According to the answer to this question there is a clear distinction between the traditional Zen practised in Japan until 19th century and its modern version invented by Suzuki. Is there such a clear distinction within Korean Seon and Chinese Chan? If not, which version of Zen do they correspond to?


1 Answer 1


Korean Seon and Chinese Chan both have distinctive styles and practices. Here is a detailed study of Korean Seon that will be selectively quoted to draw conclusions about differences between the two and zen in Japan. http://www.acmuller.net/articles/ogahae-oxford.html

"...Thus, the well-ingrained custom of interpreting Korean Seon based on the models of Japanese Zen or Chinese Chan has also changed little over time, with Korean Seon regularly being seen through the lens of caricaturized takes of Tang-Song Chan with its radical non-scriptural tendencies and focus on encounter dialog, or a Japanese Sōtō/Rinzai model where textual studies are largely limited to the Shōbōgenzō and Zen poetry, and where meditative practices consist of either shikan-taza ("just sitting") or a graduated series of hundreds of kōans—and perhaps some sort of cultural admixture with the martial or fine arts. While Chinese Chan and Japanese Zen do have certain fundamental features in common with Korean Seon, the Korean tradition is in significant ways unlike the "meditation schools" of its two neighboring cultures. One of the more interesting distinctive aspects of Korean Seon, especially as compared with Japan Zen, is the character of its core literature.... And while it is true that we can also see in the sermons and private teaching records of many Seon masters through the Goryeo and Joseon periods the typical shouting, striking, and exhortation toward investigation of the hwadu that one would associate with classical Chan, there is at the same time a substantial amount of attention paid to scriptural study, recitation, and exegesis. Nonetheless, this study and exegesis is of a different character than the doctrinal work carried out during the in China and Korea during the Tang and Silla periods in that it has a distinct "Chan" orientation to it both in literary style and in the choice of topic texts."

So the above citations begin to outline the differences between Zen, Chan and Seon. The question is did these different traditions radically change at a certain point in history like Zen in Japan under Suzuki.

The Diamond Sutra is cited everywhere in the Seon teaching records of the Goryeo. Beyond its distinctive thematic orientations, the extent of its influence in Korea also has to do with its central role in the myth of the creation of the Platform Sutra, the story of which provides the source for the very name of the Jogye school.2 The Diamond Sutra also has its own special thematic affinity with Chan practice, as it is seen throughout the Mahāyāna schools of East Asia as the locus classicus of what is arguably the most fundamental teaching/practice of Chan: "non-abiding" (K. muju;Ch. wuzhu).

Seon for the most parts goes through fewer changes then either of its "parents." Now Gihwa enters the scene after centuries of decline in Seon in Korea and tends to revitalize and refocus Seon. Here is a little of his biography.

Gihwa (1376-1433)

The lifetime of Gihwa (also known by the monastic name Hamheo Deuktong) fell in the midst of one of the most dynamic periods of social, political and religious upheaval on the Korean peninsula. The Goryeo regime, which had endured for over four centuries, but had become corrupt in its latter period, was on the verge of collapse, and as the leading Buddhist figure of his generation, many of the episodes in Gihwa's career had to do with his dealings with the epochal events of this juncture in history.5 Gihwa addressed in his writings a wide variety of Buddhist and non-Buddhist religious themes, but one of his favorite topics was the renewal of Jinul's argument for the essence-function connection of Seon and Gyo, which he addresses primarily within the context of the Oga hae. Besides this commentary on the Diamond Sutra, Gihwa also wrote the major Korean commentary to the Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment,6 a commentary on Xuanjue's Yongjia ji7 and an essay on the intrinsic unity of the "three teachings" of Buddhism, Confucianism and Daoism that is considered to be a landmark work in Korean intellectual history, entitled Hyeonjeong non(Manifesting the Correct). He also wrote a separate essay on the theme of the Diamond Sutra, entitled Geumgang banyabaramilgyeong yun gwan ("The Penetrating Thread of the Diamond Sutra"), as well as a number of shorter essays and versified works on various doctrinal and meditation-related topics.

So Gihwa did revive some of the traditional methods and warned about the dangers of extremists within Seon

Gihwa should be seen as the major reviver of Jinul's argument against exclusivist positions taken by certain members of the meditative, mind-to-mind transmission oriented "Seon" school as opposed to the text-oriented, doctrinal stance of Gyo. While Gihwa was a Seon monk with a strong meditation-oriented perspective to religious cultivation, at the same time he also felt that the denigration of Gyo study methods by Seon extremists was unnecessary, and even harmful. We can see Gihwa's interest in the re-valorization of scriptural study both in direct prose addressing the issue, as well as in the mere fact of his extensive exegetical work.

So there may be others who revitalized Seon, but in many ways the traditional practices and texts of Seon remained unchanged over a long time. Of all 3 Seon, Zen and Chan, the Korean practice seems the most like a mono culture with a tendency to remaining close to traditions.

Cited from: The Oga hae seorui (Commentaries of Five Masters on the Diamond Sutra) http://www.acmuller.net/articles/ogahae-oxford.html#ixzz3CuhRVrTv

  • I don't really understand much about this school but upvoted for the effort. Sep 11, 2014 at 5:36
  • I felt a great joy coming over me. This really is an adventure we are on. Thank you for acknowledging those stumbling steps.
    – soulsings
    Sep 12, 2014 at 0:53

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