What elements make Korean religions distinctive? This is an issue that has attracted a lot of attention from many scholars in the field. What would be an effective avenue to approach the ways in which external religions are adapted or transformed to Korean society and culture? In this article, Hur suggests that the task of tackling this question can benefit from a border-crossing approach, particularly through comparison with Japanese religions that offer a range of contrasting features. In order to illustrate this, Hur offers two examples that sharply distinguished Korean religions from Japanese religions in early modern times. One is the value of filial piety which dominated Korean Confucianism but was almost invisible in Japanese Confucianism. The other is Buddhism’s role in funerary rituals and ancestor worship: Buddhism in Chosŏn Korea was kept at bay from the dominant ritual arena of ancestor-related rituals; in contrast, Buddhism in Tokugawa Japan was the central agent of funerary rites and ancestor worship rituals. Hur suggests that border-crossing, comparative approaches that involve Japanese cases can contribute to de-localizing Korean religions and, at the same time, to localizing Korean-ness found in Korean religions in the context of society and culture.
Keywords: filial piety, ancestor worship, funerary rituals, Confucianism, Buddhism
The Great Dhāraṇī on Immaculately Pure Light (Wugou jingguang da tuoluoni jing, T 1024) was used extensively in Korea during the middle and late periods of Silla (668–935) after its introduction in the early eighth century. Although some scholars maintain that it provides evidence of Tantric or Esoteric Buddhism or the synthesis of Pure Land and Tantrism in Silla, my research indicates instead that the dhāraṇī and ritual procedures contained in this sūtra were mainstream Mahāyāna practices more closely associated with repentance practices in medieval East Asian Buddhism. Tantric/Esoteric Buddhism should be defined as consisting of ritual procedures such as initiations or coronations, graduated systems of meditation, and procedures using dhāraṇī in the recreation of the body, speech, and mind of the Buddha. The language of the Great Dhāraṇī provides little internal evidence of such conclusively Tantric or Esoteric elements, especially because many of the procedures and spells it describes—like most medieval Sinitic Buddhist ritual literature—attempt to resolve practical religious concerns for individuals and to protect states from harm, both internal and external: eradicating sins and extending one’s lifespan; recovering from serious illnesses; avoiding rebirth in the evil paths and achieving rebirth in heavens; receiving predictions of the attainment of buddhahood; acquiring the spiritual penetrations and not backsliding in spiritual progress; generating merit and wholesome roots; destroying all obstacles and unwholesome karma and enabling practitioners to fulfill all their vows; and acquiring a fullness of the six perfections in one’s life.
Keywords: Mugu chŏnggwang tae tarani kyŏng, Dhāraṇī, Buddhist ritual, repentance rituals, Buddhism-Silla (668–935)
This article critically reflects on the Chogye Order’s campaign to “illuminate the world” with Dahui Zonggao’s 大慧宗虚 (1089–1163) Keyword Meditation (KWM). According to the narrative backing that crusade, KWM is the most effective technique to achieve awakening, and Korea’s KWM tradition—because it has been transmitted without interruption since its introduction in the peninsula—is unique and homogenous. Therefore, KWM is defined as the hallmark of Korean Buddhism. It is against a backdrop of fierce national and international competition, which has given rise to an identity quest, that this narrative has taken shape. By strictly identifying itself and Korean Buddhism with both the orthodoxy and the orthopraxis of Dahui Zonggao’s teachings, the Chogye Order is attempting to create a differentiation point that will allow it to compete with its national and international rivals. Although powerful, this narrative tends to ignore that KWM is the result of a long and complex historical process. It also forgets that, far from standing in the middle of the blue since its birth, KWM has remained part and parcel of a history which keeps unfolding—both within and beyond East Asia. The result of such an interpretation is an overall hermeneutical rigidity, which translates into “Hwadu 話頭 Absolutism” and a fully fledged reenacting of the “rhetoric of immediacy.” Both not only render dialogue between practitioners and scholars impossible, but also compromise the possibility of adapting KWM to the contemporary world.
Keywords: Kanhwa Sŏn (kanhwasŏn), Ganhwa Seon (ganhwaseon), Kanhua Chan, Keyword Meditation (KWM), Korean Buddhism, Chogye Order (Chogye-jong), campaign, propagation, worldwide, hermeneutical analysis
The Culture of Fengshui in Korea: An Exploration of East Asian Geomancy. Hong-key Yoon.
Reviewed by Ole Bruun, 107
The Power of the Buddhas: The Politics of Buddhism During the Koryŏ Dynasty (918–1392). Sem Vermeersch.
Reviewed by Hwansoo Ilmee Kim, 109
Su-Un and His World of Symbols: The Founder of Korea’s First Indigenous Religion. Paul Beirne.
Reviewed by Kwangsoo Park, 114