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CHINUL (11581210), also known as National Master Puril Pojo; founder of the indigenous Chogye school of Korean Sŏn (Chin., Chan; Jpn., Zen). Chinul was born in 1158 to a gentry family in the Koryŏ capital of Kaesŏng. When seven years old, he was ordained into the Sagul-san lineage of the Nine Mountains school of early Sŏn and soon distinguished himself in both meditation and scriptural study. Chinul became dissatisfied with the quality of practice within the degenerate Sŏn schools of his time, however, and increasingly turned for guidance to the sources that he considered to contain authentic information on Buddhist meditative culture: scriptures and commentaries and the records of early Sŏn and Chan masters. Prompted by his vision of the basic unity of Sŏn and the scriptural teachings (kyo ; Chin., jiao ), Chinul developed an approach to Buddhism that combined the theoretical aids of Hwaŏm (Chin., Huayan) doctrine, especially as formulated in works by the Huayan commentator Li Tongxuan (635730), with the practical concerns of Chan meditation, as typified in the instructions of Dahui Zonggao (10891163). This unique synthesis is rightly regarded as one of the most distinctively Korean contributions to Buddhist thought and illustrates the ecumenical penchant that is so characteristic of the Korean church. Chinul's insights provided a modus operandi for consolidating the divided Koryŏ Buddhist church, which remained bifurcated between the Sŏn and scholastic schools despite Ŭich'ŏn's attempts at unification a century before. More important for the future of the tradition, however, Chinul's thought also served as the inspiration for the development of a truly indigenous Korean school of Sŏn, the Chogye school, of which he is considered the founder.

Chinul outlined an approach to Buddhist practice that begins with the intuitive grasp of the significance of the scriptural teaching that an ordinary person (i.e., the practitioner himself) is already identical to the buddhas (enlightened beings). This sudden awakening of understanding (haeo ; Chin., jiewu ) brings about the provisional entrance into the Buddhist path of practice (Skt., mārga ) at the first of the ten levels of faith. Awakening was then to be refined continuously in order to remove defilements and develop salutary qualities of mind. This gradual training finally culminates in the awakening of realization (chŭngo ; Chin., zhengwu ), the direct experience of the truths that are originally understood intellectually, which takes place at the first of the ten abidings (daśavihāra ), the formal entrance into the bodhisattva path. This approach of sudden awakening/gradual cultivation (tono chŏmsu ; Chin., dunwu jianxiu ) was heavily indebted to the insights of the Chinese Chan/Huayan master Zongmi (780841), another of the main influences on Chinul's thought.

Three principal meditative techniques were used by Chinul to bring about the consummation of this soteriological process: the dual cultivation of concentration and wisdom, as explained in the Liuzu tanjing (Platform scripture of the sixth patriarch); faith and understanding according to the complete and sudden school of Hwaŏm; and the distinctively Sŏn approach of investigating the critical phrase (hwadu ; Chin., huatou ). Chinul was the first Korean master to teach the formal hwadu technique developed by Dahui Zonggao, which is better known by the synonymous term kongan (Chin., gong'an ; Jpn., kōan ). In several of his writings Chinul provides an exhaustive outline of the correct approach to investigating the hwadu, while emphasizing its affinities with more traditional soteriological schemes. The initial investigation of the meaning of the hwadu (ch'amŭi ; Chin., canyi ) counteracts the discriminative tendencies of thought by focusing the mind on a single insoluble question. This concentration ultimately removes the obstacle of understanding and catalyzes the awakening of understanding. Continuing to investigate only the word itself devoid of any conceptual content (ch'amgu ; Chin., canju ) engenders the state of no-thought (munyŏm ; Chin., wunian ), which brings about the awakening of realization and the adept's initiation into the formal mārga.

See Also

Buddhism, article on Buddhism in Korea; Chan; Huayan; Zongmi.


Buswell, Robert E., Jr. The Korean Approach to Zen: The Collected Works of Chinul. Honolulu, 1983.

Buswell, Robert E., Jr. "Chinul's Systematization of Chinese Meditative Techniques in Korean Sŏn Buddhism," in Chinese Buddhist Traditions of Meditation, Studies in East Asian Buddhism, no. 4, edited by Peter N. Gregory, pp. 199242. Honolulu, 1986.

Buswell, Robert E., Jr. "Ch'an Hermeneutics: A Korean View," in Buddhist Hermeneutics, edited by Donald S. Lopez, Jr., pp. 231256. Honolulu, 1988.

Buswell, Robert E., Jr. "Chinul's Ambivalent Critique of Radical Subitism in Korean Sŏn." Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 12, no. 2 (1989): 2044.

Buswell, Robert E., Jr. "Chinul's Alternative Vision of Kanhwa Sŏn and Its Implications for Sudden Awakening/Gradual Cultivation." Pojo sasang 4 (1990): 423447.

Buswell, Robert E., Jr. Tracing Back the Radiance: Chinul's Korean Way of Zen. Honolulu, 1991.

Gregory, Peter N. "The Integration of Ch'an/Sŏn and the Teachings (Chiao/Kyo ) in Tsung-mi and Chinul." Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 12, no. 2 (1989): 719.

Kang, Kun Ki. Moguja Chinul yŏn'gu (A Study of Chinul). Seoul, 2001.

Keel, Hee-Sung. Chinul: The Founder of the Korean Sŏn Tradition. Berkeley, 1984.

Shim, Jae-ryong. Korean Buddhism: Tradition and Transformation. Seoul, 1999.

Yi, Chongik. Kangoku Bukkyō no kenkyū (A Study of Korean Buddhism). Tokyo, 1980.

Robert Evans Buswell, Jr. (1987 and 2005)