The Relationship of Seon and Precepts
The three studies of precepts (vinaya), meditation and insight are the core of Buddhist practice. So Seon Master Seosan said, “If the precepts (are kept) entirely and strongly, and the water of meditation is clear and pure, the moon of insight will appear therein.” (Seon-ga gwi-gam). The Buddha said, “The Way is a house. The precepts are the foundations. The fundamentals of practice are the precepts.” The Chanyuan qinggui also emphasizes that Seon practitioners must keep the vinaya and precepts.
It is dangerous for a practitioner of Ganhwa Seon to even think it is OK to ignore the vinaya and precepts. However, because in Chinese Seon cloisters one had to live self-sufficiently, a separate pure regulations was instituted which contained items not in the vinaya that were necessary for the life of a Seon cloister. Seon Master Guishan said, “The Buddha first of all instituted the vinaya and precepts to give a lead to those who had resolved the mind (for the Way),” and so requested that Seon practitioners keep thoroughly the vinaya and precepts.
If one is enlightened, the precepts are perfected
If one is enlightened then the three studies of precepts, meditation and insight are perfected. The life of an enlightened one does not violate the precepts. This is called the Way accompanies precepts (do-gong-gye). If like the Buddha one comprehends the Way, then the precepts will just simply follow. The practice of meditation and the practice of the precepts are perfected together. If so, automatically the actions of the body and the mind mature and do not transgress in the slightest.
In respect of this, Seon Master Huineng also said that if one is without thought and sees the nature, meditation and insight cannot be divided. If one reaches the realm of no-thought through practice the three studies of precepts, meditation and insight will be fully present.
As the Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch says, in Patriarchal Seon the precepts are the active and spirited form of life of the self-nature that originally lacks error. Seon Master Huineng Yuanwu emphasized the practice of precepts grounded in the self-nature, saying, “Keep the pure practice of the precepts, and without thoughts that are attached to the practice of precepts, even if one practices boundlessly, do not leave any thought of studying.”
Patriarchal Seon asserts strongly the vinaya and precepts in a natural and lively sense as something the source of the mind originally was furnished with, rather than a precepts and vinaya in the sense of a control of the sensation system of the body. In such a life, even the violation in thought disappears and every moment of life accords with the vinaya and precepts which are perfected, and they both flow along together as a whole. And so all actions by the enlightened are natural, pure and become as clean as the brilliance of the morning sunlight.
Seon Master Boshan Wuyi in the Sanchan jingyu said that if one opened the eyes of enlightenment, even the words “burning incense and cleaning are all the service of the Buddha,” would point to this principle.
It seems that for practitioners of Ganhwa Seon, keeping the precepts is an extremely natural, everyday housekeeping. In the case of meditation practitioners, during the period of the summer and winter retreats, the precepts are thoroughly and strictly observed of course, and even when the retreat is ended and they go out on pilgrimage (haeng-gak) they must strictly observe the precepts. Lay practitioners also, whether in practice sites or in the midst of daily life must keep the precepts well. If one establishes correct views and practices, the precepts will naturally be perfected in ordinary life. That practice and life go their separate ways is not the true characteristic of a practitioner. That practice and life are united is the natural characteristic of the practitioner. The practice of the precepts of the genuine practitioner does not lie in trying to keep them firmly. Rather, they are a proper characteristic of an active and spirited life that is as natural as the flowers blooming or the leaves of grass budding.