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HIDDEN TREASURES OF KOREA

Photographs by Tissa Madawela There are no images in the gallery.

 

This months Dhamma Talk at the London Buddhist Vihara was given by Heng Jin of the Korean Spirit and Culture Promotion Project. His talk titled Hidden Treasures of Korea, gave a detailed introduction to Korea’s unique and rich heritage of Buddhism. He said in his introduction that the Buddhist heritage is part of Korea’s 7000 year old recorded history influenced by religious devotion, artistic brilliance and scientific innovations. Talk was followed by documentary films on The Sarira Reliquary of the Kamion Temple, Historic Koryo Buddhist Paintings, Ancient Sokuram Grotto Temple and Contemporary Korea. When Buddhism was first introduced to Korea in 372 A.D., Shamanism was the indigenous religion. Shamanism is the ancient religion of animism and nature-spirit worship. Since Buddhism was not seen to be in conflict with the rites of nature worship, it was able to naturally blend in with Shamanism. And so many of the special mountains believed to be the residence of spirits in pre-Buddhist time soon became the sites of Buddhist temples.

And thus Chinese Buddhism blended with Korean Shamanism to produce a unique form: Korean Buddhism. As in other Buddhist countries, the fundamental teachings of the Buddha remained the same, even though the form was uniquely Korean. In the late 16th century A.D., during the Japanese invasion by the armies of Hideyoshi, Buddhism came to the country's rescue. At the age of 72, Master So- san(1520- 1604 A.D.) and his disciple Sa- myong(1544- 1610 A.D.), led a band of 5,000 Buddhist monks against the people's respect for Buddhism. Following the defeat of the Hideyoshi invasion, his disciple, Master Sa- myong, was sent as chief delegate to Japan and in 1604, he completed a peace treaty. Recently, many new temples and centres have opened in the town. Programs for people of all ages include learning to chant, studying, all night meditation classes, and social gatherings. About half the population of Korea is Buddhist. Most Koreans, even though they may not call themselves Buddhists, maintain a Buddhist view of life and the after world.


SEOKGURAM GROTTO TEMPLE

Established in the 8th century on the slopes of Mount T'oham, the Seokguram Grotto contains a monumental statue of the Buddha looking at the sea in the bhumisparsha mudra position. With the surrounding portrayals of gods, Bodhisattvas and disciples, all realistically and delicately sculpted in high and low relief, it is considered a masterpiece of Buddhist art in the Far East. The Temple of Bulguksa (built in 774) and the Seokguram Grotto form a religious architectural complex of exceptional significance.
SARIRA Reliquary

Sarira reliquaries were made to enshrine the remains of a Buddha or enlightened masters. The Kameun sarira reliquary was made 1,300 years ago in the Kingdom of Silla, and it was discovered at the base of a stone pagoda in 1996. Consisting of an inner and outer box, it is delicate and exquisitely beautiful, with depictions and sculptures of guardian deities exhibiting lifelike qualities.

The Tripitaka Koreana

These more than 80,000 wood blocks used for printing the complete collection of Buddhist scriptures, laws, and treatises. The 81,340 blocks weigh 3.2 kg each. Together, they are the equivalent of 6,791 printed volumes, and contain 52,382,960 characters (Hanja). The hand carved blocks took over 16 years to complete. Designated as National Treasure. UNESCO has also identified the set as a world cultural heritage. The original set took 77 years to complete, and was finished in 1087. However, it was destroyed in 1232 by a Mongol invasion. King Kojong ordered the set remade and work began in 1236. It was felt that replacing the wood blocks would convince Buddha to intervene and help repel the Mongolian invaders. Originally carved on Kangwha Island, they were moved to Haein-sa during the early years of the Yi dynasty.

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