A Western Buddhist's Travels

Sightseeing & detours on the path of enlightenment

The Middle Path arrives in Korea

Korea started to adopt Buddhism in the mid 300s. Once it became known, Koreans made treks to China, much the same way Chinese had done to India. They went to learn, make copies of texts, then return home to teach. There is a story about Wonhyo (617-686)a Korean monk, who set out for China on a pilgrimage to study Buddhism. Late one night during bad weather, he took shelter in a cave. He found a gourd with the purest water he had ever tasted, refreshed he fell asleep. When he awoke the next day, the dawn’s light revealed that it was not a cave he had taken shelter in but a tomb. The gourd wasn’t a gourd but a skull. It came to him in a flash that, “the mind creates all things; all things are products of the mind alone.” Realizing he had just achieved enlightenment, he turned around, and returned home, as he wouldn’t learn anymore from continuing to China. He continued to study his own mind, and is now revered as one of Korea’s greatest Buddhist scholars/teachers. As Buddhism is about the natural world, the existing shamanistic religion, that was prevalent in Korea at the time, was used as the basis to teach about Buddhism. In the 1200s as in China, the royal court mandated state Confucianism, and until late in the 20th century Buddhism was suppressed. Today the Won school along with Zen make up the majority of Korean Buddhists.

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