he thrust his two feet outside of the coffin that was beneath these trees. This incident is called “Two feet are shown from the coffin beneath the twin sala trees.” This incident is recorded as follows in the early scripture, the Māhaparinirvāņa Sūtra:

Venerable Kāśyapa (who had been late in arriving for the Buddha’s entry into nirvana) was even more saddened, and together with the disciples circled (the coffin) to the right seven times, with eyes brimming with tears. They then knelt, put their hands together and sadly lamented with verses of praise. (Kāśyapa said,) “How painful, it is so painful! He was a saintly Venerable! Now my breast is as pained as if it is being lacerated. Oh World-Honored, how could you pass into extinction so rapidly? Being so vastly compassionate, couldn’t you wait just a little for me?” . . . .
Kāśyapa was choked with grief and wept, and when he finished this verse, the Buddha, with great compassion, thrust forth his two feet, with marks on them in the form of wheels with a thousand spokes, outside of the coffin, turning them around to show Kāśyapa.
(Daban niepan jing houfen, last fascicle)

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In the same way that the Buddha held up and showed a flower to the Venerable Kāśyapa or divided his seat and had him share it, the event in which the Buddha thrust both feet from out of the coffin is news that the Buddha wordlessly transmitted his original mind to the Venerable Kāśyapa.

In this way, the three sites of the transmission of the mind of the Buddha, when they came to the Gate of Patriarchal Seon, all became archetypes of the hwadu. It seems that the transmission of the mind to Kāśyapa on Mt Gŗdhrakūta, the “holding up of a flower and the smile” was the very first hwadu. Of course, because the hwadu revealed the place of the Buddha consistently, one cannot attach the modifier first or last to them. But, if we are to enlist the earliest historical authority, then we would say that is so.

Chapter 3: The teaching of the buddha and ganhwa seon

The Words and Mind of the Buddha and Ganhwa Seon

The Words of the Buddha and Seon

The monk Seosan said,

The transmission of the mind by the Buddha in three places was the gist of Seon and the words that he preached throughout his life are the gate of the Teaching. So Seon is in the mind of the Buddha, and the Teachings are the words of the Buddha (Seon-ga gwi-gam).

Seon is based on the Dharma the Buddha was enlightened to and his teaching of that Dharma. From the ideological viewpoint it has a root in the words of the Buddha, and from the practical viewpoint it has succeeded to the Dharma of the transmission from mind to mind.

Although Ganhwa Seon is an excellent teaching, its aim is to be enlightened to the Buddha’s truth. That truth is no different in the slightest from the teaching the Buddha offered to us and to which the Buddha was enlightened.

The Buddha expressed the real characteristics of existence that he himself was enlightened to as the Middle Way, conditional production, no-self and emptiness. Seon is a path that plainly shows or suddenly embodies at this place here and now the truth that the Buddha illuminated. Seon Master Huineng in the Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch stressed prajñā, saying, “If one has been released, that is prajñā-samādhi.” Prajñā-samādhi is the practice of prajñā and the ground of the realization of emptiness. And so he repeated this:

Prajñā is wisdom. Every thought not foolish, always putting into practice wisdom, that is the conduct of prajñā. (Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch)

The enlightenment spoken of in Seon is the conduct of prajñā that has its foundation in emptiness and is based in that prajñā as well as conditional production and no-self.

The Buddha-mind and Seon, and the three places of mind transmission
The Buddha did not only teach through language, he also transmitted the Buddha- mind that is the original face of sentient beings through the Seon Dharma that is teaching apart from language. The Buddha transmitted the Dharma in three places through transmission from mind to mind to Venerable Kāśyapa, and this is called the three sites of mind transmission. Patriarchal Seon and Ganhwa Seon are said to have their origins in these three sites of mind transmission.

The content of the three sites of mind transmission, although a representative hwadu that constantly appears in Seon yulu (Kor.eo-rok, recorded sayings), the words of the three sites of mind transmission can also be seen in the Buddha’s scriptures. While these facts that appear in the sutras were developed in the Seon School, they were further emphasized.

Here we shall look at the three sites of mind transmission that are based in the scriptures and the logia of the patriarchs and try to see what its meaning is.

1) The raising and showing of the flower at the Mt Gŗdhrakūta (Yeongsan) Assembly.
The Gŗdhrakūta Assembly is the name given to the scene of the Dharma assembly of Mt Gŗdhrakūta where the Buddha unfolded the Dharma. The first opportune condition came to be known widely in the world through the words “yeomhwa miso,” that is, “when the Buddha lifted up a flower to show it, Venerable Kāśyapa smiled.” Raising the flower and smiling is recorded in the Dafan tianwang wen Fo jueyi jing (The Sutra in which Brahma asked the Buddha to Dispel his Doubts). The content is as follows:

At that time the Buddha was seated on the Dharma seat when suddenly he lifted up a flower and showed it to the assembly. When he did so, none of the billions of humans and gods in the assembly could grasp his intention and so were silent. But among that gathering one venerable alone, Māhakāśyapa showed a smile quietly on his face. And then he rose from his seat, put his hands together, stood upright and silently displayed a gentle visage.
At this the Buddha said the following to Māhakāśyapa, “The Tathāgata has the eye of enlightenment and the marvelous mind of nirvana, and the formless, marvellous form of truth. This cannot be expressed in letters and since it is transmitted outside of the teaching, if there is a causation with or without wisdom, it will be realized. Today, as I confer this on Māhakāśyapa, in future ages he will receive all the Buddhas’ predictions and will beome Buddha.”
(Dafan tianwang wenFo jueyi jing)

Seon began from the deeply meaningful opportune condition in which, “When the Buddha raised a flower to show it, only Kāśyapa laughed smilingly.” This is the Buddha wordlessly raising a lotus flower to show it, transmitting his mind, and there Kāśyapa was enlightened to that news and wordlessly smiled. This is the raising of the flower and the smile of the transmission from mind to mind.

2) They divided the seat and sat in front of the Pahuputraka Stupa.
The Buddha dividing his seat and sitting down with Kāśyapa is called the “divided shared seat.” This is recorded in an early scripture of the Jātaka Section, the Foshuo zhongben qi jing:

When the World-Honored (Buddha) was preaching the Dharma for the assembly in the garden of Jetavānānāthapinda in the city of Śrāvastī, Māhakāśyapa approached the Buddha with a shabby appearance. Then the World-Honored, seeing him from afar, said with praise, “Welcome, Kāśyapa,” and in anticipation, divided his Dharma seat into half and ordered him to sit there. Kāśyapa retreated, knelt and spoke:
“I am the last of the Tathāgata’s disciples and since you divided your seat and told me to sit, how can I comply?”
As he said this, a number of the assembly members thought, “What special virtue does this elder have that the World-Honored divides his seat and orders him to sit there? Is he an excellent person? Only let the Buddha clarify it.”
At that time the Buddha discerned the thoughts of the assembly and to resolve their doubts, said, “Discuss (the idea) that Kāśyapa’s great deeds are the same as those of a saint.” He also said, “I have cultivated the four dhyānas and rested the mind, and from the beginning to end have not lost anything, and bhikşu Kāśyapa also has the four dhyānas and through meditation has gained the mind of samādhi…” (Foshuo zhongben qi jing 1, Chapter 12, Māhakāśyapa’s First Coming)

The above scripture treats the fact that the Buddha divided his seat and had Venerable Kāśyapa sit there as an important event. In Seon recorded sayings this event is held to have taken place in front of the Prahuputraka Stupa and is called “The division of the seat in half in front of Prahuputraka Stupa.” If we are to summarize the material contained in the Seon recorded sayings, it would be as follows. When the Buddha was preaching in front of the Prahuputraka Stupa, the Venerable Kāśyapa came to that place. The site of the Dharma assembly was tightly packed, without a gap, and no-one would give Kāśyapa a place to sit. Then the Buddha called Venerable Kāśyapa, divided his seat and had him share it. None of the assembly members understood this and although they were bewildered, Kāśyapa alone grasped the intention.

3) Two feet shown outside the coffin beneath the pair of sala trees.
“Two feet are put out of the coffin and displayed” is called gwaksi ssang-bu (coffin displays two feet). On the river-side slope of the Ajitavatī River where the Buddha entered nirvana there were two sala trees. The Buddha entered nirvana beneath these two sala trees. After the Buddha had entered nirvana, he thrust his two feet outside of the coffin that was beneath these trees. This incident is called “Two feet are shown from the coffin beneath the twin sala trees.” This incident is recorded as follows in the early scripture, the Māhaparinirvāņa Sūtra:

Venerable Kāśyapa (who had been late in arriving for the Buddha’s entry into nirvana) was even more saddened, and together with the disciples circled (the coffin) to the right seven times, with eyes brimming with tears. They then knelt, put their hands together and sadly lamented with verses of praise. (Kāśyapa said,) “How painful, it is so painful! He was a saintly Venerable! Now my breast is as pained as if it is being lacerated. Oh World-Honored, how could you pass into extinction so rapidly? Being so vastly compassionate, couldn’t you wait just a little for me?” . . . .
Kāśyapa was choked with grief and wept, and when he finished this verse, the Buddha, with great compassion, thrust forth his two feet, with marks on them in the form of wheels with a thousand spokes, outside of the coffin, turning them around to show Kāśyapa.
(Daban niepan jing houfen, last fascicle)

In the same way that the Buddha held up and showed a flower to the Venerable Kāśyapa or divided his seat and had him share it, the event in which the Buddha thrust both feet from out of the coffin is news that the Buddha wordlessly transmitted his original mind to the Venerable Kāśyapa.

In this way, the three sites of the transmission of the mind of the Buddha, when they came to the Gate of Patriarchal Seon, all became archetypes of the hwadu. It seems that the transmission of the mind to Kāśyapa on Mt Gŗdhrakūta, the “holding up of a flower and the smile” was the very first hwadu. Of course, because the hwadu revealed the place of the Buddha consistently, one cannot attach the modifier first or last to them. But, if we are to enlist the earliest historical authority, then we would say that is so.

The Content of Seeing the Nature as seen from Ganhwa Seon

The direct seeing of one’s own nature is enlightenment. That is, when all around, inside and out, is bright, and our original mind is clearly illuminated, that direct seeing of that nature, is gyeonseong (seeing the nature). Seeing the nature is enlightenment.

In Patriarchal Seon, that enlightened person is called a mindless person of the Way (musim doin). Gyeonseong (seeing the nature) is the enlightenment to no mind (musim), and that no-mind achieves the content of seeing the nature. Seon Master Huangbo in his Chuanxin fayao (Esssential Dharma of Transmission of the Mind) said the following about the mind of the mindless person of the Way:

There are no minds at all in no-mind. Being a constitution of thusness, internally it is like a tree or a stone, it has no movement; externally it is like open space, there are no borders to block or catch it.  Here there is not even the characteristic of a fixed space-time, nothing to be gained or lost.

Huangbo compared the state of no-mind of the mind of a person who had seen the nature to space. The characteristic of space is the mind of that enlightened person. Space has no increase or decrease, no coming or going, no birth or extinction. It, as mind, is inconceivably boundless and apart from all value judgments.

Similarly, our self-nature also is originally pristine, vacant and empty, and the myriad dharmas are held within it. Inside the mind of sentient beings and the mind of the Buddha there is provided the wisdom of prajñā, which illuminates everything everywhere. Although it is such a light of wisdom, the mind of sentient beings is hidden by the clouds of frustration and is attached to the realms that appear as reality. This is delusion. We are hidden by this delusion and cannot see directly the pristine self-nature.

If we see the nature and become enlightened, what will become of us? In the Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch it says that if we see the nature we will live a life through no-thought. No-thought is not an i-nyeom (apart from thought) that is no thinking at all. No-thought is while one is thinking one is not caught up in thought.

A person of the Way who sees the nature in this way, even though he thinks, sees the nature because he lives through no-thought that is not entangled in that thought, and can only be different to lives that cannot (see the nature). Sentient beings who cannot see the nature are trapped in thought and objects, and although they lead a life restrained by being attached to them, the person of the Way who sees the nature lives a life of genuine freedom without any obstacles.

An enlightened person is one who is free and autonomous anywhere and at anytime. Although they live a life all day long in which there is an image of the self that discriminates I and you, they were not caught up in that fact. An enlightened person is not a person who has the power to willfully change external conditions or the surrounding environment, or use miraculous powers or the most fantastic force of the Way. They also, like ordinary people, eat, sleep and act. However, because there is a difference in appreciation before seeing the nature and after seeing it, their life must be different from that of ordinary people. This is because the eye that looks at life and the world has changed.

Why is Ganhwa Seon the Supreme Vehicle Dharma?

The reason Ganhwa Seon is the Supreme Dharma

Why is Ganhwa Seon called the practice method of the Supreme Vehicle?

Firstly, because Ganhwa Seon retained the tradition of Patriarchal Seon. Patriarchal Seon is an excellent method of practice that elucidates sudden awakening and seeing the nature, which overcame the gradual cultivation method through śamatha vipaśyanā (jigwan) that was popular at that time. In other words, Patriarchal Seon is the direct pointing at the mind of a person apart from words and reason, and there it directly enlightens one to the true face of the mind. So Seon masters of the past said, “If one points at the moon, one has to look at the moon; why look at the finger tips?” Again, Seon Master Seosan wrote as follows in the Seon Gyo gyeol:

Seon is the mind of the Buddha; Gyo (Teaching) is the words of the Buddha. Teaching attains the place of no words with words, and Seon reaches the place of no words without words. If one reaches the wordless without words, since one cannot name it as anything, that which forcibly names it is called mind. (Seong Gyo gyeol)

Secondly, Ganhwa Seon is where all is provided and all actions are achieved, and where there are no entanglements. Appropriately there is nowhere to reside, which is the Seon that brings forth the mind. Huineng said the following:

Where all Dharmas are mastered and all actions are provided, and while not apart from everything, still one is apart from the characteristics of dharmas, not attaining anything from deeds; that is the Dharma of the Supreme Vehicle. (Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch)

Thirdly, Ganhwa Seon, although it has faithfully inherited this Patriarchal Seon, possesses a surpassing power of cutting the flow of discriminating consciousness by the investigation of the hwadu that is the most developed form of Patriarchal Seon.

Ganhwa Seon is called gyeongjeolmun, the fastest shortcut to enlightenment through the examination of the hwadu. This means it occupies a position as the highest method of practice and the most developed in Buddhism and Seon School history. The shortcut gate means “that as the source that has cut away all multiple and circuitous expedient means, it is the most direct, fastest, most concise and appropriate path.” Thus Ganhwa Seon, compared to other methods of practice, being the surest and fastest meditation method for enlightenment, is called the Supreme Vehicle Dharma/method.

In his “Letters” (Shuzhuang), Seon Master Dahui wrote, “Even though one studies for a long time, if one cannot gain the strength, then one must seek a method that concisely gains one power,” and so he emphasized the importance of the short-cut gate. In Korea, all the great Seon teachers such as Seon masters Bojo, Jin-gak, Naong, Taego, Seosan and Pyeon-yang clearly showed that the short-cut gate of Ganhwa Seon was the Supreme Vehicle method of practice.

Can anyone practice Ganhwa Seon?

If so, then can anyone practice this Supreme Vehicle method of practice that is Ganhwa Seon? In the Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch it states that a person possessed of excellent and superior ability can practice this Patriarchal Seon practice. If so, can a person who is not of superior ability practice this Patriarchal Seon or Ganhwa Seon?

Certainly not. A person of low ability means a person who is deluded of themselves, and by seeking only externally for the Buddha, cannot be enlightened to their own nature. However, even though a person has such a low ability, if they hear the teaching of Patriarchal Seon that immediately enlightens, cease the aim of rushing towards the outside and at that moment and then and there they sight their own original nature, such people directly become people of superior ability. If one is such a person, then anyone of them can enter into the gate of Ganhwa Seon.

Again, in the practice of Seon there is no distinction between a monastic and a layperson. It does not matter whether one is male or female, old or young, rich or poor, aristocrat or plebe. Seon Master Huineng clearly spoke of this in the Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch:
Teachers! If you wish to practice, since lay persons may do so, there is no need to try to practice in a monastery. If one does not practice even while in a monastery that is akin to a person of an evil mind being in the Western Pure Land. If one practices even while at home (as a lay person), that is like a person of the mundane world of the east cultivating good. But if one vows that one will cultivate purity even at home, that place is the Western Pure Land. (Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch)

In this way, Huineng said that in practice there is no distinction between layperson and monastic, or village home or monastery. He emphasized that wherever one is, it is important to genuinely decide and earnestly cultivate the mind. Even in the Ganhwa Seon that genuinely continues this, there is no distinction between layperson and monastic.

On the other hand, sometimes among those practicing meditation there are cases of those who stoop to other methods of practice, but one must bear in mind that this is a path that falls into conceit, the thing most warned against for practitioners.

A reason the practitioners of Seon often fall into self-conceit is that they cannot distinguish the moon from the finger. To regard sitting only as the good, or the supremacism of seeing the nature in which if one is enlightened there is nothing more, can become a poison that fosters conceit. A practitioner who has firmly established correct views and is genuinely resolved (balsim) to attain enlightenment, only being humble, cannot even seek the shadow of that conceit. The very feature of the practitioner who has lost all arrogance is the attitude and quality of the warmest and honest practitioners that they all must possess.

The Reason for the Emphasis in Ganhwa Seon on Originally Being Buddha

What is Originally Being Buddha?
Oh the imposing Great Way! It is bright and clear. Every person is originally furnished with it, each and every one has accomplished it. (Hymns by Yefu, in Geumganggyeong ogahae (Five Seon Explanations of the Platform Sutra))

This is a hymn by Seon Master Yefu that means, “Sentient beings, as they are, are Buddha.” This is exactly the meaning of originally become Buddha. If so, then am I really originally Buddha? Furthermore, if I am Buddha, then shouldn’t there be no need for practice?

Patriarchal Seon does not maintain that “Sentient beings are enlightened through practice and become Buddha.” It says that sentient beings are not to practice meditation in order to become Buddha. This is because, “We, as we originally are, are simply Buddha.” The nature that originally one possessed is not refined and so obtained. If it is obtained through practice that would mean it is broken. Also, just as the truth cannot be lost, so too the original nature is not lost and then found. The nature thus is furnished from the beginning and being universal, it is said to be originally fully provided (bollae gujok). One only needs to see that one is oneself the Buddha (to know) that it is originally fully provided.

So Seon emphasizes directly see one’s own nature that is originally Buddha, and that it is not a matter of emptying out frustrations (kleśa) and revealing the Buddha-nature. “You are originally perfect. So look, look at yourself.” Seon is a way of making one confirm this. Nothing else is sought.

Seon Master Dahui said,
If one is enlightened (to the fact that) this mind is originally become Buddha, everything will be at ease within an unimpaired freedom. Since the marvelous functions do not come from outside, this therefore is due to the fact that one originally possesses it from the very start. (Reply to Chen Shaoqing in Shuzhuang (Letters))

Śākya Mūni Buddha also clearly stated that all people are originally the completely perfected Buddha. The Buddha said, “Those who see the Dharma see conditional production (pratitya-samutpada), and those who see conditional production see the Dharma.” Moreover, this conditional-production Dharma was only discovered by the Buddha, he did not create it; for this world existed eternally without any connection with the Buddha. And so this conditional production Dharma originally exists inside and outside us, and in everybody and every thing without exception.

In the “Tathāgata Eternal Life Chapter” of the Avatamsaka Sūtra it says, “There is no differentiation between the three items of mind, Buddha and sentient beings.” Our pure mind is the mind of the Buddha. This theoretically and systematically is Tathāgatagarbha thought. The Tathāgatagarbha is also called the Buddha-nature. Buddha-nature thought is the teaching that all sentient beings originally all had the Buddha-nature. That is, sentient beings clarify that their own mind is a pure mind, that that original nature is fundamentally pristine. The Buddha-nature, or Tathāgatagarbha, means the pure Tathāgata Dharmakāya (Body of Corpus of the Dharma of the Tathāgata).

How is Originally Being Buddha Revealed?

In Buddhist practice it is an extremely important question as to whether one “commences with the understanding that practice is a process to become Buddha” or whether one “commences from the reality that one is originally a perfected Buddha.” The method of gradually refining frustrations through practice so that sentient beings will become Buddha is called the gradual method of cultivation. The meditation method of sectarian Buddhism and of the Northern Seon School of Seon Master Shenxiu are all a part of this.

However, the meditation method inherited by Seon Master Huineng was a Seon that took the position that “everyone is originally Buddha.” The meditation method of Huineng, the Southern Seon School, was the marrow of the Patriarchal Seon transmitted by Patriarch Bodhidharma. It formed the core of Ganhwa Seon. Let us examine the difference between the Northern Seon School and the Southern Seon School through the verses of Shenxiu and Huineng as recorded in the Platform Sutra:

Shenxiu’s verse was:

             The body is the bodhi-tree,
             The mind is the clean mirror.
             Continually strive to wipe it,
             So that no dust sticks to it.

The basic nature of the mind is compared to a mirror. This means that one cannot be enlightened when the dust of frustrations soil the bright original nature that is like a mirror. If one wipes away that dust assiduously, the true mind can be attained.
Huineng’s verse was:

             Originally there is no bodhi-tree,
             And no mirror or frame.
             As the Buddha-nature is always pristine,
             Where can there be any dust?

Huineng’s verse reveals a different world from that of Shenxiu. As the pristine Buddha-nature was originally fully provided, all one needs to do is to be directly awakened to that. Moreover, this mind is not some form, and since “there originally was not even a single thing” (bollae muilmul), there isn’t any dust here to soil it, and so it is not an object to be wiped (practiced).

Why must one practice if originally one is Buddha?
If one is originally Buddha, why must one practice? It is because one has fallen into the illusion of the existence of ‘I’ and is ignorant of the fact that one is originally Buddha, and so cannot see that. As one is not able to see that one is originally Buddha, one practices in an attempt to see that feature. The generations of Seon masters did not say never practice and just loaf about doing nothing. If one does not practice, one is the same as a common person. So they emphasized an intense practice. Why? When saying there is no need to practice, how could they then say one should practice?

This is because in reality sentient beings cannot even revive and make full use of their own nature that is originally Buddha. However, although the current situation is like this, because our original nature is the Buddha, we have to practice desperately. But in practicing, let us commence from the position that we are Buddha.

Practice means believing that one’s everyday mind itself is the Buddha, and that one does not discriminate or pick and choose. This is not an invented practice. However, being confused, sentient beings cannot believe this, and so suffer in the midst of frustrations.
The mind that does not invent this or that is important. Therefore Seon Master Mazu (709-788) spoke as follows:

There is no need to practice the Way. Just do not be polluted. What is pollution? Inventing, aiming for and going towards (something) with the mind of birth and death, all of this is pollution. What about if one wants to know the Way? The everyday mind is the Way. Why do you say the everyday mind is the Way? It is because there is no creation, no right or wrong, no choosing, no discontinuity/annihilation or eternity, and no commoner or saint. (Jingde chuandeng lu)

The departure from creation and right or wrong is in order that cleverness disappears. Mazu replied to the question, “How must one practice the Way so that one can be enlightened?” with the following reply: “One’s own nature is originally pristine. And so one must not be stuck in the realm of discrimination in which something is good or evil. Such people are the persons who practice the Way.”

Not being stuck with good and evil means that one has not fallen into discrimination or picking and choosing. Likewise, our investigation and practice of the hwadu is the firm belief that oneself is originally Buddha and that one experiences and confirms that fact. The holding of the hwadu is removing it together with creation and the discrimination of right and wrong.