The author does not over-estimate the importance of this little Book: it is nothing more than its title claims. It consists of three lectures given to popular audiences, with the accompaniment of many illustrations. It represents however a considerable amount of work in an almost virgin field. It has involved hard journeys to remote mountain monasteries and days and nights of conversation and inquiry with many monks and priests. It is not, however, a profound study nor an exhaustive presentation. It barely touches many a subject which would alone furnish more material than could be treated in three such lectures. It scratches the surface.
The material which it presents is however new. Outside of Mrs. Bishop's account of her visit to the Diamond Mountain monasteries and scattered references in her book to a few local temples there is almost nothing on the subject of Korean Buddhism accessible to English readers. A glance at our bibliography will show that not one of books of articles there listed appeared in the West. All were printed at Seoul, Shanghai and Tokyo and publications appearing at those centers are little known outside. To aid serious readers, who may care to secure them, publishers' names are given in our list. The author has carefully read all the items listed and acknowledges indebtedness to all the authors.
The actual amount of material for the full study of Korean Buddhism is enormous. There are many voluminous works in Chinese and Korean dealing with Korean history; when carefully sifted, these will yield many important facts. Many, perhaps all of the monasteries have records of their history somewhat after the nature of annals; most of these are in manuscripts but a few have been printed, presumably from wood blocks cut at the establishment by the monks. There is a third source of information, as vast in bulk as either of the other two; it is the inscriptions on monuments, which are scattered in thousands over the peninsula. The gleaning of information from these three sources is subject to destruction and even now is threatened. Old books in Korea are being constantly lost and destroyed new editions of them are often carelessly and inaccurately reproduced; in some cases the new editions are intentionally mutilated important passages being suppressed. The monastery records are less secure than ever before with new life and energy in these old establishments, renovation and clearing out of nooks and corners and over hauling of accumulations of papers, places documents, the value of which is unknown or unappreciated, in serious jeopardy. As for monuments many are disappearing and others are becoming undecipherable through weathering. There is pressing need then of promptly securing these materials and making them available for study.
The author has hundreds of negatives illustrating Korean Buddhism. One hundred and fifty pictures were used in the original lectures. When cutting down to what seemed the absolute limit in selecting pictures for the book, he found that he had more than double the number permitted by the necessary conditions. Further reduction was difficult and many pictures have been rejected, which are more beautiful of interesting than some of those that are included. The final choice was based upon the desire to give as clear an idea as possible of actual conditions and represent all the important phases presented in the lectures. One or two of the pictures were made by Manuel Gonzales in 1911; all the others are the work of Maebashi Hambei who accompanied me, in my last three expeditions of Korea, as photographer.
Back of the Book
Korea today is a divided country. It is a land of amazing political contrast. The South is famed for fore its tenacity, rapidly becoming one of the industrialized giants of the world. The North is the last bastion of communism, perhaps showing and equal tenacity in retaining its outmoded ideology.
But what do we know of its former history, art and religion?
Korean Buddhism is not a subject that has been exposed to the wider world. In modern Korea there is little time for a slow pace of life. We must look to a time before industrialization to glimpse the Korea of old.
In this book, written by the Fredrick Starr as long ago as 1918, we return to a time when life was slower, harder and less hectic. Korea at the time was under Japanese control, but is culture, art and religion remained defiantly unchanging. Korean Buddhism with its links to India, Tibet and China has played a pivotal role in the country's history and remains today a fascinating subject.
Your email address will not be published *
Send as free online greeting card
Email a Friend