Re-presentation of the Hagiography of Buddha as an East-Asian Development of Buddhism: In the Chapter of Wonhyo’s Unboundedness in the Samguk Yusa
In a cultural contact, the process of cultural assimilation and indigenization is a natural phenomenon, which often appears in the case of Buddhism as a religious tradition through the re-presentation of the hagiography of Buddha.
This re-presentation enhances the consciousness of the ‘Buddha who have come near us’, thus counterbalancing cultural distance and seeking effectiveness in religious edification and salvation. Re-presentation of the hagiography of Buddha as a cultural process appears as a natural phenomenon in any region where Buddhism is transmitted. This article purports to investigate the assimilation process of Buddhism in the middle ancient and last ancient periods of the Silla dynasty, dividing the features of the re-presentation of the hagiography of Buddha according to direct re-presentation and indirect re-presentation.
Symbolized as the period of ‘holy bones’(聖骨) in Ilyon’s Samguk Yusa (Memorabilia of the Three Kingdoms), the middle ancient period shows the features of the intentional assimilation of Buddhism in the Silla society.
The Silla people in this period paid attention rather on the accompanying thought of a wheel-turning sage king than on the proper hagiography of Buddha in its religious dimension. The construction of the giant golden Buddha statue and the nine-story pagoda in the Hwangryongsa temple, the legend about the stone for Sitting Kassapa Buddha, and the enhancement of the consciousness of the country in relation with Buddha emphasize the wheel-turning sage king as another feature of the Buddha, which in turn comes to be identified with the Silla kings of holy bones.
However, the chapter of Wonhyo’s Unboundedness shows the characteristics of the re-presentation of the hagiography of Buddha as a proper feature of Buddhism as a religion. The characteristics of indigenization of Buddhism at the beginning of the last ancient period of Silla dynasty might be summarized as follow according to the chapter of Wonhyo’s Unboundedness.
First, the recordings at the last ancient period in the Samguk Yusa are heavily focused rather on individual practice and faith than on national features of Buddhism.
Second, not relying on adopting the legend of the wheel-turning sage king, the direct re-presentation of the hagiography of Buddha forms the main content of the biographical writings. That is, not indirect but direct reflection of Buddha is attempted, which suggests that this period might be already considered as the period of not reception but indigenization.
Third, in comparison with monks of middle ancient period, the monks of Wonhyo’s period show more frequently their relatedness with the biographies of Chinese monks through the re-presentation of them. To illustrate, the chapter of Wonhyo’s Unboundedness not only re-presents the hagiography of Buddha but also shows some features that might be compared with famous monks of China (for example, Kumarajiva and Jingyingsi Huiyuan 淨影寺 慧遠), while the monk Hyegong (惠空), famous for his carrying a straw basket on his back, is said to have considered himself as the reincarnation of the Chinese monk Sengzhao (僧肇).
Fourth, as the chapter of Wonhyo’s Unboundedness emphasizes the edification of the people, the famous monks at the beginning of the last ancient period, in comparison with the monks at the middle ancient period with their orientedness toward courtly or politico-social engagement, focus their attention on practice and edification of the people in their biographies.
While their relation with the court should also catch our attention as all those periods belong to the kingly stage, the recordings on monks of Wonyo’s period in the Samguk Yusa are considered to have been written not in their political context but in their Buddhist or religious context even in facts related with the court.