The Ten Injunctions and the East Asia Cultures
Wang Kon is remembered for founding the Koryo Dynasty in Korea, which lasted between 918 and 1392. Before his death, Kon gave a comprehensive advice to his successors. This advice was recorded, and is today documented as “The Ten Injunctions.” This document is a reflection of Kon’s desires and aspirations for the kingdom he would leave behind after his death. The desires of Kon were for his successors to maintain peace in the kingdom, to uphold benevolence and virtue in their leadership, to be guided by the Confucian teaching, and above all, to depend on the power of the Buddha for any kind of help. From this document, a non-native can easily read elements of the East Asian Culture, including the native Korean Culture. Therefore, the importance of this document does not only lie in Kon’s thoughts, but also reflects on the worldviews of the past Koryo Dynasty, and acts like a spiritual constitution for the ancient Koryo dynasty.
The introductory part of this document compares Kon to Yao and Shun, who were popular virtuous sage-kings from the history of China. These Chinese kings, Yao and Shun, highly employed principles of Confucianism in their execution of power. Therefore, by comparing them to Kon, this brings out a mix of the ancient Chinese and Korean cultures. The similarity between these ancient cultures bases on their belief and practice of Confucianism. However, it was Yao and Shun’s belief in Confucianism that influenced Kon to adopt it as an appropriate model in Korea’s leadership. In the first injunction, Kon warns his successors to honor Buddhism by depending on the power of Buddha. Practices such as meditation, in Buddhism had to be observed as Kon had even built meditational centers and doctrinal schools. This shows the role of Buddhism in the ancient Korean culture, as well as cultures of other East Asian countries. Similarly, in injunction 6, Kon makes a solemn vow to of upholding Buddhism and the indigenous religious traditions.
In the second and fifth injunctions, Kon emphasized the element of geomancy. Geomancy is a past form of divination. In geomancy, before the construction of any structures, geomancers surveyed the land to determine a point where the energies from the sky and land converged. This was the most appropriate point for the construction, as they believed this led to good fortunes. He suggested that next kings of Koryo ought to spend about four months in the Western capital of Pyongyang. Here we see assumptions about the importance of location and the placement of buildings and towns in the ancient Korean culture and in cultures of their neighboring Asian countries. They believed that these had an impact on people’s fortunes and fortunes of the country. This shows that most Asian cultures greatly uphold the relationship between human affairs and the environment.
The fourth injunction mainly reflects the policies Kon had for the relationship between his dynasty and other neighboring countries, mainly the relationship between Korea, China, and Khitan. In this injunction, it is clear that Kon emphasized the aspect of cultural relativity among in his people. He warned against the imposition of the traditions of his dynasty on other countries. Instead, he urged that his people respect the cultures of other countries and adhere to them as well, in the course of their interaction. In the seventh and ninth injunctions, Kong wants his successors to exhibit high levels of wisdom and justice. He referred to the ancient Chinese ideas and examples to justify his assumptions. This shows how native East Asian cultures, including Korea and China, upheld virtue and justice in different aspects of their society.
From these injunctions, one learns the different components of the native Korean culture as well as the cultures of the broader East Asia, through their interactions with the ancient Korea. These countries, largely share cultural values and beliefs, as depicted in their political and social interactions. Most importantly, these revere spiritualism as exhibited in their commitment to Buddhism and the Confucian practices, which they share. Nonetheless, these injunctions are relevant today as they shade light and trace the roots of the political and social organization of the present country of Korea.
Lee, Peter & Bary, Theodore. “Sources of Korean Tradition. From Early Times to Sixteenth
Century.” Vol. 1 (151-157). n.d. New York: Columbia University Press.
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