Bodhidharma – 달마 (5th to 6th Cent.)

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An Image of the Bodhidharma from a Temple Wall.

Hello Again Everyone!!

This is the ninth installment about prominent Korean monks. And while the Bodhidharma wasn’t Korean, he had a heavy and wide-sweeping influence on Korean Buddhism, especially Seon Buddhism.

The Bodhidharma, which is shortened to just Dharma in Korea, was the legendary founder of the Seon/Zen/Chan tradition of meditative Buddhism. He first traveled to China, from northern India, in the early 6th century. He came to China to help enlighten people through meditation and through a minimal amount of studying texts.

The Bodhidharma first arrived in China in the capital of the southern kingdom. While there, he had a famous dialogue with the king, King Liang Wudi. During this dialogue, the Bodhidharma told the king that all the king’s donations to temples and monks would gain him nothing. Instead, he had no idea of who he was. Out of frustration, the king sent the Bodhidharma north to a minor temple on the remote Mt. Song-shan.

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A Painting of the Bodhidharma from Jogyeam Hermitage in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do.

The Bodhidharma had to cross the great Yangtze River by standing on a reed. After arriving at the temple, the monks simply couldn’t understand what it was that the Bodhidharma was attempting to teach them. From this inability to be understood, the Bodhidharma retreated to an isolated cave high up in the mountains where he continuously meditated for nine years in front of a rock wall.

At the end of the nine years, a military officer by the name of Dazu Huike visited the Bodhidharma because he was curious. Dazu Huike begged the Bodhidharma to allow him to become his student. After being refused, Dazu Huike cut off his left arm with his sword as a sign of his commitment. Finally, the Bodhidharma relented and Huike became his student. After this incident, the Bodhidharma returned to the temple from his cave to teach his new form of Buddhism. This little known temple would become famous as the Shaolin Temple, while the Bodhidharma’s new form of Buddhism would famously become known as Zen Buddhism (or Seon in Korea, or Chan in China).

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Dazu Huike and Bodhidharma Mural from Bohyunsa Temple in Goseong, Gyeongsangnam-do.

Dazu Huike would become known as the second patriarch of Chan Buddhism. There would be four more patriarchs that followed culminating in the teachings of Huineng (638-713). Visiting Korean monks that learned under Huineng would transmit his teachings back to the Korean peninsula. This resulted in the Gusan Seonmun (The Korean Seon’s Nine Original Sects). Some of these temples include Silsangsa Temple in Jirisan National Park, Borimsa Temple on Mt. Gajisan, and Taeansa Temple in Jeollanam-do. This form of Buddhism would gain popularity among the lay-people and continue to grow. As a result, the Bodhidharma is regarded as the founder of Seon Buddhism in Korea. He’s even referred to as the Dalma-josa (the founding master Bodhidharma) in Korea.

The Bodhidharma can often be seen depicted in a variety of manners and in a variety of locations. The paintings of the Bodhidharma, for instance, are known as the Dalma-do. The Bodhidharma often sports a heavy beard, a big nose, and he often wears large earrings. He has a knitted brow, suspicious eyes, and he sometimes dons a hood. You can find the image of the Bodhidharma in paintings around temple halls or in a person’s house or even their jewelry. This famous monk knows no bounds and is as popular as ever among the Korean population.

Naong Hyegeun – 나옹 혜근 (1320-1376)

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Meditation Master, master Naong Hyegeun (1320-1376)

Hello Again Everyone!!

In the fourth installment of leading luminaries in Korean Buddhism, I thought I would talk about the meditation master, Master Naong Hyegeun. He was a master of the Imje Seon lineage, and he taught and lived during the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392). It was a period of increasing negativity towards Buddhism due to the corruption that was rampant in the religion at that time. He is best known for laying the foundation for Buddhism in the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910).

Naong was believed to have been born as Gang Wolheon in the city of Yeonghae. At the age of 20, he became an ordained monk, which happened after the death of a close friend. At the age of 27, Naong traveled to Tang China to further his Buddhist education. Uniquely, he was the student of the Indian master, Jigong. He was later to further his studies when he traveled to China and studied under various masters while in the southern part of China. While there, he learned under the most prominent monk teaching in China at that time, Master Dhyanabhadra at Wutai-shan.

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The Gwaneeum-jeon Hall at Songgwangsa Temple.

Upon his return to the Korean peninsula, he became the abbot (juji) of the famed Woljeongsa Temple in 1360. It was during this time that he had a mystical experience with Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom). He also became the primary teacher of Muhak, who he had met in China, and would go on to become prominent in his own right within Korean Buddhism. And then, in 1371, not only did he become the abbot at Suseonsa Temple (now the famed Songgwangsa Temple), but he also became the Royal Preceptor. Eventually, he became the abbot of Hoeamsa Temple.

In 1376, Naong Hyegeun passed away while in the process of moving to Yeongwosa Temple in present day Miryang. He died at Silleuksa Temple in Yeoju on May 15th. In total, he had over 2,000 disciples, the most famous being Muhak Jacho (1327-1425), who helped contribute to the foundation of the Joseon Dynasty.

Picture-066Haedong Yonggungsa Temple in Busan, which Naong Hyegeun founded.