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HOME > Hamel Pavilion > Hamel's view of Joseon > Religion of Joseon

Hamel was a Protestant Christian. Probably because of curiosity, he paid great attention about pagan's religion. He made full description of Joseon's religious practices. For sure he favors Buddhism because when staying in Jeolla-do, he and his mates enjoyed visiting temples and Buddhist monks who eagerly wanted to hear of their adventures even without sleep.

Hamel and his mates view Confucianism as a kind of idolatry.

Although people believe in paganism, worshipping several idols, probably referring to a superstitious belief such as Seonghwangdang (the altar for tutelary deity), they respect the authority more.

High officials and Yangban(the nobility) are full of conceit, ignoring idols completely, that they rather dominate idols.

Common people and farmers worship before idols every national day or memorial service. They burn incense which is one of the offerings inside the small pot in front of the idol. They bow once and leave.

They believe that while those who are doing good are blessed in this world, those doing evil are punished. They do not know preaching or catechism and do not force others to believe their belief.

Since everybody has belief and idolatry is widespread all over the nation, there is no need to discuss religion.

On the other hand, Hamel made extensive explaining about Buddhism and the apparent corrupt practices of those who profess the religion.

Buddhist monks offer food to and worship the image of Buddha twice a day. Many people visit temples every festival day (the Buddha's Birthday) and Buddhist monks strike a gong and a drum or play other musical instruments.

There are a number of temples in Joseon. Most of them are situated in beautiful places and controlled by competent authorities. Some temples have 500~600 Buddhist monks and others have 3,000~4,000. About 10~30 monks stay in one quarter.

Each quarter is under the command of the oldest/chief monk. If a Buddhist monk makes a mistake, the chief monk punishes him by flogging (striking the buttocks 20~30 times). If he commits a severe crime, he is handed over to the local governor.

Anyone can become a Buddhist monk and he can easily quit if it does not suits him. Thus, Buddhist monks are so plenty that theydo not enjoy public esteem and regard.

Buddhist monks are forbidden to eat living things or meat products. They shave their head and cannot talk with women. If one violates the rule, he is given 70~80 lashes to buttocks and gets expelled from the temple.

Any Buddhist monk entering a temple shaves their head. A band is tied on one of his arms that serve as an identification. Buddhist monks normally make their living by labor, business, or mendicancy.

Buddhist monks are always enthusiastic for teaching boys reading and writing. If one of them shave his head, he becomes a boy monk serving his teacher monk.

Some Buddhist monks can get married but their way of worship before the image of Buddha or food rules remains the same as that of other Buddhist monks.

Temples are built by rich high officials or common believers.

Yangban(the nobility) often visit temples with Giseang or family to have fun because temples are situated in beautiful mountains or forest with fine view. Although a temple is considered a good architecture, it may fairly be said that it also serves as a den of prostitutes or an inn.

When staying in Seoul, we saw two temples where Buddhist nuns resided, one was for noble families and the other was for common families.

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