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Written by Han Ki-tuProfessorDept. of Buddhist StudiesWon-gwang University
Ever since Seon was introduced to Korea, there was a drive to prove the superiority of Seon over Kyo throughout the Korean Buddhist world, especially in the late Goryeo Dynasty.
After the seventh century CE, when Seon had taken root in China and was well established, various disputes arose within the Seon School. These arguments began with the difference of opinion between Master Huineng of Southern Seon and Master Shenxiu of Northern Seon. Then the conflict between the Mahayana Seon claimed by the Northern Order and Seon of the Tathagata (Kor. Yeorae Seon) of the Southern Order became prominent in the Seon world. That is, Master Heze Shenhui claimed that the Seon of the Tathagata is superior to Mahayana Seon, and the former is named so, for it is equal to the Tathagata.
But the newly established Hongzhou Order of Master Mazu’s lineage criticized Master Shenhui, calling him a master of mere intellectual understanding, one who searches for meaning and reason. And the Hongzhou Order developed an independent Seon purport, which investigates the Dharma transmitted by Master Bodhidharma This is the Seon of the patriarchs (Kor. Josa Seon), and this Seon was claimed as being superior to and surpassing the Seon of the Tathagata.
This claim is based on the idea that Seon is superior to Kyo. The realization of Seon as being “a direct transmission, outside the texts, not relying on words and letters, direct transmission from mind to mind, seeing into one’s nature and attaining Buddhahood” is not achieved through texts but through a transmission from mind to mind. Here, the awakening of the Tathagata is the center in the Seon of the Tathagata, but what is more important is the Seon purport of the patriarchs in the Seon of the patriarchs. This purport of Seon later even influenced academic lecturers who studied Kyo, so that these Kyo scholars who did not have any Seon practice emphasized the superiority of Seon.
In Korea, the main dispute was started by scholarly monks who lived in the southern and southwestern areas of the peninsula of Korea. They published personal records on various theories of Buddhism in 18th century and from this the disputes arose in the Seon families during the reigns of King Jeongjo (r. 1777-1800), King Soonjo (r. 1801-1834), King Heonjong (r. 1835-1849), King Cheoljong (r. 1850-1863) and King Gojong (r. 1864-1907).
The leading roles were taken by Master Baekpa Geungseon (1767-1852), Master Choui Uiseon (1786-1856), lay scholar Chusa (1786-1856), Master Udam Honggi (1822-1881), Master Seoldu Yuhyeong (1822-1881), Master Chugwon Jinha (1861-1926) and lay scholar Jeong Dasan (1762-1836), each one participating more or less directly. Beginning with Master Baekpa’s Hand Glass of Seon Literature (Kor. Seonmun-sugyong), the monks took up and started arguing about Seon. Let us investigate the main point of their argument.
B. The Beginning: Master Baekpa Geungseon’s Hand Glass of Seon Literature
Master Baekpa wrote Hand Glass of Seon Literature in order to lay out a standard by which to discriminate the relative superiority of the various forms of Seon. The book considers three phrases of Master Linji’s teaching as the standard, depending foe its source mainly on Records of Linji. In addition there are other references such as Master Chiso’s Insight of Man and Heaven (Kor. Incheon-anmok), Master Hwanseong Jian’s Essentials of Five Orders of Seon (Kor. Seonmun-ojong-kangyo), Master Cheonchaek’s Precious Storehouse of Seon (Kor. Seonmun-bojang-nok), and Essentials of Seon (Kor. Seonmun-kangyo).
Before we examine whether the Seon thesis revealed in Hand Glass of Seon is a correct way of looking at things or not, it is important to first understand the general idea of the book.
The book reveals that all Seon can be originally discriminated into three kinds, that is, Seon of the patriarchs, Seon of the Tathagata, and Seon of meaning and reason (Kor. Uiri Seon), a theory derived from the Seon teachings of the three phrases of Linji. Master Baekpa evaluates and analyses the phrases, coming to the conclusion that the first phrase is the Seon of the patriarchs, the second phrase is the Seon of the Tathagata, and the third is the Seon of meaning and reason.
1) The “Three Phrases of Master Linji” is the Standard of Seon
Master Baekpa goes on to argue that this correct view of the three phrases solves all problems of searching for standards of Seon. The first phrase is the phrase before host and guest are divided and it is achieved when a practitioner has insight into the true void and sublime existence. Such a practitioner has a high faculty, and becomes a master of Buddhas and patriarchs, when attaining the first phrase. It is a stage of Seon of the patriarchs.
The second phrase is such in which confrontation is ceased and which removes any clue of argument. It is to reach the "three mysterious gates" of Linji, and they are the mystery in the word, the mystery in the function, and the mystery in the mystery. The first signifies the essence of language, the second the final use of language, the third the place where no language is to be found. The third phrase started from theory, but there is no language found in the end, hence the final mystery is analyzed by Master Baekpa to be that of the true stage.
The background of the true stage of the mystery is a place of truth where there is no foolishness. The three mysteries show that the way of Son starts from language and reaches the stage which cannot be expressed by language.
The third phrase is bound by form and conception. It signifies dealing with expedient means. To borrow the expression of Records of Linji, it is “giving speech to arahats when they meet arahats, and to hungry ghosts when they meet hungry ghosts.” This describes the stage of teaching sentient beings in endless ways, and finding that these beings firmly believe the ways that they are being taught in.
The third phrase corresponds to the Buddhist logic of "being, non-being, and in between." This stage is the Seon of meaning and reason.
2) Master Baekpa’s Interpretation
Having delineated the three phrases and accepted them as the standard, Master Baekpa classifies Seon traditions. One of the characteristics of the Seon tradition is the system of transmission which the Buddha used with Mahakasyapa. This method is the mind-to-mind transmission at three different locations and it is this that is the theory of Extraordinary Seon.
But Master Baekpa thinks that the description of Extraordinary Seon consists of elements from the Seon of the Tathagata and the Seon of the patriarchs.
According to Master Baekpa, the first phrase corresponds to Vulture’s Peak, where the Buddha held up a flower and Mahakasyapa smiled, and it is the principle reason of Seon of the patriarchs. The second phrase falls under Stupa of Many Sons, where the Buddha sat with Mahakasyapa, and it is the principle of Seon of the Tathagata The last phrase corresponds to the Sala Tree Grove at Kusinara, where Mahakasyapa saw the Buddha’s feet, and it is the stage of both Seon of the patriarchs and Seon of the Tathagata.
This idea caused many arguments. But it was not only Master Baekpa who began the idea.
(1) New Influence and Original Duty
"New influence" means "practice newly." It signifies ignorant new practice depending on the expedient means of the Buddha, for the practitioner’s faculty is low. Accordingly, practice only by new influence produces results which are bounded by "corrupt practice," that is, practice which is the result of the dirt of habit.
"Original duty" signifies finding out how to be a Buddha through reflection, without separate cultivation, and to develop the true aspect of original duty. Therefore, one is bounded by the practice of dirty habit if there is only new influence, but can possibly reach the original stage of Seon if one finds out one’s original duty by reflection. It is a state of abiding in original duty, and it is regarded by Master Baekpa as being included in the Seon of the Tathagata
Master Baekpa explains that when one reaches the stage of firm progress of one’s original duty, then it is possible to reach the Seon of the patriarchs. That is, when new influence exists along with the vitality of original duty to overcome old habits, this is the Seon of the Tathagata In addition, to achieve the key point in one’s Nature is Seon of the patriarchs. The Seon of meaning and reason is a state of only new influence without finding one’s original duty.
(2) Live Sword and Dead Sword
The expressions "live" and "dead" are one of the important family treasures of the Seon family. These expressions come from a Seon phrase accepted as one of the Linji tradition which is revealed in The Blue Cliff Records (Kor. Pyogam-nok). "Dead sword" signifies the cutting of all defilements and erroneous thoughts with one sword and making all equal, and the "live sword" is to save all people with a sword that is kept in its scabbard.
Master Baekpa revealed that the "dead sword’ signifies the Seon of the Tathagata, and the "live sword" Seon of the patriarchs. And "to use both dead and live" is a stage of both the Seon of the Tathagata and the Seon of the patriarchs. He further stated that this view has continued right from the time of the Buddha up to the time of the Sixth Patriarch Master Huineng.
Master Baekpa also pointed out that Master Huineng transmitted the Seon of the patriarchs of the "live sword" to his disciple Master Nanyue Huairang, and the Seon of the Tathagata of the "dead sword" to Master Qingyuan Xingsi.
(3) Analysis of a Stanza of Diamond Sutra
Master Baekpa analyzes a stanza of four lines of Diamond Sutra as follows:
Those who by my form did see me,
And those who followed me by voice
Wrong the efforts they engaged in,
Me those people will not see.
"Those who by my form did see me corresponds to mystery in the function" of the three phrases of Seon of the Tathagata, and the phrase of "being" in the Seon of meaning and reason. "And those who followed me by voice" corresponds to "mystery in the essence" and the in between phrase. 3" Wrong the efforts they engaged in" corresponds to "mystery in the mystery" and the phase of non-being. Last Me those people will not see" corresponds to the Seon of the Tathagata.
(4) The Analysis of the Four Vows
The Four Vows are the fountainhead of Mahayana Buddhism. The Four Vows are as follows:
I vow to save all beings.
I vow to end all sufferings.
I vow to learn all Dharma teachings.
I vow to attain Enlightenment.
Master Huineng has advised us to discover the Four Vows in our Self Nature. To that Master Baekpa gives the following analysis.
“I vow to save all beings” teaches us not to ponder the three poisons of our own mind. For this, Master Baekpa’s quotes the teaching of Master Huineng, "Do not think of good or evil."
"I vow to end all sufferings" teaches us to cut off defilements by not, thinking of good.
"I vow to learn all Dharma teachings” teaches us that to vow to attain awakening is the greatest vow of learning.
"I vow to attain Enlightenment" teaches us to vow to attain Buddhahood. The way to vow is completed only when one from the stage of the true void reaches sublime existence.
(5) The Division of the Five Orders of Seon into Three Kinds of Seon
Insight of Man and Heaven and Essentials to Five Orders of Seon are books which generally focused on revealing the family traditions of the Five Orders. However, many Seon families criticized this attitude. In order to see this problem clearly, the family traditions of identification of the main traditions of general Seon need to be considered objectively. Especially Korean Seon students regarded this understanding of the Seon traditions of the Five Orders of Seon as one process in and a part of Seon study.
Master Baekpa used the division of the three categories of Seon in order to discriminate their relative superiority. This certainly caused a problem to the Buddhist world of the time and to later generations as well. Also Master Baekpa’s evaluation of other orders was totally based on his understanding of the attitude taught in Linji Seon, so it was not objective.
The Five Orders are Fayan Order (Kor. Beoban), Weiyang Order (Kor. Wiang), Caodong Order (Kor. Jodong), Yunmen Order (Kor. Unmun), and Linji Order (Kor. Imje). The first three are of the lineage of Master Qingyuan Xingsi, and they are considered to belong to the Seon of the Tathagata. The last two are of the lineage of Master Nanyue Huairang, and they are classified as belonging to the Seon of the patriarchs. The Five Orders, according to Master Baekpa have different family tradition as follows:
1) Fayan Order reveals "Mind Only."
2) Weiyang Order reveals "essence and function."
3) Caodong Order reveals the way of elevation.
4) Yunmen Order reveals cutting.
5) Linji Order reveals the crux and function.
What is notable here is that the Heze Order (Kor. Hataek) or Southern Order of Master Heze Shenhui is omitted Master Baekpa thought that this order belongs to the Seon of meaning and reason, which is centered around mere logic. This order does not seek original duty but merely depends on new influence.
(6) The Core Point of Hand Glass of Seon Literature
To summarize the content of Hand Glass of Seon Literature, the book explains the three kinds of Seon on the basis of three phrases of Linji. Both Seon of the patriarchs and Seon of the Tathagata are regarded as the principle of Extraordinary Seon, but the Seon of meaning and reason falls under the limitation of logic. Accordingly, Seon of meaning and reason is nothing but a theory of expedients through study. Hence it is nothing but a view of Seon, which is not different from Kyo study.
C. The First Refutation of Hand Glass of Seon Literature:
Master Choui Uisun’s Four Defenses and Random Words
When Master Baekpa’s Hand Glass of Seon was introduced to the Buddhist world, Master Choui Uisun of Taedun-sa Monastery first criticized Master Baekpa in his Four Defenses and Random Words (Kor. Sabyeon-maneo).
In this book, Master Choui pointed out Master Baekpa’s fault of merely judging the superiority of the various types of Son according to language, saying, "Old masters said that Seon is Buddha Mind So when one achieves the mind, both teachings of masters and all worldly noises are the purport of Seon, and if one loses one’s mind, then both ’The Buddha held up a flower and Mahakasyapa smiled’ and ’a direct transmission outside the texts’ of Seon are merely traces of Kyo."
(1) The Real Meaning of the “Three Phrases of Master Linji”
Master Baekpa reveals that the ranks of all of Son are, through the three phrases of Linji, divided into three different types of Son. And he provides, for the first phrase, the Son of the patriarchs, for the second phrase the Son of the Tathagata, and for the third phrase the Son of meaning and reason, and he proposes an argument on Son to substantiate his claim.
In answer to this, Master Ch’oui interprets the meaning of the three phrases from fundamentally different viewpoints. Unlike Master Baekpa who understood the three phrases separately, Master Ch’oui regarded the third phrase as a phrase in which the first and the second phrases join together. Hence, according to Master Ch’oui, the third phrase is valuable, and should not be regarded as a mere dead phrase which can be thrown away.
(2) The Origin of Seon of the Patriarchs and Seon of the Tathagata
From where do the Seon of the patriarchs and Seon of the Tathagata originate? Master Baekpa finds the origin in a discussion between Master Yangshan Huiji and Master Xiangyan Zhixian, the disciples of Master Weishan Lingyou who is the fifth generation of Master Nanyue Huairang. Master Yangshan divided Seon of the patriarchs and Seon of the Tathagata and he valued the former highly.
But according to Master Choui, there is really no way to distinguish between the two. Unlike Master Baekpa’s position, Master Choui does not consider the two in a relationship of superiority and inferiority.
(3) The Origin of Extraordinary Seon and Seon of Meaning and Reason
Master Choui points out that Master Baekpa commits an error of changing the traditional purport of Seon on his own authority without any proper reason. Master Choui indicates that Seon of the patriarchs is Extraordinary Seon, and Seon of the Tathagata is Seon of meaning and reason. Hence one can traditionally divide Seon into Extraordinary Seon and Seon of meaning and reason, and into Seon of the patriarchs and Seon of the Tathagata. This idea was already asserted by Master Hoam and Yeondam earlier to Master Choui.
Thereby, according to Master Choui, it is false to divide Seon into Seon of the patriarchs, Seon of the Tathagata, and Seon of meaning and reason, because the last two Seon fundamentally agree with each other. He claimed that one should not make the mistake of regarding the Seon of meaning and reason as inferior to Seon of the Tathagata,
D. The Second Refutation of Hand Glass of Seon Literature:
Master Udam Honggi’s Records of Right Awakening of Seon Family
Master Udam Honggi was the 10th generation after Master Buhyu, and the Dharma grandson of Master Baekpa because Master Udam was taught by Master Hanseong Pungmyeong, the disciple of Master Baekpa But Master Udam realized that Master Baekpa’s position was wrong and wrote Records of Right Awakening of Seon Family (Kor. Seonmun-jeungjeong-nok).
(1) About the Titles of Seon
Master Udam agreed with Master Baekpa’s opinion and both of them regarded the first and second phrases of Linji as Seon of the patriarchs and Seon of the Tathagata, respectively. But he, like Master Choui, claimed that Seon of the patriarchs and Seon of the Tathagata should be regarded as the reasoning of Extraordinary Seon and of Seon of meaning and reason, respectively.
(2) The Metaphor of Son: Live Sword and Dead Sword
Live and dead swords are one of basic traditional metaphors used in Seon. To kill with the sword means to kill the thief of ignorance, and to make alive in order to represent the Buddha of Dharma-body. But Master Udam pointed out that Master Baekpa applied "dead" and "live" to the Seon of the Tathagata and Seon of the patriarchs respectively and in this way he made the direction of the Seon tradition unclear.
Master Udam found these expressions used as standard descriptions in the records of Master Shitou and Master Mazu. In Records of Shitou, it is written that "It is not achieved by doing this or by not doing this. Hence it is a dead sword." And in Records of Mazu, it is written, "It is achieved by doing this and by not doing this. Hence it is a live sword."
Hence Master Udam thinks that if the phrase of Master Shitou "It is not achieved by doing this" belongs to the third phrase, then the phrase "or by not doing this" belongs to the first phrase. Therefore, the first phrase contains the dead sword. And in the case of Master Mazu, "It is achieved by doing this" belongs to the third phrase and "and by not doing this" belongs to the first phrase. Hence both the first and the third phrases are "live sword" and they can coexist.
Master Udam finally concludes that both dead and live phrases belong to the first phrase of Linji, and it was wrong of Master Baekpa to distinguish certain aspects as belonging to the Seon of the Tathagata or to the Seon of the patriarchs.
(3) The Beautiful Coloring of Seon
In the Diamond Sutra, it is revealed that "there is no fixed Dharma which is ’the utmost, right and perfect enlightenment.’" Therefore, Master Udam thinks that the teachings of the Buddha and the patriarchs are not bound by anything, and it is the beautiful coloring of the Buddha and patriarchs, that they are free.
Master Udam considers that the coloring of the Buddha and patriarchs are divided into three; the substance, the function, and in between. And the original names for the three phrases of Linji consist of the substance, the function and in between. The meanings of these three essentials are arranged by meaning and reason which, because they are difficult to be revealed by mere words, are seen as three mysteries.
Meaning and reason vary according to the level of faculties of the people involved To people of high faculty, meaning and reason are revealed as essentials and called the first phrase of Linji. The second phrase of Linji reveals three mysteries as well as reflection on the first phrase. But the reflection (the second phrase) and the body (the first phrase) for Master Udam are interconnected, and both of them are finally one.
E. The Defense of Hand Glass of Seon Literature:
Master Seoldu Yuhyong’s Origin of Son and the Course
Master Seoldu Yuhyong is the fourth generation after Master Baekpa. Master Seoldu claimed that the Seon views of Four Defenses and Random Words and Records of Right Awakening of the Seon Family are all wrong when one looks at the origin of Seon, and that a practitioner will finally come back to Master Baekpa’s position. Accordingly, Master Seoldu wrote Origin of Seon and the Course (Kor. Seonwon-soyu) with the aim of searching for the origin of Seon. As he reveals in the preface, he claims that one should search for the origin of Seon and return to the spirit. And when the origin is revealed, it will be seen that the origin is not the position of Master Choui, but the three kinds of Seon claimed by Master Baekpa.
1) The Three Kinds of Seon
Master Seoldu claims that it should be noted that there are two aspects to Seon: the "purport of Seon" and the "explanation of Seon." The purport of Seon signifies the realization of the Buddha Mind through Seon. As Master Seosan expounded in Mirror of Seon, "If one gets lost in speech, even ’holding up a flower and smiling’ is all just the reactions of Kyo." It shows the “explanation of Seon.” But “On the other hand, if one realizes it within one’s own Mind, then all of the crass words and refined talk of the world become the Seon teaching of ‘a direct transmission outside the texts.’” This is the purport of Seon.
The above quotations of Master Seosan were also already used by Master Choui when he refuted Master Baekpa. But quoting the same content, Master Seoldu puts a different commentary to it, that one should not, in fact, cast aside the “explanation of Seon” at random. Because we are able to understand the writings with the help of the "explanation of Seon" and we have an opportunity to clearly understand through these writings. This claim is meaningful in the sense that Master Seoldu developed the idea of Master Baekpa further.
Anyway, what is regarded as the most important of the "explanation of Seon" for Master Seoldu is the three kinds of Seon; Seon of the Tathagata, Seon of the patriarchs, and Seon of meaning and reason. Master Seoldu defends Master Baekpa’s division of Seon into the three, saying that it is inevitable and the normal course of action to divide Seon and use it to explain and measure the faculties of sentient beings.
According to Master Seoldu, the logic that Seon of meaning and reason is not Extraordinary Seon is only right, hence it is also right that the Seon of meaning and reason is not regarded as equal to the Seon of the Tathagata or the Seon of the patriarchs. In this sense, it is right to divide Seon into these three kinds.
2) The Theory of “Transmission of the Mind in Three Places”
Master Baekpa interpreted the theory of transmission of the mind at three places as follows.
1) The First Place: The Buddha was giving a Dharma talk to the masses in the heaven and in the world at the Stupa of Many Sons when Mahakasyapa appeared. Then the Buddha sat with Mahakasyapa. This sitting is expressed as dead sword, for it is a place where no trace of Dharma is found.
2) The Second Place: The Buddha was giving a Dharma talk at Vultures’ Peak, when the rain of many flowers fell from the sky. The Buddha held up a flower and only Mahakasyapa smiled. It is the principle of live sword, for the holding up of a flower is the Buddha’s live Dharma speech to Mahakasyapa.
3) The Third Place: The Buddha was in Final Nirvana at the Sala Tree Grove at Kusinara, when Mahakasyapa arrived seven days after the Buddha’s passing away. Mahakasyapa tapped the coffin three times and the Buddha stuck out his two feet and Mahakasyapa vowed three times. It is Seon purport which shows the Buddha’s bestowing of both live and dead forms.
Master Seoldu explains that generations of patriarchs who received transmission of the mind at the three places did not distinguish between the “dead” or “live” sword. But it is after the Sixth Patriarch Huineng that the swords were divided and transmitted separately, for the faculties became varied. Hence the transmission was divided into “dead,” “live,” and "in between."
F. The Last Refutation of Hand Glass of Seon Literature:
Master Chugwon Jinha’s Records of Reawakening of Seon Family
Master Chugwon Jinha was the last one who joined the argument over Seon. He learned the texts from masters Baekpa and Seoldu, but he developed his own logic of Seon, in which he criticizes the two masters in his Records of Reawakening of Seon Family (Kor. Seonmun-chaejeung-nok). He believed that the Seon thought of masters Choui and Udam was correct and that their arguments were right.
The master lived at a time in which national prestige was at a very low level because of annexation of the country to Japan. To Master Chugwon, the issue of the Seon argument could fall into the category of a leisurely discourse which was not right for the time. Hence it seems that he tried to reveal the problem of this argument on Seon in the sense of adjusting and arranging it rather than adding to and criticizing the problem. His position was simply to reveal the Seon position of masters Choui and Udam again as a form of conclusion.
1) The Problem of the Three Phrases and the Three Seon
Traditionally, masters have been used to the words of the Seon of the Tathagata and Seon of the patriarchs on the one hand, and Seon of meaning and reason and Extraordinary Seon on the other. But it is only Master Baekpa who put the first two Seon together and regarded them as Extraordinary Seon, looking down on the Seon of meaning and reason. Besides, Master Baekpa gave the wrong explanation about the three phrases of Linji because he arranged them wrongly and it seems wrong to contend for the superiority or the inferiority of the three Seon.
Master Chugwon pointed out that the titles Seon of the patriarchs and Seon of the Tathagata themselves are not correct. The very concept of Seon of the Tathagata being the teacher of humans and those in the heaven, and Seon of the patriarchs being for the Buddhas and the patriarchs seems wrong.
Master Chugwon emphasized that the superiority of Seon cannot be distinguished by revealing it, whether it is Seon of the patriarchs or Seon of the Tathagata, and Extraordinary Seon or Seon of meaning and reason. There must only be a difference whether the Seon is in a live phrase or in a dead phrase, and one cannot differentiate Seon of the patriarchs and Seon of the Tathagata.
2) The Problem of Seon of Meaning and Reason
In Seon, the expression "direct transmission outside the texts" is often used. Master Chugwon thought that Master Baekpa regarded “outside the texts” the same as the "extraordinary" of "Extraordinary Seon." But Master Chugwon considered Master Seoldu’s "outside the texts and "extraordinary" the same from one point of view and different from another. According to Master Chugwon, Master Seoldu considered both Seon of the patriarchs and Seon of the Tathagata to be “outside the texts” and “extraordinary.”
Here, Master Chugwon thought that though the Seon of meaning and reason are not "extraordinary," it should be regarded as “outside the texts.” The Seon of meaning and reason is, in the strictest sense, “a direct transmission outside the texts.”
What matters here is whether Seon is free from every trace of Kyo or not. When the road to reason is cut off, there opens a road to the "extraordinary." Hence the way left for the Seon of meaning and reason is to cut the meaning and reason.
3) The Problem of "Live and Dead"
“Dead sword” and, “live sword” mean “sitting with Mahakasyapa” and “holding up a flower” respectively. Masters Baekpa and Seoldu explained that “sitting with Mahakasyapa” signifies the Seon of the Tathagata, and "holding up a flower" signifies the Seon of the patriarchs. Master Chugwon, here criticizes that "dead" and “live” should be in the same family, and they must not be separated from each other.
1) The Starting Point of the Seon Argument
The argument on Seon in the late Joseon Dynasty was started by Master Baekpa Geungseon of Seonun-sa Monastery. Master Baekpa’s idea of dividing Seon into three kinds created a dispute in the Korean Buddhist world which lasted through the 18th and 19th centuries. This argument can be criticized because it stirred up a problem of a pointless argument which was nothing but a desk theory. But it is certainly significant in the sense that the argument made the issue of searching for our Original Nature to be the Seon logic of the general Buddhist world.
Therefore, it is right to value the argument as a process of stretching for Korean Buddhist thinking before its modernization. The material on the basis of which the argument was begun was The Essence and the Songs of Seon (Kor. Seonmun-yeomsong) written in 1226 by Goryeo National Teacher Jingak Hyeshim. This book includes 1,125 hwadus and it is they that became the basis for reaching the way to awakening. On the basis of this book, there were various movements according to the different periods of time to search for simpler, better and newer methods for practicing the way.
The time of Master Baekpa was not exceptional. Master Baekpa wished to discriminate and show the superiority of Seon in order to reveal its true stages. To this end he wrote Hand Glass of Seon literature to arrange the basic texts of Seon which were most often used by students. The texts are: Master Chiso’s Insight of Man and Heaven, Master Hwanseong Jian’s Essentials of Five Orders of Seon, Master Cheonchaek’s Precious Storehouse of Seon, and Essentials of of Seon.
2) The Application of Seon of the Patriarchs and Seon of the Tathagata
Master Baekpa established three ways of reaching the final stage of Seon of the patriarchs. He identified three kinds of faculties, that is, high, middle, and low faculties with the first, second, and third phrases of Linji respectively. In addition he regarded the characteristics of these three phrases to be expressed as Seon of the patriarchs, Seon of the Tathagata, and Seon of meaning and reason.
What is very particular here is that Master Baekpa put Seon of the patriarchs in a higher place than Seon of the Tathagata. But this position caused a fundamental problem in that everyone wondered how the Tathagata, that is, Sakyamuni Buddha, can be considered inferior to the patriarchs.
This position that Seon of the patriarchs is superior to Seon of the Tathagata has several meanings in Seon. Firstly, Seon sees that which has been transmitted by the patriarchs as superior to the stage which the Tathagata attained Secondly, the stages of true void and sublime existence should be realized together in Seon, and the former is the stage of Seon of the Tathagata, and the latter is of Seon of the patriarchs. Thirdly, the principles of the Seon of the patriarchs and of the Seon of the Tathagata are divided and explained separately in texts. Fourthly, the Flower Garland study also distinguishes the Seon of the patriarchs from the Seon of the Tathagata.
3) The Problem of Seon Argument of Master Baekpa’s Lineage
Master Baekpa gave the explanation that Linji and Yunmen orders belong to the Seon of the patriarchs, and that Caodong, Weiyang, and Fayan orders belong to the Seon of the Tathagata, and Heze Order to Seon of meaning and reason. But these distinctions were very troublesome. Each of the Seon orders had its own family tradition, and it is not right to try to evaluate the superiority or inferiority of the different orders. Hence it is natural that Master Baekpa’s idea was severely criticized.
In this sense, lay scholar Chusa Kim Jeong-hui criticized Master Baekpa saying that “The truth of Seon is like a light new dress without stitching, just like a heavenly dress. But the dress is patched and repatched by the inventiveness of humans, and so becomes a worn-out piece of clothing.” Chusa thought that one can only reveal the traditions of the Seon orders, but to discriminate between their relative superiority and inferiority is like fighting for food which has been begged for by a beggar. To discriminate between the Five Orders of Seon is to destroy the real meaning of Seon.
4) The Problem of Seon Argument of Master Choui’s Lineage
As Master Baekpa made a mistake, masters Choui and Udam also committed an error. They claimed that Seon should be divided into Seon of the patriarchs and Seon of the Tathagata on the one hand, and into Extraordinary Seon and Seon of meaning and reason on the other. Then, it should be accepted by the masters that the Seon of meaning and reason and Seon of the Tathagata of the three phrases of Linji are the same. But they thought that the third phrase contains both Seon of the patriarchs and Seon of the Tathagata, and then it is not clear whether Seon of the Tathagata and Seon of meaning and reason fundamentally agree or not. If the source of Seon is nothing but the overcoming of opponents, then it only creates a misunderstanding of the true quality of Seon.
In this sense, any of the positions of Master Baekpa or those of Master Choui are not something for us to agree with. But in the process of searching for solutions to the problems created by this argument, we can develop an important and significant way to realizing the essence of Seon. Hence, the masters were pioneers who cultivated the way to understanding the purport of Seon. It was a new development in a new direction of Seon on a new stage through a new way of practice, just when the Korean nation faced a period of extreme hardship, and it is for this reason that the argument was so important in the Korean Buddhist world.