Though Patriarchal Seon and Ganhwa Seon differ in name, essentially they are identical structures. So Patriarchal Seon and Ganhwa Seon can also be seen merely as divisions in name only, as historically given meanings. Being merely divided by history in this way, the spirit and principle of Patriarchal Seon is entirely contained within Ganhwa Seon. But because it emphasized the holding of the hwadu and its investigation as a method of practice it was called Ganhwa Seon. So then, what are the features that can distinguish Patriarchal Seon from other methods of practice?
The Characteristics of Patriarchal Seon
1. Emphasis that originally one had become Buddha (bollae seongbul).
Everybody originally is Buddha. All things of the universe are originally Buddha. All are already perfected as they are. Since everything seen is already perfected, they are called Buddha, and as they are are paradise. But as we are all hidden in the delusions of discrimination, we simply cannot see that original buddhahood. If we look from that original buddhahood, because we ourselves had become Buddha, frustrations (kleśa) and wisdom (bodhi) were divided and there was no need for the removal of frustration.
Patriarchal Seon is not a study to remove frustrations from wisdom (bodhi) and divide wisdom from frustrations in the place of the original Buddha. Kleśa are bodhi, and sentient beings, as they are, are Buddha.
2. There is no difference between the enlightenment of the Buddha and that of the Patriarchs.
In Patriarchal Seon, patriarch means an enlightened teacher. There is not the slightest difference between the world of enlightenment of the patriarchs and the Buddha. The yulu (recorded sayings) that contain the words of the patriarchs were also considered to be like the sutras of the Buddha. A representative example of this is the Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch that contains Seon Master Huineng’s Dharma.
The reason the words Buljo (Buddha and Patriarch), and also Jobul (Patriarch and Buddha) are widely used is because in Patriarchal Seon the Buddha and Patriarchs are identical.
3. The enlightenment through the Seon dialogues of master and disciple or the staff (blow) and the shout, and other opportune conditions.
In Patriarchal Seon one directly sees the mind and is enlightened through actions such as the master preaching the Dharma, yelling, raising an eyebrow or beating with a staff. So like Seon Master Cheongheo Hyujeong (1520-1604), there were those who were enlightened by hearing a cock crow.
All such actions and opportune conditions depart from language and considered judgment and are Dharma-gates (beommun, formal lectures on enlightenment by the master) that directly show the site of the living mind. The practitioners who are properly aware of this will be immediately enlightened. This is called “directly pointing at the mind and being enlightened, directly seeing the original nature.”
4. Emphasis on being awakened at a word (eonha byeono)
The second patriarch of Patriarchal Seon, Huike, as soon as the First Patriarch, Bodhidharma said, “Bring your unsettled mind,” was enlightened then and there. The Sixth Patriarch, Huineng, the moment he heard the line of the Diamond Sutra, “Bring me that mind that naturally has no place to reside,” was enlightened. This “being immediately enlightened at the end of a word” is called eonha byeono. Besides, the masters of Seon also were enlightened at the end of a word hearing a Seon dialogue or a sermon. One cannot hesitate. Now directly, then and there one must be immediately enlightened at the end of a word.
Ganhwa Seon is a Restoration of the Original Spirit of Patriarchal Seon
In the Song period, the climate that understood and discriminated through musing on the Seon dialogues and Dharma words of the Patriarchs deepened. As a result the Songgo (praise of ancients) literature that gave independent interpretations of the sayings of the patriarchs became popular. Among the gentry of the period there were an increasing number of people who had an interest in Seon or who practiced Seon. Accordingly the tendency to express through verses (gatha) the understanding of the meaning and principle of the Seon dialogues between the patriarchs appeared. This lost the original sense of reaching enlightenment by exciting doubt and was said to have fallen into the tendency of EuriSeon, the Seon of principle and meaning that understood hwadu through considered judgment.
Seon Master Dahui confronted this abuse of his age and spread a more active Seon Dharma in the world called ganhwa, which he newly organized in a framework to attain enlightenment through the hwadu that were the words of the past patriarchs. That is, he vigorously established it by systematizing the Seon method that proceeded through an investigation of the hwadu by a thorough doubt. These hwadu were thus standardized in a distinctive style called the barrier gate (gwanmun) of the enlightenment to the Seon dialogues of mind transmission of the past patriarchs. So the Seon dialogues of Patriarchal Seon that had been events of everyday life were systematized into a lively escape-route hwadu that opened one’s eyes to one’s own nature if one entered into Ganhwa Seon. It is just this point that produces a difference, even if only formally, between Patriarchal Seon and Ganhwa Seon.
Even in Patriarchal Seon, in cases where one could not be directly enlightened to the end of a phrase tossed out by a patriarch, one invariably doubted over and over the words of the patriarch monk. In Ganhwa Seon also enlightenment in a moment was emphasized. In this way there were no essential differences in the methods of practice between Patriarchal Seon and Ganhwa Seon.
The significance of the foundation of Ganhwa Seon is in the restoration of the spirit of the generations of patriarchs. The words and actions of the patriarchs that in the Song period had been interpreted in terms of reason were freshly revived as the original life of the generations of patriarchs.