The Way to Contemplate a Hwadu : Jeongang

To break far away from earthly desires is a great accomplishment
Quickly grab the knot and construct it in one turn.
If the cold doesn’t once pierce your bones,

How can the fragrance of apricot blossoms that pierces your nose ever come to be?

A monk once asked Zhaozhou, “Does a dog have Buddha nature or does he not?”
Zhouzhou answered, “Not” (Mu 無) and this was the origin of the ([Mu 無) character hwadu.

In the Seon school, though this “Mu character” is the target of the most praise, if we were to consider it carefully, since the Buddha said that all sentient beings have the buddha nature, why then did Master Zhouzhou answer “mu”?

When we think of this “mu” we shouldn’t make a distinction of things into two divisions, “is”/“isn’t”; “existing”/“not existing.” Cutting off subject and object, without any thought of any duality, we should only be thinking, “Why did he say ‘mu’?”

Here too we can’t make use of “the void,” nor can we apply the ideas of “form” or “formless.” In the final analysis, our unknown doubt is all that remains, and this is the only thing that you should hold up.

“Why did Master Zhouzhou say ‘mu’?”

If we say that we know that Master Zhaozhou’s “mu” was simply like a shell being cast from his mouth, then it is something we will someday meet in the Iron Room of the Lord of Hell. Only if we see the true depth of meaning in Zhaozhou’s saying “mu’” that one time can we know that it is a way to bring about liberation from samsara. It is the marrow of all the Buddhas and the discerning eye of all the Patriarchs. When “mu” is spoken, his intention is already immediately revealed. That is why for truly exceptional people, the “mu” character is something that immediately and directly brings sudden enlightenment.

All kinds of analyses of the ‘mu’ character have already been brought forth. Some say the “mu” hwadu is the “knife that severs the origin of all being,” “the padlock that opens up everything,” “the iron broom that sweeps away everything,” “the stake that fastens the donkey,” or any other endless number of phrases that come to mind.

Now I’ll give you thirty turns.

For those who study the “mu” hwadu, Master Zhaozhou’s intention behind saying “mu” does not exist within the “mu.” In fact, it’s in an altogether unexpected place. By all means, I ask of you again and again, don’t waste your time in vain. You’d be much better off searching for Master Zhaozhou’s deep intention than losing yourself in the character “mu.”

There is a good metaphorical story that relates to the behavior in this “mu” character hwadu. In the ancient Tang dynasty, there was a very unique beauty named Yang Guifei who lived at the palace as a favorite concubine of Emperor Xuang Zong. Yang and her lover An Lushan were in an unbearable situation where they missed each other desperately.

Frequently calling So-ok isn’t anything else
But me letting my voice be known to my beloved

Yang Guifei repeatedly called out to her servant, So-ok, even though she had no work for her to do. Why did Yang Guifei call So-ok’s name in that way? It was simply because she wanted her lover to hear her voice. Yang Guifei’s intention did not lay within So-ok. Her intention passed through So-ok to try and make her voice known to An Lushan.

In a similar way, the intention of the “mu” character hwadu does not lay within the “mu” character, it lays within Zhaozhou who said “mu.” Therefore, don’t investigatge “mu,” you should be delving into the intention of the one who said “mu.”

Another monk inquired to Master Zhaozhou, “What is the intention of Bodhidharma coming to the West?” To which Zhaozhou answered, ‘hair grows on the board’s teeth” Why would he say something like that? Once again, like with ‘mu,’ the answer doesn’t lay with the board’s teeth growing hair, and as such, seekers much look precisely within Zhaozhou’s intention for saying what he did.

There is absolutely no difference between asking “why did he say ‘mu’?” and “why did he say ‘hair grows on the board’s teeth’?” In practicing a hwadu like this, deluded conception can’t help but arise. This is because the entirety of the existence of sentient beings was constituted based on deluded conception. If there are any thoughts such as ‘hwadu are good,’ ‘hwadu are bad,’ ‘delusions arise,’ ‘the mind scatters,’ or anything else like that, this will cause the hwadu to lose the mystery of its purity. This means paying no attention to any arising delusions, no matter what they are, even when you are afraid. In this way, just throw everything away and leave it be.

Moreover, the unknown doubt that still remains as the only thing raised in your mind, even should it disappear, generate it again, continually stirring it up diligently such that it cannot be cut off. In this way, though you go an eternity without retreat, continuously struggling along, you never worrying that perhaps you cannot awaken to your true nature.

Did not the ancients say, “If one could resist retreat simply through faith alone, who couldn’t awaken to their original nature and accomplish buddhahood?” Furthermore, in terms of our spiritual cultivation, though it is easy to have a mind that desires a quick reward for our efforts, this is absolutely anathema. Owing to such thinking as this, our minds become impetuous and our thought cannot come easy. As a result, you would see that the hwadu would gradually grow distant and you would become unable to settle into your practice. Furthermore, as you establish your cultivation, you must not settle for a mind that is waiting for awakening. Delusions will arise on their own accord and there is no need to purposefully cultivate still further delusions such as the thought, “I must have a great awakening.”

As those of old made clear, “though many sit in meditation with their eyes closed, it becomes a habit to slip into torpor and indifference, and worse, you end up falling into the ‘ghost cave under Black Mountain.’ While you keep both your eyes open as normal, raising your back up vigorously while keeping it straight, simply raise in your mind again and again but one thing, the unknowable doubt.”

Quite often, while contemplating a hwadu, it is easy for one’s focus to become centered within one’s head. This increases the danger of having the mind that desires quick results and leaves one flushed, with a rush of blood to the head. If all of one’s heat becomes concentrated in the head, this will lead to migraine headaches. If this rushing of blood to the head becomes a chronic ailment, cultivation becomes extremely taxing. In extreme cases, hemorrhaging can occur in the head, you’ll lose control of your body and become debilitated.

When I was young, I experienced the unspeakable pain of this flushing sickness, bringing with it an unthinkable sickness, and through a self-administered cure I was able to bring about a full recovery. That self-cure was nothing more than regulated deep breathing (ho heup). This is due to the fact that the deep breathing method and seated meditation share an intimate connection and thus, I want to share some kind advice about it with you now.

While sitting erect on your knees, breathing in and out slowly, from your body’s center of gravity two finger’s widths below your navel (danjeon), gently draw back towards your rear and slowly exhale. In your next inhalation, breathe in for about eight beats. Then, according to your own lung capacity, hold your breath for a second, just until right before the point that it becomes uncomfortable. At this time, you must hold the hwadu in your danjeon and carefully reflect upon your doubt.

Also, when you practice this method of ho heup there is a bit of skill to it, so you want be able to breathe in a a way such that it is so slow, the hairs in your nose do not move. Here as well, you certainly must reflect carefully on your hwadu. Without any consideration for whether your breath is going in or out, you must simply observe with a singular intensity the doubt that nestles in your danjeon.

At first, when things aren’t going well, or too many thoughts are arising, practice this breathing method three or four times and gradually you’ll feel that you mind has refreshed and clarified and your eyes have been cleansed. Later, when your hwadu becomes pure, without even knowing it, your ho heup will naturally become naturally adept.

Not able to gather a handful of willows
they hang on the jade railing, flying in the spring wind

The bountiful cast-off skin rests hanging on the jade railing.

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