The 7th International Conference Buddhism & Australia
Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia Illustrations
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The History and Tradition of Korean Seon
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The Seon Dharma first entered Korea at the end of the Silla and start of the Goryeo dynasties, when monks who were foreign students seeking the Dharma in the Tang Dynasty received the Dharma from China and began to disseminate it in Korea.
Zhizang, seeing this, just as if he had picked out a beautiful jade from among the pebbles or a pearl from the oyster shell, was happy and said, “Truly if I do not transmit the Dharma to this man then to whom would I transmit it?” (Jodangjip 17).
In the Goryeo period, with the advent of the Cheontae (Chi. Tientai) School that had the powerful backing of the royal clan, the Seon School shrank somewhat. Approaching the twelfth century, while consolidating the School, it proceeded to build a new foundation.
Moreover, Layman Yi Jahyeon (1061-1125), who had extensive connections with the Seon monks and who at that time exercised huge influence on the Seon thought of the Goryeo, initiated the flowering of an invigorating layperson’s Buddhism.
At Suseonsa (Cultivation of Seon Society – today’s Songgwang-sa Monastery), National Teacher Bojo developed the Jeonghye Gyeolsa that was a movement for the joint practice of meditation and wisdom, and meditation practitioners gathered there from all over.
Moreover, Hyesim clarified in detail the concrete troubles and symptoms that can occur when studying, and elucidated the topic of the hwadu of the character “no” (the story of a dog having no Buddha-nature).
Around this time, many Seon monks of the Goryeo entered into Yuan China in active pursuit of the Dharma, and through them many Seon texts and new Seon methods were introduced, and so the Goryeo Seon School encountered a new phase.
In this way these three teachers, after being enlightened to the teaching of Chan Master Mengshan of Yuan China, who had freshly formed the new Seon style of the Seon Gate of Goryeo, they sought out the true teachers of the lineage (literally, lineage masters of original complexion), received their seal of approval, and established a strict tradition.
Although it is a fact that Seon masters Naong Hyegeun and Baeg-un Gyeonghan’s activities were outstanding, it was rather National Teacher Taego Bou who spread Ganhwa Seon widely at the end of the Goryeo and firmly established it.
National Teacher Bou argued that one transcended the Buddha through the house style of one’s own lineage teacher (literally, lineage master who originally shared in enlightenment), and as the teaching of Seon that passes over the patriarchs says,
The National Teacher taught that one practice Ganhwa Seon, investigate the hwadu and try not to interrupt doubt, and after conquering the hwadu, one seeks out one’s true lineage teacher and has him confirm one’s enlightened state.
That is, Seon Master Taego clearly established a Ganhwa Seon practice system in which one investigated the hwadu, and after enlightenment, sought out one’s true lineage teacher and asked him to judge if it was truly enlightenment or not.
The reason National Teacher Taego Bou is venerated as the restoration patriarch of Korean Buddhist Jogye order is because he firmly established such a systematic practice of Ganhwa Seon, and because he received and brought the mainstream lineage of Linji (Kor. Imje) Seon from China, and because that Dharma-lineage has passed down through Joseon Buddhism without break to the present day.
Bou’s Seon lineage was continued by Seon masters Hwan-am Honsu (1320-1392), Gu-gok Gag-un, Byeoggye Jeongsim, Byeoksong Ji-eom (1464-1534), Buyong Yeonggwan (1485-1571), when it formed the two mountain branch lineages of Seon masters Cheongheo Hyujeong (1520-1604) and Buhyu Seonsu (1543-1615).
In Seon Master Seosan Hyujeong’s school, the two great masters Pyeonyang Eon-gi (1581-1644) and Sa-myeong Yujeong (1544-1610) appeared, and of them, the faction of Seon aster Pyeonyang Eon-gi flourished in later times.