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Wonhyo’s Philosophy

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Writer Jogye Date13 Feb 2019 Read7,497 Comment0


Wonhyo’s Philosophy

5) Classification and Authorship

In order to glimpse the thought process and cognitive method of a great thinker from the past, we have no choice but to rely on the publications and historical records that reference him. No matter how distinguished he might have been, he cannot be valued without his existing writings and historical records, which project his perception and rationale. Likewise, no matter how numerous his publications may be, he cannot be properly assessed in the absence of writing that completely reflects both his philosophy and reasoning. However, if such writings can be found, we may explore his nature through them. We may reach a new level of understanding and appreciation for this great thinker by observing theories about his relationships between people, his worldview, replacement theory and inborn nature, as well as practices that represent his rationale and philosophy borne from his publications. For this reason, recognition of his self-nature, understanding about his practice, his perspective in Buddhism, the words he used most often in his writing, his understanding of humanity, and his worldview all become important mechanisms through which we can appreciate this thinker.


Throughout the three countries that make up East Asia - China, Japan and Korea - the most distinctive characteristics of Chinese Buddhism are the formation of Buddhist sects and the completion of Seon or Chan meditation. The latter is a symbolic practice that was derived through an analogical understanding of Buddhist doctrine. This became possible by classifying the various doctrines, and translating the sutras into Chinese. The last of these was particularly relevant. The Chinese advocated the classification of the various doctrines of Buddhism; that is, a catalogue of Buddhist analytics. As numerous Buddhist texts were transmitted from India to China over the thousand years following Buddha’s entrance into Nirvana, the texts were translated into Chinese and then classified to study efficiently and analyze academically. The early catalogue contained analytics on interpreting the Buddhist doctrines based on chronology, methodology, and content verification, so that scholars might understand the core teaching given by Buddha. At that time, it was the most distinctive academic methodology of Buddhism in East Asia.


Prior to the Sui (581-618) and Tang (618-907) Dynasty periods, the catalogues contained the characteristics of analytics that helped scholars understand the Chinese translated texts properly. However, after this period, the analytics were misused to boast about the superiority of each sect. In other words, each sect set their own methodology for studying the texts, ‘proving’ it to be the best or ultimate teaching. In this way, each sect praised their own methodology while discrediting other sects’ methods. As a result, the analytics were compiled with this mindset: “The freshest firewood is placed on top.” That was why Venerable Wonhyo’s teachings were organized chronologically and further explained according to the comprehension level of readers.


For instance, the Tientai, or the Celestial Platform Sect, divided The Nirvana or The Maha Parinirvana Sutra into five periods: the Tripitaka or Hinayana teachings, or the period of the Flower Garland (21 days); the Agama period or the Theravada teachings (12 years); the period of the Vaipulya (8 years); the period of the Prajnaparamita (21 to 22 years); the period of the Lotus Flower and the Mahaparanirvana (8 years), and the period of Nirvana (one day and night). The Nirvana or The Maha Parinirvana Sutra opened a new possibility: the eight doctrines based on the four types of perspectives: the sudden method; the gradual method; the secret or esoteric method; and the pervasive or indeterminate method. Four others took on perspectives on the content of the truth: the Hinayana teaching; the general teaching, which is common to Hinayana and Mahayana; the special teaching for Bodhisattvas; and the complete and consummate teaching. On the contrary, the Avatamsaka, or Flower Garland Sect, organized the The Avatamsaka Sutra as superior, based on the five doctrinal teachings: Hinayana; the early teaching of Mahayana; the final teaching of Mahayana; the Sudden Enlightenment School; and the perfect teachings and ten schools, according to their high and low levels. Moreover, the Dharmalaksana Sect categorized teachings into three periods: the first wheel; the second one; and the third one, placing The Sandhinirmocana Sutra, the ultimate wisdom, first, rather than including any previous techniques seeking the truth.


On the other hand, Venerable Wonhyo classified the teachings fairly, following the perspective of the middle path, which is the key to Dharma talks, rather than putting emphasis on the superiority of one sect or another. He tried to present his points through two categories: the Mahayana and Hinayana; that is, the Srāvaka or Hīnayāna Canon (聲聞藏) and the Bodhisattva Canon (菩薩藏) in his publications: The Great Perfection of Wisdom Sūtra (Daehyedo Gyeongjongyo); The Nirvāṇa Sūtra (Yeolban Gyeongjongyo); The Lotus Sutra (Beophwa Gyeongjongyo); and The Sūtra on Maitreya’s Ascension (Mireuk Sangsaeng Gyeongjongyo). Meanwhile, these teachings took center stage when exploring the ultimate wisdom in patriotism, Gugyeong Youigyo (究竟了義敎), which is equivalent to Prajna or Huayen. Originally, Wonhyo translated the existing Prajna Paramita Scriptures as The Perfection of Wisdom Scriptures (Daehyedo Gyeongjongyo) which meant, “Pass a hill of awakening with vast wisdom,” like the perfection of wisdom in The Mahaprajnaparamita Shastra, or The Perfection of Wisdom Shastra. The word “jongyo” was actually being used already in the Buddhist community. Nonetheless, he took the word ‘jongyo’ and gave it a new meaning.


He used this new term in his book Daehyedo Gyeongjongyo or The Great Perfection of Wisdom Sūtra. There, he introduced the theory of Venerable Huiyuan (慧觀, 334-416 A.D.) of China. This included sudden and gradual approaches to enlightenment in five periods, and the theory of three Dharma wheels of the Dharmalaksana Sect based on The Samdhinirmocana Sutra, or The Unraveling Thought Sutra. Afterwards, he said that although The Maha Prajna Paramita Heart Sutra was sometimes interpreted as the second formless time (無相時) in The Perfection of Wisdom Scriptures (Daehyedo Gyeongjongyo) and the second formless Dharma wheels (無相法輪) in The Samdhinirmocana Sutra (the Unraveling Thought Sutra), which sounded plausible, he refuted that it wasn’t necessarily true all the time. Then, he asserted that The Maha Prajna Paramita Heart Sutra was as supreme and formless as The Avatamsaka Sutra, or The Huayen Sutra, and that it was the ultimate wisdom, Gugyeong Youi (究竟了義).


Moreover, Wonhyo explained the perspectives of practitioners based on the jongyo classifications, dividing them into four categories: the lesser-minded teaching (別敎) and the intermediate teaching (通敎) of the three vehicles (三乘), as well as the divided teaching (分敎) and the complete teaching (滿敎) of the vehicle of one-ness (一乘). In The Lotus Sutra (Beophwa Gyeongjongyo), he introduced the theory of the three kinds of Faluna (三種法輪) based on The Samdhinirmocana Sutra (The Unraveling Thought Sutra), and stated that it was wrong to declare that the first and second Dharma wheels were not ultimate and definite teachings.


As logical evidence, he provided examples, showing that The Lotus Sutra could be considered the third Dharma wheel and The Avatamsaka Sutra the first Dharma wheel, and were interpreted as Gugyeong Youi (究竟了義) in another theory of the three kinds of Faluna (根本∙枝末∙攝末歸本). Furthermore, in The Nirvāṇa Sūtra (Yeolban Gyeongjongyo), the assertions of Southern Dharma teachers appeared to introduce The Nirvana Sutra as The Perfect Understanding Sutra (了義經) according to the theory of sudden and gradual approaches to enlightenment in the five periods of humanity (頓漸五時): heavenly beings in the realm of six modes of existence (人天); the discrimination of the three vehicles (三乘差別); the second formless void (空無相); and Nirvana (涅槃). On the other hand, the Northern Dharma teachers classified Prajna, Vimalakirti, Saddharma Puṇḍarīka, and Nirvana as The Perfect Understanding Sutra (了義經).


Moreover, Wonhyo didn’t stop there, but went further, commenting that if one were to put on blinders, only taking on one point of view, both theories would be lost. If one does accept the other without insisting on one’s own theory, both theories will be attained. Afterwards, he warned practitioners about narrow-minded thinking when interpreting profound meanings, relying on the five periods and five permanent guidelines for translation. Henceforth, he took on a more inclusive position by accepting The Maha Prajna Paramita Heart Sutra, The Lotus Sutra, The Nirvana Sutra, and The Avatamsaka Sutra all as Gugyeong Youi (究竟了義).


In this process, Wonhyo came up with the four new classifications: the three vehicles for lesser-minded teaching; the three vehicles for intermediate teaching; the vehicle of divided teaching, and the vehicle of complete teaching. Furthermore, the vehicle of divided teaching was classified based on Tathagatagarbha, or the everlasting immaculate Dharma-body and the Mahayana morals. The vehicle of complete teaching was organized through the faith of the Samantabhadra, or universal goodness and wisdom, and The Avatamsaka Sutra, or The Huayen Sutra. In addition to that, we can infer that the main branch of his philosophy has its roots in the Mahayanashraddhotpada Shastra, or the Awakening of Mahayana Faith and The Avatamsaka Sutra, or The Huayen Sutra. In addition, with the three vehicles as the base of this methodology and the one-vehicle as the truth of The Lotus Sutra, he suggested simplifying the teaching of (乘門) into the four classifications.


In these four classifications, Wonhyo referred to the outside territory of the two vehicles, or the vehicles of the disciples and self-enlightenment, as the one-vehicle or the Buddha-vehicle (一乘). In the absence of a comprehensive teaching, he called this Subungyo (隨分敎), or the divided teaching. Upon further investigation of this matter, we find he also named it Wonmangyo (圓滿敎), or the well-rounded teaching. He added that the three vehicles of the lesser-minded teaching were founded in Hinayana teachings, such as The Four Noble Truths Sutra and The Dependent Origination Sutra, which lacked an understanding of the nature of the void or true-suchness (法空). Afterwards, he included the middle path teaching of The Prajna Paramita Scriptures, or The Perfection of Wisdom Scriptures; and Yogacara, or the Mind-only teaching of The Samdhinirmocana Sutra, or The Unraveling Thought Sutra were placed into the three vehicles of the intermediate teaching, as these offered an understanding about the nature of the void or true-suchness (法空). Then, he classified the three vehicles as the superior concept, and the one-vehicle into the divided teaching and the complete teaching.


In the one-vehicle of the divided teaching, he incorporated Bosal Yeongnak Boneop-gyeong, or Commentary on the Sutra of the Diadem of Past Activities and Beommang-gyeong, or The Brahma-Net Sūtra, the scriptures of the Bodhisattva precepts. He listed the sutras that contained the concepts of the Mahayana, or the Great Vehicle into the one-vehicle of the divided teaching. This was quite an unprecedented and fair classification system he implemented to replace the existing catalogue. Furthermore, for the one-vehicle of the complete teaching, he paired it with The Avatamsaka Sutra, or The Huayen Sutra, as the annotation for the total equality in the concept of the Samantabhadra teaching, or the Guardian of Law (普賢敎). If he was following the criteria of the understanding about the nature of the void or true-suchness (法空) when classifying the three vehicles into the lesser-minded teaching from the complete teaching, the rationale behind classifying the one-vehicle into the divided teaching and the complete teaching was based on the law of one substance with various outer appearances; that is, mutual entry (相入) and mutual condition (相是, 相卽) in the aspect of the Bobeop (普法), or total equality.


It seems that Wonhyo had absorbed the Dharma and treatises of the new translations by Xuanzang (玄奘, 602-664), a legendary Chinese Buddhist monk from the early Tang Dynasty (618-907) the most rapidly and completely of all. The list of the majority of his publications proves that he relied heavily on the Dharma and treatises of the new translations by Xuanzang. If that is the case, it can be inferred that Wonhyo began writing in earnest when Xuanzang returned to China around 645. In other words, he translated most of the Dharma and treatises between the first (650) and second (661) overseas study attempts made by Venerable Wonhyo and Venerable Uisang (625-702). Considering his only existing copy, Panbiryangnon (咸亨 the second year, 行名寺, 671), we can estimate the chronology of his writings in relation to his early and late works.


It has been speculated that Chojanggwanmun and Ansinsasimnon were his earliest works, written under the recommendation of a monk named Nangji (朗智). These writings were sent to be proofread by a scholar named Munseon (文善). We can assume Chojanggwanmun was used as a textbook for beginners, who had just entered Madhyamika (三論), or the three treatises. Meanwhile, as its name suggests, Ansinsasimnon was probably used as a textbook for practice while resting one’s body and freeing one’s mind to be as it is. If these two publications are assumed to be his earlier works in relation to others, the projected chronological order of his writings are as follows: Daeseunggisillonbyeolgi; Ildojang; Jungbyeonbunbyeollonso; Ijangui; Boneopgyeongso; Neunggagyeongyogan; Neunggagyeongjongyo; Neunggagyeongso; Muryangsugyeongjongyo; Geumgwangmyeonggyeongso; Panbiryangnon (671); Yeolbanjongyo, or The Nirvana Sutra; Daeseunggisillonso; Geumgangsammaegyeongnon; and Hwaeomgyeongso or The Avatamsaka Sutra.


However, the question remains whether Hwaeomgyeongso or The Huayen Sutra was his last work, because he stopped his writing in the middle of the book, while working at the library of Bunhwangsa Temple in Gyeongju, the capital of the Shilla period. We can imagine that he was simply taking a break from his work in that library, filled with musty odor of letters and ink on the books, planning simply to recharge his batteries and resume his work after little while, rather than stop writing altogether. Currently, the only surviving published works of Seomun (序文) and the third book of Gwangmyeong gakpumso (光明覺品疏) remain, so it is not possible to determine the true order of his writings in relation to these. Also, considering the significance of the Hwaeomgyeongso, or The Avatamsaka Sutra, when classifying the works into four groups, it is possible that this work was completed in his later period. Nonetheless, it is difficult to conclude that Hwaeomgyeongso or The Avatamsaka Sutra was his last work.


At that time, as there were a number of sects in East Asia advocating the authenticity of their orders according to each one’s classification system, Wonhyo felt the need to organize the Buddhist philosophies in a systematic way, directly facing such overwhelming assertions. Consequently, he also came up with his own classifications that could integrate the various thoughts and fuse the cultures through a number of revisions. In this process, he was able to produce numerous publications. According to his catalogue, his list covered the comprehensive collection of sutras that he had access to, excluding the field of esoteric Buddhism, which wasn’t completely translated at that time. To be specific, anything from the characteristics and temperaments of the multifold schools of Buddhism; to Madhyamika, or the three treatises, the Nirvana theory, the commentaries, and the aspects, or characteristics of all things and phenomena of the Mahayana Buddhism; to Esoteric Buddhism; Vinaya, or the precepts; the Tientai, or the Celestial Platform Sect; the Avatamsaka, or the Flower Garland Sect; the Pure Land concept; and all the way to the study of Seon or Chan, he included his independent thinking system and distinctive method in his world of consciousness. The works also include his one-mind philosophy, and logical reasoning behind exploring similarities as well as his boundless, varied practice.


Only about 20 of 103 books have been handed down, and about 202 to 208 copies of his books. Among his publications, he articulated his intricate thoughts and used his elaborate writing skills to share his altruistic spirit. Taking the missing parts and records into consideration, we can estimate that 22 copies of 19 books, or 29 copies of 20 books remain, or 30 copies of 22 books in total. The majority of his publications are missing, so that only parts of his written works are available. Moreover, as a number of publications have not been registered, it is very challenging to reconstruct his thinking system and methodology of perception completely. However, it is most fortunate that we can depict the topography of his one-mind philosophy, and logical reasoning of exploring similarities as well as his boundless practice, through the publications that do still exist.

6) Exposition and Theory

Wonhyo’s ideological journey has often been called the one-mind philosophy. His structured techniques included logical reasoning and the exploration of similarities, as well as the limitless nature of his practice. The construction of his thought processes have been further described through the philosophies of Ilsim imun (一心二門), meaning one mind has two aspects; Imun ilsim (二門一心), meaning two aspects have one mind; or Mui jungdo (無二中道), meaning the two sides do not exist, but rather there is only one middle path. All these philosophies refer to the aspect of the mind\\'s arising and ceasing. The Daeseung Gisillonso and Daeseung Gisillonbyeolgi - the Mahayanashraddhotpada Shastra, or the awakening of Mahayana faith - predominantly emphasize the underlying principle of the one-mind structure in Simsaengmyeolmun, or the phenomenal aspect of the mind, and Simjinyeomun, the true-suchness of the mind. Wonhyo’s logical reasoning is exemplified in a publication named Simmunhwajaengnon, or The Reconciliation of the Ten Gates Theory (十門和諍論) and his late work of Geumgang Sammaegyeongnon, or The Vajrasamādhi Sūtra. In the missing publication Hwaeomgyeongso, or The Avatamsaka Sutra, he clearly articulates the path towards the enlightenment of sentient beings, removing the obstacles in their way. Among these three traits, Wonhyo most dearly wished to provide sentient beings with assistance and abundance, by going back the logical basics: mutual reconciliation and communication.


Wonhyo based his systematic theories on the structure of Ilsim imun (一心二門) of Daeseung Gisillon or the awakening of Mahāyāna faith. As he dedicated himself to this project, he managed to publish seven to eight commentaries. He contradicted many parts of Daeseung Gisillon of the middle path, which focused on “only discrediting, not proving,” as well as the consciousness-only ideology of “just approving, not denying.” He stipulated the existence of Ālaya-vijñāna, or the eight consciousnesses, integrated reformation and demolition, and the harmony and commonalities between the two states of enlightenment (覺), and unenlightenment (不覺), showing why they are no different from one another.


To be more exact, Wonhyo believed that Daeseung gisillon (The Mahayanashraddhotpada Shastra) had been written based on The Lankavatara Sutra, in order to drive practitioners’ obsession towards the distinct substance (別體) of the absolute or ultimate truth of emptiness without differentiation, and the worldly, conventional, or relative truth. This can be confirmed in one section of Ālaya-vijñāna, or the eight consciousnesses, in the commentary of the Yogacara theory. This section argued that vipaka, potentially different karmic retribution (異熟識) included never-ending arising and ceasing. However, the awakening of Mahayana faith contended that the condition of neither-arising-nor-ceasing, and arising-and-ceasing were neither the same nor different. Thus, within the framework of the awakening of Mahayana faith, he continuously explored this harmonious relationship, seeking how these two states of enlightenment (覺), and unenlightenment (不覺) might not be different.


Here, the awakening of Ālaya-vijñāna, or the eight consciousnesses, refers to the neither-arising-nor-ceasing of Tathagatagarbha. On the other hand, non-awakening is the product of the thoughts of arising and ceasing, which are deeply rooted in the habitual energy of avidya, or ignorance of the pure state of mind of the neither-arising-nor-ceasing of Tathagatagarbha. That is, as the neither-arising-nor-ceasing and arising-or-ceasing of Ālaya-vijñāna are the integration of enlightenment (覺), and unenlightenment (不覺), from that point on, meditation and concentration became possible when arising from right mindfulness. This illustrates how the Ālaya-vijñāna method of practice can help common people cultivate themselves and work toward enlightenment, despite being in a condition of corruption and confusion. By following this method, they are able to become complete beings. This is possible because of the characteristics of the two innate traits of a person (二義性) of Ālaya-vijñāna.


Likewise, Wonhyo clearly stated the double-sidedness of contamination and purity. The Yogacara School insisted on perceiving only one side; thus, they took on their true nature according to their habits. On the contrary, the Madhyamika School concentrated on removing upadana, or attachment, by focusing on the teaching of the awakening of Mahayana faith. In this process, while trying to understand the positions of Ālaya-vijñāna, the theory of the three subtle conceptions was born: fundamental ignorance (業相); the mark of subjective perception (轉相); and the mark of an object of perception (現相). This was done to put emphasis on the way these three subtle conceptions were based on the positions of Ālaya-vijñāna. It was done in a more detailed and empirical manner than the teaching of the awakening of Mahayana faith intended.


Subsequently, the practice of the dichotomous style, based on smasara, or the wheel of life, in Ālaya-vijñāna of the Yogacara School may be the orthodox dharma, or teaching, when considering the elements of arising and ceasing. On the other hand, according to the cultivation method of Ālaya-vijñāna of the awakening of Mahayana faith school, one of the harmonious methods of the three subtle conceptions eliminates the concept of arising and ceasing. However, it does include the wisdom of non-discrimination and the secondary, expedient, or detailed wisdom, so that one can return to the state of enlightenment (覺), one’s pure self-nature, without birth and death. This suggested method of the awakening of Mahayana faith clearly revealed the state of Nirvana. It is more practical than attempting to attain high levels when seeking the world of enlightenment with the one-mind.


A similar problem and solution is also detailed in Simmunhwajaengnon, or The Reconciliation of the Ten Gates Theory. “When Buddha was alive, sentient beings understood, as they could listen to his Dharma in person. Yet afterwards, a multitude of theories appeared like stirring clouds, one saying, ‘My theory is correct, and none other.’ Or another claims, ‘I am true, but the rest are not.’ Their number fills the streams and rivers…. Hating bhava, or existence, while loving sunyata, or the void, is like a cloud that avoids trees, only to arrive at a large forest. By the same token, blue and navy come from the same element, just like ice and water come from the same source. A mirror allows tens of thousands of things.” Seeing this, Wonhyo worked to overcome the errors of the notion, ‘I am correct, and others are not,’ by making logical arguments, debating each side, and reaching a consensus about the truth.


In order to explore the characteristics of the understanding of enlightenment (神解) in the one-mind of the awakening of Mahayana faith, Wonhyo implemented the theories of the eight consciousnesses and the nine layers of the one-mind in Geumgangsammae Gyeongnon, or The Explanation of the Sutra of Diamond Samadhi. In The Treatises of the Diamond Samadhi, Wonhyo figured out that there was nothing that couldn’t be broken; there was nothing that couldn’t be established; there was nothing that couldn’t be raised up; and it was impossible to get away from this duality. He embraced not only the Ālaya-vijñāna, but also the Ninth Amala consciousness, based on the harmonious ideas of the pure and lucid mind, which held no delusions of the thoughts of birth and death. Taking this one step further, he set down the rules of debate such as various hwajaeng, or the harmonization of all disputes, and hoetong, all-encompassment. One shouldn’t agree easily without questioning; one shouldn’t allow something to happen; this was not the truth, that was not the truth, and nothing wasn’t untruthful; neither one nor two, and more. This proves that fact. Thus, he concluded that everyone was correct and also, everyone was wrong.


This can also be confirmed in the following passages of Yeolbanjongyo, or The Nirvana Sutra. He commented that when sentient beings hear, “As all beings lack their self-nature, it is difficult to say that they have one. There is neither arising nor ceasing. All beings are simple, and all are void, or like illusions.” They would stir up feelings of shock and terror while criticizing the sutras. They might exclaim, “Buddha’s teaching is wrong,” and then bodhisattvas would guide them properly, simply, truthfully, and harmoniously.


This was done to drive out various schools armed with elaborate methodological techniques, and communicate real practical theories that could work. In other words, ‘Let different languages talk and find similar meanings’. At the same time, it was a process of the vast integration of hoetong, by focusing on commonness (眞理, generality and legitimacy) and resemblance (道理, general legitimacy). This can be verified in the story, “A blind man touching an elephant,” which shows the generality, legitimacy, and the common legitimacy of the morals of wisdom, as well as in single-reasoning (一理, partial or limited legitimacy) and the uncommonness and illegitimacy of irrationality.


The underlying principles of hwajaeng and hoetong have been illustrated with this point: “The parts of sutras have been integrated and reorganized according to their flow. With the utmost fairness of the profound teaching of Buddha, you shall nullify the numerous assertions many have made, by embracing the interaction of diverse doctrinal claims, without contention,” which was hwahoege, the harmony of law (和會偈), found in Yeolbanjongyo, or The Nirvana Sutra.


The fact that Wonhyo stopped writing his commentaries on the vast Dharma of Hwaeomgyeongso, or The Avatamsaka Sutra, and went out to popularize these theories with the people also indicates this. Moreover, through the elements of the one-mind, hwaho, harmony, and no-hindrance, we can get a glimpse of his intricate reasoning, elaborative writing skills, and true humanity. Ultimately, the life Wonhyo led by example sends us the message that we must understand differences, be considerate, and communicate, so that we might lead lives of happiness and health.

7) Stop Writing and Spreading Dharma

Wonhyo’s phrase ‘no hindrance’ came from the sentence, “One with no hindrance passes through one’s life and death,” from Hwaeomgyeongso. This passage illustrates the ultimate path of Buddhism. The one with no hindrance was Buddha, and he passed through his life and death as an enlightened one. Therefore, Mahayana Buddhism suggests Buddha and bodhisattvas are the most ideal role models.


Sitting in the library, filled with the musty odor of the letters and ink on the books of Bunhwangsa Temple, Wonhyo was writing commentaries on Sipoehyangpum. However, he suddenly stopped, and ran out to start spreading Dharma, which marked the beginning of his bodhisattvahood. He became deeply aware that he could never find enjoyment, special talent, or the chance to share his wisdom, as long as he stayed in that tiny room. So, he left the library and ran out to streets. This second awakening was very public, while his first awakening at a grave was more personal. From then on, he chose the path of easing the suffering of the people on the Korean Peninsula, while the war of the three kingdoms was in progress. It was in the midst of this chaos that he began preaching to the public in the streets. He laid out the theological aspects of the philosophy of the pure land, and taught his audience how to practice.


According to Sinpyeonje Jonggyo Jangchongnok by Uicheon (1055-1101), National Preceptor of Goryeo, a comprehensive catalogue of Buddhist books in China and Korea at that time, Wonhyo sat down in a small room, writing commentaries about Hwaeomgyeongso, or The Avatamsaka Sutra. He then compiled these, enlarged the collection and published about 8 to 10 books. Confident about his four classifications, he re-edited his previous commentaries of Hwaeomgyeongso, or The Avatamsaka Sutra, and enthusiastically re-expanded them. Despite his excitement, by the time he was working on the commentaries of Sipoehyangpum in that tiny room at Bunhwangsa Temple, he experienced his second awakening. In that little room full of stuffy books and the odor of ink, he must have realized that he couldn’t transfer his learning to others through books, so simply stopped his work right there.


The abandonment of his writing must have been the turning point that led Wonhyo toward bodhisattvahood in his conscious mind of Hwaeom, or the practices and vows of the Bodhisattva. However, he did not completely give up writing after this incident, but rather must have taken some time to reenergize himself, and then resumed translating. It was absolutely impossible to physically write 103 books. His writing list provides evidence of this. For this reason, his objectivity towards the classification system could have been expanded gradually over years of writing.

8) Nirvana and Legacy

The year 2017 marks the 1,400th birthday of Bunhwang Wonhyo (芬皇元曉, 617~686). When we call him, “Seongsa,” we are referring to “a teacher that everyone looks up to.” Though it has been 1,300 years since he entered Nirvana, his work is still being praised internationally, throughout South Korea and East Asia, as well in other parts of the world. Armed with clear perspectives on history and reflection on the needs of that time period, he explored and practiced Buddhism around the era of the Unified Shilla Kingdom (668-935). Based on the old translations, he laid the foundation for a broader understanding of Buddhism, and employed new methods to examine the validity of its philosophies. This was a great indication of dividing his earlier and later works.


Wonhyo reevaluated his earlier, more traditional Buddhism through the new, imported concepts and created new forms. In terms of pursing knowledge in general, it is common to go through the process of tradition, introduction, assessment, and formation. Traditional ideas are faced with struggling new ones. The new concepts are then strengthened and disseminated. Through this development, Wonhyo also established the basis for his academic fundamentals. Through his distinctive features of the one-mind, hwaho, or harmony, and no-hindrance, he demonstrated his wisdom, compassion, and ideology as well as the practice of hoetong, all-encompassment, and clearly classified his earlier and later works.


As we all know, there has never been a scholar like him, neither in the past nor in modern times. He lived to integrate his wisdom, compassion, knowledge and practice structurally with his whole being. As a result, he was regarded as a Buddha beyond the shores of Shilla and the Unified Shilla, the country of record keeping. His literature has influenced countless practitioners from China: Fazang (法藏, 643–712) Chengguan (澄觀, 737–838), Zongmi (宗密, 780–841), and Yanshou (延壽, 904–975); from Shilla: Dullyun (遁倫), Taehyeon (太賢), Pyowon (表員), and Gyeondeung (見登); from Goryeo: Yunyeo (均如), Jinul (知訥), Uicheon (義天), and Ilyeon (一然); and from Japan, Chillan (親鸞).


After the mid-Goryeo period, a new sect came into favor, called Bunhwangjong, or Haedongjong, honoring his scholastic achievements. During the early Joseon period, his highly regarded works of Seogeojeong (徐居正) and Dongmunseon (東文選) were selected from the six series of Daeuimun (大意文). After the mid-Joseon period, Wonhyo seems to have been forgotten by the people for a while. However, his memory was resurrected by freedom fighters during the Japanese Occupation period, along with our sovereignty: Namseon Choi, Dobin Jang, Yeongho Heo, Myeonggi Jo, and Beomsul Choi. After independence was achieved, many other scholars and practitioners alike praised him again and again: Bongam Jo, Giyeong Lee, Gyehyeon Ahn, Yeongtae Kim, Ikjin Go, Beopan Oh, Hyeonggeun Oh, Pyeongrae Lee, and Jeonghui Eun. These individuals occupied vast spheres of influence in the fields of literature, history, philosophy, religion, art, politics, economy, society, culture and science.

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