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The “King is Buddha” Tradition in East Asia and King Gungye(弓裔), the Maitreya Buddha

  • The Review of Korean History
  • 2013, (110), pp.87-122
  • Publisher : The Historical Society Of Korea
  • Research Area : Humanities > History

Kwangyeon Park 1

1동국대학교

Accredited

ABSTRACT

In previous research, the belief in Maitreya’s future descent into this world was a teaching disseminated by Jinpyo(眞表) in the later Silla(新羅) era, along with the Buddhist doctrine of the “Age of Degenerate Dharma.” This was the background for King Gung-ye’s(ruled in Later Goguryeo 後高 句麗from 901~918) claim to be the incarnation of Maitreya Buddha. (This was very confusing) In this paper, I have added more background. Firstly, the Maitreya faith of the later Silla’s royal family in the 9th century is another background I would like to add. In the reign of King Gyeongmun(景文王r.861~875), once a member of Silla’s Hwarang(花郞 Youthful Warriors), all Seon monks were revered as Maitreya Buddhas. The belief in the coming of Maitreya was propagated so that people would view the king as a “wheel-turning sage king(轉輪聖王Skt. cakravartin)”. Secondly, Seon monks of the later Silla period believed in the coming of Maitreya. Unlike the Seon(禪Ch. Chan) Buddhism of Tang(唐China), in Silla, Seon monks who believed in Maitreya also believed that Kāśyapa(迦 葉) was waiting for Maitreya to descend on Mt. Kukkuṭapāda(鷄足山in Magadhā 摩揭陀). There is also the possibility that Seon monks who anticipated the coming of Maitreya actively propagated the belief that King Gung-ye was the Maitreya Buddha. Thirdly, Zetian Wuhou(武則天624–705, a Tang 唐empress), who claimed to be a Cakravartin(wheel-turning sage king) and Maitreya Buddha, is more evidence of the East Asian belief that kings are Buddhas. Like Zetian Wuhou, who ascended to the throne citing spurious scriptures such as the Mahāmegha-sūtra(大雲經) and the Ratnamegha-sūtra(寶雨經), King Gung-ye himself wrote more than 20 volumes of such scriptures Through these cases, we can better understand King Gung-ye’s claim to be Maitreya Buddha as a manifestation of the East Asian belief in the “King is Buddha”, as well as the belief in the coming of Maitreya held by monks and the royal family in 9th century Silla. Even though King Gung-ye’s claim to be Maitreya lasted less than 10 years, it is an interesting case of the existence of the “King is Buddha” tradition on the Korean Peninsula.

Citation status

* References for papers published after 2022 are currently being built.

This paper was written with support from the National Research Foundation of Korea.