What are dullness and restlessness?
Dullness (honchim) and restlessness (do-geo) hinder practice. Seon Master Dahui also took up dullness and restlessness as representative malfunctions in meditation. Afflictions by dullness and restlessness in this way are because of a lazy mind and delusions. It is because the mind is not woken up entirely.
If the mind cannot be clearly woken when it functions and falls into a stupid and dim condition, that is called dullness. If this dullness is severe, one will fall into sleep. Moreover, the condition in which the mind cannot be still and wanders in disorder is called restlessness. Because the mind wanders here in a condition of confusion due to frustrations and delusions, the disordered mind cannot find calm and is the concrete appearance of that restlessness.
Methods of overcoming dullness and restlessness
Falling into restlessness or dullness while practicing meditation happens because one has not managed the hwadu properly. If one investigates hwadu continuously, there is no time gap to find dullness and restlessness. Seon Master Bojo Jinul said one had to control dullness with an aware mind and control restlessness with the still mind. If the mind is vividly woken, there is no reason to find dullness or drowsiness, and if the mind is immersed into a single object continuously, the restlessness that wanders and is entangled in the threads of thought cannot get a foothold. One must only take up a hwadu earnestly through thought of this study alone, and it completely maintains the mind whether dullness and restlessness comes or not. If one genuinely takes up hwadu, the mind becomes still and sparkling and therefore the two types of malfunction completely disappear.
If it is a hwadu that induces a genuine feeling of doubt, one can repel dullness and restlessness together. When drowsiness or delusions enter, in the place where they come in, one must not dislike or fear the drowsiness or delusions, but only give rise to the hwadu with full sincerity. If one fears or dislikes, that fearing and disliking mind therefore instead fosters drowsiness and delusions.
Seon Master Dahui said this:
Do not try to empty or get rid off the mind; do not be attached to thought or discriminate, but take up only the hwadu continuously wherever and whenever. When false thoughts arise, also do not forcibly try to stop them. If one stops movement and finally manages to stop them, that is only temporary and they will come to move even more. Just look only at the hwadu in the place where the movement of the mind is stopped. (Dahui yulu, fascicle 17)
One must know that dullness and restlessness are all produced in the site of our mind. Thus dullness and restlessness are not objects that have to be repelled, but must be known to be images also of the Buddha-nature, and by investigating the hwadu, must be put back into their original site. As frustrations and delusions also are originally Buddha-nature, it is extremely natural that they be returned to that place as they are through the hwadu. It is not that something that was non-existent is made existent. It is merely confirming the original site. Therefore it is said, “frustrations (kleśa) are bodhi.” If one tries to be like this, one must proceed by study with a fixed support on which the boatman tries go upstream and with the earnest mind of a person who has fallen into a well and tries to escape from the well.