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The Korean Buddhist monk Yujŏng (1544–1610), better known as Samyŏng taesa (Great Master), lived during the middle of the Chosŏn dynasty (1392–1910), a period in which the country was invaded by the Japanese twice, in 1592 and 1597. Together with his teacher, HyujŎng (1520–1604), Yujŏng became a leader of the Buddhist monastic militia that defended the kingdom, and he remains an exemplar of patriotism.

Yujŏng was also known as Songun, and his secular name was Im Ŭnggyu; Yujŏng was his dharma name. Like many other Buddhist monks during the Chosŏn, when Confucianism was the orthodoxy, Yujŏng was educated in Confucian classics in his childhood. He was orphaned at age fifteen and became a Buddhist monk under Monk Shinmuk at Chikchisa. Early in his career as a monk Yujŏng studied both Buddhist and Confucian texts and he communicated with Confucian scholars. In 1557, no earlier than age thirty, he declined the king's appointment to become the abbot of Pongun Monastery, the head monastery of the Sŏn school, and Yujŏng at Mount Myohyang to practice meditation. Yujŏng is said to have attained enlightenment in 1586 at age forty-two.

In 1592 Yujŏng organized the monastic militia and helped lead a number of campaigns against the Japanhe joined Hyujo ese invasion. During and after the war he was appointed as a royal envoy and participated several times in peace negotiations with Japan. In 1604, after peace was established with Japan, Yujŏng returned to Korea with more than thirty-five hundred Korean war prisoners released by the Japanese. He petitioned the throne several times on what should be done for the defense of the country, including "building mountain fortresses" and "developing military weapons." Because of such patriotic activities, he appears in the Korean folk tradition as a heroic figure who uses supernatural powers to save the country. Even today, Yujŏng is related to various fascinating patriotic legends about the security of the country and the welfare of the people. One of the most compelling of these holds that whenever Korea is in danger, as it was during the Korean War or the time of the assassination of President Park Chung Hee in 1979, Yujŏng's posthumous stele in his hometown of Miryang (South Kyŏngsang province) sheds tears.

Yujŏng left only a few writings, which are published in his posthumous work, Samyŏngdang taesajip (The Collected Works of Venerable Master Samyŏng), in seven rolls.


An Kyehyŏn. "Chosŏn chŏn'gi ŭi sŭnggun" (The Monastic Militia in the Early Choson Period). In Han'guk Pulgyo sasangsa yŏn'gu (Studies on the History of Korean Buddhist Thought). Seoul: Dongguk University Press, 1983.

U Chŏngsang. "Chosŏn pulgyo ŭi hoguk sasang e taehayo" (On State Protection Buddhism in the Choson Period). In Chosŏn chŏn'gi Pulgyo sasang yŏn'gu (Studies on Buddhist Thought in the Early Chosŏn Period), ed. U Chŏngsang. Seoul: Dongguk University Press, 1985.

Sungtaek Cho