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    While Chan Master Zhitong (智通) was studying under Chan Master GuizongZhichang (歸宗智常), he once said, “I have come to a big awakening.” At this, Master Guizong gathered people and asked him, “What principle of the Way you saw makes you say so?” Master Zhitong said in response, “A grandmother is originally a woman. When Chan Master Dongshan asked the abbot of a hermitage who had been cultivating his mind alone, “What principle of the Way you saw keeps you on this mountain?” the abbot’s answer was so silly that it was laughable. Perhaps, he was trying to emphasize that awakening is not something extraordinary and special but a matter of course. Not being fooled by phenomena but merely accepting essence for what it is – that is what a reasonable and mature perspective should be. For instance, the essence of a grandmother is that she is a woman; however, if you are blinded by the phenomenon that she is old, then you will forget her essence and start to believe that she has always been a grandmother. In this regard, an attitude that is free from obsessing over forms and appearances is the very realm of awakening. For this reason, the Diamond Sutra defines awakening as “to become free from form (相).”

    We must have been really frustrating to him, or else Seon Master Seongcheol wouldn’t have argued with us, saying “A mountain is a mountain, water is water!” thereby asking us not to be blinded by forms but to look at things as they are. His best known Dharma talk, this line of verse originally came from what the 8th-century Chan Master QingyuanWeixin (青原惟信) once said:
    Thirty years ago, when I practiced Chan, I saw mountains as mountains and water as water. Later, when I met a teacher and came to a deeper level of knowledge, mountains were not mountains and water was not water. But now that I have let go of all discernment, once again, mountains are mountains and water is water.

    Here, he was describing the world before, during and after awakening. That is, he was explicating how awakening unfolds through profound practice. Be it before or after awakening, mountains are still mountains and water is still water. Perhaps, it was the attitude of the observer that had changed while phenomena and essence remained the same. In this regard, a new perspective gained from awakening makes you see the world in a warmer and more positive light.

    In general, when we perceive things, we do not acknowledge them as they are but see them through a discerning eye. That is, our knowledge and understanding come into play. Even when people see the same natural landscape, a flower enthusiast will only see flowers, a painting lover will see it as a vista, and a real estate agent will look for a plot of land to sell. Yet, regardless of each individual’s different interests and stakes, mountains are mountains and water remains water.

    As such, once you have cleansed your mind of greed, you can see mountains as mountains and water as water from a “no-mind” perspective without interference from your emotions.

    Chan Master Zhitong’s insight that “A grandmother is originally a woman.” is his teachings that ask you to avoid making distinctions about matters of course. It is analogous to saying, “Summer is supposed to be hot.” If you are throwing a tantrum because it is hot in summer, the rationale behind your irritation is that summer should somehow be cold. Therefore, acknowledging and accepting the heat of the summer as a matter of course is much closer to the attitude expected from a true Seon practitioner. We tend to suffer because we reject and deny things that couldn’t be more in tune with the senses and nature. A realization of this is what the master aims to impart to us. (Monk Hyeonjin)
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