Cheontae is the Korean descendant of the Chinese Buddhist school Tiantai.
Tiantai teachings and practices were transmitted to Korea during the Three Kingdoms period through such Korean monks as Hyŏn’gwang (fl. sixth century) and Yŏn’gwang (fl. sixth century), both of whom traveled to China and studied under Chinese Tiantai teachers. It was not until several centuries later, however, that a Korean analogue of the Chinese Tiantai school was established as an independent Buddhist school. The foundation of the Korean CH’ŎNT’AE CHONG is traditionally assumed to have occurred in 1097 through the efforts of the Koryŏ monk Uicheon (1055–1101). Uicheon was originally a Hwaŏm monk, but he sought to use the Ch’ŏnt’ae tradition in order to reconcile the age-old tension in Korean Buddhism between KYO (Doctrine) and SŎN (Meditation).
Due to Uicheon's influence, Cheontae came to be a major force in the world of Goryeo Buddhism. After he returned from Song China in 1086, Uicheon sought to ease conflict between the doctrinal Gyo (教) schools and Seon (禪) schools, believing that the Cheontae doctrine would be effective to this end. Cheontae doctrine holds the Lotus Sutra as the peak of the Buddha's teachings, and postulates the following:
- All things are empty and without essential reality.
- All things have a provisional reality.
- All things are both absolutely unreal and provisionally real at once.
In accordance with the Cheontae doctrine, all experiences in the sensory world are in fact expressions of Buddhist law (Dharma), and therefore contain the key to enlightenment. This explains the extravagant altars and the colorful details found at Cheontae temples, differing from the austere aesthetic of the Seon (Zen) school.
Cheontae as a school has been largely absorbed into the Jogye Seon tradition, but an independent Cheontae school has been revived and has an estimated 2 million adherents. The school's headquarters are at Guinsa in Chungcheongbuk-do, near Danyang. The school also funds and operates the Buddhist university, Geumgang University.
- Buswell, Robert Jr; Lopez, Donald S. Jr., eds. (2013), Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism., Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press
- Cheontae (in Korean)
- A. Charles Muller (trans): "Outline of the Tiantai Fourfold Teachings", compiled by the Goryeo Śramaṇa Chegwan.
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