ŬICH'ŎN (1055–1101), also known as National Master Taegak; Buddhist cataloger and founder of the Ch'ŏnt'ae (Chin., Tiantai) school of Korean Buddhism. Ŭich'ŏn was the fourth son of the Koryŏ king Munjong (r. 1046–1083), and one of the premier scholiasts of the Koryŏ (937–1392) Buddhist church. Early in his life, he is said to have mastered all of the main currents of Buddhist philosophy as well as much of Chinese classical literature. Korean Buddhism during his time was bifurcated between two increasingly hostile traditions: the scholastic schools (kyo; Chin., jiao ), dominated by Hwaŏm (Chin., Huayan) philosophy, and the Nine Mountains schools of Sŏn (Chin., Chan), which were chiefly concerned with meditative practices. Ŭich'ŏn deplored the sectarianism that had infected the order and criticized adepts of both the Sŏn and scholastic schools for their intransigence.
To resolve this conflict, Ŭich'ŏn proposed an approach to Buddhist religious training that placed equal stress on both scriptural study and meditation practice. Ŭich'ŏn developed a curriculum based on such seminal texts as the Abhidharmakośa, Vijñaptimātratāsiddhi Śāstra, Dasheng qixin lun, and Avataṃsaka Sūtra, in order to engender a comprehensive understanding of the Buddhist teachings in his students. While acknowledging the value of scriptural study in conceptualizing the goal of practice and the course to be followed in reaching that goal, Ŭich'ŏn recognized its limitations. Formal meditative training was also essential if the adept were to achieve any personal experience of what was learned in Buddhist doctrinal writings. Hence, a viable Buddhist vocation would maintain a careful balance between both learning and meditation.
Ŭich'ŏn seems to have anticipated drawing upon his royal prerogative as a means of reconciling the rift between the Sŏn and kyo schools. In order to effect his vision of a unified Buddhist tradition in which equal stress was placed upon both study and practice, Ŭich'ŏn traveled surreptitiously to China in 1085, where he received transmission in the Tiantai lineage, one of the more ecumenical of the Chinese Buddhist schools. After returning to Korea the following year Ŭich'ŏn then attempted to merge the Sŏn and Kyo branches of the Korean church into a new Ch'ŏnt'ae school, which he felt provided a banner under which both branches could unite. While Ch'ŏnt'ae was known in Korea before his time, it was Ŭich'ŏn who was first able to establish the school as a fully viable, autonomous school; it is for this reason that he is regarded as the founder of the Korean Ch'ŏnt'ae school. Whatever his chances for success might have been, Ŭich'ŏn's death at the young age of forty-seven brought his efforts to a premature end, and Korean Buddhism remained divided until the similar endeavors of Chinul (1158–1210), some three generations later.
Along with his efforts to unify the Korean church, Ŭich'ŏn was also an avid bibliophile and one of the first Buddhist catalogers to recognize the importance to the tradition of native East Asian treatises and commentarial writings. In 1073 Ŭich'ŏn made a vow to compile a complete collection of such indigenous Buddhist literature, and dispatched agents to all areas of East Asia to obtain copies of texts not then available in Korea. Many of these books were obtained by exchange, as, for example, in the Khitan Liao region of northern China, where Wŏnhyo's works were traded for twenty-nine books by Liao authors. On his own trip to Southern Song-dynasty China, Ŭich'ŏn reintroduced a number of seminal works by noted Chinese exegetes that were no longer extant in China, including treatises by the Huayan patriarchs Zhiyan (602–668), Fazang (643–712), and Chengguan (738–840); these were exchanged for over three thousand fascicles (kwŏn ) of Chinese materials. Finally, in 1090 he published his renowned catalog of this collection, the Sinp'yŏn chejong kyojang ch'ongnok (New compilation of a comprehensive catalog of the repository of the teachings of all the schools; T.D. no. 2184), with listings of 1,010 titles in a total of 4,740 kwŏn. Xylographs were carved for each of these texts, forming what was termed Sokchanggyŏng (Supplement to the canon). Unfortunately, the woodblocks of the supplement were burned by the Mongols during their invasion of the Korean peninsula in 1232, and many of the texts so painstakingly collected by Ŭich'ŏn were lost to history. Nevertheless, his catalog does survive, and remains one of the most valuable sources of information on the scholastic literature of medieval East Asian Buddhism.
Buswell, Robert E., Jr. trans. "Preface to a New Catalog of the Teachings of All the Schools." In Sourcebook of Korean Civilization, volume 1: From Early Times to the Sixteenth Century. edited by Peter H. Lee, pp. 424–425. New York, 1993.
Cho Myŏng-gi. Koryŏ Taegak kuksa wa Ch'ŏnt'ae sasang. Seoul, 1962; reprint 1982. The only comprehensive treatment in any language of Ŭich'ŏn's life and thought.
Munjip P'yŏnch'an Wiwŏnhoe, ed. Taegak kuksa munjip. Seoul, 1997.
Ōya, Tokujō. Korai zokuzō chōzō ko, 2 vols. Kyoto, 1937; reprinted as Ōya Tokujō chosaku senshū, vol. 7. Tokyo, 1988. The definitive study of Ŭich'ŏn's supplement to the Buddhist canon.
Robert Evans Buswell, Jr. (1987 and 2005)