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Title [Korean Religion & Beliefs] BuddhismII
Name Standardmold
Date Time/Hit 2007-03-28 14:59:00 / 1416

The basic character of Korean Buddhism


▶ Songgwangsa Temple on Mt. Jogyesan, the headquarters of the Zen sect for over 300 years

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 Uisang

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.

▶ Jinul
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