A foolish monk with hairy eyebrows and grey robes,
Walks along the stream leaning on his staff, his steps skillful on their own.
Observing the clouds and mist, he is both sober and intoxicated.
To fool with mysterious changes makes the blunder even worse.
The golden breeze [of autumn] gently turns the leaves their first shade of red,
Now that the autumn moon shines brightly, the waters are even clearer.
Forgetting both ordinary person and sage, he leisurely plays his flute,
Riding Mount Sumeru backwards, he ascends freely of his own accord.
The ‘high-sky’ season has just arrived. The autumn leaves are changing colors and the moon is bright. This truly may be called a wonderful season. If we are to be called true Buddhist disciples, we must try to live our lives as “authentic persons of no status” [translator’s note: Chinese Chan Master Linji’s saying], who are free and autonomous in the eternal present.
Buddhism originally transcended Brahmanism in India and completely solved the problem of human life by illuminating from an ultimate standpoint the original, true form of human beings. Moreover, the practice that possesses from a historical standpoint the most complete realization of the profound source of Buddhism is Seon (禪). Therefore, Seon can be regarded as both the religious life-essence of Buddhism as well as a religion of free and autonomous authentic persons at its essence, which transcends the doctrinal teachings (Gyo, 敎).
The great significance of Seon is liberation from deluded consciousness and realization of one’s true self on one’s own. What we consider the ‘I’ is not the ‘true I,’ but instead the ‘attachment to I,’ which brings about disturbance and tumult because it involves the suffering and deceptiveness that derive from deluded consciousness. Thus, we must smash the ignorance of this limited ‘I’ and manifest the authentic human form.
Sometimes people who practice chamseon (“investigating Seon”) say that they are not sure if they are practicing Seon correctly, but you must understand that there is nothing clearer than practicing Seon. People talk about “chamseon, chamseon,” so we all consider it to be difficult and an exceptional religious practice, but chamseon just means to live sincerely and compassionately by fundamentally criticizing and liberating our lives, which are immersed in desire and the attachment to self.
If I were to express it simply in psychological terms, we each live our lives in accordance with our own subjective perspective. Typically, our realities are immersed in either our knowledge or our own subjective views, which derive from dualistic activities. These do not adopt an expansive human perspective that sees all phenomena in the universe as a single fundamental living substance, but instead are projections of the extremely narrow and small dualistic subjective views of an individual, which are ascertained according to the needs of each moment. Furthermore, Western philosophy treats worldview or the problem of human existence only from one limited aspect of human life, such as rationality or desire. However, Seon does not look at human beings from a single point of view, but from a holistic perspective—the perspective of a holistic human being who acts rationally and intuitively while transcending rationality and intuition.
Once, someone asked, “Is the state where subjective discriminations are extinguished the ultimate realm of Seon?” It is not. This is because the storehouse consciousness (ālayavijñāna), even though it operates in a mind-state in which the discriminations of consciousness have been extinguished, is nothing but the accumulations of our manifesting consciousness (hyeonhaeng uisik), so it does not have the capacity to recognize truth as it is.
Typically, either scholarship or thought is produced in the manifesting consciousness or the storehouseconsciousness. No matter how the construction of truth is systematized philosophically, when its scope is broadened or deepened, the system falls apart. Thus, new scholarship and philosophical systems keep developing, but they are not the correct paths for contemplating the “original face” (本來面目), which is the fundamental question facing humanity. This is because the original, true form of human beings is the single, universal life substance that transcends both consciousness and unconsciousness. As such, chamseon means to awaken to the ‘authentic person,’ by completely liberating oneself from all discriminative knowledge, thoughts, and even the unconsciousness.
If you critique more fundamentally the binary dichotomies of good and evil, existence and non-existence, rationality and irrationality, material and mentality, and so forth, then at the foundation of all values and speculation lies this absolute dichotomy. This is the limitation of modern men who adopt the standpoint of rationality. However, an authentic person is one who has originally transcended all these dichotomous limitations, and ultimately he is originally an authentic person who does not claim to have newly attained enlightenment. This authentic person is originally unborn and unextinguished, and is not limited by time and space. He is originally pure and unsullied, free and autonomous; and while being devoid of all form, he creates forms in all their variety.
Seon suddenly transforms people who are subject to such dichotomies into authentic persons who are truly themselves, thereby severing in a single cut all ignorance and defilements. Therefore, Seon realizes the history that involves the proactive great capacity and great functioning by guiding even scientific acumen and the life impulse toward an independent position.
While a person like the monk Linji (Kor. Imje; Jpn. Rinzai) was studying scriptures, he realized that words and language are only medical prescriptions, so he decided instead to do Chan meditation. This example in turn asks us what actually solves the questions of human life objectively and with universal validity. Because chamseon is not dogmatism, which would demand that one follow its dictates blindly, one must oneself practice it and attain awakening.
In order to practice chamseon correctly, one must earnestly investigate the hwadu (“keyword”). To investigate the hwadu means that one’s whole life substance must transcend intellectual consciousness. In the “ball of doubt” (uidan) generated by investigating the hwadu, one’s whole existence must be unified and tense. One’s body and mind have to become a single life substance, just like the moment when you start to run at the sound of the gun go off at the beginning of a hundred-meter race. If one investigates the hwadu in this manner and moreover practices genuinely, then one attains the state of the ‘silver mountain and iron wall,’ where the discriminations of consciousness are eradicated. Also, when the hwadu appears clearly while becoming more transparent, then the production and extinction of consciousness will disappear. If one practices Seon deeply, one actually can reach such a state. Although this may be a state where the production and extinction of consciousness have disappeared, one does not fall into sloth and torpor. Instead, the hwadu and the ball of doubt (uidan) become ever more clear and numinous, so that one progresses to penetrate even the level of the unconscious. When one penetrates to this ultimate state, the absolute dichotomy disappears. Pure and clear, there is not even a single thing: this is the state of ‘mountains are mountains, rivers are rivers.’ However, if one sits abiding in this state, then one has not yet passed through the gate of patriarchs. By suddenly passing through this realm, one ‘sees the nature’ and awakens to the storehouse of the right-dharma eye (Jeongbeopanjang) of clear-eyed enlightened masters of our school.
To give you a little more detail, we cannot even call this ‘seeing the nature’ or ‘awakening to the self.’ The original face is itself real and originally exists as it is. It is only because one does not have a fervent and sincere aspiration for enlightenment, and has not truly tried to practice chamseon, that one says the practice of Seon is difficult. Actually, the original face is the fundamental essence of human existence and one’s true form. What is more, some say that though the buddha-nature is inherent in people’s minds, because it is different from reality, they refer to it as internal transcendence and advocate that it is mysterious. However, an authentic person does not abide either internally or externally in our ordinary reality. The authentic person is the ‘absolute present” by being the nucleus of the present moment. This is what we call the ‘eternal now’ or the ‘absolute now.’ The authentic person becomes the fundamental nucleus that transcends time and space, and is the original, true form of human beings, which overcomes all fragmenting self-destructiveness and is thus free and autonomous.