The Differences between Investigating the Hwadu and Contemplating the Hwadu

The Investigation of the Hwadu and the Contemplation of the Hwadu

The investigation of the hwadu and its contemplation are definitely different. The investigation of the hwadu means to give rise to the feeling of doubt about the hwadu, whereas the contemplation means to concentrate the mind on the hwadu. One must investigate the hwadu, for it is difficult to produce a genuine doubt only by concentration. While investigation is the endless persistence in the condition that achieves the feeling of doubt fully, on the other hand, contemplation is the continuing concentration and observation of any phenomena or things as they are. So there are large differences on this point.

If one contemplates hwadu, the contemplating I and the observed hwadu come to be divided from each other. In such a condition of the separation of host and guest, if the hwadu is objectified and contemplated, this is not taking up the hwadu, but is the observation that follows after the hwadu. If one divides the subject I and the object hwadu, inevitably that separates I and the object, the subject and the object, I and hwadu. Therefore when one looks at contemplation of the hwadu structurally, one cannot deny that it is a relativistic standpoint.

Of course, through such contemplation one can achieve a mental unification. Excluding the wandering mind, one can unify the mind and enter into the state of clarity. However, this is not a hwadu samādhi in which the hwadu and I are one. Wherever, it is only a relativistic state that is projected into my consciousness. Thus the object that is illuminated in this realm is not a pure feature that is an object that surfaces in my consciousness. Because that does not cast off the subject and object completely, it cannot be thorough.

The investigation of hwadu must transcend all dichotomous realms of subject and object, I and you. If it cannot be so, one will not be able to cast off completely the oppositional discriminative consciousness. It is called being at the top of a hundred foot pole and advancing one step. One has to step one pace forward on top of a pole one hundred feet in length. To reach the origin, this means that one can be free and independent once one has transcended even the origin.

Why mustn’t one contemplate the hwadu?

Seon Master Huineng, the Sixth Patriarch, who founded Patriarchal Seon, criticized the watching of the mind and the watching of purity in sitting meditation as mistaken. In short, in achieving sudden enlightenment and seeing the nature, seeing the mind and even seeing it as pure becomes an obstacle. All objectifying methods of contemplation are incorrect.

If one tries to find a pure mind or tries to see the mind, Seon Master Huineng warned against vainly giving rise to the delusion of “the pure mind.” Moreover, he indicated the mind that one tries to find itself is a delusion. This is the same principle as the eyeball cannot see the eyeball. If one tries to find the mind with the mind, not only can one not find the mind, that seeking mind itself is a delusion.

Therefore, Seon Master Huineng also said, “One cannot calm the mind with the mind, one cannot halt the mind with the mind, and one cannot operate the mind with the mind.” This is because this is to create yet another mind and objectify it. If one happens to try to find the pure mind, on the contrary, one will fall into the discriminated mind of the pure mind and the false mind, and fall into the objectified mind. If one objectifies and contemplates the mind, as Seon Master Huineng indicates, it becomes the discriminating mind and the relativistic mind.

What are the feeling of doubt, the ball of doubt, form into one piece, and the silver mountains and iron walls?

Wumen Huihai said:
    Isn’t there a person who will penetrate the barrier gate of the patriarchs? With the three hundred and sixty bones of the body and the eighty-four thousand pores, the entire body must give rise to the ball of doubt. In investigating the charactermu, one must take this character mu up day and night, all the time. Do not understand it in the sense of “it is empty”; do not understand it even through the sense of “is” or “is not.” Just like a molten lump of metal, it will not come out no matter how much one tries to spit it out. In this way one must get wholly rid of that mistaken cleverness one had until now. Continue steadily in this way, and if one’s study matures, then automatically the body and the mind will become a single lump together with the character mu and one will form them into one piece. This is just like a deaf-mute who, although he dreams, still only knows of it himself, and cannot tell it to anybody.

    And so suddenly if the hwadu is broken, a vigor that shakes heaven and earth is produced. This is just as if one snatched the great sword away from General Guan Yu (the god of war), picked it up in one’s hand, and so if you met the Buddha you killed the Buddha, and if you met a patriarch you killed the patriarch. And even on the hill of birth and death you gain a great freedom, and even in the life of a sentient being you can enjoy the samadhi of play.
    (Wumen’ guan case 1)
The feeling of doubt

In order to directly enter into hwadu one must certainly give rise to doubt. If one takes up a hwadu, one asks, “Why is it said that a dog has no Buddha-nature?” and “Why is it said the Buddha-dharma is a dried shit stick?” One must earnestly enter into doubt. One does not doubt with one’s head, one must doubt with the whole body. Therefore Seon Master Wumen Huikai said that doubt is “with the three hundred and sixty bones of the body and the eighty-four thousand pores, one must use all the body.”

If one tries to make an extreme and earnest doubt by giving rise to doubt in the hwadu, at any moment, while that doubt persists, that is called the feeling of doubt (uijeong). If we speak simply of what the feeling of doubt is, it means the state of doubt that naturally occurs when one purely doubts the hwadu. It is not consciously doubting as much as one can, but is the maintaining of the doubt like a kind of feeling.

If one takes up the feeling of doubt in this way, even if one does not forcibly doubt the hwadu, one will automatically be immersed inside the hwadu. Even if one does not doubt, naturally one will come to doubt, and even if one does not take up the hwadu, naturally one will be obsessed by the hwadu. And therefore Seon Master Mengshan Deyi said, “If the doubt deepens, even if one does not take up the hwadu, naturally the hwadu will appear.”

The ball of doubt and the formation into one piece

If one tries to enter earnestly into doubt about the hwadu, the feeling of doubt conglomerates into a lump and that is called the ball of doubt (uidan). The doubt that is wound round and round and massed together is the ball of doubt. Therefore, later this ball of doubt is revealed alone. That is called “the ball of doubt alone on the road” (uidan doglo). If that ball of doubt is alone on the road, the hwadu and I become one, and we make a body that cannot be divided one from the other. The mass of doubt becomes a ball of flames and it is a condition wherein there are no gaps into which other things can intervene. This condition is called “formed into one piece” (taseong ilpyeon). The hwadu clearly has become one piece. If it is formed into one piece, the habits of unintentionally pondering, calculating and comparing are left behind, and one merges into one with the many and varied things.

Seon Master Huangbo took up the hwadu of the character mu and fiercely investigated it, saying, “If one sees the days and months go by, at any moment one may become one piece, and if suddenly the flower of the mind blooms, one will be enlightened to the sphere of the Buddha and the patriarchs.” Just as if when a plum blossom gives off a fragrance, this means it has tolerated the depths of winter. Seon Master sung of that season as follows:

                 The discarding of frustrations and illusions is an unusual thing.
                 Hold the hwadu tightly and struggle on a single field.
                 If one does not know the taste of the bone-chilling cold,
                 How can one have the fragrance of the plum blossom assault one’s nose?
                 (Huangbo Duanji Chanshi Wanlinglu)
Although the practice of the hwadu thus displays the concrete process of shifting from the stage of the feeling of doubt to the ball of doubt, and then that forms one piece, there are also occasions when, according to the recorded sayings, the feeling of doubt, the ball of doubt and the formation into one piece are written of as the same concept.

The Penetration and Enlightenment of the Silver Mountains and Iron Walls

If the feeling of doubt matures, then it becomes like a silver mountain and iron walls, where all the exits of thinking are intercepted. Seon Master Boshan emphasized that only when one had smashed the silver mountain and iron walls could one go on to be enlightened.

Silver mountains and iron walls indicate a realm that is solid, hard and precipitous, and difficult bore through or leap over. This means an acute condition where there is no opposite shore, and is inescapable, not to the left or right, front or back, and the feeling of doubt is pure. Silver mountains and iron walls means an iron wall made of silver whose thickness cannot be known. This iron wall obstructs in all directions, left and right, front and back. Therefore one cannot advance or retreat even a step. Likewise, only if one can bore through and get out will the brilliant news come for the first time.

The Reasons one must possess the Mind of Great Faith, the Mind of Great Indignation, the Mind of Great Doubt

Seon Master Gaofeng Yuanmiao (1238-1295) in his Chanyao emphasized that a student of the hwadu must possess the three elements, “the mind of great faith, mind of great indignation, and mind of great doubt.”

What is the Mind of Great Faith

First, the meditator must have great faith (dae sinsim) in the hwadu. This faith means the attitude that proceeds with study that is definitely undisturbed and is the firm faith that if one studies the hwadu one is sure to waken to the one great matter. Seon Master Naong said:

    If one is certain to be awakened to this one great matter, by all means give rise to great faith and establish a firm intention, and at one sweep of the broom, sweep away the views of the Buddha and Dharma that one has learnt previously, into the ocean and so one is not disturbed any more. (Naong eorok)

The great faith is the faith that one originally had become Buddha. There is no difference between me and the Buddha. Even though there are differences in the characteristics and the ability that is manifested, there is no difference with the original, pure Buddha-nature.

I myself am not at all different to the mind of the Buddha. The mind of the Buddha is as eternal as empty space, unchanging and is absolutely not damaged. It has no increase or decrease. It cannot be concealed by dirt or shaken by any oppression or temptation, or be captivated by it, or be divided by it. Even though one falls into a miserable state that is stigmatized by the world, or momentarily fall into foolishness in which there is no wisdom, one’s own original nature already is a pure and bright appearance that is not buried by dirt. I myself am the governor who perfectly possesses truth from the start.

Because one’s self is the true subject, one is full of endless wisdom, courage and moral nature. One possesses in abundance the ability and wisdom that can embody that which one intends. One is not discouraged by any difficulty and produces an indomitable fortitude that burns with hope in any situation.

Likewise, the production of a great faith can raise an indomitable power of zealous practice as soon as one is without shaking just like Mt Sumeru. And further, one must have a certainty that one can conquer the hwadu and be greatly enlightened.

What is the mind of great indignation?

The second is the mind of great indignation (dae bunsim). What is the mind of great indignation? The hwadu is the revelation in front of one’s eyes of one’s own original face by the Buddha and patriarch monks. Here the patriarchs of the past restore one’s original share (of enlightenment) and one becomes a person of great freedom.

But now how should I live? Compared to the patriarchs of the past, what do I lack and why can’t I directly see myself? Even so, since by myself I do not know the endless embarrassment of my own pride and foolishness, and am tied to the life of deluded thougths, isn’t it truly a sad and hard lot?

Even though one is originally Buddha, wouldn’t one regard oneself as a sentient being and resign oneself to the lot of a sentient being, and so live day by day? For endless eons we have lived in this way. That being so, at some time doesn’t that mean I can find my original face? Does not that mean that the brilliant sun in my mind is hidden and wanders around outside in the dark?

Until now I have done as I wanted with this body. If I wished to eat as my taste buds desired, I ate; and if I wanted to sleep I slept; and if I had a futile desire to satisfy, I would try to possess whatever that was. Furthermore, in order to gain fame and benefit for myself, I would discriminate between myself and others and engage in discrimination of right and wrong, and so wound myself and others. In this way we fall into the illusion that forgets our original face, and we live with desires and foolishness.

However, fortunately now, I have come into contact with the path of Seon practice and see directly the frustrations and stupidity, and have met with the greatest opportunity of life (ildaesa inyeon) that leads me to live as a person of great freedom. This very hwadu study is a razor-sharp sword that will cut off my past life of darkness and my current ignorance.

The practitioner of meditation in the investigation of the hwadu like this must suddenly well up in a mind of indignation that rages out of a guilty conscience.

What is the mind of great doubt?

The third is the mind of great doubt (dae uisim). The mind of great doubt is the exhaustive doubt about the hwadu. The hwadu cannot be fully grasped by any method and nor can it be described figuratively. It cannot be known by something non-existent, it cannot be known by something existent; it cannot be grasped, it cannot be put down. So the practitioner here reaches the point of doubt so as to devote his entire strength to it and can do nothing but play the game head on. This means that in hwadu practice that doubting is putting it in the state of mind at just such times.

The Buddha and all the patriarchs showed us the Dharma in the form of the hwadu clearly in front of our eyes. While the Buddha thus shows us the inner original thing clearly before our eyes, does that mean I cannot see it anyway? Although the distinct, internal principle is made lucidly clear as a hwadu for us, why is it that we do not know it? Why, how don’t I know it?

In this way, if the great doubt rushes forth, the whole body and all thought is converted into a mass of hwadu. If one lies down as hwadu and falls asleep as hwadu, the thought, “Ultimately what principle is this?” becomes continuous and a clear, calm and distinct doubt appears before one’s eyes. If one can gain strength in making it this way, at last the good times of practice will have been made to arrive. It is impossible for there to be hwadu study without doubt.

The greater the doubt, the greater the enlightenment. An earnestly held doubt is a huge doubt, called the great doubt. That is the place where the doubting I disappears in the explosive, fundamental doubt. This great doubt meets with opportune conditions and in the end when that great doubt is smashed, the practitioner in one fell swoop dies greatly, and heaven and earth are renewed.

How is the hwadu concretely investigated?

The entering into and producing of a doubt about the hwadu is the investigation of the hwadu. Only when the doubt is penetrating and one is in a condition of when only doubt is lumped firmly together, is the hwadu taken up well. What should one do to produce doubt by taking up the hwadu?

Let us try to explain it through the example of hwadu that are most often used, the hwadu of the “character mu” and the hwadu of “What?” One either takes up the entire proposition attached to the front of the “mu character” hwadu, or just the mu itself, although it is a bit vague. The entire proposition means the entire content related to the hwadu.


Let’s take up the example of the hwadu of the character mu:

    A monk asked, “Does a dog have the Buddha-nature?”
    Zhaozhou replied, “It does not (mu).”

The Buddha said, “All sentient beings have the Buddha-nature,” so why did Zhaozhou say the dog does not have the Buddha-nature?


The lines quoted above are the entire proposition concerning the hwadu of the character mu, that is, the entire content. On the other hand, the lone proposition is explained as “mu” or “why did he say mu?” When one starts to meditate, although at first the entire proposition and the lone proposition are used mixed together, if one becomes versed in it, the entire proposition is burdensome. If one is familiar with it, the entire proposition enters totally into the lone proposition. Automatically it then becomes the lone proposition.

The essentials of investigation are thus:

    “Does a dog also have a Buddha-nature?”
    “No.”
    “Why say no?”
    “Why no?”
    “Why?”

Likewise with the hwadu, “What is it?” (i-mwot-go)

    “What is that fellow who eats, wears clothes, talks, looks and hears, the governor who is bright and numinous whenever and wherever?”
    “It is not mind, not Buddha, not a single thing. What is it?”
    “Before my parents were born, what is my original face?”
    “What is the fellow who pulls along this lump of a body?”

For the hwadu, “What is this?” one should select just one of the various hwadu above and it may create doubt. If one tries to expand it by just one more, when one takes up the hwadu through the entire proposition, one must take up only one entire proposition. Of course there are no differences of superiority or inferiority between these entire propositions. One should select only one and earnestly take it up. A possible tip for practicing a hwadu is, when one takes up “What is it?”, one must give rise to doubt, while making ‘this’ (i) slightly long, mentally that the fellow who is doing the ‘this’ is ‘what?’. Or, although it is a bit vague, one would lengthen and sophisticate the doubt by making the hwadu lengthened like ‘this (i) – what (mwot) – is (go)?’. The essential though is to have it earnestly. If one must make the entire proposition, this must become simple not become the source of delusion.


When doubt does not emerge well, one takes up the entire proposition again and again, one (asks) “What is the fellow that moves this body?” and there is no other clever plan but to endlessly take up hwadu. Endlessly, one must enter into them earnestly and intensely.


If one tries to investigate hwadu in this way, one must have an extremely earnest mind. Just as in a desert, feeling thirsty one only thinks of water. A birth mother who sends her only sons to the warfront, day and night thinks of her children. Likewise, one must have a mind of urgency that investigates only one hwadu. Such an urgent mind occurs when one stakes one’s entire life on it. If one tries to take up the hwadu this earnestly, one day suddenly a genuine doubt occurs, and the hwadu vividly manifests itself in front of one. At such a time the mind internally becomes calm, and the illusions of frustrations also automatically disappear.


In truly devoting one’s life and proceeding by controlling it thought by thought, this study has difficulties. If one completely believes that one is originally Buddha and does not look forward or back, since I have departed from the same conditions as all teachers of the past, and so I also am diligent, it is sure that I will be thoroughly and greatly enlightened (hwakcheol daeo), and can see the nature and become Buddha. With this thorough faith, one must vigorously advance in practice.

Chapter 3. The Stage of Investigation of the Hwadu

How is the hwadu concretely investigated?


The entering into and producing of a doubt about the hwadu is the investigation of the hwadu. Only when the doubt is penetrating and one is in a condition of when only doubt is lumped firmly together, is the hwadu taken up well. What should one do to produce doubt by taking up the hwadu?


Let us try to explain it through the example of hwadu that are most often used, the hwadu of the “character mu” and the hwadu of “What?” One either takes up the entire proposition attached to the front of the “mu character” hwadu, or just the mu itself, although it is a bit vague. The entire proposition means the entire content related to the hwadu.


Let’s take up the example of the hwadu of the character mu:

    A monk asked, “Does a dog have the Buddha-nature?”
    Zhaozhou replied, “It does not (mu).”

The Buddha said, “All sentient beings have the Buddha-nature,” so why did Zhaozhou say the dog does not have the Buddha-nature?


The lines quoted above are the entire proposition concerning the hwadu of the character mu, that is, the entire content. On the other hand, the lone proposition is explained as “mu” or “why did he say mu?” When one starts to meditate, although at first the entire proposition and the lone proposition are used mixed together, if one becomes versed in it, the entire proposition is burdensome. If one is familiar with it, the entire proposition enters totally into the lone proposition. Automatically it then becomes the lone proposition.


The essentials of investigation are thus:

    “Does a dog also have a Buddha-nature?”
    “No.”
    “Why say no?”
    “Why no?”
    “Why?”

Likewise with the hwadu, “What is it?” (i-mwot-go)


“What is that fellow who eats, wears clothes, talks, looks and hears, the governor who is bright and numinous whenever and wherever?”
“It is not mind, not Buddha, not a single thing. What is it?”
“Before my parents were born, what is my original face?”
“What is the fellow who pulls along this lump of a body?”


For the hwadu, “What is this?” one should select just one of the various hwadu above and it may create doubt. If one tries to expand it by just one more, when one takes up the hwadu through the entire proposition, one must take up only one entire proposition. Of course there are no differences of superiority or inferiority between these entire propositions. One should select only one and earnestly take it up. A possible tip for practicing a hwadu is, when one takes up “What is it?”, one must give rise to doubt, while making ‘this’ (i) slightly long, mentally that the fellow who is doing the ‘this’ is ‘what?’. Or, although it is a bit vague, one would lengthen and sophisticate the doubt by making the hwadu lengthened like ‘this (i) – what (mwot) – is (go)?’. The essential though is to have it earnestly. If one must make the entire proposition, this must become simple not become the source of delusion.


When doubt does not emerge well, one takes up the entire proposition again and again, one (asks) “What is the fellow that moves this body?” and there is no other clever plan but to endlessly take up hwadu. Endlessly, one must enter into them earnestly and intensely.


If one tries to investigate hwadu in this way, one must have an extremely earnest mind. Just as in a desert, feeling thirsty one only thinks of water. A birth mother who sends her only sons to the warfront, day and night thinks of her children. Likewise, one must have a mind of urgency that investigates only one hwadu. Such an urgent mind occurs when one stakes one’s entire life on it. If one tries to take up the hwadu this earnestly, one day suddenly a genuine doubt occurs, and the hwadu vividly manifests itself in front of one. At such a time the mind internally becomes calm, and the illusions of frustrations also automatically disappear.


In truly devoting one’s life and proceeding by controlling it thought by thought, this study has difficulties. If one completely believes that one is originally Buddha and does not look forward or back, since I have departed from the same conditions as all teachers of the past, and so I also am diligent, it is sure that I will be thoroughly and greatly enlightened (hwakcheol daeo), and can see the nature and become Buddha. With this thorough faith, one must vigorously advance in practice.

How must one polish one’s own practice in the Seon cloister?

Takma (polishing) means the grinding and polishing of a precious stone. No matter how beautiful the gem, if the rough stone is not polished, the bright light cannot shine forth. From the past in Seon cloisters the practitioners polished their study without rest, and having tallied with their place of the original share of enlightenment, they valued greatly the process leading to enlightenment.


The Buddha also reproached practitioners for gathering and idly gossiping, and said one must not talk unless it is about study. And he said one should rather constantly gather together and talk about the Dharma. Practitioners must have the attitude of polishing and refining one’s own capacity for the Dharma endlessly just as the Buddha said.


Seon Master Weishan Lingyou said in his Weishan jingce, “Since heads face each other and noisily clamor about the trivial worldly affairs and they only seek pleasure in that at that time, they do not know that will be a cause of distress and the ending of pleasure.”


Therefore, monastic practitioners, not only in Seon cloisters that vigorously practice, but also in the Seon cloisters of lay Buddhists, must establish an atmosphere for mutual polishing.


Although it is most desirable that Seon practitioners receive teaching and examination from teachers, in some circumstances, companions of the Way, while talking of the Way with each other must advance towards the correct Dharma and put in order that attitude of mind.


If one reads the Chanyuan qinggui, one can know that a tradition of the school styles of Patriarchal Seon was a climate of mutual dialogue concerning the Dharma among the companions of the Way. If practitioners foster an atmosphere in which the companions of the Way polish (their practice), in being humble towards each other, they must have a mental attitude that suggests good ideas to the companions of the Way and for inspecting their own study.


The Seon cloister is a place where practitioners gather to fully practice meditation. In particular, the Seon cloisters of Korea are practice places of the valued Ganhwa Seon, which possesses a distinctive Seon style difficult to find in other cultural spheres. This style is one of receiving a hwadu from a master and investigating it. In Seon cloisters, practitioners who have a long history of practice are called gucham (old practitioners) and those who do not have much of a history are called sincham (new practitioners). Although there are no exact criteria for dividing long-term practitioners from new practitioners, normally in the Seon room a gucham must have accumulated the practice experience from completing retreats over twenty-five years or more. Even lay persons are not generally excluded from this.


The roles of long-term practitioners are very important. In circumstances where one cannot quickly receive guidance concerning all sorts of problems that appear in the course of practicing Seon from a clear-eyed teacher in the vicinity, the new practitioners therefore have no option but to depend on the long-term practitioners. Long-term practitioners must be models for other practitioners in doing the very best and always think of the valuable Dharma of the Buddha. They have to display the characteristics of a correct practitioner and be an exemplar for the new practitioners, and through such practice they must receive the respect and trust of new practitioners.


There is one point that one must be careful of in polishing. If one tries to polish in circumstances where one does not know the path of study operating between the practitioners, it can disturb the correct views one has established and emotional opposition can arise. Because study is a very exact and deep progress, if there is the slightest error, subtle differences in interpretation can emerge. At such times, the brewing of trouble and opposition through excessive attachment to one’s own opinions is not the proper behavior of a practitioner who must establish correct views. Moreover, that being so, if one avoids polishing and exchange idle chat, that cannot make one a genuine practitioner.

Can long-term practitioners supervise? Are there no other methods?

It is proper that one must receive supervision and examination of practice from a teacher. It is ideal and desirable that the Seon director of the monastery and Seon cloister or the monks who are masters in the lineage play this role. From the past the Seon director or the monks who are masters in the lineage have played this role, and finally they gave the seal of approval of the enlightenment.


In Korea also, the role of the master in the lineage until modern times has continued to some extent, but currently it is a reality that there are many places where people practice without a Seon director or master in the lineage. Because of that, according to the situation, one can also receive supervision from a long-term practitioner who has supervisory capabilities. Even though one definitely has not the supervision of a person such as a teacher, if one lives venerating an excellent long-term practitioner monk, the direct and indirect influence one receives is great. In particular, beginning practitioners can hear much beneficial advice from them.


In relation to this, Seon Master Wuzu Fayan said the following in his Songzi xingjue fayu (Dharma words sending off the pilgrim):

    If among the assembly there are long-term Seon monks or companions on the Way who can select the Dharma, always request them for their teaching, and if not, if one sees the words that the patriarchal monks have studied, this is the same as personally seeing the patriarch.

The long-term Seon practitioners who can supervise Seon must have the insightful eye that can select the Dharma. If they have that insightful eye, the long-term practitioner monk or the heads of the Seon cloisters can be shown one’s own study and one can receive guidance from them. But in reality, when it is difficult to meet a teacher who can give the seal of approval of one’s study and who can discern the Dharma-opportunity and supervise one’s meditation, one can consider the following plan.


One must properly manage and prepare a guide that can examine one’s study. In circumstances where this is impossible, and when one cannot find a teacher, there is a method that prepares a plan that can examine one’s own study by oneself. That is by depending on the guide books of practice or the recorded sayings of the patriarchs.

Can one question when the master in the patriarchal lineage lectures?

Each single rule that the assembly practicing in a Seon cloister must keep and practice is made clear in the Chanyuan qinggui. The first person in Seon School history to have opened a specialist Seon practice monastery was Baizhang Huaihai (749-814) and he made the Chanyuan qinggui for it. Therefore these pure regulations are called the Baizhang qinggui. However, that Baizhang qinggui is currently lost, but instead the Chanmen guishi written by Yang Yi remains, and so we can see one aspect of those pure regulations. They are also called the Guqinggui (Old Pure Regulations).

The Chanmen guishi states as follows concerning the guidance of the assembly by the elders of the time and the role played by the masters in the lineage then:

    All the assembly of the monastery question in the morning and must gather in the evening. When the elders go up the Dharma-hall and lecture, the assembly involved in livelihood etcetera, and the practitioner assembly all line up and be seated, and lend their ears and must listen to that Seon sermon. The guest and the host who question and reply, and dig out the tenets of the lineage all indicate that they live according to the Dharma. (Chanmen guishi)

When Seon monasteries were first made in China, the Master in the lineage (josil; at that time, the abbot or the elders), had the Seon monks undertake the minor (individual) consultation lectures morning and night, and at fixed times they went up to the hall and gave lectures. In this way, while conducting the lectures, the master in the lineage accomplishes the Seon dialogue and the promotion of the Dharma, and through this process examines each and every person’s study.

The form of the question

So then, does the master of the lineage when lecturing give permission for questions? The content of the lecture and its form is not fixed. Even further, the person who gives the sermon in revealing his own vivid Seon opportunity is not limited to any form. Because the master is free in showing the Dharma, the students also do not need to be restricted by form. When he meets with a student who candidly reveals his own Seon opportunity, the master rather can dynamically develop his own teaching.

For the master, although the lecture is the place where he reveals the scenery of the original location of a proper lineage master that matches the student’s ability, for the students it is also where his study is examined and the dialogue in which the seal of approval is received. Therefore there is a need to actively question the master. But there are points of caution.
First, one must question in conformity with the rules.
Second, one must ask in conformity with the time.
Third, one must achieve one’s own genuine interpretations.

The mental attitude of a practitioner seeking a teacher

The mental attitude of the practitioner

For a practitioner beginning mental resolution, the seeking of an excellent teacher and coming to know an excellent teacher was truly important. But even more important was the attitude and determination of the practitioner who was seeking the teacher. The important moral element that the practitioner has to possess is the believing mind and mental resolution, and the spirit of forgetting the body for the Way, discarding the body and mind for enlightenment.

The practitioner must give rise to a great mental resolution to be enlightened on the basis of the firm belief that one is originally the Buddha. Without this basic condition, the sincere mind that has to seek out a teacher will not arise. In the state of non-mental resolution, the consultation of teachers all over will just be as the words say, nothing more than bowing to the teachers, and it will be difficult to face one’s lot as a wandering practitioner all alone.

Let us look at the story of the second patriarch of the Seon lineage, Seon Master Huike, personally seeing his master, Bodhidharma, as introduced in the Zutangji.

When Huike lived in his village he studied Confucianism and Taoism for a long time. But his mind was not at ultimate repose, and to obtain that peace of mind he sought out the patriarch Bodhidharma who was facing a wall at Shaolin Monastery. At first Bodhidharma would not listen to the entreaty of the monk Huike who asked to be made a disciple. Even though he made the request a number of times, the patriarch wordlessly just gazed at the wall, was silent and did not reply.

The time was December, winter, and so the snow fell in sheets. Huike stood in the courtyard and begged, but he did not hear a single word asking him to come in. The snow kept falling until it was about to reach Huike’s knees. When it was deep in the night, the lower half of Huike’s body was buried in the snow. But even so he kept his hands together in obeisance and just stood. He did not retire. And only then did Bodhidharma look around at Huike and let out a word.
“What do you seek that you have come here?”
“What I seek is you, Master. Please open wide the gate of ambrosia (of the teaching) and save this sentient being.”
Patriarch Bodhidharma said, “The supreme enlightenment of the Buddha is the fruit of hard practice over many eons. You, with a trivial intention wish to hear this greatest of teachings.”
So Huike, with the guidance he had, cut off his own left arm and took it to the patriarch. He was showing his determination in forgetting his body for the Dharma by discarding (a part of) his own body. As soon as he did this, Bodhidharma accepted Huike as a disciple.
“When the Buddha and the bodhisattvas sought the Dharma they did not consider the body as a body. Now since you have cut off your arm and shown your faith, you are worthy to seek the Dharma.”
Huike asked, “My mind is not at ease. By all means, please put my mind at ease.”
The patriarch replied, “Bring that uneasy mind to me and I will calm your mind for you.”
“Even though I seek the mind, I cannot find it.”
“If you cannot find it, how can that be your mind? I have already calmed your mind.”
Hearing these words, Seon Master Huike then and there was greatly enlightened.

In order to seek the Dharma from his master, Seon Master Huike showed the enlightened awareness he had treasured by cutting off his arm. Until he even cut one arm off, from where would the mind to seek the Way that forgot the body for the Dharma have emerged so that he could become a pupil? That emerged of course from the earnest desire to seek the original face of his mind. The passion to seek the Dharma does not even take into account the question of living or dying. Similarly, through an earnest desire, Seon Master Huike staked his life and sought the then teacher, Bodhidharma. After confirming the mental attitude that he kept, Bodhidharma permitted him to become a disciple and gave him instruction, and he was immediately enlightened then and there.

How should a practitioner receive a teacher?

A master for a practitioner has a very different meaning than a worldly master has. The master of a practitioner, being a person who directs the student’s whole life, is an object of devotion to whom the student must commit his whole life and receive him on that basis. And so the object that empties us of our form of self genuinely is only the master. If one thinks on this point that the master is right and on that point I am correct, such a master cannot play a role of a true master.

Sometimes, because of a long accumulated bad karma, one only sees the master’s failings as major, and is disappointed. If then one criticizes him that is an error. For example, just as when the moon is bright one cannot see the stars in the night sky, so likewise if the faith is deep, the mind that sees the failings of the master completely disappears. Therefore, when one comes to see the master’s faults, one must consider that one’s own faith is insufficient. In this sense, the student must be honest with himself. While looking back regarding oneself, and while shedding light impartially and fairly again and again on one’s own mental resolution, one must have a mind of humility endlessly.

Meditators who study Seon must stake their whole life on the master they have selected for themselves. Once one has made a selection, one must have an attitude of pushing on until the end. Of course, the master must be a clear-eyed lineage master who has correct knowledge and views. Even if he is not a clear-eyed lineage master, one must venerate as a master a person whose practice and life, words and actions are at one. The practitioner must believe in and follow that master. Once one has come to accept the master’s guidance, one must serve the master with an absolutely humble mind that has put aside egotism and subjectivity from within one. This study develops as far as one believes.

Meeting with a good teacher

A good master is called a seonjisik (teacher/one of good knowledge). A teacher is like a boatman who ferries one across a river or a guide who leads one along strange roads. If one tries to go on an unfamiliar and strange road, one can come across unexpectedly steep or windy paths, or sheer precipices and rough waters. The road of seeking the way to enlightenment is the same. If one tries to practice, one encounters various favorable and unfavorable environs, and at such times one needs a clear-eyed master, a teacher.

Seon Master Boshan Wuyi (1574-1630) describes the meeting with a teacher in his Canchan jingyu as follows:

The teacher is like a fabulous doctor who nimbly cures severe illnesses, and is like a great donor who can give to his heart’s content. A practitioner must never have the attitude of being completely satisfied with his own study and not try to meet a teacher. If one is captured by one’s own opinions and do not try to seek a teacher, there will be a great illness in one’s Seon practice, and so one must clearly know there is no worse illness than this. (Canchan jingyu 19).

Even though born as a careful person and having encountered the Buddha-dharma, if that person has no master to guide him towards enlightenment, that practitioner, even if he has ended all the sufferings, not only can he not reach his destination, but also if he makes the slightest error, he can lose his life before he can reach his destination. Therefore, although it is the same with other practices, in the practice of Seon especially one must meet a good teacher and enter through the correct path so that one can be enlightened.

If one reads Seon recorded sayings, many processes in which the student meets with a teacher and is awakened are introduced. The meeting of the Seon master and the practitioner, as it is the point that is linked to the enlightenment, at times achieves the core stage of Seon practice.

The Sixth Patriarch Huineng tossed up the question, “Do not think of good; do not think of evil. Just then, what is your original face?” at the monk Huiming who was chasing after him. Hearing these words, Huiming was enlightened then and there and became Huineng’s disciple, and he changed his Dharma name to Daoming.

The role of a good master, an excellent teacher, is so important. Practitioners of meditation must believe in and depend on the teacher.

The generations of Seon masters have investigated the hwadu given by their masters, and when their bodies and minds had become a mass of doubt, when they met a certain opportunity, they were enlightened. Here the most important thing is said to be the master making the practitioner produce an earnest doubt. Without solving the problem one gives rise to an unendurable, burning thirst and is made to take up the hwadu. Therefore Seon Master Xiangyan was moved to tears, saying, “Master, the kindness you have given to me surpasses that from my parents.” Seon Master Linji, who venerated two masters, Huangbo and Dayu, and was enlightened by them, in this way stressed this kindness:

At a blow of Dayu’s staff I entered the realm of the Buddha. This deep kindness, even if my bones were ground up for a hundred eons and my body broken, and I bore Mt Sumeru on my head round and round, would be difficult to repay. (Zutangji).

If one cannot meet a good master

If one cannot meet a good teacher despite much effort, one must cherish the earnest thought of establishing the motivation to seek a teacher. If one does not change one’s mind about earnestly seeking a master, then at some time one will meet a good master. Monks in the past, without knowing who is a teacher and who is a person (seeking) the Way, made a vow to earnestly find a teacher, and so constantly confessed that at a certain decisive moment they were able to meet a teacher.

There also were practitioners who venerated the life of the Buddha and the Dharma of the Buddha as their master and proceeded on the path of seeking the Way. The life of the sons of the Buddha and the life of practitioners is to actualize the life of the Buddha. For that reason, practitioners had definite criteria that they had to follow in the career of the Buddha and his thought.

If it is difficult to discover a good master around one, the fall-back policy is possible by depending on masters of the past. In recent times, besides reading the recorded sayings, because now one can hear the physical voice of lectures recorded on tape, one can by oneself endlessly excite the indignation and initiation of mind through such Seon lectures.

The most important thing the practitioners have to rely on is not humans, it is the Dharma, and it is the kernels of what those words convey, and not the discriminative knowledge of cleverness, but the clear and transparent wisdom. And no matter who sees it, one must depend on the words of the universally valid and true scriptures as some criteria for understanding. When one looks at it in this way, beginning with the essential digest scripture in Seon, the Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch, only the various recorded sayings of the patriarchal teachers are proper.

What should be done when there is no teacher around to examine one?

When there is no proper master in the vicinity, one must seek a bright-eyed master no matter how far away. In the past, practitioners left on distant paths to find a teacher.

Korean monks also were willing to go over distant paths to find a teacher. Among Gyeongheo’s students there was a Seon Master Suwol. He practiced the Way at Cheonuen-sa Monastery on Mt Chiri (near south coast), and to find his master Gyeongheo, over a number of years he pursued his master and found him in the northernmost border region.

Again, in order to personally see Seon Master Suwol, who had a high reputation as a teacher at that time, the eminent monk of modern Korean Buddhism, Seon Master Geumo (1896-1968), was willing to travel over dangerous roads to distant Manchuria. This is because only a teacher can lead one well on the path of study. And so they went over distant roads and were willing to travel far in their search. Of course, for lay people it is the same. In order to encourage one’s mental resolution and to examine one’s study, one must have the proper guidance through the negotiation with the teacher.