Buddhist philosophy, Korean

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

4. Unified Silla period: Silla Hwaôm school

Another vital contribution to Korean Buddhist thought was made by Ûisang (625–702), who was a contemporary of Wônhyo and is known as the founder of the Korean Hwaôm school (Huayan in Chinese) based on the Avatāmsaka Sūtra. Unlike Wônhyo, who had never been to China, Ûisang spent almost ten years there and studied under Zhiyan (602–68), the second patriarch of the Chinese Huayan school. The Hwaôm ilsung popke to (Diagram of the Dharmadhātu of the One Vehicle of Hwaôm) is Ûisang’s only major extant work, and is comprised of his Haein sammae to (Diagram of Ocean Seal Samādhi) and an autocommentary.

The Ocean Seal, as it is commonly known, written while Ûisang was in China, is a poem consisting of 210 characters. It opens with the word pop (dharma) and closes with pul (Buddha), thus signifying the cause-and-effect relationship between the two. By placing both of these characters in the centre of a diagram in the form of a maze, Ûisang articulated the basic theme of Hwaom philosophy which asserts that beginning and end, or cause and effect, occupy the same position while still retaining their own distinctive characteristics. In this way, he depicted Hwaôm philosophy as a mystery of simultaneous mutual penetration. In addition, he pointed to the Hwaôm soteriological position that within the fifty-two stages of a bodhisattva’s career, the first stage of initial faith itself embodies all fifty-two stages, including the final stage of marvellous enlightenment. Of this position, a well-known Hwaôm aphorism states, ‘The moment one arouses an enlightenment thought (bodhicitta), instantly perfect enlightenment is attained.’

Although Ûisang’s expression of Hwaôm theory in the Ocean Seal was not his own creation, it succeeded in ably representing the main ideas of the school, both symbolically and graphically. The Ocean Seal is traditionally presented to monks upon completion of their course of study, a mark of how highly esteemed it is in the Korean Buddhist tradition. It is also chanted in Korean Buddhist ceremonies as a dhāranī, having been endowed with a special mantric power. Along with Wônhyo’s philosophy of the reconciliation of opposites, Ûisang’s contributions to Hwaôm theory helped to create the Korean tradition of t’ong pulgyo and provided the foundation for the synthesis of the doctrinal or scriptural schools (Kyo) and the meditational schools (Sôn) by Chinul in the following Koryô dynasty.

Citing this article:
Cho, Sungtaek. Unified Silla period: Silla Hwaôm school. 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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