[KS] Name used for "god" in Korean language

gkl1 at columbia.edu gkl1 at columbia.edu
Tue Jul 29 09:40:28 EDT 2008

     Having some quibbles with a few points made in the "Korean name for
God" discussion, I was just about to go searching for an earlier
posting I had made on a similar thread several years ago when I found
that Brother Anthony had already done it for me in his own posting:


     Two points from Don Baker's posting need some discussion.

(1) The first is his thought that one can speak of Buddha as "God".
I'm not an expert on Buddhism by a long way, but I don't think there
is any ground for considering the historical Buddha as (for Buddhists)
"God", in the sense of a
monotheistic transcendent deity. He is the preeminent example of a
human being who achieved enlightenment. As Brother Anthony says,
"there are plenty of deities in Buddhism," but they are not
transcendent beings or, by their very plurality, monotheistic.

(2) Don states: "When Protestant missionaries arrived, they created a
new term, Hananim (the One), with some preferring the alternative
Haneunim (Heaven), which they incorrectly believed had been a popular
term of the Supreme Being before the arrival of Christianity." He  
seems to consider these as two separate terms, each with its own  
etymology. But the fact is that both of these separate forms-- hana-  
and haneu- (using Don's Romanization to avoid confusion) come from the  
same Late Middle Korean root, where the different Modern Korean vowels  
a and eu are spelled with the same letter, the so-called "arae a",  
which from around the beginning of the 18th century was becoming  
unstable. In our time it no longer exists. The "arae a"
usally became a "regular a" in the first syllable. In the second  
syllable it became "eu". However the word for "heaven" is somewhat  
irregular that it survived in the 19th century in two forms-- haneul  
and hanal. The first one became the modern standard form, the second  
is now obsolete. The correct etymology for both "hananim" and  
"haneunim" is "Lord of Heaven." This term happens to coincide  
semantically with the word Cheonju, used by the Catholics in East Asia  
since the late 16th century, and known in Korea from at least 1620.
"Cheonju" also means "Lord of Heaven". The presumption is that  
sometime around 1880 or so, Koreans created a vernacular version of  
this name, which, because of the Late Middle/Early Modern Korean  
transition came out in two forms. For further details, consult the  
link to the 2003 discussion. Also treated there are the other modern  
forms hanullim and haneollim, which require more complicated treatment.

     One aspect in which my earlier 2003 posting needs updating is in  
its statement that these terms were not found in Korean writings  
before the early 1880s. In the course of the 2003 discussion, it was  
pointed out that the classical kasa poet Pak Illo (pen name Nogye,  
1561-1642) used the form
"Han[x]nim" (where [x] equals the now obsolete hangeul letter "arae
a"), in a kasa. Unfortunately, Pak's poetic works were not printed  
until 1800. But that edition has proven very difficult to find; it is  
certainly not available in the U.S. His descendants put out what they  
termed a reprint of it in 1904, but that comes well after the  
otherwise first known appearance of hananim/haneunim in the early  
1880s. It was the consensus backin 2003 that his
usage of Hananim/Haneunim made more sense in his poetic context as a
personification of Heaven than as a reference to a transcendent  
monotheistic deity. But this particular issue needs more serious study  
by scholars of Choseon dynasty poetry.

Gari Ledyard

Quoting Brother Anthony <ansonjae at sogang.ac.kr>:
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> Well, it all depends on what you mean by 'god' of course, (hanunim,   
>   hananim, hanullim, and various compounds with 's(h)in' leap to   
> mind)   and it would be hard to find a Buddhist text that refers to   
> 'God'   even if there are lots of deities around. It is hard to see   
> the   focus of your questions. The best initial response was given   
> in this   list by Gari Keith Ledyard in 2003, I suggest that you   
> start by   reading it:
> http://koreaweb.ws/pipermail/koreanstudies_koreaweb.ws/2003-December/004016.html
>  and to complement that, perhaps the Wikipedia article on     
> Korean mythology might be most helpful as a starting point
> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Korean_mythology
>  though it might still leave you wondering what word the North   
>   Korean was using (but remember that Protestantism was very  
> powerful    in parts of North Korea including Pyongyang prior to  
> 1945).
> Brother Anthony
> Sogang University, Seoul
> http://hompi.sogang.ac.kr/anthony/

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