The reason in Ganhwa Seon for saying, do not look at or listen to the words of the Buddha or the patriarchs can be divided broadly into two. The first is due to something coming between the experience of Seon and the language of the scriptures, in that the experience of enlightenment transcends all language. The second is because of a reflection concerning abuses of the Seon style of the Song Dynasty.
The experience of Seon
Let us begin by looking at the first reason. In the tradition of Seon practice, all Seon practitioners were endowed with an individuality of experience. For any of them, their individual actions that could not be followed were extremely important. This was so because they thought and acted where thought and words were cut off. In having cut off the paths of thought and speech, originally only the person concerned could exactly realize that state?? So the approach via language was not permissible in informing one about the world of this experience in its ultimate state.
Seon Master Dazhu Huihai said as follows:
A disciple asked, “Why don’t you allow us to chant the scriptures? And why do you call the scriptures the words of others?”
The Master replied, “It is like a parrot that can learn the words of humans but does not know the meaning the person gives to the words. Even though the scriptures transmit the intentions of the Buddha, one cannot obtain the Buddha’s intent and so if one only chants them then one is only a person who learns the Buddha’s words. It is for that reason I do not permit it.” (Zhufang menren zanmen yulu, Manji Zokuzō 110; Dunwu rudao yaomen).
This dialogue makes it clear that the scriptures are records of the experience of the Buddha, or if not those of the said person are the words of others. That is, this speaks of the point that there is an independent world of experience that cannot be understood through language. If one falls into the words of others and not into one’s own experience, one does not only forget one’s own lineage teacher, but also becomes devoted to the confused mind. And so what the Buddha says, one must experience that true meaning oneself.
The study of scriptures that only remembers language, to the extent that it is not an subjective awakening, is “another’s affair” and so cannot provide any help with one’s own original share (in enlightenment). Although scriptures or the words of patriarchal teachers sometimes are guides for practitioners, if one clings only to them, one’s mind will be trapped and bound, and one will be deeply entangled.
In the Ganhwa Seon tradition, greater importance was placed on experience of an encounter with one’s own orgininal share (of enlightenment) rather than on the words of the Buddha or the patriarchal teachers. This means that the subjective experience by oneself was more important than the experience of the Buddha or Bodhidharma.
Overcoming the Song Dynasty Seon that had fallen into inertia
The Song Dynasty climate of study that had excessively formalized the investigation of the hwadu for reasons other than denying the words of the scriptures and the recorded sayings of the patriarchal teachers also had other faults. The gongan is to be self-aware of one’s own original face through the subjective experience of patriarchal teachers of the past, and the practitioners of the time, without such experience just fell into the letters of the gongan and composed stereotypical Seon-like realms in verse. The person who warned against such bad habits most was Seon Master Dahui. He burnt the Biyanlu, the work of his own teacher, Yuanwu Keqin (1063-1125), because contemporary practitioners were intoxicated only with the Seon words of the Biyanlu and disregarded the essence of Seon practice.