Journal of Korean Religions, vol. 6, no. 1 (2015): Pure Land Buddhism in Korea

Guest Editor’s Introduction
Richard D. McBride II, 5

The six articles in this special issue explore aspects of the history of Pure Land Buddhism in Korea. Two essays deal with the Three Kingdoms and Silla periods, two papers treat topics in the Koryŏ period, and the final two articles break new ground in the Chosŏn period. Several articles reveal a close relationship between Pure Land practices and the Hwaŏm tradition, which was the dominant doctrinal school during the middle and late periods of Silla (ca. 668–935) and was the most influential intellectual tradition at court in the Koryŏ period (918–1392).


The Cult of the Pure Land of Maitreya in Paekche and Silla in the Three Kingdoms Period
Choe Yeonshik, 13

Although the cult of Amitābha was the representative form of Pure Land belief in Korean Buddhism after the Unified Silla period, this form of belief and worship was not seen in the Three Kingdoms period when the cult of Maitreya flourished. It was understood that even the Pure Land where the Buddha resides was related to the cult of Maitreya. Although all of the Three Kingdoms display features of the cult of Maitreya, there are significant differences between Koguryŏ, Paekche, and Silla with respect to the characteristics of the Pure Land of Maitreya. In the case of Koguryŏ, such things as Tuṣita Heaven and assemblies under the dragon flower tree, which are found in the Maitreya sūtras, became the faith in the Pure Land of Maitreya. In Paekche and Silla, however, the features of a belief system in Tuṣita Heaven or assemblies under a dragon flower tree in the distant future are not seen. Rather, both states believed that Maitreya would appear in their own countries in the present and the characteristics of a belief in the manifestation of the Pure Land in the present, in which Maitreya will come and go frequently, are seen.

The Pure Land of the One Mind in Wŏnhyo’s Thought
Kim JongWook, 37

Pure Land teaching, being the practical Buddhism of East Asia, aims to maximize the possibility that all living beings might be reborn in the Pure Land. The Silla monk Wŏnhyo saw that the accomplishment of these kinds of aspirations was the consummation of the bodhisattva path of the Mahāyāna and said that he sought to firmly construct a view of this kind of pure land on the basis of his thought on the one mind. In this way Wŏnhyo made the “pure land of the one mind” function as the source of the liberation of living beings in the process of resolving such things as the issue of the scope and method of rebirth in the Pure Land and the problem of the existence and true character of the Pure Land. Thus the distinctive feature of Wŏnhyo’s Pure Land thought lies in the positive explanation of the basis of rebirth of all living beings in the Pure Land on the foundation of the one mind. This position is clearly differentiated from the more or less negative attitude of the Pure Land thinkers Tanluan and Daochuo; in other words, an approach that either emphasizes only the quick attainment of buddhahood after distinguishing between a difficult path and an easy path or putting in place a temporal or timely path of practice that corresponds to the period of the decline of the Buddhadharma. Furthermore, Wŏnhyo’s doctrinal learning of the Pure Land is set on the basis of the one mind, which means that the two aspects of the mind of great compassion, or the tainted nature of the pure land of true thusness, and the tathāgatagarbha, or the untainted nature of defiled lands, are interfused by means of the one mind. It does not mean a pure land of mind-only, in which a pure land exists only within the mind. Rather, it was Wŏnhyo’s conviction that all pure lands combining one’s own gratification land and the gratification lands of others are actual worlds that exist in a concrete manner, and that all living beings could be reborn in the actually-existing Pure Land of Extreme Bliss due to the buddha’s mind of great compassion and the tathāgatagarbha of ordinary beings. Through him, a pure land based on the one mind became the source of liberation for all living beings.

The Cult of the Hwaŏm Pure Land of the Koryŏ Period as seen through Self-Power and Other-Power
Kim Cheon-hak, 63

The classifications of self-power and other-power are important analytical tools in the discussion of Pure Land thought. During the Three Kingdoms period, Wŏnhyo early on presented a method of practice that differentiated between self-power and other-power. Nevertheless, there has been no attempt to pursue the meaning or significance of the Pure Land cult in the Hwaŏm tradition during the Koryŏ period from the standpoints of self-power and other-power. In this study I will attempt to analyze the cult of the Pure Land in the Hwaŏm tradition in the Koryŏ period from the standpoints of these two methods of faith. In order to accomplish this purpose, I will analyze Kyunyŏ’s views on the Pure Land of the Lotus Storehouse Realm in the early Koryŏ period and Ch’ewŏn’s belief in Avalokiteśvara in the late Koryŏ period in the context of the adoption and development of Chinese Huayan. The result is that the distinctive features of the Pure Land thought of these two Hwaŏm monks can be explained as “absolute self-power” and the “interfusion of self-power.”

Koryŏ Buddhist Paintings and the Cult of Amitābha: Visions of a Hwaŏm-Inspired Pure Land
Richard D. McBride II, 93

Many paintings of Amitābha were commissioned for devotional use by elites in numerous votive shrines and temples, and others probably played a role in the abundant Buddhist festivals and ceremonies of the Koryŏ period. Images of Amitābha and Amitābha triads functioned in a variety of devotional settings and the inscriptions on some icons suggest their use to enable all living beings in the dharma realm to be reborn in the Pure Land. Some images might have been used in deathbed rituals enabling believers to visualize Amitābha coming to escort them into the Pure Land. Inscriptional and visual evidence strongly suggests a Hwaŏm context for many paintings of Amitābha. Although aspirants sought rebirth in Amitābha’s Pure Land, the Hwaŏm doctrine of the interpenetration of all things in the dharma realm inferred the ultimate non-duality between Sukhāvatī and the Lotus Storehouse Realm. The cult of Amitābha in Koryŏ was closely associated with Hwaŏm Buddhism, particularly the “Practices” chapter at the end of the Avataṃsaka-sūtra in forty rolls. The genre of Amitābha and the Eight Great Bodhisattvas are linked to this version of the Avataṃsaka though verses and dhāraṇīs appended to manuscripts of the text and associated commentaries. The concept of the dharma realm that interpenetrates all things provides context for unique images, such as the Transformation Tableau of the Hwaŏm Pure Land, which both visually and symbolically interfuse the aspiration for rebirth in the Pure Land of Amitābha with the Hwaŏm path of bodhisattva practice. Other transformation tableaux of the sixteen visualizations of the Visualization Sūtra demonstrate knowledge of varied doctrinal positions that circulated in China on the types of people who are reborn in the nine classes of rebirth in the Pure Land. Such transformation tableaux functioned in the context of education and edification, along with devotion, encouraging lay people to become bodhisattvas or reminding them that they can be reborn in the Pure Land.

The Establishment of the Approach of Chanting Amitābha’s Name and the Proliferation of Pure Land Buddhism in Late Chosŏn
Kim Yongtae, 131

The establishment of the course of the Three Gates, incorporating meditation, doctrinal learning, and recitation of the name of Amitābha, as well as the organization of a monastic educational system characterized by the dual cultivation of meditation and doctrinal learning, demonstrates the synthetic character of Buddhism in the late Chosŏn period. The approach of reciting Amitābha’s name included in the system of the Three Gates encompassed both a meditative practice symbolized by the “Pure Land of the Mind-only” and the “Amitābha of the Self-nature” and as faith in the efficacy of chanting Amitābha’s name concentrated on the Pure Land of Extreme Bliss in the West. After the establishment of the approach of reciting the name of Amitābha, chanting Amitābha’s name gradually became prevalent and the gates to the Pure Land expanded. The publication of a number of Pure Land texts created diverse demands within the ritual, literary, and religious spheres. In addition, in relation to the spread of the approach of chanting Amitābha’s name, debates arose over the very existence of a Pure Land of Extreme Bliss or concerning the construct conceptually.

The Otherworldly Counter-Discourse of Yŏmbul pogwŏnmun: An Eighteenth-century Pure Land Text
Boudewijn Walraven, 159

Although Pure Land Buddhism had been known in Korea for more than a millennium, the repeated publication throughout the eighteenth century of woodblock editions of Yŏmbul pogwŏnmun (Exhortation to universally practice the invocation of the Buddha [Amitābha]) with text in both hanmun and the vernacular, presented a quantum leap in the dissemination of Pure Land teachings and of a Buddhist vision of life and the afterlife that in several ways challenged the Confucian Weltanschauung. Although the text endorsed Confucian social values, it effectively constituted a counter-discourse to Confucianism by denying the importance of this world and by emphasizing preparations for the afterlife, which would determine whether after death one would proceed to one of the terrifying hells or to the World of Ultimate Bliss. This otherworldly orientation to the hereafter, with its contrast between hell and the paradise of Amitābha, may have facilitated the acceptance of Catholicism in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, particularly among women. Yŏmbul pogwŏnmun encouraged a literal belief in rebirth in the paradise of Amitābha, but the Sŏn masters who propagated the mindful invocation of Amitābha (yŏmbul) tended to have a more sophisticated concept of the practice, regarding it as a way to realize one’s buddha-nature in the here and now.

Special Series: Religious Thinkers of Modern Korea

Introducing “Religious Thinkers of Modern Korea”
Jin Y. Park, Timothy S. Lee, 189

Who are the leading thinkers of Korean religions in the modern period? Who are the thinkers that have shaped public discourses on religion, society, and culture in modern Korea, thinkers who have helped Koreans to reinterpret and reaffirm their spiritual identities in the midst of the profound turmoil and transition that Korea has undergone over the past two hundred years?

In this series, “Religious Thinkers of Modern Korea,” we plan to introduce such thinkers to our readers—particularly those from Buddhist and Christian traditions. We focus on Christian and Buddhist thinkers partly because of our own scholarly interests, but more importantly because thinkers from these two religions have had preponderate influence in shaping modern Korean worldviews—not a surprising fact given that according to the 2005 census 52 percent of South Koreans affirmed their identity as either Buddhist or Christian, this out of 53.1 percent of South Koreans who affirmed any kind of religious affiliation. Given the predominance of these two faiths in the Korean religious landscape, dialogue between them is crucial; and this series, we hope, will in some small way contribute to such a dialogue.

The series will feature five thinkers from each tradition. A tentative list of the figures consists of Han Yŏng-un, Paek Sŏnguk, Kim Iryŏp, T’oeong Sŏngch’ŏl, and Yi Kiyŏng, from the Buddhist side; and Stephen Kim Sou-hwan, Suh Nam Dong, Ham Sok Hon, Chŏng Yakjong, and Han Kyung Chik from the Christian side. Each of these figures will be treated by a scholar who is an expert in him or her.

We are grateful to the Journal of Korean Religions for publishing this series, and to Pyong-Gwan Pak for leading it off, with an article on the late Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-hwan, an ecumenical religionist and public thinker whose thought and life still reverberate in Korea.

The Christian Spirituality of Cardinal Sou-hwan Kim: Contextualized and Interpreted
Pyong-Gwan Pak, 191

The late Cardinal Sou-hwan Kim (Kim Suhwan) is well known for his role in the democratization process and his defense of human rights in South Korea over almost two decades (1970s–1980s). Nevertheless, very little is known about the prelate’s inner, religious world, which inspired his prophetic voice that had a crucial impact on both the ecclesiastical and the civic life of the country. This study aims at investigating his spirituality, that is, the totality of his religious thoughts, ideals, values, ethos, motivations and intentions, which animated his concern for and involvement in the socio-political realities of South Korea of his day. For an in-depth understanding, it attempts to contextualize and interpret Kim’s Christian spirituality. Therefore, focusing on his biographical and historical context, it highlights details that have significant bearing on his life, experience, and spirituality. Furthermore, by theological contextualization, it brings out the fundamental theological orientations and characteristics of Kim’s spirituality. It demonstrates that his spirituality exemplified a novel theological-spiritual development that has emerged in worldwide contemporary Catholicism. Kim’s spirituality, it argues, emerged in his earnest effort to live as faithfully as possible a life of Christian faith, with the new vista and understanding opened up by Vatican Council II and post-conciliar liberation theology. It also examines the more personal, intimate dimensions of Kim’s spirituality, and offers an interpretative consideration of its salient features.

Research Article

French Catholic Spirituality and the Nineteenth-century Korean Church
Andrew J. Finch, 225

The role played by French Catholic missionaries in overseas evangelization during the nineteenth century was considerable. Their significance was not limited to their numerical contribution—the French Church is viewed as subscribing to a rigorous spirituality characterized by contempt for the world. This spirituality is seen, in the case of the Catholic Church in Korea, as having created a ghetto mentality, which dominated the Church until the 1970s. However, the spirituality of the French Church was more nuanced and varied than this model suggests. The Counter-Reformation ensured that the salvation of the individual soul became paramount, while the French Revolution encouraged the French Church to rediscover its commitment to overseas missions. The spirituality passed to the Korean Church might assist its confessors and martyrs in enduring persecution, but it gave to the Church as a whole the concept of charity and the imperative to relieve the suffering of others.

Book Reviews

Reflections of a Zen Buddhist Nun. Korean Classics Library: Philosophy and Religion by Kim Iryŏp
reviewed by Mark A. Nathan, 257

Engraving Virtue: The Printing History of a Premodern Korean Moral Primer by Young Kyun Oh
reviewed by Gregory N. Evon, 260

Eastern Learning and the Heavenly Way: The Tonghak and Ch’ŏndogyo Movements and the Twilight of Korean Independence, 1895–1910 by Carl Young
reviewed by Paul Beirne, 263

A History of Korean Christianity by Sebastian C.H. Kim and Kirsteen Kim
reviewed by Sean C. Kim, 266

Songs of Seoul: An Ethnography of Voice and Voicing in Christian South Korea by Nicholas Harkness
reviewed by Kyung-Nan Koh, 269