The role of the master in Seon practice is important to the extent that he controls the practitioner’s life. In the Seon Gate the proper method of study is after mental resolution to search for a master and ask him of the Dharma, and through the process of investigating that Dharma to resolve the doubt and then to receive the seal of approval from the master.
The master performs the role of scrutinizing every action of the student and leads the student properly, and when their abilities are matured, they test what they are enlightened to, and propound the Dharma to waken them to that sense of insight, and enlighten them. If signs of a subsiding of the mental resolution are displayed, the master again arouses that mental resolution through dialogue. Even though they brandish the stick and the shout, the master examines the student’s study. If sometimes the student shows hints of retiring from the practice of the hwadu, the master grants a pertinent teaching to invigorate and encourage the student, and leads the student to again earnestly investigate the hwadu.
In this way the master has a role of examining the student’s study as to whether it is what it should be and to whether he has maintained the mental resolution, whether or not he is proceeding along the path of proper study, and to see if his enlightenment is authentic etcetera. He has the decisive and important role of finally giving the student the seal of approval.
The Biyanlu informs us about the relationship between the master and student in the process of enlightenment. Seon Master Jingqing, who appears in these recorded sayings, used the method called jultak as a means of showing the method to later students according to their ability. This “pecking and picking” means “pecking and picking at the same time.” Jul is when a chick comes out, and from inside the egg it produces the sound, a tap, tap, by pecking. Tak is the mother hen picking on the shell in unison with the chick. Only when the chick’s pecking and the mother hen’s picking occur at the same time will the chick break out from the egg with a peck.
For about twenty-one days the mother hen whole-heartedly turns the egg and broods on it, keeping it warm at body temperature. And then when the body heat of the egg is the same as that of the mother hen, the chick inside the egg tries to break the shell and emerge and pecks at the egg with its beak. At that very moment the mother hen picks at the shell from the outside. If at that time the mother hen is lazy about hatching the egg, the egg will rot. Only when the mother hen and the chick are thus mutually of one mind and all is done properly will the chick come out of the egg.
The master and the student must be so close as to be able to read each other’s inner mind, and study together and reveal the mind, and they must be able to examine it. The master sincerely broods over the student as to whether or not he has produced genuine doubt about the hwadu. And then when the time has ripened and the minds of the master and student are one, the shell of ignorance that wraps around the mind of the disciple drops off with a bang and he emerges from it. And so then the master, like when the Buddha held up a lotus flower and showed it and the disciple, the Venerable Kāśyapa smiled as response from a deep impression, forms the relationship of transmission from mind to mind.
Of course, not all the teachers through the generations guided their students with only the jultak method. However, only when the master and student came to investigate the hwadu with this method of jultak did they study as they should. This is the correct path of study.