1. Chinul is alluding here to the famous Parable of the Burning House from the Lotus Sutra. See Miao‐fa lien‐hua ching 2, T 262.9.12c‐13c; Leon Hurvitz, Lotus, pp. 58‐62. See also LCL, p. 497b. 17, and Wonhyo’s Palsim suhaeng chang, in Cho Myeong‐gi (ed.), Wonhyo taesa cheonjip, p. 605.
If we consider our actions in our past wanderings in samsara, we have no way of knowing for how many thousands of kalpas we have fallen into the darkness or entered the Interminable Hell and endured all kinds of suffering.34 Nor can we know how many times we have aspired to the path to Buddhahood but, because we did not meet with wise advisors, remained submerged in the sea of birth and death for long kalpas, dark and unenlightened, performing all sorts of evil actions. Though we may reflect on this once in a while, we cannot imagine the duration of our misery. How can we relax and suffer again the same calamities as before? Furthermore, what allowed us to be born this time as human beings―the guiding spirits of all the ten thousand things―who are clear about the right road of cultivation? Truly, a human birth is as difficult to ensure as “a blind turtle putting its head through a hole in a piece of wood floating on the ocean”39 or “a mustard seed falling onto the point of a needle.” How can we possibly express how fortunate we are?
Question: According to your assessment, there are two types of samadhi and prajna which are maintained equally during cultivation after awakening: first, the samadhi and prajna of the self‐nature; second, the relative samadhi and prajna which adapts to signs.
Question: In the approach of subsequent cultivation, we really do not yet understand the meaning of maintaining samadhi and prajna equally. Could you expound on this point in detail, so that we can free ourselves of our delusion? Please lead us through the entrance to liberation.
Question: Once the noumenon is awakened to, no further steps are involved. Why then do you posit subsequent cultivation, gradual permeation, and gradual perfection?
Chinul: Earlier the meaning of gradual cultivation subsequent to awakening was fully explained. But since your feeling of doubt persists, it seems that I will have to explain it again. Clear your minds and listen carefully!
Question: When the superior man hears dharma, he understands easily. Average and inferior men, however, are not without doubt and confusion. Could you describe some expedients so that the deluded too can enter into enlightenment?
Chinul: The path is not related to knowing or not knowing.” You should get rid of the mind which clings to its delusion and looks forward to enlightenment, and listen to me.
Question: You have said that this twofold approach of sudden awakening/ gradual cultivation is the track followed by thousands of saints. But if awakening is really sudden awakening, what need is there for gradual cultivation? And if cultivation means gradual cultivation, how can you speak of sudden awakening? We hope that you will expound further on these two ideas of sudden and gradual and resolve our remaining doubts.
Chinul: First let us take sudden awakening. When the ordinary man is deluded, he assumes that the four great elements are his body and the false thoughts are his mind. He does not know that his own nature is the true dharma‐body; he does not know that his own numinous awareness is the true Buddha. He looks for the Buddha outside his mind. While he is thus wandering aimlessly, the entrance to the road might by chance be pointed out by a wise advisor. If in one thought he then follows back the light [of his mind to its source] and sees his own original nature, he will discover that the ground of this nature is innately free of defilement, and that he himself is originally endowed with the non‐outflow wisdom‐nature which is not a hair’s breadth different from that of all the Buddhas. Hence it is called sudden awakening.
Next let us consider gradual cultivation. Although he has awakened to the fact that his original nature is no different from that of the Buddhas, the beginningless habit‐energies are extremely difficult to remove suddenly and so he must continue to cultivate while relying on this awakening. Through this gradual permeation, his endeavors reach completion. He constantly nurtures the sacred embryo,11 and after a long time he becomes a saint. Hence it is called gradual cultivation.
This process can be compared to the maturation of a child. From the day of its birth, a baby is endowed with all the sense organs just like everyone else, but its strength is not yet fully developed. It is only after many months and years that it will finally become an adult.
Question: Through what expedients is it possible to trace back the radiance of one’s sense‐faculties in one thought and awaken to the self‐nature?
Chinul: The self‐nature is just your own mind. What other expedients do you need? If you ask for expedients to seek understanding, you are like a person who, because he does not see his own eyes, assumes that he has no eyes and decides to find some way to see. But since he does have eyes, how else is he supposed to see? If he realizes that in fact he has never lost his eyes, this is the same as seeing his eyes, and no longer would he waste his time trying to find a way to see. How then could he have any thoughts that he could not see? Your own numinous awareness is exactly the same. Since this awareness is your own mind, how else are you going to understand? If you seek some other way to understand, you will never understand. Simply by knowing that there is no other way to understand, you are seeing the nature.