Reflections of a Zen Buddhist Nun (Korean Classics Library: Philosophy and Religion)

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9780824838782: Reflections of a Zen Buddhist Nun (Korean Classics Library: Philosophy and Religion)
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The life and work of Kim Iryŏp (1896–1971) bear witness to Korea’s encounter with modernity. A prolific writer, Iryŏp reflected on identity and existential loneliness in her poems, short stories, and autobiographical essays. As a pioneering feminist intellectual, she dedicated herself to gender issues and understanding the changing role of women in Korean society. As an influential Buddhist nun, she examined religious teachings and strove to interpret modern human existence through a religious world view. Originally published in Korea when Iryŏp was in her sixties, Reflections of a Zen Buddhist Nun (Ŏnŭ sudoin ŭi hoesang) makes available for the first time in English a rich, intimate, and unfailingly candid source of material with which to understand modern Korea, Korean women, and Korean Buddhism.

Throughout her writing, Iryŏp poses such questions as: How does one come to terms with one’s identity? What is the meaning of revolt and what are its limitations? How do we understand the different dimensions of love in the context of Buddhist teachings? What is Buddhist awakening? How do we attain it? How do we understand God and the relationship between good and evil? What is the meaning of religious practice in our time? We see through her thought and life experiences the co-existence of seemingly conflicting ideas and ideals―Christianity and Buddhism, sexual liberalism and religious celibacy, among others.

In Reflections of a Zen Buddhist Nun, Iryŏp challenges readers with her creative interpretations of Buddhist doctrine and her reflections on the meaning of Buddhist practice. In the process she offers insight into a time when the ideas and contributions of women to twentieth-century Korean society and intellectual life were just beginning to emerge from the shadows, where they had been obscured in the name of modernization and nation-building.

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About the Author:

Jin Y. Park is professor of Asian and comparative philosophy and religion and founding director of the Asian studies program at American University.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Translator’s Introduction

Kim Iryŏp, Her Life and Thought

Kim Iryŏp (1896–1971) was a writer, new woman, and Zen Buddhist nun whose life offers us a panorama of modern Korean society. Modernity as a global phenomenon has brought changes in the way people understand the world and create values. Rationality, secularism, freedom, equality, and civil society are some of modernity’s major characteristics. To understand modernity in East Asia, however, it is necessary to recognize that, along with these universal tenets, modernity brought with it a wholesale encounter with the West that transformed East Asian societies and their intellectual environments. The scale and nature of this transformation cannot be overemphasized. Kim Iryŏp’s life and writings bear witness
to the disruptive forces set loose when traditional and modern Korea collided.

There has been until recently limited scholarship on Kim Iryŏp. Early studies examine her writings in the context of the formation of modern Korean literature,1 or compare her with Higuchi Ichiyō (1872–1896), the most well-known female writer of the Meiji period (1868–1912) in Japan.2 Beginning in the late 1990s, along with the increased interest in modernity and gender in Korea, Kim Iryŏp’s activities as a new woman and her influence on the identity and life choices of women in modern Korea began to attract attention.3 Publications on modernity and gender in Korea almost always mention Kim Iryŏp, and the issues with which her name is associated are diverse, ranging from her views on the modernization of women’s clothing to female sexuality and chastity, marriage, divorce, women’s education, parenting, and the role of the journal New Women.4 The influence of Christianity on Iryŏp has also recently become a topic of research.5 Nevertheless, Kim Iryŏp as a Buddhist nun and her Buddhist writings have rarely been explored.6 On the surface Kim Iryŏp appears to have lived two distinct lives. During the 1920s she was a public figure, an exemplar of Korea’s new woman; from the mid-1930s until her death in 1971, she lived as a Buddhist nun, confining her activities primarily to the religious domain. The conclusion of some is that there was a bifurcation of Iryŏp’s life, the line of demarcation being her tonsure.7 Recent scholarship, however, has begun to see more continuity between the two periods of her life.8

Iryŏp published throughout her life. Her literary publications before she took Buddhist vows took the form of poems, short stories, and autobiographical essays in which she focused on women’s identity, the meaning of religious practice, and existential loneliness as she faced the death of family members.9 In the period when she identified herself as a new woman, she dedicated herself to gender issues, trying to understand women’s existence within a social milieu. Once she became a Buddhist and then a Buddhist nun, she fully embraced Buddhist teachings, inter-
preting human existence through a religious worldview.

Reflections of a Zen Buddhist Nun, titled in Korean Ŏnŭ sudoin ŭi hoesang (Memoir of a practitioner), was published when Iryŏp was in her sixties and is a combination of the diverse aspects of her life, a life that may properly be characterized as a space wherein traditional and modern values contend and co-exist. When she wanted to move forward, tradition held her back; when she felt disillusioned with the new values because of the limitations of society’s capacity to embrace them, traditional values offered her a new vision. In turn, Iryŏp’s religious understanding offered a new path for Buddhist tradition through her own creative interpretations. Iryŏp’s life also reflects the encounter of two major religions: Christianity and Buddhism. Through her reflections on them, Iryŏp ponders the meaning of religion and religious practice in the modern secularized world and offers a way that these two religions might understand each other.

Iryŏp addresses a variety of questions in her book: How does one come to terms with one’s identity? What is society’s role in the construction of identity? What is the meaning of rebellion and what are its limitations? What does it mean to be in love and what are its different dimensions? How do we philosophize that experience and how do we do so in the context of Buddhist teachings? What is the meaning of religion? How do we live as religious practitioners? How do we understand God and the relationship between good and evil? What and how does Buddhism teach us about all of these issues? What is the ultimate meaning of Buddhist practice? Iryŏp shares these and other concerns with her readers as she reflects on her life experiences. All of these questions coalesce for her around one issue: How to be a real human being. Her creative activities as a writer, social rebellion as a new woman, and religious practice as a Zen Buddhist nun were paths toward the single goal of how to be fully human and thus to live as an absolutely free being with unlimited capacity.

A Pastor’s Daughter Grows Up to Be a New Woman

Kim Wŏnju, as she was known before she took the pen name Iryŏp, was born in the northern part of Korea, the first child of a Christian pastor and his wife. According to her book, her father was from a learned family and her grandfather, the headmaster of a public school, was well respected by the people of his village.10 Her mother was the second wife of her father, whose first wife had died. Iryŏp’s mother was not a traditional woman by Korean standards of the time and was not interested in traditional women’s work. Iryŏp remembers that her mother wanted to educate her
daughter just as boys were educated so that Iryŏp would have the same opportunities as men and not be destined to live the life of a traditional woman.11 Her parents had an unusual zeal for the education of their first child. Bhikṣuṇī (Buddhist nun) Wŏlsong, a disciple of Kim Iryŏp who
served her during the last years of Iryŏp’s life until her death in 1971, mentioned that Iryŏp’s mother’s non-traditional concept of gender must have been a significant influence on Iryŏp’s worldview.12 However, Iryŏp rarely discusses in her own writings her relationship with her mother or her mother’s influence on her. By contrast, Iryŏp had an unusually close relationship with her father, and in several of her later works she reflects on the influence of her father’s Christian beliefs on the formation of her own thought.

Iryŏp describes her father as “the most devoted Christian” in Korea.13 Her father’s religious devotion inspired young Iryŏp to envision her future as a Christian missionary spreading the word of God.14 Iryŏp’s faith in Christianity, however, slowly declined as she went through adolescence and began questioning certain aspects of life, including some Christian doctrines. By the year 1918 she had almost completely lost her faith. Even so, she did not publically discuss her relationship to Christianity at that time or for many years thereafter. Her thoughts about Christianity appear only in her later works, and Reflections of a Zen Buddhist Nun was the first venue in which she seriously engaged with the subject. One of the reasons for her delayed reflection on Christianity seems to be her relationship with her father. It would have been difficult for her to challenge her father’s deeply held religious beliefs and his life as a Christian minister.

Iryŏp credits Christianity for her parents’ ideas about educating female children. She was allowed, after completing her education in her hometown, to move to Seoul to attend Ewha15 Hakdang (1913–1915), where she received today’s equivalent of a high school education, and continued on at Ewha Chŏnmun (1915–1918), an institution of women’s higher education. In 1918 Iryŏp married Yi Noik, a biology professor at Yŏnhui Chŏnmun (today’s Yonsei University). Iryŏp has little to say about him, but we know that she met him through the owner of the rooming house where Yi was staying at the time. Yi, who was almost forty years old when they met,16 offered Iryŏp both financial security and support for her aspirations to become a writer. In 1919 Iryŏp expressed her desire to go to Japan for further studies, which her husband also supported. During her stay in Japan from 1919 to 1920, she met Korean intellectuals in Tokyo, including Yi Kwangsu (1892–1950) and Na Hyesŏk (1896–1948). Yi Kwangsu was a well-known writer, poet, literary critic, and intellectual who left a visible mark on the history of modern Korean literature. Yi gave the pen name “Iryŏp” to Kim Wŏnju, encouraging her to become the Higuchi Ichiyō of Korea.17 The name “Iryŏp” is the Korean pronunciation of the same Chinese characters that are read as “Ichiyō” in Japanese. Na Hyesŏk is known as the first female to paint in the Western style in Korea. Na went to Japan in 1913 to study painting. In her essay “Ideal Women” (Isangjŏk puin), published in 1914, Na mentions Hiratsuka Raichō (1886–1971), a leading Japanese writer and activist of women’s issues at the time, as someone whose life and thought were close to what she considered those of an ideal woman. This indicates that Na must have been familiar with the women’s movement in Japan. This suggests as well that, in addition to Iryŏp’s own exposure to women’s movements in Japan, Na influenced Iryŏp’s ideas about the women’s movement. Iryŏp and Na would share their intellectual lives for years to come through their activities as writers and new women.

Iryŏp returned to Korea in 1920 and launched a journal titled New Women (Sinyŏja). The journal was credited as the first to be published in Korea by a woman for the promotion of women’s issues.18 During this period, Iryŏp also organized a forum called the Blue Tower Society (Ch’ŏng-t’aphoe), providing further evidence that she was aware of and influenced by the Japanese women’s journal Bluestockings (Seitō), published by the Seitōsha (Association for Bluestockings), which was run by Hiratsuka Raichō and other female intellectuals in Japan.19 New Women had a short life. Its inaugural issue was published in March 1920 and the fourth and last issue was published in June of the same year.20 Iryŏp nowhere explicitly mentions the financing of the journal, but it has been proposed that the cost of its publication was exclusively borne by her husband; the short life of the journal was therefore likely due to financial difficulties.21

The publication of New Women marked one of the turning points in Kim Iryŏp’s life because it was the first venue in which her writings became known to the public. As the journal’s editor-in-chief, Iryŏp found her own voice and began to secure her position within Korea’s intellectual circle. For about a decade following the publication of the journal, Iryŏp demonstrated her talent as a writer and proved herself a passionate public speaker on behalf of women’s issues and social change. The publication of New Women was an essential factor in the formation of the identity of the new women as a group in Korea. It has been noted that the emergence of this group was visible by 1920, but it had not developed a clear group identity until the publication of New Women.22

Closely related to the emergence of the new women is the introduction of a public education system for women in Korea. Ewha Hakdang, the first modern women’s educational institution in Korea, was established in 1886, but it took time for the idea of educating women to catch on. In Confucian Korean society, a woman’s role was limited to working in the home, and the idea of allowing a female child to receive a public education was new. Only one student enrolled at Ewha Hakdang in its first year.23 The trend gradually changed, and the number of students attending the school grew from a single individual in 1886 to 47 in 1899, and 174 within the next ten years.24 By the 1920s it was not unusual to see female students on the streets of Seoul.25 This new generation of women, with their formal, modern-style education, more often than not was awakened to gender issues and demanded changes to the traditional roles and positions of women in their society. In contrast to the traditional image of women, the new women envisioned life above and beyond traditional domestic roles. Yi Paeyong proposed the following five traits as characteristics of the new women: “first, economic independence; second, rationalization and simplification of the family system; third, rejection of male-dominated traditional thought; fourth, a call for a stronger awareness of women’s responsibilities and duties; fifth, campaigns by women’s organizations and female students for ‘old women’ so that they can become aware of various women’s issues including health and child education.”26

Despite these general commonalities, the new women were not an entirely homogeneous group, and all kinds of ideas shaped the evolving concept of the new women.27 Kim Iryŏp and Na Hyesŏk were often categorized as “liberal new women” who emphasized sexual freedom as a ground for women’s liberation.28

Iryŏp’s writings during the 1920s and early 1930s can be grouped into three types: writings on women’s issues, autobiographical essays,and religious essays. Over this ten-year period, Iryŏp’s perspective and major concerns about women’s issues changed. From 1920, when she first published in New Women, until around 1924, her approach to women’s issues was modest, focusing on education and emphasizing the importance of women’s self-awakening. In the inaugural issue of New Women, Iryŏp urged her fellow new women to be discreet in action and cautioned that any individual inappropriate displays would lead to a negative judgment of the entire group.29 Iryŏp also emphasized the importance of new women’s responsibility in bringing about changes to their society.30

In July 1924 Iryŏp published an essay entitled “Our Ideals” (Uri ŭiisang) in which she proposed three new ideals for women: 1) a new theory of chastity (sin chŏngjo ron), 2) a new individualism (sin kaein juŭi), and 3) the exercise of discretion in choosing a spouse. This is the first time Iryŏp spells out what is known as her “new theory of chastity.”

“Our Ideals” begins by declaring that if women wish to lead a new life, they should rigorously challenge traditional morality regarding female sexuality. In this context Iryŏp singles out the issue of chastity. As traditionally conceived, chastity was exclusively a woman’s virtue, a moral principle that dictated that a woman should be faithful to one man. Challenging this definition, Iryŏp claims that chastity is not a moral concept but should be understood as a measure of one’s affection for one’s lover.31 Her purpose here is twofold: She first reveals the traditional concept to be a moralistic mechanism for controlling women and, second, claims equal acknowledgment of women’s sexuality with that of men in Korean society. Iryŏp supports her point by arguing that controlling women by making their chastity into a moral principle negates their individual identity. In the 1927 essay “My View on Chastity” (Na ŭi chŏngjokwan), Iryŏp repeats this argument and reinforces her philosophical reasoning on the relationship between the new concept of chastity and the recognition of individual identity, in this case with the individual meant to include both sexes. In asserting chastit...

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Book Description University of Hawai i Press, United States, 2014. Hardback. Condition: New. New. Language: English . Brand New Book. The life and work of Kim Iry?p (1896-1971) bear witness to Korea s encounter with modernity. A prolific writer, Iry?p reflected on identity and existential loneliness in her poems, short stories, and autobiographical essays. As a pioneering feminist intellectual, she dedicated herself to gender issues and understanding the changing role of women in Korean society. As an influential Buddhist nun, she examined religious teachings and strove to interpret modern human existence through a religious world view. Originally published in Korea when Iry?p was in her sixties, Reflections of a Zen Buddhist Nun (?n? sudoin ?i hoesang) makes available for the first time in English a rich, intimate, and unfailingly candid source of material with which to understand modern Korea, Korean women, and Korean Buddhism. Throughout her writing, Iry?p poses such questions as: How does one come to terms with one s identity? What is the meaning of revolt and what are its limitations? How do we understand the different dimensions of love in the context of Buddhist teachings? What is Buddhist awakening? How do we attain it? How do we understand God and the relationship between good and evil? What is the meaning of religious practice in our time? We see through her thought and life experiences the co-existence of seemingly conflicting ideas and ideals--Christianity and Buddhism, sexual liberalism and religious celibacy, among others. In Reflections of a Zen Buddhist Nun , Iry?p challenges readers with her creative interpretations of Buddhist doctrine and her reflections on the meaning of Buddhist practice. In the process she offers insight into a time when the ideas and contributions of women to twentieth-century Korean society and intellectual life were just beginning to emerge from the shadows, where they had been obscured in the name of modernization and nation-building. Seller Inventory # AAS9780824838782

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