Sources: Choe Namseon’s “Bulham-munhwa-ron” – The great lineage of Joseon sindo 神道

Below is a translation of another representative chapter from Choe Namseon’s Bulham-munhwa-ron. This chapter was not so easy to render into English and so the translation should be understood only as giving the basic impression of what was originally written.

In addition to what’s already noted in the previous post, text struck through denotes words in the Korean translation which do not comfortable fit into English syntax.

There are two words I haven’t yet been able to translate, myeonpa (面怕) and joyeon (助緣) – any suggestions are welcome.

The term minjok (民族) translates as ‘ethnic group’ or ‘people’ as in ‘the Korean people’; in this sense it corresponds to the Latin gens.

Chapter 10: The great lineage of Joseon sindo (神道 ‘way of the gods’ / ‘divine way’)

Taigăr (대갈) representing the sky and Taigam (대감) its personification (인격형), and Părk (ᄇᆞᆰ) representing god and its personification of Părkăn-ai (ᄇᆞᆰ은애) are all originally religious [concepts]. In fact, from ancient times an extremely clear doctrine (宗旨) based on these was established and a theocratic (제정일치) world appeared; this formed a single expansive cultural area (문화권). [From this] sinseondo (神仙道 ‘way of gods and xian‘/’divine way of xian‘) was a Chinese development [whilst] susindo (隨神道 ‘following the way of the gods’) was a Japanese branching, however, it seems to have been what belonged to Joseon that was at the centre of its distribution and maintained a comparatively [more] pure true-aspect (진면목).

In Joseon, with Părk as the original root, [the term] also became Părkăn, and changed to Pukun (부군) or was simply called Pur (불). For a long it became buried and dropped out of people’s (世人) attention (주의), however, if one carefully investigates, the teaching (가르침의 모습) and tradition (法脈) [become] comparatively clear; at times like a great river, at times like an underground spring, it threads (관통) its way through Joseon history and its permeation within society can clearly be observed both in textual sources and actuality.

In textual sources, the [most] directly expressed extent evidence is the first section (서문) of the Nallang-bi stele (鸞郞碑) [inscription by] Choi Chiwon (崔致遠) recorded in the Samguk-sagi (Book 4, King Jinheung 37th year [576CE]).

“The country has a mysterious way (道) called Pung-ryu (風流). The root which bestowed this teaching is contained in the Seon-sa (仙史 ‘History of Seon [mountain sage/immortals]’) and so it includes the Samgyo ‘Three Teachings’ (三敎 [Taoism, Buddhism and Confucionism]) and enlightens (교화) all living things as it comes into contact [with them]. Further, entering at home [there is] filial piety, going out [there is] loyalty to the country and this is the true meaning of Confucius’s teaching; progressing through life without doing anything and teaching without words, this seems to be the primary root purport of Laozi; [finally] not behaving in any evil manner and holding aloft good actions, this seems to be the enlightenment (교화 [in the educational sense]) of [Buddha] Shakyamuni.”

 {NB The syntax of the follow paragraph is particularly garbled so the following is only an approximation of the meaning.}

Thus [he] transmitted the teaching (가르침의 양상). However, aside from this one passage, there are no other written sources that pass on the religious nature (상태 lit. ‘state’) [of Părk]; to be sure, together with the facts of Wonhwa (源花) introduced there [in the same entry of the Samguk-sagi {or in the Sillaguk-gi}], [implicit reference of Părk as the Hwarang order 花郞] was recorded in the text of the Xinluoguoji (新羅國記 K. Sillaguk-gi ‘Record of Silla’) [by] Ling Hucheng (令狐澄 fl.860?) of Tang [China]; // looking [only] briefly [at the original Xinluoguoji description] it may have seemed [to compilers or readers of the Samguk-sagi entry] that [Părk/Hwarang] was [just] a normal social institution for cultivation (교화) and with its name as ‘Pung-ryu’ it [seemed just one particular] religious group; // [consequently] it would have been easy [for readers] to have neglected the point that it was likely the highest religious order (宗門) in the country.

{Alternative interpretation of the latter part of the above paragraph.}

// [for the original author of the Xinluoguoji ] observing [only] briefly [the circumstances of Silla] it may have seemed that [the Hwarang he described] was [just] a normal social institution for cultivation (교화) and with its name as ‘Pung-ryu’ [to have been just one particular] religious group; //

{According to a footnote of the Korean translation, the Sillaguk-gi was a first hand account of Silla compiled by Gu Yin 顧愔 who was part of an official embassy in 768. This in turn was quoted from by Ling Hucheng and this, apparently is all that survived although it doesn’t say in which of his writings.}

In any event, through ethnic universalism and national veneration, at first it was a solemn (장엄) and large ritual (의식 or ‘consciousness’), but in later times for various reasons the old meaning (古義) was entirely lost, and because traditionally it ended at the succession of the physical form (형체) it subsequently became like an annual event and the [original] sacred meaning (진의) was increasingly obscured.

However, this [reference to] ‘wonhwa’ also, [represents just one] social application and one [particular] circumstance (상태) of ceremony, not the entirety [of Părk]. Further, the phrase ‘pung-ryu’, too, is simply phonetic with no relation to the characters’ (문장) meaning. It was only much later that I came to this idea (이에 생각이 미쳤고), and only on account of this did the beginning and end [points] of this research link together.

As it [otherwise] becomes to complicated, I will simply state the results of [my] investigation. Părk was practiced on the [Korean] peninsula since ancient times and gradually assumed a national hue; in Silla, from its foundation it was transmitted by a class of ritual [specialists] called Pak (朴 Bak). The ceremony (제사) was called Părkăn (ᄇᆞᆰ은) and the priests (祭司) Paksu (박수); [those] made leaders were [termed] Geoseogan (居西干), Chacha’ung (次次雄), Isageum (尼師今) and Maripgan (麻立干); [there was] the religious order (교단) ‘wonhwa’ (hwarang, Părkăne) and the era Părknui (불구내 bulgunae ).

Because society was centered around ritual (제사), at first the priests were the rulers, but together with the development of society, politics and religion became separated and the belief systems of pung-ryu (풍류 pur) or na’eul (奈乙 nar) became the independent religion; the [subsequent] development of this religion becomes gradually [more] noteworthy. Concerning doctrine, sacred texts (聖典) such as Sinji (神誌), Seonsa (仙史), Bisa (秘詞) and Book of Jeong Gam (鄭鑑의書 {refers to Jeonggam-nok 鄭鑑錄 ‘Record of Jeong Gam’}) were compiled. Concerning practice, [both] secluded mountain practice as well as temporary mountain pilgrimages occurred, [both] had music as one aspect. The societal activities of the Wonhwa (separately the guk-seon 國仙; later there is the name hwarang ) become visible, giving strength to Silla’s national circumstances (국가정세).

Later, [Părkăn] flourished (융섭) alongside the introduction of Buddhism, [with which] it synthesized; Părkăn sacred rituals (聖儀) were practiced under the name of Palgwanhoe (Joseon pronunciation ‘Parkwanhoi’) [which was based on] similar sounding characters. But as Buddhism flourished (융성) it [began] gradually to dominate and the famous mountains of superior topography (승지) that had been the spiritual grounds of Părk all became lands of garam [sangharama] (伽藍) and nan’ya [araṇya] (蘭若) [temples], the guksin (國神 ‘national gods’) and their sasa (社祠) shrines barely managed to maintain their remaining life within the shadow of the character bul (佛) [of Buddhism].

However, the reason [it] was protected by the state and [the fact it was a] custom which had permeated folk traditions {or had itself been permeated by folk} meant that it could not be entirely obliterated (소멸) by foreign ideos (사상). Consequently the Palgwan (八關) rituals of the courts of [both] Taebong (泰封 aka Later Goguryeo) which continued from Silla, and Goryeo which succeeded Taebong, were consistently held on a grand scale; when the sinsa (神事 ‘divine matters’) were increasingly neglected because of this kind of Buddhism, it was such that on several occasions the state issued royal decrees (칙명) admonishing this and giving warnings.

Towards the end of Goryeo Confucianism arose and following the success of the Yi dynasty revolution, a policy was taken to suppress [both] sin (神 ‘gods’) and Buddhism for the sake of plotting (도모) political stability. As a result, leaving aside [the similar circumstances of] Buddhism, sindo (神道 ‘the way of the gods’) was [now like] ‘a once mighty bow down to its last arrow’ (强弩?) appearing clearly lonesome. Further, during the period of Taejo, sinseo (神書 ‘divine books’) were burnt bringing the loss of much literature on this subject [of Părk]. Only fragments which prophesied the fate of the Yi dynasty such as the Book of Jeong Gam (鄭鑑의書) which had been the most powerful, were secretly transmitted, [albeit] with later corruptions in the text.

However, during the Yi dynasty the Buddhist term palgwan [used] since early Goryeo, changed its makeup (얼굴 모습) to the Confucian term bukun (Pukun) [whilst] the old appearance (모습) of the sinsa shrines were preserved throughout [the country] by government offices (官府) and station inns (驛院). Concealed by the deep myeonpa (面怕), Pukun-harmöi (부군-할머이) fortunately continued the public/official (공적) belief [system] and in the form of Purki (呼旗 {hogi }) and Pukun-kut (府君굿 {bu’gun-gut }) the national Palgwanhoe has maintained the reverence of the people (민중적) until today.

Consequently, national instability and social discontent were treated as joyeon (助緣) and the phenomenon of belief (religious behaviour) arose connected to such [texts] as Book of Jeong Gam. [A picture of] the ideal world of ‘South Joseon’ (南朝鮮) was drawn, and all manner of big and small [events like] ripples [across] (波紋) were transmitted through history. Within this meaning, whilst in actuality having disappeared (망실), approaching the modern era the Way of Părk (ᄇᆞᆰ道) can be seen to have [undergone] a spiritual revival and has formed the core of [our] minjok‘s way of life with a vigour it previously had lacked.

For example, [amongst] Donghak (東學; later [named] Cheondo-gyo and Sicheon-gyo), Heumchi-gyo (吘哆敎 우치교; later Tae’eul-gyo 太乙敎), Bocheon-gyo (普天敎) and other similar religious groups that have appeared with various names, there is not one that is not based on this [Way of Părk]. The reason that such [new religions] as these have been easily established and that they (오느 것이나) have developed to a considerable degree is not due to the personality of the founder (敎祖) or the profundity of their [particular] doctrines, but [because] they have caused a response in the Joseon minjok’s single traditional spirit/soul (정신) that lay submerged in the people’s (민중) hearts, transmitted from ancient times. In truth, the ‘Way of Părk’ never died, it is living in the present and is the reality [of the] currently active generation (일대 현실). [Just] the people (민중) are not so conscious [of it in] themselves.

Source for the translation:
Choe Namseon 최남선, translated by Jeon Seonggon 전성공. 2013. 불함문화론ㆍ살만교차기 (최남선 한국학 총서8). Seoul: Kyung-in Publishing 景仁文化社.

See also a translation of the concluding chapter.

2 thoughts on “Sources: Choe Namseon’s “Bulham-munhwa-ron” – The great lineage of Joseon sindo 神道

  1. Pingback: Sources: Choe Namseon’s “Bulham-munhwa-ron” – last chapter | Koreanology

  2. Pingback: Sources: Sin Chaeho – ‘History of Ancient Joseon Culture’ (on the Sam’rang 三郞 > Jo’ui 皂衣 / hwarang lineage) | Koreanology

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