By Venerable Daehyo (Wonmyeong Seon Centre, Jeju Island)
If one dwells in enlightenment, one has no anxiety and worries, enjoying unhindered happiness free from envy. Whether one has just started on the Buddhist path or whether one has been practicing for a long time, if one enters directly into enlightenment, one can realize a mind which can be used freely, without entanglements.
In the state of enlightenment, there is no distinction between self and other. Neither is there self-centred dislike for others, clinging such that one thinks well of oneself when things go well, or disregard for one’s own well-being. In non-discrimination between wholesomeness and evil, evil is eliminated yet wholesomeness is not taken. This is enlightenment. Adopting and defending good is to become attached to good; to hate evil is to be taken prisoner by it.
Enlightenment has no distinction between “getting enlightenment” and “not getting enlightenment”. If we make a demarcation between enlightenment and non-enlightenment, dividing enlightenment from delusion, then it is not possible to speak of enlightenment. If one half of an apple is rotting, and the other is fresh, we still say this is a rotting apple. In the non-distinction between enlightenment and delusion there is no delusion and there is no enlightenment.
It is not something that exists following enlightenment, since originally in enlightenment the distinction was never made. Because we see with the eye of delusion we perceive this division of self and other. Enlightenment and delusion both result from fallacious discrimination.
Therefore we might ask, “If the mind is in ignorance, what can we do? Originally we are enlightened but if we cannot attain it there is suffering, there are obstacles and hateful people, so what is it we should do?”
If we cultivate an awakened mind that does not discriminate between self and other, then this is no different from the mind of the Buddha. If we apply this one mind of enlightenment that does not distinguish self and other in the home and the workplace, in school and society, then all these are sacred places in which we become the recipients of the unlimited virtues of liberation, able to use freely endless love and compassion. Free from a grasping mind, not bound to or influenced by accomplishment, one is able to move through life uninhibited.
Among those with whom we practice, we sometimes see those who, with an enlightened mind, live unencumbered and are blessed with serenity. We can experience the overabundant ease with which they are able to give of themselves. However, although they may seem to have extinguished their minds, this may not be complete enlightenment and if they lack wisdom they will not be able to effectively deal with those around them.
Of course, because we do not live in isolation, in the awakened mind thoughts are not absent, and certainly it is not that things to be removed disappear. Yet if we live using the enlightened mind, the world as it is lacks nothing and there is no coming and going, so all causes and conditions of time and space must be met with wisdom. This is the enlightenment that we must share with our neighbours. When our families and all our communities together keep the Buddha mind, we sustain and protect each other and grow strong.
Attaining perfect enlightenment in this life, within the cycle of birth and death, requires the cultivation of the power of awakened emancipation. It is necessary to find the correct way of practice. The Buddha attained enlightenment through practice; without it, he could not have awakened. Therefore we must know what proper practice is, for without it, it cannot be understood, nor even called Buddhism. Seen in this way, it can be said that Buddhism itself is practice.
However, from the time they are born people wander about without knowing the purpose of their lives and for what they work. Entangled, multitudes run furiously, competing with each other, pouncing on one another like a pack of wild demons. All beings are hindered by the need to propagate their species, faced with the ultimate problem of preserving their own lives. Our situation is like being imprisoned in a fortress of darkness, besieged by greed and attachment, discord and fighting, personal and group selfishness.
But together, through the emancipation of enlightenment, we can all escape this fortress of darkness, be born in a bright new life, and discover a whole new world. This is the attainment of enlightenment in which we come to know our true selves, which have heretofore been concealed.
Buddhism is the path of resolution of the problems of one’s whole life. The achievement of this resolution is enlightenment. Of all the myriad practices, the ultimate way is that of the practice of Seon (Zen, Ch’an). Although there are many kinds of practice, traditional Korean Seon is a shortcut through which complete, perfect enlightenment can be attained.
Buddhist practice is fundamentally different from other kinds of spiritual practice. Moreover, the difference between traditional Buddhist practice and more recently developed Buddhist practices and meditations lies in whether they address the fundamental problem of birth, death and suffering. If this fundamental problem is ignored, the focus is only on cultivating a state of comfort in body and mind, and is different from traditional practice. Whereas traditional Buddhist practice engenders liberation through the transformation of the fundamental mind, other similar practices serve only to cultivate the ability to modulate the discomfort that arises in the mind.
If we look at the object of the practice, we can ask whether or not there is the cultivation of vivid clarity and tranquility. Through clarity we control the mind and through tranquility mental afflictions are severed; these are like the two wheels of a cart.
Chanting, mantra recitation, reading sutras and so forth are all various forms of practice which seem easy to enter into. However, rather than engendering both clarity and tranquility, they mainly cultivate tranquility and are therefore not the correct way. Although one strives diligently, it is easy to become lost on the wrong path. Thus one may enthusiastically undertake various practices, but if they do not engender both clarity and tranquility, the longer one practices, the further one proceeds down a dangerous path.
Furthermore, it is easy to become attached to this tranquility, as beginners easily feel comfortable in mind and body. However, while practicing only tranquility can result in freeing the mind of some distractions, these cannot be completely eliminated, wisdom cannot be cultivated, and the practitioner thus again enters a state of ignorance.
In addition, Ganhwa Seon can be misunderstood to be the practice of “thinking about the hwadu ” or “reciting the hwadu”, practices which are actually bound in worldly knowledge. The practice of thinking about or reciting the hwadu can also lead to tranquility. Because this quiescent state of mind can be misunderstood to be the attainment of awakening, we must exercise caution lest we mistakenly follow an erroneous method of practice.
These days, among both monastic and lay Seon practitioners, there are those who become well-known, and prematurely teach meditation and hwadu practice to others, although they have not yet reached a level of attainment that qualifies them to do so. There are also many books about Seon practice that are unreliable. People read whatever appeals to them and then cross their legs and pretend to sit in Seon meditation. But once a mistake has been made, it is more difficult to correct. This is analogous to hammering a nail improperly. If one removes it and then tries again, the nail will most easily slip back into the original position.
Buddhism and Seon practice must be undertaken through the motivation to resolve the problem of birth, death and suffering in our lives. Even if this is not initially so, as one listens to dharma talks or reads books, one’s motive must change in this direction. If one doesn’t get a correct start with the proper motivation, there is no resolve to correct the mind and although meditation practice will develop, there will be no progress, enthusiasm for practice will wane and finally practice will become perfunctory and fruitless.
Practice with an improper or weak motivation simply becomes practice for the sake of practice. Carrying on with merely a superficial appearance of practicing, the way becomes degenerate and the practitioner falls into a quagmire. Although one may ordain, become an abbot, and enjoy success as an influential and dignified person of position, it is only in a worldly sense.
The most formidable obstacle faced by Seon practitioners is that of egotism. If one begins Seon practice with the view that it is a personal problem or the though that one must control one’s mind, a tendency toward individualism and selfishness is aroused. Individualism in practice is as foolish as trying to make rice from grains of sand, and can only become an obstacle. Strong practice becomes difficult as self-centred thinking causes all things to be distorted. When one is excessively self-centred and judgemental, it is impossible to become free of desire, and one dwells among those of lesser ability. When opinions are purified and communal and personal interests can be met with a calm presence and an open mind, one attains the state of unsurpassed ability.
It is incorrect to think that one of lesser ability should practice chanting or mantra recitation, and that those of superior ability can begin meditation practice directly. Rather, with chanting and mantra recitation it is easy to fall into tranquility and become attached to a fixed way of thinking. Thus it should be said that caution is necessary.
As chanting and mantra practice can lead us astray from our true nature, even as one undertakes these practices one must not cling and become attached, but rather with an open mind listen intently to dharma talks on Seon practice, never straying from the cultivation of vivid clarity and tranquility.
Our practice and all the activities of our lives ultimately must be devoted to resolving the problem of birth, death and suffering. We must live such that everything we do in life is done within this practice.