National Teacher Bojo succeeded the tradition of the Nine Mountain Schools of Korean Seon and led the Doctrinal School to be involved in the Seon School. He received Ganhwaseon (investigation of a topic of meditation) from Dahui Zonggao from China and re-founded Korean Seon by settling the Seon tradition of the Jogye Order.
The biographic records of National Teacher Bojo are recorded on the “Inscribed Stele of National Teacher Bojo at Songgwangsa Temple on Mt. Jogyesan” as well as in the “Record of the Reconstruction of Suseonsa Temple belonging to the Seon School of the Mahayana,” and “A Series of Biographies of Eastern Masters.” His original family name was Jeong; his ordained name, Jinul; his pen name, Moguja (lit. an ox herder); the name given to him by the nation after death was Buril.
He left his family at the age of 15 in 1173 C.E. (the third year of King Myeongjong’s reign), and received precepts from Seon Master Jonghwi of Sagulsan Mountain School, one of the Nine Mountain Schools of Korean Seon. He passed the royal examination for monks at 24 years of age in 1182 C.E. (the 12th of King Myeongjong’s reign). At that time, the exam was held on a national level as a system for qualifying monks to take up higher positions. These positions included official positions or becoming chief monk of a temple. Passing this exam was, thus, a gateway to a successful career in the Buddhist community. Yet, Jinul gave up the career offered to him and went to Bojesa Temple in Pyeongyang in order to attend the Seon assembly. It was at this time that he suggested to participators to form a retreat community. He recommended “a retreat community dedicated to the development of samadhi (contemplation or meditation) and prajna (wisdom).” As there was no resulting meeting, Bojo went down to Cheongwonsa Temple at Changpyeong, and diligently studied various texts; in particular, he read The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch. Eventually he had his first awakening and so made greater efforts to form a retreat community. In 1885, he moved to Bomunsa Temple on Mt. Hagasan and read the entire Tripitaka (Three baskets of the Buddhist texts). He turned to the study of the Avatamsaka Sutra for three years, and, when he came across a passage in “Appearance of the Tathagathas” chapter, he had his second awakening. In 1188 (the 18th year of King Myeongjong), he stayed at Geojosa Temple and founded a retreat community called “The Retreat Community of Samadhi and Prajna.” After some time he moved to Sangmujuam Hermitage, and continued with the retreat community for three years. When he read on The Record of Dahui, he attained complete enlightenment.
From that time on, he left his hermit-like life-style and participated in ordinary life, thus enacting the reality of bodhisattva action – compassion towards all beings.
In 1200 (the 3rd year of King Sinjong), he settled at Gilsangsa Temple on Mt. Songgwangsan(present-day Songgwangsa Temple on Mt. Jogyesan), and taught three primary types of meditation practice based on the philosophical view of sudden awakening and gradual cultivation. The three meditation types are “Seongjeok deungjimun,” “Wondon sinhaemun (faith and understanding according to the complete and sudden teachings),” and “Ganhwa gyeongjeolmun (Shortcut approach to observing the hwadu),” which are practices combining Seonand the Buddhist Doctrine. Bojo taught the union of practices to the Buddhist community through chanting, repentance and dharma talks depending on individual capability. King Huijong of Goryeo, who respected National Teacher Bojo, ordered a change in the name of the Mt. Songgwangsan to Jogyesan, then the name of the temple was changed from Gilsangsa to Suseonsa; King Huijong bestowed a special stele as a mark of his respect.(faith and understanding according to the complete and sudden teachings),” and “g (Shortcut approach to observing the hwadu),” which are practices combining Seonand the Buddhist Doctrine. Bojo taught the union of practices to the Buddhist community through chanting, repentance and dharma talks depending on individual capability.
In 1210 C.E. (the 6th year of King Huijong), Bojo put on his robe and delivered a series of lectures. During one of his dharma talks, he passed away (attained final nirvana) while holding his staff of office. The pagoda named “Sweet Dew” was set up and he was given the title of “National Teacher.”
Among his disciples, there were many who became national teachers. They included Jingak Hyesim, Jeongseon, Suu, and Chungdam.
National Teacher Bojo’s writings are Advisory writing on the Retreat Community of Meditation and Wisdom (Gwonsu jeonghye gyeolsamun); Moguja’s Secret of the Practice of the Mind (Moguja susimgyeol); Straight Talk on the True Mind (Jinsim jikseol); Admonitions to Beginning Students (Gyecho simhak inmun); Exposition of the New Translation of the Avatamsaka Sutra Vol.3 (Hwaeomnon jeoryo); Excerpts from the Dharma Collection and Special Practice Record with Personal Notes (Beopjip byeolhangnok jeoryo byeong ipsagi); Essay on the Complete and Sudden attainment of Buddhahood(Wondon Seongbullon); Studies of Ganhwaseon (Ganhwa gyeoruiron); Essential Approaches to Recollecting the Buddha (Yeombul yomun); and A Selection of the Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch (Yukjo dangyeong balmun). In addition, he wrote Jinul’s Formal Dharma Lectures (Sangdangnok)and Verses of Dharma and Moguja’s Poems which have unfortunately been lost. Debates of Solving Doubts in Ganhwa was compiled after Jinul’s death in 1215. This book emphasized the pursuit of true knowledge as followed by the Seon and the Doctrinal schools. We know that Bojo managed to quell the long-term argument that had waged between the Seon and the Doctrinal schools, and led the Seon to accept the Doctrinal School, at the same time he founded a new system of Seon teaching, as testified to in his book.
3. Characteristics of His Thought
National Teacher Bojo set up “The Retreat Community of Meditation and Wisdom” at Suseonsa Temple. This community was a movement for restoring the foundations of practice through the three learnings — precepts, meditation and wisdom; the philosophy that inspired the community came from his three awakenings. As a result of his experience, he taught three meditative techniques: Seongjeok deungjimun for general Seon practitioners, which is based on The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch’; faith and understanding according to the complete and sudden teachings (Wondon sinhaemun) for people having doctrinal knowledge especially Huayan thought; the shortcut approach of observing the hwadu (Ganhwa gyeongjeolmun) for Ganhwaseon practitioners based on The Record of Dahui.
Bojo believed in the theory of Sudden Awakening and Gradual Cultivation and so developed the practices of the Three Gateways as the practical methodology. The meaning of this philosophy is to awaken the mind first to its True Nature and then gradually to cultivate the mind.
Bojo thought that sudden awakening and gradual cultivation is the best way of practice. In Secrets of Cultivating the Mind he said,
“One should awaken to the fact that one’s mind is truly the Buddha, and the nature of mind is no different from that of the buddhas…. Although one has awakened to the fact that one’s Original Nature is no different from that of the buddhas, the habit energies are extremely difficult to remove and so one must continue to cultivate while relying on the awakening experienced.”
He emphasized again the importance of gradual cultivation.
Bojo said the mind, which is the object of sudden awakening, is void, calm and the numinous.
“Since all dharmas are like dreams or phantoms, deluded thoughts are originally calm and the sense-spheres are originally void. At the point where all dharmas are void, the numinous is not obscured. That is, in this mind of void and calm, numinous awareness is the Original Face.”
He said that though there are many ways to cultivate the mind after awakening, all of them involve meditation and wisdom. The core is characterized by the essence and function of Self Nature; this is the very “mind of void and calm and the numinous awareness.”
The characteristics of Bojo’s Seon thought are as follows:
The first is the communicating mind. As is clear from his words, “the teaching consists of the words spoken by the World Honored One, while Seon is what the great masters transmitted.” In this way, he pursued the standard points with Seon as the essence and teaching as the function. Master Uicheon sought the standard points of Seon and Doctrine by teaching. It was Bojo who combined the Nine Mountain Schools of Korean Seon into the Jogye and, as the tradition of the Jogye was highly valued, his efforts gave rise to the inner unification of Buddhism in Goryeo, together with the Cheontae (Tiantai in China) School; these were the two directions that Buddhism took during the Goryeo Period.
The rejuvenation of Buddhism based on “The Retreat Community of Meditation and Wisdom” and the foundation of cultivating Buddhism.
The establishment of various ways of practice depending upon individual capability.
He was the first monk to introduce and adopt Dahui’s Kanhuachan. Great Master Dahui Zonggao (1088-1163 C.E.) was the seventeenth patriarch of the Linji school. The great master was the first person to teach Ganhwaseon(Kanhuachan in Chinese) with the question and answer system based on gongan (koan), a methodology that had been conventionally practiced in the Chinese Chan lineages (Five Families and Seven Orders). Bojo vigorously introduced this Kanhuachan to Korea, and it was later fully established by his disciples and called “Ganhwaseon.”
He formulated the rules of Seon and made the Jogye Order into a direct Seon tradition. This is evident from Admonitions to Beginning Students which became the required rules for “The Retreat Community of Meditation and Wisdom.” This work came to be seen as a compass to help practitioners to follow the discipline of the Buddha and it became an important dimension of the formation of the Jogye Order’s image and reputation.
Bojo called the cultivation of the mind after awakening “Action of the ox herd after awakening.” This means that even though one initially has had a sudden awakening, if defilements or delusions arise, one should get rid of them until they completely disappear, then this state can be called “complete awakening.” As previously mentioned, Bojo claimed and also demonstrated a truly practical form of cultivation in his Retreat Community of Meditation and Wisdom, and so he called himself an ox herder.