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Buddhism was introduced by Indian Buddhists into China in 65 a.d.. Gradually a Chinese form of Buddhism with its won peculiar special features came into existence and thus a new sphere of Buddhist culture emerged in east Asia covering Korea and Japan with its center as China. Although Buddhism thus disseminated was almost Chinese in character, there were some Indian acharyas who played a significant role in spreading Buddhism and its literature to these two countries directly from India.

Korea’s knowledge of Indian Buddhist literature was colored mainly by Chinese versions of Indian texts, a study of Korean literature enables one to known the Indian influence. Unfortunately Korea had no national script because of which there was no growth of any literature there in the early centuries of the Christian era.

The country was divided into three kingdoms Koguryo, Paikje and Silla. They flourished side by side between 313 to 668 a.d. The first Koguryo was closest to China adopted Buddhism in 372 a.d. In 374 the first Indian monk Ahdo came to Korea and in 384 the religion spread to Paikje. In 540 the then Chinese emperor of the Liang dynasty at the request of the king of Paikje sent teachers and sacred scriptures of the Buddhists. A local monk Kyumik brought from India sacred Buddhist texts relating to Vinaya and translated them into Chinese. A third Indian monk named Mukhoja visited in 417 a.d. visited Silla. During the reign of King Wang 1313-30 another Indian mink named Jigong came to Korea. I-chang a Korean scholar came to India in 673 and stayed at Nalanda for about a decade studying Indian scriptures. Then he traveled all over India and collected Sanskrit texts. When he returned to Korea in 695 a.d. he brought with him as many as 400 Sanskrit texts.

Influence of Sanskrit on the first Korean Sanskrit

The introduction of Buddhism necessitated the study of Buddhist scriptures in Pali and Sanskrit, and also the writing of texts and annotations in native Korean. But the native language had no script. The Chinese system of writing could not serve the purpose of the national script. In 1446 King Sejong of the Yi dynasty 1392-1910 developed a script for Korean called Hanggul. It was the first Korean system of writing and many Buddhist scriptures were published in that script. Some scholars are of the opinion that the Hanggul script consisting of 28 letters was adapted from Sanskrit. It may be mentioned here that the study of Sanskrit characters known as Siddham had also been introduced in Korea and the use of this script is still in vogue in the land for writing Sanskrit.

Publication of Buddhist Scriptures

The printing of Daejang-gyung (Buddhist scriptures which were originally written in Sanskrit and translated into Chinese and Mongolian) was the greatest achievement of the Koryo dynasty. This corpus of scriptures was based on the Chinese edition brought to Korea by Mukhwa in 981 a.d. The printing was started during 1010-31.

A Buddhist monk named Uichun brought from China in 1086 some 3,000 commentaries on Buddhist scriptures. These were preserved in the Hungchunsa temple and 1010 copies of 4,740 volumes were printed in 1096. Unfortunately the Mongolian hordes destroyed them in 1232. Only a few volumes survived. The Daejang-gyung texts were reprinted in 1236 1,511 copies of 6,791 volumes of the sacred scriptures printed from 81,658 blocks. The blocks have come to be known as ‘Eighty Thousand’ and are now preserved in the Hawinsa temple.

There was a strong Buddhist influence on Korean literature. Some of the poems show the influence of Buddhist philosophy and metaphysics, and it appears they were composed by Buddhist monks. (579 to 876 a.d.). In the 15th century an important work Kumo Sinhwa was written. It contained five independent stories of which one is titled Manboksa Chap’o Ki (Game with Buddha). Indian tales and fables also went to Korea and made a great impact there. Korean folk songs were influenced by Indian tunes. Styles and principles of Indian art and architecture also exercised a great influence in Korea.

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