The Tripitaka Koreana: A Vast Trove of Buddhist Woodblock Wisdom

The Tripitaka Koreana: A Vast Trove of Buddhist Woodblock Wisdom


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The Tripitaka Koreana is a collection of Buddhist texts, laws, and treaties originally created during the 11 th century by the Korean kingdom of Goryeo. The Tripitaka Koreana was carved onto woodblocks and stands as the most comprehensive and oldest intact version of Buddhist canon in Hanja script, with no known errors or errata. During the Mongol invasions, the original collection was destroyed. Shortly after that, however, a second set of the Tripitaka Koreana was created. Around the end of the 14th century, the woodblocks were transferred to the Temple of Haeinsa, and have been stored there since then. The significance of the Tripitaka Koreana, and the temple where it is kept, has been recognized both nationally and internationally. Apart from being national treasures of Korea, the Temple of Haeinsa is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, whilst the Tripitaka Koreana has been inscribed in UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register.

Tripitaka Koreana: 81,258 Buddhist woodblock “texts”

The Tripitaka Koreana is known also as the Palman Daejanggyeong. The word Tripitaka is Sanskrit for “Three Baskets” and refers to the ancient collections of Buddhist scriptures. Palman Daejanggyeong, which means “Eighty Thousand Tripitaka,” is perhaps a more descriptive name, as this collection of Buddhist texts consists of 81,258 woodblock “texts.”

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The entire collection is divided into over 1,496 titles, and 6,568 volumes, and contains a total of 52,330,152 Hanja characters . The Tripitaka Koreana is not only the most complete collection of Buddhist texts in Hanja characters, but also remarkably accurate, as there are no known errors in the entire collection.

Due to the high level of the Tripitaka Koreana’s accuracy, the Japanese, Chinese, and Taiwanese, versions of the Tripitaka are based on this ancient Korean collection.

Stacks of Tripitaka Koreana woodblocks at Haeinsa Temple in South Korea. ( shoenberg3 / Adobe Stock)

Another amazing aspect of the Tripitaka Koreana lies in the consistency of the style of the calligraphy . The style is so consistent that it was long believed to have been the work of a single person. Today, however, there is a consensus amongst scholars that there were up to 30 people involved in the carving of the Tripitaka Koreana.

The woodblocks themselves are also worth mentioning. These were made from birch wood from the southern islands of Korea, which were first treated to prevent the wood from decaying. The wood was initially soaked in sea water for three years, before being cut up into blocks. After that, the blocks were boiled in salt water, placed in the shade, and exposed to the wind for another three years.

The next stage was the carving of the woodblocks. This, however, was not the final stage, as the carved woodblocks were then covered in a poisonous lacquer to prevent insects from damaging them. Lastly, the woodblocks were framed with metal to prevent warping.

Copy of a Tripitaka Koreana woodblock. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )

Buddhism Arrived in Korea From China in the 4th-century AD

Buddhism was introduced into Korea from China during the 4th century AD. During the Goryeo period, i.e., 10th to 14th centuries AD, Buddhism became the national religion of Korea. One of the great achievements of the Buddhist rulers of Goryeo was the creation of the Tripitaka Koreana.

During the 11th century, Goryeo was at war with the Khitans. To invoke the divine protection of the Buddha against his kingdom’s enemies, the Goryeo king commissioned the Tripitaka Koreana. The carving of these sacred texts onto woodblocks began in 1011 and was finally completed in 1087. Unfortunately, the original woodblocks were destroyed during the Mongol invasions of Korea, which began in 1231.

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Korean Buddhist monks walking at the Temple of Haeinsa in modern times. ( natmacstock / Adobe Stock)

In the decades that followed, the Mongols launched several military campaigns against Goryeo. In the second year of the war, the capital of Goryeo was moved from Kaesong to Ganghwa Island, as the latter could be more easily defended against the Mongols. In 1236, King Gojong ordered the Tripitaka Koreana to be remade. Once again, the sacred scriptures were carved in the hopes that the Buddha would protect Goryeo against the foreign invaders.

The second set of the Tripitaka Koreana took 16 years to carve and was finally completed in 1251. It is unclear as to where the Tripitaka Koreana was kept in the century and a half that followed. In 1398, however, the woodblocks were moved by the Yi Dynasty, the royal house of Goryeo’s successor, Joseon, to the Temple of Haeinsa. The Tripitaka Koreana has resided in that temple till this day.

The exterior of the main building at the Temple of Haeinsa, South Korea. ( Dmitry Chulov / Adobe Stock)

Temple of Haeinsa: Home of “Second” Tripitaka Koreana

The name of the Temple of Haeinsa has been translated to mean “Reflections of the Calm Sea.” The temple is situated on Mount Gaya, in the southern part of the Korean Peninsula. The temple predates the Tripitaka Koreana, as it was built in 802 AD during the reign of Aejang, the ruler of Silla.

According to one legend, the king’s wife was suffering from a strange illness, and none of the royal physicians were able to treat her. Therefore, the king sent officials to the four corners of his kingdom to search for monks who might be able to cure the queen. At the site where Haeinsa would later be built, two Korean monks, Suneung and Ijeong, who had returned from China, established a hermitage. When one of the king’s officials came to the site, he saw a brilliant radiance emanating from the monks, and asked them to return to the palace with him.

The monks, however, refused the official’s request, but gave him a spool of thread with five colors. They told him to tie one end of the thread to the queen’s finger, and the other to a pear tree in front of the palace. The official returned to the palace and did as he was instructed by the monks. Whilst the queen regained her health, the per tree withered, and died. In gratitude to Suneung and Ijeong, the king donated the site of Haeinsa to the monks and had a Buddhist temple built there.

An alternate story regarding the temple’s origin states that it was Suneung who established the temple at Haeinsa after attaining enlightenment in China. Although the queen appears in this story as well, it does not involve her being sick, nor was she miraculously cured by the monks. Instead, she is said to have been a supporter of Buddhist monks, following her conversion to Buddhism under Suneung’s guidance. Following Suneung’s sudden death, construction of the temple continued and was completed by Ijeong.

The Tripitaka Koreana is an amazing collection of 81,258 Buddhist scriptures carved onto wooden printing blocks that have lived at the Temple of Haeinsa since 1398 AD. ( CC BY 2.0 )

The Haeinsa Library or Tripitaka Library Was Built to Last

The Tripitaka Koreana is stored in the temple’s Janggyeong Panjeon or Haeinsa Library. This library is located at the highest point of the temple complex, even higher than the hall housing the main Buddha of the temple. As mentioned earlier, the woodblocks were specially treated to preserve them from deterioration. In addition to this, the library was ingeniously designed to protect them even further.

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The library’s design was also functional, as it allowed the woodblocks to be easily accessed and stored. The design of the library provides natural ventilation, and modulates temperature and humidity, thereby contributing to the Tripitaka Koreana’s excellent preservation for more than 600 years. Incidentally, the library has survived seven serious temple fires, including one in 1818, which burnt down most of the temple complex.

There is little doubt about the Tripitaka Koreana’s significance to the Korean people. In 1962, this priceless collection of Buddhist texts was designated as a National Treasure of South Korea. In 2007, the Tripitaka Koreana was also inscribed in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register. Likewise, the importance of the Janggyeong Panjeon which houses the Tripitaka Koreana has also been recognized.


Hundreds of Ancient Rock-Cut Tombs have been Discovered in Egypt

The Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities have announced the discovery of a distinctive collection of hundreds of ancient tombs. The 250 rock-cut tombs were found in various levels of a mountain face at the Al-Hamidiyah necropolis near Sohag, in Southern Egypt, on the West Bank of the Nile River. This brings the total to more than 300 tombs discovered in the area, which is centrally located near the ancient cities of Aswan and Abido.

This is the latest in a series of major new Egyptian archaeological discoveries. Putting this latest discovery in context, use of the burial complex spans more than 2,000 years of Egyptian history, from the Old Kingdom period, which included Pharaoh Khufu the builder of the Great Pyramid of Giza , to around the time of Cleopatra’s death in 30 BC, an event which marked the end of the Ptolemaic dynasty.

Rock-cut tomb at Al-Hamidiyah necropolis, near Sohag. (Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities)


The dating of the Tripitakas is unclear. Max Muller states that the texts were likely composed in the third century BC, but transmitted orally from generation to generation just like the Vedas and the early Upanishads. [7] The first version, suggests Muller, was very likely reduced to writing in the 1st century BC (nearly 500 years after the time of Buddha). [7]

According to the Tibetan historian Bu-ston, states Warder, around or before 1st century AD, there were eighteen schools of Buddhism and their Tripitakas were written down by then. [8] However, except for one version that has survived in full, and others of which parts have survived, all of these texts are lost to history or yet to be found. [8] The historical evidence preserved in Sri Lanka suggest that a complete Tripitaka was written down there in the 1st century BC. [8] These texts were written down in four related Indo-European languages of South Asia: Sanskrit, Pali, Paisaci and Prakrit, sometime between 1st century BC and 7th century AD. [8] Some of these were translated in East Asian languages such as Chinese, Tibetan and Mongolian by ancient visiting scholars, which though vast are incomplete. [9]

Wu and Chia state that emerging evidence, though uncertain, suggests that the earliest written Buddhist Tripitaka texts may have arrived in China from India by the 1st century BC. [10]


The World Trembles, but the Khan Does Not

After much debate, Timur decided to go ahead and prepare for a massive invasion. While he readied his forces, he sent Prince Pir Mohammed Jahangir ahead to place the holy city of Multan (located in present-day Pakistan) under siege.

Multan is famous for its large number of Sufi shrines, including the unique rectangular tomb of Shah Gardez that dates from the 1150s and is covered in blue enameled tiles typical of Multan. (Junaidahmadj/CC BY-SA 3.0)

While this was ongoing, Timur ordered for the assembly of ninety thousand troops. To make sure everyone was on board, Timur called for a qurultay, which is a meeting with all the princes, chiefs, and other officials to inform them what his intentions were.

Although the true faith is observed in many places in India, the greater part of the Kingdom is inhabited by idolaters. The Sultans of Delhi have been slack in their defense of the Faith. The Muslim rulers are content with the collection of tribute from these infidels. The Koran says that the highest dignity a man can achieve is to make war on the enemies of our Religion. Mohammed the Prophet counselled like wise. A Muslim warrior thus killed acquires a merit which translates him at once into Paradise.

Timur also made it clear that they should fear him and his army for “most of Asia are under our domination, and the world trembles at the least movement we make.” Timur also saw destiny on his side and believed he had been blessed with favorable opportunities. Because of this, his armies rode “south, not east. India through her disorders has opened her doors to us.”

Timur sent a letter addressed to Sarang Khan of Dipalpur with a possible deal:

If the rulers of Hindustan come before me with tribute, I will not interfere with their lives, property, or kingdoms but if they are negligent in proffering obedience and submission, I will put forth my strength for the conquest of the realms of India. At all events, if they set any value upon their lives, property, and reputation, they will pay me a yearly tribute and if not, they shall hear of my arrival with my powerful armies. Farewell.

It is difficult to take an empire to your bosom, like a bride, without trouble and difficulty and the clashing of swords. The desire of your prince is to take this kingdom with its rich revenue. Well, let him wrest it from us by force of arms if he be able. I have numerous armies and formidable elephants, and am quite prepared for war.


Culturally Significant Plant Species of the Pueblo Peoples

The latest study focused on artifact-rich locations that had at one time been occupied by the Pueblo peoples of the Colorado Plateau, including the Hopi, Zuni, Utes, and the Navajo (Diné).

The scientists were primarily interested in searching for culturally significant Pueblo peoples’ plant species that grow in the area. Puebloan populations in the region were at their peak 1,000 years ago, and these species would have been used back then and in later years for food, medicine, and ceremonial or religious purposes.

In total, the researchers identified and collected samples from more than 117 species of plant they knew had some significance to ancient and modern indigenous residents related to the Pueblo peoples. All of these species were found in the vicinity of various Puebloan archaeological sites , and other locations in the area were checked to see if the same types of plants could be found outside those sites.

The distribution of these plant species was surprising and revealing. As the scientists explained in their May 17 report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the plant ecology of the landscape appeared to have been shaped by intentional planning.

Many plant species were found growing almost exclusively near the Puebloan archaeological sites, where native groups had settled in large or small populations. In locations away from Pueblo peoples’ settlements, these particular plants were rarely found. Near the biggest and most complex archaeological sites, the researchers found a greater number of different culturally important species, in comparison to smaller sites that had less plant diversity .

“The plants weren’t randomly just there,” Pavlik explained in a University of Utah press release. “People brought propagules [ seeds or buds] of the species in with them.”

The Pueblo peoples of the Colorado Plateau had left behind a clear footprint of their presence. Except in this instance, the artifacts discovered were plants, instead of the usual cultural productions like pottery, tools, or weapons.

“This is one of the rare times in the archeological literature where people invested in native species and brought them to their habitations,” Pavlik continued. “It indicates this higher level of landscape manipulation, what we call ‘an ecological legacy’ of past human occupation.”

Overall, there were at least 31 species that appeared to have been intentionally planted or cultivated in areas where Pueblo peoples lived. There may have been more, but some of the plant species common at archaeological sites were also common in other areas, making it impossible to tell whether they had been planted intentionally or spread there naturally.

Ecologically-wise, sustainable societies like the Pueblo peoples created over a 1,000 years ago are useful today for understanding these societies, our own and where to look for other artifacts. ( sodawhiskey / Adobe Stock)


The Tripitaka Koreana: A Vast Trove of Buddhist Woodblock Wisdom - History

Mumbai, Maharashtra (India) Faced with the contradictory choice of preserving and popularising the 2,200-year-old Ajanta and Ellora caves with their treasure trove of paintings, Mumbai's architect couple Trilochan and Anju Chhaya decided to do both.

Five kilometres away from the magnificent World Heritage monument, built over 800 years from 200 B.C. to 600 A.D. in the austere rocks near Aurangabad, Chhaya and Chhaya Design Consultants - decided to create a 'prelude' to the caves.

'Think of it as a trailer to a grand epic movie. It should be tantalising without giving anything away. Our challenge has been to create an experience which is authentic, informative and exciting for an increasing number of tourists who visit both the Ajanta and Ellora caves,' Trilochan Chhaya told IANS in an interview.

Authorities were watching with growing concern the steady erosion of the caves as tourist traffic increased over the last 50 years. The caves had remained virtually forgotten for 1,200 years until a British hunting party chanced upon them in 1819.

Built by chiselling through the enormous horseshoe shaped hard rock on the Waghure River the 30 caves were ancient resting places for Buddhist monks traversing the length and breadth of the country to propagate Buddhist philosophy.

The caves consist of 'viharas' - and 'chaityas' - and are full of stunning Buddhist style paintings that encapsulate the life cycles of Gautam Buddha known as Jataka Tales.

'When we look at the Ajanta and Ellora caves we are really looking at the evolution of nearly 1,000 years in terms of culture. Paintings, jewellery, costumes, culinary rituals, fashion have all been depicted in these paintings. As an architect my biggest challenge was to offer visitors a complete overview of this grand spectacle without really trying to impress them with my design. I approached the project with a great deal of humility,' he said.

The project Trilochan Chhaya is talking about is a joint endeavour of the Archaeological Survey of India, the Indian government, tourism ministry, Maharashtra Tourism Development Corp -, Tata Consultancy Services - and the Japan Bank for International Cooperation -.

The Rs.1 billion-plus project aims at cushioning and significantly minimising the impact of tourism on the UNESCO heritage without in anyway controlling tourist inflow. In order to eliminate a large influx of polluting buses and other private vehicles the architects have created a 'prelude' to the caves.

However, before embarking on the prelude, the authorities went about providing infrastructure in and around the caves with new roads, electricity lines, afforestation and transportation.

A one-armed helical spiral galaxy-like structure is now taking shape away from the caves where designers plan to offer a multi-media experience built around replicas of four caves. Stories, drawn from the history of the monument, will be narrated using multi-media techniques.

Trilochan Chhaya said he has taken care to see that his team does not try to indulge in 'showing off' and approaches the whole project with 'humility and a sense of paying tribute to the ancient masters'.

Paintings and carvings from the caves are being replicated and placed in the upcoming building with the specific purpose of 'satiating' people's curiosity before they reach the actual heritage site.

'We believe this approach will help in preserving the original masterpieces. Additionally, we are also creating a sort of sculptor's studio that will sell replicas of the cave structures and paintings. This too will help deflect unwanted attention to the actual monument,' he said.

The whole experience at the new building will begin at the Orientation Centre, which will prepare tourists on what to expect.

Located under a hundred foot dome resting on a cylinder, the centre will house a cyclorama projector which can create a powerful audio-visual experience. Then there is the replica of the caves with replicas of the famous paintings. The third element will be the multimedia centre embedded between the cave replicas.

While the Ajanta Visitor Centre concentrates on the paintings, the Ellora version focuses on the actual cave structure. Together they offer a comprehensive insight into centuries of cultural evolution. Both complexes will have a series of short films being played in loop, offering the visitors a continuing primer on the history of what they are about to enter.

The designers have ensured that they incorporate the four famous features of the region such as the Paithani saris, Himru linen, black metal Bidri work and stoneware as part of the experiences. Local artisans will make these products at the site.

Unlike some of the more popular tourist sites such as the Taj Mahal, what is unique about the Ajanta and Ellora caves is that they offer through sculptures and paintings a dramatic glimpse of life in India over eight centuries. To that extent the caves are unrivalled.

As part of their plan to retain thematic consistency, the design firm CCDC, which has also been contracted by the Airport Authority of India and the ministry of civil aviation, has created a modern new design for the new Aurangabad airport. It is expected to become operational in one and half years.

'The idea is to offer anyone coming to Aurangabad a sense of having entered a place of extraordinary history right from the airport. It is a fusion of the modern shell with traditional interiors depicting a changing and modernising face of the city,' Anju Chhaya said.

The Ajanta and Ellora Visitor Centre has the potential to emerge as a model for preservation for a large number of heritage sites not just in India but also all over the world.


The Tripitaka Koreana: A Vast Trove of Buddhist Woodblock Wisdom - History

By Manjarie PEIRIS, Daily News (Sri Lanka), Wednesday, January 14, 2009

It was a peaceful and sunny morning in the capital of Kenya. Ambassador Ram Sharada and Hon. Njeru Kathangu, a former Member of Parliament of Kenya welcome Venerable Bhante Wimala at the St. Johns basilica in the downtown Nairobi. They accompanied him to the Peace Centre located just a few blocks away from the church. In a simple and intimate ceremony, they awarded venerable Bhante Y. Wimala with a certificate of Peace Ambassador, offered by the Universal Peace Federation, International and Inter-religious Federation for World Peace.

The recipients of Peace Award are carefully chosen in recognition of their services as leaders representing the religious, racial and ethnic diversity of the human family, as well as all disciplines of human endeavor. They stand on the common ground of shared principles and are committed to the path of promoting reconciliation, overcoming barriers, and building peace.

"I was pleasantly surprised to see the excitement and enthusiasm of everybody who gathered there. I felt that their words and gestures came from their inner hearts with genuine enthusiasm. It was a great moment to witness such appreciation of the work that I do with so much dedication and enthusiasm." Said Bhante Wimala.

Ven. Mwalagho Kililo, the Secretary General of the Universal Peace Federation - African Region, Hon. Njeru Kathangu, Former Member of Kenya Parliament, Ambassador Ram Sharada, Rose Kegwiria of the Youth Federation for World Peace and Rangala Fredrick, the Deputy Director of Peace Festival, Kenya, were among the participants at this ceremony.

The Ambassadors for Peace should exemplify the ideal of living for the sake of others while promoting universal moral values along with strong family lives. They should help to strengthen inter-religious cooperation, international harmony, and renewal of the United Nations, creation of responsible mass media and establishment of global culture of peace.

They should surpass racial, national and religious barriers and contribute to the fulfillment of the hope of all ages - a unified world of peace wherein the spiritual and material dimensions of life are harmonised.

The Ambassadors for Peace serve as members on national, regional and global peace councils promoting and safeguarding world peace.

They contribute for development of a broad strategic alliance of partnerships among individuals, educational institutions, organisations, religions, corporations, the media and governments.

Bhante Wimala is the author of 'Lessons of the Lotus - Practical Spiritual Teachings of a Traveling Buddhist Monk' and 'Poems of Awakening'. The webpage of Bhante Wimala is www.bhantewimala.com.

Bhante Wimala was also awarded with Global Peace Award in the US last year by the Peace Centre in the US. and the Council of Christian Churches. Bhante Wimala has been a Buddhist monk for 36 years and is known throughout the world as a spiritual teacher and humanitarian. He is the Chief Monk and Spiritual Director of Theravada Buddhist Centre, Nairobi, Kenya.

He is also the founder and spiritual teacher of the e-Samadhi Buddhist Meditation Centre in Tupadly (Prague) Czech Republic, Founder of the Lotus Buddhist Center. Since 1986, Bhante Wimala has been the Chairperson and Spiritual Director of Triple Gem Society, the Centre for Conscious Evaluation, in Princeton, New Jersey, USA. He is also the Founding Director and Spiritual Advisor of Prison Ministries which serve many state prisons in the USA.

Bhante Wimala has been the Chief Sanghanayake of USA and Canada since 1994. In 1994, he was appointed as the Sanghanayake by the Council of Monks of the Samastha Amerapura Sangha Sabha of Sri Lanka.


The Tripitaka Koreana: A Vast Trove of Buddhist Woodblock Wisdom - History

Samdech Maha Ghosananda's vision of peace and survival stretched beyond the borders of his homeland and into communities throughout New England.

Ghosananda, an architect of the revival of Buddhism in Cambodia and a spiritual leader whose influence was felt throughout this area, especially in Lowell, died March 12 at Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton. He was in his late 70s or early 80s.

He had been living with Buddist monks in Leverett and Providence.

Often regarded as Cambodia's Gandhi, Ghosananda was one of the few senior monks to survive Pol Pot's bloody four-year regime. After losing his entire family, including 16 siblings, Ghosananda emerged as a reformer who sought to revitalize the Cambodian refugee population through compassion and forgiveness. He established more than 50 Buddhist temples in North America and Europe. Several of them are in New England, including the Triratanaram Temple in North Chelmsford, where his funeral service was to be held this weekend.

"He had a strong sense of balance and harmony. He was a symbol of peace and inspiration to the Cambodian community in Lowell," said the Venerable Natha-Pandito Rithipol of the Triratanaram Temple.

Ghosananda was born, probably in the 1920s, in Takeo Province, Cambodia, where he served as the local temple boy. Under the guidance of former supreme patriarch Samdech Prah Sangha Raja Chuon Noth, Ghosananda became a Buddhist monk as a teenager. He earned a doctorate in Buddhist studies from Nalanda Buddhist University in Bihar, India, where he later taught. Nichidatsu Fujii, founder of the Japanese Buddhist sect Nipponzan Myohoji, introduced him to the practices of nonviolent activism. In 1965 he studied contemplative social engagement under Bhikkhu Buddhadasa. To conclude his retreat, he studied meditation with Ajahn Dhammadaro and acquired fluency in more than 10 languages.

He lived in exile during Pol Pot's reign, which denounced Buddhism and caused the deaths of all but 3,000 of Cambodia's 60,000 Buddhist monks . Returning in 1978 after the fall of Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge, Ghosananda invoked Buddha's teaching that "hatred can never be appeased by hatred . . . it can only be appeased by love," to help Cambodians reclaim their lives. With the support of community activists and international bodies such as the United Nations, Ghosananda initiated several humanitarian aid programs essential to Cambodia's restoration. He taught meditation and formed peace walks, such as the Dhammayietra, which continues in Cambodia today. He was a personal friend to the Dalai Lama and Pope John Paul II.

Recognizing the importance of Cambodian communities throughout the world, Ghosananda forged his dreams of peace into an international effort. He moved to the United States in the late 1980s at the invitation of a Buddhist order in Leverett. In 1988 Cambodia's monks elected him their supreme patriarch.

For the past two decades, Ghosananda was active in the Lowell Cambodian community, which is one of the largest in the country. He led the first Southeast Asia Water Festival in the United States, which took place in Lowell in 1997. He was a frequent visitor to Lowell, where he led meditation and prayer sessions at local temples. He named the Buddhist temple in North Chelmsford, as well as many others in New England.

Those who knew him praised his devotion to Cambodian unity in Massachusetts.

"He was a familiar face to many and a strong leader in our community. He had a great presence and sought peace wherever he went," said Rithipol.

Ghosananda was nominated several times for the Nobel Peace Prize and was awarded the 1998 Niwano Peace Prize in Japan and the 1992 Rafto Human Rights Award in Norway. He demonstrated his strong advocacy for love, peace, and forgiveness through his own nonviolent example and through his motto: "Our journey for peace begins today and every day. Each step is a prayer, each step is a meditation, each step will build a bridge."


Contents

Arrival and spread of Buddhism Edit

When Buddhism was originally introduced to Korea from Former Qin in 372, [7] about 800 years after the death of the historical Buddha, shamanism was the indigenous religion. The Samguk yusa and Samguk sagi record the following 3 monks who were among the first to bring Buddhist teaching, or Dharma, to Korea in the 4th century during the Three Kingdoms period: Malananta - an Indian Buddhist monk who came from Serindian area of southern China's Eastern Jin Dynasty and brought Buddhism to the King Baekje of Baekje in the southern Korean peninsula in 384 CE, Sundo - a monk from northern Chinese state Former Qin brought Buddhism to Goguryeo in northern Korea in 372 CE, and Ado - a monk who brought Buddhism to Silla in central Korea. [8] [9] As Buddhism was not seen to conflict with the rites of nature worship, it was allowed by adherents of Shamanism to be blended into their religion. Thus, the mountains that were believed by shamanists to be the residence of spirits in pre-Buddhist times later became the sites of Buddhist temples.

Though it initially enjoyed wide acceptance, even being supported as the state ideology during the Goryeo (918-1392 CE) period, Buddhism in Korea suffered extreme repression during the Joseon (1392-1897 CE) era, which lasted over five hundred years. During this period, Neo-Confucianism overcame the prior dominance of Buddhism.

Only after Buddhist monks helped repel the Japanese invasions of Korea (1592–98) did the persecution of Buddhists stop. Buddhism in Korea remained subdued until the end of the Joseon period, when its position was strengthened somewhat by the colonial period, which lasted from 1910 to 1945. However, these Buddhist monks did not only put an end to Japanese rule in 1945, but they also asserted their specific and separate religious identity by reforming their traditions and practices. They laid the foundation for many Buddhist societies, and the younger generation of monks came up with the ideology of Mingung Pulgyo, or "Buddhism for the people." The importance of this ideology is that it was coined by the monks who focused on common men's daily issues. [10] After World War II, the Seon school of Korean Buddhism once again gained acceptance.

Extent and syncretic impact of Buddhism Edit

A 2005 government survey indicated that about a quarter of South Koreans identified as Buddhist. [11] However, the actual number of Buddhists in South Korea is ambiguous as there is no exact or exclusive criterion by which Buddhists can be identified, unlike the Christian population. With Buddhism's incorporation into traditional Korean culture, it is now considered a philosophy and cultural background rather than a formal religion. As a result, many people outside of the practicing population are deeply influenced by these traditions. Thus, when counting secular believers or those influenced by the faith while not following other religions, the number of Buddhists in South Korea is considered to be much larger. [12] Similarly, in officially atheist North Korea, while Buddhists officially account for 4.5% of the population, a much larger number (over 70%) of the population are influenced by Buddhist philosophies and customs. [13] [14]

When Buddhism was introduced to Korea in the 4th century CE, the Korean peninsula was politically subdivided into Three Kingdoms of Korea]: Goguryeo in the north (which included territory currently in Russia and China), Baekje in the southwest, and Silla in the southeast. There is concrete evidence of an earlier introduction of Buddhism than traditionally believed. A mid-4th century tomb, unearthed near Pyongyang, is found to incorporate Buddhist motifs in its ceiling decoration.

Korean Buddhist monks traveled to China or India in order to study Buddhism in the late Three Kingdoms Period, especially in the 6th century. In 526, the monk Gyeomik (謙益) from Baekje traveled via the southern sea route to India to learn Sanskrit and study the Vinaya. The monk Paya (波若 562–613?) from Goguryeo is said to have studied under the Tiantai master Zhiyi. Other Korean monks of the period brought back numerous scriptures from abroad and conducted missionary activity throughout Korea.

Several schools of thought developed in Korea during these early times:

  • the Samlon (三論宗) or East Asian Mādhyamaka school focused on Mādhyamaka doctrine
  • the Gyeyul (戒律宗, or Vinaya in Sanskrit) school was mainly concerned with the study and implementation of śīla or "moral discipline"
  • the Yeolban (涅槃宗, or Nirvāna in Sanskrit) school based in the themes of the Mahāyāna Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra
  • the Wonyung (圓融宗, or Yuanrong in Chinese) school formed toward the end of the Three Kingdoms Period. This school lead to the actualization of the metaphysics of interpenetration as found in the Avatamsaka Sutra and was considered the premier school, especially among the educated aristocracy.
  • the Hwaeom (華嚴宗 or Huayan school) was the longest lasting of the "imported" schools. It had strong ties with the Beopseong (法性宗), an indigenous Korean school of thought.

The date of the first mission from Korea to Japan is unclear, but it is reported that a second detachment of scholars was sent to Japan upon invitation by the Japanese rulers in 577. The strong Korean influence on the development of Buddhism in Japan continued through the Unified Silla period. It was not until the 8th century that independent study by Japanese monks began in significant numbers.

Goguryeo Edit

In 372, the monk Sundo (順道, pinyin: Shùndào) was sent by Fu Jian (337–385) (苻堅) of Former Qin to the court of the King Sosurim of Goguryeo. He brought texts and statues (possibly of Maitreya, who was popular in Buddhism in Central Asia), and the Goguryeo royalty and their subjects quickly accepted his teachings. [15] Buddhism in China was in a rudimentary form, consisting of the law of cause and effect and the search for happiness. This had much in common with the predominant Shamanism, which likely led to the quick assimilation of Buddhism by the people of Goguryeo.

Early Buddhism in Silla developed under the influence of Goguryeo. Some monks from Goguryeo came to Silla and preached among the people, making a few converts. In 551, Hyeryang (惠亮), a Goguryeo monk was appointed the first National Patriarch of Silla. He first presided over the "Hundred-Seat Dharma Assembly" and the "Dharma of Eight Prohibitions".

Baekje Edit

In 384, the Gandharan monk Marananta arrived in Baekje and the royal family received the strain of Buddhism that he brought. King Asin of Baekje proclaimed, "people should believe in Buddhism and seek happiness." In 526, the Baekje monk Gyeomik (겸익, 謙益) traveled directly to Central India and came back with a collection of Vinaya texts, accompanied by the Indian monk Paedalta (Sanskrit: Vedatta). After returning to Baekje, Gyeomik translated the Buddhist scriptures in Sanskrit into seventy-two volumes. The Gyeyul school in Baekje was established by Gyeomik about a century earlier than its counterpart in China. As a result of his work, he is regarded as the father of Vinaya studies in Korea. [15]

Silla Edit

Buddhism did not enter the kingdom of Silla until the 5th century. The common people were first attracted to Buddhism here, but there was resistance among the aristocrats. In 527, however, a prominent court official named Ichadon presented himself to King Beopheung of Silla and announced he had become Buddhist. The king had him beheaded, but when the executioner cut off his head, it is said that milk poured out instead of blood. Paintings of this are in the temple at Haeinsa and a stone monument honoring his martyrdom is in the National Museum of Kyongju.

During the reign of the next king, Jinheung of Silla, the growth of Buddhism was encouraged and eventually recognized as the national religion of Silla. Selected young men were physically and spiritually trained at Hwarangdo according to Buddhist principles regarding one's ability to defend the kingdom. King Jinheung later became a monk himself.

The monk Jajang (慈藏) is credited with having been a major force in the adoption of Buddhism as a national religion. Jajang is also known for his participation in the founding of the Korean monastic sangha.

Another great scholar to emerge from the Silla Period was Wonhyo. He renounced his religious life to better serve the people and even married a princess for a short time, with whom he had a son. He wrote many treatises and his philosophy centered on the unity and interrelatedness of all things. He set off to China to study Buddhism with a close friend, Uisang, but only made it part of the way there. According to legend, Wonhyo awoke one night very thirsty. He found a container with cool water, which he drank before returning to sleep. The next morning he saw that the container from which he had drunk was a human skull and he realized that enlightenment depended on the mind. He saw no reason to continue to China, so he returned home. Uisang continued to China and after studying for ten years, offered a poem to his master in the shape of a seal that geometrically represents infinity. The poem contained the essence of the Avatamsaka Sutra.

Buddhism was so successful during this period that many kings converted and several cities were renamed after famous places during the time of the Buddha.

Unified Silla (668–935) Edit

In 668, the kingdom of Silla succeeded in unifying the whole Korean peninsula, giving rise to a period of political stability that lasted for about one hundred years under Unified Silla. This led to a high point in scholarly studies of Buddhism in Korea. The most popular areas of study were Wonyung, Yusik (Ch. 唯識 Weishi) or East Asian Yogācāra, Jeongto or Pure Land Buddhism, and the indigenous Korean Beopseong ("Dharma-nature school").

Wonhyo taught the Pure Land practice of yeombul, which would become very popular amongst both scholars and laypeople, and has had a lasting influence on Buddhist thought in Korea. His work, which attempts a synthesis of the seemingly divergent strands of Indian and Chinese Buddhist doctrines, makes use of the Essence-Function (體用 che-yong) framework, which was popular in native East Asian philosophical schools. His work was instrumental in the development of the dominant school of Korean Buddhist thought, known variously as Beopseong, Haedong (海東, "Korean") and later as Jungdo (中道, "Middle Way")

Wonhyo's friend Uisang (義湘) went to Chang'an, where he studied under Huayan patriarchs Zhiyan (智儼 600–668) and Fazang (法藏 643–712). When he returned after twenty years, his work contributed to Hwaeom Buddhism and became the predominant doctrinal influence on Korean Buddhism together with Wonhyo's tongbulgyo thought. Hwaeom principles were deeply assimilated into the Korean meditation-based Seon school, where they made a profound effect on its basic attitudes.

Influences from Silla Buddhism in general, and from these two philosophers in particular crept backwards into Chinese Buddhism. Wonhyo's commentaries were very important in shaping the thought of the preeminent Chinese Buddhist philosopher Fazang, and Woncheuk's commentary on the Saṃdhinirmocana-sūtra had a strong influence in Tibetan Buddhism.

The intellectual developments of Silla Buddhism brought with them significant cultural achievements in many areas, including painting, literature, sculpture, and architecture. During this period, many large and beautiful temples were built. Two crowning achievements were the temple Bulguksa and the cave-retreat of Seokguram (石窟庵). Bulguksa was famous for its jeweled pagodas, while Seokguram was known for the beauty of its stone sculpture.

Balhae (698–926) Edit

Buddhism also flourished in the northern Korean Kingdom of Balhae, established after the fall of Goguryeo, as the state religion. The remains of ten Buddhist temples have been found in the remains of the capital of Balhae, Sanggyeong, together with such Buddhist artifacts as Buddha statuettes and stone lanterns, which suggests that Buddhism played a predominant role in the life of the Balhae people. The Balhae tomb Majeokdal in Sinpo, South Hamgyong Province, are associated with pagodas and temples: This also indicates that Buddhism had a strong influence over the funerary rituals in Balhae.

After the fall of Balhae, sixty monks from Balhae including the monk Jaeung (載雄) fled together to the newly founded kingdom of Goryeo (918-1392).

Seon Edit

A new epoch in Korean Buddhism began during the latter Silla with the birth of schools of Korean Seon. In China, the movement toward a meditation-based practice, which came to be known as Chan Buddhism, had begun during the sixth and seventh centuries, and it was not long before the influence of the new meditational school reached Korea, where it was known as Seon. The term is more widely known in the West in its Japanese variant, Zen. Tension developed between the new meditational schools and the pre-existing academically oriented schools, which were described by the term gyo, meaning "learning" or "study."

Kim Gyo-gak (金喬覺 630–729), a prince who became a monastic, came to the region of Anhui to Mount Jiuhua in China. Many Chinese Buddhists believe he was indeed the transformation body of Kṣitigarbha. Two uncles sent by his mother and wife to call him back also became monastics there. His well-preserved, dehydrated body is seen at the monastery he built on Mount Jiuhua today. The two uncles, being officials before becoming monastics, found it difficult to abstain from wine and meat, and so practiced in another place on the mount. People built the palace of the two saints (二聖殿) in their practice place to memorialize them. Many Buddhists visit there.

Beomnang (法朗 fl. 632–646), said to be a student of the Chinese master Daoxin (道信 580–651), is generally credited with the initial transmission of Chan into Korea. It was popularized by Sinhaeng (神行 704–779) in the latter part of the eighth century and by Doui (道義 died 825) at the beginning of the ninth century. From then on, many Koreans studied Chan in China, and upon their return established their own schools at various mountain monasteries with their leading disciples. Initially, the number of these schools was fixed at nine, and Korean Seon was then termed the "nine mountain schools" (九山 or gusan). Eight of these were of the Mazu Daoyi (馬祖道一 709–788) lineage, as they were established through connection with either him or one of his eminent disciples. The one exception was the Sumi-san school founded by Ieom (利嚴 869–936), which had developed from the Caodong school (曹洞). [ citation needed ]

Rise of the Seon Edit

As Buddhism in medieval Korea evolved, it served to legitimize the state. [16] [17]

Initially, the new Seon schools were regarded by the established doctrinal schools as radical and dangerous upstarts. Thus, the early founders of the various "nine mountain" monasteries met with considerable resistance, repressed by the long influence in court of the Gyo schools. The struggles which ensued continued for most of the Goryeo period, but gradually the Seon argument for the possession of the true transmission of enlightenment gained the upper hand. The position that was generally adopted in the later Seon schools, due in large part to the efforts of Jinul (知訥 1158–1210), did not claim clear superiority of Seon meditational methods, but rather declared the intrinsic unity and similarities of the Seon and Gyo viewpoints.

Although all these schools are mentioned in historical records, toward the end of the dynasty, Seon became dominant in its effect on the government and society, as well as the production of noteworthy scholars and adepts. During the Goryeo period, Seon thoroughly became a "religion of the state," receiving extensive support and privileges through connections with the ruling family and powerful members of the court.

Hwaeom (Huayan) and Seon Edit

Although most of the scholastic schools waned in activity and influence during this period of Seon's growth, the Hwaeom school continued to be a lively source of scholarship well into the Goryeo, much of it continuing the legacy of Uisang and Wonhyo. In particular the work of Gyunyeo (均如 923–973) prepared for the reconciliation of Hwaeom and Seon, with Hwaeom's accommodating attitude toward the latter. Gyunyeo's works are an important source for modern scholarship in identifying the distinctive nature of Korean Hwaeom.

Another important advocate of Seon/Gyo unity was Uicheon. Like most other early Goryeo monks, he began his studies in Buddhism with Hwaeom. He later traveled to China, and upon his return, actively promulgated the Cheontae (traditional Chinese: 天台宗 pinyin: Tiantai), which became recognized as another Seon school. This period thus came to be described as "five doctrinal and two meditational schools". Uicheon himself, however, alienated too many Seon adherents, and he died at a relatively young age without seeing a Seon-Gyo unity accomplished.

Jinul Edit

The most important figure of Seon in the Goryeo was Jinul. In his time, the sangha was in a crisis of external appearance and internal issues of doctrine. Buddhism had gradually become involved with secular affairs, incorporating practices such as fortune-telling and offering of prayers and rituals for success in secular endeavors. Inclination toward these practices resulted in the profusion of an increasingly larger number of monks and nuns with questionable motivations. The correction, revival, and improvement of the quality of Buddhism became prominent issues for Buddhist leaders of the period.

Jinul sought to establish a new movement within Seon which he called the "samādhi and prajñā society" (traditional Chinese: 定慧社 Korean: Jeonghyesa) whose goal was to establish a new community of disciplined, pure-minded practitioners deep in the mountains. He eventually accomplished this mission with the founding of Songgwangsa at Mt. Jogye (曹溪山). Jinul's works are characterized by a thorough analysis and reformulation of the methodologies of Seon study and practice.

One major issue that had long fermented in Chan, and which received special focus from Jinul, was the relationship between "gradual" and "sudden" methods in practice and enlightenment. Drawing upon various Chinese treatments of this topic, most importantly those by Huayan Patriarch Guifeng Zongmi (780–841) and Linji master Dahui Zonggao (大慧 1089–1163), Jinul created a "sudden enlightenment followed by gradual practice" dictum that he outlined in a few relatively concise and accessible texts. From Dahui Zonggao, Jinul also incorporated the hwadu method into his practice. This form of meditation is the main method taught in Seon today.

Jinul's philosophical resolution of the Seon-Gyo conflict brought a deep and lasting effect on Korean Buddhism.

Late Goryeo Edit

The general trend of Buddhism in the latter half of the Goryeo was a decline due to corruption, and the rise of strong anti-Buddhist political and philosophical sentiment. However, this period of relative decadence would nevertheless produce some of Korea's most renowned Seon masters. Three important monks of this period who figured prominently in charting the future course of Korean Seon were contemporaries and friends: Gyeonghan Baeg'un (景閑白雲 1298–1374), Taego Bou (太古普愚 1301–1382) and Naong Hyegeun (懶翁慧勤 1320–1376). All three went to Yuan China to learn the hwadu practice of the Linji school (traditional Chinese: 臨濟 Korean: Imje) that had been popularized by Jinul. All three returned and established the sharp, confrontational methods of the Imje school in their own teaching. Each of the three was also said to have had hundreds of disciples, such that this new infusion into Korean Seon brought about a considerable effect.

Despite the Imje influence, which was generally considered to be anti-scholarly in nature, Gyeonghan and Naong, under the influence of Jinul and the traditional tongbulgyo tendency, showed an unusual interest in scriptural study, as well as a strong understanding of Confucianism and Taoism, due to the increasing influence of Chinese philosophy as the foundation of official education. From this time, a marked tendency for Korean Buddhist monks to be "three teachings" exponents appeared.

A significant historical event of the Goryeo period is the production of the first woodblock edition of the Tripiṭaka called the Tripitaka Koreana. Two editions were made, the first one completed from 1210 to 1231, and the second one from 1214 to 1259. The first edition was destroyed in a fire, during an attack by the Mongols in 1232, but the second edition is still in existence at Haeinsa in Gyeongsang. This edition of the Tripitaka was of high quality, and served as the standard version of the Tripitaka in East Asia for almost 700 years.

In 1388, an influential general named Yi Seonggye (1335–1408) carried out a coup d'état and established himself as the first ruler of the Joseon dynasty in 1392 with the support of this Neo-Confucian movement. He was posthumously renamed Emperor Taejo of Joseon in 1899. Joseon Buddhism, which had started off under the so-called "five doctrinal and two meditational" schools system of the Goryeo, was first condensed to two schools: Seon and Gyo. Eventually, these were further reduced to the single school of Seon.

Despite this strong suppression from the government, and vehement ideological opposition from Korean Neo-Confucianism, Seon Buddhism continued to thrive intellectually. An outstanding thinker was Gihwa (己和 (Hamheo Deuktong 涵虚得通) 1376–1433), who had first studied at a Confucian academy, but then changed his focus to Buddhism, where he was initiated to the gwanhwa tradition by Muhak Jacho (無學自超 1327–1405). He wrote many scholarly commentaries, as well as essays and a large body of poetry. Being well-versed in Confucian and Taoist philosophies, Giwha also wrote an important treatise in defense of Buddhism, from the standpoint of the intrinsic unity of the three teachings, entitled the Hyeonjeong non. In the tradition of earlier philosophers, he applied che-yong ("essence-function") and Hwaeom (sa-sa mu-ae, "mutual interpenetration of phenomena").

Common in the works of Joseon scholar-monks are writings on Hwaeom-related texts, as well as the Awakening of Faith in the Mahayana, Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment, Śūraṅgama Sūtra, Diamond Sutra and the Heart Sutra. The Jogye order instituted a set curriculum of scriptural study, including the above-mentioned works, along with other shorter selections from eminent Korean monks, such as Jinul.

During the Joseon period, the number of Buddhist monasteries dropped from several hundred to a mere thirty-six. Limits were placed on the number of clergy, land area, and ages for entering the sangha. When the final restrictions were in place, monks and nuns were prohibited from entering the cities. Buddhist funerals, and even begging, were outlawed. However, some rulers occasionally appeared who looked favorably upon Buddhism and did away with some of the more suppressive regulations. The most noteworthy of these was the Queen Munjeong, who, as a devout Buddhist, took control of the government in the stead of her young son Myeongjong (r. 1545–67), and immediately repealed many anti-Buddhist measures. The queen had deep respect for the brilliant monk Bou (보우, 普雨 1515–1565), and installed him as the head of the Seon school.

One of the most important reasons for the restoration of Buddhism to a position of minimal acceptance was the role of Buddhist monks in repelling the Japanese invasions of Korea, which occurred between 1592 and 1598. At that time, the government was weak from internal squabbles, and was not initially able to muster strong resistance to the incursion. The plight of the country encouraged some leaders of the sangha to organize monks into guerrilla units, which enjoyed some instrumental successes. The "righteous monk" (義士 uisa) movement spread during this eight-year war, finally including several thousand monks, led by the aging Seosan Hyujeong (서산대사, 西山休靜 1520–1604), a first-rate Seon master and the author of a number of important religious texts. The presence of the monks' army was a critical factor in the eventual expulsion of the Japanese invaders.

Seosan is also known for continuing efforts toward the unification of Buddhist doctrinal study and practice. His efforts were strongly influenced by Wonhyo, Jinul, and Gihwa. He is considered the central figure in the revival of Joseon Buddhism, and most major streams of modern Korean Seon trace their lineages back to him through one of his four main disciples: Yu Jeong (1544–1610) Eongi (1581–1644), Taeneung (1562–1649) and Ilseon (1533–1608), all four of whom were lieutenants to Seosan during the war with Japan.

The biographies of Seosan and his four major disciples are similar in many respects, and these similarities are emblematic of the typical lifestyle of Seon monks of the late Goryeo and Joseon periods. Most of them began by engaging in Confucian and Daoist studies. Turning to Seon, they pursued a markedly itinerant lifestyle, wandering through the mountain monasteries. At this stage, they were initiated to the central component of Seon practice, the gong'an, or gwanhwa meditation. This gwanhwa meditation, unlike Zen traditions, did not consist of contemplation on a lengthy, graduated series of kōans. In contrast, the typical Korean approach was that "all gong'an are contained in one" and therefore it was, and still is, quite common for the practitioner to remain with one hwadu during his whole meditational career, most often Zhaozhou Congshen's "mu."

Buddhism during the three centuries, from the time of Seosan down to the next Japanese incursion into Korea in the late nineteenth century, remained fairly consistent with the above-described model. A number of eminent teachers appeared during the centuries after Seosan, but the Buddhism of the late Joseon, while keeping most of the common earlier characteristics, was especially marked by a revival of Hwaeom studies, and occasionally by new interpretations of methodology in Seon study. There was also a revival, during the final two centuries, of Pure Land Buddhism. Although the government maintained fairly tight control of the sangha, there was never again the extreme suppression of the early Joseon.

During Japan's Meiji Restoration in the 1870s, the government abolished celibacy for Buddhist monks and nuns. Japanese Buddhists won the right to proselytize inside cities, ending a five-hundred year ban on clergy members entering cities. Jōdo Shinshū and Nichiren schools began sending missionaries to Korea and new sects formed in Korea such as Won Buddhism. [18]

After the Japan–Korea Treaty of 1910, when Japan annexed Korea, Korean Buddhism underwent many changes. The Temple Ordinance of 1911 (Korean: 사찰령 Hanja: 寺刹令 ) changed the traditional system whereby temples were run as a collective enterprise by the Sangha, replacing this system with Japanese-style management practices in which temple abbots appointed by the Governor-General of Korea were given private ownership of temple property and given the rights of inheritance to such property. [19] More importantly, monks from pro-Japanese factions began to adopt Japanese practices, by marrying and having children. [19]

In 1920, the Temple Ordinance was revised to reorganize temple administration and allow the Japanese government to directly oversee the 31 main temples in the country, with new headquarters at Kakwangsa (now Jogyesa). [20] During the Second Sino-Japanese War, Korean Buddhism was placed under greater control. [20] Japanese authorities had many temples' artworks shipped to Japan. Negotiations for the repatriation of these artworks are still ongoing today.

When Korea was liberated by the surrender of Japan in 1945, the celibate monastics of what has become the largest sect of Korean Buddhism in terms of adherents and the number of clergy, the Jogye Order, began to take over for the married priests who ran the temples during the occupation. [21] This order sees itself as the primary representative of traditional Korean Buddhism in existence. The Taego Order is the second largest order of Korean Buddhism and includes both celibate and married monks (nuns are expected to remain celibate). This is the only order that maintains the full Korean Buddhist ritual tradition. [ dubious – discuss ]

Current situation Edit

The Seon school, which is dominated by the Jogye Order in terms of the number of clergy and adherents, practices disciplined traditional Seon practice at a number of major mountain monasteries in Korea, often under the direction of highly regarded masters. The Taego Order, though it has more temples than the Jogye Order, is second in size in terms of the number of clergy and adherents and, in addition to Seon meditation, keeps traditional Buddhist arts alive, such as Yeongsanjae and other ritual dance.

Modern Seon practice is not far removed in its content from the original practice of Jinul, who introduced the integrated combination of the practice of Gwanhwa meditation and the study of selected Buddhist texts. The Korean monastic life is markedly itinerant for monks and nuns pursuing Seon meditation training: while each monk or nun has a "home" monastery, he or she will regularly travel throughout the mountains, staying as long as he or she wishes, studying and teaching in the style of the temple that is housing them. The Korean monastic training system has seen a steadily increasing influx of Western practitioner-aspirants in the second half of the twentieth century. The vast majority of Korean monks and nuns do not spend 20 or 30 years in the mountains pursuing Seon training in a form recognizable to westerners. Most Korean monks and nuns receive a traditional academic education in addition to ritual training, which is not necessarily in a formal ritual training program. Those who do spend time in meditation in the mountains may do so for a few years and then essentially return to the life of a parish priest.

Currently, Korean Buddhism is in a state of slow transition. While the reigning theory behind Korean Buddhism was based on Jinul's "sudden enlightenment, gradual cultivation," the modern Korean Seon master, Seongcheol's revival of Hui Neng's "sudden enlightenment, sudden cultivation" has taken Korean Buddhism by storm. Although there is resistance to change within the ranks of the Jogye order, with the last three Supreme Patriarchs' stance that is in accordance with Seongcheol, there has been a gradual change in the atmosphere of Korean Buddhism.

North Korea Edit

The regime in North Korea actively discourages the practice of religion, including Buddhism. Currently, the country claims to have about 10,000 active adherents of Buddhism. As with other religions in the country, Buddhism came under the close scrutiny of the country's government [22] –including worship at Buddhist temples by monks, through the state-sponsored Korea Buddhist Federation. [23] A major temple is Pohyonsa which was preserved by Kim Il-Sung.

Nevertheless, Buddhists in North Korea reportedly fared better than other religious groups–particularly Christians, who were said to often face persecution by the authorities, and Buddhists were given limited funding by the government to promote the religion, given that Buddhism played an integral role in traditional Korean culture. [24]

South Korea Edit

Starting in the 1950s, Syngman Rhee and others worked to further divide and weaken the Buddhist Sangha in the country. Rhee campaigned in 1954 against the so-called "Japanized Buddhists". Western education and scholarship, and the empowerment of women and the poor, caused divisions among Koreans. Specifically, a deep rift opened between married priests and celibate monks, a carryover from Japanese Buddhism's influence during the occupation period, though there had been calls for an end to celibacy from some Korean monks before Japan's annexation of the Korean peninsula. The differences were so great that fistfights over the control of temples became frequent. Monks, mostly belonging to the celibate Jogye order, threatened to kill themselves. Many of them were against the married clergy. As the Buddhist riots continued, the influence of Buddhism lessened. Buddhism continued to lose followers to Christian missionaries, who were able to capitalize on these weaknesses.

From the 1960s onward, Buddhism has grown considerably, through the formation of independent lay associations (that is, not funded or affiliated to the main orders), with many focused on youths, particularly to propagate and evangelize Buddhist teachings, fellowship and spiritual development, based on the Protestant model. [25] These adaptations have modernized Buddhism in South Korea. [25] Moreover, the South Korean government began devoting substantial funds to restore and reconstruct historic Buddhist temples, helping to revive Buddhism in the country. [18] President Park Chung-hee unsuccessfully attempted during his rule (1961–1979) to settle the dispute by building a pan-national Buddhist organization. However, he did succeed in allying himself with the celibate faction, the Jogye Order.

It was in 1970 that Korean Buddhism split into a fully celibate order which retained the name "Jogye" and the Taego order that includes both celibate and married clergy. The Taego order retained the traditional red kasa whereas the Jogye order changed their kasa to brown to visually differentiate the two orders. Both orders continue to use the Dharmaguptaka Pratimoksha, the lineage of vows for monks and nuns taken in China and Vietnam, though Taego monks have the option of returning the vow of celibacy. When the Jogye order was founded, the government only recognized a small group of celibate Seon practitioners as "legitimate," thus all of the ritual specialists remained with the Taego order.

In the 1980s, President Chun Doo-hwan, a Presbyterian, adopted anti-Buddhist policies and attempted to restrict Buddhist activities. [20] During his administration, many historic temples were converted into tourist resorts, which deprived temples of their autonomy, as these "national parks" were government-run. [20] Consequently, Buddhists, especially the Jogye Order, were highly critical of these measures. From 27 to 31 October 1980, during the Kyeongsin Persecution, the government raided major Buddhist temples throughout the country, including the headquarters at Seoul's Jogyesa, under the guise of anti-government investigations and an attempt to "purify" Buddhism. [20] [26] 55 monks were arrested and many others were interrogated and tortured, including the abbot of Naksansa, who died from the abuses. [26] None of the investigated monks were ever charged, although many were sent to reeducation camps. Throughout the 1980s, the Buddhist community was kept under strict surveillance of government agents and many were prosecuted under false charges of supporting Communists or conspiracy. [20]

To Buddhists, the construct of a state-protecting Buddhism (호국불교 or 護國佛敎, Hoguk Bulgyo) had vanished, which served to radicalize a generation of Buddhists, including monks and laity and propelled them to start a movement called Minjung Buddhism (민중불교 or 民衆佛敎, "practical Buddhism" or "Buddhism for the masses"). [26] This modernization emphasized ordinary people and was a reaction to aggressive Christian proselytization in Korea. [18]

From the mid-1980s to date, Buddhism has expanded by through media and education. There are two major Buddhist media networks in South Korea, the Buddhist Broadcasting System (BBS), founded in 1990 and the Buddhist Cable TV Network, founded in 1995. [25] Buddhist orders are also affiliated with or operate 3 universities, 26 schools and 16 seminaries in the country. [25] The Kwan Um School of Zen is one of South Korea's most successful international missionary institutions. [27]

During the 1990s, conflicts between the South Korean government and Buddhist leaders, as well as with fundamentalist Protestant denominations, continued. The government accused Buddhism of immorality [ citation needed ] and many Protestants used this to forward their missionary work. Some religious gatherings have even turned violent, vandalizing statues of Buddha and Dangun, the mythical founder of Korea. Soon after the Buddhist Broadcasting Service's FM radio station was launched in 1990, young men vandalized and destroyed sound facilities worth $200,000 USD. [19]

There was also a rash of temple burnings in the 1980s and 1990s, and attacks on Buddhist artwork have continued. In one instance, a Protestant minister used a microphone on a cord as a bolo weapon and smashed temple paintings and a statue. In other instances, red crosses have been painted on temple walls, murals, and statues. Buddha statues have also been decapitated. Furthermore, students at Buddhist universities report aggressive attempts to convert them on campus, especially near campus temples. [28]

Sectarian tensions between fundamentalist Protestants and Buddhists occasionally surface due to what has been seen as a tendency of government officials–many of whom are Christians, especially of Protestant denominations–to tilt the political balance in favour of Christians over Buddhists which has led to discontent within the Buddhist community. [29]

Of particular note was the ascension of Lee Myung-bak to the South Korean presidency when the high proportion of Christians in relation to Buddhists in the public sector became known–particularly the president's cabinet, where there were 12 Christians to only one Buddhist. [30] among other reported incidences. [31]

Recently, the South Korean public has become increasingly critical of Protestant churches and leaders due to their support for aggressive missionary tactics. This has led many Protestants leaving their churches and converting to Buddhism. [32]

The growing discontent with Protestant Christianity in South Korea has contributed to a spiritual and cultural revival of Buddhism in South Korea, with the number of followers increasing in recent years. [33]

Antagonism from Korean Protestantism Edit

Fundamentalist Protestant antagonism against Buddhism has increased in recent years. Acts of vandalism against Buddhist amenities and instances of fundamentalist Christians praying for the destruction of all Buddhist temples and monasteries [34] have all drawn attention to this persistent hostility against Buddhism from Korean Protestants. South Korean Buddhists have denounced what they view as discriminatory measures against them and their religion by the administration of President Lee Myung-bak, which they attribute to Lee being a Protestant. [35] [36] The Buddhist Jogye Order has accused the Lee government of discriminating against Buddhism by ignoring Buddhist temples in certain public documents. [35] [36] In 2006, according to the Asia Times, "Lee also sent a video prayer message to a Christian rally held in the southern city of Busan in which the worship leader prayed feverishly: 'Lord, let the Buddhist temples in this country crumble down!'" [37] Further, according to an article in Buddhist-Christian Studies: "Over the course of the last decade a fairly large number of Buddhist temples in South Korea have been destroyed or damaged by fire by misguided Protestant fundamentalists. More recently, Buddhist statues have been identified as idols, attacked and decapitated. Arrests are hard to effect, as the arsonists and vandals work by stealth of night." [38] A 2008 incident in which police investigated protesters who had been given sanctuary in the Jogye temple in Seoul and searched a car driven by Jigwan, then the executive chief of the Jogye order, led to protests by some claiming police had treated Jigwan as a criminal. [35]

In October 2010, students from Church Equipping Worship School posted a clip on YouTube [39] professing a hope that God would destroy a Buddhist temple in Seoul. [39] Later they claimed being taught such by God.

"This place (Bongeunsa Temple) will be demolished and God will win it back….Useless idols (Buddha’s statue) here made me really sad,” the student said in the clip. [39]

Following public outrages sparked by the video, pastor Choi Ji-ho and students from the school went to Bongeunsa Temple to apologize for the comments made by the student. [39]

The presidency of Park Geun-hye intended to address Protestant Christian antagonism against Buddhists in South Korea, due to increasing calls for religious cooperation in the country by the general public. [40] During the first year of the Park administration, a national message was delivered for the celebration of Buddha's Birthday, a contrast from the former Lee Myung-bak adminstration which was criticised for it's role in the suppression of Buddhist influence in South Korea. [41]


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