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Plumbing Essence and Function: The Culmination of the Great Buddhist-Confucian Debate

Table of Contents

1. Initial Meeting
2. Affinities
3. East Asian Philosophical Underpinnings: Essence-Function and Interpenetration
4. The Case of Korea
5. The Historical Perspective: Confucianism and Daoism During the Period of Buddhist Preeminence
6. Neo-Confucianism in Korea
7. Buddhist Responses and the Role of Zongmi
8. Gihwa
9. The Texts: Content Analysis
10. Notes on the Source Texts

1. Initial Meeting

The relationship between Confucianism and Buddhism in East Asia is long and complex, extending from the time of the earliest meeting of the two thought systems in the first centuries C.E., down to the present, where, although the two no longer interact as distinct traditions in any significant way, their traces still impart discernible influence on East Asian culture. Buddhism began its flow into China during the first century CE, as missionaries from India and Central Asia began to enter the Middle Kingdom, bringing with them texts and teachings that were as exotic to the Chinese as were their language, clothing, and customs. The speed and extent of the spread of Buddhism in East Asia was somewhat remarkable, in view of the fact that it was not a religion transmitted by coercion or military conquest. Nonetheless, a significant factor in the degree of its success was the apprehension of Buddhism by Chinese rulers to as a religion of a powerful foreign god, who was eminently capable of ensuring good fortune. Thus, for the greater part of the first several centuries of its importation and assimilation, Buddhism received solid support in terms of imperial patronage.

From a religious perspective, a major attraction of the new religion was its ability to articulate a profound, and yet precise and systematic explanation of where people come from before birth and where they go after death — matters that prior indigenous forms of Chinese religion had addressed only vaguely at best. Most important was the teaching of reincarnation — endless rebirth, propelled in a flawless and precise manner by the impetus of one's activities—one's karma. While it can be argued that teachings bearing a close similarity to the doctrine of karma can be extrapolated from in pre-Buddhist Chinese philosophical works (as Gihwa will argue in his treatise below), nowhere was the matter of the afterlife addressed in the kind of explicit detail as it was in the Buddhist scriptures. Nor was a principle of cause-and-effect explained in anything but the vaguest of terms. Furthermore, Buddhism spoke of the certainty of attaining a state of cessation of suffering, a state of pristine, pure awareness, and Buddhist missionaries offered a clearly and logically explained path toward the attainment of this state.

From the outset in China, the two thought systems of Confucianism and Buddhism existed, along with Daoism, in both a mutually competing, yet at the same time, mutually defining and influencing relationship. Chinese Buddhism could not but be shaped from the very beginning by the vernacular into which it had to be translated. And although the early Chinese indigenous philosophical-religious tradition may have lacked a logical rigor equivalent to Buddhism's heritage of millennia of development of Indian philosophy, it possessed its own profound and deeply embedded intuitions about how the human mind was constituted, and how this mind was intimately connected with the cosmos. Thus, the translation of Indian Buddhist ideas into to Chinese thought was made problematic and influenced by far more than the mere fact of transition from Indic grammar into Chinese logographic idiom, as Buddhism had to be accepted into a religious worldview that while possessing important affinities, had its own well-established approach to understanding and describing human behavior.

2. Affinities

Indigenous Chinese Thought

The remarkable success of Buddhism, not only in China, but throughout East Asia, suggests, at least to some extent, a basic level of philosophical resonance between the imported Indian system and indigenous traditions. Most important is that the most representative manifestations of the mainstream philosophical traditions of both Confucianism and Daoism held an idealistic understanding of the human mind. The human mind was seen, at its most fundamental level, to be good. This elemental goodness was known in the Analects and other works attributed to Confucius as the quality of ren 仁, referring to the most fundamental character of the human mind as being of morally good quality. After developing through the earlier Zhou classics and the Analects, the term later received more precise definition in the Mencius as an inborn tendency possessed by all humans to be concerned for the welfare of others. Ren is enumerated by Mencius as the first of the four basic good qualities of the human mind, being born out of an inborn tendency toward the caring for the welfare of others. It was understood that it is this quality that makes humans "humane," setting them apart from other animals. Thus, ren is translated into English variously as "humaneness," "altruism," "benevolence," and so forth. In the Analects humaneness is seen as being the single thread that binds together all other forms goodness manifested in the human mind, such as sincerity , wisdom , trust(worthiness) , due-giving , filial piety , and so forth. In the Analects, humaneness is seen to be not only more weighty in terms of importance as compared to these other virtues, but to be their "essence" or "root."

Minor variations in interpretation notwithstanding, the notion of humaneness is central to all Confucian philosophy up until the pre-modern period. Contained within the nexus of this idea of the possession of this quality in the minds of all human beings was the closely related intuition that the degree of manifestation of one's inborn seeds of humaneness could be enhanced through the practice of certain patterns of behavior, through the performance of humane activities in human relationships—acting by giving things their proper due (Ch. yi)1 , by showing loving care and respect for one's parents (Ch. xiao), acting in society according to customary social rules that imply deference and authority between junior and senior, husband and wife, siblings, co-workers, and so forth (Ch. li), discernment between right and wrong (Ch. zhi), and being trustworthy (Ch. xin), along with other forms of positive cognitive and ethical activity. In short, the human mind was seen to be fundamentally oriented around a positive ground. Evil was seen as a condition of imbalance and disharmony, which could and should be corrected by orienting one's activities with these kinds of values.

While it is articulated within a somewhat different family of concepts, an analogous underlying paradigm can be gleaned in the influential Daoist texts of the classical period in China, most notably the Daode jing and the Zhuangzi. While eschewing the value-laden Confucian categories of "humaneness," "due-giving," "propriety," and so forth, the authors of these texts nonetheless envisioned a human mind that if given the opportunity to return to its most natural condition, would be peaceful, harmonious, and replete with innate wisdom. As contrasted with the Confucian texts, the Daoist philosophical classics placed emphasis on the fact that true virtue was found in places and ways that would not readily be recognized by the worldly, and that therefore great stock was not to be placed in popular worldly achievements. The philosophical Daoist works also recommended a program that would lead to sagehood, although its characteristic approach tended more toward "untraining" rather than the Confucian mode of training.2 Regardless of the active or passive character of the approach, its accessibility or subtlety, overall, the predominating tendency in the Chinese approach to person improvement was to see the human mind as a something that intrinsically tended in a positive moral and cognitive direction, that held the potentiality of great enhancement, and even perfection.


During the first few centuries of the importation of Buddhism into China, the Chinese could not but be overwhelmed by the wide variation in sectarian approaches that were coupled with the basic profundity of the Indian Buddhist doctrine. The early translation of Buddhist texts was facilitated by pre-existent notions in the Chinese philosophical milieu that showed affinities with important Buddhist categories. Over time, methods of translation would be informed by steadily improved mastery of the doctrine, along with the appearance of skilled linguists from both the Indic and Chinese sides. In terms of philosophical understandings of Buddhism, Daoist ideas would long continue their interaction with those of Buddhism, especially such notions as non-appropriating action 無爲 (equated with the Buddhist "unconditioned" (saṃskṛta), "as-it-is-ness" 自然 (equated with the Buddhist tathatā), the Way (equated with the Buddhist bodhi, or mārga), and so forth. While the first few centuries of assimilation witnessed a significantly broad and even attempt to understand the various incoming traditions, certain types of doctrines, and adaptations of doctrines would come to hold the largest influence on what was to become the new East Asian form of Buddhism.

In the end, the Buddhist doctrines that would experience success in East Asia were those that modeled most closely the makeup of the human mind seen in the early Confucian and Daoist traditions mentioned above, wherein the human mind was understood to be, at its most basic level, pure, luminous, and knowing, free of evil tendencies. A number of texts in the translated corpus had led to the development of a notion of innate buddhahood contained in all sentient beings—known as "buddha-nature." In earlier texts such as the Nirvana Sūtra, and Lotus Sūtra, this potential was merely intimated. The concept was subsequently developed and clarified in such works as the Buddha-Nature Treatise, and so forth, reaching its apex of elucidation in the Awakening of Mahāyāna Faith [AMF],3 a treatise composed by a master (or masters) well-studied in the Indian Yogācāra analyses of the operation of the human consciousness, who was able to take long-held Chinese intuitions regarding the mind and express them through the more precise Yogācāra terminology of layers of consciousness, perfumation of activity-energies, and seed-like formations. Most importantly, the author of the AMF saw the One Mind as being simultaneously possessed of two aspects: a pure, good, originary aspect, and a mundane, defiled aspect. The author of the text described the relationship between these two in terms of the logic of essence and function (which we will shortly explore at length) and subsequent East Asian commentators on the AMF adopted this as a fundamental hermeneutic approach.

The final codification of the distinct existence of an original purity of the mind came in the form of the Jingang sanmei jing,4 a text which took the evolution of the notion of original, pristine enlightenment to its climax, in terms of the clear articulation of an undefiled āmala consciousness — a clearly distinguished mode of human consciousness that utterly transcended all worldly taints and deceptions, and which served as both the soteric basis and ultimate object for the kind of attitude toward Buddhist practice that would develop in East Asian forms of Buddhism typified by Chan, Seon, and Zen. This general doctrinal trend, which was most directly and tersely disclosed in the AMF and Jingang sanmei jing, was seen in a number of Mahāyāna scriptures that were to become popular in East Asia, and would be followed in short time by the Sūtra of Perfect Enlightenment, even more obviously an East Asian composition, and the Platform Sūtra, the first "scripture" to be directly acknowledged as an East Asian work.

These texts that were composed in East Asia held important traits in common—most importantly a Buddhist view of the human consciousness that had been dramatically adapted to indigenous Chinese intuitions of the human mind as being something intrinsically pure, and which, although existing in a defiled, obscured state, could be trained to perfection, purity. The "humaneness" that received the focus of Confucius and Mencius was transmuted to the originally enlightened mind that was spoken of in all of these texts, and the structure, whether or not stated overtly, was that of essence and function, with the original pure mind being the essence, and the good, enlightened, pure behavior being function. I take this to be the most basic philosophical component of what is referred to as the "sinification" of Buddhism, a process that occurred over a period of several centuries, reaching its culmination during the early Tang, as evinced in the production of the final three "sūtras" mentioned above, that led the greatest extent of the sinified expression: the Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment, Jingang sanmei jing, and Platform Sutra.

3. East Asian Philosophical Underpinnings: Essence-Function and Interpenetration

What is Essence-Function?

Essence-function is a characteristic traditional East Asian way of interpreting the world, society, events, phenomena, and the human being, that understands all things to have two contrasting, yet wholly contiguous aspects: (1) an underlying, deeper, more fundamental, hidden aspect, called in Chinese ti ( Kor. che) usually translated into English as "essence," or "substance," and (2) a visibly manifest, surface aspect, called yong ( Kor. yong) translated into English as "function" , "activity" , or "manifestation." This pair has many analogs in East Asian thought, one of the earliest and most readily approachable being the "roots and branches" paradigm taught in the Great Learning (Daxue 大 學), epitomized in the line that says "Things have their roots and branches, affairs have their end and beginning. When you know what comes first and what comes last, then you are near the Way." It can also be seen in Confucianism in the pair of "nature" ( xing) and "emotions" ( qing) which are foregrounded in the opening passage of the Doctrine of the Mean, as well as the relationship between "humaneness" (Kor. in) and "propriety" (Kor. ye) taught in the Analects.

In the Daode jing, this fundamental/superficial pair has many analogs, most prominently Way ( dao) and its power ( de), as well as the "white" and the "black" , the uncarved block (pu) and its implements (qi), etc. Later on, when Buddhism becomes thoroughly sinified, the same paradigm finds expression in a general manner in the pairs of nature ( Ch. xing; Kor. seong) / aspects ( Ch. xiang; Kor. sang), and in specifically in Huayan Buddhism, principle ( Ch. li; Kor. ri) and phenomena ( Ch. shi; Kor. sa).

This paradigm is applied as a interpretive tool to articulate a wide range of situations in human behavior and society at large, but its most common application is seen when classical East Asian philosophers are attempting to describe the complex relationship of the fundamental essence of the human mind as juxtaposed with people's manifest behavior and appearance. As explained above, the most widely understood view regarding the psychology of the human being developed within the classical East Asian tradition is that despite all of the obvious evil and suffering in the world, the human mind is, at its most fundamental level, something good and pure. People's minds (interpreted as the "essence" of human beings), are, as a rule, basically good. But whether or not this goodness actually ends up being reflected in their day-to-day activities, and if so, to what extent, can depend upon a wide variety of factors, including the degree of one's own effort/attention, along with contingent factors such as the quality (or "orthodoxy" ) of the religious, philosophical, or moral instruction with which one has been inculcated.

The translation of the sinitic concept of ti-yong into English as "essence-function" is one that is in continual need of clarification, especially in regard to the first part of the term, ti. The character ti () originally denotes the physical body as an assemblage of its parts. In the philosophical context however, the first articulation of which is traditionally attributed to Wangbi (王弼, 226-249)5 it refers to the deeper, more fundamental, more internal, more important, or invisible aspects of something: any kind of being, organization, phenomenon, concept, event, etc. Its usage in the major East Asian thought systems is mainly centered in the realm of human affairs or human psychology—with ti referring to the human mind, especially the deeper, more hidden dimension of the human mind—the mind as it is before entering into the realm of activity. In terms of the objective universe, ti is used to express the deeper, more fundamental or invisible aspect of things, the "principles" of things, as opposed to their more outwardly manifest, phenomenal aspects.

The translation of ti with the English word "essence" became more problematic in recent times in the context of the essence-reviling discourse of postmodernism. The English term essence, in its philosophical usage has strong dualistic connotations attached to it. Nonetheless, in rendering the term into English, it is hard to get around such options as "essence," and "substance" , since simply translating literally as "body" is not going to be very helpful. And ti certainly does indicate a certain kind of interiority or depth that is indicated by the English word essence. But in its East Asian matrix, ti originally lacks any association with a dualistic Platonic/Christian metaphysical baggage. There is no connotation of a nature that is in any way other-worldly, transcendent, unchanging, or eternal; it is not an ontological or metaphysical "basis." It is neither a "logos" or "idea" of a higher order and distinct from the manifest world. It does not refer to a reified hierarchical signified/signifier relation, nor to an eternal ātman-like soul, or brahmanistic substrate.

To get at ti through its translation as "essence" , the English term is better understood according to the word's everyday common sense applications, rather than through specialized Western metaphysical connotations. We can then work with the definition of "the most important, crucial element." 6 A good metaphor is also provided by the concept of "a concentrated substance which keeps the flavor, etc. of that from which it is extracted" 7 or "an extract that has the fundamental properties of a substance in concentrated form," 8 in the sense that ti has strong connotations of density, or thickness (Ch. hou , nong , etc.).

Ti is paired with the term yong (), which has the basic meanings of "usage," "activity," "function," or "means." In its special usage in its pairing with ti, it can reflect a range of these meanings depending on the context, but also such connotations as "apparent," "manifest," and "external."

One ready indication that an author has missed the basic connotations of the essence-function set is when we see it referred to as a "dichotomy" or "polarity." Strictly speaking (according to any decent dictionary) the definitions of dichotomy and polarity both indicate an intrinsic separation and/or opposition that are not implied in the application of ti-yong. The point of the usage of ti-yong is not to indicate separation, but rather to indicate intrinsic unity, a pervasive intermerging between two things, or two aspects, which might, from an less informed point of view be seen as distinctly separated, or of unclear relationship. The metaphor of perfume is a good starting point for understanding the non-dualistic character of the essence-function structure, as the concentrated nature, the "essence" of the perfume is always wholly unified with the most distant perfumation of its odor. The emphasis of tiyong is first and foremost on the continuity that exists between internal and external aspects, rather than on difference or opposition, and it is instructive to note that the instances in which there seem to be difference, conflict, or contradiction between essence and function are precisely the societal or psychological conditions of disharmony, dis-ease, deception, and so forth, which are criticized by the adept teachers of the tradition. We will see this sort of application of this concept repeatedly in both of the treatises that we will read below, when our Buddhist and Confucian protagonists each accuse the other's tradition of being "disconnected," manifesting a break between the two.9

The interpretation of tiyong as a metaphysical formula is undermined by the fact that objects, beings, or situations described by the formula are never reifiable in either a ti or yong position, as what is taken to be ti (more internal, of greater priority) in one situation might be regarded as yong (more external, of lesser priority) in another. For example, in the first chapter of the Great Learning, there is a famous passage that lists the priorities of a ruler in the process of bringing peace to his kingdom in the form of matters of greater and lesser importance. In this list, each of the elements (in this case "roots" can be seen to be the "essence" of the matters ( "branches" ) which are subsequent, and as the function of the matter which is antecedent.10

Macrocosm and Microcosm


Despite the range of permutations in expression of the concept of essence-function, we may characterize its usage into two general (but greatly overlapping) paradigms. The first is that which is seen in the macrocosmic view, typified by the role of "essence" as dao (), or organizing principle of the universe, and "function" as the phenomenal activity of the dao. A general view of dao is evident in all forms of Zhou period thought. Although there are significant variations among these, they agree to a certain level, of understanding the dao to be a forming/informing principle of the behavior of human beings and/or nature. Most obvious in this usage is the dao of the Daode jing, to which one may become gradually attuned by various processes of shedding of cultural conditioning. As one becomes attuned to the dao, s/he, as in the disfigured characters of the Zhuangzi, becomes filled with virtue (te )—one's thoughts and actions become harmonious and natural ( 自然; ziran). Although the descriptions of the processes of attainment show significant differences, it is the case in both Confucianism and Daoism that the sagely king who is sensitive to the dao will be eminently capable of rulership. If he pays due attention to ti (his own mind, or the fundamental needs of his people), yong (harmony throughout the realm) will naturally proceed in a harmonious fashion. After the influx of Buddhism, East Asian religious thinkers, far from inclined to let go of this paradigmatic symbol, utilized the term dao extensively in their re-articulation of Buddhism, where it came to be equivalent to the concept of enlightenment.

As Mahāyāna Buddhism became fully absorbed into the Chinese cultural sphere, its most basic soteriological principle, emptiness (Ch./Kor. gong śūnyatā), became reinterpreted as the East Asian Buddhist "essence," with form ( rūpa) as its manifest function. Of course, at a superficial level, the connotations of śūnyatā and "essence" would seem to be about as far apart as one can get, but from a Buddhist perspective, one might well argue that it is precisely the apprehension of this paradox that constitutes the Buddhist insight, and thus the famous dictum from the Heart Sūtra, "form is emptiness, emptiness is form." On the other hand, an "essentialization" of the experience of insight into emptiness — "enlightenment" , conflation can result in a wide range of problems. Yet despite these problems, which have been well-identified for us by thinkers associated with modern Japanese "critical Buddhism," I would argue that there were always an ample number of Buddhist teachers in various East Asian schools who understood quite well the problems engendered by the inclination of our cognitive processes toward reification, and who thus continually worked at overturning, and reinventing the teaching again and again with new ways of escaping the traps of language. Thus, the Huayan category of li (; principle) refers precisely to a non-reified and dynamic insight into the underlying (empty) character of things, while shi (; events, phenomena) refers to the manifest appearance of that same emptiness, which is form.

As Buddhism rose to a pre-eminent position in the East Asian intellectual arena, Confucian and Daoist thinkers were compelled to compete with the foreign religion in the realm of philosophical discourse, and hence the Neo-Confucianism that developed after this time showed a greatly enhanced level of philosophical sophistication as compared to its Confucian beginnings — clearly marked by Daoist and Huayan influences. But the reinvented Neo-Confucian metaphysics-like description of human beings and their world was more distinctly than ever framed by the ti-yong construction, as the explication of the categories of principle (li ) and material force (qi ) formed the basis of the entire discourse of the orthodox Cheng-Zhu school. The founding Neo-Confucians, most importantly the Cheng brothers11 and Zhuxi (朱熹; 1130-1200) borrowed heavily from this Huayan paradigm in constructing their new categories. The Neo-Confucian articulation of these categories was done overtly and in great detail through ti-yong language, and the same is true of the later debates that took place regarding the relationship of these two categories of li and qi to the human mind, most famous of which was the encounter that took place in Korea between Toegye (退溪 1501-1570) and Yulgok (栗谷, 1536-1584).

As Neo-Confucianism rose in stature and promulgated its new sophisticated metaphysical system, Buddhists were in turn forced to respond, and it was through this stimulus that exponents of "the unity of the three teachings" (三教合一) began to come to the fore. Among the "three-teaching" thinkers, those of greatest stature were Zongmi of China and Gihwa of Korea, both of whom, as we will see, excelled in their early Confucian studies and later turned to Buddhism, but retained a deep respect for much of the content of their classical learning. Both men were also fundamentally trained in the essence-function approach, and thus it is not surprising to find that ti-yong was the hermeneutical principle by which these men articulated a unified view of Confucianism, Daoism and Buddhism. Yet these three-teachings thinkers also differed in their ways of comparing the three, and these differences can in turn be interpreted according to the particular understanding of essence and function which dominated their personal thought systems.


The truly seminal usage of essence and function is that related to the traditional East Asian concept of the human being, which has its roots in antiquity, and which is described formally in the Zhou texts.12 This view is that of human beings being equally possessed of an inherent nature of goodness as the foundation of the mind, but as differing greatly from each other at the level of function. Function, in this case, could indicate the person's physical appearance, facial expressions, speech and actions, as well as his/her thoughts. Thus, it is quite different from a simple mind/body or spirit/matter dichotomy. While there were occasional exceptions, in the prevailing intuition of the major thought traditions of Confucianism and Daoism, the human being was viewed as something inherently possessed of perfection, as highly mutable, and capable of consummating such perfection through following a certain course of action (or in Daoism, "non-action" ).

In this relationship, the goodness or inherent perfectibility of all human beings shows a strong "inner-to-outer" (or ti penetrating yong) tendency. But there is also a vitally important outer-to-inner (or yong penetrating ti) movement, as the originally pure ti is to be brought to its fullest manifestation through proper yong. It is because of this fundamental conceptual view of essence-function in personal transformation that there is such a strong development in East Asian "study-as-practice" language of rich and diverse metaphors in the category of "polishing," "training," "smelting," "purification," "accordance," "harmonization" (of, or with the essence), etc.

In the Daode jing and Zhuangzi there is also clear implication for the human capacity for sagehood, but with its accomplishment through a decidedly more "hands off" and observant approach, and with a greater emphasis on harmonizing with ti rather than external training of and through yong. The human mind in its pure nature is alluded to variously in the Daode jing as the "uncarved block" (pu ), which in improper function ends up becoming fragmented in the form of "utensils" (qi ), and the "newborn babe" (chi-zi 赤子), originally soft and pliant but which becomes in old age or improper function rigid and lifeless. The process of reaching to sagehood is a "return" (gui , fan ) to this pristine state. Instead of attempting to embody Confucian norms such as humaneness, due-giving, filial piety and respect for one's ruler, one is advised to free oneself from these worldly constructions.13

The newly formulated doctrine espoused by the Neo-Confucians was a compound of various strains of essence-function thought which were derived from Yijing, early Daoist, Confucian and Buddhist sources, with the ti-yong structure of the human being brought into play in such forms as the Neo-Confucian "mind of dao (daoxin 道心) " which reflected the pure essence of humanity to be sought through Neo-Confucian practices such as "reverence" (ching ), and "the human mind (renxin 人心)," mistakenly functioning and equivalent to the defiled mind of Buddhism. Most instructive in Neo-Confucianism is the degree to which the debates internal to the tradition are variations in interpretation of Confucian doctrine which lean to either the ti or yong direction. This is the case in the debate between the Cheng-Zhu orthodoxy and the Lu/Yang-ming "school of mind" as well as that which occurred in the Korean "four-seven" debate between the schools of Toegye and Yulgok.


In actual practice, the distinction between the above "macrocosmic" and "microcosmic" aspects of the essence-function framework is nebulous, as the apprehension of the universal dao, was, in all time periods and traditions fully contingent upon its apprehension and/or consummation at the personal level. I.e., it is precisely in the mediating dimension of integral practice that the macro- and microcosmic were directly connected to each other.

Such a view of intrinsic unity between universal and particular can be seen as closely related to the tendency of sinitic philosophical discourse to be so fully connected with real human behavior, as the phenomena of the universe as a whole were always seen to be connected to, acting upon, and receiving influence from the actions of individual persons. Thus, starting from earlier forms of Confucianism and Daoism, and reaching up to the flowering of Chinese Chan, mere theoretical understanding was never accepted as sufficient when it came to such matters as the apprehension of the dao. And here I would argue that it was precisely the integrated, non-dualistic understanding of essence-function which limited the extreme to which self-transformation, or religious practice, could acceptably be divorced from activity in the "real" secular world.14 This means that mystic absorption into the infinite was almost always considered to be inferior to the "marvelous function" 15 of the true sage, who was deeply in touch with, and greatly valued his ti, but who superbly manifested that ti in his function within the world of everyday phenomena. Numerous early Confucian texts reflect this tendency, but it is probably most succinctly summed up in the adage from Chapter Twenty-eight of the Daode jing which says "know the white (知之白; everyday world, manifest world, yong) but cleave to the black (守之玄; the essence, the tao, ti)." Down through time in the three traditions, it was this balanced approach to religious practice that would command the greatest level of respect. It becomes particularly manifest in the Chinese Chan school (as well as in Korean Seon and Japanese Zen), where, despite the intrinsic mystic tendencies of the meditational schools, great value comes to be placed on the "marvelous function" of the virtuousic master.

Tong-da (Interpenetration)

A major part of the reason that the notion of essence-function not yet received anything close to adequate treatment in the West,16 and has never been appreciated or understood in anything close to its thick and pervasive role in East Asian thought, is because notice has not been taken of the fact that the concept, as it works in the tradition, cannot be apprehended without its necessary counterpart, that of intrinsic inner connection, or, as it comes to be eventually articulated in Huayan Buddhism interpenetration.

The concept of interpenetration, indicated in Chinese by such terms as tongda (通達 Kor. t'ongdal; Jpn. tsūdatsu) and yuanrong (圓融 Kor. weonnyong; Jpn. enyū), is normally associated with the Chinese Huayan school of Buddhist thought, understood as a Chinese transformation of the Indian Buddhist concepts of pratītya-samutpāda and śūnyatā, stimulated by the Indra's Net discourse found in the Avataṃsaka-sutra. While certainly benefiting a great deal from these Indian Buddhist constructs, the origins of Chinese intuitions of interpenetration can be seen in the earliest Zhou writings. I.e., some sort of understanding of transparency and permeability which is highly reminiscent of Buddhist emptiness and interpenetration in fact must be operating if one is to thoroughly and correctly grasp the implications of the essence-function worldview in operation at these early times.

Despite a bit of difference in the language and approach used, I believe that Robert Sharf, in devoting a long chapter in his recent book Coming to Terms with Chinese Buddhism, is seeing a similar thing as a pan-East Asian phenomenon that passes between the barriers of the three teachings, in "Chinese Buddhism and the Cosmology of Sympathetic Resonance." Here he takes the organismic model of Chinese thought as understood by scholars such as Joseph Needham and Frederick Mote, and shows how these can be related to an instrinsic Chinese sensitivity toward the mutual resonance that can be seen between things belonging to the same categories. He then extends paradigm to show its influence in the development of the Buddhist theory of response body. Almost as if to express our understanding of the necessity of a sense of something like an organismic wholeness, interpenetration, or sympathetic resonance to be implicit in the function of the essence-function paradigm, Sharf writes:

The organismic view entails the notion that localized phenomena affect the state of the whole, and the state of the whole is reflected in local phenomena. This holistic model was much more than an abstract metaphysical hypothesis; it could be observed, tested, and applied in the fields of politics, divination, and the arts. ( (p. 79) )

An understanding of penetration of inner by outer and vice versa is necessary for the apprehension of one of the more basic aspects of essence-function usage, that of the mind of the human being and its apparent manifestations. In order for essence-function to work as it does, it is necessary to see the human being itself as a continuum from inner to outer, rather than as a mind/body dichotomy. There are also numerous textual passages in the Yijing, Analects, Daode jing, Zhuangzi, etc., which, to be appreciated fully, necessitate an understanding of a worldview in which the thoughts and actions of an individual penetrate, and carry influence throughout the entire world, in a way that can only be compared to that seen in Huayan metaphysics. One notable example is passage 12:1 from the Analects, which reads:

Yanyuan asked about the meaning of humaneness. The Master said, "To completely overcome selfishness and keep to propriety is humaneness. If for a full day you can overcome selfishness and keep to propriety, everyone in the world will return to humaneness. Does humaneness come from oneself, or from others?"

This passage has always provided problems for translators and commentators, and modern English translators either alter the grammar of this sentence or interpolate to add the notion of king to allow it to make sense for them that the power of the mind of a single individual can bring peace to the world.17 In other words, since we all know that Confucius could not have possibly meant that a single person has the power to influence the whole world, it is obvious that meant that only one in a position of political power can do so. But in trying to work through this passage, we might take another sort of tack. For instance, do we really know what it means to "completely overcome our selfishness" for a full day, and be perfectly guided by proper action? It could be the case that we actually do not know the level of spiritual influence that may be brought about by the actualization of one's inner perfection. Also, one might conjecture that even in the case of a ruler, political power in itself may not suffice to manifest the goodness of the people.

The concept of interpenetration is indicated by the Chinese binome tong-ta , but is also commonly signified by the ideographs tong and da by themselves. The basic meaning of tong (), which has changed surprisingly little over three millennia of East Asian literary history, is to "go through," or "pass through." It especially possesses the connotations of passing, or going through a path, or moving along a course which is already opened and which merely needs to be traversed. The ideograph da (), is close in meaning, and is often combined with tong in Buddhist texts, but has an interesting and important etymological difference, as it originally signifies piercing through a barrier, or breaking open a passageway where there was none before. Thus, when the two are combined together as a binome, a complementary connotation is created which indicates both passing through that which is already open, and piercing through that which has been heretofore closed.

Tong and da are ancient concepts to which strong philosophical overtones were added in early Confucian thought, notably in such texts as the Analects, Book of Changes and the Record of Rites. Especially relevant among these implications is the function of the mind of the sage, which is able to penetrate without limit in time and space. The sage's mind is capable of "penetrating to" (i.e., "understanding" ) the principles of things. Other shades of meaning include "to unify" or "be the same" in the sense of the dissolution of barrier. Both tong and da can mean to "apprehend," "understand," "grasp," "permeate," "fill," or "influence." 18 They were used adjectivally and adverbially to the same effects. The nuance of "penetration" (even if not always specifically indicated by the words tong and da) is ubiquitous in all the texts which reflect the early East Asian intuitively transparent worldview. It is a basic underpinning of both the Great Learning and the Doctrine of the Mean, in both of which the inner and outer aspects of the person are understood to penetrate each other such that quality of the person's inner mind is always discernible in his outer appearance.

Interpenetration in Sinitic Buddhism

The classical pre-Buddhist intuitions of tong were rationalized and technicalized as they were used to facilitate Chinese expressions of Buddhism. The conceptual bases of tong in East Asian Buddhism could now be explained through the notions of emptiness and dependent origination, since it is due to the lack of self-nature of things that they can mutually contain, reflect and comprise—or "interpenetrate" each other. The Sanskrit term for the supernatural powers of the Buddha or great Bodhisattva (abhijñā, literally "super knowledges" ) which deal specifically with the power of the minds of the adepts to transcend limitations of time, space, and materiality — was also translated into Chinese as tong, indicating that the mind of the Buddha penetrates to all places.19

The most important development of the meaning of tong came with the emergence of Huayan philosophy, where the metaphysics of interpenetration/non-obstruction became the hallmark of the school. The key usage of tong is in the discourse of the third and fourth "reality-realms" dharmadhātus (fajie 法界) posited by the early Huayan patriarchs. These are the realms of li-shi wu-ai (理事無礙 "non-obstruction between principle and phenomena" ) and shi-shi wu-ai (事事無礙 "non-obstruction between phenomena and phenomena," or "perfect interpenetration of phenomena" ). In the third realm, the conceptually differentiated spheres of principle and phenomena (emptiness and form 空色) are shown to be mutually containing. Since they are mutually containing, it follows that individual phenomena also contain each other without obstruction.

Study as Practice

Finally, it needs to be made clear that the implications of both essence-function and interpretation can only be fully apprehended when seen as descriptions of developments in actual practice, rather than as abstract metaphysical categories. Thus, the concept of "study as practice" is an attempt to reflect an aspect of the character of the East Asian religious/philosophical attitude that tends toward a type of study that is necessarily manifested in actual practice. Conversely, it is a reference to the character of "religious practice" in Confucianism, Daoism and East Asian Buddhism to be, in most cases, deeply informed by textual study.20 One of the foremost aspects of the concept of this kind of integral practice is the intimate relationship of notions of personal transformation with the classical Confucian/Daoist/East Asian Buddhist concept of "learning" or "study," (xue ) wherein one's level of scholarly attainment was recognized to be greatly contingent upon the degree to which one had embodied (di-de 體得) the object of study, had demonstrated a change in behavior. I.e., the classical East Asian conception of scholarship was intimately connected with what is distinguished in modernity as "practice." Confucius said:

When the Superior Man eats he does not try to stuff himself; at rest he does not seek perfect comfort; he is diligent in his work and careful in speech. He avails himself to people of the Way and thereby corrects himself. This is the kind of person of whom you can say, 'he loves learning.' ( (Analects 1:14) )

Looking at it another way, the sharp distinction that modern academism makes between "study" and "practice" did not exist in such a manner for the East Asian classical thinkers. This understanding of "study" is evident in almost every branch of Confucianism, Daoism and East Asian Buddhism.

The primary objects of inquiry in the East Asian classical philosophical texts of the "three teachings" were the human mind and human behavior, and the most seminal of the Confucian, Buddhist and Daoist texts were written for the explicit purpose of bringing about reflection on the nature of the mind and one's actions, in order to reveal their purity and dross, such that the purity could be enhanced and the dross eliminated. Moreover, in the sense that these texts, whether the Analects, Mencius, Daode jing, Zhuangzi, Awakening of Faith or Diamond Sutra were considered to reflect the minds of the sages, they were understood to be agents of transformation in themselves. By studying the text with earnestness, one could embody its message such that his/her behavior might become penetrated by its underlying theme. In most East Asian philosophical streams, such embodiment of a text was a fundamental stage in the process of self-transformation.21 While this process was normally initiated by memorization of the text, memorization itself was not the final aim, but an important first step, a preliminary qualification allowing for the deeper investigation into the text and the apprehension of its principles. In this sort of "scholarship," the criterion of achievement was not the breadth of knowledge of facts that one holds at one's command about a certain area, but the degree to which one has assimilated the teachings of the sages into his behavior. It is for this reason that the "scholar of broad learning" (duowen 多聞) was, in all three East Asian classical traditions, considered to be of a lower level than one who could actually demonstrate the kind of insight and actions indicative of self-transformation.

Concomitant with this understanding of "study" as the process of attaining of a unity with its object, is the basic premise that such study includes a training and refinement of the person's character. This refinement, when assiduously carried out, contains the possibility of attainment of human perfection, since "perfection" (defined variously in different traditions) was considered to be an innate endowment of all persons.22 .

A final connotation of this concept of study-as-practice to be noted is the high degree to which the process of personal transformation was related to the harmonizing of one's function with the realities of the mundane world. Examples of such evaluations abound in the classics of all three traditions, but are seen in a special abundance in the Mencius. For example, in section 2A:2 Gongsun Chou asked Mencius: "What do you mean when you say 'I understand language' ?" Mencius said,

When I hear deceptive speech, I know what it is covering up. When I hear licentious speech, I know its pitfalls. When I hear crooked speech, I know where it departs from the truth. When I hear evasive speech, I know its emptiness. Once born in a person's mind, these words harm the government. Spreading through the government, they damage all sorts of affairs. When a future sage appears, he will attest to my words.

Or, again, Mencius 7A:2:

Mencius said: "There is nothing that does not have a destiny, so follow your own and accept it as it is. If you do this, when you understand what destiny is, you will not stand under the wall of a high cliff. To fully traverse one's course and then die—this is correct destiny. To die in handcuffs and chains is not correct destiny."

This tendency toward sacred/secular integration was a core component of the major streams of Confucianism and Daoism, and also made a significant impact in East Asian Buddhism, where, despite the importation of a highly mystical Indian tradition which placed significant importance on world-renunciation, a noticeable amount of stress (most notably in the Chan/Seon/Zen movement) came to be placed on one's ability to act without hindrance in response to phenomenal situations.

4. The Case of Korea

When Buddhism arrived to China, it took several centuries for the imported Indian system and indigenous Chinese thought to fully assimilate each other, and a significant part of this process, on the East Asian end, included a re-articulation of Buddhism that reflected the same essence-function paradigm, with such texts as the Awakening of Mahāyāna Faith, Platform Sutra, and the Huayan and Chan philosophical corpus, placing stress on the existence of "original enlightenment," or "buddha-nature," which was either functioning pretty much properly (in Buddhas, bodhisattvas, etc.) or not (in ordinary unenlightened sentient beings). That East Asian Buddhism should take on this kind of characteristic should not be surprising, as virtually all of the East Asian interpreters of the tradition had received their literary training through Confucianism, with most of them also having some degree of background in Daoism.

We have spoken here at first of China, but the close geographical proximity of Korea, along with the concomitant extensive and continuous exchange of commodities and ideas allowed for Koreans to participate in the Chinese philosophical world at a relatively early point in time, and even to make serious contributions to the greater East Asian religious discourse, as many Korean thinkers traveled to the Tang and Song centers of learning and made their own mark. Thus, Koreans learned Chinese religion and philosophy well, and bringing it into their homeland, made their own enhancements, and sometimes took off in some of their own directions. Noteworthy among these enhancements/divergences is an even stronger degree of attention paid to the essence-function paradigm.23 coupled with a pronounced affinity for open philosophical confrontation.

Philosophical confrontation becomes a notable dimension within Korean Buddhism, within both Confucianism and Buddhism. In Buddhism, we can readily see this in the context of the development of the Seon (Ch. Chan; "meditation" ) school.24 The advent of this school in Korea brought about a situation of ideological conflict between the older, established, doctrinal schools of Buddhism, and the newly imported meditation school, whose adherents regularly expressed the opinion that textual studies were an impediment to the attainment of the Buddhist goal of enlightenment (thus, emphasizing essence, at the sake of function). While this conflict regarding the relationship between scholarly exegesis and meditation practice had its precedents in China, and was the subject of treatment by eminent Tang scholars such as Zongmi (780-841), it was not, in China, really a debate that was carried on extensively within Chinese Buddhism in a sustained and consistent manner.

In Korea, on the other hand, due to the composite character that the Seon school gradually assumed as it was forced to combined into one school with the doctrinal sects, the relation of the doctrinal teachings vis-à-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 Seon teachers such as Muyeom (800-888) who stridently criticized the doctrinal (gyo) approach, and he was followed by numerous others for generations. 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 Gyunyeo (923-973), Uicheon (1055-1101), Jinul (1158-1210), Gihwa (1376-1433), and Hyujeong (1520-1604).

A roughly parallel Korean intra-Buddhist debate, which involved many of the same participants as the meditative vs. doctrinal debate, can be seen in the controversy regarding whether enlightenment was something that is attained suddenly (an essence-oriented approach) or gradually (a function-oriented approach). This essence-function-informed 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 Jogye school down to the present day.

The greatest of the Korean debates regarding the nature of the mind, once again, analogous to the above-introduced Buddhist doctrinal/meditational and sudden/gradual oppositions in being framed in essence-function, is that of the Neo-Confucian question on the relation of the "four beginnings" 四端 (four good qualities of the mind that Mencius understood as being latent in all people) and seven feelings 七情 (seven kinds of mixed-quality emotions that arise secondarily to the four beginnings) that was first taken up between Yi Hwang (Toegye; 1501-1570) and Yiyi (Yulgok; 1536-1584), and subsequently rejoined by their disciples. This debate centered on 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. Again, a discussion centered on the relationship between the essence (four beginnings) and their manifest function (seven feelings).

All three of the above introduced debates can be shown to be framed by the same thematic pattern discussed at the outset of this essay, 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 mainstream early and classical period Korean philosophical/religious systems can be found to be operating 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 manifest itself properly—to function discordantly. Thus, it is a problem that can be identified as lying within the conceptual framework of essence-function. This means then, that these East Asian thinkers, even if representing ostensively disparate traditions, are working with the tacit understanding that the correct way to do philosophy and interpret philosophy, and correct way to do practice and evaluate practice, is a way that shows the greatest adherence to the model of essence-function.

In the case of the developing character of Korean Buddhism, the most prominent points of dispute among the various doctrinal schools (and later as well among the Chan schools) can be seen, despite their differences, as being interpretable by the same logical framework. The argument for the suddenness of enlightenment can be seen as a way of viewing the mind that places greater stress on the value of its essence, and less attention to its function, while the position of gradualists (who would tend to focus on morality and other concrete forms of practice, rather than the impossibly subtle practice of Seon "non-abiding" ) would be opposite to this. Korean scholars such as Jinul and Gihwa, 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 argued for the maintenance of a balance between the two for effective and flexible religious cultivation.

5. The Historical Perspective: Confucianism and Daoism During the Period of Buddhist Preeminence

During the several centuries during which Buddhism carried out its amazing spread throughout East Asia, the Confucian tradition maintained its place as the framework for basic education and as the provider of the system for civil service examinations. Thus the ministers, bureaucrats, teachers, and those connected in any form with the governance of the realm automatically had a Confucian education. But this tradition could not do much to compete philosophically, or as a state religion, with the dominant position that had been taken by Buddhists in terms of providing the religious fabric of society—a dominance that reached its peak in the early-to-mid Tang. During this period there was relatively little in the way of new developments in Confucian philosophy, as the same classics were for the most part, simply learned by rote for the purpose of passing civil service examinations. Except for occasional rumblings and purges that were more often than not motivated by jealously over the political and economic influence of Buddhists, Confucians remained largely unable to compete with the Buddhists in the philosophical arena.

Most of the major religious and philosophical developments of this period that lay outside the pale of Buddhism were to be seen in the area of Daoism, in the works of the Neo-Daoists, Daoist alchemists, and the Daoist-influenced literati. On the other hand, however, a major part of the reason for the alchemical developments in Daoism was the stimulation by Buddhistic ideas. At the same time, Daoist views influenced the evolving tendencies of East Asian Buddhism, to the extent that sometimes their texts were almost indistinguishable from each other25 Thus, philosophically speaking, the first several centuries of the growth of Buddhism in China can be seen as a period of philosophical stagnation for Confucianism, but where it nonetheless held its intimate position within the educational system and bureaucratic system, while real philosophical/religious creativity occurred in the Buddhist-Daoist matrix. It was a period during which most major literary figures and political persons of Confucian orientation showed neither the means nor intention to express any telling opposition against the Buddhist tradition.

Initial Anti-Buddhist Rumblings

Thus, the philosophical discourse between the traditions can be regarded to be as much symbiotic as it was confrontational—at least during the earlier centuries when doctrinal Buddhist schools were moving toward their final formations. But from just about the time that schools such as Huayan and Tiantai reached a level of maturity, and Chan began its emergence as an energetic Buddhist movement, overt ideological argumentation from the Confucian side began. This opposition is usually pinpointed in its origin in the essays of the Tang scholar Hanyu (韓愈 768-824). Hanyu was an elite bureaucrat, as well as a literary figure of considerable stature who was troubled by the steadily growing influence of Buddhism in the imperial court, which he believed was leading the rulership to a blindness that was endangering the security and well-being of the realm. He felt strongly enough about the excesses of Buddhism that he dared to memorialize the throne with vehemence, knowing well that it would lead him to trouble—and it did.

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. In these essays he lambasted Buddhism as a foreign religion, which was leading the emperor to spend inordinate amounts of time at Buddhist monasteries, and involving great time, expense, and resources for activities such as the carrying of the Buddha's śarīra around the capital. Hanyu's arguments were aimed at pointing out visible excesses on the part of the members of the Buddhist clergy and the rulers involved with the clerics. These arguments were mostly of emotional in character, not attempting to seriously engage Buddhism for philosophical shortcomings. But they were certainly effective enough to get Hanyu sent away into exile, and they served as the point of departure for the anti-Buddhist arguments that would be presented by later scholars.26 .

However, as the Tang drew to an end and the Song began, the philosophical matrix of China, having been now long enough steeped in Buddhist and Daoist philosophy that many important concepts were taken for granted as being simply standard philosophical categories, and not necessarily as Buddhist or Daoist in origin, led to the birth of a new, revamped form of Confucian known as "Song Learning" (known in the West as Neo-Confucianism). While Chinese thought had long had the chance to assimilate Daoist notions of the dao, alchemical transformation, Buddhist karma, dependent origination, Huayan principle and phenomena, and Chan meditation, the gradual degradation of doctrinal Buddhism in late Tang and early Song as a state institution, and the corruption and stagnation of much of the doctrinal Buddhist tradition in itself, with the arrival of Chan as the predominant tradition, had left a situation of an intellectual-spiritual vacuum. The great doctrinal systems of Chinese Yogācāra, Tiantai, and Huayan had waned in their influence. In their place in the Buddhist realm were the flowering schools of Song Chan, which were known, even then, for their worst extremes of iconoclasm, antinomianism, and escapism. The extent of the validity of these anti-Chan criticisms is an issue that will be central to the two essays we will study below, but it is obvious that these potential trouble spots in the Chan Way were already well-known to their philosophical opponents at this time.

Regardless of the strict applicability of the criticisms of Chan made by the leading figures of this re-energized Confucian movement, it is no secret that there was a strong strain of anti-intellectualism in the literature of the school, and regardless of whether this "stupification" was really a common state of affairs, there is no doubt that the overall tendency within the Chan tradition toward literary and doctrinal study was different than it had been in the doctrinal schools.27 This attitude demonstrated by the members of the Chan schools may well have contributed to the intellectual vacuum that would be filled by the New Confucians.

Although the classics that were the object of study for the Neo-Confucians were essentially the same as they had been for their Confucian predecessors (the Four Books, the Five Classics, and so forth), they were re-analyzed under the lens of a new hermeneutic that was the result of several centuries of Buddhist and indigenous Chinese cross-fertilization: the categories of li (principle) and qi (pneuma, vital force), which were derived from the li (principle) and shi (phenomena)— popular in the Huayan and Tiantai schools—both of which were a new iteration of the classic essence-function approach. The Neo-Confucians brought this new metaphysics, which also included a heavy reliance on the Yijing and yin/yang cosmology, to re-explain the relation of humans to humans and humans to the universe, along with a much more precisely articulated path of cultivation, relying heavily on the Mencius.

The most important early figures in this movement were the Neo-Confucian patriarchs Zhang Cai (1020-1077) and Zhou Dunyi (1017-1073), who established the bases of this new metaphysics while creating schema for a new way to understand man and his world. What is especially noteworthy about their writings, however, is the degree to which they were energized by anti-Buddhist polemic.28 But this polemic is only started with these two, and is not especially vehement in their works. After all, Zhou was known to have been a Chan practitioner of sorts.

It is in the writings of the Cheng brothers (Chenghao 程顥 1032-1085, and Chengyi 程頤 1033-1107) that the distinctive Neo-Confucian philosophy really begins to take on its mature form, as the philosophical elaboration of the categories of li and qi within the framework of commentary on the classical texts takes on sophisticated form. It is Chenghao who develops the li-qi cosmological view in parallel with the Huayan li-shi, and rereading classical passages such as Analects 12:1, will declare that "the humane man forms a single body with the world." Even more so than the works of the earlier generations of Neo-Confucians, the criticism of Buddhism becomes an integral part—and at times perhaps the central aspect—of their discourse. Interestingly, the brother shown to have exhibited the more mystical, or "Channish" tendencies in his writings, Chenghao, is the one who composed the most damaging critiques of the Chan tradition. The Cheng brothers criticized Chan Buddhism for its antinomian, escapist tendencies, and for the doctrine of emptiness, which they construed as pure nihilism.

The arguments composed by the Chengs and their mentors were digested, explicated, and systematized in the writings of Zhuxi (朱熹 1130-1200), who is known the present day as the grand systematizer of the Neo-Confucian tradition—as the one most singly responsible for the reinstatement of Confucianism as the predominant ideology of the Chinese imperial government until the opening of the modern era.29

Thanks in great measure to the numerous edited volumes produced by Wm. Theodore deBary and his colleagues, we have no shortage of information in English on the development of the Neo-Confucian tradition. However, from the very start of my readings of these works as an undergraduate and graduate student who come to these texts with a fairly strong Buddhist studies background, I was somewhat surprised by the extent of the arbitrary character, despite their superficiality, of the critiques against made against Buddhism. Not only about the charges of antinomianism and escapism, tendencies that have always been visible among Chan/Zen practitioners — even to the present day — but superficial readings of the basic Buddhist doctrines of dependent origination, karma, and emptiness. The Chengs and Zhuxi were clearly deep thinkers with broad learning, who were intimate with a number of the Buddhist scriptures.30 It seemed to me, as a younger student trying to grasp what was going on in this period of Chinese intellectual history, hard to believe that they never grasped how the doctrine of emptiness works within the two-truths system, and thus works to controvert its own reifications. Even modern-day university sophomores seem to be able to grasp this after a bit of explanation. I ended up with the conclusion that such sophisticated thinkers as the Chengs and Zhu most certainly understood these points, but went ahead with their own reading as way of establishing the dominance of their own system. This is all fine as I see it now, as a fact of life of intellectual history. What I still find to be surprising, nonetheless, is the extent to which the modern scholars of Neo-Confucianism who have written on the "rise of Neo-Confucianism," (almost all Chinese) and who uniformly take a wholly uncritical approach to the Cheng-Zhu arguments, even jumping on the anti-Buddhist bandwagon to confirm the accuracy of these claims.

This point being noted, it is nonetheless important to reiterate that when Zhu and the Chengs talk about "Buddhism," they are talking about the form of Buddhism that was in vogue during their lifetimes—which was Song dynasty Chan—the same tradition that was in the process of compiling gongan collections, teaching strike-and-shout Linji methodologies and so forth. Popular Buddhist writings at that time no doubt contained little or nothing in the way of explanation of Indian-style dependent origination, śūnyatā, or the two levels of truth. The popular texts at the time are mostly East Asian apocrypha and works composed within the Chan tradition, that were often overtly critical of textual study and intellectual cultivation (much like many modern Zen adherents in the West). This observation, coupled with the obvious perspicacity of people like the Chengs and Zhuxi in a sense tells us a bit about what the Chan of the Song was like.

Anyhow, the point is to make clear the apparent degree of extremity of Chan teachings at the time, and it was this extremity that the Cheng-Zhu branch of Neo-Confucianism criticized. The other stream of Neo-Confucianism that held a degree of influence is the Lu-Wang school of mind,31 whose practices were much more in the direction of Chan, and for which they were criticized by the Cheng-Zhu tradition. But for the purposes of the current discussion, it is not especially important to examine the Lu-Wang school here, and we'll see why soon below.

It is seems, however, that while the Chan schools were drawing repeated venomous criticism from their Confucian contemporaries, there was little serious and sustained comparable effort made at literary self-defense. Why the lack of effort toward defending Buddhist teachings against these critiques? 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. It could also be that 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, was simply too much for the Chan leaders to contend with. Or, taking the same supposition a step further, we might even want to give some lighthearted consideration to the accusation made by Jeong Dojeon in his treatise translated below, that the Chan practices of non-reliance on words and letters had resulted in the impairment, through disuse, of the Channist's intellectual capacities, and they were no longer capable of intellectual response.

During the two centuries after Zhuxi, a roughly analogous confrontational situation developed in the Goryeo, nonetheless in a considerably altered context. 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 saṅgha owned vast tracts of tax-free territory, traded in slaves and other commodities, and were influential at all levels of government. There were too 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 philosophical arguments of the Cheng brothers and Zhuxi, but as well by the extent of the present corruption. There was a decadent, stumbling government in place, supported by, and supporting, a somewhat dissolute religious organization.

6. Neo-Confucianism in Korea

Beginnings of Neo-Confucianism in Korea

It was the Neo-Confucian stream of the Cheng-Zhu school that was accepted as orthodoxy in Korea,32 becoming established as a government ideology, and becoming the focus of inquiry to an extent not even seen in China. In Korea, as in China, a major thrust of the Neo-Confucian argument came in the form of anti-Buddhist discourse. In Korea, however, the anti-Buddhist tenor would be magnified, since it was compounded with additional political and social issues that had not existed as such in China. Whereas Neo-Confucianism in China did struggle against Buddhism, and did succeed in wresting a sizable portion of its following back from the literati class, the tradition also fragmented into branches, some of which, such as the Wang Yangming school, often showed more similarities to Chan than to the Confucian doctrine espoused by Zhuxi.

In Korea, however, the mostly-philosophical arguments against Buddhism that had originated with the Cheng brothers were honed and focused in the service of collateral aims. They became the ideology of a rising movement of resistance on the part of influential members of the intelligentsia who were determined to overthrow a decaying Goryeo (918-1392) dynasty—along with the rotting Buddhist monastic system that was deeply entangled with it. Thus, the anti-Buddhist polemical dimension of the Neo-Confucianism that developed in Korea took on a focus, a vehemence, indeed an exclusivism33 not previously seen in China.

A major portion of the Neo-Confucian polemical attack that energized these sweeping changes was socio-political in nature, focusing on the excesses engaged in by the Buddhist clergy. Buddhist temples had been tax-exempt, and many Buddhist leaders enjoyed wealth and power that came in the form of the possession of prize lands, slaves, and positions of privilege in the court. There was also a philosophical component to the Neo-Confucian criticism of Buddhist doctrine and practice that developed out of the writings of the above-mentioned Song Neo-Confucian architects. The main complaint expressed in these arguments was, once again, that Buddhist practices were antisocial and escapist, and that the Buddhist doctrine was nihilistic. Buddhism, according to the Neo-Confucians, led people to abandon respect for the norms of society and to forget the all-important task of polishing one's character in the midst of human relationships.

While there were anti-Buddhist memorials presented in Korea as early as 982, serious concentrated attacks on Buddhism did not begin until the mid-fourteenth century. The major initial charges, presented by individuals such as Yi Saek (李穡 1328-1396) were that excessive patronage was deleterious to the well being of the state. The attacks made on Buddhism by Jo Inok (?-1396) and Jeong Mongju (鄭夢周 1337-1392) were also made on political and economic, rather than philosophical and religious bases. After this period, the anti-Buddhist polemic took a turn toward the philosophical in the writings of such prominent Neo-Confucian figures as Gong Hoebaek (1357-1402), Ho Ung (?-1411) and Jeong Chong (1358-1397), all of whom were active in the late 14th century. Toward the end of the fourteenth century the political and economic problems of the Goryeo court intensified, and with the Buddhists firmly embedded in the body of a weakened political structure, Neo-Confucian activists came to the side of the rebel general Yi Seonggye (李成桂 1335-1408). Yi, in a rapid coup d'etat, toppled the Goryeo government, establishing the Joseon dynasty in 1392, and was automatically endowed with a cabinet composed of Neo-Confucian advisors.

With the 1392 coup, the Buddhists were thrust out of their position of political power. The Buddhists would, over time, become for the most part relegated to their existence in the mountain monasteries, prohibited from setting foot in the cities. The final polemical push for the Buddhist purge had come in the form of the essays of Jeong Dojeon, Yi's main political tactician, who would play a major role in the development of the political structure of the new Joseon dynasty.34 Jeong wrote a few philosophical essays that were critical of Buddhism, but his final, and most sustained anti-Buddhist polemical work (completed just before his assassination in 1398) was the Bulssi japbyeon.35

In these anti-Buddhist tracts Jeong 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. 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. 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 Seon sect, which the Neo-Confucians of course 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 Jeong's Chinese predecessors, primarily the Cheng brothers via Zhuxi, is omnipresent in his writings. Almost every argument, and every example made by Jeong is a citation from one of the Cheng brothers, through the commentaries of Zhu. While Jeong is sometimes looked down up on by Korean intellectual historians as being more of an ideologue than a philosopher, none of Jeong's worthy predecessors had ever composed such a monolithic, systematic attack on Buddhism from every angle, that can compare with the Japbyeon. We will return to examine its contents below. First, however, we need to review what was happening on the Buddhist side of the fence.

7. Buddhist Responses and the Role of Zongmi

We have noted above that despite the intensity of the critiques made against Chan Buddhism by the Song Neo-Confucian leaders, there was little in terms of sustained and reasoned literary response from the Chan community from the time that the criticism took hold during the Song. What is probably the most sustained and reasoned response to the Confucian critique of Buddhism occurs at the very outset of the renewed opposition in the mid-Tang from the scholar-monk Zongmi (宗密 780-841). Those with some knowledge of the background of Korean Buddhism will recognize Zongmi as the Chinese figure to make the singlemost greatest impact on the eventual character of the Korean Seon tradition. The history of the development of Korean Seon is such that issues related to the reconciliation of various approaches to practice came to play a central role, and one of the most significant of these was that of the relation between meditation practice and scriptural study. Zongmi, who would end up with the unusual distinction of being recognized as a "patriarch" of both the Chan and Huayan traditions, was, as might be expected, a person who advocated the position that the approaches of meditative practice and scriptural study were mutually complementary. His statements on this, and related matters, such as explanations of the notion of intrinsic enlightenment, and discussions of the relationship between sudden and gradual in practice and enlightenment, were followed and repeated by the most influential of the Korean Seon formulators, including Jinul, Gihwa, and Hyujeong. Not surprisingly, the set of texts that held the greatest level of interest for these later Korean Seon masters, the Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment, Awakening of Mahāyāna Faith, Diamond Sutra, and Huayan jing, were also the subject of Zongmi's extensive commentarial efforts. The SPE is of most significance here, as it was clearly Zongmi's favorite text, which he commented on extensively. In Korea, it was Gihwa who wrote the definitive commentary on the sūtra. Thus, Gihwa and Zongmi are linked in terms of a number of mutual interests.

One of the works for which Zongmi is most noted in Chinese intellectual history, is his Yuanren lun or "Inquiry into the Origin of Humanity." 36 Composed around 830, it was a treatise written for a broad audience, including non-specialists. It was in some sense a work typical of leading 6-8th century Chinese doctrinal scholars, in that it was a basically a hermeneutically oriented text, which classified the teachings of Buddhism into five levels. Such classifications had been carried out prior to Zongmi by such people as his Huayan predecessor Fazang, de facto Tiantai founder Zhiyi, and many others.

While the Inquiry is primarily a textbook for understanding Buddhism that utilizes the classification scheme as a pedagogical methodology, the opening passages take a clear polemical shot at Confucianism, quite probably in reaction to Hanyu and his party. Indigenous Chinese philosophy is criticized by Zongmi for those of its doctrines that show a lack of discernment of the basic laws of cause and effect. Thus, he debunks the Chinese classical view of spontaneous production, the lack of reasoning for the differences in individual endowments of vital force, and the unexplained unfairness seen in the operation of the so-called "mandate of heaven" (tianming). According to Zongmi, all of these are logically untenable when really thought through, and cannot even match the most elementary of the Buddhist teachings — that of the law of karmic retribution. There is, nonetheless, an ecumenical character to the Inquiry since, although Confucianism and Daoism are seen to be inferior to Buddhism, they are nonetheless accorded a certain amount of value, with Confucius and Laozi being regarded as bona fide sages, right next to Śākyamuni. As Gregory notes:

Although it should be no surprise that Tsung-mi (Zongmi) regards Buddhism as a higher level of teaching than either Confucianism or Daoism, what is especially noteworthy is that his attitude toward the two teachings is sympathetic and inclusive. Even though his designation of them as exclusively provisional places them in a category inferior to the Buddhist teachings, it also — and far more significantly — places them within the same realm of discourse. Its concrete forms of expression may differ, but the truth realized by the three sages is universal. ( (Gregory 1995, p. 81) )

Given the fact that Hanyu's tracts, and Zongmi's Inquiry are written in the early part of the ninth century, almost five centuries prior to the exchange between Jeong Dojeon and Gihwa, it is surprising the extent to which the content from these early predecessors from both sides finds its way into the treatises of the two Korean receivers of their respective traditions. Jeong, for instance, will continue to invoke Hanyu's criticism of Buddhism as a "foreign" religion. Gihwa, for his part, will open up his own treatise by borrowing the correlation from Zongmi made by matching the five constant virtues of Confucianism with the five basic Buddhist precepts Ȅ a correlation first made as far back as the Diwei boli jing. In any case, the Inquiry clearly stands as the major significant precedent to Gihwa's work. There are nonetheless, significant differences in content and structure, based largely upon the circumstances in which they were written. The Inquiry is first and foremost a panjiao text, which takes up the critique of Confucianism only in its opening sections. Zongmi's Buddhist tradition at the time, even if suffering from the rants of the likes of Hanyu, certainly did not have its back up against the wall. The Buddhists in the early Joseon on the other hand were "on the ropes" as it were, and so Gihwa's treatise is in its entirety a defense of the Buddhist tradition, with issues of doctrinal classification long since forgotten. There are also significant personal stylistic differences, but before addressing these, we need to talk about Gihwa.

8. Gihwa

Gihwa (己和 Hamheo Deuktong 涵虚得通, 1376-1433) was born just sixteen years prior to the Goryeo/Joseon dynastic transition, the son of a diplomat, and was educated with other upper-class sons at the recently-established Seongyun'gwan (成均館) Confucian academy.37 In the course of his studies at this institution, Gihwa is said to have attained to a remarkable level of proficiency in Chinese philosophy and literature, as his biographer goes to unusual lengths to convey the extent to which his professors esteemed him:

Entering the academy as a youth, he was able to memorize more than a thousand phrases daily. As time passed, he deeply penetrated the universality of the single thread, clarifying the meanings of the classics and expounding their content. His reputation was unmatched. Grasping the subtlety of the transmitted teachings, all their profundities were disclosed in his explanations. He was possessed of a sonorous voice and graceful beauty, like flowers laid upon silk brocade — even such metaphor falls short of description. People said that he would become the minister truly capable of transmitting the heavenly mandate, extending upward to the ruler and bringing blessings down to the people. In his grasp of the correct principles of society he had no need to be ashamed even if he were to appear before the likes of Zhou and Shao.38

Acknowledging the obvious hyperbole that is invariably seen in the hagiographical sketches written by disciples of eminent Buddhist teachers, we must nevertheless pay attention to what is contained in this passage as (1) there is not, in the entire corpus of Korean Buddhist hagiographies an appraisal of scholarly (Confucian) acumen comparable in scope to this, and (2) this strong assessment of Gihwa's early abilities is corroborated in the degree to which he, later in his Buddhist career, took such a strong interest in, and showed such outstanding ability in literary/philosophical/exegetical pursuits. Furthermore, a reading of his later works shows an unusual extent of citation from the Five Classics, Four Books and the Daoist canon.

Despite Gihwa's initial deep involvement in Confucian learning, he was greatly affected at the age of twenty-one by the tragic death of a close friend, and as a result, turned to the Buddhist path. After a short period of wandering and study, he became a disciple of the National Teacher Muhak (無學 1327-1405), a master of the Imje Seon (Ch. Linji Chan) gong'an tradition. Gihwa spent the rest of his days immersed in meditation, travel, teaching and an extensive literary pursuit that included commentarial work, essay writing and poetry. Despite the diminished influence of Buddhism, toward the end of his career he served as preceptor to the royal family. After this stint, he retired once again to the mountain monasteries, where he taught and wrote until his passing in 1433. During his life, Gihwa wrote several important and influential treatises and commentaries on Buddhist works that established him as one of the leading exegetes in the Korean Buddhist tradition.39

Placed as he was, in the position of leading representative of the Buddhist saṅgha at the time when it was coming under great pressure, Gihwa no doubt felt responsible to make an answer to the Neo-Confucian charges. Respond he did — in the form of a philosophical treatise that has become a landmark in Korean intellectual history — the Hyeonjeong non (顯正論 "Exposition of the Correct," hereafter abbreviated as HJN). In the HJN Gihwa attempted to answer the entire accretion of criticisms made by the Neo-Confucians that had been organized and laid out in the Bulssi japbyeon. Therefore the relationship between the Japbyeon and the HJN is such that we might well characterize the latter work as a fairly direct rebuttal to the former, and thus, the entitlement of the present work as the "great debate." 40

As mentioned above, the circumstances of Gihwa's composition of this treatise in defense of Buddhism against Confucian-based criticisms have a direct precedent in the those surrounding Zongmi's Inquiry. Zongmi and Gihwa held much in common, both being Chan-Seon/Huayan-Hwaeom scholars of considerable classical Chinese philosophical background, both of whom held a solid respect for many aspects of Confucian and Daoist learning. Both men shared in their broad vision of all three masters — Confucius, Laozi, and Śākyamuni — being genuine sages, but their way of evaluating the two non-Buddhist traditions differs somewhat.

While treating similar topics from similar perspectives, the two treatises differ in their basic line of argument. Zongmi's work, reflecting its author's interest in doctrinal classification, is primarily an attempt to show how Confucianism and Daoism are related to Buddhism as expedient, but nonetheless heterodox (外教 waijiao) teachings. His tone toward Confucianism and Daoism is conciliatory, but he will clearly distinguish the two from Buddhism as being even less profound than the teachings of "men and gods" — basic teachings of karmic retribution for moral and immoral actions. Gihwa's argument, on the other hand, relies primarily on an understanding an interpenetration that operates equally in all three teachings of Confucianism, Daoism and Buddhism, but which he claims has been brought to different levels of actualization by the practitioners of each of the three teachings. Gihwa perceives the three teachings as varying expressions of a singular reality. Thus, despite his conversion to Buddhism, he never really rejected his earlier Confucian and Daoist learning. Accordingly, in his Buddhist apologetic writings he did not seek to disparage the fundamental Confucian doctrine; rather, he sought to show that while the Confucian teachings were worthy of deep respect, the Confucians themselves had often missed the deeper implications of their own texts.

9. The Texts: Content Analysis

Bulssi japbyeon

Jeong Dojeon 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 (wuxing 五行), hun and po souls, etc. These chapters do not offer that much to clearly demonstrate a metaphysical high ground for Confucianism, as Jeong's 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 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 Mahāyāna Faith and Sūtra of Perfect Enlightenment. He provides textual examples from the Śūraṃgama-sūtra and from the writings of Jinul that show inconsistencies between the various accounts of the relation between the mind (K. sim ), and the nature (K. seong ). As Jeong shows in a series of citations, in one place, the nature is equivalent to 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.

( (SBJ 1.78b) )

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.

A similar theme carries into the fourth chapter, where Jeong 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." ( (SBJ 1.78d) ) Jeong 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?" ( (SBJ 1.79b) ) 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), Jeong cites the Mencian "four beginnings" 四端 that are innate to humans, along with their four directly associated manifest functions of humaneness , propriety , due-giving , 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 Jeong'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." 41 The Buddhist method of study addresses the mind, but does not address its manifestations. This can be seen in the Buddhist's 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. (SBJ 1.79c-d)

Jeong's critique runs through several 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 perceived escapist and nihilistic views of Chan. But all can be summarized with Jeong'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, articulating a clear relationship between inner and outer.

The Hyeonjeong non

To set the tone for his argument, Gihwa 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 Mahāyāna Faith, Sūtra 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. Gihwa opens the Hyeonjeong 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 sentiency. Past and present are based in life-and-death. The nature originally lacks sentiency, but when you are confused about the nature you give rise to sentiency; with the production of sentiency, 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. (HBJ 7.217a)

In this way, Gihwa 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. As Zongmi well clarified over five centuries earlier, 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. As it was stated in the Inquiry on the Origin of Humanity, this teaching, however, no matter how superficial, is one level above the typical application of the Confucian teaching, which he defines as the mere conditioning of people through reward and punishment on the part of the state. But he later shifts his position, and shows how the true, correctly understood Confucian teaching, when applied with the right understanding, can also extend to profound levels. This, Gihwa does to an extent never seen in Zongmi's Inquiry.

The Hyeonjeong non is also markedly conciliatory in tone as compared to the Japbyeon. Gihwa 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 Gihwa 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.

Gihwa 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. Responsibility for excesses indulged in by saṅgha members is laid upon the offenders as individuals making their own decisions, rather than to the tradition as a whole. Jeong's 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 Gihwa's argument lies in the presentation of what he takes as common denominator of all three traditions (Confucianism, Daoism and Buddhism): a doctrine of humaneness (Ch. ren; K. in; ), 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." 42 With this being the characteristic and seminal Neo-Confucian development of the Confucian/Mencian "humaneness" Gihwa 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 ahiṃsā (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 humaneness as the most fundamental element to their path of cultivation. Confucius himself continually cited humaneness as the source of all forms of goodness. Mencius said that humaneness 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, Gihwa says, the Confucian corpus is rife with inconsistencies on this matter. For example, although Chenghao has told us that humaneness 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 humane 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. Gihwa says:

[Since animals share, with people] the sense 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 bring retribution to each other each other without pause. If there were a humane man present, how could he observe such suffering and continue to act as if nothing was wrong? (HBJ 7.220a-b)

As Gihwa goes on to tell us, it was precisely the difference on this point that turned him toward Buddhism during the period of time when he was weighing the two systems in the balance.43

The charge, then, that Gihwa will lay on the Confucians, is strikingly similar to that of Jeong, in that both want to show the other side to be guilty of inconsistency. The difference, however, is that Jeong wants to point out inconsistencies in the Buddhist doctrine in itself, where Gihwa centers his argument on showing inconsistencies between Confucian doctrine and practice. That is, Confucians say one thing, but do another. Gihwa'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 Jeong's treatise, entitled "Criticism of the Differences Between Buddhism and Confucianism" 儒釋同異之辨. There, Jeong 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, Jeong 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. (SBJ 1.84a)

Gihwa, in obvious reference to Jeong'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 Gihwa was most certainly responding to Jeong 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 your 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? (HBJ 7.225b)

The much softer stance of Gihwa can be attributable to various factors. First, throughout all of East Asia, it had never been part of the Buddhist agenda to expend energy in debunking the Confucian tradition, for as Chinese, and Koreans, it was, indeed, their tradition.44 Although Gihwa, 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 Hyeonjeong 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 Jeong had lived long enough to be able to enter into rejoinder with Gihwa here. In any case, a comparative study of these two works is invaluable, not only for understanding the intellectual climate of fifteenth century Korea, but for understanding the fundamental character of pre-modern East Asian thought as a whole.

10. Notes on the Source Texts

For Gihwa's Hyeonjeong non, I have used the edition contained in HBJ, vol. 7. In order to make best use of the digital reference tools available to me, it was worth it for me to digitize this text, which I did by scan/OCR. Since that time, the EBTI project and Dongguk University has digitized this text, now available on the Web at For the Bulssi japbyeon, I used the edition contained in the version contained in the back of Vol. 1 of Sambongjip (Gyeongin munhwasa 1987). Being a woodblock reproduction, it was not fit for OCR, so I input the whole text character by character. Both versions are also now available through my web site.


1. Rendered by such concepts as "justice" , "fairness" , "rightness" etc. It refers to the capacity that we have to give persons and things their proper due, regardless of our own desire or interest in the situation. In the Analects and the Mencius, it is commonly seen contrasted with the notion of personal profit ( li ) and is a basic defining component of the character of the exemplary person (君子 junzi).[back]

2. For example, in Daode jing chapter 48:

In studying, each day something is gained.

In following the Way, each day something is lost.

Lost and again lost.

Until there is nothing left to do.


3. In rendering the title of the Dasheng qixin lun as Awakening of Mahāyāna Faith, as opposed to Hakeda's "Awakening of Faith in Mahāyāna" I am following the perspicacious argument made by Sung Bae Park in Chapter Four of his book Buddhist Faith and Sudden Enlightenment. There he argues that the inner discourse of the text itself, along with the basic understanding of the meaning of mahāyāna in the East Asian Buddhist tradition does not work according to a Western theological "faith in..." subject-object construction, but according to an indigenous East Asian essence-function model. Thus, mahāyāna should not be interpreted as a noun-object, but as a modifier, which characterizes the type of faith.[back]

4. Although this sūtra first appeared with the Indian title of Vajrasamādhi-sūtra attached, it is clearly a work that was composed in East Asia. Scholars such as Robert Buswell have argued that it may well have even been composed in Korea. See Buswell (1989).[back]

5. In his commentary to the Daode jing, entitled Laozi zhu (老子注). See especially his commentary to Chapter 38. Translated by Richard Lynn (1999). The evidence that Wangbi was the first to actually make usage of this construction is not fully conclusive.[back]

6. The American Heritage Dictionary, Second College Edition.[back]

7. Webster's New World Dictionary.[back]

8. American Heritage Dictionary, Second College Edition.[back]


A helpful strategy for understanding the meaning of proper and improper understandings and actualizations of the essence-function structure can be seen in the example of, say, a master teacher of the martial arts (it could be any kind of teacher of any kind of art, but let's just use this one). Let's say it is a man who has been training and teaching all of his life, and based on persona discipline and concentration, has developed a charismatic aura that draws students to learn from him. He has deep mastery of the fundamentals, and can do physical feats that are almost superhuman. His students strive to emulate him, and after a period of time, some students go on to become teachers themselves. Since their teacher was a strict fellow, who taught by whacking his students with a stick, shouting at them, and calling them "stupid" when they made a mistake, many of his disciples tend to imitate the same behavior. However, when they imitate this behavior, their students find it disgusting, and leave.

What these students did not realize was that the original teacher's strictness was based in an honesty, sincerity, self-confidence, and deep love and concern for his students that was invisibly felt, and that in fact, it was this inner, invisible dimension of the teacher's character that actually attracted the students, rather than his manifest strictness. Interpreting this situation through essence and function, we can say that these high-ranking disciples had not discerned the teacher's essence (his authenticity and warmth), but had deceived themselves in the seeing of his external activities (function). But not all the disciples understood superficially. Some saw the warmth, genuineness, and deep inner strength, and saw how it was being beautifully expressed in his precise and powerful bodily movements when he performed the techniques of his craft. Therefore, although misconstrued in a disconnected manner by some students, the totality and unity of the teacher's essence and function was properly discerned by a minority.


10. See the opening section of the Great Learning which is available on my web site at[back]

11. Chenghao (程顥 1032-1085), Chengyi (程頤 1033-1107) [back]

12. Even though it is only defined specifically with the ideographs ti and yong for the first time in the early third century CE, an essence-function type of framework can be seen operating pervasively in the earliest Chinese classics.[back]

13. Once we arrive to a certain level of understanding of the essence-function structure as a tool for describing the dynamics of spiritual training, we can begin to make a distinction between approaches that tend to be more "essence-oriented" and those that are more "function-oriented." For example, we might observe that the general Confucian tendency to focus on forms of behavior in the social context, training oneself through propriety, filial piety, loyalty and so forth tend to approach the matter of personal cultivation through function. On the other hand, a typical Daoist approach that recommends a "return" to one's original nature, or points to the invisible virtue possessed by someone who otherwise shows no special talents (such as the ugly Ai-tai To introduced by Zhuangzi) could be characterized as an essence-oriented approach.[back]

14. Although a strong monastic system developed in East Asia, the practice of leaving home never became as culturally widespread as it had in India, and many East Asian monastic forms of practice (most notably in Chan) came to place strong emphasis on phenomenal activity.[back]

15. See, for example, the Linjilu T 1985.47.495b16.[back]

16. The topic did receive monograph-lenght attention in Japan in the 1967 book by Shimada Kenji, Shushigaku to Yōmeigaku.[back]


For example, Wing-tsit Chan translates:

"If a man (the ruler) can for one day master himself and return to propriety, all under heaven will return to humanity" (Source Book, p. 38)

This rendering makes the assumption that the only way to make the people "humane" is through the enforcement of political power. There is no doubt that Confucius himself sought the employment of a king to help bring peace to the world. But there is also no indication that he is speaking to a king here, nor does the word wang appear in the sentence. James Legge says:

If a man can for one day subdue himself and return to propriety, all under heaven will ascribe virtue to him. ( (Legge, 250) )

This rendering weakens the force of the passage even further by interpreting the word gui (which clearly means "return" in Chinese) as "ascribe to him," a thoroughly unnatural reading. D.C. Lau stays fairly close to Legge when he translates:

If for a single day a man could return to the observance of rites through overcoming himself, then the whole Empire would consider benevolence to be his. ( (Lau 112) )


18. In Analects 12:19, Zhi Kangzi asked Confucius about government saying: "Suppose I were to kill the unjust, in order to advance the just. Would that be all right?" Confucius replied: "In doing government, what is the need of killing? If you desire good, the people will be good. The nature of the Superior Man is like the wind, the nature of the inferior man is like the grass. When the wind blows over the grass, it always bends." [back]

19. See Nakamura Hajime, Bukkyōgo daijiten, p. 971a.[back]

20. The importance of recognizing the value of the mutual influences of study and practice was one of the predominant themes in the discourse of Gihwa, who's work we will read below, a matter which is elaborated at length in his Commentaries of Five Masters on the Diamond Sūtra (Ogahae seorui). I have examined Giwha's discussions on this topic in Muller (2004).[back]

21. It is no doubt because of this understanding that memorization played such a central role in the instruction of all three major thought systems. We also might note that even in the so-called "bibliophobic" streams of meditational Buddhism in East Asia, meditation sessions and various other rituals include, right up to modern times, memorized chanting of seminal texts such as the Heart Sutra and Diamond Sutra.[back]

22. While there were occasional thinkers in East Asian history (such as Mencius' contemporary Xunzi) who did not subscribe to this view of "innate sagehood," they remain an exceptionally small minority. [back]

23. This tendency can be traced, in its Buddhist context, at least as far back as the entry of the AMF into Korea, with Weonhyo's commentaries, and is seen carried on virtually everywhere in the writings of subsequent Korean Buddhist thinkers, including persons of such stature as Jinul and Gihwa. See Muller (1995) for an exploration of this tendency in Korean Buddhism.[back]

24. I have discussed the phenomenon of the open and active tendency in Korean philosophical confrontation in my chapter in Korean Religions in Practice (forthcoming, Princeton UP), as well as in Muller (2003).[back]

25. The extensive mutual influence that occurred between Buddhism and Daoism is examined in depth in Robert Sharf's Coming to Terms with Chinese Buddhism.[back]

26. See Gregory (1995): 35-36.[back]

27. The point is often made in present-day Chan historical scholarship that after all, despite Chan's anti-textual rhetoric, they ended up writing and composing voluminous literature that would be studied by succeeding generations. While this is true, we must still pay due consideration to the actual message of this literature, which points to a Buddhist teaching that emphasizes simplicity, intuitiveness, and directness in daily activity, and which invariably casts "sūtra-lecturers" in an inferior role to Chan masters of the "great function." [back]

28. It must be kept in mind here that when we say "Buddhism" , we are referring specifically to the Chan Buddhism of the Song, which is, as we have noted, a distinct form of Buddhism.[back]

29. My study of Zhuxi's works in the context of the writings of his predecessors — especially the Cheng brothers, encourages me to emphasize that their are both positive and negative aspects to the term "systematizer" as it is used here. The first is positive, in the sense that Zhuxi is indeed the one who put together all of the Neo-Confucian thinking before him into one grand system. Yet while there is no doubt that he was a great philosopher, if we thoroughly examine his writings in the context of the works of the Cheng brothers, it is clear that in terms of ideas, Zhuxi relied so extensively on the Chengs, that one can say that in the entire works of Zhuxi, there is not that much original thought to be seen. This becomes especially clear in the reading of the Bulssi japbyeon below, as almost every single citation attributed to Zhuxi can be originally found in the Chengs' writings.[back]

30. In their writings, we regularly find citations from such texts as the Diamond Sutra, Śūraṃgama-sūtra, Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment, and so forth.[back]

31. The "intuitive school" of Neo-Confucianism, of Lu Xiangshan (劉象山; 1139-1193) and Wang Yangming (王陽明; 1472-1529).[back]

32. The exclusive influence of the Cheng-Zhu school in Korea stands in some contrast to the situation in China, where the Neo-Confucian field was too some extent balanced out by the influence of the above-mentioned "school of mind," and in even starker contrast to Neo-Confucianism in Japan, where interest in Lu-Wang philosophy overwhelmingly predominated.[back]

33. In using the term "exclusivism" here, I refer especially to the landmark work done on this topic by John Goulde in his 1984 Ph.D. dissertation, entitled "Anti-Buddhist Polemic in Fourteenth and Fifteenth Century Korea: The Emergence of Korean Neo-Confucianism." In this work Prof. Goulde traces the developments of the Neo-Confucian polemic from their Chinese roots, through their failures and successes in Korea, to their final culmination in the creation of the Joseon dynasty (1392-1910).[back]

34. For a comprehensive treatment of Jeong Dojeon, see Han 1973. In English, see Chai-shik Chung's, "Chŏng Tojŏn: 'Architect' of Yi Dynasty Government and Ideology." Also see the discussion of Jeong in the chapter entitled "The Ideology of Reform" in Duncan (2000).[back]

35. Before the Japbyeon he wrote: (1) the Simmun cheondap (心問天答 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 (yi ) and material force (gi ); (2) the Simgiri pyeon (心氣理篇 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.[back]

36. This is the English title rendered by Peter Gregory in his 1995 translation of this text.[back]

37. This institution survives today as a well-respected university in Seoul, which is, or course, known for its strong programs in Chinese and Korean philosophy.[back]

38. A reference to Zhou Gongdan 周公旦 and Shaogong 召公 , two worthies who cooperated together in the establishment of the Zhou dynasty. This passage is from the Hamheo dang Deuktong hwasang haengjang, HBJ 7.250c6-11.[back]

39. Gihwa's extant writings are contained in volume seven of the Han'guk bulgyo jeonseo. One of his major works, his commentary on the Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment, is translated and published in Muller (1999). The remainder of his works await treatment.[back]

40. I stress this point in view of the fact that Han Young-woo has explicitly stated that "the Hyeonjeong non is not a refutation of the Bulssi japbyeon." See Han 1973: 53, note. I see Prof. Han's view as being accurate only in a very strict sense. It is true that Gihwa did not sit down upon the publication of the Japbyeon and write an immediate, point-by-point rebuttal. In 1398, when Jeong wrote the Japbyeon, Gihwa would have been twenty-two, a mere novice in Buddhism. Yet even though Gihwa never directly names Jeong or his treatise, the fact that both men were associated with the Seongyungwan around the same period, and traveled in the same intellectual circles, would make it a virtual impossibility that Gihwa did not read the text. Furthermore, in the HJN Giwha directly replies to all of the Japbyeon's accusations, using a style of mimicry that directly alludes to Jeong's text.[back]

41. In the Chuanxilu 體 用一原、顯微無間 is identified as a citation from Chengyi, but I have not yet located it.[back]

42. Honan erh-ch'eng i-shu p. 15. Also see Chan 1969: 530, section no. 11. No doubt part of the reason Gihwa focuses on this particular citation is that it comes from the same section of Chenghao's Yishu that contains most of the philosophical arguments that form the basis for Jeong's arguments in the Japbyeon.[back]

43. During the time before he entered the sangha, Gihwa was receiving instruction from a monk named Haeweol, who raised for him the problem of the incongruence of Chenghao's "forming a single body" with Mencius' condoning of the slaughter of livestock. Gihwa wrestled with this problem for a period of time, and eventually resolved it. This episode is related in detail in Gihwa's treatise below.[back]

44. A good example for this point is the Inquiry, 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 Gihwa, Zongmi was noted for the depth of his Confucian learning prior to entering the Buddhist order.[back]

Copyright © Charles Muller— 2005

Last modified: Tue Oct 24 18:00:23 JST 2006