Thursday, June 5, 2008

Hanguel Buddha?

I'm not on a Korean bash fest but it just happened that I had the Korean papers to read and a couple of things struck me as odd.

This one has always intrigued me. I remember my history lessons that taught me that Korea and Japan originally started out from Chinese migratory developments. And so it was a bit of a shock to read in some Korean research papers, years later, that they considered themselves the original country from which the Chinese and Japanese ancestry evolved.

Of course, this was explained to me, by some more learned friends, that this was mainly from North Korean propaganda but the statement and argument has persisted throughout the decades.

So, it was with much interest I read that a report from Korea Daily, based on a research paper from Sunkyunkwan University in South Korea, alleged that Buddha was Korean.

Suddenly I had visions of one of the characters in Goodness Gracious Me tying a turban around a bust of Shakespeare and declaring the latter Indian.

The historians in Sunkyunkwan Uni claim that during 700 BC, Koreans living in the southern part of the Korean peninsular ventured across the oceans. Some reached Japan and formed the roots of some of Japan's culture. Other continued their journey such that around 650 BC, they reached the Straits of Malacca, onwards to Bangladesh and then Sakyamuni was born!

Now, the Korean historians are refuting that Sakyumuni was Aryan and an Indian prince. Their proof? His daily activities, which they claimed were very "east asian". They also correlated some of the words from the Buddhist scriptures to Korean, claiming that the former are "transforms" from Korean.

A book of this research is expected to be published at the end of the year. I would be highly curious to read this.


OK, let's take it one at a time. Of course, this is based on my limited knowledge and lack of time to do any conclusive research of my own. So top of head observations are:

Them early Koreans had a worse sense of direction than I do. They went from Korea to Japan. OK, that's not that bad a journey. Then went all the way down to the Straits of Malacca. And then circled back up to go to Bangladesh! Did they do this via land or sea because if it was by sea, that was monumentally daft. If by land, that was superlatively daft.

Also, how did they build the boats? If I remember correctly, iron and metallurgy were not developed till about 500 BC in Korea. And I think ships were not developed till after 100 BC. If they swam, I am surprised the Koreans have not won all the swimming events at every Olympics.

Second, Buddha was Aryan. He was born an Indian prince who gave it all up to find the "truth". It is in most religious scriptures from Buddhists to Sikh. His daily activities? What? That he ate little and only vegetables, fruits and milk products? So did a lot of people globally then. He slept. Koreans did that too. He ate. Wow, so did the Koreans. He went to the loo. By God, so did the Koreans! That's it! He's Korean! Ah, I see ...

And let's look at Buddhanet which states that Buddhism took root in Korea after some Chinese monk went on a conversion spree at around the second half of the AD fourth century. Buddhism was introduced during the Three Kingdom period which ran from around 57 BC to around 668.

Let's see, Buddhism started in China in the first century BC through trade with the Central Asians.

The Central Asians learnt about Buddhism from the Indians in third century BC. 

My maths suck so I cannot understand the Koreans's new maths here. 

The last supporting evidence are the words in the Buddhist scriptures deriving from Korean. Alright, from my understanding when I had to study a little of both Korean and Japanese, the origins of both came from China. Which is why I find kanji rather easy. 

However, I remember my Korean instructor telling me that Korean is not only borrowed from Chinese but a ridiculously large percentage of it is also borrowed from other languages. One of which is Sanskrit. The language in which most Buddhist scriptures are written.

Still, stranger things have happened. I bet when Galileo first announced the world was round, loads of people gasped and choked before they decided they were gonna hang him.

I would be highly interested in reading the findings but at the moment, based on the report in Korea Daily, I am finding it highly amusing.

I hope the reporter does a better job in his follow-up.