Journal of Korean Religions, vol. 3, no. 1 (2012): Late Chosŏn Buddhism

Editor’s Introduction
Boudewijn Walraven, 5

The past century has seen a huge imbalance in the study of Korean Buddhism. Most attention has been devoted to the early period and particularly to Buddhism in Silla, where Wŏnhyo (617–686) emerged as a towering figure whose influence reached far beyond the Korean peninsula. Koryŏ, too, received considerable attention, particularly thanks to the printing of the Tripitaka, which became the basis for the Taishō Canon that is used as a standard edition by modern buddhologists. … With the advent of the Chosŏn court in 1392, however, the gradual adoption of Neo-Confucianism as the new state’s ideology implied a drastic deterioration of the position of Buddhism, which no longer could claim to be the dominant system of belief and was severely weakened institutionally. Twentieth-century scholars of Korean Buddhism (among whom quite a few Japanese) accordingly adopted a negative perspective on Chosŏn Buddhism. … Yet, Late Chosŏn Buddhism merits more attention, at the least because of the important role it continued to play in society, perhaps not at the official, public level, but in the private lives of people of all classes.

Special Issue: Late Chosŏn Buddhism


Publication of Buddhist Literary Texts: The Publication and Popularization of Mantra Collections and Buddhist Ritual Texts in the Late Chosŏn Dynasty
Hee-sook Nam, 9

It is commonly maintained by scholars of Chosŏn era Buddhism that the Chosŏn Dynasty’s enforcement of the sungyu ŏkpul 崇儒抑佛 (“promote Confucianism, reject Buddhism”) policy resulted in a Buddhism that was barely able to maintain itself on the periphery of society. However, even amidst this policy of official exclusion, Korean Buddhism of the period continued to develop internally and to put down deeper roots among the commoner classes, in contrast to its strong ties to the aristocratic classes during the Three Kingdoms and Koryŏ eras. This paper examines this transformation of the character of Chosŏn Buddhism through the phenomenon of scripture publication. A study of the quantities and types of Buddhist writings published during this period makes it possible to both ascertain the general trend of Buddhist publications and to speculate on the ideological currents, belief trends and social and religious demands of the period.

The Activities and Significance of Temple Fraternities in Late Chosŏn Buddhism
Sangkil Han, 29

The Chosŏn dynasty is said to have been a period of venerating Confucianism and persecuting Buddhism. So long has the period been so considered that when Chosŏn Buddhism is talked about, it never fails to include mention of its waning and ailing situation throughout the period. However, if we consider the Korean temples of our day, which display classic Chosŏn style, not only in terms of tangible cultural properties such as paintings and statues, but also intangible ones such as music, chanting, and ritual, I claim that Buddhism, though stressed, continued to develop steadily during the Chosŏn dynasty, at least to such an extent that it could influence contemporary Korean Buddhism. This study focuses on of the engines of this development within the sach’algye (寺刹契, temple fraternity). These arose in response to the persecution that lasted throughout the Chosŏn dynasty and caused the demise of many Buddhist temples due to economic hardship. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, a variety of temple fraternities came into existence and prospered throughout the country. In turn, these groups enabled temples to revive their religious and economic influence in society. Temple fraternities were organized in order to promote a pious faith in Buddhism, infuse the disciplinary mind of Buddhism into their members, and further aid temples by augmenting temple properties, restoring buildings, and providing necessities for religious ceremonies. Historical documents can verify 268 recorded temple fraternities. Each was aimed at providing a particular form of Buddhist service work (佛事, pulsa) and they fit into seven different groups.

Monastic Education and Educational Ideology in Late Chosŏn Buddhism
Jong-su Lee, 65

This paper examines the process of establishing the system of monastic education and the use of the sammun suhak in the Late Chosŏn period. Buddhist views on praxis and study had a close relationship to the structure of the educational curriculum for monastics. I argue that the widely accepted framework of the sammun suhak for Buddhist practice bears a close relationship to the process of defining a standardized system of practice for Buddhism. Based on this, I will examine which subjects were selected and what kind of changes they underwent before the final curriculum was established. I also further analyze which Buddhist doctrines were apparent in individual subjects and their interrelationship with the process of education. Finally, I draw parallels between the establishment of a monastic education curriculum and the contemporaneous system of Confucian education.

A Buddhist Reconquest of Korea? Namho Yŏnggi and ‘‘Changan kŏlsikka’’
Younghee Lee, 85

The Late Chosŏn period saw significant social changes, one of which was increasing urbanization. The capital Hansŏng, in particular, grew in both the size and diversity of its population. It is often said that Buddhism in the Chosŏn period catered to the lower classes and withdrew from the cities to the mountains. Though this is true to a degree, Buddhism continued to serve the urban city population, including the women’s quarters of the royal palaces as well as men of different social status groups. This article argues that well-connected priests like Namho Yŏnggi (1820–1872), who maintained relations with elite yangban and educated commoners, primarily addressed literate urban dwellers. Namho Yŏnggi was the author of two Buddhist songs in the kasa form, and one of these, “Changan kŏlsikka” (Song of Begging in the Capital), may be seen as a Buddhist counter-attack against the dominance of Confucianism, and even as an appeal to the educated for a symbolic reconquest of the centre of the nation.

Buddhist Accommodation and Appropriation and the Limits of Confucianization
Boudewijn Walraven, 105

The Confucianization of Korea may be regarded as a steady process that continued throughout the Chosŏn period, constantly extending its influence to new layers of the population. From the outset this provoked various forms of Buddhist apologetics. Eminent priests like Kihwa (1376–1433) and Hyujŏng (1520–1604) argued for the fundamental compatibility of Buddhism and Confucianism. The Confucian social ethics emphasizing filial piety and loyalty to the monarchy were fully accepted by Buddhists and by the 18th-century a situation had come about in which Buddhist kasa songs were a major conduit for the propagation and maintenance of Confucian values. All this may be regarded as testimony to the relentless Confucianization of Chosŏn. The question arises, however, what exactly is the meaning of this “Confucianization.” The argument of this essay is that the appropriation of Confucian social values by Buddhism (as well as, for instance, by shamans and adherents of the cult of Guan Yu) by the 19th century actually had weakened Confucianism as an institutional faith by undercutting its hegemonic claims. In this way, Buddhism opened the way for Christianity (and native new religions) even before the country was formally opened for missionary activities.


Korean Bible Women’s Success: Using the Anbang Network and the Religious Authority of the Mudang
Lee-Ellen Strawn, 117

Korean Bible Women were successful in their work of evangelization because they utilized the women’s anbang network and borrowed the authority of other female religious figures in the anbang, specifically that of the mudang (female shaman). Bible Women shared their new package of western Protestant ideas with Korean women by entering into the women’s quarters, borrowing the accepted female mudang’s religious authority in that sphere, and coherently merging traditional women’s practices and perspectives with modern Protestant views regarding women and their roles in society. In this respect, the work of Korean Bible Women was thoroughly Korean and thus effective despite the conservative Confucian milieu that circumscribed female activity. This paper illuminates the culturally authentic work of Bible Women in Korea by presenting an overview of the Bible Woman system, by examining the importance of the anbang in women’s daily lives, by discussing the exorcisms by Bible Women that occurred therein, and by analyzing the functional similarities between female mudang and Korean Bible Women. In fact, the presence of the Bible Woman, as a female religious leader meeting needs previously met by mudang, was easy enough to assimilate for many Korean women because of the presence of female mudang in the women’s anbang for centuries. In some regards, the similar functions between mudang and Bible Women may have made Bible Women’s Christian work seem more Korean and less western.


동학의테오프락시: 초기 동학 및 후기 동학의사상과의례 [The Theopraxy of Tonghak: Thought and Ritual in Early Tonghak and Later Tonghak]. 최종성 Ch’oe Chong-sŏng.
Reviewed by Don Baker, 151

Women and Confucianism in Chosŏn Korea: New Perspectives. Youngmin Kim and Michael J. Pettid eds.
Reviewed by Martina Deuchler, 154

Shamanic Worlds of Korea and Northeast Asia. Daniel A. Kister.
Reviewed by Peter Knecht, 157

조선의 선교사, 선교사의 조선 [Chosŏn’s Missionaries, Missionaries’ Chosŏn]. 조현범 Cho Hyŏnbŏm.
Reviewed by Eun-Young Kim, 160

Gender and Mission Encounters in Korea: New Women, Old Ways. Hyaeweol Choi.
Reviewed by Lee-Ellen Strawn, 163

Deliverance and Submission: Evangelical Women and the Negotiation of Patriarchy in South Korea. Kelly H. Chong.
Reviewed by James Grayson, 166

Comments are closed.