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Wŏn Buddhism (Korean: 원불교) is a modernized form of Buddhism that seeks to make enlightenment possible for everyone and applicable to regular life. The scriptures are simplified so that they are easy to understand and their applications to life are made clear. Practice is simplified so that anyone, regardless of their wealth, occupation, or other external living conditions, can still practice Buddhism. Practices that are considered outdated, confusing, or unnecessary are removed. Because of the major changes that Won Buddhists have made to their practice, Won Buddhism can be regarded as a new religion or as a form of Buddhism.
This sentence is the founding motive of Won Buddhism. It is a distinctive mark of Won Buddhism, as many Buddhism schools teach that practitioners should forgo material wealth in pursuit of spiritual awakening. Won Buddhism, by contrast, teaches that material wealth can be a positive thing for the betterment of life; it is only a problem if one comes to obsess over material wealth. Forgoing material wealth does not remove materialistic obsessions; these obsessions must be dealt with in the mind, so abstaining from material culture is considered a weak form of practice and not a solution. Furthermore, by abstaining or withdrawing from material culture, practitioners would place their financial burdens on the rest of society: whether it be their family, other loved ones, or the society, someone would have to support them. As Developing Self Power is one of the Four Essentials, begging and relying on others is not an option.
Won Buddhists believe that Buddhism should be practiced in regular life; they do not believe in removing themselves from their community, but that they should instead become better members of their community from being good practitioners. Won Buddhists are supposed to keep a regular job and support themselves: they should not be wasteful, and they are to keep track of their income and expenditures daily. There are a few occupations that Won Buddhists are advised to avoid—like those that involve killing—but even persons following such occupations are not prevented from practicing Won Buddhism.
Won Buddhists believe that everything in life is part of Buddhist truth and, as such, any doctrine or practice that can be done only by removing oneself from society is inferior. Won Buddhists are to take every activity and action that they perform in life as an opportunity for Buddhist training, and reflect on each day as a Buddhist lesson.
As mentioned in the section Il-Won below, all things are considered part of the truth, and all sentient beings are considered Buddhas, although they may or may not be enlightened. Part of daily practice is recognizing everyone—including oneself—to be a Buddha, and therefore conducting one's life as a Buddha. In short, "Everywhere a Buddha Image and Every Act a Buddha Offering" means recognizing each person you meet as a Buddha, and treating others as you would treat a Buddha.
Part of the Won Buddhist doctrine is that traditional Buddhism has become too ornamental, which distracts and confuses practitioners. To remedy this, the Principle Book of Won Buddhism is a series of short definitions and instructions written in simple, common language. There are no stories with hidden meanings, and metaphoric language is expressly noted to be metaphoric and its meaning explained in detail.
One of the characteristics that Won Buddhists feel most leads to confusion is the Buddha statue. Won Buddhists assert that bowing to a statue of a Buddha can often turn into idol worship when the practitioners should instead be admiring the Buddha's mind and attempting to humble themselves in order to emulate it. In an effort to prevent this, Won Buddhist temples do not enshrine a Buddha statue; instead, they enshrine the Il-Won as a representation of the Buddha's mind. Won Buddhist temples are mostly plain buildings, both inside and out, with no special markings except for the Il-Won to distinguish them as religious buildings. Decorations both inside and outside are kept to a minimum. Practitioners do not wear any special clothes or mark themselves in any particular way.
Won Buddhist doctrine is split into two gates by which enlightenment is attained. The first, the Gate of Faith, is made up of the Fourfold Grace and the Four Essentials, which together make up the necessary mindset of a practitioner. The second gate is the Gate of Practice, composed of the Threefold Study and the Eight Articles, which make up the necessary behaviors of a practitioner.
Il-Won is the symbol that Won Buddhists use to represent the ultimate truth. This ultimate truth is said to be beyond the limits of what words can describe, so the circle is often said to be like a finger pointing at the Moon. In addition to representing the ultimate truth, Il Won Sang also represents everything we know, because for the ultimate truth to be ultimate, it must cover everything—therefore, everything must be a representation of the truth. As Buddhas' minds are one with the truth, Buddha-nature, Il-Won is the symbol of the dharmakāya of the Buddha and of all enlightened masters; it is the true nature of all sentient beings, regardless of whether they have awakened to it or not. That means it is the original source of the Four Graces (heaven and earth, parents, fellow beings, and laws) to which one owes one's life. It is described as being both permanent and impermanent, depending on one's perspective. The practice of Il-Won lies in wisdom (prajñā), fostering concentration (samādhi), and using virtue (śīla) upon enlightenment to the Buddha-nature continuously in daily life.
The Four Graces are the embodiment of the Il-won in its different forms; that is, all that exists in the universe can be separated into the Four Graces. The Graces are written from the perspective of gratitude owed by the practitioner, so even though parents are a type of fellow being, the debt of gratitude owned by practitioners to their parents is special and different compared to the debt of gratitude owed to other fellow beings.
The threefold practice is carried out through Zen, which holds as its central principle that when the six sense organs are at rest, one should nourish the One Mind by clearing the mind of worldly thoughts; when they are at work, one should forsake injustice and cultivate justice.
According to Won Buddhist sources, Pak Chungbin (1891–1943; Sot'aesan) attained great enlightenment in 1916, and had a precognition of the world entering an era of advancing material civilization to which humans would be enslaved. The only way to save the world was by expanding spiritual power through faith in genuine religion and training in sound morality. With the dual aims of saving sentient beings and curing the world of moral ills, Sot'aesan began his religious mission. He founded a new religious order with the buddhadharma as the central doctrine, establishing the Society of the Study of the Buddha-dharma at Iksan, North Cholla province, in 1924. Sot'aesan edified his followers with newly drafted doctrine until his death in 1943. The central doctrine was published in the Pulgyo chŏngjŏn (The Correct Canon of Buddhism) in 1943.
In 1947, Song Kyu (1900–1962; "Chŏngsan"), the second patriarch, renamed the order Wŏnbulgyo (Won Buddhism) and published the new canon, Wŏnbulgyo kyojŏn (The Scriptures of Won Buddhism), in 1962.
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In addition to combining Buddhist schools, Won Buddhism can also be considered an amalgamation of Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism.
The name "Won Buddhism" comes from the Korean words 원/圓 won ("circle") and 불교/佛敎 bulgyo ("Buddhism"), literally meaning "Round Buddhism" or "Consummate Buddhism." By "consummate," Won Buddhists mean that they incorporate several different schools of Buddhist thought into their doctrine; that is, where some schools focus only on practicing meditation (samādhi), some schools devote themselves fully to studying scriptures (prajñā), and still others practice only their school's precepts (śīla), Won Buddhism believes in incorporating all three into daily practice.