By Shyamal Sinha
Korean Buddhism consists mostly of the Seon lineage, primarily represented by the Jogye and Taego Orders. The Korean Seon has a strong relationship with other Mahayana traditions that bear the imprint of Chan teachings as well as the closely related Zen. Other sects, such as the modern revival of the Cheontae lineage, the Jingak Order a modern esoteric sect), and the newly formed Won, have also attracted sizable followings.
Korean Buddhism has also contributed much to East Asian Buddhism, especially to early Chinese, Japanese, and Tibetan schools of Buddhist thought..
Former Miss Korea beauty pageant winner Keum Na-na was recently awarded this year’s Buddhist prize from the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism for her commitment to enhancing the public awareness of Buddhism.
Keum received the award, alongside three other recipients, for promoting and sharing the Buddhist teachings in numerous media interviews, talks, and books, including her bestseller Na-na’s Neverending Story. The Jogye Order also awarded the prize to poet Jeong Sang-seok, badminton player Lee Yong-dae, and lawyer Ahn Dong-il.
Keum, who shot to fame in her home country when she won the Miss Korea title in 2002, has also garnered national renown for her academic achievements, which have made her a role model among the country’s youth.
Following her beauty pageant success, Keum dropped out of Kyungpook National University’s school of medicine to pursue her undergraduate studies overseas after being accepted by Harvard University in the United States, where she majored in biochemistry, graduating in 2008. After subsequently earning a master’s degree in nutritional science at Columbia University, Keum went on to graduate from the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health with a dual-doctorate in nutrition and epidemiology in 2015.
Keum has published a number of peer-reviewed research papers and is also the author of three Korean-language books: Na-na’s Neverending Story, Everyone Can Do It, and Study Diary of Na-na. She recently accepted a professorship at Dongguk University in Seoul, founded by the Jogye Order.
Among Keum’s fellow award winners this year, Jeong Sang-seok is one of most highly regarded Buddhist poets in South Korea. Having overcome physical obstacles caused by cerebral palsy, Jeong was lauded for offering hope, inspiration, and encouragement to society through his Buddhism-inspired poems.
Lee Yong-dae became one of the world’s top badminton players in the men’s and mixed doubles, winning a gold medal in the mixed doubles event at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. As a professional athlete, he was ranked world No.1 in men’s doubles for 104 consecutive weeks. The 28-year-old received the award for helping the Jogye Order raise awareness of Buddhism through his active participation in numerous Buddhist events.
The Jogye Order also acknowledged the contribution of Ahn Dong-il, who has served as the organization’s legal adviser since 1994.
The Jogye Order is a school of Seon (Zen) Buddhism and South Korea’s largest Buddhist tradition, which traces its roots back 1,200 years to the Unified Silla (also known as the Later Silla) kingdom (668–935). The Jogye school as a distinct entity emerged in the late 11th century when the monk Bojo Jinul, credited as the school’s founder, sought to combine the practices of Seon Buddhism with the theological underpinnings of sutra-based Buddhist schools, including Korean Pure Land Buddhism.