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Reviewed by:
  • Ha Dongsan and Colonial Korean Buddhism: Balancing Sectarianism and Ecumenism
  • Richard D. McBride II
Ha Dongsan and Colonial Korean Buddhism: Balancing Sectarianism and Ecumenism by Chanju Mun. Honolulu: Blue Pine Books, 2009. 494 pp. $40.00 (paper)

The fundamental premise of Chanju Mun's book Ha Dongsan and Colonial Korean Buddhism is that despite the strong Japanese imprint on the Korean Buddhist tradition during the twentieth century,1 the larger history of this tradition should be understood as essentially working through a dialectical relationship between Sŏn (Zen) sectarianism and general Buddhist ecumenism. Mun proposes that these two strands of thought—more precisely lineages of practical approaches to Buddhist soteriology—came together in Reverend Ha Tongsan (1890-1965), who was an influential abbot of Pŏmŏ Monastery in Pusan, patriarch of the order of celibate Korean monks (1954-1955, 1958-1962), and a driving force behind the Buddhist Purification Movement (1954-1962) to rid the Korean Son tradition of the taint of Japanese-style Buddhist practices that had been imposed from 1910 to 1945.

Mun's book is divided into three parts, plus a lengthy introduction (pp. 1-54) that attempts to chart and define Korea's sectarian Buddhist tradition as a result of lineage affiliation. Part 1 (pp. 55-171) is comprised of a comprehensive biography of Ha Tongsan that places Ha's life within the context of the deterioration of Chosŏn rule in the late nineteenth century, the rise of Japanese influence on the peninsula, the transformation of the Korean Buddhist samgha (the community of monks and nuns) and monastery systems under colonial rule, and his role in the Purification Movement that brought control of most of Korea's monasteries back into the hands of celibate monks. This part also provides significant coverage of the life and activities of Tongsan's mentor Paek Yongsŏng (1864-1940). Part 2 (pp. 173-268) is a study of what Mun describes as Ha's "moderate Seon [Sŏn] soteriology" and specifically analyzes the influences of Dahui Zonggao (1089-1163) and Pojo Chinul's (1158-1210) Chan/Son Buddhism and Yunqi Zhuhong's (1535-1615) Pure Land Chan (pp. 184-202). The author then charts the genealogy of moderate Sŏn soteriology by describing the doctrinal views of Qingliang Chengguan (738-839), Guifeng Zongmi (780-841), Yongming Yanshou (904-975), Chinul, and Ch'ŏnghŏ Hyujŏng (1520-1604). Part 3 (pp. 269-452) is a study of what Mun sees as the ecumenist strain in Sino-Korean Buddhist tradition and Ha Tongsan's place in it following a long tradition of what he labels as "ecumenical Buddhists" or members of "ecumenical lineages." This section includes translation and analysis of exegesis by Zongmi, Wŏnhyo (617-686), Yanshou, Taegak Ŭich'ŏn (1055-1101), Chinul, Zhuhong, Hyujŏng, and finally Ha Tongsan. Overall, Ha Dongsan and Colonial Korean Buddhism is an ambitious book that contains a significant amount of useful information and translations (from the collected works of Ha Tongsan as well as the writings of many other Buddhist intellectuals), but unfortunately suffers from methodological and stylistic problems. [End Page 126]

One problem is the author's uncritical acceptance and application of the Western terms "sectarianism" and "ecumenism" and all of their variants. The author never fully explains why he adopts the terms "sect" or "sectarian" (chong, chongp'a), and what he does say about them suggests that the label is actually baseless and unsubstantiated in the context of his study: "The connotation of the term 'sect' in Sino-Korean Buddhism is entirely different from its usage in western Christianity and Japanese Buddhism. It is impossible to clearly delimit boundaries among the sects, which are not exclusive. Since the classification of sects is not based upon differences of doctrine and practice, the notion of a 'sect' is essentially nominal" (p. 6). If this is the true nature of the situation—and I concur wholeheartedly with this assessment of Sino-Korean Mahāyāna Buddhism until the beginning of the twentieth century—why bother to use a loaded term that can confuse matters? Why not use the term "school," which at least suggests some sort of an intellectual tradition or lineage...


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