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Mirror of Seon (선가귀감)

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Writer Jogye Date17 Aug 2015 Read2,221 Comment0

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The Mirror of Seon (禪家龜鑑; Seonga gwigam)
선가귀감

Seonga gwigam was authored by Great Master Seosan Hyujeng (西山休靜; 1520-1604). It is a guide to Seon practice that can be used as a mirror for Seon practitioners. Master Seosan wanted to produce the book because he was greatly disappointed at the way his contemporaries learned Buddhism. After deep reflection, he concluded that disciples of the Buddha regarded only the sacred texts of the Buddhist canon as precious. He then collected essential passages from the Buddhist canon and the recorded sayings of Seon masters and organized them. To these he added annotations, commentaries and verses, producing Seonga gwigam. Hence, the book may be used to initiate students into the Seon School.

In addition, the book was written to mediate the confrontation that existed between the Seon and Doctrinal Schools at the time. Master Seosan said, “Seon is the mind of the Buddha while Doctrine is the words of the Buddha (禪是佛心 敎是佛語).” By this, he recognized the superiority of Seon over Doctrine, but he also clarified that Seon and Doctrine were not in opposition but actually complemented each other.


In Seonga gwigam, there are an introduction written by Master Seosan and an epilogue written by his disciple, Great Master Samyeong Yujeong
(四溟 惟政; 1544-1610). The first Chinese edition was published in 1579 and printed from woodblocks. Seonga gwigam has been continuously published, both in Chinese and Korean, by many temples, including Songgwang-sa and Bohyeon-sa. Especially in the late Joseon era, it received much attention from scholars of the practical learning movement called “Silhak (實學).” In addition, Seonga gwigam was popular and frequently published in Japan to such an extent that there were 180 different editions by the late 17th century. The following are excerpts from the beginning of Seonga gwigam

There is a single thing that from its origin has been ever so bright and ever so numinous, never born and never extinguished, that cannot be named and cannot be described.

The Buddhas and patriarchs appear in the world stirring up waves in the absence of wind.
However, the Dharma has many meanings and people have many capacities; it is permissible to employ skillful means accordingly..

- excerpt from Buddhist English (Intermediate 2) published in 2014 by the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism​  

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