"BUDDHISM IN SOUTH KOREA" Top 5 Page for this destination South Korea Travelogue by Hmmmm
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Korean history usually is divided into four periods: the Three Kingdoms (?-668 A.D.), the Unified Silla Kingdom(668-935 A.D.), the Goryeo Dynasty(935-1392 A.D.), and the Joseon Dynasty(1392-1910 A.D.). Although there is evidence of earlier contact with Buddhism, the official date for the introduction of Buddhism to Korea from China is 372 A.D. Since that time Korean Buddhism has been spread throughout the world and developed for 1,600 years. Korean Buddhism developed its distinctive characteristics and shaped its unique form of Buddhism based on social and political circumstances in each period.
Buddhism was first introduced in the Three Kingdoms period. According to the name of the Three Kingdoms, the land was composed of three different Kingdoms: Goguryeo, Baekje, and Silla. Each kingdom accepted Buddhism at a different time and by a different route. First, the kingdom of Goguryeo -located in the northern area- invited a monk from China with Chinese Buddhist texts and Buddha statues in 372 A.D. Later, Buddhism was introduced to the kingdom of Baekje, located in the southwestern area- from Goguryeo in 384 A.D. In the case of the above two kingdoms, the royal families first practiced Buddhism. However, in the kingdom of Silla, the common people were attracted to Buddhism. After Lee Chadon's martyrdom, King Beopheung officially recognized Buddhism in 527 A.D.
In the beginning of the Three Kingdoms period, the teaching of Buddhism was not of high quality Buddhist philosophy and thoughts. However, the spread of Buddhism produced a significant effect on the development of many aspects of national culture. Because of various invasions and careless preservation, only a few records- archaeological sites, historical remains, and books- exist. But it can be considered that Buddhism at this time not only contributed to the development of spiritual civilization, but also flourished in the development of art: bells, pagodas, architecture, and paintings.
In 668 A.D., the kingdom of Silla conquered the other two kingdoms and this period came to be called the Unified Silla period. Throughout the Unified Silla period, Buddhism continued to prosper, and grew both academically and culturally. Various rituals were developed and performed as spiritual requests for protection from foreign invasions. During this time some of the finest Korean Art was created. In particular, the famous rock statue of the Buddha in Seokguram Grotto in Gyeongju was carved in 732 A.D. It still evokes a sense of beauty. Towards the end of the Unified Silla period, Zen Buddhism was introduced from China and this added a new dimension to Korean Buddhism because the Zen school emphasized meditation and direct experience rather than concentration on studying Buddhist texts.
The Goryeo Dynasty assumed power in the 10th century and Buddhism continued to be a national religion. The main focus of Goryeo Buddhism was based on rituals and this created an unfavorable atmosphere for spiritual development. In order to struggle against the ritualistic trend, several monks emphasized the importance of combining Contemplative Zen and Textual tradition. The formation of the cheontae school gave new life to Goryeo Buddhism.
Buddhism slowly declined as the new rulers of the Joseon Dynasty adopted Neo-Confucianism. The new interest in Confucianism led to the oppression and restriction of Buddhism by some Joseon kings. Temples could not be built near towns. Instead, the government permitted Buddhist monks to stay in the mountains. While the government persecuted Buddhism, politically and socially, the common people continued to believe in it. Today, many new temples have opened in towns. Approximately half the population of Korea is Buddhist. Most Koreans, even though they may not call themselves Buddhists, maintain a Buddhist view of life.
Throughout the history of Korean Buddhism, the Korean style of Buddhism could be understood both academically and practically. The Avatamsaka Sutra and the Lotus Sutra were the main focus of study in Buddhist academic study. As for the practice, Pure land and Zen Buddhism have been the most popular and effective ways of practicing. Pure land Buddhism concentrates on Amitabha, the Buddha of Universal Light, and Avalokitesvara, the Boddhisattva of Compassion. The Zen Buddhism (Chan in Chinese and Seon in Korean) emphasizes meditation and direct experience over concentration on studying the texts.
Although Buddhism was first introduced to Korea during the Three Kingdoms period (?-668 A.D.), the distinctive character of Korean Buddhism emerged during both the Unified Silla (668-935 A.D.) and the Goryeo (935-1392 A.D.) periods. During these two periods Korean monks continually traveled to China to study new Buddhist ideas. After mastering their study, some Korean monks remained in China, but most of them came back and tried to introduce new Buddhist ideas to Korean culture and people.
The study of Avatamsaka Sutra and the practice of Pure Land Buddhism were popular during the Unified Silla period. Masters Wonhyo and Uisang were important monks who introduced and adopted these two ideas to Korea. Wonhyo wrote many important treatises in which he explained 'One Mind', the interrelatedness of everything in the universe. The development of this view was due to an event in his life.
Wonhyo and his friend, Uisang, departed for China to study Buddhism. One night during the journey, Wonhyo awoke thirsty. Searching around, he found a container with delicious cool water in it. He drank the water. The next morning, he realized that the water was in a skull. Suddenly he attained enlightenment. Then instead of going to China, he came back home.
Master Uisang arrived in China and studied for ten years under a great master. When he returned home, he presented a poem to his teacher. This poem, which is the shape of a seal, contained the essence of Avatamsaka Sutra.
Towards the end of the United Silla period, the Zen school was introduced from China and this added a new dimension to Korean Buddhism. Nine different schools emerged. They were known as the Nine Mountains of Zen.
During the Goryeo period master Jinul (1158-1210), known as Bojokuksa, founded Songgwang-sa Temple on Mt. Jogyesan, which remained the headquarters of the Zen sect for over 300 years. The Nine schools of Zen were unified by Master Taego (1301-82) under the name of Jogye, which has remained the main sect to this day.
In the Buddhist world there are various kinds of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. This phenomenon originated within Mahayana Buddhism. Theravadin Buddhists only recognize the Buddha Sakyamuni, the historical Buddha, as their spiritual teacher. Sakyamuni was born prince Siddhartha Gautama in northern India in the fifth century BC. However, Mahayana Buddhists conceive of Buddha as a Universal Buddha with an infinity of forms. As such, they worship not only the historical Buddha but also the universal Buddha, following the conception of three kinds of Buddha: the cosmic Buddha, the dharmakaya; the historical Buddha, Sambhogakaya; and the transformation Buddha, Nirmanakaya.
Among the many Buddhas and Bodhisattvas in Mahayana Buddhism, various Buddhist nations emphasize different Buddhas and Bodhisattvas based on their own Buddhist philosophy and way of practice. In the case of Korean Buddhism, Buddha Sakyamuni, Buddha Vairocana, Buddha Amithabha, Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, and Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha are important and can be seen in many Korean temples.
Buddha Sakyamuni (Seokamoni-bul in Korean) is the essential statue in most Korean temples. Korean Buddhists consider this Buddha as their main spiritual teacher, whose teachings can end human suffering in this world and lead toward the highest spirituality, namely Nirvana. The representative sculpture of the Buddha Sakyamuni is of a seated Buddha, the right hand hanging over the knee, palm inward, sometimes pointing with one finger, but usually with the whole hand, towards the earth. This mudra, or hand position, represents "calling the earth to witness", and is most often associated with the Buddha Sakyamuni.
Vairocana Buddha (Birojana-bul in Korean) is the Cosmic Buddha who spreads the light of Buddhist Truth in every direction, the Buddha who embodies the wisdom of Universal Law. Vairocana is sometimes enshrined in his own building called the Great Light Hall, as can be seen in Haeinsa temple. This sculpture generally stands alone in the hall, but sometimes it is the central figure of a trinity attended by Majusri and Samantabhadra Bodhisattvas.
Vairocana is usually depicted with his mudra. This is called the "knowledge fist," and is made up of the right-hand "diamond fist" and the left-hand "diamond finger." The diamond represents the supreme strength and durability of Buddhist knowledge. This mudra is a divine representation of the passions, and a comment on the intensity with which one aspiring to wisdom pursues this goal. Thus, the left index finger represents the world of sentient beings, and the surrounding right hand is the protection of the world of Buddhas.
Amithabha Buddha (Amita-bul in Korean) is the Buddha of infinite light and governs the pure land, the Western Paradise. Because the faces of Amithabha and Sakyamuni are so similar and their symbolic hand gestures are the same, it is difficult to distinguish between them. One way to identify Amithabha Buddha is that he is associated with Avalokitesvara and Mahastamprapta (Taesaeji Bosal, in Korean), two important bodhisattvas.
Avalokitesvara (Gwanseum Bosal in Korean) is the Bodhisattva of Compassion. The meaning of her name is "Hearer of Cries," and she is often pictured with her head slightly inclined as if listening to the pleas of the suffering. She is frequently pictured with a vase and willow spray. The vase contains amrita, the nectar of her compassion, or the waters of life. The willow branch represents her ability and willingness to liberally sprinkle "sweet dew" on the afflicted. The willow, which has long been considered to have medicinal value, also symbolizes her role as a healer.
Ksitigarbha (Jijang Bosal in Korean) is the Bodhisattva of relieving the suffering of the nether world. He vowed not to become a Buddha until there are no more people suffering in hell. He is usually bald, or has closely-cropped hair, and holds in one hand a staff or a sistrum, and in the other, a jewel. This is the "wish-fulfilling gem," a magical jewel which grants all selfless requests.
Most Korean temples have a shrine, housing pictures of Buddhist hells and heavens, to Ksitigarbha. This building serves for the benefit of the dead, and installed photos or memorial tables of recently deceased persons can be found here.
Since being brought to Korea in the late fourth century, Buddhism has evolved under the influence of the Korean spirit. Based on the Buddha's enlightenment and teachings of wisdom and compassion, 'Korean Buddhism' was created on the Korean soil by the Korean people. It has three unique characteristics compared to Indian and Chinese Buddhism.
Firstly, Korean Buddhism is universal and liberal, especially in solving cultural problems. When Buddhism first encountered Korean culture, the relationship was reciprocal and peaceful. On the one hand, Korean Buddhists accepted the traditional Korean culture; but on the other hand, they developed new meaning and value from the culture. Accordingly, Korea Buddhism has adjusted to the spirit of the Korean people and has become one with them.
Secondly, Korean Buddhism protects the nation and the people. From the beginning, it has played a vital role in times of turmoil. While searching for its religious goals and ideologies, it has always been concerned with national glory and peace. Throughout the long history of Korean Buddhism, it has helped to protect the nation on many occasions. For example, during the fifteenth century, Buddhist monks became soldiers and rose up to protect the nation against the Japanese invasion. As a result, Korean Buddhism was called 'protector of the nation.'
Thirdly, Korean Buddhism symbolizes harmony. It has not only reconciled conflicting religious ideas and schools, but also harmonized religious disagreements between theory and practice. Overcoming philosophical conflicts, Korean Buddhism has developed through the deeds of a long line of eminent Korean practitioners. This harmonious character was started by Master Wonhyo (617-686). With a philosophy of reconciliation, he harmonized various doctrines at a higher stage. Later, Master Daegak Uichon (1055-1101) and Master Bojo Jinul (1158-1210) continued in the same manner. Uichon recognized the logic and value of Wonhyo's conciliatory philosophy and tried to unite Korean Buddhism by combining theory and practice. Jinul also combined theory and practice in his creative movement of practicing meditation and wisdom together.
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