|Supplementary Entries and Texts for the
ENCYCLOPEDIA OF KOREAN BUDDHISM
by the Venerable Hyewon and Professor David A. Mason
|Text that was cut from an Entry:
Yong-wang 용왕 龍王 pages 608-09
Dragon King of the Waters
They represent both the highest-status powers of Heaven in general, with a rising or
uplifting energy, and the entire dynamic hydrological cycle that sustains earthly life:
from clouds around the high mountains to rain and storms, to springs and streams,
down to rivers and ponds, out to the seas, and all the water-beings such as fish.
Yong-wang remains a popular deity in Korea’s folk-shamanism as well as Buddhism.
He is sometimes referred to as yongsin (龍神, Dragon-spirit). His icons are often
found enshrined at spring or well outlets in Buddhist temples, and sometimes in
independent Yong-wang-gak (龍王閣) shrines (especially at coastal areas, rivers,
and famous springs or wells) or sharing a Samseong-gak (三聖閣) with other tutelary
deities such as Sansin (山神, Mountain-spirits) and Chilseong (七星, Seven Stars).
; his most distinctive traits are that his beard, moustache and eyebrows are (usually)
“spiky,” protruding in sharp points, sometimes resembling coral, and his eyes are
often bulging out like those of a fish. He most often holds the banya-jinju (般若眞珠,
flaming pearl of wisdom, a type of ma-niju 摩尼珠), but sometimes a branch of coral
or a sword. Often in his altar-painting enshrined in Buddhist temples, Gwanse-eum-
bosal (觀世音菩薩, Avalokitesvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion) is seen somewhat
in the background, next to or riding upon a dragon; sometimes his daughter (a figure
in many Korean myths, often marrying or birthing some hero) stands near him; fish
or other sea-creatures are sometimes included.
Similarly with Sansin (山神, Mountain-spirits), the Yong-wang is thought of in both a
general collective way and simultaneously as the spirit of specific sites – the individual
Dragon-kings of the Seas surrounding Korea, of the Han-gang River (漢江), Nakdong-
gang River (洛東江) and Geum-gang River (錦江) and the springs that feed them, and
so on. Yong-wang obviously makes a complementary figure to the land-based Sansin,
both being “kings” and both being uniquely “Korean” spirits – they can serve as a
biospheric eum-yang (陰陽, yin-yang complementary balance) duo. Teamed with the
cosmic Chilseong (七星, Seven Stars) in a Samseong-gak (Three Saints Shrine) they
form a biospheric trinity of Heaven (gasses, air), Earth (solids) and Ocean (liquids).
According to Buddhist iconography, Gwanse-eum-bosal is sometimes represented
standing on a blue or yellow dragon, which glides through the waves of the Ocean of
saba-segye (娑婆世界, sahā, samsara, the secular world of suffering), sometimes
accompanied by Yong-wang as his assistant. In addition, altars dedicated to the
Dragon King are still often built on top of coastal rocks, evidence that the belief in
dragons is still alive in Korea. Indeed, temples devoted to the Dragon King are often
found close to the sea, as are shrines of Gwanse-eum-bosal.
For much more information, and many photos, see on this website.