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Korean Buddhist Nuns and Laywomen

Hidden Histories, Enduring Vitality

Eun-su Cho

Publication Year: 2011

Explores the roles of Korean Buddhist nuns and laywomen from the Koryo period to the present. Uncovering hidden histories, this book focuses on Korean Buddhist nuns and laywomen from the tenth century to the present. Today, South Korea’s Buddhist nuns have a thriving monastic community under their own control, and they are well-known as meditation teachers and social service providers. However, little is known of the women who preceded them. Using primary sources to reveal that which has been lost, forgotten, or willfully ignored, this work reveals various figures, milieux, and activities of female adherents, clerical and lay. Contributors consider examples from the Koryo period (982-1392), when Buddhism flourished as the state religion, to the Choson period (1392-1910), when Buddhism was actively suppressed by the Neo-Confucian court, to the resurgence of female monasticism that began in the latter part of the twentieth century.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Korean Buddhist Nuns and Laywomen

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

Despite having a 1,600-year history within the Korean Buddhist tradition, ordained and lay women have been neglected in both traditional and contemporary accounts of the religion. Korean Buddhist monastic records offer little information on the religious activities of...

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pp. xi-xiii

This volume was conceived with the intention of breaking new ground in a neglected area of Korean history and culture—the tradition of female Buddhist practice—for those in the broader academic community already focused on the topic of women and religion. It...

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1. Introduction

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pp. 1-14

While the modern study of Buddhism has witnessed impressive development over the years, the shape of this progress has not always been balanced. Perhaps most notable in this skewed progress has been the lack of focus on women and their role in the religion. ...

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2. Female Buddhist Practice in Korea—A Historical Account

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pp. 15-43

One of the fundamental tenets of Son (C. Chan; J. Zen), which forms the basis of modern Korean Buddhism, is that in the Buddhadharma there is no distinction between male and female, worldly and nonworldly phenomena. There is, however, a considerable...

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3. Male Son Masters’ Views on Female Disciples in Later Koryo

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pp. 45-68

The idea that women can become enlightened follows naturally from the core Buddhist belief that enlightenment can be achieved by all creatures. When we review the history of Buddhism in Korea, however, we find that, due to the patriarchal nature of society and...

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4. Koryo Ladies and the Encouragement of Buddhismin Yuan China

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pp. 69-89

This chapter examines the activities of Buddhist laywomen in the fourteenth century. More specifically, it analyzes the activities of Koryo laywomen residing in Yuan China. What is striking is the high degree of religious fervor dedicated to building or repairing temples, ...

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5. Two Female Masters of Two Eras

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pp. 91-117

The word yodaesa means a female master. Epitaphs and stupa stelae survive for them. Although bhiksuni is a term that encompasses female master, “master” had the sense of “eminent cleric,” and so yodaesa meant a model bhisuni (nun) who excelled in practice and...

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6. Marginalized and Silenced

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pp. 119-145

Except for the names of some queens and female members of the royal clan who became nuns in palace cloisters inside the capital, the prose records of the Choson period reveal virtually nothing of the lives of Buddhist nuns collectively or as individuals.1 This is a result...

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7. Buddhist Nuns and Alternative Space in Confucian Chosen Society

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pp. 147-163

In this chapter, I will use an alternative reading of the male Confucian elite’s discourse on Buddhist nuns during the Choson period to examine women who went beyond the boundaries of the dominant Confucian doctrine.1 Buddhist monasteries provided upper-class

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8. The Establishment of Buddhist Nunneries in Contemporary Korea

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pp. 165-181

The anti-Buddhist policies and the neo-Confucian ideologies of the Choson dynasty (1392–1910) had a long-term damaging effect on the Buddhist order and on Buddhist nuns in particular.1 Korean Buddhist nuns had to endure gender discrimination, living in a society


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pp. 183-199

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pp. 201-202

Eun-su Cho is Professor in the Department of Philosophy at Seoul National Universty. She previously taught in the Department of Asian Languages and Culture at the University of Michigan. Her research interests range from Indian Abhidharma Buddhism to Korean traditions


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pp. 203-210

E-ISBN-13: 9781438435121
E-ISBN-10: 1438435126
Print-ISBN-13: 9781438435114
Print-ISBN-10: 1438435118

Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2011

Edition: 1

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Monastic and religious life of women.
  • Buddhist nuns -- Korea.
  • Monastic and religious life (Buddhism) -- Korea.
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