ŬISANG (625–702), also known as the National Master Taesŏng Wŏn'gyo; founder of the Hwaŏm (Chin., Huayan) school of Korean Buddhism. Ŭisang, one of the most important scholiasts of the Unified Silla period (688–935), helped to forge the doctrinal perspectives that would become characteristic of the mature Korean Buddhist tradition.
Ordained as a monk at the age of twenty-nine at Hwangbok monastery in the Silla capital of Kyŏngju, he soon afterward decided to travel to Tang China together with his friend Wŏnhyo (617–686) to study under Chinese masters. As Ŭisang's biography relates, on their first trip in 650 (during the unification wars that were then raging between the three kingdoms of early Korea) the two pilgrims were arrested for espionage in the Liaodong area by Koguryŏ border guards and were only repatriated after several weeks of incarceration. In 661 they tried again, this time traveling to a seaport in the Paekche region of southwestern Korea, which had been conquered by Silla the preceding year, where they hoped to board a ship bound for Tang China. Prior to their embarkation, however, Wŏnhyo is said to have gained enlightenment and returned home to Silla, leaving Ŭisang to continue on alone.
Arriving in Yangzhou on the lower Yangtze River, Ŭisang made his way to Zhixiang monastery on Mount Zhongnan, where he studied under Zhiyan (602–668), the putative second patriarch of the Chinese Huayan school. Ŭisang's arrival at Zhixiang monastery is said to have been anticipated by Zhiyan, and he quickly became one of his chief disciples along with Fazang (643–712), who would eventually be recognized as the third patriarch of the school.
After Zhiyan's death in 668, Ŭisang became one of the leaders of the developing Chinese Huayan tradition. In 670, Ŭisang learned from two Korean envoys detained in the Tang capital that a Chinese invasion of Silla was imminent. Ŭisang returned to Korea to warn King Munmu (r. 661–680), and, thanks to his monition, Silla was able to forestall the attack. Partially out of gratitude, the king sponsored the construction of Pusŏk monastery on Mount T'aebaek and installed Ŭisang as its abbot. This monastery became the center of the Hwaŏm school, from where the new teachings that he had brought from China were propagated throughout the peninsula. His fame was so widespread in Korea that more than three thousand students are said to have congregated there to hear his lectures. Due in large part to Ŭisang's efforts, Hwaŏm philosophy came to dominate Korean Buddhist scholasticism.
Ŭisang's Hwaŏm thought is epitomized in his Hwaŏm ilsŭng pŏpkyedo (Diagram of the Avataṃsaka one-vehicle realm-of-reality), a short poem of 210 logographs in a total of 30 stanzas written in 668 while he was still a member of Zhiyan's congregation. The poem is arranged in a wavelike form, the "ocean seal diagram" (Sāgaramudrā Maṇḍala ), which symbolizes the Hwaŏm teaching of the "six marks" (yuksang )—that is, of universality and particularity, identity and difference, and integration and disintegration. The entire structure of the diagram represents the marks of universality, identity, and integration, while its curves designate the particularity, difference, and disintegration marks. The chart is woven into one continuous line to show that all phenomena are interconnected and unified in the dharma -nature; the fact that this line ends at the same place where it began illustrates the cardinal Hwaŏm doctrine of interpenetration. The diagram is divided into four equal blocks, indicating that the dharma -nature is perfected through such salutary practices as the four means of conversion: giving, kind words, helpfulness, and cooperation. Finally, the fifty-four corners found along the meanderings of the line of verse indicate the fifty-four teachers visited by the pilgrim Sudhana in his quest for knowledge as narrated in the Gaṇḍavyūha chapter of the Avataṃsaka Sūtra. Hence, the diagram serves as a comprehensive summary of all the teachings found in the sixty-fascicle recension of the Avataṃsaka Sūtra. Besides Ŭisang's autocommentary to this poem, his only other extant work is the short Paekhwa toryang parwŏn mun (Vow made at the White Lotus enlightenment site), which combines Avalokiteśvara piety with Hwaŏm philosophy.
Although Ŭisang may not have been a prolific writer, his mastery of Huayan thought was highly regarded throughout East Asia. Fazang, for example, continued to correspond with Ŭisang even after the latter's return to Korea and, in one of his letters to Ŭisang in 692, he asks for corrections and suggestions on one of his manuscripts. Indeed, an examination of Fazang's writings reveals that the Korean exegetes Ŭisang and Wŏnhyo exerted strong influence on the development of his own thought, and, by extension, on the evolution of Chinese Huayan philosophy.
Chŏng, Pyŏng-sam. Ŭisang Hwaŏm sasang yŏn'gu. Seoul, 1998.
Forte, Antonino. A Jewel in Indra's Net: The Letter Sent by Fazang in China to Ŭisang in Korea. Italian School of East Asian Studies Occasional Papers 8. Kyoto, 2000.
Odin, Steve. Process Metaphysics and Hua-yen Buddhism: A Critical Study of Cumulative Penetration vs. Interpenetration. Albany, 1982.
"Ŭisang and the Flower Garland School." In Sourcebook of Korean Civilization, volume 1: From Early Times to the Sixteenth Century, edited by Peter H. Lee, pp. 159–166. New York, 1993.
Robert Evans Buswell, Jr. (1987 and 2005)