15 Virtues of Korean Buddhism

Naesosa Temple
[Naesosa Temple]

There are 15 virtues of Korean Buddhism. In this column you can learn what those 15 virtues are.

1. Temples 
The temples temples are beautiful. They blend with nature as if Mother Nature herself built them. They are cradled by the mountains and replenished by brooks and rivers. The temple buildings are simple yet ornate. One could hardly find a more serene and beautiful sanctuary anywhere in the world.


2. Temple Food


It is delicious, nutritious, and good for the environment and living beings. The 100% vegetarian food served at Korean temples are prepared from fresh vegetable often grown on temple grounds. The preparation is often simple without many spices. Temple food never uses the five pungent vegetables from the onion family, which are supposed to hinder meditation practice. Artificial flavorings are also never used for a clean and light taste.

3. Seon Meditation
The Seon (meditation tradition) has an unbroken lineage back to the founder of Seon, Bodhidharma. The tradition of the three-month summer and winter retreats are maintained at over 100 temples with over 1000 monastics engaging in retreat. 


[ A monk explains what Barugongyang is to Templestay participants]

4. Barugongyang (Formal Monastic Meal)
 It is wonderful way to eat. It is taken in four wooden bowls and nothing is wasted. It is itself a silent meditation.

5. Monastic Lineage

A pure monastic lineage exists, which honors the Vinaya of Bhikshus. Korea is a Mahayana country, but its adherence to the Vinaya and respect for the monastic sangha resembles the Theravada countries such as Thailand and Myanmar. Monks and nuns conduct themselves with dignity and refinement to reflect the noble Buddhist lineage.


6. Form and Etiquette 


m and etiquette are emphasized in Korean Buddhism. There is a purity, straightness, and simplicity to the appearance of Korean Buddhism, which is to reflect the uprightness and wholesomeness of mind. Outwardly straight and inwardly pure is the tenet of Korean Buddhism.

7. Diverse Practices
Korean Buddhism offers diverse practices. Along with Seon (the meditation practice, which is the backbone of the KB’s practice lineage), there are diverse devotional practices for monastics and the laity. Daily chanting (Yebul), Yeombul (deity practice, praying to a particular Buddha or Bodhisattva by chanting the name), bowing (such as 108 daily bows or 3000 bows), reciting the sutras (gangyeong), copying sutras (sagyeong), intensive prayers (jeong-geon kido, chanting intensively for 21 days, 100 days, etc.), and more.


It is the meditation practice of Korean Seon. Korea has uniquely preserved and actively engages in this practice. Ganhwaseon means to observe the hwadu, which is the ultimate inquiry. The Hwadu is a sincere and intense questioning into the nature of self and reality. For example, the most common hwadu is “who am I?” This is not an intellectual question, but a sincere longing to know the true nature of the self. This practice leads directly to the experiential understanding of the nature of reality and ultimately to realization. 

9. Ascetic Practice
It is highly valued in Korean Buddhism. Monks and nuns rise at 3 a.m. in most Korean temples for a rigorous day of practice. There is ruggedness and strictness to Korean temple life. Even the grey color of the monastic robes reflects this mentality. Some examples of Korean Buddhist asceticism are: Yongmaeng Jeongjin (ferocious practice: each retreat season in most meditation temples, practitioners don’t sleep at all for a week or longer), Jangjwa Bulwa (not lying down to sleep), finger burning (this is done as an offering to the Buddha or as a sign of dedication to the monastic life), etc.

10. Monastic Robes
Monastic robes are often very elegant and made of the best materials. Koreans monastics are often criticized for their expensive robes made of fine hemp, cotton, or silk. However, the natural materials also have a practical value (such as coolness in the summer and warmth in the winter) as well as aesthetic appeal. Like Catholic priests in Europe, Buddhist monks in Korea play the role of clergy. Such robes lend to the distinction and importance of the clergy’s responsibility. These fine robes have become an inseparable part of Korean Buddhist monastic culture.

11. Korean Tea Tradition


It is an inseparable part of the Korean Buddhist culture. There is not a single temple without a complete tea set and various wonderful teas. The tea pots and cups are uniquely Korean with an earthy and slightly rough appearance, which reflects the Korean Seon values of naturalness and simplicity.

12. Ulyeok (Community Work Period)

It is an indispensable part of Korean Seon. The Seon tradition values work as much as eating; as the saying goes, “no work, no eat.” As Buddhism came to East Asia, farming was done on the temples for sustenance of the monks. In Korea, farming became a Seon practice with the adage, “Seon and farming are not two.” Ulyeok is part of the daily routine of Korean temple life. It is a way to purify Karma. Every Korean monk must do at least five months of manual labor before receiving precepts. Korean Seon adheres to the adage that “every human being should physically labor every day.” This is good for the body and mind.

13. Process of becoming a monastic 
The process inn the Jogye Order is not at all easy but certainly rewarding. Every prospective monastic begins as a hangja (postulant) and must do manual labor for the temple for at least five months. Then, they go to the hangja training course for four weeks to qualify as a novice. Then, a novice monastic must go through four years of training in one of the following institutions: Sutra School, Meditation School, or Monastic or Buddhist University. Then, after a one-week training course, they receive full monastic ordination. It is this difficult process that gives the monks a sense of pride and dignity of wearing the monastic robes.

14. Buddha’s Birthday

It (eighth day of fourth lunar month) is the biggest day of the year for Korean Buddhists. It is the Buddhist Christmas, when the streets and temples are adorned with colorful lanterns. It is when every Buddhists (even closet Buddhists) make their way to the temple for Dharma service. This is the best time of the year to see and experience Buddhist culture in Korea. The Lotus Lantern Festival with its grand and lavish parades and activities takes place around this time.

15. Korean Buddhist Art 
It is a unique heritage of Korean culture. In fact, most of Korea’s cultural properties are Buddhist. Korean temples are veritable art museums with diverse paintings, sculptures, and design. Likewise, museums