go back

Buddha statues in Korea

By Devik Balami at
Korea Yeongcheon Sudosa Standing Buddha Statue

Despite of the fact that Christianity is taking control of the South Korean peninsula, one can find various beautiful and majestic remnants of Korea’s linkage and attachment to Buddhism. Introduced in the 4th Century CE, Buddhism in Korea was introduced in the form of Mahayana Buddhism. The early Korean monks considered that the Mahayana approach were internally inconsistent. To address these inconsistencies, they introduced a new holistic approach to Buddhism. Hence, Korean Buddhism is regarded as a distinguished Buddhist culture with a distinct Buddhist culture called Tongbulgyo or interpenetrated Buddhism. This form sought to harmonize all the disputes and has helped refined the Buddhist philosophers’ ideas into a distinct form.

The monks sent from China first imported the Buddha statues in Korea. Though the statues are influenced by the Indian style of Buddha statues, a distinctive Korean style was formed in the later years. Korean Buddha statues generally depict Buddha as having Korean facial characteristics and were made with native casting and carving techniques. This distinction in the ideas of Buddhism has not made Buddhist arts from Korea to be different from the Buddhist arts from other nations. Though there are some distinct features in the Buddha statues from Korea, many similarities can be seen in the Korean Buddha statues, especially antique Buddha statues. This can be fondly seen in the famous Buddha statues in Korea.

One of the most famous Buddha statues from Korea is the Bangasayusang, a bronze Buddha statue. This Buddha statue is believed to be of the Maitreya, the future Buddha. It is commonly referred to as the Contemplative Bodhisattva and is widely acknowledged as one of the finest Buddhist sculpture of Korean art. Housed in the National Museum of Korean, this antique Buddha statue is believed to have originated in the early 7th century from Silla, while some studies do point the place of the origin to be Baekje. This statue is sometimes compared to Rodin’s “The Thinker” as Maitreya is depicted to have his elbow resting on the leg. This Buddha statue has garnered fame over time and is considered very interesting as it is sitting in an unusual pose.

Alongside the Bangasayusang, the other Buddha statues from Korea are seen to have typical seating posture where the Buddha is depicted to be sitting cross-legged. These statues are made of cast iron. Many of these statues were constructed in the 9th century, hence making them another antique Buddha statues. The details of the statue include the folds of drapes with one shoulder exposed. These kinds of Buddha statues are fleshy and are rounder, which is a typical feature of Korean Buddha statues.

The other posture of Buddha in the Korea is the standing Buddha posture. Many of these kind of Buddhas were made in 8th century. Some of them are now housed in the Gyeongju National Museum. With serene and placid facial expressions, one might also notice the long, sagging ears in these statues, which is also another typical feature of the antique Buddha statues from Korea. Some of the Buddhas were made of gold. Additionally, the standing Buddhas from Korea are seen to be depicted the Abhaya Mudra, with one hand raised with the palm facing outward. It turns out, Abhaya Mudra is very common among all the Mudras of the Buddha statues.

The sizes, positions and gestures of the Buddha statues at any Buddhist temple in Korea depend on a number of factors. They depend upon the influence of the historical periods, sects and other reasons when they were constructed. The most common Buddhas found in Korea are Shakyamuni (he historical Buddha), Vairochana (the cosmic Buddha), Amitabha (the Buddha of light and western paradise), Maitreya (the future Budha) and Bhaisagyaguru (the Medicine Buddha).

Some of the Korean Buddha statues were also carved from rock and plaed within the natural environment. The best example of this is the Buddha statue in Daegy. Famously known as “stone hat” in Korea, the statue has a flat rock atop the Buddha’s head. This antique Buddha statue is located and carved from the Palgong Mountains.