Self-awareness of the feeling of transience and irrationality
We have said previously that a genuine mental resolution must come first in order to investigate hwadu. So then how must one resolve the mind so that can investigate the hwadu well?
Mental resolution requires an earnest desire that manifests a fundamental freedom that transcends the suffering of life and death. If one does so one must be self-aware of the falsity and uselessness of the worldly values and give rise to a feeling of transience that touches one about that. Moreover, one must make a proper self-examination of the confusion of value judgments that lack a basis in the realities of an incomplete and irrational life. What is most important above all else is that there is an earnest, burning desire that tries to seek one’s own original face.
Many Seon teachers felt thoroughly the transience of life, became monks and trod the path of practicing Seon. Seon Master Naong of the Goryeo period and the monk Hamheo (1376-1433) of the Joseon period, after witnessing the death of close friends at a young age, became monks and took the path of Seon practice. They discerned the falsity of life and the transience of the body, and to overcome that they lead lives as Seon practitioners.
Seon Master Gyeongheo, who revived the modern Seon of Korea, seeing the misery of a village of corpses which had died from an infectious disease, resolved his mind and began to meditate. Gyeongheo, who was a great lecturer in the late Korean Empire, left one day in the summer of 1879 to see his former ordination master. When he arrived at a village near Cheonan, he tried to escape a storm that suddenly blew up by sheltering under the eaves of a house. Then he knocked on the door. But for some reason or other, the house-owner drove him away willy-nilly. The situation was the same at the next house and the one after that. In finding out the reason, a villager said, “Now in this village an infectious disease is circulating virulently, and so people even die standing. So how could they receive guests?”
Gyeongheo, hearing these words, felt his hair stand on end, and felt a dread as if death was approaching him then and there. He felt keenly the fact that the knowledge of the scriptures that he had familiarized himself with up till then had no power at all in the face of death the moment he came to know that death can occur in the instant of a breathe, and that death is not distant.
Is it for life alone? Even the loved one or the darling children and the beloved mother cannot be with one forever. They are existences that will disappear sometime in the midst of transience. What can one do at such times? The worldly desires, such as money, success, fame and scholarship that people compete for and pursue in the end disappear in the midst of transience. And this worldly desire afflicts one with the frustrations that bind life to this and that. What must one do at times of such distress?
Life is also irrational. Listen carefully. Life is full of contradictions. Although we are living, ultimately we are walking towards death step by step. Yesterday’s good suddenly changes into today’s evil, and the good here also passes for evil there. For me to live I have to trample on others ruthlessly. Moreover, the judgments I hand down are not certain, but go here and there. There is no conviction and according to the circumstances it changes. It is often said, “Hung in a nose, it is a nose-ring; hung in an ear it is an ear-ring.” This is because one cannot be insightful or clear about everything oneself.
The Path Seeking One’s Original Face that Transcends the Sorrowful Sea of Life and Death
It is said in Seon that the path to overcome the irrational life that is full of suffering and the feeling of impermanence and one’s own limitations is in seeking for one’s own self. If one can seek the characteristics of the genuine self, one can be free and independent from all things, and of course one’s own self can be elucidated along with the surrounding world. Because it is not dark one is confident and without hesitation. Even after making a judgment one does not regret, and one comes to understand that life and death originally do not exist.
However, despite the characteristic of the self that lives so freshly, we live left behind in the dark. If one does not know one’s true characteristics, every day is difficult. If one tries to shake off this trouble, one has to give rise to a genuine desire and mental resolution to seek the I, and if one does so one needs discernment into transience and a knowledge of the self without pretense.
There are also some people who look at scriptures or books, or listen to the sermons of monks and having resolved their mind, generate a huge doubt. The hall lecture is fine, the small-group consultation is fine, and the mass sermon is fine. The Seon lectures that specially establish correct views must be frequently heard. When it is impossible to hear the lecture, the method of listening to a recording of the lecture of the teacher is also possible.
In the investigation of hwadu, if one gives rise to a genuine doubt about one’s original face in the midst of life, one will issue forth the mind that will produce a resolution without fail, and one must enter into and immerse oneself in it without retreat. There are the words, “Indeed, what is this?” The reason that one must know that “what” is because all right and wrong discriminations and good and evil or pure and impure arise in that site of the mind. In the Seon Gate this is called the mind of birth and death. If one cannot be enlightened to the original face, one will not be able to discard the rebirth of the mind of birth and death.