When Buddhism was first brought from China to the Korean Peninsula in 372
CE, Shamanism was the indigenous religion. Shamanism is the ancient
religion of animism and nature-spirit worship and its origins in Korea are
lost in antiquity. It is based on the belief that human beings as well as
natural forces and inanimate objects all possess spirits or that they are
gods. Since Buddhism was not seen to be in conflict with the rites of
nature worship, it was able to naturally blend in with Shamanism. And so
many of the special mountains believed to be the residences of gods in
pre-Buddhist times, soon became the sites of Buddhist temples.
Korean Shamanism regarded three gods with special reverence and
importance: the Mountain God, Sanshin (who is usually depicted as an old
man with a tiger at his feet), the Toksong, or recluse, and Ch'ilsong (the
god of the seven stars, the Big Dipper). Buddhism accepted and absorbed
these three gods and, even today, special shrines are set aside for them in
most temples. The Mountain God, in particular, receives due veneration
following the ceremonies honoring the Buddha in the Main Hall.
And thus Chinese Buddhism blended with Korean Shamanism to produce a unique
form: Korean Buddhism. As in other Buddhist countries, the fundamental
teachings of the Buddha remained the same, even though the form, influenced
by indigenous culture and customs, was uniquely Korean.