Ui-Sang’s Ocean Seal and Holographic Principle*

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  • ABSTRACT

    The purpose of this paper is to study comparatively the relationship between the Ocean seal or Diagram of the dharmadhatu of Ui-sang, the First Patriarch of Hwaom Buddhism in Korea and the holographic principle, both of which can be considered models for a new description of reality. Ui-sang ’s Ocean seal reveals a unique and creative Korean version of Chinese Hua-yen Buddhism which seeks the synthesis of the noumenon and phenomenon. So far Ui-sang’s thought has been considered to be irrational, illogical and unscientific because of its ambiguity. His logic is unscientific, irrational, and ambiguous in terms of the Cartesian-Newtonian mechanistic paradigm which sees the world as constituted by many separated parts. However, seen from the perspective of contemporary physics, Ui-sang’s system is scientific, logical and rational. This paper will try to prove the scientific basis and rationality of Ui-sang’s thought in virtue of the holographic principle, one of the theories of modern physics. The holographic principles which have emerged from science in the last thirty years have provided a new paradigm for understanding the universe. They have forced us to see the universe not as a collection of physical objects, but rather as a complicated web of relations between the various parts of a unified whole. A hologram is a three-dimensional photograph created through laser technology. The key feature of the holographic principle is that it concerns the harmony of part and whole. Interestingly enough, the holographic principle has a fascinating resemblance to Ui-sang’s Ocean Seal. The ambiguous characteristic of Ui-sang’s Ocean Seal can be metaphorically articulated by virtue of the holographic principle. In this paper, I will explore Han philosophical aspects, which consistently emphasize interrelatedness and dependence, and then analyze the Ocean Seal (Hwaom-Ilsung-Popkye-Do) of Ui-sang who is the great master of Korean Hwaom (Hua-yen) Buddhism. Also, I will briefly discuss holographic theory, and then argue its key aspects, which stress the interdependent, parallel and simultaneous processing of events. Consequently, I will attempt to show that the main feature of Han - bipolar aspects of one and many, parts and whole - described by Ui-sang are able to be clearly understood by the holographic principle.


  • KEYWORD

    Ui-Sang , Ocean Seal , Holography , Hwaom Buddhism , Han , Knot , On , Ken Wilber Cartesian-Newtonian Paradigm

  • Introduction

    This paper is a comparative study of the Ocean seal or Diagram of the dharmadhatu of Ui-sang, the First Patriarch of Hwaom Buddhism in Korea and the holographic principle, both of which can be considered models for a new description of reality. Ui-sang’s Ocean seal reveals a unique and creative Korean version of Chinese Hua-yen Buddhism which seeks the synthesis of the noumenon and phenomenon. Ui-sang’s thought is essentially rooted in Han philosophy by virtue of which he was able to indigenize creatively Chinese Hua-yen Buddhism into Korean Hwaom Buddhism. Therefore, in order to understand Ui-sang’s system, we should know the concept of Han. The word han has diverse and inclusive meanings. Han implies one, many, big, great, same, approximate, whole, part, about, and many other things. The concept of Han represents a Korean way of philosophy, thinking, and spirituality. The characteristic of Korean religion is essentially the ‘mind of Han’ . Han is as deeply rooted in the Korean mind as is Yahweh for the Jewish mind, Logos for the Greek mind, and Tao for the Chinese mind. Therefore, Han deeply permeates not only Koreans’ religious mind but also their culture.

    So far Ui-sang’s thought has been considered to be irrational, illogical and unscientific because of its ambiguity. His logic is unscientific, irrational, and ambiguous in terms of the Cartesian-Newtonian mechanistic paradigm which sees the world as constituted from many separate parts. However, seen from the perspective of contemporary physics, Ui-sang’s system is scientific, logical and rational. This paper will try to prove the scientific basis and rationality of Ui-sang’s thought in virtue of the holographic principle, one of the theories of modern physics.

    The holographic principles which have emerged from science in the last thirty years have provided a new paradigm for understanding the universe. They have forced us to see the universe not as a collection of physical objects, but rather as a complicated web of relations between the various parts of a unified whole. A hologram is a three-dimensional photograph created through laser technology. When a piece of a hologram is broken off from the whole, it reproduces the entire picture and not just the piece. This occurs because a hologram is a picture of a wave-interference pattern, not an image the way a conventional photograph is. “Holography is a method of lensless photography in which the wave field of light scattered by an object is recorded on a plate as an interference pattern.” 1) The key feature of the holographic principle is that it concerns the harmony of part and whole. Interestingly enough, the holographic principle has a fascinating resemblance to Ui-sang’s Ocean Seal. The ambiguous characteristic of Ui-sang’s Ocean Seal can be metaphorically articulated by virtue of the holographic principle.

    This paper proceeds as follows. In the section below, I will explore Han philosophical aspects, which consistently emphasize interrelatedness and dependence. This section analyzes the Ocean Seal (Hwaom-Ilsung-Popkye-Do) of Ui-sang who is the great master of Korean Hwaom (Hua-yen) Buddhism. Among many Korean Buddhist scholars who developed their theories in terms of Han mind, Ui-sang was the most eminent. In his ingenious work, the Ocean Seal, Ui-Sang revealed Han thought clearly and systematically. Therefore, Ui-sang’s theory can fruitfully be discussed when we relate his interpretation of reality to the Korean Han mind. In the third section, I will briefly discuss holographic theory, and then argue its key aspects, which stress the interdependent, parallel and simultaneous processing of events. This section will also attempt to show that the main feature of Han - bipolar aspects of one and many, parts and whole - described by Ui-sang are able to be clearly understood by the holographic principle. In the final section, I will conclude by making some comments.

    1)Ken Wilber, ed., The Holographic Paradigm and Other Paradoxes (Shambhala: Boulder & London, 1982), 6.

    Han Philosophy and Ui-Sang’s Ocean Seal

    In the previous section, I pointed out that the term Han contains various meanings. I will not discuss all of them here. My special concern is examination of the inseparable harmony of one and many, parts and whole, which is the unique system of Han thought. In order to perceive clearly such a unique nature of Han mind, we need to explore briefly the historical origin of Han thought. Kim, Kyung-Tak, a former professor of Korean University, traces the historical origin of Han in terms of the history of religious development. According to him, the word Han appeared for the first time in Korea during the Iron Age. Before the Iron Age, Han was expressed differently as follows: Gam (darkness) in the Paleolithic Age, Bak (lightness) in the Neolithic Age and in the Bronze Age, and finally Han in the Iron Age. They were conjoined one by one in the word Gam-Bak-Han in the Iron Age. So Han has the synthetic meaning inclusive of Gam-Bak-Han.2) Nam-sun Choi insists that Han originated from the Mongolian word tengri which means ‘sky,’ ‘lordship,’ ‘god,’ ‘high,’ and ‘heavenly god’.3) Therefore, from a very early time on, Han has been used as the word which designates a religious reality. Gam is a god of total darkness who responds to prayers in miraculous ways. In contrast, Bak is an affectionate and radiant god who gives salvation. However, they are not two distinctive gods but one, that is, as Hananim who has a dual function.4) For Koreans, the Greek word ‘theos’ (God) is pronounced as Hananim who means the god of heaven. The word Hananim was derived from Han. The personification of Han, for Koreans, is Hananim who corresponds to the God of Westerners. In a word, Koreans understand Han as the Ultimate Reality.

    As is said above, religiously Han is personified in the form of Hananim who possesses a correlative duality. The Korean concept of Hananim also has a duality which bears harmonious unity. This distinctive and inseparable dual aspect is based on the philosophical aspect of Han. Philosophically, Han, in short, means a non-dualistic, non-substantial view of the world. According to Kim, Sang-Yil, Han rejects the concept of substance not only as the constituents of the phenomenal world but also the unchanging source of all things. There is no beginning and no ending in the concept of Han. It is “ultimately non-oriental through and through.” 5) The most basic and unique character of Han does indeed imply the two aspects of one and many, parts and whole at the same time. Frederick Coplestone examines the similarities and dissimilarities between one and many. He says that theories of one and many can decide two lines of thoughts as follows:

    Coplestone explains the relationship of one and many in light of various philosophical and religious traditions such as Taoism, Buddhism, Advaita Vedanta, Islam, etc. In this respect, he identifies one with the Ultimate reality.7) The one has the phenomenal and the transcendental aspects. The phenomenal aspect of the one is simply a collective name for the many. The pure Korean word for this aspect of the one is knot (낱) whereas the other side of one transcending the many remains outside the area of what can be seen and described. The pure Korean word for this aspect of one is on (온). In other words, Han as one denotes two sides of knot and on at the same time.

    The pure Korean words, knot and on also indicate parts and whole. Knot as part and on as whole in the single word Han are inseparably related. It means that for Koreans ‘part’ is ‘whole’ and ‘whole’ is ‘part.’ This bipolarity of Han thought is ambiguous, irrational and unscientific in terms of the Cartesian-Newtonian paradigm which asserts that it is difficult to harmonize one with many. Consequently, this paradigm, according to Ken Wilber, makes a boundary line between one and many. Wilber contends that dualism followed after drawing the boundary: the dualism of the one and many, chaos vs. order, simplicity vs. complexity.

    According to Wilber, dualistic boundary led us to favor either one or many separately. Therefore, he states, “most of our problems, ⋯ are problems of boundaries and the opposites they create. Now our habitual way of trying to solve these problems is to attempt to eradicate one of the opposites.” 9) We usually imagine that “the opposites are irreconcilable, separates forever set apart.” 10)

    But as is seen in Han thought, there is no boundary between one and many, parts and whole. The relationship between the both is not separable, opposite, and contradictory but essential interrelatedness and interdependence. This distinctive feature of Han thought was most clearly embodied in Ui-sang’s doctrine known as Hwaom-Ilsung-Popkye-Do (the Ocean Seal). Now let us examine Ui-sang’s theory in terms of Han philosophy.

    Ui-sang (AD 625-702) transformed Hua-yen Buddhism into the style of Korean Han mind. Hua-yen Buddhism developed in China, especially during the Sui-T’ang period, through the efforts of Tao-hsuan (557-640) and Chih-yen (600-668). Hua-yen Buddhism was established as an independent sect in China during the Sui-T’ang period (559-900). Hua-yen Buddhism has been regarded as a creative synthesis of all these systems of Buddhist thought from the perspective of the mutual interaction of the phenomenal world and transcendental, the universal and the particular, the non-obstacle co-origination of the particular with the particular.11)

    In AD 661, Ui-sang went to T’ang China to study Hua-yen Buddhism. He studied for eight years under Master Chihyen (602-688), the second Patriarch of Chinese Hua-yen and teacher of Fa-sang (643-712), the celebrated Third Patriarch. After returning to Korea, Ui-sang became the first patriarch of Korean Hua-yen Buddhism, and developed systematically Hua-yen Buddhism based on Han philosophy. Since Ui-sang, Hua-yen Buddhism in Korea is called Hwaom Buddhism.12) In Korea, the syncretistic harmonization pattern characteristic of Hua-yen Buddhism culminated in the work of Ui-sang. Indeed, a study of Ui-sang’s life and writing reveals that he was heavily influenced by the Korean Han thought. Ui-sang’s major thought is profoundly exposed in his ingenious work, the Ocean seal (Hwaom-Ilsung-Popkye-Do) the full name of which is “Diagram of the Dharmadhatu according to the one vehicle of Hwaom” . The seal is composed of 210 Chinese characters arranged in 30 verses of 7 characters each. Ui-sang’s ocean seal is the summary of the vast teaching of the Hua-yen text with 210 Chinese characters. He drew a square diagram and in it he concentrated the whole teaching (see figure 1).

    Steve Odin comments on Ui-sang’s Ocean seal as follows:

    In this Diagram, Ui-sang dealt with the problem of how one and many, parts and whole are related, which is not only the key thought of Han philosophy but also the core point of Hwaom Buddhism. He, more than anyone, argues the structure of relationship between one and many, parts and whole. Indeed, the issue of one and many dealt with so far culminated in Ui-sang’s system. In a word, Hwaom Buddhism is a philosophy which explores the relevance between one and many, parts and whole. Before we examine the doctrine of the Ocean Seal, it is necessary to know its basic structure. In order to show visually the relationship between one and many, Ui-sang drew a diagram and in it succinctly explained the entire system of the Hua-yen Buddhism. Ui-sang explains the method of reading the poem or path of the seal:

    In Ui-sang’s Ocean, both the first and last characters, i.e., dharma (法) and Buddha (彿) are located in the same position at the center of the seal. That is, the beginning and end are put in the center altogether. The reason is “to express that the two positions of cause and effect in the dharma-nature school (of Hwaom) are both in the Middle way.” 15) Indeed, Ui-sang’s Ocean seal illustrates the key doctrine of Hwaom Buddhist metaphysics, namely, that start and finish or cause and effect are both in the same position in the Middle way, so that they interpenetrate harmoniously together without any obstructions whatsoever.16) Steve Odin has translated a 30 verse poem into English.17) I will not discuss all of them (1-30) but will argue the most important phrases of the Ocean Seal, and in doing so I will attempt to reveal the distinctive way of Ui-sang’s thinking.

    Ui-sang’s Ocean seal begins with the nature of dharma which appears in the center of the Diagram with the first phrase. “1. Since dharma-nature is round and interpenetrating, it is without any sign of duality.” 18) For Ui-sang the Dharma-nature is ‘round and penetrating,’ and the true Dharma nature is profound, mysterious and sublime. Ui-sang expressed his ideas about relationship between one and many, parts and whole as follows.

    The seventh stanza and the eighth stanza clearly show the essence of dependent co-origination of one and many, parts and whole. Ui-sang expresses all the things of a transcendental and immanent world as merely number. He summarizes parts and whole as many and one. For Ui-sang, whole is in parts and parts is in whole. Therefore, parts themselves are whole, and whole itself is parts. How is it possible? The reason, according to Ui-sang, is that neither parts nor whole have self-nature (svabah). If there is separate self-nature in all the things, they have nothing to do with one another and cannot participate in one another. But according to Ui-sang’s system there is no being which has inherent self-nature in the Universe. “The relationship between parts and parts, and parts and whole is made by following causal conditions.” 20) As we will examine in the next section, this is a philosophical basis able to establish Holon.

    In the ninth and tenth verses, Ui-sang examines the unique space concept of Hwaom Buddhism. Even a speck of dust includes the limitless unfolded world of being. A speck of dust can be great or small. The reason is that there is no self-nature.21) Ui-sang does not make distinctions between big and small in our thought. In small is big and in big is small. They penetrate one another. As all kinds of things cannot be contrasted to the one speck of dust, so no kind of dualistic terms such as one and many, possessor and possessed, etc., can be applied to the dualistic concept of space.

    The seventeenth verse exposes the gist of Hwaom Buddhist doctrine. Ui-sang explains the relationship of parts and whole by means of different words. He identifies whole with Li (理) and part with Shih (事). In Western philosophy, Li and Shih indicate noumena and phenomena. Ui-sang writes about the ‘non-obstructive interpenetration of universal-principle with particular-phenomena (理事無碍)’ as well as the ‘non-obstructive interpenetration of particular-phenomena with particular-phenomena (理事無碍).’ 22) In a word, according to Ui-sang, all phenomena is in simultaneous interfusion and non-obstructed mutual penetration.

    What is the relationship between one and many, and how do their relationships have to appear in our reality? What appears after nonobstructive interpenetration of universal principle and particular-phenomena and of particular-phenomena and particular-phenomena? Ui-sang’s ultimate intention is to assert that many is not derived from one in the laws of causeeffect, and that many is not conditioned or defined by one. In Ui-sang’s system, one is never the efficient cause or material cause of many. In the world of Hwaom, there is no creating cause and fulfilling cause. So, what is the world of Hwaom? According to Ui-sang, the situation that occurs by acknowledging that one becomes many and many become one is “awakening mind.” When we are in “awakening mind,” how do all things appear? They appear with fullness. The ultimate purpose of Ui-sang philosophy is to perceive existing realities as suchness.23)

    The main thinking of Ui-sang is characterized as ‘reconciliatory,’ ‘inclusive,’ and ‘harmonious.’ Ui-sang’s thought also is characterized as ‘Buddhism of total interpenetration’ and the pattern of his thinking as syncretistic interpenetrative harmonization. Ui-sang’s way of thinking is heavily dependent upon Han thought and his world view close to the theories of contemporary physics. Just as in Ui-sang one and many are unceasingly, eternally interrelated, and they are interpenetrated with each other, so contemporary physics asserts that parts and whole are totally interrelated. Wilber says:

    In this respect, Ui-sang’s thought has a dynamic resemblance with quantum theories. In the following section, I will discuss Ui-sang’s idea in light of the holographic principle.

    2)Kim, Kyung-Tak, “Development of God’s Concept” in HanKukmunwhasa Daekye, vol. 2 (Seoul: Koryominjokmunwhasa Yonkuso, 1979), 117f.   3)Works of Choi, Nam-Sun, vol. 3 (Seoul: Hyunamsa, 1974), 304-305.   4)Ibid., 450.   5)Kim, Sang-Yil, Han Philosophy (Seoul: Jeonmangsa, 1983), 35.   6)Frederick Coplestone, Religion and the One (New York: Cross Road, 1982), 7.   7)Ibid., 18.   8)Ken Wilber, The Spectrum of Consciousness (Wheaton: The Theosophical  Publishing House, 1982), 30.   9)Ken Wilber, No Boundary (London: Shambhala, 1981), 19.   10)Ibid., 20.   11)Steve Odin, Process Metaphysics and Hua-yen Buddhism (Albany: State  University of New York Press, 1982), 9.   12)Ibid., xv-xvi.   13)Ibid., xiii.   14)Ibid., xviii.   15)Ibid., xviii.   16)Ibid., xviii.   17)See, ibid., xix-xx.   18)Ibid., xix. Dharma can be called the Ultimate Reality. According to different religious traditions, it is called God, Tao, Brahman, and the Infinite. Yet Dharma exists beyond any nature, form, or characteristics. It is never defined in the form of epistemological dualistic structure in essence.   19)Ibid., xix-xx.   20)Kim, Sang-Yil, Contemporary Science and Korean Philosophy (Seoul: Chongro Book Center, 1994), 155.   21)Ibid., 157.   22)Steve Odin, ibid., xiii-xiv.   23)Kim, Sang-Yil, Han Philosophy, 280-282.   24)Ken Wilber, No Boundary, 40.

    Metaphorical Relation between the Holographic Theory and Ui-Sang’s System

    Ui-sang’s thought can be articulated metaphorically in terms of the theories of contemporary physics. Seen in the holographic principle, we will notice how one and many, parts and whole can exist at the same time. Here I will briefly discuss the holographic principle, then explore its philosophical meaning, and finally consider the interaction of its principle with Ui-sang’s system. Because of the possibility of a new and higher paradigm in approaching the nature of reality, the holographic theory has been one of the most noted areas of modern physics. Holographic principles were developed from the holography invented in 1948 by Dennis Gabor, a Hungarian-born scientist. Holography is a method of reproducing a unique three-dimensional photographic image of an object by means of light wave patterns recorded on a photographic plate or film. The plate or film with the recorded wave patterns is called a hologram.25)

    The light used to make a hologram must be coherent, i.e., of a single wavelength or frequency and with all the waves in phase. Before reaching the object, the beam is split into two parts; one (the reference beam) is recorded directly on the photographic plate and the other is reflected from the object to be photographed and is then recorded. Since the two parts of the beam arriving at the photographic plate have traveled by different paths and are no longer necessarily coherent, they create an interference pattern, exposing the plate at points where they arrive in phase and leaving the plate unexposed where they arrive out of phase. The pattern on the plate is a record of the wave as they are reflected from the objects recorded with the aid of the reference beam. When this hologram is later illuminated with coherent light of the same frequency, a three-dimensional image of the object is produced. Since waves from all parts of the objects are recorded on all parts of the hologram, any part of the hologram, however small, can be used to reproduce the entire image.26)

    The holographic principle, along with the development of laser light in the early 1960s, has been applied to many fields: microscopy, optics, acoustics, medicine, geophysics, and even archeology.27) The holographic principle which emerged from science in the last forty years manifests that a cosmology is not an empirical schemata but a fabric woven of interacted and interpenetrated relationships. It could be accepted as the basic paradigm of reality. The most intriguing character of the holographic principle is that it shows not that parts belong to the whole but that a part contains the information about the whole. Each part, however small, includes the whole.

    This principle could be considered to be irrational or unscientific in light of the Cartesian-Newtonian paradigm. In the Newtonian world, a part cannot be considered whole, and it is considered less than the whole. The bipolarity of parts and whole is irrational. In contrast to the mechanistic Cartesian view of the world, the world view that emerges from the holographic principle can be characterized as an organistic, holistic world. The universe is seen as a dynamic whole whose parts are essentially interrelated. Indeed, the holographic principle has shown that parts are not isolated grains of matter separated from the whole but are interconnections in an inseparable cosmic web. In short, holography is a movie toward the inherent harmony of one and many, and its principle is to show the unbroken wholeness of the reality.

    The holographic principle is most dynamically applied to Ui-sang’s thought. I will apply the holographic principle to the interaction between one and many, part and whole in Ui-sang’s ocean seal. The key theme of Ui-sang’s philosophy was to show how the relationship between one and many, parts and whole can be articulated and the holographic principle gives a scientific validity to Ui-sang’s system. In his Diagram, Ui-sang tried to harmonize between Buddha’s saying and the variety of people’s minds. Ui-sang’s Diagram is like a photographic plate of holography. The line patterns recorded on the plate by creating an interference pattern between the reference beam and the reconstruction beam could be compared to the lines or curves drawn in the Diagram. Buddha’s saying is like the reference beam and the varieties of people’s minds are compared to a reconstruction beam. Just as interference and coherence of reference beam and reconstruction beam make a photographic plate of the hologram, so Ui-sang’s Diagram symbolically shows wave patterns which are created by the interfering of Buddha’s saying and the varieties of people’s minds with each other. As is seen in figure 1, the diagram of the ocean seal begins and ends in the same place, moving spirally to all directions. The pattern of the diagram corresponds to the ‘holomovement’. And moving itself is similar to the ‘holoflux’ which means a straight circular movement.29) As reference and reconstruction beam are co-interfered with each other, Ui-sang’s ocean seal also shows a wave pattern in which part and whole interfere and interpenetrate each other. In other words, all the parts reflect the whole like the photographic plate of the hologram. Therefore, the varieties of people’s minds (each part) reflect Buddha’s saying (Whole). As the relationship between parts and whole is compared to the relationship between people and Buddha, there are neither obstructions, nor non-static places in their relationship. Just as the holographic principle shows organic harmony of parts and whole, so Ui-sang attempted to show that it is possible to conceive of the one in many and many in one without contradiction.

    25)John B. Develis and George O. Reynolds, Theory and Applications of Holography (London: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1967), 1-2.   26)Ibid., 3-5.; see, M. Francon, Holography (New York: Academic Press, 1974), Chapter 2.   27)See Francon, Holography; Caulfield H.J. The Applications of Holography (New York: Wiley-Interscience, 1970); John B. Develis and George O. Reynolds, Theory and Applications of Holography. These books show various applications of the holographic principles. English physicist David Bohm has utilized the holographic model for explanation of reality of the universe. According to him, the sensible world is known as the “explicate order.” This corresponds to the reproduced image of the holographic model. Beyond the sensible world is a vast ocean of quantum energy potential that contains myriad possibilities and is unlimited by corporeal limitations such as time and space. This is known as the “implicate order” and corresponds to the waveinterference pattern captured on the holographic plate. D. Bohm, Wholeness and the Implicate Order (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1980), 147-149. Cf. Ken Wilber, The Holographic Paradigm and Other Paradoxes (Boulder & London: Shambhala, 1982), 187-214.   28)Ken Wilber, The Holographic Paradigm and Other Paradoxes, 2.   29)See Ibid., 51.

    Concluding Remarks

    From what has been discussed, the following statements have emerged.

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