South Korea: Philosophy & Belief Systems                

In addition to Christianity, which was brought to South Korea in 1783, South Korea has been influenced by ancient belief systems brought by its Chinese and Japanese neighbors.

I Ching

The I Ching or "Book of Changes" (below) was written during the Western Zhou Period (1000 – 750 BC) as a divination manual. Divination means seeking answers to the unknown through supernatural means. The interpretation of the readings found in the I Ching has been debated over centuries. Many have used the book to provide guidance for moral decision-making as informed by Confucianism and Taoism.


Taoism is a philosophy and a belief that explains the simplicity and nature of the universe. The essential belief is that there is no absolute "stillness" in living things. Everything, including the universe, is changing all the time. Relative "stability" can be achieved when harmony is reached between yin and yang, which are said to be opposite but related natural forces that exist in the universe. There are five elements in total. The diagram depicts their interrelationship. Taoism teaches one to live harmoniously with nature, to seek harmony in life and to seek mental peacefulness and "emptiness." Taoists are mindful that any act to an extreme will cause the opposite reaction in force in the opposite extreme. Essentially, one should try to calm the constant movement of energy by finding balance.


Confucianism is a code for moral and ethical behavior and a set of rules to follow in order to maintain harmony in relationships. Confucianism is based on the teachings and writings of the 6th century BC philosopher Confucius. Emphasis is placed on the concept of unequal relationships (hierarchy) and the elements of responsibility and obligation. This Chinese philosophy remains a vital cultural factor in the development of South Korean society and is still present in life and business culture today. It influences the preservation of harmony and the collective good.


The general principle of Buddhism is that the world is an illusion conjured up by each individual's mind. Every thought has the power to produce a retributive future result (known as karma), and that it is this that decides in what form we will appear during our next life. Enlightenment occurs when we understand this, and nirvana is attained when we are emancipated from the endless cycle of life and death to join the "Universal Mind." Many Buddhist schools have integrated the ideas of Confucianism, Taoism and other indigenous philosophical systems so that, what was initially a foreign religion (originating in India), came to be a natural part of Korean civilization—albeit with a unique character. Buddhism has played a role in shaping the mindset of the Korean people.