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[Intro to Ganhwa Seon] 14. Clear-eyed Teachers, Guiding Light to Enlightenment

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Writer Jogye Date03 Nov 2016 Read10,407 Comment0


Chapter 3. The Essentials of Ganhwa Seon Practice  

4. Clear-eyed Teachers, Guiding Light to Enlightenment

Why Clear-eyed Instructors Matter

Road signs are essential for travelers, guiding them to right direction to their final destination. Likewise, practitioners definitely need clear-eyed teachers who can lead them to right milestones throughout the course of Seon practice, examine what they have achieved and ultimately give a seal of approval (印可). As the whole process of attaining enlightenment through practice is very delicate and thorough, practitioners could be misled without the right guidance of Seon Masters who can examine and correct subtle distraction of their disciples. The sea of our mind can create storms at any time, even though it seems to be calm. Our mind is far more unpredictable than nature. For this reason, the role of clear-eyed teachers who guide the path of our mind cannot be emphasized enough.

The Flower Garland Sutra defines clear-eyed teachers as the doors, carts, ships, torch light, paths and bridges that guide sentient beings to the wisdom of all kinds (切智).

While clear-eyed teachers refer to all beings who help practitioners, they are generally Seon Masters with right view on Dharma. On the contrary, those who hinder spiritual practice and enlightenment are called evil teachers. 

Clear-eyed teachers can be likened to the eyes of a human being. That is why Seon Masters who perfected wisdom highlighted the need to be instructed and guided by clear-eyed teachers as a precondition for well-guided practice. For those who are in search of the truth, wise instructors are like gentle moonlight in the total darkness. It is in this regard that the Buddha said meeting with clear-eyed teachers completes the entire journey to enlightenment.

In his Watching Words for Seon (), Seon Master Boshan Wuyi ( 1574-1630) describes, “Clear-eyed teachers are like outstanding doctors who can easily cure severe illness and be merciful with great merit as much as they want. Practitioners should be clearly reminded of the fact that there is no illness or whatsoever worse than being complacent about their accomplishment of practice by being blinded by their own views and thereby not even trying to meet with clear-eyed teachers.”

Importantly, the role of teachers is crucial to Ganhwa Seon practice to the extent practitioners’ future directions are determined by the teachers. It is because Seon Masters lead disciples by carefully watching each and every change of practitioners’ mind and encourage their disciples to attain enlightenment through Seon encounter dialogues (禪問答) when practitioners’ Seon meditation is mature enough. When disciples seem to be lethargic and have forgotten their initial aspiration for enlightenment, right words and acts of Masters renew their spirit. Clear-eyed teachers examine every step of practice of their disciples by thoroughly checking whether they are on the right direction to investigate hwadu or whether they are in a predicament. A seal of approval is given to practitioners when they ultimately shatter hwadu and attain enlightenment by Seon Masters after thorough examination.


Seon Masters and Their Pedagogy

Clear-eyed teachers are not the ones we can easily come across. Some practitioners even end up wandering around throughout their practice without meeting with Seon Masters, while others not getting instructions even though teachers are right next to them. Furthermore, in some cases, there are practitioners who cannot incorporate instructions and insights of their teachers into their own practice. Meeting with and getting right lessons from Seon Masters, therefore, is essential to spiritual practice. The most important part is having strong faith in Seon Masters without a single piece of doubt. Without this unwavering conviction about clear-eyed teachers, progress in practice cannot be expected. Practitioners should remember that their practice can be advanced as much as they have conviction about their teachers.

However, when there are no clear-eyed teachers around us or we have no idea about who could be our teachers, one of the best ways is steadfastly continuing Seon meditation practice as well as prayer. Then we are finally meant to meet with teachers, according to eminent Seon Masters. What is noteworthy here is that we can only be taught by clear-eyed teachers as much as our capability and merit allow. In other words, what truly matters is our commitment and aspiration.  

The aspiration for meeting with Seon Masters should be sincere. Unwavering commitment to learning from clear-eyed teachers and awakening to truth is a must, regardless of how far and difficult the journey could be. As a matter of fact, guidance and instructions of enlightened teachers cannot be compared to anything. That is why eminent teachers, too, did not mind traveling around to meet with Seon Masters.

The most widely and universally used pedagogy in Ganhwa Seon is Seon encounter dialogues, which have solidified and broadened the scope of Seon practice. It might be more appropriate to say that there is Seon where there are Seon encounter dialogues, instead of saying that Seon precedes these dialogues. It is because Seon meditation lost its momentum when there was no Dharma question and answer session between teachers and disciples, whereas Seon flourished when numerous teacher-student dialogues were held vibrantly.  

In the Blue Cliff Record, Seon Master Jingqing perfectly illustrates how clear-eyed teachers should provide instructions to disciples and how disciples are supposed to behave.  

The chick’s tap and the mother hen’s peck should occur mutually and simultaneously (啐啄同時). The chick taps when it is ready to emerge from the egg, while the hen pecks at the egg shell to help the chick. When the tap and peck take place at the same time, the chick comes out to the world finally. Even a slight mistake or imbalance between the chick and the hen, such as body temperature and care not ideal to the birth of the chick, prohibits the chick from emerging from the egg. Then the egg goes bad. The chick cannot live in the bad egg. No birth or transformation can occur here.  

A clear-eyed teacher and a disciple should be in perfect harmony like the chick and the hen to be able to read each other’s mind to successfully practice and examine progress. A truly clear-eyed teacher carefully embraces disciples so that they can have genuine doubt on hwadu and are not misled. When the right time matures and then the teacher and disciples become fully concentrated on hwadu together, the shell of ignorance and hindrances of practitioners is broken and eliminated naturally and suddenly. It is just like “the Buddha twirls a flower (世尊拈) and Mahakashyapa smiled (微笑).” 

Mind-to-mind transmission through Seon encounter dialogues between teachers and disciples opens up the realm of enlightenment. This harmony is like seamlessly built stonewall and perfect operation of millstones. It can also be likened to the faultless harmony between the bed stone and the runner stone (築著磕著).

Seon encounter dialogues are often held in a group-based setting. However, Seon transmission is thoroughly one-to-one. It is because incorporating teachings of Seon Masters into one’s own practice is only possible through personal interaction with Masters.

The duty of clear-eyed teachers is guiding practitioners to the right direction, helping them steadfastly continue the practice, examining progress and giving a seal of approval to disciples when they are enlightened. Disciples should put absolute trust in their Seon Master with humbleness.

 *  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.

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