Domesticating the Dharma

Domesticating the Dharma: Buddhist Cults and the Hwaom Synthesis in Silla Korea

Richard D. McBride
Copyright Date: 2008
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    Domesticating the Dharma
    Book Description:

    Western scholarship has hitherto described the assimilation of Buddhism in Korea in terms of the importation of Sino-Indian and Chinese intellectual schools. This has led to an overemphasis on the scholastic understanding of Buddhism and overlooked evidence of the way Buddhism was practiced "on the ground." Domesticating the Dharma provides a much-needed corrective to this view by presenting for the first time a descriptive analysis of the cultic practices that defined and shaped the way Buddhists in Silla Korea understood their religion from the sixth to tenth centuries. Critiquing the conventional two-tiered model of "elite" versus "popular" religion, Richard McBride demonstrates how the eminent monks, royalty, and hereditary aristocrats of Silla were the primary proponents of Buddhist cults and that rich and diverse practices spread to the common people because of their influence. Drawing on Buddhist hagiography, traditional narratives, historical anecdotes, and epigraphy, McBride describes the seminal role of the worship of Buddhist deities—in particular the Buddha Úâkyamuni, the future buddha Maitreya, and the bodhisattva Avalokiteúvara—in the domestication of the religion on the Korean peninsula and the use of imagery from the Maitreya cult to create a symbiosis between the native religious observances of Silla and those being imported from the Chinese cultural sphere. He shows how in turn Buddhist imagery transformed Silla intellectually, geographically, and spatially to represent a Buddha land and sacred locations detailed in the Avataṃsaka Sûtra (Huayan jing/Hwaŏm kyŏng). Emphasizing the importance of the interconnected vision of the universe described in the Avataṃsaka Sûtra, McBride depicts the synthesis of Buddhist cults and cultic practices that flourished in Silla Korea with the practice-oriented Hwaŏm tradition from the eight to tenth centuries and its subsequent rise to a uniquely Korean cult of the Divine Assembly described in scripture.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6224-4
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Abbreviations and Conventions
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    This anecdote about the aristocratic Silla monk Chajang’s worship of and spiritual encounter with Mañjuśrī, a bodhisattva important to the Hwaŏm tradition, illustrates several of the themes with which this book is concerned: the adoption and adaptation of religious practices by elites and the role, in this process, of imported deities and systems of understanding the cosmos. This book deals with the origins, composition, and function of Buddhist cults in the early medieval Korean state of Silla (ca. 300–935).² In this connection it touches on a few themes and topics that inhabit the overlapping boundaries between several fields in...

  6. CHAPTER ONE Buddhism and the State in Silla
    (pp. 13-32)

    In the early tenth century, a legend circulated on the Korean peninsula that the Silla king had three treasures(sambo). These treasures—the sixteen-foot image of the Buddha(changnyuk chonsang)at Hwangnyong Monastery, the nine-story wooden pagoda(kuch’ŭng mokt’ap)erected at the same monastic complex, and the jade belt bestowed by heaven(ch’ŏnsa oktae)upon Silla king Chinp’yŏng in 579—not only putatively protected the state from invasion and destruction but conferred legitimacy upon the possessor. They functioned symbolically like and, perhaps, were figuratively modeled after the three treasures of the ancient Chinese Zhou dynasty (ca. 1045–256 b.c.e.): the...

  7. CHAPTER TWO The Cult of Maitreya
    (pp. 33-61)

    If there were just one cult that could be said to characterize Buddhist practice on the Korean peninsula during the beginnings of the religion, it would have to be that of Maitreya (Mirŭk, Chassi). The veneration of the Bodhisattva Maitreya, the future Buddha, is a practice common throughout the Buddhist world and is probably the first personality cult that emerged historically after that of Śākyamuni. The worship of Maitreya was also the first Buddhist cult in which Silla elites and aristocrats actively participated in the sixth century after its introduction from China, where it was in vogue during the Northern...

  8. CHAPTER THREE The Cult of Avalokiteśvara
    (pp. 62-85)

    Worship of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara (Kwanseŭm, Kwanŭm) is the most widespread devotional practice of Buddhism in East Asia. Venerated as the goddess of mercy in China and manifest in human form as the Dalai Lama in Tibet, Avalokiteśvara is the most beloved of all Buddhist deities. When the cult of the bodhisattva of compassion was first introduced to Korea, the role of this versatile deity had not yet expanded to its current rich form. The story of Avalokiteśvara’s transformation into the ultimate savior being is indelibly linked to an abundant group of ritual observances that continued to grow during Silla...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR The Rise of Hwaŏm Buddhism in Silla
    (pp. 86-108)

    TheAvataṃsaka Sūtra (Buddhāvataṃsaka Sūtra, Ch.Dafangguang fo huayan jing)provides a compelling vision of reality and a comprehensive Buddhist worldview. This Mahāyāna scripture was regarded as the first sermon preached by the Buddha Śākyamuni in the Lotus Storehouse World System after his enlightenment. Because it was delivered to a vast assembly of gods, spiritual beings, and bodhisattvas, but understood only by beings with advanced spiritual capacity, the scripture was conceptualized as an esoteric teaching (Kor.milgyo, Ch.mijiao) by medieval Buddhists. The sūtra presents a unified vision of reality tied to a detailed description of the bodhisattva path and...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE The Hwaŏm Synthesis of Buddhist Cults
    (pp. 109-138)

    The Hwaŏm tradition succeeded in becoming the most powerful and influential Buddhist organization in Silla during the eighth century and continued as such until the end of the dynasty because it was the only intellectual tradition to incorporate cultic practices successfully and to develop an institutional apparatus based on royal and aristocratic support to the point that it was able to operate some of its own monasteries. Some monasteries, such as Pusŏk Monastery, were initiated by Ŭisang, the purported founder of Hwaŏm in Korea; others, such as Pulguk Monastery, were founded by aristocrats; and later, others, such as Haein Monastery,...

  11. Concluding Reflections
    (pp. 139-146)

    Scholarship in East Asia and the West has hitherto described the process of the accommodation of Buddhism in Korea in terms of its assimilation of Sino-Indian and Chinese intellectual traditions, or schools. Since the colonial period, when Japanese Buddhologists portrayed their country as the most Buddhist country in the world by claiming, for polemical purposes, that “Japanese Buddhism”—the idea of this itself was a newly emerging concept—preserves all of the intellectual and practice-oriented traditions of Eastern Buddhism,¹ it has been a matter of necessity and pride for Korean Buddhologists to demonstrate that most of these traditions also flourished...

  12. Appendix 1: The Divine Assembly from the Avataṃsaka Sūtra in Sixty Rolls
    (pp. 147-148)
  13. Appendix 2: The Divine Assembly from the Avataṃsaka Sūtra in Eighty Rolls
    (pp. 149-150)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 151-178)
  15. Glossary of Sinitic Logographs
    (pp. 179-192)
  16. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 193-216)
  17. Index
    (pp. 217-228)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 229-234)