Nine Mountains School of Son

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The Nine Mountains school of Sŏn (Korean, Kusan Sŏnmun) is a comprehensive term referring to the nine monastic centers of the Korean Sŏn school (Chinese, Chan school), which were established from the eighth through the ninth centuries. Each of the nine schools takes its name from the mountain on which its central monastery is located: Kajisan, founded by Toŭi (d. 825); Silsangsan, founded by Hongch'ŏk (fl.826); Tongnisan, founded by Hyech'ŏl (785–861); Sagulsan founded by Pŏmil (810–889); Pongnimsan, founded by Hyŏnuk (787–869); Sajasan, founded by Toyun (797–868); Hŭiyangsan, founded by Chisŏn Tohŏn (824–882); Sŏngjusan, founded by Muyŏm (799–888); and Sumisan, founded by Iŏm (869–936).

According to tradition, Chan Buddhism was first introduced into Korea by the Silla monk Pŏmnang (fl. 632–646), who putatively studied in China under the Fourth Patriarch Daoxin (580–651), then returned to Silla and transmitted the teachings to Sinhaeng (d.779), who also went to China, where he studied under Chigong (Chinese, Zhigong; 703–779), a Korean disciple of Puji (651–739), the second patriarch of the Northern Chan school. Sinhaeng thus imbibed both the "gradual teachings" of the Northern school and the "sudden teachings" of the so-called Southern school, passing them on to his disciples Chunbŏm (d.u.), Hyeŭn (d.u.), and finally Chisŏn Tohŏn (824–882), who founded the Hŭiyangsan school in 879.

Though sectarian rivalries certainly existed, the underlying kinship of the nine schools was recognized, and they were referred to collectively as the Chogye (Tsao-hsi) school, an allusion to Caoxi mountain, the residence of the sixth patriarch Huineng (638–713). In point of fact, the Nine Mountains school was more doctrinally diverse than the name would indicate. This is because of the traditional emphasis placed on lineage in Korean Buddhism: For a new school to be included among the mountain schools, the founder had to have studied in China first; if he belonged to a mountain school before leaving for China, he was still considered a member of that school on his return, regardless of the new doctrine he brought back. A number of Nine Mountains adherents brought back new doctrines that were taught and practiced in Korea but were not given separate identities as schools.

One feature of Korean Sŏn is the dominance of the "sudden teachings" of the so-called Southern Chan school. Seven of the nine schools were founded by monks who studied under first generation successors of Mazu Daoyi (709–788), the founder of the Hongzhou school of Chan. Thus it was only natural that the "sudden teachings" became the dominant doctrinal feature of traditional Korean Sŏn. This orientation continues in contemporary Korean Buddhism.

See also:Chogye School; Korea


Buswell, Robert E., Jr. The Formation of Ch'an Ideology in China and Korea: The Vajrasamādhi-Sūtra, A Buddhist Apocryphon. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989.

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

Cho, Sungtaek. "Buddhist Philosophy, Korean." In Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Vol. 2. London and New York: Routledge, 1988.

Sungtaek Cho

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Nine Mountains School of Son

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