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<Korean Buddhism in American Buddhist Scholarship>

How is Korean Buddhism both the one at home and among the Korean immigrants, understood by American Buddhist community? There has been a change, though slow, in the interest in Korean Buddhism in the teaching of Buddhism in American academia. If we compare different versions of text books on Buddhism, we notice that as new versions or new publications appear, the section on Korean Buddhism has been noticeably enhanced. For an example, in the case of The Buddhist Religion : A Historical Introduction by Richard Robinson and Williard Johnson, which I have been using a textbook for my Buddhism course, in its 3rd edition, which was published in 1970, the section on Korean Buddhism contained only 3 pages,(pp.195-197) In its 4th edition, published in 1997, Korean Buddhism has more detailed description I 16 pages(pp.221-236). Donald W. Mitchell's Buddhism : Introducing the Buddhist Experience, another textbook style publication, published in 2002, has a separate chapter on Korean Buddhism(pp.218-240). Still, the number of scholars who are expertise in Korean Buddhism is small and volumes on Korean Buddhism leave much to be desired. One negative impact of this lack of material on Korean Buddhism is people's assumption that Korean Buddhism must be similar to Japanese Buddhism, or Chinese Buddhism. We do not want to overplay the national and ethnic distinction in identifying different Buddhist traditions. But at the same time we do not want to ignore the differences that specific socio-historico-cultural context played in the construction of different Buddhist traditions. For example, I have been wondering what facilitated such different approaches to Buddhism between Chinul(1158-1210) and Dogen (1200-1253). They were contemporaries ; both of them played a major role in the introduction of kongan(koan) tradition to Korean and Japanese Buddhisms respectively. Chinul's Kanhwa gyolui ron is very different from Dogen's Schobogenzo. Some might say that the difference is only natural. Natural as it may be, it also raises a curiosity of a Buddhist scholar like myself. The curiosity is raised not only because Chinul is a Korean and Dogen is a Japanese, but because it tells us various different ways to understand and incorporate Buddhism in our life and in our mode of thinking, Perhaps, this seeming detour is one way of identifying Korean Buddhism without overplaying the national and ethnic identity. When we approach the issue from the general perspective of Buddhism, we can eventually return to the topic of what Korean Buddhism is and how it is different from other Buddhist traditions. The example of Korean monks' prostrations which influenced American Zen practitioner is one such example.

Unlike the information on Korean Buddhism in Korea, scholarship on Korean Buddhism in America does not seem to have changed much in the past two decades. A comparison of two books on Buddhism in America published twenty years apart show that they contain similar information on Korean Buddhism in America. The situation was caused by the lack of available materials in the English language. As we consider the situation, we must ask ourselves whether this dearth of materials on Korean American Buddhism is caused by the lack of activities of Korean Buddhism in America or whether there are other reasons.

Korean Buddhism in American Buddhism and American Buddhist Scholarship
by Jin Y. Park(American University)
(Kwan Um Temple Symposium on Korean Buddhism in America
March 23, 2003 Kwan Um Temple, Los Angeles, CA)

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