The rush of Western civilization, headed by Christianity, caused a considerable identity crisis in the 19th century Joseon dynasty. The founder of Donghak 東學, Suun Choe Je-u 水雲 崔濟愚, sought a way out of the crisis through religion. Suun contended that the religions of both east and west are grounded in the same Way of Heaven, and that it can be ascertained through an experience of mystical union induced by chanting a 21-character incantation. He also emphasized the importance of practicing this Way of Heaven in real life. According to him, the Western invasion is an act of selfishness, and goes against the Heavenly Way. The Heavenly Way is considered a foundation that enables communication and coexistence in a religiously diverse society. Despite the fact that his belief in the universality of the Heavenly Way is based on a personal experience—which is problematic to all mysticisms—Donghak provided a powerful discourse to deal with a variety of challenges of his time. In this age of religious pluralism, Suun’s universalism is significant in exploring the intellectual and spiritual foundation of the modern pluralistic thoughts of Korea.
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