Buddhist philosophy, Korean

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-G201-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 04, 2022, from

8. Koryô period: balanced cultivation of meditation and wisdom

In his Susim kyol (Secrets on Cultivating the Mind), Chinul elucidates a method for cultivating the mind after a sudden, initial enlightenment experience. According to him, sudden enlightenment represents a realization of the nature of true mind as having two aspects: voidness and calmness in its essence, and numinous awareness in its function. These in turn correspond to the two aspects of dharma, immutability and adaptability. Mind is in its essence originally void and calm, and yet at the same time it adapts freely in infinite ways, depending on one’s level of consciousness. Thus if one’s consciousness is deluded, Mind appears ignorant, while if it is awakened, Mind manifests a numinous awareness.

In Chinul’s system, gradual practice should follow after the sudden, initial awakening to the nature of True Mind. Chinul correlates the essence and function of Mind with meditation (samādhi) and wisdom (prajñā), respectively: in the task of cultivation, meditation is the essence and wisdom is the function of Mind; they are inseparable, nondual aspects of the same thing. This dynamic concept of the interrelationship of meditation and wisdom further entails that in cultivating Mind one should be alert in the void and calm mental state, and calm in the state of numinous awareness: calm and alertness represent meditation and wisdom, which are inseparable and nondual, and thus must be practiced simultaneously in cultivation.

Even if one attains a sudden awakening to the nature of Mind and thus realizes the identity of meditation and wisdom, the balanced cultivation of meditation and wisdom is still important: due to the residue of defilements and the karmic force deriving from long-standing habits, one’s mind-nature does not always have its original harmony. The two nondual, inseparable aspects of mind, essence and function, can become bifurcated, as if they were two different, separate entities. An excess of essence can produce too much calmness, which in turn leads to dullness, while an excess of function can produce over-alertness, thereby easily causing distraction.

Since Chinul follows the sudden approach to enlightenment, in which enlightenment precedes cultivation, his interpretation of meditation and samādhi as essence and function differs from that of the gradual school of Sôn. In the latter, where practices are centred on the gradual removal of defilements in order to achieve perfect Buddhahood, meditation is used to counter the defilements in the conditioned realm, and wisdom is used thereafter to counter discriminative thinking. These two different methods are intended to ultimately achieve a penetrating insight into the nature of reality. However, although Chinul does not exclude the possibility that the gradual approach to meditation and wisdom may be used as an expedient means for counteracting defilements, he felt it should be allowed only after the experience of sudden awakening. In fact, Chinul urges that at all levels of practice, as well as at all stages of a practitioner’s development, both meditation and wisdom should be combined, just as the principle of balance, that is, of calmness and alertness, must be maintained in order to access the enlightenment experience.

Citing this article:
Cho, Sungtaek. Koryô period: balanced cultivation of meditation and wisdom. Buddhist philosophy, Korean, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-G201-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2022 Routledge.

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