Chogye School

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The Chogye school, which is unique to Korea, constitutes the mainstream of Buddhism in contemporary Korea. There have been two distinct Chogye schools known in Korean history. One school traces its origins to the Nine Mountains school of SŎn (Kusan Sŏnmun) that was active until the mid-Koryŏ period (918–1392). These Sŏn schools united into one main school after the twelfth century, thus establishing the Chogye school. However, this institution came to a close in 1424 as a result of the anti-Buddhist policies of the Chosŏn government, which favored Confucianism. The second Chogye school emerged during the Japanese colonial period (1910–1945). The Korean ecclesiastical order began to use the name Chogye in 1941, but it was not until 1962 that the Chogye School of Korean Buddhism (Taehan Pulgyo Chogyejong) was officially established.

Both continuity and discontinuity are apparent in the history and ideology of the two Chogye schools. Contemporary scholarship does not distinguish between the two, however, and scholars have developed a variety of ideas concerning the origins and the lineage of the Chogye school. It is certain that the first Chogye school was directly related to the Chan school. Chogye is the Korean pronunciation for the Chinese word Caoqi, the name of the mountain of residence of Huineng (638–713), the sixth patriarch of Chinese Chan school; thus, the name Chogye reflects the fundamental Chan influence on Korean Buddhism. However, the Chogye school in contemporary Korea is not exclusively a Sŏn school. Although it professes to be a Sŏn school, it embraces various schools of Buddhist doctrine (kyo) as well as Pure Land beliefs into its system of thought, making the Korean approach to Chan quite different from its counterparts in China and Japan.

One of the lingering issues surrounding the Chogye school in contemporary Korea is its dharma lineage. The constitution of the school stipulates that Toŭi (d. 825) was the founder of the school, Chinul (1158–1210) its reviver, and T'aego Pou (1301–1382) its harmonizer. In addition, Korean Buddhist scholars have developed many different theories regarding Chogye lineage. These theories, however, are not always based on historical fact, but are a product of ideologically motivated attempts to connect Korean Buddhism to the "orthodox" lineage of the Chinese Linji Chan tradition. Although most Korean Buddhist specialists believe that Chinul was not the founder of the Chogye school, it is evident that during the Koryŏ period the movement was led by his dharma successors, and the Chogye school of contemporary Korea adopted the thought of Chinul as its theoretical support.

The origins of the Chogye school, its founder, historical development, and dharma lineage need to be further clarified with the understanding that there were two distinct Chogye schools throughout Korean history. This is an extremely important issue because the search to understand the exact identity of the school itself will, by extension, describe that of Korean Buddhism and history.

See also:Colonialism and Buddhism; Korea


Buswell, Robert E., Jr. The Zen Monastic Experience: Buddhist Practice in Contemporary Korea. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992.

Keel, Hee-Sung. "Han'guk Pulgyo ŭi chŏngch'esŏng t'amgu: Chogyejong ŭi yŏksa wa sasang ŭl chungsim ŭro hayŭ" (The Chogye School and the Search for Identity of Korean Buddhism). Han'guk chonggyo yŏn'gu (Journal of Korean Religions) 2 (2000): 159–193.

Lee, Peter H., ed. Source book of Korean Civilization, Vol. 1. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993.

Pak, Hae-Dang. "Chogyejong uŭi pŏpt'ong sŏle taehan kŏmt'o" (A Critical Research on the Dharma Lineages of the Chogye School). Ch'orhak SaSang (A Journal of Philosophical Ideas) 11 (2000): 43–62.

Jongmyung Kim