Founder of Won Buddhism
as his Path to Enlightenment
Wŏn-bulgyo, literally "Circle / Round Buddhism" and
meaning "Consummate Buddhism", is an indigenous
religion founded in Korea during the early 20th century. It
is a new type of that old religion, combining-in elements of
Christianity and Neo-Confucianism and taking "the
Buddhadharma" as its main doctrine. It has now spread
internationally, with millions of total members. See its
Wikipedia page and its official site.
Sotaesan (1891-1943, original name Bak Jung-bin) was
the founder of Won-bulgyo, and one of Korea's long line of
religious geniuses. He is said to have attained complete
enlightenment in 1916, and then gathered disciples,
establishing the "Society of the Study of the Buddha-
dharma" in Iksan City of North Jeolla Province in 1924,
which is where the Won Buddhist headquarters and main
university (Wongwang) still are.
What's interesting for our purposes on this website is his
association with sacred mountains and their spirits. His
adopted sobriquet So-tae-san is meaningful, translating
literally as "small grand mountain", implying that he is a
proportionate-extension of Tai-shan (Tae-san in Korean),
China's holiest mountain (whose spirit is regarded as a
powerful deity in Korean Buddhism & Shamanism).
Further, official doctrine tells that he underwent 15 years of
spiritual practices in austerity on his pathway towards
attaining "great enlightenment" -- including 5 years of
practicing Sanshin-gido or Ritual-Prayer to Mountain-
spirits (a common practice of almost all Korean religious
traditions; see my 1999 book). The painting to the left is one
of theirs, from their website, depicting him doing Sanshin-
gido, offering three persimmons and 7 chestnuts.
This cast-bronze panel is the second of nine surrounding Sotaesan's budo funerary-monument in the Wonbulgyo
headquarters compound in Iksan. It again depicts him doing his 5 years of Sanshin-gido, this time at night
under a crescent moon, with a benevolent tiger looking on (protecting him?), and 8 persimmons / 8 chestnuts.