Korean Seon(zen) 韓國禪

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Dharma Talk at the End of Three Months Meditation Retreat Days

Mugum Seonwon(Meditation Hall) at Baekdamsa Monastery

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Meditation monks are listening to Dharma Talk by Seon Master Musan Cho Oh-hyun at Mugum Seonwon(meditation hall) of Baekdamsa monastery under the Jogye Order of the Korean Buddhism. 21st February 2016.

We can talk about modern Korean Buddhism in various points of view. There are many activities among Korean Buddhist monks, Some monks just manage temples for lay buddhists who come to temple for merit making and praying for family happiness and prosperity. Young house wives come to temple for praying for their sons and daughters to pass the College Scholastic Ability Test etc. Lay buddhists go to temples in following their heart. However most of lay buddhists have their favourite temples where they go regularly once or twice a month. Some might go to a temple every day or any time. These scenes are general way of Korean Buddhists' faith activity. On the other hand there are various meditation groups in Korean Buddhist circles among monks and lay people. Last twenty years some lay buddhists are interested in Vipassana meditation of Theravada in Myanmar or Thailand. Those who follow Vipassana(insight) meditation are increasing every year. Some go to Myanmar or Thailand for retreat from time to time. There are a couple of Theravada temples in Korea. Theravada temples are found by Korean monks who took the ordination in Myanmar and Thailand. There are also Theravada Buddhist centers found by Myanmar, Thailand and Sri Lanka. There are Tibetan centers and a Taiwanese buddhist center and Mongolian buddhist center as well for their nationalities.

Korean Buddhism follows Chinese Mahayana Buddhist tradition. As you know Chinese Buddhism came via western land(ancient central Asia) from India.

"Generations of scholars have debated whether Buddhist missionaries first reached Han China via the maritime or overland routes of the Silk Road. The maritime route hypothesis, favored by Liang Qichao and Paul Pelliot, proposed that Buddhism was originally practiced in southern China, the Yangtze River and Huai River region, where prince Ying of Chu (present day Jiangsu) was jointly worshipping the Yellow Emperor, Laozi, and Buddha in 65 CE. The overland route hypothesis, favored by Tang Yongtong, proposed that Buddhism disseminated eastward through Yuezhi and was originally practiced in western China, at the Han capital Luoyang (present day Henan), where Emperor Ming of Han established the White Horse Temple in 68 CE. Rong Xinjiang, a history professor at Peking University, reexamined the overland and maritime hypotheses through a multi-disciplinary review of recent discoveries and research, including the Gandhāran Buddhist Texts, and concluded:

The view that Buddhism was transmitted to China by the sea route comparatively lacks convincing and supporting materials, and some arguments are not sufficiently rigorous. Based on the existing historical texts and the archaeological iconographic materials discovered since the 1980s, particularly the first-century Buddhist manuscripts recently found in Afghanistan, the commentator believes that the most plausible theory is that Buddhism reached China from the Greater Yuezhi of northwest India and took the land route to reach Han China. After entering into China, Buddhism blended with early Daoism and Chinese traditional esoteric arts and its iconography received blind worship."<From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia>

Korean Buddhism was introduced in 372, the monk Sundo (順道, or Shundao in Chinese) was sent by Fu Jian (337–385) (苻堅) of Former Qin to the court of the King Sosurim of Goguryeo. He brought texts and statues (possibly of Maitreya, who was popular in Buddhism in Central Asia), and the Goguryeo royalty and their subjects quickly accepted his teachings. Buddhism in China was in a rudimentary form, consisting of the law of cause and effect and the search for happiness. This had much in common with the predominant Shamanism, which likely led to the quick assimilation of Buddhism by the people of Goguryeo. Early Buddhism in Silla developed under the influence of Goguryeo. Some monks from Goguryeo came to Silla and preached among the people, making a few converts. In 551, Hyeryang (惠亮), a Goguryeo monk was appointed the first National Patriarch of Silla. He first presided over the "Hundred-Seat Dharma Assembly" and the "Dharma of Eight Prohibitions".

In 384, the Indian monk Marananta arrived in Baekje and the royal family received the similar strain of Buddhism he brought. King Asin of Baekje proclaimed, "people should believe in Buddhism and seek happiness." In 526, the Baekje monk Gyeomik (겸익, 謙益) went directly to Central India and came back with a collection of Vinaya texts, accompanied by the Indian monk Paedalta. After returning to Baekje he translated the Buddhist scriptures in Sanskrit into seventy-two volumes. The Gyeyul school in Baekje was established by Gyeomik about a century earlier than that of in China. As a result of the work, he is regarded as the father of Vinaya studies in Korea. <From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia>

It is long history to talk about Korean Buddhism. Now I would like to discuss and introduce Seon(禪) Buddhism which is main stream of Korean Buddhism present days. First of all we should know Chinese Chan Buddhism before talking about korean Seon Buddhism. I will bring some notes on Chinese Chan Buddhism as follows;

In the 5th century, the Chán (Zen) teachings began in China, traditionally attributed to the Buddhist monk Bodhidharma, a legendary figure. The school heavily utilized the principles found in the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra, a sūtra utilizing the teachings of Yogācāra and those of Tathāgatagarbha, and which teaches the One Vehicle (Skt. Ekayāna) to buddhahood. In the early years, the teachings of Chán were therefore referred to as the "One Vehicle School." The earliest masters of the Chán school were called "Laṅkāvatāra Masters", for their mastery of practice according to the principles of the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra.

The principal teachings of Chán were later often known for the use of so-called encounter stories and koans, and the teaching methods used in them. Nan Huai-Chin identifies the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra and the Diamond Sūtra (Vajracchedikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra) as the principle texts of the Chán school, and summarizes the principles succinctly:

The Zen teaching was a separate transmission outside the scriptural teachings that did not posit any written texts as sacred. Zen pointed directly to the human mind to enable people to see their real nature and become buddhas. <From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia>

Korean Seon Buddhism; A new epoch in Korean Buddhism began during the latter Silla with the birth of schools of Korean Seon. In China, the movement toward a meditation-based view of practice, which came to be known as Chan Buddhism, had begun during the sixth and seventh centuries, and it was not long before the influence of the new meditational school reached Korea, where it was known as Seon. Meaning "meditation," the term is more widely known in the West in its Japanese variant, Zen. Tension developed between the new meditational schools and the previously existing academically oriented schools, which were described by the term gyo, meaning "learning" or "study."

Kim Gyo-gak (金喬覺; 630–729), a prince who became a monastic, came to the region of Anhui to Mount Jiuhua in China. Many Chinese Buddhists believe he was indeed the transformation body of Kṣitigarbha. Two uncles sent by his mother and wife to call him back also became monastics there. His well-preserved, dehydrated body is seen at the monastery he built on Mount Jiuhua today. The two uncles, unable to resist wine and meat as they were official before becoming monastics, practiced in another place on the mount. People built the palace of the two saints (二聖殿) in their practice place to memorialize them. Many Buddhists visit there.

Beomnang (法朗; 632–646), said to be a student of the Chinese master Daoxin (道信; 580–651), is generally credited with the initial transmission of Chan into Korea. It was popularized by Sinhaeng (神行; 704–779) in the latter part of the eighth century and by Doui (道義; died 825) at the beginning of the ninth century. From then on, many Koreans studied Chan in China, and upon their return established their own schools at various mountain monasteries with their leading disciples. Initially, the number of these schools was fixed at nine, and Korean Seon was termed the "nine mountain schools" (九山 gusan) at the time. Eight of these were of the lineage of Mazu Daoyi (馬祖道一; 709–788), as they were established through connection with either him or one of his eminent disciples. The one exception was the Sumi-san school founded by Ieom (利嚴; 869–936), which had developed from the Caodong school (曹洞)."<From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia>

So in Korea now most of monasteries have Seon halls(禪院) in the precincts of a monastery. We have 25 dioceses under the Jogye Order of the Korean Buddhism. Three thousand monks have three months retreat twice a year in summer and winter season. Korean Seon monks have Hwadu(話頭) which is a form of Buddhist meditation common in the teachings of Chan Buddhism. Hwadu can be translated as 'word head' 'head of speech' 'point beyond which speeches exhausts itself. A Hwadu(Hua Tou in chinese) can be a short phrase that is used as a subject of meditation to focus the mind.


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Writer: Dharma Master Bogeom (Dr. Lee Chi-Ran, the second seat from right)


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