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[Intro to Ganhwa Seon] 01. Essense and Benefits of Seon

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Writer Jogye Date04 Mar 2016 Read7,979 Comment0


Introduction to Ganhwa Seon

Chapter 1. What is Seon (
Jp. Zen)?


1. Essence and Benefits of Seon


Seon is about Seeing Everything as It Is


Think of a trail. The world blanketed in snow. And the moon in the sky. Have you ever walked along that white path? The soft and gentle glow of the moonlight allows us to see houses, mountains, trees, empty tree branches, friends on the same journey and the round moon on the sky as they are.


Everything as it is, without anything hidden or masked. All is vividly revealed through Seon. Seon is about seeing and acting upon what we discover as it is. There is nothing to be added or omitted because the essence is transparent; exposed in the realm of Seon.


Pure, bright, clean and lucid. Life is inside us. It’s not something only some people have while others do not; nor sometimes we have it and other times we do not. Seeing the essence that everyone has all the time is Seon. At the same time, Seon leaves no trace as if birds in the sky do so. Indeed, it is succinct, fresh and gentle as the following Seon poem illustrates:

The bamboo shadows are sweeping the stairs,
But no dust is stirred:
The moonlight penetrates deep in the bottom of the pool,
But no trace is left in the water.


This is a Seon poem written by Yefu Daochuan (冶父道川) in the Song dynasty. Please reflect carefully on the poem. Thorough appreciation of the poem and deep reflection of one’s true self are the very beginning and ending of Seon.

Seon traces its origin to India. Seon is the transliteration of Dhyana, which was translated into Chan in China. This was pronounced as Zen in Japan and Zen Buddhism was introduced to the western culture. So Seon is more commonly known as Zen. Dhyana means practicing through in-depth reflection (思惟修). However, reflection here is not thinking something analytically in the face of certain circumstances. It is spiritual practice with full concentration on our mind, ultimately seeing the true nature of our tranquil mind.


Features of Ganhwa Seon


There are different kinds of Seon practice. Among them Ganhwa Seon (看話禪) is the most well-established form of Seon practice in Korea. Ganhwa Seon cuts all arising thoughts or judgments off right away by fully immersing oneself into hwadu (話頭), a short phrase from the quotations by Patriarchs or Seon masters, which leads us to see Buddha nature inside us without delusions. One of the most distinguishable features of Ganhwa Seon is investigating the hwadu, cutting all acts of thinking off and exploring one’s true self. Ganhwa Seon aims to go right into the essence of our mind whereas other practices of Seon concentrate our mind on one object and gradually enter the phase of deep observation.


Simply put, Ganhwa Seon is about straightly heading to our mind, getting rid of all dust that covers up the basic fundamental of our mind, which is already pure and pristine, and bringing life to the fundamental of our mind. It is like enabling inherited vivid life of roots and branches to be revealed as it is, so that branches grow exuberantly and leaves become lush green, rather than making each branch and leaf clean and shiny. Or it is like getting right into the very source of a spring and letting water cascade, instead of cleaning the flowing water while gradually going up to the origin. As such, it is transforming the basic fundamental of our mind, rather than sticking to periphery parts.


As such, going right into the core, essence, source of a spring and roots and attaining enlightenment is called dono (頓悟), sudden enlightenment. Dono was first demonstrated through Patriarchal Seon (祖師禪), which originated from Patriarch Bodhidharma. Ganhwa Seon, which is also called Cham Seon (參禪), Jwa Seon (坐禪) or just Seon in Korea, has kept the spirit of Patriarchal Seon intact as the most developed form of Patriarchal Seon practice.


Cham Seon (參禪) is the combination of participation and Seon, meaning participating in Seon practice. Meanwhile, Jwa Seon (坐禪) means practicing Seon while sitting. Usually one begins the practice by sitting in full-lotus posture, with one’s spine straightened up and eyes half-opened. As this type of sitting Seon meditation practice is typical, Ganhwa Seon, Cham Seon, Jwa Seon and Seon are not distinguished strictly. In Korean Buddhism, Seon mostly means Ganhwa Seon.


Benefits of Seon Practice


Then what can we attain from Seon practice? Simply put, where could we find benefits of Seon practice? The most important point is finding and seeing the true self. Seon is about finding genuine nature of ourselves here and now: never swayed by any tempting words, vividly living in this moment, not ever-changing but consistent all the time, taking a brave step forward even in a life threatening moment, peaceful and free. However, more precisely it is just seeing the true nature which we already have as it is rather than finding it from outside.


In addition, Ganhwa Seon practice enables us

Not to be at a loss or react to external stimulus
Not to feel anxious or scared
To be confident
To control delusions and afflictions while fully awake to the present moment
Not to be stressed out
To feel the freedom and peace of our mind
To be accommodating and natural
To develop stability and concentration of our mind
To remove confrontations and conflicts
Not to be unwillingly swayed by subjective perceptions
To always live in the moment
To live everyday fully
To live a sound life with strong willpower through the harmony between mind and body


All in all, benefits of Ganhwa Seon encompass recent wellness trends and therefore, it is the most suitable practice for modern people who are always on the go.
I would like to walk you through Ganhwa Seon by giving more details on above-mentioned benefits of Seon practice.


 Please note that this writing is an excerpt from the book, "Introduction to Ganhwa Seon" published by the Bureau of Dharma Propagation and is contained in the spring 2016 edition of the Lotus Lantern magazine under Buddhist Culture Section on page 18~24.   

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