Won-Buddhism and a Great Turning in Civilization

Paik Nak-chung, Seoul National University
Download essay (289.87 KB)

Addressing the theme of a great turning in civilization, this essay focuses on the Korean religion Won-Buddhism with its founding motto, “With this Great Opening of matter, let there be a Great Opening of spirit.” Both its doctrine and practice arguably possess great potential. Unlike the traditional Buddhist view of enlightenment, Won-Buddhism’s “Great Opening of spirit” starts from a specific diagnosis of the current time as an age of “Great Opening of matter” and proposes a double project of at once adapting to and overcoming modernity. In this way, it carries on the tradition of Korea’s indigenous religious movements since the mid-nineteenth century, but by combining that strain with Buddhism as its core doctrine, it achieves a fuller global significance than its predecessors. The essay examines Roberto Unger’s The Religion of the Future for both parallels and divergences, sympathizing with Unger’s emphasis on a religious revolution, but finding his thought essentially confined within the limits of Western metaphysics. Martin Heidegger is brought in to elucidate this point, as is Karl Marx, for comparison and contrast with Won-Buddhism’s diagnosis of and response to modernity. In closing, the essay takes up two Won-Buddhist agendas that are also of global concern: gender equality and the “church and state” relation.

Keywords: Won-Buddhism, Buddhism, indigenous Korean religions, Roberto Unger, Martin Heidegger, Karl Marx, Raimon Pannikar, Pak Chungbin, Song Kyu, double project of modernity, gender equality, church and state relations, Great Opening