Who is Wonhyo?

Who is Wonhyo?

Wonhyo (617 – 686), one of Korea’s most beloved and unconventional monks, was a great scholar with more than 80 commentaries and essays to his credit. Born into a simple family in the Silla Kingdom, Wonhyo, a monk for many years, renounced the formal religion life to teach ordinary people. He was known to carry a gourd, dancing and singing around the country, encouraging people to chant and recite the Buddha’s name. He called himself “ooae-Gursah” (unhindered practitioner). For a short time he was married to a princess and had a son, who became a leading Confucian Scholar.

His philosophy centered on loneness or Ekayana, the interrelatedness of everything in the universe. Legend has it that this view arose from an even that took place while he was attempting to travel to China. That event is the focus of the pilgrimage.

To reach China, Wonhyo journeyed with his friend Uisang to the port of Danjugye, a city no longer in existence near-present-day Incheon. Legend has it that on a dark night a storm drove Wonhyo and Uisang into a cave for shelter near Dangjugye. During the night Wonhyo was overcome with thirst and searched in the dark for something to drink. On the cave floor, he found what he thought to be a gourd filled with cool water and lifting it to his lips drank deeply from its refreshing contents. In the morning when he awoke, he looked for the vessel and was shocked.

The delicious, thirst-quenching water of the previous night was dirty rainwater swarming with maggots that had collected in a rotten skull-cap. He fell to his knees and vomited and experienced deep inner enlightenment. He realized that truth is created by the mind.

Wonhyo is reputed to have said, “The three worlds are only mind, and all phenomena arise from the mind, consciousness.  If the truth is present in the mind, how could it be found outside of the mind!” Because of his experience and the realization of the importance of the inner journey, Wonhyo abandoned his trip to China and returned to Silla to study and teach.

 

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