Recognizing the relativity of existence, Wonhyo’s teachings were based upon a relativistic conception of reality. The evidence of such is apparent if one considers that “Arouse your Mind and Practice!” presents Wonhyo’s relativistic account of reality implicit in his emphasis on the necessity to arouse one’s mind “in order to correct the delusions of the mind (thereby)…benefiting one’s self and benefiting others” (21-22). Practice, in this sense, is to be understood as the process wherein an individual enables the development of the body as well as the mind through enabling the experience and hence the understanding of different conceptions of reality based upon our different perceptions of the same reality. In a sense, such an understanding may also enable the understanding of Wonhyo’s life.
As was noted by Buswell, Wonhyo’s works may be considered as a deviant form of literature during his period. This is apparent if one considers that hagiographies “functioned as a didactic tool” that served as “a model of conduct, morality, and understanding that could be imitated by the entire community” (553). If such is the case, it thereby follows that hagiographies function as a means from which a community may follow the exemplars of a particular individual’s acts. The importance of such is apparent if one considers that such works thereby provide a model from which enlightenment may be achieved by an individual. It is important to note that such an assumption is based upon a non-relativistic conception of reality since it assumes that the imitation of the life [and hence acts and deeds] of an individual will thereby lead to the same fate achieved by the individual used as an exemplar.
As opposed to such a claim, Wonhyo, on the other hand emphasized the necessity of self-development and self-enlightenment through the practice of one’s understanding of a particular aspect of reality. He notes that the failure to do such has led to the failure to progress towards enlightenment (Wonhyo 23). Wonhyo states,
Hours after hours continue to pass; swiftly the day and night are gone…swiftly the end of the month is gone…suddenly next year has arrived…suddenly we have arrived at the portal of death…yet we humans lie, lazy and indolent…with minds distracted. (23)
The distraction, in this, sense may be attributed to the emphasis on particular sutras and other materials, which are considered as enabling the achievement of enlightenment. Wonhyo considers such an emphasis [on the aforementioned sutras and the likes of such] as providing an insufficient means of enlightenment thereby leading an individual to an uninitiated enlightenment.
The effects of such a deviant doctrine, which is based on an emphasis on the manner of achieving self-enlightenment guided by the achievement of praxis between the mind and the body, may thereby account for Wonhyo’s portrayal in his hagiographies. Buswell notes that as opposed to the other hagiographies, Wonhyo’s hagiographies “concerns not Wonhyo’s religious career but instead the question of the scriptural authenticity” (554). In relation to this, Buswell further notes that such an emphasis thereby led to the use of Wonhyo [the man] “as a stratagem for discussing the legend about the recovery of the Book of Adamantine Absorption” (554). There are two ways in which one may choose to understand such a depiction. First, one may note that such depiction enables the portrayal of Wonhyo as a type. The portrayal of Wonhyo, in this sense, may be understood as enabling the portrayal of Wonhyo in relation to his emphasis of the necessity to focus on the achievement of enlightenment through the practice of one’s self as opposed to the emulation of another individual’s existence. At another level, one may state that such a portrayal of Wonhyo may be seen as a manner of questioning the authenticity of Wonhyo [the entity himself]. To question his authenticity may thereby be understood as amounting to the questioning of the validity of his works as well as the authenticity of his tenets, which contradicts the usual conceptions of enlightenment portrayed and taught by the other Buddhist schools.
Buswell, Robert Jr. “Hagiographies of the Korean Monk Wonhyo”. Buddhism in Practice. Ed. Donald Lopez. Virginia: University of Virginia, 2007.