Collected Works of Korean Buddhism Vol. I (Wonhyo, Selected Works)

Preface to
The Collected Works of Korean Buddhism


   At the start of the twenty-first century, humanity looked with hope on the dawning of a new millennium. A decade later, however, the global village still faces the continued reality of suffering, whether it is the slaughter of innocents in politically volatile regions, the ongoing economic crisis that currently roils the world financial system, or repeated natural disasters. Buddhism has always taught that the world is inherently unstable and its teachings are rooted in the perception of the three marks that govern all conditioned existence: impermanence, suffering, and non-self. Indeed, the veracity of the Buddhist worldview continues to be borne out by our collective experience today.

   The suffering inherent in our infinitely interconnected world is only intensified by the unwholesome mental factors of greed, anger, and ignorance, which poison the minds of all sentient beings. As an antidote to these three poisons, Buddhism fortunately also teaches the practice of the three trainings: śīla, or moral discipline, the endurance and self-restraint that controls greed; samādhi, the discipline of meditation, which pacifies anger; and prajñā, the discipline of wisdom, which conquers ignorance. As human beings improve in their practice of these three trainings, they will be better able to work compassionately for the welfare and weal of all sentient beings.

   Korea has a long history of striving to establish a way of life governed by discipline, compassion, and understanding. From the fifth century C.E. onward, the Korean san. gha indigenized both the traditional monastic community and the broader Mahāyāna school of Buddhism. Later, the insights and meditative practices of the Seon tradition were introduced to the peninsula and this practice lineage lives on today in meditation halls throughout the country. Korea, as a land that has deep affinities with the Buddhist tradition, has thus seamlessly transmitted down to the present the living heritage of the Buddha’s teachings. 

   These teachings begin with Great Master Wonhyo, who made the vast and profound teachings of the Buddhadharma accessible to all through his
ii various “doctrinal essentials” texts. Venerable Woncheuk and State Preceptor Daegak Uicheon, two minds that shined brightly throughout East Asia, left us the cherished legacy of their annotated commentaries to important scriptures, which helped to disseminate the broad and profound views of the Mahāyāna, and offered a means of implementing those views in practice. The collected writings of Seon masters like Jinul and Hyujeong revealed the Seon path of meditation and illuminated the pure land that is inherent in the minds of all sentient beings. All these works comprise part of the precious cultural assets of our Korean Buddhist tradition. The bounty of this heritage extends far beyond the people of Korea to benefit humanity as a whole.

   In order to make Korea’s Buddhist teachings more readily accessible, Dongguk University had previously published a fourteen-volume compilation of Korean Buddhist works written in literary Chinese, the traditional lingua franca of East Asia, comprising over 320 different works by some 150 eminent monks. That compilation effort constituted a great act of Buddhist service. From that anthology, ninety representative texts were then selected and translated first into modern vernacular Korean and now into English. These Korean and English translations are each being published in separate thirteen-volume collections and will be widely distributed around the world.

   At the onset of the modern age, Korea was subjected to imperialist pressures coming from both Japan and the West. These pressures threatened the continuation of our indigenous cultural and religious traditions and also led to our greatest cultural assets being shuttered away in cultural warehouses that neither the general public nor foreign-educated intellectuals had any interest in opening. For any people, such estrangement from their heritage would be most discomforting, since the present only has meaning if it is grounded in the memories of the past. Indeed, it is only through the selfreflection and wisdom accumulated over centuries that we can define our own identity in the present and ensure our continuity into the future. For this reason, it is all the more crucial that we bring to the attention of a wider public the treasured dharma legacy of Korean Buddhism, which is currently embedded in texts composed in often impenetrable literary Chinese.

   Our efforts to disseminate this hidden gem that is Korean Buddhism
iii reminds me of the simile in the Lotus Sūtra of the poor man who does not know he has a jewel sewn into his shirt: this indigent toils throughout his life, unaware of the precious gem he is carrying, until he finally discovers he has had it with him all along. This project to translate and publish modern vernacular renderings of these literary Chinese texts is no different from the process of mining, grinding, and polishing a rare gem to restore its innate brilliance. Only then will the true beauty of the gem that is Korean Buddhism be revealed for all to see. A magnificent inheritance can achieve flawless transmission only when the means justify the ends, not the other way around. Similarly, only when form and function correspond completely and nature and appearance achieve perfect harmony can a being be true to its name. This is because the outer shape shines only as a consequence of its use, and use is realized only by borrowing shape.

   As Buddhism was transmitted to new regions of the world, it was crucial that the teachings preserved in the Buddhist canon, this jewel of the Dharma, be accurately translated and handed down to posterity. From the inception of the Buddhist tradition, the Buddhist canon or “Three Baskets” (Tripit.aka), was compiled in a group recitation where the oral rehearsal of the scriptures was corrected and confirmed by the collective wisdom of all the senior monks in attendance. In East Asia, the work of translating Indian Buddhist materials into literary Chinese –the lingua franca for the Buddhist traditions of China, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam– was carried out in translation bureaus as a collective, collaborative affair.

   Referred to as the “tradition of multi-party translation,” this system of collaboration for translating the Indian Sanskrit Buddhist canon into Chinese typically involved a nine-person translation team. The team included a head translator, who sat in the center, reading or reciting the Sanskrit scripture and explaining it as best he could with often limited Chinese; a philological advisor, or “certifier of the meaning,” who sat to the left of the head translator and worked in tandem with him to verify meticulously the meaning of the Sanskrit text; a textual appraiser, or “certifier of the text,” who sat at the chief ’s right and confirmed the accuracy of the preliminary Chinese rendering; a Sanskrit specialist, who carefully confirmed the accuracy of the language
iv of the source text; a scribe, who transcribed into written Chinese what was often initially an oral Chinese rendering; a composer of the text, who crafted the initial rendering into grammatical prose; the proofreader, who compared the Chinese with the original Sanskrit text; the editor, who tightened up and clarified any sentences that were vague in the Chinese; and finally the stylist, who sat facing the head translator, who had responsibility for refining the final rendering into elegant literary Chinese. In preparing these vernacular Korean and English renderings of Korean Buddhist works, we have thought it important to follow, as much as possible, this traditional style of Buddhist literary translation that had been discontinued.

   This translation project, like all those that have come before it, had its own difficulties to overcome. We were forced to contend with nearlyimpossible deadlines imposed by government funding agencies. We strained to hold together a meager infrastructure. It was especially difficult to recruit competent scholars who were fluent in literary Chinese and vernacular Korean and English, but who had with the background in Buddhist thought necessary to translate the whole panoply of specialized religious vocabulary. Despite these obstacles, we have prevailed. This success is due to the compilation committee which, with sincere devotion, overcame the myriad
obstacles that inevitably arose in a project of this magnitude; the translators both in Korea and abroad; the dedicated employees at our committee offices; and all our other participants, who together aimed to meet the lofty standard of the cooperative translation tradition that is a part of our Buddhist heritage. To all these people, I would like to express my profound gratitude.

  Now that this momentous project is completed, I offer a sincere wish on behalf of all the collaborators that this translation, in coming to fruition and gaining public circulation, will help illuminate the path to enlightenment for all to see.


Kasan Jikwan (伽山 智冠)
32nd President of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism
President, Compilation Committee of Korean Buddhist Thought
October 10, 2009 (2553rd year of the Buddhist Era)