Possession and Repetition

Ways in which Korean Lay Buddhists Appropriate Scriptures


  • Yohan Yoo Seoul National University, Seoul, Korea




Korean Buddhism, iconic book, Buddhist Sutras, appropriating scripture


This article demonstrates the need for the iconic status and function of Buddhist scripture to receive more attention by illuminating how lay Korean Buddhists try to appropriate the power of sutras. The oral and aural aspects of scripture, explained by Wilfred Cantwell Smith, provide only a limited understanding of the characteristics of scripture. It should be noted that, before modern times, most lay people, not only in Buddhist cultures but also in Christian and other traditions, neither had the chance to recite scriptures nor to listen to their recitations regularly. Several clear examples demonstrate contemporary Korean Buddhists’ acceptance of the iconic status of sutras and their attempt to appropriate the power and status of those sacred texts. In contemporary Korea, lay Buddhists try to claim the power of scriptures in their daily lives by repeating and possessing them. Twenty-first century lay believers who cannot read or recite in a traditional style have found new methods of repetition, such as internet programs for copying sacred texts and for playing recordings of their recitations. In addition, many Korean Buddhists consider the act of having sutras in one’s possession to be an effective way of accessing the sacred status and power of these texts. Hence, various ways of possessing them have been developed in a wide range of products, from fancy gilded sutras to sneakers embroidered with mantras.

Author Biography

Yohan Yoo, Seoul National University, Seoul, Korea

Assistant Professor, Department of Religious Studies, Seoul National University.


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How to Cite

Yoo, Y. (2012). Possession and Repetition: Ways in which Korean Lay Buddhists Appropriate Scriptures. Postscripts: The Journal of Sacred Texts, Cultural Histories, and Contemporary Contexts, 6(1-3), 243-259. https://doi.org/10.1558/post.v6i1-3.243