Korean Buddhism

Korean Buddhism is distinguished from other forms of Buddhism by its attempt to resolve what its early practitioners saw as inconsistencies within the Mahayana Buddhist traditions that they received from foreign countries. To address this, they developed a new holistic approach to Buddhism that became a distinct form, an approach characteristic of virtually all major Korean thinkers. The resulting variation is called Tongbulgyo (“interpenetrated Buddhism”), a form that sought to harmonize previously arising disputes among scholars (a principle called hwajaeng 和諍).[1]

Form of Buddhism
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Culture of Korea
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Mythology and folklore
An image of Gautama Buddha at Seokguram Grotto, Gyeongju, in South Korea
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Buddhism
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Mahāyāna Buddhism

Centuries after Buddhism originated in India, the Mahayana tradition arrived in China through the Silk Road in the 1st century CE via Tibet; it then entered the Korean peninsula in the 3rd century during the Three Kingdoms Period, from where it was transmitted to Japan. In Korea, it was adopted as the state religion of 3 constituent polities of the Three Kingdoms Period, first by the Goguryeo (Gaya) in 372 CE, by the Silla in 528 CE, and by the Baekje in 552 CE.[2]

As it now stands, Korean Buddhism consists mostly of the Seon Lineage, primarily represented by the Jogye and Taego Orders. The Korean Seon has a strong relationship with other Mahayana traditions that bear the imprint of Chan teachings as well as the closely related Zen. Other sects, such as the modern revival of the Cheontae lineage, the Jingak Order (a modern esoteric sect), and the newly formed Won, have also attracted sizable followings.[citation needed]

Korean Buddhism has contributed much to East Asian Buddhism, especially to early Chinese, Japanese, and Tibetan schools of Buddhist thought.[3][4][5][6]

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Monks going down to their rooms after evening prayers at Haeinsa.

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 Chimnyu 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.

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