Heyryun Koh: Buddhistische Kunst Koreas. Neue Ikonographische Studien anhand des Maitreya vom Typ siwei


Heyryun Koh, Ph.D.


1. Introduce and Research point I.

I graduated in 1985 at Ewha Womans University, Seoul (BA) and got the degree of Master (Hamburg) and PhD in Heidelberg (PhD Advisor: Prof. Dr. Lothar Ledderose) in Germany. After PhD-Studium, I took part in the project of MingQing-The East Asian - Mediterranean’, c.1500-1800: A New Quality in the Development of its Neighboring Countries, University of Munich (LMU) until December 2006. And during the time of Munich-project I got the Fellowship of CCS (Center for Chinese Studies, Taiwan) in 2004 and AKS (Academy of Korean Studies, Korea) Junior Prof. Fellowship in 2005. Since then I have studied about the goddess Mazu, who was a historical person, a girl named Lin Moniang 林默娘. She was born in the year 960 on the island of Meizhou in Putian, Xinghua prefecture, Fujian province. She had role as a patroness of the sea from the time of Northern Song (宋 960-1127) to the Ming Dynasty. I gave the ten lectures and wrote six articles (three in korean, one in german, one in english, one in chinese) about Mazu’s Faith. Hereunder the list of my articles and lectures;


  1. “天津天后宮過會行會圖硏究” in: 當代社會中的傳統生活國際學術硏討會論文集 (2013), pp 339-340
  2. “A Study on the Street Parade of Emperor Club 天津 皇會<行會圖>에 관한 一考察” in: History&theBoundaries 歷史와 境界 75 (2010), pp. 91-130
  3. “Functions of the goddess Mazu 媽祖女神의 技能學的 考察” in A. Schottenhammer (ed.), East Asian Maritime History 9 (Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 2010), S.51-100
  4. „A Note on the Sea Route between Cheju Island and Zhejiang Province 濟州島에서 浙江省까지 海路에 대한 一考察“, in A. Schottenhammer (ed.), East Asian Maritime History 4: The East Asian Maritime World,1400-1800. Its Fabrics of Power and Dynamics of Exchanges (Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 2007). S. 151-168
  5. “Empororfest and Mazu-temple in Choson Dynasty 皇會와 朝鮮의 媽祖寺院” in: Journal of Chinese Historical Researches 中國史硏究 50 (2007), pp. 223-252
  6. “The Cult of Mazuon the Coast of the East China Sea 東中國海 의 媽祖 信仰。 天妃 顯聖錄을 통해 본 媽祖 逸話와 그 性格 ” in: Journal of the Island Culture 島嶼文化 25 (2005) pp.161-200


  1. October 12-15, 2013 lecture in the International Academic Forum on the Traditional Ways of Life in Chinese Modern Society, Tianjin University, Feng Jicai Institute of Literature and Art, Tianjin, China: “天津天后宮過會行會圖硏究”
  2. December 19, 2009 lecture in Conference of Intercultural Sea-Study, Korea Maritime University, Busan: The goddess Mazu in Tianjin 福建省 海神 媽祖와 天津의 行業 信仰”
  3. October 22-23, 2009 lecture in Conference of “Sea & Culture”, institute of island culture (島嶼文化硏究所), University of Mokpo: “The goddess Mazu in Choson-Dynasty 朝鮮의 媽祖寺院”
  4. September 29, 2007 lecture at the Association of Korean Art history, Seoul: “Guanyin Manifestation in the Faith of goddess Mazu”
  5. November 24, 2006 lecture in Koreawissenschaftlichen Tage 2006, Vienna: “Functions of the goddess Mazu 媽祖女神의 技能學的 考察”
  6. September 9, 2006 lecture in 52. Conference of the Society for Chinese Historical Researchers. University of Chang’won (Chungguk Sahakhoe 中國史學會) “The Goddess Mazu Culture in Korea”
  7. October 13, 2005 lecture in sixth special lecture of visiting professor, Institute of Korean Culture, University of Ewha Womans, Seoul “Mazu Glauben anhand der Aufzeichnungen von der manifestierten Heiligkeit der Himmelsprinzessin“
  8. February 26, 2005 lecture in International Symposium, University of Munich: “A Note on the Sea Route between Cheju Island and Zhejiang Province”
  9. January 25, 2005 lecture in institute of island culture (島嶼文化硏究所), University of Mokpo: “The Faith of Mazu in East China Sea”
  10. January 21, 2005 lecture in National Folk Museum of Korea, Seoul: “Mazu Goddess and Merchants in Tianjin”

After writing above mentioned five articles, I knew specially that the sailors and maritime merchants performed rituals to the goddess after they landed on the continent. Since ancient time have been used three sea route by Korean and Chinese, which the northern sea route from the East China Sea to Bohai Bay 渤海灣 is one of them, terminated at the city Tianjin 天津. Tianjin is the harbor city of Beijing, where was concentrated with the sailors and maritime merchant from South China toward the capital of China. They made themselves a club of Mazu’s faith which developed the name of Emperor club (huanghui皇會), became the center for the cult of Mazu. There were seventeen Mazu temples in Tianjin.

During my Visiting Scholarship at the Institute, Heidelberg, I plan to pursue a deeper study of the Emperor club (Huanghui) in Tianjin, and another further Research point is which will be included the results of my research on the cult of Mazu during the Chosŏn dynasty (朝鮮 1392-1910), which has consisted largely of examining the passages the mention Mazu in Chosn wangjo sillok (朝鮮王朝實錄 Chronicle History of the Chosŏn dynasty): Two histories of Cheongjo 正祖(reg. 1777-1800) mention the cult of Mazu in connection with Chinese merchants who were shipwrecked while trying to make a landing in Korea. Their ship was equipped with a painting of Mazu and a golden scripture embroidered on a red flag with the words “Tianhou sheng dan (天后聖丹 heavenly empress in red)”. From this evidence it is clear that the people of Chosŏn knew about the goddess Mazu.

It is usually supposed that the cult of Mazu came to Korea by the sea route. Although there were so many Mazu Temples in China and Taiwan, Japan, I found it curious that there is only one temple to the goddess in Inchon in Korea, where is the harbor city of Seoul. And this made me wonder how conceptions of the goddess Mazu differed from other those of other Korean sea goddesses.

Since I am coming back to Korea in 2007, I am working as History Professor and Researcher at the University Busan and Dankuk (since 2013) in Korea, where I gave Korean and East Asian history, Korean Art History classes each week 12 hours. It means I could not get enough the time for further researching after my return from Germany. I really wish getting the visiting Scholarship for 2~4 Semesters and finally putting together above mentioned five articles and adding further research on the cult of Mazu to write a book about Mazu’s Faith in Asian.

2. Research point II: Comparison and analysis of Sutras of the rebirth of Maitreya in Jambudvipa (彌勒下生經 T/453, 454, 455, 456, 457)

My PhD dissertation 2002 in Heidelberg was written on the basis of on the Sutra about the visualization of the rebirth of the Bodbisattva Maitreya in the heavenly paradise Tusita [佛說觀彌勒菩薩上生兜率天經 T/452, hereunder abbrev., Shangsheng Sutra (上生經)]. It was necessary of translating the Shangsheng Sutra completely for my dissertation, until that time no one had translated yet in german. It was published this translation in Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft [ZDMG 159(2009)]. Which sutra asserted that adherents of Bodhisattva Maitreya would be reborn in the heavenly paradise Tusita (兜率天), where they were rewarded for ten virtue (十善). And they had to practise the visulaization (觀) every day, which is called Samadhi-Visualization (思惟觀) in my study.

Samadhi-Visualization had both sides, which I called active visualizer (觀者) and passive visualizer (被觀者). Such as active and passive visualizer was applied to approximately 140 shrines in Yungang caves (雲崗石窟), China, which shrine consisted of triad Buddha, one major figure in the middle and two attendants figures. They are configured with Maitreya figur with crossed leg (交脚像) as passive visualizer, and his right and left contemplating figures with one's legs half-crossed (半跏像) as active visualizer.

Active visualizer, who has his own iconography as religion attendant (修行者), is doing Samadhi-visualization in the heavenly paradise Tusita. They are belong to the contemplating figure with one's legs half-crossed, and heavenly being (天人), and monks. Through the above mentioned hypothesis I did the analysis and classification of 140 shrines of Maitreya in Yungang caves.

Furthermore, it was interpreted the iconography of contemplating figure as Bodhisattva Maitreya, which is a "practicing visualization". It was based on the aforementioned Shangsheng sutra and on commentary about this sutra by the Silla (新羅 57 BC~935) monk Yonhyo. Yonhyo (元曉 617–686) commented to the technic of visualization (觀法), which adherents of Maitreya had immediately a detailed vision of the rebirth of the Bodbisattva Maitreya in the heavenly paradise Tusita, and a vision of which structure is made up the heavenly paradise Tusita. What they had to think during practicing visualization, was described exactly in Shangsheng sutra. Hereunder are the list of my publications for buddhist arthistory:

Articles & book for Buddhist Arthistory


  • 미륵과 도솔천의 도상학 (Miluk kwa Dosolceon ui Dosanghak) Ikonographie der Maitreya Figur and Tusita Heaven (Seoul: Ilzhogak, 2011) pp.379

Ph.D. Dissertation

  • “The iconography of the Maitreya figure with crossed legs and Tusita heaven, based on the Sutra about the visualization of the rebirth of the Bodhisattva Maitreya in the heavenly paradise Tusita” (PhD. Dissertation. Microfish: Signatur UB in Heidelberg: 2003 Q 37). Heidelberg: 2003.2


  • “Iconography of Greeting(來迎)-maitreya Figur in the Northern Dynasties – Focusing on the Figure of 191. Cave at the Maijishan Grottos 麥積山 石窟” in: History & the World 43 (2013), pp. 25~51

  • "A Restudy on the Iconography of Three Buddh Figur at Mt. Danseoksan"in: Sillasa Hakpo 29 (2013), pp. 411-440

  • “The Legitimacy of Northern Wei Dynasty and Realization of the Thought of ‘King is Buddha 王卽佛’” in: Prehistory and Ancient History 37 (2012), pp. 31~62

  • “Iconography of Contemplating (思惟) Figure in Northern Wei Dynasty” in: The Journal of Chinese Historical Researches 72 (2011), pp. 1~38

  • “Das Shang-sheng Sutra 上生經” in: Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft (ZDMG 2009:159-1), pp.105-128.
    (Korean translation of Prof. Lothar Ledderose’s paper „The Stones Resembled Printing Blocks: Carved Sutra Stones at Yunjusi 雲居寺 and the Printed Qidan Canon. 石類印版과 契丹藏 “,“ in: papers of conference, “CHINESE HISTORY THROUGH ART” 7-10.October 2004., Youngnam University, Taegu, Korea, pp. 493-496

  • Paper: “Baoyi bodai 褒衣博帶 and Shuku qingshang 秀骨淸像” in the Yungang-Grotten,“ in: papers of conference, “CHINESE HISTORY THROUGH ART” 7-10.October 2004., Youngnam University, Taegu, Korea, pp. 40-42

  • Paper: “Humanity and Human Right of Buddhism - The Case of Tibet 佛敎의 人權問題 - 티벳의 경우 ”, Conference paper, in “AS CHINA MEETS THE WORLD: CHINA´S CHANGING POSITION IN THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY, 1840 – 2000.” May 17 – 18, 2004, University of Vienna, Institute of Sinology, Vienna, Austria.

My second researching point will be connected with my already translated Shangsheng sutra (T/452) and five Maitreya sutras of the rebirth of Maitreya in Jambudvipa (彌勒下生經 T/453, 454, 455, 456, 457), which I do not work it yet except one artcle about triad figure of Sinseon Temple (神仙寺) in the Mountain  Danseok (斷石山), Korea. This five sutras contained about the Belief of Maitreya after his coming down in the future, They were translated in chinese from the year 303 to 701.
Maitreya is coming according five sutras, when the humans will live to an age of 800 thousand years, girls get married 500 years old. Maitreya will be born in the city ketumati, where the king is chakravartin (轉輪聖王) Sanka. After getting Enlightenment of Maitreya, the king Sanka give his palace away and become himself a follower of Maitreya. At that time Maitreya with his followers are going to Mountain Jizu (鷄足山), where Mahakasyapa is waiting for him since the time of Sakyamuni. Maitreya will start giving three times teaching (龍華三會), from which will be rescue several thousand million buddhist followers.

There is triad figure of Sinseon Temple (神仙寺) in the Mountain Danseok (斷石山), is located in northwestern Gyeongju (慶州), Korea. Which mountain is 827m high, above this Mountain lies the U-shaped grotto where the Maitreya Figure stand on the northern site, and the left and right site of Maitreya stand two relief attendants figures. The U-shaped grotto is quite large in size, which runs ten meters deep, eight meters high, and three meters in width. The Inscription on the southern site of grottos inscribed “彌勒石像 1區 高三丈 菩薩 2區”, which means "one stone figure of Maitreya three zang (1丈= 3 metre) high and two Bodhisattva figure."
This two attendants figures, which premised on the northern site figure as Maitreya, were interpreted as Bodhisattva figure avalokiteśvara (觀音) and Kṣitigarbha (地藏), since above mentioned inscription was found. But I have tried to reconsider of interpretation according to Mahayana Buddhism, which arhat take in Bodhisattva.

I think that the Iconography of this triad figure at Sinseon Tempel, which  stand Maitreya as main Buddha (彌勒下生佛), and Mahākāśyapa (摩訶迦葉) on his right site and ānanda (阿難) with kundika on his left site. Mahākāśyapa is waiting for Maitreya so long he is coming down in Jambudvipa (閻浮提) later, because Shakamuni Buddha ordered Mahākāśyapa, which his kasaya bring to Maitrya directly. Which kasaya symbolized the legitimacy of Buddhism, it is inherited from Shakamuni to Maitreya.

The relief figure on the left site of Maitreya is hold kundika on his right hand. Normally Bodhisattva avalokiteśvara (觀音) has kundika, but this relief figure is not Guanyin, because he is bald without jewel crown and wore simply  kasaya. I conjectured this figure as ānanda with kundika. So then why he hold kundika? After Shakamuni went to nirvāna, Mahākāśyapa evaluated specially in front of 500 arhat on the first buddhist meeting, how good ānanda remembered Buddha's words like as “佛法如水傳”, which means "without leaving a drop of water as dharma can be moved to another location" by kundika. This kundika symbolized here as sutra-holder which ānanda transferred.

There are 17 carved figures on the northern site of Sinseon Temple (神仙寺) in the Mountain Danseok (斷石山), which I try to interpret them through the belief of Maitrya in Shilla dynasty.

Buddhistische Kunst Koreas. Neue Ikonographische Studien anhand des Maitreya vom Typ siwei

And there are so many Maitreya figure in Korea, why they are standing or sitting here and there. I will take first the result of my research on the contemplating figure with one's legs half-crossed (半跏像), which means jewel crown of Korean National Treasure No.78, why he put a such coffin on his head and why he is smiling. And then what is the figure No. 83 doing now? And then why are made so big and kitsch Maitreya figure in Koryo (高麗, 918~1392) dynasty. This aforementioned points will be done for preparing a book and partly giving a lecture of Korean Arthistory in Heidelberg.

Responsible: SH
Latest Revision: 2019-01-15
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