Wisdom, Compassion, and Zen Social Ethics: The Case of Chinul, Songch'ol, and Minjung Buddhism in Korea
Park, Jin Y., Journal of Buddhist Ethics
This essay examines the possibility of Zen social ethics by contemplating the relationship between wisdom and compassion in two Korean Zen masters, Pojo Chinul and T'oe'ong Songch'ol. Unlike the common assumption that wisdom and compassion naturally facilitate each other in Zen practice, I contend that in both Chinul and Songch'ol, they are in a relationship of tension rather than harmony and that such a tension provides a ground for Zen social ethics. In this context the Minjung Buddhist movement in contemporary Korea is discussed as an example of Zen social activism that makes visible the social dimension of Zen philosophy and practice.
Recent Buddhist scholarship in the West has raised a question regarding how to understand Zen teachings in the larger milieu of the life-world beyond monastic experiences. In other words, is ethics possible in Zen Buddhism and, if so, what kind of ethics does Zen offer? This further raises the question of whether Zen Buddhism can contribute to social activism. To answer these questions, in this essay, I will examine the relationship between wisdom and compassion in the context of how an individual's path to realizing the teachings of Zen Buddhism influences the person's relationships with others, that is, his or her practice of compassion.
A common assumption is that wisdom and compassion are like two wings of Zen practice, and, thus, the attainment of the one "naturally" facilitates the other. This essay questions that very assumption and claims that wisdom and compassion are, in fact, in a state of tension, and even create a theoretical gap in two major Zen teachers in Korean Buddhism. This essay further contends that addressing the nature of this tension and, thus, finding its position both in Zen discourse and in its practice could be one of the first steps to understanding the status of Zen Buddhism in the ethical discourse. I will discuss the issue by examining the Zen teaching of Pojo Chinul ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 1158-1210) and comparing it with the Buddhist thoughts of T'oe'ong Songch'ol ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 1912-1993). After discussions on Chinul and Songch'ol, I will examine Minjung Buddhism ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], Buddhism for the Masses) in contemporary Korea as a possible example of Zen social activism.
1. The Mind: Doctrinal Ground for the Identity of Wisdom and Compassion in Pojo Chinul
Chinul's Buddhist thought developed around the idea of the mind. At the very beginning of his early work, Encouragement to Practice: The Compact of the Samadhi and Prajna Community (Kwonsu chonghye kyolsa mun [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 1190), Chinul states (1):
When one is deluded about the mind and gives rise to endless defilements, such a person is a sentient being. When one is awakened to the mind and gives rise to endless marvelous functions, such a person is the Buddha. Delusion and awakening are two different states but both are caused by the mind. If one tries to find the Buddha away from this mind, one will never find one.
In another of his essays, Secrets on Cultivating the Mind (Susimkyol [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 1203-1205), Chinul also teaches (HPC 4.708b):
If one wants to avoid transmigration, the best way is to search for the Buddha. Though I said "search for the Buddha," this mind is the Buddha. The mind cannot be found in a distant place but is inside this body.
Also in Straight Talk on the True Mind (Chinsim chiksol, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], around 1205), Chinul advises that the role of patriarchs is "to help sentient beings look at their original nature by themselves" (HPC 4.715a).
By identifying the Buddha with the mind and one's original nature, Chinul joins many other Zen masters to whom the identity between the Buddha and sentient beings in their original state marks the basic promise of the school. Chinul further characterizes the original state of a sentient being as a state of liberation and, thus, advises his contemporary practitioners (HPC 4.700b):
Why don't you first trust that the mind is originally pure, the defilement empty. Do not suspect this but practice, by relying on this. Outwardly observe precepts, and forget about binding or attachment; inwardly practice samadhi, which, however, should not be suppression. [Then, w]hen one detaches oneself from evil, there is nothing to cut off, and when one practices meditation, there is nothing to practice. The practice without practice, the cutting off without cutting off, can be said to be real practice and cutting off.
Through such paradoxical statements as "practice without practice" or "cutting off with nothing to cut off," Zen Buddhism, including that of Chinul, emphasizes that the ultimately realized liberated state of enlightenment is none other than the original state of a being. Chinul describes such a state of the mind as the original mind of both the Buddha and sentient beings. In the Secrets on Cultivating the Mind, Chinul clarifies this non-existence of the differences between the Buddha and sentient beings through his emphasis on "the mind of marvelous knowing" (Kor. yongchi chisim, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) which is empty and quiet (Kor. kongjok, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]).
As Chinul states (HPC 4.710a):
The deluded thoughts are originally quiet, and the outside world is originally empty; in the place where all dharmas are empty exists the marvelous knowing, which is not dark. This mind of marvelous knowing, which is empty and quiet, is your original face. This is also the dharma-recognition that has been mysteriously transmitted through all the Buddhas in the three worlds and all the patriarchs and dharma teachers.
The combination of emptiness and the non-empty nature of emptiness deserves further analysis. Emptiness and quietness are the ontological reality of a being, whereas marvelous knowing is the epistemological ground for the being's awareness of the empty and quiet nature of one's existence, which is repeatedly represented as the mind in Chinul. Chinul responds to the question requesting a further elaboration on the quiet and marvelous mind by pointing out that neither an entity (an individual) nor the actions of the entity--both physical and mental--has one identifiable control center. Hence, both an entity and its actions are empty. Their source, which Chinul describes as nature (Kor. song [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), is empty and, thus, cannot have a shape. Hence Chinul states (HPC 4.710c):
Since there is no shape, how can it be either big or small? Since it is neither big nor small, how can there be limits? There being no limits, there is neither inside nor outside; there being neither inside nor outside, there is neither far nor close; there being neither far nor close, there is neither this nor that; there being neither this nor that, there is neither going nor coming; there being neither going nor coming, there is neither life nor death; there being neither life nor death, there is neither past nor present; there being neither past nor present, there is neither delusion nor awakening; there being neither delusion nor awakening, there is neither the secular nor the sacred; there being neither the secular nor the sacred, there is neither purity nor impurity; there being neither purity nor impurity, there is neither right nor wrong; there being neither right nor wrong, all the names and sayings cannot explain it.
The statement succinctly sums up the logical development of the ontological status of a being, and its implications in religious practice, and then its position in ethical discourse. The non-discriminative nature of one's being negates the secular distinctions of binary opposites, which has been identified as one major obstacle that Zen Buddhism needs to deal with in order to make it viable as an ethical system. For the …
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Wisdom, Compassion, and Zen Social Ethics: The Case of Chinul, Songch'ol, and Minjung Buddhism in Korea. Contributors: Park, Jin Y. - Author. Journal title: Journal of Buddhist Ethics. Volume: 13. Publication date: Annual 2006. Page number: Not available. © 2008 Journal of Buddhist Ethics. COPYRIGHT 2006 Gale Group.
This material is protected by copyright and, with the exception of fair use, may not be further copied, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means.