3.2. Avalokiteśvara Divination in the Late Chosŏn Era
In the late Chosŏn era, the first known Korean Avalokiteśvara divination-related text, titled Kwanŭm yŏnggwa
觀音靈課 (Numinous Lessons of Avalokiteśvara, hereafter Yŏnggwa
), was published. This anonymous text was most likely created some time after the 17th century, inspired by Chinese versions. The text, most of all, clearly shows the Chosŏn Buddhists embracing Confucian ethics. There are more than two different editions of the Yŏnggwa
. Two of the editions were published in the temple Wŏn’gaksa, Kyŏnggi province, both of which were combined with another divination—though non-Buddhist—text called Ch’ŏn’gang sigwa
天罡時課 (Opportune Lessons of the Big Dipper God in Heaven).35
is relatively short: both editions are only 30 pages long with approximately a hundred words per page. A small silk pocket is tied to one of the editions with a short string. Within the pocket, there are five wooden cubes with each character of ohaeng
written on one side of them. These five cubes were made to be used for the practice of Avalokiteśvara divination, though all the extant Yŏnggwa
editions give an instruction that uses coins to conduct such divination instead of cubes.
The Yŏnggwa is basically a manual for Avalokiteśvara divination. The process of the divination is rather simple. It simply requires five coins to perform. It is a little unclear, but a practitioner can use the coins one by one or all the coins together. In the latter case, each of the five coins should have one of the five Chinese characters for ohaeng written on one side. According to the text, Avalokiteśvara divination starts with purification. Before performing a divination, a practitioner washes his/her hands clean and burns incense. The practitioner puts all five coins on a plate or hand and passes the plate or hand through the incense smoke. After this purification process, the practitioner puts his/her hands up to the sky and shakes them. Then, he/she bows down in front of the image of Avalokiteśvara bodhisattva with utter respect and says the following prayer:
I take refuge in the bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara who saves [sentient beings] out of suffering with great compassion and numen as large as heaven. The golden boy and the jade girl who are giving divination signs and all the gods and deities that come and go in the empty space! Now, on a certain day of a certain month in a certain year, a certain disciple has not been able to determine on a certain issue and therefore respectfully bow and ask the bodhisattva for help! Please show one of the thirty-two divination signs! Please clearly show the sign of fortune or misfortune, success or failure, and rise or fall without following human feelings or ghostly desires! There will be no one who cannot receive a wondrous sign if he or she exerts utter sincerity.
南無大慈大悲 救苦救難 廣天靈感 觀世音菩薩 翻卦金童 掇卦玉女 虛空過往 一切神祇 今某年某月某日 有弟子 某姓某名 ?某省某府某縣某鄉某社人 ?因為某事 憂疑未決 虔誠拜請 在三十二課內占一課 莫順人情 莫順鬼意 吉凶禍福 成敗興亡 報應分明 凡誠心誠意者 無不靈驗也.
After this prayer, the practitioner throws the coins onto the mat. The divination result can be read with the combination of the ohaeng characters shown. There are 32 combinations. As briefly mentioned before, any five coins can be used for the divination without needing to write the ohaeng characters on them, but, in this case, they are used one by one instead of being used all together. One is put onto a plate and thrown onto a mat after making the prayer, and this process is repeated four more times. In the case of using the coins one by one, the first one represents kŭm (metal); the second, mok (wood); the third, su (water); the fourth, hwa (fire); and the fifth, t’o (earth). This way, the same thirty-two combinations can be obtained.
The Yŏnggwa consists of the 32 divination signs (chŏmgwae) with an ohaeng combination, two sets of corresponding fortune-telling verses, a short interpretation, and actual cases for each sign. Approximately one half of the 32 lots (14) can be regarded as auspicious; about one-third (9) are in the middle; another one-third (9) are very bad fortunes. The fortunes and misfortunes of the Yŏnggwa are categorized by two sets of three grades (first set of upper, middle, and lower 上中下; second of upper, plain, and lower 上平下). The Yŏnggwa, however, also often uses terms such as auspice (kil 吉) and omen (hyung 凶) in its grading, as can be seen in lots 8, 9, 11, 12, 13, 15, 17, 20, 21, 22, 23, 25–29, and 30.
The first of the two sets of the fortune-telling verses is a quatrain with five Chinese characters in line. Each of the first verses in the Yŏnggwa gives a vibe as to whether the given divination sign is auspicious or inauspicious. For example, the verse of lot 8 says, “Good virtues receive the heavenly assistance; One beckons the cheerful force at the door; Since people give a helping hand to each other, fortunes are naturally visiting joyfully” 好德承天佑 門招喜氣新 有人相助力 福祿自寧忻. The verse certainly appears to correspond to the upper-auspice of the divination sign. Lot 4, on the other hand, foretells the middle-plain of fortunes. Its verse reflects this state, predicting, “While a boat is floating on the river and lake, one collects many jewels on the water shore; since one will be used greatly, disasters disperse away but, how about fortunes?” 船泛江湖內 灘邊穫寶多 更宜將大用 災散福如何. Lot 6 shows a bad fortune with the lower-plain. Its verse hence provides advice to avoid misfortunes by saying, “Fit in the share of the gentlemen and do not use the words of petty men; Be careful at every situation; grow good fortunes and keep them safely” 且安君子分 勿用小人言 凡事皆當謹 作福保安然.
The five-word quatrain is followed by another set of the fortune-telling verses, which constitutes one of the features of the Yŏnggwa. This second set of verses is also made up of quatrains, but with seven words in line. Each of the 32 lots includes this second set of verses except lot 5. Just as with the first set, it explains the ambience of the lot, but reveals its good or bad fortunes more clearly. Looking at the lots above, the second verse of lot 8 emphasizes good fortunes: “Though neither planning, moving, nor working hard, Dragon sends treasures every day; since house shines brightly with many auspicious occasions, endless fortunes reach the gate” 不謨不動不辛勤 日日龍來送寶珍 家宅光輝多吉慶 無邊福祿到家門. The second verse of lot 4 shows a middle level of fortunes, saying, “If one seeks property, it will naturally come, though slowly…The delight lying in the troubles becomes great auspiciousness” 求財遲緩自然來…喜在憂中成大吉. The verse of lot 6 clearly forebodes misfortunes, which reads, “Although one works over many years, [everything is] unclear; fearing the evil while deceiving the good, there will be no future; though seeking property every day, one gains no profit and interest; there will be just disputes every morning” 連年作事不分明 怕惡欺良沒後程 日日求財無利息 朝朝惟有是非生.
The short interpretation section of the Yŏnggwa explains the fortune-telling verses. Each interpretation, which consists of a series of four-word sets, tells the good or ill fortunes of the lot in terms of approximately 20 different occasions, including marriage, child birth, commerce, law suit, moving, and illness. The interpretations of the 32 lots do not always deal with the same occasions, though some of them overlap. A few of these occasions likely appealed to Confucian elites, which shows that the Yŏnggwa, despite its folkloric nature, also targeted the upper class of society as its audience in addition to the common people. The possible occasions that would have appealed to the Confucian class in the Yŏnggwa include whether one will pass an exam, obtain a governmental position, get a promotion in court, or produce a male heir to carry on the family. This section of short interpretation predicts whether these occasions will develop in an auspicious or ominous way in the future. For example, as for the question of a government position, lot 27 gives a greatly auspicious prognostication by saying that one gains a position with a good stipend when seeking one and that he sees a bright career ahead once entering the court. On the contrary, lot 32 offers the opposite, stating that it is hard to get a governmental position though seeking one and that there will be a misfortune if he has already acquired one. The same goes for the property fortune: lot 21 says that if one seeks property, he obtains it; lot 3 reads that one does not get much from seeking property; lot 13, on the other hand, predicts that one obtains nothing in his pursuit of property.
Finally, the Yŏnggwa
offers actual cases for the divination signs, another feature that could distinguish it from the other versions of Avalokiteśvara divination. All the cases are Chinese examples with a specific year that use a name of a different imperial era. Although there are a few earlier and later eras, Ming eras made up more than two-thirds of the cases. The latest era in the cases was the first year of Tianqi of the Ming dynasty (1621), which confirms that the Yŏnggwa
was compiled after the mid-seventeenth century. Because all of the Chinese era names and land names but two are correct, it can be guessed that the compiler(s) was an educated intellectual.36
Most of the lots give only one case, except lots 2, 25, 29, and 30, which provide two. These cases were likely intended to emphasize the efficiency of Avalokiteśvara divination by giving an impression that they had actually happened, though most were likely fictional.
Examining lot 1 from the title to the actual case as an example, its divination title or sign is Sŏngsin (Starquake) 星震, which a practitioner can get when all ohaeng sides of the five coins are oriented up. Its first fortune-telling verse reads, “A colorful phoenix gives auspice; a camelopard lands on the imperial capital; misfortunes disappear while countless fortunes arrive; jubilant delight is full of the courtyard” 彩鳳呈祥瑞 麒麟降帝都 禍除多福至 喜氣滿庭除. The verse gives the impression that this divination sign is very auspicious. The second verse is the same in this regard. It says, “Since one has just obtained this year’s fortunes in his life, he will meet an auspicious occasion repeatedly and [everything] will be peaceful; since one will obtain abundant property, along with the glorious rank and salary of a noble man, he will have numerous fortunes at his disposal” 生平方得今年運 吉慶重逢更太和 財旺貴人榮祿位 遂心百事福祥多. The second verse more clearly shows the propitiousness of this divination sign. Its short interpretation confirms this impression and adds more detailed explanations as follows:
“When you try to get a governmental position, you will get one; if you already have a position in the government, you will get promoted to a higher position; if you take an exam, you will pass; if you go out, you will obtain property; if you are involved in a lawsuit, you will win; if you are ill, you will get better; if you seek wealth, you will get it; if you are going somewhere, you will get there; if you look for someone, you will find him/her; if you have lost a thing, you will soon recover it; even though you are sixty, you will get a son; your family will have occasions to celebrate; if you want to be married, you will get married; if you are in trade, you will have a deal; if you move to somewhere else, you will become greatly lucky; if you wish it to rain, there will be rain; if you wish it to stop, there will be no rain”.
求官得位 朝觀高遷 考試得意 出路得財 訟事有理 病者安寧 求財十分 行人即至 尋人得見 失物東見 六甲生男 家宅吉慶 婚姻得成 見貴遂心 買賣十分 移徙大吉 祈雨即有 占晴即霽.
Finally, the lot ends with two cases: after a man in Qingzhou 青州whose wife was pregnant received this Starquake sign from Avalokiteśvara divination in the second year of Zhenguan (628), his wife gave birth to a son; a man in Zhangzhou 漳州 got this sign in the same year, and afterwards, he had happy occasions to celebrate one after another.
There are lots that are more related to Confucian aristocrats. One such case is lot 12, which divines good fortunes. The practitioner can receive this lot when the ohaeng combination indicates fire and wood. The first quatrain verse says, “When one pushes himself forward, he accomplishes an achievement; An idle Confucian returns, wearing a silk brocade robe” 進取逢通建 寒儒衣錦回. The second line of this first verse implies success in the civil service exam with the phrase, “a silk brocade”, which indicates court attire. This good sign becomes clearer in the second divination verse, which reads, “Rice sprouts meet a welcome rain after a long drought…An outstanding scholar now appears on the gold poster after taking the exam; A dragon in trouble in the water obtains a chance to arise to the sky” 禾萌久旱降甘雨 ……秀士今科登金榜 困龍得水上天時. The gold poster (kŭmbang 金榜) here refers to a poster on which the names of the exam passers are listed. Therefore, this verse predicts that one who has prepared for the civil service exam with long and arduous effort will finally pass it and obtain a government position. This case also gives such an example: after a man in Dangtu, Anhui province, received this lot in the ninth year of Xuande (1434), he took the exam and passed it with honors. Passing the civil service exam was one of the crucial elements by which a Confucian aristocrat could maintain his and his family’s economic, political, and social status as yangban in their region. Therefore, many aristocrats invested a huge amount of money and years of effort into preparing for it, amongst which only a handful of them succeeded. Therefore, this lot could serve to provide hope and consolation for Confucian students who studied for a long time under serious economic and psychological pressure.
Lot 14 also shows the devotion of the Yŏnggwa to Confucian social values. However, in contrast to lot 12, it forebodes bad fortunes, which are categorized in the lower-middle. Lot 14 can be obtained with the ohaeng combination of fire and water. Although the first divination verse represents the general dismal atmosphere of the lot, it imbues a little sense of hope, saying, “Since one’s mind is much unsettled, even though he seeks, he can achieve nothing; since his endurance finally turns into fortunes, if he keeps his share, he will avoid disasters” 自心多不定 求謀未得成 忍耐方為福 守分免災星. The second verse presents more direct advice to escape disasters, advice that is directly connected to Confucian ethics. The verse urges, “As an advice to you, do good, do not evil, and cultivate the small mind of yours for yourself; practice filial piety diligently to your parents since it is the heavenly principle that naturally brings many fortunes” 勸君爲善莫爲惡 方寸心田掌自摩 父母堂前勤孝敬 昭然天理福來多. This lot later presents a case about people who failed to pass the civil service exam: after a person named Zhaoxiang 趙祥performed divination to see who could have an audience with the king (i.e., pass the exam and obtain a court position) in the second year of Hongzhi (1489) and received this lot, he searched in Jishui, Jiangxi province, but there was no one.
Awareness of Confucian aristocrats pervades the Yŏnggwa
. As already mentioned, there are references to prospects of achieving governmental positions and passing the civil service exam in most of its short interpretation sections. The two sets of the divination verses of the text could also serve as a means to cater to the literary interests of intellectuals, including yangban
literati, in addition to a ritual function to give more detailed implications to the divination signs. The fact that there is no illustration in the Yŏnggwa
could mean that this Korean text targeted intellectuals who could read Chinese as its main audience, although it could also simply reflect the level of the publication culture and development in the late Chosŏn era.37
Indeed, as can be seen below, there was a case that a yangban
official performed Avalokiteśvara divination by himself without any help from a Buddhist priest.
3.3. The Cases for the Performance of Avalokiteśvara Divination in the Late Chosŏn Era
The acceptance of Confucian values in Avalokiteśvara divination is more obviously revealed in its actual performance in the late Chosŏn era, although there are few surviving cases. The renowned Buddhist master Ŭngun Kongyŏ’s 應雲空如 (b. 1794) literary collection reports two prayers for Avalokiteśvara divination.38
Ŭngun, in fact, composed the prayers for both of the two cases on behalf of prominent Confucians: the magistrate of Miryang, Kyŏngsang province, and puwŏn’gun
(Queen’s father) in the capital city.39
Although the Miryang magistrate is hard to identify, puwŏn’gun
was Kim Chosun 金祖淳 (1765–1832) who was the patriarch of the Andong Kim clan, the most powerful yangban
clan in the late Chosŏn era. It seems that Ŭngun performed Avalokiteśvara divination for these yangban
Confucians. Both of the master’s prayers for the two yangban
elites begin by praising the bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara. One of the praises reads, “Since the bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara possesses a great compassion, he guides sentient beings to get out of suffering by manifesting a number of reincarnations. Therefore, if we take refuge in the bodhisattva, we will receive many fortunes and avoid misfortunes. Our evil karmas will also disappear.” As can be seen, this praise part of the prayers apparently intends to encourage faith in Avalokiteśvara. Then, the prayers introduce the commissioners of Avalokiteśvara divination, the magistrate and puwŏn’gun
, respectively, and give a brief explanation for the reason for performing the divination. In the case for puwŏn’gun
, the prayer does not offer much detail on the reason, while, in the case of the magistrate, the prayer wishes for him to get a promotion because his promotion in the government has been delayed. Then, the prayers end by asking the bodhisattva to grant his divine divination.
What is interesting in these prayers for two high-class yangban members of the Chosŏn era is that Confucian ethics are seemingly more emphasized than faith in Avalokiteśvara. Of course, at first, the prayers mention that if people take refuge in the bodhisattva, there will be many benefits. However, when the prayers reach the point of introducing the commissioners, these prayers place much more emphasis on Confucian ethics. In particular, the prayers describe the commissioners’ virtues and good deeds, all of which are related to Confucian morality. For example, in the case of the Miryang magistrate, the prayer for him praises him for possessing all the virtues that a good local magistrate is supposed to have. He is considerate, generous, and honest in nature. He also consoles victims of disasters and takes no bribe. Puwŏn’gun’s case is the same in this regard. In fact, the level of the praise is more heightened. This is understandable considering the social and political status of Kim Chosun at the time. He is depicted as an ideal Confucian. His filial piety is great and properly expressed according to the Confucian ye (Ch. li) propriety. His benevolence (Kr. in, Ch. ren) is also great to the point of reaching other people, implying that his Confucian virtue is complete because, according to Confucian teachings, benevolence should be practiced for other people only after fulfilling it for one’s parents, brothers and sisters, and close people. Neither prayer says anything about its commissioner’s Buddhist practices. The prayers never mention, for example, how they sincerely worshipped Avalokiteśvara or how they accumulated Buddhist merit by donating to a temple or a monk. In order to demonstrate to the bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara that these two Confucians deserve the bodhisattva’s blessings before the divination, the prayers instead show how they are good Confucians or how loyal they are to Confucian ethics. These prayers just assume that possessing good Confucian qualities is enough for them to receive the bodhisattva’s blessings.
Avalokiteśvara divination apparently does not aim to simply obtain prognostication. As Beverley F. McGuire shows, it could also play a didactic role, functioning as a diagnostic or pedagogical tool for higher (moral or spiritual) learning.40
In the case of late-Chosŏn-era Avalokiteśvara divination, it encouraged practitioners to do good deeds. When practitioners performed divination and received a good sign, it was interpreted as meaning that they should continue their moral life to maintain their good fortune rather than being relieved and loose. On the other hand, when practitioners received a bad fortune, they were thought to need to change their bad deeds to avoid bad fortune or to maintain their good deeds if they had been doing good. Thus, this Avalokiteśvara practice was not meant to be only a one-time practice, similar to other divination practices in China and Korea.41
Rather, it was most likely meant to be used as a regular practice to check on changing fortunes through changing actions. More importantly, these actions in question were Confucian-oriented, though faith in Avalokiteśvara was not totally ignored or faded away. Faith in Avalokiteśvara as a divine being who would respond to a practitioner’s sincerity underlies the whole process of divination: the bodhisattva would give his divination at the request of a practitioner and accordingly grant fortunes to him. Nonetheless, the grounds that Avalokiteśvara uses to decide to grant fortunes is the embodiment of Confucian ethics in a practitioner’s life, at least for these two cases of divination for the Confucian literati. Here, we can see another example of the Buddhist embracing of Confucian ethics in the late Chosŏn era.
Although there are not many records for the actual performance of Avalokiteśvara divination, it was probably somewhat frequently practiced in the late Chosŏn era, just as in Qing China and Tokugawa Japan.42
The abovementioned two cases show that such divination could be popular in different regions because those two Confucian aristocrats who commissioned the divination were in two distantly separated regions and were significantly influential in their respective regions (puwŏn’gun
in the capital and the state; the magistrate in Miryang, Kyŏngsang province). The explanations of the fortune-telling verses in Avalokiteśvara divination can also be applied to all classes of society. We can guess that it was practiced among quite a few people, including yangban
Confucian literati. A monk could be, at times, invited to perform the divination just as in the abovementioned two cases. As Huang explains for the case of the Tianzhu divination, monk adepts of Chosŏn Korea probably would have served as “guide, advisor, or divine mediator” in the divination ritual.43
However, because the Avalokiteśvara divination manual does not necessarily require a professional officiant, ordinary lay practitioners could perform the divination by themselves especially when they were able to read classical Chinese. There was indeed such a case. The Pukchŏng ilgi
北征日記 (Diary of the Northern Expedition), in the early-19th-century yangban
official Yi Chint’aek’s 李鎭宅 (1738–1805) literary collection, reports that Yi performed Avalokiteśvara divination for his fellow Confucian elite, praising the yangban
’s filial piety.44
When Avalokiteśvara divination was conducted in the late Chosŏn era, people could be reminded that they should practice Confucian personal, social, and national ethics for the bodhisattva to grant them their blessings, as shown in these cases.