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.

What is Ganhwa Seon?

The Nature of Ganhwa Seon
Seon Master Dahui maintained that in illuminating the mind one “be enlightened immediately at the conclusion of a word.” Seon Master Yongjia Xuanjue (665-713) also, in his “Song of Enlightenment,” the Zhengdao ge, said, “Be clearly enlightened at the end of a word, and leap over at a jump the billions of Dharma-gates.”

Ganhwa Seon then is a method of practice that directly reaches enlightenment by leaping over the billions of Dharma-gates at the end of a brief action that is displayed in a moment, at a single word spoken by the Buddha or the generations of patriarchs. This is similar to the principle of when a light is turned on in a pitch-black room. In a moment everything is illuminated at a switch. Ganhwa Seon likewise leaps over immediately and directly enters the domain of the Tathāgata.

Again, Ganhwa Seon is “a Seon method to directly see one’s original nature by looking at (gan) the critical phase (hwadu).” If one sees one’s original nature that is enlightenment. This original nature is one’s self-nature that possesses everything. If one sees the nature and is enlightened, that is seeing the nature and becoming Buddha (gyeonseong seongbul).

Ganhwa Seon is the most developed of all the meditation methods that enlighten one to one’s own nature that came through India and China all the way from the Sakya Muni Buddha. The excellence of Ganhwa Seon is due to the fact that it conquers the various hwadu of the Seon masters that directly show that place of the mind, and where one sees the nature and becomes Buddha. This is because one sees the nature and becomes Buddha then and there. Hwadu is a word that cuts off the paths of language and thought. In having cut off the paths of language and thought, as soon as a person of superior ability has received the hwadu, they will at once be enlightened in that very place.

However, the majority of people cannot do this and have to take up the hwadu and begin to doubt. If so, they should take up an example of a hwadu and somehow investigate the hwadu and try to examine its meaning.

The following is the mu-character hwadu of the monk Zhaozhou (779-897):

    A monk asked Seon Master Zhaozhou, “Does a dog have Buddha-nature?”
   The Seon Master replied, “It does not” (mu, no).

Here the practitioner is saying that “the Buddha said that all sentient beings have the Buddha-nature,” to which Zhaozhou said, “Why can’t you say they do not?”, thereby saying that one must entertain doubts. This is the gist of investigating the hwadu of the character mu.
Hwadu thus make the practitioner stir up a great doubt. And so the mind of the practitioner is totally made into a ball of doubt and is lead to a state in which that mass of doubt is finally exploded with a bang.

Hwadu also completely cuts off all conceivable exits. One cannot do this or that. That being so, one cannot settle down. Blocked on all sides by a silver mountain and iron walls, not even a puff of wind can pass through, and it is just as if one is standing inside an iron curtain.

One cannot affirm or deny. This won’t do and that won’t do. And so, even having something else won’t do. Ultimately there is no way to approach it. No path is permitted in any direction. Therefore it is the path of language cut off (eoneododan) and is the simhaengcheomyeol (action of the mind extinguished) in which the traces of the mind are also severed. In this place the hwadu that is a mass of doubt is vividly revived.

Why is Doubt Emphasized in Ganhwa Seon?
The life of Ganhwa Seon is in enlightenment through a thorough-going doubt. The hwadu burns up the ordinary, everyday discriminative consciousness and enlightens one to one’s own basic nature. When the discriminative consciousness of people, being tainted by one’s own colored glasses, sees an object it therefore makes a cognitive judgment and so is totally inadequate. So having this blind spot that cannot see reality as it is, daily one also gets used to this inadequacy.
This is because our everyday consciousness centered round the idea of “I,” tries to judge the world this way and that with a cleverness that still squirms endlessly. Our structure of reason that eats, drinks, considers and leads life seems to be originally like that. The question is whether one’s own original nature is hidden in such a discriminating consciousness, or whether its correct form is clearly displayed.

If one is to illuminate the original face, one has to take up the hwadu, become one with it, and enter into an earnest and piercing doubt. If one tries thus to become extremely skeptica and only the hwadu remains vividly, at that time when one meets some opportune condition and one smashes the hwadu, finally that is being enlightened immediately to one’s own original form.

This is just like a blind person while wandering around in the pitch black sincerely hoping that his eyes will be opened, meets with a certain opportunity, and in a flash has his eyes opened. However, if the eyes explore, one merely confirms that one originally was furnished with that enlightenment. And so the newly acquired thing also is not enlightenment.

Chapter 2: An outline of Ganhwa seon

What is Ganhwa Seon?

The Nature of Ganhwa Seon

Seon Master Dahui maintained that in illuminating the mind one “be enlightened immediately at the conclusion of a word.” Seon Master Yongjia Xuanjue (665-713) also, in his “Song of Enlightenment,” the Zhengdao ge, said, “Be clearly enlightened at the end of a word, and leap over at a jump the billions of Dharma-gates.”

Ganhwa Seon then is a method of practice that directly reaches enlightenment by leaping over the billions of Dharma-gates at the end of a brief action that is displayed in a moment, at a single word spoken by the Buddha or the generations of patriarchs. This is similar to the principle of when a light is turned on in a pitch-black room. In a moment everything is illuminated at a switch. Ganhwa Seon likewise leaps over immediately and directly enters the domain of the Tathāgata.

Again, Ganhwa Seon is “a Seon method to directly see one’s original nature by looking at (gan) the critical phase (hwadu).” If one sees one’s original nature that is enlightenment. This original nature is one’s self-nature that possesses everything. If one sees the nature and is enlightened, that is seeing the nature and becoming Buddha (gyeonseong seongbul).

Ganhwa Seon is the most developed of all the meditation methods that enlighten one to one’s own nature that came through India and China all the way from the Sakya Muni Buddha. The excellence of Ganhwa Seon is due to the fact that it conquers the various hwadu of the Seon masters that directly show that place of the mind, and where one sees the nature and becomes Buddha. This is because one sees the nature and becomes Buddha then and there. Hwadu is a word that cuts off the paths of language and thought. In having cut off the paths of language and thought, as soon as a person of superior ability has received the hwadu, they will at once be enlightened in that very place.

However, the majority of people cannot do this and have to take up the hwadu and begin to doubt. If so, they should take up an example of a hwadu and somehow investigate the hwadu and try to examine its meaning.

The following is the mu-character hwadu of the monk Zhaozhou (779-897):

             A monk asked Seon Master Zhaozhou, “Does a dog have Buddha-nature?”
             The Seon Master replied, “It does not” (mu, no).
Here the practitioner is saying that “the Buddha said that all sentient beings have the Buddha-nature,” to which Zhaozhou said, “Why can’t you say they do not?”, thereby saying that one must entertain doubts. This is the gist of investigating the hwadu of the character mu.

Hwadu thus make the practitioner stir up a great doubt. And so the mind of the practitioner is totally made into a ball of doubt and is lead to a state in which that mass of doubt is finally exploded with a bang.

Hwadu also completely cuts off all conceivable exits. One cannot do this or that. That being so, one cannot settle down. Blocked on all sides by a silver mountain and iron walls, not even a puff of wind can pass through, and it is just as if one is standing inside an iron curtain.

One cannot affirm or deny. This won’t do and that won’t do. And so, even having something else won’t do. Ultimately there is no way to approach it. No path is permitted in any direction. Therefore it is the path of language cut off (eoneododan) and is the simhaengcheomyeol (action of the mind extinguished) in which the traces of the mind are also severed. In this place the hwadu that is a mass of doubt is vividly revived.

Why is Doubt Emphasized in Ganhwa Seon?

The life of Ganhwa Seon is in enlightenment through a thorough-going doubt. The hwadu burns up the ordinary, everyday discriminative consciousness and enlightens one to one’s own basic nature. When the discriminative consciousness of people, being tainted by one’s own colored glasses, sees an object it therefore makes a cognitive judgment and so is totally inadequate. So having this blind spot that cannot see reality as it is, daily one also gets used to this inadequacy.

This is because our everyday consciousness centered round the idea of “I,” tries to judge the world this way and that with a cleverness that still squirms endlessly. Our structure of reason that eats, drinks, considers and leads life seems to be originally like that. The question is whether one’s own original nature is hidden in such a discriminating consciousness, or whether its correct form is clearly displayed.

If one is to illuminate the original face, one has to take up the hwadu, become one with it, and enter into an earnest and piercing doubt. If one tries thus to become extremely skeptica and only the hwadu remains vividly, at that time when one meets some opportune condition and one smashes the hwadu, finally that is being enlightened immediately to one’s own original form.

This is just like a blind person while wandering around in the pitch black sincerely hoping that his eyes will be opened, meets with a certain opportunity, and in a flash has his eyes opened. However, if the eyes explore, one merely confirms that one originally was furnished with that enlightenment. And so the newly acquired thing also is not enlightenment.

The House Style of Korean Patriarchal Seon

Korean Buddhism breathes a vivid life with the practice of Patriarchal Seon House style of Ganhwa Seon. This is something really rare that cannot be found in other Buddhist domains.

Each year in Jogye Order, over 2,000 meditation monks and over 100 Seon cloisters enter the summer or winter retreats for three months at a time. Retreat means that the monk refrains completely from leaving or entering the gate of the Seon cloister and vigorously practices (jeongjin or vīrya, strenuous effort, zealous practice) meditation. For the period of the retreat the practitioners of the cloister rise from their sleeping places at the get-up time of the monastery, which is 3.00 am, or even earlier, at 2.00 am. After getting up, at the sound of a bamboo clapper the assembly of the Seon cloister gathers and wordlessly worships the Buddha with three bows. In the Seon cloister, with the exception of the times when they gather to eat, the gongyang time, and when they work together physically, according to the pure regulations of each Seon cloister, they devote themselves solely to the zealous pursuit of sitting in meditation from the getting-up time until 9.00 or 10.00, and sometimes 11.00 pm in the evening. The times of a Seon cloister’s zealous practice differs because the custom for that practice differs according to the cloister. The customs for zealous practice of meditation in Seon cloisters are usually divided into three types:

             The first is the normal zealous practice. The daily zealous practice is to sit in meditation for eight or ten hours per day.
             The second is the additional zealous practice, which is to spur on even more than the everyday zealous practice, with the aim of exerting oneself even more and practicing meditation for twelve or even fourteen hours per day.
             The third is ferocious zealous practice. One practices zealously without sleeping day or night for twenty-four hours, and one practices meditation for eighteen hours or more. In the majority of Seon cloisters, for seven days all the assembly practices this, and in some Seon cloisters this even lasts for one month.

Besides vigorous zealous practice, there is also jangjwa bulwa (long sitting and no lying down), which is sitting in meditation without lying down for a set period of three months or even longer, and there is also the practice of the gateless barrier (mumungwan) in which one zealosly practices meditation alone without going outside of a locked door and staying alone in a single room. This practice of mumungwan can last six months, a year, three years or at most six years. In addition there is the formation of fraternities (gyeolsa) for fifteen months or three years etcetera, in which all of the assembly is banned from going beyond the monastery gate, and one practices zealously for a set period of time in the Seon cloister.

When the retreat ends, the Seon monks leave for manhaeng (various supplementary practices). These Seon monks are calledunsu (cloud and water) monks in the sense that they are practitioner monks who drift like clouds and river water. The reason for departing for manhaeng is this is where they will see spread out in the field of concrete life the state that is caused by the zealous practice of meditation during the period of the retreat. And they also receive an examination of the condition of their practice or their own enlightenment from the keen-eyed masters they seek out. Manhaeng also is a practice of seeking the Way, in that they consistently hold the hwadu during the various aspects of life. Again, some meditation monks also pursue zealous practice in the monastic retreat, which is not a set period retreat, but continues even in the period of freedom, along with their practice in the Seon cloister.

In each of the secluded and pristine mountains of Korea there are Seon cloisters and small hermitages. In such places are gathered unsu meditation monks who are trying to illuminate the eternal darkness, entering into the samādhi of single-mindedly seated in meditation and not budging in the slightest from their hwadu. Also, many lay Buddhists hold their hwadu and zealously practice Seon meditation in citizen’s Seon rooms in the city centers, trying to illuminate their own mind-nature.

The History and Tradition of Korean Seon

The Arrival of Seon and the Acceptance of Patriarchal Seon

The Ganhwa Seon of Korea is a mainstream lineage of Patriarchal Seon that accepted entirely the current of Patriarchal Seon established by the Sixth Patriarch Huineng. The Seon Dharma first entered Korea at the end of the Silla and start of the Goryeo dynasties, when monks who were foreign students seeking the Dharma in the Tang Dynasty received the Dharma from China and began to disseminate it in Korea.

Most of them received the Seon Dharma from Seon Master Huineng’s disciples, and they formed the Nine Mountain Seon Schools (kusan Seonmun). By the Goryeo period, these Nine Mountain Seon Schools were collectively called Jogyejong, which was the Seon School that received the Seon Dharma of Seon Master Huineng.

The school name, “Jogyejong” of the Dae Han Bulgyo Jogyejong is derived from the name of the mountain where Seon Master Huineng resided and unfolded the Seon Dharma of sudden enlightenment. From the time of the Tang and Song dynasties, Seon Master Huineng was called Caoqi Huineng (Kor. Jogye Hyeneung). From this it is clear that the Jogyejong has continued to maintain the mainstream lineage of Patriarchal Seon in its true state.

The ancestor of Jogyejong, National Teacher Do-ui received the Seon Dharma from Xitang Zhizang (735-814) in the fourth generation from Huineng. National Teacher Do-ui worshipped and consulted Zhizang as his master, dispelled the ball of doubt he had amassed and finally overcame the indigestion that blocked his enlightenment. Zhizang, seeing this, just as if he had picked out a beautiful jade from among the pebbles or a pearl from the oyster shell, was happy and said, “Truly if I do not transmit the Dharma to this man then to whom would I transmit it?” (Jodangjip 17).

In the Goryeo period, with the advent of the Cheontae (Chi. Tientai) School that had the powerful backing of the royal clan, the Seon School shrank somewhat. Approaching the twelfth century, while consolidating the School, it proceeded to build a new foundation.  National Teacher Won-eung Hag-il (1052-1144) of the Gaji Mountain Gate and National Teacher Daegam Tanyeon (1070-1159) of the Sa-gul Mountain Gate acted vigorously to restore the Seon School. Moreover, Layman Yi Jahyeon (1061-1125), who had extensive connections with the Seon monks and who at that time exercised huge influence on the Seon thought of the Goryeo, initiated the flowering of an invigorating layperson’s Buddhism.

The Acceptance and Consolidation of Ganhwa Seon
In the period of military dominance in the Goryeo, with the advent of Seon Master Bojo Jinul (1158-1210), the Seon-style rose strongly once again. At Suseonsa (Cultivation of Seon Society – today’s Songgwang-sa Monastery), National Teacher Bojo developed the Jeonghye Gyeolsa that was a movement for the joint practice of meditation and wisdom, and meditation practitioners gathered there from all over.  Then, for the first time, the Ganhwa Seon method established by Dahui (1089-1163) was introduced into Korea by Bojo. The National Teacher offered Ganhwa Seon for the practitioners of outstanding ability.

However, the person who genuinely accepted ganhwa Seon into Goryeo Buddhism was National Teacher Jin-gak Hyesim (1178-1234). Seon Master Hyesim compiled the Seonmun yeomsong, the very first collection of gongan (Jap. koan) in Korea. This collection of gongan opened up a concrete path for practitioners to study (gongbu or concentrated effort) hwadu. Moreover, Hyesim clarified in detail the concrete troubles and symptoms that can occur when studying, and elucidated the topic of the hwadu of the character “no” (the story of a dog having no Buddha-nature).

After Seon Master Hyesim, the Ganhwa Seon method of practice and style was continued through sixteen national teachers of Suseonsa. Of course, even in the period while they were active, the practice method of Ganhwa Seon entered Goryeo from China several times.
In 1270, the military regime collapsed and Suseonsa fell to a low ebb, but the current of Ganhwa Seon was renewed by Seon Master Iryeon (1200-1289) who consolidated the Seon style. Around this time, many Seon monks of the Goryeo entered into Yuan China in active pursuit of the Dharma, and through them many Seon texts and new Seon methods were introduced, and so the Goryeo Seon School encountered a new phase.

The Development of Ganhwa Seon and its Complete Consolidation
The firm establishment of Ganhwa Seon in Korea was accomplished by the activities of three teachers at the end of the Goryeo. They were Seon masters Taego Bou (1301-1381), Naong Hye-geun (1320-1376) and Baeg-un Gyeonghan (1299-1375). They all went to China, and through their exchanges with genuine lineage teachers of the Seon Gate, after inheriting the correct Dharma lineage of the Linji Branch, they returned to Goryeo. In this way these three teachers, after being enlightened to the teaching of Chan Master Mengshan of Yuan China, who had freshly formed the new Seon style of the Seon Gate of Goryeo, they sought out the true teachers of the lineage (literally, lineage masters of original complexion), received their seal of approval, and established a strict tradition.

Although it is a fact that Seon masters Naong Hyegeun and Baeg-un Gyeonghan’s activities were outstanding, it was rather National Teacher Taego Bou who spread Ganhwa Seon widely at the end of the Goryeo and firmly established it. National Teacher Bou argued that one transcended the Buddha through the house style of one’s own lineage teacher (literally, lineage master who originally shared in enlightenment), and as the teaching of Seon that passes over the patriarchs says, “Even though one has all the teachings of the Tripitaka, the 1,700 gongans, the shouts of Linji or the blows of Deshan, from the viewpoint of the original teacher of the lineage it is all in vain.”

The National Teacher taught that one practice Ganhwa Seon, investigate the hwadu and try not to interrupt doubt, and after conquering the hwadu, one seeks out one’s true lineage teacher and has him confirm one’s enlightened state. That is, Seon Master Taego clearly established a Ganhwa Seon practice system in which one investigated the hwadu, and after enlightenment, sought out one’s true lineage teacher and asked him to judge if it was truly enlightenment or not.

The reason National Teacher Taego Bou is venerated as the restoration patriarch of Korean Buddhist Jogye order is because he firmly established such a systematic practice of Ganhwa Seon, and because he received and brought the mainstream lineage of Linji (Kor. Imje) Seon from China, and because that Dharma-lineage has passed down through Joseon Buddhism without break to the present day.
The Transmission of Ganhwa Seon in the Joseon period and the Revival of Ganhwa Seon in Recent Times
The Ganhwa Seon Dharma was fully consolidated in Korea by National Teacher Bou, and through his agency occupied a firm place as the leading method of practice in Korean Buddhism. Bou’s Seon lineage was continued by Seon masters Hwan-am Honsu (1320-1392), Gu-gok Gag-un, Byeoggye Jeongsim, Byeoksong Ji-eom (1464-1534), Buyong Yeonggwan (1485-1571), when it formed the two mountain branch lineages of Seon masters Cheongheo Hyujeong (1520-1604) and Buhyu Seonsu (1543-1615).

In Seon Master Seosan Hyujeong’s school, the two great masters Pyeonyang Eon-gi (1581-1644) and Sa-myeong Yujeong (1544-1610) appeared, and of them, the faction of Seon Master Pyeonyang Eon-gi flourished in later times. This latter Seon lineage was continued by masters Pungdam Uisim (1592-1655), Woldam Seoljye (1632-1704) and Hwanseong Jian (1664-1729).

In recent times, Seon Masters Gyeongheo Seong-u (1846-1912) and Yongseong Chinjong (1864-1940) greatly promoted the Ganhwa Seon style. Gyeongheo succeeded to the Dharma of Seon Master Yong-am Hye-eon. The advent of Gyeongheo was the direct occasion for the revival of the Seon style of Ganhwa Seon that had been dying out. Gyeongheo’s disciples were Suwol (1855-1928), Hyewol (1855-1928), Man-gong (1871-1946) and Han-am (1876-1951) among others. Seon Master Yeongseong succeeded to the Dharma lineage of Hwanseong Jian. In Ganhwa Seon what is valued above all else is the Dharma. So after Hwanseong, the isolated lineage school was reactivated due to them and has been carried on till the present day. Their Seon style is a line of Ganhwa Seon that has its basis fully in Patriarchal Seon.

The Meaning and Currents of Patriarchal Seon

The Meaning of Patriarchal Seon
Patriarchal Seon is the Dharma Gate (teaching) that immediately shows one the world of enlightenment that was originally attained fully by all of the patriarchs. If one stands at this gate, the path of language and thought is cut off, and one is clearly enlightened that one is originally Buddha (awakened) and enjoys a free life where one is not trapped anywhere.

There is a phrase, “physically naked golden wind.” This phrase tells of the original form of trees nakedly displayed when all the leaves have fallen in the autumnal wind. When one is enlightened the true form of the Dharma-realm that has eliminated the egoistic way of existence that is language and thought is thus itself revealed. Patriarchal Seon is just like this.

The Buddha, by means of transmitting from mind to mind the world of enlightenment that he himself had experienced, transmitted it to the Venerable Mahākāśyapa. The opportune condition (occasion) for this was as follows:
 
One day the Buddha held up a lotus flower and showed it to a great assembly of many people. Only Mahākāśyapa of that assembly broke into a smile. When the Buddha held up that lotus to show his mind, Mahākāśyapa was immediately enlightened to that mind and responded with a smile.

That is exactly the meaning of “when a flower was lifted up he smiled with laughter” or yeomhwa miso.
Seon was born on the occasion of the profound meaning of “held up a flower and smiled.” This Dharma that was transmitted from the Buddha to Mahākāśyapa was later also passed on from master to disciple without a break.

Patriarch Bodhidharma was the twenty-eighth in the Indian lineage who received this Dharma. Bodhidharma traveled to China and transmitted the Buddha’s genuine Seon Dharma, and he became the first patriarch of the East.

The Currents of Patriarchal Seon
The Chinese Seon (Chan) School began with Bodhidharma, the twenty-eighth patriarch of India and the first patriarch of China. In this way the Seon Dharma that the Buddha transmitted was continuously inherited through the Seon Masters; the First Patriarch Bodhidharma (n.d.), the Second Patriarch Huike (487-593), the Third Patriarch Sengcan (?-606), the Fourth Patriarch Daoxin (580-651), the Fifth Patriarch Hongren (594-674), and the Sixth Patriarch Huineng (638-713). Thus the great current of the Seon School was formed.

Patriarch Bodhidharma saw his mind-nature by sitting for nine years facing a wall at Shaolin Monastery, and through the generations the patriarchs passed it on from mind to mind. This was why it was called Patriarchal Seon.

It was the Sixth Patriarch, Huineng who substantially grounded Patriarchal Seon in China. Seon Master Huineng elucidated the dono gyeonseong that is the perfect awakening immediately to that nature by direct pointing at the self-nature that all people originally possess. That the Seon School could flow uninterrupted in China was because Seon Master Huineng fully unfolded this Seon Dharma of sudden enlightenment.

The person who firmly established the Seon Dharma of Huineng was his pupil, Seon Master Heze Shenhui (670-762). Shenhui greatly highlighted Huineng’s sudden-enlightenment method of seeing the nature that directly enters the mind. After Shenhui, those who made Patriarchal Seon flourish were the excellent teachers, Seon masters Mazu Daoyi (709-788) and Shitou Xiqian (700-790). They promoted the Patriarchal Seon style centered on Jiangxi and Hunan to the south of the Yangzi River. Seon masters Mazu and Shitou spread Patriarchal Seon widely and gathered many distinguished pupils, which rooted the Seon School firmly into the soil of history.

For example, among Seon Master Mazu’s pupils was Seon Master Baizhang Huaihai (749-814). Baizhang instituted the pure rules for the Seon cloister and made the very first Seon collective practice monastery (chongnim). Moreover, he personally practiced the lifestyle principle of, “if one does not work for a day, one does not eat for a day,” and instituted a key of the Seon cloister community that concentrated on practice while living self-sufficiently. This made the Seon School stand tall on the rock of history.

Many of the good pupils of Seon masters Mazu and Shitou produced many Seon masters themselves and they spread the Seon Dharma widely, not only in China, but also in north-east Asia.

By the middle of the twelfth century, Seon Master Hongzhi Zhengjue (1091-1152) fostered silent-illumination Seon and Seon Master Dahui Zonggao (1089-1163), while criticizing this silent-illumination, systematized Ganhwa Seon (Ch. Kanhua Chan) and spread it widely. So Patriarchal Seon was divided between the methods of practice of silent illumination and Ganhwa Seon.

The Ganhwa Seon systematized by Dahui Zonggao is a method of practice that best maintains the core of Patriarchal Seon. In other words, not only is Ganhwa Seon heir to the experience of seeing the nature that was emphasized by Patriarchal Seon, but also the patriarchal monks standardized the form of the words called hwadu that cut off the path of words and which directly showed the mind’s original face. Through this hwadu, from this point on, it was a method of practice that awakens the mind.