Buddhism vs. Neo-Confucianism
When the Joseon Dynasty began in 1392, the height (or some would say the excesses) of Korean Buddhism abruptly came to an end. In addition to fundamental spiritual conflicts, the Confucians, who were high up in the Joseon government, resented how much of the nation's money was being used by Buddhists to build elaborate statues and hold increasingly expensive rituals. They believed that Buddhism was a serious drain on the country's economy, so in the 1390s King Taejo removed Buddhist monks from his government, expelled them from the capital, and confiscated Buddhist property. The building of temples in the capital was forbidden and the number of monks and nuns who could live in monasteries, and how much land they could own, was tightly regulated. Buddhist practices were forced out of the cities, begging was made illegal, and Buddhist funerals were outlawed.
Despite strong oppression from the government, Buddhism (especially the Seon, or Zen, sect) maintained its popularity among commoners, especially women. Neo-Confucians believed that power and morality came from an ultimate spirit of the universe, one that controlled the yin and yang and the five elements (fire, water, wood, metal, and earth). Women declined in status and had to be subservient to their husbands and their eldest sons. Inheritance became exclusively through patrilineage, and marriage between people of different social classes was prohibited.
During the nearly 500 years of Joseon oppression, the number of Buddhist monasteries dropped from several hundred to a mere three dozen. One of the main reasons for Buddhism regaining acceptance with the government was the role of guerrilla warrior monks in repelling the Japanese during the Imjin Waeran. Although the government maintained tight control of Buddhist practice in the country, there was never again such extreme oppression.
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