Goryeo Dynasty Bodhisattva

Goryeo Dynasty Bodhisattva

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History of Korean Buddhism

Buddhism was adopted as the official state religion in the Goguryeo, Silla and Baekje kingdoms during the Three Kingdoms Period (57 B.C.E. – 668 C.E.), and the Unified Silla kingdom(668-935) succeeded in applying Buddhism as the psychological force for the unification of the peninsula.

During the Unified Silla Period, Buddhism played a preeminent role in cultural development, resulting in the construction of such world-renowned historical sites as Bulguksa Temple and Sokguram Grotto.

In addition, the world's earliest known printing using woodblocks for the Mugujeonggwang Dharani followed by the first metal type print for the Jikjisimcheyojeol(Jikji in short), a Buddhist sutra, at Heungdeoksa Temple (in today’s city of Cheongju) attest the advanced development of the culture.

Pre-dating Guttenberg by 78 years, the text was printed in 1377 C.E. and it is currently in the possession of the French National Library. It was designated a UNESCO “Memory of the World” in 2001.

The sutra is an outline of Buddhist teachings necessary for spiritual development as well as indications as to how to pass on the Dharma, including religious songs, chanting, engravings, writings, glossaries of technical terms, and Seon verbal combat. During the Unified Silla Period, the teachings of Chan (known as Zen in Japanese and Seon in Korean) were brought from China and led to the development of a Seon order, thereby adding another dimension to philosophical advance and eventually providing a psychological foundation for the post-Silla period, the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392).

Goryeo, too, adopted Buddhism and it became a unifying factor and the grounds for further national and cultural flourishing. In particular, Goryeo followed the teachings of Unified Silla National Monk Doseon (827-898) and had temples built on famous mountains around the nation, adding further impetus to the dissemination of the Dharma. Also during Goryeo, the Tripitaka Koreana was carved into more than 80,000 woodblocks as an offering for national protection from outside forces and invasion, and Buddhism gave birth to such creative national festivals as the P'algwanhoe and the Yeondeunghoe (Lotus Lantern Festival).

During Goryeo, the number of Buddhist orders diversified and flourished. However, the increasing economic and political influence of the monks led to condemnation by the common people, and, ignored by the aristocracy, Buddhism came into a period of political repression with the ensuing Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910).

During Joseon, Neo-Confucianism rapidly gained favor, and although royalty continued to practice Buddhism privately, Confucianism ruled administration and society. Under a continuing policy of repression, Buddhism was banished to the mountains and monks were generally treated harshly. However, this banishment proved to be quite valuable to Buddhism in two respects: the temples became centers for the communal flourishing of Seon practice, and Buddhism established strong bonds with the common people.

During the first half of the 20th century, Korean Buddhism necessarily fell under the influence of Japanese Buddhism during the Japanese Occupation (1910-1945). It was only after liberation in 1945 that traditional Korean Buddhism could once again be established in the form of Korean Seon and that the Jogye Order to once more come to the fore.

Guan Yin in Chinese Buddhism and Folklore

The modern figure of Guanyin contains all the positive aspects of womanhood and femininity, but she's more like a mother than a wife. This image was based on Confucian concepts of life and morality. Guanyin became popular in Chinese Buddhism and she also strongly influenced Chinese folklore.

She became a bridge between complicated intellectual concepts and the simple people who followed the lady in white with more attention than they gave a philosopher. In ancient times, Chinese society was based on ideas of purity, so Guan Yin easily became an iconic female symbol. However, she also contained strong masculine aspects, which were also important to the eastern Asian people. According to the Jeong-Eun Kim:

''The Guanyin figures bearing a mustache clearly indicate the masculine aspects of the bodhisattva, and in the visual arts Guanyin was depicted as a young Indian prince throughout India and many Southeast and Central Asian countries. Even in China, until the late Tang dynasty, there was no change in his depiction as a male deity as we can see from the hanging scrolls of Dunhuang. The Guanyin’s images as a male deity still show canonical evidences derived from the Lotus Sutra and numerous Buddhist scriptures (the Buddhist sutras) and traces of common iconographic elements attributed to the image of Avalokiteshvara. However, the Chinese began to develop “new Guanyin” images which did not bear such Buddhist canonical foundations, but, rather, bore distinctive indigenous characteristics. One may regard Shuiyue Guanyin or Water-moon Guanyin as the beginning of the Chinese transformation of Avalokiteshvara. One of the earliest dated Water-moon Guanyin paintings found at Dunhuang is done in mid-10th century. She is holding a willow branch in one hand and a water bottle in the other, which formed distinctive attributes of Guanyin during the Tang and later dynasties.''

Marble carving of Bodhisattva Guan Yin. ( stockphoto mania /Adobe Stock)

The Taejo Rises to the Top and Forms the Goryeo Dynasty

As the years went by, Gung Ye became increasingly tyrannical, and his subjects suffered severely under his despotic rule. Consequently, four of the king’s tops generals plotted to overthrow Gung Ye, and to replace him with Wang Geon. The prime minister is said to have initially been opposed to the conspiracy, though he soon changed his mind, and threw his support behind the generals.

In 918 AD, the four generals overthrew Gung Ye, and killed him near the capital, Cheorwon. Subsequently, Wang Yung was placed on the throne by the conspirators. The kingdom, which was called Taebong at that time, was renamed as Goryeo, thus marking the beginning of Goryeo dynasty.

As the ruler of Goryeo, Wang Geon became known as Taejo. At the time when Taejo became king, the Korean Peninsula was still divided between the three kingdoms. In addition to Goryeo, the two other kingdoms were the Later Silla and Later Baekje kingdoms. The former occupied the southeastern part of the peninsula, whereas the latter occupied the southwestern part of the peninsula, and was founded by another rebel leader, Gyeon Hwon. Thus, in the years that followed, Taejo strove to unite the whole Korean Peninsula under his rule.

In 927 AD, the Later Silla capital, Gyeongju, was attacked and captured by Gyeon Hwon. The king of Later Silla, Gyeongjae, was caught, and executed. A puppet, Gyeongsun, was left by Gyeon Hwon on the throne.

Taejo saw this as an opportunity to seize both rival kingdoms and attacked the forces of Later Baekje as they were marching home. Taejo, however, lost the battle, but managed to recover quickly, and therefore was able to defend his kingdom when Gyeon Hwon launched a retaliatory attack. Although Taejo was not successful this time round, he was not entirely defeated, and waited patiently for another opportunity to present itself.

In 935 AD, Gyeongsun, the puppet placed by Gyeon Hwon on the throne of Later Silla, decided to surrender his kingdom to Taejo, as he realized that it was impossible for him to revive the fortunes of Later Silla.

Naturally, Taejo was happy to accept Gyeongsun’s surrender. He rewarded the former king by giving him the title of prince. Moreover, he married one of Gyeongsun’s daughters, so as to cement their relations, as well as to ensure Geongsun’s support and loyalty. This marriage also helped Taejo gain the support of the Later Silla nobles.

The territories of the Later Three Kingdoms and China to the north. (KJS615 / CC BY-SA 3.0 )

Bodhisattvas, an introduction

Kneeling Attendant Bodhisattva, late 7th century (Tang dynasty), unfired clay mixed with fibers and straw modeled over wooden armature with polychromy and gilding, from Mogao Cave 328, Dunhuang, China, Gansu province, 122 cm high (Harvard Art Museums)

What is a bodhisattva?

In Sanskrit, bodhisattva roughly means: “being who intends to become a buddha.”

In the Theravada tradition of Buddhism, the Buddha referred to himself as bodhisattva during all of his incarnations and lifetimes before he achieved enlightenment. It was only after he achieved buddhahood that it became proper to refer to him as the Buddha.

In the Mahayana tradition of Buddhism, a bodhisattva is any being who intends to achieve enlightenment and buddhahood.

[…] Western literature often describes the bodhisattva as someone who postpones his enlightenment in order to save all beings from suffering […] by choosing this longer course, he perfects himself over many lifetimes in order to achieve the superior enlightenment of a buddha at a point in the far-distant future […] The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism, edited by Robert E. Buswell and Donald S. Lopez, p. 134.

In Buddhist artistic traditions, there are many archetypal bodhisattva figures who appear repeatedly. In this essay we will look at five of them.

These specific bodhisattva figures may be depicted as either male or female, depending on the geographic context and the iconographic traditions of that culture.

Padmapani and Vajrapani in Ajanta Cave 1, 450–500 C.E, Maharashta, India

Paintings of two archetypal bodhisattva figures are found in the Ajanta Caves in Maharashta, India. These figures flank a statue of the Buddha. The one on the left is named Padmapani, and the one to the right is named Vajrapani.

Enthroned Buddha Attended by the Bodhisattvas Padmapani (Avalokiteshvara) and Vajrapani, second half of the 10th century, Early Eastern Javanese period, bronze, Indonesia, 29.2 cm high (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Another artwork from Indonesia features the same theme. The Buddha sits in the center flanked by the two bodhisattvas: Padmapani on the left and Vajrapani on the right.


Padmapani is another name in Sanskrit for Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, who represents the compassion of all of the Buddhas.

Guanyin, also known as the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, or “The Perceiver of Sounds,” Mogao Cave 57 at Dunhuang, China (photo: Dunhuang Academy)

In China, the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara goes by the name Guanyin. Chinese art often depicts Avalokitesvara as female.


The Bodhisattva Vajrapani represents the power of all the Buddhas, and he protects the Buddha. Below he is depicted wielding a lightning-bolt scepter in his left hand.

Vajrapani, late 6th–7th century, Kashmir (India), Gray chorite, 22.9 cm high (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Thanks to cultural contact between the Kushan Empire and what is today northern India, the Bodhisattva Vajrapani has a strong iconographical relationship with the Greek mythological figure of Hercules as found in Gandharan art .

Manjusri and Samantabhadra

Besides the bodhisattvas Padmapani and Vajrapani, another pair of popular archetypal bodhisattvas are Manjusri and Samantabhadra.

Shakyamuni Triad, hanging scroll, 1565, Joseon Dynasty, color and gold on silk, Korea, 60.5 x 32 cm (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

In a Joseon dynasty painting, the Buddha sits in the center with Bodhisattva Manjusri and Bodhisattva Samantabhadra at his side. This is called the Shakyamuni Trinity or Triad.

Manjusri is often depicted with a lion, as seen in a peaceful painting by Japanese artist Shūsei.

Shūsei, Monju (Manjusri) on a Lion, hanging scroll, late 15th century, Muromachi period, ink on paper, Japan, 81.5 × 33 cm (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

The Bodhisattva Manjusri represents the wisdom of all the Buddhas. Sometimes he is depicted holding a sword or a scepter. In China, Manjusri is known as Wenshu, and in Japan he is known as Monju.


Samantabhadra is the bodhisattva often depicted with Manjusri. The name Samantabhadra means “Universal Worthy” in Sanskrit. Samantabhadra is associated with meditation.

Bodhisattva Samantabhadra (Puxian), 12th–14th century, Southern Song to Yuan dynasty, mammoth ivory, China, 22.2 cm high (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

As seen in a mammoth ivory sculpture, this bodhisattva is often depicted sitting on an elephant. Much like Avalokitesvara, this bodhisattva is often depicted in a female form in China.


Another archetypal bodhisattva figure is the Maitreya.

Maitreya, after 599, marble and pigment, China, 17.8 cm high (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

The Bodhisattva Maitreya, or Buddha Maitreya, is the future Buddha who will succeed the Buddha Gautama, the Buddha of the present age.

“Best Goryeo Buddhist Painting” returns from Japan for Local Exhibition at Tongdosa Temple

The Korea Times, June 3, 2009
Seoul, South Korea — One of the best Buddhist painting of Suwol-Gwaneum-Do or literally Painting of Water Moon Avalokitevara Bodhisattva in Sanskrit, which had been in a Japanese jinja (??) or a Shinto Shrine for nearly 600 years, came to South Korean for a special exhibition at a Buiddhist temple.

Buddhist painting of Suwol-Gwaneum-Do or literally Painting of Water Moon Avalokitevara Bodhisattva

The Suwol-Gwaneum-Do Buddhist painting is from Kagami Jinja or Kagami Shinto Shrine in Karatsu City, Saga Prefecture, Japan.

The Buddhist painting was created by eight court painters in 1310 on the order of a Queen Kim of Goryeo Dynasty, but was pillaged by the Japanese pirates soon after. Japanese invaders took the painting to Japan and kept it there for nearly 600 years.

Queen Kim was the second wife of King Chungseon,the 26th monarch of Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392).

Dubbed “the largest and most beautiful Suwol-Gwaneum-Do Buddhist painting” by art historians, this Water Moon Avalokitevara Bodhisattva painting on the one silk scroll, started to be on exhibition from April 30, 2009 at Tongdosa Buddhist temple in Yangsan, South Gyeongsang Province.

The special public display of the Suwon-Gwaneum-Do, 4.19 by 2.54 meters, in Tongdosa Museum will continue until June 7, 2009.
Tongdosa Temple announced that it hosted the exhibition of the special Buddhist painting on the occasion of the 10 year anniversary of the opening of its Tongdosa Museum.

It is the second time for this greatest masterpiece Buddhist painting of Goyreo Dynasty to be exhibited in South Korea. In 1995 it was on displayed at Hoam Art Gallery south of Seoul.

Experts say that this Suwol-Gwaneum-Do is one of the world’s 38 Buddhist paintings of Goryeo Dynasty, depicting Suwol-Gwaneum or Water Moon Avalokitevara Bodhisattva.

It was Korea’s Goryeo Dynasty that top-quality Buddhist paintings were produced. There are some 160 Goryeo Buddhist paintings that exist in the world.

But there are no more than 10 of them that remain in South Korea. Japan has them all. There are only 20 Goryo Buddhist paintings scattered in Europe and America.

The rest of the paintings, over 130, were taken by force or sold illegally at best, to Japan long time ago. Most of them were pillaged by the Japanese invaders throughout history.

Experts agree that this Suwol-Gwaneum-Do painting is the most beautiful, the oldest, the largest one that still exists in the world.

Some art critiques compare this Buddhist masterpiece to “Mona Lisa” by Leonardo da Vinci. Others argue that it’s much better than “Mona Lisa.”

In Japan this painting is on public display for only 38 days per year out of concerns for conservation.

The temple souces said that they started contacting the Japanese Shinto shrine one year ago for this exhibition.

In 2003 the Suwol-Gwaneum-Do painting was displayed for 20 days at a San Francisco museum under the tile of “Goryeo Dynasty: Korea’s Age of Enlightenment (918 to 1392).”

But, exhibition period this time is double that of San Francisco exhibition. It is on exhibition at Tongdosa Temple for the full 40 days.

Goryeo Dynasty Bodhisattva - History

What is the secret behind the 700-year longevity of the exquisite artistry of Goryeo Dynasty Buddhist paintings?

The Goryeo Dynasty, which lasted for almost 500 years, was the golden age of Buddhist culture in Korea.

Among the Buddhist artworks, Buddhist paintings depicting the world of Buddhism are considered representative of Korean art.

Water Moon Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva is one of the most popular themes among Goryeo Buddhist paintings, which mainly portray scenes from the Tripitaka.
Paintings of the Water Moon Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva often portray that Bodhisattva on Mount Potalaka and Sudhana in search of the truth.

When the painting of the Water Moon Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva, which was painted in 1310, was featured in the exhibition, newspapers printed only the highest praise for the painting, even saying, "It&rsquos the equivalent of the Mona Lisa." What is it about the painting that touches the hearts of people irrespective of race and nationality? The answer lies in the singular characteristics of Goryeo Dynasty Buddhist paintings.

Characteristic No.1. Stable composition, elegant and delicate expressions

Characteristic No.2. Rich colors and exquisite technique

The stable composition and relaxed appearance capture the eyes of the viewer
while the elegant facial expressions and detailed depictions exemplify the beauty of Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva.
Its vibrantcolors and exquisite technique reveal an unrivaled artistry.
So how were these Buddhist paintings created?

The secret to the rich colors, one of the distinguishing features of these paintings, lies in their ingredients.
It is surprising that only a few colors are used to create the vivid hues that make the Buddhist paintings come alive.

After natural minerals are ground into powders, they are mixed with glutinous waterextracted from animal skins to create pigments.

Various tones from dark to light are expressed through different concentrations of pigments.
This technique allowed the artist to paint using soft yet vivid colors.
And here! Radiant gold is added, creating a glamorous yet elegant effect.

The Goryeo Dynasty Buddhist paintings are created by a unique process.
This is called the back-painting technique.
Paint is applied to the back of a silk canvas allowing the colors to show through in a subtle and indirect way.
In this way, the colors are more subtle than when painted on the canvas&rsquo front surface, and this technique is also advantageous in that the paint is less likely to break off.

But there is more to Goryeo Dynasty Buddhist paintings.
Elaborate spirals that are 1-2 mm in size within small circles
as well as the eyelashes and facial hair are realistically depicted in fine detail.

The depiction of the cloth that drapes Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva evokes a sense of wonder.
Lines less than 1mm-thick were drawn using a brush to express a sense of transparency.
It reveals agreat attention to detail difficult to reproduce even today.

The diverse patterns drawn in detail exhibit the elaborate beauty of Goryeo Dynasty Buddhist paintings.
The patterns are diverse, featuring over 120 themes, including plants, animals,and natural phenomena like clouds and waves.

Goryeo Dynasty Buddhist Paintings were made with expensive pigments such as gold and elaborate techniques that only professional artists knew how to use. We can extrapolate that they were created through the patronage of members of the royal family, nobility, government officials, high-ranking Buddhist monks,and general believers.

The costumes used in historical dramas are based on historical references.
The clothing and accessories commonly worn in the Goryeo period were recreated based on historical research done on that era.

&ldquoWe can reproduce clothing from the era using references from historical documents and the Illustrated Account of Goryeo, but the depiction in Goryeo Buddhist paintings of the real clothing worn by common people, or the outfits worn by the King, court ladies, and servants, provide insights into the refined colors and styles of clothing during the Goryeo period. We should be grateful to Buddhist paintings because they help us recreate the attire from that era.&rdquo

Professor Lim Myeong-mi / Goryeo Clothing Expert, Professor Emeritus at Dongduk Women&rsquos University

Let&rsquos take a look at what life was like in the Goryeo Dynasty through Buddhist Paintings.

Buddhist Paintings, a Trip Back in Time to the Goryeo Period

Goryeo Dynasty Buddhist Paintings are very important cultural heritage because they show what life was like back in the Goryeo Dynasty.

Lotus-shaped incense burners, which were used in Buddhist rituals, are a leading example of metal craftsmanship in the Goryeo Dynasty. These are the real-life models for the incense burners seen in Buddhist paintings.

Kundikas are water bottles used to offer clean water to the Buddha.
This looks just like the ones frequently seen in Buddhist paintings.
This is proof that Buddhist Paintings used real-life objects as models

It is the same with architecture.
Palaces depicted in Buddhist Paintings are based on the palaces in the Goryeo Dynasty.

Gambrel roofs decorated with brackets propping up between the roof and columns and showy balustrades as well as ornaments are illustrated in detail.
If you look closely, you can see that the bracket of the building and the bracket in Geungnakjeon Hall of Bongjeongsa Temple look similar.

Goryeo Dynasty Buddhist paintings are also important historical data for modification when trying to recreate what life was like in the Goryeo Dynasty.
Clothes reflect the differences in social classes.
The clothes worn by those belonging to higher social clothes are made of silk and decorated with elaborate embroidery. The also wear their hair up high, decorated with jewelry.
However, people of low social standing such as maids wear clothes in simple colors and only use daenggi, hair ribbons, in their hair.
It is a glimpse of the social dynamics in the Goryeo Dynasty, which had a strict caste system.

"Metal bells hung from multi-colored silk ropes, and they wore silken bags filled with incense. The more a person had accessories such as these, the more proud they were."

- From Xu Jing&rsquos Illustrated Account of Goryeo

Goryeo Dynasty Buddhist Paintings are like mirrors that show us vivid glimpses into what contemporary life was like in the past Goryeo Dynasty.

Must-know Facts on Culture and Art from Korean History

1. Buddhist Paintings are a leading example of Goryeo's advanced Buddhist culture.
2. Buddhist Paintings were commissioned by the members of the Royal family, high-level officials, monks and general believers.
3. The secret behind the beauty of Goryeo Dynasty Buddhist Paintings lies in natural pigments and the back painting technique.
4. Buddhist Paintings offer a vivid glimpse into contemporary aspects of life.

* The contents of this article are personal opinions of the author and may differ from the official views of the National History Compilation Committee.

Goryeo Dynasty Bodhisattva - History

By Kim Tae-gyu and Kevin N. Cawley

For over a millennium the Three-Kingdom struggles on the Korean Peninsula led to unification twice ― firstly, by Silla in the 7th century and secondly, by Goryeo in the 10th century.

Goryeo is regarded as being particularly significant in Korea’s long history for many reasons, but there are two which stand above all the rest: Korea was named after this dynasty, which lasted almost five centuries, and the current territory of the entire Korean Peninsula is not that different from that of the end of the Goryeo dynasty.

It also boasts a pair of special cultural products, Goryeo celadon, celebrated for its beauty and craftsmanship, and the Tripitaka Koreana, well known for its contribution to Buddhism and the history of the printed word.

Silla, which managed to carry out incomplete unification in 676, lost its grip on regional affairs during the late 9th century when a host of local overlords sprouted up to negate the authority of the central government.

Two powerful overlords Gung Ye and Gyeon Hwon emerged to prominence thanks to their leadership and their goals for restoring regional sovereignty, which reflected former regional differences.

The former vowed to succeed Goguryeo, while the later declared himself as a successor of Baekje.

Along with the ever-weakening Silla, these two recreated the era of the Later Three Kingdoms. Nevertheless, the eventual winner in the three-way rivalry was Wang Geon, a former subordinate of Gung Ye.

Gung Ye was once a charismatic leader who was surrounded by many talents including Wang Geon as a general. But after quite a while at the helm, he showed very eccentric activities like claiming himself as a living Buddha and killing his wife and children.

These prompted him to lose credibility, thus leading Wang Geun to revolt and overthrow him and found Goryeo in 918.

Wang defeated Gyeon Hwon in 936, a year after annexing Silla, which gave up its 1,000 year-old dynasty to Wang, who in turn allowed Silla’s royal family to govern their areas in former Silla and keep their dignity.

After the unification, Wang moved the new country’s capital to his hometown Gaeseong, which now accommodates an industrial complex set up as a result of Nobel Peace Prize recipient and former South Korean President Kim Dae Jung’s Sunshine Policy of cooperation between the two countries.

The whole story was featured in a drama over the past few years, which had attracted great attention.

Foundation of newly united country

Wang, called King Taejo after his death, came up with three major policies of integrating the entire nation, respecting Buddhism and expanding its territory northward, which continued throughout the Goryeo Dynasty over the next centuries.

Buddhism flourished under Wang and the Goryeo period and produced great Buddhist thinkers such as Uicheon and Jinul and many beautiful temples were constructed.

The name ``Goryeo’’ was derived from the ancient Korean kingdom ``Goguryeo,’’ discussed in the first part of this series. Wang expressed his antagonism against the Khitan, which destroyed the northern Korean state of Balhae in 926, the successor of Goguryeo.

In the early 10th century, the Khitan rose to power in Manchuria to set up the Liao Dynasty in 938. Four years later, it sent 50 camels with its envoys in an attempt to set up diplomatic relations with Goryeo, but Wang starved the camels to death and exiled the envoys.

Wang reiterated its anti-Khitan policy in his Ten Injunctions, the special laws and recommendations dedicated to his successors.

By contrast, Wang was very lenient to ethnic Koreans. On top of respecting the Silla aristocracy, Wang left most provincial leaders undisturbed. In addition, the founding king strengthened relationships with them through a host of marriages with daughters of local clans.

Wang also embraced refugees from Balhae. Such an approach offered legitimacy to the Goryeo Dynasty, which enabled Wang’s descendants to establish the infrastructure of a Confucian state.

The Ten Injunctions named Buddhism as the state religion, but also insisted on the study of the Confucian classics. While Buddhism exerted great influence on Goryeo, as far as the political system was concerned, the country was built and operated under a strict Confucian model involving civil service exams, Confucian bureaucratic systems and even had a national Confucian academy called Gukjagam.

Understandably, the anti-Khitan policy angered the Liao Dynasty, which invaded Goryeo three times at the dawn of the second millennium, but Goryeo overwhelmed their enemy, finally defeating them and causing them to surrender.

The most outstanding war hero from this period was General Gang Gam-chan who, ordered the destruction of a makeshift dam in order to sweep away the Khitans who were midway across a river.

In recognition of his feats, the Korean Navy named a destroyer after him in 2006.

Under a Confucian-based political system, Goryeo overtly favored civilian bureaucrats over army officials whose time-honored complaints eventually erupted in 1170.

A group of army officials succeeded with a rebellion to start a military dictatorship whose commanders were replaced three times in bloody activities in less than two decades before Choi Chung-heon took power in 1197.

Over the next 60 years, Choi and his offspring controlled the country under a few nominal kings until 1258 when the military dictatorship finished after the death of Choi’s grand grandson.

Amid the Choi family’s reign, the Mongols attacked Goryeo, which withstood invasions for almost 30 years by even moving its capital to the western island of Ganghwa, before it finally sued for peace in 1259.

In return, Goryeo had to endure a series of humiliating measures including the downgrade of Goryeo monarchs’ titles and the forced marriage of Goryeo princes with princesses of the Mongolian Yuan Dynasty.

With Mongol troops stationed at the capital of Goryeo, Yuan actively engaged in the politics of the Korean Peninsula.

Goryeo managed to survive this difficult period and regained its sovereignty midway through the 14th century when Yuan faded away so as to carry out a series of reformative policies.

However, its national prowess had weakened too much under the century-long Mongolian influence to regain its past glory and it met its end in 1392 at the hands of one of its own generals, Yi Seong-gye.

Goryeo’s Contribution to World Intellectual History

Although the war against Mongols devastated Goryeo, it also led to a period of great cultural production. The most significant cultural asset produced was the carving of the Buddhist texts known as the Tripitaka Koreana, which people believed would protect them from Mongol invasions.

The importance of the Tripitaka Koreana cannot be over-emphasized: it is the world’s most comprehensive and oldest intact version of the entire Buddhist scriptures and it is written in Chinese characters comprising more than 52 million individual characters, without any known typos.

The scriptures are carved onto more than 80,000 wooden printing blocks and are held in the magnificent Haeinsa Temple in southern Korea where they remain in an almost perfect state despite no high-tech storage devices after several centuries.

They are designated as the National Treasure No. 32 of Korea, and Haeinsa Temple’s facilities, which hold them, are UNESCO World Heritage sites.

With regards to printing, Goryeo was definitely advanced, more than Europe at that time. On top of the Tripitaka Koreana, which was carved onto wooden blocks, the medieval state came up with the technology of moveable metal print.

Historical records note that Goryeo printed its first book based on this innovative method in 1234, but the oldest extant book printed with this technology is Jikji (a Buddhist text), which dates back to 1377.

Still, it pre-dates to the printing of the famous Gutenberg Bible in the 1450s by the Western hero of printing Johannes Gutenberg _ by about three quarters of a century as confirmed by UNESCO in 2001. Unfortunately, only one copy remains, and it is kept in the National Library of France.

In addition, the current national name of Korea was known to the West thanks to Goryeo’s openness _ Arabian merchants carried out regular trading with Goryeo seeking such items as its famous green-grey colored Celadon pottery and Korea’s red ginseng, celebrated for its manifold health benefits.

It was through their pronunciation of Goryeo as “Korea” that this relatively small peninsula in East Asia became known to the world.

Dr. Kevin N. Cawley is currently the Director of the Irish Institute of Korean Studies at University College Cork (UCC), Ireland ― the only institute in Ireland dedicated to promoting Korean studies ― funded by the Academy of Korean Studies, South Korea. He was previously a Gyujanggak Fellow at Seoul National University.

Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392):
A Korean kingdom that succeeded the Southern-and-Northern States period

Unified Silla (AD668-935):
Korea’s first unified country after the Three Kingdom era

The Late Three Kingdoms:
Three-way rivalry in the late 9th and early 10th century in the Korean Peninsula

Gung Ye, Gyeong Hwon:
Rebel leaders who revolted against Silla so as to proclaim as successors of Gogurye and Baekje in the era of Late Three Kingdoms

Wang Geon (King Taejo, reign: 918-943):
Founder of the Goryeo Dynasty

Uicheon (1055-1101), Jinul (1158-1210):
Famous monks in the Goryeo Dynasty

Balhae (AD698-926):
A Manchurian kingdom set up after the collapse of Goguryeo

The national university of Goryeo, which is equivalent to Seonggyungwan in Joseon Dynasty

An Hyang (1243-1306):
A famous Confucian scholar in Goryeo Dynasty

Liao Dynasty (907-1125):
A Khitan empire that ruled over the regions of Manchuria, Mongolia and parts of northeast China

General Gang Gam-chan (948

As one of the greatest army leaders in the Korean history, he helped Goryeo defeat invading forces from the Liao Dynasty in the early 11th century.

An army general of Goryeo who took the power in 1197. Over the next 60 years he and his three offspring practically controlled the country.

Ganghwa Island:
An island west of Seoul where Goryeo took over Mongolian invaders in the 13th century

Haeinsa Temple:
One of the most famous Buddhist temples in Korea. The temple located in Hapcheon, South Gyeongsang Province was founded in early 9th century.

Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368):
The Chinese branch of Mongol dynasty established by Genghis Khan

A general of late Goryeo. He became king of the Joseon Dynasty in 1392 which succeeded Goryeo.

Goguryeo (BC37-AD668):
An ancient Korean kingdom in the northern Korean Peninsula and Manchuria

Baekje (BC18-AD660):
An ancient kingdom in southwest Korea

An ancient kingdom in southeast Korea

Goryeo Dynasty Bodhisattva - History

Bodhisattva Kshitigarbha (Jijang bosal do 지장보살도), detail. Late 14th century, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. From archive.asia.si.edu

South Korea&rsquos Cultural Heritage Administration and the US-based Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery have launched a new website titled Goryeo Buddhist Painting: A Closer Look, showcasing Buddhist art from Korea&rsquos Goryeo dynasty. The new online catalogue serves as a digital repository for all Goryeo-era art currently held in the collections of museums in the United States.

&ldquoWhat makes this catalogue special is the high-resolution, detailed images that allow viewers to have a close look at these rare paintings . . . visual documentation captures close details of motifs, materials, and techniques that uniquely characterize 13th- and 14th-century Korean Buddhist paintings and distinguish them from similar works painted elsewhere in East Asia,&rdquo said Kieth Wilson, curator of the Freer and Sackler Galleries. (The Korea Herald)

The website currently shares information about 16 Goryeo paintings owned by eight museums in the US: three works at the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC five at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City three at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston one at the Asian Art Museum, San Francisco one at the Brooklyn Museum one at the Arthur M. Sackler Museum, part of the Harvard Art Museums at Harvard University one at the Cleveland Museum of Art and one at the Rhode Island School of Design Museum.

The Goryeo (고려) dynasty was established in 918 by King Taejo Wang Geon. It united the Later Three Kingdoms (892&ndash936) in 936 and ruled most of the Korean Peninsula until it was displaced by the founder of the Joseon kingdom, Yi Seong-gye, in 1392. Goryeo expanded the country&rsquos borders to present-day Wonsan in the northeast (936&ndash943), the Yalu River (993), eventually expanding to cover almost all of the present-day Korean Peninsula (1374).

Arhat (Nahan do 나한도). 1235&ndash36, Cleveland Museum of Art.
From archive.asia.si.edu

&ldquoAfter seven years of working with the Smithsonian Institution&rsquos Freer Gallery of Art, we have managed to create an online compilation of the Goryeo Buddhist paintings,&rdquo said a Cultural Heritage Administration official. (The Korea Bizwire)

The Cultural Heritage Administration said that it would continue to work with the Freer and Sackler Galleries to research and conserve Goryeo-era Buddhist paintings, with plans to create more digital platforms to enable people to easily access and appreciate the cultural heritage of Korea.

Headquartered in the South Korean city of Daejeon, the Cultural Heritage Administration is a sub-ministerial agency charged with preserving and promulgating Korean cultural heritage.

While the achievements of Goryeo include establishing relations with the southern kingdoms of what is now China to stabilize national sovereignty, and progressive taxation policies, Goryeo is perhaps most notable for providing an environment in which the arts were able to flourish, leading to the creation of countless sophisticated works by this Buddhist state. Buddhism in Goryeo also evolved in ways that rallied support for the state to protect the kingdom from external threats.

Homepage of the Goryeo Buddhist Painting: A Closer Look website. From archive.asia.si.edu

The resource represents the culmination of a collaborative effort between Wilson at the Freer and Sackler Galleries and Chung Woo-thak, professor emeritus of Dongguk University that began in 2013. The two scholars combined their expertise and resources to research, interpret, and translate the artworks, based on a mutually held respect for and recognition of the importance of Goryeo Buddhist art.

&ldquoThe fact that America&rsquos national museum with worldwide recognition has produced a website solely dedicated to Goryeo Buddhist paintings is in itself a groundbreaking event,&rdquo said Prof. Chung. &ldquoBut the project may be by far the most remarkable result of a support project by our own institution to a museum abroad.&rdquo (The Korea Times)

The digital catalogue of Goryeo art, which was launched on 21 September, represents an important international collaboration and demonstrates how museums can digitally advance research on a rare collection of Korean artworks, said Freer and Sackler Galleries director Chase Robinson.

&ldquoWe hope our bilingual resource introduces these incredibly beautiful and important works of art to new audiences in the West,&rdquo he said. (The Korea Times)

The Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery together make up the Smithsonian Institution&rsquos national museums of Asian art, and are home to the largest Asian art research library in the US.

Amitabha Triad (Amita samjon do 아미타삼존도). Mid-14th century,
Brooklyn Museum. From archive.asia.si.edu

This bodhisattva statue (National Treasure 124), made from white marble, was taken to Japan in 1912 from the site of Hansongsa Temple in Namhangjin-dong, Gangneung. It was finally returned to Korea thanks to the 1965 Korea-Japan Normalization Treaty, and is now exhibited at Chuncheon National Museum.

Seated Bodhisattva from the Site of Hansongsa Temple, Goryeo Dynasty (10th century), Gangneung, White marble, Height: 92.4cm, National Treasure 124, Chuncheon National Museum

Hansongsa Temple: Scenic Site Revered by Silla&rsquos Hwarang (&ldquoFlowering Knights&rdquo)

Hansongsa Temple is no longer in existence its former site in Namhangjin-dong, Gangdong-myeon, Gangneung is now occupied by a military airfield. Surrounded by pine trees near the ocean, with Gyeongpodae and Hansongjeong pavilions close by, the temple site was always included among the most scenic spots of Gwandong (present-day Gangwon Province), along with Mt. Geumgang. As such, Hansongsa Temple was often mentioned in poems and other writings by the people who visited there.

In addition to its beautiful scenery, this area was also a popular excursion because of its ties to the Hwarang (花郞, &ldquoFlowering Knights&rdquo), a legendary military unit of the Silla Kingdom. In particular, the area was once occupied by a contingent of 3000 Hwarang members led by Yeongrang (永郞), Sullang (述郞), Namrang (南郞), and Ansangrang (安詳郞), who came to be revered as Taoist immortals. This group, which served under Silla&rsquos King Hyoso (孝昭王, r. 692-702), was said to be the most powerful among the Hwarang, such that steles about them were erected in Chongseokjeong Pavilion, Lake Samilpo, and Hansongjeong Pavilion. This group of Hwarang was so famous among the people that several of the troop&rsquos training and pilgrimage sites along the East Sea from Gyeongju to Anbyeon became popular tourist attractions, known collectively as the &ldquoEight Views of Gwandong.&rdquo According to Memorabilia of the Three Kingdoms (三國遺事), the stele for Seol Wonrang (薛原郎), the first Hwarang, was erected in Myeongju (溟州, present-day Gangneung), which confirms that the area around Gyeongpodae and Hansongjeong pavilions held great importance for the Hwarang. By the Goryeo period, along with those two pavilions, the nearby Hansongsa Temple was also crowded with visitors, including writers and high-ranking officials who wished to see the historical sites of Silla&rsquos Hwarang. In the same context, during the late Goryeo and early Joseon period, many literati visited here and wrote poetry and other works.

Site of Hansongsa Temple in Namhangjin-dong, Gangneung.

&ldquoManjushri Bodhisattva and Samantabhadra Bodhisattva Popped up from Underground&rdquo

In old documents, Hansongsa Temple was called Munsudang (文殊堂), Munsujae (文殊臺), or Munsusa (文殊寺). In the fifth volume of Collected Writings of Yi Gok (稼亭文集), entitled Trip to the East (東遊記), the Goryeo scholar Yi Gok (李穀, 1298-1351) wrote about visiting Hansongsa Temple:

Yi Gok (李穀), Collected Writings of Yi Gok (稼亭文集), Volume 5: Trip to the East (東遊記), Joseon Dynasty (1662), 30.0 × 19.5 cm, National Library of Korea

Seated Bodhisattva from the Site of Hansongsa Temple, Goryeo Dynasty (10th century), Gangneung, White marble, Height: 56.0cm, Treasure 81, Ojukheon & Municipal Museum (Gangneung)

&ldquoAfter staying (in Gyeongpodae Pavilion) for a day, due to the rain, I went out to Gangseong (江城) to see Munsudang (文殊堂). According to people, two stone statues of Manjushri Bodhisattva and Samantabhadra Bodhisattva had popped up from underground. A stele of the four Taoist immortals was once erected on the east side of these statues, but Hu Zongdan (胡宗旦) had thrown it into the water, so that only the turtle-shaped pedestal was extant.&rdquo
(以雨留一日/ 出江城觀文殊堂/ 人言文殊,普賢二石像從地湧出者也/ 東有四仙碑/ 爲胡宗旦所沉/ 唯龜跌在耳)

In addition to National Treasure 124, another bodhisattva statue from the site of Hansongsa Temple is currently housed at Ojukheon & Municipal Museum in Gangneung. These two bodhisattva statues are estimated to be the statues of Manjushri Bodhisattva and Samantabhadra Bodhisattva that supposedly &ldquopopped up from underground.&rdquo Unfortunately, the one in Ojukheon & Municipal Museum is missing its head and one arm, but its casual seated posture, with one leg resting comfortably outside of the lotus position, is symmetrical with the other bodhisattva statue (National Treasure 124). Thus, it would appear that these two sculptures were once the two attendant bodhisattvas on the left and right of a Buddha triad. But in that case, what can be said of the main Buddha?

Incredibly, the pedestals that once supported these two bodhisattva statues are still present at the site of Hansongsa Temple, which is now covered by sand. Although the pedestals are severely damaged, we can see that they are shaped like a lion and an elephant, respectively. According to Buddhist sutras such as the Lotus Sutra, Avatamsaka Sutra, and Dhāraṇī Collection Scripture, Manjushri Bodhisattva (symbolizing wisdom) is seated on a lion pedestal, while Samantabhadra Bodhisattva (symbolizing compassion) is seated on the elephant pedestal. In Korea, extant lion- and elephant-shaped pedestals can be found at Bulguksa Temple in Gyeongju and in the Vairocana Buddha Triad (estimated to date from the ninth century) of Beopsusa Temple in Seongju. Manjushri Bodhisattva and Samantabhadra Bodhisattva can be attendant bodhisattvas for either Shakyamuni Buddha or Vairocana Buddha. Around the ninth century, the Hwaeom (Ch. Huayan) school and Seon (Ch. Chan) school of Buddhism worshipped Vairocana Buddha. Then, starting in the mid-ninth century, many statues of Mahāvairocana Buddha were produced through the influence of Esoteric Buddhism. As such, it is estimated that the main Buddha of this triad likely depicted Vairocana Buddha.

Lion-shaped and elephant-shaped pedestals at the site of Hansongsa Temple.

Introduction of Manjushri Bodhisattva Faith

The tall, cylindrical crown worn by this bodhisattva is characteristic of bodhisattva sculptures produced near Gangneung in the early Goryeo period. Statues with this style of crown were transmitted from China&rsquos Tang Dynasty, which had embraced the iconography of Esoteric Buddhism from India. This iconography likely spread through the Tang capital of Chang&rsquoan (where Esoteric Buddhism prospered), including the nearby region of Mt. Wutai in Shanxi Province, where Esoteric Buddhist art was introduced. Bodhisattva statues with the cylindrical crown continued to be produced during the Five Dynasties (907-960) and Song Dynasty (960-1277), and became especially popular in the Buddhist sculpture of the Liao Dynasty (907-1125). In Korea, statues with this crown appeared around the tenth century in Woljeongsa Temple, Sinboksa Temple, and Hansongsa Temple, all of which were located near Mt. Odae (五臺山, Ch. Mt. Wutai) of Gangwon Province.

Seated Bodhisattva from Woljeongsa Temple, Goryeo Dynasty, Jinbu-myeon, Pyeongchang-gun, Gangwon Province, Height: 180.0cm, Treasure 139

Seated Bodhisattva on the Site of Sinboksa Temple, Goryeo Dynasty, Naegok-dong, Gangneung, Gangwon Province, Height: 121.0cm, Treasure 84

According to the Avatamsaka Sutra, Mt. Odae (Ch. 五臺山, Mt. Wutai) is the holy place where Manjushri Bodhisattva resides. In the seventh century, Monk Jajang introduced the faith of Manjushri Bodhisattva of Mt. Wutai/Odae to Korea. Memorabilia of the Three Kingdoms (三國遺事) describes how Manjushri Bodhisattva appeared as a manifestation and exercised miraculous power. In the section &ldquoFifty Thousand Manifestations of Mt. Odae&rdquo (臺山五萬眞身) from Memorabilia of the Three Kingdoms, it is written that Crown Prince Hyomyeong and Prince Bocheon, two sons of King Sinmun (神文王, r. 681-692), led an ascetic life on Mt. Odae where they offered tea to Manjushri Bodhisattva, and that Crown Prince Hyomyeong later ascended to the throne as King Hyoso. As such, it is estimated that the aforementioned &ldquofour Taoist immortals&rdquo and their contingent from the Silla Kingdom might have been locals from the Mt. Odae area who supported King Hyoso, and who thus became the main agents promoting the Manjushri Bodhisattva faith in this region.

Elegant Bodhisattva Statue Reflecting Traditional and Local Styles

Relief Sculpture of Manjushri Bodhisattva in Seokguram Grotto, Unified Silla Kingdom (751), Gyeongju, Height: 106.0cm, National Treasure 24

The soft and refined sculptural aesthetics of the bodhisattva statue from Hansongsa Temple can be compared to the Manjushri Bodhisattva relief carving in the upper niche of Seokguram Grotto, which was produced around 751 during the Unified Silla period. In Seokguram Grotto, the Manjushri Bodhisattva carving appears opposite a seated Vimalakirti carving, which together represent the doctrine of &ldquononduality&rdquo (i.e., the unity of all things). The relief carving exemplifies the quintessential characteristics of Unified Silla sculpture, such as the generous face, the smile visualizing a state of wisdom and compassion, the smooth round shoulders, the voluptuous arms and legs, and the relaxed posture. Transcending time, the same characteristics are well rendered in the bodhisattva statue (National Treasure 124) from Hansongsa Temple.

From ancient times, the area of Gangneung and Mt. Odae in Gangwon Province was called &ldquoMyeongju.&rdquo After failing to become the king, Kim Juwon (金周元), a sixth-generation descendant of Silla&rsquos King Muyeol (r. 654-661), retreated to this area (which was his mother&rsquos home) and became the progenitor of the Gangneung Kim clan. King Wonseong (r. 785-798) named Kim Juwon the &ldquoLord of Myeongju&rdquo and gave him the authority to rule over the territory, including Myeongju, Yangyang, Samcheok, and Uljin. Many direct descendants of Kim Juwon advanced to serve in the central government. This strong connection between Myeongju and Gyeongju (the Silla capital) helps to explain why the bodhisattva statue from Hansongsa Temple was carved in the representative style of Unified Silla.