Reciting the Buddha’s Name and Seon Meditation

There are various teachings on the cultivation practices (修行精進) that will lead to attaining buddhahood and liberation. The most fundamental meritorious categories of cultivation are reciting the Buddha’s name and Seon meditation, along with cultivation of the precepts, which is the Buddhist moral code. However, these sorts of practices are not independent cultivation methods that are designed to be practiced separately. Rather, only by practicing them together, so that they mutually enhance one other, will one attain the prajñaparamita of supreme wisdom.

Some may quibble and say that in Seon meditation one need not practice reciting the Buddha’s name at all, and in the practice of reciting the Buddha’s name the support of Seon meditation is not crucial. However, originally philosophy behind the practice of reciting the Buddha’s name refers to our own original face, which is the practice of admiring and contemplating on the Buddha, the buddha-nature of true suchness (진여불성,眞如佛性), which is none other than universal life itself. Seon meditation is a practice where one removes all subjective notions and merges with the buddha-nature of true suchness, which is the original self-nature of existence. Ultimately, whether it is reciting the Buddha’s name or Seon meditation, they are both fundamentally superb methods for attaining buddhahood.

Hence in the Prajñaparamita Sutra Spoken by Manjusri (문수설반야경,文殊說般若經), it states, “When one thinks on the Buddha, he is the Buddha (念佛是佛) but when one thinks delusorily, he is an ordinary being (妄念是凡夫)..” Because the original form of all existence is originally buddha, if one recollects the Buddha, one is none other than the buddha; but if one discriminates with an ignorant mind, one is none other than an ignorant sentient being. However, if one merely considers reciting the Buddha’s name to be an expedient means and cultivates while remaining attached to the idea that the Buddha exists separately outside of one’s mind, then this sort of practice that clings to dharmas cannot be authentic recollection of the Buddha’s name. What is more, it cannot be called the Seon of reciting the Buddha’s name.

It has been said that the Seon of reciting the Buddha’s name means “the Amitabha of one’s own nature and the Pure Land of mind-only” (自性彌陀 唯心淨土). Thus, one must always recite the Buddha’s name while not departing from the thought, “the Buddha of the self-nature is the buddha-nature.” Only if one recites the Buddha’s name with the conviction that, when the mind is pure and clear, every moment and every place is the land of Ultimate Bliss (Sukhavati) can it be called the Seon of reciting the Buddha’s name. On the other hand, in referring to Seon meditation, if one either considers the practice of Ganhwaseon (observing the keyword) practice, where one investigates into the hwadu (keyword) or kongan (koan), to be the only true Seon meditation method while others are merely inferior expedient practices; or if one is attached to the idea that only the method of ‘silent illumination’ Seon, where one remains submerged in a state of quiescent contemplation, is the ultimate Seon meditation method; then, those practices cannot be the universal Seon meditation method of the buddhas’ and patriarchs’ orthodox transmission.

Daoxin (Tao-hsin 四祖道信, 580-651, the Fourth Patriarch of Chinese Chan Buddhism), in his “Dharma Gate of the Essential Expedients for Entering the Way and Calming the Mind” (入道安心要方便法門), explained and clarified that the “Pure Seon of the Tathagatas” referred to in the Surangama Sutra (楞伽經) and the “single-characteristic samadhi” and the “single-practice Samadhi” referred to in the Prajñaparamita Sutra Spoken by Manjusri are the essential truths of Son meditation practice. These are all cultivation methods that integrate the practices of reciting the Buddha’s name and Seon meditation. Also, in the Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch, Huineng (慧能, 638-713, the Sixth Patriarch of Chinese Chan Buddhism) recited three times himself, “I take refuge in the three bodies of Buddha” (歸依三身佛), and thereby in a clear and precise manner gave his instruction in the dharma. Then, in the “Transmission Chapter (Buchokpum)” [of the Platform Sutra], he emphasized instead the ‘single-characteristic samadhi’ and the ‘single-practice samadhi.’ These, too, are simply alternate expressions of the ‘reciting the Buddha’s name samadhi.’

Thus, the approach to Seon meditation of reciting the Buddha’s name is a cultivation practice that involves awakening to the buddha, by the buddha inherent in ourselves realizing that he is already a buddha. This is because when we, with all our might, open our minds completely and penetrate to the dharma-gate of the great comprehensive characteristic of the conditioned origination of true suchness, then all the myriad things in existence will originally be free from arising and ceasing and will be none other than the Buddha who is neither defiled nor pure.

Translated from “Kunsunim Beommun,” Gyegan Gwangnyun 3 (November 15, 2002)..

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