Venerable Ui-Sang was born into the gentry class. He left home to become a monk at Hwang-Bok-Sa Temple in Gyeong-Ju at the of age 19 in 644 C.E. (the 13th year of Queen Seon-Deok). After renunciation, he studied Seop Dae-Seong-Non and the Mind Only School. In 650 C.E., at the age of 25, he and his dharma friend Won-Hyo (617-686) set out for China with the intention to learn the new Buddhist philosophies that were being taught there at that time. But they were unable to leave the peninsula and got stuck at the frontier of the northern kingdom of Go-Gu-Ryeo. So Venerable Ui-Sang studied the theory of the Buddha Nature and other disciplines under Venerable Bo-Deok.
In 661 C.E., at the age of 36, he went to Tang China by sea. When he arrived he was so exhausted and tired that he accepted an invitation to stay with Buddhist laypeople. The daughter of the laypeople he stayed with, Seon-Myo, fell in love with him. But he had long ago decided to keep his precept of celibacy and so he could not accept her. Therefore Seon-Myo decided to be his disciple forever and vowed to take care of him. There are legends connected with Seon-Myo’s sacrifice: When Venerable Ui-Sang encountered danger at sea on his way home and when he had problems building Bu-Seok-Sa Temple mysterious help arrived.
In 662 C.E., the year after his arrival in China, Venerable Ui-Sang studied the doctrines of Huayan philosophy with Ven. Facang (643 - 712 C.E.) under Venerable Zhiyan who was the second patriarch of the Huayan School. His understanding of the doctrine of the Avatamsaka Sutra greatly impressed Master Zhiyan. Later Facang, who became a great expert of the Hwa-Eom philosophy, asked Uisang to review a book that he had written.
In 671 C.E., at the age of 46, Ui-Sang returned to Sil-Lah and he then built Bu-Seok-Sa Temple in 676 C.E. according to King Mun-Mu’s orders. Once built, the temple became the center of Avatamsaka study and Venerable Ui-Sang became the founder of Hwa-Eom (Huayan in Chinese) in Sil-Lah. He built ten more temples of the Hwa-Eom School in different places in the country and made untiring efforts to strengthen the Hwa-Eom School.
The social circumstances of the Unified Sil-Lah were not completely free from the influence of social position, even though the people in general wanted to put an end to these discriminative dimensions. But Venerable Ui-Sang accepted the people’s wish to do away with discrimination and gave positions to all kinds of people within the Buddhist community. For example, one of his disciples, Venerable Jin-Jeong, was from the lower classes and Venerable Ji-Tong had been a slave in a nobleman’s household. Though they were from the lowest classes of society, they became central members of the Order.
There is a story related to how much Ui-Sang was concerned about the people’s welfare. King Mun-Mu, who had managed to unify the Three Kingdoms, made the people build and restore fortresses again and again. When the king tried to mobilize labor for building yet a new fortress, Ui-Sang sent a letter to King Mun-Mu:
“If the king rules the people in the right way, even a fortress can be made out of just a line on the ground. Then people don’t dare to cross the line and disaster will be changed into good fortune. But if the king rules unjustly then, though the largest possible fortress is set up, calamity cannot be avoided.” On reading Ui-Sang’s letter the king canceled the project of building a new fortress.
Ui-Sang kept the precepts very strictly and so his only possessions were his robes and an alms bowl. One day King Mun-Mu, who respected Ui-Sang very much, gave him a house and slaves. Ui-Sang refused, saying: “We monks treat people equally whether they be from noble class or below. How can I have slaves? The dharma world is my house and I am satisfied with living by my alms bowl.”
He lived an ascetic life, taught the philosophy of Avatamasaka (Hwa-Eom), and made the Buddhism of the Unified Sil-Lah Period to become very successful. He passed away at the age of 77 in 702 C.E.
His disciples were referred to as “Ui-Sang’s ten wise-ones.” They were masters O-Jin, Ji-Tong, Pyo-Hun, Jin-Jeong, Jin-Jang, Do-Yung, Yang-Won, Sang-Won, Neung-In, and Ui-Jeok.
Ja-Jang Yul Sa (590 - 658)
JA-JANG YUL SA
Ja-Jang was a great precept-monk, i.e. a monk who studied and taught the Buddhist precepts, who was born in the era of Unified Sil-Lah. He founded many temples on the Korean peninsula, including the Tong-Do-Sa Temple (646 CE), in what is now Pusan, South Korea, and played a significant role in Vinaya Canon (Buddhist Precepts) of Korean Buddhism.
Zen Master Do-Ui
»Inheritor of the core teachings of Zen Buddhism, derived from the Sixth Patriarch, Master Huineng, was Zen Master Do-Ui, who was first to bring these teachings to Korea and became the founder of the Order of Korean Zen-Buddhism.«
He was born in Buk-Han-Gun, located in present day Seoul, under the surname Wang. The Buddhist name that Master Do-Ui received upon entering the Sangha, was Myeong-Jeok. In 784 A.D., the fifth year of King Seon-Deok's reign, Master Do-Ui crossed the sea to visit the Tang Dynasty with ambassadors Han Chan-Ho and Kim Yang-Gong. Upon their arrival, he immediately went to Mt. Wutaishan whereupon he had a divine vision of the Bodhisattva Manjusri. Following this experience, and after visiting many other regions, he went to Baotan Temple in Guangfu where he took the full monastic precepts. He then went to Mt. Caoxi (Korean: Mt. Jo-Gye) in Guandong Province to pay homage to the shrine of Huineng where he had a most mysterious experience: On his arrival, the door to the shrine opened of its own accord and after he bowed three times in obeisance the door then closed again on its own. Following this, Master Do-Ui received instructions on meditation from Master Xitang Zhizang (735 - 814) at Kaiyuan Temple in Hongzhou, Jiangxi Province. As a disciple who had studied under Master Mazu Daoyi, Master Xitang Zhizang was the pre-eminent Chan (Zen) monk of his age. In order to request Xitang Zhizang to become his master, he had to unravel the bundle of doubts that hindered him, until he finally broke through the obstacles blocking his progress. Seeing him overcome this struggle Master Xitang Zhizang was overjoyed, as if finding a beautiful jewel in the rough or a pearl within an oyster, saying: "Truly, if I cannot transmit the dharma to a man like this, there is nobody I could transmit it to.” He then gave his disciple a new name: “Do-Ui” (“Path of Righteousness”). Subsequently, Master Do-Ui set out on the path of purification and went in search of the dwelling place of Master Baizhang Huaihai (749 - 814) at Mt. Baizhangshan to study under his tutelage. Much impressed by him, Master Baizhang is said to have lamented: “The entire Chan lineage of Mazu Daoyi is returning to Sil-Lah!” In 821 C.E. (the 13th year of King Heon-Deok), Master Do-Ui returned to Sil-Lah to propagate the teachings of the Chinese Southern Chan (Zen) School. However, as the tradition of Scholastic (or Doctrinal, Korean: Gyo) Buddhism had become firmly entrenched within Sil-Lah at that time, people looked upon Master Do-Ui’s Seon (Zen) method as rather absurd. Accordingly, judging that the circumstances were not yet ripe for the acceptance of his teachings, Master Do-Ui withdrew himself from the world to the Jin-Jeon-Sa Monastery on Mt. Seo-Rak-San, where he cultivated a line of disciples. In this way, his Seon method was passed on through his disciple Yeom-Geo and bloomed in the next generation through his dharma grandson Master Che-Jing (804 - 880), leading to the establishment of the Ga-Ji-San School, one of the Nine Mountain Seon Schools of the Go-Ryeo period.
Bo-jo Ji-nul (1158 - 1210)
ZEN MASTER BO-JO JI-NUL
»When the waves are choppy,
It is difficult for the moon to appear.
Though the room is wide,
The lamp can fill it with light.
I exhort you to clean your mind-vessel.
Don't spill the sweet dew sauce.«
Great Zen Master and National Teacher Bo-Jo Ji-nul succeeded to unify the Seon (Zen) and the Gyo (doctrine) schools in Korea by setting up the Jo-Gye Order.
In 1173 C.E., when he was 15 years old, Bojo Ji-nul left his worldly family to receive precepts from Seon Master Jong-hwi of the Sa-gul San Mountain School, one of the Nine Mountain Schools of Korean Seon. At the age of 24 Bo-jo Ji-nul passed the royal examination for monks. As a National Constitution this exam was also established to qualify monks for higher positions like head monk of a temple. Nevertheless, instead of following such a career in the Buddhist community, Ji-nul joined the Seon practicing monks of Bo-je-sa Temple in Pyeong Yang. After unsuccessfully trying to build a »Retreat community dedicated to the development of Samadhi and Prajna«, he went to the Cheong-won-sa Temple at Chang Pyeong, and started to study the Sutras, in particular the Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch Hui-Neng.
Eventually Bo-jo Ji-nul had a great awakening and moved to Bo-Mun-Sa Temple on Mt. Hagasan, where he read the entire Tripitaka (Three Baskets: Teachings, Precepts, and Comments). He began to study the Avatamsaka Sutra for another three years and attained enlightenment under reading a passage in the chapter "Appearance of the Tathagathas."
In 1188, at Geo-So-Sa Temple, Bo-jo Ji-nul founded a retreat community called "The Retreat Community of Samadhi and Prajna". One day, when he was reading on "The Record of Daui", Bo-jo Ji-nul attained complete enlightenment.
In 1200 Bo-jo Ji-nul settled at Gil-Sang-Sa Temple on Mt. Song-gwang-san, where he taught three types of meditation combining sudden enlightenment and gradual cultivation of mind: »Seong-jeok deung-ji-mun«, »Won-don sin-hae-mun« and »Gan-hwa gyeong-jeol-mun«. Based on this Bo-jo Ji-nul finally succeeded in reconciling the conflicts between the Seon (Zen) and the Gyo (doctrine) schools by unifying them under the Jo-Gye Order.
The whole nation including King Hui-Jong respected Bo-jo Ji-nul as a National Teacher. So, after passing away in the middle of delivering a Dharma lecture, Bo-jo Ji-nul was officially given the title of "National Teacher."
Famous disciples of his are Jin-Gak Hye-Sim, Jeong-Seon, Su-U, and Chung-Dam, among others.
Na-Ong Hye-Geun (1320 - 1376)
»Relying entirely on mindfulness of the Buddha,
abandon your lust and fancies
and enter into Nirvana.«
Master Na-Ong lived at a time of much upheaval at the end of the Go-Ryeo Dynasty. Together with Taego Bou, he is regarded as a great Master who helped lay the foundation for the Buddhism in the Joseon era. His dharma name is Hyegeun, his ordination name is Naong, and he also went by the name Gangwolheon, following the name of the room where he stayed for many years. He had the title of “Bojejonja” when he served as a royal monk and was given the posthumous title Seongak.
When the master was twenty, facing the death of one of his companions, he asked his elders where people went when they died, but no one could give him an answer. With a very sad heart, he went to Mt. Gongdeoksan where he was ordained under Master Yoyeon. Following this, he went on pilgrimage to every well-known temple in the nation, practicing diligently until in 1344 (the fifth year of King Chunghye's reign) he had a great awakening at Mt. Cheonbosan's Hoeam-sa in Yangju.
The 14th century Goryeo of Naong's time was at the height of crisis both politically, owing to the interference of the Yuan in their domestic affairs as well as the dynastic shift on the continent seeing the Yuan being taken over by the Ming, and socially, due to the frequent incursions of Red Turbans and Japanese pirates that were bringing excessive disorder. Moreover, with the rising tide of the Song Confucianism faction bringing an intensification of the militant criticism of Buddhism, favorable conditions for the existence of Buddhism began to narrow. Exerting themselves to overcome this crisis, numerous masters sought out the direct transmission of the Linji chan of Yuan.
At the age of 27, in 1347, Master Naong went to study in the State of Yuan, staying at Fayuan-si in Yanjing. There, he studied under the Indian Master Zhikong for two years. Master Zhikong, known as the 108th dharma-descendant of Mahakasyapa, was a master of high regard and revered as one of the "108 Great Patriarchs of India. "Following his study with Zhikong, Naong went to Jingci Temple where he was instructed in the dharma by the 18th Patriarch of the Linji School, Pingshan Chulin, and received his flywhisk, signifying the approval of his enlightenment. In May 1351, he also received the approval of dharma transmission from Master Jigong along with his robes, a flywhisk, and letter written in Sanskrit. In this way, Master Naong had the rare occasion to inherit the trust and confidence of two masters.
In 1355, on the authority of Yuan Emperor Shundi, he resided at Guangji Temple as a missionary, and also received golden brocade robes and a flywhisk made of ivory from the Crown Prince.
Upon his return to Goryeo in 1358, he stayed at many temples, including Sangdu-am Hermitage at Mt. Odaesan, and in 1361, following the order of King Gongmin, he did propagation work at temples such as Singwang-sa, Cheongpyeong-sa, and Hoeam-sa. At this time he supervised the Grand Assembly of Seon Study.
The monk's examinations, which were regarded as prerequisites for conferral of the dharma precepts, had suffered from the stagnation brought on by various squabbles after the reign of King Gojong. However, during the reign of King Gongmin, under the supervision of Naong, the tradition of "examinations for the practice and study of Seon" was once again re-established. This holds a particularly important meaning, because the reimplementation of the monk’s exam, which was suspended after the expulsion of Shin Don, greatly helped in reinvigorating the atmosphere of Buddhism and in stimulating the spirit of the sangha.
In 1371, he became a royal monk and served as abbot of Suseon-sa (later Songgwang-sa). Later he became abbot of Hoeam-sa, and through his temple renovation efforts he greatly promoted the teachings of the dharma, receiving ceaseless visits from people in the capital and the neighboring areas.
In 1376, while Naong was in the process of moving to Youngwon-sa in Milseong (present day Miryang) on the king's authority, he passed away at Silleuk-sa in Yeoju on May 15 at the age of 56, after 37 years in the sangha. Among his 2000 plus disciples were Hwanam Honsu (1320-1392) and Muhak Jacho (1327-1425), the latter being known for his great contributions to the foundation of the Joseon dynasty.
Master Naong's extant literary output includes a volume work titled Sayings of Master Naong and another one volume text, Odes of Monk Naong, and beyond that, a number of texts self-published at his temples.
In 1363, Sayings of Master Naong, a collection of 61 literary gems, in the form of representative Seon sermons, commentaries on koans, letters, and Seon instructions, was compiled by Naong's disciple Gangnyeon and proofread and published by Honsu.
Master Naong's intellectual distinction is his consciousness of admonition to his age, based on the foundation of thought labeled, "one mind, three treasures" ilsim sambo. In Buddhism, the Buddha, his teachings, and the community that follows those teachings are known as the three treasures, and Naong's teaching puts faith and devotion to these three treasures at the very center of Buddhist practice. However, these three jewels weren't to be found someplace outside, they were said to be found in the minds of all sentient beings, and that we were to revere the three treasures in our own minds.
Moreover, he said that each being must have a clear faith in their own being, and that awakening will only ripen when, based on this confidence, one does not become attached to anything else. Based on this idea of “one mind, three treasures,” Master Naong wanted to enlighten the whole world. As everyone is possessed of the ability to become a Buddha, he focused on the fact that we must diligently give all our efforts to become aware that we maintain this capability. This was precisely his spirit of admonishment to society.
Master Naong strove to make known far and wide that it wasn't power or profit in the mundane world, nor was it the pursuit of worldly fame that stood as our most urgent task, rather, in this present life it was the cultivation of mind that was our dire purpose. Since he claimed that anyone who practiced diligently could become a Buddha, he sincerely appealed to society, asking why they weren't practicing.
With this spirit of warning as his basis of Seon thought, he taught various ways to examine one’s level of study through the Assembly of Examination Seon. Moreover, through the restoration work of Hoeam-sa, he served the masses, exemplifying the concrete works he was doing to create happiness and fortune.
It is also important to note that Naong's way was not to employ difficult dogma, but rather he pulled at heartstrings, appealing to people's sensitivity using popular language through poems and songs in order to save all beings. This aspect of the Master's spreading the strong feeling of enlightenment to the masses earned him great respect extending into the Joseon dynasty, and it was said that he must have been a reincarnation of Shakyamuni Buddha.
»All you who seek fame and love profit
your greed never satisfied, in vain your head has turned grey
Fame and profit are gates full of fire
from time immemorial, how many thousands have perished in their flames?«
(From “Gyeong-se,” Sayings of Master Na-Ong)
»Relying entirely on mindfulness of the Buddha,
abandon your lust and fancies
and enter into Nirvana«
(From “Si-je-yeom-bul-in,” Sayings of Master Na-Ong)
Especially in his practice, Master Naong never made distinctions between the men or women among the sangha, leading everyone on the path such that they could study the dharma. Therefore, he made a checklist of ten stages to examine oneself along the path, the “10 steps of Practice."By adopting a diverse practice regimen, emphasizing not only Ganhwa Seon but also the practice of Buddha recitation, he displayed an intellectual tolerance that was not localized within the characteristics of only one sect. While Seon is a self-powered practice aimed towards becoming a Buddha though the awakening to one’s own mind, Pure Land is an “other power” practice based on the power of Original Vow of Amida Buddha that helps those who wish to be reborn in the Pure Land. Based on the teaching of “one mind, three treasures” and the idea that the “mind only is the Pure Land,” he allowed for the “other-powered” practices of “contemplating the Buddha's image” and “chanting the Buddha’s name” in order to present a diversity of practice methods applicable to the various levels of spiritual capability. In this way, just as the essence of different metals are reborn in the melting process forged in a blast furnace, through the advocacy of a diversity of practices to work in accord with the diverse needs of the people, Master Naong embraced the masses with a light of hope during the political and social strife that marked the latter days of the Goryeo Dynasty.
Seo-San (1520 - 1604)
(SEO-SAN DAE SA)
The Master Cheong-heo Hyu-jeong's ordination name was Cheong-heo, his postumous name, Seo-san, and his dharma name, Hyu-jeong.
The master was born in Anju, Pyeongan-do Province. Called Unhak at as child, he lost his parents at an early age, then followed a friend of his father to Seoul where he entered Joseon's highest educational institution, the Seonggyungwan. At 14, though Unhak's brilliance set him apart from others, he was despondent facing the reality of being unable to easily secure a government position, having failed his official exams and lacking any foundation within an established household. With these feelings of frustration towards his reality, Unhak and some friends decided to go on an excursion to a place where they could find the sagacious wisdom of great monks, Mt. Jirisan. In the process, he came upon someone who led his way to a new life, Master Sungin, in a tiny hermitage near Sinheungsa Monastery.
Master Sungin, who recommended the cultivation of the Buddha dharma, was questioned by Unhak, "How does the mind arise? To what in the mind does one enlighten to?" Master Sungin spoke. “The mind is not an object that can be expressed through words. Having neither appearance, color, size, nor weight, the mind belongs to a world that is impossible to access through our processes of recognition and therefore it demands that each of us experience it on our own, such that we can be able to recognize it. He then spoke of the Buddhist scriptures, stating that “If you carefully read and think deeply, bit by bit you can enter into the gate of the mind.”
A genius well acquainted to the principle texts of Confucianism, Unhak quickly flew through the Tripitaka, the Buddhist Canon. In here he didn't find the ethical values of filial piety, ritual, five relationships, benevolence, and virtue as represented in the Confucian classics; in the Tripitaka, he found concepts like mind, nothingness, the world of truth, facts, the law of cause and effect, impermanence, without attributes, without self, and the like, complicated philosophies and systems of thought. Unhak's mind was shaken, as if he had taken a blow to the head from a small metal rod. “In the midst of eternity, humanity exists within the instant of each moment. Within this boundless universe, humanity is nothing more than a single speck of dust. And here I swagger as if I know it all, acting impudently." The friends who had accompanied Unhak on this journey returned to Seoul but Unhak remained, taking on Sungin as his teacher, beginning his life as a supplicant, and vigorously studying the scriptures. He learned Seon from Master Buyong, who had become enlightened solely through the practice of Seon meditation without engaging in formal doctrinal study. Though Unhak had obtained liberation of wisdom (jihye haetal) through his sagely understanding of the meaning of 'mind,' 'no attributes,' and 'emptiness,' he had still not attained liberation of the mind (sim haetal). Therefore, he remained bound and attached to matter and appearances, unable to act freely, with his mind frustrated. The more he exerted himself trying to escape his attachments to these empty names and false appearances, the more entangled he became. It was in this state that one night he suddenly heard the cries of a cuckoo and from his meditative state (samadhi), he awakened to a world of sublime truths, totally indescribable through words or text, a beautiful Buddha world that appeared to the eye as if a mountainside of blooming spring flowers. Unhak thus finally shaved his head, and with his ordination, was born again.
At the age of 32, Master Hyujeong placed the top of his class on the examination of the monastic curriculum, and he ascended to the highest position in the Buddhist order, the master arbiter of both the order of Seon and doctrinal study (Gyo). However, thinking it wasn't a monk's part to take administrative office within the sangha, he resigned his post, returning to Mt. Geumgangsan where he gave his undivided attention to his practice and guiding the younger monks, while at the same time producing important writings revealing his Seon thought.
In 1592 (the 25th year of Seonjo's reign), when Master Hyujeong was 72 years old and living on Mt. Myohyangsan, Joseon, the Land of Morning Calm, was invaded by the Japanese in the year of Imjin. He recalled the reality where Buddhism had faced only heaps of scorn and contempt owing to the violent policy of Buddhist suppression promulgated by the Confucian scholars of the Joseon court. Nevertheless, Hyujeong felt that though the nation had renounced Buddhism, Buddhism could never reject the nation, as the nation was where countless sentient beings needed saving through great compassion. Thus, he ultimately took to the battlefield. Even at his advanced age of 72, on his own accord he took command of a monk militia, and together with troops from the Ming Dynasty, he recaptured Pyeongyang and fought to the bitter end, until the war met its completion with the consummation of a peace treaty with Japan.
After leading his troops to military victory, Hyujeong bequeathed all of his military authority to his disciples and then headed back to the mountains where he devoted himself entirely to the cultivation of his practice. In January, 1604, with snow piled high around Wonjeogam Hermitage, Hyujeong concluded his sermon on the hwadu that had filled his entire life, the 'mind' hwadu, brought out his portrait, wrote the following lines as a final transmission to his disciples, and then assumed the lotus position, entering into nirvana. His worldly age was 84, and his age in the sangha (beomnap), 67.
80 years ago, that thing was me
80 years later, and now aren't I that thing!
Hyujeong left behind over 1000 disciples and among them, there are at least seventy outstanding figures. Among these, four disciples in particular, Samyeong Yujeong (1544~1610), Pyeonyang Eongi (1581 - 1644), Soyo Taeneung (1562~1649), and Jeonggwan Ilseon (1533~1608), stand out as the most representative, as they were the leaders of the four main groups within the community of Hyujeong's disciples.
Gyeong-Heo (1826 - 1912)
GYEONG-HEO SEON SA
»The mind-moon is fully clear and bright,
Its light contains everything.
The light and objects wholly disappear,
What then is this?«
Man-Gong Wol-Myeon (1871 - 1946)
»I am not apart from you;
You are not apart from me.
Before you and me were born
I don't know; what is this?«
Zen Master Hye-Am
(1886 - 1985)
ZEN MASTER HYE-AM
Looking at his reflection in a mirror, Ven.
Zen master Hye-Am gave the following stanza:
»You are not you; it is just you.
I am not I; it is just I.
You and me are not dual.
It is just the origin of you and me.«