Wŏnhyo (617-686) is the dominant figure in the history of Korean Buddhism and one of the two or three most influential thinkers in the Korean philosophical tradition more broadly. Koreans know Wŏnhyo in his various roles as Buddhist mystic, miracle worker, social iconoclast, religious proselytist, and cultural hero. Above all else, Wŏnhyo was an innovative thinker and prolific writer, whose works cover the gamut of Indian and Sinitic Buddhist materials. The some one hundred treatises and commentaries attributed to this prolific writer, twenty-three of which are extant today, find no rivals among his fellow Korean exegetes. Wŏnhyo was comfortable with all of the major theoretical paradigms prominent in Buddhism of his day and eventually came to champion a highly synthetic approach to the religion that has come to be called t'ong pulgyo, or the Buddhism of Total Interpenetration, an approach that left an indelible imprint on the subsequent course of Korean and East Asian Buddhism. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that it was Wŏnhyo who created the Korean tradition of Buddhism. His importance is not limited to the peninsula, however. His writings were widely read in China and Japan as well, and his influence on the overall development of East Asian Mahāyāna thought is significant, particularly in relation to the Huayan, Chan, and Pure Land schools. The five volumes in this series will offer full translations of all of Wonhyo’s extant works, with complete annotation, and extensive introductions framing Wŏnhyo’s insights and contributions in the broader context of East Asian Buddhism.
In this first volume in the series, Cultivating Original Enlightenment, Robert E. Buswell Jr. translates Wŏnhyo’s longest and probably culminating work, the Exposition of the Vajrasamādhi-Sūtra (Kŭmgang sammaegyŏng non). Wŏnhyo here brings to bear all the tools acquired throughout a lifetime of scholarship and meditation to the explication of a scripture that has a startling, even unique, connection to the Korean Buddhist tradition. In his treatise, Wŏnhyo examines the crucial question of how enlightenment can be turned from a tantalizing prospect into a palpable reality that manifests itself in all activities. East Asian Buddhism is founded on the assurance that the prospect of enlightenment is something innate to the mind itself and inherently accessible to all living creatures. This doctrine of “original enlightenment,” along with its related teaching of the “womb (or embryo) of buddhahood,” is foundational to the Korean Buddhist tradition. Given, however, the delusion we persistently face in ourselves and the evil we see surrounding us every day, it is obvious that the fact of being enlightened does not mean that we have necessarily learned how to act enlightened. In Wŏnhyo’s presentation, the notion of original enlightenment is transformed from an abstract philosophical concept into a practical tool of meditative training. Wŏnhyo’s Exposition provides a ringing endorsement of the prospect that all human beings have to recover the enlightenment that is said to be innate in the mind and to make it a tangible force in all of our activities.