The reason Ganhwa Seon is the Supreme Dharma
Why is Ganhwa Seon called the practice method of the Supreme Vehicle?
Firstly, because Ganhwa Seon retained the tradition of Patriarchal Seon. Patriarchal Seon is an excellent method of practice that elucidates sudden awakening and seeing the nature, which overcame the gradual cultivation method through śamatha vipaśyanā (ji-gwan) that was popular at that time. In other words, Patriarchal Seon is the direct pointing at the mind of a person apart from words and reason, and there it directly enlightens one to the true face of the mind. So Seon masters of the past said, “If one points at the moon, one has to look at the moon; why look at the finger tips?” Again, Seon Master Seosan wrote as follows in the Seon Gyo gyeol:
Seon is the mind of the Buddha; Gyo (Teaching) is the words of the Buddha. Teaching attains the place of no words with words, and Seon reaches the place of no words without words. If one reaches the wordless without words, since one cannot name it as anything, that which forcibly names it is called mind. (Seong Gyo gyeol)
Secondly, Ganhwa Seon is where all is provided and all actions are achieved, and where there are no entanglements. Appropriately there is nowhere to reside, which is the Seon that brings forth the mind. Huineng said the following:
Where all Dharmas are mastered and all actions are provided, and while not apart from everything, still one is apart from the characteristics of dharmas, not attaining anything from deeds; that is the Dharma of the Supreme Vehicle. (Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch)
Thirdly, Ganhwa Seon, although it has faithfully inherited this Patriarchal Seon, possesses a surpassing power of cutting the flow of discriminating consciousness by the investigation of the hwadu that is the most developed form of Patriarchal Seon.
Ganhwa Seon is called gyeongjeolmun, the fastest shortcut to enlightenment through the examination of the hwadu. This means it occupies a position as the highest method of practice and the most developed in Buddhism and Seon School history. The shortcut gate means “that as the source that has cut away all multiple and circuitous expedient means, it is the most direct, fastest, most concise and appropriate path.” Thus Ganhwa Seon, compared to other methods of practice, being the surest and fastest meditation method for enlightenment, is called the Supreme Vehicle Dharma/method.
In his “Letters” (Shuzhuang), Seon Master Dahui wrote, “Even though one studies for a long time, if one cannot gain the strength, then one must seek a method that concisely gains one power,” and so he emphasized the importance of the short-cut gate. In Korea, all the great Seon teachers such as Seon masters Bojo, Jin-gak, Naong, Taego, Seosan and Pyeon-yang clearly showed that the short-cut gate of Ganhwa Seon was the Supreme Vehicle method of practice.
Can anyone practice Ganhwa Seon?
If so, then can anyone practice this Supreme Vehicle method of practice that is Ganhwa Seon? In the Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch it states that a person possessed of excellent and superior ability can practice this Patriarchal Seon practice. If so, can a person who is not of superior ability practice this Patriarchal Seon or Ganhwa Seon?
Certainly not. A person of low ability means a person who is deluded of themselves, and by seeking only externally for the Buddha, cannot be enlightened to their own nature. However, even though a person has such a low ability, if they hear the teaching of Patriarchal Seon that immediately enlightens, cease the aim of rushing towards the outside and at that moment and then and there they sight their own original nature, such people directly become people of superior ability. If one is such a person, then anyone of them can enter into the gate of Ganhwa Seon.
Again, in the practice of Seon there is no distinction between a monastic and a layperson. It does not matter whether one is male or female, old or young, rich or poor, aristocrat or plebe. Seon Master Huineng clearly spoke of this in the Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch:
Teachers! If you wish to practice, since lay persons may do so, there is no need to try to practice in a monastery. If one does not practice even while in a monastery that is akin to a person of an evil mind being in the Western Pure Land. If one practices even while at home (as a lay person), that is like a person of the mundane world of the east cultivating good. But if one vows that one will cultivate purity even at home, that place is the Western Pure Land. (Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch)
In this way, Huineng said that in practice there is no distinction between layperson and monastic, or village home or monastery. He emphasized that wherever one is, it is important to genuinely decide and earnestly cultivate the mind. Even in the Ganhwa Seon that genuinely continues this, there is no distinction between layperson and monastic.
On the other hand, sometimes among those practicing meditation there are cases of those who stoop to other methods of practice, but one must bear in mind that this is a path that falls into conceit, the thing most warned against for practitioners.
A reason the practitioners of Seon often fall into self-conceit is that they cannot distinguish the moon from the finger. To regard sitting only as the good, or the supremacism of seeing the nature in which if one is enlightened there is nothing more, can become a poison that fosters conceit. A practitioner who has firmly established correct views and is genuinely resolved (balsim) to attain enlightenment, only being humble, cannot even seek the shadow of that conceit. The very feature of the practitioner who has lost all arrogance is the attitude and quality of the warmest and honest practitioners that they all must possess.