The necessity that one must understand the doctrine before the practice of Ganhwa Seon

Master Seosan said the following:
If after knowing the start and end of one’s own practice, one discards the doctrinal studies and tries to take a thought that is front of one’s eyes and investigates it in detail, one is sure to attain something. This is the path that lives by shaking off the body that is bound. (Seon-ga gwi-gam)


These are the words sa-gyo ib-seon. The characters literally mean “discard the teachings and enter into Seon.” Gyo is a word that indicates the Buddhist teachings have been bound up crudely in letters beginning with the sutras. “To discard doctrine,” as Master Seosan says, does not mean from the start to “ignore or deny the doctrine” but to put down the teachings after one has fully understood the doctrine.


If doctrines are the expression by the Buddha in words about the state of enlightenment, then Seon is the disclosure of the enlightened mind by the Buddha without words. If we are to use a metaphor for doctrine then it is like a map for climbing up a mountain, and Seon is the act of treading on the mountain and going up to stand on the summit. If one enters into Seon practice without a thorough understanding of doctrine, a dangerous result can come, just like a person who climbs up a high and dangerous mountain without a map. The doctrine is the building up of correct views, a teaching that one cannot do without.


On the other hand, after one has understood doctrine one must put it down completely and directly enter into the practice of Seon. Just as one cannot have climbed up a mountain by merely looking at a map, if one is attached to doctrine only, one cannot see the moon and will most likely look only at the finger.


Master Seosan said, “To reach the wordless through no words is Seon, and to reach the wordless through words is doctrine.” However, “to reach the wordless through no words” is not easy. Even though a Seon practitioner, it can be dangerous to recklessly enter into the world of Seon from the start. The words, “I do not need medicine” are appropriate to a person who has no illness, but a person with an illness must have medicine. For those practicing meditation, the scriptures and the recorded sayings are really necessary, just like a stick is to blind person.


Although it is said, “Seon is to reach the wordless without words,” the Tripitaka contains a huge number of Seon recorded sayings. In those Seon collected sayings are recorded detailed points about how one should enter Seon. When we consider the appearance of so many recorded sayings, it means that Seon from the start could not be separated from words. The important thing is not to be hung up on words. The wordless state is the state that realizes one’s own nature ultimately.


However, one cannot enter the world of truth the Buddha was awkened to only by understanding the Dharma preached by the Buddha. This is because that world is apart from language and from discrimination. No matter how much explanation one hears about the taste of water, if one does not try to drink it directly oneself, one cannot know it. No matter how much one hears of the method of riding a bike, one cannot ride a bike through that alone. It stands to reason that one can ride a bike by trying and falling off a number of times. If one tries to see the world of truth, one must directly experience it. To reach this principle the practitioner must sa-gyo ib-seon and experience Seon after having put down the doctrine he had learnt.

Leave a Reply