Chinul’s last “great awakening” occurred at Sangmuju am, near the top of the Mount Chiri—here, [suddenly] he was taken by reading Ta-hui Tsung-kao’s rendering of the hua-t’ou (K. hwadu) method:
I went to live on Mount Chiri and found [a passage in the] Records of the Sŏn Master Ta-hui P’u-chüeh which said, “Sŏn does not consist in quietude; it does not consist in bustle. It does not involve the activities of daily life; it does not involve logical discrimination. Nevertheless, it is of first importance not to investigate [Sŏn] while rejecting quietude or bustle, the activities of daily life, or logical discrimination. If your eyes suddenly open, then [Sŏn] is something which exists inside your very own home.” I understood this passage. Naturally, nothing blocked my chest again and I never again dwelt together with an enemy. From then on I was at peace. (ibid, pg.28)
Chinul’s subsequent adoption of the hwadu method brought him into the mainstream of Ch’an development. In fact, this “short-cut” method of direct-awakening is the very hallmark of contemporary Sŏn Buddhism and is utilized widely in today’s Sŏn monasteries. Chinul reasoned that after one is fully attuned on the path, one “should abandon all relative descriptions of dharma and enter upon the living road of Sŏn practice: the way of hwadu investigation.” (ibid, pg.55) Within hwadu, all scriptural references and all mental conceptions are discarded as one enters fully and unobstructedly into direct Sŏn realization. Hwadu means “head of speech” or the apex-point in which all linguistic formulations exhausts itself:
In leading to the very limit of speech, or more accurately thought, the hwadu acts as a purification device which sweeps the mind free of all its conceptualizing activities and leaves it clear, attentive, and calm-the ideal meditative state. Cessation of the discriminative processes of thought strips the mind of its interest in the sense-experiences of the ordinary world and renders it receptive to the influence of the unconditioned.
As this approach allows none of the conventional supports for practice provided in the scriptural teachings and eschews conceptual understanding, it is obviously intended only for students of superior capacity, or for those who have first matured themselves through another technique.
By focusing the student’s attention exclusively on the one thought of the hwadu, all the discriminative tendencies of the mind are brought to a halt. From this state of thoughtlessness, one more push is all that is needed to move from the ordinary world, governed by cause and effect, to the transcendental realm of the unconditioned. (ibid, pgs. 67-68)
The way of hwadu is to “stump” the reasoning faculty into a dead halt—a form of existential “doubt”, and as this great-doubt—expands—all dualistic thought is thoroughly disrupted through this most acute and direct investigation that simply blows-away all discriminatory formulations. The “catalyst” here can be a shout or blow from the master’s staff, any “sudden-sound” or any mind-numbing question that brings ordinary consciousness to a FULL-STOP! In effect, this “frees” Mind’s- Original powers of Recollecting Its full Enlightened Stature. For Chinul, this approach leads one directly to the Core-Realization of the Dharmadhātu—which IS the true and unobstructed goal of Sŏn [and] Hwaŏm Buddhism.
Some further references to the practice of hwadu:
An example of a hwadu would be a question such as “What is this?” or “What is this mind?”
Hence there is a master who rules this body who is neither the label “mind,” the Buddha, a material thing nor empty space. Having negated these four possibilities, a question will arise as to what this master really is. If you continue inquiring in this way, the questioning will become more intense. Finally, when the mass of questioning enlarges to a critical point, it will suddenly burst. The entire universe will be shattered and only your original nature will appear before you. In this way you will awaken.
In Zen meditation, the key factor is to maintain a constant sense of questioning. So, having taken hold of the hwadu “What is this?” try to always sustain the questioning:” What is seeing?” “What is hearing?” “What is moving these hands and feet?” and so on. Before the initial sense of questioning fades, it is important to give rise to the question again. In this way, the process of questioning can continue uninterrupted with each new question overlapping the previous one. In addition you should try to make this overlapping smooth and regular. But this does not mean that you should just mechanically repeat the question as though it were a mantra. It is useless to just say to yourself day and night, “What is this?” “What is this?” The key is to sustain the sense of questioning, not the repetition of the words. Once this inquiry gets underway there will be no room for boredom. If the mind remains quiet, the hwadu will not be forgotten, and the sense of questioning will continue unbroken. In this way, awakening will be easy.
Meditation can be compared to a battle between wandering thoughts and dullness of mind on the one side and the hwadu on the other. The stronger the hwadu becomes, the weaker will become wandering thoughts and dullness. (Way of Korean Zen, pgs.60-61)
Once again, Chinul’s main objective with hwadu was to Self-Realize the Full and unobstructed Dharmadhātu. In his work, Resolving Doubts About Observing the Hwadu, he fine-tunes this realization even further. He states that the basis and foundation of the hwadu-method can be found in the Awakening of Faith, which basically states:
The suchness of the mind is the essence of the teaching of the great general characteristic of the one dharmadhātu: that is to say, it is the mind-nature which neither arises nor ceases. It is only due to deluded thoughts that all dharmas are differentiated. If one leaves behind the mind’s thoughts, then all the signs of the sense-spheres are nonexistent. For this reason, since the beginning all dharmas have been separate from the signs of words and speech, from the signs of names and appellations, and from the signs of mental objects, and, ultimately, are undifferentiated, immutable, and indestructible. They are only the one mind. Therefore it is called suchness.
Question: If this is the case, then how can all sentient beings harmonize with such a state and be able to enter it?
Answer: Although all dharmas are spoken of, there is neither a subject nor an object of speech. Although they can be thought of, there is neither a subject nor an object of thought. When you know this, it is called harmonization. When thoughts are left behind, it is called gaining entrance…
This sort of teaching is definitely a technique for leaving behind thought and allowing students to enter the gate of the suchness of the mind. (ibid, pg. 243)
Chinul builds upon Ta-hui’s assertion:
As long as the affective consciousnesses have not been destroyed, the fire in the heart will continue to rage. Keep your attention on the hwadu at all times and deepen the doubt toward it. For example: a monk asked Chao-chou, “Does a dog have the Buddha-nature or not?” Chao-chou replied, “Mu!” [No!]” You should only be concerned about keeping this question before you and your attention always focused. From the left you cannot get to it; from the right you cannot get to it. You should not understand it to mean yes or no. You should not take it to be the no of true nonexistence. You should not consider it in relation to doctrine. You should not ponder over it logically at the mind-consciousness base. You should not think the master is explaining the hwadu when he raises his eyebrows or twinkles his eyes. You should not devise stratagems for resolving the hwadu through the use of speech. You should not busy yourself inside the tent of unconcern. You should not consider the hwadu at the place where you raise it to your attention. You should not look for evidence in the wording. You should not grasp at a deluded state, simply waiting for awakening. There is absolutely no need to use the mind in any way. Once the mind is without any abiding place, do not fear falling into emptiness.
Chinul then goes on to explain:
Once the student has heard this sort of explanation and has been given his hwadu, he should then merely raise it to his attention and investigate it during the twelve periods of the day and in all four postures. He should have no understanding that the mind-nature is either separate from words or free of signs; nor should he have any understanding of unimpeded conditioned arising. If there is even one thought left of knowledge or conceptual understanding regarding the Buddha-dharma, he is enmeshed in the ten defects of understanding. Therefore he should lay them down, one by one, while avoiding deliberations about whether to lay them down or not or whether he is enmeshed in a defect or not. Unexpectedly, in an instant the student activates one moment of realization in regard to the tasteless, elusive hwadu, and the dharmadhātu of the one mind becomes utterly evident and clear. The hundreds of thousands of samādhis and the immeasurable meanings contained in the mind-nature will be fully realized without even seeking for them. And this happens because there is no preliminary bias toward what is gained via theoretical understanding and acquired knowledge. This is the secret formula for realization and entering through close investigation of the hwadu-the approach taught in the shortcut approach of the Sŏn school. (ibid, pgs.245-246)
Chinul then continues to expand upon the vital dharmadhātu factor:
The Sixth Patriarch said, “Why don’t you experience the unborn?” He suddenly had a realization of the dharmadhātu and only answered, “The experience is the unborn; understanding is originally without swiftness.” All this accords with the fact that at the point of realization there is no need for an excess of words. Then, once outside the temple gate, he broke out in song about his state of realization and said, “One nature perfectly penetrates all natures ….”Thus we know that this master’s universal-eye state showed all phenomena to be in perfect interfusion. Sentient beings and Buddhas were perfectly interfused. All the stages of the bodhisattva path were perfectly interfused. The eighty-four thousand approaches to dharma were perfectly interfused. In this manner, the dharmadhātu’s inexhaustible qualities and functions were brought to complete accomplishment in a snap of the fingers. (ibid, pg.248)
One can see here Chinul’s keen infusion of hwadu with Hwaŏm Buddhism. Yea, in one supreme moment of realization the living dharmadhātu of the One Mind becomes all so perfectly clear and unobstructed in this divine-infusion. No-thing is left as ALL is dis-carded leaving ONLY the Unborn Mind in Its perfectly-vivifying & animating Actuosity.