[Intro to Ganhwa Seon] 12. What is Enlightenment and What Do We Awaken to?
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Chapter 3. The Essentials of Ganhwa Seon Practice
2. What is Enlightenment and What Do We Awaken to?
What is Enlightenment?
With Seon practice, we intend to attain wisdom through body and mind, while the goal of meditation is equanimity of our mind. Attaining wisdom is, in other words, putting wisdom into practice, and also awakening to our true nature, which is eliminating the sense of “oneself”. Turning oneself once filled with delusions into the one who opens his or her eyes to the true nature within. Actual practice is incorporated into the meaning of enlightenment, which is the very perfection of attaining the truth.
Seon inherently includes the meaning of cultivating (修禪) or practicing Seon (禪修行). The act performed in an attempt to attain enlightenment is Seon. Seon puts strong emphasis on enlightenment more than any other methods of Buddhist practice. It is safe to say that Seon practice intends to attain enlightenment. As a matter of fact, enlightenment is fundamentally reflected in essential doctrines of Buddhism. Motivated by the aspiration for enlightenment, the Buddha decided to renounce the secular life (departing from home 出家). Often, renouncement of the mundane world has been regarded as the first step toward enlightenment.
With renouncing the secular life being the beginning of enlightenment, attaining enlightenment is the ultimate destination of the renouncement. This, in turn, gets through to the beginning. Therefore, enlightenment is the first milestone to realize the primary task or duty (本分事) of monastic life. That is how we put enlightenment into practice. If enlightenment is about realizing oneself, putting enlightenment into practice is incorporating enlightenment into what we do in our society. This is how Seon practice is thoroughly absorbed in and out of ourselves (內外明徹) in reality. Enlightenment without actual practice ends up being a mere theory or philosophy.
Enlightenment can be attained anytime and anywhere and by anyone, equally realized without any discrimination and unfolding universally and continuously. It is because purity and equality are the inherent characteristics and developments of enlightenment. Purity means no attachment. It is not stuck to anything because it does not remain at one point. In addition, enlightenment is universal as it can be attained by anyone. Therefore, enlightenment can be likened to a widely opened gate, which always welcomes those who are awakened to the truth, while being closed to those not.
Enlightenment cannot be attained through doctrines only. Rather, it is attainable through the harmony between physical and mental practice. If it is only about mind, it will remain as meditation and philosophy. Meanwhile, if it is just about techniques, it will end up being mechanism. Finally, if it is attained only through physical practice, it is just the act of arts and sports. However, Seon cannot be achieved by individual factors of mind, body and techniques. In other words, Seon requires physical practice as well as spiritual awakening to truth, while also aiming at inspiring others with positive influence.
Characteristics of Enlightenment
For Seon practitioners, devoting themselves to ceaseless practice throughout their lifetime or even many lifetimes to come is generally regarded common and natural. In addition, Seon highlights attaining enlightenment of mind. Dazu Huike (慧可 487–593) became the Second Patriarch of Chinese Seon school with transmission of Dharma of mind (心法) from Bodhidharma. On the contrary, it is pointless if one continues to physically train oneself without actually understanding core principles of truth. As a matter of fact, it is not too difficult to find “seemingly practitioners” who just sit and assume meditative position, while not understanding true meaning of life and nature at all.
One of the factors that make us truly human beings is the ability to attain enlightenment of mind. Our mind can be enlightened by our own mind. With tranquil mind through meditation practice of our body, this mind in turn makes our body conducive to concentration. Therefore, practice of body and mind cannot be separated. It is impossible to continue physical practice without cultivating mind. Likewise, mind cannot be trained properly without assistance of body. It is all because of the truth of “non-duality of body and mind (身心不二)”. One does not precede the other. Body and mind are in work at the same time and at the same place. With body being the container of mind, mind is the content of body. Neither body nor mind can work if one of them is incomplete. It is like the relationship between lantern and light. There cannot be light without a lantern, while a lantern without light is no use. There is light when there is a lantern and the other way around is true, too.
In addition, enlightenment in Seon aims at dedicating merit to the benefit of all sentient beings. In fact, the dedication of merit should be a precondition for achieving Buddhahood. The dedication makes enlightenment truly enlightenment based on principles of Seon. Without it, enlightenment is just pipe dream and empty achievement. As the ultimate goal of Seon practice is attaining enlightenment that can actually dedicate merit to liberating all beings from sufferings, practitioners should not be complacent about nominal “enlightenment”. It is because the characteristics of enlightenment are not entrapped into the name of enlightenment but universally encompass and engage in history and the world we live in. Enlightenment without universality is nothing but self-deception and self-satisfaction.
Benefits of Enlightenment
Enlightened practitioners sense the benefits of enlightenment both physically and mentally. The benefits, however, cannot be formalized or customized, because they are universal to everyone. Practitioners come to experience them naturally through continuous practice. With the actual experience, truth of enlightenment becomes internalized and inherent. This is very personal process, however, once truth is transmitted to a practitioner, that enlightenment no longer belongs to oneself. Enlightenment is equal. It is inherent in all beings originally and the process of realizing it within oneself is what we call “enlightenment”. The process of enlightenment cannot be replaced or vicariously accomplished by others at all. It is one’s own trembling and vivid moment of awakening to truth, while its benefits being dedicated to all sentient beings.
Effects of enlightenment are no longer framed by practice. That is why Seon Master Linji said, “Wherever you are, be your master (隨處作主); wherever you stand, stand on truth (立處皆眞).” Being “as you are” is just enlightenment itself. Once a practitioner’s spiritual capability is matured enough to be able to truly understand what Master Linji highlighted, practice is not always a precondition for enlightenment. In a similar vein, not engaging in practice does not mean enlightenment disappears. Enlightenment is regardless of whether we practice or not. It transcends the boundary.
Another core characteristic of enlightenment is purity. It means there is no attachment. In other words, it is empty. Dependent origination and the middle way, which are based on emptiness, are what practitioners aim to awaken to. As the two core principles for enlightenment are empty, there is no room for attachment after enlightenment. Not for discriminatory or distinguishing characteristics, either. Therefore, strong wish to own tangible and visible outcomes is unnecessary. With no attachment, every wish and every step is turned into the place of truth (實地). So, there is no pain from wishing something special. As there is no pain, those who attain enlightenment are free from all kinds of attachment.
Ganhwa Seon is the practice that incorporates the principles of dependent origination and the middle way into our lives not through superficial understanding but through concentration on hwadu. The ultimate purpose of Ganhwa Seon practice is attaining enlightenment right here and now and liberating oneself from all constraints. With right enlightenment, we come to realize we are Buddha originally.
* 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 autumn 2016 edition of the Lotus Lantern magazine under Buddhist Culture Section on page 16~22.