A Study on the Uicheon’s Hwaeom Thought in the Collected Writings of the National Preceptor Daegak*

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    Many scholars have undertaken studies on the works of Uicheon (義天, 1055-1101 CE), the results of which demonstrate considerable achievements. While these studies have clearly revealed Uicheon’s unique Buddhist frame of reference, there are still points which are contentious concerning research assumptions, especially their estimation of Uicheon’s Huayan thought (華嚴思想) in the ‘Combined Study of Essential Nature and Characteristic’ (性相兼學) and the ‘Combined Practice of Scriptural Study and Meditation’ (敎觀並修). Their error of judgment in this case is due to the fact that Uicheon had always valued Hwaeom thought as the foundation for all Buddhist teachings and the source for all Buddhist philosophical thought. In fact, ‘Combined Practice of Scriptural Study and Meditation’ is testament to his overriding belief in the superiority of Hwaeom thought. So, unlike the Chinese Huayan School’s philosophical assertion of Essential Nature and Characteristic, Uicheon’s Hwaeom thought favors the approach of ‘Combined study’ (兼學) interpenetrating and mastering all other streams of Buddhist thought.


    Uicheon , Hwaeom Thought , Combined Study of Essential Nature and Characteristic , Combined Practice of Scriptural Study and Meditation.

  • I. Foreword

    In order to understand the nature of Buddhism as it was known during the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392 CE), it is necessary to examine Uicheon’s thought and academic tendency in his role as the National Preceptor Daegak (大覺國師).1

    Accordingly, I will begin by mapping Uicheon’s life in terms of his Hwaeom Karma, using the reference Collected Writings of the National Preceptor Daegak (大覺國師文集) as a main source, before proceeding to treat his Hwaeom (Chinese Huayan) thought according to its major themes. Next, in consideration of whether the Chinese Huayan School’s Interpenetration of Essential Nature and Characteristic (性相融會) is the same as Uicheon’s Combined Study of Essential Nature and Characteristic (性相兼學) I will investigate the Combined Practice of Scriptural Study and Meditation by comparing it with the Huayan School’s traditional view on Scriptural Study and Meditation (敎觀).

    In the course of examining disputed points, the overall purpose of this study is thus, to demonstrate the unique characteristics of Uicheon’s Hwaeom thought and his obvious bias for Hwaeom doctrine.

    1His biography is known through the epitaph of three monuments of Heungwangsa Temple (興王寺), Yeongtongsa Temple (靈通寺) and Seonbongsa Temple (僊鳳寺).

    II. Uicheon’s Hwaeom Karma

    Uicheon would appear to have significant Hwaeom karma in view of his lifetime associations, beginning with the Hwaeom temple Yeongtongsa (靈通寺) where he became a monk when he was 11 years of age. His master, National Preceptor Gyeongdeok Nanwon (景德 蘭圓) was also from the Hwaeom School, which preempts a possibility for his succession to the Dharma lineage of Gyunyeo (均如).

    Nanwon was a maternal uncle of King Munjong (文宗), Uicheon’s father, and the King’s intention was to declare his favor for the Hwaeom School by allowing his son to enter Yeongtongsa. Because at the time when Uicheon was born the Goryeo Buddhist community was led by two dominant Schools; the Hwaeom School with its base at Heungwangsa temple (興王寺), and the Beopsang (Chinese Faxing) or Dharma-character School (法相宗) which had its base at Hyeonhwasa temple (玄化寺) which was supported by powerful maternal relatives, the Inju Lee family (仁州 李氏). It is clear from the King’s extraordinary decision to appoint thirteen-year old Uicheon as Seungtong (僧統) or Head Monk, the highest position of Scriptural School (敎宗) that he wished to favorably influence and strengthen the Hwaeom School’s standing.

    According to Yeongtongsa’s record, ‘Epitaph of National Preceptor Daegak,’ Uicheon’s academic achievement was considerable. Moreover it was Song (宋) Dynasty Jinshui Jingyuan (晉水 淨源) who gave him a dream of studying in China and conveyed an invitation for him to go there. And it was Dharma master Youcheng (有誠) whom Uicheon first studied with on his arrival in China. As Jinshui and Youcheng were the great Huayan masters at that time, this might be taken as further evidence of Uicheon’s destiny with Huayan thought. And when he passed away in 1101, the 6th year of the King Sukjong’s reign, it was at Yeongtongsa, where he had first resided as a Buddhist monk, where his remains would be enshrined in accordance with his wishes. Twenty-four years later, in 1125, the 3rd year of King Injong’s reign, it was this same temple where Uicheon’s disciples built a monumental pagoda to honor his memory.

    Thus, it is clear that from the time he became a Buddhist monk right up until passing, Uicheon’s life circumstances demonstrate a close connection with the Hwaeom School. In fact, in his preface to Newly Compiled Comprehensive Record of the Canonical Works of the Various Schools (新編諸宗敎藏總錄) which he edited himself, therein he refers to himself as the sramana (Buddhist monk) who transmitted the great teachings of the Hwaeom School to East of the sea (Goryeo: 海東傳華嚴大敎沙門). In addition, the reference to ‘Perfect School’ which appears in the title, New Collections of Literature on the Perfect School (新集圓宗文類: H. 4, 528a) refers directly to the Hwaeom School.

    III. Uicheon’s Perspective on Buddhism

    Uicheon’s literary works are undoubtedly the primary source for an examination of his viewpoint on Buddhism. However, his extant works are not sufficient to give us a complete grasp on the entirety of his ideas as, according to the Collection of Literary Works of National Preceptor Daegak (20 vols.), the original collection numbered about 300 books. So, it is inevitable that we must utilize other sources such as information about his religious activities, personal connections and specific interests like, academic issues and teachings for his disciples.

    As mentioned earlier, Uicheon’s academic record indicates a capacity of considerable depth and breadth. During his stay in China, approximately 50 monks representing the diversity of Buddhist schools either taught Uicheon or were acquainted with him in some way. Yangjie (楊傑), an officer of retinue who attended Uicheon during his stay in Sung Dynasty described him as follows:

    When Uicheon was 19 years old, he loudly lamented the fact of a complete lack of material available in Goryeo on the doctrines and commentaries of the hundred schools of the Liao (堯) and Song (宋) Dynasties. He thus, urged the necessity for publishing a Goryeo Cannon (高麗敎藏) so that these works could be collected into one publication and made widely available. His petition was especially urgent because at that time there was neither commentary nor research available on the ‘Three Baskets’ (三藏) which was considered a prerequisite for Buddhist studies.

    In his eagerness to collect such commentaries and notes he journeyed to China and returned home with about three thousand works. His goal in collecting these materials is realized in the eventual compilation and publication of the Goryeo Cannon, arranged by the Directorate for Buddhist Scriptures (敎藏都監) at Heungwangsa temple (興王寺). For the purpose of publishing this Cannon he edited a list of collections which he named the Newly Compiled Comprehensive Record of Canonical Works of the Various Schools (新編諸宗敎藏總錄). This record comprises three sets of books; the first set contains 561 categories in 2,586 volumes including commentaries on the Sutras (經), the second contains 142 categories in 467 volumes including commentaries on Vinayas (律), and the last one includes 307 categories in 1,687 volumes with commentaries on the Abhidharma (論). The whole set constitutes a total of 1,010 categories in 4,740 volumes of commentaries.

    In addition to collecting these writings and notes, Uicheon sent personnel to Liao, Song and Japan to collect additional materials. It seems Uicheon’s need for collecting such a vast array of Buddhist works was related to his own viewpoint on Buddhism. At that time the Buddhist orders were superficially divided into two schools which had a tendency to confront each other. The main division was between the Scriptural School and the Seon School, but there were also latent frictions in the Scriptural School between the Hwaeom and Beopsang schools.

    In Uicheon’s view, as a master of both Goryeo and Chinese Buddhism, these confrontations had their origin in the prejudices each held against the other. In his letter to master Jingyuan he expresses his feelings as follows:

    In other words, he is lamenting the decline of the Goryeo Hwaeom tradition and he further voices his strong discontent about the status of Goryeo Buddhism in his petition to the King requesting permission to go to China to study.

    He did not indicate exactly who he thought were heretics, but he was obviously critical of the Buddhist community at that time, and deploring the lack of true masters in his country he insisted that he had no choice but to study abroad. Although he had a firm belief that all Buddhist ideas must eventually be integrated into Huayan thought he was also ready to adopt a more comprehensive view on Buddhist theories. In other words, he believed that in order to study Buddhism all the various streams of Buddhist thought should be studied and mastered systematically and so collecting various Buddhist commentaries was the basis for this work.

    IV. Uicheon’s Hwaeom Thought

      >  A. Interpenetration of Essential Nature and Characteristic (性相融會) vs. Combined Study of Essential Nature and Characteristic (性相兼學)

    There are two distinct viewpoints on the Combined Study of Essential nature and Characteristic: ① eclecticism between Hwaeom and Beopsang, ② interpretation of Essential Nature and Characteristic, that, embraces the doctrine of Beopsang based on the hierarchy of Hwaeom.

    Uicheon’s ‘Combined Study of Essential Nature and Characteristic’ and the Hwaeom School’s Interpenetration of Essential Nature and Characteristic,’ however, also differ in meaning. So as to understand these differences we must first examine the concept of Interpenetration of Essential Nature and Characteristic since it was developed much earlier. The term Interpenetration of Essential Nature and Characteristic is related to the study of Xianshou Fazang (賢首 法藏) and reflects the views of the Chinese Huayan School who generally accepted that Interpenetration of Essential Nature and Characteristic embraces both interpenetration (融會) and classification decision (決判). It seems fairly certain that this use of ‘Characteristic’ refers to the Dharma-character School (法相宗) whereas ‘Nature’ refers to the Dharma-nature School (法性宗) in any case whether or not characteristic and nature are interpenetrative or divided. There is no argument about accepting the definition of Dharma-character School to mean also Dharma-character Consciousness-only School (法相唯識宗) but as to Dharma-nature School there are different opinions.

    The Dharma-nature School is concerned with Madhyamika, Tathagata-garba (如來藏), or the perspective of Scriptural study (敎學) of the Tathagata-garba and the Post three teachings (後三敎) of Final (終), Sudden (頓) and Perfect (圓) tenets stipulated in the Five teachings of the Hwaeom School.

    Xianshou Fazang (法藏) first used the terms ‘nature’ and ‘character’ together in Huayan wujiao zhang (Essay on the Five Teachings: 五敎章). However, judging from its context, the terms does not denote Dharma nature and Dharma character but seems to refer to opposites, ‘True and False’ (眞妄), ‘Roots and Branches’ (本末), and ‘Fundamental and Phenomenon’ (理事). According to Fazang’s viewpoint, interpenetration is not concerned with either Dharma nature or Dharma character, but it means ‘interpenetration of emptiness and existence’ (空有融會). He never uses the term, Dharma nature but integrates Contemplating emptiness and Consciousness-only into one.

    As we saw above, Uicheon’s Combined Study of Essential Nature and Characteristic is clearly different from the Chinese Huayan School’s assertion of Interpenetration of Essential Nature and Characteristic, which stems from discussions on emptiness and existence. Thus, it would be erroneous to try to interpret Uicheon’s Combined Study of Essential Nature and Characteristic within the context of Interpenetration of Essential Nature and Characteristic. It was Uicheon’s mission to shape his ideas in a manner that would help to integrate the various streams of Buddhist thought, which was why he chose the Hwaeom School as a central premise rather than pursuing the debate about Interpenetration of Essential Nature and Characteristic or Classification decision on nature and character. What really mattered at that time was the simple fact that the Dharma-character School was the strongest of the existing Buddhist Schools.

    In this connection, he said:

    In the above passage Uicheon endorses the integrated view on Buddhism by presenting the Hwaeom classification of Five teachings (華嚴五敎判), and promoting the superiority of Hwaeom thought on the basis that it enables everyone to master everything in the end, as long as he studies Hwaeom thought diligently and deeply. Another important factor is that Uicheon’s view on nature and character combines the idea of the Seon School (禪宗) and Teachings character (敎相) or embraces both Hwaeom thought and Dharmacharacter (法相). Simply, Uicheon favored the combined study (兼學) approach rather than interpenetration (融會), but still put much value on Hwaeom.

      >  B. Combined Practice of Scriptural Study and Meditation

    Uicheon’s regard for Hwaeom as the supreme teaching is stressed again in his treatise, Combined Practice of Scriptural Study and Meditation. Here he states that the Five teachings (五敎) and the Three contemplations (三觀) should be used together in study and practice.

    These Five teachings and Three contemplations, which are essential for studying the fundamentals of Dharma, are the symbol of the Hwaeom School in terms of theory and practice. But Hwaeom, as represented by the Five teachings, is a development of Samanthabhadra’s practice and so there can be no assumption of Vairocana Buddha without mention of the practice of Samanthabhadra.

    Furthermore, the Five teachings classification itself was generated on the supposition that Buddhism contains the whole of the Buddha’s teachings and so it is quite natural that all characteristics of the Dharma are contained within it. In the following passage Uicheon explains why he believes that scriptural study and meditation should be performed simultaneously, as follows:

    Uicheon stated that Jingyuan’s teaching also stressed the importance of Scriptural study and meditation and he insisted that equal attention be accorded to both. Moreover, in the preface to the Memorial Address for the Yogacara master, great master Usang (祐詳), he introduced himself as an abbot of Heungwangsa temple and also as Head monk protecting the world (祐世僧統), transmitting Xianshou’s (Fazang) scriptural study and meditation (H. 4, 556b).

    According to the tradition of Hwaeom doctrine, in the practice system of investigating Dharma, scriptural study is considered the same as meditation (敎卽觀), which means scriptural study cannot exist without meditation nor can meditation exist without scriptural study. This tradition is emphasized to a greater extent in the Cheontae(Chinese Tiantai) School view that states ‘complete accordance of both scriptural study and meditation’ (敎觀一致) or ‘Non-duality of scriptural study and meditation’ (敎觀不二). However, pursuing this view may mistakenly lead to losing sight of the practice. So Uicheon said, “I will not trust anyone even if he is a head lecturer unless he studies to enter the gate of meditation by first completing his studies on the Hwaeom sutras.”

    If this is so, there we will likely find a discrepancy between Uicheon’s understanding of the Five teachings and the present day scholars’ interpretation of his thought, because in a commentary where he paid his deep respects to the stupa of the great master Tiantai he is cited as having said that the Huayan commentator (Chengguan) maintained the Five teachings of great master Xianshou were almost the same as the doctrinal taxonomy of great master Tiantai. Chengguan’s description of ‘almost the same as Tiantai’ actually originates with master Huiyuan (慧苑), having resided at the Jingfasi temple (靜法寺), who said as follows:

    ‘The virtuous ancient’ in the above passage is Fazang and Fazang’s Five doctrinal taxonomy (五敎判) was influenced by the Four teachings (四敎) of Tiantai’s transforming truth (天台化法), namely the Pitaka teaching, Interrelated teaching, Separate teaching and Perfect teaching, while Sudden teaching was inserted between the third and fourth ones. This would be unacceptable according to the standpoint that Five teachings were established by Three teachings (三敎), Sudden, Gradual, Perfect, which was the tenet of Zhiyan (智嚴), whose view included Hinayana, Three vehicles and One Vehicle. In addition, it is unreasonable that Five teachings are directly connected with ‘Four types of content for teaching the Dharma’ (化法四敎) of Tiantai, because Tiantai’s Sudden teaching is adopted as a transformational method (化儀) on the one hand, and on the other hand, the Huayan Sudden teaching reflects both transforming truth (化法) and method along with the overall view, so the disposition is different to Tiantai.

    Thus, it is reasonable that one should not excessively broaden the meaning of Combined Practice of Scriptural Study and Meditation but accept it as a kind of guideline for beginners, advising them not to practice scriptural study excessively because Buddhist practitioners should perform Three practices (三學) as the basic virtue of practice.

    V. Conclusion

    In order to achieve clarity about the ideas of Uicheon, Goryeo’s National Preceptor, this study has based its finding largely on the extant work of Collected Writings of the National Preceptor Daegak (大覺國師文集).

    Being concerned about the conflicts between Buddhist orders in Goryeo during his lifetime, Uicheon promoted the superiority of the doctrine of Combined Practice of Scriptural Study and Meditation and his belief in Hwaeom thought being fundamental to all teachings never faltered. Accordingly, his basis for according Hwaeom thought this superiority was because he believed it possible to master all other Buddhist thought if one has first attained a deep understanding of Hwaeom thought.

    Unlike the Chinese Huayan School’s view of Nature and Character (性相) which posits harmonization of emptiness and existence (空有和會), Uicheon asserted that a combined study would embrace and master all other Buddhist thought. His doctrine of Combined Practice of Scriptural Study and Meditation must be interpreted and understood from this perspective. In other words, the practice should be based on Three contemplations (三觀) and Five teachings (五敎) because the fundamental of Buddhist practice originally lies in the principle of Three practices (三學) and it is reasonable according to Huayan’s standpoint that scriptural study is the same as meditation (敎卽觀).

    If this is true the question appears as to whether Uicheon really founded the Tiantai order in this country, regardless of his firm belief in Huayan thought, and if so, what was the nature of the internal conflicts in the Huayan School at that time. However, I will leave the task of answering these questions to a future study.

      >  Glossary of Chinese Terms

    (S=Sanskrit, K=Korean, C=Chinese)

    Avatamsaka sūtra (S) 華嚴經

    Chengguan (C) 澄觀

    Cienzong (C) 慈恩宗

    Faxiangzong (C) 法相宗

    Faxingzong (C) 法性宗

    Fazang (C) 法藏

    Gyunnyeo (K) 均如

    Huayan wujiao zhang (C) 華嚴五敎章

    Huayanjing shu (C) 華嚴經疏

    Huayanjing suishu yanyi chao (C) 華嚴經隨疏演義鈔

    Huayanzong (C) 華嚴宗

    Huiyuan (C) 慧苑

    Jingyuan (C) 淨源

    Kandingji (C) 刊定記

    Parallel Study of Nature and Shape 性相兼學

    Tiantaizong (C) 天台宗

    Uicheon (K) 義天

    Uisang (K) 義相

    Wuxiangzong (C) 無相宗

    Xianshou (C) 賢首

    Zhiyan (C) 智嚴

      >  Abbreviations

    H Hanguk Bulgyo Jeonseo (韓國佛敎全書, Collected works of Korean Buddhism) [followed by volume, page, and horizontal column]. (Seoul: Dongguk Univ. Press, 1977-2004)

    Z Dainihon Zokuzokyo (卍大日本續藏經) [followed by series, set, leaf, column, and line]. (Kyoto: Zokuzokyo Shoin)

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