Won Buddhism

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Won Buddhism
Revised RomanizationWonbulgyo
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Won Buddhism
Revised RomanizationWonbulgyo

Wŏn Buddhism (Korean: Wŏnbulgyo) 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 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 Practices that are considered outdated, confusing or unnecessary are removed.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.[1]


"With this great opening of material wealth, let there also be a great opening of spiritual wealth"

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 in contrast teachers 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 obtaining 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.

Buddhadharma is Daily Life and Daily Life is Buddhadharma

Won Buddhist believe that Buddhism should be practice in regular life; they do not believe in removing themselves from their community, and that they should instead become better members of their community from being good practitioners. Won Buddhist are supposed to keep a regular job and support themselves. They should not be wasteful and they are to keep track of their incomes and expenditures daily. There are few occupations that Won Buddhists are advised to avoid, like those that involve killing, but even those in such occupations are not shunned from the practice.

Won Buddhist believe that everything in life is part of Buddhist truth and, as such, any doctrine or practice that can only be done by removing themselves from society is inferior. Won Buddhist 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.

Everywhere a Buddha Image and Every Act a Buddha Offering

As mentioned in the section Il-Won, 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 one's self as a Buddha and therefore conducting you life as a Buddha. In short, "Everywhere a Buddha Image and Every Act a Buddha Offering," means recognizing that each person you meet as a Buddha and treating others as you would treat a Buddha.

Won Buddhist appeal to simplicity and the removal of Buddha statues

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 Buddhist feel most leads to confusion is the Buddha statue. Won Buddhist assert that bowing to a Buddhist statue can often turn to idol worship when the practitioners should be admiring the mind of the Buddha and attempting to humble themselves in order to emulate the Buddha's mind. 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 for 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 for a practitioner. The second gate is the "Gate of Practice" and it is composed of the Threefold Study and the Eight Articles which make up the necessary behaviors of a practitioner.

Il-Won: The One Circle[edit]

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 described as being like a finger pointing at the moon. In addition to representing the ultimate truth, Irwŏnsang, 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 dharmakaya of the Buddha, as well as 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 Irwon lies in wisdom (prajñā), fostering concentration (samādhi) and using virtue (śīla), upon enlightenment to the Buddha-nature continuous in daily life.

The Fourfold Grace[edit]

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.

  1. The Grace of Heaven and Earth, which is requited by harboring no thought after rendering beneficence, and no attachment to joy, anger, sorrow or happiness;
  2. The Grace of Parents which is requited by protecting the helpless;
  3. The Grace of Fellow Beings, which is requited by learning to benefit oneself by benefiting others;
  4. The Grace of Laws, which is requited by doing justice and forsaking injustice.

The Four Essentials[edit]

  1. Developing Self-Power;
  2. Primacy of the Wise;
  3. Educating others' children;
  4. Venerating the public spirited;

The Threefold Study[edit]

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.

The Eight Articles[edit]

The Four Articles to Develop
The Four Articles to Forsake


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 to save sentient beings and cure the world of moral ills, Sot'aesan began his religious mission. He opened 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. He 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 (Wŏn Buddhism) and published the new canon, Wŏnbulgyo kyojŏn (The Scriptures of Won Buddhism), in 1962.

Scriptures and writings[edit]

Scriptures includes The Principle Book of Won-Buddhism (Wonbulgyo chongjon) and The Discourse of the Great Master Dharma Words (Daejonggyeong).[2][3]

Connection to other Eastern philosophies[edit]

In addition to combining Buddhist schools, it can also be considered an amalgamation of Confucianism, Daoism and Buddhism.[4]

Translations of the name[edit]

The term "Won" comes from its Korean name Korean wŏn (circle) and pulgyo (Buddhism), literally meaning "Round Buddhism," or "Consummate Buddhism." By "consummate" Won Buddhist mean that they incorporate several different schools of Buddhist thought into their doctrine. That is, where some schools focus only on practicing Zen mediation (samadhi), some schools devoted themselves fully to studying scriptures (prajna), and still others practice only the their school's precepts (sila), Won Buddhism believes in incorporating all three into daily practice.


  1. ^ Pye, Michael. "Won Buddhism as a Korean New Religion". Numen 49 (2): 113–141. JSTOR 3270479. 
  2. ^ Truth & Grace of Won Buddhism
  3. ^ The Principle Book of Won-Buddhism
  4. ^ Sorensen, Henrik Hjort (1992). Ole Bruun, Arne Kalland, Henrik Hjort Sorensen, ed. Asian perceptions of nature. Nordic Institute of Asian Studies. ISBN 978-87-87062-12-1. 

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