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Buddhist Faith and Sudden Enlightenemnt

Buddhist Faith and Sudden Enlightenemnt
Item Code: NAD707
Author: Sung Bae Park
Publisher: Sri Satguru Publications
Edition: 1991
ISBN: 8170302781
Pages: 221 (3 B/W Illustrations)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details: 9.0 inch X 6.0inch
weight of the book: 368 gms
About the Book

Buddhist Faith and Sudden Enlightenment explains how sudden enlightenment occurs through the awakening of patriarchal 'faith. This is the non-dual affirmation that one is already Buddha as opposed to the doctrinal, dualistic faith that one can become Buddha. The essence of the presentation is that patriarchal faith forms the basis for sudden en- lightenment in Zen meditation. For the practitioner, this book establishes the Zen method of mind-cultivation on a higher level by introducing a new understanding of awakening right faith.

Included is extensive material on the history of faith in Buddhism with the main attention devoted to Ch'an (Zen) and Hua-Yen. There are also substantial discussions of Buddhist antecedents to these schools and of the Pure Land School.

This is the first book in English to examine the central role of faith in Mahayana Buddhism. The author's approach develops from his personal experiences as a son (Zen) monk of the Chogye order, which was heavily influenced by the integration of meditation and scriptural study established by Chinul.

About the Author

Sung Bae Park is assistant Professor of East Asian Religions at the Center for Religious Studies State University of New York at Stony Brook.


One of the most radical developments in the history of East Asian Buddhism was the Ch'an tradition of "sudden enlightenment." From this development arose the famous debate of "sudden enlightenment" versus "gradual cultivation." From the philosophical point of view, one must ask: "How is sudden enlightenment possible?" The answer I arrived at is that sudden enlightenment becomes possible through the awakening of what is termed in Korean Buddhism a patriarchal faith; defined as an affirmation that "I am Buddha."

Throughout this writing I have tried to focus on the interrelationship between faith, practice, and enlightenment in East Asian Mahayana Buddhism, concentrating especially on the connection between sudden enlightenment and patriarchal faith. The approach I have taken is neither historical nor philological, but rather philosophical. It also corresponds to my personal experiences as a Son (Chinese: Ch'an: Japanese: Zen) monk of the Chogye order in Korea, which was heavily influenced by the integration of Son meditation and Kyo (scriptural study) established by Chinul (1158-1218). Specifically, as a Son monk residing at Haeinsa (Ocean Seal Monastery), located at South Kyongsang province in Korea, I was trained in the Lin-chi tradition of kong'an (Chinese: Kung-an; Japanese: koan) meditation. Therefore, my discussion of Buddhist faith, practice, and enlightenment often reflects this orientation. Nonetheless, because of its highly general nature, I consider my system of interpretation to be useful as a tool for analyzing all schools of East Asian Mahayana Buddhism.

A basic motivation for my writing this kind of book has been to show the striking difference existing between doctrinal and patriarchal faiths in terms of two different kinds of Buddhists at the level of everyday life. One group attempts to grasp Buddhism in a conceptual way, whereas the other group enters into Buddhism in its existential dimensions, through a "leap of faith," to borrow Soren Kierkegaard's famous phrase.

What impressed me most when I first joined the Korean Monastery was that the faith of Chosil Sunim, the spiritual leader in the monastery, was quite different from that of ordinary monks. Chosil Sunim did not have any intention of making his followers obtain enlightenment. Rather, he firmly believed that all sentient beings are already perfect Buddhas. Further- more, he believed in a kind of grace (Korean: kap’i) dispensed by Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.

It was extremely difficult for me to accept this unbelievable fact. Since then, I have struggled unceasingly with the notion of Buddhist faith in the Ch'an tradition of East Asia. This book can therefore be described as an interim report of my inquiry into the existential dimensions of Buddhism as seen especially in the lives of enlightened patriarchs.

For writing this book I owe many people. First of all, my gratitude should be addressed to the many monks in Korean monasteries who put much effort in leading me toward a right direction and bringing about many radical changes in my life. In terms of academic discipline, I would like to express my special gratefulness to Dr. Lewis Lancaster, University of California at Berkeley, who gave me constant suggestions for revision of my manuscript. Since I joined the Center for Religious Studies at the State University of New York at Stony Brook in 1977, the various center faculty members, especially Professors Thomas J. J. Altizer and Robert C. Neville, as well as my colleagues, Drs. Patrick Heelan, Peter Manchester, David Dilworth, Antonio T. de Nicolas, and Christopher Chapple have enabled me to see the importance of philosophical dialogue in the area of East-West comparative religions, I cannot forget the very generous arrangements made by the Venerable Master Hsiian-Hua, the abott of Tathagata Monastery in the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, Talmage, California, who graciously provided me with an excellent retreat situation for purposes of research and writing for an entire month in the summer of 1981. Also, I would like to thank Drs. Ron Epstein of Dharma Realm University, Carl Bielefeldt of Stanford University, and Kenneth Inada, State University of New York at Buffalo, for their careful readings of my manuscript and valuable suggestions.

For the completion of the book, I am very grateful to the Institute for Advanced Studies of World Religions, especially Dr. C. T. Shen, the president of the Institute; Drs. Richard A. Gard, and Christopher George, the directors of the Institute; Mrs. Hannah Robinson, and Mrs. Lena Yang, the Institute librarians; all of them have always granted me a special arrangement to use the Institute facilities and library which has one of the best collections of Buddhist texts in the. United States. Also, my warmest appreciation must be addressed to Dr. Steve Odin who assisted me with the most painstaking jobs for my book from beginning to end and to my students In-sook Han and Jeff Seibel who worked on the bibliography, index, as well as proofreading.

Finally, but most sincerely, I would like to express my deep feeling and hearty thanks to Chin-hoe, my wife never yielding support and understanding have given me strength. To her I dedicate this book.


It is now well known that Buddhism is a ,religion of meditation and of enlightenment; yet few' are aware that it is also a religion of faith. Without right faith, no practice can be initiated and no enlightenment attained in Buddhism. Why then, is Buddhism not known as a religion of faith? Westerners regard it as a non theistic religion and, as such, one that requires no faith. Unlike Western theistic religions,' which are based on a dualistic subject-object structure, as expressed in the "faith in " construction (e.g. "faith in God"), the East Asian tradition of Mahayana Buddhism is based on a nondual t'i-yung, or "essence-function" construction. According to East Asian Mahayana Buddhism, faith does not require an object; rather, it is a natural function (yung) of one's own (originally enlightened) Mind, understood as t'i, or "essence." Consequently, the concept of faith in East Asian Mahayana Buddhism represents a challenge to Western theistic religions and demonstrates that there are serious alternatives to the dualistic "faith in “construction;'

In the tradition of East Asian Mahayana Buddhism, the role of faith is central. The Hua-yen school, which is based on the Hua-yen ching, or Flower Adornment Scripture, is usually regarded as having achieved the highest degree of philosophical systematization in East Asian Buddhism. As interpreted by such patriarchs of the Hua-yen school as Fa-tsang (643-712) and Ch'engkuan (738-840), the Hua-yen chmg outlines a scheme of fifty-two stages in the career of bodhisattvas. The first ten of these are called the "ten faiths" (shih-hsin), and the last stage of "marvelous enlightenment" (miao chiao) is defined as the "perfection of faith." This structure therefore reflects a primacy of faith in the Hua-yen system of thought.s

In the two major traditions of East Asian Buddhist practice, Ch'an and Pure Land, faith again has a primary role. The Ch'an, or meditation, school understands faith to be a state of conviction' or resoluteness that keeps one firmly rooted in practice, whereas the Pure Land school understands faith to be total reliance on Amida Buddha's forty-eight vows of compassion as the sole means of being born in Pure Land Therefore, whereas Ch'an faith is a form. of "self-power" (japanese: jiriki), Pure Land faith is a form of "other-power" (tariki). Yet, despite this crucial distinction, faith in both cases is considered to be the primary cause of salvation.

Although it has an important role in East Asian Mahayana Buddhism, the concept of faith has been largely neglected by modern Buddhologists, not only in the West but in the East as well. Even contemporary Japanese Buddhist scholarship, with its enormous out- put of scholarly work, has produced no major systematic studies of Buddhist faith except the other-power faith practiced in Pure Land Buddhism." The self-power faith supported by Ch'an remains almost completely unexplored. Faith is discussed with some frequency in the traditional East Asian commentaries in relation to important passages in the siitras that mention faith. However, none of these commentaries presents a systematic doctrine of faith, and none raises any important critical questions about faith. Thus, the concept of faith still represents a major gap in our understanding of East Asian Mahayana Buddhism. Why has faith been neglected in modern Buddhist scholarship? One reason is that, although many Buddhist siitras emphasize the importance of faith, they say very little about the nature of faith, and even that tends to be obscure. The Ta-ch'eng ch'i-hsin lun, or Treatise on Awakening Mahayana Faith," which is the key Mahayana Buddhist text on the subject of faith, contains no extensive discussion or analysis of faith! and whatever it does provide' - for example, extollations of faith in the "three treasures" (i.e., Buddha, Dharma, and Samgha) or the means for perfecting one's faith through the "six perfections" (paramitas) - is usually very traditional. Furthermore, traditional East Asian Buddhist commentators apparently assumed that faith was not something to be systematically analyzed, critically questioned, or objectified by reason, but something to be aroused in one's heart and lived by.

To begin closing this large gap in the field of Buddhist studies, I have attempted to write a systematic book on the dynamics of Mahayana Buddhist faith. Rather than adopt a philological and historical approach, I have analyzed the structure of Mahayana Buddhist faith on philosophical grounds. I have also raised various critical questions about the nature of faith. For example, what is the relation between faith and salvation in Buddhism? Buddhism is not simply a philosophy of life; it is also a religion with stereological concerns. Yet there always exists a kind of gap between theory and practice. What bridges this gap? It is faith. The act of arousing faith allows one to advance from a merely intellectual understanding of Buddha's teachings to the levels of practice and salvation. For this reason, the initial act of awakening faith is the most difficult to achieve. This, perhaps, is why faith is the most neglected topic in all of modern Buddhist scholarship.

In this study I have called attention to a crucial distinction between two radically different kinds of Buddhist faith established by the celebrated Korean monk Chinul (1158-1210): patriarchal faith and doctrinal faith Whereas doctrinal faith is the belief that "I can become Buddha," patriarchal faith is the affirmation that "I am already Buddha." Even within traditional East Asian Buddhism itself, the notion of patriarchal faith is not well known. The kind of faith usually discussed by Buddhist scholars is doctrinal faith, or the faith that one has the potential to become Buddha through a gradual process of faith, understanding, practice, and enlightenment. However, against this tradition 1 argue that patriarchal faith is a much more potent idea than doctrinal faith, having important consequences at the levels of practice and enlightenment.

The issue of patriarchal faith versus doctrinal faith provides a new vantage point for understanding one of the most controversial debates in East Asian Buddhism: sudden enlightenment versus gradual enlightenment. Whereas the doctrinal faith that "I can become Buddha" is the basis• of gradual enlightenment, the act of arousing a patriarchal faith that "I am already Buddha" is the basis of sudden enlightenment. Thus, 1 have raised another important question: I! sudden enlightenment possible? My contention is that, if sudden enlightenment is possible at all, then it i! achieved only by the arousal of a patriarchal faith, I have also reconsidered the more traditional debate be- tween self-power faith (as in Ch'an) and other-power faith (as in Pure Land) from the standpoint of the debate between patriarchal and doctrinal faith in order to show that patriarchal faith can be approached from either the direction of self-power or that of other- power,

Another philosophical problem 1 have considered is that of non backsliding faith (pu t 'ui hst'n) versus backsliding faith (t'ui hsin). I have argued here that right faith (cheng hsin) in Buddhism is equivalent to patriarchal faith. In East Asian Buddhism, the criterion for right faith is usually that it be non- backsliding or non retrogressive. Therefore, I have raised the question: Is a non backsliding faith possible? Again, my contention is that, if a non backsliding fa.ith is possible, it is possible only on the basis of the arousal of a patriarchal faith, or the affirmation that "I am Buddha."

However, if it is true that "I am already Buddha," why should I perform spiritual practice? This problem is well illustrated by the Hua-yen theory of fifty-two stages, according to which all fifty-two stages in the life of a bodhisattva "interpenetrate," so that the last stage of marvelous enlightenment is already contained in the first stage of initial faith. However, if the rirst stage of initial faith is already identical to the last stage of marvelous enlightenment, why are the fifty stages in between necessary? In response to this question, I have examined the theory of sudden enlightenment and gradual practice developed by Tsung-mi (780-841), who was a patriarch of both the Hua-yen and Ch'an sects, .as well as by Chinul. According to this theory, sudden enlightenment must always precede gradual practice, or it is not true practice. Thus, all fifty-two stages of the bodhisattva's career are implicit in an act of patriarchal faith, as its true content.

Finally, if one becomes convinced that a true Mahayana Buddhist patriarchal faith is indeed possible, one must then raise the most pressing question of all: How (tan one arouse patriarchal faith?

In this study I will analyze faith as having three com- ponents: faith practice, and enlightenment. Buddhist faith is characterized by its inseparability from practice and enlightenment. One cannot discuss Buddhist faith without also discussing Buddhist practice and enlightenment. Thus, I have divided this book into three parts corresponding to each of the components of faith. However, consistent with the theory of patriarchal faith, I have argued that faith is not a mere preliminary to practice and enlightenment, as it is assumed to be in the theory of doctrinal faith; rather, I faith is practice and practice is enlightenment. Practice and enlightenment are Implicit in an act of faith as its content. Therefore, patriarchal faith is both the alpha and omega of the process of salvation.

Another gap in the field of Buddhist studies which I have tried to fill is the serious lack of doctrinal discussion of kung-an (Korean: kong'an; Japanese: koan) practice or "questioning mediation" in the Ch'an tradition of East Asian Mahayana Buddhism. I have suggested that faith is the missing link in our understanding of kung-an practice. More particularly, I have argued that the practice of kung-an or questioning meditation involves a dynamic interplay between faith and doubt, or a dialectical tension between affirmation and negation, which becomes resolved in the process of questioning itself.

In this respect I would like to relate my position to the Kyoto School of Japan, founded by the great philosopher Kitaro Nishida, which includes such distinguished members as Keiji Nishirani, Yoshinori Takeuchi and Masao Abe." The Kyoto school has done much to clarify the role of "Great Doubt" (japanese: daigz) in the process of realizing Great Enlightenment. For instance, in his outstanding work called. What is Religionr, Keiji Nishitani describes with great depth the way in which Great Doubt is the pressing of our: doubt to its extreme limits, so as to extinguish our ego into the abyss of nihilum, i.e., the ground of absolute nothingness. This experience, as Keiji Nishitani says, is called the Great Death in Zen Buddhism. In this experience, according to him, the distinction between the doubter and the doubted collapses into a "great doubting-mass," whichis a deep existential awareness of an unfathomable nihilum,'

Keiji Nishitani quotes the so-called "Takusui Sermons" to show the uniqueness of the Great Doubt in his English version of What is Religions The quotation says:

The method to be practiced is as follows: you must doubt concerning the subject in you which hears all voices. All voices are heard just now because there certainly is in you a subject that hears. Although you hear voices with ears, the holes of the ears are not the subject that hears. If they were, dead men also would hear voices.... You must doubt deeply again and again, asking yourself what could be the subject of hearing. Don't mind the various illusive thoughts and ideas that may occur to you. Only doubt more and more deeply, with all the gathered might of your entire self, without aiming at or expecting anything beforehand, without even intending to be enlightened, but also without in- tending not to intend to be enlightened; and being within your breast like a child .... But, however you go on doubting, you will find it impossible to know the subject that hears. Then you must still more deeply explore just there, where it is not to be known. Doubt deeply in a state of single-mindedness, looking neither before nor after, right nor left, becoming wholly like a dead man and becoming unaware even of your own person being there. When this method is practiced more and more deeply, you will come to a state of being totally absent-minded and vacant. Even then, you must rise up the great doubt, "What is the subject that hears?" and must doubt further, being all the time wholly like a dead man. And after that, when you are aware no more of your being wholly like a dead man, are no more conscious of your procedure of "great doubting" and become, yourself, through and through a great doubt-mass, there will come all of a sudden a moment when you come out into transcendence called the Great Enlightenment, as if you woke up from a great dream, or as if you, being completely dead, suddenly revived.

Although this quotation provides us with a glimpse of various aspects of the Great Doubt and its relation to the Great Death and Great Enlightenment, it fails to demonstrate how one can actually come to acquire the Great Doubt. In other words, Nishitani in general fully explores the importance of the Great Doubt in a religious sense, but he does not point out why people do not have this Great Doubt. He just keeps on saying, as do the Zen masters: "Doubt, doubt, doubt." The actualtual dynamics involved in the koan. process of doubting are never articulated in a philosophical way.

Therefore, in criticism of the Kyoto school, I feel that they have neglected the primacy of faith and its dialectical interplay with Great Doubt in the kung-an practice of questioning meditation. Without the dialectical tension between doubt and faith, the ego can never break apart and return to the ground of absolute nothingness. Thus, whereas I greatly admire the Kyoto school's philosophical approach to Buddhism, their engagement of the Western tradition, as well as their emphasis on the experience of Great Doubt, I have attempted to add a new dimension to the understanding of kung-an practice by developing the dialectical tension between Great Doubt and Great Faith which results in Great Enlightenment.


1The Primacy of Faith in Buddhism11
2Patriarchal Faith and Doctrinal Faith19
3Buddha-nature and Patriarchal Faith25
4Essence-Function versus Subject-Object Constructions35
5Nonbacksliding Faith and Backsliding Faith43
6The Two Truths and Skill-in-Means49
7The Unity of Faith and Enlightenment in Practice55
8Bodhidharrna's Wall Meditation59
9Questioning Meditation and the Dynamics of Faith66
10Practice in the Treatise on Awakening Mahayana Faith78
11Faith and Practice in Pure Land Buddhism90
12Faith as the Practice of Compassion96
13Sudden Enlightenment and Gradual Practice105
14Faith and Enlightenment in the Hua-yen Satra110
15Kkaech'im: The Experience of Brokenness123
16Revolution of the Basis126
17The Three Gates133

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