The Quadruple Grace of Won Buddhism

Won Buddhism teaches that we can develop a sense of gratitude for everything – good and bad – by studying the interconnected nature of life.

quadruple grace

Illustration of Sumin Ha.

“Let’s turn a life of resentment into a life of gratitude. This is the main teaching I remember from Won Buddhist Youth Services in Korea. When I first learned this teaching as a teenager, I was told to find gratitude in everyday life and to live with a sense of gratitude. I quickly realized how easily I grew hold of a grudge and how frustrating it could be. Gratitude has helped me redirect my attention from complaint to appreciation.

After a few years of practicing, I was able to find more gratitude in life, which brought me more joy and contentment. I could experience and appreciate what is here instead of feeling a lack of what is not here. However, deep inside I felt something was wrong. I realized that I was especially grateful for the things that were going well for me and for the people who favored me. My gratitude was limited in self-centeredness. Wanting to go further, I began to revisit the teaching of Quadruple Grace – an essential practice in Won Buddhism that cultivates true gratitude.

In Buddhism, the interdependent origin is the law of causation. According to this fundamental concept, everything is part of a web of interconnections, dependent on unlimited causes and conditions undergoing a continual process of transformation. In other words, nothing exists as independent, permanent or fixed. This is called emptiness or the empty nature of reality. All Dharma teachings are based on and lead us to an awareness of this interdependent and void nature of reality. This awareness – that all phenomena are woven together – allows us to live a life of infinite wisdom, joy, and compassion for all.

The teaching of Quadruple Grace helps us recognize all that nourishes and sustains us.

Sotaesan was the founder of Won Buddhism. His definition of the word “grace” (EunHye in Korean) describes the interdependence and interconnection of everything in the world. To understand this, Sotaesan asks us to consider life without our relationships with others.

For example, think of a glass of water. Before we can drink, we have to take water from a tap and pour it into a cup. The faucet is connected to a hose which is attached to several other hoses which are hooked into a water tank. Countless people have worked to perfect this water distribution system. Beyond all of this is the glass itself, which we use to hold water. Different people had to design, manufacture, deliver and sell this glass. Many causes and conditions come together just for us to drink a cup of water.

This also rings true for the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the homes we live in, and all the goods and services we use on a daily basis. Sotaesan recognized and understood that this network of interconnections is endless. “If there is a relationship that we cannot live in without the other,” he said, “then where would there be greater grace than that? “

In Won Buddhism, grace is not something we receive from God or from a higher power. Grace comes from recognizing and appreciating the essential relationships in our lives. Sotaesan’s point of view is that, not only are we interdependent, but our individual existence is indebted to each other. This awareness of interconnectedness and indebtedness allows us to be more understanding, responsible and altruistic.

To help Won Buddhists contemplate this web of interconnections, Sotaesan created a list known as Fourfold Grace. This list sums up all the interconnected aspects of our lives. In other words, it sums up everything that deserves our gratitude.

  • Grace of Heaven and Earth: air, earth, sun, moon, wind, clouds, rain, dew, etc.
  • Parents’ grace: parents and those who raise us, protect us and educate us.
  • Grace of similar beings: all beings, including animals and plants.
  • Through laws: regulations and laws that bring harmony and justice to individuals, families, societies, nations and the world

The teaching of Quadruple Grace helps us recognize all that nourishes and sustains us. As a teenager my struggle was that I only saw supportive relationships as grace and rejected everything else. But our lives span good times and bad times, so we need relationships that benefit and challenge us. By cultivating unconditional gratitude, I grew to respect the interdependent origin. I learned to recognize the difference between my own gratitude for “what is good for me” and Sotaesan’s gratitude for “what is”.

“[The Fourfold Grace] is all things in the universe, ”Sotaesan said. “There is nothing among the myriad things in heaven and earth or the dharma realm of empty space that is not the Buddha. So, no matter the time or place, we should never neglect to maintain a respectful state of mind and should treat the myriad things with the same pure mind and the same godly attitude that we have for the venerable Buddha.

In this way, the Quadruple Grace continually challenges us to transform a life of resentment into a life of gratitude.


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