Free Essay on Characteristics of Korean Buddhism as a State-Protecting Religion

Published: 2022-06-10
Free Essay on Characteristics of Korean Buddhism as a State-Protecting Religion
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  Buddhism
Pages: 7
Wordcount: 1746 words
15 min read

Currently, Buddhism plays a significant role in state protection owing to the existence of socially active groups, for example, the Jungto Society and the Indra's Net that advocate for social justice, as well as the unification of North and South Korea (Park, 2014). However, state protection was majorly in the pre-twentieth century. In the period, 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 include reconnecting Korean people, quelling conflicts and opposing dictatorial regimes, existence of hwarang system for political mobilization, fostering 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.

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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 that 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 lived incognito. Sectarian distinctions were abolished which left the Buddhist order without structure, and Dharma (it means cosmic law and order and the teachings of Buddha) lineages increasingly became blurry. In effect, no Sangha system (monastic community of monks) facilitated the education of monks, as well as the enforcement of monastic discipline as they had little channels of networking. With no networks, the Buddhist order lost its social prestige and leadership, which led to the emergence of variant Buddhist epithets, such as Buddhism for monks, mountain Buddhism, Buddhism for security, and Buddhism for women (Park, 2014).

Korean Buddhism Characteristics as a State-Protecting Religion

Reconnecting the Koreans

To curb the adverse effects of the Confucian Choson dynasty, the Buddhist epithets were important in reconnecting the Korean people. As such, the first characteristic of Buddhism as a state-protecting religion emerged. To reconnect the Korean people, as well as allow for the restoration of Buddhist standing, colonial Buddhist leaders emphasized on reforms, including education and also from a political dimension. For instance, Buddhism came into play to overthrow the colonial powers. The prime goal of the reforms was ensuring the survival of the Sangha and its interests, as well as the Korean nation. The political dimension of the Sangha was actively involved particularly in the independence movement in 1919 (Park, 2014). The movement entailed youths of Korean monks and was important in protesting against the Japanese rule (Park, 2014). In effect, Buddhism was successful in achieving political freedoms for the Kporeans and the ultimate ousting of the Japanese colonialists, which led to the reconnection of the Korean people (Park, 2014).

In the modern era, Korean Buddhism has significantly developed under the hoguk and minjung ideologies, and is characterized of meeting societal needs and engaging the laity. For instance, there are socially active groups, including the Jungto Society and the Indra's Net that focus on environmental preservation, organic farming, social justice, and the unification of North and South Korea (Park, 2014). This highlights Korean Buddhism has played and continues to play a critical role in reconnecting the Koreans.

Existence of Hwarang System for Political Mobilization

State protecting Buddhism was mainly recorded before twentieth century as evidenced in history from hwarang (youth trained with Buddhist spirituality and physical strength) 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 Fosters 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). In the late twentieth century, Buddhism was used in averting 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. Further, according to Park (2014), currently, Korean Buddhism is focussed on peace by focussing on how North and South Korea will be reunited.

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 Promotes National and Cultural Development

Buddhism in Korea is also characterized of national and cultural development For example, 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). This shows that Buddhism instilled a culture of nation protection and development. For example, 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. 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.

Besides, as Lee (1993) articulates, 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. Currently, the characteristic is deeply encapsulated in the religion for national and cultural development.

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