ZEN AND THE
ART OF LIFECYCLE
Practicing Ganhwa Seon of Dongguk
University's International Seon Center
Written by Kyung Lee
Photographed by Ryu Seunghoo
and Choi Go-ya
People under daily duress due to work, entanglements within personal relationships, or even dissatisfaction with physical appearances, find numerous methods of coping with such problems. Be it jogging, plugging ambient sounds in one's ears, or simply lying in the bath, this never-ending list of therapies often works well.
But if a person engaging in these rituals merely uses them for repressive purposes and remains unaware of how to achieve obliviousness to such stress, perhaps a path to meditation needs to be paved in his or her life-a meditation described as penetrating and embracing duress and doubt as simply meaningless scruples, in the end, rather than pushing each conflict away with daily "buffer" methods.
One such means of meditation, with Buddhist origins, is the practice of Ganhwa Seon.
Deriving its practices from the Seon Dharma of 6th century China, which involves a high level of commitment between teacher and student, Ganhwa Seon is considered by contemporary Seon practitioners such as Venerable Suble of Dongguk University in Seoul as adaptable even to a general public not entirely faithful to Buddhist traditions.
The head teacher of the university's International Seon Center described Ganhwa Seon's philosophy as living with one's questions and doubts, rather than repressing them. "We're not transferring pain out of our bodies for it to eventually penetrate us again; rather, through these pains we must recognize questions and doubts about life as meaningless battles," said Ven. Subul.
Although reiterating that such a pratice is adaptable whether to devout students or the general public, Ven. Subul said that Ganhwa Seon requires weeks for the achievement of a clear, cleansing outcome. The practice of Ganhwa Seon is not entirely divided into sessions, but involves constantly focusing on one's doubts and questions. "Each practice doesn't take 30 to 50 minutes, or one to two hours, but is a constant phase within a person's conscience," said Ven. Subul. "In order for this meditation to be achievable, people have to embrace their doubts and problems to reach eventual enlightenment."
Initial impressions of Dongguk University's International Seon Center would lead a tourist or incoming student to believe that a spiritual hall of meditation could not coexist with such modern campus architecture. After stepping into the rotunda of the Seon Center, however, a novel and sacred atmosphere, as if in one of South Korea's placid countryside spots, is clearly palpable.
Walking in, after taking shoes off, visitors are met by wooden floors, old-fashioned cushions and spiritual decoration made to fit a meditative environment. Dongguk University's International Seon Center is one of several unique and important centers attracting both local and international students, as well as audiences, to Ven. Subul's teachings on Ganhwa Seon.
Ven. Subul's meeting hall is well suited to the characteristics of silence and discipline, yet also conveys a tranquil mood to visitors. With warm teapots stimulating concentration and cushions providing comport to each visitor, Ven. Subul emphasized with strong conviction the need to spread the practice of Ganhwa Seon within a globalizing South Korea and with international audiences further afield. As the ongoing globalization of the world brought increasing materialism and stress, he said, these should be offset by meditative practices such as Ganhwa Seon.
The Seon Center held intersive Ganhwa Seon practice from january 12 through 19, 2012, with 80 registered applicants. Ven. Subul further emphasized that Ganhwa Seon should be incorporated under the list of everyday therapies for human beings around the world. "Koreans and foreigners alike must learn to find themselves through doubt and the pain circulating in their lives," he said. "It's not just about placing yourself in the dark and overcoming all of your problems; it's all a question of spreading the practice to others feeling and attempting to wrestle with similar hwadu."
Over the years, Ven. Subul has introduced nearly 20,000 local and international visitors to the practice of Ganhwa Seon. He opened Dongguk University's International Seon Center on August 30, 2011. As well accumulating extensive experience of Ganhwa Seon meditation, starting in Busan in 1975, Ven. Subul has taken part in television seminars, held lectures at Dongguk University, any traveled to various corners of the earth.
"The good thing about Gnahwa Seon is that it can be interpreted more easily than other practices," said Ven Subul. "Although I cannot teach newcomers to become devout practitioners of Ganhwa Seon, the meditation is simple enough to follow for those who have 9-5 work schedules and live under the influence of culture and media. As you confront doubt and inner conflicts, you will soon find yourself in a national place."
English-language lectures by Ven. Subul on Seon take place of Anguk Zen Center 2:30-4pm every Saturdsy until Feb 11, then of Dongguk University International Seon Center from 2pm-4pm every Saturday from Feb 18.
T. (02) 2260-3891
See the map on the advertisement on p 70
WHAT'S A HWADU?
Hwadu (literally, "head of speech") are words or riddles pondered upon by Seon (Zen) monks as meditation tools