[Intro to Ganhwa Seon] 17. The Ways to Investigate Hwadu for Beginners
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Chapter 4. The Ways to Investigate Hwadu in Everyday Life
4. The Ways to Investigate Hwadu for Beginners
First and foremost, make sure that hwadu is vividly alive in your mind. Only then can hwadu be completely melted into your mind. It should be seamless when you undertake hwadu. Even with a tiny chasm between hwadu and a practitioner, hwadu disappears from one’s mind, while all kinds of thoughts and delusions squeeze in. Even though sincere aspiration for enlightenment is awakened, beginners will easily find investigating hwadu quite challenging. Of course it depends on each practitioner, however, it is very difficult for most beginners to investigate hwadu without any delusions and thoughts. Let us take a look at principles and tips of hwadu investigation for beginners.
First, do not depend on knowledge. The precondition for seamless hwadu questioning is acute doubt on hwadu. However, figuring out hwadu through thoughts or judgment based on reason cannot take us there. At the moment of making judgment of hwadu, doubt is no longer prompted. It is because of the act of reason, thoughts and knowledge which analyzes and discriminates everything. All the paths toward thoughts should be completely blocked, leaving no chasm through which delusions squeeze in our mind. Let us take an in-depth look at ourselves. Does our true nature consist of a physical body, emotions, mind or the act of thinking? Our body constantly changes, aches from illness and goes back to the earth in the end, so we cannot have control over it. Therefore, a physical body itself is not our true nature. Then, what about our emotions? Are numerous emotions of crying, laughing and getting angry our true nature? Do we exist in the turmoil of emotions? Can we say that our genuine nature is in ever-changing emotions? Aren’t emotions just the reaction of our feelings according to what happens externally? So, we cannot really say our true nature lies in our emotions, can we?
Can we identify our mind with ourselves, then? Our mind is unpredictable as it is always preoccupied by ceaseless thoughts. In addition, we have no idea whether our mind is in our head, face or heart. A thought is a mere part of entirety, representing only one aspect stuck in prejudices. Therefore, thoughts cannot tell us who we truly are. There is no way to discover our true nature through thoughts. Then, what about deep inside of our mind? Is it ourselves? Even if our true nature exists deep within our minds, it exists in relation to others and is constantly changing. Catch it, and it slips away. Take it out, but it is only a certain part of the entirety. Seek it continuously. Reflect on ourselves numerous times. For those who with well-developed and structured way of logical thinking, doubt “oneself” at the point where all the thoughts come to an end. Then, the breakthroughs of hwadu will surface. Again, hwadu is unapproachable with thoughts or shallow knowledge. If hwadu can be analyzed based on thoughts, then it is called “dead phrase (死句)” which lost vitality as hwadu.
Second, devote yourself to hwadu wholeheartedly. Investigate hwadu as if someone in a desert desperately wishes for water and a single mother who sent her only son to a battle misses him all the time. This desperate longing and devotion lead practitioners to the right direction for enlightenment.
Third, undertake hwadu regularly with perseverance. Importantly, beginners easily find themselves fighting against delusions every time they try to question hwadu. In this case, practitioners should steadily and regularly engage in hwadu investigation, instead of just giving it up. Reserving a certain amount of time everyday for meditation is highly recommended. Even 5 or 10 minutes are fine for beginners. Practical tips regarding this will be covered in the next chapter.
Fourth, do not try to analyze hwadu. In many cases, hwadu just comes and goes like delusions in beginners’ head. It is because they regard hwadu just as an object of thinking, whereas investigation of hwadu should be based on sincere aspiration for enlightenment. If we make a huge mistake and it leaves us hurt, the pain is felt relentlessly. This unbearable agony bothers us so frequently. The feeling of extreme pleasure, too, often preoccupies our mind. However, hwadu investigation should be inspired by sincere aspiration. Only then can we fully concentrate on hwadu. When we find ourselves try to approach hwadu theoretically, we should calm ourselves and provoke a sincere question on hwadu inwardly.
Fifth, do not fight against delusions. It is very likely that we end up spending our time trying to curb delusions when investigating hwadu for the first time. We cannot force delusions to be subdued or eliminated because they appear again and again like aggressive wild grass. When aspiration for enlightenment is not sincere enough and we are not used to investigating hwadu, it is highly likely that we grapple with delusions. Delusions and hwadu take turns to appear in our mind when the state of our mind is far from equanimity or we are not dedicated to questioning hwadu. In this case, take a deep breath and try to fully focus on hwadu with the momentum coming from inside of your mind. This is important even for a brief practice. There are two more ways to control delusions. When delusions come along in the process of investigating hwadu through “keyword only (單提)” style, which takes only the most crucial part of hwadu, make sure that delusions cannot take place by concentrating on hwadu via “entire story (全提)” style, which prompts practitioners to pay attention to the entire story and backgrounds of a certain gongan. Basically, this way the point where delusions are about to come is taken by hwadu. The other is being aware of delusions at the very moment when they appear and then resuming meditation. Or we could simply investigate hwadu by contemplating, “This, preoccupied by delusions, who is this?” Then, when delusions disappear, restart investigating hwadu.
Sixth, undertake hwadu by using the breath. Here are some tips for this practice. When investigating “yi mwot go (是甚麽 what is this; a well-known gongan)”, breathe in with “yi” and breathe out with “mwot go”. When it comes to “Mu (無 no)”, breathe in with “why” and breathe out with “mu”. This way of breath-based practice just shows that beginners could be assisted with the abovementioned tips, not meaning that this is all about hwadu investigation. As long as we are on the right direction of practice, breaths are naturally well taken care of.
Seventh, if none of the tips suggested so far work, make the aspiration for enlightenment more sincere. For this, we need to reflect on ourselves in our everyday lives. In other words, what is important is being repeatedly reminded of the truth that we are originally Buddha and we need to awaken to this truth. Repentance, prostrations and visiting Seon masters and clear-eyed teachers are recommended for further strengthening one’s aspiration. Listening to the recorded teachings of Seon masters is one good way of further inspiring one’s aspiration as well.
Eighth, do not be too hasty or too laid back when questioning hwadu. Seon practice should be assumed in a not-too-tensed and not-too-loose manner like the strings of music instruments. If we are too hurried, our mind gets busier and our head becomes feverish. In contrast, if too loose, we lose our consciousness and concentration.
Finally, do not try chanting hwadu (頌話頭) or mindfulness of hwadu (念話頭), even though undertaking hwadu is challenging. Chanting hwadu is relentlessly and rapidly reciting a key phrase of hwadu, such as “yi mwot go (what is this)”, and therefore leaving no room for delusions without sincere doubt on it. Mindfulness of hwadu is reciting hwadu in mind without making sound of it. As a matter of fact, continuous reciting of hwadu enables practitioners to curb delusions and sharpen their concentration to some extent. However, this is far from the ideal practice of Ganhwa Seon and is not different from mantra practice or recitation of the names of the Buddhas. Out of frustration, some practitioners might find chanting or mindfulness of hwadu as the last resort, however, the precondition of investigating hwadu is having great doubt on hwadu.
5. Hwadu in Everyday Life
There is no distinction between monastics and lay people when it comes to Seon practice which enables practitioners to experience the fundamental principles of the universe as the Buddha did and to become “beings of great liberation eternally”. Social status or capability of practitioners does not matter at all. As Seon master Huineng said, there is no discrimination between northerners and southerners and the revered and barbarians in terms of Buddha-nature. Anyone, regardless of gender and age, can engage in Seon meditation. Some might ask whether Ganhwa Seon is only for those who with supreme basic spiritual capacity (根機 root or fundamental capacity). However, according to the records of eminent Patriarchs, those who have firm belief that “we are originally Buddha” are the ones with great fundamental capacity. In other words, anyone with steadfast belief in the truth is fully equipped with necessary conditions for Ganhwa Seon practice. One outstanding feature of Ganhwa Seon is that hwadu can be investigated in everyday life. As long as we have sincere aspiration for enlightenment, whether we are students, employees, farmers or stay-at-home mothers, we can investigate hwadu. The first step for beginners is to have firmly established right view by correctly understanding the teachings of the Buddha. Then, the next step is investigating hwadu, building on dedicated aspiration for eternal liberation and happiness by awakening to the truth and eliminating suffering.
How to Investigate Hwadu in Everyday Life
It is highly recommended that practitioners undertake hwadu on a regular basis by reserving a certain amount of time every day. The best way to strengthen the fundamentals for Seon practice is repeatedly engaging in hwadu investigation even for just a couple of minutes on a daily basis, instead of cramming once a week or a month. Seon master Dahui taught beginners that “Make something ripe unripe and something unripe ripe.” In other words, practitioners should make their unripe hwadu investigation mature, while making afflictions and delusions that they are familiar with unripe. Engaging in hwadu questioning everyday for reserved amount of time could be daunting initially, however, no one is unable to take a couple of minutes out of 24 hours. Anyone who truly understands how meaningful and valuable Seon practice is would willingly reserve time for hwadu investigation. As long as you have resolute aspiration for enlightenment to clearly see the true master of your mind, you are more than ready to successfully navigate the journey to Ganhwa Seon. Once you get accustomed to investigating hwadu on a daily basis for even a short amount of time, it is recommended to gradually increase the time for meditation. For example, those who have practiced for 5 minutes a day could increase the period to 10 minutes, while 10-minute practice could be extended to 15- to 20-minute practice periods gradually. If you can question hwadu deeply for more than 30 minutes both in the morning and the evening, over an hour a day in total, your practice becomes well-established. Then, you will be able to investigate hwadu even when commuting, doing something else, standing up, sitting down or lying down. When engaging in Seon practice on the subway, keeping an eye on the tip of nose could be one way to maintain full concentration. Meditating while walking is not easy, however, what is important is not losing attention to hwadu even when looking ahead or looking around. If one-hour or two-hour Seon meditation sessions become a routine in your daily life, it would be wise to sign up for all-night intensive meditation sessions at nearby Seon centers. Taking part in those rigorous sessions even once or twice a month alone builds up your capability to continue hwadu questioning. When seeing improvement but unsure whether your practice is mature enough, participating in all-night Dharma assemblies and intensive meditation programs is recommended. By doing so, you will find it easier to overcome setbacks in the process of investigating hwadu, while also gaining a positive momentum to keep carrying on your practice without going against the flow. In addition, once you experience rigorous all-night meditation, one-hour or two-hour practice sessions during a day will become far easier. Furthermore, you can also learn from fellow practitioners by sharing each other’s reflections and experiences of Seon meditation, which can serve as an opportunity for further inspiration.
Incorporating Seon Meditation into Everyday Life
The fundamental purpose of hwadu meditation is to attain enlightenment and great liberation. However, even an enlightened clear-eyed master cannot completely isolate oneself from everyday life. We cannot be on the right direction if we distinguish Seon practice from daily routine. For lay practitioners, Seon meditation can bring considerable benefits to everyday life. Once the fundamentals for hwadu questioning become solid enough, we should work hard to incorporate Seon practice into everyday life. For example, we could undertake hwadu while waiting for a bus or a train, instead of just daydreaming. Otherwise, all kinds of delusions, from worries that keep us up all night or things that happened several years ago to house chores, friends, work or even politics, will come up ceaselessly. At this very moment, question hwadu deeply. Then, our consciousness, often suffered from endless delusions, gets clearer with less nervousness, anxiety and concerns, as we immerse ourselves into great doubt on hwadu. Consequently, stress, anger and greed, too, diminish. Therefore, continuous hwadu meditation on a regular basis can make our mind peaceful and free from stress and pain. It can also bring about a more relaxed and tranquil attitude and genuine compassion in our minds. Through hwadu meditation, those who act hastily come to take time and relish moments, while clumsy people become calm and timid people become proactive and confident. Therefore, if we question hwadu for 24 hours a day, our mind will be more peaceful and it will help us lead a well-guided life.
Ven. Seongcheol highlighted the importance of investigating hwadu and said, “The first is effort, and the second and the third are efforts, too. There is no such thing like success without effort. Success comes along according to the amount of effort. Therefore, continue to work hard.”
* 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 winter 2016 edition of the Lotus Lantern magazine under Buddhist Culture Section on page 14~20.