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.

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