Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Korean Buddhist Traditions and History

Korean Buddhist Traditions and History

The 1,400-plus years of Buddhist traditions in Korea can be viewed from two different
perspectives. A walk along an imaginary trail which passes the temples and hermitages occupied
by famous monk-philosophers such as W|nhyo (617-686), Chinul (1158-1210), Hyuj|ng
(1520-1604), and Han Yongun (1879-1944) would provide glimpses of the ideas which have
shaped and informed Korean Buddhist thought over the centuries. Such a trail for much of its
length would run close to Korea’s border with China, since the history of Buddhist monastic
thought in Korea was intertwined with the history of Buddhism in China until recent centuries. A
second path, however, would offer a different perspective. An observer who peered into temples
and shrines frequented by lay practitioners along a trail which meandered through Korea’s
villages, towns, and cities would discover that there are many features of Korean Buddhist
practice which are unique to Korea. Indigenous traditions of animism and shamanism, with their
focus on supernatural assistance in solving practical problems encountered in everyday life,
have merged with Buddhism to create a lay Buddhism which is different from Buddhism as it is
practiced in China or elsewhere.

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