Chapter 2: The Role of the Supervisor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When and from whom can one receive a hwadu?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?