The Mirror of Seon (4)*

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    “There is One-thing that is pure and sublime from its birthless birth, and as it has neither beginning nor end, there is no way to be named or described.” This is the opening line of ‘The Mirror of Seon’ by the Most Venerable Seosan. He then asks himself, “What is it that is the One-thing called?” and answers his own question quoting a passage from an ancient sage: “There was a circle even before the arrival of Buddha, which not even Sakyamuni could describe. How then was it possible for Mahakasyapa to transmit it?” This is the theme and the essence of the work: finding our true nature and original face, which is without form and indescribable.


    Great-circle , Silence , Dharma-body , Simultaneous cultivation of meditation and doctrine , Great exertion

  • Comments: The Fifth Patriarch Hongren (602‑75) said, “It is better to keep the original true mind than thinking of all the Buddhas in the ten directions of the world.” The Sixth Patriarch Huineng (638‑713) also said, “Thinking only of the Buddha outside of oneself can never free oneself from the wheel of birth and death. On the other hand, the surest way to cross over to the other shore is keeping one’s original true mind.” Again he said, “Do not seek Buddha outside of oneself; Buddha resides in one’s own self-nature. Ignorant people wish to live a happy life through chanting the names of Buddha but the enlightened maintain only their pure mind.” He also said, “It is sentient beings themselves who deliver them by awakening, not by Buddha.”

    What the Buddha and sages said were only pointing to the self-nature, nothing extraordinary like expediencies. They were right in principle. But there also exist the Land of Utmost Bliss, Amitabha Buddha, and the Forty Eight Great Vows of Ksitigarbha. Chanting the name of Buddha just ten times will also help one be reborn in the Land of Utmost Bliss, free from the karmic wheel of rebirth. These are also the words of all the Buddhas of the past, present, and future, and where all the Bodhisattvas in the ten directions of the world earnestly wished to be born. Moreover, there is unrefutable evidence of such rebirth of ancient sages. Why not then strive ever so hard without any doubt?

    Amitabha in Sanskrit means “the eternal life and light,” an incomparable name in the three ages and in the ten directions of the world. His former name when he was practicing was bhikku Dharmakara (the storehouse of dharma), and he made forty-eight great vows in front of Lokesvararaja (the self-existent King of Buddha): “When I attain Buddhahood, I will not only deliver all the heavenly and human beings in the ten directions of the world, but also tiny insects if they only chant my name ten times so that they can be reborn in the pure Land of the West without fail. Until my vows are accomplished, I will not attain Buddhahood.”

    The ancient sages said, “Even a single chanting of the name of Buddha not only frightens the heart of the maras in the Heaven but also cancel the names in the book of the netherworld. Moreover, the lotus flower will bloom in the golden pond as well.”

    The Penitence Sutra says, “There are two powers: self-power (自力) others’ power (他力). The former is slow while the latter is quick in effecting the result. If one plants a tree to build a ship to cross the ocean, it takes time, which can be the example of the self-power. But if one borrows someone else’s boat, one can cross the ocean forthwith, which can be the case of borrowing Buddha’s power.

    As the parents will rush out and save their child upon hearing the cry of their child frightened by either the deep water or fire, Buddha will surely save the dying man who chants the name of Buddha at the deathbed. Such is the love and compassion of the Buddha, greater than any other love and compassion, and there is no greater suffering than the suffering of birth and death.

    Someone says, “Since my mind is the Pure Land, there cannot be another Pure Land where I am to be born; and since my self-nature is Amitabha, there is no other Amitabha to find.” It sounds fair and reasonable, but it is not. Buddha has no mind of craving and anger. Now, could anyone say, “So have I, no craving mind or anger?”

    Buddha could transfer hell to the land of lotus flower easier than turning one’s palm over. What about us? Could we, who are scared of hell due to our karma, transform hell to the Land of Lotus Flower? Buddha could perceive the infinite world as if it is right in front of him. However, we cannot even perceive what is behind the wall, let alone perceiving the infinite world. Of course, we all possess Buddha-nature, but, in actuality, we are still sentient beings. There is a great abyss between the logic and actuality as wide as between heaven and earth.

    Master Guifeng (780‑841)2 was right when he said, “Even if you have attained sudden enlightenment, a gradual cultivation after awakening is inevitable.” I want to ask the man who said, “My self-nature is Amitabha.” Will there be a heavenly Tathagata, or a self-born Amitabha? You will know if you truly reflect upon yourself. See if you could be free without any hindrance when you are in pain at the deathbed. If you are not sure of yourself, you will surely fall into the evil path for your arrogance.

    Even great Patriarchs such as Bodhisattva Aśvaghosha,3 and Bodhisattva Nagarjuna4 strongly recommended the path of rebirth. Then who is this “I” refusing cultivation of the path of rebirth? Buddha said, “The Pure Land in the West is very far away; it is infinitely far away from here, and one must overcome ten evils and ten misconducts during the long passage,” and it is to warn the deluded lesser minded to strive hard. Of course, Buddha also said, “The Pure Land in the West is not far from here,” and he also said, “The mind is Buddha and sentient beings are Amitabha.” But they are all addressed to the high minded, not to the lesser minded.

    There are two expediencies: improvised and authentic ones. There also are expressive saying and confidential saying. If people are in accord in their knowledge and action, there is no misunderstanding whether they are near or far apart. That was the reason why Huiyuan (334‑416) had to chant Amitabha all the time, and then there was a man like Ruiyuan who talked to himself all the time, “Master (our true mind) where are you?” “Yes, here I am.”

    Comments: The body that is composed of four-elements has no master, wherefore four enemies rush in to betray themselves and then raise four serpents. Being ignorant of the impermanence of things, people get angry and slander one another among themselves. It is like ghosts fighting over a dead body. The dead body means that it is a mass of bubbles, dreams, sufferings, and excrement. It decays every moment, the most foul thing.

    From the seven outlets in the upper part of body drip tears and snivels; from the lower part of body, flow out excrement and urine all the time. This is why we must keep our body clean before joining the assembly. Those who are untidy and unwholesome will be deserted by the friendly deva.

    Cause and Effect Sutra warns: “Those who touch the sutra with dirty hand, or those who show tears and snivel in front of the Buddha will surely become maggots in the next life.” Manjusri Sutra also says, “One should not talk or make noise just like stones and trees; should not scrawl or draw pictures on the wall of the toilet; should not spit when one urinates or makes excrement. One should not also sit and meditate or enter the dharma hall before cleaning the body after returning from the toilet.

    In the Book of Precept, it states: “Before entering the toilet, one should snap fingers downward three times to forewarn evil spirits of the toilet. One also should recite the following mantras seven times each in silence:

    These five mantras have great dignity and virtue. When all the evil spirits hear these mantras, they will meekly retract their evil hands. If anyone does not follow these rules, even cleaning the body like washing the diamond in the seven branches of the river until it wears out would not avail.

    There is another warning in the Sutra: When cleaning the anus, one must use cold water, and when cleaning the hands, one must use the stone powder or the kaustic soda made from burnt wood. If one does not use such material, dirty element will remain in the hand, and if anyone observes prayer chanting or reads sutras with such unwholesome hands, one is committing an evil doing. As cleaning the body after returning from the toilet is a part of daily life of the practitioners, with quotations from the sutra, I have enumerated, in brief, a list of rules.

      >  Glossary

    1It means “I take refuge in Amitabha Buddha.”  2A great Chinese Seon (Chan) master.  3A great Buddhist scholar and the author of the Awakening of Faith in the Mahayana. He is the first expounder of the Mahayana doctrine.  4The founder of the Madhyamika school, which was based on the Prajnaparamita teachings, and which he is said to have received from the Dragon King under the sea. He is also a famous Buddhist philosopher who wrote a commentary on the Aśvaghosha’s work. He is a principal philosopher of Mahayana emptiness.  5The patriarch of a major branch of the Chan sect as well as the Fifth Patriarch of the Huayan Sect.  6Sharpening the knife means cultivation of virtue and merit by offerings to the Buddha and monks. They will surely receive their reward but their offerings will be a heavy debt for the whetstone-monk.

  • 1. Seok Hyujeong (Cheongheo Hyujeong) 1979 Seonga Gwigam 禪家龜鑑. H. 7, 640b―43a. google
  • 2. Seok Hyujeong (Cheongheo Hyujeong) 1984 Seonga Gwigam 禪家龜鑑. google
  • 3. Seok Hyujeong (Cheongheo Hyujeong), Park Jae-yang, Bae Gyubeom 2003a Seonga Gwigam 禪家龜鑑. google
  • 4. Seok Hyujeong (Cheongheo Hyujeong), Park Hyeon 2003b Seonga Gwigam 禪家龜鑑. google