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Reviewed by:
  • Domesticating the Dharma: Buddhist Cults and the Hwaŏm Synthesis in Silla Korea
  • Chanju Mun (bio)
Domesticating the Dharma: Buddhist Cults and the Hwaŏm Synthesis in Silla Korea, by Richard D. McBride, II. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2007. 241 pp. $52.00 cloth.

In this book, Richard McBride details two major cults in Korean Buddhism involving Maitreya and Avalokiteśvara during the Three Kingdoms and Unified Silla periods (traditionally dated from 57 BCE to 935 CE). He concludes that Buddhists accepted Hwaŏm (Ch. Huayan; Jpn. Kegon) philosophy from China in the late seventh and early eighth centuries and syncretized all Buddhist cults prevailing in Silla at that time within its cosmology.

This work consists of five chapters along with an introduction (pp. 1–12) and a conclusion (pp. 139–45). Buddhism and the state in Silla is discussed in the first chapter (pp. 13–32), the cult of Maitreya in the second chapter (pp. 33–61), the cult of Avalokiteśvara in the third chapter [End Page 180] (pp. 62–85), the rise of Hwaŏm Buddhism in Silla in the fourth chapter (pp. 86–108), and the Hwaŏm synthesis of Buddhist cults in the fifth chapter (pp. 109–38). McBride incorporates numerous anecdotes and narratives on Buddhist cults obtained from many, and some very obscure, primary and secondary Sino-Korean sources, such as hagiographies, epigraphies, historical texts, and other resources, supporting his central argument.

He argues that when Buddhists in Silla accepted advanced scholastic Buddhism directly from China, they synchronically imported devotional Buddhism. After accepting the cults of many deities, represented by Maitreya, Amitābha, and Avalokiteśvara, they enshrined and worshipped the images of those deities in small and large monasteries across the nation. They exercised various meditation techniques, including visualization, made offerings, chanted the names of buddhas and bodhisattvas, and recited Buddhist spells. Such devotional practices adopted by elite Buddhists facilitated the domestication of Buddhism among the broader population of Silla.

When McBride discusses Hwaŏm Buddhism in the Sino-Korean Buddhist context, he demonstrates an excellent awareness of Korean and Western academic sources. However, even though Hwaŏm philosophy is a central theme in this work, McBride does not incorporate the most recent Japanese scholarship in Hwaŏm Buddhism—a source that modern scholars in Huayan Buddhism should not ignore. Of them, the reviewer can list a few eminent scholars in Sino-Korean Huayan Buddhism in Japan to whom McBride never referred, that is, Kimura Kiyotaka, Yoshizu Yoshihide, Ishii Kōsei, Kojima Taizan, and others.

For example, directly related to the theme of this book, Kojima Taizan discerned the two different lineages of Sino-Korean Huayan Buddhism: the intellectual lineage of Mt. Zhongnan’s Huayan Buddhism, represented by Zhiyan (602–668), Ŭisang (625–702), and Fazang (643–712), and the praxis lineage of Mt. Wutai’s Huayan Buddhism, represented by Li Tongxuan (d. 730) and Chajang (d. between 650 and 655). The later Huayan master Chengguan (738–839) originally trained in the intellectual lineage synthesized the praxis-oriented lineage of Mt. Wutai’s Huayan Buddhism with his own academic heritage. This reviewer thinks that if McBride referred to and incorporated at least Kojima Taizan’s research on Sino-Korean Buddhism, his arguments would be even better supported and the richness of the research would also be improved.

The current reviewer classified all doctrinal classification systems across Sino-Korean Buddhism into two groups, ecumenical and sectarian, [End Page 181] in his book The History of Doctrinal Classification in Chinese Buddhism: A Study of the Panjiao Systems (University Press of America, 2006). He defined Ŭisang as a Huayan sectarian because Ŭisang hierarchically classified all teachings under the rubric of Huayan philosophy. However, he classified Wŏnhyo as an ecumenist because Wŏnhyo equally considered the value of all doctrines.

Even though the reviewer completely agrees with the author in terms of there being no institutional sects in Sino-Korean Buddhism in the Silla period, it is logical to ascertain that there are two possible interpretations on Huayan philosophy’s role in the theoretical synthesis of the various Buddhist cults of the period. If we adopt the model in which Ŭisang synthesized...


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