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[Intro to Ganhwa Seon] 07. The Origins and Features of Ganhwa Seon

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Writer Jogye Date07 Jul 2016 Read12,797 Comment0


Chapter 2. What Is Ganhwa Seon?

1. The Origins and Features of Ganhwa Seon

The Origins of Ganhwa Seon

Seon practice allows us to see the truth we are originally Buddha, going beyond all senses and thoughts. Ganhwa Seon is a process of spiritual practice through which we reach Samadhi by investigating and shattering the hwadu and thereby rooting out manipulative and discriminative thoughts. By doing so, it ultimately enables us to see our pristine true nature.

The foundation of Ganhwa Seon was laid by Seon Master Wuzu Fayan (五祖法演 ?-1104), Seon Master Yuanwu Keqin (圓悟克勤 1063-1135) and ultimately Seon Master Dahui Zonggao (大慧宗杲 1089-1163). Seon Master Wuzu Fayan began the full-fledged practice of Ganhwa Seon by highlighting the mu-character hwadu (無字話頭). His disciple, Seon Master Yuanwu Keqin, cemented principles of Ganhwa Seon practice by compiling The Blue Cliff Record. Finally, Seon Master Dahui Zonggao, a disciple of Seon Master Yuanwu Keqin, firmly systematized principles of Ganhwa Seon, thereby providing catalytic momentum to bring Ganhwa Seon to the mainstream of the history of Buddhism.

Importantly, Ganhwa Seon has kept the spirit of Patriarchal Seon (祖師禪) intact. Then, what is Patriarchal Seon? It is the teachings by Seon Masters that fully demonstrate the realm of enlightenment, which vividly unfolds here and now.

Seon Master Yunmen Wenyan (雲門文偃 864-949) said, “Body bared to golden wind (體露金風), while fallen leaves return to their roots (落葉歸根)”. Golden wind illustrates autumn wind that reveals bare branches of trees and makes leaves fall and get back to their roots. It can be likened to the state where all delusions and illusions, stemming from looks, status, honor, wealth and children, fall away and eventually our true nature is revealed. Patriarchal Seon allows us to see this state, on which the lives, practice and enlightenment of all Patriarchs are built throughout the history.

Ganhwa Seon originates from the arising of enlightenment (機緣) of the eminent Patriarchs, keeping the transmitted spirit of Patriarchal Seon intact. The only difference between Patriarchal Seon and Ganhwa Seon is that Patriarchal Seon commonly featured Seon encounter dialogues (禪問答) that enable practitioners to clearly see their original nature, whereas Ganhwa Seon turned the dialogues into hwadu investigation.

The essential part of Patriarchal Seon is that sentient beings see the truth that they are originally Buddha. Ganhwa Seon is one of the most remarkable spiritual practices that allow practitioners to realize that they are Buddha in the first place at the very moment when hwadu is shattered with all words and thoughts cut off.


Essence of Ganhwa Seon

Simply put, Ganhwa Seon is a practice to attain enlightenment by probing deeply into doubts in our mind, investigating and ultimately breaking through the hwadu. Ganhwa (看話) is a combination of the words for ‘observing’ () and ‘saying’ or ‘phrase’ (), literally meaning “observing the critical phrase, or hwadu”. However, when it comes to this observation, one should become one with hwadu by deeply engaging in single-minded concentration on hwadu, instead of just glancing at it. That is why we say “enter hwadu meditation” or “investigate (參究) hwadu”, because we should earnestly concentrate on hwadu with all our heart to see it shattered to pieces.

Hwadu is words by the Buddha and Patriarchs with all paths of words (言路) and paths of thoughts (思路) cut off. However, it is the words prior to words that thoughts and words of human beings cannot even fathom and the thoughts before thoughts arise. Investigating hwadu, therefore, makes traces of thoughts and words disappear.

Only then can we see everything as it is. And at that moment, the truth, the protagonist, the things we see are all revealed as they are. This way, Dharma flows naturally. The natural flow itself is Dharma and truth. There is nothing to be added or removed. The sun rises from the east and sets to the west. That’s all. Vigorously flowing streams are the very Dharma talks of the Buddha.

Hwadu guides us to our original nature. Ganhwa Seon enables us to immediately see our true nature and to become Buddha by investigating hwadu that transcends words and cannot be figured out through thoughts. The meditation practice is attaining enlightenment with all our mind and heart. The original nature is our own nature (自性) and Buddha nature (佛性) that all beings have within. We can become Buddha when we see our own nature within ourselves with clear eyes. This is called “seeing original nature and becoming Buddha (見性成佛)”. In Ganhwa Seon, accomplishing Buddhahood is cultivating and perfecting character by attaining enlightenment through hwadu and becoming Buddha, the ideal being.

Throughout Ganhwa Seon practice, we fully concentrate our mind only on hwadu, the most essential fundamental that should be resolved immediately. Peripheral details do not matter. Single-minded concentration on hwadu with no room for other matters at all is the most direct and ultimate way to be enlightened. When we awaken to truth through this practice, we can finally become the protagonist of our lives who walks all over the world confidently with wisdom like the Buddha and clear-eyed Patriarchs. More detailed explanation on hwadu will follow in another chapter.

In addition, what is regarded as very important in Ganhwa Seon is entering the realm of Tathāgata, meaning “one who has thus gone or come”, after a single word or brief acts by the Buddha and Patriarchs. This is called “transcending everything and entering the realm of Tathāgata right away (一超直入如來地)”, meaning smoothly going into the realm of enlightenment by immediately going beyond tons of explanations, words and thoughts. That is why Seon Master Dahui Zonggao said, “Immediately attaining enlightenment with a single word while achieving harmony with surroundings is rare and cherished.”

This moment of sudden enlightenment is like instantly lightening up a room of total darkness. The state of transparent emptiness with all of the accumulated doubts entirely taken away. Practitioners with supreme willpower and capabilities will be immediately enlightened as soon as they engage in hwadu practice. However, most of us will find it very difficult, so we begin probing into “what is this” gradually.

Eminent Patriarchs constantly highlighted that practitioners should probe deeply into the doubts in our mind, with single-minded concentration on hwadu. When hwadu becomes great doubts to a practitioner, it ultimately becomes a sharp sword that would sever falling feathers (吹毛劒), or all kinds of life-and-death attachments and discriminations. A sword of wisdom. A sword of prajñā

. A sharp sword that would even sever hair with just one blow. We can see the sun brightly shining within ourselves by thoroughly severing away all the traces of stereotypes, thoughts, judgments, values, rational ideas, concept of “myself” and even unconsciousness.


 Please note that this writing is an excerpt from the book, "Introduction to Ganhwa Seon" published by the Bureau of Dharma Propagation and it is contained in the summer 2016 edition of the Lotus Lantern magazine under Buddhist Culture Section on page 16~22.   


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