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Pre-twentieth century Korean Buddhism was vital for the survival of the nation as it played an essential role in state protection, which is often described as "state-protecting Buddhism" (hoguk pulgyo) (Park, 2014; Shim, 1993). According to Keel (1978), Korean Buddhism is recognized for its strong characteristic of hoguk pulgyo owing to the intimate connection that traditionally existed between the state of Korea and Buddhism. Essentially, hoguk pulgyo ideology can be found in various Mahayana scriptures and also had popularity in Korean courts (Keel, 1978). This paper aims to discuss the characteristics of Korean Buddhism as a state-protecting religion, which includes the focus on reconnecting Korean people, quelling conflicts and opposing dictatorial regimes, existence of hwarang system for political mobilization, it fostered peace and edification of Korean people, promotion of national and cultural development, existence of Buddhist monks for state-protection, and lastly, rituals for state protection.
Why Buddhism Emerged as a State-Protecting Religion
During the colonial period, the most urgent and vital task for the Korean Buddhists was redressing the negative effects of five hundred years of persecution under the Confucian Choson dynasty (it existed between 1392 and 1910) (Park, 2014). The political oppression under the Choson dynasty depleted human and financial resources of the Buddhist order. Under the Choson regime, Park (2014) articulates that Buddhism fell into a period of internal strife and exile as the monks hid in the remote areas and living incognito. Sectarian distinctions were abolished which left the Buddhist order without structure, and Dharma lineages increasingly became blurry. In effect, no Sangha system facilitated the education of monks, as well as the enforcement of monastic discipline as they had little channels of networking. In consequence, the Buddhist order lost its social prestige and leadership and the emergence of variant Buddhist epithets - Buddhism for monks, mountain Buddhism, Buddhism for security, and Buddhism for women (Park, 2014).
Buddhism Characteristics as State-Protecting Religion
Buddhism Sought to Reconnect Korean People
To reconnect the Korean people, as well as allow for the restoration of Buddhism standing, colonial Buddhist leaders emphasized on reforms, including education. Also, political strategies came into play. For example, before the March First Independence Movement that occurred in 1919 attempted to overthrow the colonial regime unsuccessfully (Park, 2014). The prime goal of the reforms was ensuring the survival of the Sangha and its interests. After the independence movement in 1919, the youth movement of Korean monks put into perspective the political dimension of the Buddhist reforms, which was characterized by protests against the Japanese rule (Park, 2014). In effect, Koreans gained some political freedoms. The young monks went ahead and confronted the abbots of the monasteries about the direction taken by the Sangha administration and insisted on the practice of Buddhism for the masses (minjung Pulgyo) (Park, 2014). This was when the advocacy of minjung Pulgyo came into play by attempting to sever their religion's long liaison with the government and extending the religion to the rest of the society (Park, 2014).
For Quelling Conflicts and Opposing Dictatorial Regimes
As late as in the 20th Century, there were occasions when Koreans made use of Buddhism in their conflicts. For instance, in the 1940s, before World War II, Korean monks equated the United States' increased military presence and influence to "Christian power" and sought to cleanse the world from evil and demons of Mara. After World War II ended and Korea was liberated in 1945, Korean Buddhists focussed on religion cleansing of the colonial past's vestiges, and this led to a successful Purification Movement based on Chogye order. After the democracy movement, there were multi-faceted Buddhist responses since the Sangha became subordinated by the Korean government. In Park's regime, the Sangha became willing partners to Park's dictatorial government (Park, 2014). For instance, the Sangha helped the government in policing by participating in rallies against the North Korean communist government and supported constitutional changes for the extension of presidential terms and the establishment of patriotic monk armies. In effect, the term "Buddhism for the State" (Hoguk Pulgyo) was brought to the public spotlight in the 1970s (Park, 2014). Scholarly works popularized the concept, and in consequence, Hoguk Pulgyo became a salient feature of both contemporary and traditional Korean Buddhism. Besides, having been recognized by the authoritarian regime, the Korean Buddhism came to be known as a nationalistic religion.
Existence of Hwarang System for Political Mobilization
State protecting Buddhism was mainly recorded before 20th Century as evidenced in history from hwarang tradition of Silla. According to Keel (1978), it was during the King Chinhung's reign that hwarang system was organized for national protection. It involved recruitment of youths from noble families and training them spiritually and physically so that they could be mobilized during national emergencies, and both roles were prominent in the reunification of the three kingdoms of Koguryo (northern part of the Korean Peninsula), Silla (southwestern corner of Korean Peninsula), and Paekche (southwest of the Korean Peninsula) (Keel, 1978). According to Keel (1978), the policy of political mobilization of Buddhism and the spirit of patriotism from a spiritual perspective continued with other kings that followed Chinhung, including Sondok, Chinp'yong, as well as Chindok during the seventh century Silla. According to Ahn (1991), King Munmu (reigned between 661 and 681) who achieved the unification of the three kingdoms declared his wish of becoming the most magnificent dragon in the East to guard Buddha's Dharma and securing the protection of the federation.
Buddhism Fostered Peace
Principally, hoguk pulgyo was encapsulated within the belief that a king was entitled to enjoying prosperity and peace of the state once he follows and promotes the essence of Buddhist Dharma, which is the circulation and study of sutras. However, this meant that the king supported Buddhist beliefs in general. It is for this reason that the idea of hoguk pulgyo, which is mainly understood as state-protecting Buddhism was a common phenomenon and aspect of Korean Buddhism (Keel, 1978). Even so, this is with the exception of Tibetan Buddhism and Theravada Buddhism (in essence, these two type of Buddhism were actually formed in different historical contexts from what is commonly referred to as East Asian Buddhism) and there is absolutely no doubt that nowhere else state protecting Buddhism has been extensively practiced more thoroughly compared to Korea (Keel, 1978). In addition, it follows that no other kingdom has connected Buddhism with state protection than Korea, particularly in the 500 years of what is referred to the Koryo Dynasty (it mainly ruled between 918 and 1392) (Keel, 1978). It is also characterized by when the Buddhist sangha amassed great privilege and power as the state religion. In addition, when Buddhism was brought to Korea from China, the Kingdom of Silla credited Buddhist protectors with causing Korea and China to make peace in 671 C.E. For this reason, this implies that Buddhism played an important role in averting war with China (Shim, 1993).
Buddhism Edification of Korean People in Ancient Kingdoms
The introduction of Buddhism by Silla also helped unify the Korean states (Shim, 1993). It can be derived that the Silla kingdom, which was located southwestern of the Korean peninsula, was unfavourably positioned from a geographical perspective to absorb Chinese culture. Silla grew to be a large recipient of Buddhist beliefs and not Chinese religious beliefs. However, as Keel (1978) articulates, Samguk Sagi official records, which are also referred to as the "Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms" highlight that Buddhist beliefs were introduced to the Silla kingdom during King Nulchi's (ruled between 417 and 447) time. However, Buddhism could not make a significant progress owing to the fact that there was a severe opposition waged against the ruling families, which followed an aristocratic leadership style, did not provide provision of Buddhism as they were deeply practicing traditional religion, to which they strongly grasped and held dear to. However, the central power amassed substantial royal power and the royalty was particularly interested in Buddhist beliefs along with court supporters at the time. They considered Buddhism a new and powerful ideological force that would be effective in producing an edifying effect on the population while not compromising tribal ties. For this reason, the royal class saw the Buddhist beliefs as an avenue of strengthening the community. In effect, after Ch'a-don's martyrdom, who was a loyal minister, the king at the time, King Pophung, officially recognized Buddhism in Korea in 527 A.D. King Pophiing name was derived from "Pophung," which means "flourishing of the Dharma" (Keel, 1978). As such, the practice of hoguk pulgyo was essentially correlated to prosperity of Dharma. In early 520, A.D. Pophung consequently promulgated the legal codes, and only after two years since he officially recognized Buddhism did he prohibit killing people. According to Keel (1978, it can be derived that the adoption of Buddhism was motivated by a variety of reasons: (a) King Pophiing personal faith, (b) his quest to edifice the Korean people, (c) his goal of protecting the state of Korea, and (d) popular adoption of Buddhist culture within the continent.
Buddhism Promoted National and Cultural Development
During the unified Silla period, Chan teachings were brought from China, which led to the development of Korean Seon order and added further spiritual dimension to Korea, as well as providing a philosophical foundation for the period between 918 and 1392 referred to as the Goryeo Period (Beopwon & Seoljeong, 2016). Goryeo adopted Buddhism, which was essential in serving the cultural and national development. In the period, Tripitaka Koreana was developed, which was carved into woodblocks as an offering for national protection from invasion and outside forces (Beopwon & Seoljeong, 2016). During the reign of King Hun Chong, Goryeo was invaded by Khitan during the third Goryeo-Khitan wars, and Buddhism took a state-protecting role as the king commission the carving of the woodblocks to evoke Buddha protection in the face of the invasion. Also, during the invasion by the Mongols in 1231, they destroyed the Tripitaka Koreana, but King Gojong of Goryeo commanded the re-carving, which took 16 years (Beopwon & Seoljeong, 2016). As such, it can be derived that the Tripitaka Koreana, which was Buddhism in practice, was an act of devotion for winning divine protection of Korea during war and invasions.
According to Lee (1993), Korean Buddhism, in the process of searching for religious ideologies and goals, was always seeking national harmony and development and played a solid role for Korea in offering tenable refuge during times of trouble. As Lee (1993) articulates, the particular characteristic of Korean Buddhism that played a significant role in spearheading spiritual tradition, as well as contributing to national development, was at the beginning of its introduction. At its introduction during the Silla Kingdom reign, Korea was changing politically from a tribal nation to that with a centralized national system.
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