The Korean rendering of the Chinese term Ch'an (pronounced zen in Japanese). The Chinese Ch'an school, itself still very young, began filtering into Korea during the late Silla period, beginning around 780 ce. The earliest transmission of Ch'an to Korea is credited to the monk Pŏmnang (fl. 632–46), who had travelled to China and studied with Tao-hsin (580–651), the traditional fourth patriarch of Ch'an. He was closely followed by many other Korean students, who, upon returning to the Korean peninsula, were instrumental in establishing the so-called ‘nine mountains’ (Kor., kusan), or nine prominent temples that served as the bases of nine branches of masters and disciples. One especially important figure in the development of the Sŏn school is the monk Chinul (1158–1210), who founded the Sŏngwang Temple on Mt. Chogye, helped to reform the monastic order, and put Sŏn practice on a philosophical foundation of Hua-yen thought. The ‘Chogye school’ that emanates from him survives to the present, and the dominant school of Korean Sŏn is the Chogye Order. Other masters, such as T'aego Pou (1301–82) and Kihwa (1376–1433), also helped to advance the doctrines, practices, and fortunes of the school.
Korean Sŏn is characterized by its attention to scriptural, doctrinal, ritual, and philosophical matters as well as to the practice of meditation.Dharma-talks by recognized masters, dialogues, and kōan study. In its later history it, like the rest of Korean Buddhism.was affected by the persecutions of the Confucian (see confucianism) Ch'osŏn rulers (1392–1910). The colonization of Korea by Japan in the early 20th century created a new, more tolerant atmosphere for Buddhism, since Japan saw the religion as a cultural link that could be exploited to gain the support of their new subjects, but this new openness carried a price. The Japanese introduced a new degree of laxity into monastic practice, recognizing the right of monks to marry (see marriage), and ignoring restrictions on alcohol and meat (see diet). Thus, after the end of the Pacific War in 1945, factional confrontations broke out within Sŏn between the monks who had followed the Japanese model, and the Chogye Order, who did not recognize the Japanese-influenced monks as monks at all, and wanted them evicted from temple properties, which would be handed into their care. After protracted legal battles and confrontations that extended even into the national legislature, the Chogye Order prevailed, and is today the largest and most powerful faction of Sŏn. See also dhyāna.