The Buddhist monk Hyujŏng (1520–1604) lived during the Chosŏn dynasty (1392–1910) in Korea, when Buddhism, marginalized by an aggressively neo-Confucian state, eked out survival in the form of so-called Mountain Buddhism. Buddhist monasteries were under the control of the government and Buddhist monks, placed at the bottom of the Chosŏn social spectrum, were prohibited from entering the capital.
Hyujŏng is also known as Ch'ŏnghŏ taesa (Master Ch'ŏnghŏ) or Sŏsan taesa (Master of Western Mountain) because he resided primarily on Mount Myohyang, also known as Sŏsan (Western) Mountain. His secular name was Ch'oe Hyŏnŭng; Hyujŏng is his dharma name. He was orphaned at the age of ten, and raised by Yi Sajŭng, a Confucian scholar who was a local government official. After being educated in the Confucian classics at home, Hyujŏng entered the Sŏnggyun'gwan, an academy for the Confucian elite. He failed the rigorous civil service examination necessary for government office, however, and then embarked on a period of travel, during which time he was introduced to MahĀyĀna Buddhist texts at Mount Chiri. This experience set the stage for his decision to become a monk. He later studied Sŏn (Chinese, Chan) under the guidance of Master Puyong Yŏnggwan (1485–1571), who eventually recognized his enlightenment.
During his career as a Sŏn monk, Hyujŏng did not ignore the importance of kyo (doctrinal teaching); he acknowledged that doctrine is a companion to practice. In his work Sŏn'ga kwigam (Speculum on the Sŏn School), he states "Sŏn is the mind of the Buddha and doctrine is his word." However, he never thought doctrine to be the equal of meditation. This is clear in his theory of sagyo ipsŏn, which means "abandon doctrine and enter Sŏn." Hyujŏng authored a number of texts on the relation between So˘n and doctrine, and the importance of Sŏn practice for attaining enlightenment. The most important are Sŏn'gyo soŏk (The Exposition of Sŏn and Doctrine), Sŏn' gyo kyŏl (The Secret of Sŏn andDoctrine), and Simbŏp yoch'o (The Essential Excerpts of the Teachings of Mind). He also wrote books attempting to incorporate the three main traditions in East Asian thought—Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism—into a Sŏn framework, such as Samga kwigam (Speculum on the Three Teachings).
Hyujŏng also played a role in Korean political history as the organizer of the so-called Monk's Militia that helped repel the Japanese invasion of 1592. Depending on one's point of view, this can be seen as a highly successful manifestation of the Korean tradition of hoguk pulgyo (state-protection Buddhism) or as a striking example of the distorting influence of political involvement on Korean Buddhism. Considering the strongly Confucian tenor of the culture at that time, however, and the fact that Hyujo˘ng was raised in the home of a Confucian scholar, it might not be surprising that he chose a more actively patriotic course.
Buswell, Robert E., Jr. "Buddhism under Confucian Domination: The Synthetic Vision of Sŏsan Hyŭjŏng." In Culture and the State in the Late Chosŏn Korea, ed. JaHyun Kim Haboush and Martina Deuchler. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 1999.
Kim, Yŏng-t'ae. "Master Hyujŏng: His Thought and Dharma Lineage." In Buddhism in the Early Chosŏn: Suppression and Transformation, ed. Lewis R. Lancaster and Chai-shin Yu. Berkeley: Institute of East Asian Studies, 1996.