Pages InformationWriter Jogye Date03 Nov 2016 Read3,947 Comment0
Chapter 3. The Essentials of Ganhwa Seon Practice
1. Why is Right View (正見) Crucial?
Right view refers to the correct understanding of teachings of the Buddha. It can be firmly established by thoroughly awakening to the truth, such as the middle way, dependent origination and nonself to have well-guided world view and values. The well-established view on the Buddha’s teachings makes the path of spiritual practice clear with unwavering commitment. With right view, we can have more clarified reasons for and ultimate goals of practice and ways to put the teachings into practice. In other words, correct understanding of key Buddhist doctrines guides us to awaken the sincere aspiration for enlightenment of our mind.
In fact, accurate understanding of right view enables us to overcome afflictions and lead happier lives. The only way to acquire right view is, of course, enlightenment through spiritual practice. However, learning doctrinal teachings of right view must precede practice. That is why the Buddha highlighted that right view is the very beginning of Buddhist practice and said, “Bhikkhus, right view comes first. Why? Comprehending that wrong view is wrong view while comprehending right view is right view is the very right view.” (The Connected Discourses of the Buddha 雜阿含經)
Practice without solid right view is prone to being misled. Therefore, practitioners should make sure that all Buddhist practice is firmly built on well-established right view. Ganhwa Seon is no exception, because it is also one way of practice based on the Buddha’s teachings. Consequently, those who intend to engage in Seon meditation are required to work hard to thoroughly understand core principles of Buddhism, such as the middle way, dependent origination and nonself. The reason for Ganhwa Seon to be regarded as outstanding practice is that it allows us to transform our inherent fundamentals immediately and attain enlightenment here and now by correctly understanding core teachings of Buddhism.
The inception of Buddhism is closely linked to unavoidable sufferings of human beings. In our lives, sometimes unwanted things happen, while there are times when we cannot do what we truly want or regret what we did in the past. So many things happen and fade away. The Buddha acutely wondered why human beings are born, get older and sick and die inevitably.
What the Buddha sensed most clearly was the very existence of himself. As long as the Buddha himself is alive, no one could deny the fact. However, the Buddha could not shake off the outright fact that someday he would grow old, ache and die even though he is alive right now. This made the Buddha realize one self-evident truth: he, too, inevitably dies at one point, which is the undeniable stark reality.
Why do human beings have to suffer from old age, sickness and death? What are the sufferings all about? Are there any ways to end these sufferings? The enlightenment through meditative absorption and concentration enabled the Buddha to attain profound insights on this world, universe and life fundamentally. This was how the Buddha awakened to the truth of dependent origination, which enabled the Buddha to attain enlightenment and establish right view. By fully understanding dependent origination and incorporating it into his practice, the Buddha came to see fundamental foundation to enable sentient beings to attain enlightenment.
Dependent Origination and the Middle Way
What is dependent origination? It refers to the principle of beings where everything does not exist all alone but is born, stays a while and is gone intricately linked with others. Everything exists together with others by relying on each other like bales of straw stand together. The same is true for life and death, good and evil and existence and nonexistence. The houses we live in do not exist forever. They consist of tens of thousands of materials. A house does not exist as one separate thing but as the result of organic combination of numerous materials.
I am the center of the universe from my perspective; you are the center of the universe from your perspective. As such, this world exists based on the principle of dependent origination, with each and every one in this universe being both the center and periphery at the same time. In this regard, both you and I can be the center of the universe simultaneously.
Truly understanding dependent origination, which is the fundamental principle of the existence of all beings in this universe, allows us to awaken to the true nature of our co-dependent relations with each other. Therefore, we come to cherish and respect others as well as ourselves. It is because there is nothing that is not myself from my family members even to mountains, rivers, grass and trees.
As such, everything exists co-dependently, therefore, all beings are equal. So, even a tiny being is noble as it is, because it has its own intrinsic value and is already complete in and out of itself. A single piece of dirt, a blade of grass and a pebble in this universe have their own value and exist dependently, therefore, they are all Buddha. Everything-whether it is regarded as highly valuable or trivial-has its own meaning and value and is all equal.
The Buddha’s enlightenment has inherent characteristics, namely purity and equality. Equality is primarily represented by the middle way, which goes beyond merely being equal. The middle way is literally “the way (道) of being impartially correct (中正).”
The middle way pursues this virtue of impartial correctness, going beyond two extremes, such as existence and non-existence, good and evil, right and wrong, your side and my side and pain and pleasure. Exceeding two extremes does not mean giving them up, but rather means encompassing and embracing them all. While incorporating two different ideas, the middle way maintains equality by striking a balance between supplement and deduction. However, equality is not about taking one side partially or being stuck to one point. It is inclusive by taking every portion of each side. Therefore, the middle way reflects the principle of dependent origination, which is the universal principle of liberation of phenomena and existence.
Meanwhile, an extreme realm cannot achieve peace, equality, balance and harmony because good and evil, the Buddha and lay people and my side and your side are divided and confront each other. In addition, being extreme cannot lead to a realm of purity.
Purity does not merely refer to getting rid of dirtiness. Being pure not only means eliminating afflictions of body and mind but also having clear awareness of the true nature of universal principles. Therefore, purity leads to the path toward liberation, which allows us to eliminate greed and anger of our body and ignorance, egotism and suspicion of our mind.
The middle way does not refer
to simply being at the center or compromise. Rather, it is the teaching of
equality as one of the most universal principles of liberation like codependent
origination. By not taking either side of two extremes, the middle way enables
us to awaken to the truth of “seeing the truth of everything as it is (如實知見)”. This leads to
enlightenment and nirvana, and ultimately the path of becoming Buddha.
* Please note that this writing is an excerpt from the book, "Introduction to Ganhwa Seon" published by the Bureau of Dharma Propagation and it is contained in the autumn 2016 edition of the Lotus Lantern magazine under Buddhist Culture Section on page 16~22.