Chapter 1: Patriarchal seon and its historical development

The Meaning and Currents of Patriarchal Seon

The Meaning of Patriarchal Seon
Patriarchal Seon is the Dharma Gate (teaching) that immediately shows one the world of enlightenment that was originally attained fully by all of the patriarchs. If one stands at this gate, the path of language and thought is cut off, and one is clearly enlightened that one is originally Buddha (awakened) and enjoys a free life where one is not trapped anywhere.

There is a phrase, “physically naked golden wind.” This phrase tells of the original form of trees nakedly displayed when all the leaves have fallen in the autumnal wind. When one is enlightened the true form of the Dharma-realm that has eliminated the egoistic way of existence that is language and thought is thus itself revealed. Patriarchal Seon is just like this.

The Buddha, by means of transmitting from mind to mind the world of enlightenment that he himself had experienced, transmitted it to the Venerable Mahākāśyapa. The opportune condition (occasion) for this was as follows:
One day the Buddha held up a lotus flower and showed it to a great assembly of many people. Only Mahākāśyapa of that assembly broke into a smile. When the Buddha held up that lotus to show his mind, Mahākāśyapa was immediately enlightened to that mind and responded with a smile.

That is exactly the meaning of “when a flower was lifted up he smiled with laughter” or yeomhwa miso.

Seon was born on the occasion of the profound meaning of “held up a flower and smiled.” This Dharma that was transmitted from the Buddha to Mahākāśyapa was later also passed on from master to disciple without a break.

Patriarch Bodhidharma was the twenty-eighth in the Indian lineage who received this Dharma. Bodhidharma traveled to China and transmitted the Buddha’s genuine Seon Dharma, and he became the first patriarch of the East.
The Currents of Patriarchal Seon
The Chinese Seon (Chan) School began with Bodhidharma, the twenty-eighth patriarch of India and the first patriarch of China. In this way the Seon Dharma that the Buddha transmitted was continuously inherited through the Seon Masters; the First Patriarch Bodhidharma (n.d.), the Second Patriarch Huike (487-593), the Third Patriarch Sengcan (?-606), the Fourth Patriarch Daoxin (580-651), the Fifth Patriarch Hongren (594-674), and the Sixth Patriarch Huineng (638-713). Thus the great current of the Seon School was formed.

Patriarch Bodhidharma saw his mind-nature by sitting for nine years facing a wall at Shaolin Monastery, and through the generations the patriarchs passed it on from mind to mind. This was why it was called Patriarchal Seon.

It was the Sixth Patriarch, Huineng who substantially grounded Patriarchal Seon in China. Seon Master Huineng elucidated the dono gyeonseong that is the perfect awakening immediately to that nature by direct pointing at the self-nature that all people originally possess. That the Seon School could flow uninterrupted in China was because Seon Master Huineng fully unfolded this Seon Dharma of sudden enlightenment.

The person who firmly established the Seon Dharma of Huineng was his pupil, Seon Master Heze Shenhui (670-762). Shenhui greatly highlighted Huineng’s sudden-enlightenment method of seeing the nature that directly enters the mind. After Shenhui, those who made Patriarchal Seon flourish were the excellent teachers, Seon masters Mazu Daoyi (709-788) and Shitou Xiqian (700-790). They promoted the Patriarchal Seon style centered on Jiangxi and Hunan to the south of the Yangzi River. Seon masters Mazu and Shitou spread Patriarchal Seon widely and gathered many distinguished pupils, which rooted the Seon School firmly into the soil of history.

For example, among Seon Master Mazu’s pupils was Seon Master Baizhang Huaihai (749-814). Baizhang instituted the pure rules for the Seon cloister and made the very first Seon collective practice monastery (chongnim). Moreover, he personally practiced the lifestyle principle of, “if one does not work for a day, one does not eat for a day,” and instituted a key of the Seon cloister community that concentrated on practice while living self-sufficiently. This made the Seon School stand tall on the rock of history.

Many of the good pupils of Seon masters Mazu and Shitou produced many Seon masters themselves and they spread the Seon Dharma widely, not only in China, but also in north-east Asia.

By the middle of the twelfth century, Seon Master Hongzhi Zhengjue (1091-1152) fostered silent-illumination Seon and Seon Master Dahui Zonggao (1089-1163), while criticizing this silent-illumination, systematized Ganhwa Seon (Ch. Kanhua Chan) and spread it widely. So Patriarchal Seon was divided between the methods of practice of silent illumination and Ganhwa Seon.

The Ganhwa Seon systematized by Dahui Zonggao is a method of practice that best maintains the core of Patriarchal Seon. In other words, not only is Ganhwa Seon heir to the experience of seeing the nature that was emphasized by Patriarchal Seon, but also the patriarchal monks standardized the form of the words called hwadu that cut off the path of words and which directly showed the mind’s original face. Through this hwadu, from this point on, it was a method of practice that awakens the mind.

PART 1: The Stage of basic


Invitation to Ganhwaseon

A Way to a Joyful Life Free from Troubles

“Who am I? Where am I going?”
Sometimes, these questions arise in our mind spontaneously and sometimes other people ask them – suddenly in a moment of deep reflection.
Well, let’s try and ask very seriously for once; and then answer very clearly just for once. Try, now, for a moment, to find out who you really are, what you are made of and or where you are going. Most probably you will fail to answer; most probably you will fail 100%! Such fundamental questions are not solved by rational thinking because logic has limitations. Moreover, these questions are ones that your knowledge and experience cannot give you any insight into. They need some other dimension, some other methodology.
Let’s ask again from another view point.
“How and what can I do so as to live really well? What can I do to be truly free and peaceful? How can I live in eternal happiness and with unshakable confidence? Can I be content with myself, with my ability to share with others? Can I live without hurting others or without being hurt by someone else? Where on this earth can I find a way to learn to live in a natural and gentle way?”
Ganhwaseon, the Korean system of meditation, gives a short, clear answer to these questions. It suggests a way to live in confidence, with vigor and in freedom. It is a way to live – like a Buddha.
Look at the world! Open your eyes! Most people hanging on to worldly life look so weary and tired in all that hustle and bustle. Look! There are students giving  their lives for studying; lovers giving their lives for love; people giving their lives for money; employees of companies giving their lives for the company; members of families giving their lives for the family.
So let us speculate about what could happen in the future. It is possible to imagine that everything you are familiar with becomes other, it becomes strange and this strangeness is difficult to understand. When your expectations are not realized then you are hurt by the person or the situation; you suffer. The cold reality of uncertainty may be the cause of your disappointment. The cause of this suffering is due to your lack of awareness about who you are and why you are alive. Because you have lived continually without – beside – yourself and have relied on external objects, the result is that your mind, your heart is hurt.
You should center yourself and live depending on yourself without becoming attached to external objects, without being pulled in different directions by different people. You should find value in yourself and create a worthy and a worthwhile existence. You should make of yourself a firm and confident person, one that is not easily changeable. Of course this requires that serious search for yourself and the need to know yourself. Only then you can center yourself. Once in the center, you do not follow external objects but you find that they follow you instead. As Master Chao-chou said, “Live 24 hours by yourself!” It is actually sad and regretful that the reality is that you live with yourself all the time but do not see or know yourself!
“I should decide now to find out who I am; I should decide to see myself.”
You already know, “The way to find myself is impossible just by using rational thinking and words. If I insist on trying this method, I will fail as I have in the past.”
A western philosopher, Rene Descartes, said the famous words, “I think, therefore I am.” He seemed to have found a clear answer and felt his existence firmly understandable. Thinking is the result of becoming conscious of thinking. Descartes opined that only the action of thinking is clear evidence of our existence.
But thinking is a rational action and rational consciousness always appears in the form of the “self.” This “self” likes to distinguish between things, to discriminate and to cling to what it perceives as mine. It likes to separate one thing from another, to differentiate and to judge right from wrong. It always sees things in this way, by judging and comparing with other things. Due to this, reality is obscured and only narrow, limited physical forms are seen and then these are called “the truth.” You may even find yourself claiming that this is the true “I” and so find yourself further away from the true nature of things.
This is why we say that our True Nature, who we really are, cannot be found by rational thinking or the use of words. There is simply no way to find an answer to the question in this way.
After this realization, you come to the point where you cut out words and thinking from the range of possible answers to the questions. And, if you are lucky and persevere, you will see your True Nature and so know who you are. Then you will find yourself totally alive. And being clearly alive yourself everything follows on. Suddenly your emotions become more genuine and comprehensible, and you can see the real you.
For, the self doesn’t think. The thing that makes you move thinks and that should be your center, you should feel that movement. Then, by being together with that; you can really love, really study, really work, and really sing. From that moment on, obstacles don’t arise any more and you feel free from hindrances.
Ganhwaseon is a meditation practice which involves investigating a hwadu. The hwadu is the main line, the punch line in an ancient story of attainment. It is an enigmatic question which puts to an end our rational thinking. It is therefore a word before the words that result from thought. It is a thought before thought. It is beyond words and beyond thinking. Hwadu cuts through the way of thinking and it cuts through any resulting words. In this way it prevents rational thinking and lets you return to the realm of the Buddha. Therefore, as hwadu is solved, the truth is discovered.
Investigating hwadu involves the entire body and the entire mind: they must both be constantly full of hwadu. When you and your hwadu become one, all differentiated thoughts and illusions disappear. Thus, if you find the answer to your hwadu, you come to enlightenment immediately. You can then clearly identify who is the Buddha and then you and I become one, and we both together unite with empty space.
In daily life you will find that, as you have your hwadu in your mind, you do not waver even in front of difficult situations. You do not shake with emotion and are not ruled by pure rational thinking. You do not distinguish one thing from another or compare one thing to another. You do not get hurt nor do you get angry.
Thus, your daily life becomes peaceful and happy. And ultimately if you solve your hwadu, you can see yourself clearly as never before. The aim of your life becomes clear and you no longer worry about where to go or what to do because you are centered in the present moment. Thus, wherever you go it is with confidence that you confront life and you can now truly stand alone in the universe.
Now you have finally become yourself and you can see your True Nature. So liberated from previous pressures and obstacles, your spirit remains free and, though your body may suffer, you yourself do not.
So please take a hwadu, and investigate it with all your power. As you progress free from any rational thinking, the moment you solve your hwadu, you will be a Buddha here and now. Every one of your actions is the action of a Buddha — no trace remains in a Buddha’s actions. Just as birds leave no trace in the sky; they are simply beautiful.
Korea has carefully preserved the tradition of Ganhwaseon practice. The material that you have just read comes from the teachings of Seon masters as they have always taught in the Seon halls.
If you are able to come and join us in practice, then you will experience a new world which is like the truth of the blue sky.
Again question…
“Who am I?”
Answer immediately, without hesitation, without your rational thinking.

Just answer…

Copyright(c)2006 Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism. All rights reserved.