Seosan Hyujeong – 서산 휴정 (1520-1604)


The Warrior Monk, Seosan Hyujeong

Hello Again Everyone!!

This is the sixth installment about prominent monks in Korean Buddhism. This week, I thought I would talk about another warrior monk: Seosan Hyujeong. Like his student, Samyeong-daesa, Seosan would rise up against the invading Japanese to defend the Korean peninsula.

Seosan was a great Seon master during the early to mid-Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). Seosan is remembered both as a national hero, as well as one of the most important figures in Korean Buddhist history.

Seosan’s Buddhist name was Cheongheo Hyujeong; however, he’s most commonly known by the respectful title of Seosan-daesa. During his lifetime, he taught hundreds of students that became prominent Seon masters in their own right. At the age of 32, Seosan scored the highest score in his class exam on monastic studies. Afterwards, he ascended to the highest position in Seon Buddhism, as well as the master arbitrator between Seon (meditative) and Gyo (doctrinal) schools of Buddhism. Eventually, he resigned his position after already assuming the position reluctantly in the first place. He didn’t strictly want to be an administrator. So he retreated to Mt. Geumgangsan, where he continued to practice and teach monks.

In 1592, and at the age of 72, the Japanese invaded the Korean peninsula. At this time, and two hundred years prior, Korean Buddhism had been dealt with contemptuously by Joseon Confucians. During this time in Korean history, monks had been driven out of cities and temples were closed. In fact, sacred Buddhist artwork was confiscated by Korean court officials. However, and in spite of all this, Seosan believed Korean Buddhism should come to the defence of the nation. In doing this, he cited the idea of doryang (the sacred practice of awakening), where people suffering needed to be saved through compassion; and for Seosan, there was no greater show of this than to come to the aid of the nation.

Even though he was 72 years old, he took the battlefield with parts of the Korean militias, as well as troops from Ming China (1368-1644). Through his efforts, he was successful in recapturing Pyeongyang. In greater support, Seosan asked all of his disciples to come to Korea’s aid. One of these monks was the famed Samyeong-daesa, who fought successfully in the southern portion of the Korean peninsula. As a result of their collective actions, the nation-protecting tradition of Korean Buddhism helped to partially re-legitimize the religion in officials’ minds.

In addition to his militaristic efforts to save his nation, Seosan was also a great meditation master. He helped to consolidate the forms of Gyo and Seon Buddhism, which are used in unison most commonly to the present day. Sadly, Seosan-daesa passed away at the age of 84 in 1604.


Another image of the elderly warrior monk, Seosan