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.