Final Paper "Buddhism"

Nobody would argue with the fact that Buddhism is one of the major world religions, which possesses a rich cultural base. However, even such complicated religion as Buddhism was also used as the means of achieving certain political purposes. Adoption of Buddhism in the Silla Kingdom has a multitude of implications, which are reflected on the contemporary Korean culture and society. It is certainly true, as long as the Koreans identify themselves as a separate nation after a complete adoption of Buddhism in Silla. It is not at all a coincidental fact because the state has been experiencing a great decline because of its conflict with Japan, which was threatening to occupy south-eastern lands. That is why Buddhism was needed for addressing multiple interests of Sillian community. The Silla Kingdom established its authoritative power owing to its official adoption of Buddhism as the local religion.

In order to be more specific, the following paper discusses various factors and aspects of adoption of Buddhism by Silla. The main purpose of the paper is to address the relations between adoption of the religion and social perspective of the country. That is why the study goes beyond the statement that Silla’s government used Buddhism for supporting its political authority within the state. In fact, the role of Buddhism is explicit in terms of politics, but its adoption made a significant impact on cultural as well as social basics of Silla. The following paper argues that establishment of authoritative power of Silla would be not possible without respective influence on the social and cultural life of the Koreans. This aspect is natural, but history of Silla is especially peculiar due to the fact that Buddhism helped the Koreans identify themselves as an independent nation while the Silla Kingdom was just attempting to fulfill its political purposes.


The term “Buddha” designates awakening and revelation of secrets. Therefore, Buddhists strongly believe that the essence of life is based on the spiritual development and learning of personal self. At the same time, this religion promotes a view that each individual has to live in harmony with nature and the outside world, which is why one should not cause harm to any other living creature. The most fundamental approach of Silla Buddhism was developed by a thinker named Wonhoyo. He devoted himself to a proof of a global conception of Buddhism: the main outlook of Silla Buddhism was based on the fact that a human should perceive the outer world as a harmonious system. In case a human does so, he/she lives without conflicts and disputes. Likewise, Wonhoyo promoted a view that a personal development depends on a human mind, which is able to present the world at any angle, so that people are those, who are prefer to be. It is becoming abundantly clear that such fundamental statements largely determined development of Silla Buddhism and served a function of strong facilitators of using Buddhism for supporting political agenda of Silla kingdom. That constraint was the main difference in comparison with Chinese Buddhism. Such a concept is more global and particularly matched spiritual needs of Silla community. This concept was quite applicable to Silla population as the period of state decline was associated with a period of absent ethnical identity. Therefore, the citizens had to restore their national identity. Buddhism as a religion appeared to be a strong facilitator as it promotes gaining of personal “self” throughout suffering, anxiety, feeling of dissatisfaction, and final patience. 

Apart from the aforementioned peculiarities, Buddhism involves a practice of devotion, which presupposes praying, chanting, pilgrimage, prostration, and offering. It is also important to note that yoga is commonly regarded as Buddhist practice as it requires physical as well spiritual effort. That is why Buddhism obtains such profound cultural foundation, which can be observed in the cultures of Asian countries. Buddhism is a religion that addresses numerous aspects of human life becoming an effective mediator for cultural, social, and governmental formation of Silla.

Establishment of Buddhism in Silla was not initially a nation-wide phenomenon. Buddhism became a faith appreciated by the kings of Silla, who took Buddhist name in order to prove their divine right to rule the state. That helped to place the emphasis on the function of the state protection from external aggression as the Silla family was believed to hold a sacred mission to save the country. Similarly, the Silla Kingdom reformed its army in order to motivate its elite corps: the soldiers were supposed to worship Buddha Maitreya. That fostered a strong faith in soldiers, and they were convinced that they were fighting for a divine purpose: great protection for the country from various aggressors. It is hard to identify whether the Silla family truly believed in Buddhist concepts, but they recognized a suitable faith for a local population, which were in need for a spiritual support. There is no distinct opinion regarding how Buddhist faith emerged in the Silla family. The most widespread version is that a monk named Ado exposed the Silla family to Buddhism. This statement is quite relevant provided that the Silla family utilized Buddhism as a strong political instrument. This evidence is traceable throughout any aspect of Silla’s history between 5th and 6th centuries when Buddhism was governmentally promoted. 

Changes were visible within the entire Sillian community as they were associated with adoption of Buddhism. It is necessary to make a remark regarding the causes of the adoption. First of all, the widespread acceptance of Buddhism and its recognition by the local authorities were typical in the beginning of the 6th century. The government was in strong need of a profound basis for its power and support of the population. The conditions of the low commitment to new authorities caused a need for referring to Buddhist symbolism of power. In such a way, local authorities were recognized as a sign of divine power, which should not be harmed. 

Therefore, a political implication on this cause can be observed. Sillian authorities recognized the fact that religion and spiritual practices can be used for addressing large masses of population for the Sillians to utilize that for their political purposes. Implementation of Buddhist rituals of inauguration and other events related to the local government were associated with the divine intervention. It was becoming apparent that Buddhism was already a part of Korean culture once it helped to facilitate the establishment of Sillian authoritative power. Buddhist symbolism of power was a favorable aspect of this religion, which is why the authorities were placing the emphasis on the uniqueness of Korean population and their religion. The thaumaturgic power was monopolized by the Sillian authorities. This power is known to have its cultic foundation in term of power. Thus, the Sillian rulers protected themselves from rebels and any other attempts to suppress or overthrow their power. Therefore, Buddhism was mainly applied to the Sillian community due to its favorable doctrine in relation to power. Taking into consideration the changes associated with adoption of Buddhism, formation of Silla is based on the following aspects in regards to Buddhism. It is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore the fact that a great role has been played by the symbolism of local authority. A belief in the divine origin of the power facilitated formation of the state. Local population considered new power as a sign of divine intervention providing the Sillian government with local support almost immediately. Religious perspective was not a central determinant of the Sillian power, but its presence dramatically boosted establishment of trust and respect of local authority, especially in the light of the fact that Buddhism religion values authority of power.

A large presence of Buddhism in the Sillian community has made a significant impact on its culture. First of all, calligraphic manuscripts related to Buddhist spiritual practices are still the element of Korean culture. Hwarang segi manuscripts are argued to be one of the first representations of the Korean national, cultural, and spiritual identity. The manuscripts contain unique Buddhist texts, which differ from Chinese Buddhism doctrine. This speculation has become a reason for multiple studies. Even though a complete authenticity of Hwarang segi manuscripts has not been entirely proved yet, it is crucial to note that the Koreans’ strive for a specific national identity via cultural legacy is apparent. As a consequence, differences in Silla Buddhism texts from original Chinese Buddhism are also associated with this agenda. A nationality, which has been recently enabled to establish its uniqueness, was searching for its cultural identification. 

It is abundantly clear that any culture is a way of interpreting the objective reality. That is why Buddhism also has a cultural dimension of the Sillian community. It can be explained by the fact that the Koreans needed their unique culture and expanded their recently adopted religion to other aspects of culture. Moreover, Buddhism itself is commonly recognized as culturally rich world religion. In addition, Buddhism helped the Sillians to establish a cultural legacy for the future generations. This aspect did not contribute much to the political agenda of the Silla Kingdom, but enabled the Koreans to identify themselves as an independent cultural and social entity. It is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore the fact that these components also determine a certain ethnical group as a separate nationality. That is why Silla was formed with the help of Buddhism in relation to social and cultural aspects. Furthermore, a role of cultural and social aspects happened to be much more significant than the political aspect on a large scale. A state of Silla declined after years of their successful rule, and a civil war began. Nevertheless, cultural legacy was strongly embedded in the Korean ethnicity, and today, these elements could be clearly seen in the contemporary Korean culture. Furthermore, Buddhist doctrine was profoundly incorporated into the Korean mindset in spite of the fact that the governments were changing. The Silla Kingdom was surely successful in use of Buddhism for their political purposes, but social as well as cultural contributions of Buddhism are more valuable.  

Use of Buddhist doctrine as a main driving force for preservation of the power’s authority was the main political outcome. This statement is repeated in the entire paper as this is the main factor that determines a proactive spread of Buddhism within the territories of the contemporary Korean states. Still, political outcomes are not so persistent in comparison with cultural legacy. As a matter of fact, Buddhism left numerous cultural references, which are present in Korean culture nowadays. In addition, existence of Silla manuscripts of divine texts also suggests that Korean culture has Buddhist origins. A wide range of rituals and spiritual practices are based on Buddhist doctrine. In addition, a spiritual life of local populations was dramatically improved. Without a doubt, it contributed greatly to the development of unique culture. Nowadays, this period is described from the angle of romantic vision: this period caused spreading various stories related to the adoption of Buddhism in the Silla Kingdom. 

Use of various spiritual rituals was particularly focused on emphasizing divine symbolism of the local power and establishment of unique sociocultural basics. Taking into account all the drastic changes, the Sillian communities needed stability in terms of society and culture. That is why rituals and visible amendments to holy texts were made in order to help the masses to adjust to their new lifestyle and positioning in relation to other nations. Therefore, Buddhism created an entire cultural dimension in the Sillian communities and contemporary Korean ones. Nevertheless, Buddhism in Sillian society had numerous implications, especially political. That is why the governmental changes were also evident during this period. Adoption of Buddhism in the Sillian community should be associated with the fact that the government was protected from any attempts to change it. As it has been already mentioned, Buddhism argues that power is given to people with the help of the divine intervention, as it happened to Buddha. Thus, local people did not consider acts of rebellions to be a spiritually reasonable activity. In such a way, the government was changed in terms of its authority and security. Moreover, it is important to note that this evidence is obviously supported by the political agenda of Sillian politicians and supporters.

Considering the aforementioned factors, it is possible to state that enhancement of spiritual life is also an evident advantage of Buddhism adoption. The Koreans did not have any opportunity to realize themselves as an independent spiritual entity during this historic period. Later, when such need emerged, Buddhism became a comprising element of formation of Sillian society, in spite of the fact that Buddhism was a religion, which had Japanese influence. Overall, social and cultural aspects of Buddhism made respective impacts on Sillian society while the government managed to include its political agenda in these aspects of Sillian life. Similarly, establishment of power was dramatically facilitated through public rituals of inauguration and other ceremonies. Thus, Sillian politicians proved that they also believed in Buddhism religion and force the locals to obey them. This factor was especially important once the authority of the Sillians became insufficient to govern a newly formed state. Therefore, Buddhism became the means of unification of the Korean nation and Sillian authorities. Foundation of the Sillian authority on that basis was fairly strong as local society recognized Buddhism as one of its cultural dimensions. 

Furthermore, promotion of such view was closely connected to promotion of national identity concept. Once the government is protected by the divine power, it is worth supporting. It is important to refer to the fundamental principles of Buddhism in order to state that the Koreans experienced all the stages of dukkha: anxiety, suffering, dissatisfaction, and they were expecting to obtain patience via establishment of the independent state. Buddhist concepts are related to personal experiences, but Silla’s government managed to rule the entire nation using this mechanism as each citizen was devoted to Buddhism practices. Still, such development of Buddhism history in the Sillian communities does not have to be regarded as a negative process. Sillian population accepted Buddhism with a proactive willingness, which the government considered a positive effect. In general, enhancement of spiritual life of the citizens was favorable for the government. That is why spiritual life of local people was actively supported in order to facilitate growth of the governmental authority by the means of spiritual fostering of the local population. Consequently, Sillian society underwent particular changes as well.

Adoption of Buddhism by Sillian society is associated with its general acceptance of the rise of social processes owing to the fact that Buddhism rendered a profound basis for the formation of mature Korean society. That is why social perspective of Buddhism adoption in Silla is the least politically backed aspect of the entire complex of changes. Their society experienced a strong boost as the layout of its lifestyle, customs, beliefs, and attitudes was already determined by Buddhism doctrine. It was certainly true: the amendments to the original Buddhist texts and manuscripts were the results of that period. A matter of self-identification on a global scale was an extremely pivotal idea for the Sillians as long as the  drastic political changes were suppressing the Korean national identity and thus formation of Korean society. Hence, social impacts of Buddhism adoption are entirely positive. Apart from that, Buddhism provided a complex social orientation for the Sillian communities. Being exposed to opportunity to develop independently as a nation meant that Sillian society did not have any particular social standards, which is why Buddhism, as a spiritual constraint, underpinned numerous aspects of social life within the Sillian community. Many issues, however, were related to a political support of the present authorities. Still, a spiritual growth of the Sillian communities was evident.

All these aspects created an independent nation with its cultural, social, and historical identity. Buddhism played a significant role in this process, which is why its importance can be observed on a large scale. Strong criticism of the Sillian political forces for the use of religion as a method to establish its authoritative power should be refuted with the fact that this phenomenon helped to form an independent mindset of the local population. Despite the fact that Sillian power was excessively authoritative, it united Korean nation with the help of Buddhism.

On balance, Silla’s authoritative power has been established through a proactive deployment of Buddhism in life of the local population. Buddhism was initially accepted by the Silla family, who started associating themselves with Buddhist characters. This mindset was prominent for spreading this faith within the entire state. As a consequence, the Koreans were in need of faith which would serve a function of cultural, social, and political determinant. Buddhism is known to be quite sophisticated faith; therefore, it was perfectly applicable to Korean reality. That is why Silla’s government used Buddhism for establishment of its authority and protection of its power. Buddhism doctrine presupposes respect of a local government as it is enthroned for protection of the state by divine powers. This aspect was especially emphasized, and even local elite army was fostered to practice Buddhism to increase its combat capacity.

It is appropriate to state that Buddhism was used for support of a political force because the state was experiencing a deep decline, and a need for protection of the governmental authority was extremely pivotal. Buddhism promotes a view that power is given to people because of intervention of the divine forces; therefore, it should not be harmed. Moreover, Buddhism facilitated cultural and social unity of the Sillians. A large presence of amended holy texts and practicing spiritual rituals created a unique cultural foundation and even boosted maturity of Korean society. These factors helped the Silla Kingdom to preserve their authority, but the most significant achievement of Buddhism adoption is enrichment of Korean culture and substantial spiritual growth of the local population. Finally, it is necessary to admit that establishment of Sillian authoritative power through Buddhism has had a temporal effect while cultural and social achievements have significantly contributed to the Korean national identity.

Oct 7, 2020 in Research
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