The story of how Neo-Confucian ideologues swept away Buddhism from the corridors of power after the establishment of the Joseon dynasty in 1392 is well known. Yet this dominant framework of interpretation has such an air of inevitability that it obscures many of the continuities that can be seen in the new dynasty’s attitudes to Buddhism. In his pronouncements on Buddhism and his deployment of Buddhist ritual, Yi Seong-gye, founder of the Joseon dynasty, displays some remarkable similarities with the founder of Goryeo, Wang Geon. Therefore, this article aims to reconsider Yi’s personal and official relation to Buddhism in order to explain the persistence of Buddhism in Joseon public life. Assuming that Yi’s attitudes were shaped by the Goryeo Buddhist worldview, his deployment of Buddhist rituals and monks, and his reference to Buddhist norms, can be seen essentially as a continuation of the Goryeo system. But Yi’s adherence to the Goryeo system was not only because of the sheer force of habit; when he realized that the Goryeo tradition of state-sponsored Buddhism could not be maintained, he tried to salvage as much as possible by identifying the body of the founding ruler with the religion. Although this intention was not fully recognized by later generations, it made it impossible to completely eradicate Buddhism in Joseon.
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