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Baegun Hwasang (白雲和尙): The Author of Jikji

The author of Jikji was a Seon (Zen) Buddhist monk who was born in 1299 and died in 1374. His ho (nom de plume) was Baegun (白雲) but his real name was Gyeong Han. He is known as one of the Samhwasang (three great monks; 三和尙) of the late Goryeo dynasty, along with Naong Hyegeum (懶翁慧懃, 1320–1376) and Taego Bowoo (太古普愚, 1301–1382).

Baekgun Gyeong Han lived at the end of the Goryeo dynasty during the reign of King Gongmin. In search of ideological stimulation, he accepted Neo-Confucianism, a new branch of Confucianism, and a new wave within Buddhism.

High Seon (Zen) Buddhist priests of the Suseonsa Temple (修禪社) of Jinul (知訥) and Cheontae (Tiantai) Buddhist priests of the Baengnyeonsa Temple (白蓮社) adopted the increasingly popular practice of koan meditation arising from the Imje or General Monk (凡僧) Jigong (指空, ?–1363) trends of the Yuan Dynasty where these high priests went to study.

Gyeong Han also followed in this trend and went to China to study under Seokok Cheonggong (石屋淸珙, 1272–1352) and Jigong.

However, Gyeong Han did not leave any documents or epitaphs, so his family background, his student-teacher relationships, and his general biography are unclear.

Due to the showcasing of the “Baegunhwasangchorok Buljojikjisimcheyojeol (白雲和尙抄錄佛祖直指心體要節),” which had been stored at the National Library of France (Bibliothèque Nationale de France), in 1972, interest in Gyeong Han’s Seon (Zen) ideology greatly increased, leading to a great deal of related research.

Gyeong Han was born in Gobu in Jeolla Province and is thought to have become a Buddhist monk around the age of 10. After becoming a Buddhist monk, there are almost no further records of his activities until his early 50s.

The only record to be found from this time is in an article in “Goryeosa (高麗史)” (History of Goryeo) Book 54 of the Five Elements, Volume (Ohaengji) 8, published in May 1346, the second year of King Chungmok’s reign. This article states that the king ordered Gyeong Han to oversee the ancestral rites of passed kings (忌晨祭), a national ceremony, which shows that Gyeong Han had a significant position within Buddhist circles by this time.

In 1370, the 19th year of King Gongmin’s reign, upon Naong’s recommendation, Gyeong Han participated as an examiner (sigwan, 試官) for the examination given to Buddhist monks (gongbuseon, 功夫選) which took place in Gwangmyeongsa Temple (廣明寺).

In 1372, the 21st year of King Gongmin’s reign, he was living on Seongbulsan Mountain (成佛山) where he wrote “Baegunhwasangchorok Buljojikjisimcheyojeol.” Towards the end of his life, he stayed at Cheonnyeonghyeon (川寧縣) Chwiamsa Temple (鷲巖寺) in Yeoju. He died at the age of 77.

When Gyeong Han died, his disciples, including Seokchan (釋璨), published “Baegunhwasangchorok Buljojikjisimcheyojeol” using metal type at Cheongju Heungdeoksa Temple (興德寺). In the following year, his disciples published the wooden type version at Chwiamsa Temple where Gyeong Han entered Nirvana and in the following month, the two volumes of “Baegunhwasangeorok (白雲和尙語錄)” were published at Singwangsa Temple (新光寺) in Haeju (海州). Seon (Zen) Buddhists (禪師) generally do not leave many writings.

The pieces listed above were about all of the extant writings that have been attributed to Gyeong Han. “Baegunhwasangchorok Buljojikjisimcheyojeol” has received a great deal of attention around world as it was verified to be the first document produced by movable metal type printing, produced even earlier than the Gutenberg Bible (National Library of Korea Digital Collection: Great Figures in Korea).