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Wŏnhyo's Doctrine of the Two Hindrances (Ijangŭi 二障義)

Charles Muller, Toyo Gakuen University

Presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion, November 22, 1998

Table of Contents

1. Introduction
1. What are the Two Kinds of Hindrances?
2. Structure and Content of the Text

1. Introduction

Wŏnhyo's role in Korean Buddhism is most commonly characterized as that of great innovator, whose thinking led to the development of the so-called "dharma-nature" 法性 school of thought. He is also regularly cited, along with his friend Ŭisang 義湘, as a major force in the establishment of Hua-yen studies in Korea. A major component of Wŏnhyo's career that is sometimes overlooked in these characterizations, however, is the fact that he easily stands as one of the greatest Yogācāra scholars in the entire history of East Asian Buddhism, having demonstrated a mastery of the Yogācāra doctrine equaled by probably no more than three or four individuals in the entire East Asian tradition.1 Indeed, after K'uei-chi 窺基 and Hsüan-tsang 玄奘 , there does not seem to be an East Asian scholar who produced the volume of Consciousness-only related materials comparable to Wŏnhyo.2

1. What are the Two Kinds of Hindrances?

The Ijangŭi is one of a relatively small number of texts in Wŏnhyo's voluminous corpus that, rather than being commentaries on or analyses of major scriptures and treatises, are essays on a particular Buddhist theme. In this case, the topic is that of the two kinds of hindrances to enlightenment taught in the Yogācāra system, the hindrances of the afflictions (kleśa-āvaraṇa 煩惱障 ) and the hindrances of the known (jñeya-āvaraṇa 所知障 ). The former includes all the various forms of affliction enumerated in the Yogācāra texts, being derived mainly from the six primary 根本煩惱 and twenty secondary afflictions 隨煩惱. These appear in various forms, such as actively manifest form 現行 (纒), latent form 隨眠 , seed form 種子, as habit energies 習氣, and in a range of sub-variations of strength and weakness, coarseness and subtlety. All are ultimately derived from the twin forces of attraction and aversion.

The hindrances of the known are cognitive hindrances that are grounded in various forms of discrimination and attachment by the functions of awareness. Whereas it is the hindrances of affliction that directly bring about karmic reward and rebirth in the three realms, it is the hindrances of the known that keep sentient beings in a state of delusion, allowing them to continue making the errors that allow for, at best, the non-extirpation of the hindrances of affliction, and at worst, the creation of new afflictions. Whereas the term "hindrances of affliction" has only the single connotation of the afflictions directly impeding the attainment of nirvana, "hindrances of the known" has a double connotation, since not only is correct knowing impeded, but it is that which one already knows that impedes the opening of new awarenesses. Therefore the term could be translated, according to the context, both as hindrances of (or to) the known (or to knowing), and as hindrances by the known.

We can begin to distinguish the two kinds of hindrances in the most simple terms of the so-called "three poisons," by associating the hindrances of the known with the basic Buddhist error of ignorance, and the hindrances of affliction with the polarity of attraction and aversion. However, while this characterization is useful as a point of departure, the matter is in fact much more complicated, since, as Wŏnhyo points out, ignorance plays a strong role within the hindrances of affliction, and the negative function of pride, counted as one of the six primary afflictions, plays a significant role in the obstruction of correct knowing.

In terms of general Mahayana path theory, it is normally understood that the hindrances of affliction are something that are removable by the self-salvifically oriented practices of the two lesser vehicles, while the hindrances of the known are only removable through the emptiness-and-compassion based practices of the bodhisattvas. As Wŏnhyo explains at considerable length, this is only true in a general sense, as there are certain types of hindrance of the known that are indeed removable by śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas, and there are certain types of hindrances by affliction that are only removable at advanced bodhisattva stages.

In view of the relatively small percentage of thematic treatises among Wŏnhyo's works, it is noteworthy that he should have selected this topic for special consideration. After all, the topic of the two hindrances is not something that received monographic treatment to this extent from the Indian Yogācāra masters, and certainly not from other East Asian scholars during the process of incorporating Yogācāra thought into the emerging forms of East Asian Buddhism. Yet perhaps it was precisely this lack of special treatment of the topic that made Wŏnhyo feel the need to write a focused treatise. It is clear, nonetheless, that the concept of the two hindrances attracted a significant amount of interest during the period of the sinicization of Buddhism. They were included as topics of considerable importance in such influential East Asian apocryphal texts as the Awakening of Faith, Śūraṃgama-sūtra and Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment, all three of which were instrumental in the formation of early Ch'an thought.

The strong presence of the topic of the two hindrances in these early Ch'an-related texts can probably be attributed to the fact that it speaks to a very practical dimension of the Buddhist path in terms of analyzing the differences between the types of obstruction that prevent spiritual progress. Therefore, the three East Asian texts mentioned above each contain sections that utilize two hindrances-based soteriological schema to clarify various stages in the path to enlightenment. In terms of the development of Ch'an, the notion of the hindrances of the known—and especially hindrances by the known, can be seen as especially resonant, since the discussion of that hindrance explains in concrete terms how our attachment to the most lofty, yet nonetheless not-quite-perfect experiences of insight prevents further progress.

The detailed explication of the doctrine of the two hindrances allows Wŏnhyo to draw together a wide range of Yogācāra doctrines into a focused discussion on Mahayana soteriology. While the bulk of Wŏnhyo's sources in the treatise are major Yogācāra works—most prominently the Yogācārabhūmi-śāstra, he also cites from a wide range of texts that are not properly classified as Yogācāra, including the Nirvana Sutra, Awakening of Faith, Hua-yen ching, along with various Prajñāpāramitā and Mādhyamika treatises and commentaries. Therefore, although the two hindrances are fundamentally a Yogācāra topic, Wŏnhyo does not limit the discussion to Yogācāra parameters, as he is primarily interested in answering questions of how one is to remove obstructions to the attainment of the Buddhist goal within a broader Mahayana context. In this treatise, divisions of lineage are not of great concern; nor are questions of epistemology or ontology, except where they might directly relate to the resolution of a soteriological problem.

2. Structure and Content of the Text

The Doctrine of the Two Hindrances is an impressive piece of scholarship by any standards, in terms of the extent of the research involved, the mastery of the author of his subject texts and the overall sophistication of the analyses of the doctrines. If it were the case that we were unaware of the extent of Wŏnhyo's remarkable lifelong scholarly output, and innocently assumed that he only produced a few other major writings, then we might easily expect this work to be something of the stature of a magnum opus, which would have consumed a good portion of his scholarly career in its production. But the fact that in addition to this treatise, Wŏnhyo composed some eighty other significant pieces of Buddhist scholarship is nothing less than mind-boggling. His incredible mastery of the Yogācāra, tathāgatagarbha, prajñāpāramitā and Hua-yen corpora is demonstrated in the facility with which he cites from all of these types of works in the body of the Ijangŭi. Not least among these is the massive Yogācārabhūmi-śāstra, which he often quotes with rough paraphrase, a fact that tends to indicate that he may well have been citing from memory, rather than from an open scroll on his desk.

Wŏnhyo compares what the various Yogācāra texts have to say regarding all major points of interpretation, and is unflaggingly diligent in digging out the reasons for discrepancies when they appear. This is a consistently repeated characteristic of Wŏnhyo's scholarship. He is rarely content to say merely that a certain author says so-and-so on a certain point and that another author disagrees, and leave it at that. When differences in interpretation appear, he is determined to discover the basic assumptions motivating each writer, to discover exactly why it is that they see the matter the way they do. After fully fathoming the writers' paradigms, Wŏnhyo will explain where and how the various theories can be fit together. Conducting his scholarship with this kind of standard of impartiality, there is little wonder at Wŏnhyo's lack of interest in adopting sectarian positions for himself.

Wŏnhyo approaches the explanation of the two kinds of hindrances from six perspectives, using a hermeneutic approach typical of his works in general. The six sections in this work are: (1) the Definition of Terminology [of the Two Kinds of Hindrances] 釋名義; (2) Disclosure of the Essence and Attributes 出體相 [of the Hindrances]; (3) Explication of [their] Effects 辨功能; (4) Summary of the Various Categories of the Hindrances 攝諸門; (5) Clarification of the Subduing and Severing [of the Hindrances] 明治斷; and (6) the General Conclusion 惣決擇.

The first, relatively short section, is an explanation of the basic meaning of the two terms of Hindrances of Affliction and Hindrances of the Known. According to Wŏnhyo's explanation, we may be at ease in our selection of "affliction" as the English translation for pŏnnoe 煩惱 as opposed to "defilement," as he lays great stress on the power of these hindrances to bring about agitation, confusion, and disturbance. Pŏnnoe then, is understood as the direct opposite of serenity 寂靜 . Sojijang 所知障 is defined in two ways described above. Wŏnhyo also makes it clear from the outset that although the two kinds of hindrances do differ in terms of general tendency, there are significant areas of overlap between the two.

The second section contains the Disclosure of the Essence and Attributes [of the Hindrances] 出體相 , which is explained in terms of two aspects: the Exoteric 顯了門 and the Esoteric 隱 密門, which are analogous to the essence-function framework that Wŏnhyo regularly uses in his commentarial works. The Exoteric Aspect 顯了門 of the Two Kinds of Hindrances is broken down into five sections, which are explanations according to (1) their self-nature自性—i.e., what the hindrances actually consist of; (2) the eight consciousnesses and the three qualities 八識三性 (the three qualities of affliction are: evil 不善, impedimentary neutral 有覆無記 and non-impedimentary neutral 無覆無記). (3) the manifestly binding afflictions 纏 (現行) and the latent afflictions 隨眠; (4) the defilements proper 正使 and their habit energies 習氣; (5) the five ranks 五法 of the 100 dharmas. These topics are discussed from a variety of sub-perspectives, such as those of the matter of the various Yogācāra paths, perfumation, coarseness and subtlety, etc.

In the esoteric explanation, the Hindrances of Affliction are explained in terms of six kinds of defiled mind 六種染心 as taught in the Awakening of Faith, while the Hindrances of the Known are explained in their relation to innate ignorance 根本無明 . Both kinds of hindrances are analyzed in terms of their basic relationship to the eight consciousnesses.

The third section, again divided into exoteric and esoteric, treats the effects, or potentialities of the Two Hindrances 二障之功能. Here we are introduced to a wide-ranging analysis of the different permutations of karma, such as general (or "species") and specific (or "individual") as well as the karma that is created in this life and the karma retained from previous lives. There are a large number of sub-variations here, in terms of such differences as that of manifest 現行 and latent 隨眠 afflictions, the three qualities 三性, specific 別 and shared 通 characteristics, and their degree of continuity 相續 在 or momentariness 刹那在, as well as the various consciousnesses from which they are produced. Their removal is discussed in terms of the Paths of Expedient Means 方便, Seeing 見道, and Cultivation 修道, as well as in terms of the levels of worldling 凡夫, two vehicles 二乘, bodhisattvas 菩薩 , and the four stages of the arhat's path 四 果.

In contrast to the hindrances of the afflictions, the hindrances of the known lack direct power in terms of both karmic production and rebirth, due to the fact that they contain no error in regard to the Four Noble Truths. They have two basic kinds of function: discrimination of distinctions in the self-natures of all dharmas 分別緒法自性差別 and discrimination of differences of marks of self and other, agreeable and disagreeable, and so forth 分別自他違順等相. The esoteric discussion in this section treats the Two Hindrances together in terms of their potential for production of karma and their containment of outflow 有漏 and no-outflow 無漏.

The fourth section explains the various categories of the afflictions (i.e., lists such as the 128 Afflictions 百二十八煩惱or 98 agents 九十八使 ), where and how they are eliminated in terms of Yogācāra path theory, vehicle theory, layers of consciousness, outflow and no-outflow, etc. The discussion starts with hindrances associated only with afflictions, then moves into areas shared by both hindrances, and ends ups with the strictly conceptual hindrances (of the known). All are further analyzed in terms of exoteric and esoteric, as well as in terms of distinctive 別 and shared 通 characteristics.

In the fifth section Wŏnhyo explains the variety of theories regarding the actual removal of the hindrances, which occur at the two levels of subduing 治 (伏) and complete extirpation (severing) 斷. This discussion has four parts: the clarification of subjective subduing; the determination of that which is severed; the explanation of the distinctions in subduing and severing; and the explanation of the stages of subduing and severing. Here Vehicle theory and Path theory come directly to the fore, as the whole range of Yogācāra paths and sub-paths are detailed in terms of their special connotations for worldlings, the two vehicles and the bodhisattva vehicle. Distinctions in level of attainment 階位, time of attainment 斷時, sudden extirpation 漸斷 and gradual extirpation 頓斷 are also related in terms of manifestly active affliction, latent affliction, seeds, habit energies and conceptual obstructions.

The final section of the treatise is a general conclusion, in which Wŏnhyo discusses various categorizations of the meaning of attainment of "completion of the path" according to different traditions. He also addresses apparent contradictions, and differences in interpretation that may occur depending on whether one is talking about a condition in the hindrances of coarseness or subtlety; heavy or light; deep or shallow. In terms of both hindrances, he clarifies the pervasive role of ignorance, as well as the differences in regard to attachment to person 人 執 and attachment to dharmas 法執 . Wŏnhyo concludes with a flourish that is typical of his works, wherein he explains how the various Buddhist positions that are often seen as containing contradictions, such as those of Buddha-nature, Tathāgatagarbha, self, no-self, dharmas, no-dharmas, emptiness, existence—can all be based either on viable contexts or on misunderstandings. Therefore, it is always necessary to understand the context in which a particular theory is being posited before judgements are made regarding its correctness.

In view of the wide range of information that it weaves together on such an important topic, the Ijangŭi is an exceedingly rare sort of text, that will, when published in English, be able to enhance and clarify our understanding of Yogācāra soteriological theory, and perhaps as well provoke many new debates on matters of subtle interpretation of various theories of karma. Regarding Wŏnhyo's works as a whole, we cannot but forever lament the fact that three fourths of his writings have been lost. But even with the remaining works in our possession, there is an incredible wealth of valuable material that can help us to significantly deepen our understanding of both East Asian Buddhism and Indian Buddhism. There is no doubt that the present project of translation of Wŏnhyo's texts into English will represent the one of the single most significant jumps in the knowledge of Buddhism undergone by the West to date.


1. More than twenty of Wŏnhyo's works—approximately one-fourth, are directly concerned with Yogācāra texts or Yogācāra themes. In addition to this, many of his Tathāgatagarbha and Hua-yen related works share greatly in Yogācāra doctrinal issues.[back]

2. Wŏnhyo produced about twice the volume of Yogācāra scholarship as Wŏnch'uk, the Korean scholar who is most well known for his association with the early East Asian dharma-characteristic school.[back]

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© Charles Muller— 2003