Lee, Indig Religions Silla (1) - KoreanStudies28 6:56 PM Page 49 The Indigenous Religions of Silla Their Diversity and Durability Kidong Lee This

Lee, Indig Religions Silla (1) - KoreanStudies28 6:56 PM...

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The Indigenous Religions of Silla:Their Diversity and DurabilityKidong LeeThis article examines the indigenous religions of the Silla dynasty. According to the Sillaannals of the Samguk sagi, religion was significant in all walks of life in Korea’s pre-modern societies and formed a basis for state rule. Although Buddhism was recognizedas Silla’s central religious belief from the early sixth century, other religions and con-victions existed in Silla society. Introduced and discussed here are shamanism, Taoistthought, belief in spirits of springs and dragons, progenitor myths, state sacrifice rituals,and portent ideology. Beliefs and religions played a significant social function in premodern societies,increasingly so the further back in time one looks. Their role was quite promi-nent in the ancient societies of Korea, and the state of Silla was no exception.Not only did belief and religion provide stability in the everyday life of the in-dividual, they even formed the basis for an ideology of state rule. Both state andcitizens depended on belief and religion and formed with them an inseparableorganic relationship. In fact, according to the Samguk sagi’s Silla annals, be-liefs and religion—especially the ceremonies for state sacrifice—held prioritypositions in Silla society.Silla’s growth and development were accompanied by a continuous influxof new philosophies and beliefs that coexisted side by side with earlier and in-digenous faiths. Among these imports was Buddhism, which gained acceptancein the early part of the sixth century. By endowing the Silla royal governmentwith the authority necessary to overcome the conservatism of a farming cultureand the isolationism of the old tribal state, Buddhism directly contributed to theestablishment of a system dedicated to maintaining state power. Moreover, itdeeply influenced the spiritual lifestyle of the people of Silla. Even so, the in-digenous religions that had hitherto regulated the spiritual lives of the peopleKorean Studies, Volume 28 © 2005 by University of Hawai‘i Press. All rights reserved.
never completely disappeared, tenaciously sustaining their own existence by ad-hering closely to Buddhist belief in many forms. As the Swiss historian JacobBurckhardt said, moral spirits may change, but they never disappear.One may thus view the thousand-year history of the Silla kingdom in twoways. The first is from a geopolitical perspective that describes Silla from thestate’s earliest emergence in the Ky0ngju basin to its continuous expansion viacampaigns to subjugate the surrounding regions and to its final destruction ofthe rival states of Kogury0and Paekche in the struggle to unify the Korean penin-sula. The second, a sociocultural view, depicts a succession of shorter periodswherein diverse beliefs and religions, each with an ideology of state rule at theircore, engaged in rivalries while simultaneously undergoing a continuing trans-formative process.

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