Cheongheo Hyujeong ( 1520 ~ 1604 )


The Master Cheongheo Hyujeong’s ordination name was Cheongheo, his postumous name, Seosan, and his dharma name, Hyujeong.



The master was born in Anju, Pyeongan-do Province. Called Unhak at a child, he lost his parents at an early age, then followed a friend of his father to Seoul where he entered Joseon’s highest educational institution, the Seonggyungwan. At 14, though Unhak’s brilliance set him apart from others, he was despondent facing the reality of being unable to easily secure a government position, having failed his official exams and lacking any foundation within an established household. With these feelings of frustration towards his reality, Unhak and some friends decided to go on an excursion to a place where they could find the sagacious wisdom of great monks, Mt. Jirisan. In the process, he came upon someone who led his way to a new life, Master Sungin, in a tiny hermitage near Sinheungsa Monastery.


Master Sungin, who recommended the cultivation of the Buddha dharma, was questioned by Unhak, “How does the mind arise? To what in the mind does one enlighten to?” Master Sungin spoke. “The mind is not an object that can be expressed through words. Having neither appearance, color, size, nor weight, the mind belongs to a world that is impossible to access through our processes of recognition and therefore it demands that each of us experience it on our own, such that we can be able to recognize it. He then spoke of the Buddhist scriptures, stating that “If you carefully read and think deeply, bit by bit you can enter into the gate of the mind.” 


A genius well acquainted to the principle texts of Confucianism, Unhak quickly flew through the Tripitaka, the Buddhist Canon. In here he didn’t find the ethical values of filial piety, ritual, five relationships, benevolence, and virtue as represented in the Confucian classics; in the Tripitaka, he found concepts like mind, nothingness, the world of truth, facts, the law of cause and effect, impermanence, without attributes, without self, and the like, complicated philosophies and systems of thought. Unhak’s mind was shaken, as if he had taken a blow to the head from a small metal rod. “In the midst of eternity, humanity exists within the instant of each moment. Within this boundless universe, humanity is nothing more than a single speck of dust. And here I swagger as if I know it all, acting impudently.” The friends who had accompanied Unhak on this journey returned to Seoul but Unhak remained, taking on Sungin as his teacher, beginning his life as a supplicant, and vigorously studying the scriptures. He learned seon from Master Buyong, who had become enlightened solely through the practice of Seon meditation without engaging in formal doctrinal study. Though Unhak had obtained liberation of wisdom (jihye haetal) through his sagely understanding of the meaning of ‘mind,’ ‘no attributes,’ and ’emptiness,’ he had still not attained liberation of the mind (sim haetal). Therefore, he remained bound and attached to matter and appearances, unable to act freely, with his mind frustrated. The more he exerted himself trying to escape his attachments to these empty names and false appearances, the more entangled he became. It was in this state that one night he suddenly heard the cries of a cuckoo and from his meditative state (samadhi), he awakened to a world of sublime truths, totally indescribable through words or text, a beautiful Buddha world that appeared to the eye as if a mountainside of blooming spring flowers. Unhak thus finally shaved his head, and with his ordination, was born again.


At the age of 32, Master Hyujeong placed the top of his class on the examination of the monastic curriculum, and he ascended to the highest position in the Buddhist order, the master arbiter of both the order of Seon and doctrinal study (Gyo). However, thinking it wasn’t a monk’s part to take administrative office within the sangha, he resigned his post, returning to Mt. Geumgangsan where he gave his undivided attention to his practice and guiding the younger monks, while at the same time producing important writings revealing his Seon thought.


In 1592 (the 25th year of Seonjo’s reign), when Master Hyujeong was 72 years old and living on Mt. Myohyangsan, Joseon, the Land of Morning Calm, was invaded by the Japanese in the year of Imjin. He recalled the reality where Buddhism had faced only heaps of scorn and contempt owing to the violent policy of Buddhist suppression promulgated by the Confucian scholars of the Joseon court. Nevertheless, Hyujeong felt that though the nation had renounced Buddhism, Buddhism could never reject the nation, as the nation was where countless sentient beings needed saving through great compassion. Thus, he ultimately took to the battlefield. Even at his advanced age of 72, on his own accord he took command of a monk militia, and together with troops from the Ming Dynasty, he recaptured Pyeongyang and fought to the bitter end, until the war met its completion with the consummation of a peace treaty with Japan.


After leading his troops to military victory, Hyujeong bequeathed all of his military authority to his disciples and then headed back to the mountains where he devoted himself entirely to the cultivation of his practice. In January, 1604, with snow piled high around Wonjeogam Hermitage, Hyujeong concluded his sermon on the hwadu that had filled his entire life, the ‘mind’ hwadu, brought out his portrait, wrote the following lines as a final transmission to his disciples, and then assumed the lotus position, entering into nirvana. His worldly age was 84, and his age in the sangha (beomnap), 67.

80 years ago, that thing was me

80 years later, and now aren’t I that thing!

Hyujeong left behind over 1000 disciples and among them, there are at least seventy outstanding figures. Among these, four disciples in particular, Samyeong Yujeong (1544~1610), Pyeonyang Eongi (1581~1644), Soyo Taeneung (1562~1649), and Jeonggwan Ilseon (1533~1608), stand out as the most representative, as they were the leaders of the four main groups within the community of Hyujeong’s disciples.



Master Hyujeong’s written output includes a four volume, two book set of his collected works, Cheongheodangjip (collected works of Ven. Cheongheo), as well as the Seongyogyeol (Essence of Seon and Gyo), Simbeop yocho (Summary of the Mind Dharma), Seongyoseok (Interpretations of Seon and Gyo), Unsudan [a book of Buddhist rituals], Samga gwigam (Reflections on the Three Religions, i.e. Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism), Seolseon ui (Manners of Lecturing on Seon Meditiation) and the Jesandan Uimun, among others.


Intellectual Distinction

Hyujeong used the ‘mind’ as the object of his lifelong hwadu. The topic of Hyujeong’s many books, including the Samga gwigam, Seongyoseok, Seongyogyeol, and others, is ‘mind.’ 


In the Samga gwigam, he represented “mind” in terms of it being “a single thing” (ilmul). His view was that mind alone was the mother of the universe, that it was the foundation of humanity, heaven and earth. He noted how it was within the mind that the division of good and evil, along with all ideologies and assertions began, and that it was in that mind that the Buddha and all sentient beings began as well.


Starting from the main premise that “Seon is the Buddha’s mind, Gyo (doctrinal study) is the Buddha’s word,” Hyujeong advanced the idea that with Seonas principal and Gyo as subordinate, one could proceed to enlightenment, and thus he placed Seon superior to Gyo. Seon is the arrival at the wordless truth, accomplished through silence, without a word. Gyo is the arrival to the wordless world, accomplished through edification in the scriptures. Therefore, he noted that Gyo is a method that, following the teachings of the Buddha, examines every dharma, and teaches the principles of emptiness. Seon is entering directly into this principle of emptiness and experiencing it, and Patriarchal Seon, in particular, cuts into the space where meaning takes place, forming the principle of emptiness in the mind’s foundation.


In terms of practice, Master Hyujeong especially advocated Ganhwaseon. Ganhwaseon is one of the methods used in the Seon practice of investigating hwadu. A hwadu is a highly original and powerfully emblematic word problem created by the awakened Patriarchs to guide their disciples on the path to awakening, namely, a hwadu is “a mass of doubt.” Investigation here means thinking about the hwadu while practing Seon mediation. Accordingly, he said that if one investigates their hwadu with the sincerity that a thirsty person thinks about water, the mind would be awakened. However, stressing that Seon meditation practiced in a foolish mind would bring no benefit and only aggravate more foolishness, he argued that cultivation without an awakened mind was not true cultivation. Here he was inheriting Master Bojo Jinul’s dictum of seono husu (first, awakening, then cultivation), particularly the idea of dono jeomsu, “sudden awakening followed by gradual practice,” in speaking of the cultivation that is founded upon awakening.


Moreover, he warned that no matter how diligently one practices Seon, without precepts,only evil wisdom could be created, and though monks and nuns may focus on the practice of Seon meditation in order to achieve enlightenment, it was critical for them to work together in maintaining our mind’s fundamental precepts, those that help each of us guard against the temptations of one’s environment, as well as those that help us collectively purify our thoughts, words and deeds.


He also addressed yeombul, the practice of changing the Buddha’s name, and said that chanting was a practice that made it easier for your mind not to forget, but be mindful of the Pure Land of Amita Buddha. He defined yeombul as using the synchronization of mouth and mind, through the sincere and focused practice of calling out the Buddha’s name while keeping mindfulness on the Pure Land, clearly and without any confusion. He said that although foolish people engage in yeombul to be reborn in the Pure Land, to learned people it would do nothing but cleanse their own minds.


In these ways, Hyujeong displays the distinct mark of his thought. It begins with a sense of doubt about the mind, and then uses that mind to harmonize various methods of ascetic practice.

A Letter to Minister Mok In-gil

This business of enlightenment does not depend on whether you are lay or ordained, a novice or experienced, nor is dependent on the influence or the practice of the many past lives. Sudden awakening only lies within the one clear faith of the practitioner’s thought. This is why the Buddha also said, “Faith, as the root of one’s fundamental being and the mother of virtue, brings about the development of the good dharma of the fundamental unity. Faith brings about the development of wisdom’s virtue and faith infallibly brings one to the arrival in the seat of Vairocana.”

Whether presiding over domestic matters, directing public affairs at the ministry, having guests over to share some conversation, eating and having some tea, going out, standing, sitting or lying down, in the end, by all means please ask yourself, “What is all of this?” If you simply ask yourself this question ceaselessly, meditating on the truth without rest, before you know it you’ll find yourself laughing uproariously. Thereupon you’ll come to know for the first time that it is not necessary to shave your head, wear the robes, leave home, practice asceticism or sit on a cushion like a monk in order to have such an experience of awakening.

A letter written to Her Excellency Princess Sungnyeong
If you want to want to accomplish the one great thing, it makes no difference whether you reside amongst the ordained or not, among men or women, beginning or senior students. Everything lies within your final sincere singular thought. What I see that is different in the princess’s innate disposition compared to others is that from the beginning, there has never been selfishness or suspicion or a deluded mind, there has been nothing other than an entirely sincere mind searching for the complete and unsurpassed supreme enlightenment of Buddhahood. Isn’t it as if you’ve been permeated with the correct dharma of wisdom through a close association with Seon knowledge from some countless eons ago in the past? As the ancients say, “A grown man is not someone who pays attention to a woman’s figure, a grown man is someone who is endowed with the four dharmas.” These four dharmas are: one, an acquaintance with the knowledge of Seon; two, hearing the correct teachings; three, thinking about the meaning of those teachings; and four, acting in accordance with those teachings. If you are imbued with these four dharmas, it can truly be said that you are fully grown, if not, though you may have the body of an adult, it cannot be said that you are fully grown.

I pray, my princess, that you believe this teaching beyond a shadow of a doubt and that you ceaselessly focus on your hwadu everyday, twenty four hours a day, in all four of the bodies postures, whether walking, standing, sitting or lying down. If you concentrate without stopping, never resting, and question your hwadu whether in the midst of tranquility or noisiness, even if you are not trying to concentrate, you will naturally concentrate. When speaking or being silent, even if you are not questioning your hwadu, you naturally question. Awake or asleep, your hwadu appears before you and though you may want to forget it, you do not; though you may want to awake from it, you will not awaken. In this mental state, unwittingly the body is overturned and abandoned. It is here where a woman’s body changes into a man’s, a man’s body changes and becomes a Buddha. This is my most ardent and sincere request of you.
Ten Points on Seon Practice
1. When ordinary people see a visual form or hear a sound, they are unable to escape it. What shall you do to be able to escape the world of form and sound?
2. If you have already escaped the realm of sound and form, you must immediately begin studying. What is the proper way to practice?
3. If you have already begun your practice, you then need to ripen your practice, but how?
4. If your practice has ripened, you must then rid yourself of all traces. How can these traces be eliminated?
5. If all traces have been removed, you become cold and aloof, with no appetite and absolutely no vigor. Your consciousness connects with nothing, your mind not active, in this state you are like a phantom, not knowing the ways of the human world. When you’ve gotten to this point, what is the boundary between human and phantom?
6. When your practice becomes extremely intense, you become perfectly still, unvarying whether asleep or awake. Though struck, you are not perturbed; though moved, your focus is not lost. Like when a dog sees a kettle of boiling oil, though they may have an urge to lick it, they cannot, in the same way, though we may want to quit our study, we seemingly cannot. At that point, what are you going to have to do?
7. Suddenly, it seems as if a two-hundred pound weight is brought down on you, instantly crushing and breaking you. At that point, what is your self-nature?
8. If you have already awakened to your own self-nature, you must know the correct way to utilize the original function of your self-nature, in accordance with your karma. What is the correct way to utilize the original function of your self-nature?
9. If you already know the function of your self-nature, you must be freed from life and death. When your sight fails you and your body withers, how will you free yourself?
10. If you are already free from life and death, you must know where you are going. When the four elements (earth, water, fire and wind) become dispersed, where do they go?
Without knowing you were born a weakling
You drink too much blood and can’t take to the sky
By all means, don’t covet other people’s precious things
Later on, you’ll certainly have to repay in full
Admonishing the People
Because you were busy wandering through the mundane world
You didn’t realize you were growing old and gray
Wealth and fame is like a gate of misfortune engulfed in blazes
From time immemorial, how many have perished in its flames?
Buddha’s Birthday
Even though the newborn took seven steps, it was still a mistake
But pointing to the earth and sky was even worse
Were it not for those mistakes then
He might have been spared the pain of Yumen’s cudgel
A Vow
I wish, in every place that I am reborn
No matter where I am, I never retreat from the wisdom of the dharma
Like Shakyamuni, with dauntless cognition
Like Vairocana, with profound attainment of enlightenment
Like Manjusri, with great wisdom
Like Samantabhadra, with extensive practice
Like Ksitigarbha, with a limitless body
Like Guanyin, through thirty different manifestations
In the worlds of the ten directions, may I emanate in every place, without exception
Leading all sentient beings to the state of the unconditioned
Let those who hear my name be freed from the three hells
Those who see my form attain enlightenment
In this way, I will continue enlightening the world, unto eternity
Until finally, there comes to be neither Buddhas nor sentient beings
I pray to the heavenly dragons and eight types of dharma protectors
In order to protect me, do not part from me
No matter what difficulty arises, please clear the way
And help bring about the realization of this profound vow

Naong Hyegeun ( 1320 ~ 1376 )


1.    Career

Master Naong lived at a time of much upheaval at the end of the Goryeo Dynasty. Together with Taego Bou, he is regarded as a great Master who helped lay the foundation for the Buddhism in the Joseon era. His dharma name is Hyegeun, his ordination name is Naong, and he also went by the name Gangwolheon, following the name of the room where he stayed for many years. He had the title of “Bojejonja” when he served as a royal monk and was given the posthumous title Seongak.


When the master was twenty, facing the death of one of his companions, he asked his elders where people went when they died, but no one could give him an answer. With a very sad heart, he went to Mt. Gongdeoksan where he was ordained under Master Yoyeon. Following this, he went on pilgrimage to every well-known temple in the nation, practicing diligently until in 1344 (the fifth year of King Chunghye’s reign) he had a great awakening at Mt. Cheonbosan’s Hoeam-sa in Yangju.


The 14th century Goryeo of Naong’s time was at the height of crisis both politically, owing to the interference of the Yuan in their domestic affairs as well as the dynastic shift on the continent seeing the Yuan being taken over by the Ming, and socially, due to the frequent incursions of Red Turbans and Japanese pirates that were bringing excessive disorder. Moreover, with the rising tide of the Song Confucianism faction bringing an intensification of the militant criticism of Buddhism, favorable conditions for the existence of Buddhism began to narrow. Exerting themselves to overcome this crisis, numerous masters sought out the direct transmission of the Linji chan of Yuan.


At the age of 27, in 1347, Master Naong went to study in the State of Yuan, staying at Fayuan-si in Yanjing. There, he studied under the Indian Master Zhikong for two years. Master Zhikong, known as the 108th dharma-descendants of Mahakasyapa, was a master of high regard and revered as one of the “108th Great Patriarch of India.” Following his study with Zhikong, Naong went to Jingci Temple where he was instructed in the dharma by the 18th Patriarch of the Linji School, Pingshan Chulin, and received his flywhisk, signifying the approval of his enlightenment. In May 1351, he also received the approval of dharma transmission from Master Jigong along with his robes, a flywhisk, and letter written in Sanskrit. In this way, Master Naong had the rare occasion to inherit the trust and confidence of two masters.


In 1355, on the authority of Yuan Emperor Shundi, he resided at Guangji Temple as a missionary, and also received golden brocade robes and a flywhisk made of ivory from the Crown Prince.


Upon his return to Goryeo in 1358, he stayed at many temples, including Sangdu-am Hermitage at Mt. Odaesan, and in 1361, following the order of King Gongmin, he did propagation work at temples such as Singwang-sa, Cheongpyeong-sa, and Hoeam-sa. At this time he supervised the Grand Assembly of Seon Study. 


The monk’s examinations, which were regarded as prerequisites for conferral of the dharma precepts, had suffered from the stagnation brought on by various squabbles after the reign of King Gojong. However, during the reign of King Gongmin, under the supervision of Naong, the tradition of “examinations for the practice and study of Seon” was once again re-established. This holds a particularly important meaning, because the reimplementation of the monk’s exam, which was suspended after the expulsion of Shin Don, greatly helped in reinvigorating the atmosphere of Buddhism and in stimulating the spirit of the sangha. 


In 1371, he became a royal monk and served as abbot of Suseon-sa (later Songgwang-sa). Later he became abbot of Hoeam-sa, and through his temple renovation efforts he greatly promoted the teachings of the dharma, receiving ceaseless visits from people in the capital and the neighboring areas.


In 1376, while Naong was in the process of moving to Youngwon-sa in Milseong (present day Miryang) on the king’s authority, he passed away at Silleuk-sa in Yeoju on May 15 at the age of 56, after 37 years in the sangha. Among his 2000 plus disciples were Hwanam Honsu (1320-1392) and Muhak Jacho (1327-1425), the latter being known for his great contributions to the foundation of the Joseon dynasty.


2.    Writings

Master Naong’s extant literary output includes a volume work titled Sayings of Master Naong and another one volume text, Odes of Monk Naong, and beyond that, a number of texts self-published at his temples.


In 1363, Sayings of Master Naong, a collection of 61 literary gems, in the form of representative Seon sermons, commentaries on koans, letters, and Seon instructions, was compiled by Naong’s disciple Gangnyeon and proofread and published by Honsu.


3.    Intellectual Distinction

Master Naong’s intellectual distinction is his consciousness of admonition to his age, based on the foundation of thought labeled, “one mind, three treasures” ilsim sambo.  In Buddhism, the Buddha, his teachings, and the community that follows those teachings are known as the three treasures, and Naong’s teaching puts faith and devotion to these three treasures at the very center of Buddhist practice. However, these three jewels weren’t to be found someplace outside, they were said to be found in the minds of all sentient beings, and that we were to revere the three treasures in our own minds.


Moreover, he said that each being must have a clear faith in their own being, and that awakening will only ripen when, based on this confidence, one does not become attached to anything else. Based on this idea of “one mind, three treasures,” Master Naong wanted to enlighten the whole world. As everyone is possessed of the ability to become a Buddha, he focused on the fact that we must diligently give all our efforts to become aware that we maintain this capability. This was precisely his spirit of admonishment to society.


Master Naong strove to make known far and wide that it wasn’t power or profit in the mundane world, nor was it the pursuit of worldly fame that stood as our most urgent task, rather, in this present life it was the cultivation of mind that was our dire purpose. Since he claimed that anyone who practiced diligently could become a Buddha, he sincerely appealed to society, asking why they weren’t practicing. 


With this spirit of warning as his basis of Seon thought, he taught various ways to examine one’s level of study through the Assembly of Examination Seon. Moreover, through the restoration work of Hoeam-sa, he served the masses, exemplifying the concrete works he was doing to create happiness and fortune.


It is also important to note that Naong’s way was not to employ difficult dogma, but rather he pulled at heartstrings, appealing to people’s sensitivity using popular language through poems and songs in order to save all beings. This aspect of the Master’s spreading the strong feeling of enlightenment to the masses earned him great respect extending into the Joseon dynasty, and it was said that he must have been a reincarnation of Shakyamuni Buddha.


All you who seek fame and love profit / your greed never satisfied, in vain your head has turned grey

Fame and profit are gates full of fire / from time immemorial, how many thousands have perished in their flames?

From “Gyeongse,” Sayings of Master Naong


Relying entirely on mindfulness of the Buddha, striving assiduously / abandon your lust and fancies and enter into Nirvana

From “Sijeyeombul-in,” Sayings of Master Naong


Especially in his practice, Master Naong never made distinctions between the men or women among the sangha, leading everyone on the path such that they could study the dharma. Therefore, he made a checklist of ten stages to examine oneself along the path, the “10 steps of Practice.” By adopting a diverse practice regimen, emphasizing not only Ganhwa Seon but also the practice of Buddha recitation, he displayed an intellectual tolerance that was not localized within the characteristics of only one sect.


While Seon is a self-powered practice aimed towards becoming a Buddha though the awakening to one’s own mind, Pure Land is an “other power” practice based on the power of Original Vow of Amita Buddha that helps those who wish to be reborn in the Pure Land.


Based on the teaching of “one mind, three treasures” and the idea that the “mind only is the Pure Land,” he allowed for the “other-powered” practices of “contemplating the Buddha’s image” and “chanting the Buddha’s name” in order to present a diversity of practice methods applicable to the various levels of spiritual capability.


In this way, just as the essence of different metals are reborn in the melting process forged in a blast furnace, through the advocacy of a diversity of practices to work in accord with the diverse needs of the people, Master Naong embraced the masses with a light of hope during the political and social strife that

A Buddha from Korea: The Zen Teachings of T’aego

A Buddha from Korea: The Zen Teachings of T’aego

by Taego Bou

translator : J. C. Cleary

Language : Englsih

Publisher : Shambhala ( May 1, 2001 )

Category : Analects


A Buddha from Korea is intended to open a window on Zen Buddhism in old Korea. The book centers on a translation of teachings of the great fourteenth-century Korean Zen adept known as T’aego, who was the leading representative of Zen in his own time and place. This is an account of Zen Buddhism direct from an authentic source.

Customer Review from

Brilliant translation of a neglected Zen master, January 24, 2004

Reviewer: a reader (Decatur, Georgia USA) – See all my reviews

Prior to this translation, not much was known in the English-speaking world about “Korean” Zen. J.C. Cleary’s introduction is useful and informative in revealing Zen as practiced in Old Korea–the first penetration of Zen from China across national boundaries (followed by its subsequent movement into Vietnam and then Japan)–and his introduction serves as a counterbalance to our unwitting orientalism of Zen by re-newing the words of T’aego, an authentic, historical voice for a vibrant and living practice. Cleary’s translation is rich in its insinuations and ultimately startling in its clarity. Here is a passage from “How to Study Zen”: “The days and months go by like lightning: we should value the time. We pass from life to death in the time it takes to breathe in and breathe out: it’s hard to guarantee even a morning and an evening. Whether walking, standing, sitting, or lying down, do not waste even a minute of time. Become ever braver and bolder….Mind is the natural Buddha: why bother seeking elsewhere? Put down your myriad concerns and wake up.” Here it is: instant Zen: you wake up.

Secrets on Cultivating the Mind (修心訣 Susim kyeol)

SECRETS ON CULTIVATING THE MIND, an outline of basic Seon practices, was written by Chinul between 1203 and 1205 to instruct the throngs coming to the newly completed Suseonsa monastery. A seminal text of the Seon school, Secrets presents simple yet cogent descriptions of two important elements of Chinul’s thought―sudden awakening/gradual cultivation and the simultaneous practice of samadhi and prajna―interspersed with edifying words to encourage Buddhist students in their practice. Although Secrets was lost in Korea after the destruction wrought by the Mongol invasions two decades after Chinul’s death, it was preserved in the Northern Ming edition of the tripitaka, produced in the early fifteenth century. Reintroduced into Korea around that time, it was translated in 1467 into the Korean vernacular language using the newly invented han ‘gul alphabet. It remains one of the most popular Seon texts in Korea today.

Chinul, Susim kyol (Secrets on Cultivating the Mind). Translation from Robert E. Buswell, Jr., The Korean Approach to Zen: The Collected Works of Chinul, pp. 140-159. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1983. Reprinted with the permission of the translator. For other translations of Chinul’s works, see Robert E. Buswell, Jr. Tracing Back the Radiance: Chinul’s Korean Way of Zen. Kuroda Institute Classics in East Asian Buddhism, no. 2. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, A Kuroda Institute Book, 1991.

Myeongjeok Doui


Inheritor of the core teachings of the Southern School of Chan Buddhism, (Kr. Seon; Jp. Zen) derived from Master Huineng, the sixth Patriarch, Doui Guksa was the first to bring these teachings to Korea and stands as the founder of the Order of Korean Buddhism.


1. Career

The lifeworks of Master Doui are made available to us based on the records of the “Doui Jeon” (Biography of Doui), in the 17th Volume of the Jodangjip (Records of the Ancestral Hall). According to the “Doui Jeon,” Master Doui lived in Myeongju, the present day Gangneung in Gangwon-do Province. His name upon entering the sangha was Myeongjeok and his Buddhist title was Doui. He was born in Bukhan-gun, located in present day Seoul, under the surname Wang. Before Doui’s birth, his father had a dream of a white rainbow spreading across the sky and entering his room, while his mother dreamt of sleeping together with a monk. Upon waking from their dreams, his parents found the room to be filled with a mysterious fragrance. About a half-month later, the signs of pregnancy arrived, but the baby was only to arrive after a 39-month gestation period. Around evening on the day of the Master’s birth, a mysterious monk suddenly appeared at the front door, holding a staff and stating the following command: “Place the umbilical cord of the baby born today at the hill by the riverside,” before he disappeared without a trace. Upon Master Doui’s parents following the advice of the monk and burying the afterbirth in the ground, some large deer came to stand guard over that spot. Though the sun continued to rise and fall, the deer never left, and though the animals saw many people visit the site, the deer did not harm them. The Buddhist name that Master Doui received upon entering the sangha, Myeongjeok, meaning “clear quiescence,” originates from the scene depicted in this story.


In 784 A.D., the fifth year of King Seondeok’s reign, Master Doui crossed the sea to visit the Tang Dynasty with ambassadors Han Chan-ho and Kim Yang-gong. Upon their arrival, he immediately went to Mt. Wutaishan whereupon he received a divine vision from the Bodhisattva Manjusri. Following this experience, and after visiting many other regions, he went to Baotan Temple in Guangfu, where he took the full monastic precepts. He then went to Mt. Caoxi (Kr. Mt. Jogye) in Guandong Province to pay homage to the shrine of Huineng, whereupon he had a most mysterious experience. On his arrival, the door to the shrine opened of its own accord, and after he bowed three times in obeisance, the door then closed again on its own.


Following this, Master Doui received instructions on meditation from Master Xitang Zhizang (735~814) at Kaiyuan Temple in Hongzhou, Jiangxi Province. As a disciple studying under Master Mazu Daoyi, Master Xitang Zhizang was the pre-eminent Chan monk of his age. In order to request Xitang Zhizang to become his master, he had to unravel the bundle of doubts that hindered him, until he finally bore through the obstacles blocking his progress. Seeing him overcome this struggle, Master Xitang Zhizang was overjoyed, as if finding a beautiful jewel in the rough or a pearl within an oyster, saying, “truly, if I cannot transmit the dharma to a man like this, there is nobody I could transmit it to.” He then renamed the Master with the appellation “Doui” (“Path of Righteousness”). Subsequently, Master Doui set out on the path of purification and went in search of the dwelling place of Master Baizhang Huaihai (749~814) at Mt. Baizhangshan to study under his tutelage. Much impressed with him, Master Baizhang is said to have lamented, “the entire Chan lineage of Mazu Daoyi is returning to Silla!”


In 821 CE (the 13th year of King Heondeok), Master Doui returned to Silla to propagate the teachings of the Chinese Southern Chan School. However, as the tradition of Scholastic (or Doctrinal, gyo) Buddhism had become firmly entrenched within Silla at that time, people looked upon Master Doui’s Seon method as rather absurd. Accordingly, judging that the circumstances were not yet ripe for the acceptance of his teachings, Master Doui retired from the world to Jinjeon-sa Monastery in Mt. Seoraksan, where he cultivated a line of disciples. In this way, his Seon method passed through his disciple Yeomgeo and bloomed in the next generation through his dharma grandson Master Chejing (804-880), leading to the establishment of the Gajisan school, one of the Nine Mountain Seon schools of the Goryeo period.


2. Doctrinal Distinction

Because no detailed materials or writings were passed down, it is difficult to definitively grasp the Seon doctrine of Master Doui. However, from the glimpses of his thought that we are able to catch from materials such as the memorial inscriptions of his disciples, as well as the knowledge that the Master’s doctrine is linked to the lineage of sixth Patriarch Huineng’s teachings, we can assume they followed the lines of the Southern Chan School of Buddhism.


In continuation with the dharma taught by Master Doui, the writings of Chejing, founder of the Gajinsan School, express the Master’s Seon doctrine as “the tenet of unconditioned spontaneity.”


In Chan teachings, the idea of “unconditioned spontaneity” refers to the way of life of following one’s original mind as it is, devoid of attachment or entanglement within the totality of existence, transcending the law of life and death, without any contrived artificiality of discriminating thought. Master Mazu, coining the term for this original mind as “ordinary mind,” asserted that “ordinary mind is precisely the way in which truth naturally functions.” Namely, if the original mind is not lost and all matters are allowed to take their course according to each situation, all things would be real and truthful and exist without contrived artificiality or entanglement. This idea is indicative of a religion of everydayness, seeking the development of a sincere life within the ordinary confines of humanity’s day-to-day existence.


In addition, we can also discern something, however fragmentary, of Master Doui’s notion of “unconditioned spontaneity” from the dialogue between him and the Head Monk Jiwon (Seungtong) of the Hwaeom School, as introduced in the Seonmun Bojangnok compiled by the Goryeo era monk, Cheonchaek.


The contents of this dialogue can largely be divided into two parts. The first part is a criticism of Scholastic Buddhism. Criticizing that Scholastic Buddhism, bound in its own dogma, was unable to ascertain the fundamental basis of the mind’s essence, Master Doui denied the tenet of the “Four Dharma Realms” as well as the “teachings of the fifty-five sages,” written in the Huayan (Kr. Hwaeom) Sutra, the basis of the Hwaeom School. In addition, he emphasized that it is only within the conditions of the immediate moment that we should look to see our own nature. The second part pertains to the establishment of the Mind-seal Dharma of the Patriarchs. In establishing his idea of the Mind-seal of the Patriarchs, Master Doui speaks about the system of cultivation based on “faith, discernment, performance, and assurance” to address the Patriarchal Seon tenet of “no thought, no practice” as follows.


“The rationality behind ‘no thought, no practice’ is nothing more than the concept of ‘faith, interpretation, performance, and evidence.’ The wisdom of the dharma taught by the Patriarch School, that does not distinguish between the ‘Buddha’ or ‘sentient beings,’ is nothing but the direct realization of the fundamental truth of reality. As a result, the Mind-seal dharma of the Masters was transmitted separate from the Five Teachings of the Hwaeom School. The reason behind the appearance of the Buddha’s material form is nothing more than an expedient means, a temporary apparition conjured for the sake of those who are unable to understand the true principles of the Patriarchs. Even though one were to spend many years reading the sutras, if that was the method one were to utilize in pursuit of realizing the Mind-seal Dharma of the Patriarchs, the goal would be difficult to obtain even if an eon were to pass.” (from the dialogue between Master Doui and Jiwon Seungtong)


The “no thought theory” mentioned here refers to the undeluded and essential original mind, using the representative doctrine of the Southern Chan School as advocated by Huineng and his disciple Heze Shenhui (684~758).


The notion of “no practice” is the idea that there is no requirement for practice on the path to enlightenment. This is a refutation of the practices that seek to perceive the mind through artificial meditation or to perfect oneself on the path of gradual cultivation. Like other Chan theories, the “no practice theory” was already elucidated by Huineng and had been well developed and widely accepted, owing to the efforts of successive generations of great masters of Patriarchal Chan, including Shenhui, Mazu, Baizhang, Huangbo, and Linji, among others.

As such, we can see how in emphasizing the “no thought, no practice” theory that joins the ideas of Mazu’s “ordinary mind” and Shenhui’s “no thought theory,” Master Doui’s core tenet of “unconditioned spontaneity” is tied to the traditional thought of the Southern Chan School.