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Silla Vijñānavāda school

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There were actually three different systems of Yogācāra (or Mind-Only) philosophy which were transmitted into Korea from China during the Unified Silla period. The first can actually be traced back to the Three Kingdoms period, when Won’gwang (d. 630) returned to Korea after studying the Mahāyānasanùgraha (in Chinese, Shelun) in China. However, it was not until Wônch’ūk (612–96) arrived on the scene that any significant study of Yogācāra was undertaken in Korea. Wônch’ūk is considered the major figure among Silla monks studying Yogācāra doctrine. His system is classified as the Old Yogācāra, founded by the Indian monk Paramārtha (499–569). This is in order to distinguish it from the New Yogācāra, which was founded by the Chinese monk Xuanzang (602–64). Xuanzang translated Dharmapāla’s Vijñāptimātratāsiddhi into Chinese and his new school, which was established on the basis of this text, became known as the Faxiang (Dharma Characteristics) school.

The two Yogācāra schools, Old and New, differed in their theoretical approaches and there were conflicts between them. Wônch’ūk and his disciples eventually established their own school, called the Ximing school. This was followed by the Silla Vijñānavāda school, which included such noted monks as Tojung and T’aehyon. Vijñānavāda theory in Silla developed its own unique characteristics quite distinct from those of Xuanzang’s school in China. The Silla school not only effected a synthesis of the various Vijñānavāda schools in China, but it also adopted theories from other Chinese schools, such as Tientai and Huayan. It achieved this synthesis through its understanding of the term ‘One Vehicle’, an approach made possible by the work of Wônhyo. Like Wônhyo, the Silla Vijñānavāda school attempted to reconcile the teaching of Mādhyamika with that of Yogācāra, but by using the concept of one sound as its reference point. Here, Wônch’ūk was referring to the Buddha’s teaching, which has one meaning but is given different explanations depending on one’s level of understanding. Wônch’ūk’s concept of ‘one sound’ is, of course, comparable to the concept of the One Vehicle, as both are nothing but teaching devices used to comprehend various understandings from a higher vantage point.

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