On Sects and Sectarianism in Chinese and Korean Buddhism

The following is the Conclusion of:
Wonhyo (617-686): A Critic of Sectarian Doctrinal Classifications By Chanju Mun
Hsi Lai Journal of Humanistic Buddhism v.6, 2005, Pages 290 – 306

In dealing with East Asian Buddhism, Japanese and W estem scholars are
easily exposed to Japanese Buddhist sectarianism and western Christian sectarianism.
However, from the introduction of Buddhism to the period of Wonhyo, there are no
institutionalized sects that resemble Western religious sects or Japanese Buddhist sects.
For example, the scholars of the Chinese Huayan sect, actually established by Fazang,
do not have strong sectarianism, compared to Japanese Buddhist sectarianism and
western Christian sectarianism. The “Huayan sect” refers simply to the group of
scholars who are interested in Huayan Buddhism. Therefore, a scholar who is
categorized under the rubric of the Huayan sect can also be included in another
sectarian category. So, when the term “Huayan sect” is used, it means those who hold
Huayan Buddhism as a central tenet.

The connotation of the term “sect” in Chinese Buddhism is totally different
from its usage in western Christianity and Japanese Buddhism. It is impossible to
clearly delimit boundaries among the sects, which are not exclusive. Since the
classification of sects is not based upon differences of doctrine and practice, the notion
of a “sect” is essentially nominal. For instance, if a monk is living in a monastery
founded by a master in the Huayan School, he is automatically classified to a monk of
the Huayan School, regardless of his mastery or familiarity in some other doctrine or
practice. In this context, the sect has a genealogical meaning in Chinese monasticism.

Chinese Buddhists generally categorize the sects into three categories. First is
the category of doctrinal sects, represented by the Tiantai Sect, the Huayan Sect and
the Faxiang Sect. Second is the category of practical sects, represented by the Chan
Sect and Pure Land Sect. Third is the Vinaya Sect. Since all monks take precepts in the
ordination ceremony, they should always keep them. Historically, we assume that
Chinese monks live without having strong rivalry and exclusiveness toward other sects.
As a hypothesis, we might suggest that it is the third vinaya (rules) that creates a nonsectarian environment. They do not completely exclude other doctrinal and practical
sects. Rather than kicking out other sects, they synthesize various sects or tenets in
their own doctrinal and practical systems.

Based upon their own sectarian and/or academic background, each modem
panjiao scholar is mainly interested in one of sectarian panjiao systems, represented
by the Tiantai, Huayan and Faxiang panjiao systems. However, I argue that the
panjiao systems can be categorized into two groups, i.e., the ecumenical systems and
the sectarian systems. I assume that the panjiao systems can be discussed in terms of
interactive relationships between the sectarian and ecumenical panjiao systems.
Wonhyo, loyally succeeding the ecumenical panjiao lineage directly from
Huiyuan and Jizang, reacted against early sectarian panjiao systems of the Southern
and Northern Dynasties and the new Yogacara sectarian panjiao systems that
Xuanzang newly introduced and Kuiji systemized. However, his contemporary
Huayan scholars also reacted against the new Buddhism’s sectarian panjiao systems
based upon their own Huayan sectarianism.

While Wonhyo fiercely criticized Yogacara sectarian panjiao systems, we
cannot find out his definite criticism of Huayan sectarian panjiao systems. I assert that
even though Wonhyo’s ecumenical panjiao systems are basically different with
Huayan sectarian panjiao systems, Wonhyo and the Huayan scholars collaborated
against the common opponent Yogacara Buddhism. Nevertheless, I argue that because
he critically discussed the Dilun sectarian panjiao systems of the Southern and
Northern Dynasties, considered the prototypical type of Huayan Buddhism, he
indirectly criticized his contemporary Huayan sectarian panjiao systems.

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