uddhism.org   Buddhist eLibrary

Buddhist News

Dharma Talks


Seon Masters

Buddhist Studies

Gateless Gate


Great Seon Masters of Korean History

Share |

Questions about Seon  

Question #1: What relationship does Seon meditation have with the lives people are living? In other words, even if people do not practice Seon, does it make any difference? If it does make a difference, then what is the danger in not practicing Seon meditation?
Answer #1: According to the words of Bodhidharma, ¡°The mind is none other than Buddha, Buddha is none other than the path of enlightenment, the path of enlightenment is none other than Seon.¡± Accordingly, that which is called Seon is nothing more than the mind of sentient beings.
Generally speaking, there are said to be two classifications of the mind of sentient beings. First, there is the pure mind and second is the contaminated mind. The contaminated mind is the mind of 'ignorance and the three poisons of greed, ignorance and hatred' (mumyoung samdok) while the pure mind is the uncontaminated ¡°true thusness¡± of our original nature (muru jinyeo). Muru jinyeo is the unwavering liberation, like that of all the Buddhas, in accordance with mindfulness and non-duality. Chasing after mumyoung samdok, we make so much negative karma, falling into the six levels of rebirth, endlessly spinning in the cycle of samsara. The pure mind is our correct path and a home of peace and comfort while the contaminated mind is the path of danger, a pit of fire. How could a wise person wish to fall into a pit of fire and endure endless suffering by forgoing the correct path and avoiding a peaceful abode? You have to think very deeply about this point.
Seon meditation (cham seon) is really nothing special. Cham means ¡°to harmonize with,¡± rehabilitating our pure mind through our harmonization with our true self-nature and not searching about outside.
I pray only that you, together with all sentient beings, correct your mind and bodies and awaken to the unexcelled path of great enlightenment (musang daedo), I hope that you never again fall into the net of evil and unrighteousness and you quickly attain the fruits of Buddhahood.
Question #2: If we have already decided to practice Seon meditation, what kind of attitude of the mind should we have?
Answer #2: If people who practice Seon Meditation clarify the karma of the first step of the great undertaking, they understand that from the very beginning, their original mind is the Buddha, their own mind is the dharma, and as they unwaveringly believe this ultimate fundamental, gradually their doubt must disappear. However, if they are unable to come to this judgment on their own, even though they may practice for an eternity, they will never be able to enter the ultimate path of Buddhahood.
The Great Master Bojo Jinul said, ¡°If we said that the Buddha existed outside of our minds and the dharma existed outside of our self-nature, and if we persistently adhered to this kind of mind in the search for the path of Buddhahood, then even if an eternity passed, even if we immolated ourselves, smashed our bones and used the blood and marrow to copy the scriptures, even if we endured the practice of 'sitting without ever laying down' and purified ourselves by eating only one meal a day every morning, even if we chanted the entire Tripitaka [Buddhist scriptures] and engaged in every type of ascetic practice, this would all account to nothing more than our own troublesome labor, as if we were trying to make rice by boiling sand.¡± From this we must learn the primary critical point that it is entirely up to us to awaken ourselves, to cultivate ourselves, to create the path of Buddhahood in ourselves. If we say that Buddha is outside of the mind, that Buddha is nothing more than an ¡°external Buddha¡± and thus, how could the Buddha ever exist in me? That's why it is said ¡°The [external] Buddhas are not my path to enlightenment.¡±
Question #3: If one is already possessed of the mind that is aroused towards the determination of enlightenment, how must we continue in our cultivation in order to engage in sincere meditative investigation?
Answer 3: Though those who possess the great wisdom that comes with high spiritual capacities can utilize their circumstances to immediately take advantage of a single opportunity without the need for much talking at all, if we were to speak of meditative investigation, it is fitting that we question and question again the vexing words of such hwadu as Zhaozhou's ¡°Mu¡± and ¡°the cypress in the courtyard,¡± Dongshan's ¡°three pounds of flax,¡± and Yunmen's ¡°dried shit stick.¡± We must investigate these hwadu relentlessly, absorbing our entire body into the effort, as if we were mosquitoes sitting on the back of an iron ox, trying to drive our proboscis into its impenetrable back. If even the tiniest thought of discrimination or any minute artifice in our practice starts to move during this time, the result will be as the ancients said, ¡°scattered study infiltrates the mind and damages wisdom.¡± Thus, this is the most pertinent and profound problem for seekers of enlightenment to guard against.
As the Master Naong said, ¡°The arising of one thought and the annihilation of another is called life and death, and thus in the moment of life and death if we give all our energy investigating our hwadu, life and death at once will exhaust itself. This immediate extinguishing of life and death is called nirvana. In nirvana, the absence of hwadu is called 'indifference,' and when a hwadu is no longer murky, this is called 'the divine.' When there is neither destruction nor confusion, the divine wisdom of the tranquil void is established.¡± Accordingly, it is imperative that the learned ones should make this their guiding principle.
Question #4: If we are already truly engaging in meditative investigation, what is it that we are truly exerting our energy towards?
Answer #4: As an ancient master once said, ¡°where energy is lacking, that is where energy can be cultivated.¡± Likewise, a hwadu, even when not being questioned, on its own accord will inspire questioning, and even when not being investigated, the doors of the six senses naturally open to allow the investigation to arise on its own, going higher and higher, growing smoother and smoother. Only when the hwadu gets to the point that it is like the light of the moon projected on the raging sea, crashing into the waves but not scattering, swallowed by the swells but never swept away, one is nearing the great enlightenment. Arriving at this point, if the discriminating mind appears even the tiniest bit, the simple profundity is lost and the great enlightenment cannot be obtained. Thus, this is something we must earnestly guard against.
Question #5: If we have already truly established our energy and our awakening is certainly completed, what is the final state of this true awakening?
Answer #5: According to the words of an ancient master, ¡°even if someone is without a clear and distinct awakening to the dharma, if they have some sort of awakening, they are still nothing more than a deluded person." He also said, ¡°if you say that you have an awakening, that is like not having been awakened.¡± Accordingly, if we say that awakening has a final state, then this is exactly not the final state of awakening.
If this is so, would all of the many enlightenment anecdotes of the great masters, like Master Lingyun being awakened when he saw a peach blossom, Master Xiangyan hurling a stone against a bamboo tree, Master Xuansha spraining his toe, and Master Changqing raising the bead screen, be nothing but lies handed down to us?
When Master Yangshan states, ¡°though we can't but say 'awakening,' that awakening is [once it is understood as awakening] it falls into the second grade stage,¡± he's talking about awakening by half stages.
When Xuansha says, "looking at my respected elder friend daringly, I¡¯m still not complete,¡± this is truly his sincere kindness.
I wonder if it is correct that these awakenings are at the final state of completion, or if it is right to say that there is no final state of awakening. What are we to do to understand this? Without speaking, I thought for a while and then composed this poem:
             Where the bright moon first springs forth, in the mix of sky and sea,
             When the crying of the monkey on the rock-wall stops.
Question #6: After awakening is already thoroughly complete, what comprises true self-discipline?
Answer #6: An ancient said, ¡°For those who have already passed through the gate, there is no need to insist on taking the ferry again.¡± If awakening is already complete, how could there possibly be any need to consider self-discipline? Nevertheless, though the clouds and the moon are one in the same, streams and mountains are each different.
Not able to gather a handful of willows, they hang on the jade railing, flying in the spring wind
Question #7: After already disciplining oneself, what is it that comprises true consummation?
Answer #7: A monk asked to Master Zhaozhou, "Can the nut pine also achieve Buddhahood?" Master Zhaozhou replied, ¡°It can.¡±
¡°When does it achieve Buddhahood?¡±
¡°You have to wait until the sky collapses into the earth.¡±
¡°When does the sky collapse into the earth?¡±
¡°Wait until the nut pine achieves Buddhahood.¡±
The ancients, having completely awakened to the truth of the non-arising, show here an occasion of using the mind in a topsy-turvy way, but how should we do things today? Tell quickly, tell it quick. Does the sky collapse into the earth? Does the nut pine achieve Buddhahood? It is no good if you think the sky never collapses into the earth or the nut pine never achieves Buddhahood.
After snapping his finger once he says, "I just missed making a mistake writing my footnote."
Question #8: After already reaching consummation, how can one bring about the perfectly final conclusion?
Answer #8: As an ancient master said, ¡°before your eyes there is no monk and here there is no old master, this is not the dharma in front of you, it is not something that reaches you through your eyes or ears.¡± The Seon masters of various meditation traditions speak through the standard of these words to show the extent to which their meditation has advanced. I say this here now and everybody forgets it all.
Question #9: From the very beginning of one's initial religious awakening until reaching the very end of the path, what kind of mind is most indispensable and which precious aphorism is most suitable?
Answer #9: The very last line of Shitou Xiqian's Cantongqi (Harmony of Sameness and Difference) states, ¡°Humbly I beg of you who engage in Seon, do not spend your time in vain.¡± Later, Master Fayan heard this and said, ¡°It is truly difficult to pay back such a veritable blessing,¡± and I also find it very difficult to pay back a true blessing. However, what are we to know is to be done so as to not spend our lives in vain?
Coughing for a spell, I issued a poem.
Not eating the sweet peach and persimmon
I continue up the mountain and pick a sour pear
Question #10: What difference is there between ganhwa (observing a key phrase or hwadu) and banjo (reflective illumination)? Since Seon meditators are always arguing about this, I pray you might be able to offer a detailed argument to clarify this issue.
Answer #10: I'm laughing as I speak. The melody of the previously questions all sounded the same, but with this question, the wind blows quite a different tune! Nevertheless, try and hear a bit of what I have to say.
When a big elephant comes to a river crossing and passes across the flowing waters, don't draw any conclusion from the fact that rabbits and horses can't touch the bottom.
Do you get it? If you don't get it, then I'm going to speak with you today in detail about this very issue.
A long time ago, Master Yangshan asked Master Weishan, "What is the abode of the true Buddha?" Weishan answered, ¡°by practicing reflective illumination on the boundlessness of the divine spark, through the profundity by which the absence of thought is arrived at through thought itself, conceptions are exhausted and one returns to the source. Eternally abiding in the essential nature, action and practice are not two, and this is the genuine 'thusness' of the true Buddha.¡±
Hearing these words, Yangshan immediately had a great enlightenment. Later, when Meditation Master Xinwenben heard this hwadu, he said: ¡°though you say, 'by practicing reflective illumination on the boundlessness of the divine spark, through the profundity by which the absence of thought it arrived at through thought itself, conceptions are exhausted and one returns to the source,' when one departs from this, won't there again just be some pure sickness? When someone enters into the mundane world, in going against it and adapting, what can really stain oneself or make one happy or upset? After this, brightness and darkness become completely broken down, and one is turned towards a place that is neither bright nor dark. Then, only after fully penetrating the hwadu, 'there are memorial services at Dabeiyuan' one truly knows the origin and one truly can know the true gist. At that time, from but one eye, the mountains, sky and earth are illuminated with the light of enlightenment, exactly as if the sky was being sliced through by a great sword; who can dare to face this light? It is only when you have such a power that you are truly able to enter easily into the ranks of the sages, diligently cultivating the practices that bring enlightenment, bringing about the fulfillment of the powers of wisdom and compassion, and there is only this path, this doctrine that brings benefit to yourself and others. There is no other way.¡±
Wouldn't ¡°trace back the boundlessness of the divine radiance¡± be talking about reflective illumination? And wouldn't ¡°Seeing the memorial service at Dabeiyuan¡± be referring to a hwadu?
Though Yangshan had already had a great enlightenment when hearing the words ¡°reflect upon the divine radiance,¡± for what reason was Xinwenben said to have contemplated a hwadu again?
If everyone who has achieved awakening is like Yangshan, we expect there to be nothing more to say, and if we can't reach the level of Yangshan's awakening, our associative thinking not having disappeared, we cannot overthrow our mind of birth and death. If we can't destroy the mind of life and death, how can we possibly be able to speak of any ¡°great enlightenment¡±?
Here is where Meditation Master Xinwenben speaks particularly to those who, while practicing ¡°reflective illumination,¡± are unable to be complete in their practice. Master Gaofeng also says something pertinent to this question: ¡°When I heard the hwadu, 'the ten thousand dharmas return to the one, where does the one return?' I broke through the phrase, 'dragging around a corpse.' However, even though I became entirely absorbed into the whole earth, forgetting everything about the subjective and the objective world, composed in meditative absorption and the master of myself, when my master asked me, 'when you are in that place of slumber where there is neither dreams nor thoughts, where is the master then?' I had absolutely nothing to say in return, no means by which to form a response. 
My master again asked me to contemplate a hwadu, 'the master of your wakefulness, where does he seek peace and follow the ways of heaven?' Finally, one day when I was sleeping together with Master Doban, his wooden pillow fell to floor and made a loud noise, hearing this, it was like I had sprung out from a net, bursting free with not a single thought of deliberation, the sky above and earth below in one great peace. Yet at the same time, it was like I was someone I had always been from a long time ago, a traveler coming home as if nothing had changed.¡±
Here too, isn't ¡°where does the one return¡± a hwadu? And wouldn't ¡°look for the awakened master¡± be an example of banjo [careful reflection]?
Though Gaofeng had already firmly stabilized his meditative absorption and become master of himself through the hwadu "where does the one return?" what caused his master to reprimand him so that he would take up yet another hwadu, regarding "the awakened master"?
This teaching, as it is especially given to benefit those who are in the midst of contemplating a hwadu, yet unable to penetrate it exhaustively, how indeed can there be a determining of what is superior and what is inferior, or what is complete and what is partial? Here, one must know that the completion or incompletion of awakening is dependent on the sincerity or deceit of the practitioner, or whether they have or have not achieved the ¡°ultimate unsurpassed ¡± (gugyeong) and not on the relative merits or depth of any particular means utilized.
I respectfully submit that one should not create incoherent views and be defeated by self-created obstacles and difficulties, according to the true teachings of all the Buddhas and the Patriarchs..
In a letter written in reply to Vice-Minister Rong, Meditation Master Dahui Zonggao explained:
Paying close attention at all times simply to those places full of the karma of daily life, when I clearly abandon any sense of right or wrong with others and receive someone else's benefit, if I were to carefully examine that, after all, those benefits were drained from somewhere else, then normally something that is fresh becomes ripened on its own accord. When the fresh has already become ripened, then the ripened will actually become fresh. Where then is the site of ripening?
It is precisely within the five aggregates, the six bases of the senses, the twelve sense fields, the eighteen elements of cognition, and the twenty-five stages of existence, and the karmic consciousness of ignorance, where the discursive operation of mind and perception flicker day and night like the shimmering of heated air, never resting even for a single moment. Though all suffering issues forth from our wandering through life and death, with human beings as mere pawns, if these pawns have already become the focus of meditation, then cessation, enlightenment, 'thus-ness' and buddha nature will all suddenly become manifest.
When this manifestation arises, no further manifestation even need be considered, this is why the ancient masters, upon achieving awakening, said, 'when the eye is reciprocated, it is as if the light of one thousand suns shines, such that you can't escape the illumination of all things in the universe; when the ear is reciprocated, as in the deepest of valleys, there is no sound, great or small, that does not clearly echo.' As such, in this type of endeavor, there is nowhere else to search, no other power to wish upon. Naturally, as karma is manifest, it is a vivacious and lively affair. If you cannot achieve something like this, then using your mind that is focused on the affairs of the mundane world, try to reconsider those places that have been beyond your capacity to consider. Where is that place that goes beyond your capacity to contemplate?
A monk once asked Master Zhaozhou, 'Does even a dog have buddha nature? Or not?'
When Master Zhaozhou answered, 'No,' [using a single syllable represented by the character mu Ùí] what kind of capabilities do you suppose rest within that character? I pray you give it as much attention as possible. As there is no place allowing you to calculate or deploy your thinking, there is nothing but misery in the pit of your stomach, your mind in anguish, and this is exactly the right time for you to become awakened to the fact that your eighth consciousness does not operate together in turn with the other seven. As such, when awakening takes place, don't just let go, you must attend only to the character 'mu.' As you come and go into it, the place of arising naturally becomes the place of ripening and the place of ripening naturally becomes the place of arising.
Generally speaking, isn't carefully investigating the place of karma in daily life considered ¡°reflective illumination?¡± With the mind afflicted by defiled thought, in returning to the character of ¡°mu¡± and contemplating it deeply without letting go, isn't this a hwadu? If that is indeed the case, Master Dahui likewise taught people using the method of "reflective illumination" and combined this with instruction in an overall strategy of contemplating a hwadu. But as he made indelibly clear when he said, ¡°as cessation, nirvana, thus-ness and buddhahood is suddenly manifest, the place of arising naturally becomes the place of ripening, and the place of ripening will naturally become the place of arising," he wasn't simply teaching a method or strategy. If we contemplate the logic implicit within what he is saying, in the benefit gained in the two practices of contemplating hwadu and engaging in reflective illumination, how could there be deep and shallow?
We can not separately make mention one by one of the many occasions in which those of old have given us their instruction in a way similar to what I've been describing, maintaining no distinction between ganwha or banjo. Nevertheless, haven't we come to learn that these days students everywhere attack one another and think of such teaching as quackery?
There are those who are in the process of investigating their assigned hwadu in accordance with the teachings, but then get to a point where they rest for a moment. Soon, they feel satisfied with their progress and no longer moving forward they try applying logical reasoning to their case. As a result, before long they do away with the course they've been following, as if they desire to cast away with the whole endeavor. This leaves them totally unable to understand the fact that all of the boundless means of instruction from the teachings of the Buddhas and Patriarchs have arisen from their obligation to us, such that they would go through mud and water to exhaustively create opportunities to instruct our awakening. Such people have fallen into a deep pit of cold inactivity, and are unable to budge even an inch.
There are others who, in the process of practicing ¡°reflective illumination¡± in accordance with the dharma, after acquiring but a dash of accomplishment on the path, thinking they've accomplished this all on their own, no longer carefully investigate their mind and they come to hold eccentric thoughts. When they meet with others, they immediately talk about their progress, displaying their knowledge and wisdom. Such people are wholly unable to understand how the fundamental duty and obligation of those who wear the robes totally consumed the Buddhas and Patriarchs, piercing into the very marrow of their bones, over and over again, completely cutting them off from the very root of their being. Such people, unable to understand the light and shadows in the gate to truth, construct for themselves a personal space of enlightened luxury. If such behaviors continue and are allowed to stand, the Buddha's righteous teaching is practically thrown in the dirt. What a lamentable, painful thing.
Your thoughts having come to this point, I dare say that your questioning shows that you know what to focus your energy on.
Given my limited knowledge and lack of study, how could I, with my few words pointing out some obvious things, possibly bring any succor to the evil and deep seeded diseases of this hopeless world? Because of this, I too am unsure and struggling with what to do.
Nevertheless, a wise person once said, "Don't investigate dead words, but rather, investigate the living words.¡± This is because dead words rely on rationality, arguments, information and discursive understanding, while living words are void of rationality, arguments, diversion and grasping.
The fact that seekers who practice Seon meditation as a matter of course pursue both banjo and ganhwa in accordance with the dharma is just like when a clump of things all burn together within one fire. If you try to get to close to it, your face will burn. As there is no place to permanently affix the wisdom of the entire teachings of the Buddha, won't there always be occasions to argue about the countless things regarding hwadu or banjo, differences or similarities. If you simply meditate lucidly on one thought that appears before you so that there is nothing else remaining, even if you ignore 100,000 dharma sermons and the infinite divine mysteries, as you apply yourself completely, seeing and acting truthfully as you practice in accordance with the dharma, you will still be able to obtain the great freedom from the cycle of life and death. Therefore, I wish only that it is exactly here that all of your thoughts may reside.
¡Ø As the following ten questions are direct quotations taken from Patriarch Na-ong's questions, the text is omitted at this point.
<Source: Hanam Ilballok >

                        Prev Next    
     Leader of the Fifteen Month Silence at Gakhwa Temple, Gou Sunim
  Hanam Jungwon ( 1876 ~ 1951 )
     Questions about Seon
  Myori Beophui ( 1887 ~ 1975 )
  Hyobong Hangnul ( 1888 ~ 1966 )
     North and South Lay Foundations for Buddhist Temple
  Gyeongbong Jeongseok ( 1892 ~ 1982 )
     Jogye Order's 25 Temple Distirct Head Temples
  Jeongang Yeongsin ( 1898 ~ 1975 )

top Prev Next       List

Copyright(c) 2544 Digital International Buddhism Organization.