The Culmination of the East Asian Confucian-Buddhist Debate in Korea: Jeong Dojeon's Array of Critiques Against Buddhism (Bulssi japbyeon) vs. Gihwa's Exposition of the Correct (Hyeonjeong non)

Annotated translation of the two treatises

by A. Charles Muller


The long confrontation between Neo-Confucianism and Buddhism, which has its earliest origins in the tracts of the Tang dynasty scholar Hanyu (768-824), reached its culmination in Korea during the end of Goryeo and beginning of the Joseon dynasties in the writings of Jeong Dojeon (1342-1398) and Gihwa (1376-1433). Jeong, a well-known political figure and Neo-Confucian ideologue, wrote, during the course of his career, a number of essays which were critical of Buddhism. It was in his final treatise however (the Bulssi japbyeon; "Array of Critiques of Buddhism") that he arranged all of the complaints against Buddhism that had been leveled through Hanyu, the Cheng brothers, and Zhuxi into one final summary argument against the Seon Buddhist tradition. Along with the arguments of these earlier Neo-Confucian thinkers, which were comprised largely of criticisms of Song Chan nihilism and antinomianism, he included his own censure of decadent practices of the current Goryeo Buddhist saṅgha.

Although in China the Neo-Confucian condemnations of Buddhism had gone largely unanswered, this was not to be the case in Korea. The monk Gihwa, who was the leading figure of the Buddhist saṅgha at the outset of the Joseon, and who was also originally a Confucian scholar of considerable accomplishment, felt compelled to answer the critiques that had been summarized in Jeong's work. He did so in a treatise entitled the Hyeonjeong non ("Exposition of the Correct"), a work that presents a largely conciliatory response, but which nonetheless takes the Confucians to task for the disparity between what is said in their classical texts, and what they actually do in practice.

Both treatises are here translated in full in HTML format (generated from TEI2 XML source documents), with the original classical Chinese text, as well as a full-length introduction.

Last modified: Tue Oct 19 09:32:07 JST 2010