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Korean Seon  

Meditaion Practice

A meditation monastery or center is the place for monastics to practice Korean Seon, or meditation. For a time, monks sever all ties with the outside world and concentrate on discovering their Original Nature through this practice. During the intensive 3-month meditation retreats in the summer and winter, the monks practice hard and in between these retreats, the monks have 3 months to ¡°float like the clouds and flow like water,¡± although nowadays many monks continue their meditation efforts all year long. These 3-month retreats, which date back to the time of the Buddha Sakyamuni, are one of the strong points of Jogye Order Buddhism.
At the Zen centers, monks arise at either 2 or 3 am to the crack of the bamboo clapper and perform three prostrations of homage. During the rest of the day, except for mealtime and group work time, the monks immerse themselves in meditation until either 9 or 11 pm, depending on the temple¡¯s own regulations.
There are three types of meditation sessions: the regular daily schedule is 8-10 hours; the additional practice sessions of 12-14 hours; and ¡°ferocious¡± meditation periods of 18 hours or more. In general, most temples have one month of this ¡°ferocious¡± meditation. Other forms of meditation include sitting for at least 3 months, and sometimes even years, without lying down; and ¡°no door¡± meditation, when the practitioner will go into a solitary cell or cave for months or even years without ever coming out until enlightened.


Korea is the only nation where the traditional meditation using hwadu (usually translated as ¡°head of speech¡± which means ¡°true speech¡±) is generally practiced. Used by many enlightened masters of the past, the practitioner endeavors to suspend logical thinking so that the Original Nature becomes clear through a direct transmission from mind to mind. As we are all Buddha by nature, it is only necessary to clear away ignorance and delusions for our true nature to come forward.
The hwadu distinguishes three dimensions of practice. These are: a great root of faith, a great ball of doubt and a great tenacity of purpose or determination. Faith in the process leads to the necessary inspiration to begin practice, continuing doubt in any intermediary ¡°results¡± allowing the practitioner to continue maintained by determination to attain clear understanding.
It is reported that some become enlightened just by hearing such words. Most practitioners, however, take a hwadu and work with it constantly. And since the riddle cannot be solved with logical thining or words, any type of attempt to apply reason ends in failure. The process of working with a hwadu is one of having it permeate the entire being of the practitioner, both body and spirit, and so working with it constantly and fervently.

History of Korean Seon

The founder of the first Jogye Order, National Master Doui, received transmission from the Chinese monk Xitang Zhizhang in the lineage of the Sixth Patriarch of Zen, Huineng. "Jogye" is the Korean pronunciation of Mt. Ts¡¯aochi where Huineng resided showing the great veneration that the Sixth Patriarch is held in by the Jogye Order. In the Goryeo Dynasty, National Master Pojo Chinul established Suseonsa Temple – the forerunner of today's Songgwangsa Temple – in which meditative and doctrinal schools were integrated into one system. There he introduced hwadu meditation practice which was later promoted by National Master Taego Pou as the main Korean form of meditation.
Despite the Joseon Dynasty's severe repression of Buddhism, such Zen masters as Cheongheo Hyujeong and Buhyu Seonsu continued the transmission of the hwadu tradition.
In the early 20th century, the tradition was continued by Masters Gyeongheo Seongwoo and Yongseong Jinjong who played vital roles in bringing new life to the meditation tradition. With a virtual end to organized Zen meditation in China during the latter half of the 20th century, Korea has become widely recognized as the country which preserves the Zen tradition of seeking enlightenment through the use of koan (K: hwadu). As a result, people from different countries have taken ordination in the Jogye Order, and Korea has become justifiably proud of its growing worldwide reputation.

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