The Centerpiece of the Koryŏ-Chosŏn Buddhist-Confucian Confrontation: A Comparison of the Positions of the Pulssi chappyŏn and the Hyŏnjŏng non



Charles Muller, Toyo Gakuen University


One of the most predominant characteristics of Korean philosophical thought is its proclivity for subtle intellectual debate regarding fundamental philosophico-religious principles-that is, phenomenological issues that deal with the origins of evil and goodness, soteriology, ethics, and so forth. This Korean tendency toward debate of philosophical issues tends to fall into a well-defined and distinctly repeated pattern of discourse: that of essence-function (ch'e-yong 體用).[1]

This penchant for ideological confrontation starts early in the Korean assimilation of Buddhism as its predominant thought-system, in the works of Wŏnhyo (元曉 617-686). A large portion of Wŏnhyo's oeuvre can be seen as an extended critique of the Chinese Buddhist panjiao (判教 doctrinal classification) system, wherein, due to doctrinal discrepancies, teachings were categorized according to the particular type of Buddhist expression they represented. Wŏnhyo reacted to the classification systems that were posited by such figures as Zhiyi (智顗538-597) by arguing against their tendency toward compartmentalization. He proposed instead a path of rigorous analysis of the ostensibly disparate doctrines with the intention of proving that when they were fully examined, the reasons for their differences could be fully explained by the fundamental Buddhist doctrine itself. Thus there was no justification for simply labeling them as "different teachings" and leaving it at that.

Another area well known for the distinctive level of soteriological debate that it entertained in Korea is the Sŏn (禪 Chan) school. As had been the case in China, the advent of this school in Korea brought about a condition of ideological conflict between the older, established, doctrinal schools of Buddhism, and the newly imported meditation school, whose adherents often expressed the opinion that textual studies were an impediment to the attainment of the Buddhist goal of enlightenment. While this conflict regarding the relationship between scholarly exegesis and meditation practice had its precedents in China, and was the subject of treatment by Tang scholars such as Zongmi (宗密 780-841), it was not really a debate that was carried on widely within the Chinese Chan schools themselves. One either belonged to a Chan school where this view was accepted, or one belonged to a doctrinal school.

In Korea, on the other hand, because of the integrated makeup that the Sŏn school gradually assumed, the relation of the doctrinal teachings vis-a-vis meditation practice was an issue that was discoursed upon in almost every generation. The arguments for the pro-meditation group were initiated by early Sŏn teachers such as Muyŏm (無� 800-888) who stridently criticized the doctrinal (kyo) approach, and he was joined and followed by numerous others for generations.[2] What eventually prevailed was a discourse from within the tradition that sought a middle ground, advocating an approach to cultivation that included both meditation and textual study in a balanced format. This sort of position was argued for through the centuries by Buddhist leaders such as Kyunyŏ ( 923-973), Ŭich'ŏn (義天 1055-1101 ), Chinul (知訥 1158-1210), Kihwa (1376-1433 己和), and Hyujŏng (休靜 1520-1604).

A roughly parallel Korean intra-Buddhist debate, which involved many of the same participants as the meditational vs. doctrinal debate, can be seen in the controversy regarding whether enlightenment was something that was attained suddenly or gradually. This argument also has its roots in China, but after fading away on the continent, was taken up with fervor in Korea, where it has continued to spur debate within the Korean Chogye school down to the present day.[3]

The greatest of the Korean debates regarding the nature of the mind, which has much in common with the Buddhist doctrinal/meditational and sudden/gradual oppositions, is that of the Confucian debate on the relation of the four beginnings 四端 and seven feelings �?�� that was first taken up between Yi Hwang (李洸, T'oegye �?��; 1501-1570) and Yi I (李珥, Yulgok 栗谷; 1536-1584), and later rejoined by their disciples. This debate centered on some subtle points of interpretation concerned with the early Mencian position on the nature of human goodness, the origins of evil, and the relative degree of interiority/exteriority of the feelings (of both good and evil quality) that are produced in the processes of interaction with the environment.[4]

All of the above-mentioned debates can be shown to be framed by a clear thematic pattern, which is that of: (1) the degree to which the goodness, purity, or enlightenment, that exists within the human mind can said to be innate, or even originally complete; (2) based on this component of innate purity, what kind of factors (if any) are necessary to bring about its completion, and (3) what the relationship is between the innate (good, enlightened, pure) nature of the mind, and the discordance, affliction, and evil that we see manifested in everyday human activity. No matter what the degree of divergence in the interpretation of the various aspects of the above-expressed pattern, the soteriological discourses of the main East Asian philosophical/religious systems will lie within this framework. They all basically agree on the point that the fundamental nature of the mind is good, and that there is a problem somewhere that leads that fundamental nature not to express itself properly-to function discordantly. Thus, it is a problem that manifests within the conceptual framework of essence-function.

In the case of the developing character of East Asian Buddhism, the most prominent points of difference among the various doctrinal schools (and later as well among the Chan schools) can be seen, despite their differences, to be circumscribed by this same logical framework. Wŏnhyo's reaction to the Chinese compartmentalization of various facets of Buddhist doctrine was characterized by a series of concerted attempts to show, through painstaking analysis, that no matter what the apparent differences may be between the different expressions of Buddhist doctrine, once their lines of thinking, purposes, and contexts were adequately examined, they could each be shown to exist in a well-defined relationship to basic, universally agreed-upon Buddhist principles, and thus their relationship to each other could be harmoniously articulated. Thus, although they might differ from each other at a functional level, they were not different at the level of function.

Within the same paradigm, the argument for the suddenness of enlightenment can be seen as a way of viewing the mind that pays greater attention to its essence, and less attention to its function, while the position of gradualists would be opposite to this. In like manner, scholars such as Chinul and Kihwa, who argued for a program of practice that harmoniously combined meditation and textual study, did so by claiming that while meditative absorption was equivalent to being attuned with the essence of the mind (of enlightenment) the scriptural corpus could be seen as a function of enlightenment. Therefore, they recommended both approaches to religious cultivation.

From the perspective of the actual terminology used in the argument, it is the language of the Four-Seven debate that most clearly demonstrates the tacit (or perhaps even unconscious) agreement between the two parties that the discourse must be contextualized within the ch'e-yong framework. For the crux of this debate lies in determining exactly where it is that the four beginnings and seven feelings are to be located within the spectrum of gradations between ri (Ch. li ) and ki (Ch. qi 氣) , concepts that are derived from the Huayan li (principle ) and shi (phenomena �), which in turn constitute a prime example of the development of philosophical categories based on a basic worldview of essence-function.

In the present paper, we will treat another significant debate that occurred in the Korean philosophical arena, that between the Confucians and the Buddhists in the late Koryŏ and early Chosŏn periods. In particular, we will look at the two most important, roughly contemporary, representative works that emerged from each side. These are the Pulssi chappyŏn (佛氏雜� Array of Critiques of Buddhism) by Chŏng Tojŏn (鄭道傳; 1342-1398),[5] and the Hyŏnjŏng non (顯正� Articulation of the Correct [HJN]) by Kihwa (Hamh�? Tŭkt'ong 涵虚得�?).[6] These two works do not actually constitute a direct, ongoing dialogue between contemporaries in the way of the Four-Seven debate, since Kihwa wrote his piece after Chŏng's death. But since the Hyŏnjŏng non is clearly a response to the Chappyŏn, as well as a response to the entire gamut of critiques lodged by Confucians against Buddhists since the dawn of their conflicts, it can certainly be categorized as an integral component of one of the major philosophical debates of the Korean tradition. This case is especially interesting, since, even though the argument is being made here between two distinct, competing philosophical/religious traditions, the degree to which both sides unconsciously ground their logic in essence-function makes an even clearer point about the role of essence-function as the necessary underlying framework of Korean philosophical debate.


I have already discussed the general background of the development of the Korean Confucian-Buddhist debate in a couple of places,[7] including the events leading up to the production of both works, so I will only summarize that information here.

Chŏng Tojŏn can be seen as the a product of a long developing Neo-Confucian tradition, that had as a major part of its raison d'être the need to expose the Buddhist teachings as being harmful, both personally, and to society in general. Although Confucian criticisms of Buddhism start as far back as the Tang dynasty with Hanyu (韓愈 768-824),[8] it is really with the appearance of the Song Neo-Confucian masters, most importantly the Cheng brothers (Chenghao 程顥 1032-1085, and Chengyi 程�? 1033-1107) and Zhuxi (朱熹 1130-1200) that the critique takes on final philosophical form. The target of the Neo-Confucian critique was usually Chan Buddhism in particular, which had distinguished itself for its ostensive rejection of book learning and societal norms, since these were seen to be impedimentary to the enlightenment experience.

To the scholar well-versed in Buddhist and doctrine, one cannot but be puzzled at times at the simplistic tenor of some of the Neo-Confucian criticisms, given the otherwise obvious perspicacity of such thinkers as the Chengs and Zhuxi. There are just too many basic components contained in the Buddhist doctrine that would have answered their criticisms, which, being as learned as they were, they could not have been oblivious to. For example, although it is often expressed at a relatively subtle level of discourse, Buddhism (and even Chan) regularly seeks to undermine its own attachments to rejectionism (or nihilism), based in a well-developed doctrine of expedient means that allows for, and even advocates, full participation in daily affairs. So we can only infer that either the Neo-Confucian critics were badly exaggerating things to make their own point seem to have a basis, or that the Chan practices prevalent in the Song, and their attendant rhetoric, were sufficiently imbalanced toward the arcane such as to draw this kind of consistent criticism.

Whatever the real circumstances may have been, it is apparent that while the Chan schools were drawing repeated venomous criticism from their Confucian contemporaries, there was no serious attempt made at literary self-defense. Why the lack of effort toward protecting the reputation of the sangha? One possible explanation is that knowing the general character of Chan with its self-proclaimed dissociation from discursive argumentation, such a debate was outside the purview of what a Chan teacher was supposed to be doing. Or, perhaps the Buddhists were sufficiently confident enough of the status of their religion that they believed that such diatribes were never going to have any real concrete effect, in terms of government authorized restrictions. It may have also been the case that vibrant energy of the Neo-Confucian movement, coupled with the bright young minds being attracted to it, were simply too much for the Chan leaders to contend with. Or, taking the same supposition a step further, we might even want to give serious consideration Chŏng Tojŏn's accusation that the Chan practices of non-reliance on words and letters had resulted in the impairment, through disuse, of the Channist's intellectual capacities.

During the two centuries after Zhuxi, a roughly analogous confrontational situation developed in the Kory�? nonetheless with distinctive aspects. The most important difference between the two scenarios was the markedly greater degree to which the Korean Buddhist establishment was embedded into the state power structure as compared with the situation in the Song. The sangha owned vast tracts of tax-free territory, traded in slaves and other commodities, and were influential at all levels of government. There were two many monks who were ordained for the wrong reasons, and corruption was rampant. Thus, the ideological fervor with which Neo-Confucianism rose in Korea had a special dimension, since ire of the critics was fueled not only by the earlier arguments of the Cheng brothers and Zhuxi, but as well by the extent of the corruption. There was a decadent, stumbling government in place, supported by, and supporting, a somewhat dissolute religious organization.

With this kind of entity as its target, the Korean Neo-Confucian anti-Buddhist polemic grew during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, reaching its peak at the end of the fourteenth century, when, with the 1392 coup d'état led by the Confucian-backed Yi Sŏnggye (李�?�1335-1408) the Buddhists were thrust out of power. They would, over time, be chased deep into the mountains, prohibited from setting foot in the cities. The final polemical push for the Buddhist purge came in the form of the essays of Chŏng Tojŏn, Yi's main advisor and the principal architect for the political structure of the new Chosŏn dynasty.[9] Chŏng wrote a few philosophical essays that were critical of Buddhism, but his final, and most directly anti-Buddhist polemical work (completed just before his assassination in 1398) was the Pulssi chappyŏn.[10]

In these anti-Buddhist tracts Chŏng focused on comparisons of Buddhist and Confucian positions on issues of doctrine and practice. His intention was to show that the Buddhist doctrine was deeply and intrinsically flawed, and thus it was not only necessary to discipline the Buddhist establishment at the present moment: it was desirable to seriously curtail, and if possible, to permanently end the activities of this dangerous belief system. Therefore his critique is thorough and systematic, covering every major aspect of the Buddhist doctrine that was being taught at the time. Given the composition of Korean Buddhism at the time in question, the primary object of his criticism was the Sŏn (Zen) sect, which the Neo-Confucians perceived as having strong tendencies toward other-worldliness, toward denial of the importance of human relationships, toward denial of respect for the state, and even toward denial of Buddhism's own principle of cause and effect.

The influence of Chŏng's Song predecessors, primarily the Cheng brothers and Zhuxi, is almost omnipresent in his writings. Almost every argument, and every example made by Chŏng is a citation of one of the Cheng brothers, although often through the commentaries of Zhu. Nonetheless, none of Chŏng's worthy predecessors had ever composed such a monolithic, systematic attack on Buddhism from every angle, such as the Chappyŏn.



The Pulssi chappyŏn


Chŏng starts off, in the first two chapters of the treatise, with a critique of the Indian notions of karma and transmigration, arguing against these "foreign" Indian paradigms, based on Chinese cosmological schema such as were developed in connection with the Yijing and its commentaries: yin/yang, the five phases, hun and po souls, etc. These chapters do not offer that much to clearly demonstrate a metaphysical high ground for Confucianism, as his proof rests on such assertions as a declaration for the non-increase or decrease for the total number of beings in the world at a given time-positions that were never really articulated as such in the foundational Confucian works. He does make somewhat of a point however, in bringing to mind the fact that when it comes to practical matters, such as the healing of disease, that virtually all people, Buddhists included, rely on Chinese yin/yang cosmology in the form of traditional medicinal practices.

It is in the third through fifth chapters that he really drives into the core of his argument with a philosophical acumen, as he attacks Buddhism at one of its traditional weak points: that of the contradictory character of the discourse on the nature and the mind as found in the tathāgatagarbha-influenced texts such as the Awakening of Faith and Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment. He provides textual examples from the Śūraṃgama-sūtra and from the writings of Chinul that show inconsistencies between the various accounts of the relation between the mind , and the nature 性. In Chŏng's arrangement of citations, in one place, the nature is the mind; in another, it is an aspect of the mind, a principle contained in the mind, and then in another place, a function of the mind. Referring to the disparities and circular reasoning that he finds in the Buddhist descriptions of the nature, he says


[The Buddhist explanations regarding the nature are] all done based on nebulous supposition, rather than on explicit facts. The teachings of the Buddhists have lots of word play, but lack a definitive doctrine, and through this, their actual intentions can be understood.[11]


The Confucian teachings, are, by contrast, consistent from beginning to end. They clearly distinguish between the mind and its nature, between principle and external events. They allow for clear value and evaluation, with uniformity throughout.


This is the learning of our Confucian masters. From inside the body and mind, extending out to [all] affairs and things--from the source, flowing out to the branch streams. All are penetrated by one, like the water that comes down from the fountainhead to flow out to a myriad streams--there is no place where it is not water. It is like holding the handle of the Great Dipper, which assesses the worth of all things under heaven. The relative worth of those things is just like the weighing of zhu and liang on a scale. This is what I mean when I say that there has never been a moment of interruption.[12]


Therefore I say: Buddhism is void, while Confucianism is substantial; Buddhism has two realities, while Confucianism has one; Buddhism has gaps, while Confucianism is consistent. This is something that learned people should clarify and discern.[13]


A similar theme carries into the fourth chapter, where Chŏng criticizes Buddhists, in this case, especially Chan Buddhists, for conflating the notion of nature with that of mundane function, citing the likes of Layman Pang, who said: "Hauling water and carrying firewood are nothing but marvelous function."[14] Chŏng here relies on Zhuxi, who said: "if you take functional activity to be [the same as] the nature then are not peoples' irresponsible actions such as taking a sword to murder someone, and transgressing the way [also] the nature?"[15] This line of argument is carried into chapter six, where the focus comes directly on the relationship between the mind and its external, functional manifestations. To clarify the Confucian position (which is rationally and metaphysically consistent), Chŏng cites the Mencian "four beginnings" 四端 that are innate to humans, along with their four directly associated manifest functions of altruism, propriety, justice, and wisdom. The Buddhists, by contrast, espouse doctrines that dissociate the innate capacities of the mind from the manifestations of human activity. This chapter contains the passage that constitutes the crux of Chŏng's argument. He says:


It is like the saying "essence and function spring from the same source; the manifest and the subtle have no gap between them."[16]The Buddhist method of study addresses the mind, but does not address its manifestations. This can be seen in their saying things like "The bodhisattva Mañjuśrī wanders through the taverns, but these activities are not his mind." Excuses like this for sloppy behavior abound [in the Buddhist teachings]. Is this not a separation of the mind from its activities? Chengzi said: "The study of the Buddhists includes reverence to correct the internal, but does not include justice to straighten the external." Therefore those who are stuck in these [incorrect views] wither away.[17]


Chŏng's critique runs through chapters, addressing issues such as the Buddhists abandonment of societal obligations, perverted application of the notion of "compassion", criticism of the idea of two levels of reality, the practice of begging, and most of all, the escapist/rejectionist/nihilistic views of Chan. But all can be summarized with Chŏng's understanding of the components of the Buddhist doctrine to be disconnected from each other, of being, contradictory, conveniently used for excusing responsibility, of not providing a viable system of values. Confucianism, by contrast, is completely aligned through essence and function, is unitary, without contradictions, teaches a concrete system of values, and explains a clear relationship between inner and outer.



The Hyŏnjŏng non


I have already related Kihwa's life and background in some detail in other publications, so I will just briefly summarize here.[18] Kihwa was born in 1376, and was thus thirty-four years junior to Chŏng. The son of a diplomat, he was considered to be one of the brightest young scholars of his generation, excelling at the recently established academy of Confucian studies, the Sŏnggyun'gwan. During the course of his studies here, however, he was, by his own admission, continually attracted by the Buddhist teachings, and went through a period of time when he was trying to decide which course he should follow.[19] At the age of 21, the death of a friend finally tilted the scales irreversibly in the direction of Buddhism, and he joined the order. He would eventually became the disciple of the leading Sŏn master of his generation, Chach'o 自� (Muhak無學; 1327-1405), under whose tutelage he received the Linji-based kong'an training. Yet at the same time, no doubt due to the influences of his scholarly training, Kihwa went on to become one of the most prolific writers of his period, bringing significant influence on the subsequent character of Korean Sŏn, most notably through his commentaries on the Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment and the Diamond Sutra.[20]

Kihwa lived directly in the middle of the period of the dynastic transition from the Kory�? to the Chosŏn, during the course of which the Buddhists were ejected from their long held close relationship with the rulership. During his career as a Buddhist teacher, Kihwa rose to the position of being the leading Buddhist figure of his generation. While the Confucians had succeeding in bringing enough pressure to bear in eliminating the position of National Teacher, which had for centuries been granted to the leading Buddhist figures, he was still, toward the end of his career, awarded the title of royal preceptor, which reflects the degree of stature that Kihwa was able to maintain, despite the changing times. This also means that Kihwa, as the leader of the Korean sangha during this period, was the one who was be faced with the primary responsibility of having to either come up with a response to the Neo-Confucian polemic or to ignore it.

He did respond, in the form of a treatise entitled the Hyŏnjŏng non. A date of composition is not attached to the version of the Hyŏnjŏng non in our possession, nor is there any relevant information provided in Kihwa's biographical sketch. The only thing of which we can be certain is that he had to have composed it after the time of his conversion to Buddhism in 1396-7. We might also assume, given the strong mastery of Buddhist doctrine demonstrated in the treatise, that it would have been composed several years after this conversion, and thus several years after Chŏng's demise in 1398. Therefore it cannot constitute a "live debate" with Chŏng.

On the other hand, the Hyŏnjŏng non directly responds to every one of the objections raised in the Chappyŏn, which represented the culmination of all the Confucian arguments that had been made against Buddhism from the time of Hanyu onward, and after the Chappyŏn, such a direct, systematic, philosophical critique of Buddhism from the Confucians was never again to appear. So it can be said that it is almost exclusively the Chappyŏn to which Kihwa is making his response.

To set the tone for his argument, Kihwa goes to some lengths to clarify the Buddhist position on the nature of the mind, the relevance, of, and gradations of methods of practices-basically summarizing the view of mind that is expressed in the fundamental East Asian Buddhist scriptures, the Awakening of Faith, Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment, etc. That is, that the mind is originally pure, but when it moves into activity, it has the potential to be distorted. Kihwa opens the Hyŏnjŏng non by saying:


Though its essence neither exists nor not-exists, it permeates existence and non-existence. Though it originally lacks past and present, it permeates past and present: this is the Dao. Existence and non-existence are based in nature and discriminations. Past and present are based in life-and-death. The nature originally lacks discrimination, but when you are confused about the nature you arise discriminations; with the production of discriminations, wisdom is blocked--thoughts transform and the essence is differentiated. It is through this that the myriad forms take shape and life-and-death begin.[21]


In this way, Kihwa starts off by grounding his argument in an essence-function view of the mind and its activities. The mind is originally pure, but as it engages in situations, it can become entangled and enmeshed.

For the purpose of recovering the original mind, Buddhism has a wide spectrum of practices, which range from the most expedient, or superficial, to the most profound. In outlining the teaching starting from the most profound and extending to the most superficial teachings, he ends up with the teaching of the law of cause and effect. This teaching, however, no matter how superficial, is one level above the typical application of the Confucian teaching, which is to condition people through mere reward and punishment on the part of the state. But he shifts his position, and shows how the true, correctly understood Confucian teaching, when applied with the right understanding, can also extend to profound levels.

The overall tone of the Hyŏnjŏng non is quite conciliatory in nature as compared to that of the Chappyŏn, as Kihwa has no intention of severely discrediting the Confucian tradition. Rather, his aim is to point out the underlying unity of the three teachings, and to see them as varying expressions of a mysterious unifying principle. What Kihwa will say, mostly, is not that the Confucian teachings are wrong, but that they are good, and valuable. Unfortunately, however, they have been incorrectly transmitted and practiced by even the most important figures of their own tradition.

Kihwa defends the charges made against Buddhist practices that are seen to be antisocial, such as the abandonment of the family relationships, by showing how they are actually helpful to society, rather than harmful, when practiced correctly. Excesses indulged in by sangha members are attributed to the responsibility of the offenders as individuals making their own decisions, rather than to the tradition as a whole. Criticisms of the Buddhist doctrines of karma and causation are dealt with by logical argumentation, showing that the law of cause and effect cannot but be universally valid; criticisms of the doctrine of rebirth are defended with anecdotes of people who have memories of past lives.

The core of Kihwa's argument lies in the presentation of what he takes as common denominator of all three traditions (Confucianism, Daoism and Buddhism): a doctrine of altruism, based on the universally expressed assumption that the myriad living beings of the universe are deeply interlinked with one another. While notion of the mutual containment of the myriad things is ostensibly Buddhist in origin, it ended up being one of the central tenets of the most influential of the Song Neo-Confucian founders, including Zhou Dunyi and the Cheng brothers, and especially Chenghao, who declared that "The myriad things and I form a single body."[22] With this being the characteristic and seminal Neo-Confucian development of the Confucian/Mencian "humanity" or "altruism" (ren/in ) Kihwa finds an inconsistency between what Confucians say and what they do, and makes this point the central issue of his essay.

Buddhism and (Neo-)Confucianism share in the view that it is fundamentally wrong to harm others. Since others are mutually connected with oneself, it is like harming one's own body. Buddhists have the doctrine of ahiṃs� (non-injury) at the core of their practice of moral discipline, and this is observed completely in all Buddhist practices. Confucians, on the other hand, take ren as the most fundamental to their path of cultivation. Confucius himself continually cited ren as the source of all forms of goodness. Mencius said that ren was innate to all people, explaining its function through a variety of metaphors, the most oft-repeated being that of the stranger who automatically rushes to prevent a toddler from falling into a well.

However, Kihwa says, the Confucian corpus is rife with inconsistencies on this matter. For example, although Chenghao has told us that ren means that we form a single body with the myriad things, Confucius himself only went halfway in his practice of single-bodiedness, as he still enjoyed the sports of hunting and fishing. For Mencius, the taking of life of an animal was not problematic for the ren man, as long as he didn't hear the animal's screams in its death throes. And, in general, the Confucian tradition fully endorsed the practices of ritual sacrifice. Kihwa says:


The Analects {論�}say: "When the master fished he would not use a net; when hunting he would not shoot a perched bird." (Analects 7:26) Mencius {孟�}said: "The superior man stays far away from the kitchen. If he hears the screams of the animals he cannot bear to eat their flesh." (Mencius 1A:7) These are all examples of incompletely actualized ren. Why don't they try to come up to the level of "forming a single body"? The Doctrine of the Mean {中�} says: "His words reflecting his actions, his actions reflecting his words--how can this Superior Man {君�} not be sincere through and through?"[23] Whom among those I have cited here comes up to this level? This is an example of the Confucians preaching about the goodness of the path of ren but not following through. If it is necessary to place limits on the killing of birds, why even shoot the arrow at all? If it bothers you to shoot a perched bird, why shoot it when it is flying? If the superior man is going to avoid the kitchen, why does he eat meat at all?[24]


Later on, he says:


[Since animals share, with people] the emotion of aversion to being killed, how do they differ from human beings? With the sound of ripping flesh and the cutting of the knife, they are in utter fright as they approach their death. Their eyes are wild and they cry out in agony. How could they not harbor bitterness and resentment? And yet people are able to turn a deaf ear. In this way human beings and the creatures of the world affect each other without awareness and compensate each other without pause. If there were a man of ren present, how could he observe such suffering and continue to act as if nothing was wrong?[25]


As Kihwa goes on to tell us, it was precisely the difference on this point in particular that turned him toward Buddhism during the period of time when he was weighing the two systems in the balance.[26]

The primary charge, then, that Kihwa wants to lay on the Confucians, is strikingly similar to that of Chŏng, in that both want to show the other side to be guilty of inconsistency. The difference, however, is that Chŏng wants to point out inconsistencies in doctrine, where Kihwa centers his argument on showing inconsistencies between doctrine and practice. That is, Confucians say one thing, but do another. Kihwa's final pronouncement of his treatise, however, is the conclusion that the three teachings should be understood as three types of expression of the same reality. Here he no doubt had in mind the concluding chapter of Chŏng's treatise, entitled "Criticism of the Differences Between Buddhism and Confucianism" 儒釋同異之辨. There, Chŏng gives a final summation of all the ways that the Buddhist teaching is vacuous and nihilistic and thus inferior to Confucianism, which is substantial and consistent throughout. There, Chŏng says:


Prior Confucian scholars have [already] shown that the Confucian and Buddhist paths differ with every single phrase and every single situation. Here I will elaborate based on these. We say voidness, and they also say voidness. We say quiescence, and they also say quiescence. However, our voidness is void yet existent. Their voidness is void and non-existent. Our quiescence is quiescent yet aware; their quiescence is quiescent and nihilating. We speak of knowledge and action; they speak of awakening and cultivation. Yet our knowledge is to know that the principle of the myriad things is replete in our own minds. Their awakening awakens to the fact that the mind that is originally empty, lacking anything. Our action is to return to the principle of the myriad things and act according to it, without error. Their cultivation is to sever connection with the myriad things and regard them as unconnected to one's mind.[27]


Kihwa, in obvious reference to Chŏng's summation, also concludes his own argument by focusing on these two concepts of voidness and quiescence (and this section provides the most solid evidence that Kihwa was most certainly responding to Chŏng when he wrote this piece) by showing instead, that the connotations of these terms are basically the same throughout all three traditions, and that indeed, at their most fundamental level, the three are equally valid approaches to the same reality.


If you can grasp this, then the words of the three teachers fit together like the broken pieces of the same board--as if they had all come out of the same mouth! If you would like to actually demonstrate the high and low among these teachings, exposing their points of similarity and difference clearly in their actual function, then you must first completely wash the pollution from your mind and completely clarify you eye of wisdom. Then you can study all of the texts contained in the Buddhist, Confucian and Daoist canons. Compare them in your daily activities, at the times of birth and death, fortune and misfortune. Without needing words, you will spontaneously nod in assent. How strong do I need to make my argument to get the prince to listen?[28]


The much softer stance of Kihwa can be attributable to various factors. First, throughout all of East Asia, it had never been part of the Buddhist response to try to directly refute the Confucian tradition, for as Chinese, and Koreans, it was, indeed, their tradition.[29] Although Kihwa, who had taken his literary training in a Confucian academy, eventually opted for Buddhism to complete his spiritual quest, he never lost his deep respect for the more profound aspects of both Confucianism and Daoism. Indeed he cites from the Chinese classics with regularity in his Buddhist commentaries. We might even imagine that it may have pained him considerably to be forced into the position of having to criticize Confucianism in the Hyŏnjŏng non.

In any case, at least after the time of the transmission of Buddhism out of India, philosophical exchanges of this type, and of this level, between Buddhists and the thinkers of competing religious traditions are extremely rare. For our own selfish edification, we, as intellectual historians, can only wish that Chŏng had lived long enough to be able to enter into rejoinder with Kihwa here. In any case, a detailed comparative study of these two works can be invaluable, not only for understanding the intellectual climate of 15th century Korea, but for understanding the fundamental character of pre-modern East Asian thought as a whole.






Buswell, Robert E., Jr. Tracing Back the Radiance: Chinul's Korean Way of Zen. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1992.

Chan, Wing-tsit. A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969.

Chung, Chai-shik. "Chŏng Tojŏn: 'Architect' of Yi Dynasty Government and Ideology." in de Bary, The Rise of Neo-Confucianism in Korea. pp. 59-88.

Chŏng, Tojŏn. Sambongjip. Seoul: Minjok munhwa ch'ujinhoe, 1997.

de Bary, William Theodore, and Jahyun Haboush Kim, ed. The Rise of Neo-Confucianism in Korea. New York: Columbia University Press, 1985.

Gregory, Peter N. Inquiry into the Origin of Humanity. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 1995.

Kalton, Michael. The Four-Seven Debate: An Annotated Translation of the Most Famous Controversy in Korean Neo-Confucian Thought. Albany: SUNY Press, 1994.

Muller, A. Charles. The Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment: Korean Buddhism's Guide to Meditation. Albany: SUNY Press, 1999.

---. "Hamh�?Kihwa: A Study of His Major Works." Ph.D. diss. State University of New York at Stony Brook, 1993

---. "The Buddhist-Confucian Conflict in the Early Chosŏn and Kihwa's Syncretic Response: The Hyŏn chŏng non." The Review of Korean Studies, Vol. 2, September 1999 (p. 183-200).

Park, Sung Bae. Buddhist Faith and Sudden Enlightenment. Albany: SUNY Press, 1982.

Sŏngch'ŏl. Sŏnmun chongno 禪�?��路.


[1]This is not to say that the intellectual history of Korea's two closest neighbors, Japan and China, is not well marked with philosophical debate. The difference, as I see it, however, is in the degree to which the tradition has come to be defined by such debates. That is, when one begins to study Buddhism and Confucianism in the context of Korean intellectual history, one will learn early on about the sudden-gradual debate, the text-antitext debate, four-seven debate, etc., rather soon. Subsequent studies will quite often be contextualized by these debates. The same tendency does not seem to be as prevalent in the case of Japan and China.

[2]See Buswell, Tracing Back the Radiance, pp. 13-14.

[3]See, for example, Sŏngch'ŏl's Sŏnmun chongno禪�?��路, and Sung Bae Park's Buddhist Faith and Sudden Enlightenment (SUNY Press, 1982).

[4]For a complete account of, and translation of the major contributions to this debate, see Michael Kalton's The Four-Seven Debate.

[5]Also known by the pen name Sambong 三峯. Chŏng's writings are collected in the Sambongjip 三峯�.

[6]The Hyŏnjŏng non is included in the Hanguk pulgyo chŏns�?/i> vol. 7, p.217-225.

[7]In the seventh chapter of my dissertation, and in the recent article "The Buddhist-Confucian Conflict in the Early Chosŏn and Kihwa's Syncretic Response: The Hyŏn chŏng non."

[8]Hanyu's two best-known criticisms of Buddhism are the Origin of the Way 原道 and Memorial on the Buddha's Bone 諫迎佛骨. See Gregory 1995: 35-36.

[9]For an overview of Chŏng's role in the establishment of the Chosŏn dynasty, see Chai-shikChung's, "Chŏng Tojŏn: 'Architect' of Yi Dynasty Government and Ideology."

[10]Before the Chappyŏn he wrote: (1) the Shimmun ch'ŏndap (�?��天� Questions from the Mind Answered by Heaven; 1375), wherein he presented a critique of the Buddhist doctrine of karma, offering instead a Neo-Confucian interpretation of the interaction of principle (ri ) and material force (ki ); (2) the Shimgiri p'yŏn (�?���?� On the Mind, Material Force and Principle; 1394) where he carried out a comparative study of the natures of Buddhism, Confucianism and Daoism from a Neo-Confucian perspective.

[11]然�?��於想象髣髴之中、�?無豁然眞實之見�?其説多爲遊辭而無�?��之�; 其�?��得矣�(SBJ1.78b)



[14]�?��曰�??水搬無非妙用, 是�(SBJ1.78d)


[16]In the Chuanxilu 體用�?���?��微無� is identified as a citation from Chengyi.


[18]More complete accounts of Kihwa's life are contained in (1) the second chapter of my Ph.D. dissertation; (2) pages 25-33 of the Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment. Excerpts from this are available on the web at

[19]Kihwa describes this period of his life and how he came to his final decision with vivid detail in the Hyŏnjŏng non.

[20]Kihwa's commentary to the Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment is called Taebanggwang wŏn'gak sudara yoŭigyŏng sŏrui大方廣圓覺修多�?�?��經説誼HPC 7.122-169. His commentary to the Diamond Sutra is the Kŭmgang panyaparamilgyŏng o ka hae sŏlŭi金剛般若波�?��經五家解説誼 (Annotation to the Redaction of Five Commentaries on the Diamond Sutra ). HPC 7.10-107.

[21]體非有無而�?於有無本無古�而�?於古今�?道�有無�?��性�?�古今因於生死�性本無�迷性生情�?��智�想變體�萬象�?��形�生死�?��始�(HPC 7.217a)

[22]Honan erh-ch'eng i-shu p. 15. Also see Chan 1969: 530, section no. 11. No doubt part of the reason Kihwa focuses on this particular citation is that it comes from the same section of Ch'eng-hao's I shu that contains most of the philosophical arguments that form the basis for Chŏng's arguments in the Chappyŏn.

[23]Doctrine of the Mean, section 13 of the commentary. Cited from "Web Resources" Muller 1995-2.


[24] 論語�釣而不綱弋不�?��孟子�君子遠庖厨�聞�?聲不忍食�?�又云數罟不�?汚�魚鼈不可勝�此�?��仁�?未盡其道�何不契於�?��之�?�中庸��?��行行顧�君子胡不�?慥爾今何�?此�此儒�?之所以�?��爲仁之道而未盡�?�既要殺�何�?��矢既憐�?宿何�?��宿既�?��厨何�?��肉(HPC 7.2129b-c)

[25]至於好生惡殺之情亦何�?異於人�方其然奏�?愬然就死之時盻盻然�卣卣然鳴豈非含怨結恨之情状�而人自昧耳�?��人�?��相作�?不覺相償�?無�安有仁人見�?如是而忍爲之哉(HPC 7.220a-b.)

[26]During the time before he entered the sangha, Kihwa was receiving instruction from a monk named Haewŏl, who raised for him the problem of the incongruence of Chenghao's "forming a single body" with Mencius' condoning of the slaughter of livestock. Kihwa wrestled with this problem for a period of time. Then:

...while traveling around Samgak-san in 1396, I arrived to Sŭngga-sa, where I had the chance to chat with an old Sŏn monk throughout the night. The monk said: "The Buddha has ten grave precepts, the first of which not killing." Upon hearing this explanation, my mind was suddenly overturned, and I recognized for myself that this was indeed the action of the true man of ren, and I was able to deeply embody the teachings of the Way of ren. From this time forth, I was never again to be confused regarding the differences between Confucianism and Buddhism. (HPC 7.220a)



[28]據此�?��家�?�冥相符�而如�?�?���若履踐之高�發用之同異�?��盡�?��廓�??目然�看盡大藏�?道諸書�?��日用之間生死禍福之際�?���?�??自點�?矣吾何強辨以駭君聽(HPC 7.225b)

[29]A good example for this point is the Yuanren lun 原人� by Zongmi, which includes an important chapter on the relationship of the three teachings. While Zongmi includes Confucianism and Daoism in the status of a low order than the Buddhist teachings, they are nonetheless taken to be part of a continuum of ultimately valid teachings. Like Kihwa, Zongmi was noted for the depth of his Confucian learning prior to entering the Buddhist order.