Rita M. Gross – This Buddhist’s View of Jesus – Buddhist-Christian Studies

Jesus Christ through Buddhist Eyes
This Buddhist’s View of Jesus
Rita M. Gross

The topic
of developing a Buddhist view of Jesus is challenging to me on many
levels, for many reasons. Not the least of them involves my own unhappy
childhood and young adulthood being trained as a member of a version
of Christianity that expressed an extremely exclusivist position
regarding religious pluralism. Nevertheless, I have long practiced
Buddhist-Christian dialogue as a Buddhist, in part as an antidote to
that unhappy past, as a deliberate attempt to heal the wounds inflicted
on me by an exclusivist and doctrinaire version of Christianity. So why
does this task of developing a Buddhist view of Jesus remain difficult?

In part this task is difficult because it is unfamiliar. In my world
religions classes, I routinely present Jewish views of Jesus, but there
is little reason to discuss Jesus in the perspectives of other major
religions and I have almost never broached the topic. In my feminist
theology classes, I again discuss feminist reactions to Jesus, but
there is little reason to present a feminist Buddhist perspective on
Jesus. Little Buddhist literature about Buddhist reactions to Jesus and
few Buddhist assessments of Christianity exist, though the reverse is
not true,
which perhaps indicates that fellow Buddhists have also felt little
need to develop a reaction to or a position about Jesus. But it is also
difficult because in Buddhist-Christian dialogue, we often discuss more
abstract and less troublesome topics than the traditional Christian
evaluation of Jesus, with its undeniably exclusivistic and universal
truth claims. Thus, in many ways, I have been able to keep a distance
between my own experiences of Christianity and my own experiences of
Buddhism. Encountering Christians in Buddhist-Christian dialogue and
teaching Christian feminist theology are really much simpler than
trying to untangle my own Buddhist reactions to central Christian
claims, including especially claims about the ultimate and universal
significance of Jesus.

Nevertheless, it is clear that my task in this essay is to react to
Jesus as a Buddhist, something I have not done formally in any other
context. Therefore, I have proceeded with the assumption that my task
is to find the relevant Buddhist categories for interpreting Jesus in
Buddhist terms, to delineate them briefly to non-Buddhists, and then to
apply them to Jesus or to Christian claims about Jesus. This assignment
is not as innocent or as easy as it seems at first reading. The first
difficulty is determining who or what one is reacting to in the exercise
of developing a Buddhist view of Jesus. Depending on who or what one
understands Jesus to be, or depending on which Christian claims about
Jesus one comments upon, a Buddhist could have radically different views
about Jesus. So clearly, the first task in developing a Buddhist view of
Jesus is to determine which Jesus will be discussed. Then, secondly, it
is difficult but important to maintain the primary focus as a Buddhist
focus, using Buddhist rather than Christian categories to control the
discourse. I say this because

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much of the literature seems to compare Buddhism to Christianity, placing
Christianity and Christian categories in central focus and matching
concepts from the Christian point of view. I want to match concepts with
Buddhist categories as my central reference point, fitting the Christian
Jesus into a Buddhist framework.

How should I, as a Buddhist, determine what is meant by the Christian
category Jesus? As is evidenced by the radically different images
of Jesus in popular Christianity, by much recent scholarship on the
Gospels, and by a diverse body of Christological writings, Christians
themselves would be hard pressed to give a definitive or a short answer
to the question “Just who or what am I supposed to be discussing from a
Buddhist point of view?” Am I to talk of the historical Jesus, of the
Jesus of the Gospels, of the Jesus of the early church, or of Jesus
as understood through central theological doctrines, such as Trinity
and Incarnation, which are actually much later in their genesis? My
assignment, which is to discuss “the Jesus of Christianity,”
does not really solve that problem, since there are so many Jesuses
of Christianity. But I think we can safely assume that “the Jesus
of Christianity” includes all the above except, perhaps, the
historical Jesus, who is a recent construction and not so central to
many Christians’ religious lives. In any case, I shall direct most of
my comments to Jesus as he has been interpreted by major stands within
Christianity and will not try to solve the problem of whether he ever
intended to leave such a message or what his own intended message may
have been.

With that decision, we invite some ghosts to enter. Christianity is
not only something I learned about academically or at a distance,
as would be the case for most Buddhists. Rather, as already said, my
early indoctrination involved an extremely exclusivist interpretation
of Jesus. Experientially, for me, the central Christian claim about
Jesus is the exclusivist interpretation of belief in Jesus’ redemptive
death and resurrection as the only way to ‘salvation.’ Though I know
intellectually that inclusivist and pluralist Christian views of Jesus
are well developed, nevertheless, to me they do not seem to carry
the normative and traditional weight that the exclusivist position
carries. And exclusivist truth claims in religion, I would argue, are
among the most dangerous, destructive, and immoral ideas that humans
have ever created.

Therefore, for me, the first hurdle that must be negotiated in developing
a Buddhist view of Jesus is the hurdle of exclusive truth claims,
which involves developing a philosophy of religious pluralism, based
on Buddhist categories, that is radically nonexclusivist. This task is
so central for me because of the way in which I left the only kind of
Christianity I knew experientially. Though I was, and still am, quite
sincere in my spiritual inclinations and quite capable of understanding
abstract theological concepts, I was also “too thoughtful” and “asked too
many questions,” as it was put to me. During my senior year of college,
I was excommunicated for heresy and confidently told that I would go to
hell for my religious views. The major bone of contention was my view of
religious pluralism, namely that people of all religions “could be saved,”
as I naively put it in those days before I had studied much comparative
religion. I had been indoctrinated that all non-Christian religions
and most other versions of Christianity were ‘false.’ Ridicule of these
other beliefs, pity for people misguided and deluded into adherence to
such folly, and devotion to the

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cause of converting them to ‘the one true faith’ were daily
fare. Obviously, the exclusive claims made on behalf of Jesus
by Christians appalled me even as a teenager, and my repugnance for
exclusive truth claims on the part of religions–any religion–has not
diminished since. Thus, part of my journey is working out both a theory
and a praxis of religious pluralism that is neither relativistic nor
universalistic, that encourages both commitment to one tradition and
appreciation of other traditions.

I am aware that currently most liberal Christian theologians are as
appalled by this tradition of exclusivism as I am. I am also aware
that the World Council of Churches and the Roman Catholic Church, in
Vatican II, have come to a position on religious pluralism that is often
called the ‘inclusivist position,’ which is claimed to diverge sharply
from the exclusivist position. The inclusivist position “affirm[s] the
value and dignity of all religious paths.” Nevertheless, this position,
like the exclusivist position, “attributes to Christ and Christianity
. . . an ultimacy and normativity meant to embrace and fulfill all
other religions.” Additionally, according to Paul Knitter, inclusivist
Christians also “interpret the uniqueness of Jesus in terms of finality
and unsurpassability.”
As a Buddhist, I find these claims offensive, and I think most
non-Christians probably share my reaction. Nor would I feel comfortable,
as a Buddhist, in making the same claim about Buddhism vis-à-vis

I am also aware of an even newer and smaller voice in Christian theology
called the ‘pluralist’ position. I have much more sympathy with this
position, which claims a “possible parity of all religions and
. . . eschew[s] any final or absolute truth.” What I am not in sympathy
with is their claim, at least as expressed by Paul Knitter, that “Jesus’
uniqueness [is] the universality and indispensability of
His message and mission.”
My objections are fairly subtle; this claim seems to state both that
Jesus is unique among religious figures and that he had a message and a
mission that the world cannot do without, for I see no other way to read
the words universal and indispensable in Paul Knitter’s
statement. As a Buddhist, I’m not at all sure that I see Jesus as unique,
as universal, or as indispensable, which makes me question this version
of Christian pluralism. I realize that as a Buddhist I probably often
feel and sound the same way about the message and mission of Buddhism
that Paul Knitter sounds about the message and mission of Jesus. But
I try to regard that tone in my rhetoric as a failing rather than a
virtue. Such assessments of Buddhism are so demeaning to non-Buddhists.

These two recent Christian attempts to disown the dominant doctrines
throughout most of Christian history cannot, for me, undo the emotional
damage done by exclusivist indoctrination, atone for the historical record
of inhumane acts and attitudes motivated by exclusivist attitudes, or
counter my impression that most of my Christian students and neighbors
are not inclusivists or pluralists. True, the person in the street usually
is rather unfamiliar with the depth dimension of his or her religion and
is probably a rather poor spokesperson for it. Buddhist popular religion
is not especially edifying either. However, I object to the Jesus of
popular religion as interpreted by major strands of Christianity not
because this interpretation is unedifying or crude, but because this very
widespread and prevalent interpretation is dangerous, destructive,
and degraded.
The impact of the Jesus of Christianity on people

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in other world religions has often been quite negative. The gap between
the esoteric Jesus of nonexclusivists and the exoteric universal and
indispensable savior whom all must confess and often are compelled to
confess is enormous. I will speak, admittedly prompted by ghosts of
confirmation classes past, to this more familiar Jesus found in the
rhetoric of many, many Christians.

Some have criticized me throughout the years for not regarding the
conservative sect in which I was raised, with its strongly exclusivist
position, as an aberrant and degraded form of Christianity. Such critics
argue that I could have found another version of Christianity that
would have been less given to such exaggerations. I am also told that
my assessments of Christianity are not accurate because they are too
colored by my experiences with an extreme position. Unfortunately, whether
correctly or incorrectly, I cannot see this sect as so completely aberrant
a form of Christianity, but only as an extremely vociferous exponent of
a common position. Most other Christians are not so sure about who will
populate heaven and hell as were the members of this sect, but exclusivism
and absolutism are entailed by the central claims made about Jesus, as
interpreted by large segments of Christianity throughout most of Christian
history. And, in spite of the presence of inclusivist and pluralist
Christian thought, many of the Christians I encounter are still taught
the exclusivist position by their churches and are completely unaware
of other Christian positions on religious pluralism. Every semester, I
encounter students who have been indoctrinated to such positions very
recently. For example, my Catholic students all know that Catholics are
not supposed to use birth control, but few of them know that Vatican II
recommends a somewhat inclusivist view of religious pluralism. Since
religious exclusivism is much more dangerous and has caused a great
deal more pain than has the practice of birth control, one would think
that educating Catholics about their church’s contemporary position on
religious pluralism would be a higher priority.

This train of reasoning, whether correct or incorrect, keeps me, as an act
of prophetic faithfulness, from adhering to a religion for which absolute
and exclusive truth claims are or have been central and which, therefore,
has a poor historical record of dealing with religious pluralism and
coexistence. That is why I could not become a liberal Christian. That
is also why I continue to focus on alternatives to religious exclusivism
as the heart of my Buddhist view of Jesus.

Religious Language and Religious Pluralism

Since religions make verbal statements that are frequently taken as
accurate assessments of ultimate reality by their adherents, it might
be wondered how any religion could avoid absolutism and exclusivism. It
might further be wondered if I could, without violating my own pluralistic
principles, adhere to Buddhism, since Buddhism, like Christianity, is one
of the few religions that even tries to promote itself to outsiders. I
want to try to deal with these very reasonable questions by talking
about the Buddhist attitude toward verbal and conceptual formulations
of truth, which I find highly attractive precisely because it seems to
me to allow a position that is neither relativistic nor exclusivistic.

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Regarding the purpose of doctrinal statements, in my view Buddhism and
Christianity differ sharply. I have not found a more succinct or accurate
summary of the Buddhist position than that of Paul Griffiths: “[T]here
is a methodological principle . . . that has to do with the nature of
religious doctrines. Briefly and rather crudely, this principle suggests
that religious doctrines have utility rather than truth; that their
importance lies in the effects they have upon those who believe in them.”
Space does not permit me to demonstrate that this is indeed the Buddhist
position, but let us assume that Griffiths is correct.

In Buddhist terms, this means that verbal doctrines are ultimately in
the realm of upaya, skillful means or method, not the realm of
prajna, intuitive clear seeing or ‘truth.’
This is an extremely fruitful insight, for Buddhism, like Christianity,
would affirm that prajna is unitive and the same for all people
in all cases. But truth is not a matter of doctrines and doctrines
are neither true nor false; they are more or less useful in the
circumstances at hand. Truth, or prajna (literally, “superior
knowledge”), has always been understood more as ability than as a body
of information, more as ‘knowing’ than as ‘knowledge’ in Buddhism. It
can be hinted at and pointed to, but even the finest doctrine is merely
a pointer. Nothing makes this point more forcefully than the famous
“raft parable” attributed to the Buddha. “Oh Bhikkhus, even this view,
which is so pure and so clear, if you cling to it, if you fondle it, if
you treasure it, then you do not understand that the teaching is similar
to a raft, which is for crossing over, and not for getting hold of.”
Truth is extra-verbal and verbal formulations of truth are
approximations, not final statements.

On the other hand, upaya, usually translated as “skillful
means” or “method,” has always been understood to be multiple, even
infinitely various, because what is crucial is finding the method or tool
appropriate to the circumstances at hand. The more skilled the
interpreter or teacher of Buddhism, the greater his or her repertoire
of appropriate skillful means. No one would be so foolish as to expect
to find a tool that works for every task and, therefore, one should not
attempt to find a one-size-fits-all doctrine. One would be foolish to
universalize or absolutize a doctrine or to claim that only adherents
of this doctrine are adequate spiritually.

The point that doctrine is in the realm of upaya rather than the
realm of prajna is important and subtle because westerners are
extremely likely to miss it as a result of their cultural training and
preconceptions. First of all, neither the distinction between method
and truth nor the claims that they are of coequal importance is part
of the Western frame of discourse. Second, if the distinction were
even recognized, westerners would be likely to regard prajna as
‘real’–really true–while upaya would be regarded as secondary
and approximate. In the many years that I have spent trying to assimilate
genuinely Buddhist modes of apprehension, nothing has been more foreign
than the coequal status of prajna with upaya or the
relegation of verbal truths to the realm of upaya. Thus I find
these conceptual possibilities to be a genuine relief and a way out of
absolutist modes of discourse that I had found unbearable.

Though again space does not permit a demonstration, I think the mainline
traditional Christian view is quite the opposite. Doctrines may contain
utility, but their

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most important function is their truth value as is evidenced by the
longstanding concern with what people will confess verbally. There is
a close link between words and truth in many Christian assessments and
more trust that words can convey truth than is typical of most other
religions. Therefore, verbal doctrines are primarily evaluated as true
or false, not as salutary or destructive. This method fuels the hope
for, and often the claim of, final truth in verbal form. As a result,
Christians, more than most other religious traditions, try to distill
true doctrine into a succinct creed and often regard adherence to that
creed as more important than understanding of it. Confession of those
verbal doctrines matters ultimately. Hence, these doctrines are easily
absolutized by claiming exclusive truth for them, and nonadherents are
easily regarded as inferior.

To regard doctrines as more important and worthwhile for their verbal
utility than for their verbal truth and to judge them more by their
effects on adherents than by their verbal contents seems to me to
overcome absolutism with all its attendant problems while not falling
into relativism. First of all, with this attitude, one does not have to
absolutize one’s own concepts of truth nor to long for a world in which
all agree on the same expressions of truth. Rather, religious symbol
systems could coexist and complement each other like colors of a rainbow.
A religious myth or symbol would be regarded as a poem rather than
as a historical or scientific statement. I would argue that most
exclusive truth claims in religion are based on regarding religion
as more akin to what westerners now call ‘history’ or ‘science’ than
what westerners now call ‘art’ or ‘poetry.’ Superficially, many people
think that the question in historical or scientific disciplines is the
question of truth or falsity, while the question for art, poetry, or
mythology is a question of taste or aesthetics. Generally, people are
much more flexible and nonexclusive about aesthetic judgments than
about historical or scientific claims. No one would want to abolish
all poetry in the world except for one’s favorite poem, nor even expect
everyone to agree that this is the most wonderful poem ever written. Why
should it be different with religious doctrines, which are ultimately
mythopoeic, not discursive, in their mode of discourse? Ironically, such
an attitude would also make religious statements more rather than less
like scientific or historical statements, because those who understand
these disciplines realize that scientific and historical statements are
hypotheses, subject to a continual process of change, adjustment, and
refinement, not some final and absolute statement. No sensible person
is ever more than provisionally committed to a hypothesis, which does
not lessen its force to explain or motivate in the absence of a better
hypothesis. With the world’s religions, we have a number of reasonably
cogent hypotheses about some rather unanswerable questions. The myth
and symbol system surrounding Jesus could well be one such hypothesis,
but that has not been a mainstream understanding of the Jesus of

One who judges a doctrine on the basis of what it does rather than on
its literal or verbal truth value also has another excellent basis for
appreciating a foreign symbol system that is conceptually incompatible
with one’s own. It can be appreciated not only as a wonderful poem and
an interesting hypothesis, but as a source of

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humane behavior in the world. Such is the basis for the Dalai Lama’s
encomiums of Christianity in his frequent pleas for tolerance, mutual
respect, and coexistence among the world’s religions: “Through the various
religious systems, followers are assuming a salutary attitude toward their
fellow human beings–our brothers and sisters–and implementing this good
motivation in the service of human society. This has been demonstrated
by a great many believers in Christianity throughout history. Many have
sacrificed their lives for the benefit of humankind.”
This statement is made despite major doctrinal differences between
Buddhism and Christianity–of which the Dalai Lama is well aware–and
his own personal devotion to the Buddhist symbols and doctrines.

At the same time, assessing doctrines on their utility means that
the charge of relativism, often brought against pluralists, is
countered. While, in general, relativism seems superior to absolutism
because it is more humane and less ethnocentric, logic compels one to
admit that there must be limits to relativism. Finding that boundary is
never easy. But clearly, any doctrine that encourages intolerance and
mutual hostility would be negatively evaluated, using the criterion of
utility. Most doctrines do not, in and of themselves, engender mutual
disrespect and hostility, unless they are absolutized. And
almost any doctrine, whatever its contents, could then be utilized
inhumanely if it is absolutized. Thus at least one limit to relativism
would be the absolutizing of any doctrine or any doctrine that cannot
be de-absolutized by the very nature of its claims. Such doctrines,
because of their exclusivism and absolutism, cannot claim parity or
equal validity with other doctrines that do not seek such a monopoly
on religious expression. (Is monotheism the prime example of such a
claim?) Pluralism and doctrines that are absolutized cannot coexist. Given
the frequent and widespread negative results of absolutism, it seems clear
that, using the method of judging doctrines on their utility, this impasse
can be resolved morally only by renouncing doctrinal absolutism. Probably
conventional Christian claims about Jesus fall under judgment of being a
conceptual absolute. I also feel quite certain that the Jesus myth does
not have to be subjected to such absolutisms.

Sometimes when I argue in this fashion, people accuse me of merely
substituting one absolute–pluralism–for another. But they misunderstand,
for I am suggesting a methodological absolute, not a doctrinal
absolute. There is every difference in the world between a methodological
absolute and a doctrinal absolute. This methodological absolute–that
doctrines should be evaluated on the basis of their effect on behavior,
not their verbal truth value–definitively undercuts any attempt to
establish a doctrinal or ideological absolute. Precisely this is what is
required in the world, at least at present. Furthermore, we also notice
that the methodological absolute of evaluating doctrines on the basis
of their utility allows us to posit ethical absolutes, such as
nonharming, even though conceptual or doctrinal absolutes are impossible.

If we reflect further, we also notice that despite glaring oppositions
at the level of symbol and doctrine, the world’s major religions have all
produced a remarkably similar core basic ethic. We also must notice that,
unfortunately, they have produced remarkably similar ethical distortions
as well, of which patriarchal sexism is one of

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the more widespread and serious. This should indicate that no major
doctrinal system is so far off the mark that it cannot produce a relevant
ethic, nor so perfect that it guards its adherents against ethical
failure. It should also indicate that the specific symbol, myth, and
doctrines of choice are not all that central and that the more urgent
realm for ultimate concern is our interactions with our world, not our
modes of symbolizing or theorizing that world.

Thus it is clear that I am neither advocating mere relativism nor merely
substituting one absolute for another. I am advocating conceptual relativism along with minimal moral and methodological absolutes. Because absolutes can be so dangerous, they should always
be kept to the barest possible minimum, but sheer relativism is equally
dangerous. To refrain from conceptual and doctrinal absolutes while
giving one’s loyalty and energy to ethical and methodological absolutes
is the appropriate negotiation of that difficult passage.

Finally, I want as a Buddhist to react to the evaluation of some Christian
pluralists who, while they do not absolutize the Jesus of Christianity,
nevertheless posit an ‘indispensability and uniqueness’ for his message
and mission. Such rhetoric pressures non-Christians at least to think
Jesus was an extraordinary, extremely incredible human being, even if they
don’t agree with Christological doctrines. Many, even members of groups
that have not been treated well historically by Christians, such as Jews
or feminists, politely make the case that Jesus was really okay–it’s
what Christians have done to him that’s the problem. Such rhetoric is,
I believe, a concession to Christian pressure to venerate Jesus even if
one does not worship him.

I have questioned whether such Christians take the time to do a basic
exercise in empathy in which they would imagine how such claims come
across to non-Christians. Returning for a moment to the criterion
of utility as a norm for judging concepts, such claims seem to me to
be seriously lacking in upaya, or skillful methods, because of
their negative effects on listeners such as myself. To me they certainly
are not attractive, and I feel an unwelcome pressure to revere Jesus as
someone whom I find unique and indispensable, which is not the case. For
me, emotionally, when Christians insist that Jesus must be seen as
indispensable and universal in his message and mission, it becomes almost
impossible to appreciate him in any way at any level. Such rhetoric
pushes me to the opposite reaction: “Why should I?” I would prefer to
be allowed to have no opinion, to be neutral and agnostic regarding the
uniqueness and indispensability of Jesus’ mission and message.

The Christian pluralist’s claims for the indispensability and uniqueness
of his message and mission put me in the unwelcome position of having
to explain why I cannot share that judgment even though I do not wish
to disparage Jesus any more than I wish to venerate or praise him. I
am serious when I say that I can see no basis for venerating Jesus as
a human being in a league by himself unsurpassed or unequaled by other
human beings in his heroism, compassion, wisdom, or godliness, or in
the cogency and relevance of his message. I can’t get that extreme of
uniqueness out of my reading of the New Testament.

I suspect that many conservative Christians might, in a roundabout
way, agree

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with me. Humanist and rationalist Christians often emphasize the human
Jesus as a uniquely impressive human being. The more traditional Christian
reason to see Jesus as unique is to state that he is “the only begotten
son of God.” This separates him from all other human beings, whose
task is to worship, rather than to venerate him. And his task is to do
what no human can do–to atone for sin and redeem humanity. This way
of understanding Jesus emphasizes the mission over the message and sees
Jesus as external savior who confers or bestows liberation on another. In
Buddhist terms, this is the essence of theism, the most puzzling and
unrealistic doctrine of Christianity to a Buddhist. At this point, as
a Buddhist, I simply pull back to listen.

A Buddhist Jesus

But setting aside claims at any level, whether absolute or relative, as
to the uniqueness and indispensability of Jesus’ message and mission,
how could a Buddhist fit Jesus into a Buddhist framework? In listening
to comparisons of the Buddha and the Christ, I have often been struck
by the impression that, because of the political hegemony of Western
thought modes, most of the discourse regards the Jesus of Christianity
as the normative figure and tries to understand the Buddha in his terms,
by comparison with him. I want to reverse that process and try to explore
what a genuinely Buddhist Jesus might be like.

This process begins by noting a less serious–though perhaps more
interesting–difference between Buddhism and Christianity than Christian
claims about the uniqueness and indispensability of the message and
mission of Jesus. The Christian tendency is to locate truth in the
messenger, whereas Buddhism tends to focus on the message. This I think
correlates well the Christian tendency to personify the ultimate while
Buddhists tend toward nonpersonal metaphors about ultimate reality. I
cannot think of any reason to argue that one style is more conducive
to humane behavior than the other, so using the principle of assessing
doctrines on the basis of their utility, I see no reason to draw these two
styles into competition with each other. Because I regard absolutism and
exclusivism as the problem, I would not critique the Christian tendency
to center on the messenger, but its tendency to absolutize the Messenger.

Though Buddhism does not focus on the messenger, nevertheless it has
developed a considerable repertoire of anthropomorphic and personalized
symbols that can be of considerable significance on the spiritual path
of the Buddhist. Using the method of mutual transformation through
dialogue, I want to suggest that Christians seeking ways to go beyond
absolutizing the Messenger might well study Buddhist ways of mythologizing
and conceptualizing their personal and anthropomorphic figures, which are
important and spiritually helpful, but are not absolutized. Therefore, I
will indulge in a constructive fantasy, imagining how I would see Jesus
interpreted if Buddhist ways of interpreting the messenger were to be
utilized by Christians.

This exercise should be grounded in several generalizations about

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figures in Buddhism. First, in every case, there are numerous examples
of each type. No one is ultimately unique, though each has ordinary
uniqueness–that is to say, individuality. Second, they are always
human examples and ideals, not lords of an unattainable state. They
are exalted and may be far beyond my current abilities, but not
beyond my human capabilities. Thus, we approach them with veneration
but not with worship. This distinction between worship and veneration
is critical for explaining the difference in attitude and ritual mood
between nontheism and theism–and often between Asian and monotheistic
forms of religion. Veneration honors and respects someone who has
attained a great deal and inspires the venerator to strive toward that
attainment, but there is no metaphysical duality between venerator and
venerated. Worship declares allegiance and praises or thanks the other,
acknowledging an ultimate duality between worshiper and worshiped.

When discussing important anthropomorphic symbols in Buddhism and
comparing them to the Jesus of Christianity, the first figure that comes
to mind is, of course, the Buddha figure. Hence, Christians who wish
to draw parallels between Jesus and other important religious figures
often suggest this comparison. After all, both the Buddha and Jesus
are seen as founders. Buddhists, however, are more likely to compare
the Jesus of Christianity with the bodhisattva figure. I share that
judgment because classically, rather different claims are made about
the Buddha than about Jesus, their biographies are only superficially
similar, and their missions are quite different. That both are seen by
historians as founders of a new religion is too superficial to create a
profound similarity. I doubt that either saw himself as founder of a new
religion, nor do their followers regard their religions as nonexistent
before the Buddha or Jesus lived.

The major difference between a Buddha and the Christ, which causes these
two figures to be quite dissimilar, concerns what their followers believe
each can do for the faithful. Buddhists go for refuge to the Buddha as
example, but the Buddha’s own enlightenment solves only his problems, not
theirs. Vicarious enlightenment is not possible according to Buddhist
analysis (except for Pure Land Buddhism). Christians have faith in
Jesus as the redeemer, whose sacrificial death does what they cannot
do, providing the means for reconciliation with a transcendent deity by
vicariously atoning for all sin. Vicarious atonement and redemption are
the only possibility in classical Christianity.

From this vast difference in declaring whether or not the primary task
of the founder is to vicariously save or free the faithful follow other
important differences. There is only one Jesus of Christianity, whereas
all forms of Buddhism, including those that claim there is only one
Buddha in each world age, affirm the existence of multiple Buddhas,
the Buddhas of the three times. These Buddhas are more identical than
unique; they are difficult to distinguish iconographically and the salient
points of their mythic biographies are identical. The point being made
is that, wondrous as are the accomplishments of a Buddha, they are not
unreduplicatable. The extent to which a Buddhist is encouraged to strive
for Buddhahood differs considerably among the various strands of Buddhism,
but that others besides Siddartha

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Gautama become Buddhas is affirmed by all forms of Buddhism, and none
claims that Siddartha’s Buddhahood saves anyone else.

All forms of Buddhism also mention in passing a little-known figure,
the pratyekabuddha, often translated as a “solitary Buddha.” The
meaning of his or her solitariness is that this person understands
fully and becomes enlightened without a teacher, simply by deducing the
spiritual and physical laws of existence through contemplation. This
person not only is not a student of another, but also, unlike a Buddha,
does not teach. For this reason, the pratyekabuddha is not dwelt
upon or honored in most forms of Buddhism. But the importance for a
comparison with the Jesus of Christianity is the Buddhist affirmation,
again, that salvation need not be mediated by another and that the
enlightenment of a Buddha is not unique.

Given Buddhism and Christianity as they are currently
constituted, Jesus is not very similar to either a Buddha or a
pratyekabuddha. Furthermore, the dissimilarities mirror the major
doctrinal differences between the two religions. When we discuss the
Buddhist bodhisattva figure, however, we find that real similarities
exist between the two religions in their current forms. The bodhisattva
is known to all forms of Buddhism but is much more central to Mahayana
than to Theravadin forms of Buddhism. Not by definition, but by derived
implication, a bodhisattva is a future Buddha, someone who has taken
the vow to achieve complete perfect unsurpassable enlightenment for the
benefit of all sentient beings, rather than to rest with the individually
salvific enlightenment of an arahant. In Mahayana Buddhism, this
is the ideal of all serious adherents of the religion and most take the
bodhisattva vow. Those with a casual knowledge of Buddhism often are more
familiar with the great mythic bodhisattvas of the Mahayana pantheon, but
to emphasize them to the exclusion of the ordinary mundane bodhisattva
is incorrect. For one who takes the bodhisattva vow, the emphasis is
generally not on the ultimate goal of final enlightenment, but on the
intermediate lives of the bodhisattva, who trains ceaselessly in wisdom
and method (prajna and upaya of the first section of this
paper), and who is willing to go to any lengths or make any sacrifice
that would help others progress spiritually.

Some obvious parallels can be made with the Jesus of Christianity. In
Buddhist terms, Jesus seems much more like a bodhisattva than like a
Buddha to me. This is because of his willingness to suffer on behalf of
others and the extent to which, according to the text itself as well as
all forms of Christianity, he put the well-being of others before his own
comfort–an important, emotionally moving ideal for Mahayanists. Also,
insofar as the imitation of Christ is an important moral ideal in
Christianity, the individual Christian’s attempt to be Christlike is
similar to the Mahayanist’s assumption of the bodhisattva’s task. This
comparison also downplays some of the contrasts that make the comparison
of Jesus and Buddha less apt. In both cases, the emphasis is on the
passion of the compassionate helper, not on the eventual achievement or
results of that passion, which, as we have seen, are quite different.

In Buddhism, it is even clearer that there are many bodhisattvas than
it is that the Buddha is not unique. Thus it is easy for a Buddhist to
see Jesus as ‘a bodhisattva,’

[End Page 72]

as there is no dogma or assumption that all bodhisattvas belong to the
Buddhist religion. Since a Buddhist would not say “the bodhisattva,”
implying that there is only one unique bodhisattva, a Buddhist could
easily see Jesus as a bodhisattva without acknowledging Christian claims
about his uniqueness or universality. In sum, this is a way that Buddhists
can appreciate Jesus in Buddhist terms with a minimum of conflict between
Buddhist assertions and Christian assertions. Probably, however, even
the Christian pluralist wouldn’t be satisfied, since a Buddhist could, if she or he wanted, venerate Jesus as a bodhisattva, but no Buddhist
would claim that one must venerate this bodhisattva,
or insist on “the universality and indispensability of his message and
mission.” But at least Buddhist and Christian pluralists could agree that
there is no problem with the continued existence of the two religions
with two different conceptualizations of the ultimate.

The final Buddhist anthropomorphic figures that I will discuss are not
well understood by many, but in my opinion they provide the most authentic
way of incorporating Jesus into a Buddhist conceptual system. Therefore,
these figures could be most productively contemplated by Christians
interested in using Buddhist materials to expand their understandings
of the Jesus of Christianity. The yidams of Vajrayana Buddhism,
colorful beings who are depicted with great variety in Tibetan art, are
anthropomorphic personifications of enlightened activity. These beings
are of both genders, often with multiple heads and arms, portrayed in
vivid primary colors, sometimes alone and sometimes in sexual embrace,
sometimes wrathful and sometimes peaceful. Though outsiders are most
familiar with them as art objects, their true significance is their
esoteric use in meditation, as so-called meditation deities. They are
visualized by the meditator, who also recites a liturgy explaining all
the symbolism contained in the colors, attributes, and poses of these
deities, performs hand gestures that express these meanings, and intones
a mantra specific to the deity. There are many yidams in Vajrayana
Buddhism and they are not ranked in a hierarchy. In a vague way, a certain
yidam might be especially appropriate for a specific individual,
stage of life, or situation, but this is a matter of utility, of method,
of using the right tool for the job, not of right or wrong, correct or
incorrect, conceptually.

These deities, however, are quite different from the deities of
monotheistic religions, at least as their deities are usually understood
by monotheists. As anthropomorphic representation of enlightenment,
they are not metaphysically separate creators and saviors. As such, they
are not ultimately separate from the meditator, who identifies with the
deity by visualizing him or herself as the deity, using this method to
wake up more quickly one’s own enlightened qualities. In this kind of
meditation, it is possible to relate fully with a deity emotionally
without falling into the conceptual trap (from the Buddhist point of
view) of metaphysical dualism.

To see Jesus as a yidam would probably seem incongruent to
many Christians. Yet to me this is the most attractive and reasonable
possibility of all. This may in some part be due to the fact that I
myself, despite my personal history and my conceptual disagreement with
much Christian conceptual apparatus, can appreciate Christian liturgy very
deeply if I take it as Christian sadhana, thinking of it in much

[End Page 73]

the same way that I think of Buddhist sadhana liturgies invoking
the meditation deities with whom I have worked in my own practices. I
must confess to occasional fantasy of what a sadhana invoking
Jesus in yab-yum form would entail and how beneficial it could be!

There are also substantive reasons for suggesting this possibility. Using
the criterion of utility, of assessing a religious phenomenon in
terms of its effect on those who adhere to it, Jesus as the yidam of a Christian sadhana would encourage profound emotional,
psychological, and spiritual transformation in those who performed
this sadhana. This transformation, after all, is the important
factor. My studies as a historian of religions lead me to suspect that
all successful religious activity in fact does what is explicitly and
consciously sought in the practice of sadhana–self-transformation,
temporary and permanent, through using all human faculties (body,
speech, and mind) in meditative or contemplative ritual. To do so through
visualization of and identification with a yidam as anthropomorphic
representation of enlightenment, as well as of one’s own potential, is
simply to be very explicit and self-aware about one’s goals.

Interpreting Jesus as a yidam intersects in interesting ways
with central Christian interpretations of Jesus as “the incarnate son of
God.” If we interpret Jesus as an incarnate son of God, with an emphasis
on the incarnate person rather than on his task of atonement
and redemption, the conversation can go in a direction quite different
from usual Christian claims. Is it necessary to see Jesus as uniquely incarnate? The usual answer is yes. It is a truism that, while
Christians are urged to be Christlike, no one of them aspires to become
Christ. To me, as a Buddhist, this idea seems almost self-defeating. To
put it most bluntly, to me it would be supremely frustrating to be told
on the one hand that I should be Christlike, but on the other that I
am condemned and predestined to failure in that central task. To see
Jesus as model of incarnation rather than as sole possible example of
incarnation would be so much more inspiring and attractive.
And that would be the effect of regarding Jesus as a yidam whose
sadhana one practiced both in formal meditation and in life. Such
an interpretation of Jesus would also mesh well with the most basic
effect of incarnational theology, which is the sense of sacramental
or sacred presence in the world that flows out of a theology of deity
incarnate in the phenomenal world. A sense of sacred presence within
the phenomenal world overcomes the remoteness of a transcendent deity
and also overcomes the metaphysical dualism between deity and humanity.

Christians, however–even pluralist Christians–might well find my
suggestion ludicrous and state cogent reasons why. I have anticipated at
least some of their objections and could reply. First, they might say,
the identification with Jesus is unacceptable and blasphemous. But I
would suggest that if one is serious about the imitation of Christ, such
meditations are rather effective means to that end. Second, many would
say that yidams are clearly mythic projections, whereas Jesus is
a historical character. My reply would be that the Jesus of Christianity,
theologized as the second person of a trinity, is also highly mythic and
that the Jesus of empirical history is untraceable. Religion is not made
of empirical history; it is made of mythical

[End Page 74]

history, of highly selective symbolic interpretations of historical
events, even for those religions that are ‘historical.’ Jesus is
effective and transformative for Christian piety of all levels
of sophistication insofar as he functions as what Jungians would
call an archetype, not because of his historical existence. I do not
think such a statement psychologizes religion but rather explains how
religious doctrines, which are mythic projections, work to transform
their adherents.

However, I also have different reservations about the suggestions I
have just made. They explain how I as a Buddhist would understand Jesus
if I for some reason were compelled to fit Jesus into my religious
universe. There is no real reason why I should do that, since I
reject the Christian pluralists’ claim for “the universality and
indispensability of his message and mission.” Nor do I presume that
Christians should be attracted to my solution of what is essentially
their problem–the meaning of the Jesus of Christianity to Christians who
coinhabit a global village with non-Christians. I prefer, in the long
run, to let the two myth and symbol systems stand as they are–unique,
radically different, and magnificent. That solution, however, requires
everyone to renounce exclusive and absolute claims for and about their
conceptualizations of the ultimate. That includes Christians and their
claims for the uniqueness, unsurpassability, finality, indispensability,
and universality of Jesus! Except for that claim, he seems fine as he
is and doesn’t really need to be reconceptualized in Buddhist terms. I
have never understood why Christians feel they would lose so much if
they gave up those claims about Jesus. To me it seems they lose nothing
important and would gain cohumanity with the rest of us.

University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire


This essay was first prepared for a conference on Views of Jesus
from the Perspectives of the World’s Religions, held at Vivekananda
Monastery and Retreat Center, Ganges, Michigan, September 1990. It has
been substantially revised for publication.

Paul Griffiths, Christianity through Non-Christian Eyes (Maryknoll,
New York: Orbis, 1990).

From the brochure announcing the conference for which this paper was
initially written.

Paul Knitter, “Key questions for a Theology of Religions,” Horizons 17, no. 1 (1990), pp. 92-97.

Ibid., p. 97.

Griffiths, p. 236.

In Mahayana Buddhism, upaya and prajna are the two most
important disciplines of and skills sought by a bodhisattva. Though both
are equally important and necessary, and the goal of religious practice
could be said to the “union of upaya and prajna,” this
union of the right and left hands brought in anjali, the mudra
of folded hands, or the union of male and female in the sexual embrace
of the yab-yum icon. In other words, this union is the union of
nonduality, not the union of monism. This extremely subtle point cannot
be overemphasized.

Ruhula Walpola, What the Buddha Taught, (New York: Grove Press,
1974) p. 11.

This is one of the most familiar metaphors for the multiplicity of

Griffiths, p. 164.

Interestingly, many Christian feminists are also suggesting that Jesus
be seen as model of incarnation, rather than as sole representative
of incarnation.

Buddhist-Christian Studies 19.1 (1999) 62-75
Copyright ⓒ 1999 The University of Hawai’i Press. All rights reserved.

‘DUN 頓’: A Chinese concept as a Key to ‘Mysticism’ in East and West

‘DUN 頓’: A Chinese concept as a Key to ‘Mysticism’ in East and West
Urs. App


If one disregards the particular forms and examines the content, one will find that Shakyamuni and Meister Eckhart teach the same thing.                            Arthur Schopenhauer


When Paul Demiéville first explored the theme of dun 頓 and jian 漸 in an article entitled “The Spiritual Mirror” he began with a discussion of the famous verses in the Platform Sûtra 壇經 but soon went on to point out Chinese(Zhuangzi 莊子, Huainanzi 淮南子, Xunzi 荀子) and Indian antecedents(Upanishads, Asanga, Yogâcâra 唯識, and Shankâra). Then he traced further parallels in the Middle Eastern(Al-Ghazzâli)and European traditions (Plato, Plotinus, Origenes, Dionysios Areopagitus, etc.). Demiéville stated that he tried “to clarify a Chinese philosophical metaphor by contrasting it with parallels inside and outside of China.”

Since Demiéville’s pioneer attempts, the scholarly discussion of this theme in the West has continued unabated. In 1981, a conference devoted to dun 頓 and jian 漸 took place in Los Angelses, and six years later, contributions to that conference were published together with some additional papers in a volume entitled Sudden and Gradual. In the first part of that book, several authors explore the applicability of the sudden/gradual polarity to the study of religions beyond Chan, and in the third part something similar is attempted for Chinese poetry criticism and painting theory. The second and most voluminous part of the book, however, consists of narrow explorations of the concepts of dun 頓 and jian 漸 in the teachings of major figures of Chinese Buddhism such as Daosheng 道生, Zhiyi 智顗 Shenhui 神會, and Zongmi 宗密.

Both the book’s editor Gregory and its reviewer Griffith Foulk pointed out the great variety of different lexical meanings of dun 頓 and jian 漸 that are present in Sudden and Gradual in his stimulating review, Foulk stated that “it is dangerous to speak loosely of the sudden/gradual polarity or the subitist(sudden) position” because ‘historically, there were many different polarities and dichotomies, and many different subitist positions.’ If one wants to make the case for thematic similarities, historical connections, or semantic unity, Foulk contends, one must first make careful case studies such as the ones found in the second part of the book. In this way, one arrives at lexical definitions of the terms in question.

A very similar conclusion lies at the heart of a collection of essays by renowned scholars of mysticism. Most essays emphasize the need to see ‘mystical’ traditions in their cultural and doctrinal context. Indeed, ‘mysticism’ is a concept that in many ways resembles dun 頓, not least of all in the fate that is now unfolding as it begins to be ’discovered’ in various cultural and religious phenomena. ‘Mysticism’ has already been ‘discovered’ in all major religions, and many scholars argued(and continue to argue( that it is a world-wide religious phenomenon that exists apart from historical and cultural circumstances. The volume of essays edited by Steven Katz in primarily a reaction against this tendency ; its emphasis lies on the unique features of specific kinds of ‘mysticism’ and their deep cultural, historical, and doctrinal foundation. Without taking sides in this ongoing dispute, it needs to be said that the focus of proponents of ‘mystical relativism’ on specific objects of study is mostly informed by ideas about the nature of ‘mysticism’ that are every bit as hazy as those of proponents of ’mystical universalism’ The lack of a precise definition(or precise definitions) of mysticism drives a good part of these well-meant discussions around in circles. Futhermore, the lack of differentiation between different knds of definition leads many scholarly criticisms far away from their intended targets. Clarity about different kinds of definition con greatly help in understanding the studied phenomena and the scholarly literature about them.

Foulk’s review of Sudden and Gradual takes some authors to task for a lack of such clarity in criticizing Demiéville on lexical grounds where he aimed for a stipulative rather than a lexical definition.

Stipulative definitions function to establish the meaning of a symbol for use within a particular field of discourse, and thus in principle cannot be judged true or false on the basis of evidence of any sort. Because they are essentially arbitrary, stipulative definitions need not accord in any way with their lexical counterparts, but often they are used to eliminate ambiguity by giving priority to one of the established lexical meanings of a term.

In his article, Demiéville begins with a stipulative definition of a religious phenomenon and then looks among world religions for instances that fit the typology. The present paper stands in Demiéville’s tradition in that it, though referring to some Chinese texts, does not attempt to present new lexical definitions but rather aims at formulating a typology of dun 頓-and, as an extension of Demiéville’s ‘vagabond inquiry’, a typology of ‘mysticism’ in general. This kind of inquiry neither belongs to ‘mystical universalism’ nor to ‘mystical relativism’ but rather seeks to formulate some of the(mostly tacit) assumptions of both approaches through examination of some concrete examples.

To establish one(and certainly not the only!) possible typology of dun 頓, I will mainly use themes raised in two Chinese texts representative of the beginnings of Chan Buddhism: 1) the Chinese manuscript of the debates about dunwn 頓悟 that took place in late eighth-century Lhasa between Chinese and Indian teachers of Budd-hism:the Ratification of Immediate Awakening as the True Principle of the Great Vehicle 頓悟大乘正理決; and 2) the Vajrasamādhi Sūtra 金剛三昧經. a text of probable Korean origin that is cited several times in the Ratification and played an important role in the formation of Chan禪. As a Western point of reference, I chose the German treatises and sermons of Meister Eckhart. Since this audience is familiar with the Chinese materials, I will only briefly provide some background on Meister Eckhart before launching the typological adventure.

Meister Eckhart was born in 1260 in Thuringia, Germany. In his youth, he became a Dominican friar and quickly rose in the ranks of the Dominican order;at age thirty-four he was already general vicar of Thuringia. In 1300 he was sent to Paris for two years as lecture. On his return to Germany he was put in charge of all Dominican friars of Saxonia and later also of Bohemia. At the age of fifty he was called to teach in Paris for a second time(1311~1313), a rare honor shared only by Thomas Aquinas. On his return to Germany he was active both as head of the Dominican convent of Strasbourg and as the spiritual guide of the Dominican nunneries of Southern Germany. This region had a large number of nunneries;around 1300 there were already sixty-five of them. We can thus imagine that Eckhart must have been very busy preaching and giving spiritual guidance. Many of the Meister’s sermons were probably written down by nuns at these monasteries. In 1326, the Catholic church began inquisition proceedings against Meister Eckhart who appealed his case to the pope in 1327 but died soon afterwards. Some propositions of his doctrine were finally condemned by Pope John XXⅡ in 1329.

The work of Meister Eckhart is usually divided by language into a Latin and German part. Only some sections of Eckhart’s major work in Latin, the Opus tripartitum, are extant;they contain mainly a number of bible commentaries, sermons, lectures, and sermon drafts. Apart from the Opus tripartitum, only a few Latin lectures and sermons are extant. The works written in Latin were little known and read, as the scarcity of extant manuscripts shows, and the chronological sequence of these writings is often unclear because Eckhart was frequently revising his commentaries. The Latin work has been described as an impressive torso’ and has had little influence. However, it is important for the study of Eckhart’s thought.

In contrast, Eckhart’s German work consists of a corpus of over two hundred manuscripts;however, the authentic- ity of some of these manuscripts is questionable. These German materials are usually divided into treatises and sermons. Of the treatises, four are considered genuine. The best known part of Eckhart’s work are his German sermons. Most of these fifty-nine sermons have been transmitted in copies(and copies of copies) of notes taken by members of the audience. It appears that Eckhart authorized some of his sermons for reading during meals at Dominican nunneries, but such early editions have all been lost;the earliest extant manuscripts were edited around the middle of the fourteenth century and are full of sermon material from other, generally unidentified authors. The editors apparently had no intention of collecting Eckhart materials;rather, they produced anthologies of mystical sermons. So the majority of these German sermons were transmitted anonymously, and only centuries later did they come to be attributed to specific figures such as Meister Eckhart. The transmission of these sources thus shows, among other things, that Eckhart stands within a rather broad spiritual movement. An early 14th-century song that was transmitted anonymously may illustrate this climate and lead on to the promised typology of dun 頓:

The Desert, this good

has never been traversed by a foot,

and no created mind

has ever reached it.

It is, yet nobody knows what it is.

It is here, it is there,

it is far, it is near,

it is low, it is high;

it is such that it is

neither this nor that.

It is bright, it is clear

it is utterly obscure,

without name,


free of beginning and end.

Unmoved it stands,

naked and without dress:

who knows its place?

One who knows should come

and tell us what form it has.

Become like a child,

become deaf and blind!

Your own ‘I’

must be destroyed

Every ‘something’ and every ‘nothing’ must be lost!

Let go of space, let go of time,

get rid of any image!

Tread, without a way,

the narrow path:

then you will find the trace in the desert.

Oh my soul,

get out, God in!

My entire ‘something’ may sink

into God’s ‘nothing’.

sink in the groundless flood!

If I flee you

you come to me.

If I lose myself

I find you

oh good beyond any entity!

In this medieval German song we find some of the central themes of ‘mysticism’ in a nutshell―and a road- map to our typology of dun 頓. The song points to something formless 無相 and without boundary, something which is said to be both here and there, far and near, something that is ‘neither this nor that.’ This ‘something’ that in fact is no-thing(‘beyond any entity’) is portrayed as the goal of the religious path. Yet how is it to be attained if, as the song says, ‘no created mind has ever reached it?’ It can only be attained by treading a path without a way, by the destruction of the very seeking ‘I’ and the loss of ‘every thing(and even ‘every nothing’)’ that the seeker faces. Through this loss, a ‘good beyond any entity(uberweselîches gût)’ is found. The song thus portrays the religious quest in terms of an initial basic problem, a way to overcome this problem, and a goal.

Even staunch advocates of ‘mystical relativism’ will admit that this song exhibits elements that are strikingly similar to formulations found in other religious movements around the globe that are usually labeled ‘mystical.’ however, instead of throwing everything into pairs of boxes (for example one labeled ‘mystic’ and the other ‘non-mystic’, or one called ‘sudden’ and the other ‘gradual’) it may be more helpful to think of diverse religious phenomena on a continuous scale with multiple layers or dimensions for a variety of topics. What this paper is concerned with is a portrayal of one extreme on such a sliding scale, namely, the dun 頓 extreme. It will be seen that this term is more apt than ‘mysticism’ or similar concepts to convey various layers or dimensions of such religious movements. No claim is made to comprehensively portray the sources and their religious background;the typological thrust of this paper demands not a photographic but rather a phantom-image which emphasizes certain important characteristics while ignoring many others.


The modern German philosopher Helmuth Plessner characterized the specific mode of being of the human person by three main concepts:‘natural artificiality’, ‘mediated immediacy’, and ‘groundless rootedness.’ All three express what Plessner called the ‘unsolvable contradiction’ or the ‘absolute antinomy’ of being human which religion attempts to overcome. ‘Mediated immediacy(vermittelte Unmittelbarkeit)’ signifies that man is characterized simultaneously by an inside and outside position, seen for example in man’s particular relationship with his body(I am my body yet I am also able to observe it and am thus different from it( or his self-consciousness(I am aware of being aware). While the ‘inside’ position shows man’s immediate self-identity, the ‘outside’ position shows that such self-identity(unlike that of plants or animals)is paradoxically established through a distance from oneself and an act of inherent mediation. This ‘mediated immediacy’ is exemplified by the injunction written on ancient Greek temples, ‘Know thyself.’ Being both the subject and the object of knowing, man is conscious of himself;and just this quality has been called man’s essential characteristic by philosophers such as Kant, Hegel, and Schopenhauer. Hegel indicated the broader implications of knowing oneself:

Knowledge of mind(Geist) is the most concrete and thus highest and most difficult knowledge. Know thyself:this absolute injunction does not, in itself or historically, lnly imply knowing one’s particular abilities, character, tendencies or weaknesses;rather, it signifies knowledge of the truth of man and also knowledge of truth in and for itself-the essence(Wesen) itself as mind.

Schopenhauer strongly rejected Hegel’s assumption that philosophy can reach such ‘knowledge of essence’―or, in terms of this paper, immediate knowledge. He realized that philosophy is essentially bound to objective and therefore mediated knowledge and can never breach the subject- object barrier. At its peak, Schopenhauer contended, philosophy can only say that man’s highest knowledge knows ‘nothing that we know.’ The mystic, on the other hand, who in immediate realization has reached this highest knowledge, can speak in positive terms of what he found. Contrasting this with religious tendencies subsumed under the label ‘theism’, Schopenhauer describes mysticism as follows:

Theism, designed for the capacity of the crowd, posits the ultimate source of our being outside of ourselves, as an object;all mysticism, Sufism included, gradually finds it again in various stages of initiation inside, in ourselves, as the subject, and the adept finally realizes in wonder and joy that he is himself this ultimate source. This process, common to all forms of mysticism, is found in Meister Eckhart, the father of German mysticism, expressed in form of an injunction to the perfect adept to not seek God outside of himself’, and it is again very naively portrayed in Eckhart’s spiritual daughter who after her breakthrough told Eckhart in jubilation:“Master, share my joy:I have become God!”

Schopenhauer thus distinguishes between religious tendencies that focus more on otherness and mediation and tendencies that stress immediacy ; and this immediacy peaks in the realization that the ultimate is not different from the seeker.

1) Deluded Conceptions

What the German song cited above calls ‘created mind’, we may infer, is the mind(subject) that faces all kinds of objects. Objects of the mind are, in the song’s terminology, a ‘this’ or a ‘that’, ‘high’ or ‘low’, ‘far’ or ‘near’, ‘ere’ or ‘there.’ Such objects are seen as such precisely because of a gulf separating the seer from the seen, the mind from its objects, the subject from the object.

However, it is a common feature of movements called ‘mystical’ to regard this state of affairs as the basic human problem. The solution, they aver, consists in finding just that which is neither ‘this’ nor ‘that’ and thus can never be attained through mediation, i.e.;the immediate(dun 頓). Some major Christian mystics(Dionysius Areopagita, Meister Eckhart, Nicolaus of Cusa) have aptly called this the non-other(non-aliud), while in the Chan tradition we find such expressions as ‘no-mind 無心’ or ‘not anything 無一物.’ We will see later how the ‘immediate’ in this sense relates to ‘mediation’ both in an ontological and soteriological sense.

The manuscript known by the title of Ratification of Immediate Awakening [dunwu] as the True Principle of the Great Vehicle 頓悟大乘正理決 which Paul Pelliot recovered from the caves of Dunhuang and which is labeled with the number 4646 is an interesting source for the study of dun 頓. However one chooses to translate this title, it suggests that dunwu頓悟(‘immediate awakening’) is the essence of the Great Vehicle[of Buddhism]. In the view of the protagonists of this text, the disease that requires the cure that Buddhism proposes is repeatedly described as ‘deluded conceptions妄想’, and the raison d’être and essence of Buddhism is seen in ‘getting rid of all deluded con- ceptions and impregnations離一切妄想習氣(folio 129a5).’ The Chinese protagonist of the Ratification, a monk called Moheyan 摩訶衍, provides the following diagnosis:

Living beings are swept along in the course of life-and-death and cannot extricate themselves because they have since innumerable time periods been unable to free themselves of the triple poison of passions [i.e., the basic attachments of greed, hatred, and error] and the deluded conceptions which their mind has from the outset been impregnated with.(folio 129b4-5)

In support of this diagnosis, he adduces a scripture that states:

A man is called ‘one who has reached it’ on account of having eliminated all objects(dhama 法), AS they are objectified phenomena of his mind which cannot be grasped.(folio 129b6)

It must be emphasized that the diagnosis given in the Ratification is not limited to any particular group of persons but rather applies to any person, regardless of time or place:‘All beings have throughout been bound by the impregnations of deluded conceptions due to the triple poison of passions(folio 146b2-3).’ The role of Buddhism is thus seen in terms of getting rid of an affliction from which every sentient being suffers. ‘The one thing that matters’, states the Chinese representative, ‘is to get rid of these deluded conceptions(folio 133b5).’ To the question what he means by ‘conceptions 想’ he replied:‘A conception is present when the mind’s thoughts get moving and take hold of external objects 想者心念起動及取外境(folio 133b6).’ The problem, as defined in these and other passages, must thus be seen in the context of duality, the basic subject-object rift that characterizes ordinary human existence and all its manifestations. ‘Thoughts’ or ‘deluded conceptions’ refer in this connection to ‘dualistic thought.’ In contrast, no-though is pointed at in a quote from the Lankavatara Sūtra:

The gate of genuine truth is far from the duality of the appropriating [subject] and the appropriated [object].(folio 131[bis] b1)

The twoness or duality of a subject standing against objects, appropriating them in discriminating thought and action, and getting caught up with and attached to them, is the opposite of what one would call ‘immediacy.’ The latter, portrayed as ‘this principle of it-is-as-it-is’ that contains all objects 此如如之理具一切’, is reached only through the definitive suppression of all deluded conceptions and passions(folio 130a1-2). D.T.Suzuki formulated this diagnosis in a more modern but essentially congruent way:

According to Buddhism, the antithesis of ‘A’ and ‘not-A’ is at the bottom of our ignorance as to the ultimate truth of existence, and this antithesis is discrimination. To discriminate is to be involved in the whirlpool of birth and death, and as long as we are thus involved, there is no emancipation, no attainment of Nirvana, no realization of Buddhahood.

Meister Eckhart, to whom we shall now turn, also keeps emphasizing that the problem he describes is not one that some people have and others not, depending on their culture, education, or religious faith. Rather, the very fact of being a person entails a ‘wrong relation to things’:

We may think that man should flee this and seek that, for example these places and these people and these methods or this amount or this activity―but it is not these ways or these things that hinder you:rather, what hinders you in things is you yourself, since it is you who are in a wrong relation to things.

In a sermon, he puts this concisely:‘We are the cause of all our obstacles(Sermon 5, 177).’ But what is at the root ot this?

People ask what it is that burns in hell. In general, the masters say that what burns is self-will. But say, according to truth, that it is the ‘not’ that burns in hell(Serman 6, 179).

In the same sermon, he explains:“You are imperfect to the degree that you are affected by the ‘not.’ Thus, if you want to be perfect, you have to be free of the ‘not’(sermon 6, 179).” Eckhart explains this ‘not’ in a manner reminiscent of D.T.Suzuki’s statement cited above: “All creatures carry a negation in themselves;one denies being the other(Sermon 22, 253).” It is exactly this ‘not’ which forms the root of all twoness and discrimination and thus of man’s suffering:

Where there are two, there is lack. Why? Because one is not the other;this ‘not’ which creates differentiation is nothing other than bitterness-just as no peace is present there(Sermon 50, 389).

The realm of ‘being this and that’ where there is temporal and spatial limitation(Sermon 12, 209) is full of restlessness and suffering;it is the realm of ‘twoness’, ‘manyness’ and ‘mediation’ where the soul greedily grasps and number of objects and in so doing ends up losing them. Even the concept of sin which is of such importance in Christianity is interpreted by Eckhart in this manner‘Sin is always a regress from oneness to multiplicity.’

Of course, in man’s mediated immediacy, man not only attempts to appropriate outside objects;rather, his very structure implies that he also is an object to himself. After analysing man’s ordinary perception of objects as a mediated subject-object relationship which relies on representations, Eckhart says the following about the impossibility of man to know himself as a subject(rather than just as one more object):

If man receives an image or representation is this [mediated] way, it must of necessity enter from without through the sense. In consequence, there is nothing so unknown to the soul 心 as herself. Accordingly, one master says that the soul can neither created nor obtain a representation of itself. Thus she has no way of knowing herself, for representations all enter through the senses, and hence she can have no representation of herself. Therefore she knows all other things but not herself. Of nothing does she know s little as of herself―just because of lacking mediation. You must know that inwardly the soul is free and void of all mediations and representations, and just this is the reason why God can freely and without representation or likeness unite with her(Sermon 57, 417-418).

Yet it is just man’s urge and need to know himself that forms one of the major themes of religion in general; and teachings of ‘mystical’ bent tend to emphasize the immediate nature of this quest and its goal. The tenor of such teachings is voiced by the Japanese Zen master Dôgen:

To learn the way of the Buddha is to learn the self. To learn the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be authenticated by all things. To be authenticated by all things is to be free of ‘self’ and ‘other.’

Eckhart coaches this in the words of the New Testament:

The Lord said, “Whoever wants to become my disciple must first let himself go(Lucas 9,23)”. Nobody can hear my word and my teaching unless he has let himself go(Sermon 11, 207).

2) I and Not-I

The Ratification sums up its diagnosis by stating that ‘the triple poison of passions, suffering, and deluded thoughts all originate as transformations from the particularisation of reflective thought(folio 146b2-3).’ The most basic differentiation is the discrimination 分別―based on man’s self-conscious nature―of myself(I) from thing that are different from me(not-I). Man’s most immediate and basic differentiation found many expressions in religious literature, for example in the Bible’s story of man’s fall. It is thus not surprising that ‘mystical’ religious movements focus with great insistence on this differentiation;the Ratification, for instance, says that “those who get attached to words instead of getting to the bottom of ‘I’ and ‘not-I’ drown in duality and ruin themselves and others(folio 142b6)”, and the German classic Theologia Deutsch states:

I-ness, self-ness, mine, me etc. all pertain to the evil spirit, and the spirit is evil because of that. Look, the following few words say it all: Be pure and entirely without your self!

Similarly, Eckhart says:“If we were free of the ‘not’ we would not be impure(Sermon 5, 176).” But what does such freedom of the ‘not’ mean in terms of ‘I’ and ‘not-I’?

I say something else and even more difficult:Whoever wants to immediately(unmittelbar) stand in the nakedness of this nature[which is one and one-fold] must have left behind all distinction of person so that he is as well disposed to a man across the sea whom he has never set eyes on as to the man who is with him and is his close fried. As long as you favor your own person more than someone you have never seen, you are assuredly not alright, and you have never for a single instant looked into this one-fold ground.[…] And secondly, you must be pure in heart;since only that heart is pure that has abolished all created objecthood. And third you must be free of the ‘not.’[…] I say truly:you are imperfect in so far as ‘not’ adheres to you. Therefore, if you want to be perfect, you must be rid of ‘not’(Sermon 6, 179).

As long as ’one is not the other’, Eckhart says, there is lack and therefore bitterness and unrest(Sermon 50, 389), and the major hindrances that he identifies as ‘self- attachment and ignorance(Sermon1, 156)’ are all based on a ‘this’ which is not ‘that’, a ‘subject’ that is not ‘object’, an ‘I’ set apart from ‘not-I’.

Many teachers consider man’s basic I/not-I discrimi- nation to be the most fundamental source of ignorance and suffering. I will just cite two instances, the first by the Japanese Zen master Bankei(1622~1693) and the second by the modern Indian master Ramana Maharshi:

Your self-partiality is at the root of all your illusions. There aren’t and illusions when you don’t have this preference for yourself.

You see, he who eliminates all the ‘not-I’ cannot eliminate the ‘I.’ In order to be able to say ‘I am not this’ or ‘I am that’, there must be the ‘I’ to say it. This ‘I’ is only the ego, or the ‘I’-thought. After the rising up of this ‘I’-thought, all other thoughts arise. The ‘I’-thought is therefore the root thought. If the root is pulled out, all the rest is at the same time uprooted. Therefore seek the root ‘I’ ; question yourself:‘Who am I?’;find out the source of the ‘I.’[…] Ignorance is the obstruction. Get rid of it and all will be well. This ignorance is identical with the ‘I’-thought. Seek its sources, and it will vanish.

In similar manner, the Granum sinapis song cited above says that “your ‘I’ must be destroyed, every ‘something’ and every ‘nothing’ lost” in order to find that ‘good beyond and entity.’ Echart has the following to say about this theme:

What hinders you in things is you yourself, since it is you who are in a wrong relation to things. Therefore begin with yourself and let yourself go! Truly, if you do not flee yourself, wherever you flee, you will only find hindrance and unrest. People who seek peace in outer things―be it in places or in methods, in people or in works, in banishment, poverty, or humiliation―however impressive this may be and whatever it may be, it all counts for nothing and brings no peace. Those who seek in this way seek wrongly;the further They go on, the less they find what they are looking for. They seek like one who has lost his way:the further he goes, the more he goes astray. But what should he do? He should first let go of himself:then he has let go of everything. In truth, if a man gave up a kingdom or the entire world but kept clinging to himself, he would have abandoned nothing. But if man lets go of himself, then he has let go of everything (Reden der Unterweisung, 55-56).

This theme of ‘letting go’ is central in Eckhart. But how does one go about ‘letting go?’ Eckhart’s words echo Dôgen and Ramana Maharshi:

Observe yourself, and where you find yourself, let go of yourself. That is the very best.


The overall nature and role of religion is addressed when it is portrayed as a ‘vehicle’ or ‘medium’ that leads an adherent from one state to another:from deluded conceptions to awakened truth, from attachment to freedom, from suffering to bliss, from twoness to not-twoness, etc. At the outset of the Ratification, the Indian side asks:“What do you mean by ‘Great Vehicle’?” The Chinese answer is typical for religious movements that emphasize immediacy:

There is neither a vehicle nor anything that is carried;

It is the non-institution of any vehicle

That I call Great Vehicle(folio 129b1).

In another answer, the Chinese respondent cites ‘non-practice is the practice of all practices(folio 131 [bis] b4).’ The Ratification shows a pattern of such paradoxical answers that in effect state that only the resolution itself is true practice, i.e., that the only possible way or method is the absence of any way or mediation(immediacy). Any mediation or gradual approach is thus judged, from the standpoint of resolution, as still being thoroughly in the realm of deluded conceptions. For example, the Indian challenge that the buddhas teach gradual 漸門 rather than immediate access 頓門 is without delay refuted by the argument that concepts such as ‘gradual’ and ‘immediate’ belong to the realm of deluded conceptions and thus constitute the problem rather than the resolution(folio 132b-133b). Again, when the Indian side asserts that for beginning practitioners, conceptions 想 may be necessary and beneficial, the Chinese side emphasizes that just these dualistic conceptions are the problem and that their very elimination is the resolution(folio 134b-135a). But by what means can one rid oneself of deluded conceptions and attachment to objects, asks the Indian side? The answer again fits the pattern:

As long as deluded conceptions arise, one is not awakened and remains in what is called ‘life-and-death.’ When one is awakened, one no more produces acts bound to deluded notions or appropriates objects, and one does not hold on to or rely [on anything]. Then every thought is ultimate liberation and wisdom(Folio 135b3-5).

This pattern is also apparent in answers to questions concerning concrete practices;thus the answer to the question about the meaning of ‘contemplating mind’ 看心 ends with a quote from the Vimalakīrti Sūtra:‘Non- contemplation is ultimate wisdom 不觀是菩提.’ Questions about practices leading to liberation are answered in similar manner by ‘what matters is being free.’ In short, any striving towards a goal is seen as simply one more expression of the problem:only in the realm of duality and discrimination is mediation and practice necessary, and such mediation is itself an expression of the problem, Only the thorough cutting off of all deluded conceptions(and thus of all mediation and striving) can be the resolution.

A Similar stance is apparent in many texts of the Chan tradition, for example in the following story about Master Shitou 石頭:

When Chan Master Yaoshan Weiyan 藥山 first visited Shitou 石頭, he asked:“I have a superficial knowledge of the Three[Buddhist] Vehicles’ twelve divisions of teachings. Now I keep hearing of southern [Chan’s characterization as] ‘directly pointing to man’s heart.’ This is something I really haven’t yet understood, and I humbly request your compassionate instruction.”

Shitou said:“This way will not do, and any other way will not do either.

No way, neither this way nor any other way will do. What do you do?”

The first part of Shitou’s answer presents in a nutshell what the Chinese side in Lhasa reiterated in various forms:any particular way(including dun 頓 or jian 漸) will not do. Yet the Lhasa discussions also testify to the conviction that indeed, as Mazu challenges his audience, something must be done. To sum up the present argument in the words of a modern Zen thinker.

The basic method of zen Buddhism tries to get the ego to realize that ultimately there can be no method for it to attain to its True-Self-Awakening apart from the awakening itself. For if there is any ‘method’ that the ego can pursue or cling to, that method contributes to the perpetuation of the ego, and thereby becomes an obstacle to―or even worse, leads away from―the goal. So, Huang-po 黃檗 reprimanded:“As long as you are concerned with ‘by means of’ you will always be depending on false media.” Hence it is that the root Zen method is, finally, a method which would strip away every method, and which itself provides no ‘method.’

Such radicality is perhaps an extreme ‘immediate’ type rarely found in reality;in the Ratification, for example, Moheyan 摩訶衍 contradicts his own radical statements with apparent ease, particularly in the third memorial(folio 155a-b) and the summary at the end of the document(folio 156a-158a). Though his openly ‘gradual’ statements partially fall under the cover of expedient means 方便 and the Two truths 二諦說(as expressions of a verity that is only employed to help the deluded and are ostensibly motivated by the urge not to frighten a sovereign interested in good deeds, loyalty, etc., some contradictions cannot be denied. A similar tendency is also present in Meiter Eckhart. Some of his radical statements match those of some Chan masters, but the materials transmitted as Eckhart’s also contain passages of much more conventional Christian flavor which emphasize prayer and other practices promoted by the Catholic church. However, since this paper neither aims at a comprehensive portrayal of Eckhart’s teaching nor at a comparison of Eckhart with Chan, I will continue to concentrate on the ‘immediate’ and radical side that is present both in Eckhart and the cited Chinese texts.

According to Eckhart, God cannot be found in distinction and twoness, and no way or medium can ‘lead towards’ that which is not-other. “Whoever seeks God in a certain way takes the way and misses god who is hidden in the way(sermon 6, 180).” Consequently, only “one who seeks God without way[…] grasps him as he is in himself (Sermon 6, p. 180).” But to grasp God without way or manner is altogether beyond the ability of an ‘I’ that is seeking ‘God’ Saint Paul says:

“God dwells in and inhabits a light to which there is no access(1 Tim6, 16).” To that [light] there is no access, there is only reaching. Moses says, “Never a man saw God(2 Mos 33, 20).” As long as we are human beings, as long as something human lives in us and we are in an approach, we will not see God(Sermon 53, p. 402).

The Granum sinapis song makes a similar point:

Your own ‘I’ must be destroyed

every something and every ‘nothing’ must be lost!

Let go of space, let go of time,

get rid of any image!

Tread, without a way, the narrow path:

then you will find the trace in the desert.

1) Letting Go

the destruction of the subject ‘I’―and with it of every object ‘something’―that the song demands points to some important dimensions of dun 頓:the resolution cannot be achieved through any mediation and is thus ‘immediate.’ Furthermore, whatever may precede this breakthrough, it happens in a radical and ‘sudden’ falling away of the very basis of mediation:the opposition of ‘I’ and ‘not-I’ or subject and object. In this radical letting-go, all is let go ‘at once’, comprehensively(at one stroke), and ‘simultane- ously’;this release, just like death, is ‘abrupt’ total(all at once), and irreversible(once and for all)―and we will see below that what opens up or is born in this breakthrough is nothing ‘other’ but the ‘immediate’ par excellence, or in the words of Nicolaus of Cusa, ‘nothing other than the not-other.’

Though the Ratification mentions various practices such as ‘watching the mind while abstaining from all examination when thoughts arise and even from reflexion about reflexion(folio 156a5).’ it is adamant that there is only one way to cure man’s disease:‘just get rid of deluded conceptions and[…] you will be able to free yourself at once and totally(folio 146b4-5).’ In this, supreme wisdom is realized(folio 141a3-6), i.e.:“one realizes that all aggregates are without ‘I’” and that signifies the “absolute destruction of any view(folio 141b3).” Since views are by definition dualistic, the “absolute destruction of all views” is synonymous with the thorough overcoming of man’s characteristic subject-objecthood:“The practice of dhyana 禪 takes place when not the slightest object can be grasped(folio 145a1-2).”

The Vajrasamādhi Sūtra 金剛三昧經, though ostensibly focusing on a variety of practices, also has a strong ‘immediate’ character and sees the essence of the religious path in similar terms:

To the extent that one abandons mind and self

The One Teaching is consummated,

and one’s actions pervade identity and difference.

Once the original inspiration is gained

And dualistic views extirpated,

Nirvana which is calm and tranquil

Is also neither lingered tin, nor clung to, nor authenticated.

To access that place of certitude,

There are neither forms nor practices.

In writings of ‘immediate’ tendency, the image of death is much used for this thorough ‘abandonment of mind and self.’ In Chan texts, for example, we find the expression ‘Great Death 大死.’ This image conveys not only the total(all at once) and irreversible(once and for all) nature of letting go but also its abrupt(sudden) and ultimately personal(immediate) character. Both in East and West, this death of the ‘I’ is usually paired with some sort of birth;for example, one of German mysticism’s major figures influenced by Eckhart, Johannes Tauler, said:‘Dear child, you must die of the loving God should become your life without medium. Eckhart portrays the overcoming of duality in the following terms:

One must be dead, thoroughly dead, so that neither joy nor sorrow can touch us. […] Life, too, can never be perfected until it returns to its pregnant source where life is a being that the soul receives when she thoroughly dies, that we may live in that life wherein life is one being(Sermon 9, 193).

We will come back to the ‘positive’ aspect of breakthrough and the meaning of Eckhart’s ‘life is one being’ after some more detail about his view of ‘letting go.’ Letting go of self and all things is of supreme importance in Eckhart’s teaching. He emphasizes:“What must the man be like who sees God? He must be dead.” One who is “dead to self and all created things pays as little regard to himself as to one who is a thousand miles away,[…] This man must have abandoned self and the whole world(Sermon 13, 216).” He leaves no doubt as to the total nature of this letting go:“You have to let yourself go, I say, completely go, then you have truly let go(Sermon 31, p.300).” The result of such total self-abandon is what Eckhart calls ‘Gelassenheit’ a key concept in his works. In a passage where ‘to let go(lassen)’, ‘to be at ease’ or ‘to be released(gelassen go:“You have to let yourself go, I say, completely go, then you have truly let go(Sermon 31, 300)”, The result of such total self-abandon is what Eckhart calls ‘Gelassenheit’, a key concept in his works. In a passage where ‘to let go(lassen)’, ‘to be at ease’ or ‘to be released(gelassen sein)’ and ‘having abandoned(gelassen haben)’ are intertwined, Eckhart explains it in terms that again evoke some connotations of dun 頓:

To a man who lets go of himself totally for a single instant, all is given. But if a man had abandoned self for twenty years, if he took back self for a single instant, he has never truly let go. That man who has let go and is at ease who never even for an instant looks back at what he has let go, and who remains firm, unmoved in himself, and unchange- able:that man alone is ‘gelassen’(Sermon 13, 217).

2) Breakthrough

No image is more apt to depict the nature of breakthrough than of death-and-birth. It underlines its total and irreversible nature as well as its sudden and immediate character. Nothing ‘other’ is at stake here but the most immediate there is, one’s very ‘I’ what dies is that source of deluded conceptions, the ‘I’ that clings to itself and to objects―and what is born is the ‘true I’ or ‘true self’ that the Vajrasamādhi Sūtra calls the ‘true I’ that is no-‘I’ 非我眞我. It is characteristic of ‘immediate’ teachings that something like this is realized in an abrupt breakthrough or leap by which a new, non-dual view of reality opens up. From this perspective it becomes clear that ‘reality’ was indeed only delusion, and that the reality one has awakened to has been there all along. In the Ratificatin this reality is called ‘Buddha nature 佛性(folio 142a3-4)’, in the Vajrasamādhi Sūtra ‘womb of the Thus- Come 如來藏’ or ‘amala consciousness 庵摩羅識’ in Huangbo 黃檗 ‘one mind 一心’ and in Eckhart, as we will soon see, ‘the spark’.

The immediate nature and continuous presence of this reality is emphasized in various ways, for example by the image of the sun which has been shining all along, even while hidden behind the clouds of delusion(folio 142a3-4), or by the image of a gem one unknowingly owned all along, hidden in a dirty cloth. One just needs to ‘take off the stained dress of impregnations of deluded conceptions’ in order to achieve liberation and see that the gem has been there all along(folio 144b5). This reality is regarded as one’s most immediate and true nature which is beyond any objectification and mediacy;thus there can neither be access to it nor departure from it.

Although all sentient beings are originally free from the outflows, and all wholesome benefits are originally innate in them, they are being pricked by the thorn of desire, which they have yet to overcome[and thus do not realize that they are originally enlightened].

Oh son of good family! It is just the same with the amala-consciousness. It originally is not something from which you have departed. It is not something that has now been accessed. Even though in the past you were unaware of it, it was not nonexistent. Even though now you have awakened to it, it is not accessed.

This sudden realization is often portrayed in terms of a breakthrough or overturning:‘Overturning both the appro- priated [object] and the appropriating [subject], one accesses the womb of the Thus-Come.’ Through this ‘access via non-access’, one realizes that ‘there are neither self nor objects-of-self and neither subject nor object views’―rather, ‘mind and objects are not-two.’ What appears like the sun from behind the clouds is that which is ‘neither unitary nor different, neither unitary evanescent nor permanent, neither produced nor extinguished.’

The innermost and most noble faculty of the human soul which Eckhart calls ‘spark’, ‘castle’, etc.―‘the ground where God lies hidden’-is characterized in similar terms. In he sermon ‘Intravit Jesus’, Eckhart explains this power of the soul in the following way:

I have sometimes said that there is a power in the mind which is alone free. Sometimes I have called it a guard of the mind;sometimes a light of the mind;sometimes a spark. But now I say:It is neither this nor that, and yet it is a something which is higher above ‘this’ and ‘that’ than the sky is above the earth. Thus I shall now name it in a nobler fashion than I ever did before, even though it beggars both such nobleness and any mode and transcends them. It is free of all names and void of all forms, entirely bare and free, just as God is bare and free in himself. It is so completely one and onefold as God is one and onefold, so that in no way one can peer into it(Sermon 2, 163).

Though it is hidden and man is still ‘not at home’ in the innermost part of his soul(Sermon 4, 170)’, this spark appears as One-‘so akin to God that it is a unitary One without differentiation(Sermon 23, 258)’, above time and space, and uncreated. Thus Eckhart says:‘If man were wholly of his [the spark’s] kind, he would be completely uncreated and impossible to create(Sermon 13, 215).’ This spark ‘is the seed of God in us.’ Just as with the proper care ‘the seed of the pear tree grows into a pear tree and the seed of a walnut tree into a walnut tree’, so ‘God’s seed [grows] into God.’ Even though this seed is ‘covered, hidden and concealed’, it is in every human being and ‘can never be destroyed nor extinguished in itself.’ Its discovery is not causally linked to long periods of practice but can take place immediately:

None of you is so dull or small of capacity or far from it that he could not find this joy […] in himself as it truly is, even before he leaves this church today, yes, even before I finish my sermon;you can find it in yourself and live it and have it as certain as God is God and I am a human being(Sermon 27, 275-6).

It is characteristic of ‘immediate’ teachings that ‘birth’ or ‘awakening’ or ‘breakthrough’ do not aim at something ‘other’ that can and must be the object of mediation.

People often say to me:‘Pray for me!’ Then I think:Why do you go outside? Why don’t you stay in yourself and grasp your own good? You do carry all truth essentially in yourself(Sermon 6, 181).

If the soul were totally stripped or uncovered of all mediation, then God too would be stripped or uncovered for it, and God would give himself to it totally(Sermon 40, 344).

What is thus without mediation is ‘the one-fold One without manner or characteristics 相(Sermon 2, 164)’ that encompasses everything yet is nothing other than one’s very self. Thus, rather than signifying an arrival at some remote destination, the breakthrough or birth is a home-coming.

Eckhart contrasts such a home-coming with two other ‘ways’:

One way is to seek God in all creatures through manifold activities and ardent longing. […] The second is a wayless way, free and yet bound, where one is raised past self and all things and rapt, without will and images, but still without essential permanence.[…] The third way is called a way, but is really being at home, that is:seeing God without means in his own being. […] Outside of this way all creatures circle, and are means. […] How marvelous:to be without and within, to embrace and be embraced, to see and be that which is seen, to hold and be held―that is the goal where the spirit is ever at rest, one in joyous eternity (Sermon 28;284-5).

This birth is the apex of immediacy:‘The soul gives birth to itself within itself and from itself, and again into itself(Sermon 52, 300).’ It only takes place in true spiritual poverty where there is no wanting, no knowing, and no having whatsoever.

If you want to find this noble birth, you have to let go of all ‘multiplicity’ and return to the origin and the ground out of which you came. All powers of the soul and all its works:all that is ‘multiplicity’. Memory, reason, will:they all make you manifold. Therefore you have to let them all go. … only then can you find this birth, and not otherwise:that is completely certain(Sermon 59, 432).

But true spiritual poverty is not just abandonment of self;it must also include abandonment of ‘God’ as some entity that is ‘other’ and that can be mediated. What is broken through is the ‘not’ that Eckhart pointed out as the source of man’s troubles;the resulting oneness is thus called ‘a negation of negation(Sermon 22, 253).’ When this occurs in existential actuality and not just in speculation, the ‘true poverty’ of the ‘man without station’ is realized:

In my breaking-through, where I stand free of my own will, of God’s will, of all his works, and of God himself: there I am beyond all creatures and am neither God nor creature. Rather, I am that which I was and shall remain now and for evermore. […] This breaking-through brings about that God and I are one. There I am what I was, there I neither wax nor wane, for there I am an unmoved cause that moves all things. Here, god finds no station in man, for man wins by this poverty what he has eternally been and shall eternally remain. Here, God is one with the spirit 心, and this is the strictest poverty one can find. If anyone cannot understand this sermon, he need not worry. For so long as man is not equal to this truth, he cannot understand my words;for this is the undisguised truth which has come without medium from God’s heart(Sermon 32, 308).


The religious quest that was outlined by Eckhart and many other teachers of ‘immediate’ tendency, leads ‘from a life that is divided to a life that is one(sermon 9, 194).’ Oneness in this sense is not simply opposed to multiplicity or twoness;rather, any form of twoness or separation (including that between oneness and twoness or multiplic- ity) must be overcome; only then is true immediacy realized. Often, portrayals of such oneness, non- delimitation, or ‘not-twoness’ 不二 take a dialectical form and are expressed in apophatic(neither this nor that) or paradoxical terms. The great Sufi teacher Ibn al-’Arabi (1165~1240), for example, stated:

God possesses Non-delimited Being, but no delimitation prevents Him from delimitation. On the contrary, he possesses all delimitations. Hence He is Non-delimited Delimitation.

Non-delimitation that possesses all delimitations, or unity that engenders all multiplicity, or an absolute principle that contains all separate objects all exemplify a sort of not-twoness that in mystical literature is often called ‘coincidentia oppositorum’:the immediate and non- mediatable coincidence(or not-twoness) of opposites.

Because the soul does not possess the One, it never comes to rest until everything becomes one in God. God is one;this is the bliss of the soul and its embellishment and its rest. Some master says that God keeps in all his works all things in consideration. The soul is all things. […] God is everything and one(Sermon 22, 255).

1) Not-Twoness

In contrast to forms of religion that emphasize mediation(such as the saving power of some figure, text, practice, or ritual) and thus presuppose sharp differentia- tions and twoness or multiplicity, religions of ‘mystical’ type stress immediate non-dual self-realization. The Vajrasamādhi Sūtra states that the ‘access of principle 理入’ consists in ‘having deep faith that sentient beings are not different from true nature, and thus are neither identical nor counterpoised.’ this expression exemplifies and important aspect of not-twoness or non-duality:it is not just a unity or oneness because that would again stand against multiplicity or duality. Thus the sutra does not simply equate sentient beings with Buddha-nature but says:“Sentient beings and buddha-nature are neither one nor different.” The core of the Buddha’s teaching is portrayed in terms that would also fit other ‘immediate’ forms of religion:

This [teaching expounded by the Buddha] thus leaves behind all duality;but it does not persist either in lingering in oneness.

This statement could serve as an expression of the essence of many sutras, for example the Vimalakīrti Sūtra 維摩經. The Ratification, too, presents non-duality as the essence of Master Moheyan’s 摩訶衍 teaching:“I have come to the court in order to promote and glorify the True Dharma and―though converting by recourse to the three vehicles―to bring people back to the gate of non-duality (folio 143a2-3).”

Oneness, twoness, and the not-twoness of two appear to be the central themes of ‘immediate’ forms of religion such as Meister Eckhart’s teaching. Indeed, like some other famous mystics, he was condemned by organized religion for transgressing the boundaries of difference that their mediation role necessitates. How could the Catholic church, whose foundation is built on the pervasive difference between man and God, not be critical of statements such as the following?

One has to know him [God] without image, immediately and without simile, But if I should know God in such an immediate way, I have to become absolutely him, and he must become I. More precisely, I say:God must become positively I, and I absolutely God;so completely one that this ‘he’ and this ‘I’ become and are one and work in this existence eternally one work. so long as this ‘he’ and this ‘I’ that is, God and the soul 心, are not a single ‘here’ and a single ‘now’ the ‘I’ can never work with the ‘he’ nor become one(Sermon 42, p.354).

The themes of oneness, twoness, and the not-twoness of two form the basis, for example, of Eckhart’s conception of ‘breakthrough to the God-head’ and ‘being’ or ‘one- ness’. These key concepts all aim at a philosophical exposition of non-duality or, as Eckhart calls it, ‘oneness’ ‘the one as non-distinction’ or ‘immediacy’. In a sermon he describes immediate or non-dual knowledge as follows:

That person is two because he does not see God immediately. His knowing and his being, or:his knowing [Erkennen, noesis] and the known-image [Erkenntnisbild, noema] never get to be one. One sees God only when he is seen spiritually, totally imageless. There one becomes two, two is one(Sermon 28, 283).

Eckhart went to great lengths to make people understand that oneness refers not to a simple equality or identity but rather to a dynamic non-duality. In the following passage from one of his sermons, he portrays a man who has broken through to true poverty:

So then we say that a man should be so poor that he neither is nor has any place for God to work in. Where man maintains some station, he maintains distinction. Therefore I pray to God to make me free of God, for my essential being is above God if we take God as the origin of creatures. For in that essence of God where God is above any being and above all distinction:there I was myself, there I willed myself and knew myself so as to create this man. Therefore I am my own cause according to my essence, which is eternal, and not according to my becoming, which is temporal. therefore I am unborn, and according to my unborn mode I can never die. According to my unborn mode I have eternally been, am now, and shall eternally remain. That which I am by virtue of birth must die and perish, for it is mortal, and so it must perish with time. In my birth all things were born, and I was the cause of myself and all things ; and had I so willed it, neither I nor all things would have been. If I were not, God would not be either. I am the cause of God’s being God. But you do not need to know this(Sermon 32,n 308).

In true poverty, all distinction is thus broken through―including that between difference and non-difference. In Eckhart’s words:“Oneness is difference, and difference is oneness. The more there is difference, the more there is oneness:just that is the difference without difference (Sermon 11, 206).” this ‘difference without difference’ or ‘twoness without twoness’ is expressed in statements such as ‘the eye wherein I see God is the same eye wherein God sees me ; my eye and God’s eye:they are one eye and one seeing, one recognizing and one loving(Sermon 13, 216).’ such sight again high-lights immediacy:

If there were nothing mediation between God and the soul, then it would see God without further ado;for God does not know any mediation, and he cannot endure any mediation. If the soul 心 were totally stripped or uncovered of all mediation, then God too would be stripped or uncovered for the soul 心, and God would give himself to it totally. As long as the soul is not yet free of any mediation, as slight as it may be, it does not see God(Sermon 40, 344).

2) Involved Freedom

When the Vajrasamādhi Sūtra States that the teaching of the Buddha goes beyond all duality but does not persist either in lingering in oneness, it addresses a central theme of ‘immediate’ religious literature. A wellknown Chan anecdote, for example, goes:

A monk asked Master Zhaozhou 趙州, “How is it when a man brings nothing with him:”

Zhaozhou replied, “Throw it away!”

The monk inquired, “Since I have noting on me, what could I throw away?”

Master Zhaozhou said, “Well then, go on carrying it!”

‘Not lingering’ is only possible where the root of all attachment is cut, i.e., where the minds of sentient beings are free of any object―including the ‘nothing; of Zhao- zhou’s student. the Granum sinapis song expresses the same when it demands that every ‘something’ and every ‘nothing’ must be lost. This absolute freedom is evoked in different forms. The Vajrasamādhi Sūtra puts it concisely:

Thusness does not linger in thusness;it has no character- istic of thusness because it is characterized by being free from thusness.

Lingering in thusness or in nirvana is thus seen as just another form of bondage. such lingering is also present when one prefers non-differentiation to the differentiation that is necessarily present in salvific expediency 方便 and any activity in the world. When in the Ratification the Indian side suggests that the Chinese are subject to this bondage, Moheyan retorts that, on the contrary, the Buddhas who have attained the ‘Knowledge without differentiation that is non-duality’ are, ‘just because of this non-differentiation and non-dual knowledge capable of differentiation excellently all particularities of things.’ But this kind of differentiation, Moheyan contends, is different from the ‘differentiation bound to deluded conceptions that characterizes fools and ignorants(folio 147b6-148a1).’

In his comment on this passage, Demiéville observes that all great mystics have insisted with great care on this ‘movement back to the world by a spirit that is freed from the world.’ Indeed, both the Ratification and the Vajrasamādhi Sūtra keep speaking of this, and one finds this theme at the heart of the Vimalakīrti Sūtra as well as many Chan materials(for example, pictures nine and ten of the Ten Oxherding Pictures). Eckhart also stresses this;for example, he says:

What is good? Good is what mediates itself. We call him a good man who mediates himself and is useful. thus a heathen master says:a hermit is neither good nor evil in this sense, because he does not mediate himself and is not useful(Sermon 10, 197).

such mediation is, as one would expect, spontaneous and immediate:‘The wiser and mightier a master is, the more immediate his activity unfolds, and the simpler it is(Sermon 57, 418).’ In the Chan tradition, such spontaneity of self-expression through action or words is a central characteristic of a free man;indeed, much of the written tradition of Chan consists of tests(koans 公案) or ‘gateless barriers 無門關’ that can only be passed through immediately, i.e., without the slightest hesitation, by someone who is utterly free of ‘every something’ and ‘every nothing’ and can express this immediately and spontaneously.

In Buddhism, such expression is most often subsumed under the twin labels of supreme wisdom(prajña paramita 般若波羅蜜多) and boundless compassion 慈悲;other religious traditions such as Christianity or Islam tend to emphasize love. Mystics like Rumi or Eckhart put special weight on this ‘twoness without twoness’:

By its very nature, love flows out and originates from two as one. One as one produces no love;neither does two as two. If is two as one that necessarily results in natural, passionate, fiery love.

But interestingly, Eckhart values compassion even higher than love:“I say:Above these two, above knowledge and love, towers compassion(Sermon 8, 189).”

As in Chan, Eckhart’s compassion has its roots in freedom which is ‘the existential place of all of Eckhart’s sermons and tractates, from the early Talks of Instruction to the late sermon about spiritual poverty.’ The German works in particular show a strong emphasis on breaking all fetters to attain absolute freedom which then can be expressed in an immediate, spontaneous, and free manner through action in the world. Like most Chan masters, Eckhart outs much more weight on leading his disciples to freedom than on telling them specifically how to act in the world; the emphasis is on how they should be rather than what they should do:

People ought not to reflect so much about what they should do; rather, they should thing about what they should be, If people were good and their ways were good, their works would shine brightly. If you are just, all your works will be just, too.

In Eckhart’s philosophical effort, the consequent movement beyond and twoness is exemplified by the progression from analogy to univocity and oneness, and in practical terms by his emphasis on the need to become free of anything mediate, for example prayers, fasting and sleep depravation(Sermon 1), ecstatic rapture(Sermon 28), and even God inasfar as he is ‘other(Sermon 32)’.

That man who recognizes in truth that, even if he lets go of himself and all things, it still amounts to nothing:oh, the man who lives in this way in truth possesses all things(Sermon 39, 341).

True man is thus ‘freedom itself(Sermon 31, 300)’:“He serves neither God nor man because he is free.”

A man, however, who would not be grounded nor attached to anything:such a man would stay completely unmoved even if heaven and earth were turned upside down because he is not attached to anything nor is there anything attached to him(Sermon 40, 347).

Though his heart remains unmoved even when his own father and all his friends are killed in front of his eyes(Sermon 35, 321), he does not remain untouched by joy and suffering(cf. Sermon 28, 287). However, he ‘suffers without suffering(Sermon 35, 322)’. Having left the life of division and entered the ‘life in which there is no opposite(Sermon 9, 194)’, he finds true peace and lives as the highest detachment(Abgeschiedenheit). But such detachment or aloofness does not mean inactivity;rather, it is characterized by intense involvement in the world, as Sermon 27 shows by contrasting the contemplative Maria to the active and involved Martha. Such a free and just man works all of his works out of the innermost ground where. ‘God’s ground is my ground and my ground is God’s ground(Sermon 6, 180)’ and is ‘joyful at all times(Sermon 7, 183)’.

3) Voicing the Immediate

Since one who has broken through to the immediate is, in Eckhart’s words, not simply a ‘master of reading (Lesemeister)’ but rather a ‘master of living(Lebemeister)’, his self-expression can take many forms. When trying to mediate the truth that he has realized, he usually needs to adapt the message to the capacity of the audience and employ terms and expressions that make sense to those who harbor deluded conceptions. In Buddhism, the ‘immediate’ truth is called ‘ultimate’ or ‘genuine’ truth, while the truth mediated for those with deluded conceptions is named ‘relative’ or ‘provisional’ truth, These ‘two truths’ play such a prominent role in Buddhism that already the Indian sage Nāgārjuna remarked:

The Buddhas teach Dharma by resorting to two truths:One is the conventional or provisional truth, the other is the ultimate truth. Those who do not comprehend the distinction between those two truths do not comprehend the deep significance in the Buddha’s teachings.

In the Ratification, Master Mahayana time and again points out that the Indian side does not seem to understand the difference between provisional and ultimate truth. In the introduction to the second series of questions and answers, he says for example:

All elements of doctrine are without [intentional] activity and [dualistic] thought. Nevertheless, if sentient beings of dull faculties are unable to gain access to the teaching, the buddhas have during their stay in the world […] established the Triple Vehicle and all sorts of expedient methods(folio 145b1-2).

The master insists on the clear distinction between statements made from the point of view of absolute truth and those made from the point of view of the ‘dharma of the world’ that employ expedient means 方便 and are compared to medicine prescribed in accordance with specific illnesses(folio 145b6):

In all responses that I have made in past and present concerning the necessity of practicing or not practicing the six perfections and all good practices, I have adopted the strict point of view of absolute truth, from which perspective the question of practicing or not practicing does not arise. But concerning the Dharma of the world, I teach and promote all practices as they are, large of small, from top to bottom, even if it is just a triple refuge prayer or a single vow said with joined hands(folio 155b3-6).

The question of verbal expression is also brought up several times in the context of the two truths. At the beginning of the second memorial, Master Mahayana says:

All I said was just to respond to questions while referring to sutra texts;it was not at all the true system of my dhyana method. My system is without verbal attribute and without attribute of differentiation due to our individual mind;the absolute truth is only transmitted by silence, and the way of words is cut(folio 155a3-4).

Similar views about the inability of language to capture reality are found in other teachings of ‘immediate’ kind and form the basis of their ‘apophatic’ tendency. Apophasis and kataphasis have been important themes in Buddhism and pre-Christian as well as Christian thought;we find them for example at the center of Plato’s famous Parmenides dialogue, and again in the works of Plotinus and other Neo-Platonists. In Christian mysticism(which was strongly influenced by Neo-Platonism), apophasis is the hallmark of the so-called ‘negative theology’ from Dionysios Areopagita onward. Apophatic locutions are typically combined with paradox statements, and I propose that they stand in an essential connection to the two truths:apophasis(neither this nor that) can be seen as an expression from the point of view of provisional truth, and paradox(neither this nor that yet also this and that) as a verbal expression of the reality of the awakened one(genuine or ultimate truth). The following passage by Dionysios is a typical example:

Therefore God is known in all things and apart from all things;and God is known by knowledge and unknowing. Of him there is understanding, reason, knowledge, touch, perception, opinion, imagination, name and many other things, but he is not understood, nothing can be said of him, he can not be named. He is not one of the things that are, nor is he known in any of the things that are;he is in all things everything and nothing in anything;he is known to all from all things and to no-one from anything. […] The most divine knowledge of God, that in which he is known through unknowing, according to the union that transcends the mind, happens when the mind, turning away from all things, including itself, is united with the dazzling rays, and there and then(頓) illuminated(悟) in the unsearchable depth of wisdom.

In Eckhart as in other Christian mystics, negation and paradox are the favorite modes of verbal expression of the immediate or ‘non-other’ that they call God, similarly to dionysios, Eckhart avers that God is ‘beyond all names’ and made many apophatic statements such as the following which was condemned as heretic by the Catholic church:

God is not good and not better and not best, Whoever says that God is good speaks so wrongly as if he stated that the sun is pale or black(Sermon 10, 197).

Other statements by Eckhart sound less radical but are no less apophatic:

A heathen master says that man’s tongue cannot pronounce any adequate word about God because of the loftiness and purity of his being. When we speak about a tree, we speak about it by means of something which is higher, like the sun which works through this tree, Therefore one cannot speak about God in the true sense because noting is above him and because God has no cause, Secondly, we can speak about things because of identity. So we cannot speak about God in the true sense because nothing is identical to him. Thirdly, one speaks about things because of their effects:if one wants to speak of a painter, one speaks of the picture he created;the picture reveals the master’s art. The creatures are too base to reveal God;they are all nothing compared to God. Thus no creature can say a single word about God in his creations. therefore Dionysios says:All those who want to make statements about God are wrong because they say nothing about him. But those who attempt to not speak about him are right, for no word can express God(Sermon 21, 247-8).

The second cause Eckhart adduces to support apophasis is echoed in a statement that comes close to the Buddhist two-truths doctrine:

The masters say:When one knows a creature in its own essence, one calls this ‘evening perception’;there one sees creatures in images of manifold differentiation. But if one perceives creatures in God, it is called ‘morning perception’;this way one sees creatures without any differences and stripped of all images and freed of all sameness in the oneness that is God himself(On the Noble Man, p. 147).

The paradox of seeing ‘without any differences’ yet ‘freed of all sameness’ or other paradoxical statements like ‘length without length is length, and breadth without breadth is breadth(Sermon 19, 238)’ point back to the ‘groundless ground(Sermo 39, 342)’ of both apophasis and paradox in Eckhart:his view of oneness as a ‘no- distinction that is both distinct and indistinct from all that is distinct.’

Oneness is difference, and difference is oneness. The more there is difference, the more there is oneness:just that is the difference without difference(Sermon 11, 206).

This ‘non-dual’ conception, which was later developed by Nicolaus of Cusa(1401~1464) in terms of ‘the non-other’ and ‘the coincidence of opposites’ forms the heart of Eckhart’s thought. And, as I proposed in this paper, it may also be regarded as the core of other religious movements that usually are subsumed under thee label of ‘mysticism’ but might be better characterized by the numerous connotations of the Chinese concept of dun 頓 that were explored in these pages.

The Hermeneutical Problem Of Truth Claims and Scriptural Plurality in the Mādhyamika Buddhism …

The Hermeneutical Problem Of Truth Claims and Scriptural Plurality in the Mādhyamika Buddhism and its Implication for Religious Pluralism*


Ⅰ. The Problem of conflicting Truth Claims

Ⅱ. Scriptural Words and Contextual Truth

Ⅲ. The Mādhyamika Interpretation on Scriptural Plurality

Ⅳ. Critique of Ontological Inclusivism and Unitive Pluralism

Ⅴ. Non-Acquisition of the Middle Way as Openendlessness

Ⅰ. The Problem of Conflicting Truth Claims

The present paper is concerned with the hermeneutical issues of truth and scriptural plurality in Mādhyamika Buddhism, and its implication for the contemporary discourses on religious pluralism.

Can the Mādhyamika hermeneutics solve the problem of the conflict of truth based on scriptural plurality in Buddhism? Have they succeeded in establishing that all the scriptures point toward one yāna? With these questions, we encounter the problem of scriptural plurality and various interpretations within Buddhist traditions. In fact, the great Tripitakas show that Buddhism is not a simple religion. Historically and philosophically, all Buddhist traditions can not be said to be the same. On the other hand, there is a view that each Buddhist tradition and set of scriptures are different responses to the enlightenment of the same person, namely, the Tathāgata.

The Prajñā-Mādhyamika hermeneutics of the middle way in the scriptural word has a good point for solving the problem of scriptural plurality and associated conflicts. As seen in the She-ling notion of the scriptural word, all teachings of the Tathāgata are tactical devices. In the mādhyamika interpretation, the scriptural word consisted in the twofold structure, i.e., conventional and ultimate, which does not present the ultimate truth itself. Also the two truths are not two fixed sets of reality, but are conducive teachings only. In this respect, the words of the Buddha are said to be practically true. The two truths serve as a hermeneutical tool which make the apparently conflicting words of the Buddha intelligible. However, it does not mean that the words of the Buddha are ultimately true. They are true only in their contexts.

In the mādhyamika Buddhist context, there is no absolute teaching (nītārtha) in Buddhist scriptures. However, the history of Buddhism shows that scholars have claimed the superiority of their own scriptures and doctrines over others. This is especially the case in the far Eastern Mahāyāna traditions, where hierarchical classification of doctrine has become a popular way of explaining scriptural discrepancies. The expedient teachings of the Buddha cannot be explained from one point of view, for they are taught in various ways to be suitable for the differing needs of people. An awareness of the Buddha’s intention is an important factor.

There is no one criterion to determine the truth claims that the various schools appropriate to their scriptural texts. Kogen Mizuno points out:“From the standpoint of science of formal logic, both of which are given to single-perspective judgments based on a single criterion, this multidimensional view could be regarded as an extremely complicated system of non-order or non-logic. yet such a multidimensional view is necessary in order to fully comprehended a mental state as something dynamic and mutable.” The scriptural texts have to be understood in the context in which they were taught. Contextual understanding is required to be aware of both the Buddha’s intention and listener’s situations. And the teachings of the Buddha cannot be differentiated between the shallow and the profound as they are designed to meet the needs of people’s varying capacities.

Ⅱ. Scriptural Words and Contextual Truth

According to Korean Monk Chegwan(?-971, C.E.) in the late tenth century, the Buddha’s expedient teachings can be classified into the fourfold methods of conversion, namely, the Sudden, the Gradual, the Secret, and the Variable.

He also suggests the fourfold doctrine of conversion, namely, the Tripitaka, the Shared, the Distinctive, and the Complete. These are called the eight teachings which are correlated with the five periods, namely, the Avamtasaka, the Deer park, the Expanded, the Prajñā, the Lotus, and the Nirvāṇa, Chegwan points out that the fourfold teachings beginning with the sudden are the methods of conversion, which are like medical prescriptions in the world. The four Teachings beginning with the Tripitaka are the doctrine of conversion, which are like the flavors of various medicines. These ideas are scattered through a wide range of the scriptures.

Chegwan identifies the sudden method with the Avatamsaka-sūtra, and the three periods of Deer Park, Expanded (vaipulya) teaching, and prajñā are all identified as the gradual method. This interpretation represents the T’ien-t’ai hermeneutical stance. The Mādhyamika will not agree with chegwan, for chegwan considers the Lotus sūtra and Nirvāṇa sūtras as the complete teaching as the complete teaching as nītārtha, while the Prajñā-sūtras are merely preliminary (neyārtha).

The secret method refers to that within the previous four periods, the Tathāgata’s activities(bodily, verbal, and mental) were beyond ordinary people’s comprehension. For the sake of some he expounded the sudden method, and for the sake of others he expounded gradual method. However, there was no mutual awareness between the two groups, the sudden and gradual, that the others were enabled to receive benefits.

The variable method can be considered as an important character of the Tathāgata’s teaching, especially for the Mādhyamika Buddhists. Chegwan reflects this essential point of the scripture.

The variable method means that within the previous four flavors, although the Buddha expounded the Dharma with a single voice, yet every sentient being gained comprehension each in his own way. This means the Tathāgata while expounding the gradual method with his incomprehensible power could cause sentient beings to obtain the benefits of the sudden method and while expounding the sudden method could have them obtain the benefits of the gradual method. Because the benefits which are obtained in this way differ.

It is said the Buddha proclaims Dharma by a single voice (eka’sabda). But hearers comprehend the voice according to their capacity. This idea of a single voice of the Buddha leads to the one vehicle. The Tathāgata teaches one Dharma, but listeners understand it from their perspective. Certain teachings in the scriptures are delivered from many perspectives intended for different levels of understanding, yet the Tathāgata teaches the Dharma in a consistent way in sequential order.

The Mahāsamghikas, the mother school of the Mādhyamika, also asserts that the Buddha speaks the Dharma with a single voice. The Mādhyamika may follows this view, for no language has priority over any other. This one voice signifies that the Tathāgata simply speaks to people in their everyday languages. The Vimalakīrti-nideśa- sūtra says, everyone says that the Buddha’s language is identical to his own language. This is a special characteristic of the Tathāgata’s power. The Tathāgata will not empower hegemony to any linguistic group. However, this one voice can be translated into any public languages.

The Mahāvastu states:“Though the Buddha’s voice speaks in one language, this utterance becomes current everywhere, even in the barbaric assemblies of the scythians, the Greeks, the Chinese, the Ramathas, the Persians, and the Dorodas.” In this context the Mahasmghikas asserts that the Buddha’s teachings are all nītārtha, meaning the Buddha spoke only the definitive truth. But we have interpreted it differently, i.e., all teachings of the Buddha are neyārtha, There are difference within Buddhism, but they all are contextual. The Māhasamghika’s assertion, i.e., all of the Buddha’s teachings are ultimately true, is interpreted by the Mādhyamika as provisionally true.

Ⅲ. The Mādhyamika Interpretation on Scriptural Plurality

The Mādhyamika interprets that the Buddha teaches nothing, not speaking is the Buddha’s speaking(avācanam Buddhavacanam), for there is no Dharma to speak. Che- gwan’s position regarding the various method gets to the point, for he reflects precisely the nature of a single voie of the Buddha and its different transformation as it is. The single voice of the Buddha signifies that the Buddha did not teach many yanās. Each doctrine the Buddha taught is meaningful. He teaches only the ekayāna, Thus, for the Mādhyamika tradition, only ekayāna is meaningful. The three vehicles are merely upāya. We cannot say that a single scripture represents the nītārtha, i.e., perfect doctrine or complete teaching. For this reason the She-ling masters are opposed to the doctrinal classification (p’an-chiao), and argue that the ekayāna is the saddharma, However, Chi- tsang has tried to make scriptural classification, as other doctrinal schools have done. Each school promotes its scripture to be the status of nītārtha in order to claim its own testimony to be the final word of Tathāgata. However, it is questionable whether Chi-tsang as a She-ling Mādhyamika needs to establish such a system, for hierarchical placing of scriptures is not called for in Mādhyamika Buddhism. In this respect, we see Chi-tsang’s digestion from the fundamental point of the Mādhyamika.

Chi-tsang examines the scriptures from broad perspectives, and classifies them into the two Pitakas and the three Dharmacakras. The two Pitakas are:(a) Śrāvaka, repre- senting Hīnayāna scriptures; (b) Bodhisattva, representing Mahāyāna scriptures. The three Dharmacakras(Wheel of Dharma) are:(a) the root, (b) the branches, and (c) the truck. The root wheel of Dharma refers to the Avatamsaka- sūtra which is delivered soon after the enlightenment of the Buddha for only superior Bodhisattvas. This teaching is regarded as nītārtha, the complete teaching. The branches wheel of Dharma consists of all the Āgamas and Mahāyāna scriptures, including the vimalakirti-nirde’sa-sūtra and the Prajñāpāramitā-sūtras which deal with preparatory teachings for the highest teaching. The branches wheel of Dharma consists of all the Āgamas and Mahāyāna scriptures, including the Vimalakirti-nideśa-sūtra and the Prajñāpāramitā- sūtras which deal with preparatory teachings for the highest teaching. The trunk wheel of Dharma refers to the Lotus-sūtra which is delivered for those who already have understood teachings of the branches wheel of Dharma.

This teaching leads the branches to the root wheel. By the trunk wheel of Dhrama, the three yanās, i.e., the Śrāvaka- yāna pratyekabuddhayāna, and Bodhisattvayāna are all led to the ekayāna of the middle way.

In this presentation of the three wheels of Dharma, Chi-tsang seems to be confused, for he misunderstood the Mādhyamika stance of the scriptures. Seungrang may not agree with such exercise of scriptural classification. The above classification by Chi-tsang represents the Lotus scholar’s position. In fact, he was influenced by the Lotus sūtra and the Nirvāna-sūtra. Chi-tsang also failed to find out a chronological explanation of the teachings of Buddha.

No modern scholarship will agree that the Avatamsaka- sūtra was delivered soon after the Buddha’s attainment of enlightement. Also we cannot agree with Chi-tsang’s claim that the Avatamsaka-sūtra is nītārtha identified with the Buddha’s ultimate enlightenment.

However, Chi-tsang has a point when he says that there are no fundamental differences in the Mahāyāna sūtras:

The purpose of the Mahāyāna sūtras is to show the path. The path is not two at all. The various scriptural teachings are required for there are various Dharma gates to enter.

This statement corresponds to the following Ta-chih-tu- lun’s assertion:“In the teaching of the Tathāgata, the paths that lead to the ultimate liberation are all equally one pointed. There are no divergent paths.” Chi-tsang might not intend to insist on a ranking view of the Mahāyāna scriptures, for if so it is contradictory to his basic assertion. Instead, he wants to show that the various scriptural texts are embraced within the ekayāna of the middle way, the enlightenment of the Buddha.

Hence, we suggest that the two Pitakas and the three Dharmacakras theories cannot represent the She-ling’s official P’an-chiao system as Fatsang indicated it. For the She-ling Mādhyamika tradition, the classification of the sūtras is not important. All scriptures are merely expedient teachings. As it is said that “in entering the path of non-duality, there are several gates.” The value of each sūtra will lie in its functional efficacy for people.

For the She-ling Mādhyamika, the middle way is a synonym for the ekayāna, the underlying argument being that there is a fundamental non-duality between the yanās. The Ta-ch’eng-hsüan-lun explains the reason why the theme of non-duality is identical with the ekayāna:“Because the principle of non-duality is the root of the all vehicles. Comprehension of the non-duality gives rise to the insight into non-duality, and one reaches the non-dual ekayāna.” From this insight, the She-ling school asserts that all doctrines contained in the scriptures are essentially upāya, therefore, ultimately have to be abandoned. If one attaches to a specific doctrine, it becomes lower truth. The truth has to be without self essence, and non-clining is the nature of higher truth. Thus, the middle way of the scriptures means emptiness of the two truths. They have no fixed nature, but they are śūnya and only effective means for enlightenment.

The extension of śūnyatā to scripture is of special interest to the Madhyamikas. It promotes openness on scriptural grounds. In this regard. The Ta-chih-tu-lun quotes from the Arthavargiya-sūtrā following stanzas:

Everyone takes his stand on his own view and by his own constructions gives rise to disputes:“To know this to know the truth”, he holds, “and not to know this to be condemned.” Truly one who does not accept the view of another is devoid of wisdom. He that clings to his own construction is devoid of wisdom. To stand on one’s own view of truth and give rise to false constructions, if this is pure wisdom, then there is none who does not have it.

The śāstra comments that common people take their stand on their points of view, on their own doctrines and on their own thoughts. Thus, there arise all the contentions and refutations. Such conceptual fixations are the root of all dogmatic claims and counter claims. for these reasons, ultimately the Madhyamika wants to abandon all sorts of exclusivity in the name of doctrines. This position is called positionless position. Nagarjuna suggests:

From clinging to things there arise disputes; but if there is no cling what dispute will there be? He who understands that all dṛṣṭịs, cling or non-cling, are in truth of the same nature, has already become free from all these. ……In the Dharma of the Buddha one abandons all passion, all wrong views, all pride of self;one puts an end to all these and does not cling at any- thing.

In the Mādhyamika thought, the exclusive truth claim that one particular scripture and school only teach the authentic truth is considered as an egological fantasy. All passion, wrong views, and pride of superiority are the basis of exclusivism. With the egocentric attachment to doctrines, the goal of Buddhism cannot be reached. This egological malady will end when one does not cling to the exclusivism of ideology or religion. The doctrine of śūnyatā is taught precisely to remove such a malady. The absolute truth claims cannot stand in a Buddhist way of thinking. As noted, Seungrang’s middle way of the scriptural word shows that even the Buddha’s highest doctrines are denied if one is attached to them as something absolute.

The scriptural plurality and doctrinal diversity in Mādhyamika Buddhism are understood as there are many paths to enlightenment. As long as they do not claim that their position is not absolute, the Mādhyamika will accept their position provisionally. However, various schools in Buddhism, (it is said that there are eighteen schools in Hinayāna and eight schools in Mahāyāna), depend on specific scriptures for their doctrinal basis. Such scriptural plurality in Buddhism represents philosophical evolution of doctrine for historical and cultural reasons.

The Theravāda view of scripture cannot explain the plurality of truth claims in Buddhism. They take the scriptures literally. They cannot overcome the belief that there was a historical Buddha who spoke truly and spoke once and for all. They insist that Pāli scriptures represent the oldest recording of the Buddha’s words. Therefore, they claim that they are the authentic word of the Buddha. On the other hand, the Mādhyamika school along with the Prajñāpāramitā scriptures finds that it is necessary to deconstruct the Theravāda notion of Buddha, Dharma, and scripture. For the Mādhyamika, the various scriptures do not mean there are many truths, but simply many paths. The Buddha does not teach different Dharmas according to different yanās, he teaches the same Dharma differently. The turning vehicle(yanā) controversy in Buddhism is not a serious problem, for it is very close to a methodological device as a pedagogic means.

The one vehicle signifies that all discrepancies with regard to the yanās and scriptures pertain to the forms of speech. beneath them all is a unity of message, the ekayāna, that can be realized only on the highest stage of prajñā. That is why the Buddha says, “Only a Buddha together with a Buddha can fathom the highest Dharma as things as they are, that is to say, all dharmas have such a form, such a nature, such an embodiment, such a potency, such a function, such a primary cause, such a secondary cause, such an effect, such a recompense, and such a complete foundational whole.”

The scriptural plurality in Buddhism is a natural result of the primacy of contexts. The doctrine of expedient means (upāya) allows such a pluralistic development of scripture. According to the context in which each scriptural word is taught, the truth of the word has to understood. In this respect, the Mādhyamika does not say that there is inferior or superior in Buddhist scriptures. Buddhist truths are contextual, and they all are contextual to the same degree.

Ⅳ. Critique of Ontological Inclusivism and Unitive Pluralism

The Mādhyamika attitude toward the world religions might not be basically different from is attitudes toward other Buddhist schools. All scriptures, along with the associated claims, are relative and contextual. There are different paths to salvation. The Mādhyamika stands for inclusivity. But its inclusivity is not metaphysical or theological; it does not elevate the uniqueness of a truth or its contexts to universal proportions. There are those who say that the great world faiths embody different perceptions and conceptions of, and correspondingly different responses to, the Real or the Ultimate, and that within each of them independently the transformation of human existence from self-centeredness to reality-centeredness is taking place. This view pre- supposes that there is one ultimate reality behind the world religions. It asserts that one ultimate reality, whether it is divine reality or not, manifests itself in various forms.

There is a fundamental difference between such inclusivism and the Mādhyamika view on religious pluralism. The Mādhyamika will not accept a fundamental unity of the world religions as well as Buddhist religion. In fact, as we have explored throughout the present study, such an absolute reality is metaphysical and must be deconstructed. The inclusivist theologian John Hick says:“One then sees the great world religions as different human responses to the one divine reality, embodying different perceptions which have been formed in different historical and cultural circumstances.” John Hick’s view does not cover all religions, especially Buddhism where there is no such notion of the divine reality or the absolute reality.

Raimundo Panikkar also says: “The reality has many names, each name is a new aspect, a new manifestation and revelation of it. Yet each name teaches or expresses, as it were, the undivided Mystery.” He further points out that the mystery as the ultimate religious fact does not liein the realm of doctrine or even of individual self-consciousness. It is present everywhere and in every religion. Raimundo Panikkar’s point is different from Hick’s, emphasizing the mystical religious experience. But both presuppose that there is a common reality in the world religions, and that the reality is of a metaphysical sort.

The Mādhyamika rejects such views of the one absolute reality in religions. Because the scriptural plurality in Buddhism does not mean that there is only one ultimate reality or Dharma, religious plurality may be understood as many paths to salvation, not one common reality. In this respect, the Mādhyamika view is a sort of relativism. As each religion has a different cultural-historical origin and background, they cannot be compared with a single principle. Instead, the Mādhyamika will accept the situation of religious pluralism as it is. They exist differently as religious truths are relative.

Modern religious thinkers observe the relative nature of religious truth:

Whereas our Western notion of truth was largely absolute, static, and monologic or exclusive up to the past century, it has since become deabsolutized, dynamic and dialogic……in a word, ‘relational(Already two millennia and more ago some Hindu and Buddhist thinkers held a nonabsolutisic epistemology, but that fact had no significant impact on the West.)’……All statements about reality, especially about the meaning of things, are to be understood as historical, intentional, perspectival, partial interpretive and dialogic.

For Buddhists, however, this view is not something new. As we have discussed, all scriptural statements about Dharma and dharmas are relative and interpretive (neyartha). There is no absolute statement concerning truth in Buddhism. Since the scriptural truths are merely methodological (mārga), no truth is ultimately true. No truth is true by itself, but only in a specific context in which it is perceived, heard or understood.

From the Mādhyamika perspective, it can be said that there are two kinds of relativity, namely, doctrinal relativity and functional relativity. The doctrinal relativity accepts the relativity of truth in the conventional world, but it still looks for new truth, new ultimate truth. The Western view of relative truth, such as the notion of deabsolutizing of truth, seems to be in this category. On the other hand, the functional relativity of truth does not commit to any concept of truth. Truth is just functional by nature, a pedagogical device as it were.

The Mādhyamika thinkers advise people to give up any closed perspective or view of truth or Dharma. Seungrang and his followers emphasize that all absolute views of the truth have to be abandoned for no truth is ultimately true. For the Mādhyamika Buddhist, non-attachment to any concept of truth is a basic attitude toward truth. Even the Tathāgata’s statements on the Dharma are not considered as the absolute truth, but they are functional in character and eventually have no absolute meanings to hold.

In the situation of religious pluralism, the Mādhyamika view on the truth is unique. Notions such as the relativity of truth, scriptures as expedient means, and non-attachment to truth, are of enormous significance in today’s world. It opens the boundless horizon for the dialogical discourse. In this respect, Abe Masao proposes the Buddhist concept of truth-body(Dharma-kāya) as formless and boundless reality of śunyata is the ultimate ground for Buddhism and other religions.’ For Abe “boundless openness” embraces various forms of gods and Lords as their ultimate grounds.

Concerning Abe’s assertion, Thomas Dean comments that “given the assumption of a ‘positionless position’ that relativizes the absolute truth claims of all other positions”, but he “does not consider its own doctrine of ‘absolute Nothingness’ as a ‘position’ in its own right (for Abe it is viewed rather as a Zen ‘deconstruction’ of all other temptations to absolute claims of truth, including Buddhist ones as well-here he refers to the example of Nāgārjuna).” In fact, the term “absolute nothingness” seems to be far from the Mādhyamika stance. The Mādhyamikas will reject the understanding of ‘śūnyatā’ as the ultimate reality as absolute nothingness. That smells of metaphysics and theology. However, Abe has a point when he says ‘śūnyatā’ is boundless openness. Abe has a point when he says ‘śūnyatā’ is boundless openness. ‘śūnyatā’ is not a metaphysical concept. As Dean indicates, Abe has a position of absolute nothingness. But the Mādhyamika will not hold any position in this sense. ‘śūnyatā’ is not a metaphysical view; it does not signify an ultimate reality. Rather, śūnyatā is the process of deconstructing the concept of ultimate reality either as being or non-being.

Ⅴ. Non-Acquisition of the Middle Way as Open-endlessness

Then, what is the ultimate in the Mādhyamika school? We have said that the Mādhyamika negates the ultimate perpetually. The ultimate is said to be that which is not a knowable entity, or cognitive referent. It is beyond all conceptual realms, far away and separated from all entative singes and signifiers. Nāgārjuna expresses it this way:All is real (tathyām), not real, both real not real, and neither real nor not real. This is called the Buddha-Dharma. Sen-jui demonstrates the same point in terms of ten negations; “not within and not without, not men and not dharmas, not object and not subject, not ral and not false, and not gained and not lost,” The ultimate is said to be non-acquisition.

In sum, the Mādhyamika notion of non-attachment of truth and scripture as an expedient means leads to the middle way of the scripture. It makes the apparently conflicting scriptures intelligible. In the discourse of the Tathāgata, worldly truths function as provisional statues. The so-called ultimate truth is the same as the conventional discourse. They are both neither ultimate nor conventional in the sense that they are only provisional by nature. However, it affirms their provisional functions, then establishes the interdependency (pratitya-samutpāda) of the middle and provisional.

The middle way becomes the foundation of the scriptural discourse in the Mādhyamika school. Whatever is dependent origination is śūnyatā; it is a provisional designation, and is the middle way. In the Mādhyamika system, thus, the dependent origination, emptiness and the middle way have interchangeable meaning. The Ta-ch’eng-hsüan-lun says:

Whatever arises by dependent origination is the worldly truth; it is śūnyatā. So it is the ultimate meaning; it is also the middle way, which is the foundation of the two truths.

One may say if the middle way is the essence of the scriptural discourse, it is against the doctrine of śūnyatā. Even the She-ling school uses the term “essential middle” of non-duality, its nature cannot be ontological by definition. Our concern here is to point out the meaning of the functional middle in which the self-essence of the middle is negated endlessly. All scriptural discourses function from beginning to end as merely conducive teachings. Thus, the Mādhyamika establishes the inseparability of the scriptures and the middle way. The equation of the middle with the ekayāna offers a solution to the problems of conflicting truth claims and scriptural plurality. It also opens the boundless horizon for the dialogical discourse in religious pluralism.

sudden awakening-sudden cultivation, gradual cultivation – Seongcheol Zen master’s critical view on..

[Answer]Seongcheol Zen master’s critical view on the Theory of Pojo’s Sudden Enlightenment

The question of students in the Zen school in September 21, 2005:

This is the review request for the paperSeongcheol Zen master’s critical view on the Theory of Pojo’s Sudden Enlightenmentwritten by Chung Kyong Kyu. While arranging documents, we found that the contents and the name of writer were missed. We apologize to the questioner for it. The questioner is a student of Zen school. He asked for the review because he wanted to know whether his understanding on the paper of Chung Kyong Kyu is objective or not.


Paper: http://kr.buddhism.org/read.cgi?board=Abhidhamma&y_number=63&nnew=2


The Answer of Buddhist Scripture translation Societies, in April, 19, 2006: We may write a paper lightly or seriously according to our style. In this regard, the paper of Chung Kyong Kyu is sharp in his writing style but his writing responds to the counterpart’s argument too elaborately so that his writing seems to lose his attraction.


Even though we need to match the counterpart’s tone, it will not give the excuse to the unreasonable view and cannot provide a way to escape the heretical view like gradual cultivation theory.


Anyway, the valuable paperSeongcheol Zen master’s critical view on the Theory of Pojo’s Sudden Enlightenmentmust be an established theory that reveals the root of good behavior in his previous life. It cannot be written only with memorizing and learning. In fact, in terms of the Sudden Enlightenment and Gradual Cultivation, the completion of ‘Gradual Cultivation’ was originally impossible because the original word of this Sanskrit, Dhū’or ‘Krt’ is the sound, which is generated when bamboo is split at one time. The meaning of this word puts its origin in the onomatopoeic word, Dhū.   


Early translators tried to ensure the equivalence of meaning of a word about Dhū. So, they translated this word with cultivation (), which is ahead of “Cut-off()” or “Breakdown()”. The word, can be translated into practice or cultivation. However, the meaning of it implies the dull sound of bamboo split. Gradual Cultivation is inconsistent because ‘gradual’ represents the gradual flow of time, but cultivation implies the meaning of moment. Gradual Cultivation is just futile words like rabbit horn in which the combination of gradual + cultivation is nonsense.  


In terms of the combination of the verb and noun, the single and rightful illustration of Buddhist cultivation in practice is the ‘Sudden Enlightenment’ or ‘Sudden Cultivation’ which is the broad translation of Sanskrit, Dhū. In this, verb Dhū and Krt, implying ‘breakdown’ and ‘cut-off’ are combined. Sudden Cultivation is the entity of causes in mind that puts the observing mind in the absence of the worldly desires. Sudden Cultivation is not the opposing words of Gradual Cultivation, whose meaning is decided in its use. It is the proposition to exchange, satisfying self awakening and awakening of others.    


Seeing the context of misrepresentation of ‘Sudden Cultivation’, we can compare it with the blind stanza written by Shen Hsiu, “Our body is the Bodhi-tree, and our mind is the mirror. Carefully we wipe them hour to hour in order to let no dust alight”. Like this, we can misunderstand the cultivation of mind with the study of cut-off(resolution).  


Of course, it is interpreted that Dhū, which is the split sound of bamboo, expresses the cultivation or practice as great monk, Gyubong mentioned. However, it is based on Hua-yen-ching, recommending experience of Buddhism doctrine for the establishment of Buddhist law based on the true doctrine. For this reason, we should not be farfetched by saying that Zen school has divided practice into ‘Sudden Cultivation’ and ‘Gradual Cultivation’. Seongcheol Zen master has said that ‘Gradual cultivation is mere succession of words. It is not different from the teaching that the meaning of words in cultivation () should be expressed with the hypothesis for delivering its principle to lay people. Accordingly, if we are caught in the thinking ‘the Gradual Cultivation is also the way of study and Zen Buddhist meditation’, it is truly wrong.  


To the conclusion, is the result of misunderstanding about the transference and it is the mere of a sort of hallucination. Whether it is solemn or not, it is just like the Fruit of Poisonous Tree, which undermines the upright spirit of Zen practice. People who like forming a faction argue Gradual Cultivation. However, it cannot be even dubbed with the succession of words in the Zen school. We can know it if we think a little about the question “How can we lead others’ awakening without self awakening?”


The Wall of Hwang Mae Hyeon, Ojosa(五祖寺) where great monk, Jukjo attached stanza

Original text: http://buddhism.org/~abc/db/read.cgi?board=catechism&y_number=58&nnew=2

The awakening of faith in the Mahayana

Attributed to Asvaghosha
Translated by Yoshito S. Hakedas
Copyright 1967 Columbia University Press

I take refuge in the Buddha, the greatly Compassionate One, the Savior of the world, omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, of most excellent deeds in all the ten directions; And in the Dharma, the manifestation of his Essence, the Reality, the sea of Suchness, the boundless storehouse of excellencies; And in the Sangha, whose members truly devote themselves to the practice, May all sentient beings be made to discard their doubts, to cast aside their evil attachments, and to give rise to the correct faith in the Mahayana, that the lineage of the Buddhas may not be broken off.

The Contents of the Discourse

There is a teaching (dharma) which can awaken in us the root of faith in the Mahayana, and it should therefore be explained. The explanation is divided into five parts. They are (1) the Reasons for Writing; (2) the Outline; (3) the Interpretation; (4) on Faith and Practice; (5) the Encouragement of Practice and the Benefits Thereof.

PART 1. The Reasons for Writing

Someone may ask the reasons why I was led to write this treatise. I reply: there are eight reasons.

The first and the main reason is to cause men to free themselves from all sufferings and to gain the final bliss; it is not that I desire worldly fame, material profit, or respect and honor.

The second reason is that I wish to interpret the fundamental meaning of the teachings of the Tathagata so that men may understand them correctly and not be mistaken about them.

The third reason is to enable those whose capacity for goodness has attained maturity to keep firm hold upon an unretrogressive faith in the teachings of Mahayana.

The fourth reason is to encourage those whose capacity for goodness is still slight to cultivate the faithful mind.

The fifth reason is to show them expedient means (upaya) by which they may wipe away the hindrance of evil karma, guard their minds well, free themselves from stupidity and arrogance, and escape from the net of heresy.

The sixth reason is to reveal to them the practice of two methods of meditation, cessation of illusions and clear observation (samatha and vipasyana), so that ordinary men and the followers of Hinayana may cure their minds of error.

The seventh reason is to explain to them the expedient means of single-minded meditation (smriti) so that they may be born in the presence of the Buddha and keep their minds fixed in an unretrogressive faith.

The eighth reason is to point out to them the advantages of studying this treatise and to encourage them to make an effort to attain enlightenment. These are the reasons for which I write this treatise.

Question: What need is there to repeat the explanation of the teaching when it is presented in detail in the sutras?

Answer: Though this teaching is presented in the sutras, the capacity and the deeds of men today are no longer the same, nor are the conditions of their acceptance and comprehension. That is to say, in the days when the Tathagata was in the world, people were of high aptitude and the Preacher preached with his perfect voice, different types of people all equally understood; hence, there was no need for this kind of discourse. But after the passing away of the Tathagata, there were some who were able by their own power to listen extensively to others and to reach understanding; there were some who by their own power could listen to very little and yet understand much; there were some who, without any mental power of their own, depended upon the extensive discourses of others to obtain understanding; and naturally there were some who looked upon the wordiness of extensive discourses as troublesome, and who sought after what was comprehensive, terse, and yet contained much meaning, and then were able to understand it. Thus, this discourse is designed to embrace, in a general way, the limitless meaning of the vast and profound teaching of the Tathagata. This discourse, therefore, should be presented.

PART 2. Outline

The reasons for writing have been explained. Next the outline will be given. Generally speaking, Mahayana is to be expounded from two points of view. One is the principle and the other is the significance. The principle is “the Mind of the sentient being”. This Mind includes in itself all states of being of the phenomenal world and the transcendental world. On the basis of this Mind, the meanings of Mahayana may be unfolded.

Why? Because the absolute aspect of this Mind represents the essence (svabhava) of Mahayana; and the phenomenal aspect of this Mind indicates the essence, attributes (lakshana), and influences (kriya) of Mahayana itself. Of the significance of the adjective maha (great) in the compound, Mahayana, there are three aspects: (1) the “greatness” of the essence, for all phenomena (dharma) are identical with Suchness and are neither increasing nor decreasing; (2) the “greatness” of the attributes, for the Tathagata-garbha is endowed with numberless excellent qualities; (3) the “greatness” of the influences, for the influences of Suchness give rise to the good causes and effects in this and in the other world alike. The significance of the term yana (vehicle) in the compound, Mahayana: The term yana is introduced because all Enlightened Ones (Buddhas) have ridden on this vehicle, and all Enlightened Ones-to-be (Bodhisattvas), being led by this principle, will reach the stage of Tathagata.

PART 3. Interpretation

The part on outline has been given; next the part on interpretation of the principle of Mahayana will be given. It consists of three chapters: (1) Revelation of the True Meaning; (2) Correction of Evil Attachments; (3) Analysis of the Types of Aspiration for Enlightenment.

CHAPTER ONE Revelation of True Meaning

I. One Mind and Its Two Aspects

The revelation of the true meaning of the principle of Mahayana can be achieved by unfolding the doctrine that the principle of One Mind has two aspects. One is the aspect of Mind in terms of the Absolute (tathata; Suchness), and the other is the aspect of Mind in terms of phenomena (samsara; birth and death). Each of these two aspects embraces all states of existence. Why? Because these two aspects are mutually inclusive.

A. Mind in Terms of the Absolute

The Mind in terms of the Absolute is the one World of Reality (dharmadhatu) and the essence of all phases of existence in their totality. That which is called “the essential nature of the Mind” is unborn and is imperishable. It is only through illusions that all things come to be differentiated. If one is freed from illusions, then to him there will be no appearances (lakshana) of objects regarded as absolutely independent existences; therefore all things from the beginning transcend all forms of verbalization, description, and conceptualization and are, in the final analysis, undifferentiated, free from alteration, and indestructible. They are only of the One Mind; hence the name Suchness.

All explanations by words are provisional and without validity, for they are merely used in accordance with illusions and are incapable of denoting Suchness. The term Suchness likewise has no attributes which can be verbally specified. The term Suchness is, so to speak, the limit of verbalization wherein a word is used to put an end to words. But the essence of Suchness itself cannot be put an end to, for all things in their Absolute aspect are real; nor is there anything which needs to be pointed out as real, for all things are equally in the state of Suchness. It should be understood that all things are incapable of being verbally explained or thought of; hence the name Suchness.

Question: If such is the meaning of the principle of Mahayana, how is it possible for men to conform themselves to and enter into it?

Answer: If they understand that, concerning all things, though they are spoken of, there is neither that which speaks, nor that which can be spoken of, and though they are thought of, there is neither that which thinks, nor that which can be thought of, then they are said to have conformed to it. And when they are freed from their thoughts, they are said to have entered into it. Next, Suchness has two aspects if predicated in words. One is that it is truly empty (sunya), for this aspect can, in the final sense, reveal what is real. The other is that it is truly nonempty (a-sunya), for its essence itself is endowed with undefiled and excellent qualities.

1. Truly Empty

Suchness is empty because from the beginning it has never been related to any defiled states of existence, it is free from all marks of individual distinction of things, and it has nothing to do with thoughts conceived by a deluded mind. It should be understood that the essential nature of Suchness is neither with marks nor without marks; neither not with marks nor not without marks; nor is it both with and without marks simultaneously; it is neither with a single mark nor with different marks; neither not with a single mark nor not with different marks; nor is it both with a single and with different marks simultaneously. In short, since all unenlightened men discriminate with their deluded minds from moment to moment, they are alienated from Suchness; hence, the definition “empty”; but once they are free from their deluded minds, they will find that there is nothing to be negated.

2. Truly Nonempty

Since it has been made clear that the essence of all things is empty, i.e., devoid of illusions, the true Mind is eternal, permanent, immutable, pure, and self-sufficient; therefore, it is called “nonempty”. And also there is no trace of particular marks to be noted in it, as it is the sphere that transcends thoughts and is in harmony with enlightenment alone.

B. The Mind in Terms of Phenomena

1. The Storehouse Consciousness

The Mind as phenomena (samsara) is grounded on the Tathagata-garbha. What is called the Storehouse Consciousness is that in which “neither birth nor death (nirvana)” diffuses harmoniously with “birth and death (samsara)”, and yet in which both are neither identical nor different. This Consciousness has two aspects which embrace all states of existence and create all states of existence. They are: (a) the aspect of enlightenment, and (b) the aspect of nonenlightenment.

a. The Aspect of Enlightenment

(1) Original Enlightenment

The essence of Mind is free from thoughts. The characteristic of that which is free from thoughts is analogous to that of the sphere of empty space that pervades everywhere. The one without any second, i.e. the absolute aspect of the World of Reality (dharmadhatu) is none other than the undifferentiated Dharmakaya, the “Essence-body” of the Tathagata. Since the essence of Mind is grounded on the Dharmakaya, it is to be called the original enlightenment. Why? Because “original enlightenment” indicates the essence of Mind (a priori) in contradistinction to the essence of Mind in the process of actualization of enlightenment; the process of actualization of enlightenment is none other than the process of integrating the identity with the original enlightenment.

(2) The Process of Actualization of Enlightenment

Grounded on the original enlightenment is nonenlightenment. And because of nonenlightenment, the process of actualization of enlightenment can be spoken of. Now, to be fully enlightened to the fountainhead of Mind is called the final enlightenment; and not to be enlightened to the fountainhead of Mind, nonfinal enlightenment. What is the meaning of this? An ordinary man becomes aware that his former thoughts were wrong; then he is able to stop (nirodha) such thoughts from arising again. Although this sometimes may also be called enlightenment, properly it is not enlightenment at all because it is not enlightenment that reaches the fountainhead of Mind. The followers of Hinayana, who have some insight, and those Bodhisattvas who have just been initiated become aware of the changing state (anyathatva) of thoughts and are free from thoughts which are subject to change [such as the existence of a permanent self (atman), etc.]. Since they have forsaken the rudimentary attachments derived from unwarranted speculation (vikalpa), their experience is called enlightenment in appearance.

Bodhisattvas who have come to the realization of Dharmakaya become aware of the temporarily abiding state (sthiti) of thoughts and are not arrested by them. Since they are free from their rudimentary false thoughts derived from the speculation that the components of the world are real, their experience is called approximate enlightenment. Those Bodhisattvas who have completed the stages of a Bodhisattva and who have fulfilled the expedient means needed to bring forth the original enlightenment to the fullest extent will experience the oneness with Suchness in an instant; they will become aware of how the inceptions of the deluded thoughts of the mind arise (jati), and will be free from the rise of any deluded thought. Since they are far away even from subtle deluded thoughts, they are able to have an insight into the original nature of Mind. The realization that Mind is eternal is called the final enlightenment. It is, therefore, said in a sutra that if there is a man who is able to perceive that which is beyond thoughts he is advancing toward the Buddha wisdom. Though it is said that there is an inception of the rising of deluded thoughts in the mind, there is no inception as such that can be known as being independent of the essence of Mind. And yet to say that the inception of the rising of deluded thoughts is known means that it is known as existing on the ground of that which is beyond thoughts [i.e., the essence of Mind]. Accordingly, all ordinary people are said not to be enlightened because they have had a continuous stream of deluded thoughts and have never been freed from their thoughts; therefore, they are said to be in a beginningless ignorance. If a man gains insight into that which is free from thoughts, then he knows how those thoughts which characterize the mind [i.e., deluded thoughts] arise, abide, change, and cease to be, for he is identical with that which is free from thoughts. But, in reality, no difference exists in the process of the actualization of enlightenment, because the four states [of arising, abiding, etc.] exist simultaneously and each of them is not self-existent; they are originally of one and the same enlightenment [in that they are taking place on the ground of original enlightenment, as its phenomenal aspects]. And, again, original enlightenment, when analyzed in relation to the defiled state [in the phenomenal order], presents itself as having two attributes. One is the “Purity of Wisdom” and the other is the “Suprarational Functions”.

(a) Purity of Wisdom.

By virtue of the permeation (vasana, perfuming) of the influence of dharma [i.e., the essence of Mind or original enlightenment], a man comes to truly discipline himself and fulfills all expedient means of unfolding enlightenment; as a result, he breaks through the compound consciousness [i.e., the Storehouse Consciousness that contains both enlightenment and nonenlightenment], puts an end to the manifestation of the stream of deluded mind, and manifests the Dharmakaya [i.e., the essence of Mind], for his wisdom (prajna) becomes genuine and pure. What is the meaning of this? All modes (lakshana) of mind and consciousness under the state of nonenlightenment are the products of ignorance. Ignorance does not exist apart from enlightenment; therefore, it cannot be destroyed [because one cannot destroy something which does not really exist], and yet it cannot not be destroyed [insofar as it remains]. This is like the relationship that exists between the water of the ocean [i.e., enlightenment] and its waves [i.e., modes of mind] stirred by the wind [i.e., ignorance]. Water and wind are inseparable; but water is not mobile by nature, and if the wind stops the movement ceases. But the wet nature remains undestroyed. Likewise, man’s Mind, pure in its own nature, is stirred by the wind of ignorance. Both Mind and ignorance have no particular forms of their own and they are inseparable. Yet Mind is not mobile by nature, and if ignorance ceases, then the continuity of deluded activities ceases. But the essential nature of wisdom [i.e., the essence of Mind, like the wet nature of the water] remains undestroyed.

(b) Suprarational Functions

He who has fully uncovered the original enlightenment is capable of creating all manner of excellent conditions because his wisdom is pure. The manifestation of his numberless excellent qualities is incessant; accommodating himself to the capacity of other men he responds spontaneously, reveals himself in manifold ways, and benefits them.

(3) The Characteristics of the Essence of Enlightenment

The characteristics of the essence of enlightenment have four great significances that are identical with those of empty space or that are analogous to those of a bright mirror. First, the essence of enlightenment is like a mirror which is really empty of images. It is free from all marks of objects of the mind and it has nothing to reveal in itself, for it does not reflect any images. Second, it is like a mirror influencing (vasana) all men to advance toward enlightenment. That is to say, it is truly nonempty; appearing in it are all the objects of the world which neither go out nor come in; which are neither lost nor destroyed. It is eternally abiding One Mind. All things appear in it because all things are real. And none of the defiled things are able to defile it, for the essence of wisdom [i.e., original enlightenment] is unaffected by defilements, being furnished with an unsoiled quality and influencing all men to advance toward enlightenment. Third, it is like a mirror which is free from defiled objects reflected in it. This can be said because the nonempty state [of original enlightenment] is genuine, pure, and bright, being free from hindrances both affectional and intellectual, and transcending characteristics of that which is compounded [i.e., the Storehouse Consciousness]. Fourth, it is like a mirror influencing a man to cultivate his capacity for goodness, serving as a coordinating cause to encourage him in his endeavors. Because the essence of enlightenment is free from defiled objects, it universally illumines the mind of man and induces him to cultivate his capacity for goodness, presenting itself in accordance with his desires [as a mirror presents his appearance].

b. The Aspect of Nonenlightenment

Because of not truly realizing oneness with Suchness, there emerges an unenlightened mind and consequently, its thoughts. These thoughts do not have any validity to be substantiated; therefore, they are not independent of the original enlightenment. It is like the case of a man who has lost his way: he is confused because of his wrong sense of direction. If he is freed from the notion of direction altogether, then there will be no such thing as going astray. It is the same with men: because of the notion of enlightenment, they are confused. But if they are freed from the fixed notion of enlightenment, then there will be no such thing as nonenlightenment. Because there are men of unenlightened, deluded mind, for them we speak of true enlightenment, knowing well what this relative term stands for. Independent of the unenlightened mind, there are no independent marks of true enlightenment itself that can be discussed. Because of its nonenlightened state, the deluded mind produces three aspects which are bound to nonenlightenment and are inseparable from it. First is the activity of ignorance. The agitation of mind because of its nonenlightened state is called activity. When enlightened, it is unagitated. When it is agitated, anxiety (dukkha) follows, for the result [anxiety] is not independent of the cause [the agitation contingent upon ignorance]. Second is the perceiving subject. Because of the agitation that breaks the original unity with Suchness, there appears the perceiving subject. When unagitated, the mind is free from perceiving. Third is the world of objects. Because of the perceiving subject, the world of objects erroneously appears. Apart from the perceiving, there will be no world of objects. Conditioned by the incorrectly conceived world of objects, the deluded mind produces six aspects. First is the aspect of the discriminating intellect. Depending on the erroneously conceived world of objects, the mind develops the discrimination between liking and disliking. Second is the aspect of continuity. By virtue of the discriminating function of the intellect, the mind produces an awareness of pleasure and pain with regard to things in the world of objects. The mind, developing deluded thoughts and being bound to them, will continue uninterrupted. Third is the aspect of attachment. Because of the continuity of deluded thoughts, the mind, superimposing its deluded thoughts on the world of objects and holding fast to the discriminations of liking and disliking develops attachments to what it likes. Fourth is the aspect of the speculation (vikalpa) on names and letters [i.e., concepts]. On the basis of erroneous attachments, the deluded mind analyzes words which are provisional and therefore devoid of reality. Fifth is the aspect of giving rise to evil karma. Relying on names and letters [i.e., concepts which have no validity, the deluded mind] investigates names and words and becomes attached to them, and creates manifold types of evil karma. Sixth is the aspect of anxiety attached to the effects of evil karma. Because of the law of karma, the deluded mind suffers the effects and will not be free. It should be understood that ignorance is able to produce all types of defiled states; all defiled states are aspects of nonenlightenment.

c. The Relationships between Enlightenment and Nonenlightenment

Two relationships exist between the enlightened and nonenlightened states. They are “identity” and “nonidentity”.

(1) Identity

Just as pieces of various kinds of pottery are of the same nature in that they are made of clay, so the various magic-like manifestations (maya) of both enlightenment (anasrava: nondefilement) and nonenlightenment (avidya: ignorance) are aspects of the same essence, Suchness. For this reason, it is said in a sutra that “all sentient beings intrinsically abide in eternity and are entered into nirvana. The state of enlightenment is not something that is to be acquired by practice or to be created. In the end, it is unobtainable [for it is given from the beginning].” Also it has no corporeal aspect that can be perceived as such. Any corporeal aspects [such as the marks of the Buddha] that are visible are magic-like products of Suchness manifested in accordance with the mentality of men in defilement. It is not, however, that these corporeal aspects which result from the suprarational functions of wisdom are of the nature of nonemptiness [i.e., substantial]; for wisdom has no aspects that can be perceived.

(2) Nonidentity

Just as various pieces of pottery differ from each other, so differences exist between the state of enlightenment and that of nonenlightenment, and between the magic-like manifestations of Suchness manifested in accordance with the mentality of men in defilement, and those of men of ignorance who are defiled [i.e., blinded] as to the essential nature of Suchness.

2. The Cause and Conditions of Man’s Being in Samsara

That a man is in samsara (birth and death) results from the fact that his mind (manas) and consciousness (vijnana) develop on the ground of the Storehouse Consciousness (citta). This means that because of the aspect of nonenlightenment of the Storehouse Consciousness, he is said to be in possession of ignorance [and thus is bound to remain in samsara].

a. Mind

The mentality which emerges in the state of nonenlightenment, which incorrectly perceives and reproduces the world of objects and, conceiving that the reproduced world of objects is real, continues to develop deluded thoughts, is what we define as mind. The mind has five different names. The first is called the “activating mind”, for, without being aware of it, it breaks the equilibrium of mind by the force of ignorance. The second is called the “evolving mind”, for it emerges contingent upon the agitated mind as the subject that perceives incorrectly. The third is called the “reproducing mind”, for it reproduces the entire world of objects as a bright mirror reproduces all material images. When confronted with the objects of the five senses, it reproduces them at once. It arises spontaneously at all times and exists forever reproducing the world of objects in front of the subject. The fourth is called the “analytical mind”, for it differentiates what is defiled and what is undefiled. The fifth is called the “continuing mind”, for it is united with deluded thoughts and continues uninterrupted. It retains the entire karma, good and bad, accumulated in the immeasurable lives of the past, and does not permit any loss. It is also capable of bringing the results of the pain, pleasure, etc., of the present and the future to maturity; in doing so, it makes no mistakes. It can cause one to recollect suddenly the things of the present and the past and to have sudden and unexpected fantasies of the things to come. The triple world, therefore, is unreal and is of mind only. Apart from it there are no objects of the five senses and of the mind. What does this mean? Since all things are, without exception, developed from the mind and produced under the condition of deluded thoughts, all differentiations are no other than the differentiations of one’s mind itself. Yet the mind cannot perceive the mind itself; the mind has no marks of its own that can be ascertained as a substantial entity as such. It should be understood that the conception of the entire world of objects can be held only on the basis of man’s deluded mind of ignorance. All things, therefore, are just like the images in a mirror which are devoid of any objectivity that one can get hold of; they are of the mind only and are unreal. When the deluded mind comes into being, then various conceptions (dharma) come to be; and when the deluded mind ceases to be, then these various conceptions cease to be.

b. Consciousness

What is called “consciousness (vijnana)” is the “continuing mind”. Because of their deep-rooted attachment, ordinary men imagine that I and Mine are real and cling to them in their illusions. As soon as objects are presented, this consciousness rests on them and discriminates the objects of the five senses and of the mind. This is called “vijnana [i.e., the differentiating consciousness]” or the “separating consciousness”. The propensity for discrimination of this consciousness will be intensified by both the intellectual defilement of holding fast to perverse views and the affectional defilement of indulgence in passion. That the deluded mind and consciousness arise from the permeation of ignorance is something that ordinary men cannot understand. The followers of the Hinayana, with their wisdom, likewise fail to realize this. Those Bodhisattvas who, having advanced from the first stage of correct faith by setting the mind upon enlightenment through practicing contemplation, have come to realize the Dharmakaya, can partially comprehend this. Yet even those who have reached the final stage of Bodhisattvahood cannot fully comprehend this; only the Enlightened Ones have thorough comprehension of it. Why? The Mind, though pure in its self-nature from the beginning, is accompanied by ignorance. Being defiled by ignorance, a defiled state of Mind comes into being. But, though defiled, the Mind itself is eternal and immutable. Only the Enlightened Ones are able to understand what this means. What is called the essential nature of Mind is always beyond thoughts. It is, therefore, defined as “immutable”. When the one World of Reality is yet to be realized, the Mind is mutable and is not in perfect unity with Suchness. Suddenly, a deluded thought arises; this state is called ignorance.

c. Defiled States of Mind

Six kinds of defiled states of mind conditioned by ignorance can be identified. The first is the defilement united with attachment to atman (self), from which those who have attained liberation in Hinayana and those Bodhisattvas at the “stage of establishment of faith” are free. The second is the defilement united with the “continuing mind”, from which those who are at the “stage of establishment of faith” and who are practicing expedient means to attain enlightenment can gradually free themselves and free themselves completely at the “stage of pure-heartedness”. The third is the defilement united with the discriminating “analytical mind”, from which those at the “stage of observing precepts” begin to be liberated and finally are liberated completely when they arrive at the “stage of expedient means without any trace”. The fourth is the subtle defilement disunited from the represented world of objects, from which those at the “stage of freedom from the world of objects” can be freed. The fifth is the subtler defilement disunited from the “evolving mind that perceives” [i.e., the defilement existing prior to the act of perceiving], from which those at the “stage of freedom from evolving mind” are freed. The sixth and most subtle is the defilement disunited from the basic “activating mind”, from which those Bodhisattvas who have passed the final stage and have gone into the “stage of Tathagatahood” are freed.

d. Comments on the Terms Used in the Foregoing Discussion

On the expression “the one World of Reality is yet to be realized”: From this state those Bodhisattvas who have advanced from the “stage of the establishment of faith” to the “stage of pure-heartedness”, after having completed and severed their deluded thoughts, will be more and more liberated as they advance, and when they reach the “stage of Tathagatahood”, they will be completely liberated. On “united”: By the word “united” appearing in the first three defilements is meant that though difference [i.e., duality] exists between the mind (subject) and the datum of the mind (object), there is a simultaneous relation between them in that when the subject is defiled the object is also defiled, and when the subject is purified the object is also purified. On “disunited”: By the word “disunited” is meant that the second three subtle and fundamental defilements are the aspects of nonenlightenment on the part of the mind existing prior to the differentiation into the subject and object relationship; therefore, a simultaneous relation between the subject and object is not as yet established. On the expression “defiled state of mind”: It is called “the hindrance originating from defilements”, for it obstructs any fundamental insight into Suchness. On “ignorance”: Ignorance is called the “hindrance originating from misconceptions of objects”, for it obstructs the wisdom that functions spontaneously in the world. Because of the defiled state of mind, there emerges the subject that perceives [incorrectly; i.e., the evolving mind] and that which reproduces [the reproducing mind] and thus one erroneously predicates the world of objects and causes oneself to deviate from the undifferentiated state of Suchness. Though all things are always in quiescence and devoid of any marks of rising, because of the nonenlightenment due to ignorance, one erroneously strays from the dharma [i.e., Suchness]; thus one fails to obtain the wisdom that functions spontaneously by adapting oneself to all circumstances in the world.

3. The Characteristics of Beings in Samsara

In analyzing the characteristics of beings in samsara, two categories may be distinguished. The one is “crude”, for those who belong to this category are united with the crude activities of the defiled mind; the other is “subtle”, for those who belong to this category are disunited from the subtle activities of the defiled mind. Again, each category may in turn be subdivided into the cruder and the subtler. The cruder of the crude belongs to the range of mental activity of ordinary men; the subtler of the crude and the cruder of the subtle belong to that of Bodhisattvas; and the subtler of the subtle belongs to that of Buddhas. These two categories of beings in the phenomenal order come about because of the permeation of ignorance; that is to say, they come about because of the primary cause and the coordinating causes. By the primary cause, “nonenlightenment” is meant; and by the coordinating causes, “the erroneously represented world of objects”. When the primary cause ceases to be, then the coordinating causes will cease to be. Because of the cessation of the primary cause, the mind disunited from the represented world of objects, etc. will cease to be; and because of the cessation of the coordinating causes, the mind united with the attachment to atman, etc. will cease to be. Question: If the mind ceases to be, what will become of its continuity? If there is continuity of mind, how can you explain its final cessation? Answer: What we speak of as “cessation” is the cessation of the marks of the deluded mind only and not the cessation of its essence. It is like the case of the wind which, following the surface of the water, leaves the marks of its movement. If the water should cease to be, then the marks of the wind would be nullified and the wind would have no support on which to display its movement. But since the water does not cease to be, the marks of the wind may continue. Because only the wind ceases, the marks of its movement cease accordingly. This is not the cessation of water. So it is with ignorance; on the ground of the essence of Mind there is movement. If the essence of Mind were to cease, then people would be nullified and they would have no support. But since the essence does not cease to be, the mind may continue. Because only stupidity ceases to be, the marks of the stupidity of the mind cease accordingly. It is not that the wisdom [i.e., the essence] of Mind ceases. Because of the four kinds of permeation, the defiled states and the pure state emerge and continue uninterrupted. They are (1) the pure state, which is called Suchness; (2) the cause of all defilements, which is called ignorance; (3) the deluded mind, which is called “activating mind”; (4) the erroneously conceived external world, which is called the “objects of the five senses and of mind”. The meaning of permeation: Clothes in the world certainly have no scent in themselves, but if a man permeates them with perfumes, then they come to have a scent. It is just the same with the case we are speaking of. The pure state of Suchness certainly has no defilement, but if it is permeated by ignorance, then the marks of defilement appear on it. The defiled state of ignorance is indeed devoid of any purifying force, but if it is permeated by Suchness, then it will come to have a purifying influence.

a. Permeation of Ignorance

How does the permeation of ignorance give rise to the defiled state and continue uninterrupted? It may be said that, on the ground of Suchness [i.e., the original enlightenment], ignorance [i.e., nonenlightenment] appears. Ignorance, the primary cause of the defiled state, permeates into Suchness. Because of this permeation a deluded mind results. Because of the deluded mind, deluded thoughts further permeate into ignorance. While the principle of Suchness is yet to be realized, the deluded mind, developing thoughts fashioned in the state of nonenlightenment, predicates erroneously conceived objects of the senses and the mind. These erroneously conceived objects of the senses and the mind, the coordinating causes in bringing about the defiled state, permeate into the deluded mind and cause the deluded mind to attach itself to its thoughts, to create various evil karma, and to undergo all kinds of physical and mental suffering. The permeation of the erroneously conceived objects of the senses and the mind is of two kinds. One is the basic permeation by the “activating mind”, which causes Arhats, Pratyeka-buddhas, and all Bodhisattvas to undergo the suffering of samsara, and the other is the permeation which accelerates the activities of the “object-discriminating consciousness” and which makes ordinary men suffer from the bondage of their karma. The permeations of ignorance are of two kinds. One is the basic permeation, since it can put into operation the “activating mind”, and the other is the permeation that develops perverse views and attachments, since it can put into operation the “object-discriminating consciousness”.

b. Permeation of Suchness

How does the permeation of Suchness give rise to the pure state and continue uninterrupted? It may be said that there is the principle of Suchness, and it can permeate into ignorance. Through the force of this permeation, Suchness causes the deluded mind to loathe the suffering of samsara and to aspire for nirvana. Because this mind, though still deluded, is now possessed with loathing and aspiration, it permeates into Suchness in that it induces Suchness to manifest itself. Thus a man comes to believe in his essential nature, to know that what exists is the erroneous activity of the mind and that the world of objects in front of him is nonexistent, and to practice teachings to free himself from the erroneously conceived world of objects. He knows what is really so – that there is no world of objects in front of him – and therefore with various devices he practices courses by which to conform himself to Suchness. He will not attach himself to anything nor give rise to any deluded thoughts. Through the force of this permeation of Suchness over a long period of time, his ignorance ceases. Because of the cessation of ignorance, there will be no more rising of the deluded activities of mind. Because of the nonrising of the deluded activities of mind, the world of objects as previously conceived ceases to be; because of the cessation of both the primary cause (ignorance) and the coordinating causes (objects), the marks of the defiled mind will all be nullified. This is called “gaining nirvana and accomplishing spontaneous acts”. The permeation of Suchness into the deluded mind is of two kinds. The first is the permeation into the “object-discriminating consciousness”. Because of this permeation, ordinary men and the Hinayanists come to loathe the suffering of samsara, and thereupon each, according to his capacity, gradually advances toward the highest enlightenment. The second is the permeation into mind. Because of this permeation, Bodhisattvas advance to nirvana rapidly and with aspiration and fortitude. Two kinds of permeation of Suchness into ignorance can be identified. The first is the “permeation through manifestation of the essence of Suchness”, and the second is “the permeation through external influences”.

(1) Permeation through Manifestation of the Essence of Suchness

The essence of Suchness is, from the beginningless beginning, endowed with the “perfect state of purity”. It is provided with suprarational functions and the nature of manifesting itself (literally, the nature of making the world of object). Because of these two reasons it permeates perpetually into ignorance. Through the force of this permeation it induces a man to loathe the suffering of samsara, to seek bliss in nirvana, and, believing that he has the principle of Suchness within himself, to make up his mind to exert himself. Question: If this is so, then all sentient beings are endowed with Suchness and are equally permeated by it. Why is it that there are infinite varieties of believers and nonbelievers, and that there are some who believe sooner and some later? All of them should, knowing that they are endowed with the principle of Suchness, at once make an effort utilizing expedient means and should all equally attain nirvana. Answer: Though Suchness is originally one, yet there are immeasurable and infinite shades of ignorance. From the very beginning ignorance is, because of its nature, characterized by diversity, and its degree of intensity is not uniform. Defilements, more numerous than the sands of the Ganges, come into being because of the differences in intensity of ignorance, and exist in manifold ways; defilements, such as the belief in the existence of atman and the indulgence in passion, develop because of ignorance and exist in different ways. All these defilements are brought about by ignorance, in an infinitely diversified manner in time. The Tathagatas alone know all about this. In Buddhism there is a teaching concerning the primary cause and the coordinating causes. When the primary cause and the coordinating causes are sufficiently provided, there will be the perfection of a result. It is like the case of wood: though it possesses a latent fire nature which is the primary cause of its burning, it cannot be made to burn by itself unless men understand the situation and resort to means of actualizing fire out of wood by kindling it. In the same way a man, though he is in possession of the correct primary cause, Suchness with permeating force, cannot put an end to his defilements by himself alone and enter nirvana unless he is provided with coordinating causes, i.e., his encounters with the Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, or good spiritual friends. Even though coordinating causes from without may be sufficiently provided, if the pure principle [i.e., Suchness] within is lacking in the force of permeation, then a man cannot ultimately loathe the suffering of samsara and seek bliss in nirvana. However, if both the primary and the coordinating causes are sufficiently provided, then because of his possession of the force of permeation of Suchness from within and the compassionate protection of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas from without, he is able to develop a loathing for suffering, to believe that nirvana is real, and to cultivate his capacity for goodness. And when his cultivation of the capacity for goodness matures, he will as a result meet the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas and will be instructed, taught, benefited, and given joy, and then he will be able to advance on the path to nirvana.

(2) Permeation through Influences

This is the force from without affecting men by providing coordinating causes. Such external coordinating causes have an infinite number of meanings. Briefly, they may be explained under two categories: namely, the specific and the general coordinating causes.

(a) The Specific Coordinating Causes

A man, from the time when he first aspires to seek enlightenment until he becomes an Enlightened One, sees or meditates on the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas as they manifest themselves to him; sometimes they appear as his family members, parents, or relatives, sometimes as servants, sometimes as close friends, or sometimes as enemies. Through all kinds of deeds and incalculable performances, such as the practice of the four acts of loving-kindness, etc., they exercise the force of permeation created by their great compassion, and are thus able to cause sentient beings to strengthen their capacity for goodness and are able to benefit them as they see or hear about their needs. This specific coordinating cause is of two kinds. One is immediate and enables a man to obtain deliverance quickly; and the other is remote and enables a man to obtain deliverance after a long time. The immediate and remote causes are again of two kinds: the causes which strengthen a man in his practices of expedient means to help others, and those which enable him to obtain enlightenment.

(b) The General Coordinating Causes

The Buddhas and Bodhisattvas all desire to liberate all men, spontaneously permeating them with their spiritual influences and never forsaking them. Through the power of the wisdom which is one with Suchness, they manifest activities in response to the needs of men as they see and hear them. Because of this indiscriminately permeating cause, men are all equally able, by means of concentration (samadhi), to see the Buddhas. This permeation through the influence of the wisdom whose essence is one with Suchness is also divided into two categories according to the types of recipients. The one is yet to be united with Suchness. Ordinary men, the Hinayanists, and those Bodhisattvas who have just been initiated devote themselves to religious practices on the strength of their faith, being permeated by Suchness through their mind and consciousness. Not having obtained the indiscriminate mind, however, they are yet to be united with the essence of Suchness, and not having obtained the perfection of the discipline of free acts, they are yet to be united with the influence of Suchness. The other is the already united with Suchness: Bodhisattvas who realize Dharmakaya have obtained undiscriminating mind and are united with the essence of the Buddhas; they, having obtained free acts, are united with the influence of the wisdom of the Buddhas. They singly devote themselves with spontaneity to their religious disciplines, on the strength of Suchness within; permeating into Suchness so that Suchness will reclaim itself, they destroy ignorance. Again, the defiled principle (dharma), from the beginningless beginning, continues perpetually to permeate until it perishes by the attainment of Buddhahood. But the permeation of the pure principle has no interruption and no ending. The reason is that the principle of Suchness is always permeating; therefore, when the deluded mind ceases to be, the Dharmakaya [i.e., Suchness, original enlightenment] will be manifest and will give rise to the permeation of the influence of Suchness, and thus there will be no ending to it.

II. The Essence Itself and the Attributes of Suchness, or The Meanings of Maha

A. The Greatness of the Essence of Suchness

The essence of Suchness knows no increase or decrease in ordinary men, the Hinayanists, the Bodhisattvas, or the Buddhas. It was not brought into existence in the beginning nor will it cease to be at the end of time; it is eternal through and through.

B. The Greatness of the Attributes of Suchness

From the beginning, Suchness in its nature is fully provided with all excellent qualities; namely, it is endowed with the light of great wisdom, the qualities of illuminating the entire universe, of true cognition and mind pure in its self-nature; of eternity, bliss, Self, and purity; of refreshing coolness, immutability, and freedom. It is endowed with these excellent qualities which outnumber the sands of the Ganges, which are not independent of, disjointed from, or different from the essence of Suchness, and which are suprarational attributes of Buddhahood. Since it is endowed completely with all these, and is not lacking anything, it is called the Tathagata-garbha when latent and also the Dharmakaya of the Tathagata. Question: It was explained before that the essence of Suchness is undifferentiated and devoid of all characteristics. Why is it, then, that you have described its essence as having these various excellent qualities? Answer: Though it has, in reality, all these excellent qualities, it does not have any characteristics of differentiation; it retains its identity and is of one flavor; Suchness is solely one. Question: What does this mean? Answer: Since it is devoid of individuation, it is free from the characteristics of individuation; thus it is one without any second. Question: Then how can you speak of differentiation [i.e., the plurality of the characteristics of Suchness]? Answer: In contrast to the characteristics of the phenomena of the “activating mind” the characteristics of Suchness can be inferred. Question: How can they be inferred? Answer: All things are originally of the mind only; they in fact transcend thoughts. Nevertheless, the deluded mind, in nonenlightenment, gives rise to irrelevant thoughts and predicates the world of objects. This being the case, we define this mentality as “the state of being destitute of wisdom (avidya: ignorance)”. The essential nature of Mind is immutable in that it does not give rise to any deluded thoughts, and therefore, is the very opposite of ignorance; hence, it is spoken of as having the characteristic of “the light of great wisdom”. When there is a particular perceiving act of the mind, objects other than the objects being perceived will remain unperceived. The essential nature of Mind is free from any partial perceiving; hence, Suchness is spoken of as having the characteristic of “illuminating the entire universe”. When the mind is in motion [stirred by ignorance], it is characterized by illusions and defilements, outnumbering the sands of the Ganges, such as lack of true cognition, absence of self-nature, impermanence, blisslessness, impurity, fever, anxiety, deterioration, mutation, and lack of freedom. By contrast to this, the essential nature of Mind, however, is motionless [i.e., undisturbed by ignorance]; therefore, it can be inferred that it must have various pure and excellent qualities, outnumbering the sands of the Ganges. But if the mind gives rise to irrelevant thoughts and further predicates the world of objects, it will continue to lack these qualities. All these numberless excellent qualities of the pure principle are none other than those of One Mind, and there is nothing to be sought after anew by thought. Thus, that which is fully endowed with them is called the Dharmakaya when manifested and the Tathagata-garbha when latent.

C. The Greatness of the Influences of Suchness

The Buddha-Tathagatas, while in the stages of Bodhisattvahood, exercised great compassion, practiced paramitas, and accepted and transformed sentient beings. They took great vows, desiring to liberate all sentient beings through countless aeons until the end of future time, for they regarded all sentient beings as they regarded themselves. And yet, they never regarded them as separate sentient beings. Why? Because they truly knew that all sentient beings and they themselves were identical in Suchness and that there could be no distinction between them. Because they possessed such great wisdom which could be applied to expedient means in quest of enlightenment, they extinguished their ignorance and perceived the original Dharmakaya. Spontaneously performing incomprehensible activities, exercising manifold influences, they pervade everywhere in their identity with Suchness. Nevertheless, they reveal no marks of their influences that can be traced as such. Why? Because the Buddha-Tathagatas are no other than the Dharmakaya itself, and the embodiment of wisdom. They belong to the realm of the absolute truth, which transcends the world where the relative truth operates. They are free from any conventional activities. And yet, because of the fact that sentient beings receive benefit through seeing or hearing about them, their influences [i.e., of Suchness] can be spoken of in relative terms. The influences of Suchness are of two kinds. The first is that which is conceived by the mind of ordinary men and the followers of Hinayana [i.e., the influence of Suchness as reflected] in the “object-discriminating consciousness”. This is called the influence of Suchness in the form of the “Transformation-body” (Nirmanakaya). Because they do not know that it is projected by the “evolving mind”, they regard it as coming from without; they assume that it has a corporeal limitation because their understanding is limited. The second is that which is conceived by the mind of the Bodhisattvas, from the first stage of aspiration to the highest stage, [i.e., the influence of Suchness as reflected] in the mentality which regards external objects as unreal. This is called the influence of Suchness in the form of the “Bliss-body” (Sambhogakaya). It has an infinite number of corporeal forms, each form has an infinite number of major marks, and each major mark has an infinite number of subtle marks. The land where it has its abode has innumerable adornments. It manifests itself without any bounds; its manifestations are inexhaustible and free from any limitations. It manifests itself in accordance with the needs of sentient beings; and yet it always remains firm without destroying or losing itself. These excellent qualities were perfected by the pure permeation acquired by the practice of paramitas and the suprarational permeation of Suchness. Since the influence is endowed with infinite attributes of bliss, it is spoken of as the “Bliss-body”. What is seen by ordinary men is only the coarse corporeal forms of the manifestation of Suchness. Depending upon where one is in the six transmigratory states, his vision of it will differ. The visions of it conceived by the unenlightened beings are not in a form of Bliss; this is the reason why it is called the “Transformation-body” [i.e., the body appearing in the likeness of the conceiver]. The Bodhisattvas in their first stage of aspiration and the others, because of their deep faith in Suchness, have a partial insight into the nature of the influence of Suchness. They know that the things of the Bliss-body, such as its corporeal forms, major marks, adornments, etc., do not come from without or go away, that they are free from limitations, and that they are envisioned by mind alone and are not independent of Suchness. These Bodhisattvas, however, are not free from dualistic thinking, since they have yet to enter into the stage where they gain complete realization of the Dharmakaya. If they advance to the “stage of pure-heartedness”, the forms they see will be subtler and the influences of Suchness will be more excellent than ever. When they leave the last stage of Bodhisattvahood, they will perfect their insight into Suchness. When they become free from the “activating mind” they will be free from the perceiving of duality. The Dharmakaya of the Buddhas knows no such thing as distinguishing this from that. Question: If the Dharmakaya of the Buddhas is free from the manifestation of corporeal form, how can it appear in corporeal form? Answer: Since the Dharmakaya is the essence of corporeal form, it is capable of appearing in corporeal form. The reason this is said is that from the beginning corporeal form and Mind have been nondual. Since the essential nature of corporeal form is identical with wisdom, the essence of corporeal form which has yet to be divided into tangible forms is called the “wisdom-body”. Since the essential nature of wisdom is identical with corporeal form, the essence of corporeal form which has yet to be divided into tangible forms is called Dharmakaya pervading everywhere. Its manifested corporeal forms have no limitations. It can be freely manifested as an infinite number of Bodhisattvas, Buddhas of Bliss-body, and adornments in the ten quarters of the universe. Each of them has neither limitation nor interference. All of these are incomprehensible to the dualistic thinking of the deluded mind and consciousness, for they result from the free influence of Suchness.

III. From Samsara to Nirvana

Lastly, how to enter into the realm of Suchness from the realm of samsara will be revealed. Examining the five components, we find that they may be reduced to matter (object) and mind (subject). The objects of the five senses and of the mind are in the final analysis beyond what they are thought to be. And the mind itself is devoid of any form or mark and is, therefore, unobtainable as such, no matter where one may seek it. Just as a man, because he has lost his way, mistakes the east for the west, though the actual directions have not changed place, so people, because of their ignorance, assume Mind (Suchness) to be what they think it to be, though Mind in fact is unaffected even if it is falsely predicated. If a man is able to observe and understand that Mind is beyond what it is thought to be, then he will be able to conform to and enter the realm of Suchness.

CHAPTER TWO The Correction of Evil Attachments

All evil attachments originate from biased views; if a man is free from bias, he will be free from evil attachments. There are two kinds of biased view: one is the biased view held by those who are not free from the belief in atman [i.e., ordinary men]; the other is the biased view held by those who believe that the components of the world are real [i.e., the Hinayanists].

I. The Biased Views Held by Ordinary Men

There are five kinds of biased views held by ordinary men which may be discussed. Hearing that it is explained in the sutra that the Dharmakaya of the Tathagata is, in the final analysis, quiescent, like empty space, ordinary men think that the nature of the Tathagata is, indeed, the same as empty space, for they do not know that the purpose of the sutra is to uproot their adherence. Question: How is this to be corrected? Answer: The way to correct this error is to understand clearly that “empty space” is a delusive concept, the substance of which is nonexistent and unreal. It is merely predicated in relation to its correlative corporeal objects. If it is taken as a being termed nonbeing, a negative being, then it should be discarded, because it causes the mind to remain in samsara. In fact there are no external corporeal objects, because all objects are originally of the mind. And as long as there are no corporeal objects at all, “empty space” cannot be maintained. All objects are of the mind alone; but when illusions arise, objects which are regarded as real appear. When the mind is free from its deluded activities, then all objects imagined as real vanish of themselves. What is real, the one and true Mind, pervades everywhere. This is the final meaning of the Tathagata’s great and comprehensive wisdom. The Dharmakaya is, indeed, unlike “empty space”. Hearing that it is explained in the sutra that all things in the world, in the final analysis, are empty in their substance, and that nirvana or the principle of Suchness is also absolutely empty from the beginning and devoid of any characteristics, they, not knowing that the purpose of the sutra is to uproot their adherence, think that the essential nature of Suchness or nirvana is simply empty. Question: How is this to be corrected? Answer: The way to correct this error is to make clear that Suchness or the Dharmakaya is not empty, but is endowed with numberless excellent qualities. Hearing that it is explained in the sutra that there is no increase or decrease in the Tathagata-garbha and that it is provided in its essence with all excellent qualities, they, not being able to understand this, think that in the Tathagata-garbha there is plurality of mind and matter. Question: How is this to be corrected? Answer: They should be instructed that the statement in the sutra that “there is no increase or decrease in the Tathagata-garbha” is made only in accordance with the absolute aspect of Suchness, and the statement that “it is provided with all excellent qualities” is made in accordance with the pluralistic outlook held by the defiled minds in samsara. Hearing that it is explained in the sutra that all defiled states of samsara in the world exist on the ground of the Tathagata-garbha and that they are therefore not independent of Suchness, they, not understanding this, think that the Tathagata-garbha literally contains in itself all the defiled states of samsara in the world. Question: How is this to be corrected? Answer: In order to correct this error it should be understood that the Tathagata-garbha, from the beginning, contains only pure excellent qualities which, outnumbering the sands of the Ganges, are not independent of, severed from, or different from Suchness; that the soiled states of defilement which, outnumbering the sands of the Ganges, are not independent of, severed from, or different from Suchness; that the soiled states of defilement which, outnumbering the sands of the Ganges, merely exist in illusion; are, from the beginning, nonexistent; and from the beginningless beginning have never been united with the Tathagata-garbha. It has never happened that the Tathagata-garbha contained deluded states in its essence and that it induced itself to realize Suchness in order to extinguish forever its deluded states. Hearing that it is explained in the sutra that on the ground of the Tathagata-garbha there is samsara as well as the attainment of nirvana, they, without understanding this, think that there is a beginning for sentient beings. Since they suppose a beginning, they suppose also that the nirvana attained by the Tathagata has an end and that he will in turn become a sentient being. Question: How is this to be corrected? Answer: The way to correct this error is to explain that the Tathagata-garbha has no beginning, and that therefore ignorance has no beginning. If anyone asserts that sentient beings came into existence outside this triple world, he holds the view given in the scriptures of the heretics. Again, the Tathagata-garbha does not have an end; and the nirvana attained by the Buddhas, being one with it, likewise has no end.

II. The Biased Views Held by the Hinayanists

Because of their inferior capacity, the Tathagata preached to the Hinayanists only the doctrine of the nonexistence of atman and did not preach his doctrines in their entirety; as a result, the Hinayanists have come to believe that the five components, the constituents of samsaric existence, are real; being terrified at the thought of being subject to birth and death, they erroneously attach themselves to nirvana. Question: How is this to be corrected? Answer: The way to correct this error is to make clear that the five components are unborn in their essential nature and, therefore, are imperishable – that what is made of the five components is, from the beginning, in nirvana. Finally, in order to be completely free from erroneous attachments, one should know that both the defiled and the pure states are relative and have no particular marks of their own-being that can be discussed. Thus, all things from the beginning are neither matter nor mind, neither wisdom nor consciousness, neither being nor non-being; they are ultimately inexplicable. And yet they are still spoken of. It should be understood that the Tathagatas, applying their expedient means, make use of conventional speech in a provisional manner in order to guide people, so that they can be free from their deluded thoughts and can return to Suchness; for if anyone thinks of anything as real and absolute in its own right, he causes his mind to be trapped in samsara and consequently he cannot enter the state filled with true insight [i.e., enlightenment].

CHAPTER THREE Analysis of the Types of Aspiration for Enlightenment, or The Meanings of Yana

All Bodhisattvas aspire to the enlightenment (bodhi; Chinese, tao) realized by all the Buddhas, disciplining themselves to this end, and advancing toward it. Briefly, three types of aspiration for enlightenment can be distinguished. The first is the aspiration for enlightenment through the perfection of faith. The second is the aspiration for enlightenment through understanding and through deeds. The third is the aspiration for enlightenment through insight.

I. The Aspiration for Enlightenment through the Perfection of Faith

Question: By whom and through what kind of discipline can faith be perfected so that the aspiration for enlightenment may be developed? Answer: Among those who belong to the group of the undetermined, there are some who, by virtue of their excellent capacity for goodness developed through permeation, believe in the law of retribution of karma and observe the ten precepts. They loathe the suffering of samsara and wish to seek the supreme enlightenment. Having been able to meet the Buddhas, they serve them, honor them, and practice the faith. Their faith will be perfected after ten thousand aeons. Their aspiration for enlightenment will be developed either through the instruction of the Buddhas and the Bodhisattvas, or because of their great compassion toward their suffering fellow beings, or from their desire to preserve the good teaching from extinction. Those who are thus able to develop their aspiration through the perfection of faith will enter the group of the determined and will never retrogress. They are called the ones who are united with the correct cause for enlightenment and who abide among those who belong to the Tathagata family. There are, however, people among those who belong to the group of the undetermined whose capacity for goodness is slight and whose defilements, having accumulated from the far distant past, are deep-rooted. Though they may also meet the Buddhas and honor them, they will develop the potentiality merely to be born as men, as dwellers in heaven, or as followers of the Hinayana. Even if they should seek after the Mahayana, they would sometimes progress and sometimes regress because of the inconsistent nature of their capacity. And also there are some who honor the Buddhas and who, before ten thousand aeons have passed, will develop an aspiration because of some favorable circumstances. These circumstances may be the viewing of the Buddhas’ corporeal forms, the honoring of monks, the receiving of instructions from the followers of the Hinayana, or the imitation of others’ aspiration. But these types of aspiration are all inconsistent, for if the men who hold them meet with unfavorable circumstances, they will relapse and fall back into the stage of attainment of the followers of the Hinayana. Now, in developing the aspiration for enlightenment through the perfection of faith, what kind of mind is to be cultivated? Briefly speaking, three kinds can be discussed. The first is the mind characterized by straightforwardness, for it correctly meditates on the principle of Suchness. The second is the mind of profoundness, for there is no limit to its joyful accumulation of all kinds of goodness. The third is the mind filled with great compassion, for it wishes to uproot the sufferings of all sentient beings. Question: Earlier it has been explained that the World of Reality is one, and that the essence of the Buddhas has no duality. Why is it that people do not meditate of their own accord on Suchness alone, but must learn to practice good deeds? Answer: Just as a precious gem is bright and pure in its essence but is marred by impurities, so is a man. Even if he meditates on his precious nature, unless he polishes it in various ways by expedient means, he will never be able to purify it. The principle of Suchness in men is absolutely pure in its essential nature, but is filled with immeasurable impurity of defilements. Even if a man meditates on Suchness, unless he makes an effort to be permeated by it in various ways by applying expedient means, he certainly cannot become pure. Since the state of impurity is limitless, pervading throughout all states of being, it is necessary to counteract and purify it by means of the practice of all kinds of good deeds. If a man does so, he will naturally return to the principle of Suchness. As to the expedient means, there are, in short, four kinds: The first is the fundamental means to be practiced. That is to say, a man is to meditate on the fact that all things in their essential nature are unborn, divorcing himself from deluded views so that he does not abide in samsara. At the same time he is to meditate on the fact that all things are the products of the union of the primary and coordinating causes, and that the effect of karma will never be lost. Accordingly he is to cultivate great compassion, practice meritorious deeds, and accept and transform sentient beings equally without abiding in nirvana, for he is to conform himself to the functions of the essential nature of Reality (dharmata) which knows no fixation. The second is the means of stopping evils. The practice of developing a sense of shame and repentance can stop all evils and prevent them from growing, for one is to conform oneself to the faultlessness of the essential nature of Reality. The third is the means of increasing the capacity for goodness that has already been developed. That is to say, a man should diligently honor and pay homage to the Three treasures, and should praise, rejoice in, and beseech the Buddhas. Because of the sincerity of his love and respect for the Three Treasures, his faith will be strengthened and he will be able to seek the unsurpassed enlightenment. Furthermore, being protected by the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha, he will be able to wipe out the hindrances of evil karma. His capacity for goodness will not retrogress because he will be conforming himself to the essential nature of Reality, which is free from hindrances produced by stupidity. The fourth is the means of the great vow of universal salvation. This is to take a vow that one will liberate all sentient beings, down to the last one, no matter how long it may take to cause them to attain the perfect nirvana, for one will be conforming oneself to the essential nature of Reality which is characterized by the absence of discontinuity. The essential nature of Reality is all-embracing, and pervades all sentient beings; it is everywhere the same and one without duality; it does not distinguish this from that, because it is, in the final analysis, in the state of quiescence. When a Bodhisattva develops this aspiration for enlightenment through faith, he will be able, to a certain extent, to realize the Dharmakaya. Because of this realization of the Dharmakaya, and because he is led by the force of the vow that he made to liberate all sentient beings, he is able to present eight types of manifestation of himself for the benefit of all sentient beings. These are: the descent from the Tushita heaven; the entrance into a human womb; the stay in the womb; the birth; the renunciation; the attainment of enlightenment; the turning of the wheel of the Dharma (doctrine); and the entrance into nirvana. However, such a Bodhisattva cannot be said to have perfectly realized the Dharmakaya, for he has not yet completely destroyed the outflowing evil karma which has been accumulated from his numberless existences in the past. He must suffer some slight misery deriving from the state of his birth. However, this is due not to his being fettered by karma, but to his freely made decision to carry out the great vow of universal salvation in order to understand the suffering of others. It is said in a sutra that there are some Bodhisattvas of this kind who may regress and fall into evil states of existence, but this does not refer to a real regression. It says this merely in order to frighten and stir the heroism of the newly initiated Bodhisattvas who have not yet joined the group of the determined, and who may be indolent. Furthermore, as soon as this aspiration has been aroused in the Bodhisattvas, they leave cowardice far behind them and are not afraid even of falling into the stage of the followers of the Hinayana. Even though they hear that they must suffer extreme hardship for innumerable aeons before they may attain nirvana, they do not feel any fear, for they believe and know that from the beginning all things are of themselves in nirvana.

II. The Aspiration for Enlightenment through Understanding and Deeds

It should be understood that this type of aspiration is even more excellent than the former. Because the Bodhisattvas who cherish this aspiration are those who are about to finish the first term of the incalculable aeons since the time when they first had the correct faith, they have come to have a profound understanding of the principle of Suchness and to entertain no attachment to their attainments obtained through discipline. Knowing that the essential nature of Reality is free from covetousness, they, in conformity to it, devote themselves to the perfection of charity. Knowing that the essential nature of Reality is free from the defilements which originate from the desires of the five senses, they, in conformity to it, devote themselves to the perfection of precepts. Knowing that the essential nature of Reality is without suffering and free from anger and anxiety, they, in conformity to it, devote themselves to the perfection of forbearance. Knowing that the essential nature of Reality does not have any distinction of body and mind and is free from indolence, they, in conformity to it, devote themselves to the perfection of zeal. Knowing that the essential nature of Reality is always calm and free from confusion in its essence, they, in conformity to it, devote themselves to the perfection of meditation. Knowing that the essential nature of Reality is always characterized by gnosis and is free from ignorance, they, in conformity to it, devote themselves to the perfection of wisdom.

III. The Aspiration for Enlightenment through Insight

As for the Bodhisattvas of this group, who range from the “stage of pure-heartedness” to the “last stage of Bodhisattvahood”, what object do they realize? They realize Suchness. We speak of it as an object because of the “evolving mind”, but in fact there is no object in this realization that can be stated in terms of a subject-object relationship. There is only the insight into Suchness transcending both the seer and the seen; we call this the experience of the Dharmakaya. The Bodhisattvas of this group can, in an instant of thought, go to all worlds of the universe, honor the Buddhas, and ask them to turn the wheel of the Dharma. In order to guide and benefit all men, they do not rely on words. Sometimes, for the sake of weak-willed men, they show how to attain perfect enlightenment quickly by skipping over the stages of the Bodhisattva. And sometimes, for the sake of indolent men, they say that men may attain enlightenment at the end of numberless aeons. Thus they can demonstrate innumerable expedient means and suprarational feats. But in reality all these Bodhisattvas are the same in that they are alike in their lineage, their capacity, their aspiration, and their realization of Suchness; therefore, there is no such thing as skipping over the stages, for all Bodhisattvas must pass through the three terms of innumerable aeons before they can fully attain enlightenment. However, because of the differences in the various beings, there are also different ways of teaching them what to practice. The characteristics of the aspiration for enlightenment entertained by a Bodhisattva belonging to this group can be identified in terms of the three subtle modes of mind. The first is the true mind, for it is free from false intellectual discrimination. The second is the mind capable of applying expedient means, for it pervades everywhere spontaneously and benefits sentient beings. The third is the mind subject to the influence of karma operating in subconsciousness, for it appears and disappears in the most subtle ways. Again, a Bodhisattva of this group, when he brings his excellent qualities to perfection, manifests himself in the heaven of Akanishta (the highest heaven in the world of form according to the cosmology of Indian Buddhism) as the highest physical being in the world. Through wisdom united with original enlightenment of Suchness in an instant of thought, he suddenly extinguishes ignorance. Then he is called the one who has obtained all-embracing knowledge. Performing suprarational acts spontaneously, he can manifest himself everywhere in the universe and benefit all sentient beings. Question: Since space is infinite, worlds are infinite. Since worlds are infinite, beings are infinite. Since beings are infinite, the variety of their mentalities must also be infinite. The objects of the senses and the mind must therefore be limitless, and it is difficult to know and understand them all. If ignorance is destroyed, there will be no thoughts in the mind. How then can a comprehension that has no content be called “all-embracing knowledge”? Answer: All objects are originally of One Mind and are beyond thought determination. Because unenlightened people perceive objects in their illusion, they impose limitations in their mind. Since they erroneously develop these thought determinations, which do not correspond to Reality (dharmata), they are unable to reach any inclusive comprehension. The Buddha-Tathagatas are free from all perverse views and thoughts that block correct vision; therefore, there are no corners into which their comprehension does not penetrate. Their Mind is true and real; therefore, it is no other than the essential nature of all things. The Buddhas, because of their very nature, can shed light on all objects conceived in illusion. They are endowed with an influence of great wisdom that functions as the application of innumerable expedient means. Accommodating themselves to the capacity of understanding of various sentient beings, they can reveal to them the manifold meanings of the doctrine. This is the reason they may be called those who have “all-embracing knowledge”. Question: If the Buddhas are able to perform spontaneous acts, to manifest themselves everywhere, and to benefit all sentient beings, then the sentient beings should all be able, by seeing their physical forms, by witnessing their miracles, or by hearing their preachings, to gain benefit. Why is it then that most people in this world have not been able to see the Buddhas? Answer: The Dharmakaya of all the Buddhas, being one and the same everywhere, is omnipresent. Since the Buddhas are free from any fixation of thought, their acts are said to be “spontaneous”. They reveal themselves in accordance with the mentalities of all the various sentient beings. The mind of the sentient being is like a mirror. Just as a mirror cannot reflect images if it is coated with dirt, so the Dharmakaya cannot appear in the mind of the sentient being if it is coated with the dirt of defilements.

PART 4 On Faith and Practice

Having already discussed interpretation, we will now present a discussion of faith and practice. This discussion is intended for those who have not yet joined the group of beings who are determined to attain enlightenment.

On Four Faiths

Question: What kind of faith should a man have and how should he practice it? Answer: Briefly, there are four kinds of faith. The first is the faith in the Ultimate Source. Because of this faith a man comes to meditate with joy on the principle of Suchness. The second is the faith in the numberless excellent qualities of the Buddhas. Because of this faith a man comes to meditate on them always, to draw near to them in fellowship, to honor them, and to respect them, developing his capacity for goodness and seeking after the all-embracing knowledge. The third is the faith in the great benefits of the Dharma (Teaching). Because of this faith a man comes constantly to remember and practice various disciplines leading to enlightenment. The fourth is the faith in the Sangha (Buddhist Community) whose members are able to devote themselves to the practice of benefiting both themselves and others. Because of this faith a man comes to approach constantly and with joy the assembly of Bodhisattvas and to seek instruction from them in the correct practice.

On Five Practices

There are five ways of practice which will enable a man to perfect his faith. They are the practices of charity, observance of precepts, patience, zeal, and cessation of illusions and clear observation. Question: How should a man practice charity? Answer: If he sees anyone coming to him begging, he should give him the wealth and other things in his possession in so far as he is able; thus, while freeing himself from greed and avarice, he causes the beggar to be joyful. Or, if he sees one who is in hardship, in fear, or in grave danger, he should, according to his ability and understanding, explain it by the use of expedient means. In doing so, however, he should not expect any fame, material gain, or respect, but he should think only of benefiting himself and others alike and of extending the merit that he gains from the practice of charity toward the attainment of enlightenment. Question: How should he practice the observance of precepts? Answer: He is not to kill, to steal, to commit adultery, to be double-tongued, to slander, to lie, or to utter exaggerated speech. He is to free himself from greed, jealousy, cheating, deceit, flattery, crookedness, anger, hatred, and perverse views. If he happens to be a monk or nun who has renounced family life, he should also, in order to cut off and suppress defilements, keep himself away from the hustle and bustle of the world and, always residing in solitude, should learn to be content with the least desire and should practice vigorous ascetic disciplines. He should be frightened and filled with awe by any slight fault and should feel shame and repent. He should not take lightly any of the Tathagata’s precepts. He should guard himself from slander and from showing dislike so as not to rouse people in their delusion to commit any offense or sin. Question: How should he practice patience? Answer: He should be patient with the vexatious acts of others and should not harbor thoughts of vengeance, and he should also be patient in matters of gain or loss, honor or dishonor, praise or blame, suffering or joy, etc. Question: How should he practice zeal? Answer: He should not be sluggish in doing good, he should be firm in his resolution, and he should purge himself of cowardice. He should remember that from the far distant past he has been tormented in vain by all of the great sufferings of body and mind. Because of this he should diligently practice various meritorious acts, benefiting himself and others, and liberate himself quickly from suffering. Even if a man practices faith, because he is greatly hindered by the evil karma derived from the grave sins of previous lives, he may be troubled by the evil Tempter (Mara) and his demons, or entangled in all sorts of worldly affairs, or afflicted by the suffering of disease. There are a great many hindrances of this kind. He should, therefore, be courageous and zealous, and at the six four-hour intervals of the day and night should pay homage to the Buddhas, repent with sincere heart, beseech the Buddhas for their guidance, rejoice in the happiness of others, and direct all the merits thus acquired to the attainment of enlightenment. If he never abandons these practices, he will be able to avoid the various hindrances as his capacity for goodness increases. Question: How should he practice cessation and clear observation? Answer: What is called “cessation” means to put a stop to all characteristics (lakshana) of the world of sense objects and of the mind, because it means to follow the samatha (tranquility) method of meditation. What is called “clear observation” means to perceive distinctly the characteristics of the causally conditioned phenomena (samsara), because it means to follow the vipasyana (discerning) method of meditation. Question: How should he follow these? Answer: He should step by step practice these two aspects and not separate one from the other, for only then will both be perfected.

The Practice of Cessation

Should there be a man who desires to practice “cessation”, he should stay in a quiet place and sit erect in an even temper. His attention should be focused neither on breathing nor on any form or color, nor on empty space, earth, water, fire, wind, nor even on what has been seen, heard, remembered, or conceived. All thoughts, as soon as they are conjured up, are to be discarded, and even the thought of discarding them is to be put away, for all things are essentially in the state of transcending thoughts, and are not to be created from moment to moment nor to be extinguished from moment to moment; thus one is to conform to the essential nature of Reality (dharmata) through this practice of cessation. And it is not that he should first meditate on the objects of the senses in the external world and then negate them with his mind, the mind that has meditated on them. If the mind wanders away, it should be brought back and fixed in “correct thought”. It should be understood that this “correct thought” is the thought that whatever is, is mind only and that there is no external world of objects as conceived; even this mind is devoid of any marks of its own which would indicate its substantiality and therefore is not substantially conceivable as such at any moment. Even if he arises from his sitting position and engages in other activities, such as going, coming, advancing, or standing still, he should at all times be mindful of the application of expedient means of perfecting “cessation”, conform to the immobile principle of the essential nature of Reality, and observe and examine the resulting experiences. When this discipline is well-mastered after a long period of practice, the ideations of his mind will be arrested. Because of this, his power of executing “cessation” will gradually be intensified and become highly effective, so that he will conform himself to, and be able to be absorbed into, the “concentration (samadhi) of Suchness”. Then his defilements, deep though they may be, will be suppressed and his faith strengthened; he will quickly attain the state in which there will be no retrogression. But those who are skeptical, who lack faith, who speak ill of the teaching of the Buddha, who have committed grave sins, who are hindered by their evil karma, or who are arrogant or indolent are to be excluded; these people are incapable of being absorbed into the samadhi of Suchness. Next, as a result of this samadhi, a man realizes the oneness of the World of Reality (dharmadhatu), i.e., the sameness everywhere and nonduality of the Dharmakaya of all the Buddhas and the bodies of sentient beings. This is called “the samadhi of one movement”. It should be understood that the samadhi of Suchness is the foundation of all other samadhi. If a man keeps practicing it, then he will gradually be able to develop countless other kinds of samadhi. If there is a man who lacks the capacity for goodness, he will be confused by the evil Tempter, by heretics and by demons. Sometimes these beings will appear in dreadful forms while he is sitting in meditation, and at other times they will manifest themselves in the shapes of handsome men and women. In such a case he should meditate on the principle of “Mind only”, and then these objects will vanish and will not trouble him any longer. Sometimes they may appear as the images of heavenly beings or Bodhisattvas, and assume also the figure of the Tathagata, furnished with all the major and minor marks; or they may expound the spells or preach charity, the precepts, patience, zeal, meditation, and wisdom; or they may discourse on how the true nirvana is the state of universal emptiness, of the nonexistence of characteristics, vows, hatreds, affections, causes, and effects; and of absolute nothingness. They may also teach him the knowledge of his own past and future states of existence, the method of reading other men’s minds, and perfect mastery of speech, causing him to be covetous and attached to worldly fame and profit; or they may cause him to be frequently moved to joy and anger and thus to have unsteadiness of character, being at times very kind-hearted, very drowsy, very ill, or lazy-minded; or at other times becoming suddenly zealous, and then afterward lapsing into negligence; or developing a lack of faith, a great deal of doubt, and a great deal of anxiety; or abandoning his fundamental excellent practices toward religious perfection and devoting himself to miscellaneous religious acts, or being attached to worldly affairs which involve him in many ways; or sometimes they may cause him to experience a certain semblance of various kinds of samadhi, which are all the attainments of heretics and are not the true samadhi; or sometimes they may cause him to remain in samadhi for one, two, three, or up to seven days, feeling comfort in his body and joy in his mind, being neither hungry nor thirsty, partaking of natural, fragrant, and delicious drinks and foods, which induce him to increase his attachment to them; or at other times they may cause him to eat without any restraint, now a great deal, now only a little, so that the color of his face changes accordingly. For these reasons, he who practices “cessation” should be discreet and observant, lest his mind fall into the net of evil doctrine. He should be diligent in abiding in “correct thought”, neither grasping nor attaching himself to anything; if he does so, he will be able to keep himself far away from the hindrance of these evil influences. He should know that the samadhi of the heretics is not free from perverse views, craving, and arrogance, for the heretics are covetously attached to fame, profit, and the respect of the world. The samadhi of Suchness is the samadhi in which one is not arrested by the activity of viewing a subject nor by the experiencing of objects in the midst of meditation; even after concentration one will be neither indolent nor arrogant and one’s defilements will gradually decrease. There has never been a case in which an ordinary man, without having practiced this samadhi, was still able to join the group that is entitled to become Tathagatas. Those who practice the various types of dhyana (meditation) and samadhi which are popular in the world will develop much attachment to their flavors and will be bound to the triple world because of their perverse view that atman is real. They are therefore the same as heretics, for as they depart from the protection of their good spiritual friends, they turn to heretical views. Next, he who practices this samadhi diligently and whole-heartedly will gain ten kinds of advantages in this life. First, he will always be protected by the Buddhas and the Bodhisattvas of the ten directions. Second, he will not be frightened by the Tempter and his evil demons. Third, he will not be deluded or confused by the ninety-five kinds of heretics and wicked spirits. Fourth, he will keep himself far away from slanderers of the profound teaching of the Buddha, and will gradually diminish the hindrances derived from grave sins. Fifth, he will destroy all doubts and wrong views on enlightenment. Sixth, his faith in the Realm of the Tathagata will grow. Seventh, he will be free from sorrow and remorse and in the midst of samsara will be full of vigor and undaunted. Eighth, having a gentle heart and forsaking arrogance, he will not be vexed by others. Ninth, even if he has not yet experienced samadhi, he will be able to decrease his defilements in all places and at all times, and he will not take pleasure in the world. Tenth, if he experiences samadhi, he will not be startled by any sound from without. Now, if he practices “cessation” only, then his mind will be sunk in self-complacency and he will be slothful; he will not delight in performing good acts but will keep himself far away from the exercise of great compassion. It is, therefore, necessary to practice “clear observation” as well.

The Practice of Clear Observation

He who practices “clear observation” should observe that all conditioned phenomena in the world are unstationary and are subject to instantaneous transformation and destruction; that all activities of the mind arise and are extinguished from moment to moment; and that, therefore, all of these induce suffering. He should observe that all that had been conceived in the past was as hazy as a dream, that all that is being conceived in the present is like a flash of lightning, and that all that will be conceived in the future will be like clouds that rise up suddenly. He should also observe that the physical existences of all living beings in the world are impure and that among these various filthy things there is not a single one that can be sought after with joy. He should reflect in the following way: all living beings, from the beginningless beginning, because they are permeated by ignorance, have allowed their mind to remain in samsara; they have already suffered all the great miseries of the body and mind, they are at present under incalculable pressure and constraint, and their sufferings in the future will likewise be limitless. These sufferings are difficult to forsake, difficult to shake off, and yet these beings are unaware that they are in such a state; for this, they are greatly to be pitied. After reflecting in this way, he should pluck up his courage and make a great vow to this effect: may my mind be free from discriminations so that I may practice all of the various meritorious acts everywhere in the ten directions; may I, to the end of the future, by applying limitless expedient means, help all suffering sentient beings so that they may obtain the bliss of nirvana, the ultimate goal. Having made such a vow, he must, in accordance with his capacity and without faltering, practice every kind of good at all times and all places and not be slothful in his mind. Except when he sits in concentration in the practice of “cessation”, he should at all times reflect upon what should be done and what should not be done. Whether walking, standing, sitting, lying, or rising, he should practice both “cessation” and “clear observation” side by side. That is to say, he is to meditate upon the fact that things are unborn in their essential nature; but at the same time he is to meditate upon the fact that good and evil karma, produced by the combination of the primary cause and the coordinating causes, and the retributions of karma in terms of pleasure, pain, etc., are neither lost nor destroyed. Though he is to meditate on the retribution of good and evil karma produced by the primary and coordinating causes [i.e., he is to practice “clear observation”], he is also to meditate on the fact that the essential nature of things is unobtainable by intellectual analysis. The practice of “cessation” will enable ordinary men to cure themselves of their attachments to the world, and will enable the followers of the Hinayana to forsake their views, which derive from cowardice. The practice of “clear observation” will cure the followers of the Hinayana of the fault of having narrow and inferior minds which bring forth no great compassion, and will free ordinary men from their failure to cultivate the capacity for goodness. For these reasons, both “cessation” and “clear observation” are complementary and inseparable. If the two are not practiced together, then one cannot enter the path to enlightenment. Next, suppose there is a man who learns this teaching for the first time and wishes to seek the correct faith but lacks courage and strength. Because he lives in this world of suffering, he fears that he will not always be able to meet the Buddhas and honor them personally, and that, faith being difficult to perfect, he will be inclined to fall back. He should know that the Tathagatas have an excellent expedient means by which they can protect his faith: that is, through the strength of wholehearted meditation on the Buddha, he will in fulfillment of his wishes be able to be born in the Buddha-land beyond, to see the Buddha always, and to be forever separated from the evil states of existence. It is as the sutra says: “If a man meditates wholly on Amitabha Buddha in the world of the Western Paradise and wishes to be born in that world, directing all the goodness he has cultivated toward that goal, then he will be born there.” Because he will see the Buddha at all times, he will never fall back. If he meditates on the Dharmakaya, the Suchness of the Buddha, and with diligence keeps practicing the meditation, he will be able to be born there in the end because he abides in the correct samadhi.

PART 5 Encouragement of Practice and the Benefits Thereof

As has already been explained in the preceding sections, the Mahayana is the secret treasury of the Buddhas. Should there be a man who wishes to obtain correct faith in the profound Realm of the Tathagata and to enter the path of Mahayana, putting far away from himself any slandering of the teaching of Buddha, he should lay hold of this treatise, deliberate on it, and practice it; in the end he will be able to reach the unsurpassed enlightenment. If a man, after having heard this teaching, does not feel any fear or weakness, it should be known that such a man is certain to carry on the lineage of the Buddha and to receive the prediction of the Buddha that he will obtain enlightenment. Even if a man were able to reform all living beings throughout all the systems in the universe and to induce them to practice the ten precepts, he still would not be superior to a man who reflects correctly upon this teaching even for the time spent on a single meal, for the excellent qualities which the latter is able to obtain are unspeakably superior to those which the former may obtain. If a man takes hold of this treatise and reflects on and practices the teachings given in it only for one day and one night, the excellent qualities he will gain will be boundless and indescribable. Even if all the Buddhas of the ten directions were to praise these excellent qualities for incalculably long periods of time, they could never reach the end of their praise, for the excellent qualities of the Reality (dharmata) are infinite and the excellent qualities gained by this man will accordingly be boundless. If, however, there is a man who slanders and does not believe in this treatise, for an incalculable number of aeons he will undergo immense suffering for his fault. Therefore all people should reverently believe in it and not slander it, for slander and lack of faith will gravely injure oneself as well as others and will lead to the destruction of the lineage of the Three Treasures. Through this teaching all Tathagatas have gained nirvana, and through the practice of it all Bodhisattvas have obtained Buddha-wisdom. It should be known that it was by means of this teaching that the Bodhisattvas in the past were able to perfect their pure faith; that it is by means of this teaching that the Bodhisattvas of the present are perfecting their pure faith; and that it is by means of this teaching that the Bodhisattvas of the future will perfect their pure faith. Therefore men should diligently study and practice it.

Profound and comprehensive are the great principles of the Buddha, Which I have now summarized as faithfully as possible. May whatever excellent qualities I have gained from this endeavor In accordance with Reality be extended for the benefit of all beings.

The Theory and the Reality in Historical Perspective

Buddhism and Peace: The Theory and the Reality in Historical Perspective
Korean Conference of Buddhist Professors 2004

written by Karel Werner

There can hardly be any doubt that the Buddhist message is one of peace. Its proclaimed goal, the final peace of nirvāna, leaves no room, in the life of one who has committed himself to pursuing it, for activities which would lead to strife, whether in his private life – for example in the circle of his family or neighbourhood – or in the wider context of social class or between nations if he holds a position of public responsibility or political power. This may appear quite obvious and it was fully understood that way among the Buddha’s followers who became his monks, even though occasional quarrels occurred even among them. Maybe also most of the Buddha’s lay disciples got the message and shaped their private lives accordingly. But to what extent did his admirers and supporters from the higher ranks of society who wielded power take in the peaceful implications of his message? And how effective was this message on the international or inter-state scene? Has Buddhism ever succeeded in making the world, or at least the countries in which it took root, more peaceful?
There is an interesting account of an instance when the Buddha in his time actually prevented an imminent war between two neighbouring state formations. It is reported on at the beginning of the Mahā Parinibbāna Sutta (D 16,1,1-5=PTS II, pp. 72 ff). The king of Magadha, Ajātasattu, who was an admirer of the Buddha and trusted in his judgment, sent his chief minister Vassakāra to the Buddha with instructions to find out what the Buddha would say about Ajātasattu’s intention to eliminate the state of Vajjī by force. The Buddha, who had once instructed the Vajjīs in the practice of seven conditions of welfare (aparihānyadhammā – A 7,19=PTS IV, pp. 15 ff), first turned to Ānanda and asked him whether the Vajjīs still adhered to the practice of those conditions. Briefly expressed, they are:
(1) Holding frequent and well attended public meetings;
(2) making decisions and implementing them in concord;
(3) upholding traditions and honouring pledges;
(4) respecting elders of the community;
(5) refraining from abusing women by abduction or forced marriage;
(6) maintaining and respecting places of worship;
(7) supporting and protecting holy men.

On receiving affirmative answers to all of them, the Buddha said to Vassakāra that as long as this was the case, the Vajjīs would enjoy growth, not decline. Vassakāra then concluded that the only way the Vajjīs could be defeated was by treachery or discord and advised his king accordingly. The war was averted for the time being, but, as the Commentary informs us (DA II, pp. 522 ff), after the Buddha’s death the cunning Vassakāra utilised the hint implied in the Buddha’s explanation and devised a plot which his king approved. On the pretence that Vassakāra sided with the Vajjīs, the king sent him into exile. Vassakāra then found refuge among the Vajjīs and became the educator of children of some leading families. By cleverly manipulating different clans of the Vajjian confederacy he managed in time to bring discord among them so that they slackened in their vigilance. Ajātasattu, secretly advised by Vassakāra about a suitable time, arrived with a strong contingent, taking the Vajjīs by surprise, and annexed their territory.

Ajātasattu could be regarded as an archetype of a pragmatic, power hungry monarch or perhaps of a latter-day dictator who would not hesitate to utilise for his purposes his contacts with religious or spiritual figures of the time. When his father king Bimbisāra, a staunch supporter of the Buddha, still sat on the throne of Magadha, he allied himself with Devadatta, who decided to murder the Buddha when he refused to retire and pass the leadership of the order of monks to him. Bimbisāra was willing to abdicate in favour of his son, but Ajātasattu was persuaded by Devadatta to murder his father, lest he might foil his plot against the Buddha if he learned about it. In the event Devadatta did not succeed in his plot and Ajātasattu then greatly regretted his crime, confessed to the Buddha and became his supporter. The Buddha showed leniency towards him and once during the king’s visit conducted the discourse about the fruits to be gained from renouncing the world which became known as Sāmaññaphala-sutta (D2), but Ajātasattu was not moved to a decisive step to counteract the parricide he had committed and only took refuge to the Buddha. He even failed to mend his ways substantially, as his actions after the Buddha’s death, related above, testify (Cf. Rhys Davids, pp. 12 ff).

Another instance of the failure of the Buddha’s message of peace even during his lifetime is the one reported in the commentary to the Dhammapada (DhA I, pp. 346-9; 357-61) which concerns the eradication of the Buddha’s clan of Sakyas by the king of Kosala, Vidūdabha, the son of Pasenadi. He had a grudge against the Sakyas because they had once insulted his late father. Three times the Buddha averted the war by his presence at the borders, causing Vidūdabha to retreat with his army. The fourth time he was not there and Vidūdabha proceeded. When faced by his army, the Sākyans, by then deeply influenced by the Buddha’s message of peace, stood their ground, but were shooting their arrows in the air, not wishing to kill anyone. Maybe they thought that their attitude would rub off on their adversary so that he would abstain from the attack, but he did not and a wholesale slaughter followed. This was to be and indeed has been the pattern in the history of mankind. Non-violence has never determined the course of history, the aggressors usually winning the day, even though they, too, were sometimes vanquished in the end.
The occasion of the distribution of the Buddha’s relics after the cremation of his body is also a good example of the less than perfect understanding of his message of peace on the part of the claimants, some of them powerful rulers, like Ajātasattu, who were prepared to fight for their possession. They were eventually pacified by the brahmin Dona, a respected spiritual teacher, who had met the Buddha (A II, pp. 37 ff), although he never became his monk. He divided the relics into eight portions and himself kept the urn. The clan of Moriyas (Skt. Mauryas), probably the ancestors of the dynasty from which Asoka later emerged, were late-comers and received the ashes (D 2,16=PTS II, pp. 166 ff). (Of the original ten burial stūpas erected over the relics only one, that near Kapilavatthu, the capital of the Sakyas, was identified in modern times; what is believed to be the casket with their portion of the relics was dug out from underneath it by archaeologists only in 1976.)

As is well known, there is in the early Buddhist sources the tradition of a righteous king (dhammarāja) who is accompanied by a precious wheel jewel (cakkaratana), a kind of mysterious symbol of the world ruler (cakkavati, the ‘wheel turner’, a title given also to the Buddha as the world teacher). At the beginning of his reign the righteous king travels the earth accompanied by the wheel and wherever he appears, local rulers acknowledge him as their overlord and he then rules over the whole known world in peace. Only if he slackens in virtue, does the wheel disappear and disorder and crime infect his realm. This is, of course, the stuff of mythology, a kind of collective wishful thinking. Sometimes the emperor Asoka (Skt. Aoka, c 272-32 BC) is referred to as an approximation to the ideal of a righteous ruler worthy of the title cakkavati (Skt. cakravarti), but he did not acquire power over almost all India by the magic of the cakkaratana. He unified the country by bloody wars of conquest and only the horrors of the last one which won him the province of Kalinga (modern Orissa) made him embrace the Buddha’s teaching. Thereupon he turned to ‘conquest by law’ (dharma-vijaya), disseminating the message of peace and religious tolerance by personally touring the country and lecturing and by his rock-carved edicts inside the realm and missions to neighbouring and even distant countries. He also encouraged popular worship by building new stūpas all over India in which he enshrined portions of the Buddha’s relics taken from the original eight stūpas. As an experienced ruler, however, he made sure that his authority was respected and for that purpose he introduced a sophisticated net of enforcement officers and spies who reported directly to him (mahā-mātras and dharma-mahā-mātras) (Smith pp. 53, 88, 93, 95, 161 ff). He also maintained an efficient army. But after his death it soon became obvious that his preaching and edicts had not substantially influenced the people. Besides, he had no equally charismatic and determined successor, which is not unusual with great figures in history. Maybe the education which his sons and grandsons received made them unable to take the decisive measures needed to keep the country in shape and the court under control, as can be surmised from the story about prince Kun~la, and so the realm began slowly to disintegrate. Still, the momentum lasted about half a century, whereupon the brahmin Puyamitra, the commander-in-chief of the army, killed off the last reigning Maurya and founded a new (Hindu) dynasty styled unga. Nevertheless Buddhism, split into many sects, flourished in India for another twelve centuries, due partly to the patronage of various regional rulers following the example of Aoka and partly to the reputation of the great monastic centres of learning, such as Nālandā. The last great patron of Buddhism and the last indigenous emperor of India was Harsavardhana (606-646/7) who favoured Mahāyāna. Thereafter most rulers in the fragmented India came to the conclusion that their dynastic interests were better served by their alliance with the Brahminic tradition, while ordinary people, too, felt closer to brahmins living in the community with their families than to learned monks in their monastic isolation. As a result Buddhism was losing ground. It received the final blow in the form of the wholesale massacre of monks and destruction of monasteries by the invading Islamic conquerors in the eleventh century.

The fact that Buddhism had owed its spread over virtually the whole of India to the overwhelming influence of Aoka’s authority created a precedent which determined its future fortunes throughout Asia. It also created an inner tension within its monastic communities. First, there were those who understood its message of peace in the original sense as an individual path to liberation from the shackles of saṁsāric life, even though they also understood that they had the duty, motivated by compassion, to pass on the message and assist others in their practice. But this message was really only for a minority of followers of the Dhamma (Dharma) who grasped the otherworldly nature of the final goal. They were solitary practitioners in forest hermitages or inconspicuous incumbents of monasteries dedicated to meditational practice; sometimes they formed small groups headed by a meditation master. Second, there were those who joined one of the monastic institutions under royal patronage, perhaps with some awareness, at the back of their minds, of the ultimate purpose of monastic life, but meanwhile taking advantage of the status and prestige which monkhood gained by its link to the throne, to play a role in the political arena which they otherwise could not hope for. And there were also those whose main motivation for taking the robe was a comfortable life or sheer power. An important part of the monastic life was, of course, also learning: preservation and interpretation of the teaching which, however, soon led to the development of differing schools of thought and sectarian divisions. This was not a problem for the groups of the first category for whom meditational practices were the primary concern and doctrinal interpretations only a secondary and provisional matter. For the second type of monastics, however, doctrinal differences became a part of power politics and often led to strife.
The earliest example of the implantation of the Buddhist teaching in a new country by royal authority is the mission which Aoka sent to Sri Lanka c 250 BC under the leadership of his son Mahinda Thera. The Sinhalese king Devānāmpiya Tissa (247-207 BC), who was probably Aoka’s relative, embraced the new faith immediately together with the whole court and ordinations of new monks soon followed. Among them was one of the nephews of the king who founded for them a monastery called Mahāvihāra near the royal palace in Anurādhapura which became the centre of Theravāda orthodoxy.

Some time after Tissa the island suffered invasions from South India and eventually Tamil rule was established in its northern half for 45 years under king Elāra who adhered to Brahminic tradition, but respected existing Buddhist institutions and did not hinder popular Buddhist worship. A descendant of the Sinhalese dynasty from the southern part of the island eventually challenged Tamil rule, was victorious and as king Dutthagāmani Abhaya (c 161-137) decisively strengthened the Buddhist establishment by building and supporting monasteries. His motivation would have been naturally dynastic and nationalistic, but an important and possibly even decisive part was played by his conviction that as a patron of Buddhism he was responsible for establishing its supremacy over the island. The close links of monasteries to the throne led eventually to their first recorded direct interference in politics, with negative consequences. After the death of Dutthagāmani’s successor Sadhātissa (59 BC), influential monks supported the coronation of his younger son, expecting more material benefits from him than from his older brother. But the rightful heir recovered the throne by military campaign and then withdrew royal support from the Sangha for three years (Adikaram p. 73; Rahula pp. 69 & 81).

The country was weakened and when Vattagāmai Abhaya, the third son of Sadhātissa, inherited the throne (43 BC), he soon lost control as a result of Brahminic revolts combined with Tamil invasions and went into hiding. The country suffered from plunder and famine which led even to cannibalism. Many monks died and some fled to India. After fourteen years Tamil rule collapsed and Vattagāmai Abhaya regained the throne. He demolished the Jain Giri monastery (because he had heard from it a denigrating remark when fleeing his capital) and built Abhayagiri Vihāra in its place. Its monks then competed with Mahāvihāra and gave shelter to the Pudgalavāda doctrine brought from India by Vātsīputrīyas (P. Vajjiputakas) who were favoured by the king. In subsequent centuries it became a centre of Mahāyāna teachings. Still during the famine or soon after, the Theravāda Tipitaka (Pāli Canon), up to that time handed down by word of mouth, was committed to writing by orthodox monks lest it would be lost and as a defence against sectarian teachings from India.

A drastic example of the perils which stemmed from the dependence of the Sangha on royal authority for resolving internal disputes is the execution of 60 monks (thrown over a precipice) under king Kanirajānu (AD 89-92); they plotted to kill the king, because they disagreed with the way he settled a monastic dispute (Rahula p. 86). Under king Mahāsena (334-361/2) Sanghamitra, a monk from India, tried unsuccessfully to win Mahāvihāra for Mahāyāna teachings and was murdered at the instigation of one of the king’s wives, as also was a minister friendly to him (Rahula p. 95). The vacillating king eventually showed favour to yet another Mahāyāna sect and built for it Jetavana Vihāra (Adikaram p. 92). In the reign of Silāmeghavanna (617-626) a monk, named Bodhi, was murdered even within the Abhayavihāra, because he complained to the king about loose morals in a large section of the monkhood. The king punished the guilty monks most severely and sent a hundred of them into exile. Monasteries could sometimes put pressure on the king by ‘orthodox’ means. When Dāthopatissa (650-658) wanted to build a new monastery for Abhayagiri, Mahāvihāra monks objected and applied to him the symbolical act of ‘turning down of the alms-bowl’ (pattanikkujanakamma) amounting to ‘excommunication’ (by preventing him from gaining merit for supplying them with requisites). The king did not take notice.

Sectarian divisions were finished by royal decree under Parakrāma Bāhu the Great (1153-1186) who ruled from Polonnaruva. He ordered unification of sects under the authority of Mahāvihāra. Theravāda tradition has remained dominant on the island ever since despite some temporary clandestine Tantric practices. Its reputation brought in 1476 to Lanka a delegation from Pegu in Burma seeking the renewal of unbroken ordination succession for its Sangha. Burma reciprocated in 1597 when ordination succession on Lanka was lost due to wars after the arrival of the Portuguese. The Sinhalese kingdom now retreated to Kandy and for a time prospered from the trade with the Dutch. This had a detrimental influence on the Sangha. Royal patronage secured a comfortable life for monks and led to low discipline. Ecclesiastics from aristocratic classes who did not care for proper ordination even raised families in monasteries and prevented ordination of lower classes. Several excursions to Burma and Siam (Thailand) were needed to renew the monastic succession, but problems arising from different class groupings led to the establishment of three monastic sects (nikāyas), virtually castes within the Sangha.

A lasting remedy came only with British colonial rule after 1802, which introduced secular administration so that royal patronage ceased. Monasteries had to rely on the support of the population and this led to the regeneration of the Sangha, also helped by enthusiasts and converts to Buddhism from the West and despite the somewhat privileged situation of Christian missions. A substantial section of the monkhood, however, resented the loss of state patronage. When the island gained independence, many monks entered the political arena and enabled political victory of the party which promised state support for Buddhism. Behind the scene disputes about implementation of the policy were probably the motivation for the murder of prime minister Bandaranaike in 1959 by two prominent monks and a layman, although the full story has never been revealed. When thereafter, despite the efforts of the union of political monks from the three sects (so-called Trainikāyika Sangha Sabhā), a leftist coalition won the election in 1970 but did not implement promised revolutionary changes, extreme left elements with a substantial proportion of students and even a few hundred leftist monks, started an armed uprising. It was crushed, whereupon the government limited the right of monks to take part in politics. In 1972 Sri Lanka became a republic, but its new constitution enshrined the privileged position of Buddhism (and Sinhalese as the official language) which led to an armed conflict with the extreme Tamil organisation styled ‘Tigers’ which dominates the north of the island and some of its other parts and demands independence for them. Terrorist actions were carried out even in Colombo and Kandy. At present there is an uneasy truce while solution is being negotiated. In essence, Buddhism is certainly a religion of peace, but the history of Lanka demonstrates that the way some of its followers perceive it may lead to devastating wars.

Buddhism started spreading into the territories of Farther India early. According to the Pāli chronicles Dīpavamsa and Mahāvamsa, Asoka’s missionaries Sona Thera and Uttara Thera brought it to Suvannabhūmi (Skt. Suvarnabhūmi, ‘land of gold’), which was how countries of Farther India were referred to. According to the Burmese tradition they founded a monastery in Thaton. Buddhism, along with the Brahminic tradition, was spreading among people also through commercial contacts and Indian settlements, but the decisive factor was again royal patronage. In time there existed in Burma three Buddhist kingdoms. In 1057 Anawrahta of Pagan was converted to Buddhism by a monk sent from Thaton by the Mon king of Southern Burma. When his request for holy texts and relics was not immediately met, Anawrahta conquered Thaton and carried away, besides relics, the whole royal library; he also took to Pagan a large number of monks. It appears that many royal supporters of Buddhism ascribed to the possession of relics and texts and to the presence of monasteries in their territory magic powers which would secure for them a successful reign and even victory in battles. This tendency may have its origin as far back as the events around the partitioning of relics of the Buddha described above.

The unification of Burma did not long outlast Anawrahta of Pagan and the history of Burma is one of almost constant wars of conquest between kings, most of whom professed Buddhism. Buddhist monasteries usually did not suffer from these wars, because it was believed that they were protected by magic powers of their monks. Their reputation of unbroken ordination succession made their royal patrons even more confident in their belligerent undertakings. When in 1597 king Razagyri of Arakan received a request to send a delegation of monks to Lanka to renew ordination succession there, he was pleased to oblige, whereupon he undertook a successful campaign against the kingdom of Pegu and then went on pilgrimage to the famous Mahāmuni Buddha statue, presumably to show his gratitude for his victories.

Perhaps the most drastic example of a belligerent royal patron of Buddhism was the founder of the last Burmese dynasty, Alaungpaya (1752-60), who was a self-proclaimed bodhisattva, unified Burma in bloody wars and in 1759 attacked Ayutthaya in Thailand, which he did not regard as a true Buddhist kingdom. When he died, his son Hsinbyushin (1760-76) finished the task by almost totally destroying Ayutthaya in 1767 and deporting thousands of its inhabitants. He even melted down Buddha statues to extract gold from them. On return home, however, he reconstructed the Shwedagon Dagoba, which had been damaged by earthquake, and enlarged it.

Meanwhile monks, sheltered in monasteries from the vicissitudes of war causing untold suffering to people outside, invented their own internal war. It concerned the arrangement of their garment. For centuries the rule was that inside monasteries they bared their right shoulder, but covered it outside. At the beginning of the 18th century some monks started going out with the right shoulder bare even when collecting alms food, which traditionalists regarded as a breach of discipline. Only the king had the authority to settle the dispute and decisions of different kings differed. The ‘innovators’ usually accepted the ruling when it went against them, but traditionalists did not, even when it meant execution. That was what disobeying a king’s command led to and few kings made an exception for monks. As in Lanka, circumstances changed radically under British colonial rule. Left to its own devices and material support by lay followers, the Saṅgha was eventually reformed, but many monks engaged in politics during the Burmese struggle for independence in the hope that old times of financial security under state patronage would return. This hope was not fulfilled when independence came in 1948 with the introduction of a democratic government which was, however, toppled in 1962. The country, renamed Myanmar, is now under a brutal military rule. Popular and monastic Buddhism is allowed to function as long as it abstains from involvement in politics. This has enhanced meditation practice so that some Burmese meditation centres have acquired a high reputation even abroad, also among Western Buddhists.

The territory of Thailand was occupied since early times by the Buddhist kingdom Dvāravatī with a predominantly Mon population. Its beginnings go back to the legendary introduction of Buddhism to Suvaṇṇabhūmi by Asoka’s mission. It was a veritable ‘land of gold’ which became rich by transit trade rather than by conquest and exercised great cultural influence further afield. Theravāda Buddhism spread from it to Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. Towards the end of the 13th century it was absorbed into the Thai kingdom of Sukhotai which was founded by Thai migrants from southern China who quickly adopted the higher Buddhist civilisation of Dvāravatī. The most famous king of Sukhotai was Ramkhamhaeng (1279-1318) who won the neighbouring rival kingdom from its king in a duel on elephants. As king he created a federation partly by conquest and partly by diplomacy and then proved to be an outstanding and just ruler. As a devout Buddhist he once a week passed his throne for a day to some leading monk to preach from it. But the subsequent fortunes of this nearly ideal Buddhist kingdom demonstrate the sad fact that a state based on a peaceful ideology never survives for long. The next ruler, Lo Thai (1318-1347), never used force and was granted the title dharmarāja by the Saṅgha, but lost grip on all the provinces gained by his father. His son wrote in 1345 a classic cosmological text about the ‘three worlds’ (Traiphuun, Skt. Traibhūmi) in which he paralleled the hierarchical cosmos with social order on earth headed by the righteous king who would care for the material as well as spiritual welfare of his subjects, keeping in sight the goal of nirvāṇa for them. For himself, he chose the path to full buddhahood. When he became king (1347) with the title mahādharmarāja, ruling virtually only a city state, he observed the ten precepts like a monk and incorporated them into the administration, hoping that he would win back unfaithful vassals by his virtue. Instead his nominal vassal from Ayutthaya incorporated Sukhotai into his new powerful realm. Lo Thai offered no resistance. Legend has it that the outstanding gold-plated statue, known as Phra Buddha Jinarāt, shed tears of blood when finally the Sukhotai dream of a Buddhist kingdom of peace was shattered. (The statue is still venerated in Wat Mahathat in Pitsanuloke.)

Ayutthaya conquered also Angkor (1431/2) and brought back many Khmer courtiers, clerks, artists and craftsmen and also brahmins who served at the court ceremonial based on the idea of the divine status of the king (as devarāja), which involved prostrations of all subjects before him so that they would not see his face. But Lo Thai’s Traiphuun was also used to legitimise the king’s rule over the Buddhist population in whose eyes it was his possession of the Buddha’s relics and sacred statues which gave him power. The end of the empire in 1767 at the hands of the Burmese was already described above. Remarkably, a provincial governor of paternal Chinese descent, who proved to be a military genius, managed to assemble a volunteer army and renew the Thai empire within four years, gaining even more territory. He ruled from Bangkok as Phraya Tak Sin. But exhausted from campaigning, he turned to prayer, fasting and meditation and came to believe that he had reached sanctity by ‘entering the stream’ (sodaban, P. sotāpanna). However, he still required full royal etiquette even from monks and those who dissented were whipped and condemned to forced labour. Some monks, however, conformed and even encouraged him out of opportunism. When he proved unable to conduct state affairs, he was deposed in an army coup.

The throne then fell to general Chakkri who had found, during his military campaigns under Tak Sin, a precious emerald Buddha statue in Laos which was regarded as a good omen. It is still the most valued national treasure of Thailand. Chakkri became the founder of the still reigning dynasty as Rāma I (1782-1809). Its most successful king was Rāma IV (1851-68), better known as king Mongkut, who had been a monk for 27 years before he was called to take the throne. Having reformed the Sangha, he now brought the country on the path of modern reforms thereby rescuing it from falling prey to competing colonial powers. He saw the justification of royal rule not in Traiphuun theories or possession of relics and sacred statues, but in the ruler’s moral integrity, understanding of karmic laws and spiritual practice. Careful education produced able successors and although there have been ups and downs, Thailand under the Chakkri dynasty has perhaps been an example that in a limited way a balance can be reached, at least for a time, between state patronage and self-rule of the Saṅgha, with both having due regard for people’s material and spiritual needs.
The complicated history of Buddhism in the rest of Southeast Asia defies a brief survey. It has been interlaced with Brahminic influences and both these forces produced some staggering achievements, such as the Hindu Angkor Wat (12th century) and the Buddhist Bayon in Cambodia. The latter was built by Jayavarman VII (1181-1218). He believed that he was an incarnation of the Bodhisattva Lokeśvara, whose 216 giant faces (172 survive) forming the towers of Bayon and looking to four directions, oversaw his realm. In what is now central Vietnam there was the kingdom of Champa named after the Indian town Campā with trade links to Suvannabhūmi. The Buddha stayed in Campā a few times, and when there, he laid down some Vinaya regulations (Vin I, 312 & II, 307; S I, 195; A IV, 59 & 168; A V, 151 & 189). Champa was visited by the Chinese pilgrim Yijing (I-ching) towards the end of the 7th century. He found there Sarvāstivāda and Sammatīya (Pudgalavāda) schools of Buddhism. It was incorporated into Dai Viet (North Vietnam) in 1471.

Champa had received cultural stimulation from the Buddhist kingdom of Śrī Vijaya on Sumatra famous for huge libraries of Buddhist texts. Yijing stayed there for several years and Atīśa (982-1054) for twelve before going to Tibet to reform its monastic system. Śrī Vijaya was crushed by Chola power in 1025 and was totally obliterated during the subsequent time of Islamisation of the area. The same happened to the Hindu-Buddhist kingdom on Java which, however, has left to the world the greatest Buddhist monument, Borobudur. But it cannot be used for Buddhist purposes and became even the target of an Islamist terrorist attack.

The introduction of Buddhism to China is also connected to patronage by rulers, both in legend and history. It reached a peculiar form in that during the rule of some emperors it was possible to purchase a monastic rank through the services of the Imperial Bureau. But Buddhism as a popular religion increased its following especially in turbulent times, for example during the Three Kingdoms (221-265) and after their disintegration under Hun and Tartar attacks. Throughout Chinese history it is hardly possible to find an instance when Buddhism would have contributed to peace in the country, but it provided an explanation for the untold miseries suffered by the people and gave them hope for an improved lot in future lives and therefore, in a way, some peace of mind. One peculiar development in Chinese Buddhism was its connection to martial arts practised by the Chan (Zen) school, which was a product of a kind of synthesis with Daoism. Its legendary founder Bodhidharma reputedly settled at the Shaolin monastery which became a centre of martial arts and besides monks it now even trains bodyguards of government officials and newly rich entrepreneurs. An even more peculiar development in this respect occurred in Japan where Zen methods of training became popular with the warrior class of samurai. The capacity for perfect concentration with a simultaneous detachment from emotional involvement and personal indifference to the outcome of the combat with respect to his own survival made a samurai into a formidable warrior unaffected by bloodshed and any kind of danger. Respite between battles allowed him temporary contemplation of beauty in nature or in works of art or relaxation during the tea ceremony. Those things aided his recovery and prepared him for further engagement on the battlefield.

Buddhism was brought to Japan, to begin with, by missions sent by the kings of Korea, which was suffering from frequent Japanese invasions. The hope was that Buddhism would pacify the lust of Japan’s rulers for conquest. The missions themselves were successful, subsequently strengthened by Japanese contacts with China, but the Korean hope was never fulfilled. The great protagonist of Buddhism in Japan, the learned prince Shotoku (593-622) was serious enough and tried, by example, to incorporate non-violence even into political practice. He became regent when the previous emperor was murdered in factional struggles, but he spared the murderer, enabling him to realise the wrongness of his deed in the light of the Buddha’s teachings. After his death the prince was hailed as an incarnation of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara. But his example was not followed. His son and all members of his family were murdered by members of the Soga clan, although they were supporters of Buddhism. They in turn were exterminated by Shotoku’s party, which resulted in imperial absolutism.

Buddhism benefited outwardly from imperial patronage, but its purity as a spiritual message suffered. Monks had access to high offices in government and many concentrated on political careers. Some monasteries became large land owners and towards the end of the Kamakura period (1185-1333) got involved in power struggles, eventually deteriorating into armed conflicts, with the aristocratic cliques, with the court and even among themselves. A number of them virtually ceased to be monasteries, were run by married abbots as family estates and maintained hired troops. Sometimes even monks fought on battlefields. An example is the originally peaceful Jōdo Shinshu sect founded by Shinran (1173-1262), who started the tradition of married priesthood. It split into ten subsects headed by Shinran’s descendants residing in fortified temples who fought for power and possessions. In contrast, celibate monks of the older Jōdo sect, founded by Shinran’s teacher Honen (1133-1212), were gaining ever more popularity by spreading its doctrine and practice through preaching and serving their followers with rituals. Their temples were becoming rich by donations, but attracted the envy of the rival militarised sects. Many were looted and burned down. Jodo Shinshu was eventually regenerated in the wake of reform efforts of Rennyo Shōnon (1415-1499) for which he suffered at the hands of adversaries. His temple in Kyōto was burnt down and he barely saved himself. When he gained a large following in the provinces and built a new temple, it, too, was burned down. He then remained itinerant till he died, although the emperor rebuilt for him his original temple in Kyōto.
When a powerful Shingon (Tantric) sect, which controlled 2700 temples and armed its forces with European rifles, attacked the new castle of the rising general Hideyoshi (1536-1598), it suffered a crushing defeat. In the ensuing war all monasteries with armies were destroyed and their inmates killed. Peasants who had suffered oppression under the monasteries, often joined in the slaughter. Hideyoshi appeased his conscience by having captured weapons melted down for a large statue of the Buddha. Zen monasteries had been spared because they were not fortified and did not maintain armies, although they did meddle in politics.

Comparable engagement of Buddhist institutions in warfare as in Japan has its parallel only in Tibet. As elsewhere, Buddhism came to be established there by royal patrons who nevertheless maintained links with the ancient religion and with Bon for the purposes of funeral and court rituals. But one king, gLang-dar-ma (836-842), resented the growing power of monasteries, endowed by his predecessors, and tried to eradicate Buddhism by demolishing monasteries and forcing monks into humiliating occupations. When he was killed by Lha-lung dPal-gyi rDorje, a Buddhist monk disguised as a Bon priest, there was no strong claimant to the throne. The country was fragmented under local chiefs and eventually annexed by Mongols (1207). By political manoeuvring a Sakya-pa abbot gained from the Mongol Khan the appointment as regent of the whole of Tibet. This arrangement continued when Mongols formed the Chinese dynasty Yuan (1279-1368), but inside Tibet disputes started between sects resenting the political power of the Sakyas and the then regent, Lama Byang-chub rGyal-mtshan (1302-1364), resorted to military suppression of rebel monasteries. When the Mongols lost China, Tibet became independent and the descendants of the ancient royal line, who were administrators of gTsang province and patrons of the Kagyu-pa sect, proclaimed the renewal of the monarchy. But the Gelug-pa tulku bSod-nams rGya-mtsho (1543-1588) turned to a powerful Mongol Altan Khan, virtually renewing Tibet’s vassal relation to Mongols, and obtained from him the title Dalai Lama which he projected retrospectively onto the two previous abbots of his monastery (whose reincarnation he was, according to the tulku theory). He thus counted as the third Dalai Lama, but died before he could assume power in Tibet. His reincarnation was conveniently found in an Altan Khan’s great grandson who was installed as the fourth Dalai Lama Yon-tan rGya-mtsho (1589-1617) in Lhasa with Mongol military assistance. The Kagyu-pas were alarmed, the king attacked Lhasa and the Dalai Lama fled, but soon died. When his reincarnation was found, the gTsang royal clan and the Kagyu-pas were willing to acknowledge him as the spiritual head if the Gelug-pas would renounce claims to worldly power and all sects would obtain equal status. But the Gelug-pas refused and, allied with the powerful Mongol Gushri Khan, crushed in bitter fighting allied gTsang and Kagyu forces. The fifth Dalai Lama Ngag-dbang bLo-bzang rGya-mtsho (1617-82) was installed in 1642 as both secular and spiritual head of Tibet, making it into a kind of theocracy under nominal Mongol suzerainty. Tibet thus lost forever, with dire consequences, the chance to become again a sovereign kingdom with a secular royal line. ‘The Great Fifth’ consolidated the power of the Gelug-pa, but then showed tolerance towards all sects. He even extended Tibet by conquest and after Gushri’s death (1654) Tibet became virtually independent. Under the sixth Dalai Lama Tshangs-dbyangs rGya-mtsho (1683-1706), who was a playboy and a poet, factional fights were resolved by the Mongol Khan Habzang who occupied Lhasa, killed the regent and became the ruler of Tibet under Chinese suzerainty. The Dalai Lama died while being transported to China. The Gelug-pas then turned to another Mongolian faction which conquered Lhasa and killed Habzang (1717), but did not recognise Chinese suzerainty. The emperor therefore sent an army to Tibet which brought with it from Chinese captivity the seventh Dalai Lama bsKal-bzang rGya-mtsho (1708-57), drove the Mongolians out and remained permanently stationed in Lhasa together with two Imperial residents. Subsequent Tibetan uprisings (1728-9 and 1747-50) were suppressed and in 1792 the Chinese forces pushed back an invasion of Ghurkhas from Nepal who had been invited by the Kagyu-pas in the hope of depriving the Gelug-pas of political power. Emperors subsequently regulated even the procedure of finding reincarnations of the Dalai Lama. At the present time Tibet suffers more under the Chinese communist regime than ever before.

As to Korea, Buddhism found a footing in it under royal patronage in the time of the Three Kingdoms, whose dynasties vied for supremacy over the peninsula. Buddhism in its Chinese imperial ceremonial guise promised greater prestige. This was recognised first by the king of Koguryŏ (Goguryeo) who asked a minor Chinese ruler for missionaries, who came in AD 372 headed by the Chinese monk Shundao. But the king of Paekche (Baegje) did better by inviting the famous Indian monk Maranat’a (Marandha), who was active in the Nanking area and came in 384 with ten monks of Chinese and Indian origin.

Silla accepted Buddhism officially as late as 528, although the royal family may have been converted as early as 424, but it then became identified with the nation’s interests when Master Chajang (Jajang) Yulsa returned after seven years of study from China. He instigated the building of a nine-storey pagoda which became the symbol of his ambition to make Silla into an exemplary Buddhist country entitled to the leading role in the whole peninsula. He was instrumental in forging a tactical alliance with the Tang Dynasty (618-907) in China against the other two kingdoms and thus in the unification of Korea (668) by force, which, of course, was not exactly in the spirit of the peaceful message of Buddhism. When the former Chinese ally was expelled (676), there followed prosperity and a great flowering of Buddhist culture which continued during the Koryŏ (Goryeo) period (918-1392) despite Mongolian occupation and forced participation of the country in Kublai Khan’s doomed plans to invade Japan. Royal patronage brought great riches to monasteries and, besides, many monks held high and lucrative positions in the governmental structure. But despite competition between sects there were no armed conflicts between Buddhist factions in Korea, such as we saw in Japan. But resentment on the part of the aristocracy brought about a military coup (1170) and the introduction of Confucian administration, later fully implemented under the Chosŏn dynasty (Joseon, 1392-1910). This, in fact, benefitted the true calling of Buddhism. Banned from politics and living mainly in monasteries located in mountain valleys, monks could concentrate on learning, meditation and service to the population. There was, however, an overriding occasion, a national crisis, when monks’ active involvement in war did occur. It was during the infamous and destructive Imjin wars (1592-1598) waged by the virtual ruler of Japan, Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537-1598). Spurred by Japanese outrages, which included destroying temples and abducting or killing monks, many monks joined the ‘Righteous Volunteer Army’. The following example illustrates well their dilemma. When a Japanese unit was approaching P’yohunsa in Mt. Kŭmgang, all the monks ran away except one Yujŏng who remained composed and faced the soldiers sitting in the lotus posture. Stunned by his calm, they paid their respects to him and left. Later he lost his composure and burst into tears on learning about Japanese atrocities elsewhere; he formed a unit of fellow monks which eventually became one thousand strong and joined the fighting (Yu Sŏngnyong 2002).

What conclusions can we draw from this quick survey? As stated at the outset, the Buddhist message is one of peace. Nowhere in authentic Buddhist sources is there advocacy for war, not even a just one. And whatever wars were fought in Buddhist countries, they were never religious. Individually, atrocities should be endured by the followers of the Buddha with calm and self-control. To begin with, Yujŏng acted precisely as Kakacūpama Sutta (M 21) decrees. It is only that often Buddhists, and sometimes even monks, find themselves unable to live up to the calling, to say nothing about career monks taking advantage of royal patronage or the generosity of lay followers for personal gain. The underlying message is that this world of saṁsāra can never become a peaceful place for all. The peace of nirvāṇa lies in transcendence and is attained only individually. The Bodhisattva vow to save the whole world – all beings down to the last blade of grass – can be viewed only as a pious dream, if taken literally. If understood philosophically, it may mean saving all those beings one would become in future, together with the self-created saṁsāric dimensions, if one continued one’s involvement in saṁsāric pursuits. The final peace remains an individual achievement even if it is admitted that accomplished Bodhisattvas can reach intosaṁsāric dimensions to give guidance to beings entangled in them.

In sharp contrast, theistic traditions sanction wars for religious purposes. Jehovah directed his chosen people to take the promised land by merciless conquest; it is still being fought over. Islamic jihad to glorify Allah has been fought against the infidel on three continents for centuries and is still with us. Religious wars within Christianity died down only with the so-called European enlightenment of the eighteenth century, although sporadic violence motivated by religion still occurs, curiously enough also in Korea where Christianity is young and therefore some of its sections are prone to militancy. In Europe Christianity largely lost its appeal and remaining believers focus on aspects of individual piety and communal welfare. This is only possible under secular governments which alone can enforce peace when theistic religions or their sects stir trouble. When a relatively peaceful coexistence of religions similar to that prevailing in the West under secular democratic governments might become possible worldwide will remain unforeseeable as long as theistic religions, each of which claims for itself the exclusive possession of truth, retain their grip on large sections of mankind. Buddhism does appear to be gaining individual adherents around the globe, but on the global scene its message of peace remains, sadly, as powerless now as it has been in all known history.


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A Aguttara Nikāya
D Dīgha Nikāya
DA Dīgha Nikāya Atthakathā
DhA Dīhammapada Atthakathā
P. Pāli
Skt. Sanskrit
Vin Vinaya Pitaka

Interpenetration and Essence-Function in Wonhyo, Chinul and Kihwa

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

Bulletin of Toyo Gakuen University No. 3, March 1995, pp 33-48.

by A. Charles Muller

A. Introduction

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.

1. Interpenetration

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.

2. Interpenetration in Chinese Buddhism

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.

3. T’i-yung

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.”

B. T’ong (t’ung) and ch’e-yong (t’i-yung) in the thought of Wŏnhyo
1. T’ong

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

2. Ch’e-yong

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.

3. T’ong pulgyo (Interpenetrated Buddhism)

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.

C. Chinul

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.

1. Background of the Son-Kyo Tension

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.

2. Chinul’s Syncretic Attitude

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.

D. Kihwa

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.”

These are the words of `Sākyamuni.

“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.

1. Analects 14:37.
2. Chih-i defines this term in his Ssu-chiao i. See T 1929.46.721 ff.

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.

9. T 1666.32.575b.18.

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.

14. HPC 1.677-788; T 1844.44.202a-226a; 1845.44.226a-240c

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.

18. For excerpts of the treatises of these two, see Buswell, Chinul, pp. 12-13.

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.

24. HPC 4.768a.
25. The length of `Sākyamuni’s teaching career.

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.

30. This statement by Ch’eng-hao is from the I-shu, 4:4b. Also see Wing-tsit Chan, Source Book, p. 535.
31. HPC 7.219b-c.

32. Although Kihwa does not mention Taoism specifically in this passage, he makes it clear in other places in the treatise

A. Classical East Asian Buddhist Texts

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.

Hwaŏmnon choryo 華嚴論節要. by Chinul. HPC 4.767-869.

Hyon chong non 顯正論. (Manifesto of the Correct) by Kihwa. HPC 7.217-225.

K’an-ting chi. 刊定記 See Hsu hua-yen ching lüeh-shu k’an-ting chi.
Kisillon so. 起信論疏 by Wŏnhyo; HPC 1.698-722; T 1844.44.202a-226a

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.

B. Modern Works.

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.

Publications, Presentations, etc.

Charles Muller

Theravāda-Mahāyāna Dialogue: A Mahāyāna Perspective

2003 Conference of the International Network for Engaged Buddhism
Thematic Workshop in Session B: Inter-Buddhist Dialogue
July 20-25, 2003/ Seoul, Korea
        Theravāda-Mahāyāna Dialogue: A Mahāyāna Perspective
                            by Yong-pyo KimProfessor, Dongguk Universiy, Korea
I. Necessity for Dialogue within Buddhist Community
The purpose of this essay is to seek a way of unity and methods of collaboration among Buddhists by raising a basic issue for dialogue between Theravāda and Mahāyāna traditions. In every religion, intra-religious conflict often creates more serious problem than conflict with other religions.  It goes without saying, therefore, that intra-religious dialogue should precede inter-religious dialogue.
 As the history of Buddhism shows, there have been conflict and antagonism among Buddhist sects. There were already twenty schools in the era of Abhidharama Buddhism. MahāyānaBuddhism also divided more than thirteen sects.  Today’s Buddhism worldwide is divided into three main traditions, that is, Theravāda and Mahāyāna, and Vajrayāna.  Since there are so many traditions and types of faith and practice in Buddhism, even devotees themselves often get confused. Some Buddhists argue for the superiority of their own schools without deep understanding about other traditions. As a result, it has been difficult to find neither Buddhist identity nor unity in the religious community.
Movement towards dialogue and communication among Buddhists should proceed from dialogue between Theravāda and Mahāyāna – both representative of present-day world Buddhism – towards movement for deeper-level dialogue between other sects. In order to do that, history of Buddhist thoughts and culture should first be comprehended. And common unity rather than differences should be discovered through dialogue between different traditions.
This essay first briefly examines the differences between Theravāda and Mahāyāna Buddhism in terms of the views of Buddha- body, scriptures, doctrines, ethics, practice, and faith. And it will show a few hurdles that need to be overcome to acquire mutual understanding and to quest for commonly shared essence. This process will help us to find a way of creative dialogue among Buddhist communities and common practical goals.
II. Theravāda vs Mahāyāna: Seeking Foundation for Dialogue
  Mahāyāna Buddhism was a new Buddhist movement that started around the 1st Century BC in opposition to Hinayanistic tendency of Abhidharma traditions. It was a big wave that marked a historic watershed in Buddhist history. Mahāyāna Buddhist movement was not that of a single religious sect led by a particular individual, but was various faiths and Scriptures that became gradually unified and developed into the ideology called Mahāyāna.  By the 3rd Century, unified Mahāyāna doctrine and order had been established.
1.      Who is a Buddha? 
The question of “Who is a Buddha?” was the most significant question for all the sects in Buddhism. When Gautama Buddha was alive, there was no being that could be called a Buddha other than the historical Buddha. The Buddha was also called Tathāgata, and he showed both human and superhuman aspects, and was seen as the highest teacher of all humans and divines.   In Mahāyāna Buddhism, dharma-kāya -oriented ideology was advanced which is a eternally imperishable body of a Buddha.
They believes the historical Buddha is a mere incarnation of Dharama-body.  The Prajñā-pāramita-sūtra says that Prajñā-pāramita (perfection of wisdom) is the Tathāgata’s Dharma-kāya.“  The Sadharma-pundarika-Sūtra uses the term of eternal Buddha rather than the that of dharma-kāya.  The eternal Buddha is a Buddha who was enlightened a long time ago, and the life of Tathāgata is infinite . He exists forever.  The eternal  Buddha comes into being that surpasses the Buddhas of past or the future. In the Buddha-Avatamsaka-mahāvaipulya-sūtra, Viricana Buddha, the dharma-k, Viricana Buddha, the dharma-kāya Buddha, is manifest as a Buddha that has omnipresent nature and infinity, therefore the Buddha in Mahāyāna Buddhism is elevated into vast and transcendental light.  This idea of the Buddha-body was later developed into that of vīpāka-kāya meaning the body that resulted from the achievement of bodhisattva vows.
2. The Issues of Authenticity of the Scriptures
The authenticity of Mahāyāna sutras is a subtle issue that has been under controversy with the vicissitudes of Mahāyāna Buddhism.  The samgīti (compilation of scripture) was held four times before Mahāyāna Movement.  But with establishment of Mahāyāna Buddhism, new sutras were compiled. Beginning part of Mahāyāna sutras also mentions the specific names of the place and attendants with the phrase “Thus have I heard (Evam mayā śrutam)” that is typically used to describe sutras in order to claim some authority. However, if the sutras were established 600 years after death of the Buddha, then the orthodoxy and authority of the sutras seem problematic.
The theory that Mahāyāna sutras are not the word of the Buddha was first raised by Buddhists who criticized Mahāyāna movement, and they condemned Mahāyāna sūtras, calling them teachings of Mara.  However, the Mahāyāna-sūtra-lamkāra (Ta-ch’eng-chuang-yen-ching-lun) argues that “If a person achieves enlightenment, and teaches Dhrama, it is recognized as the word of Buddha.”  This attitude is completely different from Theravāda interpretations of the sutras.  Mahāyāna believes that something is the truth not because it was spoken by Buddha, but because everything that spoke the truth can be considered as the Buddha’s teachings.  Thus, in Mahāyana tradition the notion of Buddhist scripture has eventually expanded.
3.  Ideological Differences
 The special doctrines and characteristics in Mahāyāna scriptures are Boddhisattva ideals, doctrine of multi-Buddha, positive interpretation of Nirvana, Sanskritization of sutras, emphasis on worship and rituals, important role of lay Buddhist, doctrine of vows, positive interpretation of precepts, Practice of mantra and darani, other-power Faith, etc. In particular, new terms appear such as ‘six pāramitās’, ‘generating Bodhi-citta’, ‘the ten bhumis’, ‘attainment of Buddhahood’, three-body of the Buddha’, ‘emptiness’, ‘Tathāgata-garbha.’ Among these, two concepts that Mahāyāna Buddhism contributed to the cultural history of humankind are Bodhsattva ideal and doctrine of sunyata (emptiness). The latter became the ideological foundation of Mahāyāna, whereas the former became the driving force that made Mahāyāna Buddhism successful as a religion.
4. Precepts and Religious Ethics
 Mahāyāna Buddhism criticized conservative precepts and emphasized opened autonomous ethics. Although it inherits morality of early Buddhism, Mahāyāna Buddhism differentiate the meaning of Sila, depending on whether the precepts are kept in a self-centered way or in a Mahāyāna way.  Precepts of Bodhisattava are positive and active ones that are always related to mind Karma based on motivational ethics and hope for redeeming mankind.  The spirit of Sila in Mahāyāna Buddhism carries meaning only when they are for enlightenment and for the whole mankind. They are not passive commandments that avoid committing the evil, but active ones that expand the good.
 The idea of karma in early Buddhism emphasized self-responsibility. However, Mahāyāna brought about the idea of transformation of merit (parināmanā) in which good deed produced by oneself is channeled not only to the wellbeing of oneself, but also to that of others. That is, there are two types of parināmanā.  One is to channel one’s good deed to one’s own enlightenment, another is to channel it to merit for the wellbeing and enlightenment of others. The latter is different from doctrine causality which emphasizes that one’s karma is bound to come back to oneself.
5. Religious Faith and Practice
 Theravāda emphasizes faith in self-power, whereas Mahāyāna adopted elements of faith in other-power. The Pure-Land school believes in Buddha’s original vows that will establish idealistic Buddha-land and redeem mankind who aspire to be reborn there.  Faith in Amitabha Buddha teaches that one’s sins can be easily lifted and enlightenment achieved all by Buddha’s Grace and original vows.  Teaching of the Pure-land came from Buddha’s warm compassion towards agonizing humankind. Faith in Rebirth to the Pure-Land earned empathy from the general public and opened the door for popularization of Mahāyāna Buddhism. Apart from it, there is Ch’an (Sun, Zen) Buddhism that denies any scriptural teaching but teaches ways of seeing one’s nature and attain Buddhahood. Esoteric Buddhism focuses on practice of mantra.
III. Search for Mutual Understanding and Common-ground
1. Are Hinayānaand Theravada, Theravāda and Early Buddhism, Synonymous with Each Other?
 Devotees of Mahāyāna Buddhism used the term Mahāyāna to emphasize the greatness of its own teachings. However, it can be problematic whether or not it is appropriate to call anything other than the tradition of Mahāyāna as Hinayana.  In this regard, it would help to refer to Walpola Rahula’s views: “Theravāda Buddhism went to Sri Lanka during the 3rd Century B.C. when   there was no Mahāyāna at all. Hinayāna sects developed in India and had an    existence independent from the form of Buddhism existing in Sri Lanka.     Today there is no Hinayāna school in existence anywhere in the world.”
 In effect, the sects that was criticized as Hinayāna at the time when Mahāyāna Buddhism was arising might be the  Sarvāstivāda or the Sautrāntika.  For that reason, World Fellowship of Buddhists (WFB) decided not to use the term ‘Hinayana’ to refer to Buddhisms in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Burma, Khmer, and Laos.  It is equally inappropriate to identify today’s Theravāda Buddhism with early Buddhism. The Theravāda only believes in Pāli scriptures that are believed to be closer to Buddha’s live voice than any others. If early Buddhism is identified as Hinayāna, the Buddha’s fundamental teachings might be reduced to interior teaching which is quite a troubling dilemma. By the same token, it is wrong to call the five Nikāyas, i.e., early Buddhist scriptures, as Hinayāna scriptures. Mahāyāna should be understood not as a particular sect, but as a concept that came into being through dialectical negation of distorted form of Buddhism.
2. What are the similarities between Theravāda and Mahāyāna?
From the perspective of history of religion, the idea of Mahāyāna mainly came from doctrine of the Mahāsamghika.  In fact, however, its root was already preached in original Buddhism. The major principles of Mahāyāna were mostly found in the Five Nikāyas.  Walpola Rahula sees no big differences between Theravāda and Mahāyāna in terms of fundamental lessons due to the following reasons: (a) Both accept Sakyamuni Buddha as the Teacher.   (b) The Four Noble Truths are exactly the same in both schools. (c) The Eightfold Path is exactly the same in both schools. (d) The Paticca-samuppada or the Dependent Origination is the same in both schools. (e)  Both reject the idea of a supreme being who created and governed this world. (f) Both accept Anicca, Dukkha, Anatta and Sila, Samadhi, Panna without any differences.
The Mādhyamika doctrine of śūnyatā which is a central teaching in Mahāyāna is just a reinterpretation of Anatta and dependent origination in early Buddhism. The origins of Yogacara thought is also easily found in early scriptures.
3. Is Theravāda orthodox? And is Mahāyāna heterodox?
  Theravāda argues that it succeed to the orthodox Buddhism, based on the fact that it believed in the Sutra which was regarded as the one that historic Buddha himself preached. Therefore, it implies that the orthodoxy of Mahāyāna should be denied, and furthermore Theravāda should be absolutized. However, Theravāda is not the new religion departed from Sakyamuni Buddha, but the one originated and developed from early Buddhism. Even though, Theravāda criticizes that Mahāyāna was not originated from Buddhism and regard faith in many Buddhas as a heretic. Besides, the Theravāda advocates show their concerns that ignoring historic Buddha may result in an evil course. Also they argue that excessive tolerance and generosity will dilute the innocence of Buddhism and as a result, they regard Mahāyāna and Esoteric Buddhism as Hindu-Buddhism deviated from the essence of Buddhism.
However, it is necessary to point out that the Sutra is not about the truth itself, but to teach us how to reach the truth. Buddhism is merely mārga(way).  The doctrines in the Five Nikāyas are also contextual truth according to its audience and the necessity at that time. Therefore, if the principle that all Sutras is an instrument is not well understood, it may cause huge misinterpretation of the Mahāyāna’s profound truth. Therefore, the Diamond sūra (Vajrachedikha-prajñā-pāramitā-sūtra) warns that we should not stick to even the sermon that Buddha himself preached as the Absolute truth. In Buddhism, it is said that the obsession with Dharma is one of the agonies that should be discarded along with the obsession with oneself. If it is believed that the truth has its substance, this idea can cause the obsession with its own creed, resulting in conflicts of hatred and contradiction.
4. How can we understand fath in other-power?
 It cannot be denied that the Mahāyāna beliefs such as Avalokitesvara Boddhisattva, Amitabha-Buddha, Maitreya Buddha, and Ksitigarbha Boddhisattva are formulated by the influences from other religious culture. However, its value cannot be underestimated from the viewpoint of orthodoxy based on historicism. The advantage of Buddhism is that when it is spread out to other culture, it is harmonized with the previous local belief. It also should be noted that at the same time, it has never lost its inclusive religious system based on self-power and the ideal of ultimate awakening.
 Buddhism has a inclusive character. Inclusivism may be defined as a religious system which accepts other religious teaching, but only recognizes its preliminary values while putting its superiority to Buddhism. The other-power also aims the ultimate awakening. This principle of inclusivism can be applied to not only the dialogue within a religion, for example, the one among various sects, or religious bodies, but also the Buddhism’s understandings of other religions.
 V. Proposal for Creative Dialogue and Practice
1. The attitudes of orthodoxy and superiority should be abandoned.
One of the barriers between Theravāda and Mahāyāna is so-called orthodox belief system. The argument that Theravāda is inherited its historical orthodoxy from Buddha, and the arrogant attitude of ignoring Mahāyāna based on the belief that the only the five Nikāyas is the genuine and innocent preaches directly from Buddha should be corrected.
In Mahāyāna, its superiority should be abandoned which is generated from the three-yānas, i.e., śrāvaka-yāna, pratyeka-buddha-yāna, and bodhisattva-yāna. Also sectarian attitudes, saying that Mahāyāna is a complete teaching (Nitārtha), and Hinayāna is a incomplete teaching (Neyārtha) should be abolished. Finally, the error of over-simplification that views early Buddhism including the abhidharma Buddhism and Hinayāna as same should be corrected.
2. Hinayānistic elements in modern Buddhism should be abandoned.
In fact, Hinayānistic elements exist in every Buddhist tradition not as a specific sect, but as non-Buddhistic phenomenon, For example, Bhiksu-centered samgha system, distorted preaches, selfish Buddhists, false Sutras, lack of will to practice, sectarianism, exclusivism, and Buddhists who neglect their duty of practicing mercy, or obsess with formality of Buddhist precepts: these are Hinayāna Buddhists. In this context, Hinayāna means the non-Buddhistic ways that should be overcome, and Mahāyāna means the will to rise above and reform Hinayāna. In this regard, the term of Mahāyāna and Hinayāna will be used not as the terminology indicating a certain sect, but as the concepts of extensive value determination.
3. The formulation of the new Buddhist scripture is necessary.
The new formulation of Samghiti for universal Buddhist scripture is now requested. Through official meetings of three traditions, the new Buddhist doctrines should be reviewed and recognized officially. Its process of canonization for all Buddhist should be agreed by Buddhism scholars and leaders from all three traditions. Especially, the official agreement on the authenticity of Mahāyāna sūtras from all Buddhism traditions is crucial.
4. The common creed and standardized ceremony should be established.
For the establishment of the common creed and standardized ceremony, it is necessary to consider following things;  the standardization of Three Refuges, reinterpretation of panca-sila (Five Preceps) or 10 Sila, the establishment of new buddha-body theory, and the determination of central doctrine in Buddhism including early Buddhism, Theravāda, Mahāyāna, and Vajrayāna tradition, etc.
5. Universalism should be pursued in traditional diversity.
By understanding the history of Buddhist doctrine, the development and extension process of doctrine and its continuity should be recognized from the cultural and religious perspective. Also the diversity of Buddha’s preaches and the uniqueness of Buddhist culture in many countries should be accepted.
6. Each community should learn from each other through dialogue and mutual interchange.
For mutual learning and growth through dialogue among Buddhist communities, Buddhists around the world should participate actively in INEB, WFB, or IPM (International Pancasila-samadana Movement).  The Korean headquatre of WFB has established IPM since 1993. The IPM is designed to set common ethical rules among Buddhists traditions of Theravāda, Mahāyāna, and Vajrayāna.  The Five Precepts  can be extended globally as common ethical movement, because it may be accepted by any communities that have a prejudice against religion, country, people, race or religious sect.
7. The collaboration principles among sects and its action plan should be discussed.
Facing the new century of globalization, it is time for Buddhist communities to open the age of dialogue. The dialogue among Buddhists begins with the understandings of each tradition’s history, and should be developed to notional, ethical and practical dimension. To start a new chapter of mutual understanding among three traditions, the education of creed, ceremony, history and culture in each tradition is necessary.
The tradition interpenetration Buddhism in Korea, can be a good model for further studies as one of the principles of collaboration among Buddhism traditions. The characteristics of Korean Buddhism are based on harmonization Buddhism, and they cover from sectarian Buddhism to reconciliated Buddhism.  Korean Monk Wonhyo (617-686) in Shilla dynasty stated in the Thematic Essential of Nirvana-sutra that it united all sutras from diverse traditions, returned countless branches of the truth to the one proved the utmost fairness of Buddha thought, and finally reconciliated many disputes. In fact, the Buddhism escapes from all beliefs and boundaries, and denies any dogmatic fixation of the truth. The open mind beyond all barriers and boundaries should be the base for the dialogue among Buddhism communities.
8. The Buddhism always needs new interpretation.
Buddhism does not die with Buddha. As Mahāyāna accomplished a drastic development in Buddhism by reinterpreting the wisdom and mercy which are the central concept of Buddha’s awakening, Buddhists today should play an important role in improving our society through creative interpretation of Buddhist doctrines. The new way of Mahāyāna now is to seek right solution actively to salvation of the poor mind, social inequality and poverty, teenage problems, environmental pollution, human rights, materialism, and scientism. Therefore, the true meaning of Mahāyāna lies on the way back to the original teaching of the Buddha by correcting distorted form of Buddhism through its 2,600 years history.

The Role and Significance of Korean Seon in the Study of East Asian Buddhism

The Role and Significance of Korean Seon in the Study of East Asian Buddhism
From 1st Panca-parisad(International Open Seon Conference) of Baekyangsa Monastery, 1998

written by Lewis Lancaster
University of California

The role of Korean Seon Buddhism in the study of East Asian Buddhism has yet to be fully defined or identified. This is, in part, because we are still struggling with the problem of what strategies to use in the study of this religion that spread across vast reaches of the Eurasian land mass. In the process of expansion, Buddhism moved from the land of its origins and transcended linguistic, political, cultural, religious, and physical boundaries. The ability to spread far and wide made Buddhism into a world religion and created a complex history of development which scholars are still attempting to untangle. There are many questions about the nature of our study, the evaluation of the sources to be used for it, and the issues of cultural perceptions which belong to those who do this work.
From the earliest times, the Buddhist traditions have produced their own narratives about the founding, history, and basic teachings of the religion. These accounts have been standardized and put into written form and preserved in all the languages of the Buddhist communities of Asia. Academic study of Buddhism emerged from the institutions of higher education in Asia and Europe. In many ways the field of Buddhist studies has been the results of the interaction between scholars in Europe, Japan, China, South and Southeast Asia, and North America. Unfortunately, the inclusion of Korean Buddhist studies, within this developing scholastic movement of the 19th and early 20th centuries, was delayed. As a result, the study of Korean Buddhism has had an entirely different history than that of Chinese or Japanese Buddhism. The lack of comparable study of Korean Seon with that of Chinese Chan and Japanese Zen has obscured the importance of the history of Buddhism in Korea in relationship to the rest of East Asia. Therefore, as we look at the role of Korean Seon in the study of East Asian Buddhism, we must first take note of the academic developments. After seeing the development of the field, we can turn our attention to some of the issues which have been overlooked because of the past neglect of the study of Buddhism in Korea.
The study of Chan and Zen Buddhism in China and Japan has come about from a complex geopolitical development over the past centuries. European involvement in Buddhist studies was initiated by three groups (1) the colonial administrations in Asia, (2) the mercantile community that went back and forth to Asia, and (3) the Christian missionaries. From these diverse groups of people, European scholars received manuscripts and descriptions of the religious practices of the people in the eastern part of the Eurasian land mass. When we look at the bibliography of published materials in European languages, listed by date of publication, we have one view of the way in which Buddhism was studied. However, bibliographical research often tells us more about the people doing the research than about the reality of the tradition being studied. The earliest academic reports and research on Buddhism came from Russia and Catholic missionaries. Russia was a natural place for research on Buddhism because the eastern borders were inhabited by Buddhists. The pioneering Catholic missionaries first sent back reports from China, then under the control of the Mongols. It an interesting twist of history that both of these groups first came into contact with the Mongolian forms of Buddhism, at the court of the Khans in Beijing and among the eastern tribes of Russia. Only when the missionaries moved beyond the Mongol court and started to reach out to the Han peoples was there any information about the form of Buddhism that was being practiced by most of the population. The Mongols may have ruled the nation but they were a small minority in terms of numbers. We now know that the practice of the Han Buddhist monastics at the time when accounts were being made to European audiences, was Chan. The history of the practice was preserved in lore that described the early introduction of the meditation technique by the Patriarch Bodhidharma.
II. Early Reports on Chan
The first reports to reach Europe concerning Chan were made by Catholic missionaries who were competing with Buddhism. Opponents never make the best histories of one another, and these two great world religions were natural opponents. They had many practices in common, monastic life with celibate monks and nuns, rules of conduct for those who entered the monastery, vows of poverty for ascetics, shaven heads, special dress, reverence for relics of esteemed dead, pilgrimage to sacred sites associated with the esteemed, and use of images. It would seem that the two had enough common ground to stimulate an interest in the practice of the other. Unfortunately, the competition kept the Catholic missionaries from making note of similarities. A study of Christian monasticism by Chinese Buddhists was out of the question since they had no missionaries in Europe at that time and only saw individual monks and priests living in China, an alien environment for the Christians.
The initial description of Chan was through the person of the Catholic missionary Ricci, who was housed at one time in a Buddhist monastery. Ricci made great contributions to the study of China and involved himself in the cultural and religious debates of that time. However, he was a missionary and his goal was the conversion of the Han to Christianity. It was impossible for him to see Buddhism as anything other than a barrier to his mission. When he explored some of the teachings of Chan, he focused on the doctrine of sunyata, which he took to be nihilistic. The later community of French Jesuits also complained that the Chan monks of China held to the doctrine ” a vacuum or Nothing is the Principle of all Things, that from this our first Parents had their Origin.”It is not difficult to spot the source for this particular attack against Buddhism. As early as the 11th century, Chang Tsai of the Sung dynasty had put forward the proposition that Buddhism was a nihilistic teaching. His treatise was well known and the attacks against the doctrine of sunyata continued through out the 11th and 12th centuries, with Chu Hsi joining in the fray. This negative view of the teachings of the Chan tradition was Confucian in origin and it was this Chinese position that was transmitted to the Catholics and from them on to Europe. The prejudice against Chan was not limited to the early missionaries. Contemporary scholars such as Kenneth Chen have echoed these ancient attacks. In his important and influential study of Chinese Buddhism, Chen states that Buddhism declined in China because of the popularity of the Chan and Pure Land Schools during the Sung. This type of statement, still finding its way into print a few decades ago, is a demonstration of the persistence of certain ideas, however inaccurate or misleading they may be. That we still find reflections of the ancient battles between competing Chinese groups in the literature of the current century, alerts us to the fact that a clear and objective history of Chan is difficult to achieve. We are still trying to write this history and it is precisely for this reason that Korean Seon, as a integral part of this story, must be studied and included in the mainstream of scholarly research on Chan.

III. Search for the Origins of Chan
When the Europeans started to discuss the intellectual history of China, they soon heard that there was a distinct difference between the Confucian philosophies and the Chan teachings. Since Buddhism has originated in India, it was natural to assume that the differences between these two systems of thought reflected the fact that the teachings had been transmitted from South Asia to China. Since this was the case, then it was important for scholars to focus attention on India in order to fully understand the doctrines of Chan. One of the early scholars, Barthelemy Saint-Hilaire took this approach and saw Chan as a form of Vedanta. However, when he was introduced to the idea of the Koan, he could see that it had no counterpart in Indian philosophy and practice. The missionary scholar Edkins also tried to find the Indian source for the Chan Buddhism that he encountered in China and he concluded that it was from Jainism. The Chinese Confucian community was not adverse to such study of Buddhism, since they considered Indian culture to be inferior to that of China. Chu Hsi saw Chan as the teachings of the Indian Bodhidharma, who he described as a charismatic figure. The notion that Chan had its roots from India was an old one among the Confucians, it was not a discovery of the missionary scholars. From the opposite side of the equation, Prof. Kalupahana looks at Chan from the ancient patterns of South Asia and finds many elements that have precedence in the Indic textual tradition. Dumolin presents the opposite view. He states that Chan was a Chinese movement in “their thoughts and feelings. They were Chinese Buddhists, stepped in the spirit of Hua-yen philosophy–very different from the Buddhist disciples of the Pali canon” The eclectic nature of Chinese Chan makes it difficult to sort out the origin of its various elements.
The source of the Indian elements in Chan was understood to be the first Patriarch, Bodhidharma who brought the meditation tradition into China. In the study of the founders, whether it is Sakyamuni or Bodhidharma, a problem arises from the interpretations that are given to these individuals by some of the Western scholars. Western approaches to the study of Buddhism has been recently challenged by anthropologists in Sri Lanka. Obeyesekera has coined the word “protestant Buddhism” to describe one of the ways in which the tradition is viewed. Tambiah has joined Obeyesekera in speaking out against “protestant Buddhism.” Prothero in his study of the matter gives us a good definition. “Protestant Buddhism” is the idea that the essence of Buddhism is to be found in the texts and by implication not in the practice. This leads to misunderstandings, since the extraction of textual selections as a way to define a normative Buddhism, can never be fully supported when we look at the religion in a given place at a certain time. Buddhism in local practice may appear in a quite different guise from that described in Sanskrit and Pali texts of past centuries.
A second part of “protestant Buddhism” is the belief that Buddhism is primarily an ethical system and must be defined as such. By seeking for textual evidence, this ethic can be defined. It is usually judged to be a proper ethic when it agrees with the Western system, especially that of the Protestant cultures of Europe. Tambiah and Obeyesekera both feel that this has been a betrayal of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, a cutting away of practices that have been long the heart of the tradition for people. The magical, the rituals of fortune and for the dead, do not get included in “protestant Buddhism.”
“Protestant Buddhism” creates a number of problems for the study of Chan. The emphasis on ethics in society calls into question the value of meditation as a lifelong career. Monasticism was severely criticized by the Protestants in Europe and the missionaries and scholars were equally strong in directing attacks against this practice in Asia. Not only was popular practice, such as those aspects directed toward health and prosperity, overlooked by the reliance on text study, but so was Chan meditation. Another tendency in “protestant Buddhism” was the delight in making all major historical figures into reformers. Buddha was seen as a young Luther, a reformer who spoke out against the establishment of his time; Bodhidharma as one who rejected institutional Buddhism in China, and even Shen-hui gets accolades for being a later reformer of Chan itself. Seeing the important figures of Buddhism whether in India or in China, as reformers is often misleading. Bodhidharma and Sakyamuni can be better described as individuals of their own time, expressing values and ideas that were part of the collective perceptions of the era. While they may have helped bring about change, it was not the highest goal of their life. The focus on reformers is a definite sign of “protestant Buddhism.”
IV. Zen Orientalism
Bernard Faure describes the next stage of study as Zen Orientalism, when Zen came to be an object of discourse in the West. The interest was a result of the work of D.T. Suzuki. He had enormous influence in the introduction of Zen and Chan ideas to an English reading public. In Japan he was never part of the major academic community of Buddhist specialists in national or sectarian universities. For this Japanese scholarly community the Zen study that attracted the most attention was that of the philosopher at Kyoto University, Nishida Kitaro. The question which emerged from the work of these two scholars and those who used their works, was whether the teachings of Zen are outside of any historical or cultural context as constrasted with being a part of a historical lineage of masters. Nishida tied Zen philosophy to pure experience. This pure experience is free of cultural context. However, the role of the lineage of teachers in Chan and Zen has never been replaced by the philosophical approach.
In China, an important figure among the intellectuals of the first part of the 20th century was Hu Shih. He had studied in the U.S. and returned to China with his academic training combined with the classical work that he had done within the traditional system of study in his country. Hu Shih had a strong sense of the history of China and he saw Indian Buddhism as a “virus” which had infected the nation. Chan was the Chinese correction ofthe Indian excesses of mysticism. Chan was practical. His work in the U.S. may have shown most clearly when he declared that Shen-hui was a revolutionary figure–another reformer. When Hu Shih started to look at the Chan documents of the Dunhuang collection, he negated the traditional histories and looked to construct a true history of Chan. His attempt to contruct a true history pointed toward the importance of the Chinese cultural influences within Chan and the turn away from the older Indian forms of the religion.

V. Joseon Period Seon Buddhism
When we turn out attention to the Joseon period in Korea, we can see how the local situation helped to determine the way in which Buddhism was studied. Each culture of East Asia gave Buddhism a different position at given times and places. The Mongols gave it a very high place in their court life and provided support for the practices which they had inherited from Tibet. Among the Han people, the attitude toward the religion was mixed. There was a bias against the teachings and practices, especially among many of the officials and literati. At the same time, there was a willingness to have a variety of religious expressions existing side by side within the general practices of Chinese religion. Buddhism had a secure place among the people and for certain issues, it was a primary focus. While some of the elite of the learned community considered the teachings to be inferior to the Chinese philosophies, monasteries, where Chan was practiced, abounded and received great support from a wide spectrum of society.
Japanese Buddhism had been adopted by the court during the Nara period and thereafter retained a place in the center of Japanese intellectual and religious life. Unlike China, there was no elite community that considered it to be inferior. This meant that Japan was to be the nation with the best scholastic basis for the study of Buddhism. The tradition has been a part of the curriculum of universities for centuries, including the national system of higher education.
How different was the case of Korea. The Chu-hsi School of Confucian thought came to dominate the official life of the Joseon Korean court and the leaders in the provinces of the nation. Buddhism, the religion of the previous Goryeo dynasty, was rejected and in many ways the recording of Korean Buddhist history was suspended. The tradition was seen as a decadent remainder of the power it had held in the preceding dynasty. Monks and Nuns were forbidden to enter the capital and other major cities, the educational system no longer included the Buddhists, and support from officials ceased. Korean historians who were part of the dominant Confucian supporters, gave scant attention to Buddhism in the national annals. For those who based their understanding of the history of Korean on these records, it appeared that Buddhism was a rejected and minor aspect of the life of the people. This characterization of Korean Buddhism continued into the 20th century and so Europeans and North Americans found little to interest them. Until more recent times, Korean Seon was not a part of the research of scholastic endeavor either in universities or colleges of Korea or those abroad.
VI. Contemporary Studies
There has been an improvement in this scholarship during the last quarter of the 20th century, and we have seen the publication of a series of monographs that have advanced our knowledge about Chan, Zen and Seon far beyond the previous understanding. Paul Demieville was an important person in making the study of all available documents for an understanding of the Chan history in China. He followed the French approach to look at the ethnographic as well as the textual sources for a study of the tradition. This was a reconstruction of the history not totally dependent upon the received tradition of the Chan movement. Of great importance was the discovery of Chan texts in Cave 17 at Dunhuang. These Dunhuang documents have helped scholars to revise the history of Chan and to see it as a much more complex and multifaceted movement than was previously thought. Other scholars have pursued similar strategies of looking at the full range of available documentation for the study of particular aspects of the Chan, whether it be the teachings of a particular master, the rules of conduct, or the cultural application of the practice. Some of these, and this is not a complete list, include Carl Bielefeldt, Martin Collcutt, Bernard Faure, Luis Gomez, Griffith Faulk, John McRae, Philip Yampolsky and others who are present at this conference. We have moved far beyond the previous understanding of Chan.
In most instances contemporary study of Chan has developed in Japan and these scholars were strongly influenced by contacts with the important Japanese scholars who looked to the Chinese material. There was no comparable study to this Chinese work for Korea among the Japanese scholars. A few good works were done such as those of Prof. Kamata, but no critical mass of scholarship has ever developed in Japan for the Korean tradition. The Japanese approach to Chan has also had some limitations. Because Zen in Japan is sectarian with separate ordination from other Buddhist groups, Chan in China is viewed as the forerunner of what happened in Japan. It is the history of Chan which was of interest and not the practice or the fact that Chan had a widespread and continuing pattern of development. After the introduction of Chan into Japan, and the establishment of the institutions of the Zen monasteries, less attention was paid to the subsequent developments in China. Japanese scholars have produced few studies of contemporary Chan or even Chan of the period after the Sung. Once the transmission was complete, attention was turned to Japan itself and not to the continuing developments of other forms of the tradition in China and Korea. This is one of the reasons why the study of Chan has seldom been extended to the contemporary practices and development.
The work of breaking through to a new era of study for Korean Buddhism and the Seon tradition has come from a small group of scholars. In the 1960s and 70s, dissertations were written that provided the first substantial information on the history and practices of Seon. The first was done by So Kyong-bo who made a study of the Chodangjip in 1960 and nearly two decades later Shim Jae Ryong followed this up with a first introduction to Jinul and in the same year Sung-bae Park dealt with the role of Wonhyo in the development of Korean Buddhist schools and Hee Sung Keel investigated the role of Jinul. Work on Jinul continued with the publications of Robert Buswell. This group of scholars received their training in Korea and North America. They were not part of that group of North American and European scholars who did part of their graduate research in Japan. This small band of scholars had to develop their own approach and they have pioneered in the creation of the literature that has allowed students to begin the discovery of the importance of Korean Seon. We owe them a debt of gratitude for providing the scholastic entry into the study of this aspect of Korean Buddhism. The publications of these scholars gave a dimension to the study of Korean Seon which had never been known in Europe or North America. This focus on those who published in English is not intended as a judgement of the work that was beginning to appear in Korean. Without the editions, translations, and histories that were published in Korean language volumes, the international community would not have been able to make the advances that they accomplished. Scholars such as An Chi-ho, Rhi Ki- young, Kim T’an-ho, Han Ki-du, Yi Chong-ik, and others have given us invaluable aid in the hard task of mastering the textual material related to Seon.
From these works done in the last half of the 20th century, we have a description of the history of the Seon movement. Robert Buswell has pointed out that the early introduction of Chan to Korea came before the Sixth Patriarch or the battles which followed between the Northern and Southern Schools. If this history is correct, then Pomnang received his study under the Fourth Patriarch Tao-hsin. His student studied in the linear of the Second Patriarch of the Northern School. While the Korean Seon group of the Chogye Order now traces its origins to the Southern School of Chan, the teachings were being transmitted in Korea at an earlier date than the time when this school came to dominate. The of study of the ancient documents and the reconstruction of history based on all available sources has brought about a new understanding of how Korean Seon developed.

VII. Korean Seon
This brings us to the main point of our inquiry: the significance of the Korean Seon for the study of the Chan tradition in China. I would like to make a few observations and suggestions for future work. The thrust of these comments will be to examine the history of the introduction of the Chan approach to Korea. As we consider the materials coming from those early practitioners, it should at the very least provide us with supporting documentation for the studies that center on China. In order to follow through with this type of research, we can note that there were eight famous Korean masters who went to China during the Tang dynasty and returned to Korea to start their own lineages in mountain monasteries. These masters are of interest to us, not only because of their activities in Korea, but also because they were trained in China. Receiving the instruction of Chan monks, the Korean Seon masters represent one way of looking at the ideas and methods that were contemporaneous in the Tang dynasty. As we look at the biographies of the eight Silla dynasty Seon masters, we have the following information about them:
The first one to go to China was Doui. He stayed in China for 34 years returning to Korea in 818. His teacher was Hsi-t’ang Chih-tsang from the lineage of Ma-tsu. He studied with this master for 20 years. When Doui returned to Korea, he lived for seven years and during that time started his training of local disciples, who established a center at Porim Sa more than three decades after the master’s demise. At the same time that Doui was working with Hsi-t’ang Chih- tsang, two other Korean disciples went to be trained. Hongch’ok arrived in 810 and Hyech’ol in 814. Hongch’ok stayed in China for 16 years and Hyech’ol for 25. Only after the death of Hsi- t’ang Chih-tsang in 814 did any of them leave China. When Hongch’ok had returned to Korea in 826 at the age of 54 he soon established his center at Silsang Sa.
After the three Koreans had gone to study with Hsi-t’ang Chih-tsang, a fourth followed them to China in 821; Muyom went to work with Ma-ku Pao-ch’e. Muyom stayed in China for 24 years, going home in 845 and setting up his center of mediation at Songju Sa in 847. Three years later Hyonuk set out for China and was to stay for 13 years doing study with Chang-ching Huai-hui. After his homecoming in 837, he lived and taught for 32 years and his disciples established a center for the continuation of the school in 897 at Pongnim Sa. The year following the departure of Hyonuk for China, Toyun arrived in the Tang kingdom and choose Nan-ch’uan P’u-yuan to be his master. He also had a long stay– 22 years– before going back to Korea in 847 and establishing a center in 850 at Hungnyong Sa.
From these examples of Seon masters who studied in China, we see that there was a steady stream of Korean monks going and returning from China with contacts among a variety of Chan masters from 784-911. They lived in China and studied until after the death of their Chinese masters. They had a protracted stay in China, all for more than a dozen years and some for three decades. When these monks returned to Korea, they were themselves mature people. For example Hyech’ol was 54 on his return, Hyonuk 50, Toyun 50, Iom 42. We see that the Seon monks of Korea usually went to Masters who were well known and already aged. The first three Korean students of Hsi-t’ang came to him in his later life. Doui joined Hsi-t’ang when he was 50, Hong Ch’ok when he was 75 and Hyech”ol during his last year of life at 79. Pomil joined his master when Yen Kuan was 81, and Toyun met Nan Ch’uan when the master was 77. This means that Korean Seon monks were being taught by mature and revered masters of the Tang Chan tradition. They sought after the established leaders.
The impact of the group was great for Korea. Within a 50 year period, seven of the Nine Mountain Seon monasteries were established as places where their heritage was continued by generations of disciples. Thus the Chinese Chan was transplanted in the 9th century into the main fabric of Korean Buddhist institutions. While the older scholastic schools of the Unified Silla had been the center of Korean life during the 7th and 8th centuries, Seon carried the day in the 9th and Korean Buddhism was never the same.

(A) Transmission of the Dharma
It is important that we understand the importance of these monks in looking at the history of the Tang Buddhist developments. The teachings of the eight Korean Seon monks constitute a major source for our study of Chan, but one which has been little used by Chinese scholars. During the 9th century, we can track the developments in China which must have been part of the experience of the Seon monks. There were five distinct groups of the Southern School of Chan. Shen Hui the founder of this school had been victorious over the so called “Northern Schools”. The disciples of Shen Hui held to the principle that the transmission of the Dharma was one of the most important and sacred moments in Buddhism. Without a clear understanding of the way in which this transmission occurred there could be no assurance about the authenticity of it. There is some indication in the older Indian tradition of the transmission of the teaching from one teacher to another. We have the example of the Sakyamuni giving the dharma over to his disciple Mahakasyapa. But even in the Indian materials, the idea of single transmission is eroded when we look at the Astasahasrikaprajnaparamita Sutra, where the transmission for that text is given from Sakyamuni to Ananda, not to Mahakasyapa For the newly emerging Southern School, there was the idea that transmission could only be given to one individual in a generation. They used the analogy of kingship, saying that a nation could not have more than one king, and Chan could not have more than one master in one generation.
The Venerable Taiwanese Master Yin Shun has challenged this view of a single transmission. Yin Shun recognizes that a major issue was over the idea of whether there was one transmission of the Dharma in every generation. This would mean that it was crucial to know exactly which disciple received the transmission from Hui Neng in order to decide on the authentic passage of the teaching. But as Yin Shun shows in his research, the idea of one transmission in each generation was not a central practice before the school of Shen Hui made it so. He reminds us that there are many expressions found in inscriptions and texts that indicate the multiplicity of the transmissions. Hung Jen, the Fifth Patriarch, is quoted as saying: “I have taught many people in my life–the ones who transmit my dharma becomes masters in their own places.” Fa Hai, another famous master, is said to have had ten disciples who received the transmission. The study of Korean Buddhism shows us that as the tradition of Chan was being passed into the peninsula, it came from a number of sources and transmissions. Once we see the Korean along side the events of China and Japan, we can begin to spot just how multiple the transmissions were. The fact that the Korean Hung-chou School of Seon had as it’s founder Nan Yueh Hai Jong (677-740), a little know disciple of Hui Neng immediately alerts us to fact that there was no one single transmission in the generation following Hui Neng, just as Yin Shun points out that there was no single transmission before Hui Neng’s time. Two of Hui-neng’s disciples Nanye Huairang and Qingyuan Xingsi, who died in the 8th century had formed the major transmissions. Two were linked to Nanyue Hairang (Yumen and Caodong) and three to Xingsi (Weiyang, Linji, and Fayan). While the idea of single transmission was put forward by the followers of Shen Hui, the idea did not take hold. It is an example of a concept that appears in the writings but not in practice.
Korean Seon history is a good way to investigate the reality of how transmission was accomplished in the 9th century. It shows us that Buddhist history records multiple leaders, and a group of masters, all living and practicing at one time. Without multiple transmissions, it is hard to see how Chan could have been spread to Korea or Japan. .There was no feeling that the transmission from Hui Neng had to come through Shen hui. Huai-jong and other disciples received and passed along the Dharma. As Yin Shun points out, Hui Neng was just one of the many who received the transmission from Hung Jen the fifth Patriarch.
Huairang was of great importance to the development of Chinese Chan. From his lineage came the Weiyang, Linji and Fa Yan schools, all dominant in the Southern Sung. The Fayan school kept close ties to the court and thus when the dynasty shifted, they were pushed aside as belonging to the past. Ven.Yifa in her dissertation from Yale indicates that the Linji came to the fore because they had no ties to the government and thus were free to spread. Once again, the fact that Huairang is so important in the development of the Chan in China and that his tradition spread to Korea, means that the Korean Seon is a valuable tool to looking backward to China to see the heritage that came to Korea in the Hung-chou school
(B) Anti-Textual Positions
If we accept the idea that the words of the Korean Seon masters who trained for many years in China in the 9th century must accurately reflect the teaching that was being given at that time, then the words of Doui and Muyon are of importance.
Doui confronted Chiwon, a scholastic, with the statement:
Hence, separate from the five scholastic teachings, there has been a special transmission of the dharma of the patriarchal mind-seal. ….even though one recites in succession the Buddhist sutras for many years, if one intends thereby to realize the dharma of the mind- seal, for an infinitude of kalpas it will be difficult to attain.
Muyon echoed this distinct difference between the scholastic schools and Seon:
As the [Seon teachings] are not overgrown by the weeds of the three types of worlds, they also have no traces of an exit or an entrance. Hence they are not the same [as the scholastic teaching].
From these Seon masters, we have an indication that the Chan of the 9th century was making a distinction between the two approaches. While this is usually explained as part of the spiritual understanding of the Chan practitioner, I think it is important to take a look at the history of Buddhism at that time. In particular, the role of textual work in monastic life needs to be examined for that period. One significant element stands out when we review the events.
During the 9th century, there were no translations being made of Sanskrit texts into Chinese. The recorded dates for the translated texts contained in the Goryeo Canon tell us that translations came to a halt in 798. This endeavor was not reestablished until 983, when the Northern Sung court, aware of a number of Sanskrit texts that were not in Chinese, set up a bureau to continue the work. Our histories of Chinese Buddhism pay little attention to this 185 year period when new translations were no longer appearing. No effort was made to continue the activity which had been a major part of court and monastic strategy since the middle of the second century. For more than six centuries, missionary monks from Central Asia and Chinese pilgrims had been devoted to the task of finding all available Sanskrit Buddhist texts and making them available in Chinese. As long as the translation work continued, the focus of attention was directed toward the new discoveries and the fuller picture of the words of the Buddha. The thousands of texts that came into China and the ones being written in China claiming to be from Sanskrit originals, dominated the scholastic side of the religion. From the great volume of texts which were appearing in translation, monasteries had to give attention to the written word. Schools were developed to handle the flow of manuscripts and ideas that were being constantly supplemented with new discoveries. It was an exciting time, a time for Buddhists to collect every single work that contained the words from the “Golden Mouth of the Buddha.” The so called “Textual” schools were a direct result of the centuries of focus on translations.
When the Silla monks went to China to be trained in the rising Chan school of meditation, textual translation was no longer an issue. As the translations came to an end, it left room in the Buddhist monastic life for a focus on practice rather than the texts. The window of opportunity for Chan development came in part because of this shift in emphasis within the Buddhist community. The many schools that were based on textual study had arisen in China primarily in the 6th century, with the Fa Hsiang in the 7th and the Tantra in the 8th centuries. These were the years when the translations were being made in large numbers and catalogues compiled to handle the housing of so many volumes. The cessation of the translations in 798 was a very major change in Buddhist life and efforts. It reflected some of the political changes that were occurring. First, in 755 the An Lu Shan rebellion had weaken the Tang dynasty and was a symptom of shifts in society that would plague the successive rulers of that era. The government suppression of certain aspects of foreign religions in 845, indicated an unwillingness to have closer contacts with Central Asia. The Parthians were a menace and there was no desire to see them have an impact on the religious life of China. When we look at our group of Silla monks, it is interesting to note that three of the eight returned to Korea at the time of the suppression. Minyon went home in 845, Pomil in 846 and Toyun in 847. Since their masters were dead and the religious climate in China had changed, it was not surprising to find them deciding to return to their native land. Of the founders of Silla Seon, only Iom went to China after the 845 events. His trip in 895 was long enough after the hard times to indicate that once again monks could find a place to study in the Chinese environment.
From this point of view, I am suggesting that the rejection of a textual basis for Buddhist thought, could occur in a time when there was a break in the translation work. This is not to say that the Chan masters were dependent on the cultural environment for their insights. However, when the insights were being put forth at a time when interest in the continuation of the translations had fallen to a low ebb, it is understandable that the selection of Chan meditation over scholastic textual reading would be more acceptable.
(C) Harmonization of Texts and Meditation
At the time when the great masters of the Korean Seon tradition were studying in China, that is the 9th century, we can note that there was already a concern about the role of mediation in relationship to texts. One of the individuals who attempted to address this problem was Tsung- mi. Tsung-mi died in 841, at a time when eight of the Silla monks had already arrived in China. He had entered the Buddhist monastic life in 807 as a disciple of the Chan master Tao-yuan. Later he also studied with a Hua-yen master and in his training indicates that Chinese monks were able to train in more than one group. He is associated with a movement to find common ground between the Chan and Hua-yen schools. When we look at the Korean Seon tradition, Tsung-mi’s approach does not seem to be reflected in the Silla developments. It is not until the time of Jinul, some two centuries later that we have the work becoming important. If the assumption is correct that the Silla masters brought back the dominant paradigms of Tang Chan, then the harmonization movement was a marginal one. Doui’s comments about the supremacy of Chan transmission over textual study, are strong statements. He does not give a focus to the idea that this transmission must be matched with the recorded words in the sutras.
There were many changes which swept through East Asia in the 10th century. The Tang rule came to an end in 907 and for more than 50 years there was a chaotic political situation. It is understandable that erudite occupations such as translations came to a standstill. The Khitan Empire followed the downfall of the Tang and they also were to have influence on the Korean world. When the Northern Sung finally was able to establish central authority for the Han peoples, the court gave unprecedented support to the Buddhists. First, they had a xylography collection carved for the entire canon. It is thought that this took place from 971-983. After completing the project in Sichuan, the court had created a standard set of texts that could be distributed as rubbings to the copy centers around the nation. The new technology of reverse image printing gave new interest to Buddhist textual study. The government then turned it attention to the problem of Sanskrit manuscripts which were available but had no counterpart in the printed edition. Therefore, in 983 the year when the printing blocks were delivered to Kaifeng, the work of translation was resumed after nearly two centuries of neglect.
When we look at the time of the first group of Chan Silla monks in China, we can note that they came at a time when the textual tradition was at its lowest ebb. When they returned to Korea, it was to carry the message that texts were not as important as the practice of meditation. The rejection of the textual approach mirrored the times. We can understand better the larger view of Chinese Buddhist life during the 9th century, if we study the teaching which these monks has received.
When we consider the experience of Iom who went to China in 895 and stayed until 911, then we have a monk who witnessed the final years of the Tang dynasty and the upheavals of the Wu-tai period (907-960). As things began to change after the establishment of the Northern Sung dynasty, Chan again reflected in its development the issues of the time. Printing brought an exciting new dimension to Buddhist textual tradition. New translations open up the possibility of seeing the final innovations of the religion in India. It was in this environment that the talk of harmonization of Chan and texts came to be an issue. Yen-shou (904-975) was one of the early proponents of the attempt to make use of the texts alongside meditation.
In Korea, we can follow this attempt at harmonization. In the first decade of the 11th century, a set of rubbings from the Northern Sung block print edition of the Chinese canon was brought to Korea. The importance of this printing technology was not lost on the Koreans and they were to excel in the later development of movable type. They made a set of printing blocks for themselves, apparently by making a tracing of the Sung prints. In 1063, the Liao court send another set of rubbings made from their own printing blocks and based on manuscripts that were different than those of the Northern Sung. Other prints arrived over the years from the Northern Sung representing the additional new translations that were being made. In other words, the 11th century was a revival of interest in Buddhist texts. It was at this time that Koreans began to think about the integration of texts with meditation practice. Uicheon (1055-1101) was one of the first in that century to speak of this reunion of the two aspects of Buddhism. One century after Uicheon birth, one of Korea’s most outstanding monks was born, Jinul. While Uicheon was seeking for harmony as one who stood firmly in the scholastic camp, Jinul worked for the same goal from his position within the Seon tradition. We know that the printing of the canon remained important to Korea, because when the Mongols invaded in 1231 and burned the printing blocks, the exiled court made the replacement of them a national priority.
This review of history tells us that the Goryeo Seon masters moved away from the fierce rejection of the scholastic schools that had been a characteristic of the Silla masters. The work with texts that emerged after the introduction of printing, gives us an indication that while religious ideas may not be generated by events outside of the training, these ideas may well be intensified by trends and innovations. Thus we can see a parallel between translation projects, printing technology and the rise and fall of the importance and prestige of texts in the Chan and Seon traditions.

D. Korean Seon and Religious Suppression
Up to this point we have mainly discussed the ways in which Chinese patterns can be studied by looking at the Korean Seon masters. There is another aspect of Korean Seon which is unique and deserves attention. The story of Korean Buddhism during the Joseon period is quite different from that of China or Japan. It is unique in the shift from significant government support to the opposite situation of extreme government repression. The result of the Neo-Confucian rejection of Buddhism was devastating to the established order of the religion. Monasteries were closed, lands confiscated by officials, serfs removed from the work force, ordination restricted, donations from wealthy followers limited, and public rituals no longer allowed to be performed. As the 14th century came to a close, the Buddhist were not just fending off attacks, the struggle for the very survival of the tradition had begun.
If we look at the situation in spatial terms, the Confucian group has appropriated social and family structure, leaving no room for any other approach. One definition of orthodoxy is the total control of a certain space in religion or society. Being orthodox means that no other system can share the same space in religion or society. Once such orthodoxy is in place, the rejection of any alternative is necessary. In the Joseon, once the Neo-Confucians had established an orthodoxy for society, there was no possibility for the Buddhists to claim that they could share the social space.
The question for the Buddhists was what to do in these circumstances. With fewer resources, it was quite natural that the conflicting claims of supremacy of the scholastic and meditation schools would be put forward. Even as this matter of how to deal with the two aspects was still being debated in the monasteries, the collapse of urban Buddhism swept away much of the support for the scholastics. In 1471, the court stopped printing Buddhist books and all publication of doctrinal materials moved to monasteries.
The only monasteries that were open and managing to stay so, were located in rual areas. The remaining centers were not even in the villages and towns of the provinces, they were in the mountains. Away from communities that might give donations, at first glance it would seem that the surviving monasteries were too remote to attract followers. Life was difficult and the monks and nuns were required to farm and gather food in the forests. In these mountain monasteries, a form of Buddhism persisted that was quite different from that of the Goryeo or the earlier times of the Joseon. The scholastic schools were for all practical purposes gone and only the Seon was left. The Seon schools preserved in the mountain monasteries had an agenda and a strategy of practice that differed from the past centuries. The masters of that practice hoped to achieve in one moment of thought, the freeing of the mind from all attachments. When this occurs, then they believed there would be the revelation of the principle of the One Original Mind. In order to enter into this true meditative state, it was necessary to forsake the study of doctrine. We find the ideal being expessed in the Simbop yocho, where the Original Reality was described:
Heaven and earth cannot cover its body, mountains and rivers cannot hide it light. Nothing of it accumulates on the outside or the inside. Even the 80,000 texts cannot contain or make a record of it. No scholar can describe it, the intellectuals cannot know it, the literati and writers cannot recognize it. Even to talk about it is a mistake, to think about it is an error.
Buddhism has been put into a marginal position in the Korean society, where it had once been a major force. Treated with disrespect, criticized as destructive elements in society, the ordained members of the Buddhist order has little or no access to the social institutions of the time. While this was a dark moment in Korean Buddhist history, it was not without solutions. The answer for the monks and nuns was meditation. It was mediation that could be practiced by all, even those with little or no education. Meditation allowed practitioners in the mountains to achieve states of mind which could sustain them and their tradition. The practice did not need any of the government institutions; it did not require learning. Even the words of the Buddha, written in Chinese characters and difficult to read and understand, could be bypassed. One could proceed by meditation to achieve the same state as that of the Buddha and therefore have the highest experience. Had the Korean Buddhist attempted to maintain a scholastic Buddhism in the face of government proscriptions, it would have been impossible to compete with the learning of the secular world. Only in the practice of meditation could these despised practitioners find something that was beyond the control of officials. It was meditation that sustained the spirit of Buddhism during those dark centuries of the Joseon period. There were many problems with the remnant of the monastic tradition during the last century of the Joseon period, but it has survived one of the longest religious persecutions of all times. Rather than assuming that the Seon tradition of the late Joseon was a weak and beaten institutions, we perhaps should look for the strength which had allowed it to remain a part of the culture and to revive as conditions improved.
By making a more careful study of the Joseon Son tradition, I believe that we will have ways of seeing Chan in China with new perspectives. There are many issues which need to be considered in both China and Korea. Since it is the Son school which survives in Korea and it is the Chan that dominates Chinese monastic life, we must consider the role of this meditation school in recent centuries. The Buddhism of East Asia traces its roots back to the Chan groups, whether in China or Korea. If we are to understand and deal with the contemporary situation, we must give thought to Son. The rejection of the textual tradition among many of the late Joseon masters, has been influenced by political and social events. The role of meditation for a rural religion, whether in China or Korea, is worth careful consideration. The Son tradition of the Joseon dynasty when studied in this way can be of great importance for our understanding of Korean life and society and it can give us a clearer picture of East Asian developments over the centuries.

Ganhwaseon Practice in Europe Present Situation and Future

Ganhwaseon Practice(看話禪修行) in Europe: Present Situation and Future
From International Symposium of Bojo Thoughts Institute, 16, November, 2005

Written by  Bernard Senecal sj
Faculty of Religious Studies,
Sogang University,
Seoul, South Korea


The practice of Ganhwaseon1) in Europe is in line with the broader context of the introduction of Buddhism into the Western world. Accordingly, in order to study that practice we must first examine the context it belongs to. The English historian Arnold Toynbee(1889-1975) did not hesitate to say that the introduction of Buddhism in the West constituted the most important historical event of the 20th century. It may perhaps be compared with the introduction of Indian Buddhism into China some two thousand years ago. As a result, the encounter of Buddhism with the West most certainly represents and event of extremely broad and deep meaning.

Many scholars have strove to define the boundaries of the encounter of Buddhism with the West. In 1952, Cardinal Henri de Lubac (1896-1991) published La Rencontre du bouddhisme et de l’Occident, a work that would become a classic.2) In 1999, Frederic Lenoir published another book,3) on the same topic and with exactly the same title, in which he updated de Lubac’s work. And in 2000, the famous Singer-Polignac foundation, located in Paris, organized a colloquium on the understanding of the encounter of Buddhism and the West since Henri de Lubac(L’Intelligence de la rencontre du bouddhisme, La rencontre du bouddhisme et de l’Occident depuis Henri de Lubac).4) This colloquium may be understood as an attempt to understand the main events having marked the history of Western Buddhism during the second half of the 20th century. In 2002, also came out a book entitled Westward Dharma, Buddhism Beyond Asia.5) According to its authors the study of Western Buddhism has begun only recently6) and it is still to early to describe its outcome.7)

In fact, it is quite difficult to define in a fully satisfactory way such broad entities as Buddhism and the Western World. Consequently, in 2003, willing to favor a complete, precise and balanced understanding of Buddhism by Westerners, Paul Magnin published Bouddhisme, unite et diversite-Experiences de liberation.8) Of course, the seven hundred and fifty pages of this synthetic introduction to Buddhism represent the culmination of the author’s thirty years of scholarly research and reflection. But as I began writing this paper, I would have appreciated to find a work capable to match Paul Magnin’s book, and that would have been entitled L’Occident, unite et diversite-Experiences de liberation. If such a book existed, it ought to state clearly the ground on which the unity of the Western world and its experiences of liberation may be defined. Nevertheless, in order to talk about the encounter of Buddhism and the West coherently, one has to provide at least a minimal definition of those two concepts. But such definitions should be dynamic, that is, capable of taking into account the fact that reality is constantly changing. And that is even more so when we begin to realize that Buddhism and the West are already engaged in a process of mutual transformation. Such is the context in which we have to examine the practice of Ganhwaseon in Europe.

Since our research is limited to Europe, it may look easier at first sight. But such is not the case. That is because the Ganhwaseon practiced in Europe comes from at least four different countries : China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam. Moreover, things may be complicated by the fact that  traditions that existed independently in their homeland may now interact freely as they have to coexist within the European countries they have been imported to.9) In addition to that, one has to take into account the fact that the activity of Masters like Seungsahn and Thich Nhat Hanh goes well beyond Europe. That may make it all the more arbitrary to try to describe the practive of Ganhwaseon in Europe. We should also keep in mind that Europe is a huge continent of 3.900.000 square kilometers, with a population of 456.000.000 people, living in 25 different countries and speaking 20 official languages, not to talk about dialects. Even as it is strugling to achieve its unity, Europe keeps expanding by accepting new countries.10) As the result of those geographical characteristics, the context in which Buddhism is expanding in Europe is very different from that of America.11) Similarly, Buddhist-Christian dialogue has started later in Europe than in America.12)

There are two ways to approach the practice of Ganhwaseon in Europe. The first one consists in reducing the dimensions of the topic. In order to do that we can limit our study to the three main European schools offering Ganhwaseon practice to their followers.

The first one has been founded by the Japanese Taisen Deshimaru(1914-1982), a disciple of K?d? Sawaki(1880-1965) from the S?t? school(曹洞宗). Arrived in Paris in 1967, Taisen Deshimaru trained a lot of disciples and founded the Association Zen d’Europe, which later became the  Association Zen Internationale(AZI).13) In 1979, he acquired the estate of la Gendronniere(Loir-et-Cher) and founded the first European Buddhist monastery. His several thousand disciples have founded over a hundred temples all over Europe. At present, the AZI runs over  two hundred temples worldwide.

The second one is the Sanbo Kyodan(三寶敎團),14) a minority group among the Japanese Zen schools, also called the Kamakura school. It has been founded by Hakuun Yasutani(1885-1973)15), a disciple of Harada Dauin Sogaku(1871-1961)16), who had inherited the Dharma of both the Rinzai(臨濟宗) and the S?t? schools. This school distinguishes itself by two characteristics.  First, it never required from its Western followers that they convert to Buddhism. On the contrary, it still claims that anybody, including non Buddhists, can benefit from the practice of Ganhwaseon. For this reason, the Sanbo Kyodan has transmitted the Dharma to a number of Westerners that were working in Japan, including Christian pastors, sisters and priests, as well as rabbis. As those people went back to their native countries, they created branches of the Sanbo Kyodan.

The third group has been founded by Thich Nhat Hanh and is based on the practice of the Vietnamese version of Seon called Thien. Thich Nhat Hanh came to the West in 1970 and created several meditation groups in a number of countries. In 1982, he decided to settle down in France at the Village des Pruniers(Dordogne), and created an association called l’Ordre de l’Inter-Etre,17) which very strongly emphasizes both the practice of meditation and the importance of social work.18)

Each of the above three groups reckons approximately thirty thousand people. Nevertheless, with around half of its members practicing hwadu(話頭) meditation, the Sanbo Kyodan from Japan is by far the most important European school of Ganhwaseon. There are, of course, other schools of Ganhwaseon in Europe, like for instance from the Japanese Rinzai or the Korean Kwan?m(觀音)19) lineages. However, since they numerically much less important, just like Taisen Deshimaru’s AZI or Thich Nhat Hanh’s Ordre de l’Inter-Etre, in the fourth part of this paper we shall focus our attention on a more detailed description of the Sanbo Kyodan.20)

A second way to study the practice of Ganhwaseon in Europe, which we shall also use in this paper, consists in observing how the Western mind interacts with the spirit of the Seon school. More precisely, we will try to show how this mind encounters the religious tradition that has most contributed to the shaping of the Western mentalities. Even though Western Christianity is facing a deep crisis it undoubtedly remains the main religious tradition of the West. Therefore, the first part of this paper will be a synthetic introduction to the encounter of the practice of Ganhwaseon with the Occident. The second one will point to some aspects of Christianity that may facilitate the adaptation of Ganhwaseon practice to the Western world. A third one will describe what kind of help and transformation Christianity may expect from such a practice. A fourth and final part will describe some of the concrete attempts that have been made to integrate hwadu meditation to traditional Christian methods of meditation.

1. Understanding the Encounter of Ganhwaseon with the West


Above all, one should keep in mind that Ganhwaseon has a very long history. A rapid glance at a book like Jeong Seongbon S?nim’s Seon’?i Sasanggwa Yeoksa21) is enough to realize it. In order to understand Ganhwaseon practice as it has been completed and established under the Song dynasty by Wono K?kk?n(?悟克勤,22) 1063-1125), from the Yanggi  branch of the Imje school(臨濟宗 楊岐派23)), and his Dharma heir Taehye Chonggo(大慧宗?,24) 1089-1163), one has to trace the remote beginnings of its history back to the third millenium B.C. in Indian Antiquity. As a result, the development of Ganhwaseon has taken place over several centuries and left us a considerable amount of litterature. It is a well known fact that Ganhwaseon  practice may be considered the ultimate fruit of the encounter of Indian Buddhism with Chinese thought. Moreover Seon also is the most Confucian form of Buddhist.25) As a result, Ganhwaseon practice not only represents the result of a long encounter of Chinese thought with Indian Buddhism but also the complete emancipation of the latter from the speculative tendencies of the former.26)

This all means that Ganhwaseon is inseparable from very concrete situations. Consequently, one cannot but wonder how harmoniously the result of such a long historical process in the Far East can integrate itself as such to the West. Accordingly, it certainly isn’t an exaggeration to say that a full integration of Ganhwaseon to the Occident may require several centuries. Moreover, in order to be successful, the result of such a process should involve both faithfulness to the original spirit of Ganhwaseon  and its perfect adaptation to Western culture. Maybe it will be possible, then, to talk about the quintessence of the encounter of Far East Buddhism with Western culture.

However, we may wonder if our scholarly knowledge of Buddhism and the sophisticated means of communication and transportation that are available in today’s world will not greatly accelerate and facilitate the settling of Ganhwaseon in the West. This could then mean that the Occident does not need, in order to understand the Buddha’s teachings correctly, a phase of adaptation similar to the one China went through as it interpreted Buddhists concepts through Taoist categories during two centuries.27) As a result, quoting the worldwide achievements of Masters like Hakuun Yasutani, Seungsahn or Sheng-yen,28) some do not hesitate to claim that Ganhwaseon has already taken root in the West.

Nevertheless, Victor So?gen Hori29) from McGill University does not hesitate to say that the Dharma still has to come to the West. Such a statement does dot deny the existence of a great number of Seon centers throughout the Western world, but challenges the validity of the meditation practiced and the authenticity of the Dharma  transmitted in those places.30) I also believe that it is to early to claim that the Dharma has already arrived to the Occident. Indeed Ganhwaseon practice only represents a fraction of Western Buddhism’s practice and, even though the Buddha’s tradition seems destined to enjoy a bright future, its followers still do not represent more than a tiny minority.

The following table displays the number of Buddhists and Buddhist groups found in ten European countries in the late 1990s.31)



Buddhists from Asia

Groups and


Approximate Total Population


Percentage of Total Population That Were





























































                            note: ~denotes very rough estimate

As we can see, in England, France, Germany, Holland and Switzerland the numbers of Buddhists coming from Asia is far superior to that of the native converts. We must also notice that the statistics corresponding to French Buddhism are nothing but a gross approximation. That is because good information remains difficult to find and because it is hard to define who really is a Buddhist.32) But this identification problem seems to go well beyond France.33)

We should also be careful to keep in mind that the figures displayed in the above table do not correspond to the Seon school but only to Buddhism as a whole. However the following chart gives an idea of how Buddhism from five European countries may be categorized according to tradition.34)


Great Britain



































It has to be noticed that, with the exception of France, Tibetan Buddhism has a majority in all countries. Nevertheless, we should keep in mind that a certain number of Seon centers in France have had to close their doors because of the fierce competition coming from Tibetan Buddhism. In other words, Europeans are strongly attracted by Buddhism from Tibet.

According to Martin Baumann, Buddhism is destined to remain a minority religion in Europe during the 21th century.35) That is enough to make some people in the Far East hastily conclude that Westerners cannot achieve enlightenment. Such statements recall us the Roshis(老師) claiming that being  Japanese was a condition sine qua non to achieve enlightenment. Such a declaration is not only founded on ultranationalism, it also denies the core teaching of Mah?y?na Buddhism, according to which all sentient beings are endowed with the Buddha nature(佛性). In order to refute it, let us quote the dialogue that took place between the young and illiterate Hyen?ng(慧能, 638-713) and the Fifth Patriarch Hongin(第五祖弘忍, 594-674).

“The priest Hung-jen asked me : ‘Where are you from that you come to this mountain to make obeisance to me ? Just what is it that you are looking for from me?’ I replied : ‘I am from Ling-nan, a commoner from Hsin-chou. I have come this long distance only to make obeisance to you. I am seeking no particular thing but only the Buddhadharma.’ The Master then reproved me, saying : ‘If you’re from Ling-nan then you’re a barbarian. How can you become a Buddha?’ I replied : ‘Although people from the south and people from the north differ, there is no north and south in Buddha nature. Although my barbarian’s body and your body are not the same, what difference is there in our Buddha nature?’ The Master wished to continue his discussion with me ; however, seeing that there were other people nearby, he said no more. Then he sent me to work with the assembly. Later a lay disciple had me go to the threshing room where I sent over eight months treading the pestle.” T.2007, vol.48, p.337a27-b7. Translation from The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch, the text of the Tun-Huang manuscript, translated, with notes, by Philip B. Yampolsky, New York, Columbia University Press, 1967, p. 127-128.36)

Needless to say that it is very contradictory to pretend that the Dharma has to be transmitted to the West while harboring such prejudices.

Roshi Albert Low from the Montreal Zen Center insists to say that it is quite counter-productive to claim that the Dharma has not come to the West yet. Instead, he suggests to work at discovering or rediscovering the elements of Western thought and culture that may favor the acceptance and integration of the Dharma to the Occident.37) In a sense, what Albert Low says may be understood as Buddhism already existing in the West even before the coming of the Dharma.  Nevertheless, however seductive such an idea may be, it ought to be handled carefully. Because if the Dharma already exists in the West, then its introduction from Asia shouldn’t make any difference.

In the next chapter, we shall examine closely some aspects of Christianity that may facilitate the adaptation of Ganhwaseon to the West.

2. Christian Hermitic life and Ganhwaseon

In order to understand how Ganhwaseon may be adapted to the West, it is very important to grasp thoroughly what constitutes the core of hermitic life in the Christian tradition.38)

1)  The Age of the Desert Fathers

Western hermitic life began in the third century with Saint Antony of Egypt(250-356). He retired alone to the desert39) in order to begin living as a hermit. People being attracted by his life of asceticism, he soon found himself surrounded by many followers. Moreover, Antony’s influence rapidly reached the rest of Egypt, Syria, Palestine, Arabia and all parts of Europe where thousands of people made the decision to become hermits.

The appearance of Western hermitic life corresponds to the time when Constantine(? -337) converted to Christianity. Christians naturally rejoiced greatly as a long dreamed of event finally materialized. But such a triumph also had its side effect. Indeed, as the political power of the Church started to rise, the fervor of its followers began to cool down. Since it is precisely that fervor that had favored the spread of Christianity throughout the Roman empire, its loss could not but be deplored by lucid believers. Therefore, it certainly is no coincidence if the beginning of hermitic life corresponds to an overall weakening of the Christian faith. In other words, hermitic life can be understood as the strong reaction of some believers willing to recover the spirit that had animated the martyrs throughout three centuries of harsh persecutions. The Christians who animated that very powerful renewal movement are called the fathers of the desert.

In fact, in order to find the origins of Western hermitic life, one has to go back to great figures of the Old Testament like Abraham(19th c. BCE), Moses(13th c. BCE) and Elijah(9th c. BCE). And, of course, one also has to remind John the Baptist(1st c. BCE-1 c. CE)40), who lived in the desert during several decades, and Jesus the Christ, who did the same during forty days, fasting and overcoming all temptations.41)

The desert fathers left us a huge inheritance : “collections of their sayings, letters, sermons, ascetical treatises, biographies, monastic rules, and historical and theological essays of great value.”42) Among the praying methods that they have thaught us, one deserves a special attention. It is called ?prayer of the heart? and chiefly consists in repeating, day and night, to the rhythm of one’s breath, the name of Jesus. In many ways, this technique of meditation resembles the continuous(omae iryeo 寤寐一如) observing(kan 看) of the critical phrase(hwadu 話頭) of a kongan(公安).43) The practice of the prayer of the heart began in the Eastern church from where it has spread all over the world. Its goal consists in achieving continuous peace of the heart. The literature left to us by the desert fathers has considerably influenced all currents of Christian spirituality.44)

Over the centuries, Christian hermitic life has taken a great variey of forms. It is neither necessary nor possible to describe them all in this paper. Therefore I will only indicate briefly the role played by hermitic life at some key moments of the history of Christianity.

2)  The Middle Ages and Saint Francisco of Assisi


 Francisco of Assisi(1182-1226), the famous Italian saint who created the religious order that bears his name, may well be considered one of the chief representatives of hermitic life in the Middle Ages. In his time, the Church enjoyed considerable power and wealth. The extreme poverty that characterized Francisco’s life style has been a powerful challenge for an institution that had moved away from Christ’s spirit. There is no doubt that the long time that Saint Francisco spent in solitude, praying and fasting, allowed him to gather the spiritual energy necessary to accomplish his mission .45) It is also well worth noticing that he wrote a rule for hermits.   

3) The Renaissance and Ignatius of Loyola

The Church of the Renaissance saw the rising of the Basque Ignatius of Loyola(1491-1556), the founder of the Society of Jesus, also called the Jesuit Order. Ignatitus came to realize that the Church of his time was to narrowly centered on Europe and that it had to open itself up to the rest of the world. That is the reason why he founded an international religious order which he placed directly under the authority of the pope. As a result, the members of that congregation could go anywhere in the world in order to answer rapidly and efficiently to any demand of the supreme authority of the Church. But the most amazing is the fact that Saint Ignatius not only lived as a hermit for over a year, but also considered seriously dedicating all his existence to that life style. Indeed, he wanted to enter in the Carthusian Order, whose most famous monastery, la Grande Chartreuse,46) is located in the French Alps. That religious congregation has been founded by Saint Bruno(1030-1101) for people desiring to spend their whole life in a community of hermits. Though Saint Ignatius’ desire has not been realized as such, it has considerably influence all the spirituality of the Jesuit Order. That is why it may be said that the Jesuits are Carthusians living right in the middle of the world. This means that there is a common ground between the desire of a hermit to enjoy the freedom of a complete solitude, that allows the total entrusting of oneself to the action of the Spirit, and the apostolic freedom, to be found in the middle of action, aimed by Saint Ignatius to realize the same goal. This means that the contemplation of a hermitic life can be fully combined to a radical social commitment. It is written in the constitutions of the Society of Jesus that any Jesuit willing to become a Carthusian monk is perfectely free to do so. This means that for the fully awakened one there can’t be any contradiction between living in complete solitude and being present to the whole world. It also signifies that as it is possible to contemplate right in the middle of highly dynamic action,47) it is also possible to be active in the depth of the most profound contemplation.48) Here we can discover one of the main characteristics of the way of life embodied by Christ himself.49)

 4) Today’s Hermitic life

Hermitic tradition remains very lively in today’s world. The mere fact that it exists offers to people the possibility to take some distance from a society that is so full of itself that it believes that its high technique and industry is capable of satisfying all of human desires. Indeed, even though they lived in solitude, hermits have always played the role of spiritual director for those that came to beg their help. Moreover, when hermits live in communities, they often run retreat houses allowing those willing to do so to share their life style for some time. Here, rather than describing the multiple forms of hermitic life found in today’s world, I will briefly recall some of its key figures. This should allow us to detect the main trends of hermitic life in today’s world.

The French Charles de Foucauld(1858-1916) has spent his life as a hermit in the Hoggar Mounts of southern Algeria. By doing so, among other things, he aimed at entering into dialogue with Islam.

The Frenchmen Jean Monchanin(1895-1957) and Henri le Saux(1910-1973),50) as well as the Englishman Bede Griffiths(1906-1993) have dedicated their lives to a dialogue between Christianity and Hindouism by living with the hermits of the Saccidananda region of India.

As one of the most famous hermits of the 20th century, the American Thomas Merton(1915-1968) considered that the wisdom of the Desert Fathers and Mothers “enables us to reopen the sources that have been polluted or blocked up altogether by the accumulated mental and spiritual refuse of our technological barbarism.51) Such words remind us (8 c. BCE) what God  said, through the prophet Hosea, to the Hebrews who once more had abandoned Him to worship idols :  “I shall seduce you, take you to the desert and speak to your hearth.”52) One of Merton’s biggest contribution is his beginning of dialogue between Christianity and the Buddhists monks and nuns of Asia. This dialogue has kept developing ever since.53)  

Catherine de Hueck Doherty(1896-1985), from Russian descent, has written over thirty books, the best known of which is Poustinia. In that work she encourages people living in huge modern cities to create a space of silence and prayer, ie of desert, right in the middle of their homes. That is in order to become more intimate with God in every day life.  

 Finally, we can think of the Swissman Brother Roger(1915-2005), assasinated lately, whose Taize community in France has considerably favored the development of Christian ecumenism worldwide.

The above examples allow us to draw the following conclusions. Although the meaning of hermitic life is very often misunderstood by people, it has always had a considerable influence on all the Christian tradition. Indeed, even though they dwelled in solitude, hermits have always strongly influenced not only the life of the Church but also the societies on the fringe of which they lived. In this sense, it is not exaggerated to say that hermitism is the life of Christianity.

Even though hermits have never been more than a very small minority, it is important to underline that they have kept recalling all Christians the irreplaceable importance of silence and meditation whenever one wishes to deepen his understanding and knowledge of truth. Moreover, today’s hermits are inviting all Christians to achieve unity and to dialogue with the world religions.

All the above facts on hermitic life allow us to realize that Western society has at its disposal a strong tradition that can considerably facilitate its acceptation of Ganhwaseon practice.

3. The Help that Western Christianity can get from Ganhwaseon

Like all religions Christianity has been victim of its success. This is true to such an extent that we may say that as failure is the mother of success, success is the mother of failure.54) Western Christianity, despite having had to face challenges coming from atheism and inner divisions, has managed to maintain the same shape during several centuries. Moreover, it has had no serious contacts with another well organized religion, like Buddhism for instance, also dealing thoroughly with the problems of suffering and death.

There is no need to describe in this paper the actual situation of European Christianity. As we have said above, this Christianity is facing a crisis. The decreasing number of its faithfuls should be enought to prove it. As an explanation of this situation, we may say that European Christianity has lost a huge part of its vitality. Consequently it has also lost a lot of its capacity to attract people. In front of such a situation some naturally ask whether Chrisitianity still has a future or not.55) That is why so many Europeans are looking for a new source of hope. It is against that backdrop  that Ganhwaseon is being introduced into the Western world. My argument is that as a transfusion of blood may save the life of a dying person, so may Ganhwaseon practice, without loosing its identity, become a source of renewal for Western Christianity. Of course, Christianity may end up developing a new shape through such an encounter.

From here on , before explaining what kind of help Christianity may get from Ganhwaseon practice, I will recall briefly what is the original spirit of the Christian tradition and what are the consequences of its lost .

1) The Original Spirit of Christianity

In the New Testament Christ says of himself that he has nowhere to rest.56) In many ways such a statement may resemble one that is found in the Platform S?tra of the Sixth Patriarch(六祖壇經) and according to which non-abiding is set as the main doctrine(無住爲本).57) In order to understand the meaning of Jesus? words, we have to go back to Abraham, the common ancestor of Christians, Jews and Muslims.

As a Bedouin, Abraham lived in the solitude and silence of the deserts he wandered about. As a nomad, he had a tent for abode and did not store surplus products. He lived entrusting himself to the circumstances and believing that all he needed, beginning with water and food, would be given to him day after day.58) Even though the land Abraham was waking toward had been promised to him,59) instead of being thought of as a country like today’s Israel, that land should rather be understood as the true self60) that one has to find within him. In other words, in some ways, it resembles a lot the Pure Land.61) In that sense, Abraham was walking toward himself, that is toward his true nature. As he was following his course, Abraham was always opened to God and the others, so that he kept experiencing new realities. That is why it may be said that God kept surprising him. As God was not where Abraham expected him to be, He also was where Abraham did not expect Him to be.62) Similarly, Abraham did not know whom he would meet during his journeys across the desert. Such unexpected encounters kept transforming him. Consequently, as we can discover through Abraham’s experience, truth is not an abstract reality such that we could take hold of it. On the contrary, truth is a dynamic and lively reality we are being seized by through concrete experience. Such a truth is given at every step and rediscovered at every instant. If there were some signs along the desert roads followed by Abraham they kept indicating contradictory directions. In other words it was a road without road.63) . Some of Jesus’ words may help us to understand what this means : “The wind blows where it will. You hear the sound it makes, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it goes. So is it with everyone who is borne of the Spirit.”64)

It is in order to rediscover the nomadic spirit of Abraham that hermits made and still make the decision to entrust themselves to the solitude and the silence of the desert. It is this very spirit that has allowed them to act as reformers within Christianity. As this spirit when it is fully-fledged is the Spirit of Christ, it has to be the spirit of all Christians. In other words, as all Buddhists have to become living buddhas so should all Christians become living christs.65) But unfortunately, the descendants of Abraham tend to forget his spirit.

 2) The Problem with Christianity

History teaches us that Christians, Jews and Muslims keep displaying a tendency to forget the common root of their respective faith : the spirit of Abraham. In other words, they tend to prefer a sedentary life to a nomadic one, noise to silence, and gathering together rather than solitude. That is why they abandon nomadic life, and build houses in cities well indicated by road signs and in which they can store in large quantities just about anything they want. However such a transformation of their way of living has a considerable impact on their conception of truth. Truth loses its concrete and dynamic character to become a fossilized an absolute abstraction. At the same time, the Christians lose their ability to deal with reality inductively and their thinking becomes more and more deductive. Instead of being constantly transformed by constant and unpredictable encounters with God and others, they try to control those encounters by reducing God and others to their limited horizon. In a word, instead of living by the truth, they become administrators of the truth. As a result, the clerics harboring such a state of mind end up transforming the temple of Jerusalem into a place where a stuffed god is being worshipped. Such was Judaism in Jesus’ time. It may be said that Christianity is a reformist reaction to such a temple. Jesus said to the clerics of his time : “Woe to you experts on the law! You have taken away the key to knowledge. And not only haven’t you gained access, you have stopped others who were trying to enter.”66)

Of course, all that we have just said represents a dramatized and condensed view of Western Christianity. Nevertheless, it may be said that a  constant conflict, between a nomadic and a sedentary paradigm, constitutes one of the main impulses behind the unfolding of Christian history. Each time that the course of events has had an excessive tilt toward the latter, a reformist movement based on the former has arisen. This is exactly what a synthetic look at the history of hermitic life within Christianity has allowed us to highlight. And it may be said that the Christian conscience is always tempted to rebuild the Jerusalem temple,67) let it be in Rome or elsewhere. Such a tendency deepened as the Catholic church became split with the Orthodox church in 1054 and with the Protestant church in 1517.68) But the ecumenical council of Vatican II(1962-1965), as it has emphasized both the unity of all Christians and opened dialogue with all religions of mankind, has made a historical effort to put the situation right. And Pope John Paul II(1920-2005) has been perfectly faithful to that spirit of renewal.69) Such an opening in an effort to renew Christianity reminds us of the one made by some adepts of Seon desiring to renew their tradition through contacts with the West.70)

3) The Contribution of Ganhwaseon

I think that Ganhwaseon can bring something to a Christianity eager to renew itself. Indeed, Ganhwaseon practice can remind Christians of the traditional values hermitism and of Abraham nomadic life : silence, solitude, the mobility of non-abiding and meditation. Such a reminding cannot come from a inner challenge alone, it must necessarily also come from an external one. This means that a genuine reform is possible through an epoch-making event like the encounter of Ganhwaseon with Christianity.

Ganhwaseon has the advantage that it can be practiced, either individually or in group, even in the middle of cities. It suffices to regularly create a space of silence and solitude in the place where we dwell. Ganhwaseon may allow our troubled minds to get rid of their endless and sterile calculations to recover their original simplicity. As a result, it helps us to acquire a right view71) as he faces the world he lives in.

It cannot be said that Christians do not have traditional methods of prayer. On the contrary, though they have many, most of the time they either do not know them or do not use them. Moreover, if they want to recover a dynamic understanding of truth, these methods of prayers may gain much from an encounter with techniques of meditation coming from another tradition. For instance, though there exist both an affirmative and a negative way (Via Affirmativa and Negativa)72) within Christianity, the vast majority of those who pray usually tend to rely solely on the latter. As a concrete example, let us recall one of the sayings of Jesus to his disciples : “Still, I must tell you the truth : it is much better for you that I go.”73) In fact, this means that in order to fully understand who He is and what He has said, Christians must let him go. Even though Jesus has clearly told them not to do so, Christians keep being attached to him in an excessive way, as if they were hooked to a finger pointing the direction of the moon.74)  In many regards the dialectical relation of the affirmative and negative ways found in Christianity is very similar to the one found in Buddhism and especially in Seon .75) But the mutual complementarity of the two ways being much more clearly emplasized within Buddhism, the practice of Ganhwaseon can certainly help Christian to discover, or rediscove, and use a much more balanced approach of those two paradigms. In a word Christians have to be born again from above. As Jesus has said : “Unless one is born from above, one cannot see the kingdom of God.” This is exactly what the practice of Ganhwaseon may allow Christians to discover. And if I say it, it is because I have experienced it.

Of course, some people could easily argue that the main ideas developed in this paper tend to reduce the understanding of the practice of Ganhwaseon to some of the needs of Western Christianity. But D. T. Suzuki did exactly the same when he introduced Seon Buddhism to the West as the non historical essence of all religions. It can be said that this is an extremely limited and selected view of Buddhism. Because by introducing Seon as such in his most famous works,76) D. T. Suzuki repackaged Buddhism according to the expectations and hopes of his Western readers.77) Such an attitude may deserve many criticisms.78) Nevertheless, it is precisely because of that repackaging that D. T. Suzuki could successfully introduce Seon Buddhism to the Occident. And even though what he did may be considered some flawed, since he intended to remain faithful to the spirit of Seon, it is hard to say that such a repackaging was completely wrong. Moreover, it is possible to say that the whole history of Buddhism is filled with similar examples. For instance, in his History of Buddhist Philosophy, David J. Kalupahana introduces Buddhism to Westerners through occidental categories,79) to such an extent that some critics claim that what he talks about isn’t Buddhism anymore. But in fact, since Buddhism has kept doing the same thing, for the sake of its adaptation, each time that it entered in a new area, such criticisms seem misplaced. The birth of Mah?y?na or of Tantric Buddhism may be considered other examples of the same phenomena.80)

I shall now talk about the concrete attempts that have been made to integrate the practice of Ganhwaseon to Christian methods of prayer.

4. Attempts to Integrate Ganhwaseon Practice and Christian Methods of Cultivation

Since there exist both common points and differences between Buddhism and Christianity, the attempts to integrate Ganhwaseon practice to Christian teachings have sparked off a number of reactions. I am now going to mention some of these reactions. Afterwards, I will describe the Sanbo Kyodan and give an account of the past history and of the prospects of the attempts made to achieve an integration of Ganhwaseon practice to the Christian tradition.

1) Western Reactions to Seon Buddhism


A first reaction consists in believing that the practice of Seon is the sole way to achieve truth. As a result the advocates of such a position consider that Seon Buddhism is superior to all other religious traditions and they look down at them. The Dalai Lama is very critical of such people.81) They believe that the followers of traditions others than theirs cannot discover what they find in Seon Buddhism. Such a feeling of superiority may make them look endlessly for an ever purer form of Seon tradition. As a result, they may end up looking and sounding very fundamentalist. They may end up confusing unessential matters like, for instance, clothes, furniture, or the tea ceremony, with essential ones. Such people make the Dalai Lama laugh .82) At the opposite extreme some people consider that Seon Buddhism is nothing but a hoax destined to fooling people. This is exactly the position of H. Van Straelen in his Le Zen Demystifie.83)

The two fundamentalists attitudes that we have just described are clearly opposed to a dialogue between Seon Buddhism and the West. Between these two extremes, we can find positions that are opened to a dialogue between the cultural and religious context to which Seon Buddhism has to adapt. But the problem is to find a good balance between mutual transformation and the maintaining of each partners identity.

Let us take a look at some attitudes regarding Christian Seon. According to Jacques Brosse, any attempt to disconnect the practice of Seon from Buddhism amounts to its neutralization.84) Similarly, Eric Romeluere claims that the teachings of the Seon school and of Christianity are so different that Christian Seon amounts to pure schizophrenia.85) On the other hand, the Benedict monk and priest Willigis Jager86) has got so deeply into the practice of Ganhwaseon within the Sanbo Kyodan that he has obtained the Dharma seal and became, though still a Roman Catholic priest, Ko-un Roshi. He also runs a very successful meditation center, called the Benediktushof,87) near Wurzburg, in Germany. Moreover, at an international level, Father Jager is one of the three highest persons in charge of the Sanbo Kyodan.  But recently, the Vatican has decided to prevent Father Jager from teaching, declaring that the overall content of his predications was not conform to the tradition of the church. We may wonder if such a decision does not come from difficulties to understand the thought of a man who is too far ahead of his time. But even if it were so, let us remember the case of Thomas Merton who has managed to dwell in between the two extremes that we have just quoted. He declared that the more he got to know and love Buddhism, the more he could live as a good Christian.88) He also said that he felt closer to Buddhist monks practicing meditation than to Christians that did not. Nevertheless, Thomas Merton’s orthodoxy has never been challenged and he is unanimously recognized as a beacon of the encounter of Christianity with Buddhism.

2) The Sanbo Kyodan(三寶敎團)


With thirty thousand members, the Sanbo Kyodan is by far the largest organization teaching Ganhwaseon in Europe. Its followers have the choice between two different paths.89)

The first one, called ‘shikantaza(只管打坐)’90) merely consists in sitting down, observing one’ breath and physical sentations or the sensations coming from outside the body but without developing any attachment to them. In addition to that, those who wish to do so may pronounce the sound mu(無) with their mouth and lips, but without producing any sound. About half of the members of the Sanbo Kyodan practice shikantaza.

The second method adds Ganhwaseon practice to shikantaza and is practiced by the other members of the Sanbo Kyodan.

The Sanbo Kyodan uses about seven hundred kongans(公案) coming from five different collections(konganjip 公案集). They are given to the adept one by one and in a predetermined order. He must find the answer to a given kongan in order to get the next one, and must solve all the seven hundred kongans to get the Dharma seal. The first collection contains twenty two kongans. It has been made for Westerners by the founders of the Sanbo Kyodan. In general, these kongans have been selected from the other collections and their content does not refer too much to the Chinese background they come from.91) 

The other collections are the Mumungwan(無門關), the Pyeogamnok(碧巖錄), the Jongyongnok(從容錄) and the Jeond?ngnok(傳燈錄). Yamada Koun Roshi(1907-1989) has made commentaries(chech’ang 提唱) for the all the kongans found in those records. As he wanted his students to understand easily, he thaught in English and explained to them the Chinese cultural, spiritual and religious background of each kongan. A commentary is not an answer to a kongan but an explanation that allows the student to getter a better grasp of the question asked by it. The commenteries of Yamada Koun Roshi have been translated in English, French, German and other European languages. The making of the commentaries is based on the kongans. As the content of the kongans is extremely diversified it allows the writers of commentaries to deal with just about every aspect of the adept’s life, either internal or external. In the Sanbo Kyodan, all the people that have either taken the direction of an already existing meditation center or created a new one have written commentaries in European languages.

The people practicing Ganhwaseon can do it individually or with a group meditating on a regular basis, generally weekly, or during an intensive training period lasting several days(yongmaeng jeongjin 勇猛精進). The encounter with the Roshi can take place during the weekly practice meeting, or twice a day during a period of intense training, or during an individual visit of the adept to the Roshi.  The adept enters the room where the Roshi is sitting, bows in front of him, reads the text of the kongan that he is meditating and keeps silent during a brief moment. That silence is kept in order to allow the Roshi to say something or ask a question if he wishes to. Afterward, the adept displays the state of mind that he has achieved(ch’ed?khan kyeonggye 體得한 境界). In 99% of the cases, the answer must be non verbal. In other words the state of mind achieved has to be expressed through a gesture or an attitude. If the answer is correct, the Roshi may say a few words to help the student expand his conscience even more. Afterwards, the adept may start meditating the next kongan of the collection that he is going through. If the answer is wrong, the Roshi tells it to the student and then sends him back. In such a case, the adept has to keep trying to find an answer by himself, a process that may take several months if not years.

Kongans do not have logical answers. Consequently, an answer has to be found in an other dimension than that of reason. By doing so, a level of conscience different from the ordinary one may be stimulated. A correct answer cannot come out of a logical process. It must rather spring up from the deepest part of the human being. The answer must be non verbal in order to prevent the mind from playing the endless game of its rational tricks. Here, the Roshi’s attitude is very important, because he must discern instantly whether the state of mind displayed by the adept is rational or not. If it is, he must uproot the cause of the wrong answer on the spot. Here, ‘wrong’ does not mean that the answer is bad from a rational standpoint, but rather that it cannot arouse a deeper state of conscience. Indeed, the goal of kongans is to spark off small or big awakenings. The intense observation of the critical phrase of a hwadu(話頭) continuously trains the mind of the practitioner and leads him toward an ever greater opening to the hidden reality of the world.

Two main reasons may be given to explain why the members of the Sanbo Kyodan are attracted by the practice of Ganhwaseon. The first one is because they believe that such a practice will allow them to discover something that does not exist in the Western tradition. The second one is because they hope that Ganhwaseon will help them to get the indomitable and countless passions of their mind under control. It is interesting to notice that they all start looking at kongans with a considerable amount of curiosity, believing that they are simple enigmas that they will be able to solve through rational thinking. However, most of them overcome this first approach. But the most essential problem comes from the Chinese cultural background in which Ganhwaseon was born. Its understanding requires the learning of an entirely new language with its symbols and metaphors. This is the reason why Ganhwaseon will never be popularized. Of course, a considerable number of works explaining the context in which Ganhwaseon was born, as well as translations and interpretations of the records of the sayings of the patriarchs, or of the s?tras and treaties, keep being published in Western languages.92) In addition to that many efforts have been made to create kongans for Westerners and there are numerous possibilities. Material like some short stories coming from the Bible, as well as sayings of Christ or of the desert fathers could be used. But to my knowledge nobody has really succeeded yet in taking advantage of that material. Above all, there should be specific answers to the kongans thus made, but nobody has done yet the research necessary to find and test them.

The above informations allow us to see that the Sanbo Kyodan can rightly claim that it has a clear Dharma lineage. In addition to that, it also offers a fully-fledged course of kongans, to be solved one by one, and each having a distinct answer. On the other hand, it is important to mention that some masters attach no importance to these three elements, claiming that a course of kongans to be covered step by step, each with its own answer, is against the genuine spirit of the Seon school. In addition to that, the Sanbo Kyodan also enjoys a good international organization and all its masters agree to abide by a strict and clear code of ethics.93) In that regard, the Sanbo Kyodan is unlike so many Seon centers that do not belong to a specific organization.

Beside the reasons that we have just mentioned, there are two others that may help to understand the success of the Sanbo Kyodan. The first one is that its first Western members are people who went to Japan to learn the culture and the language. It is with such a first hand knowledge that they went back to their native countries to transmit the teachings of the school. The second is its openness toward other religions, including Christianity. But the AZI of Taisen Deshimaru and the Association Inter-Etre of Thich Nhat Hanh, the two other main Seon groups of Europe, even though it doesn’t seem to be the result of a systematic policy like in the case of the Sanbo Kyodan, also attract a number of Christians. For instance, many French Christians listen attentively to the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh whose great openness toward other religions is well known. Among the many books that he has written, one is entitled Going Home-Jesus and Buddha as Brothers. Similarly, it is not difficult to find many Christians among the members of the AZI. In 2004, during an encounter with Yuno Roland Rech,94) one of the high responsible of this group, he told me : “So much the better if the practice of Seon may be of some help to the Christians.” Of course, the great interest taken by some Christians in Seon does not necessarily mean that they intend to give up their religious identity.

Master Seungsahn of the Kwan?m Seonjong has said : “I myself am the way, I am truth, and I am life.”95) Even though he interpreted this powerful Christian statement in a Buddhist sense, the mere fact that he used it should be enough to let us guess that he too kept Christians in mind.

The above facts show us that, whether we like it or not, Buddhism and  Christianity are actually coexisting in the Western world.

3) Concrete Attempts of Integration

It is important to realize that quite often  the Japanese Roshis themselves  have suggested the creation of kongans adapted to Christians. A good  example is Tae?i Roshi(大義 老師), from the Japanese Rinzai school and the master of Chongdal Nosa 宗達 老師(1905-1990),96) the Korean who has created the Han’guk Seondohoe(韓國 禪道會) in 1965.97) But let us now take a look at the way such a task should be accomplished. In order to do that, I will examine the work done by some Jesuits that have worked in Japan during the last fifty years. Indeed, the specific contribution of each one of them is an indispensable link  for the creation of a Christian Ganhwaseon .

The German Heinrich Dumoulin(1905-1995) is an academic who was thaught at Sophia University in Tokyo and gained an international reputation. Unfortunately, his famous work Seon Buddhism : a History, does not talk about Korean Seon.98)

 Enomiya Lassalle(1898-1990) is another German but who became a Japanese citizen. Moreover, rather than studying Seon, he dedicated his whole life to its practice, going as far as going through all the kongans of the Sanbo Kyodan several times. In one of his works, he systematically compares the practice of the spiritual exercices created by Saint Ignatius of Loyola with that of Ganhwaseon.99) His numerous books have made him known worldwide and very much contributed to the propagation of Seon in the West.100)

The Irish William Johnston, also an academic teaching at Sophia University, has both practiced and studied Seon. He has compared Christian and Buddhist meditation methods, and especially the thought expanded by mystics like Master Eckhart with the negative way of the Seon school.101) His books keep selling very well worldwide.

The Japanese J. K. Kadowaki also is an academic teaching at Sophia University and who both studies and practices Seon. In his book Seon and the Bible he systematically compares kongans with the content of the Old and New Testaments.102) But, most interestingly, he got the inspiration to write that book in the 1950s, from a professor called I. Ratzinger,103) who later became a Cardinal before becoming lately Pope Benedict II. This shows us that the man who now holds the highest responsibility in the Catholic church had already realized, some fifty years ago, the considerable importance of the encounter of Seon Buddhism with Christianity.


Instead of being centered on the Sanbo Kyodan, this research could have chosen a more global approach to the study of Ganhwaseon practice in Europe. Or, on the contrary, it could have focused on the Korean share of the European market. Nevertheless, I have chosen to set back the practice of Ganhwaseon in the global context of the encounter of Buddhism with Western culture, and especially with Christianity. Each of the other approaches would have had a value of its own. But the one that I have chosen has the advantage of avoiding to deal with an extremely broad question in a vague an abstract way. Instead, without losing the broadness of the topic, it has remained very concretely focused. Refusing to recognize the value of such an approach would be tantamount to trying to understand the Buddhist conquest of China without knowing anything about Chinese religions. Of course, the present research study should be completed by a number of others based on issues like feminism, philosophy, psychology, social justice, sociology,  etc.

As we have seen in this paper, hermitic life, that has tremendously influenced the Western world, constitutes an excellent ground for the encounter of Ganhwaseon. Moreover, the present crisis of Western Christianity favors its acceptance of a tradition that may contribute to its renewal. We have also examined the reasons of the success of the Sanbo Kyodan, as well as the role played, during the last fifty years, by Jesuits working in Japan for the development of a Christian Ganhwaseon.

The firs reason of the success of the Sanbo Kyodan is the fact that its teaching has spread to the West through people that often had an outstanding first hand knowledge of Japanese language and culture. Secondly, it has a well defined Dharma lineage, proposes a step by step course of seven hundred kongans, each having a specific answer, and all its masters write commentaries on the kongans. Its also is well organized at an international level, sticks to a clear code of ethics, and is opened to a dialogue with other cultures and religions. But we have also learnt from Victor So?gen Hori that the practice of capping(ch’akeo 著語) should form an indispensable part of Ganhwaseon training.

The study of the work done during the last fifty years by some Jesuits working in Japan allows us to say that the following elements are required for the creation of a Christian Ganhwaseon : a deep, broad and accurate knowledge of Buddhism, a thorough experience of the practice of Ganhwaseon, as well as a good understanding of the Bible, of Christian mystics, and of philosophy.

In Europe, Korean Ganhwaseon is far from being as well known as Japanese Zen. At present, nothing allows us to predict that things are susceptible of changing, let it be on the short or on the long run. So much the better if the conclusions of this paper may somehow contribute to change that situation.

Let us now enumerate some of the distinctive traits of Korean Ganhwaseon.

First, the fact that it remains unknown may play in its favor since people are often attracted by what is entirely new, especially in America.

Secondly, from the view point of the history of Buddhism, Jinul(知訥)’s tono jeomsu(頓悟漸修) doctrine is very innovative.104)

Thirdly, though the sudden-sudden(tono tonsu 頓悟頓修) conception of enlightenment advocated by Master Seongcheol(性徹) has provoked a huge controversy it has also enriched Korean Buddhism and made it even more attractive.105)

Fourthly, the fact that Korean Buddhists and Christians each represent approximately 25% of the population of Korea constitutes a unique situation, providing exceptionally good conditions for the development of a Christian Ganhwaseon that could be exported.

Fifthly, the existence in Korea of associations of lay people(在家修行者) like the Han’guk Seondohoe (韓國禪道會) can serve as a model for the creation of similar groups abroad.

The encounter of Ganhwaseon with Western culture is a process that will most probably take several centuries rather than just a few decades. It is an extremely complex phenomena, the understanding of which will require the collaboration of many people during a great number of generations. Right now, among the Westerners that practice Ganhwaseon, some do it as Buddhists and others as Christians. But the two types are necessary and it would be desirable that they work together in harmony instead of clashing. That is because the coexistence of the two groups is indispensable to guarantee both the preservation of Ganhwaseon’s specific identity and its full integration to the Occident. While the Western Christians will work at the integration of Ganhwaseon to their faith, the Western Buddhists will keep helping them to acquire a correct understanding of Buddhism. And conversely, the former will recall the latter that the Occident is not a religious tabula rasa. Needless to say that it would be of the outmost importance for the adepts of Ganhwaseon, let them be Buddhist or Christians or of any other religion, that they maintain strong ties with the Far East tradition they can trace their roots back to.   

Sometimes ago, I heard a French Buddhist scholar say to some people attracted by Buddhism : “Please do not come if you are not very seriously motivated.” These words came from the fear, shared by many, that Buddhism may be in danger of becoming an easy fashion. I want to say the same thing to the Westerners attracted by the practice of Ganhwaseon. But to all those that feel strongly committed to that practice, despite its difficulties, I want to communicate my certitude that, on the long run, the encounter of Far East Buddhism with Western Christianity will most probably bear fruits profitable to all humankind.



  1. Throughout this paper, for the sake of clarity and unity, but for a few exceptions, I will keep using the terms Seon, Ganhwaseon, kongan(公安) and hwadu(話頭), even when dealing with non Korean contexts.

  2. Henri de Lubac, Paris, Cerf, 2000.

  3. Paris, Fayard.

  4. Paul Magnin (ed.), Etudes lubaciennes II, Paris, Cerf, 2001.

  5. Edited by Charles S. Prebish and Martin Baumann, Berkeley, Los Angeles, London, University of California Press.

  6. “Studying the Spread and Histories of Buddhism in the West,” id. p. 66-81.

  7. “The full nature and extent of this impact on Western ideas, values, and ways of life can hardly be anticipated this early in the story of Buddhism’s unprecedented globalization”. Westward Dharma, p. 48.

  8. Paris, Cerf.

  9. For instance, some Westerners will not hesitate to attempt an integration of the teachings of the Japanese Rinzai school(臨濟宗) with those of the Vietnamese Master Thich Nhat Hanh.

  10. At present, Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania and Turkey are in the process of becoming members, and, recently, Macedonia has applied to become one.

  11. “In contrast to the geographic expanses of Canada, the United States, South Africa, in Europe as a religion Buddhism faces an unusually wide variety of social, cultural, and legal contexts. The differences at times have a lasting impact on the (1) spread, (2) institutionalization, (3) form of organization, (4) doctrinal standardization, and (5) representational issues of Buddhism in a country.” Westward Dharma, p. 96.

  12. John B. Cobb, Boudhhisme-Christianisme, Au-dela du dialogue ? Geneve, Labor et Fides, 1982, p. 7.

  13. AZI, 175 rue de Tolbiac, Paris, 75013, France(http://www.zen-azi.org/index_f.html).

  14. http://www.ciolek.com/WWWVLPages/ZenPages/DiamondSangha.html

  15. http://www.geocities.com/jiji_muge/

  16. http://www.terebess.hu/zen/mesterek/harada.html

  17. http://www.tnh2005.com/html/LesQuatorzeEntrainementsalaPleineConscience.html

  18. http://www.buddhaline.net/dossiermotcle.php3?id_article=92

  19. The Kwanum Seon school(觀音禪宗) founded by Master Seungsahn(1927-2004) runs over thirty meditation centers in some fifteen European countries(http://www.pariszencenter.com/rubrique.php3?id_rubrique=13). One of Seungsahn’s disciples, Master Ubong (우봉 禪師), alias Paul Jacob, runs the Paris downtown center(http://www.pariszencenter.com/rubrique.php3?id_rubrique=14). He has also created some ten centers in Western and Eastern Europe(Han’kyeorae Sinmun[한겨레 신문] 2004.10.21). A complete list of all the European centers can be found at http://kwanumzen.org/centers/.

  20. Some of those smaller groups are mentioned briefly by Philippe Cornu in the Dictionnaire encyclopedique du bouddhisme, Paris, Seuil, 2001, p. 409.

  21. 정성본, 『禪의 思想과 歷史』, Seoul, Pulgyo Sidaesa(서울, 불교시대사), 2000.

  22. Yuanwu Keqin.

  23. Yangqipai.

  24. Dahui Zonggao.

  25. “Chan is the most Confucian form of Buddhism, and it has been in constant rivalry with neo-Confucianism.” Robert E. Buswell, Jr, Encyclopedia of Buddhism, New York, Thomson Gale, 2004, p. 136.

  26. Robert E. Buswell, Jr., “The ‘Short-cut’ Approach of K’an-hua meditation: The Evolution of a Practical Subitism in Chinese Ch’an Buddhism, ” in Sudden and Gradual, Approaches to Enlightenment in Chinese Thought, Honolulu, University of Hawaii Press, 1987, pp. 321-377.

  27. Kyeog?i pulgyo(格義佛敎). See Sim Chaeryong 심재룡, Chungguk Pulgyo Cheorhaksa(中國佛敎哲學史), Seoul 서울, Cheorhakkwa Hyeonsilsa 철학과 현실사, 1998, pp.40-41.

  28. Master Sheng-yen, Subtle Wisdom, London, Doubleday(Dharma Drum Publications), 1999. http://www.chancenter.org/shifu.html

  29. Zen Sand(禪林句集), The Book of Capping Phrases for Ko?an Practice, Honolulu, University of Hawaii Press, 2003.

  30. According to Professor Hori, the importance attached to capping(ch’ageo 著語) in Western Seon schools if far from being sufficient.

  31. Westward Dharma, p. 96.

  32. According to a French joke, depending on the statistics consulted, there would be between 18.000 and 18.000.000 Buddhists in France.

  33. Thomas A. Tweed, “Who is a Buddhist,” Westward Dharma, pp. 17-33.

  34. Westward Dharma, p. 94.

  35. “Notwithstanding the increased interest in things Buddhist, Buddhism will certainly remain a minority religion in Europe during the twenty-first century.” Westward Dharma, pp. 101-102.

  36. T.2007, vol.48, p.337a27-b7. Translation from The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch, the text of the Tun-Huang manuscript, translated, with notes, by Philip B. Yampolsky, New York, Columbia University Press, 1967, p. 127-128.

  37. Albert Low, Tokyo, the Charles E. Tuttle Company, An Invitation to Practice Zen, 1989; The World : A Gateway-Commentaries on the Mumonkan, 1995.

  38. See Bernard Senecal (Seo Myeongwon 서명원), K?ris?dokyo Cheont’ong ?nsu Senghwal「그리스도교 傳統의 隱修生活」, Han’guk ?nsu Munhwawa Kogun Kugok『韓國의 隱士文化와 谷雲九曲』, Hwach’eon Munhwawon 華川文化院, Chei ch’a Han’guk Haksul Taehoe 第2次 國際學術大會, 2005年度, pp. 57-71.

  39. With the exception of the Nile valley, 99% of Egypt is a desert.

  40. Luke 1, 80.

  41. Matthew 4, 1-11 ; Mark 1, 12-13 ; Luke 4, 1-13.

  42. The Sisters of St. Joseph of Philadelphia, Encyclopedic Dictionary of Religion, A/E, Washington, edited by P. Kevin Meagher, T. C. O’Brien and C. M. Aherne, D.C., Corpus Publications, 1979, A/E, p. 1034.

  43. See Robert E. Buswell Jr., The Zen Monastic Experience, Princeton, Princeton University Press, p. 150.

  44. The New Dictionary of Catholic Spirituality, The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota p. 353.

  45. Id.

  46. Un Chartreux, La Grande Chartreuse, 17eme edition, Sadag, Bellegarde(France), 1998.

  47. Dongjungjeong(動中靜).

  48. Jeongjungdong(靜中動).

  49. Bojo Sasang(普照思想) che 24 chip(제24집), pp.400-401 and Pulgyo P’yeongnon(불교평론), che 7 gwon(제7권) che 3 ho(제3호) pp.162-167.

  50. J. Monchanin, H. Le Saux, Ermites du Saccidananda, Casterman, 1951.

  51. “Our time is in desperate need of this kind of simplicity.”The Wisdom of the Desert, Sayings from the Desert Fathers of the Fourth, translated by T. Merton, New York, New Directions, 1960, p. 11.

  52. 호세아 2, 16.

  53. Monastic Interreligious Dialogue Commissions, Ed. P. de Bethune, Monastere Saint-Andre Belgium-1340 Ottignies.

  54. We can think, for instance, of Goryeo’s Buddhism or Joseon’s Confucianism.

  55. Jean-Marie Ploux, Le Christianisme a-t-il fait son temps ?, Paris, Les Editions de l’Atelier, 1999.

  56. Luke 9, 58.

  57. 我自法門 從上已來 皆立無念爲宗 無相爲體 無住爲本. 退翁性徹, 懸吐編譯, 『敦煌本 六祖壇經』, p.54 (大藏經2007, vol.48, p.338c2-4).

  58. It is in the same sense that Christians say whenever they recite the Our Father “give us today our daily bread.”

  59. Genesis 12, 1-3.

  60. China 眞我.

  61. Jeongt’o 淨土.

  62. H. Laux, Le Dieu excentre, Paris, Beauschesne, 2001.

  63. Kil eobn?n kil 길 없는 길.

  64. John 3, 8.

  65. The difference is that while Buddhists follow the path discovered and thaught by the Buddha ??kyamuni, the Christians rely upon the words of Jesus-Christ.

  66. Luke, 11, 52.

  67. In 70 CE, the Roman general Flavius Vespasianus Titus destroyed that temple as he conquered Jerusalem. In today’s Israel, the far right is planning its reconstruction.

  68. As the Catholic and Orthodox churches became split, Catholicism lost most of its mysticism, and as it became split with the Protestant churches, it prevented its followers from reading the Bible.

  69. “… the differences are a less important element, when confronted with the unity which is radical, fundamental and decisive.” Sebastian Painadath, Pope John Paul II, On Inter-Religious Dialogue, Kottayam, Jeevadhara, 2005, p. 356.

  70. “The adaptation of Seon to the West, therefore, is not simply a Western invention. In the post-Meiji and postwar periods, many Japanese adherents of Seon advocated the modernization and revitalization of the tradition. Some saw the West, especially America, as an arena where such revitalization could flower.” Westward Dharma, pp. 219-220.

  71. Jeonggyeon 正見.

  72. Respectively pujeong?i kil and k?njeong?i kil 不定의 길과 肯定의 길.

  73. John 16, 7.

  74. Jiwol 指月.

  75. Pyojeon ch’ajeon 表詮遮詮.

  76. D.T. Suzuki, Essais sur le Bouddhisme Zen, Paris, Albin Michel, 1972.

  77. Westward Dharma, p. 220.

  78. Id. p. 222; H. Dumoulin, Zen Buddhism : A History-India and China, London, Macmillan, 1994, p. XIX-XX.

  79. A History of Buddhist Philosophy, Continuities and Discontinuities, Honolulu, University of Hawaii Press, 1992.

  80. “The new phase brought about by the blend of Mahayana Buddhism with the beliefs and practices of a primitive agricultural society is commonly called Tantric or Esoteric Buddhism. By the seventh century, it had become fully systematized in northeastern and northwestern India.” K. S. Ch’en, Buddhism, The Light of Asia, Canada and U. K, Barron’s Educational Series, 1967.

  81. Jean Boisselier, La Sagesse du Bouddha, Paris, Decouvertes Gallimard, 1993, p. 180-181.

  82. I have heard him say so during a symposium organized by the Buddhis-Christian Conference and that took place at University de Paul of Chicago during the summer of 1996. Toni Packer gives a totally contrary example. She is one of the disciples of the American Seon Master Philip Kapleau and “represents the most striking example of a Western Seon that has virtually ceased to be Seon … Toni Packer and her center are not typical of Seon in the West. While nearly all Western Seon centers and teachers have adapted their forms in significant ways to meet the character of their Western practitioners, few have gone as far as Packer in abandoning elements of traditional Seon. … In this sense, Packer is `post-Seon’..” Westward Dharma, p. 227-228. See “Can clear seeing be attained without koan practice?'” (http://www.kwanumzen.com/primarypoint/v05n2-1988-spring-tonipacker-clearseeing.html).

  83. Paris, Beauschesme, 1985.

  84. “Mais desarmorcer le Zen en le detachant de la tradition millenaire, qui, encore aujourd’hui, l’actualise et surtout en le retranchant de sa racine, l’enseignement silencieux de Bouddha Shakyamuni, serait non seulement le trahir, mais rendre vaine son introduction dans la societe technocratique et destructrice dont il pourrait constituer l’antidote.” L’Univers du Zen, Paris, Albin Michel, 2003, p. 263.

  85. I have heard those remarks during a symposium held at Centre Sevres in Paris in April 2004.

  86. http://www.willigis-jaeger.de/

  87. http://www.benediktushof-holzkirchen.de/

  88. “This is just like the case of Gandhi who, the more he studied Christianity, the more he discovered the treasures of Hinduism, and the case of Thomas Merton who, the more he studied Buddhism, the more he got to know Christianity(이것이 바로 기독교를 배울수록 더욱 힌두교의 훌륭한 점을 발견했던 간디의 경우와, 佛敎를 배울수록 더욱 가톨릭교의 순수성을 알게 된 토마스 머튼의 경우입니다).” Hwang P’ilho황필호, Haengbog?i mesijir?l jeonhagi wihae「행복의 메시지를 전파하기 위해」, Chonggyo gan?i taehwa wa?i inyeomgwa panghyang 『종교간의 대화의 이념과 방향』, Han’guk chonggyo kan?i taehwa hakhoe 韓國宗敎間對話學會, 2005. 10. 23, Jeonnam taehakkyo 전남대학교, p.13.

  89. Most of the information provided here has been gathered through encounters with members of the Sanbo Kyodan.

  90. Let us notice that, in Europe, the Sanbo Kyodan systematically uses the Japanese romanization of all technical terms.

  91. Ecole zen du Sambo-Kyodan, Ecole des koanes, Volume 1, Koanes pour debutants, traduit de l’allemand et de l’anglais par B. Billot (La Maison de Tobie, 8 av. Leon Gourdault, Choisy le Roi, 94600 France).

  92. Here are some example of books that came out recently : Thomas Y?h? Kirchner, Entangling Vines, Kyoto, Tenryui-Ji Institute For Philosophy And Religion, 2004 ; Andy Ferguson, Zen’s Chinese Heritage, Boston, Wisdom Publications, 2000 ; Steven Heine, The K?an, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2000.

  93. http://www.zencenterofdenver.org/Lineage/ethics.html (Diamond Sangha Teachers Ethics Agreement).

  94. http://www.zen-azi.org/godos/index_f.html

  95. John 14, 7.

  96. 1941년 일본 臨濟宗 妙心寺派 韓國 개교사, 1942년 일본대학 철학과 졸업, 1965년 大韓佛敎 禪道會 지도법사. 韓國 佛敎禪道會가 保任禪院과 修禪會와 함께 韓國에 三大在家修行 모임을 이룬다.

  97. “In connection with the “poverty” I remember that once a British gentleman came to study Seon under Master Daigi(大義), who used to be my fellow student in our training days. For a koan Master Daigi gave him the famous Christian saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” I do not know what the orthodox traditional interpretation of this passage may be in Christianity. It would be interesting to see how Master Daigi took it up from the Seon standpoint and used it as a Seon koan.” Zenkei Shibayama, Zen Comments on the Mumonkan, New York, Harper & Row, Publishers, 1974, p. 84.

  98. Heinrich Dumoulin, Zen Buddhism: A History-Japan, London, Macmillan, 1990; Zen Buddhism: A History-India and China, London, Macmillan, 1994.

  99. Enomiya Lassalle, Zazen y los Ejercicios de San Ignacio, Madrid, Ediciones Paulinas, 1985. A Korean book also deals with the same topic, Kim Kyeongsu 김경수 저, Yeongsin Suryeongwa Seon『靈神修練과 禪』, Seoul 서울, Kat’ollik ch’ulp’ansa 가톨릭출판사, 1998.

  100. Enomiya Lassalle, Meditation zen et priere chretienne, Paris, Albin Michel, 1992.

  101. Willian Johnston, Christian Zen, Fount Paperbacks, 1990.

  102. J. K. Kadowaki, Le Zen et la Bible, Paris, Epi, 1983.

  103. Id, p. 7.

  104. “By demonstrating that Hwa?m thought can be used for the philosophical under pinnings of the Seon approach, this work(W?ndon Seongbullon 圓頓成佛論) can, without exaggeration, be considered Jinul’s most important contribution to East Asian Buddhist philosophy.” The Collected Works of Jinul, translated by Robert E. Buswell Jr., Hawaii, University of Hawaii Press, p. 198.

  105. On this point, my position slightly diverges from that expresses by Kim Pangnyong(金邦龍) in “Ganhwaseon gwa Hwa?m(話禪과 華嚴),” Pulgyo Py?ngnon(불교평론), 2005 ny?n ka?l (년 가을), che 7kw?n che 3ho(제 7권 제 3호).