Seon Master Wumen Huikai (1183-1260) said,
Meditation is the penetration through the barrier gate of the patriarchs. Marvelous enlightenment has to cut off the paths of all thought. If one does not penetrate the barrier of the patriarchs and does not cut off the path of thought you will be no different to a phantom who lives attached to grass or a thicket. (Wumen guan)
If one tries to become a patriarch one has to penetrate through the barrier gate of the patriarchs that cut off the paths of thought and of language. In Seon this gate of the patriarchs is called hwadu. Only by penetrating through the barrier gate of the hwadu that lacks a firmly shut gate can one abandon samsara and become a patriarch. If one cannot penetrate this gate of the patriarch one will live the life of a phantom that is dependent forever on others and will be unable to stand up straight on one’s own.
The Definition of Hwadu and Gongan
Hwadu is made up of the word hwa, which means speech or story, and du, which is a meaningless suffix. So hwadu is just a word for speech. But we must note that Seon masters use this word in a particular way. Hwadu is a special language of Seon masters that blocks all passages for thought and discrimination.
Such words cannot be grasped with everyday thought. Hwadu have the power to remove the thought and discrimination of conceptual thinking. Therefore hwadu have discarded the everyday norms, and are called exceptional words beyond the norm. This is because they are absolute words that cannot be attached to in accordance with the function of rational thinking.
The words that we use everyday are relative words. We use words such as exist and not exist, you and I, go and come, good and bad. But answers such as, “The cypress tree in front of the courtyard” and “A dried-up shit-stick” to questions such as, “What is the meaning of the Patriarch coming from the West?” and “What is the truth?” are exceptional, absolute words that transcend the relative words. These are true words that cut off the paths of speech and thought. One should be directly enlightened to such hwadu.
There are also times when the du of hwadu is not used simply as a suffix. At such times, hwadu means “the head of the word,” and indicates the world before the word comes out. One may also see that hwadu means the definition of words preceding daily speech. Hwadu are presented by the teacher to the pupil and the student must wrestle in a bout with life and death in taking up this hwadu.
Hwadu are also called gongan and gochik. All mean the same. Gongan also is the public (gong) of transcending public and private, and gochik is the go (past) that transcends time and space, and hwadu is a word that transcends words. In other words, gochik are the just rules of law, the Dharma/Law that was recognized by the ancient worthies. That is they are “the laws that were via words,” and the “laws of the patriarchs of the past.” Being just, the discriminating mind must not intervene in them. Therefore they are called public cases (gongan). If one zealously practice in accord with that Dharma one is sure to be able to see the nature. Gongan are thus said in the sense that they are “standard cases” that will allow one to be enlightened if one practices according to that Law that transcends both sides. In this way gongan are a basis of absolute criteria and judgments in the practice of meditation.
One may be directly enlightened through such hwadu, gongan and gochik. But if (the Master) says wake up, and one cannot wake up even when it is presented, one has no option but to take up the hwadu. As even doing this is a method of awakening, one just puts it down. One must know clearly that hwadu is not simply a method to produce a doubt.
The Life of Hwadu
Seon sees, says and does everything in the place apart from the world of thoroughly relative concepts. But, if one cannot be enlightened directly to the hwadu, one should from that time onwards enter into doubt. As mentioned before, this is because one cannot be attached to or follow the functions of rational thought in hwadu. No matter what one does, it is like being in a maze that one cannot solve. As Seon Master Wumen said, it is the path of the mind that is cut off, the path of words that is cut off, and one fumbles around and cannot touch anything. There are no traces to be sought and not even any signs.
Seon Master Yunju Daoying (?-902) said with respect of this;
“You are just like hunting dogs looking for an antelope who only follow after the antelope’s tracks. What if the antelope’s horn suspends it from a branch and it is hidden? The hunting hounds will not only be unable to see the antelope’s prints, they will also not even be able to get a scent of the antelope’s breathe.”
A monk asked, “What is the meaning of the antelope being hidden by being suspended by its horns from a branch?”
“Six times six are thirty-six. Do you understand?”
“I do not.”
“Don’t you know the meaning of having no traces?”
(Chanlin Baoseng zhuan, fasc. 1, Biography of Daoying, Zokuzōkyō 137)
Thus when one takes up the hwadu, the paths of seeking via thought must be cut off, for even that without traces must be completely cut off. Here the hunting dog is compared to the function of recognition that discriminates and gropes for the tracks of various concepts and thoughts. The core of Ganhwa Seon practice is the investigation of the hwadu that cuts of the tracks of language and thought, and where these traces disappear, one becomes free and independent. The hwadu cuts off all the paths of thought of the meditation practitioner, and the body and mind become full with the heat of doubt, and finally it leads to the state when the levee of doubt breaks with a crash. This is not permitted and that is not permitted; negation is not allowed nor is affirmation. If one takes up the hwadu in this way, all of heaven and earth must become one mass of doubt. And so one must attempt to reach the situation where one can neither go forward nor retreat.
One cannot consider the hwadu through recognition and thought. To consider it through thought is called ‘cleverness’. ‘Cleverness’ in Chinese characters is chihae (understanding through knowledge). On the one-pillar (entrance) gate of most Korean monasteries there are the words, “One who comes through this gate must not retain understanding through knowledge.” This has the sense of, “If you wish to come through this gate, do not use cleverness.” Each time we come through a one-pillar gate, we must get the meaning of these words. Not only when one goes through the one-pillar gate, but at any time and place, we should proceed in practicing with this meaning in mind.
With the earnest mind, and not with the mind that considers and discriminates, one immerses oneself in the hwadu and becomes one with the hwadu, and finally when one has conquered the hwadu, one will obtain some news. In this way, as soon as one conquers the barrier of the patriarchs, one will likely become the lone hero of the world.
Seon Master Wumen said,
The great Way has no gate. The path is everywhere. If one bores through this barrier gate, you will walk independently in the world. (Wumen guan, Wumen’s Preface)