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Seon(Zen) Masters​

Seon(Chan, Zen 禪) monks gathering at the Main Dharma Hall of Shinhungsa Monastery of the 3rd Diocese of Jogye Order of the Korean Buddhism.

Korean Buddhism is Mahayana tradition same as Chinese and Japanese ones. Some scholars define those countries' buddhist tradition is called as East-Asian Buddhism. However Korean Buddhism is slightly different from others. As you know that Chinese Buddhism has 13 sects(종파 宗派 ) and Japanese Buddhism also has various sects as well. We can say that Korean Buddhism is general sect which synthesized all tradition. Even if there are many different names of buddhist orders(sects) in modern Korean Buddhism, Jogye Order of the Korean Buddhism is authentic.

​Seon monks were listening to Seon master's Dharma Talk at Seon Meditation Hall.

​Koream Buddhism is different from other East-Asian Buddhist tradition in many ways. Mahayana sutras are same texts, but in practical level each tradition has its own unique method. Korean Buddhism seems to stick to Seon(chan, zen 禪) Buddhism which was flourished in Tang and Song Dynasty in main land Chinese soil. There are twelve thousand monks and nuns in Jogye Order of the Korean Buddhism which is the largest Order and authentic. Monks and nuns under the Jogye Order have retreat twice a year regularly. Each retreat has three months in summer and winter season. We call ​​​​Angeo (안거 安居 Vasa) which is equivalent to Vasa during in rainy season in South Asia theravadin tradition.Twenty percents of Jogye Order monks and nuns join summer and winter Angeo(comfort residing) . Baekdamsa Monastery is very popular for senior Seon monks and novices to practice Seon meditation here. Baekdamsa monastery in which is located in remote mountain area with wonderful natural scene. Baekdamsa monastery has two hermitages such as Oseam(오세암 五歲庵 five year old temple) and Bongjeongam(봉정암 鳳頂庵 oriental phoenix forehead temple). Bongjeonam is the most sacred and holiest buddhist pilgrimage for korean buddhist devotees for Gido(praying and reciting mantra of Buddhas and Bodhisatvas). It takes about five hours walking distance from Baekdamsa monastery. Bongjeongam is located on the top of Mt Inner Seorak.

​Three eminent Seon masters at Baekdamsa Monastery.

​These three Seon(chan 禪) masters are key monks in Baekdamsa monastery to lead Seon monks to pratice mediation and learn Seon records and sutras related to Seon Buddhism. Baekdamsa monastery has two types of meditation hall which are for a senior and a novice. If a senior Seon monk who has been a monk over thirty years, he is qualified with staying in a gateless gate room locked for three months with hard retreat. This gateless gate room is ​​​​(무금선원 無今禪院 not present Seon hall) near Baekdamsa monastery. Mugumseonwon hermitage has about ten gateless gate rooms only. One who practices in a gateless gate room can not come out of a gateless gate room freely or any time. He should stay inside and practice for three months made vow by himself. Food is given to him twice a day morning and lunch through a small square hole which is only for food.

​Baekdamsa Monastery Elementary Seon Hall of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism(대한불교조계종 백담사 기본선원 大韓佛敎曹溪宗 百潭寺 基本禪院).

​Korean Buddhism came from China to Goguryeo(고구려 高句麗) in 372 CE. This is official transmission from the Former Qin(​前秦 ​​​​​351-394CE) which was a state of the Sixteen Kingdoms in China. King ​​​​​​​​​​​​Fú Jiān (부견 苻堅 337–385 CE) sent monks with a Buddha statue and some sutras. History of Koream Buddhism has been for almost one thousand seven hundred years so far. However there is controversy about the first Dharma transmission to the Korean peninsular. Some scholars insist on the first Dharma transmission to Korean peninsular should be corrected as Gaya kingdom(가야국 伽耶 ​國42-532 CE). Gaya was a Korean confederacy of territorial polities in the Nakdong River basin of southern Korea growing out of the Byeonhan confederacy of the Samhan period.

Baek​je Buddhism was introduced in 384 CE by the Indian monk Marananta arrived in Baekje and the royal family received the similar strain of Buddhism he brought.

​​Buddhism did not enter the kingdom of Silla until the 5th century. The common people were first attracted to Buddhism here, but there was resistance among the aristocrats. In 527, however, a prominent court official named Ichadon presented himself to King Beopheung of Silla and announced he had become Buddhist. The king had him beheaded, but when the executioner cut off his head, it is said that milk poured out instead of blood. Paintings of this are in the temple at Haeinsa and a stone monument honoring his martyrdom is in the National Museum of Kyongju.

​​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(선불교 禪佛敎), 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(선 禪). 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(교 敎), meaning 'learning' or 'study.'

Beomnang (법랑 法朗; 632–646), said to be a student of the Chinese master Daoxin (도신 道信; 580–651), is generally credited with the initial transmission of Chan into Korea. It was popularized by Sinhaeng (신행 神行; 704–779) in the latter part of the eighth century and by Doui (도의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 (구산선문 九山禪門 gusanseonmun) at the time. Eight of these were of the lineage of Mazu Daoyi (마조도일 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 (이엄利嚴; 869–936), which had developed from the Caodong school (조동曹洞).

​​Nine Mountain

The nine mountain schools (구산선문 九山禪문; gusanseomun) were the initial monasteries of the Korean branch of Buddhism called Seon founded in the Unified Silla period in the 8th or 9th century. The initial transmission of Seon into Korea is usually attributed to Beomnang (법랑 法朗; 632-646), said to be a student of the Chinese master Daoxin (도신道信; 580-651). Seon was later popularized epecially by Sinhaeng (신행神行; 704-779) in the latter part of the eighth century and by Doui (도의道義; d. 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.

The number of these schools was initially fixed to nine, whence the name derives. Eight of these schools were of the lineage of Mazu Daoyi (마조도일 馬祖道一; 709-788), as they were established through connection with either him or one of his eminent disciples:

Gaji san school​​​

The Gaji san school (가지산문 迦智山門), established at Borimsa under the influence of Doui(도의 道義) and his grand-student Chejing (체징 體澄; 804-890). Doui studied in China under Seodang Zhizang (​서당 지장 西堂 智藏;​​735-814) and Baizhang ​ Huaihai (백장회해 百丈懷海​​; 749-814).

I introduced Korean Seon Buddhism briefly. Seon Buddhism impacted the Korean peninsular very strongly and since then Seon Buddhism has dominated Korean monks and nuns. Of course there is also stromg lineage of learning stutras' tradition such as Hwaeom(화엄 華嚴) in Chinese Huayan​​. Although most of the scholastic schools waned in activity and influence during this period of the growth of Seon, the Hwaeom school continued to be a lively source of scholarship well into the Goryeo, much of it continuing the legacy of Uisang(의상 義相) and Wonhyo(원효 元曉).​ In particular the work of Gyunyeo (균여均如; 923–973) prepared for the reconciliation of Hwaeom and Seon, with Hwaeom's accommodating attitude toward the latter. Gyunyeo's works are an important source for modern scholarship in identifying the distinctive nature of Korean Hwaeom.

Another important advocate of Seon.Gyo(선교 禪敎) unity was Uicheon(의천 義天). Like most other early Goryeo monks, he began his studies in Buddhism with Hwaeom. He later traveled to China, and upon his return, actively promulgated the Cheontae (천태종 天台宗,​ Tiantai) which became recognized as another Seon school. This period thus came to be described as 'five doctrinal and two meditational schools'. Uicheon himself, however, alienated too many Seon adherents, and he died at a relatively young age without seeing a Seon-Gyo unity accomplished.

Baekdamsa Monastery is located in Mt Seorak. Master Doui who is the patriarch of Gajisan Seon school in Silla Dynasty found Jinjeonsa temple which is a branch temple of the 3rd Diocese Shinhungsa Monastery of the Jogye Order of korean Buddhism. So Baekdamsa monastery is under Gaji san school historically. However in modern day three eminent Seon masters received Dharma lineage from different nine mountain Seon schools.

​​​Writer: Dr. Lee Chi-Ran


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