[Intro to Ganhwa Seon] 09. Teachings of the Buddha and Ganhwa Seon
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3. Teachings of the Buddha and Ganhwa Seon
Seon and Doctrine
Buddhism is teachings building on Sakyamuni Buddha’s enlightenment. Enlightenment is the quintessential part of Buddhism as the ultimate destination. In other words, Buddhism is teachings that enable all beings to be enlightened and become Buddha by awakening to the ultimate truth of Dependent Co-arising and Middle Way, the two essential principles of universe that the Buddha realized. This worldview and values cherished in Buddhism form integral part of Buddhist practice that all practitioners should respect.
The same is true for Ganhwa Seon. It does not aim for different worldview or values from the Buddha’s teachings, because the realm of enlightenment of the Buddha and Patriarchs is not two separate things. This is why right understanding of worldview of Buddhism should come first prior to practicing Ganhwa Seon.
All preaching delivered by the Buddha throughout his life, ever since he attained enlightenment and first taught Middle Way at the Deer Park in Sarnath (鹿野園), is called doctrine (敎). All of the teachings can be found in the Tripitaka Koreana.
Great Master Seosan Hyujeong (西山休靜 1520-1604) in the mid-Joseon period wrote in the Mirror of Seon (禪家龜鑑), “The mind Buddha transmitted at the three places became the key message of Seon (禪旨), while every word that he said during his lifetime became the approach of doctrine (敎門). Therefore, it is said, Seon is the mind of the Buddha while doctrine is the words of the Buddha.”
Doctrine is verbal expression of the realm of enlightenment of the Buddha, whereas Seon is seeing awakened mind directly. Therefore, Seon is the Buddha’s mind and doctrine is the Buddha’s words. In other words, the finger that points to the moon can be likened to doctrine, while the moon itself is Seon.
Doctrine and Seon are not in two different realms as both of them are based on Dharma principles of the Buddha. Therefore, clear understanding on the enlightened realm of the Buddha through doctrine should come first before engaging in Seon practice. It is crucial to secure right view (正見) through right understanding.
Great Master Seosan also writes in the Mirror of Seon that “Seon is reaching no-word realm through no word and doctrine is reaching no-word realm through words. Mind is Dharma of Seon, while words are Dharma of doctrine.”
Doctrine, through words, guides us to the place of originally Buddha where even a single word is cut off, while Seon is actual practice that allows us to awaken to the truth that our mind is Buddha inherently without relying on languages or words.
We are Buddha originally and already complete in the realm of Seon. So rhetoric descriptions of Seon, Buddha or mind are not tolerated, as they are like the wind and waves on a calm land (平地風波) and waves occurred with no wind (無風起浪). It can be likened to unnecessarily creating wounds on a healthy skin.
However, Seon is also based on the Dharma that the Buddha awakened to. Teachings of the Buddha are guidelines for all beings to become enlightened ones with wisdom, fortune, perfect character and infinite happiness. Seon practice, too, should be built on the teachings of the Buddha. Buddha illustrated the features of awakened beings as Middle Way, Dependent Co-arising, Not-self and Emptiness. Seon is vividly revealing the truth that the Buddha taught right here through immediate enlightenment.
Seon, the Buddha’s Mind
The Buddha transmitted Seon to Mahakashyapa through mind. This is mind-to-mind transmission (以心傳心), which connects each other’s mind instantly. It is like each other’s mind deeply connected with no influence of thoughts or judgment or whatsoever. It is this way the Buddha passed down mind to Mahakashyapa through three occasions of mind-to-mind transmission (三處傳心). Patriarchal Seon and Ganhwa Seon originate from these occasions. Here is more detailed depiction of each occasion.
The First Transmission: Raising a Flower at the Vulture Peak Assembly (靈山會上擧拈花)
The Vulture Peak Assembly refers to the scene when the Buddha gave a Dharma talk on Vulture Peak (靈鷲山). The first occasion of mind-to-mind transmission is well known as the phrase of “holding a flower aloft and smile (拈花微笑)”. Seon Master Mumoon Haegye (無門慧開 1182-1260) in the Southern Song (南宋) period described the scene as following:
When Sakyamuni Buddha raised a flower preaching on Vulture Peak, all of the audience was at a loss, having no idea what it meant. It was only Mahakashyapa who broke into a smile upon seeing the flower. The Buddha said “I hereby entrust the true Dharma eye (正法眼藏), delicate mind of nirvana (涅槃妙心), true substance beyond form (實相無相), subtle Dharma gate (微妙法門), no dependence on words (不立文字) and special transmission beyond sutras (敎外別傳) to Mahakashyapa.”
Mind-to-mind transmission beyond words is vividly illustrated through the occasion where the Buddha raised a flower and Mahakashyapa alone reciprocated with a graceful smile. No further explanations or words have a place to be included here. Those are all unnecessary peripherals. It was through this transmission that the Buddha passed down Seon Dharma as well as mind to Mahakashyapa.
- Case 6: Buddha Twirls a Flower (世尊拈花), The Gateless Gate (無門關)
The Second Transmission: Sharing the cushion in front of the Pagoda of Many Children (多子塔前分半座)
When the Buddha was preaching in front of the Pagoda of Many Children, Mahakashyapa arrived belatedly in tattered clothes. The assembly was full of disciples with every seat filled and no one tried to yield a seat to him. Then, the Buddha called Mahakashyapa and shared his cushion with him. The audience was dumbfounded not knowing what it meant. It was only Mahakashyapa who grasped the meaning of it. Sharing a seat signifies sharing a Dharma seat (法座) together. This is the gesture of recognition and a seal of approval (印可) that Mahakashyapa attained supreme enlightenment like the Buddha.
The Third Transmission: The Buddha’s Feet Appeared through the Coffin under the Twin Sala Trees (沙羅雙樹下槨示雙趺)
There were two sala (沙羅) trees on the hill near the Hiranyavati River (拔提河). The Buddha entered nirvana under the twin trees. Deeply saddened, disciples of the Buddha were in condolences and sacredly preserved the body of the Buddha in a coffin under the trees. When Mahakashyapa came back from his Dharma journey, he was so devastated to know that he was not there for the Buddha’s last moments. Circumambulating seven times clockwise, Mahakashyapa lamented with his eyes full of tears. At that very moment, with great compassion, the Buddha pushed out his feet and showed thousand-spoked wheel of Dharma sign on the feet to Mahakashyapa. (Nirvana Sutra 大盤涅槃經)
As such, the Buddha’s raising a flower, sharing a seat and making his two feet appear out of the coffin are the occasions of the Buddha’s mind-to-mind transmission to Mahakashyapa. As a matter of fact, the three occasions are not different from hwadu at all. Therefore, they can be regarded as the very first hwadu. No reasons or explanations could be found in Seon records with regards to these sacred occasions or the Buddha or Mahakashyapa. Even a single word would sap the vitality of the transmission as hwadu. In this wordless way, Seon is transmitted. Opening mouth is instantly delusion (開口卽錯). Added words immediately become an understanding, delusion and attachment.
It is in this vein that Great Master Seosan said, “Anyone overly attached to words will make the Buddha’s flower or Mahakashyapa’s smile mere pale traces of doctrine, while those who get the true message through mind will make even trivial worldly talks the essence of Seon beyond doctrine.”
* 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.