Written by Five Mountain Zen Order founder, Ven. Wonji Dharma. Reposted from his blog: Zen Mirror: Kānhuà Chán
(Ch:wg, K'an-hua Ch'an; Kor: Kanhwa Sŏn; Jap: Kanna Zen)
Chán Master Dàhuì Zōnggăo (1089-1163), who was the primary disciple of Chán Master Yuánwù Kèqín (1063-1135), (the Author of the Bi-yenlu “Blue Cliff Record”), developed Kānhuà Chán as a method that focused on the ‘sudden enlightenment’ of Chán Master Línjì Yìxuán’s lineage. The term literally means ‘the Chán that examines words and phrases’. It refers to the practice of meditating on Chán stories of the ancient masters (Ch:py, gōng’àn; Ch:wg, kung-an; Kor, kong-an; Jap, kōan) in the search for enlightenment or bodhi-mind. Normally, after studying the story for a time, students would identify a sentence, phrase, or word as the ‘critical phrase’ (Ch:py, huàtóu Ch:wg, hua-t'ou; Kor, hwadu; Jap, watō) and would concentrate all of their efforts on penetrating the meaning of that one phrase. Thus, their practice was referred to as Kānhuà Chán.
Huàtóu can be translated as “before words,” or a state of mind that exists before a single thought arises. What exists prior to a single thought arising? It is Before Thought. Before thought is your own Pure Mind, your own Buddha Nature, and your own Original Face. Meditating on a huàtóu does not mean repeating the word or phrase, because the repetition of the huàtóu is also a great false thought. Rather, to recognize your own Original Face is the purpose of the huàtóu. Huàtóu is also sometimes translated as “word-head; “the point, punch line, or key line of a kōan, the word or phrase in which the kōan resolves itself when one struggles with it as a means of spiritual training .... In the famous kōan Zhàozhōu’s Dog, for example, wu is sometimes identified as the huàtóu. Kōans frequently have several huàtóus contained within the story.
In Zen, a kōan is a phrase or story from a sutra or teaching on Zen realization, an episode from the life of an ancient master ... each pointing to the nature of ultimate reality. Essential to a kōan is the paradox, i.e., that which is “beyond thinking,” which transcends our logical conceptual discursive thinking. Consequently, since it cannot be solved by reason, a kōan is not a riddle to be pondered and ‘figured out’. Solving a kōan requires a leap to another level of comprehension that exists in our not knowing mind.
The hallmark of the Korean Sŏn Buddhist practice since the time of Chin'gak Hyesim (1178-1234) is the huàtóu or kōan meditation. Chinul Puril Pojo Daesa (1158-1210) is the one who first introduced this technique to Korea without having any direct contact with Chinese masters but indirectly through reading Dàhuì’s Records on the occasion of his third and final awakening experience. Chinul’s attainment was so complete and all encompassing, according to his biographer, that he accepted and approved this special technique as the most effective practical means to enlightenment, even though he provided lower capacity students with two other approaches; that of, simultaneous cultivation of meditation and wisdom based upon the teachings within the Platform Sutra, or, a complete sudden approach through great faith and attainment based upon the Lǐ Tōngxuán's interpretation of the Huáyán Sutra, thus completing his approach to attaining one-mind by following Chinese Huáyán-Chán monk-scholar Zongmi. Línjì Chán developed into the only orthodox line of Sŏn in Korea following Chinul's death. His direct Dharma Heir Chin'gak Hyesim (edited all the available Chán stories into an anthology of seventeen hundred kōans, which later became the standard for Kānhuà Chán practiced by Korean Sŏn monks.