Although said repeatedly, the hwadu is properly taken up when one has resolved the mind. If one forcibly and impetuously takes up the hwadu in the circumstances when the mind is not resolute, illnesses will result. It is often said that one tries to ride a hwadu. But hwadu are not given and received at any time. The teacher judges whether or not the practitioner has resolved the mind or not, and gives the practitioner an appropriate prescription. The upright teacher looks at the practitioner’s ability and presents him with a hwadu.
Because hwadu are words that cut off the paths of thought, only teachers who know how to use these words, using them practically, can give an appropriate hwadu to the practitioner. If a hwadu is presented by a person who does not know the meaning of the hwadu, this instead produces a reverse result that can only end in disappointment.
Because the study of hwadu is developed from out of the teaching and an absolute faith in the teacher, if a person does not have this, if that person gives a hwadu or takes up a hwadu for themself, it will be difficult to have certainty in the study of hwadu. Only when a genuine teacher presents a hwadu that one can stake one’s entire life on, does that hwadu have power. The examination of hwadu study must be conducted by the teacher who presented the hwadu, and while maintaining an earnest mental resolution, one can deeply enter into the hwadu.
The reason for investigating the hwadu is in order to enter into the world of enlightenment. The hwadu is conquered in the barrier gate entered via enlightenment and in order to completely open and clear away and exit this gate that has no gate, one needs the great role of a teacher like this. In so doing, one must definitely receive the hwadu from a teacher, and also the examination at every point must be received from the master.
The generations of patriarchal teachers and the teachers of the world constantly say, “It is as rare as one in ten thousand for one to be enlightened alone without a master.”
In the lineage school, in order that the practitioner has no fabrication or lies, the school style has been maintained that first of all the practitioner is examined by an enlightened Seon master and then sealed by him. Therefore it is proper that one seek a teacher worth staking one’s life on, receiving his selected hwadu and engage in study of it.
But there are exceptions. National Teacher Bojo Jinul of the Goryeo period studied without a regular master. National Teacher Taego Bou, after being enlightened by himself, went to China in search of a clear-eyed lineage master. He received a seal of approval from Chan Master Shiwu. Seon Master Gyeongheo, the reviver of modern Seon, did not receive a hwadu directly from a master. Thus there are those who think that there may be no impediment to selecting the hwadu oneself and studying it. However, the teachers who are mentioned here as examples, must be understood as cases of those one-in-ten thousand practitioners of supreme ability.
And one must clearly know the point that such people, by using the many Seon recorded sayings and scriptures, were always depending on the words of the Buddha. Besides, after his enlightenment, National Teacher Taego Bou, in order to receive a seal of approval of his own state, traveled as far away as another country, China.
But when one cannot find a proper teacher, one can take up the hwadu by oneself as a fall-back policy. But in this case one must have firmly established the condition of the mental resolution and correct views. Moreover, one must properly know the method of taking up the hwadu and the path of conducting study. And even during the course of studying hwadu one must be devoted to continuing the effort to find a teacher. This is because the examination of the practice of hwadu and the seal of approval of enlightenment are only given by a teacher.