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Author(s): Eun-su Cho
Source: Philosophy East and West, Vol. 63, No. 1, SPECIAL ISSUE: 2010 INTERNATIONAL
UNIVERSITY (JANUARY 2013), pp. 39-54
Published by: University of Hawai'i Press
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Eun-su Cho
Department of Philosophy, Seoul National University

The Place of Freedom in a Deterministic Worldview

Determinism and freedom has been a much debated philosophical issue in the
Western philosophical tradition. St. Augustine's Confessions, for example, estab-
lished a long-held Christian theological view on the possession of free will, which
concerns the fate of human beings within a universe ruled by God. Given the specific
context in which the question arose - why sin and human error occur in a world cre-
ated by God - many have held that Asian philosophies, and especially Buddhism, do
not have much relevance to the topic as their doctrines are based on a non-theistic
worldview. It may not even be right to ask the question in the context of the Buddhist
tradition, which denies the existence of a God or a mighty power controlling human
fate. Meanwhile, with the advance of scientific knowledge, the causally determined
nature of the physical and psychological world is becoming known. The question
has been modified in contemporary Western philosophy so that it now concerns the
possibility of freedom when one's psychological states are all causally determined,
and whether freedom can be claimed given the deterministic understanding of our
experience. Even with its atheistic understanding of the existence of the world and
its events, it is still not too clear that a Buddhist perspective could engage in this dis-
cussion concerning the compatibility or incompatibility of determinism and moral
responsibility. This attitude might explain the scarcity of attempts at engaging the
Buddhist tradition in contemporary discussions of the issue.
In this light, Buddhism is known to hold a deterministic view of our existence.1
Mental states are considered to be caused by prior events, amidst a broader explana-
tion of human existence as the combination of the five elements ( skandhas ) of body,
sensation, feeling, ideations, and consciousness. Buddhism argues that the world,
including humans, exists in such a way that things come into being and cease depen-
dent on prior causes. The universe and human beings are just a causal series of psy-
chophysical elements.
With this nonself doctrine in place, and physical and mental states understood as
being the result of prior events, are we really responsible for the actions that we per-
form? This has been a frequently asked question not only in early Buddhist texts such
as the Questions of King Milinda, but also in modern investigations of Buddhist
doctrine. For example, on the recent controversy in Australia over (secular) ethics
education being implemented for school children, which aroused heated criticism
from Christian churches, an Australian Buddhist progressive leader, Bhante Sujato,
commented thus: "Our children need to learn ethics, not from any self-appointed

Philosophy East & West Volume 63, Number 1 January 201 3 39-54 39
© 201 3 by University of Hawai'i Press

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'authority', but by learning to listen to their own voice of conscience, to dialogue
with others, to accept different points of view, and to found ethics on a shared
humanity, not adherence to any religious dogma." He asserts that moral standards
come from the inner voice of conscience, not from an external so-called sacred and
religious authority. He seems to hold a view that Buddhism postulates the moral
conscience as something inherent in sentient beings. However, in light of the no-self
doctrine of Buddhism, namely that there is no soul or permanent self that could be
responsible for the actions that the "person" performs, could it be argued that moral
conscience universally and permanently exists, operating independently? This raises
a serious question whether the no-self doctrine negates moral responsibility.
However, Buddhists take responsibility seriously, even if they don't think there
are persons who are responsible. Not only are there voluminous Buddhist texts on
moral discipline delineating moral codes in detail, but the early Buddhist commu-
nity conducted frequent uposatha meetings where they confessed their wrongdoings
in front of the community, and performed repentance ceremonies, pravāraņā, which
took place at the end of summer retreats. Repentance presupposes responsibility. To
feel repentance is to feel bad about something that one acknowledges as one's own
act, and to resolve not to repeat it.
And the no-self doctrine itself has ethical implications of its own. As some Zen
masters put it, one may practice "doing without doing," committing actions without
postulating a self or being conscious of one's self. Furthermore, when one is not
driven by selfish motivations with the knowledge of nonself, it makes selflessness and
altruism possible. Thus, these selfless actions are taught and encouraged without im-
plicating the question of "who" is going to be responsible for the actions committed.2
It is in this context that I would like to bring up the matter of guilt and repen-
tance, by focusing on the writings of a seventh-century Korean Buddhist monk named
Wönhyo, who represents the epitome of East Asian Buddhist scholasticism. His text
will provide a way of investigating moral responsibility from an East Asian Buddhist

Wönhyo and His Text on Repentance

Wönhyo (61 7-686) is probably the most seminal Buddhist scholiast in Korea. As a
monk-scholar, he is renowned for not only his scholarly work but also his adventurous
and dramatic life path. He is known to have composed eighty treatises and com-
mentaries, among which twenty works are extant, comprising the wide spectrum of
doctrinal development in East Asian Buddhism in the seventh century. This was the
most exciting period of Buddhist doctrinal development in East Asia, with Yogäcära,
Madhyamaka, Tathāgatagarbha, Huayen, Pure Land, and Precepts interpretations all
represented. His writings represent the culmination of a flourishing theoretical and
soteriological understanding of Buddhist thought in India and its adaptation in East
The short text that we are analyzing, titled the Mahâyãna Repentance of the Six
Senses (Taesung yukchöng ch'amhoe),3 composed of 1,073 Chinese characters in

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seventy verse lines, provides a useful example for our discussion of guilt and moral
responsibility in Buddhist philosophy. The text discusses the non-substantiality of
sentient beings and the actions or offenses they commit. Further, the text deals with
the consequences of wrongdoings: Wönhyo states that if you do not feel remorse or
shame, or repent your actions, even though the crimes you have committed are not
substantial, this will cause you to fall into hell. He calls up the metaphor of an illu-
sory tiger created by magic that in turn swallows the magician. He also states the
need for repentance, and assures that repentance is related to staying mindful of
one's senses. Practicing "being mindful" of the senses will enable one to realize the
dharma-kņānti, a state of the non-arising of mental entities. The content of the text
delineates a bodhisattva's practice in terms of repentance.
Metaphysics and ethics are usually considered two separate areas of philosophy.
For Wönhyo, however, the two are deeply intertwined around the central concept
of the mind and the world that it creates. His ethics are based on the Madhyamaka
theory of the non-substantiality of entities, a metaphysical foundation and basis of a
theory of knowledge. Wönhyo's ethics differs from ethics in the dimension of the
mundane world; his ethics are concerned with the realm of enlightenment, closely
related to metaphysical theories. According to him, metaphysical understanding is
another word for "enlightenment" and the act of repentance is nothing but the way
of religious practice geared toward enlightenment. The moral responsibility that
Wönhyo expresses in terms of remorse and guilt is to be achieved through under-
standing the metaphysical outlook on the world that he proposes.
For Wönhyo the practice of morality is not first and foremost a matter of behaving
in a moral manner. His life story, which is full of surprises and adventures, might
provide a backdrop to his differentiation of morality and moral actions. His biogra-
phies state that he had an enlightenment experience on his journey to China. He
took refuge from a storm in a sanctuary, but awoke thirsty in the middle of the night
and looked in the dark for water. Finding a bowl of water, he drank from it and, satis-
fied, went back to sleep. The next morning when he awoke, he found to his disgust
that the place where he had slept was in fact a crypt and that what he had taken to
be a bowl of water was actually stagnant water in a human skull. What he thought
was thirst-quenching the night before was disgusting now.
Wönhyo turned back from his journey to China, proclaiming that there was no
need to search for truth outside one's mind. Later, he was involved in an affair with a
widowed princess; the union produced a son, Söl Ch'ong, one of the most famous
literati in Korean history, and this helped to seal his reputation as someone who tran-
scended such conventional distinctions as secular and sacred. Although a man of
erudition, Wönhyo was notorious in his time for being a monk who frequented broth-
els and wine shops. After an illustrious career as a writer and Buddhist thinker, he
lived primarily as a mendicant, wandering the cities and markets as a street prosely-
tizer. After the affair just mentioned he withdrew from being a monk and devoted
himself to proselytizing rather than taking on students or finding disciples who would
inherit his teachings. His later life as a mendicant is a performative interpretation of
Buddhist truth.

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Non-substantiality of Actions

Wõnhyo begins the text by stating that sentient beings construct external objects;
with ego-minded thoughts of "me" and "mine," they commit various actions due to
ignorance and erroneous views. Hindered by self-inflicted delusion, they do not see
or hear properly, just like hungry ghosts who, approaching a river, see fire (verses
1 0-1 6). The actions we commit and the external objects we see are conceptual con-
structions. They do not really exist. Wönhyo uses Madhyamaka logic to establish the
non-substantiality and non-production of actions in the following verses.

Yet these offences do not really exist.

The clusters of conditions occurring together are provisionally named as action.


The actions are found neither in the conditions nor apart from the conditions.

Neither within nor outside, there is no third possibility.


Anything in the past no longer exists (whatever in the past is already gone).

Things existing in the future have not come forth; the present does not abide (what has
been produced does not abide).


Due to its not abiding, there is no production.

If it were existent previously, it cannot be [regarded as] being produced; if it were previ-
ously non-existent, what caused it to come forth?


If you say it was once non-existent and now became existent,

These two meanings are put together and called "production."


At the time of non-existence this existence could not have been existing,

At the time of this present existence, there is no original non-existence existing.

Before and after cannot reach out to each other, and existence and non-existence cannot

If the two notions cannot be joined, how could there be production?


When the meaning of "combining" has already been disputed, its disintegration cannot
be established.

[They] cannot be put together or fallen apart, [thus they are] neither existent nor non-

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At the time of non-existence there is no existence, so in contrast to what could there be

At the time of existence, there is no non-existence, so for whom do we say that there is


Neither before nor after, neither existence nor non-existence can be posited.


You should know that actions are by nature originally not produced.

From the beginning, they could not have been produced,


Hence on which grounds can production be found?

Both production and non-production cannot be possible.


Moreover, saying that they cannot be possible is not possible.

Actions are of such nature, and likewise the Buddhas.

Wönhyo expounds that actions do not really exist: what we call "actions" are just
provisionally named concepts. Actions are not enduring, actions are not produced
because those events in the past, present, and the future do not abide. There are no
such things that can be called "producings"; actions are just conceptual construc-
tions built up out of what occurs earlier and later.
He then, in verses 35-38, argues that events are created neither from existence
nor from non-existence nor from both; nor do they occur without cause, so there is
no lack of causal production. Therefore, there is no such thing as "actions being
committed." In the same manner, there is no such thing as "receiving the result of
the actions." At the same time, there is no one who commits the transgressions, no
one to receive the result of the actions. There is no transgressor, no object that was
violated, nor the action of transgression; only by the confluence of the various factors
do the fruits, that is, actions, occur. Both person and action are negated. The persons
and the actions that they had committed are just a causal series of psychophysical
elements. One's psychological states are all causally determined, commensurate
with a deterministic point of view. However, even though there is no self, when these
elements are arranged in certain ways, it is conventionally true that this is a person
who committed the crime. This is how nonself "works" - by use of the idea of a
causal series of psychophysical elements. Here Wonhyo's argument could be inter-
preted as allowing a kind of compatibilist position - accepting the validity of moral
responsibility and guilt while adhering to the nonself of persons and nonself of
Entities, or, in Buddhist terminology, dharmas, are devoid of inherent nature, or
svabhāva in Madhyamaka Buddhism. In the earlier Abhidharma Buddhist develop-

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ment, the scholiast held that the entities we find in the ordinary world are composed
of parts, and so as wholes are devoid of intrinsic nature; like a chariot that consists of
its parts, a person does not have a self-nature. This was an attempt to explain the
nonself doctrine that the Buddha had expounded. However, the Ãbhidharmakas held
that the atomic parts, the dharmas of which the whole consists and to which the
whole is to be reduced, do have intrinsic nature. For them the dharmas are ultimately
real, even though the whole, such as a chariot or a person, is not real but a mere
conceptual construction. Human existence is no more than a result of the combina-
tion of the five skandhas. This theory of the Ãbhidharmakas was to be criticized by
Mädhyamikas, such as Nāgārjuna in his Mūlamadhyamakakārikā.
Here Wönhyo not only negates the actions and substantial essence of persons,
he negates intrinsic nature and causal relations as well. He follows the Mahâyâna
doctrine of the emptiness of existence understood in the Madhyamaka way, as both
pudgala-nairätmya (selflessness of persons) and dharma-nairätmya ( dharmas ' lack of
intrinsic nature). There is no inherent nature of dharmas: the causal relation lacks
substantiality; it, too, is devoid of self-nature. Wõnhyo uses the first kind of emptiness
when he points out that persons are only to be found at the conventional level, not at
the ultimate level, so moral properties such as responsibility cannot be ultimately real.
He goes further, however. The argument at verse 28, for instance, is to the effect
that the causal relation is itself conceptually constructed and so not ultimately real.
The argument is that since "cause" and "effect" could only exist at two different
times, they could never come into any kind of relation with one another, which is
what would be needed for a real causal connection. This is what makes what Wõnhyo
is doing so radical. He is not just asserting the nonsubstantiality of the persons; he is
asserting the nonsubstantiality of everything whatever. It is mere conceptual con-
struction all the way down. This means that determinism is not ultimately true either.
If it is true at all this is only because it is useful for us to think that way. There aren't
any causal connections in the world apart from our ways of thinking about it. But
an action is something I cause (or these skandhas cause). So there really aren't any

Transgressions are specifically defined as follows.


Having been confused by ignorance (Ä3^), I and other sentient beings committed count-
less transgressions (H).


Those five heinous transgressions and the ten evil wrongdoings, there is nothing we
haven't done.

Whether doing it oneself, getting someone else to do it, or finding joy in someone else
doing it,


Innumerable transgressions such as these, are beyond counting,

Are fully known by all the holy ones.4

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Arousing profound shame and remorse for our past transgressions that we have committed,

We dare not repeat them in the future.

To feel guilt or shame is to accept responsibility. As such, for Wõnhyo, the feeling of
shame is a reflection of moral consciousness, and why one must repent. Sentient
beings, with profound shame, should arise to the mind of enlightenment (bodhi-citta)
and sincerely practice repentance (k$ama) for the wrongdoings they had committed
from beginningless time. One should feel profound shame for the actions that had
been committed before, and they should not be repeated in the future.

Non-substantiality of Transgressions or Transgressors

Although transgressions do not have their own substantiality, they can make one
fallen; thus one has to repent. The following verses argue this.


If practitioners can contemplate reality in this way with a repentant attitude,


It is not possible to commit the four grave offenses and five heinous acts,

Just as empty space cannot be burnt by fire.


However, if you are not careful/mindful ÇfiWtâk, apramāda), lack remorse and shame,
and are not able to know the true nature of the actions,


Even though transgressions lack the nature (svabhāva) of criminality, you will still go to
hell (ni raya),

Just like a magical tiger who in turn swallows up the magician who conjured him.

Therefore, before the Buddhas in the ten directions,
You should feel profound shame and remorse and perform this repentance.

Having said that there is no one to commit offenses and that no transgressions really
exist, then, would it be justifiable to feel guilty, remorseful, or repentant toward one's
own actions in this regard? Wönhyo says there is still a need to practice repentance.
In his language, repentance is nothing but knowing that the events and actions are
not really produced. Repentance is defined as understanding the absence of self-
nature in the things and actions of the universe - as understanding their nonsubstan-
tiality or, in other words, their emptiness.
In light of the Buddhist no-self doctrine, is feeling guilty or remorseful justi-
fied? His answer would be this: we practice repentance not because T' or "this

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person" has committed any transgressions; there is really no one who commits the
transgression. There is no one who is a criminal, nor is there a criminal attitude.
However, out of ignorance, one who still does not understand commits transgres-
sions; for that person the transgression exists; the transgressor, the person, exists.
Such transgressions are what one is guilty of, should feel remorse for, for which
repentance should be made.
One has to make sure that that repentance is done in a way that conforms with
nonself - because ultimately there is no transgression or transgressor. Wönhyo says:5


When you do practice repentance, do it without [ego-involvement].

Just know the very nature of repentance.


When the wrongdoings you repent do not really exist,

Where could there exist a repenter?


Both repenter and what is to be repented of are not found,

Where can the action of repentance be found?

Based on the nature of non-substantiality of transgressions, the repentance that is

argued for in this section is not about repenting one's own wrongdoings. Wönhyo
argues that repentance should not be just about being remorseful about your past
actions. It requires a more profound understanding of the nature of actions and
the actor. He prescribes a philosophical and religious realization about the non-
substantiality of persons and events.

Dream-like Existence

With this deluded mind caused by ignorance we misconceive the outer world as
existing, when it is merely a construction of our own mind. The second type of repen-
tance involves seeing things correctly. That correct understanding presupposes the
perspective of ultimate truth.


Once you have repented of all these karmic obstructions caused by your past actions,

You should also repent of your lack of mindfulness concerning the six senses.


I and other sentient beings, having misunderstood from beginningless time that the ele-
ments have never been produced,


Deluded and erroneous, I imagine "me" and "mine,"

Within, six sense faculties are established, depending on which [six kinds of] conscious-
ness arise respectively.

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The six kinds of sense objects, to which we adhere as existing, are constructed externally.
We do not know these are all creations of our own mind.


Like a dream, or an illusion, they have never existed.

Wönhyo's views on ultimate truth and conventional truth are illustrated by the
example of dreams. Life experiences are like dreams: while one is in a dream one is
affected by it. Like someone who is terrified by the dream of a flood, deluded we see
ourselves as being carried away in a great river without realizing that it is actually a
dream. Feeling like we are really drowning, we are scared to death. Then, not yet
awake, we have another dream, and say, "What I saw was a dream, which was not
real." Because of the mind's intelligence, one is aware of the dream within a dream,
and thus is not afraid of drowning. Yet we are still unable to realize that we are lying
in bed. Head shaking and hands trembling, we struggle to really wake up. When we
are finally awake and reflect back on the previous dream, neither the river nor our
drowning selves had a place in existence. We see nothing but ourselves quietly lying
in bed (verses 54-60).
The Buddhist account of the path to enlightenment is equated with removing
defilements. Defilements are mental habits that perpetuate the sense of an "I."
Wõnhyo explains that defilements or deluded thoughts are not real, having no onto-
logica! grounds, and only appear due to ignorance. Wõnhyo claims that they only
seem to be real, appearing as such only because of a mind shaken by ignorance. Thus
the practitioner's task is not to remove or eliminate defilements but rather to know
that the defilements that we experience as reality are in fact nothing but illusion. The
point of the task is to free oneself from ignorance.
This task is realized by grasping the nonsubstantiality of the thought at the mo-
ment of inception in which the thought arises. Among the four phases of the evolu-
tion of thoughts (arising, sustaining, changing, ceasing), Wõnhyo states that the stage
of arising is the subtlest and hardest to grasp. Once the practitioner grasps and
penetrates the moment of inception in which arising occurs and becomes aware of
their nonsubstantiality, these thoughts will thereafter cease to arise. Being aware and
knowing this is being free from ignorance.6 As repentance is defined as understand-
ing the nonsubstantiality of thoughts and actions, this process becomes a way of
meditation, a way of practice.

Repentance as a Means of Bodhisattva Practice


The long dream [of samsãra] is also thus.

Ignorance covers the mind, falsely creating the six destinies wherein we flow among all
the eight sufferings.

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Internally depending on the inconceivable pervading influence (vāsanā) of all the


And externally relying on the great compassion and the power of the vows of all the Bud-
dhas, we come to have some semblance of faith and understanding (šraddhādhimokņa).


That I and all sentient beings are only asleep in a long dream, falsely positing it to be real.


The agreeable and disagreeable objects in the six sense fields and the two characteristics
of male and female are also just our dream. They have never been real.

So what is it that makes us unhappy or happy? What is there to crave and hate?

This conceptual framework serves as a unique cognitive tool in East Asian Buddhist
practice. Elsewhere, in a different text, Wönhyo speaks about non-substantiality as

Samsāra itself does not have its own substantiality. Because it is devoid of substantiality,
there are no distinctions in appearance such as changing and evolving. If appearances do
not change, how can substance, that is, the mind itself, change? Thus, I would say that the
four phases in the appearance of thought are actually the same as one mind, and non-
enlightenment is the same as original enlightenment; that is how it is said that these
enlightenments are all identical to one enlightenment.7

Wönhyo concludes the text by delineating the way of conducting the practice of

Repeatedly contemplate it all being a dream,

And gradually you will perfect the cultivation of the samādhi in which everything is like
a dream


Due to this samādhi you will gain quiescence in the non-production of dharmas


In a flash you will awaken from this long dream,

And will immediately know that originally you have never flowed back and forth.

But that this has all been just the One Mind lying on the bed of the one suchness.


If you leave behind [this dream] and are able to contemplate it repeatedly,

Even though the sensory objects and the six sense fields are not to be regarded as real,


With shame for your afflictions, you cannot be mindless

This is called the Mahâyâna Repentance of the Six Senses.

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Once you awaken from a dream you understand that it is not real. Realizing this is
called "obtaining the dharma-kņānti," and this practice is called "meditation based
on the perception of the world as a dream." Repentance is knowing and understand-
ing the true nature of events and the world, by practicing the samādhi that concen-
trates on the dream-like nature of our cognitive existence. This samādhi will enable
one to realize the dharma-k$ānti or anutpattika-dharma-k$ānti ($£iĚřž/S), literally
"patient acceptance based on awareness of the non-arising of phenomena." This is a
distinctive level of enlightenment, a special realization of the non-production of
dharmas, and a doctrinal conception found in certain Mahâyâna Buddhist texts;
Wõnhyo expounds this term with great emphasis in his Treatise on the Vajrasamādhi-
sütra. This is a patience, tolerance, or acceptance based on the clear cognition of
the unproduced nature of all existences, to realize that all things are beyond birth
and decay. Because one is removed from the deluded thoughts of objects of the
senses, the mind can be at rest in its awakening to the reality of the non-arising of all
Awareness comes out of fundamentally understanding the nature of moral ac-
tions, moral agents, the external world, and objects to which one's moral concerns
are directed, which make up the foundation of morality. This awareness involves real-
izing that there is no such thing as a permanent, independent nature of morality or
immorality, and that understanding this will lead to one's practice of morality. There
is no self-nature (svabhāva) in moral actions. There are no actions that are intrinsi-
cally good or bad; they are just occurrences at the confluence of bodily and mental
elements. This understanding and insight on actions and wrongdoings make up the
foundation on which morally conscientious action takes place. This knowledge
enables one to become morally responsible and become the foundation for one's
own morality, as well as for the practice of morality toward others.
Wönhyo's conclusion is that it is shameful to suffer by your own afflictions, so
one must practice to not be mindless or unthinkingly invested in what one's senses
seem to convey. As the title of this text, Mahâyâna Repentance of the Six Senses
indicates, Wõnhyo specifies "repentance" as repentance of the six senses, which,
according to what he said above, requires being mindful of one's senses. The six
senses serve as a means for repentance, as it is through one's six senses that one is
going to contemplate the nature of the actions and events one experiences. The
six senses are the six sense faculties, which collectively can be called "life" (áfr). The
six senses originate from one's mind, which rushes to grasp the respective objects of
the senses.9
"Being mindful" (apramādap0 is a key term worth further investigation here.
"Being mindful" of the six senses has also been emphasized on many other occa-
sions. The "being mindful" found in his Commentary on the Awakening of Faith
stretches our understanding of the practice of repentance in an interesting direction:
All the myriad practices from beginning to end are comprised of two types of actions - "a
practice according to reality" ($ūļīf§?fr, yathâvad-bhâvikatã) and "being mindful" PFÏ&
j&). The former corresponds to the vow of producing wisdom; the latter corresponds to
the vow of fulfilling wisdom. The former is like practicing the [virtue] of giving, while the
latter is like not seeking its reward.

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Thus, by keeping the pure precepts, one does not revert to previous stages of practice.
By practicing dharma-kņānti, the seal of non-arising is attained. While seeking all roots
of goodness tirelessly, all constructed affairs are abandoned. Meditation is practiced
without abiding in meditation. In accomplishing wisdom, the conceptual play (prapānca)
of dharmas is not indulged in.1'

Wõnhyo associates this "being mindful" R'¡¡fc j^, apramāda) with "subsequently at-
tained cognition" prçtha-labdha-jnâna), or knowledge attained as a result of
enlightenment, which bodhisattvas use for the task of liberating other sentient beings.
This cognition is also called "discerning cognition" Here Wönhyo distin-
guishes two levels of moral practice; one is the practicing of moral deeds as ordinar-
ily defined, like giving (dāna). The other level is not seeking the reward, an action
committed with the perspective of ultimate truth. The former is seeking to attain wis-
dom for enlightenment; the latter is seeking to "fulfill" the cognition or wisdom ob-
tained after the clear understanding of the non-substantiality of the world.
Once the former wisdom is acquired one should move on to apply the wisdom
to be "connected" with the world, that is, the ordinary world of sentient beings. This
cognition will be used to liberate other sentient beings, and for that purpose one
needs to use the cognition of discernment. Guilt and remorse are necessary moral
qualities in this world for one to move forward along the path to enlightenment. In
this stage, Wönhyo's postulating moral ethics can be compared to something Straw-
son says of what he calls "reactive attitudes" such as anger and resentment. He says
that parents will deploy a mixture of participatory and objective stances toward their
child as a strategy to deal with reactive attitudes in their children. To fully engage the
reactive attitudes one must fully participate in them. Wönhyo encourages practitio-
ners to be fully engaged in the participant attitude, in which guilt and repentance are .
useful tools for the training of sentient beings, while objectively understanding that
no such things really exist nor are necessary for a bodhisattva. Even though there
was no wrongdoing, one is encouraged repentence over the actions sentient beings
commit. By letting oneself know that one is guilty, one can have the opportunity of
investigating the nature of transgressions and moral responsibility.
In his Mahâyâna position, not only do persons have no self, but also things have
no independent reality. Nor do causal relations. However, Wönhyo argues further,
because nothing has intrinsic nature, it could not be ultimately true that the psycho-
physical elements are causally determined. It isn't even true that there are psycho-
physical elements, let alone that there are ultimately real causal connections.
On the other hand, in spite of the absence of intrinsic nature both in a transgres-
sor and in the transgressions committed by that person, repentance is still useful
when done without ego-involvement. For Wönhyo it is still true that persons are mor-
ally responsible for their actions, and it is still true that the wrongdoings you have
committed in the past bring a result, just as the conjured tiger, even though it does
not exist, can inflict injury. The ultimate truth does not negate conventional practice.
They both have currency, because repentance for him is nothing but understanding
the emptiness of existence, and the conventional understanding about the good and

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the bad is still useful in that regard. Thus, repentance is to be done in both dimen-
sions. Wönhyo's position fluctuates between two extremes, playing with the two di-
mensions. He encourages us not to cling to any so-called accepted truths and instead
transcend such truths. For him truth is not hierarchical. The ultimate is not something
higher or more truthful than the conventional truth.
Compatibilists of the Buddhist Reductionist Raleocompatibilist sort think in terms
of the two truths, with freedom and responsibility being something useful in conven-
tional practice and determinism being the ultimate truth. So conventional truth goes
with the reactive attitudes and participatory stance, while ultimate truth goes with the
objective stance. Wönhyo reverses this. Because fully enlightened beings know the
ultimate truth (not that everything is causally determined, but that everything is
empty), they take up the participant stance. So the situation is this: ordinary people
just have conventional truth and reactive attitudes; arhats have what they think is
ultimate truth (that things like persons or actions are devoid of self [anātman] and
causally determined), take the objective stance, and see the participant stance as no
more than a useful device that is less than ultimately true. Wönhyo's position here
goes further. He negates both, not wanting to remain in one position, methodologi-
cally and ontologically, but wanting instead to keep moving up. Bodhisattvas know
the real ultimate truth (that there is none) and so are able to fully engage those they
try to help, since for them the reactive attitudes are not "mere useful fictions." For if
all is conceptually constructed, nothing useful is "merely" anything. Those bodhisatt-
vas who take the participatory stance know not only ultimate truth - that the worldly
affairs that they are engaged in fact do not have intrinsic nature, and there is no good
or bad deed, or even helpful deeds - but also that there is no such truth as ultimate
truth. The bodhisattva should be able to desist from thinking that that is ultimate
truth. The notion of emptiness should be empty. Those who are acting based on the
"subsequent cognition" must know that this world is ultimately empty, acting skill-
fully enough to follow "conventional reality."
Wönhyo is in fact suggesting that we leave both positions in place. He is affirm-
ing both, after negating both. As a practitioner, the place one arrives at must be the
same as the place that one had departed after practice; this is in line with the famous
Mahäyäna saying that nirvāna is nothing but sarhsāra, but the perspectives must be
different. Wönhyo teaches us to take both a reactive participant attitude and an ob-
jective attitude. In fact, what Wönhyo is teaching us is to not take this world too seri-
ously or make a big deal out of this world; "playful pretense" should be practiced.
While affirming that one is originally free of guilt, he argues that it is still necessary
for people to accept moral responsibility by observing moral behaviors and repenting
of their wrongdoings. Even an attitude of "who cares" or "why bother" also implies
that there is an ultimate truth. However, "ultimately" there is no ultimate truth. Still
the thought that this is the ultimate truth can give rise to a subtle form of clinging that
may prove quite difficult to extirpate. Even though one appreciates the doctrine of
nonself, still this subtle yet insidious form of clinging - that there is ultimate
truth - may thus prove an impediment to complete liberation. Ultimate truth is
another dharma, and it is empty as well. You have to get rid of this idea that there is

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a substantive ultimate truth out there. Emptiness is meant to cure us of any residual
clinging to ideas of ultimacy, something difficult to extirpate.12 Wõnhyo accepts both
levels of perception - that there is crime, which needs to be repented, and guilt,
which needs to be removed, and that there is neither crime nor guilt. He delineates
the Mahâyâna bodhisattvas' stance toward moral judgment as part of a strategy for
getting them to stop taking normative ethics so seriously.

Wonhyo's Way of Taking Morality Seriously

Wönhyo talks about being responsible, or at least feeling guilty about the actions one
has committed, while seeing and taking the objective stance that these actions are not
really real and have not been produced - they have arisen through causal powers of
psychophysical elements. Wönhyo seems to say that we can repent without remorse.
We are responsible for our actions but not "really" responsible, because they have not
"really" been produced and we have not "really" committed them. Then could it be
said that they are caused, that is, in the deterministic sense? What he would say is that
nothing is really c aused. The notion that everything is determined is not an ultimate
truth that can explain everything. However, this does not mean that it is true that things
are not determined. Ultimately, causal relation or causation does not really make any
sense. As we have seen earlier, this is shown by his explanation of the non-production
of the dharmas in the past, present, and future. Moral responsibility can be claimed
when there is an agent and there are consequences, so in the conventional sense
persons are responsible for their actions. However, ultimate view is that bodhisattvas
should be watchful of their actions, so in that way determinism is compatible with
being morally responsible. A bodhisattva would accept moral responsibility while
taking a deterministic worldview, and would even say that they are compatible; but
at the truly ultimate level no view can be maintained. At this point the modern de-
bate over compatibilism is left behind, as no truth is ultimately true either.


I would like to thank Mark Siderits for his introduction to this issue on determinism
and moral responsibility. However, any shortcomings are mine alone.

1 - For example, Nicholas F. Gier and Päul Kjellberg assert the position in "Bud-
dhism and the Freedom of the Will: Rali and Mahayanist Responses," in
Freedom and Determinism: Topics in Contemporary Philosophy, ed. by J. K.
Campbell, D. Shier, and M. O'Rourke, (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2004),
pp. 277-304.
2 - Taking a hard deterministic position, Charles Goodman claims that just as it is
irrational to feel anger at something impersonal such as bile when it causes one
pain, it is equally irrational to feel anger at transgressors, since they are really
just a causal series of impersonal psychophysical elements. Because everything

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about the person is caused, no one is really responsible for their actions; no one
really deserves praise or blame, reward or punishment, for their good and bad
deeds. Thus, he says that if we take a Buddhist reductionist position seriously,
no one is responsible for the actions that they commit. It is irrational to feel guilt
over one's past. He says that perfected people (i.e., bodhisattvas) do not ascribe
moral responsibility. See his "Resentment and Reality: Buddhism on Moral Re-
sponsibility," American Philosophical Quarterly 39, no. 4 (October 2002): 359.

3 - The text Taesung yukchöng ch'amhoe (Mahâyâna repentance of

the six senses) contained in the Han'guk Pulgyo chõnsõ (Collection of Korean
Buddhist writings) (hereafter HPC), vol. 1, 842-843, is in prose form, but must
be read as a narrative verse. I have reformatted it as poetry and inserted line
numbers, and the quotations from the text in this article reflect it. It consists of
seventy-one verses, in most cases four lines of four characters apiece. The
theoretical framework of "repentance" presented in this text resonates much
with the views presented in his Kisillon-so (Commentary to the Awakening of
Mâhãyana Faith) or Kůmgang sammaegyõng-ron (Treatise on the Vajrasamādhi-
sūtra). He composed three works related to Buddhist discipline, proclaiming
moral behavior and discipline, based on the scripture of the Fanwang-jing, an
important East Asian Buddhist book of morality, called either Fanwang-jing pre-
cepts or more generally Bodhisattva precepts. The other two are mainly com-
mentarial works on the Fanwang-jing, with a list of the precepts along with
detailed explanations of the individual precepts to observe and the crimes that
are warded off.

4 - In early Buddhism, transgressions are regarded as ethical matters, immoral ac-

tions in violation of socially defined morality. Transgressions or offenses (k$ama)
are the causes of suffering, kleša , or defilements, which is a collective term for
the so-called three poisons, namely greed, anger, and ignorance. These three
poisons were also called avajja, meaning something to be blamed. When these
three poisons are removed, no more transgressions are committed; the mind is
purified to attain enlightenment. In contrast, in Mahâyâna Buddhism the mean-
ing of transgressions is expanded to take on religious implications. Transgres-
sions do not just violate social Dharma, but are related to the metaphysical
working of karma. In the East Asian Buddhist tradition, for example, the Awak-
ening of Faith preaches an underlying power for the arising of kleša called the
"fundamental force of karma," the equivalent of the eighth consciousness. The
transgressions are not just performed at the level of sense organs or conscious-
ness, but come into existence due to this beginningless unidentifiable force.
This power is too subtle to be removed; thus, Pure Land Buddhism describes its
removal as requiring blessings or power from the Buddhas, and therefore one
needs to arouse faith in those external powers. See Hyönjun Kim, "Wönhyo ui
ch'amhoe sasang" (Wönhyo's theory of repentance), Pulgyo yön'gu (Buddhist
studies) (Seoul: Han'guk Pulgyo Yön'guwön [Korean Institute for Buddhist
Studies]) 2 (1986).

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5 - A similar argument about repentance is found in his Commentary on the Awak-
ening of Faith, section on "Encouragement of the Practice of Repentance" (W3Í&
(HPC 73 1c), and in the Treatise of the Vajrasamādhi-sūtra, section on
"circulation" (M#) (HPC 676c-677a).

6 - See Eun-su Cho, "Reconciling the Actual with the Potential: Wonhyo's Theory
of Buddhahood and Enlightenment," International Journal of Buddhist Thought
and Culture 5 (2005).

7 - Separate Commentary on the Awakening of Faith, HPC 1 -763a.

8 - A similar explanation of dharma-kļānti is also found in his other work, Treatise

on the Vajrasamādhi-sūtra.

9 - Commentary on the Awakening of Faith, HPC 1 .735b01-02.

10 - Apramāda means non-negligence, carefulness, diligence. It is one of the ten

virtues-producing mental-function dharmas listed in the Abhidharma-kosa-

1 1 - Commentary on the Awakening of Faith, HPC 1 .736b09-1 7.

12 - Mark Siderits, "On the Soteriological Significance of Emptiness," Contemporary

Buddhism 4, no. 1 (2003): 1 7.

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