As the state religion of Goryeo, Buddhism played a dominant role in all aspects of its society. Even after the founding of Joseon, it is a well-known fact that the Anti-Buddhist Policy (抑佛政策) was enforced over an extended period due to the persistence of Buddhist influence. Soong-in Lee, a late-Goryeo writer, also known by his pen name, Do-eun, was a sadaebu (士大夫; literally, scholar-official) who had studied Confucianism; nevertheless, he was restricted by the social atmosphere of the time. From a young age, Lee was disciplined by his mother who engaged in Buddhist chanting every morning, studied in a Buddhist temple, and established friendships with Buddhist monks; he had naturally come to embrace Buddhism throughout his life. Such experiences had a certain influence on Lee’s literature. This is evident in the inclusion of numerous Buddhist poems in Doeunjip (陶隱集; literally, Collection of Literature Works by Do-eun).
Lee had strived to preserve Goryeo. At the age of 46, he was killed in a plot by Do-jeon Jeong, who was his political opponent as well as a friend. Having had lived in a time of political turmoil and been murdered at a relatively young age, Lee’s literary works are limited. In Doeunjip, there are 337 topics and 446 poems, 70 of which are Buddhist poems. While this is not a large number, studying the Buddhist poems composed by Soong-in Lee—who was renowned for his poetry—merits considerable significance as it allows one to observe the entirety of Lee’s poetry and ideas. Furthermore, this study can be anticipated to contribute to the understanding of the thoughts and literary trends of scholars of the time, who were known as the “shinjin sadaebu” (新進士大夫; literally, rising scholar-officials).
Lee’s Buddhist poems included in Doeunjip can be classified into friendship poems with Buddhist monks, poems included in Buddhist monks’ poetic works, and those that meditate on the scenery at Buddhist temples. In this study, traces of Buddhism embedded in Lee’s views and poems were examined by analyzing those poems that “yearn for unworldliness,” which were composed as a means to resolve the tension from repeated exile and reinstatement, and those that “reveal religious doctrine or narrate a virtuous Buddhist world,” which were composed by being purely immersed in Buddhism.
As it is commonly known, Seon (禪; Korean variant of Chan Buddhism) was at the core of Buddhism in the late-Goryeo dynasty. Consequently, Seon-oriented preferences are also apparent in Lee’s Buddhist poems. Although some of his works are critical of Buddhism, such criticisms are confined to the axiomatic aspect of Buddhism; throughout most of his works, he appears favorable towards Buddhism and he is shown to affirmatively accept Buddhist teachings. It was on these grounds that Lee sought to overcome his conflicts and situations in reality, by pursuing unworldliness and likening the clear mind of a Buddhist monk to his own.