Korean Buddhism during the Chosŏn period (1392–1910) has been characterized as a religion whose institutional integrity and philosophical vigor severely declined due to the state policy of oppression. Since such a negative description was promulgated by Japanese scholars during the colonial period, it has been adhered to even by postcolonial era Korean scholars. This article is an attempt to redress such a stereotypical understanding of Korean Buddhism, especially that of the late Chosŏn period, and to bring to light its real nature from a historical perspective. As for the factors that contributed to the enhancement of Chosŏn Buddhism’s status, we may adduce some changes in the institutional and social settings. During the years 1550 to 1566, the traditional system of the Sŏn and Kyo schools was restored and government regulations for clerical ordination and the state examination for monks were also reinstated. During the Imjin War, the monastic armies’ military achievements led to the enhancement of their social status. Thereafter, the government publicly utilized their corvée labor, and the Buddhist institution came to receive state support. In the early seventeenth century, along with the rearrangement of religious institutions, various lineages and branches were established and an economic foundation for managing their monasteries was secured. The Buddhist circle in this period proclaimed their self-identity by determining the dharma lineages and established systems for monastic education and practice through combining the practice of meditation and doctrinal studies, in which kanhwa Sŏn took precedence.
MONASTIC ARMIES’ ACTIVITY DURING THE IMJIN WAR AND THE INSTITUTIONALIZATION OF MONASTIC CORVÉE LABOR
1. Monastic Armies’ Response to the Imjin War and Subsequent Rise in Prestige
2. Utilization of Monastic Manpower and Expansion of the Monastic Corvée Labor
REORGANIZATION OF THE BUDDHIST SYSTEM AND FORMATION OF THE TRADITION
1. Denominational Development and Establishment of the Tradition of Dharma Lineages
2. Establishment of Systems for Monastic Education and Practice