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.