Traditional Korean Zen

The Korean practice of Hwadu is the central focus of our Zen tradition, and it is essentially a practice of inquiry. There are many traditions that use inquiry, but the essential core of the practice is the same: inquiry is used to bring the mind to a place where thoughts disappear. Thoughts dissolve, and all that remains is silent awareness. If inquiry takes the mind to a place of continuous questions and answers then the correct direction of inquiry has not yet been established.

Zen practice has always been known for its simplicity. It is simple because it is essentially a practice of observing the mind, whether we are sitting, walking, or going about our daily work. But Zen has also been perceived as somewhat of a mystery, an enigma that we average mortals can’t possibly understand. It doesn’t need to be a mystery at all, in fact, its very simplicity can provide us with great clarity.

In Korea, the term “Zen” is pronounced “Seon” (rhymes with “sun”). Korean Zen is referred to as “GanHwa Seon” which literally means “Zen of the contemplation of words”. The “words” are referring to the Hwadu, or Koan as it is used in this tradition. The expression GanHwa Seon was coined in the lifetime of the great Chinese Ch’an Master TaHui (1089-1163), referring to the style of practice that regarded the koan as the most important means of training on the path of awakening.

At the Sixth Ancestor Zen Center we start those who are unfamiliar with the Hwadu practice with simple instructions on establishing a comfortable, relaxed sitting position, and learning to focus on the breath. As one’s practice goes deeper and the mind settles down, we move on to the Hwadu practice.

Our founder, Venerable Hyunoong Sunim, has always emphasized the importance of including energy practices to establish good physical and emotional health. The body is the vehicle through which we practice, and if it is blocked and unhealthy this can create many obstacles in our spiritual practice, physically, mentally, psychologically and emotionally. For more details on these practices please go to our Zen & Health page.