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Domesticating the Dharma

Buddhist Cults and the Hwaom Synthesis in Silla Korea

Richard D. McBride, II

Publication Year: 2008

Western scholarship has hitherto described the assimilation of Buddhism in Korea in terms of the importation of Sino-Indian and Chinese intellectual schools. This has led to an overemphasis on the scholastic understanding of Buddhism and overlooked evidence of the way Buddhism was practiced "on the ground." Domesticating the Dharma provides a much-needed corrective to this view by presenting for the first time a descriptive analysis of the cultic practices that defined and shaped the way Buddhists in Silla Korea understood their religion from the sixth to tenth centuries. Critiquing the conventional two-tiered model of "elite" versus "popular" religion, Richard McBride demonstrates how the eminent monks, royalty, and hereditary aristocrats of Silla were the primary proponents of Buddhist cults and that rich and diverse practices spread to the common people because of their influence. Drawing on Buddhist hagiography, traditional narratives, historical anecdotes, and epigraphy, McBride describes the seminal role of the worship of Buddhist deities—in particular the Buddha Úâkyamuni, the future buddha Maitreya, and the bodhisattva Avalokiteúvara—in the domestication of the religion on the Korean peninsula and the use of imagery from the Maitreya cult to create a symbiosis between the native religious observances of Silla and those being imported from the Chinese cultural sphere. He shows how in turn Buddhist imagery transformed Silla intellectually, geographically, and spatially to represent a Buddha land and sacred locations detailed in the Avataṃsaka Sûtra (Huayan jing/Hwaŏm kyŏng). Emphasizing the importance of the interconnected vision of the universe described in the Avataṃsaka Sûtra, McBride depicts the synthesis of Buddhist cults and cultic practices that flourished in Silla Korea with the practice-oriented Hwaŏm tradition from the eight to tenth centuries and its subsequent rise to a uniquely Korean cult of the Divine Assembly described in scripture.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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p. v

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pp. vii-ix

This book began as a study of mainstream Mahāyāna Buddhism as it was practiced on the ground in Silla Korea. In pursuing this course of research I originally intended it as a counterbalance to the detailed descriptions of scholastic Buddhism available on Silla Korea because I had long been fascinated by the anecdotes and narratives about the ...

Abbreviations and Conventions

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pp. xi-xiii

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pp. 1-12

Chajang lamented that he had been born in a borderland. He longed to go to the West [to China, to participate in] the Great Transformation. In the third year of the Inp’yŏng reign period, the pyŏngsin -year [636], he received royal permission and, together with his disciple Sil and more than ten junior colleagues, went West, entering Tang, and ...

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Chapter One: Buddhism and the State in Silla

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pp. 13-32

... the early tenth century, a legend circulated on the Korean peninsula that the Silla king had three treasures (sambo). These treasures—the sixteen-foot image of the Buddha (changnyuk chonsang) at Hwangnyong Monastery, the nine-story wooden pagoda (kuch’ŭng mokt’ap) erected at the same monastic complex, and the jade belt bestowed by heaven (ch’ŏnsa oktae) upon Silla king Chinp’yŏng ...

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Chapter Two: The Cult of Maitreya

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pp. 33-61

... there were just one cult that could be said to characterize Buddhist practice on the Korean peninsula during the beginnings of the religion, it would have to be that of Maitreya (Mirŭk, Chassi). The veneration of the Bodhisattva Maitreya, the future Buddha, is a practice common throughout the Buddhist world and is probably the first personality cult that emerged historically after that of ...

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Chapter Three: The Cult of Avalokiteśvara

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pp. 62-85

... of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara (Kwanseŭm, Kwanŭm) is the most widespread devotional practice of Buddhism in East Asia. Venerated as the goddess of mercy in China and manifest in human form as the Dalai Lama in Tibet, Avalokiteśvara is the most beloved of all Buddhist deities. When the cult of the bodhisattva of compassion was first introduced to Korea, the role ...

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Chapter Four: The Rise of Hwaŏm Buddhism in Silla

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pp. 86-108

... Avataṃsaka Sūtra (Buddhāvataṃsaka Sūtra, Ch. Dafangguang fo huayan jing) provides a compelling vision of reality and a comprehensive Buddhist worldview. This Mahāyāna scripture was regarded as the first sermon preached by the Buddha Śākyamuni in the Lotus Storehouse World System after his enlightenment. Because it was delivered to a vast assembly of gods, spiritual ...

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Chapter Five: The Hwaŏm Synthesis of Buddhist Cults

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pp. 109-138

... Hwaŏm tradition succeeded in becoming the most powerful and influential Buddhist organization in Silla during the eighth century and continued as such until the end of the dynasty because it was the only intellectual tradition to incorporate cultic practices successfully and to develop an institutional apparatus based on royal and aristocratic support to the point that it was ...

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Concluding Reflections

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pp. 139-146

... in East Asia and the West has hitherto described the process of the accommodation of Buddhism in Korea in terms of its assimilation of Sino-Indian and Chinese intellectual traditions, or schools. Since the colonial period, when Japanese Buddhologists portrayed their country as the most Buddhist country in the world by claiming, for polemical purposes, that ...

Appendix 1: The Divine Assembly from the Avataṃsaka Sūtra in Sixty Rolls

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pp. 147-148

Appendix 2: The Divine Assembly from the Avataṃsaka Sūtra in Eighty Rolls

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pp. 149-150


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pp. 151-178

Glossary of Sinitic Logographs

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pp. 179-192

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 193-217


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pp. 217-228

E-ISBN-13: 9780824862244
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824830878

Publication Year: 2008

OCLC Number: 256848100
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Domesticating the Dharma

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Subject Headings

  • Buddhism -- Korea -- History -- To 935.
  • Hua yan Buddhism -- Korea -- History.
  • Buddhist cults -- Korea -- History.
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