Cheondoism, or spelled Chondoism in North Korean sources (Korean Cheondogyo; hanja 天道教; hangul 천도교; literally "Religion of the Heavenly Way"), is a 20th-century Korean religious movement, based on the 19th century Donghak Confucian movement founded by Choe Je-u and codified under Son Byeong-hui. Cheondoism has its origins in the peasant rebellions which arose starting in 1812 during the Joseon Dynasty. Cheondoism is essentially Confucian in origin, but incorporates elements of Korean nationalism, Taoism and Buddhism. It places emphasis on personal cultivation, this-worldly social welfare, and rejects any notion of an afterlife.
Cheondogyo translated literally means "religion of the Heavenly Way", where cheon means "Heaven", do means "Way" (written with the same character as Chinese Tao), and gyo means "religion", "teaching", "-ism".
In keeping with its roots in Confucian thought, Cheondoism venerates Heaven as the ultimate principle of good and justice, and is referred to by the honorific term Haneullim (하늘님) or "Master Heaven". This title implies the quality of Heaven as a revered teacher or instructor. Also in keeping with its Confucian background, Cheondoism places emphasis on personal cultivation in the belief that as one improves their innate nature, one comes closer to Heaven, and that all things are the same as Heaven in terms of their innate quality.
Thus, Cheondoism rejects the notion of an afterlife, and instead works to create a paradise on earth through peace, moral virtue and Confucian propriety, while reforming society and overcoming old, outdated customs in Korean society.
Over time, Cheondoism has also adapted elements of other Korean religious traditions including Taoism and Buddhism.
Cheondoism originated from the Donghak ("Eastern Learning"), a Confucian movement that arose in the 19th century as a reaction to Western encroachment. While the Donghak movement began with Confucian scholar Choe Jeu, it did not become a religious movement until the 3rd patriarch, Son Byeong-hui.
Choe Jeu formulated the Donghak ("Eastern Learning") ideology in the 1860s to help ease the lot of the farmers suffering from abject poverty and exploitation, as well as to restore political and social stability. His ideas rapidly gained broad acceptance among the peasantry. Choe set his Donghak themes to music so that illiterate farmers could understand, accept, and remember them more readily. His teachings were systematized and compiled as a message of salvation to farmers in distress.
Cheondoism as a religion evolved in the early 1900s from the Donghak peasant liberation movements in the southern provinces of Korea. Members of Donghak were severely persecuted by the Korean Empire, and so, on December 1, 1905, Son Byeong-hui, who was the third patriarch of the original Donghak movement, decided to modernize the religion and usher in an era of openness and transparency in order to legitimize it in the eyes of the Japanese. As a result he officially changed the name of Donghak to Cheondoism ("religion of the Heavenly Way"). During the waning days of the Joseon Dynasty, King Gojong himself embraced Cheondoism and promoted it nationwide. The King added Buddhist rituals and codices to the new religion, which was organized into a formal organizational hierarchy.
Very little is known of the current numbers or activities of Cheondoists in North Korea. According to official statistics, Cheondoism had 2.8 million adherents in North Korea (12.9% of the total population) as of 2000, and Cheondoists are nominally represented in North Korean politics by the minor Cheondoist Chongu Party. However, independent religious activity of any kind is not tolerated by the North Korean government, and large numbers of Cheondoist believers fled to South Korea during the Korean War. By 1956, the last year for which any independent figures are available, there were[according to whom?] probably no more than 10,000 practicing Cheondoists left in the north. Since 1959, when its original Cheondoist leadership was purged, the Cheondoist Chongu Party has been merely a satellite party of the ruling Worker's Party of Korea intended to appeal to South Korean Cheondoists (the current leader is Ryu Mi Yong, a South Korean Cheondoist who defected to the North) and maintain an illusion of religious freedom and multi-party democracy. The party leadership are appointed by the North Korean government and never oppose the WPK on any issue.
In 2011, it was reported to be around 12.5 million followers throughout North and South Korea.
- "Anniversary of Chondoism Observed, KCNA" (in English). Retrieved 2012-06-23.
- Yao, Xinzhong (2000). An Introduction to Confucianism. Cambridge University Press. p. 121-122. ISBN 0521644305.
- 韓國 近代宗敎의 三敎融合과 生命·靈性 - 원불교사상연구원
- "Consulate General of the Republic of Korea in Toronto" (in English). Retrieved 2012-06-23.
- "임운길 천도교 교령 "구제역·대지진, 인간이 만든 재앙"" (in Korean). Retrieved 2012-06-23.
- North Korea
- Over 10 million followers in North Korea, approximately 2 million in South Korea.
- This article incorporates text from Korea Web Weekly. Used with permission.
Korea Web Weekly is not an independent source of information but is instead associated with various North Korea government sources.