Interpenetration and Essence-Function in Wonhyo, Chinul and Kihwa
The Key Operative Concepts in Korean Buddhist Syncretic Philosophy:
Interpenetration (通達) and Essence-Function (體用) in Wonhyo, Chinul and Kihwa
by A. Charles Muller
Korean Buddhism is distinctive within the broader field of East Asian Buddhism for the pronounced degree of its syncretic discourse. Korean Buddhist monks throughout history have demonstrated a marked tendency in their essays and commentaries to focus on the solution of disagreements between various sects within Buddhism, or on conflicts between Buddhism and other religions. While a strong ecumenical tendency is noticeable in the writings of dozens of Korean monks, among the most prominent in regard to their exposition of syncretic philosophy are Wŏnhyo (元曉 617-686), Pojo Chinul (普照知訥 1158-1210) and Hamheo Kihwa (涵虚己和 1376-1433).
The chief operative conceptual framework with which these scholar-monks carried out their syncretic writings can be shown to be derived from the metaphysics connected with the Hwaŏm (華嚴 Ch. Hua-yen) school, as well as the soteriological discourse of the closely related Awakening of Faith (大乘起信論) tradition, both of which have dual roots in Indian Buddhist and native East Asian philosophy. In this paper we will examine the most important metaphysical concepts related to this syncretic discourse: interpenetration and essence-function, showing how each of these three men utilized these concepts in their respective works.
The concept of interpenetration is indicated by the Chinese binome t’ung-ta (通達; Kor. t’ongdal), but is also commonly signified by t’ung (通 Kor. t’ong) alone. Also used in Hua-yen and Awakening of Faith philosophy are such terms as yuan-yung (Kor. wollyung 圓融 “perfect amalgamation”), kuan (Kor. kwan 貫 “penetration by a single thread”), hsun (Kor. hun 薫 “perfumation”), and wu-ai (Kor. mu-ae 無礙 “non-obstruction”).
The basic meaning of t’ung, which has changed little over three millennia of East Asian literary history, is to “go through,” or “pass through.” It especially possesses the connotations of passing, or going through a path, or moving along a course which is already opened and which merely needs to be traversed. The ideograph ta (達; Kor. tal), is close in meaning, and is often combined with t’ung in Buddhist texts, but differs somewhat etymologically, as it originally signifies piercing through a barrier, or breaking open a passageway where there was none before.
T’ung and ta are ancient concepts to which strong philosophical overtones were added in early Confucian thought, notably in such texts as the Analects (論語), Book of Changes (易經) and the Record of Rites (禮記). Especially relevant among these implications is the function of the mind of the sage, which is able to penetrate without limit in time and space. The sage’s mind is capable of “penetrating to” (i.e., “understanding”) the principles of things, as in the Analects, where Confucius says: “I have no resentment against Heaven, no quarrel with men. I study from the bottom and penetrate to the top.”1 Other shades of meaning include “to unify” or “be the same” in the sense of the dissolution of barrier. Both t’ung and ta can mean to “apprehend,” “understand,” “grasp,” “permeate,” “fill,” or “influence.” They are used adjectivally and adverbially to the same effects. The nuance of “penetration” (although not specifically indicated by the word t’ung) is ubiquitous in all the texts which reflect the early East Asian intuitively transparent worldview. It is a basic underpinning of both the Great Learning (大學) and the Doctrine of the Mean (中庸), in both of which the inner and outer aspects of the person are understood to penetrate each other such that quality of the person’s inner mind is always discernible in his outer appearance.
The classical pre-Buddhist intuitions of t’ung were rationalized and technicalized as they were used to facilitate Chinese expressions of Buddhism. The conceptual bases of t’ung in East Asian Buddhism can be explained through the notions of emptiness (空) and dependent origination (縁起), since it is due to the lack of self-nature of things that they can mutually contain, reflect and comprise–or “interpenetrate” each other. Doctrinal classifiers such as Chih-i (538-597) used the term t’ung to refer to the type of Buddhist teaching that is “shared” or “understood in the same way” by students of varying predilections.2 The Sanskrit term for the supernatural powers of the Buddha or great Bodhisattva (abhijñah, literally “super knowledges”) was also translated into Chinese as t’ung, indicating that the mind of the Buddha penetrates to all places.3
The most important development of the meaning of t’ung came with the appearance of Hua-yen philosophy, where the metaphysics of interpenetration/non-obstruction became the hallmark of the school. The key usage of t’ung is in the discourse of the third and fourth dharmadhatus (“reality-realms” 法界) developed by the early Hua-yen patriarchs. These are the realms of li-shih wu-ai (理事無礙 “non-obstruction between principle and phenomena”) and shih-shih wu-ai (事事無礙 “non-obstruction between phenomena and phenomena,” or “perfect interpenetration of phenomena”). In the third realm, the conceptually differentiated spheres of principle and phenomena (emptiness and form 空, 色) are shown to be mutually containing. Since they are mutually containing, it follows that individual phenomena also contain each other without obstruction. The concept of an interpenetrated universe can be seen as a natural extension of the closely bound concepts of dependent origination and emptiness (pratitya-samutpada, Ch. 縁起 and sunyata, Ch. 空) which were developed in Indian analytical Buddhist philosophy. Since all things arise only in dependence upon each other, they are understood to be lacking in self-nature. Being devoid of self-nature, they are also lacking in limitation; i.e., they cannot demonstrably possess any border or edge. Since things are thoroughly dependently originated, the creation of a single thing necessarily involves all the factors around it. These in turn involve all the factors around them.
Compared to the analytical development of “interpenetration-metaphysics” that can be seen through the doctrines of Indian schools such as Yogacāra and Mādhyamika, the basis of a similar transparent worldview evident in non-Buddhist native East Asian philosophy is more intuitive in nature. In texts such as the Book of Changes, Book of Odes (詩經), Record of Rites and Analects the organic unity and transparency of Heaven and Earth is something that is assumed a priori, and is demonstrated by examples from the human world, rather than through metaphysical analysis. But t’ung in Chinese-originated schools of Buddhism such as Hua-yen can be seen as derived from a combination of both analytical Indian Buddhist and intuitive East Asian perspectives in its signification of the interpenetrated nature of existence.
p class=”indented”> The Chinese concept of t’i-yung (體用 Kor. ch’e-yong) which is usually translated into English as “essence-function” is a prominent component of all East Asian philosophical systems.4 T’i (體) refers to the deeper, hidden, relatively permanent and more fundamental aspects of something, while yung (用) indicates its more manifest, visible or superficial aspects. That “something” can be anything from an inanimate object to a concept, a plant or animal, an organization or institution, a world or universe. The most important application of t’i-yung thought, however, is to the human being, where the human mind is seen as “essence,” and one’s words, thoughts and actions are seen as “function.” In Confucianism t’i is associated with the goodness (jen 仁) that is the basis of the human mind and yung is associated with the expression of that jen in proper (culturally acceptable) action, or li (禮). Other Confucian “functions” of jen include filial piety (孝), trust (信), sincerity (誠) and wisdom (智).
Similarly, in Buddhism, t’i is regarded as the fundamentally enlightened Buddha-mind that is present in all beings, whereas yung is the manifestation of that mind in actual practice–whether it be a full manifestation (enlightened Buddha) or limited manifestation (ignorant sentient being). In a more abstract vein, t’i and yung in all three traditions of Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism can refer to a mysterious principle and its apparent manifestations: in the Analects, again jen and li, etc. In the Great Learning, “roots” (本) as t’i and “branches” (末) as yung. In the Tao Et Ching, the tao (道) as t’i and its power (te 徳) as yung. The Tao Et Ching is rife with other metaphors for essence and function such as the black (黒) and the white (白) [Ch. 28], uncarved block (樸) and vessels (器) [Ch. 28]; the substantial (厚) and superficial (薄) [Ch. 38]; the nameless tao and named tao [Ch. 1], etc. In Buddhism the principle of emptiness (空) is t’i, and existence (有) or form (色) is yung. Also important in Buddhism is the usage of t’i and yung to distinguish enlightenment itself from its manifestations in the realm of practice. In schools of meditational Buddhism (Ch’an, Son, Zen) students are admonished not to mistake the manifest “functions” or characteristics of a master’s enlightenment (such as intelligence, naturalness, kindness/strictness, silence/eloquence, or artistic skill) as the enlightenment experience (t’i) itself.
An important point to be made concerning t’i and yung is that these terms are best grasped when approached through the concept of mutual containment . . . or t’ung. This way, one may avoid the error of taking the translated term “essence” to be a reified substrate–a Platonic metaphysical transcendent reality. One of the most important connotations of t’i-yung metaphysics is that each of the two aspects represent nothing more than two ways of looking at a single thing. The essence and function of something cannot be separated from each other, as they fully contain each other–“the same but different.” One of the best-known examples of the interpenetration of essence and function can be found in the sixth chapter of the traditional commentary to the Great Learning, where the writer is explaining the meaning of sincerity (誠). He says:
“When the inferior man is at leisure, there is no limit to the extent of his evil. But when he sees a Superior Man he will be ashamed; he will cover his evil and show off his goodness. When people observe you, they see right to your core. So what’s the use of being deceitful? Therefore we say: “internal sincerity [t’i] expresses itself outwardly [yung] without obscuration.” Therefore the Superior Man must be watchful over himself when he is alone.”
While the Chinese Hua-yen school was effectively wiped out during the purge of 841-845, its Korean counterpart, the Hwaŏm school, became the leading doctrinal institution on the Korean peninsula, a status which it maintained for a millennium. The prominence of the role of Hwaŏm philosophy in Korea can be traced to the fact that Korea’s most influential early Buddhist thinkers were deeply involved in Hwaŏm studies, and they firmly established the school in the land “east of the sea (海東).” And although the Hwaŏm sect was later disbanded by government directives as a organized entity, its doctrines had a profound and lasting effect on the Korean Chogye meditational tradition into which it was eventually assimilated.
While the man formally accredited with the founding of the Hwaŏm school in Korea is Uisang (義湘 625-702), the person who is generally considered more fully responsible for the especially deep influence of Hwaŏm thought on Haedong Buddhism was Uisang’s close friend Wŏnhyo (元曉 617-686). Wŏnhyo was a serious student of Hwaŏm doctrine, such that it dominated his whole way of thought. He spent a decade or so immersed in the scholarly-monastic tradition, but after a consciousness-only enlightenment experience, gave up the priesthood as an expression of his freedom and traveled about the countryside, living with and teaching the common people. He made this decision not out of a special disdain for the holy life, but out of a recognition of the arbitrariness of the division between secular and sacred. In the opening paragraph of his Simmun hwajaeng non (十門和諍論 Harmonization of Doctrinal Disputes in Ten Aspects) Wŏnhyo said:
“. . . The attitude of staying in a deep valley while avoiding great mountains, or loving emptiness while hating existence is just like the attitude of going into a forest while avoiding trees. But one should be aware of the fact that green and blue are identical in essence, and ice and water are identical in origin; a single mirror reflects myriad forms, and parted waters will perfectly intermingle once they are reunited.”5
A distinctive aspect of Wŏnhyo’s elucidation of his philosophy of interpenetration (exemplified in the above citation) is his extensive usage of the principle of ch’e-yong (t’i-yung). Although the ch’e-yong formula can be seen operating throughout Wŏnhyo’s works, the place where he develops its usage most fully is in his influential commentary to the Ta-ch’eng ch’i-hsin lun (大乘起信論 Treatise on Awakening Mahāyāna Faith) (AMF). The ch’e-yong framework was utilized by the writer of the AMF to analyze the interior and hidden aspects of the enlightened mind as contrasted with their external function.6 It is in large measure the doctrine of the AMF itself which stimulates Wŏnhyo to use essence-function hermeneutics, since the treatise opens up with an explanation of the meaning of Mahāyāna in terms of “essence (體),” “aspects (相)” and “function (用),” saying:
“The characteristics of Mahāyāna are three in number. What are the three? First is the greatness of its essence, which means that because the Suchness of all Dharmas is equal, it neither increases nor decreases. Second is the greatness of its attributes, which means that the Tathāgatagarbha is completely filled with the immeasurable virtues of [Buddha] Nature. Third is the greatness of its operation, which means that Mahāyāna can generate all good causes and effects in the mundane and supramundane worlds.”7
Drawing on the AMF’s usage of essence and function, Wŏnhyo uses the same principle as an interpretive tool throughout the remainder of his exegesis of the treatise. He identifies the essence as the (hidden, unmanifest) One Mind, which is, as essence, in a state of being “sealed” (合 hap). When the One Mind unfolds (開 kae) into its function, it can be recognized as the myriad phenomenal things. Early in his commentary to the AMF Wŏnhyo says:
“Since such is the intent of this treatise, when opened, immeasurable and limitless meanings are found in its doctrine; when sealed, the principle of two aspects in One Mind is found to be its essence. Within the two aspects are included myriad meanings without confusion. These limitless meanings are identical with One Mind and are completely amalgamated with it. Therefore it opens and seals freely; it establishes and refutes without restrictions.”8
While seeing the world as a singular reality, Wŏnhyo did not perceive this reality to be a haphazard mass of mind and matter, but understood the world (in a manner not unlike that seen in classical Confucianism and Taoism) to be governed by a mysterious principle. This principle was something to be known, “penetrated,” realized. The AMF unequivocally stated that the principle (“dharma,” which we can understand as ch’e) is itself the enlightened human mind.9 In Wŏnhyo’s Buddhist understanding, this dharma is equivalent to emptiness, but in a positive sense, equivalent to enlightenment. Enlightenment (覺) for Wŏnhyo is synonymous with Mahāyāna (大乘), which in turn is not different from the “mind of sentient beings (衆生心).” Thus, in an understanding that works through the ch’e-yong paradigm, the mind of the sentient being, which has the basic nature of enlightenment, is equivalent to Mahāyāna, which penetrates and functions universally throughout the universe. Wŏnhyo says: “The words ‘there is a dharma,’ which begin the first section of this part of the treatise, refer to the principle of One Mind. If people are able to understand this principle, they are bound to arouse the broad and great root of faith.”10
The AMF was a text that was perfect for utilization by someone of Wŏnhyo’s inclinations, since it was written to clarify issues about the nature of human consciousness and the proper course toward enlightenment which had hitherto been interpreted divergently by different schools of East Asian Buddhism. The author of the AMF was deeply concerned with the question of the respective origins of ignorance and enlightenment. If enlightenment is originally existent, how do we become submerged in ignorance? If ignorance is originally existent, how is it possible to overcome it? And finally, at the most basic level of mind, the alaya consciousness (藏識), is there originally purity or taint? The AMF dealt with these questions in a systematic and thorough fashion, working through the Yogacāra concept of the alaya consciousness. The technical term used in the AMF which functions as a metaphorical synonym for interpenetration is “permeation” or “perfumation (薫),” referring to the fact that defilement (煩惱) “perfumates” suchness (眞如), and suchness perfumates defilement, depending on the current condition of the mind.
Wŏnhyo extended his apprehension of the meaning of t’ong beyond that of many other East Asian scholar-monks in his manifest application of the principle of non-obstruction in his personal activities. For Wŏnhyo, interpenetration was more than an abstract theoretical principle–it was something that he actualized in his everyday affairs. During the latter part of his life he associated himself with those of high and low station,11 according differentially to their religious needs. The Buddhist doctrine he taught to the masses was a flexible one, which included the most recondite Hwaŏm metaphysics, as well as the relatively simple practice of recitation of the name of Amitabha Buddha.12 Amazingly, he was in the same lifetime able to produce some two hundred and forty scholarly works, including commentaries on every major Mahāyāna text. Except for the works of the extraordinarily prolific translators such as Kumārajiiva (344-413) and Hsüan-tsang (596-664), this is probably the largest literary output by a single scholar in East Asian Buddhist history.
The overarching philosophical theme in his scholarly works was also t’ong–but under the rubric of “harmonization of disputes”–hwajaeng (和諍). He applied the metaphysics of interpenetration to demonstrate the fundamental lack of obstruction between the arbitrarily imposed conceptual structures which had contributed to heated debates between the various doctrinal sects of East Asian Buddhism. Since the view of Buddhism elucidated by Wŏnhyo was one in which all theories participated in, and manifested a single Buddhist reality, he referred to his understanding of Buddhism as t’ong pulgyo (通佛教) or “Interpenetrated Buddhism.” The above-mentioned Simmun hwajaeng non was written expressly for the purpose of carrying out the harmonization of disagreements concerning the Buddhist doctrine.13 The same aim of harmonization can be seen in his Yolban chong’yo (涅槃宗要 Doctrinal Essentials of the Nirvana Sutra), in his Commentary and Expository Notes to the Ta-ch’eng ch’i-hsin lun (大乘起信論疏 and 起信論別記)14 as well as a number of other extant works.
Although both Wŏnhyo and the Chinese masters of doctrinal classification such as Chih-i and Fa-tsang (643-712) shared in the usage of the Buddhist concept of expedient means (Skt. upāya-kausalya; Ch. 方便) as a hermeneutical device, it seems that the work of hwajaeng carried out by Wŏnhyo was significantly different from the p’an-chiao (判教)15 done by his Chinese counterparts. Despite their professed aim of demonstrating a unity within the buddhadharma, their doctrinal classification systems had a strong tendency towards compartmental reification of the different aspects of the Buddhist teaching. And although it is noted in Hui-yuan’s (fl. 7c.) K’an-ting chi 16 that Wŏnhyo had also devised a p’an-chiao system, none of his extant works create such a classification of the doctrine. His tendency is rather to take doctrines that have already been classified and attempt to show their mutual containment through the hermeneutical tool of ch’e-yong. His inclination, then, was rather opposite from such famous doctrinal classifiers as Chih-i, whom he openly criticized. The final line of his Yolban chong’yo says: “You should know that the Buddha’s meaning is deep and profound without limit. So if you want [like Chih-i] to divide the scriptural meaning into four teachings, or limit the Buddha’s intent with five periods, then this is like using a snail shell to scoop out the ocean, or trying to see the heavens through a narrow tube.”17 It is no doubt due in some measure to Wŏnhyo’s influence that p’an-chiao never becomes the widespread practice in Korea that it did in Chinese Buddhism. It was more often the case that Korean Buddhists tried to turn back from p’an-chiao to the premise that all of the Buddha’s teachings formed a unity through the ch’e-yong framework, rather than by fitting the teachings together by categorization according to their differences.
Pojo Chinul is another eminent figure in Korean Buddhism, who is also famous as a syncretizer through the usage of Hwaŏm principles. In the case of Chinul, the harmonization that needed to be carried out according to his historical circumstance was somewhat different from that of Wŏnhyo, who had centered his efforts on the reconciliation of the divisions that had occurred between the doctrinal schools of Buddhism. The hurdle that Chinul set for himself was the overcoming of the antagonistic condition that had arisen between the Korean doctrinal (Kyo 教) schools and the meditation-practice (Son 禪) schools.
The five main doctrinal schools which became the established orthodoxy of traditional scholastic Buddhism from the Silla period onward were the Kyeyul chong (戒律宗 Vinaya school), Yolban chong (涅槃宗 Nirvana school), Peopseong chong (法性宗 Dharma-nature school), Weonyung chong (圓融宗 Ch. Yüan-tsung; Hua-yen school) and the Peopsang chong (法相宗 Ch. Fa-hsiang; Dharmalak`sanā school). Having already been in position several centuries prior to the advent of the Son schools, these schools formed the Buddhist establishment. They owned the large urban monastic centers and possessed long-nurtured ties with the government. Thus, their viability as vehicles of the proper transmission of the buddhadharma had never been seriously called into question.
The Ch’an communities in China had been founded in the seventh and eighth centuries as the result of the efforts of certain clerics to place greater emphasis on meditation practice. They had reacted to what they perceived as overly scholastic tendencies in the doctrinal schools, tendencies which they deemed as obstructive to the attainment of enlightenment. As these schools of Ch’an began to create an identity for themselves, they emphasized their lack of dependence upon scriptural study. Developing through the eighth and ninth centuries, the anti-intellectual/anti-scholastic Ch’an rhetoric became vehement in some circles, where book-reading and intellectual knowledge were considered nothing less than absolute barriers to the attainment of the enlightenment experience.
The anti-textual rhetoric, which had taken a few centuries to develop in China, was transferred disproportionately to the Son schools in Korea, and within a relatively condensed time frame. Because of this, Korean Son schools tended to characterize themselves by the most radical of the Ch’an labels, such as “the separate transmission outside of the sutras (經外別傳)” and “the school which points directly to the mind (直指心之宗).” From the outset, relations in Korea between the older scholastic schools and the new Son schools were not good, and conditions deteriorated when the doctrinal schools were disparaged in the writings of such leading Son monks as Toeui (道義 d. 825) and Muyeom (無染 799-888)18 for their lack of possession of the true transmission of enlightenment. The adherents of the doctrinal schools, on the other hand, regarded the Son group as radical and misguided upstarts.
By the time of the appearance of Chinul, the debate regarding the merits of Son and Kyo had been progressing in Korea for some two centuries. But although Chinul was a disciplined, pure-minded meditating monk, who, due to disgust with the depravity of members of the Buddhist establishment, isolated himself in mountain monasteries,19 his position in regards to the Son/Kyo controversy was not one of Son bias. Rather, he proposed in a tone reminiscent of Wŏnhyo, that there was at the level of essence (ch’e) no difference to be seen between the Buddhism of Son and Kyo, even if their overt manifestations (yung) differed.
Chinul’s position was not derived only from theoretical speculation, but from his own life experience. In his quest for illumination Chinul was never able to procure the enlightened master (deemed necessary in most Son circles) in order to attain enlightenment. Yet through the study of sutras, Chinul was able to undergo major awakening experiences on three separate occasions. This in itself was enough to prove to Chinul that textual study could be used as a vehicle for enlightenment. After his second awakening, which occurred while reading a passage from the Hua-yen ching,20 he said:
“What the Buddha said through his mouth is Kyo, whereas what the patriarchs transmitted to the mind is Son. The mind and mouth of the Buddha and patriarchs should not be at odds. How can it be right that people do not penetrate to the very root but squander their time in futile arguments and disputes, each feeling comfortable in what he is accustomed to?”21
Chinul could base his private reconciliation of Son and Kyo on his personal experience of enlightenment gained in the reading of a Buddhist text. But as a man dedicated to the teaching of enlightenment to others, he sought a theoretical basis for the merging of Son and Kyo–in the same Hwaŏm doctrine that had been used by his predecessor Wŏnhyo. Aided by the analysis of the Hua-yen ching provided by the T’ang scholar Li T’ung-hsüan (李通玄 635-730),22 Chinul was able to exercise Hwaŏm philosophy to support Son soteriological and epistemological views. In his famous preface to his Hwaŏmnon choryo 23 Chinul utilized the essence-function construction to explain the relationship of the Hua-yen theory of interpenetration to the Son awakening experience by saying:
“The diligent practitioner who is cultivating his mind should first, by means of the path of the patriarchs, become cognizant of the fact that the fundamental subtlety of his own mind cannot be captured in words and letters. Then, using the texts, he should discern that the essence and function of his mind are none other than the nature and characteristics of the realm of reality (dharmadhatu). Then the virtuous power of [the actualization of] the interpenetration of phenomena with phenomena, and the efficacious function of the wisdom and compassion [that are gained from an awareness of] the sameness in essence [of all things] will no longer be external concerns (i.e., merely conceptual theories).”24
Thus it is primarily through the use of the essence-function paradigm, and through the metaphysics of interpenetration that Chinul attempts his harmonization of scriptural study with Son practice.
A third important Korean personage whose life activities and writings reflect strongly the influence of the doctrines of interpenetration and essence-function is Hamheo Kihwa. Kihwa, who lived approximately two centuries after Chinul, reflected the attitudes of his two famous predecessors in a number of ways. In his scholarly work, he used the hermeneutical principles of t’ong and ch’e-yong, especially in the context of Hwaŏm and Awakening of Mahāyāna Faith metaphysics.
Kihwa was a monk of the stark, confrontational Imje Son (臨齊禪) lineage as transmitted from China initially through Ta-hui (大慧 1089-1163 ) and later through the Chih-k’ung/Naong lineage. This branch of Son based its soteriological practices primarily on the observation of the hwadu (“key phrase” 話頭) of the kong’an (公安). Kihwa was like Chinul in the degree to which, in his writings, he offered a truly balanced approach to the holistic combination of doctrinal study and meditation practice. He did this by not merely incorporating scriptural study into Son meditational practice, but by injecting Son meditational attitudes into the area of scriptural study. The text in which he most extensively elucidates his position regarding the relationship of Son and Kyo is in his Redaction of the Commentaries of Five Masters on the Diamond Sutra (金剛般若波羅蜜經五家解説誼), where throughout he writes with a balanced perspective concerning the relationship between Son and Kyo. The Ch’an of the patriarchs and the sermons of the Buddha manifest the same reality, and thus he shifts back and forth in declaring their merits. He points out the necessity of the worded teaching, but clearly warns against attachment to it:
“The dharma that the Buddha has taught is absolute and is relative [i.e., has essence and function]. Since it is relative, liberation is none other than written language. Since what was taught in the east and taught in the west for forty-nine years25 is absolute, written language is none other than liberation;26 yet in over three hundred sermons, ‘Sākyamuni never explained a single word. If you are attached to the words, then you see branches of the stream but miss their source. If you do away with words, you observe the source but are ignorant of its branch streams. When you are confused about neither the source nor its streams, then you enter the ocean of the dharma-nature. Having entered the ocean of the dharma-nature, the no-thought wisdom is directly manifested. The no-thought wisdom being directly manifested, whatever is faced is no impediment, and you penetrate (t’ong) wherever you touch.”26
We can see the essence-function construction operating here in both the ‘absolute/relative’ contrast and the source-streams simile. To forget words and become absorbed in the wordless is to forget the phenomenal world (yong) and be attached to the essence (ch’e). According to Kihwa, this is not an acceptable Buddhist position. But Kihwa also counsels regarding the serious pitfall which has been warned against throughout the Buddhist tradition, and which became a main concern of the Ch’an tradition–that an imbalanced attachment to words can lead to an obstruction of the very essence of Buddhist practice. What remains is the “middle path,” which means the continuous maintenance of a condition of “non-abiding” (muju; 無住) in one-sided positions. This is “entering the ocean of the dharma-nature,” which results in the manifestation of no-thought wisdom. No-thought wisdom penetrates everything with which it comes in contact. The same essence-function and interpenetration hermeneutics also dominates Kihwa’s Commentary on the Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment (圓覺經説誼), where he uses these principles throughout to explain the meaning of that scripture’s passages. Indeed, the entire introductory section to his commentary on the Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment is nothing other than an exercise in ch’e-yong/t’ong metaphysics.29
Kihwa also composed a work which is reminiscent of Wŏnhyo in terms of its attempt at reconciliation of doctrinal controversy. Although by the time of Kihwa’s life, the controversies engendered by the variances in doctrinal Buddhism which Wŏnhyo had striven to reconcile were no longer a major topic, a new, and more volatile religious conflict had come to the fore. This was the struggle between Buddhism and the revivified Confucianism which had come into strong sway with the ascension of power of Yi Seonggye (李成桂) and the Yi (Choseon) dynasty (in 1392). During the decades prior to and subsequent to this dynastic change, Neo-Confucian writers such as Chong Tojeon (鄭道傳; 1342-1398)30 had vociferously attacked the Buddhist establishment for both its political/economic excesses, and its doctrine, which they considered to be dangerous for its nihilistic tendencies. Kihwa, who had been educated in the Confucian Academy as a youth, and who was also the leading figure in the Buddhist sangha at the time, was motivated to compose an essay in defense of Buddhism, which he entitled the Hyon chong non (顯正論 “Manifesto of the Correct”).
In this essay, true to the spirit of Wŏnhyo and Chinul, Kihwa did not react angrily to the attacks (which were often quite vicious) of the Neo-Confucians. Instead he compared the “three teachings” of Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism in an ecumenical fashion, showing how, in terms of their basic principles, they were in agreement with each other. His main conceptual tools, were of course, interpenetration and essence-function. The three teachings share with each other, writes Kihwa, in the fact that they each regard the human mind as good in essence. They also share in the belief in the possibility for the full actualization, or perfect function of this mind through practice, or training. A distinctive characteristic of this essay is Kihwa’s argumentation for the equivalence of the Confucian concept of “humanity” (仁) with Buddhist interpenetration (通). Kihwa writes:
“Human beings and the myriad things already possess the same material force (氣). While sharing in the same principle (理) of Heaven and Earth, they also share the same space in Heaven and Earth. Since they are already endowed with same material force and principle, where can there exist another principle which condones killing life in order to nourish life?! It is like these sayings:
“The universe and I share the same root; the myriad things and myself are one body.”
“The man of jen takes Heaven, Earth and the myriad things as his own body.”31
These are the words of a Confucian. Only when one’s words are fully in accord with his actions has he completed the Way of jen!
In the medical texts, conditions of numbness or paralysis of the limbs are technically termed “non-jen” (不仁). Now the limbs are the extremities of the body, and although the extremities show the symptoms of sickness, the problem is actually that the material force is not penetrating (不通). This means that in this case the term jen refers to Heaven and Earth and the myriad things in fusion as one body–that is, there is no separation between them. If you deeply embody this principle, then no matter how trivial a being is, there is no way you will inflict harm upon it. This can indeed be called “the attainment of the Tao of jen!” . . . If it is not this way then the material force of people and animals is blocked and does not flow; principle is obstructed and does not penetrate, just like the numbness of the hands and feet. . . .”32
It is precisely in regard to this point–the interpenetration of the myriad things and their relation to each other in terms of essence and function that Kihwa understands the three teachings to be unified33–a point upon which Wŏnhyo and Chinul would no doubt have wholeheartedly agreed.
3. See Nakamura Hajime, Bukkyoogo daijiten, p. 971a.
4. It is generally understood by scholars that the essence-function construction was explicated as such for the first time by Confucian scholar Wang-pi (226-249) in his commentary to the thirty-eighth chapter of the Tao Et Ching. Pi in
5. HPC 1.838a.8-11. English translation from Sung Bae Park “Wŏnhyo’s Commentaries on the Awakening of Mahāyāna Faith”, p. 26.
6. The role of the t’i-yung construction in East Asian Buddhism, and in the works of Wŏnhyo in particular, is an area to which Sung Bae Park devotes a considerable degree of attention in his Buddhist Faith and Sudden Enlightenment. See Buddhist Faith and Sudden Enlightenment, p. 36.
7. T 1666.32.575c25-29. English translation by Park, “Wŏnhyo’s Commentaries,” p. 118.
8. T 1844.44.202b18-23. Trans, Park, “Wŏnhyo’s Commentaries,” p. 44.
10. T 1844.44.204c.9-10.
11. Stories of Wŏnhyo’s escapades with beggars, queens and courtesans become legendary in the Korean folkloric tradition. This aspect of Wŏnhyo’s life is similar to the legends which surround the famous Japanese Zen figure Ikkyuu , who has become in the modern day even a subject of comic books. In the same way, the imagination of later Korean writers seized upon the image of a playful Wŏnhyo to construct a plethora of romantic tales.
12. It is related in Wŏnhyo’s biographies that during the latter part of his life he spent much time traveling around the countryside instructing the common people in the recitation of the name of Amitabha Buddha. This another indication of Wŏnhyo’s non-sectarian tendency, which can also been seen in Chinul, Kihwa and other prominent Korean Buddhists.
13. HPC 1.524-546; T 1769.38.239a-255c. Unfortunately, only about thirty percent of this important text is extant. These fragments have been translated into English by O Peoban (in his Ph.D. dissertation at NYU) under the title Wŏnhyo’s Theory of Harmonization.
15. For a comprehensive discussion of the p’an-chiao phenomenon, see Part Two of Peter Gregory’s Tsung-mi.
16. The full title of this text is Hsu hua-yen ching lüeh-shu k’an-ting chi. See Z 221, vol. 3.
17. HPC 1.547a.18-21; T 1769.38.255c.5-6.
19. In this sense, the career of Chinul can be seen has having strong parallels with that of his younger Japanese contemporary Doogen, who also felt compelled to move deep into the mountains to protect himself from the degradation of the Buddhist church of the age.
20. The passage from the Hua-yen sutra was as follows:
“The body is the reflection of wisdom. This world is the same. When wisdom is pure and its reflection clear, large and small merge with each other as in the realm of Indra’s net.” (Buswell, Chinul, p. 25.)
21. Keel, Chinul p. 31. From Chinul’s preface to the Hwaŏmnon choryo. See HPC 4.768a.6-9.
22. The Hsin Hua-yen ching lun; T 1739.36.721-1007.
23. The Hwaŏmnon choryo is Chinul’s exposition of Li T’ung-hsüan’s above-mentioned treatise on the Hua-yen ching.
26. In the above two sentences Kihwa is alluding to the famous dictum from the Heart Sutra, “form is emptiness, emptiness
27. HPC 7.42c.21-43a.5.
28. I have translated this portion of Kihwa’s commentary both in my Ph.D. dissertation (SUNY Stony Brook, 1993) and in a manuscript currently under review for publication at SUNY Press, entitled “Hamheo Kihwa’s Commentary to the Suutra of Perfect Enlightenment.”
29. For a comprehensive treatment of Chong Tojeon in the Korean language, see Han Young-woo, Chong Tojeon sasang ui yeon’gu. In English, see Chai-sik Chung, “Cheong Tojeon: ‘Architect’ of Yi Dynasty Government and Ideology,” in de Bary and Haboush, ed., The Rise of Neo-Confucianism in Korea.
32. Although Kihwa does not mention Taoism specifically in this passage, he makes it clear in other places in the treatise
Han’guk pulgyo cheonseo 韓國佛教全書 (The Collected Writings of Korean Buddhism), Seoul: Dongguk University Press, 1986.
Hsin Hua-yen ching lun 新華嚴經論 (Treatise on the New Translation of the Flower Ornament Scripture); 40 churn; by Li T’ung-hsüan 李通玄. T 1739.36.721-1007.
Hsu hua-yen ching lüeh-shu k’an-ting chi. 續華嚴經略疏刊定記 by Hui-yüan 慧苑. HTC vol. 5; Z 221, vol. 3.
Hyon chong non 顯正論. (Manifesto of the Correct) by Kihwa. HPC 7.217-225.
Kumgang panyaparamilgyeong o ka hae seoreui 金剛般若波羅蜜經五家解説誼 (Annotated Redaction of Five Commentaries on the Diamond Sutra ). HPC 7.10-107.
Simmun hwajaeng non 十問和諍論 (Reconciliation of Disputes in Ten Aspects) by Wŏnhyo. HPC 1.838-841.
Ssu-chiao i 四教義 (The Doctrine of the Four Teachings); By Chegwan. T 1929.46.721a-769a.
Ta-ch’eng ch’i-hsin lun 大乘起信論 (Treatise on Awakening of Mahāyāna Faith) T 1665.32.575b-583b.
Taebangkwang weon’gak sutara ryo ui kyeong seoreui 大方廣圓覺修多羅了義經説誼 (Kihwa’s Commentary on the Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment). HPC 7.122-169.
Taesung kisillon pyeolgi. 大乘起信論別記 HPC 1.677-697; T 1845.44.226a-240c. (Wŏnhyo’s Expository Notes on the AMF)
Ta-fang-kuang fo hua-yen ching 大方廣佛華嚴經 (Avatamsaka-sutra) T 278.9.395a-788b.
Yolban chong’yo 涅槃宗要 (Essentials of the Nirvana Sutra). by Wŏnhyo 元曉; T 1769.38.239a-255c.
Yuan chüeh ching 圓覺經 (Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment) T 842.17.913a-922a.
Buswell, Robert E. The Korean Approach to Zen: The Collected Works of Chinul. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1983.
Chung, Chai-sik. “Chong Tojeon: ‘Architect’ of Yi Dynasty Government and Ideology.” in de Bary, The Rise of Neo-Confucianism in Korea. pp. 59-88.
de Bary, William Theodore and Kim, Jahyun Haboush, ed., The Rise of Neo-Confucianism in Korea. New York: Columbia University Press, 1985.
Gregory, Peter N. Tsung-mi and the Sinification of Buddhism. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991.
Han Young-woo (Yongu), Chong Tojeon sasang ui yeon’gu. Han’guk munhwa yeon’gu ch’ongso, no.15; Seoul: Han’guk munhwa yeon’guso, 1973.
Kamata, Shigeo. Choosen bukkyooshi. Tokyo: Tokyo UP, 1987.
Keel, Hee-Sung. Chinul: The Founder of the Korean Son Tradition. Berkeley: Buddhist Studies Series, 1984.
Kwon, Kijong. “Choseon cheongi ui seonkyo kwan” (“The Son-Kyo Standpoint of the Early Choseon”). In Han’guk son sasang yeongu (245-282).
Legge, James. Analects, Great Learning and Doctrine of the Mean. Dover Publications: New York, 1971
Nakamura Hajime. Bukkyogo daijiten. Tokyo, 1975.
O Poban. Wŏnhyo’s Theory of Harmonization. Seoul: Hung Pobwon, 1989.
Park, Sung Bae. Buddhist Faith and Sudden Enlightenment. Albany: SUNY Press, 1983.
—. “Wŏnhyo’s Commentaries on the Awakening of Mahāyāna Faith.” Unpublished manuscript.
Song Ch’onun. “Kihwa ui sasang” (“Kihwa’s Thought”). in Han’guk pulgyo sasang sa (Pak Kiljin Festschrift)
Song, Hwan-gi. “Hamheo Teukt’ong hwasang yeon’gu (A Study of The Reverend Hamheo Teukt’ong).” Master’s Thesis, Dongguk University, 1974.
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