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[Intro to Ganhwa Seon] 10. We are All Buddha Originally

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Writer Jogye Date07 Jul 2016 Read12,275 Comment0


Chapter 2. What Is Ganhwa Seon?

4. We are All Buddha Originally

We are all complete here and now. I am complete and you are complete, too. I am Buddha originally and you, too, are Buddha in the first place. Therefore, this Buddha nature does not suddenly appear from nothing, or it is not something that disappears all of a sudden. Buddhahood is always within ourselves. We only don’t know this simple truth just because accumulated misunderstanding and delusions cover up and mask our Buddha nature within.

The sun in our mind is always shining clearly. The moon in our mind lights up everything all the time. I am the blue sky. Clear and transparent sky. The sky where fleecy clouds flow flowers bloom on trees and birds sing. I am the deep sea. The fundamentals of myself tranquilly lie in the deep sea and vast ocean, not flowing away with constantly changing waves. The blue sea where all kinds of fish freely swim and seaweeds flourish. In Seon meditation, the sun, the moon, the clear sky, the deep sea and the way everything is already complete are all called “originally Buddha (本來成佛).”

However, the way sentient beings live is like being swept away by waves. They vanish into the realm of being in vein and meaninglessness after all the conflicts and shouts. Not being aware that we are all Buddha originally, we carry on our lives suffering from pains and frustrations while satisfied with the fact that we are just sentient beings. 

Attaining enlightenment under the Bodhi tree, with great delight, Sakyamuni Buddha said, “marvelous and marvelous! Tathagata-like wisdom and virtue are already within all sentient beings, however, discrimination and delusions prohibit them from awakening to the truth!” (Flower Garland Sutra 華嚴經)

Here, Sakyamuni Buddha laments with frustration that all beings are well-equipped with wisdom and virtue in the first place as “originally Buddha (本來成佛)”, however, they don’t realize they are not different from the Buddha, misguided by discrimination and delusions. It is like we cannot see the sun covered by clouds even though the sun is there as it is behind clouds. Therefore, the Buddha succinctly illustrated the crystal-clear truth that our mind is Buddha and the path to absolute freedom and happiness exists within ourselves.

Patriarchal Seon thoroughly succeeds this recognition of “originally Buddha”, as the Buddha highlighted that all sentient beings have wisdom and virtue like Tathagata originally. Unwavering commitment to the truth that we are all Buddha in the first place is the very faith in Patriarchal Seon and Ganhwa Seon. Seon meditation starts from this steadfast belief. It is not forcing to have faith in this at all. As that is the way it is originally, we should place solid faith in the obvious truth. If one is obsessed with outward attachment and searching for heaven, the pure land, wealth, honor and comfort, not awakening to Buddhahood within, he or she is like talking in one’s sleep as Ven. Seongcheol said.  

When starting a journey to Seon meditation, it is extremely important where we begin. Should we begin from the understanding that Seon is the process of becoming Buddha through practice or from the fact that we are already Buddha in the first place? It has been always controversial, however, Patriarchal Seon, importantly Ganhwa Seon, starts from the understanding that we are all Buddha originally (本來是佛).   

Therefore, it is not sentient beings become Buddha later through practice. All they need is just a simple awakening to the truth that they themselves are Buddha. It is just about immediately realizing that we are Buddha here and now and already complete and starting to engage in Seon meditation. That is why “you are Buddha originally therefore see the true nature of yourself” is widely said in Seon instead of “you can become Buddha by cultivating your mind and getting rid of delusions”. 

Seon Master Dahui also said, “Awakening to the truth that our mind is already complete Buddha will make us absolutely free and fully comfortable. All delicate occurrences do not come from outside, as everything is complete inherently.” (The Collection of Epistles 書狀)

Nirvana Sutra states that “all sentient beings have Buddha nature (一切衆生悉有佛性)”, while Disquisitions of Sengzhao (肇論) describes, “mountains, rivers, grasses and trees are all Buddha originally (山川草木悉皆成佛)”, highlighting that all beings are enlightened beings as a matter of fact.

There is no one who is not Buddha, and there is not a single place where Buddha does not exist. All beings co-dependently and equally exist and are complete Buddha as they are with no discrimination. Sentient beings are Buddha originally, while reality is the very Pure Land. The vitality of already-enlightened Buddha is within ourselves and delicately works. It is kept intact whether we shout, smile or get angry.

Then, why cannot we realize and see Buddha within? It is because our Buddha nature is covered by the darkness of ignorance. In other words, we are just not exerting our capabilities as Buddha because we don’t know that we are Buddha originally due to our own discrimination and delusions of greed, anger and ignorance. Therefore, once manipulations and thoughts of what is right or wrong stemming from the three poisons are cut off, the darkness fades away and Buddha nature within is revealed. This is also called “seeing true nature (見性)”, meaning we open up the eyes of our mind and see our mind as it is. 

Seon practice is realizing that ordinary mind is just like the mind of Buddha and getting away from all kinds of manipulation and judgment that pollute our mind. Then the true nature of our mind is revealed as it is. Seon Master Huineng asked, “Do not think of good and do not think of evil (不思善不思惡). At this very moment, what is your true nature (本來面目)?” We should never lose our true nature due to discrimination and judgment of good or evil, ugly or pretty, like or dislike.  

Investigating hwadu and engaging in Seon meditation practice is firmly believing in, experiencing and confirming that we are Buddha originally. The reason for hwadu meditation is to root out manipulations and judgment fundamentally.


5. No Reliance on Written Words, a Special Transmission outside the Teaching, Pointing Directly to Mind, See your True Nature and Become Buddha

The essence of Patriarchal Seon is succinctly summarized into these four verses as following:

A special transmission outside the teaching (敎外別傳);

No reliance on written words (不立文字);

Pointing directly to mind (直指人心);

See your true nature and become Buddha (見性成佛)

Patriarchal Seon is to put “pointing directly to mind” and “seeing your true nature and becoming Buddha” through “no reliance on written words” and “a special transmission outside the teaching” into practice. In other words, the goal is attaining enlightenment by directly pointing to our mind and seeing the true nature of ourselves. The way to achieve this goal is not relying on words and sutras. These four phrases are common fundamentals that bring essential part of Patriarchal Seon to light.


No Reliance on Written Words and a Special Transmission outside the Teaching

“No reliance on written words” is widely interpreted as not framed by languages or words or not attached to languages or words. Meanwhile, “a special transmission outside the teaching” refers to special transmission beyond sutras, or mind-to-mind transmission. The light of enlightenment, like the lucid light of a lantern, is passed down from the mind of clear-eyed teachers to the mind of disciples. Seon Master Huineng’s following sentences in the Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch encapsulate the essence of “no reliance on written words”:

“Dear clear-eyed teachers! Please do not be attached to emptiness () upon listening to me highlighting emptiness. The most important thing is not to be attached to emptiness itself.”

Seon Master Huineng asks audience not to be attached to the concept of emptiness that he mentioned. The genuine meaning of “no reliance on written words” is refraining from being attached to words and oblivious of the fundamental message of sutras or records of Patriarchs’ preaching. It cannot be further from complete denial of all words as a means of searching for the truth. 

Seon is transmitted from mind to mind. Sutras and records of Patriarchs are no more than a means to enable us to awaken to our true nature. Therefore, the goal of studying them lies in rightly understanding what they truly mean and realizing the vivid truth.

Even though we take the approach of understanding Ganhwa Seon through sutras and records in the beginning, it is important to thoroughly know what those words are truly for. Sutras and records of Patriarchs are like a finger pointing to the moon or a raft to cross a river. Once we saw the moon, a finger should not occupy our mind anymore; once we crossed a river, we should not be attached to a raft.

As such, the teaching of “no reliance on written words” and “a special transmission outside the teaching” clearly shows that Seon is practice that enables us to rightly see the moon, not a finger. Seon meditation allows us to directly get to the essence of truth by transcending limitations that prohibit us from seeing the moon because of attachment to a finger.


Point Directly to Mind, See Your True Nature and Become Buddha (見性成佛)

The ultimate goal of Seon meditation is to “see your true nature and become Buddha”, or to attain enlightenment by seeing one’s original nature. Then how can we thoroughly see our true nature and become Buddha? Seeing our true nature is intuitively realizing our nature, not relying on languages or words, not looking for or searching something outward. This is the core of “pointing directly to mind.” The object directly pointed to here is not something that exists outside but the mind within. The vitality inside ourselves from the beginning of our life. Our true nature covered by afflictions and delusions. Ganhwa Seon allows us to direct our outward-looking mind to inside and to see our true nature intuitively through hwadu, which is the most accurate and fastest gateless gate to the realm of “no reliance on written words” and “a special transmission outside the teaching”. 

Enlightenment is called “seeing true nature (見性)” in other words. As this expression implies, enlightenment does not come from outside. It is also not attaining some wondrous experiences or something unique. Enlightenment is not acquiring something new but opening our eyes thoroughly to the fact that our inherent nature and mind is Buddha (卽心是佛).  

Searching for Dharma outward is in vain if we don’t know our original mind and true nature. If one awakens to one’s mind and true nature, however, he or she is a genuine Buddha. That is why Patriarchs said “there is no Buddha outside of our mind (心外無佛)”

Seon Master Linji Yixuan wrote in the Record of Linji (臨濟錄) as follows:

“You cannot attain enlightenment because you are constantly searching for something external and consequently you are not able to rest your mind even for a second. Therefore, Patriarchs said that you look for your head with your head. If this phrase prompts you to shed light on yourself (廻光返照), not something external, and you find this moment peaceful by awakening to the truth that your body and mind are no different from those of Patriarchs and the Buddha, you are enlightened.”       

Here, Seon Master Linji highlights that all we need to do is just seeing our true nature by looking inward, as we are already complete Buddha inherently and do not need to seek for something else at all.

 “Seeing true nature” is achieved through one’s own hands-on experiences. Enlightenment does not come from reliance on sutras or records of Patriarchs. Even the Buddha or clear-eyed teachers cannot spoon-feed us with enlightenment, because it can be known only through our own “inner experience (自內證 light within ourselves).”

We know how hot something is by feeling fire with our two hands; we know whether water is hot or cold by actually drinking it. Understanding and memorizing all the lines of sutras or records turns pale by immediate enlightenment of our mind. That is why Seon Master Linji said, “Understanding hundreds of sutras and treatises can never be like an awakened practitioner with tranquil mind (設解得百本經論不如一箇無事底阿師).”

For example, if a person hasn’t tried apples before but says they are good, sour and sweet, it is all wrong description. Only those who actually had apples can depict how they taste in reality. Like this, the explanation with flowery rhetoric about Seon practice by those who have never been engaged in it cannot be reliable. On the contrary, what practitioners with hands-on experiences of meditation say is reliable, even if it is not delivered in a perfectly refined form. As such, enlightenment is completely inward and one’s own experience. There is no other way to reach the realm of enlightenment except for actual practice and hands-on experience (體究鍊磨).

In other words, the essence of Patriarchal Seon is enabling all beings to directly point to their mind and see originally inherited Buddha nature within through the special mind-to-mind transmission beyond sutras, records or any other forms of words.  

 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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