Encyclopedia of Korean Buddhism

David Mason
27 March 2014


A landmark reference work on the major Korean traditional religion written by a team of Korean and American professors was published this winter by Unju-sa of Seoul.  “An Encyclopedia of Korean Buddhism” was crafted by the Venerable scholar-monastic Hyewon and 30-year Korea resident David A. Mason over years of careful work, coming out to 650 pages with hundreds of photos & diagrams in its first hardcover printing.

This volume was sponsored by and created under the auspices of the mainstream Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism and Dongguk Buddhist University, and is an attempt to get the terminology of Korean Buddhism “right” and to establish semi-official standards for how it is expressed in English. The improved system of Romanization is used, so that the terms correspond with those used on official Korean websites and in all up-to-date scholarship and journalism about Korea.

Professor Hyewon Seunim is the first woman to ever become Dean of Buddhist Studies at Dongguk University, from which she got her doctorate, and has served as Director of the Korean Buddhist Research Institute.  She is a great scholar of Korean Buddhism who has written and translated several other books and many academic articles already published.

David A. Mason is a well-known researcher, lecturer, writer, editor and tour-guide on Korean Cultural Tourism, particularly the religious characteristics of Korea’s mountains and the pilgrimage traditions associated with them.  He is now a professor of Tourism at NamSeoul University in Cheonan.  In 2011 he was appointed the national Honorary Ambassador of the Baekdu-daegan Mountain-Range, and this is his 9th book on traditional Korean culture and the tourism of it.

This book is the first to comprehensively detail the long history, spiritual practices, greatest masters, most important temples and key terminology of Korean Buddhism, all considered within the larger context of the East Asian Mahayana tradition.  The evolutions of the central themes from the Three Kingdoms era through the Three Dynasties up to the modern era are clearly explained.  The hundreds of entries offer the terms and names in Han-geul (Korean alphabet), Hanja (Chinese characters), Romanizations of the Han-geul and English translations, and then full, concise and accurate descriptions in a flowing, coherent, readable style.

This volume purposely highlights the many distinctive characteristics that distinguish Korean Buddhism from the types and traditions of other Buddhist countries, even its closest neighbors, as well as its own unique historical personages and events that have shaped it.  It describes the most significant factors, trends and resulting treasures and institutions that characterize Korean Buddhism from its ancient origins until contemporary times, such as:

  • Nature-focused influence from Shamanism and Daoism, including Mountain-spirit, Dragon-king and Seven-stars Shrines within most temples
  • Excellent preservation of orthodox doctrines and practices
  • Traditional role as patriotic defender of the nation, especially during the 1592-98 Imjin Invasion
  • Being based on high and remote mountains
  • Influence from and upon China, Central Asia, Mongolia and Japan.
  • Seeking harmony between and unification of schools, philosophies and practices
  • Popular Incorporation of fortune-seeking devotion rituals to Bodhisattvas
  • Dominant usage of stone pagodas, statues and other monumental stoneworks, resulting in masterpieces such as those at Bulguk-sa, Hwaeom-sa and Gyeongju Nam-san
  • Achievement of a unified national Buddhism to a great extent, accomplished by National Master Bojo Ji-nul around 1200, and continuing in today’s mainstream Jogye Order we know representative of the religion.
  • Grand medieval paintings and excellent metal sculptures of various deities
  • Employment of geomantic (pungsu-jiri, feng-shui) principles in architectur
  • Grand monasteries in beautiful mountain settings, including the Three Treasure Temples
  • The Gusan-seonmun (“Nine Mountain Meditation Gates” or sects and original temples of Korean Zen)
  • The Goryeo Palman-daejang-gyeong (Tripitaka Koreana) printing-woodblocks of all classical scriptures, which remain as a key national treasure.
  • The Baebul Jeongchaek (Policy of Suppression of Buddhism) of the Neo-Confucian Joseon Dynasty, that crippled but also purified the religion for 500 years
  • The remarkable historic “comeback” from that in the 20th century, despite the oppressive difficulties of Japanese colonization, the devastations of the Korean War and the challenges posed by post-war poverty, dictatorial governments and rapid industrialization.
  • The amazing globalization of this once-isolated tradition in the past three decades through friendly missionary outreach, becoming one of the world’s most popular and dynamic types, a leading force in global Buddhism.
  • The unique and popular TempleStay program

“An Encyclopedia of Korean Buddhism” is available in major Korean bookstores and Korean online booksellers (so far, hard to find on international book-selling websites).  It can also be ordered directly from the main author, signed and stamped with personal seals, and mailed to you in Korea or overseas, from David Mason.

Cost: ~W35,000 in bookstores.

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