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  • The 1,400th Anniversary of Wŏnhyo's Birth:A Special Issue
  • Robert E. Buswell Jr. and Eun-su Cho

The year 2017 marks the 1,400th anniversary of the birth of Wŏnhyo 元曉 ("Break of Dawn"; 617–686), a towering figure in the Korean religious and intellectual firmament. Wŏnhyo was an important vaunt courier in the development of Korean Buddhism and it is no exaggeration to say that it was he who created the Silla tradition of the religion. Indeed, few others have exerted the depth and breadth of influence over the subsequent development of Korean Buddhism as did Wŏnhyo. His oeuvre is among the largest in the entire Korean intellectual tradition, comprising some one hundred works, of which over twenty are extant. His influence extended beyond the Korean Peninsula to both China and Japan, and his writings continue to inspire the current generation of intellectuals in Korea, Asia, and the West.

Wŏnhyo has received a great deal of scholarly attention, with scores of books and thousands of articles written about him in both Asian and European languages. This extensive attention to Wŏnhyo and his works stems from the wide range of Wŏnhyo's own scholarly interests. Wŏnhyo wrote on essentially everything on Buddhism then available to him in the Silla kingdom and mastered the vocabulary, doctrines, and major arguments of most of the influential strands of the contemporary Sinitic Buddhist tradition. His frequent use of terminology drawn from Abhidharma texts, Madhyamaka, Chinese Dilun and Yogācāra materials, Huayan, and Indian Vinaya and Chinese preceptive materials challenges the resources of any modern scholar and demands that we no longer approach him just from within the narrow confines of religious developments on the Korean Peninsula. Instead, his scholarship requires we view his work from broad regional and disciplinary perspectives, contextualizing the various filiations of his thought within developments going on around him across the East Asian region. Indeed, the vast store of ideas found in his extant works is best understood within the confluences of the disparate streams of Buddhist thought in seventh-century East Asia, a situation of which he was fully aware and made distinguished efforts to explicate. [End Page 5]

This special issue of the Journal of Korean Religions offers six papers by scholars in both Korea and the West who have devoted much of their careers to the study of Wŏnhyo and his writings.

To open the issue, Jong Wook Kim offers an intriguing comparison between the views on human nature found in Wŏnhyo's thought and in Western philosophy. In the course of his analysis, Professor Kim examines the intellectual significance of Wŏnhyo's theory of Buddha nature and its relationship with such concepts as the mind of living beings, the one mind, the ālayavijñāna (storehouse consciousness), and original enlightenment.

Eun-su Cho draws on her research on Wŏnhyo's The Mahayana Repentance of the Six Senses (Taesŭng yukchŏng ch'amhoe) to discuss the notion of transgression and repentance—two notions that have a long history in Western religious traditions—within the context of a Buddhist metaphysics of emptiness. In particular, the article shows how Wŏnhyo changed the Buddhist notion of transgression from violating moral precepts to a more fundamental error in viewing the world as a separately existing thing, thereby adding a metaphysical and epistemological dimension to Buddhist ethics. Wŏnhyo's treatment demonstrates that even though the concepts of right and wrong may ultimately be empty, we must still repent over our wrongdoings. Repentance is defined as to become mindful of our six senses by realizing the insubstantiality of the world that these six senses present to us.

Seunghak Koh's paper examines the intersection in Wŏnhyo's life of philosophical belief and personal practice. Wŏnhyo, who is well known for his unhindered acts (muae haeng), laid firm doctrinal foundations for the notion of a "supra-supramundane," wherein practitioners transfer their merits to the mundane realm without being entrenched in the pursuit of the "supramundane." In Wŏnhyo's commentary on the Awakening of Faith, he admonishes practitioners to eliminate their fundamental ignorance, which discriminates the...


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