Buddhist philosophy, Korean

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

9. Koryô period: faith and understanding according to the complete and sudden teaching

More often than not, the doctrinal teachings based on scriptures were considered by Sôn masters as a grave fallacy, an impediment to attaining final enlightenment. From their perspective, this is especially true because the conceptual or discriminatory nature of doctrinal teachings cannot invoke the Absolute, which is ineffable. On the other hand, Hwaôm, as one of the doctrinal schools, considered Sôn as merely representing the sudden teaching, which they considered a lesser teaching than the final, complete doctrine of Hwaôm. These two main branches of Mahāyāna Buddhism thus seemed to contradict each other, not only in terms of doctrinal framework, but also in their soteriological schemes.

Chinul believed that Sôn and Hwaôm were not necessarily contradictory, but could serve to complement each other. He felt that the conceptual framework of Hwaôm could help to enhance practitioners’ understanding, especially those with a lesser capacity, of the mind-to-mind transmission of the esoteric teachings of Sôn. He was especially concerned about the Sôn practitioners of his time, whom he felt had strayed from correct practice due to their lack of a proper understanding of scriptural teachings. He feared that they were meditating in a state of ignorance and thus in vain. Chinul felt that proper guidance in the scriptural teachings was necessary for them to achieve final enlightenment

However, it was not an easy task to synthesize the two, thanks to their different orientations. Hwaôm philosophy systemized the path to enlightenment into fifty-two stages, beginning with the ten levels of faith and ending with the stage of Buddhahood. Often a temporal scheme was assumed, such as a period of three incalculable aeons, or more than several lives, from the initial stage of faith to the final attainment of Buddhahood. Within this progressive scheme, Hwaôm soteriology postulated a process of learning, practice and realization, in which each stage proceeds sequentially in a causal relationship. Chinul thus incorporated the soteriology of Hwaôm, which assumes a progressive development within a temporal scheme, into the sudden teaching approach of Sôn. It was in Li Tongxuan’s Exposition of the Avatamsaka Sutra that he found a means of incorporating the two systems into a viable soteriological scheme.

Inspired by Li Tongxuan’s unique interpretation of the Huayan soteriological structure, and recapitulating the latter’s essential message, Chinul was able to propose, as another possible approach to Sôn practice, the method of faith and understanding as detailed in his Wondon Songbullon (Complete and Sudden Attainment of Buddhahood). Chinul noted that unmoving wisdom, or the wisdom of universal brightness, is essentially identical with the deluded mind. Through a sudden awakening to this essential identity, one can enter directly the initial abiding stage, the stage of the arising of bodhicitta, in which one may directly experience the fact that one is a Buddha. From this stage onward, the subsequent stages of the bodhisattva path can be instantly achieved because of the functioning of inherent Buddhahood. Such a soteriological structure is possible due to the fact that unmoving wisdom is not merely a fruit to be attained at the final stage, but also a cause for the final attainment of buddhahood. Moreover, from the initial stage of faith to the final attainment of buddhahood, it is the unmoving wisdom of Buddha which operates unceasingly.

Citing this article:
Cho, Sungtaek. Koryô period: faith and understanding according to the complete and sudden teaching. 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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