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

Donald Baker dbaker at interchange.ubc.ca
Wed Jul 30 10:28:21 EDT 2008

A few comments on the responses to the question about the Korean name  
for "God" in Korean.

First of all, I was glad to see Brother Anthony's post that mentions  
that there are Buddhas who appear very close to being the type of God  
seen in theistic religions.  In discussing Buddhism, we have to be  
careful to distinguish between the philosophy of most meditating monks  
(which tends to downplay theistic elements in Buddhism) versus the  
practices and beliefs of most lay Buddhists. (For more on this  
distinction, see my recent Korean Spirituality.)  I would argue that  
most lay Buddhists treat the various Buddhas (and even some of the  
Boddhisattvas) as Gods.  When you affix yeorae to a Buddha's name,  
such as Yaksayeorae, it seems to me that you are talking about a God.  
Sakyamuni is simply Sakyamuni or Bucheonim, so Sakaymuni as a teacher  
is not seen as a God. But when you talk about Vairochana, for example,  
you are talking about a God. Yet no pre-modern Korean Buddhist texts  
that I know of ever refer to any of those god-like Buddhas as hananim  
or haneunim. That suggests to me not that theism was not a part of  
Korean Buddhism but that before the arrival of Christianity Koreans  
did not think of the term haneunim or the term hananim as meaning "God."

In response to some of the other posts, I looked at the suggested  
download, "Modern History of Korean Religions. " It provides the  
standard argument that Koreans have a long history of worship of  
Hananim. However, I find no evidence in any Korean records for such a  
religious tradition. More to the point, the first Catholics in Korea  
didn't use Hananim or Haneunim in their early vernacular theological  
texts, so it would appear that they were not very familiar with that  
term. In fact, neither term shows up in the first Korean dictionary, a  
dictionary French missionaries compiled in the middle of the 19th  
century. If there was a common vernacular word for God, you would  
think they would have listed it in their dictionary.

As for Donghak, a look at early Tonghak writings shows that the  
preferred term for God was Cheonju or Sangje. When Tonghak poetry  
required three syllables, and they wanted to use a vernacular term  
rather than a Sino-Korean term, they used "Hannulim." If Hananim or  
Haneunim  were common terms for God, why didn't they use one of those  
terms instead of coining Hannulim (which was not that common in  
Tonghak writings until the 20th century)?

I might add that my dictionaries of Joseon-era language (based on 19th  
century Korean) clearly distinguish between Hana (one) from Haneul  
(for Heaven). I am out of town right now, and don't have my  
dictionaries in front of me, but, if my memory serves me right, hana  
was spelling with the arae-a in the first syllable and haneul was  
spelled with the arae-a in the second syllable. Moreover, the early  
Protestant missionary discussions on the proper term for God show that  
they distinguished between Haneunim as a vernacular translation of  
Lord of Heaven and Hananim, which most of them took to mean the One  
God and therefore different from Haneunim. In fact, this is why more  
conservative Protestants prefer Hananim to Haneunim. They consider  
Haneunim to be a reference to a god of Korea's traditional animistic  
worship of nature. Hananim, on the other hand, they believed to be a  
traditional term for the Supreme Being, who transcended nature.

As for shamans using haneunim in their rituals, I suspect that is a  
modern innovation. (I've seen a recent shaman "bible" that includes  
references to Hananim.) If Joseon dynasty officials had learned that  
shamans were worshipping heaven, they would have been even more  
antagonistic toward shamanism than they already were. As for as I  
know, the charge that they worshipped hananin or haneunim was never  
made, though they were criticized for many other reasons, including  
the criticism that they engaged with ritual interaction with the  
spirits of deceased officials they were too low in the social order to  
interact with. Also, shamans usually have paintings of their gods. Has  
anyone ever seen a shaman painting of hananim? I've seen paintings of  
the Jade Emperor but not of Hananim or Haneuni.

Even though there are a few rare cases of pre-modern use of the term  
"haneunim" (as in Pak Il-lo's poem mentioned by Gari), they are  
usually synonyms for the Chinese Confucian term for Heaven and don't  
carry the usual theistic connotations we associate with the term "God."

In short, I remain convinced that the tradition of an indigenous  
Korean monotheism, of worship of a Supreme God called Hananim or  
Haneunim,  is an invented tradition. Moreover, as a proud Canadian, I  
am convinced that the Canadian missionary James Gale played a major  
role in creating that tradition.

Donald Baker
Department of Asian Studies
University of British Columbia
Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z2  Canada
dbaker at interchange.ubc.ca

On 29-Jul-08, at 8:57 PM, sung oak wrote:

> Hello,
>     Just an addition to the discusion.
>     Between 1893-1903, when the Protestant missioanries in Korea  
> debated what should be the best Korean term for God, they  
> experimented many names and used them freely, even though majorly  
> the two camps--the Ch'o^nju camp and the Hana^nim camp--competed  
> each other. Initially the Ch'o^nju camp prevailed because the term  
> was best for the unity of the Christian Church (it has been used by  
> the RCs and Anglicans.) and it was an invented Christian name, not a  
> name borrowed from the existing non-Christian religions. So James S.  
> Gale, who belong to the Hana^nim camp, wrote in his letter to Dr.  
> Ellinwood, on May 19, 1894, as follows: "Our mission I think and  
> most of the Methodists likewise desire the pure native word,  
> Hanamim, but the Bible Society will print in two or three different  
> names if we so desire, and I am quite certain that the apparent  
> division need be no real division at all, for the natives will  
> understand any of the names upon hearing the teaching of the Bible  
> in reference to it and this is certainly necessary in using any  
> names whatsoever." What is important is the fact that many nams of  
> God were allowed at least until 1903 because the Koreans could  
> understand them as the names for the Christian God, or idenitfy them  
> with the Christian God.
>     At that time, Roman Catholics and Anglicans in China, Japan, and  
> Korea used "Tienzhou" (Ch'o^nju). The Protestant Chinese Scriptures  
> used "Shangdi" (publihsed by the British and Foregn Bible Society)  
> or "Shen" (published by the American Bibel Society). Most Japanese  
> Protestants used the ABS editions of the Bible, so thye adopted  
> "Shen" (Kami). In Korea, many educated Christians used the Chinese  
> New and Old Testaments, publihsed by the BFBS, so "Shangdi" (Sangje)  
> became their name for God. (Hence we can say sometimes the monopoly  
> of a certian region by a Bible Society and the distribution of its  
> editions were more important than the debates among the missionaries  
> and native Christians in the field.) In the vernacular Korean  
> vesions, both "Hana^min" and "Ch'o^nju" (at that time "Tyo^njyu)  
> were simutaneouly used in the Korean Scriptures in 1894-1903. For  
> example, the 1900 NT was printed with both names in the same book.
>     My last point: In terms of the official names for God,
>     1. Before 1904, the Protestant Church in Korea used  
> "Shangdi" (of Chinese Christian literature), "Tienzhou" (for the  
> ecumenical purpose--with RCs and Anglicans), and "Hana^nim" in  
> vernacular literature (for the differenciation from RC). = Three  
> names co-existed.
>     2. From 1904 when "Hana^nim" became the authorized Protestant  
> (excludign Anglicans) term for God in Korea,  "Shangdi" (in Chinese  
> Scriptures and Chinese-Korean Mixed Scriptures) and "Hana^nim" were  
> used as the official names for God. = Two names co-existed.
> Sung-Deuk Oak
> > From: Emilia.Szalkowska at amu.edu.pl
> > To: koreanstudies at koreaweb.ws
> > Date: Tue, 29 Jul 2008 12:46:03 +0900
> > Subject: Re: [KS] Name used for "god" in Korean language
> >
> > Hello,
> >
> > Many answers for your questions can be found in the following  
> chapter of sb's dissertation:
> >
> > "Modern History of Korean Religions" - http://igitur-archive.library.uu.nl/dissertations/2003-1215-112739/c3.pdf
> >
> > All chapters are available on-line (from .../c1.pdf, .../c2.pdf  
> and so on) but what is missing in this archive it is the title page  
> with the name of an author. I hope you can find it anyway.
> >
> > Emilia Szalkowska
> >
> >
> > ----- Original Message -----
> > From: <erichwein at hotmail.com>
> > To: <koreanstudies at koreaweb.ws>
> > Sent: Monday, July 28, 2008 3:30 AM
> > Subject: [KS] Name used for "god" in Korean language
> >
> >
> > > 1. What is the word in Korean for "God"? (Transliteration, please)
> > >
> > > 2. Is this an original Korean word, or one introduced by Christian
> > > missionaries?
> > >
> > > 3. Is it the same word used in traditional Korean folk religion  
> (e.g.
> > > shamanism) and in Buddhism?
> > >
> > > 4. Is the same word used in both North and South Korea?
> > >
> > > 5. In North Korea, is the same word for "God" used both in  
> reference
> > > to the Christian God (e.g. in worship services of the Korean  
> Christian
> > > Federation) and in reference to the "Great Leader"?  
> (Explanation: I am
> > > told that the word "god" is not used in reference the the GL.  
> However,
> > > on several occasions my interpreters in the DPRK did use the word
> > > "god" in reference to KIS. This may have been a wrong translation.
> > > Example: Referring to the young age at which KIS founded the  
> PKA, one
> > > interpreter told me, "That is why I consider him a god.")
> > >
> > > 6. If not, what distinguishes the two words/concepts used?
> > >
> > > Thanks for any clarifications you can render.
> > > Erich Weingartner
> > >
> > >

Donald Baker
Department of Asian Studies
University of British Columbia
Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z2  Canada
dbaker at interchange.ubc.ca

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