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‘Introduction to Mahayana Buddhism’ published in Korea

‘Introduction to Mahayana Buddhism’ published in Korea

Posted October. 04, 2023 08:04,   

Updated October. 04, 2023 08:04


‘Introduction to Mahayana Buddhism,’written by the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism Education Center from a subjective perspective of Korean Buddhism and the first of its kind to be written in Korea, was published last month. Until now, Mahayana Buddhism has been studied in Korea by relying on translated versions from Japan or Europe.

“Despite Korean Mahayana Buddhism’s history of over 1,700 years, there has never been an introduction to Mahayana Buddhism from a Korean perspective,” explained Monk Kiwoo (photo), Director of Education at the Buddhism Education Center, who led the publication and was interviewed by Dong-A Ilbo on Sept. 26.

- What were other previous introductory books on Mahayana Buddhism like?

“In introductory books on Mahayana Buddhism written in Japan and the West, Korean Buddhism was omitted or mentioned very briefly. We relied on translated versions of such brief sections. It really did not make sense at all as introductory books were used not only for scholarly monks but also new followers of Buddhism.”

- Specifically what aspects were lacking?

“Existing translations are mainly based on Chinese and Japanese Buddhism. As a result, the ancient monks who left a great mark on Korean Buddhism and esoteric Buddhism deeply ingrained in Korean Buddhism are missed or absent. Esoteric Buddhism has been a criticial part of Korean Buddhism ever since it was first introduced to Korea that it has become inseparable from all sects. Therefore, understanding the ideas and characteristics of esoteric Buddhism is essential in understanding Korean Buddhism.”

- Why wasn’t it introduced earlier when the book is so important?

“The history of Mahayana Buddhism spans over 2,000 years. It encompasses various sects that have flourished in our land, such as the Beopsangjong, Hwaeomjong, Cheontaejong, Yuljong, and Seonjong, and the scriptures, such as the Geumganggyeong, Banyagyeong, Hwa-eom-gyeong and Amitagyeong, are incredibly vast and elaborate. Creating an introduction here is not an easy task because it includes existing theories that interpret each scripture, but also the latest theories.

- It seems strong research capabilities are needed as well.

“Introductory books for any discipline should be written and taught by the most competent professors. As conveyors of vast and profound content to students who are learning for the first time, the role of the intermediary is inevitably important. Though the need for our own Mahayana Buddhism was recognized for quite some time, we could not work on publication right away because we had to train and develop talent to make it happen. This became possible only when those who studied abroad 20 years ago returned to Korea and built academic achievements.

Chin-Ku Lee sys1201@donga.com