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Summary

The monograph The Early History of Buddhism in Korea by Dr. Sergey V. Volkov looks into the history of propagation of Buddhism in Korea in the 4th-9th centuries A. D. and the socio-political role of Buddhist sangha in that period.

The study of the early history of Buddhism in Korea is primarily based on medieval Korean chronicles Samguk saqi and Samguk jusa. Chapter I .describes the 4th-9th centuries' Korean society. Chapter II eximines the history of propagation of Buddhism in the country and Chapter III analyses the role and place of various aspects of Buddhist sangha in Korea.

The early Korean states Koguryo, Paekche and Silla as well as Unified Silla, which emerged in mid-7th century, had very strong and highly centralized state power. This stipulated the predominantly state landownership which determined the nature of social relations in Korean society.

The ruling class comprised two major social groups: the aristocracy, represented by relatives of the king (van) and the bureaucracy, with aristocracy forming its top echelon, and which was also widely supplemented by representatives of other social groups downwards. The majority of the population were free peasants executing state services; in addition, there were various categories of incompetent population.

The obtaining socio-political and religious situation in Korea was very favourable for Buddhism's propagation in the country, since it met the interests of Korean society's basic social forces.

Given the strong state power in Korea, the success of Buddhism's propagation ultimately depended on its being recognised by the state. Hence the first steps of Buddhism in that direction was its appeal to the supreme authority.

The analysis of Buddhism's history in Korea in the 4th-10th centuries A. D. based on more than 460 dated chronicles suggests its four main stages: the first stage, from late 4th to early 6th century; the second stage, the 7th-8th centuries; the third stage, from 8th to early 9th century; and the fourth stage, from early 9th century to Unified Silla's disintegration (A. D. 935). At the first stage, the propagation of Buddhism was slow and gradual. The second stage was marked by Buddhism's incessant and rapid consolidation and its becoming the state religion. The third stage registered certain decline in Buddhist activity, and the fourth-its new rise.

Buddhist monasteries owned lands granted to them either by van or individuals. The expanding land property of monasteries undermined state ownership of land and weakened the state itself.

Buddhist sangha was controlled by a ramified administrative system. A feature of Buddhist administration pattern in Korea was the coexistence of independent territorial administration run by monks and central administration run by state officials. In addition, the affairs of major Buddhist monasteries were in charge of special state institutions.

As a rule, the relations between Buddhists and the state were benevolent and mutually advantageous. Buddhists deliberately sought support and patronage of the court. They carried out certain functions of state management, primarily religious performances, in the interests of the state.

However, Buddhists were enlisted for state management exclusively at the initiative of the state. In the period of Unified Silla Buddhists never played independent political role in state affairs. Buddhist sangha in Korea as well as in China and Japan was under control of the state. It seems, however, that it was not as strong as in the latter countries.

In the Unified Silla period the influence of Buddhism was not associated with concrete political actions; Buddhist monks neither participated in political coups or mutinies nor supported concrete claimants upon the throne (as it was in the Koryo period).

Though Buddhism of the "Three States" period in Korea was extremely "nationalistic" and primarily backing the interests of its home state (either Koguryo, or Paekche, or Silla), in the long run, it laid down the foundations for the emergence of a united Korean state.

Alongside with the Confucianism and the local cults Buddhism played a significant role in Unified Silla's state ideology. It made part of the ideology of hwarans, the aristocratic youth organization, whose descendents subsequently became high state officials.

Silla's rulers patronized Buddhism, taking into account its ideological significance but, however, being reluctant to the consolidation of sangha's economic and political potential they took measures at its limitation. In the 9th century, when the state power was undermined, Buddhism went out of its control, and this further intensified the disintegration of the state.

As a whole, the entire 4th-9th centuries' period may be regarded as the early history of Buddhism in Korea. However, it was the period when Buddhism took root in the country and attained first successes. In that period its social base and hierarchy took shape and it became a state religion or, in other words, laid down were the foundations which ensured further flowering of Buddhism in the Koryo period.

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