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[Intro to Ganhwa Seon] 02. Who am I

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Writer Jogye Date04 Mar 2016 Read11,279 Comment0


Introduction to Ganhwa Seon

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

2. Who am I

“Constantly Changing Self” and the “True Self”

Who am I? Where am I going? From time to time we ask these kinds of questions. Time passes by so quickly while we are overwhelmed by everyday routines and in a rush. This chaotic everyday life is repeated today and tomorrow too. And here we are after all those absent-minded years. Mulling over what we have done throughout our lives only makes us feel empty and in vain.


Sweeping the worldwide community of plays since long ago, Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman gained popularity in Korea, importantly when the Asian financial crises hit the country.


Willy Loman, the protagonist in this play, is a salesman who eagerly looks forward to being rich someday. He works so hard to make money even by succumbing to insults and humiliation. Willy was a big deal in sales when he was young, but his income shrinks as he grows older and eventually he got fired from the company to which he devoted his whole life for more than three decades. To make matters worse, his son becomes rebellious, defying Willy’s hopes. Betrayal from the company he put his trust in, disappointment in his son who falls far short of his expectations, frustration at himself who is old and burned out and deep regrets of his long lost life overwhelmingly flood him. Ultimately, he puts an end to his life by killing himself.


Like Willy Loman, perhaps most people have looked outwardly and so eagerly sought after superficial value throughout their lives, bearing the brunt of all kinds of afflictions. They might continue to lead a similar life, giving their lives for good results of tests, love, money, a company and children and spouses. But let’s take a deep breath to contemplate what is ahead of us. All of a sudden, we might feel that something we dearly cherish becomes very unfamiliar to us. Maybe it is because of cruel reality where our expectations for others are misplaced, consequently leaving us deeply scarred. It is because we have had no idea about the fundamental reason for our life without awakening to the true self, while being obsessed to outward objects. In a strict sense, it is because we have tried to satisfy ourselves outwardly, framed by old habits and practices, while blind to the true self within.


We should be able to keep ourselves centered in order not to be clung to and swayed by outward objects, recognizing true meaning and precious value of our existence. What we should realize from ourselves is not the characteristics, such as being wishy-washy and shallow, but the aspects, such as standing firmly with unwavering faith while not influenced by any afflictions, consistent, confident and vibrant. With these qualities, we should center ourselves more steadfastly, clearly seeing the true self.


The Path to the True Self

Then how can we see the true self? Couldn’t it be done by philosophy, philosophical concepts or rational thinking? To put conclusion first, the idea of ourselves based on thoughts is not our true self.


Rene Descartes, widely known as the father of modern western philosophy, said the famous words, “I think, therefore I am.” As a matter of fact, the history of western philosophy has been the history of investigating existence. Western philosophy has various branches according to what can be existential beings that never change. However, Descartes declared that we who think are the most important and the act of thinking is the unique characteristic of human beings and the most obvious evidence of our existence. He added, “Since I only can be certain of the existence of myself insofar as I am thinking, I have knowledge of my existence only as a thinking thing.” Actually, this definition seems quite reasonable as human beings are the ones who think.

Apparently, “a thinking thing” can be one of the characteristics of human beings, however, we cannot identify “a thinking self” with the true self. This “thinking self” is oneself framed by prejudices, changing every second depending on thoughts and limited by reason. Therefore, it is “relative self”, not the true self, and the one that salesman Willy pursued.


Seon practice aims to explore genuine, boundless and confident nature of ourselves, going beyond inconsistent and ever-changing self. The true self directly penetrates and shatters the masks accumulated by reason and constantly changing “thinking self”, while being the voluntarily motivated life with full of vitality. The true self is the protagonist and the original fundamental, making us move, smile and cry. We are always with this protagonist within anywhere we go. No hindrance or prejudice prohibits us when we speak and act as the protagonist directs. 


When the protagonist, not the concept of ourselves, speaks, thinks and acts wherever we are, we can fully enjoy life of freedom without any obstacles that hold us back.


Ganhwa Seon and the Path to the True Self 


Then why is Ganhwa Seon practice one of the most outstanding spiritual practices to awaken to the true self? It is because we cannot fathom or shed light on the true self through rational thinking. Ganhwa Seon guides us directly and succinctly to where all thoughts and words are cut off, enabling us to see our true nature.


With Seon practice and teachings of the Buddha, we should be convinced that we are all Buddha in the first place and the beings not hindered by any limitations. When our mind goes through emotional turmoil or cannot face the reality due to manipulation and judgment in everyday life, we should deeply reflect the basic fundamental of us, seeing the true nature of our mind and fully awaken to the present moment.


Nothing is more important than fully awakening to the present and feeling our existence as it is wholeheartedly with our body and mind, because the awakened being is like Buddha within. We practice Seon meditation as we cannot be fully conscious of the present. In order to maintain an awareness of the true self, we should ask “Who on earth am I” so earnestly without ever forgetting it. When our body and mind are in unison with hwadu without even a slightest piece of self-concept, our true nature can be revealed vividly. This process enables us to see the true self and genuine aspects that consist of who we really are, to be liberated from the pain of birth and death, confrontations and conflicts and ultimately to live with boundless freedom.


For those who reflect upon themselves in search of the true self, clear directions for how to lead a life and where to head are set. As a result, they can unwaveringly walk towards clear goals. They do not aimlessly wander around because they have unshakable commitment to goals and directions of their lives. Their footsteps are helpful and beneficial to others too, as they are compassionate and selfless by seeing their true nature in everything around them.   



 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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