Have a Korean Lineage and Transmit a Chinese One Too: Lineage Practices in Seon Buddhism

In: Journal of Chan Buddhism
Juhn Y. Ahn Associate Professor, University of Michigan Michigan USA

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Today, Korean dharma lineages all trace themselves back to Seosan Hyujeong 西山休靜 (1520–1604). Although some claim that Hyujeong’s own lineage should be traced back to Taego Bou 太古普愚 (1301–1382), others claim that it should be traced back to Naong Hyegeun 懶翁慧勤 (1320–1376) instead. The present article will demonstrate that both claims are flawed. They fail to take an important fact into account: the assumptions that guided lineage practices in the fourteenth century were no longer guiding lineage practices in the seventeenth century, which is when both claims were first made. Attempts to trace Hyujeong’s lineage to either Taego or Naong mistakenly accept the veracity of seventeenth-century lineage claims and assumptions. In pre-seventeenth century Korea Seon masters who received dharma transmission in China officially recognized not only their Chinese Chan lineage but also their Korean Seon lineage(s). As shown in this article, there was nothing wrong with having two or more dharma lineages in Korea. Hyegeun is a good example. He claimed to have inherited two different dharma lineages and may have even had a third. Hyegeun’s lineage began to lose favor, this article argues, because it did not accord with the new assumptions that began to guide lineage practices in seventeenth-century Korea.

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