Jinul (1158–1210)

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Jinul (whose name is spelled Chinul under the McCune Reischauer Romanization system), a Korean Buddhist monk of the Goryeo period, is considered by many scholars to be the most influential figure in the formation of Korean Seon Buddhism. Deeply disturbed at the degree of corruption that had crept into the Buddhist monastic system, he sought to establish a new movement that he called the samādhi and prajñā society. The goal of this organization was the establishment of a new community of disciplined, pure-minded practitioners deep in the mountains. Jinul eventually brought this mission to fruition with the founding of the Seonggwangsa monastery at Mount Jogye, which still serves as an center for Korean Seon practice.

A major issue that received special attention from Jinul was the relationship between so-called gradual and sudden approaches to Buddhist practice and enlightenment. Drawing on various Chinese treatments of this topic, most importantly those established by Zongmi (780841) and Dahui (10891163), Jinul came up with his "sudden enlightenment followed by gradual practice" approach. Jinul believed that for religious practiceespecially meditative practiceto have efficacy, the practitioner must first have a deep and transformative experience of insight into the emptiness of things, to see their nature of innate enlightenment. He believed that if one tries to practice without such an experience, all of one's practice will be based on the dualistic thinking habits that are the causes of delusion, and thus, no matter how hard one might try, progress cannot be made. One metaphor that Jinul used to express this idea was that of the morning dew and the sunshine. Before the sun rises, the cool morning grass is wet with dew. Try as one may to wipe away the dew, it will continue to reappear. Once the sun rises, however, the dew can be wiped away and will be less apt to return. In the same way, once one has had an awakening experience, efforts toward the eradication of bad cognitive and emotive habits will have enhanced efficacy.

Jinul's approach to Buddhist practice ended up becoming an interesting blend of gongan (in Japanese kōan ) meditation, coupled with scriptural study, incorporating a Hwaeom (in Chinese Huayan ) approach that tended to see the mutual containment of ostensive opposites. While incorporating the gongan method into his system of practice, Jinul also believed that scriptural study was a vitally important component of Buddhist cultivation. This approach is enunciated in the oft-repeated story that Jinul did not undergo his enlightenment experiences as the result of the classical so-called personal mind-to-mind transmission between teacher and student as characterized in the Seon school. Rather, each of his three enlightenment experiences came in connection with the contemplation of a passage in a Buddhist text.

Jinul's philosophical resolution of this issue brought a deep and lasting impact on Korean Buddhism and can be seen as a repeated theme in the works of many subsequent Seon masters, including such famous figures as Gihwa (13761433) and Hyujeong (15201604), who followed Jinul's way of thinking in addressing the issue of practice and study in their own writings. Jinul produced a number of important disciples who passed on his teaching and continued to work within his discourse.

See also BuddhismSchools: Chan and Zen.


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

Keel, Hee-Sung. Chinul: The Founder of the Korean Son Tradition. Seoul, South Korea: Pojinjae, 1984.

Ko, Ik-chin. "Chinul's Explanation of Emptiness in the Meditation School." In Buddhism in Koryo: A Royal Religion, edited by Lewis R. Lancaster, Kikun Suh, and Chai-shin Yu, 103138. Berkeley: Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California, 1996.

Shim, Jae Ryong. "The Philosophical Foundation of Korean Zen Buddhism: The Integration of Sŏn and Kyo by Chinul (11581210)." PhD diss., University of Hawaii, 1979.

Charles Muller (2005)