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What is Ganhwa Seon?

The House Style of Korean Patriarchal Seon


Korean Buddhism breathes a vivid life with the practice of Patriarchal Seon House style of Ganhwa Seon. This is something really rare that cannot be found in other Buddhist domains.
Each year in Jogye Order, over 2,000 meditation monks and over 100 Seon cloisters enter the summer or winter retreats for three months at a time. Retreat means that the monk refrains completely from leaving or entering the gate of the Seon cloister and vigorously practices (jeongjin or vīrya, strenuous effort, zealous practice) meditation. For the period of the retreat the practitioners of the cloister rise from their sleeping places at the get-up time of the monastery, which is 3.00 am, or even earlier, at 2.00 am. After getting up, at the sound of a bamboo clapper the assembly of the Seon cloister gathers and wordlessly worships the Buddha with three bows. In the Seon cloister, with the exception of the times when they gather to eat, the gongyang time, and when they work together physically, according to the pure regulations of each Seon cloister, they devote themselves solely to the zealous pursuit of sitting in meditation from the getting-up time until 9.00 or 10.00, and sometimes 11.00 pm in the evening. The times of a Seon cloister’s zealous practice differs because the custom for that practice differs according to the cloister. The customs for zealous practice of meditation in Seon cloisters are usually divided into three types:
             The first is the normal zealous practice. The daily zealous practice is to sit in meditation for eight or ten hours per day.
             The second is the additional zealous practice, which is to spur on even more than the everyday zealous practice, with the aim of exerting oneself even more and practicing meditation for twelve or even fourteen hours per day.
             The third is ferocious zealous practice. One practices zealously without sleeping day or night for twenty-four hours, and one practices meditation for eighteen hours or more. In the majority of Seon cloisters, for seven days all the assembly practices this, and in some Seon cloisters this even lasts for one month.
Besides vigorous zealous practice, there is also jangjwa bulwa (long sitting and no lying down), which is sitting in meditation without lying down for a set period of three months or even longer, and there is also the practice of the gateless barrier (mumun-gwan) in which one zealosly practices meditation alone without going outside of a locked door and staying alone in a single room. This practice of mumungwan can last six months, a year, three years or at most six years. In addition there is the formation of fraternities (gyeolsa) for fifteen months or three years etcetera, in which all of the assembly is banned from going beyond the monastery gate, and one practices zealously for a set period of time in the Seon cloister.
When the retreat ends, the Seon monks leave for manhaeng (various supplementary practices). These Seon monks are called unsu (cloud and water) monks in the sense that they are practitioner monks who drift like clouds and river water. The reason for departing for manhaeng is this is where they will see spread out in the field of concrete life the state that is caused by the zealous practice of meditation during the period of the retreat. And they also receive an examination of the condition of their practice or their own enlightenment from the keen-eyed masters they seek out. Manhaeng also is a practice of seeking the Way, in that they consistently hold the hwadu during the various aspects of life. Again, some meditation monks also pursue zealous practice in the monastic retreat, which is not a set period retreat, but continues even in the period of freedom, along with their practice in the Seon cloister.
In each of the secluded and pristine mountains of Korea there are Seon cloisters and small hermitages. In such places are gathered unsu meditation monks who are trying to illuminate the eternal darkness, entering into the samādhi of single-mindedly seated in meditation and not budging in the slightest from their hwadu. Also, many lay Buddhists hold their hwadu and zealously practice Seon meditation in citizen’s Seon rooms in the city centers, trying to illuminate their own mind-nature.
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