Hyangga of Korea - Introduction
Type of Spiritual Experience
A description of the experience
The Silla period is named after the Silla kingdom (57 BC – 935 AD) (Hangul: 신라; Hanja: 新羅;) Silla along with Baekje and Goguryeo formed the Three Kingdoms of Korea. Hyangga are native songs from this Silla period, in contrast to Koryo songs [kayo means song] which are from the subsequent Koryo or Goryeo period (고려; 高麗; [ko.ɾjʌ]; 918–1392).
The term “hyangga” (native songs) also designates Korean songs as opposed to poetry written in classical Chinese (si or Hansi).
Hyangga are not specifically mystic any more than they are mystic in any country, a song is a song, as such amongst the many many examples you will find folk songs, work songs, even songs in praise of Silla's elite corps of knights (bwarang), , or songs about breaches of promise, or songs about statesmanship.
But often hidden away amongst the ordinary mundane songs are more spiritual songs - shamanist songs and very often hyangga which are Buddhist in inspiration and content, reflecting certain trends in Silla and Koryo Buddhism. Great Master Kyunyo (923-973), a learned monk/poet who revived the Flower Garland school in the tenth century, composed eleven songs, taught them orally, and encouraged the congregation to chant and memorize them.
The examples we have here come from the Columbia Anthology of Traditional Korean Poetry – edited by Peter Lee and include:
- belief in the Pure Land of Maitreya and Amitayus (Infinite Life) in "Prayer to Amitayus," "Song of Tusita Heaven," and "Requiem for the Dead Sister";
- belief in the Sound Observer in "Hymn to the Thousand-Eyed Sound Observer."