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Dae-jong Gyo
National Religion of Korea

1. Brief History of Dae-jong Gyo

Dae-jong Gyo(大倧敎; God-Humanism), Korea's native and traditional religion, is a religion of God-man or a religion of God-Human Being. It originated more than 4,000 years ago with Dan-gun, who is the Father, Teacher and King of the Korean people, under the principle of "The greatest service for the benefit of humanity."

The object of worship in this religion is Haneol or heavenly God, the one and only being in the universe, and as the religion leads a man to worship Him and to follow His principle and way, it is also called the religion of the Way of God. The word 'Haneol' in Korean can be translated as 'theos', 'deus', Gott', or 'God' in ancient and modern western languages, but its implication is quite different from the connotion of such western words. Semantically, Haneol(Heavenly God) connotes three Gods: God-Father as the creator of the universe, God-Teacher as the mentor of universal nature and God-King as ruler of creation.

Thus the word actually means three Gods at one and the same time Father who creates, Teacher who teaches and King who rules. As such, the object of worship and cognition in Dae-jong Gyo is Haneol, the God of three Gods, therefore this religion is fundamentally different from Lao-tzu's Taoism, from Buddhism and also from Confucianism, for Taoism has to do with universal creation mainly, Buddhism with universal teaching and Confucianism with order in human society. Our Dae-jong-Gyo is thus a synthesis of these three asian religions and makes the combined essence of the three its object of worship and epistemology. A great scholar of the Silla Dynasty Choe Chi-weon(857-? A.D.), naturally wrote that Dangunism(Dae-jong-Gyo), a religious teaching indigenous to Korea, embraces the essential teachings of Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism.

The basic tenets of faith for Dae-jong-Gyo followers are to worship Haneol, respect their ancestors and love their fellow men. In ancient times, especially up until the days of the unification of the three kingdoms in the seven century by Silla, Dae-jong-Gyo had a strong influence on the life and history of the Korean people and flourished on the form of the Hwarang(花郞), but as Buddhism spread throughout the country, The native religion came to wither year by rear and by the 15th century, when Confucianism reached the apex of its florescence due to the support of the Yi dynasty, it finally languished in almost complete neglect. Thus under the strong influence of Buddhism and Confucianism Dae-jong-Gyo was not officially recognized by the state for most of Korean history.

However, it could deeply penetrate into the life of the masses as a popular faith and thus affected their everyday life to a great extent.

Then, following the annexation of Korea by Imperial Japan in 1910, this religion peculiar to the Korean people found its way into movements for national independence and was accepted by many nationalists both within and outside the country. According to statistics compiled by the ministry of Education early this year, the number of Dae-jong-Gyo followers totals around 400,000 throughout the southern part of the country. It is said that there were about 1,000,000 Dae-jong-Gyo believers in southern Manchuria alone when Japan lost the war in 1945.

 

2. Dan-gun, the Founder of Dae-jong-Gyo

As mentioned at the beginning, the founder of Dae-jong-Gyo was 'Dan-gun Hanbae-geom', the Father, Teacher and King of the Korean people. His formal name is 'Dan-gun Hanbae-geom', and 'Dan' in old Korean implies bright land, 'Gun' means god and king, and 'Hanbae-geum', God-Human-king has a number of meanings such as king of heaven, the first king, the highest king and the greatest king.

Therefore, the word 'Dan-gun Hanbae-geom' implies the first, greatest and highest king among the kings of the bright land, whose status is almost like that of the king of heaven. As the ancestors of the Korean people in ancient times revered, worshiped and believed in the God of Heaven, they took their first king Dan-gun to be the king of the God-Human being and called him HanBae-Geom, which means the king of divinity, and also considered their land to be as bright as heaven, thereby calling their country 'Han Nara(Han Guk)' or Bagdal Nara(Baedal Guk)', which means the bright or heavenly land.

In Sam-Il-Sin-Go(The Discourse of the god of Three gods), the Dae-jong-Gyo bible, and in other Korean histories Dan-gun is referred to as the son of god conceived of the god of heaven and born of the god of earth, and therefore it is concluded that it is only natural that he is imbued with the virtue, the intellect and the power of God so as to be in every inch the Son of God. Being a heavenly man, he is believed to have descended on Mt.Hanbalg, the brightest and highest mountain in East Asia(presumably the Mt.Baegdu of north Korea today), so the people chose him as their first king and he, on the other hand, founded a country and ruled its people according to the principle of "The greatest Service for the benefit of humanity", the idea of service to man. He also taught the people his belief. Thus, he is considered the God-Human Being.

Since the advent of their history, the Korean people have taken Dan-gun to be the king of the God-Human Being. His divinity as king of the God-Human Being connotes the trinity―the God-Father, the God-Teacher and the God-King of the universe―and thus unitarian God, while his humanity implies the trinity of the three-fold essence in human relations―father, teacher and king - and thus the supreme man, so he is called Hanbae-Geum or the God-Human Being-King. As a result, Haneol, the divinity of Dan-gun, means the trinity of three gods, and Hanbae-Geom, the humanity of Dan-gun, means the trinity of the three-fold essence in human relations. Naturally, the ancient Korean people faithfully followed the teachings of Dan-gun and worshiped him and Haneol from the teachings of Dan-gun and worshiped him and Haneol from the bottom of their hearts. Thus, another ideal of Dae-jong-Gyo is to have every person learn and follow the teachings of Dan-gun in order to finally become a god man like Dan-gun, who is, in a sense, an immortal wizard.

According to our ancient writings, Dan-gun was born on the third day of the 10th month in the year 2457 B.C. and from that day he traveled th country teaching the people of god, of the way and of the rule of human relations until the same day of the same month in the year 2333 B.C., 125 year after his birth, when he first founded the country. Our ancestors regarded October the first among all the months and designated 3.Oct. 'World-Opening Day'. The ritual of worshiping heaven and our ancestors with preparation of various offerings has been performed in this month for thousands of years in Korea. The practice is observed by people in the rural areas of Korea to this day, and the Republic of Korea, after her liberation in 1945, adopted the calender of the Dangi era, which started from the year of national foundation by Dan-gun in B.C.2333 and its use continued until last year when the military government adopted the use of the Gregorian calendar. It is also quite natural that the people of the Republic of Korea now officially observe Oct.3, as a national holiday in commemoration of the founding of the country by Dan-gun.

After founding the country Dan-gun Hanbae-geom ruled five tribes, the Hoang, Balg, Hyeon, Jegg and Nam, taught them five teachings, the nature of the universe, the unitarian god(Haneol), the universe, the world and truth, and took responsible for five human affairs, food, order, disease, punishment and morality, thereby peacefully leading the entire country. Then on March 15, 2240 B.C., after 93 years of wise rule, he ascended to heaven from the top of Mt.Hanbalg(=Baegdu), bequeathing his throne to his first son Buru.

 

3. The Nature and Substance of Haneol

Concerning the nature and substance of Haneol, the supreme and unitarian object of worship in Dae-jong-Gyo, Sam-Il-Sin-Go, the bible of this native Korean religion says: "Haneol stands foremost and highest beyond which there is nothing higher, has the greatest virtue, the greatest intellect and greatest power, gives birth to the universe, commands all, creates all without omitting even the dust and is so bright and so mysterious that no one dare pronounce his name. If you pray to him with voice and heart, he will immediately disappear from your heart, therefore seek him in the sincerity of your heart, then he will appear in your mind."

That Haneol stands foremost and highest does not connote any concept of time and space but implies the absolute beginning from which all time and all space began to exist. A book entitled Sil-Ri-Dae-Jeon(The Reason of God) tell: "Haneol knows no higher place in the universe than himself, has no beginning but himself in all creation and precedes nobody but himself in the material world." This means that Haneol is the mother of all reason, of all men and of all creation, thereby giving birth to all that is in the universe. Furthermore, He is the brightest of the bright, thus he is called Hanbalg(the brightest being), besides his vastest and highest quality, and he is the most mysterious and spiritual of all that is mysterious and spiritual. Situated at the pinnacle, Haneol is the greatest of all reason and of all matter, is brighter, even than the world of the sun and more mysterious and spiritual than the heaven. His virtue is all embracing, his intellect the brightest and his power the most mysterious and most wonderful, so that these are called the three greatness of Haneol, and the nature of Haneol, also. From them accrued benevolence, intelligence and bravery, the three great achievements of Haneol's three-fold greatness. Another biblical book, the Hoe-Sam-Gyeong(會三經; The Book of Three Meetings) refers to these three achievements as follows: "The virtue bears benevolence, the intellect brings forth knowledge and the power yields bravery." Hence, Haneol, his virtue bearing benevolence, his intellect bringing forth intelligence(knowledge) and his power yielding bravery, is believed omni-benevolent, omniscient and omnipotent. This biblical work further says: "Being the supreme master of all creation, Haneol is equipped with the highest virtue, the brightest intellect and the greatest power, and he creates the universe although he himself is figureless, teaches human being although he himself is wordless, and rules the world although he himself is deedless."

With his great virtue, intellect and power, Haneol creates, teaches and rules all things in order for them to have existence, substance and movement, although he himself has no figure, no word and no deed. In other words, because of his creation with the greatest virtue the existence of nature is brought into being, because of his teaching with the brightest intellect the substance of nature is called into cognition and because of his ruling with the most vigorous power the movement of nature is put into order.

Therefore, it can be said that through Haneol's figureless figure, which is the true figure, the universe is created and exists, through Haneol's wordless word, which is the true word, the universe is taught and substantiated and through Haneol's deedless deed, which is the true deed, the universe is formed and established.

Haneol has the greatest virtue and is all-benevolent, as mentioned above, and he has the absolute freedom to give all things existence. Should his freedom in creating the universe be restricted, even in the least, the work of his creation would be restrained in so far as he lacks freedom, and as the result, he could not make all the being He actually does. Therefore, in haneol who is the father of all creation, the idea of restricted freedom can have no meaning at all, and so his freedom cannot but be absolute freedom-the one and only freedom in the universe. Haneol also has the brightest intellect and is all-wise, as discussed above, and with all-truth teaches all things. Should his truth in teaching the human being be false, even to the slightest degree, the contents of his teaching would prove truthless in so far as he lies and is in error, and consequently he could not teach man as he actually does. Therefore, in Haneol, who is the teacher of all creation, the concept of lie and falsehood can signify nothing at all, and so his truth cannot be but absolute truth-the one and only truth in the universe. And finally, Haneol has the greatest power and is bravery itself, as seen in the above, and with all-justice rules all things in perfect order. Should his justice in ruling the world be unjust and unfair, even in the narrowest sense, his rule would be corrupt as he acts unjustly of unfairly, and naturally he could not so rule the world as he actually does. Therefore, in Haneuol, who is king of all creation, the idea of anything that is not absolutely just and fair cannot have any meaning at all, and so his justice cannot be but absolute justice-the one and only justice in the universe.

So, Haneol has three greatnesses-virtue, intellect and power-from them emanate the three achievements-benevolence, intelligence and bravery-and the three principles-freedom, truth and justice. Thus, Haneol creates all things by His virtue and freedom, teaches all things by his intellect and truth and rules all things by his power and justice. As such, the fact that Haneol creates, teaches and rules all is the absolute inevitability resulting as it does from his absolute freedom, absolute truth and absolute justice, the three principles. However, although th three are essential principles in the realm of Haneol himself, they become the absolute ideas that restrains the realistic in the natural world and in human society. The creating and ruling of the universe, including the natural world and human society, by Haneol are the absolute inevitability for Haneol himself, and this inevitavility becomes what must be for the natural world and becomes what should be for human society, respectively. In other words, what is absolute in the universe is Haneol alone while what must be is the natural world and what ought to be is human society, and so the way of the natural world follows the way of Haneol and the way of human society goes his way.

As mentioned above, imbued with the greatest virtue, the brightest intellect and the strongest power, Haneol, placed at the foremost and the highest because of his being all-benevolent, all-intelligent and all-brave, he makes, teaches and rules all creation according to his principles of freedom, truth and justice, Concerning this nature of Haneol, a book entitled 'Sil-Li-Dae-Jeon(The Reason of God)' quoted earlier in this essay says: "Haneol is the trinity of three gods; Han-im(God-Father) in the position to create all things, Han-ung(God-Teacher) as teacher of all beings and Han-geom(God-King) with the rank of ruler of all beings. In the universe Haneol has nothing higher than he himself, in all creation Haneol knows nothing prior to himself.

Divided, he becomes three, and united, he becomes one, so his position can be determined by three and one simultaneously."

Thus, as the Supreme Master and the Prime Subject of the universe, Haneol acts by his virtue, intellect and power in three different directions, the virtue in creating nature, the intellect in teaching man and the power in ruling the world. Haneol is thus God-Father in respect to his part as the subject of creation, God-Teacher in relation to his part as the subject of teaching and God-King with regard to his part as the subject of ruling. Because Haneol acts upon his three greatnesses in three different directions, his position is automatically divided into three and He Himself becomes the supreme master and core of the three, God-Father, God-Teacher and God-King, which have been long called the three-and-one God. Therefore, these aspects can be no more than three determinations or the three vocations of Haneol, the only and one god of the universe.

'Sil-li-Dae-Jeon' describes the relationship between Haneol and the three gods, His three determinations, as follows: "Without the three the one becomes useless and without the one the three become formless, so the one is the body of the three and the three are the instruments of the one." Hence, the oneness of Haneol is divided into or determined by the three and the position of Haneol as the prime subject of the universe is necessarily divided into or determined by the three, each being the core of its own function respectively. Therefore, the position of Haneol is always the one of three, that is, the trinity position while Haneol himself is the God of three gods, that is three-fold God.

From the epistemological standpoint, Haneol is simply the sole God only in himself(in his intrinsic subjectivity) whereas He becomes concretely three gods-the God-Father, the God-Teacher and the God-King-for himself(in his extrinsic objectivity), especially in relation to all things other than himself. Thus, Haneol becomes three gods and they in turn become the one and only God. The concept of this three-one logic applies not to Haneol alone but also to man.

Now, let me adapt this logic to man by taking an example.

A man who is simultaneously a father, a teacher and a king is in the position of creator of his children, also in another position of teacher to his students and in still another position of ruler to his people. Therefore, a man can be a father, a teacher and a king at one and the same time when he has a variety of function in human society, but in nature and substance he is but himself, one man, forever and ever. He cannot be three different men even for a moment. As a man, when he is viewed in relation to his children, students and people, there emerge three different beings-a father, a teacher and a king. So is it with Haneol, the only god in himself, when recognized for himself in connection with the universe objective to himself.

So, the God-Father, the God-Teacher and the God-King are three gods in respect to the objective universe while father, teacher and king are three essences with regard to human relations. "The significance of the three gods in the universe and of the three essences in human society is one and the same," so says 'Sil-Li-Dae-Jeon'

 

4. The Three-God Belief in Korean Life and History

Since Haneol is divided into the three gods, namely, God-Father, God-Teacher and God-King. Haneol is precisely three gods and they in turn are Haneol himself. Belief in Haneol and in the three gods to the Korean people mean the one and the same religion.

Belief in Haneol and the idea of the three-god religion, therefore, had great influence on the political system of Korea or on "the land of brightness" from ancient times.

Dan-gun, as the son of Hanoul, ruled the country, enjoying the status of the sole god-human being. In the following era, there were three rulers in the country, the Great King of Jin, the first King of Ma. Then in the Silla era(57 B.C.-935 A.D.), the first king was Hyeog-geo-se, whose name in the Silla language meant the 'first and brightest king.' He was actually the father who founded the kingdom. The second king was Namhae Cha-cha-ung, Cha-cha-ung meaning a diviner(teacher), and the third king was Yure-ni-sa-geom, Nisa-geom meaning an heir-king. Viewed from the point of three-god philosophy, we can infer that the first three kings of the Silla dynasty represented the positions of God-Father, God-Teacher and God-King and also symbolized them. The ancestors of the Korean people thought of their country as the representative land of Heaven, the land imitating Heaven, and called it Baedal Nara(the country of bright land) or Han Nara(the heavenly-bright country) and also called their first king son of Haneol and the God-man. Thus, in Heaven Haneol is the three-fold god, at the beginning of Baedal nara(Korea) Dan-gun was the symbol of this trinity, in the following era of the country three kings were the representatives of this trinity and in the Silla era the first three kings were the incarnation of this trinity.

In order go have the people believe in and worship Haneol, Dan-gun established the ritual for offering prayer to Haneol and made the people strictly observe it. The ritual is to think Haneol for what he, as the creator of all things, gave to the world. This practice deeply penetrated the life of the Korean people, regardless of noble and commoner and through the ages of Buddhist and Confucian dominance, and is still reflected in many aspects of Korean life today.

The belief that the three-fold god gives birth to man is common to the modern Korean as well as to the ancient Korean.

There is an ancient story concerning the island of Jeju off the southern coast of mainland Korea that the three Sons of God, Yang-Eul-na, Go-Eul-na and Bu-Eul-na, descended from Heaven to the island where no living creature lived to first bear men and women and to first found a country. Up to today the place where, it is told, the three gods descended has been protected as a holy place by the three islanders.

According to a custom of the Korean people today, when a baby is born, a table for the three-fold god is usually prepared, with three bowls of boiled rice and soup, to thank God for his having given life to a child.

The three-fold god not only gives life to man but also protects him. The custom of letting a child, which is not developed enough to act and to protect itself, carry a pouch called "the bag of the three-fold god," is still observed by many Koreans today, can be understood as indicating the quality of the three-fold god to protect man. Besides, the three-fold god is believed by the Korean people to guide man to Heaven when he dies.

Indeed, when a man dies in Korea today, his bereaved family prepares three small straw bags to be filled with rice and three pairs of straw shoes for the three-fold god and put them in the room where the baby is laid out. The night is called the "guide's night" and the guide means the three-fold god who leads the dead to Heaven.

Before concluding, let me add one thing. Ancient Chinese people thought there must be some god-human beings or wizards among the Korean people who believed in and worshipped the three-fold god. They also thought that there must be god-mountains, herbs and medicines of immortality in Korea and made it their greatest hope to visit Korea in order to take such medicine and to meet an immortal man. According to "Shih-chi," the oldest book on Chinese history, such a trend among the Chinese people began during the Yen and Chi eras and reached its peak during the Chin and Han eras.

Shih Huang Ti(240-216 B.C.), the first emperor of Chin China, after completing the construction of the Great Wall along the northern boundaries of his empire to protect the country from the 'Huns', probably meaning the Korean people, sent thousands of his people to Korea for the medicine of immortality and Emperor Wu(159-87 B.C.) of China also sent for the Korean herb of immortality, probably ginseng which was then believed to be the elixir of life by Chinese physicians.