East Asian Aesthetic Terminology: South Korea.

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While preparing to start my doctoral studies I took the opportunity to first travel to South Korea to perform, and do some adjunct research on Korean Buddhism, mostly Son (Zen). Thus, I ended up travelling to Tongdo, Haein, Bongeun, and Jogye Temples, studying temple architecture, chant practices, Buddhist art, and so on. In my studies I saw a few terms repeatedly coming up in the conversations I had with the monks, lay practitioners, and musicians I met, so I thought I would share them with you all. Many of them are not well known outside of Korean art and music circles, so they may be helpful to anyone with a general interest in South Korea, Korean art, Buddhism, music, East Asian aesthetics, and so on. In Part Two and Three I will be sharing similar terms in Chinese and Japanese aesthetics.

Though there are many great books on Korean culture, the one I used in Korea was Korean Temple Motifs: Beautiful Symbols of the Buddhist Faith, by Heo Gyun, published by Dolbegae (translated by Timothy Atkinson, 2005). It is a excellent collection of pictures and mini-essays on the various structures and decorative aspects of Korean temple complexes: stone bridges, pillars, halls, statuary, and so on.

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Amit’a-bul: The Buddha of Infinte Light (Amitābha) who resides over the Western Pure Land Paradise.

Chesǒk: “Buddha Emperor”: the Buddhist Dharma protecting deity (see: Śakra devānām Indra), also known as a shamanistic god responsible for harvests and long life.

chinyang, chungmori, chajinmori :   The slow, medium, and fast sections of a piece of sanjo music.

choch’i!/chot’a!: ch’uimsae used by the drummer in sanjo music (see: kŭrŏch’i).

Ch’ǒnsu-posal: “Boddhisattva with Eleven Arms”: the shamanistic form of Kwanseŭm-posal (Avalokiteshvara).

Ch’uimsae: cries of appreciation or encouragement given by the drummer or knowledgeable members of the audience during a performance of traditional Korean opera (p’ansori).

Heottun garak:  “scattered melodies”: the name given to sanjo by traditional society, as sanjo contains a lot of rhythmic freedom and improvisational flexibility.

Hwanǒm-gyǒng“Flower Garden Sutras”: a collection of sermons by various Bodhisattvas about the Buddha and supreme enlightenment. The ‘flower garden’ refers to the righteous activities of the Bodhisattvas being compared to various types of flowers. It is this collection that focuses on the idea of porishim (see: Avatasaka-sūtra).

Kamno t’aenghwa: Buddhist paintings portraying the Buddha Amitābha (King Kamno) giving kamno (nectar, in this case symbolizing the Buddha’s teachings) to those thrown into Hell.

ke-yi:  Taoist terms used to explain Buddhist ideas.

Ko-jol: “archaic unskilled-ness”; straight, full-bodied simplicity, naiveté; like an uncarved block.

Kǒnmǒt: “superficial mǒt”; mǒt that lacks honesty or integrity.

Kŭrŏch’i!: “right on!”; an exhortative expression used to drummer in sanjo music.

Kŭngnak: Buddhist Paradise.

Kut: a shamanistic ritual.

Kwanseŭm-posal:  The Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara

Mat: the quality of intuitive understanding when an art object enters our consciousness, the counterpart of mǒt.

Mǒt: the quality of an object’s essence, through which we can relate to by entering into the spirit of the work.

Mŏttŭrŏjida:  to be full of beauty or grace.

Mubul sŭphap:  Korean Buddhist/shamanistic syncretism.

Mudang:  shaman.

Musok:  Korean shamanism.

Ǒp: the result of one’s actions (Sanskrit: karma).

Porishim: ‘mind for supreme enlightenment’: the ability/desire to pursue and achieve enlightenment and share it with others. In the Hwanǒm-gyǒng porishim is metaphorically compared to a seed of Budhahood, the Earth, clear water, clear eyes, and doors, etc, for its positive and affective qualities.

-posalKorean suffix added to name, meaning ‘Bodhisattva’.

Pulshim: the Buddha’s mind/heart.

Samun:  an ascetic monk.

Sanjo: a form of folk music containing elements reminiscent of minimalist phase music and free improvisation (see: heottun garak).

Suseok: the Korean tradition of the art of appreciating aesthetically pleasing stones (see Japanese: suiseki). Evaluation of suseok stones involves classifications of beauty, geomorphic unity, symbolism, and scholastic-philosophical heuristics.

Shinjung t’aenghwa: Buddhist paintings which also include indigenous Korean folk deities that protect the Buddhist Dharma.

Sinmǒt: “sour mǒt”, same as kǒnmǒt.

Sǒn: Korean Zen Buddhism.

Songmǒt: “deep, inner mǒt”, a high level of mǒt tinged with knowledge of loneliness and tribulation.

Sosŭng Pulgyo: Theravadan Buddhism.

Tae-a: the Sǒn realization of the higher self: Oneness.

t’aenghwa: Buddhist paintings, in which shamaistic deities often appear.

Taesŭng Pulgyo:  Mahāyāna Buddhism.

Togyo: Taoism.

Wǒn: “all encompassing circle”: metaphor for perfection of wisdom/enlightenment.

Yangja-habil: “two things together create one”: yin-yang; the interrelationship of mǒt and mat.

Yǒmbul: recitation of Buddhist scripture.

Yǒmju: Buddhist rosary.

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3 thoughts on “East Asian Aesthetic Terminology: South Korea.

  1. Hello – I’ve been trying to find a copy of the Korean Temple Motifs book for several years now… Do you know where I could find one that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg? I live in the US. Thanks!, Michele

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