Online tutorial: Korean Psychology

korea"This article by Dr. Luke Kim is part of a series designed to teach families about Korean culture. For a listing of all the articles in the series, click here.

What do Confucian and Buddhist teachings have to say about haan? While Korean folklore has recognized haan as a prevailing experience for a long time, haan or emotion like haan, are rarely mentioned in other Asian traditional literatures, including Oriental medicine. The Confucian traditions recognize various emotions, however, they emphasize the importance of having "proper four feelings," and using self-control so as not to arouse the "improper seven feelings." People were taught to control and suppress haan through self-discipline.

In Buddhism, we find a similar attitude. Buddhism tend to ignore haan and other human emotions, pointing out the impermanence and uselessness of emotion for the true self. This position can be easily understood, if one believes that all human suffering has its source in human desire, and that all emotions arise because of desires.

Contrary to these "high-minded" religions and teachings, we find a large number of references to haan in the popular folk traditions and shamanism. According to the Korean shamanism and folk beliefs, haan has been regarded as one of the prime causes of human suffering, illness and misfortunes. In fact, some claim that the Koreans' indigenous psychology is primarily the psychology of haan.

Shamans work with innocent or unfortunate, haan-ridden clients by offering care and healing. Korean shamanism uses complex forms of ritual called "goot." Goot ritual includes: invoking ancestral souls, dancing, chanting, narrating the patient' haan-ridden life story, and eventually going into a trance state. The goot is to resolve the dead's haan as well as that of the client. The process to release haan is called "Haan-puri (unknot and let out haan)" . Almost all shamans are female, and most of the clients are female. Commonly the female shaman herself has a history of haan-ridden life herself, and becomes a shaman following her healing through help of a shaman. To be able to share one's deep feelings of haan with someone who has similar haan experiences is considered most helpful in the healing process.

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