Keeping the Precepts Is Genuine Purity

(Given at a Precepts Ceremony, T’ongdo-sa Monastery, September, 1981)

The Precepts are so fundamentally and eternally pure and spotless that you could not fully transmit their greatness if you painted them across the endless sky. They are so perfect that if the entire universe crumbled into powder, these supreme Precepts would remain indestructible.

You should all be totally content, since there is no difference whatsoever between the virtuous in paradise and those suffering ceaselessly in hell. How mysterious and marvelous that everything is absolutely equal, evenly tranquil, and blindingly brilliant!

The Buddhas of the universe could spend the rest of eternity trying to explain this, but to no avail. It is only through the great psychological death and rebirth of enlightenment that you can see this for yourself. And then you will suddenly awaken to see red flowers brilliantly blooming from steel trees and tremendous fire pouring out of mountains of ice. Even the Buddha and the Zen predecessors flee from such a sight, while insects and microbes sing praise of this transcendental landscape.

Life, death and enlightenment are but dreams in a dream. The spotlessness of temples and the filth of the mundane world are but false flowers of the eyes. There is only the free-flowing peace of the One Great Way, and we are always bursting with exuberance that shoots up through the skies.

Take care of yourselves, and make courageous progress. Open up Wisdom’s Eye, and confirm for yourself the supremacy of the Precepts.

The Correct Path of Seon

From 1st Journal of White Lotus Buddhist Studies(JWBS), 1991

This text is composed of essentials specially excerpted directly by Venerable Master Seongcheol from his previously published Seonmun Jeongno (Correct Path of Seon) plus supplementary explanations related to the practice (gongbu) of hwadu.

“There is not a single sentient being that does not possess the wisdom of the Tathagata, but because of their attachments to delusions they cannot realize (this wisdom). So if they can lose the delusions, all will have natural wisdom and unhindered wisdom revealed to them.” (80 fascicle Huayan jing [Avatamsaka Sutra], 50 )

Comment: The wisdom of the Tathagata means the Buddha-nature, and so if one discards the delusions that conceal the Buddha-nature, the Buddha-nature automatically appears.

“All sentient beings have the Buddha-nature, but because it is covered over by defilements, they do not know and do not see it.” (Daniepan jing [Mahaparinirvana Sutra], fascicle 7)

“The thus-so Buddha-nature can only be known by a Buddha.” (Daniepan jing [Mahaparinirvana Sutra], fascicle 7)

“The anuttara-samyak-sambodhi (supreme, correct enlightenment/awareness) is achieved due to seeing the nature.” (Daniepan jing [Mahaparinirvana Sutra], fascicle 7)

Comment: Since the Buddha-nature can only be seen by a Buddha who has eliminated all delusions, this is the supreme, correct awareness.

“The arhats do not see the Buddha-nature.” (Daniepan jing [Mahaparinirvana Sutra], fascicle 27)

“Even though a bodhisattva has reached the tenth (of the ten stages), that bodhisattva still does not clearly see or know the Buddha-nature.” (Daniepan jing [Mahaparinirvana Sutra], fascicle 8)

Comment: A bodhisattva, even at the tenth of the stages, still cannot clearly see the Buddha-nature because subtle delusions remain.   Needless to say this also applies to arhats.

“Even though one profoundly believes that sentient beings all share the same true nature, because that is covered by adventitious contaminants, it cannot be completely visible. If one can discard the delusions and return to the true (nature), because one is calm and has nothing to do that is called entry into principle.” (Bodhidharma, Sixinglu)

Comment: This is seen in the Dunhuang texts etcetera, and so is recognized as being the personal teaching of Bodhidharma.

“Although the myriad Dharmas are all present in the self-nature, being covered by the floating clouds of false thoughts, the self-nature cannot be elucidated. If one has blown away the illusory falsities, inside and outside are completely clarified and the myriad Dharmas will all be visible in the self-nature.” (Dunhuang Platform Sutra)

Comment: “Inside and outside are completely clarified” is just like when the Buddha lit a light inside a glass bottle, the inside and outside were bright, which was called marvelous awareness.
“When in the space of a moment false thoughts are all extinguished, and inside and outside are completely clarified, one recognizes that one’s own original mind is itself liberation, which is no-thought.” (Platform Sutra)

Comment:  The popularly circulating Platform Sutra writes, “People who see the nature are also the same as this.” Since ‘inside and outside are completely clarified’ and ‘immediate cultivation, no-thought’ are contents shared by the Dunhuang and popular Platform Sutra texts, these are the fundamental thought of the Sixth Patriarch expressed unchanged in the Platform Sutra. That is, if inside and outside are completely clarified, and if one sees the nature and delusions have all been removed, that is called no-thought. Since a fundamental principle of Buddhism is that the ending of delusions is seeing the nature, the words of the Buddha and patriarchs do not contradict this.

“When one has completed the bodhisattva stages and has distanced oneself from the subtle false thoughts, since one can see the nature of the mind it is called ultimate awareness.” (Qixinlun [The Mahayana Awakening of Faith])

“When the false mind is extinguished, the Dharmakaya (Body of the Law) will be clearly visible.” (Qixinlun [Awakening of Faith])

Comment: Since the Dharmakaya is the body of the Dharma-nature, this means that is the same as the Buddha-nature.

“If one removes and extinguishes ignorance one will see the original Dharmakaya.” (Qixinlun [Awakening of Faith])

“The Buddhas and Tathagata are simply the Dharmakaya.” (Qixinlun [Awakening of Faith])

Comment: The Awakening of Faith is a recognized summation of Mahayana Buddhism. Ultimate awareness in which all delusions have been removed is called seeing the nature. This agrees with the words of the Buddha and patriarchs.

“In the stage of no pollution of the diamond-like samadhi (vajra-upama-sam?dhi) that is the final mind (state) of the tenth stage, the mental thoughts of the subtle force of habit are all eliminated. Therefore it is said (that at this stage) one can see the nature of the mind.” (Xianshou Fazang, Qixinlun yiji [Notes on the Meaning of the Awakening of Faith], T44.268c)

Comment: The authoritative doctrinal scholar Xianshou also says that at the tenth stage that the subtle delusions must be eliminated before one sees the nature.

“The saints of the tenth stage preach that the Dharma is like clouds rising or rain falling, and that seeing the nature is like (seeing) with ones eyes covered over by fine gauze.” (Yunmen, Jingde chuandenglu 19)

“Just like a clear-eyed person who (sees) all the masses of material objects (with his eyes) covered by light gauze, the bodhisattva of the ultimate stage likewise sees all percepts. Just like a clear-eyed person who has no obstructions (sees) all the masses of material forms, the Tathagata sees all percepts likewise.” (Yujialun 50)

Comment: As even the bodhisattva of the ultimate and tenth stage has remaining subtle delusions, they do not see the nature.

“The enlightened person immediately cultivates. The self-nature is immediately cultivated.” (Platform Sutra)

Comment: These lines of the Dunhuang Platform Sutra are expressed in the popular Platform Sutra version as, “The deluded person gradually tallies, the enlightened person immediately cultivates. Immediate enlightenment and immediate cultivation likewise have no stages,” and so (these two versions) are unanimous in advocating immediate cultivation. This shared advocacy of immediate cultivation in the Dunhuang and popular versions of the Platform Sutra is a fundamental teaching of the Sixth Patriarch. The Sixth Patriarch did not propose gradual cultivation after enlightenment.

“As immediate enlightenment and immediate cultivation does not produce a single thought, it has terminated both before and after.” (Zongmi, Chanyuan zhuquanji duxu).

“If false thoughts are all completely extinguished, wipe away the place of elimination also.” (Record of Consulting Seon, in Taegorok)

Comment: Although one has eliminated all false thoughts, if one remains at the place of elimination that is the great death that cannot come to life. And so only when one has abandoned even the state of having eliminated all false thoughts is one properly enlightened.

“Anybody who does not produce a single thought and who has terminated before and after, will immediately be enlightened and immediately cultivate, immediately terminate and immediately realize, and will have no stages.” (Seosanjip 4)

Comment: The import of the immediate enlightenment of ‘immediate enlightenment with gradual cultivation’ and ‘immediate enlightenment with immediate cultivation’ is fundamentally different. The immediate enlightenment of gradual cultivation is the defilements and delusions left as they are, and the gradual cultivation is the removal of delusions. The immediate enlightenment of immediate cultivation is the great no-mind in which not even a single thought is produced, and so there is no need to remove delusions, which is called immediate cultivation.

Bojo’s immediate enlightenment is leaving delusions as they are, which he called the starting (mind) of the ten faiths [the first of the ten stages of the bodhisattva career]. The Sixth Patriarch’s immediate enlightenment is the inside and outside completely clarified of marvelous awareness, which he called the no-thought of the Buddha-stage. These two contradict each other. The correct-eyed lineage masters of the Seon School all passed beyond the non-production of a single thought, and since none (of them) lacked no-thought, therefore Bojo’s starting (mind) of the ten faiths that advocated leaving delusions as they are does not even have relative value. However, we must note that even though one has reached (the state of) not producing a single thought, if one remains with the non-production of a single thought that is a great death that cannot come to life and is not called seeing the nature.

“Fada was greatly enlightened at a word and said himself, ‘Hereafter every moment I shall practice the Buddhist practice.’ The Master said, ‘The Buddhist practice is the Buddha.’” (Dunhuang Platform Sutra)

Comment: As immediate enlightenment is the stage of the Buddha, this means that gradual cultivation after enlightenment is not necessary. The practice of the Buddha is the practice of immediate cultivation and perfect realization.

“Each one of our six generations of masters said, ‘Decisively and directly enter, and directly see the nature.’ They did not speak of stages or gradual. Those who would learn the Way should immediately be enlightened and gradually cultivate.” (Shenhui yiji 3)

Comment: As there was much immediate cultivation thought in the Shenhui yiji, Hu Shi declared that Shenhui had spoken of immediate cultivation. But Shenhui, while saying that the Chan/Seon School was immediate cultivation, on the other hand advocated gradual cultivation. Therefore the founding patriarch of gradual cultivation could be none other than Shenhui.

“First one should immediately be enlightened, and only then should one cultivate gradually. This refers to enlightenment through understanding. Therefore the Huayan (jing) preaches that ‘when the mind is initially determined (for enlightenment), that is achieving the correct awareness.’ And after that the three sagely and ten saintly (stages of the bodhisattva career) are successively cultivated and realized.” (Zongmi, Chanyuan zhuquanji duxu, Ji-nul, Jeolyo)

“One first enters the stages of the ten faiths after enlightenment.” (Zongmi, Chengxitu, Jeolyo)

Comment: ‘Successively cultivate the three sagely and ten saintly (stages)’ are evidently the words of doctrinal scholars, and so to call this (teaching an) advocacy of the Seon School of the separate transmission outside of the doctrine is ridiculous.

“Even though one is immediately enlightened that one’s self-nature is originally empty and quiescent, the adventitious contaminants and defilements are no different to what they were before.” (Ji-nul, Susimgyeol)

Comment: While the Buddha and the patriarchs said that the ultimate awareness of the great ground of no-mind is seeing the nature, Bojo said that the starting (mind) of the ten faiths that is no different to the preceding defilements and delusions is seeing the nature. Therefore this (claim) is fundamentally a violation of the words of the Buddhas and patriarchs.

“Turn back the light in a single thought and see one’s own basic nature. That nature-ground is the nature of the wisdom that lacks outflows [insight unstained by defilements], which is something one was originally fully provided with, and which is not in the slightest degree different to that of all the Buddhas. There it is called ‘immediate enlightenment.’”

“Although one is enlightened that the basic nature is no different to the Buddha, the beginning-less force of habit (means) it is ultimately difficult to remove immediately. Therefore, through cultivation that is dependent on enlightenment, one should long nurture the fetus of the saint (Buddha), and after a long time one becomes the saint. Therefore I say (one should) cultivate gradually.” (Susimgyeol)

Comment: Although Bojo said that the starting (mind) of the ten faiths that is no different to the preceding defilements and delusions is seeing the nature, that is not the seeing the nature (spoken of by) the Buddha and patriarchs.

“After enlightenment one should examine and reflect for a long time, and even if false thoughts suddenly arise, one should not follow them at all, but discard them and again discard them till one comes to (where) there is nothing more to be done in discarding (wuwei), which is to be at the point of the ultimate. The excellent teachers of the world herd the oxen [mind/thought] after enlightenment.” (Susimgyeol)

Comment: In the Mahayana sutras, the Avatamaska and the Mahaparinirvana, the Buddha says that the stage of the Buddha where delusions are all ended is seeing the nature, and that there is no need for further cultivation thereafter. In the Platform Sutra the Sixth Patriarch speaks in detail of inside and outside completely clarified as seeing the nature. He did not speak of further cultivation. Even in the oldest text, the Dunhuang version, one cannot find ideas about gradual cultivation.

Bojo said that the ten faiths that overlay the delusions are the seeing of the nature, and that the removal of the delusions is gradual cultivation. One can see that this contradicts the words of the Sixth Patriarch. To the extent that one says that the ten faiths that lie layer upon layer over the delusions are the seeing of the nature, to that extent one is wrong. (To the extent that one says that) one must not leave the delusions as they are, that inevitably means that naturally one pursues gradual cultivation. And thus one must know that this idea of gradual cultivation is clearly that of the doctrinal scholars and not that of the Seon School.

“In the idea of doctrine, immutability and adaptability to conditions, immediate enlightenment and gradual cultivation have a fore and after [temporal succession]. In the Seon Dharma, during one thought/moment, immutability and adaptability to conditions, nature and attribute, substance and function, are fundamentally simultaneous.”

Comment: These are words in Seosan’s Seonga gugam, which says that immediate enlightenment and gradual cultivation are the ideas of doctrinal scholars and not those of the Seon School.

“Of those who now mistakenly receive the meaning of Seon, some regard the gate (method) of immediate (enlightenment) and gradual (cultivation) to be the correct genealogy, and (some) regard the teaching of perfect immediacy to be the vehicle of the school, so how can I dare to speak of their errors in slandering the Dharma?” (Seon gyo gyeol)

Comment: Since the ideas of immediate enlightenment with gradual cultivation and perfect immediacy and the understanding through faith are those of the doctrinal scholars and not those of the Seon School, the mistaken assertion that this is an idea of the Seon School was cautioned against by Seosan as a major error of slandering the Dharma. Moreover, these identical lines (of caution) appear in the Seonmun bojangrok.

“Heze (Shenhui) is a lineage master of intellectual understanding.”

Comment: Heze was the founding patriarch of immediate enlightenment with gradual cultivation, and Guifeng (Zongmi) continued to propagate this. Bojo also was a person who did the utmost to advocate the ideas of Heze and Guifeng, and Bojo at the start of his Jeolyo criticized Heze as a “lineage master of intellectual understanding.” That criticism was a major change in (Bojo’s) thought.

“But although this principle is perfectly marvelous, because it is totally interpreted through the affective mind and is determined through thinking, in the short-cut entrance [gate or method] that is the entrance of Seon, each single one is selected out as a disease of intellectual understanding.” (Ganhwa gyeoluiron)

Comment: Perfect immediacy and understanding through faith mean an intellectual understanding of the Buddha Dharma.

“Perfect immediacy and the understanding through faith are verbal teachings of reality that are as numerous as the sands of the Ganges River, but they are called dead words. Therefore they make people produce obstacles to understanding.”

Comment: Bojo himself fiercely criticized perfect immediacy and the understanding through faith that is immediate enlightenment with gradual cultivation as dead words, but even now, eight hundred years later that double of perfect immediacy with immediate and gradual are still advocated as belonging to the Seon School. That is something that cannot be comprehended.

“Persons who make manifest the realization of wisdom are presently rarely seen and rarely heard of. Therefore, just now one should value the elucidation of the correct knowledgeable views that are reliant on the gate [method] of investigating the meaning of the hwadu.” (Ganhwa gyeoluiron)

“At present the majority of those who destroy doubts investigate the meaning. Therefore they cannot investigate the words, and so are one with the gate of perfect immediacy and the elucidation of correct understanding.” (Ganhwa gyeoluiron)

“Investigation of the meaning is the dead words of perfect immediacy. This is because they have ideas about the paths of principle, of language, and of understanding through hearing.” (Seonga gugam)

Comment: Investigation of words means the part of live words that have ended language and thought. In the Ganhwa gyeoluiron, Bojo abandoned the dead words of perfect immediacy that he had advocated up till then, and tried to advocate live words, but in the final section of the Gyeoluiron, he ended it with a weak conclusion.

That is, while Bojo himself held that investigation of the meaning was the same as the gate of perfect immediacy, because he again returned to the dead words of perfect immediacy and encouraged it, Bojo’s fundamental thought is thus known to be perfect immediacy and understanding through faith, just as it was previously.

Because this directly contradicts the inside and outside completely elucidated and the immediate entrance and immediate cultivation spoken of in the Platform Sutra, in a Seon School that is the Dharma-heir of the Sixth Patriarch, this absolutely cannot be approved. Because this tells us that Bojo could not have had a coherent and fixed view, it was a theoretical contradiction that was nothing but suicidal. In the Seon School, the Platform Sutra is still a standard, and one must return to the live words section of inside and outside completely clarified, and enlightened entry and immediate cultivation.

“If one values the doctrinal teaching and makes light of Seon, even though one passes through endless time, one is still completely of the demonic host of heaven and is a non-Buddhist.” (Seon Gyo seok).

Comment: As this is the conclusion of the Seon Gyo seok written by Seosan, these are awesome words. If one advocates the teaching (doctrine) beneath the signboard of the Seon School, one is professing that one is a demon of heaven, a heretic who is not of the Buddha Dharma, which means Seosan is a truly excellent guide.

“If one directly uses the live words of the short-cut method to teach them, and has gained enlightenment oneself, then that is the style of a lineage master who teaches people. If he sees that a student cannot understand and drags him into the mire by preaching doctrine, he will blind the eyes of many people. If a lineage master violates this Dharmic rule, even though he preaches the Dharma, and even though the flowers fall down from heaven in profusion (in approval), all of this is a stupid madness of running to the outside.”

Comment: Because Seosan in his Gugam indicated that (the teaching of) being first enlightened and afterwards cultivating under the principles of understanding through faith and the practice of realization is that of doctrinal scholars, the gradual cultivation ideas of Bojo are evidently those of a doctrinal scholar and those of the Seon School. There is a world of difference between advocating that the starting (mind) of the ten faiths in which there is no difference with the pre-existing adventitious contaminants and defilements will be the immediate enlightenment to the self nature and that these delusions will then be removed by gradual cultivation, and advocating that in marvelous awareness all delusions will have disappeared, and that inner and outer are completely clarified and one enters by enlightenment and cultivates immediately [i.e. simultaneously].

In the Seon School one must sever off and discard the dead words of perfect immediacy. If one cannot end and discard the attachment to the dead words of perfect immediacy, one will be “in a stupid madness that runs to the outside” as Seosan so sternly taught, and one will be a follower of the school of intellectual understanding that is most taboo in the Seon School.

While Bojo allowed that one could only see the nature in the ultimate awareness in which all the defilements and delusions that conceal the Buddha-nature have all disappeared, Bojo also said that the starting (mind) of the ten faiths stage that was no different to the preceding adventitious contaminants and defilements is seeing the nature. Thus from the very start this opposed the principles of the Buddha and the patriarchs. Even while advocating gradual cultivation, Bojo criticized the founding father of gradual cultivation, Heze, as a master of the school of intellectual understanding, and he also said that one had to decisively discard ideas of gradual cultivation. Although there appears to have been an ideological about-face in his Gyeoluiron, in the final section of this work, because there is an advocacy of the investigation of the meaning of dead words as before, this was only a temporary change in his thought, and was not a fundamental about-face. This counters his efforts in arguing that one must not investigate dead words. It is a fact that Bojo did not abandon the dead words of perfect immediacy and understanding through faith. One must eliminate this mistaken idea and must observe the legacy of Seosan’s strict instruction about this being a “stupid madness that runs to the outside.”

“Even though one gradually reaches a (state in which) sleep and waking are one, one still needs the hwadu to not be divorced from one’s mind.” (Taegorok)

Comment: Even though one becomes (as if in a state in which) sleep and waking are the same during the investigation of the hwadu, one still has to make an effort in investigating the hwadu. This is the lifeline of the meditation monk.

“If one is a strong man, examine a gong’an [Jap. koan]. A monk asked Zhaozhou, ‘Does a dog also have the Buddha-nature?” Zhaozhou replied, ‘It does not.’ In the twenty-six hours (of the day) simply examine the character ‘does not have.’ Investigate it day and night, whether walking, standing, sitting or lying down. Pay attention to it mind after mind [thought by thought] continuously, fiercely concentrate the mind. If you do this for a long time, (the hwadu and the doubt) will become one lump, and suddenly the flower of the mind will blossom and one will have been enlightened to the secret (occasion) of the Buddha and patriarchs.” (Yunqi, Changuan ceqin)

“The evaluation says, ‘This was taken up in later ages as a gong’an and was the beginning of the examination of hwadu. One does not necessarily firmly grasp the character ‘does not have’ (mu), but should stick to one case (gong’an), such as the character ‘does not have’ or ‘Mt Sumeru’ or ‘having died, one is cremated,’ etcetera, with enlightenment made the object. Even though the doubted (hwadu) are not the same, the enlightenment cannot be different.” (Yunqi, Changuan ceqin)

Comment: The transmission by writing of the investigation of the gong’an began with Huangbo (Huaihai). Not just the character ‘does not have’, but any gong’an that one receives direction for, if investigated diligently is sure to definitely enlighten one, and so this is the most developed method of meditation in the Seon School.

“’Having fully attained the ten faiths, one still needs to observe the precepts. If one lacks the practice of the precepts that is like erecting a tower up in empty space. Do you still observe the precepts?’ He said, ‘I observe the five precepts.’ ‘From now on only examine the character “does not have” and do not consider whether it is this or that. One must not make interpretations as to whether it has (exists) or has not (does not exist). Moreover, do not examine the sutras, doctrine and recorded sayings etcetera. Just simply take up this character ‘does not have’ and throughout the day, whether sitting, standing, walking or lying down, one must be alert like a cat hunting mice or a hen brooding on an egg; there cannot be any interruption. Before one has attained lucid enlightenment, one cannot change (the hwadu). At times one can again whip up a doubt that says, “All sentient beings have the Buddha-nature, but why did Zhaozhou say they do not?”’” (Weishan)

“In making an effort, one must not just only be mindful of the gong’an. If you are examining the character ‘does not have’ then one should give rise to a feeling of doubt about that character ‘does not have’. If you are examining the ‘cypress tree’ then you should give rise to a feeling of doubt about the ‘cypress tree.’ If one is examining ‘where does one revert to?’ one should give rise to a feeling of doubt about it. Only if one can initiate and give rise to a feeling of doubt will all the worlds of every direction be just one ball of doubt.” (Boshan Jingyu)

“Should you have doubt about the gong’an to be originally investigated, with that great ball of doubt you are sure to have great enlightenment. The thousands and tens of thousands of doubts will mass together into one doubt so that one will be able to make a determination about that originally investigated gong’an.” (Mengshan Deyi)

“Movement and calm as one, alert whether asleep or awake, the hwadu appears, just like the moonlight in translucent water, even in lively and disturbed rapids. When the light strikes them it is not scattered, and when the (waters) are dissipated it is not lost, for inwardly it is quiescent and undisturbed, and outwardly it does not move even though shaken. If the ball of doubt is here destroyed, the correct eye will be opened.” (Mengshan Deyi)

“Our patriarch came from the West and simply offered up the direct pointing and regarded great enlightenment to be the entrance through the gate (of Seon). He did not discuss meditation and miraculous powers.” (Mengshan)

“Correct enlightenment is like being in the dark for a long time and then encountering the light, or like suddenly awakening from a great dream; if one realizes one, one realizes all, and there is no longer the slightest trace of the habits of hate, love, grasping and abandoning in one’s breast.” (Zhongfeng)

“It is like coming from a blackened room into the bright sunlight.” (Xueyan)

“The hallucination of life and death forever extinguished, the correct substance of the Diamond are also revealed, and once (enlightenment is) attained it is attained forever and there is no interruption to that.” (Yuanwu, Xinyao).

“Seeing the nature and becoming Buddha, once attained is attained forever. Possessing one’s own treasure store, one manages one’s own treasures, so how can there be an end to their use?” (Xinyao)

“The singular method of the examination of the word (ganhwa) is the best short-cut. ?amatha-vipa?yan? and samadhi-insight are naturally within it.” (Jin’gak)

“Just throughout the whole of the day, whether sitting, standing, walking or lying down, one must examine the hwadu only.” (Jin’gak)

Comment: Although Jin’gak was the leading pupil of the leader of gradual cultivation thought, Bojo, he did not advocate Bojo’s joint cultivation of samadhi and insight, but rather advocated ganhwa, and he compiled the Yeomsong, a fundamental scripture of ganhwa Seon.

“There is a type of person (who holds that) there is a bright and intelligent nature that reasons and knows, that sees and hears, and is a lord over the corporeal field of the five skandhas. If one is like this and is an excellent teacher, one cheats people greatly. Do you know this? Now I ask you, ‘If you acknowledge this bright intelligence as your true reality, why when you are profoundly asleep are you still not bright and intelligent? If when you are deeply asleep you are not so (bright and intelligent), you are (mistakenly) recognizing a bandit as one’s own offspring, which is the root of birth and death and the conditional production of delusion.’” (Xuanshalu, Jingde chuandenglu 18)

“This Dharma is not something that can be understood by deliberation and discrimination.” (Lotus Sutra)

“The Buddha said, ‘Those who learn my Dharma will know only by realization.” (Zongjinglu 22)

“Even though this mind is Buddha, only those who realize will know it.” (Chengguan, Jingde chuandenglu 30)

“The dharma-nature is only known by the realizing wisdom, there is no other realm (that can know it).” (Uisang, Beopseinggye)

Comment: In the Beopseongdo that Uisang composed there is verse called Uisang’s Beopseonggye. In it he wrote that the realizing wisdom is something that only a Buddha knows. Even though (the idea that) one does not know if it is not the realizing wisdom is an iron rule that is consistent with the Buddhas and patriarchs of Seon and Doctrine, as Bojo says that enlightenment through understanding in which the delusions are the same as before is seeing the nature, he must be truly rebelling against the Buddhas and patriarchs. Therefore his gong’an, in other words, the hwadu, as a deliberation and discrimination that is not realizing wisdom, absolutely does not know.

“One lamplight can remove the darkness of a thousand years; one wisdom can extinguish the stupidity of ten thousand years.” (Platform Sutra)

Comment: Yuanwu sharply warned his disciple, Dahui, that even though one has (achieved a state in which) sleep and waking are as one, once one dies one cannot come back to life, (and so) ‘Not having doubt in the hwadu is a major illness.’ The gong’an of past patriarchs cannot be known before sleep and waking are as one and inside and outside are completely clarified. And therefore before sleep and waking are as one and inside and outside are completely clarified, one must still devote one’s whole body and strength to the investigation of the hwadu. Sleep and waking as one and inside and outside completely clarified are absolutely impossible before (one achieves the state of) a single thought not produced. And a single thought not produced is immediate cultivation, and if there is no immediate cultivation then that immediate enlightenment is not seeing the nature. Bojo’s biggest error was in deciding that enlightenment through understanding, in which the adventitious contaminants and defilements are the same as they were before, is seeing the nature. Enlightenment through understanding in which the delusions remain as they are is not seeing the nature, and with this one absolutely cannot know the gong’an of the past patriarchs. If one gives rise to the disease that one knows in the midst of delusions while meditating, one’s efforts will never achieve (enlightenment). Therefore the disease of intellectual understanding is certainly the greatest of the diseases. And so, because Bojo recognized this to be seeing the nature, the harm he did to later people was tremendous. The theory that one sees the nature through enlightenment via understanding fundamentally destroyed the Seon School for this is the greatest cause that furthered the disease of intellectual understanding.

Therefore meditators absolutely must not give rise to the thought that they know before they achieve the real state of inside and outside completely clarified, and the no-mind no-thought that is spoken of in the Platform Sutra. If one catches this disease of the view of knowing, while posing as a teacher, by doing so one guides later students erroneously and also destroys ones self. This is a truly frightful thing. However, as long as one does not think that perfect realization and immediate realization are too difficult, and does not catch the disease of intellectual understanding, if one genuinely makes a strenuous effort, within three or four years one will attain inside and outside completely clarified and can be greatly enlightened. However, it is absolutely forbidden to think of making a business through the disease of enlightenment via understanding. People who make a vigorous effort do not sleep before midnight, do not talk in the meditation cloister, and do not look even at the writings of the scriptures and recorded sayings, and even though the summer (meditation) retreat has finished do not go wandering, and assuming that they are the Ananda of this age, only try to exert themselves in vigorous practice. They are sure to achieve numinous experiences. One must be convinced that one cannot know the gong’an of the ancients before one achieves inside and outside completely clarified. People who say that their effort (in hwadu) is not working but do not vigorously practice should remove the signboard of the disease of knowledgeable views and genuinely make a vigorous practice. They will be sure to gain a good result.

Not only do I repeatedly say it, but people of the past also said “not doing is not (the same as) being unable to do.” Provided one genuinely practices vigorously and still cannot succeed, since it is cautioned that one should even cut off one’s own head (in the effort), assume that one is not born into this world, put aside all affairs, produce a fiercely heroic mind, do not be deceived by vain dreams, and only request that one can genuinely practice vigorously. This is not a struggle between the (other) persons and myself (ego), but is daring to comment so that the Buddha-Dharma will endure.

Toeong Seongcheol

Great Seon Masters of Korean History

Toeong Seongcheol ( 1912 ~ 1993 )

Master Seongcheol, standing as one of the most influential Seon Masters in the history of modern Korean Buddhism, through his exhaustive Seon spirit and his easily understood dharma lectures, led the public to a deeper, broader, and popularized understanding of Seon Buddhism. His ordination name was Toeong and his dharma name Seongcheol.

Master Seongcheol was born in Sancheong-gun, Gyeongsangnam-do Province in 1912, the eldest son of an upstanding scholarly clan. His secular name was Yi Yeongju. During the early years of his life, he contemplated the fundamental questions of life, and though he read voraciously the profound philosophical and intellectual works that spanned history and cultures, he could bring no end to his anxiety. During this period, he read a book recommended by an elder monk, The Song of Enlightenment (Zhengdaoge) written by the early Tang Chan master Xianjue of Yongjia, and it brought about the opening of his mind’s eye. Following in this vein, he went to Daewonsa Monastery, and as a secular practitioner, he immersed himself in the investigation of the “MU” hwadu while practicing Seon meditation deep into the night. While moving or at rest, without exception he became absorbed within a state of “consistency of thought through movement or stillness” (dongjeong iryeo). Soon afterwards, while Master Seongcheol was practicing Seon meditation at the Toeseoldang Hall at Haeinsa Monastery, he decided to ordain, and in March 1936, at the age of 24, he was tonsured under Master Dongsan.

Following this, he served Master Yongseong and participated in retreats at various meditation halls (Seonwon) around the country, including Wonhyoam Hermitage at Beomeosa and Baengnyeonam Hermitage at Haeinsa. Then, in 1940, at the age of 28, he experienced a major awakening during the summer retreat in the Geumdang Seonwon at Donghwasa. After this awakening experience, he entered his famous eight-year long period of jangjwa burwa. Jangjwa bulwa refers to the practice of sitting for a long period of time while never lying down, specifically entering the lotus position of Seon meditation and remaining in that state with minimal interruption. Following this, in an effort to examine the state of his own awakening, he went on a wandering pilgrimage, and then in 1947 at the age of 35, with the attitude of “living like the Buddha’s dharma,” he founded an intensive practice community at Bongamsa. This community aimed at resuscitating the traditional regulations of Korean monastery system (chongnim) as well as the original spirit of the Korean Seon Buddhist lineage amidst the degradation inflicted under the Japanese colonial regime. Truly, it was through this association that the principles determining the modern shape of Korean Buddhism were established, and the monks who participated in this group would later become the representative figures of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism’s Seon spirit.

The inception of the Korean War in 1950 brought the dissolution of this association and Master Seongcheol once again began a pilgrimage participating in retreats at numerous meditation halls around the country. It was around this time, in a valley in front of Anjeong-sa Monastery in South Gyeongsangnam-do Province, that he constructed the Cheonjegul Grotto and led the believers who had come to see him in a practice of doing three-thousand prostrations. No matter who came to see him, young or old, business magnates or government officials, before he would do anything with them they first had to do three-thousand prostrations in front of the Buddha. The reason he ordered every one of his followers without exception to partake in this practice originated in the desire to get each of them to see themselves directly and to cultivate their minds to remove their own impurities. It was within the physical suffering felt in the knees and backs during the constant bending of the prostrations that this process could naturally take place. In 1955, at that age of 43, he went to Seongjeonam Hermitage at Pagyesa Monastery, where he used barbed wire to seal off the grounds of the hermitage and again entered a period of jangjwa burwa, abstaining completely from going outside for 10 years.

In 1967, he assumed the position of the first Patriarch of the Haeinsa Monastic Compound (Haein Chongnim) and he held dharma talks for the entire sangha of lay and monastic practitioners for 100 days. This was his famous “100 days Dharma Sermon.” During this period, he clarified that the truth of Buddhism was in the middle path between Seon and Gyo (doctrinal study), elucidated the traditional tenets of the Seon school with the teaching of “sudden enlightenment, sudden cultivation” (dono donsu) in addition to explaining that the truth of “neither arising, nor ceasing” (bulsaeng bulmyeol) was also proven within the constructs of atomic physics and quantum mechanics. Through this 100 days sermon, by using the Buddha’s “middle path” teaching, an idea representative of the grand achievement of the Buddha’s thinking, Master Seongcheol presented a new perspective on Buddhism to the Korean Buddhist society, no matter whether one followed the Seon or Gyo tradition.

In 1981, when he was at the age of 69, in assuming the role of the Seventh Patriarch of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism’, he raised interest in the secular world with his Buddhist phrase uttered at his inauguration, “Mountains are mountains and rivers are rivers,” and this phrase could even be heard on the lips of common folk around the nation. Even after his ascension to the position of Patriarch, he never left his abode in the mountains, and if one wanted to see him, regardless of one’s social status, one was still ordered to first do three-thousand prostrations, upon which he’d offer a dharma saying that shed light to the dim eyes of his guests.

In 1991, he was re-elected to his position, becoming the Eight Patriarch of the Jogye Order, and returned to Haeinsa where he would live a reclusive life until his passing into nirvana. There, he would encourage his practitioners to study diligently, yelling at them when they’d neglect to practice even a little bit: “Pay for your temple meal then, you thief!” Stubbornly persistent in living like this, as a mountain monk, he would finally enter into nirvana at the Toeseoldang on November 4, 1993. He was 81 years old and had spent 59 years in the sangha.

Master Seongcheol’s literary output is combined in the eleven volume compendium of his Buddhist sermons. This is comprised of the two volumes of his Baegil Beommun (100 Days Dharma Sermon), Seonmun Jeongno Pyeongseok (Commentaries on the True Path of the Seon Gate), Dono ipdoyo-munnon gangseol (Discourse on the Theory of the Essential Practice to Enter the Gate of Sudden Enlightenment), Sinsimmyeong Jeungdoga Gangseol (Discourses on the Xinxinming and the Zhengdaoge) , Yeongwonhan Jayu (Eternal Freedom), Jagi reul Baro Bopsida (Let’s Look at Ourselves Correctly), Donhwangbon Yukjo Dangyeong (The Dunhuang version of the Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch), Seonmun Jeongno (The True Path of the Seon Gate), Bonji Punggwang (The Natural Beauty of the Original State) and Hanguk Bulgyoeui Beommaek (The Dharma Lineage of Korean Buddhism),which traces the intellectual origin and lineage of the “sudden enlightenment, sudden practice” theory in Korean Buddhism. In a 1976 book, he made a proposal to then Patriarch Master Seo-ong to alter the charter of the Jogye Order, with the consistent emphasis that Taego Bou should be enshrined as the founder of the order. Beyond this, he wrote a book that picked out the most necessary Seon sayings for the practice of Seon, written in vernacular Korean in the 37 volume Seollim Gogyeong Chongseo (The Ancient Mirror of the Seon Grove)

Doctrinal Distinction
Master Seongcheol’s Seon thinking is best presented in the 100 days Dharma sermon he offered on his assumption to the position of the first Patriarch of the Haeinsa Monastic Compound (Haein Chongnim) in 1967. Through these sermons, Seongcheol organized a wide scattering of Buddhist doctrine, and in rectifying the lineage of the Jogye Order, he offered a new analysis of the core of the Seon school’s thought. These teachings can be largely summarized in three main points.

The first is the assertion that the Buddha’s theory of reincarnation was not simply an expedient means, but an established theory that we must believe in. Owing to the fact that samsara, the continuous flow of life and death in accordance with karma, is the most fundamental of Buddhist concepts, he said we must firmly believe in it.

Second is his assertion that Buddhism is a scientific religion. Using Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and his E=mc2 formula as examples, he explained the Buddhist saying of “form is emptiness, emptiness is form” in a logical manner. He noted that the idea that mass is converted to energy and energy to mass, both neither increasing nor decreasing, is a teaching of the Buddha stated explicitly as the “dharma realm,” and that the continued development of science has proven this to be a precise fact.

The third idea is the the Buddha’s teaching lies in the middle path. Like good and evil, mass and energy, flowing into oneness, every contradiction is harmonized into a singularity.

In addition, as Master Seongcheol ardently emphasized the teaching of “sudden enlightenment, sudden cultivation” (dono donsu), he criticized Master Jinul’s “sudden enlightenment, gradual cultivation” (dono jeomsu) teaching. He said that the “sudden enlightenment” of each respective teaching were actually not the same and that they stemmed from differing perspectives. To him, the enlightenment of “sudden enlightenment, gradual cultivation” was nothing but “learned knowledge,” and he labeled this as the type of awakening that could never lead to a genuine awakening. To put it another way, “sudden enlightenment, gradual cultivation” was a poor expression. If we wish to be precise, we should say “understanding and awakening, then gradual cultivation” (haeo jeomsu). It is clear then that the constant “gradual cultivation” practice meant to bring about an ultimate awakening was thus naturally something altogether different than that within the situation of “understanding and awakening” (haeo).

According to Master Seongcheol, he argued that though Master Bojo Jinul did advocate “sudden enlightenment, gradual cultivation” in his early work, his Jeoryo (Excerpts from the Dharma Collection and Special Practice Record), written immediately before his death, clearly states that the practice of “sudden enlightenment, gradual cultivation” corresponded to the teachings of the Gyo (doctrinal study) school and was not part of the Seon tradition.

Beyond this, Master Seongcheol noted also that the practice of Buddhist mass that is commonly thought of as something done for one’s own peace and profit, was something altogether different from the volunteer service done for others that is emphasized in the teachings of Mahayana Buddhism. Put simply, a “Buddhist mass” is nothing more than helping others, not just beating a wooden gong (moktak) asking to be given a long life and many blessings. Moreover, he said that a monastery is a place for teaching this “Buddhist mass,” not a place where the “Buddhist mass” is given. Therefore, he said that we needed to solve the mundane problems of our lives on our own and that “prayer” needed to be done for the sake of others, this being the “attitude of a true religious person.”