Wǒnhyo's Commentaries on the Awakening of Faith in Mahāyāna

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Wǒnhyo's Commentaries on the Awakening of Faith in Mahāyāna

In contrast to, for example, the Christian canon and the Confucian canon, the Buddhist canon is unusually difficult to define, because the Buddhist scriptures are several thousands in nurnber.[1] One who wishes to gain knowledge of this canon cannot be asked or expected to read all or even most of them, so the Buddhist who wishes to present the essence of the teaching to others is immediately faced with the problem of having to pick a representative text to serve as introduction, survey, summary or outline to this vast body of material. This problem is compounded, especially in East Asia, by the existence of many Buddhist schools, most of them having a particular text which served as their bases.[2] For example, the T'ien-t'ai school is based on the Saddharma-paṇḍarīka-sūtra, the Hua-yen school on the Avataṃsaka-sūtra, and so on. Accordingly, to choose a representative text from the several thousand Buddhist scriptures is unavoidably to come very close to accepting some sort of sectarian perspective. Thus, those who enquire after the essence of Buddhist teaching, yet who wish at the outset to avoid sectarian affiliation, will hesitate to approach the canon.
      The problem is compounded even further by the existence of one influential school of Buddhism, the Zen (Ch'an) school, not a few of whose teachers have openly insisted on the harmfulness of reading the scriptures for those intent on achieving Enlightenment. For these teachers and their followers, the scriptures might just as well be burned as read.[3]
      This is not simply a modern problem; it existed in sixth century China.[4] This was the period that saw the appearance of Treatise on the Awakening of Faith in Mahāyāna (hereafter referred to as AFM). Once AFM appeared, it very quickly became popular. There seem to be two reasons for this: first, it satisfied the demand of people who wanted one volume that could comprehensively embrace all Buddhist doctrines; second, it is a non-sectarian text.[5] As a matter of fact, AFM was welcomed not only by non-sectarian people but by sectarian people as well. This occasioned another problem: members of some Buddhist sects who welcomed the appearance of AFM tried to use AFM to glorify their own sects. Many of the traditional commentators betrayed such tendencies, the most famous of these being Fa-tsang (643-712 A.D.), the third patriarch of the Hua-yen school in China.[6] One of his characteristic tactics was to anticipate the attack on his sectarian attitude by his opponents, the adherents of the Fa-hsiang school,[7] by using the doctrine of AFM to justify what was specifically the Hua-yen doctrine.
      Fa-tsang's commentaries on AFM exerted a strong influence on his own and succeeding generations, the result being that AFM has sometimes been considered a Hua-yen text.[8] This is certainly unfortunate. But it underscores the hermeneutical problem of how to read a text. Ui Hakuju, one of the most noted of modern Japanese Buddhologists, responded to this problem in his Daijō kishin ron by cautiously suggesting that the text be read apart from its commentaries in order that its real message be grasped.[9] This suggestion is valid only insofar as it screens out those commentaries, such as Fa-tsang's, which already bring a point of view to the text and read the text as confirming that point of view. If, however, the commentary is truly exegetical in nature, then Ui's suggestion is invalid since it cuts off a prospective medium by which one's understanding of the text may be deepened. The commentaries on AFM written by the Korean monk Wǒnhyo (617-686 A.D.) are such a medium.[10]
      Wǒnhyo is regarded as one of the three great commentators on AFM; the other two are Hui-yüan (523-592 A.D.) and Fa-tsang (643-712 A.D.).[11] Wǒnhyo's commentaries are very different from Fa-tsang's: Wǒnhyo is emphatic in characterizing AFM as a text embodying a principle by which all sectarian disputes may be harmonized. According to Wǒnhyo's understanding, if one interprets AFM as a sectarian teaching, one will betray the original intent of its author.[12] Unfortunately, in East Asia, including his home country of Korea, Wǒnhyo's commentaries are simply famous; they are not well-studied.[13] They have generally been neglected in favor of Fa-tsang's.
      Wǒnhyo is, undoubtedly, one of the foremost thinkers that Korea has produced; he wrote much else besides his commentaries on AFM. Yet, although he influenced both Chinese and Japanese thinkers,[14] he is almost unknown in the West. This thesis represents a preliminary attempt at remedying this situation. (Park, preface, 2–5)


1. 1. A number of books have been written about the Buddhist canon. For the Pali canon see Maurice Winternitz, A History of Indian Literature, Calcutta: University of Calcutta, 1933, especially Vol. II, Section III, pp. 1-423. For the Sanskrit texts see Yamada Ryūjō, Bongo Butten no shobunken, Kyoto: Heirakuji shoten, 1977. For the history of the formation of the original Buddhist texts in general, see Maeda Egaku's Genshi Bukkyō seiten no seiritsushi kenkyū, Tokyo: Sankibo Busshorin, 1964. This is the most comprehensive book of its kind.
      The following books on the Chinese Buddhist canon are reliable: Prabodh Chandra Bagchi, Le Canon Bouddhique en Chine; les Traducteurs et les Traductions, Vols. 1 and 4, Paris: Sino-Indica Publications de l'université de Calcutta, 1927-1938; Paul Demiéville, "Sur les Éditions Imprimées du Canon Chinois," Bulletin de l'Ecole Francaise d'Extreme-Orient, Tome XXIV, Hanoi, 1924; Ono Gemmyō, "Bukkyō kyōten sōron," vol. 12 of Busshō kaisetsu daijiten, Tokyo: Daitō shuppansha, 1931-1936; Kenneth Ch'en, Buddhism in China {Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973), pp. 365-386.
2. For the schools of Buddhism in China, see Kenneth Ch'en, ibid., pp. 297-364.
3. As Yanagida Seizan, one of the most energetic of contemporary Japanese Zen scholars, says in his discussion of the origin of Ch'an Buddhism in China, the early Ch'an masters such as Bodhidharma (arrived in China in 521 A.D.) and Hui-neng (638-713) did not neglect the importance of canonical instruction. The negligence shown towards the canon was a fairly late development in Ch'an Buddhism, after it had become popular and powerful. Extreme condemnation of scriptural studies began with Kung-an (Koan) Ch'an masters such as Ta-hui (1088-1163). See Yanagida Seizan, Zen shisō (Tokyo: Chuo koronsha, 1975), pp. 9-106 and Yanagida Seizan, Shoki Zenshū shisho no kenkyū (Kyoto: Hozokan, 1967), pp. 419-484.
4. In the second chapter of AFM, "Reasons for Writing the Treatise," there are two pairs of questions and answers; the second one of them is a discussion of this problem. See T. 1666, vol. 32, p. 575c, lines 7-17. Wǒnhyo discusses this in his commentary also: see T. 1844, vol. 44, p. 205c, line 5 - p. 206a, line 16.
5. It is undeniable that AFM became popular very quickly because of the many early records which mention AFM and comrnenbaries on it. However, I disagree with previous scholars such as Mochizuki Shinko and Ui Hakuju about the reasons for its popularity. They claimed that its popularity was due to the fame of Asvaghoa and Paramārtha. This may be true, but it can be only partially true. Many texts bear the names of Aśvaghoṣa and Paramārtha, but none have been as influential as AFM. Therefore, one may say that it was the doctrinal content of AFM which guaranteed its success; only this can explain its prominent historical role in sixth century Chinese Buddhism. Although Wǒnhyo did not doubt the authenticity of the text, he did not discuss the author and translator, whereas Hui-yuan and Fa-tsang did discuss them. See the preface to Mochizuki Shinko's Daijō kishin ron no kenkyū (hereafter referred to as DKK-M) (Tokyo: Kanao bunendo, 1922), pp. 1-5. See also the postface to Ui Hakuju's Daijō kishin ron (hereafter referred to as DK-U) (Tokyo: Iwanami bunko, 1936), pp. 131-132. See also T. 1843 vol. 44, p. 175c, line 11 - p. 176a, line 8 and T. 1846, vol. 44, p. 245c, line 25 - p. 246a, line 8.
6. For the nature of Fa-tsang's commentaries, see DK-U, p. 132. An excellent overall survey of commentaries on AFM is given in Mochizuki Shinko's DKK-M, pp. 203-346. Mochizuki's survey includes detailed and annotated explanations of 176 commentaries on AFM. For the most recent comprehensive survey see Hirakawa Akira's Daijō kishin ron (Tokyo: Daizō shuppan kabushiki kaisha, 1976), pp. 390-413.
7. Murakami Senshō gives a good review of the criticism of AFM. See his Daijō kishin ron kōgi (Tokyo: Tōyō daigaku shuppanbu, 1912), pp. 19-31.
8. See DK-U, pp. 138-139.
9. See ibid., p. 140.
10. Wǒnhyo wrote nine commentaries on AFM; only two are extant: T. 1844 and T. 1845 (see Part Two, "Introduction to Translation"). For the titles of the seven missing commentaries see the third section of Part One, "Wǒnhyo's Bibliography."
11. Almost all the books and records about AFM mention the three great commentaries. The earliest attested one to do so is the preface by the Japanese monk Kakugen. It is included in T. 1844, vol. 44, p. 202a, lines 3-4. See my translation of Kakugen's preface in the Appendix.
12. T. 1845, vol. 44, p. 226b, line 12.
13. Many books and papers have been published about Wǒnhyo, but few of them are critical. There have been three translations of Wǒnhyo's commentaries into modern Korean, but none of the three is reliable. See Note 3 to the translation in Part Two.
14. See Motoi Nobuo's paper, "Shiragi Gangyo no denki ni tsuite," Ōtani gakuhō XLI, No. 1 (1961), p. 37.

Citation Park, Sung-bae. "Wǒnhyo's Commentaries on the Awakening of Faith in Mahāyāna." PhD diss., University of California, Berkeley, 1979.