Buddhist philosophy, Korean

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

10. Koryô period: shortcut approach of hwadu investigation

Although Chinul incorporated the theoretical framework of Hwaôm into Sôn practice, he did not forget to indicate that theories and conceptual frameworks need to be abandoned at a certain stage. In their place, Chinul proposed his method of hwadu investigation, which is like a finger pointing to the moon.

Chinul never lost sight of the fact that the goal of Sôn practice is to transcend conceptual understanding, thus leaving behind all discriminatory thoughts. As a means of achieving this goal Chinul found the investigation of hwadu most effective, a method, which in his words, cuts through iron and split nails.

Hwadu is often considered a synonym for kongan (in Chinese, gongan). More precisely, however, the hwadu is the essential point of the kongan, which is used as a topic of meditation in the Sôn school. The purpose of hwadu investigation is to help practitioners break through views based on their conceptual understanding of the dharma and to ultimately return them to the source of all discriminative thought. Thus, Chinul referred to the function of the hwadu as one of cleansing knowledge and understanding.

The hwadu method is also called the shortcut approach, as it involves no conceptual descriptions but rather points one directly to the truth right from the inception of practice. In his Kanhwa Kyorui Ron (Resolving Doubts About Observing the Hwadu), Chinul discusses the three mystery gates, or three different methods, differentiated according to one’s capacity for attaining the ultimate teaching of the Sôn school: (1) the mystery of essence, which involves the conceptual understanding of the Buddha-dharma, such as the doctrine of the unimpeded interpenetration of all phenomena of the Hwaôm school; (2) the mystery of the word, which helps one eliminate the defects of conceptual understanding and ultimately destroy it; and (3) the mystery of mystery, in which practitioners abandon the interpretive analytical approach altogether and investigate the word itself. This method transcends any trace of a sign which a word may signify and finally results in the awareness of the noumenal state, that is, the void and calm state of mind.

In making hwadu the cardinal approach of Sôn practice, Chinul was influenced by Dahui Zonggao (1089–1163), a disciple of Yuanwu Gejin of the Linji school in China. Inspired by the Dahui yulu (The Records of Dahui), Chinul was the first Korean Sôn master to introduce the hwadu into Korean Sôn practice. Hwadu became a hallmark of Korean Sôn and, combined with the concurrent cultivation of meditation and wisdom, and the doctrine of sudden awakening and gradual practice, represents the essence of Korean Sôn.

In summary, Chinul systematized a Korean approach to Sôn practice which stood apart from all other schemes. Its uniqueness lay in the fact that it synthesized the doctrinal teachings into Sôn practice, provided a theoretical framework for Sôn practice, and maintained the fundamental spirit of Sôn teaching by postulating hwadu investigation as a shortcut to the final attainment of enlightenment. With only slight variations through the ages, this structure has been maintained by Korean Sôn practitioners ever since.

After Chinul’s time, Koryô Buddhism began to gradually decline. This was primarily due to the political instability of the Koryô court after the Mongol invasion, but it was caused in part by the corruption of the Buddhist monasteries and monks. However, there were still contributions made by such monks as Kyônghan Paegun (1290–1374), T’aego Pou (1301–82) and Naong Hyegûn (1320–76), who tried to restore the strength of Buddhism in the latter Koryô. All three had returned from Yuan China after studying under the Linji (in Korean, Imje) school, which places a strong emphasis on hwadu practice. The most radical and confrontational methods of the Linji school became very popular in Korea and had a great impact on Korean Sôn practice. However, due to the general social instability of the times, there was insufficient support for a sustained reinvigoration of Buddhism.

In this period of decline the Korean literati, whose official education was grounded in neo-Confucian philosophy, succeeded in supplanting Buddhism as a state-sponsored ideology (see Confucian philosophy, Korean). Chinese philosophies, such as Daoism and neo-Confucianism, became increasingly influential, and monks like Kyônghan and Naong began to study these schools of thought. This represents the beginning of another unique trend in Korean Buddhism, as monks began to emphasize the study of non-Buddhist philosophies. Korea became more and more Confucianized, first in a political sense and later throughout society as a whole. This move toward Confucianism began gradually in the latter period of Koryô and accelerated with the beginning of the Chosôn dynasty, which was founded in 1392.

Citing this article:
Cho, Sungtaek. Koryô period: shortcut approach of hwadu investigation. 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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