Hyujong (1520–1604)
Hyujong, a sixteenth-century Korean Buddhist meditation
master, was born at Anju in P’yongan Province. His parents
died when he was a child, and he was adopted by a local magistrate.
He was sent to the National Academy in the capital and
seemed destined for life as a civil servant. However, he failed
the civil service examination and left the city to wander
through the countryside. He studied Buddhism with various
teachers and spent considerable time in meditation. Then in
1549 his early training came to his aid as he took an exam for
an administrative position with the national Buddhist establishment.
Passing at the top of his group, he was offered an important
monastic title. He served for eight years before resigning
and returning to a life of meditation.
Hyujong’s writings reflect in part the secondary position of
Buddhism in Korea during the century in which he lived. Confucian
thought reigned supreme. He tried to argue that in essence,
Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism were in agreement,
though they differed in outward appearance. He argued
for the superiority of the way of Buddhist meditation without
denigrating Confucian thought.
Hyujong’s major work, The Mirror of the Meditation School, appeared
in 1564. Essentially a manual for monks, it attempted
to bridge the difference between those more interested in Buddhist
teachings and those more interested in meditation.
Adopting a similar approach to his perspective on Confucianism,
he argued that doctrine and meditation were ultimately
the same, with meditation being Buddha’s mind and doctrine
Buddha’s words. In the end, however, the identification breaks
down and meditation is superior to doctrines. Doctrines are the
passageway to the goal that is only reached with meditation.
Hyujong argued that everyone had the potential for enlightenment.
Those spiritually inclined could do it through the
identification of their own mind with the Buddha’s mind and
work to bring their thought and action into conformity with
that realization. For others, enlightenment could be reached
through such outward practices as chanting the Buddha’s name
and the use of mantras and spells to assist in ridding one of past
karmic accretions.
Toward the end of his life, Hyujong was called to lead an
army of monks against the Japanese who invaded Korea in
1592. He survived the fighting and lived to 1604. He was little
appreciated outside of Buddhist circles in his own day, but has
been given renewed attention in the decades since the Korean
War (1950s). His writings have not yet been translated into English
or other Western languages.
McGreal, Ian P. Great Thinkers of the Eastern World. New
York Harper, 1995.

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