Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Nat'l Master Doseon Guksa: His Pungsujiri Legacy

Professor David Mason, of Chung-Ang University, is a long-time researcher (32 years in Korea) on the religious characteristics of the mountains in Korea. In 2011 he was appointed Honorary ambassador of the Baekdu-daegan ranges by the Korea Forest Service. He has authored 10 books on Korean culture and tourism, including the Encyclopedia of Korean Buddhism and Spirit of the Mountains, which is about Korea's traditions of spiritual mountain worship. His has a website on sacred Korean mountains and mountain-spirits.

Back in May 2015, Professor Mason presented at the RAS on Doseon Guksa:

Doseon Guksa [Tao-Abundance National-Master] (826-898) is one of the most important and interesting Buddhist leaders of Korean history, but often remains overlooked, including by the mainstream Jogye Order. He lived during the collapsing end of the Shilla Dynasty, presaging the foundation of the subsequent Goryeo Dynasty. He was both a great Buddhist master of meditation of the Seon [Zen] tradition as well as an enlightened Sutra-Master, an extremely rare combination of achievements. But the main reason for his fame are his masterful creation of Korean pungsujiri (geomancy), the concept of the Baekdu-daegan mountain-spine-of-Korea, and the establishment or improvement of some of our greatest extant temples. Professor Mason will explain Master Doseon’s biography and explain Master Doseon's significance in the shape of Buddhism today.

National Master Doseon Guksa: His Legacy of Pungsujiri & the Great Temples

Brief biography
  • Doseon Guksa, literally "Dao-Abundance" (826-898), was uniquely double-enlightened. 
  • He presages the unification of Korean Buddhism.
  • He was a Buddhist master of geomancy and became the creator of Korean punsujiri-seol.
  • He created the concept of the Baekdu-daegan (spine of the Korean mountain).
Birth and early life
  • Born in Yeongam-gun [Spirit-rock county] of Jeollanam-do, on the western slopes of Wolchulsan. Popular thought is that he descended from a secondary son of Silla's Great King Taejong Muyeol (r. 664-681).
  • His mother had a conception-dream of her swallowing a beautiful pearl, very propitious, so during her pregnancy she chanted Buddhist scriptures and like a good Buddhist abstained from meat, onions and garlic.
  • From infancy Doseon was a Buddhist prodigy, learning to chant Buddhist sutras soon after he learned to talk. 
  • One local myth has it that he was accidentally abandoned after birth, but was protected by birds at a gigantic boulder called Guksa-am [National Master Rock], located behind Wolchusan's Gukam-sa hermitage.
Becoming a monk at Wolchusan
  • Doseon spent the latter part of his childhood at Munsu-am [Boddhisattva of Wisdom Hermitage] on the wester slopes of Wolchulsan.
  • At Wonam-sa [Moon-south Temple] on the southeastern side of Wolchulsan his hair was first shorn as he officially became a novice-monk. 
  • At the age of 15 he moved to Hwaom-sa in Jirisan, [Exquisite Wisdom Mountains] but locally known as "the mountain of the odd and wise people", where many people devoted efforts to seek truth and happiness. There he was accepted to study Hwaom Buddhism
First enlightenment at Hwaom-sa, Jirisan
  • Legend has it that he attained "the ineffable wisdom of Munsu-bosal and the mystic gate of Bohyeon-bosal, penetrating the great meaning of the Hwaom-gyeong Sutra" in only three years!
  • He was given the name "Yeong-gi", which was a great honor as that was the name of the missionary-founder master-monk who first built Hwaomsa in 544.
Monk at Taean-sa
  • By age 20 he was already highly respected as "a very wise adept with unusual spiritual powers of the sort usually attributed to Daoist masters", and he began to study Seon [Zen] under the great master and sect-founder Hyecheol Jeogin-seonsa (d. 861) at Taean-sa monastery.
Second enlightenment as monk at Taean-sa
  • He achieved full Seon enlightenment at Taean-sa, receiving the mubeob-beob [the Dharma without Dharma] transmission from Hyecheol, in just 3 years, becoming Hyecheol's leading successor.
  • As a result, he was "double-enlightened" in both scholastic Hwaom and Seon schools, the only known case from ancient and medieval times. (300 years later the Unification of Korean Buddhism was accomplished by Ji-nul Bojo Guksa and these two schools were no longer separated in large ideology.)
Studies in China
  • Around 850, Doseon Guksa then traveled to China for further advanced studies, which focused on esoteric Daoist and Buddhist astronomical, astrological, mathematical, geomantic (feng shui aka pungsujiri), cosmological and I Ching (Juyeok-gyeong) teachings. [Some modern scholars, perhaps for reasons of national pride, doubt whether he went to China at all.]
Return to Korea: Establishing Dogap-sa
  • Legend says that upon Doseon's return from his studies in China, he reconstructed Wolchul-san Munsu-am on the upward parts of a valley and renamed it Dogap-sa. [All that scholars know for sure is that Dogap-sa was large, famous and prosperous during the Goryeo Dynasty, and its official history claims Doseon as its founder. The temple is within the Wolchulsan National Park and is well-known today. It promotes Doseon as the leading factor of its legacy and now has a museum dedicated primarily to him.]

Return to Korea: Observant wanderer
  • After establishing Dogap-sa, Doseon trekked widely around the Korean peninsula, observing its geography and searching for the source of its unique energies, refraining from basing himself with any particular temple.
Return to Jirisan
  • After his extensive travels, he built a hut to rest, located on Nogo-dan, Jirisan.

  • In Jirisan at "Sand Chart Village" sanshin appeared to him, offering the deepest of pungsujiri as (another "method by which great Bodhisattvas grant salvation to humankind." [Perhaps a nationalistic claim that his pungsujiri system/wisdom came from an indigenous-Korean source and not from a Chinese feng-shui source.]
  • Punsujiri, aka Korean geomancy, is derived from Chinese feng-shui, but is in some ways different. Doseon applied it to Korean geography and outlook. 
  • Pungsujiri had been practiced for over 1100 years and by all Korean traditions: shamanists, Buddhists, Neo-Confucianists, Daoists.
  • It applies to tombs, buildings, towns, gardens, temples, etc, but Doseon raised its practice to a national scale.
  • Doseon's system is often called "bibo-pungsujiri", bibo being the Chinese character for "hidden treasure" or "national property", and this style focuses on "harmony of nature". 

Baekdu-daegan [White-head Great-ridge]
  • Doseon conceptualized it as "the spine of Korea".
  • Mountain system running down the entire peninsula with a mildly sacred character.
  • Baekdu-daegan is comprised of:
  • divider of regions
  • magnificent scenery
  • origin of spring waters
  • Buddhist temples
  • Neo-Confucian shrines
  • shamanic shrines
  • historical and folk sites
  • passes through 7 National Parks and 4 Local Parks
Two maps of the baekgu-daegan - the right map focuses on the primary mountains of the Koreas, and it was on these primary peaks, which Doseon believed flowed with natural earth energy, and where he built his primary temples most fiercely associated with pungsujiri principles.

Settling at Baegunsan
  • Doseon finally settled down to teach disciples in what he called Baeghak-dong [White Crane Village, paralleling Jirisan's Azure Crane Village] on the southern slopes of Baegunsan [White Clouds Mountain] after determining it as an ideal geomantic location and would be safe from troubles. 
  • He then founded, constructed and lived at Okryong-sa [Jade-Dragon Temple] in what is now Gwangju city, and subsequently taught there for 35 years with occasional travels around Korea. He assisted hundred of adepts to achieve enlightenment.
portrait of Doseon at Baegun-sa Unam-sa

Great Master of Silla
  • He is said to have been a man of few words, teaching the mubeob-beob by museol-seol [the explanation without explaining], and was able to spark realization with only a piercing gaze.
  • His reputation for wisdom and insight-powers eventually got him proclaimed as Silla's leading Master Monk by King Heon-gang, and Doseon was invited to lecture at the palace in Gyeongju several times.
Doseon became a builder of temples:

Seoul's Samgak-san Doseon-sa

Seoul's Ansan Bongwon-sa

Seoul's Bulamsan Bulam-sa

Posthumously the advisor to Goryeo Taejo Wang Geon
  • Doseon was the most influential advisor to Wang Geon (born 877), destined to become Goryeo's King Taejo (r.918-943) in founding the Goryeo Dynasty ... although they never met.
  • The tale often told is that in 875 Doseon passed by a mansion under construction at Songak-san (near today's Gaeseong City) and recognized the grand auspiciousness of the site that would confer a fresh mandate of heaven, and predicted the birth to a son who would grow up to be a great man, to lead a new age for Korea. He gave the man a sealed document and told him to keep it safe and secret, only giving it to the boy when he attained maturity. This was done ...
Architect of Goryeo Dynasty
  • The advice and ideas Doseon left behind him, especially in the Doseon-bigi, were important in choosing the site of the capital and other important cities and fortresses, and in constructing many new grand Buddhist temples at geomantically-auspicious sites around the nation. It is recorded that when Taejo Wang Geon had defeated the last of the rivals and re-unified Korea, he first built Gaetae-sa [Exalted Beginning Temple] in a long narrow valley just south of the highly sacred Gyeryongsan, which Doseon had recommended, to express his gratitude towards the Buddhas and mountain-spirits, and to seek their further beneficence.
Improvements to Hwaom-sa

Passing on to Nirvana
  • Doseon is recorded to have died in 898 while sitting in the lotus position in front of his many disciples at Baegunsan, Okyong-sa, but no budo was found there.
  • The remarkable budo behind Jirisan Yeongok-sa might be his, and its architectural elements support this theory, but its accompanying biseok is missing (probably destroyed) so we can't be sure.
  • Some Koreans believe that Doseon actually became a shinseon [Daoist-type "immortal"] upon achieving nirvana, and continued to advise Taejo Wang Geon and than Muhak Wangsa, founder of Seoul, in spiritual form.
Legacy of temples
  • Around 70 monasteries, both large and small, are claimed to have been founded either under Doseon's supervision and direction or by the orders of Taejo Wang Geon (following Doseon's recommendations). Most of them still thrive.
  • The 22 temples said to have been founded by Taejo Wang Geon under Doseon's influence are all fairly minor today; the most significant among them is probably Gyeryongsan Gaetae-sa.
  • Temples that are claimed to have been established either by Doseon or Wang Geon at the places that Doseon decided would be most auspicious are called bibo-sacheol, and pagodas built at such places are bibo-satap.
  • There are dozens of pre-existing temples that are thought to have been reconstructed, renovated or added to (usually with a pagoda) due to Doseon's influence. These include some of Korea's greatest, such as Jirisan's Shilsang-sa, Yeongok-sa and Jongyesan Seonam-sa.
  • Additionally, a dozen important stone-carved Buddha statues and pagodas are said to have been carved or built by Doseon himself, including the famous gigantic Gwanse-eum-bosal relief at Doseon-sa, not to mention a dozen caves and crags around Korea that claim to be sites where he practiced his mystical arts.

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