Buddhism arrived on the Korean peninsula around the 4th century AD. It soon became a part of Korea’s national identity fusing with it strong overtones of shamanism and folkism. Buddhism grew quickly in a country that was without a national religion being spread by foot and on horse by many of Korea’s most famous and revered monks of that period. As Buddhism developed in China and became the Mahayana sect and then Zen (Seon in Korean) so too did Korea follow the ways of its larger neighbor.
Buddhism in Korea became one of the major influences of its early United Silla Dynasty (636-and 935AD). During this reign Korea began a period of huge cultural development under Buddhism and most of its major Buddhist temples and works of Art were created during this period. The latter Goryeo Dynasty (935 – 1392AD) continued with this legacy of impressive Buddhist Arts and Culture with a steady export of these customs to mainland Japan. In 1392 the Confucian rebellion of the Joseon Dynasty took over, and Buddhism having supposedly played a part in the corruption of the failing Goryeo Dynasty was pushed out of Korean society and into the mountains where it survived for the next 600 years. During this transition period of mountain survival, Korean Buddhism was able to practice an ascetic life of self sustenance and deep introspective meditation. There it lived with Korea’s mountain San-shin and other indigenous deities embedding in it a respect and spiritual fusion with mountain energy. Most of Korea’s major temples and especially all of its small hermitages and shaman temples can be found high in the mountains of Korea.
These days Korean Buddhism is its own fused version of Mahayana Buddhism that enshrines the customs of many of Korea’s traditional deities and customs. It is enjoyed by over 25% of the Korean population. At least 5000 temples and hermitages exist in the mountains of Korea, and a lot of the work that Hike Korea does involves staying in and visiting Buddhist temples.