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History of Seon :

The Life and Enlightenment of Shakyamuni Buddha
Shakyamuni Buddha (ca. 563 ~ ca. 483 BC) was born in Lumbini, near the Nepalese-Indian border to his father, King Suddhodana of the Shakya tribe and to his mother, Queen Mayadevi. He was given the name of Siddhartha, which means ‘one who obtains success and prosperity’. Despite being pampered and loved as the only son and future king of the country, young Siddhartha was preoccupied with thoughts and questions. “Who am I?” “Why must we die?” “Is there no way to escape this suffering?”

When the Prince Siddhartha was 29 he saw four sights on four consecutive days. He saw elderly man struggling to walk, a sick man laying in the street, and a corpse. On the fourth day he saw a mendicant monk, a holy man. He realized that people have little control over what happens to their body and seeing the monk he was inspired to renounce his worldly life. One night he left his wife, son and gave up his kingdom for the sake of finding a way in which to eternally free himself from suffering.

Siddhartha traveled around the country in search of a teacher, studying under them all, but he realized that none of them addressed the fundamental problem of birth and death. So he left for the mountains by himself, practicing all sorts of austerities. For 6 years he practiced in Samadhi, birds even built nests in his hair. One day in the eastern sky he saw the morning star and suddenly awakened to his True Self. It was then he became Buddha, or the enlightened one.

For 21 days he sat thinking, “The Dharma of the utmost cannot be explained; instead of trying to teach I will enter directly into Nirvana.” But Manjusri Bodhisattva appeared and prayed, “This is true, but for the sake of all sentient beings please teach us.” So for 45 years Buddha taught the Dharma to sentient beings, depending on their ability to understand. This is what makes up the Buddhist Scriptures(敎).
However as the Truth of Buddhism, the Dharma of the utmost, cannot be explained it can neither be captured in the scriptures. This is called “transmitting mind, through mind”, and this is the essence of Seon(禪). The first instance of this is known as the “Flower Sermon (拈花微笑)”:

One day the King of the Gods, Lord Indra, presented the Buddha with an offering of flowers. The Buddha took one of these flowers and held it up to the assembly. The assembly just sat there looking on, but the Venerable Mahakashyapa, understanding this, quietly smiled. The Buddha saw this and said, “I have the true Dharma Eye, the Marvelous Mind of Nirvana, this I entrust to Mahakashyapa.”
The History of Seon and the Systemization of Ganhwa Seon
Shakyamuni Buddha formally recognized his disciple and passed on his teaching on to him, thus making Mahakashyapa the 1st Patriarch. All of the successive Patriarchs have done so in this same manner also. This tradition of meeting with one’s teacher to have enlightenment confirmed and the teaching passed on has continued through the generations to the present day.

Bodhidharma was the 28th Patriarch in India and became the 1st Patriarch in China after traveling to China carrying the Seon tradition with him. The golden robe and the bowl were symbolic of the direct transmission of mind, through mind, from the Buddha and this continued through the 33rd Patriarch, or more commonly known as the 6th Patriarch in China, Huineng (六祖慧能 638~713).

Patriarchal Seon in China began to establish roots of with the 6th Patriarch. The Master Huineng made it clear to everyone that this Original Self could be seen anytime if there was “sudden enlightenment of one’s True Nature”, and it was this doctrine of “sudden enlightenment” that allowed Seon in China to flourish and continue.

The Master Nanyue Huairang (南岳懷讓 677~744) and Qingyuan Zingsi (靑原行思 ?~741), who were the descendents of the 6th Patriarch, had two famous disciples that spread the tradition of Patriarchal Seon throughout the southern part of China. These two masters were Mazu Daoyi (馬祖道一 709~788) and Shitou Xiqian (石頭希遷 700~790). Both had many excellent disciples who helped bring Seon Buddhism into the culture of China.

Historically Mazu Daoyi had been responsible for bringing the most enlightened disciples into the world. Where it is typically considered fortunate for a master to have one or two enlightened disciples, Mazu had 84 disciples who received transmission. His top disciple was Master Baizhang Huaihai (百丈懷海 749~814) who built the first large meditation monastery as well as establish the Pure Rules of the community. The most well known being, “a day without work is a day without food”. These rules and the environment which allowed the community to focus completely on meditation was the beginning of an important chapter in the history of Seon.

In the ninth and tenth centuries the students of Mazu and Shitou spread Seon not only through China but through all of Asia. From Shitou came the Caodong school (曹洞宗 also known as Soto), Yunmen school (雲門宗), and Fayen school (法眼宗). The Linji school (臨濟宗 also known as Rinzai) and Guiyang school (潙仰宗) trace their roots back to Mazu. Together these traditions make up what we call the 5 great schools of Seon.

By the 12th century the Linji and Caodong schools were the only ones remaining. Hongzhi Zhengjue (宏智正覺 1091~1157) of Caodong spread the method of Silent Illumination (默照禪), or Shikantaza, and TaiHai (大慧宗杲 1089~1163) of Linji, began to criticize this method because it had a tendency to lead students into darkness. Instead he insisted that Ganhwa Seon (看話禪) was more appropriate for contemporary students. Thus began the era when Patriarchal Seon split into two distinct types of practice: Silent Illumination and Ganhwa Seon.

The teachings of Master TaiHai, and Ganhwa Seon, were especially concerned with preserving the essence of Patriarchal Seon. In other words not only did it emphasize the “sudden enlightenment” that the 6th Patriarch so often referred to, but it provided a means in which to correctly use the hwadu (or kong-an) in practice. Hwadu(話頭) means the “head of the word”. The head of the word is the instant before the word comes out. So in Ganhwa Seon, the word is not important. Instead it is the intended meaning which is important, the thing that words cannot convey. Through the hwadu, all speech and thought is cut off and Self Nature, the mind transmitted by the Buddhas and Patriarchs, can be awakened.
Ganhwa Seon in Korea
Seon was first brought to Korea by monks during the Unified Shilla Dynasty (668~935) who traveled to the China during the Tang Dynasty (618~907) and studied under the disciples of the 6th Patriarch. They returned to Korea and established “Nine Mountains Seon” (九山禪門). National Master Dowui (道義國師) studied under Xidang Zhicang (西堂智藏 735~814 a disciple of Mazu) and received transmission which he brought back to Korea. He is now considered to be the first Patriarch of the newly established Jogye Order, which took its name from the mountain where the 6th Patriarch in China resided.

The National Master, Bojo Jinul (普照知訥 1158~1210) first systemized the teachings of TaiHai and Ganhwa Seon. At the same time Master JinGak Hyeshim (眞覺慧諶 1178~1234) compiled the first collection of kong-ans in Korea, “Seon Mun Yeom Song” (禪門拈頌), giving meditation monks a point of reference for their hwadu practice. But it was not until Taego Bowu (太古普愚 1301~1381) that Ganwha Seon took firm root in Korea. Taego Bowu meditated for 20 years and enlightened to the essence of Seon. He too, traveled to China in search of a Master to confirm his enlightenment and met Master Shiwu Qinggong (石屋淸珙 1272~1352), the 56th Patriarch in the Linji school. The Master acknowledged Taego Bowu and transmitted to him the Dharma, making Taego the 57th Patriarch in the school and the 1st Patriarch of the Linji school in Korea. So while Master Dowui is considered to be the first Patriarch of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, the Korean Seon Masters of the present all trace their lineage back to Taego Bowu.

Unlike the previous dynasties in Korea, the Chosun dynasty (1392~1897) was in favor of Confucionism and worked to suppress Buddhism. Temples were emptied and the remaining monks were forced into the mountains. For 500 years Buddhism was relatively secluded from the rest of society, temples became self sufficient, not able to depend on the support of the laity, and propagation of Seon teachings to the public was minimal.

After the Chosun Dynasty it was the Master Gyeongheo (鏡虛惺牛 1846~1912), who helped revitalize Seon Buddhism and spread it widely through the country. Master Gyeongheo had many great disciples whom helped him with this task but the four disciples that he gave transmission to were Seon Masters Hyewol, Mangong, Chim-un, and Hanam.

Master Hyewol (慧月慧明 1862~1937) became a novice monk under Master Gyeongheo when he was 12 years old. Master Gyeongheo asked him the question, “What is the thing in front of your eyes?” For many years he kept this as a hwadu and after time he became one with it. For three years he was like this. One day when he was making straw sandals, the sound of the hammer on the rock broke this hwadu open. He received confirmation and transmission from Master Gyeongheo, becoming his top disciple. While he was not as famous as the younger, more well read Master Mangong, he was considered to have the clearest eye of the Dharma. His simple life reflected the mind of a mindless Seon master.

Master Unbong (雲峰性粹 1889~1944 ) received his ordination as a novice when he was 13 years old. He was very well read, being familiar with all of the scriptures, but realizing that there was more to truth than could be found in a book he set his practice with the goal for enlightenment. He studied for several years. In 1923, when he was 35, he made his wish and for 100 days without sleep he began a retreat of prayer and meditation. It was at this time when his hwadu opened up and he received transmission from Master Hyewol.

Master Hyanggok (香谷蕙林 1912~1978) left his home to live at Master Unbong’s temple when he was 16 years old, and his first experience with enlightenment was as a postulant- before he received his novice precepts. Later he was meditating at Bongamsa Temple (鳳巖寺) with his friend in the Dharma, Seongchol sunim (退翁性徹 1912~1993). His friend asked him a question that he could not answer, for 21 days he fell into deep Samadhi, forgetting about food and sleep. He stood in front of the pagoda and didn’t even realize the rain from the summer monsoons. One day while he was walking he suddenly noticed his hands swinging. At that moment, the question put to him by his friend suddenly opened up and became clear. He received confirmation and transmission from Master Unbong and became known for his teaching of the “One Upward Road” (向上一路) and established a temple, Myokwanumsa in the southern part of Korea. He had one transmitted disciple, the Master Jinje.
Master Jinje, Practice and Enlightenment
Seon Master Jinje was born in a small village of a southern province of South Korea in the first lunar month of 1934. On his 19th birthday he decided to leave the secular life and become a monk. There was a small temple, HaeKwanAm(海觀庵), a few kilometers from his home where the Master Seogu(石友) resided. Master Seogu was respected by both practitioners and the laity, one day he called out to the young Jinje:

“The worldly life is OK, but there is a better life here. Do you want to give it a try?”

“How is it better?” the young Jinje asked.

“There is a way in which an ordinary man can become a great Buddha,” Master Seogu replied, “My advice is to learn the way in which to do so.”
He recieved his novice precepts in 1954 and set out for the life of a wandering meditation monk. In this time the young Jinje sunim traveled around the country studying at different temples and had an experience he believed to be enlightenment. For 2 years he held on to the belief of being enlightened until finally he realized, “I have been mistaking a thief to be my son, a rock to be a piece of gold.” And so when he was 25 years old he requested the teaching of the famous Seon Master Hyanggok and received the hwadu, “Hsiang-yen: Up a Tree” (香嚴上樹話):

A man who was hanging by his teeth from a tree branch high upon a precipice. His hands were tied and his feet dangling. Somebody walked by and asked him why Bodhidharma came to China. If he answers he will fall, if he does not he will have failed in his duty. If you were in this situation, what would you do?

After 2 years of devoting himself to this, one morning he tripped on a rock. While he was standing up, suddenly the hwadu became clear. He wrote this enlightenment gatha:

How many people know about the truth in this staff?
The Buddhas of the past, present, and future don’t know it
This staff suddenly turns into a dragon of gold
With the freedom to perform all kinds of works.

When Master Hyanggok heard this he suddenly asked,
“If you were this dragon and you met a garuda (a legendary bird which eats dragons) what would you do then?”

“I would bow and take three steps back,” Jinje sunim replied.

Master Hyanggok praised his student, “You’re right. Very good!”

After this Jinje sunim could answer almost anything without hesitation, except for the kong-an “Sun faced Buddha, Moon faced Buddha” (日面佛月面佛). This was made famous by the renown Master Xuedou(雪竇), while clearly seeing through every other kong-an, Master Xuedou struggled with this for nearly 20 years.

One day a monk came to pay his respects to the Great Master Mazu. He asked, “How did you sleep last night?” Mazu replied, “Sun faced Buddha, Moon faced Buddha (Sun faced Buddha lived for 1800 years, Moon faced Buddha lived for 1 day)”.

So for 5 years Jinje sunim put forth all of his efforts towards this hwadu until finally one winter, when everything was white and covered with snow, he walked up to a cistern with snow piled up on its edges. When he looked down he saw, not snow, but only clear, still water. This Hwadu suddenly broke open, the question had been resolved. He was able to discern the countless teachings of the ancient masters and wrote this gatha:

With one strike from this staff
The head of Vairocana topples over
One thunderous shout,
And all of these conflicts vanish
In this one room hermitage
I stretch out my legs
The fresh wind over the ocean feels new everyday
Though it will blow for thousands of years.

It was during the last Dharma lecture of the summer retreat in 1967 when Jinje sunim asked Master Hyanggok,

“I’m not asking about what the Buddhas and Patriarchs know, but tell me what they don’t know.”

“Nine times nine is eighty one,” the Master replied.

“All of the Buddhas and Patriarchs know that.”

“Six times six is thirty six.”

Jinje sunim bowed and without a word left the hall. The Master came down from his seat and returned to his room. The next day Jinje sunim put on his robes and asked the Master again,

“I’m not asking about the Eye of the Buddha or the Eye of Wisdom, please tell me what the Eye of the enlightened monk is.”

“The duties of a Bhikkuni are those done by women,” the master responded.

“Today- I have for the first time- truly seen you, Master.”

“From where are you seeing me?” the Master asked. “Kwan(關)!” Jinje sunim shouted (this character has many different meanings, “gate” or “the wooden bolt that locks the gate”).

Master Hyanggok was delighted, “You are right! You are right!”

It was at this time the Master made him his Dharma successor and the 79th Patriarch of the lineage passed on through Master Huineng and Master Linji of China, one of the few intact lineages in the world. He wrote this transmission gatha:

Entrusting this Dharma to my successor, Jinje Beopwon:

The great, living Dharma of the Buddhas and Patriarchs,
Can be neither transmitted nor received.
As I am transmitting this living Dharma,
To gather or to spread, it is up to you.