Buddhism and Cultural Preservation in Korea

The Buddhist Channel, 20 Jan 2024

Seoul, South Korea -- On an auspicious day of Tuesday, 30 January 2024, marking the 2568th year in the Buddhist calendar, the Korean Republic's President, Yoon Suk Yeol, attended a vibrant Buddhist New Year's gathering of 800 attendees, which included eminent Buddhist leaders such as Ven. Jinwoo of the Jogye Order, lawmakers, and government officials. The event was a joint effort by the Association of Korean Buddhist Orders and the Jogye Order's Buddhist leaders' forum.

korean buddhism and culture

In his congratulatory address, President Yoon acknowledged the pivotal role Buddhism plays in the cultural fabric of South Korea. He expressed his gratitude to the Buddhist community for their invaluable contribution to the preservation and continuation of the nation's rich cultural heritage.

President Yoon also pledged the government's commitment to safeguarding Buddhist and other religious heritages more effectively. As part of the Cultural Heritage Administration's reorganization in May, a new position will be established specifically for this purpose.

In a noteworthy development, the National Assembly passed a bill last week aimed at preserving and supporting traditional temples, thereby ensuring the proper inheritance of Buddhist heritage.

Buddhism, Pillar of Korean Culture

Buddhism's influence on Korean culture is deep and far-reaching. It has shaped not only the spiritual and philosophical dimensions but also significantly impacted art, architecture, education, and societal values. The following outlines how Buddhism has been instrumental in preserving Korean culture:

Art and Architecture

Korean Buddhist temples serve as both places of worship and hubs of cultural and artistic expression. They house intricate artwork, sculptures, and paintings that beautifully amalgamate Korean aesthetics with Buddhist themes. Notable temples like Bulguksa and Seokguram, recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, are celebrated for their architectural and artistic brilliance.

Calligraphy and Writing
Buddhist monks have been pivotal in preserving and disseminating Korean script and calligraphy. Their practice of transcribing Buddhist scriptures and crafting exquisite calligraphic works has helped nurture and sustain the Korean writing system, Hangul.

Education and Scholarship
Historically, Buddhist monasteries have been the epicenters of learning in Korea. Monks, often scholars themselves, have played a crucial role in preserving and transmitting knowledge across various fields, including philosophy, literature, and science.

Ceremonies and Rituals
Buddhist rituals and ceremonies are an integral part of Korean cultural practices. Festivals like Buddha's Birthday (Seokga Tansinil) are widely celebrated, fostering a sense of community and shared cultural identity.

Ethical and Moral Values
Buddhism has shaped the ethical and moral framework of Korean society, with concepts like compassion, mindfulness, and non-attachment at its core.

Cultural Heritage Preservation

Numerous Buddhist temples and artifacts are recognized as significant cultural heritage sites in Korea. Their preservation is vital to safeguarding Korea's cultural history. A great example would be the Koreana Tripitaka, a collection of Buddhist scriptures carved onto wooden blocks. This massive collection of scriptures is housed in the Haeinsa Temple in South Korea and is recognized for its historical and cultural importance.

While Buddhism has been a significant influence, it's essential to acknowledge that Korean culture is a diverse tapestry woven from various threads, including Confucianism, Shamanism, and modern influences. This rich interplay of influences has given birth to a vibrant and diverse cultural expression in Korea.
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