usually is divided into four periods:
the Three Kingdoms (?-668 A.D.), the
Unified Silla Kingdom(668-935 A.D.),
the Goryeo Dynasty(935-1392 A.D.),
and the Joseon Dynasty(1392-1910 A.D.).
Although there is evidence of earlier
contact with Buddhism, the official
date for the introduction of Buddhism
to Korea from China is 372 A.D. Since
that time Korean Buddhism has been
spread throughout the world and developed
for 1,600 years. Korean Buddhism developed
its distinctive characteristics and
shaped its unique form of Buddhism
based on social and political circumstances
in each period.
Buddhism was first introduced in the Three Kingdoms
period. According to the name of the Three Kingdoms,
the land was composed of three different Kingdoms:
Goguryeo, Baekje, and Silla. Each kingdom accepted
Buddhism at a different time and by a different
route. First, the kingdom of Goguryeo -located
in the northern area- invited a monk from China
with Chinese Buddhist texts and Buddha statues
in 372 A.D. Later, Buddhism was introduced to
the kingdom of Baekje, located in the southwestern
area- from Goguryeo in 384 A.D. In the case of
the above two kingdoms, the royal families first
practiced Buddhism. However, in the kingdom of
Silla, the common people were attracted to Buddhism.
After Lee Chadon's martyrdom, King Beopheung officially
recognized Buddhism in 527 A.D.
In the beginning of the Three Kingdoms period,
the teaching of Buddhism was not of high quality
Buddhist philosophy and thoughts. However, the
spread of Buddhism produced a significant effect
on the development of many aspects of national
culture. Because of various invasions and careless
preservation, only a few records- archaeological
sites, historical remains, and books- exist. But
it can be considered that Buddhism at this time
not only contributed to the development of spiritual
civilization, but also flourished in the development
of art: bells, pagodas, architecture, and paintings.
In 668 A.D., the kingdom of Silla conquered the
other two kingdoms and this period came to be
called the Unified Silla period. Throughout the
Unified Silla period, Buddhism continued to prosper,
and grew both academically and culturally. Various
rituals were developed and performed as spiritual
requests for protection from foreign invasions.
During this time some of the finest Korean Art
was created. In particular, the famous rock statue
of the Buddha in Seokguram Grotto in Gyeongju
was carved in 732 A.D. It still evokes a sense
of beauty. Towards the end of the Unified Silla
period, Zen Buddhism was introduced from China
and this added a new dimension to Korean Buddhism
because the Zen school emphasized meditation and
direct experience rather than concentration on
studying Buddhist texts.
The Goryeo Dynasty assumed power in the 10th century
and Buddhism continued to be a national religion.
The main focus of Goryeo Buddhism was based on
rituals and this created an unfavorable atmosphere
for spiritual development. In order to struggle
against the ritualistic trend, several monks emphasized
the importance of combining Contemplative Zen
and Textual tradition. The formation of the cheontae
school gave new life to Goryeo Buddhism.
slowly declined as the new rulers of the
Joseon Dynasty adopted Neo-Confucianism.
The new interest in Confucianism led to
the oppression and restriction of Buddhism
by some Joseon kings. Temples could not
be built near towns. Instead, the government
permitted Buddhist monks to stay in the
mountains. While the government persecuted
Buddhism, politically and socially, the
common people continued to believe in it.
Today, many new temples have opened in towns.
Approximately half the population of Korea
is Buddhist. Most Koreans, even though they
may not call themselves Buddhists, maintain
a Buddhist view of life.
Written by KNTO' Sowun Ven.