Religions of Korea:
follow a variety of religious ideas and organized religions. They always have because as practical people, they have tried
ways to reach a fundamental Korean ideal; a sense of harmony and balance in
everything. The Republic of Korea's flag represents this ideal.
The central circle is divided in two halves.
The top red part is yang, the positive cosmic force meaning fire,
day, light, and all things constructive. The bottom blue half
represents the passive side of existence - water, night, death
and repose. Yet the two are joined perfectly into a whole. The
bars in the four corners of the flag are also about harmony and
balance. The three lines at the top left means "heaven."
The broken lines opposite it at the bottom right are "earth."
The bars at the top right, two broken and one solid, mean "water,"
while the lines opposite mean "fire." According to this theory all life, and even the cosmos, is balanced in
oldest religious ideas in Korea are called Shamanism today.These are beliefs that the natural world is filled with spirits, both
helpful and harmful, that can be addressed by people with special powers
called shamans. Herbal medicines, dances, chants and other ceremonies
mark the work of shamans, most of whom are women. Though few people
believe in the religious ideas today, they do accept old ideas
about the natural world and use many ancient herbal remedies.
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sound of the Dharma Drum represents the Budda's sermon
to enlighten the ignorant from animal and mankind
the first half of the First Millennium A.D. Buddhist monks made
their way across Central Asia, through China and into Korea. It
was the Mahayana, or Greater Vehicle, variety of Buddhism in which
many saints and demons inhabited the spirit world. The Shilla
Dynasty that unified Korea in 668 made it the official religion
of the peninsula. Royal patronage allowed many magnificently decorated
temples to be built and today thousands are still to be found.
One uniquely Korean feature of Buddhist temples is a side chapel
dedicated to a mountain spirit. He is usually shown as an old
man with a pet tiger. It is a symbol of native shamanistic beliefs,
and nothing like the original precepts of the faith. Buddhism,
though, is not a centralized system and so there are many sects
in the world today. In Korea, some monks are married and do business:
it's always a shock to see gray-clad, shaved headed monks with
cell phones and driving BMWs. Others are celibate. However, one
version of ascetic Buddhism that developed in Korea called Son
was transmitted to Japan and then around the world where it is
known as Zen. Today about forty-five percent of Koreans follow
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percent of Koreans are Christians.The Roman Catholic branch of the faith arrived in the 17th century
missionaries who also visited China and Japan. Christianity was prohibited
by many of Korea's rulers, and some Christians were martyred. After World
War II, however, Catholicism grew rapidly, but not as fast as
Protestantism. The first Protestant missionaries (Methodists)
arrived in Korea in 1884. They began programs of education for
young Koreans, many of whom would become leaders of the country.
After the Korean War, numbers of Protestants rose dramatically.
Today, almost forty percent of Koreans are Protestants, divided
into 113 denominations. That number is growing as evangelical
Protestants continue to work in the country.
Of all philosophical systems, that attributed to the Chinese wise man
Kung Fu-Tse, or Confucius, had perhaps the greatest influence on Korean
ideas. Confucianism is not exactly a religion, but is a political/social
system based on subordination - sons to fathers, wife to husband, people to
It emphasizes proper rituals,
ceremonies, and conformity to decorum, or standards of correct
conduct. Education in classical Chinese was the basis for government
service and the way for young men to rise in the world. The Confucian
system began to become important in Korea's kingdoms in the 7th
century A.D. and became the official state cult in the 14th century
with the Chosun Dynasty. Even as the old kingdoms have passed away and Korea has become a modern
state, Confucian ideas remain strong.
This is seen in the way families are organized, in devotion to
ancestors, and in everyday behavior. Koreans tend to be formal
when dealing with non-family members. For a Korean to address
a stranger by their first name would be the depths of rudeness:
"Mr" and "Mrs" are used routinely even among
co-workers. Bowing to one another is routine. And Korean men almost
always dress in formal business suits for all occasions outside
the home that are not vacation or fun-related. The rules of decorum
demand formality, if for no other reason than to show respect
for other people and thus makes for better social relations.
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