Worldwide Locations

Worldwide Locations

Historical and Modern Religions of Korea

Praying with lanterns (lets.book/Flickr)

Praying with lanterns (lets.book/Flickr)



Buddhism
Buddhism is a highly disciplined philosophical religion which emphasizes personal salvation through rebirth in an endless cycle of reincarnation.

Buddhism was introduced into Korea in 372 CE during the Kogury Kingdom period by a monk named Sundo who came from Qian Qin Dynasty China. In 384,monk Malananda brought Buddhism to Paekche from the Eastern Jin State of China. In Silla, Buddhism was disseminated by monk Ado of Koguryo by the mid-fifth century. Buddhism seems to have been well supported by the ruling people of the Three Kingdoms because it was suitable as a spiritual prop for the governing structure, with Buddha as the single object of worship like the king as the single object of authority.

Under royal patronage, many temples and monasteries were constructed and believers grew steadily. By the sixth century monks and artisans were migrating to Japan with scriptures and religious artifacts to form the basis of early Buddhist culture there.

By the time Silla unified the peninsula in 668, it had embraced Buddhism as the state religion, though the government systems were along Confucian lines. Royal preference for Buddhism in this period produced a magnificent flowering for Buddhist arts and temple architecture including Pulguk-sa temple and other relics in Kyngju, the capital of Silla. The state cult of Buddhism began to deteriorate as the nobility indulged in a luxurious lifestyle. Buddhism then established the Son sect (Chinese Chan; Japanese Zen) to concentrate on finding universal truth through a life of frugality.

The rulers of the succeeding Koryo Dynasty were even more enthusiastic in their support of the religion. During Koryo, Buddhist arts and architecture continued to flourish with unreserved support from the aristocracy. The Tripitaka Koreana was produced during this period. When Yi Song-gye, founder of the Choson Dynasty, staged a revolt and had himself proclaimed king in 1392, he tried to remove all influences of Buddhism from the government and adopted Confucianism as the guiding principles for state management and moral decorum. Throughout the five-century reign of Choson, any effort to revive Buddhism was met with strong opposition from Confucian scholars and officials.

When Japan forcibly took over Choson as a colonial ruler in 1910, it made attempts to assimilate Korean Buddhist sects with those of Japan.These attempts however failed and even resulted in a revival of interest in native Buddhism among Koreans. The past few decades have seen Buddhism undergo a sort of renaissance involving efforts to adapt to the changes of modern society. While the majority of monks remain inmountainous areas, absorbed in self-discipline and meditation, some come down to the cities to spread their religion. There are a large number of monks indulging in scholastic research in religion at universities in and outside Korea. Son (meditation)-oriented Korean Buddhism has been growing noticeably with many foreigners following in the footsteps of revered Korean monks through training at Songgwang-sa temple in South Cholla province and Son centers in Seoul and provincial cities.