By Robert E. Buswell Jr.
Numinous Awareness Is Never Dark examines the issue of whether
enlightenment in Zen Buddhism is sudden or gradual―that is, something
intrinsic to the mind that is achieved in a sudden flash of insight or
something extrinsic to it that must be developed through a sequential
series of practices. This “sudden/gradual issue” was one of the crucial
debates that helped forge the Zen school in East Asia, and the Korean
Zen master Chinul’s (1158–1210) magnum opus, Excerpts, offers one
of the most thorough treatments of it in all of premodern Buddhist
literature. According to Chinul’s analysis, enlightenment is both sudden
and gradual. Zen practice must begin with a sudden awakening to the
“numinous awareness”―the “sentience,” or buddha-nature―that is inherent
in all “sentient” beings. Such an awareness does not need to be
developed but must simply be recognized (or better “re-cognized”),
through the unmediated experience of insight. Even after this initial
awakening, however, deeply engrained proclivities of thought and conduct
may continue to disturb the practitioner; these can only be removed
gradually as his or her practice matures. Chinul’s “sudden
awakening/gradual cultivation” soteriology became emblematic of the
Buddhist tradition in Korea.
Excerpts, translated here in its
entirety by the preeminent Western specialist in the Korean Buddhist
tradition, goes on to examine Chinul’s treatments of many of the
quintessential practices of Zen Buddhism, including
nonconceptualization, or no-thought, and the concurrent development of
meditation and wisdom, as well as, for the first time in Korean Zen,
“examining meditative topics” (kanhwa Sŏn)―what we in the West
know better as kōans, after its later Japanese analogues. Fitting this
new technique into his preferred soteriological schema of sudden
awakening/gradual cultivation was no simple task for Chinul.
Numinous Awareness Is Never Dark
offers an extensive study of the contours of the sudden/gradual debate
in Buddhist thought and practice and traces the influence of Chinul’s
analysis of this issue throughout the history of the Korean tradition.
Copiously annotated, the work contains extensive selections from the two
traditional Korean commentaries to the text. In Buswell’s treatment,
Chinul’s Excerpts emerges as the single most influential work written by a Korean Buddhist author.
Robert E. Buswell holds the Irving and Jean Stone Endowed
Chair in Humanities at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA),
where he is also Distinguished Professor of Buddhist Studies in the
Department of Asian Languages and Cultures and founding director of the
university’s Center for Buddhist Studies and Center for Korean Studies.
Order at Amazon