The name of Su-un(水雲) Daesinsa(大神師), the founder of Donghak(東學) Chondogyo(天道敎), is Choi Jeu(崔濟愚). On Octover 28, 1824, Daesinsa was born in today’s Gajeong-ri Hyungok-myun Gyungju-si. His father Mr. Choi Ok was a poor Confucian scholar but his academic fame was high in the south Gyeongsang-do region. His mother Mrs. Han was re-married widow. Owing to a number of factors, including the poverty of household and the social opprobrium that he is the son of a remarried woman, Daesinsa experienced an unhappy childhood. He had ambitions of relieving the world peoples from the unhappy chaotic conditions. He wandered throughout the country in search of manifold teachings about the life. In Chondogyo, this Daesinsa’s activities to seek for the truth at this time is called the Circular Tour of the Eight Roads (Juyupallo, 周遊八路).
On this tour Daesinsa encountered the world’s many religions and philosophies but came to the ultimate realization that nothing represented a genuine teaching capable of rescuing the world from its disordered state. Passing his days in despondent and despairing mind Daesinsa had a mystical experience at this time. It was a spring day in 1855 when Daesinsa was staying at the neighborhood of his wife’s parent’s home in Ulsan. Spending his time with the weight of the world on his shoulder Daesinsa was confronted by otherworldly being who presented him with the Mysterious Book (Chonseo, 天書) at a thatched house in Yeosibawitgol valley not far from Ulsan.
There is no saying what the text of this book was, but it is thought to have contained, among other things, the command being required to pray to God. In other words, the command is thought that the truth leading to the salvation of the world is not found outside oneself but it is available to be found in the direct prayerful communion with God. After this encounter, Daesinsa discontinued his walking pilgrimages in search of spiritual teachings. Instead of that, his method to seek the truth changed to the form of prayer to God. In Chondogyo these events are called the Eulmyo Chonseo (乙卯天書). This means that Daesinsa received the mysterious Book in 1855 (Eulmyonyun, 乙卯年) from God.
Following these events, Daesinsa continued his religious training in such places as Naewonam, a Buddhist temple on Mt. Chonsung in Yangsan-si Kyeongsangnam-do, and Jeokmyeolgul. Fanally at the Yongdamjeong in the vicinity of his birthplace near Mt. Gumi Hyungok-myun Gyeongju-si, he experienced a conclusive religious moment receiving the Great Cosmic Truth (Mugeuk-Daedo, 無極大道). Furthermore, during this conclusive religious moment Daesinsa received a mysterious talisman (Youngbu, 靈符) with the command to rescue the people from disease. And he also received an incantation (Jumun, 呪文) with the command to teach the people. This event took place on April 5 1860 (the first Podeok year, Gyeongsinnyeon, 庚申年). Thus in Chondogyo this day is remembered as Chonilginyeomil (天日紀念日) in observance of Chondogyo’s founding. Existing religions make their beginning from the birthday of the founder. But Chondogyo differs from most religions in this respect by dating it’s beginning from the moment when the founder received the Grate Cosmic Truth.
After receiving The Grate Cosmic Truth, Daesinsa spent nearly one year in practicing asceticism and training. Then, in June of the 2nd year of Podeok (1861) he emerged to face the world for the first time and spread out The Grate Cosmic Truth among the people. This new teaching Sichonju (侍天主) that because of every high or low social class peoples in the world are keeping God in their body, they are all fundamentally equal was very well received by those who had dreamed of a new social order in their lives. Thus Yongdamjeong (龍潭亭) in Gyeongju where Daesinsa was staying was very crowded by peoples coming to request admission into the Donghak (東學) for many days. Because of this propagation and interest shown by so many people, Daesinsa was blamed by Confucian scholar-officials in Gyeongsang-do province and was pressured by government office. Therefore, on November in the 2nd year of Podeok (1861) he finally departed from Yongdam and took refuge in the small temple Eunjeokam (隱跡庵) within the Gyoryongsansung near Namwon in Jeolla-do province and there he spent the winter. In this Eunjeokam Daesinsa wrote the main scriptures of Donghak, such as Nonhakmun (論學文), Gweonhakga (勸學歌) and Dosusa (道修詞).
After passing the winter there he returned to Yongdam. But official repression continued. On December 10 in the 4th year of Podeok (1863) he was arrested by the special emissary Jeong Ungu with his entourage sent by the Royal Court of Joseon and was put in Daegu jail. On March 10 in the 5th year of Podeok (1864) he was punished by beheading at Daegujangdae. In order to keep the Grate Cosmic Truth Daesinsa obediently gave up to be tied but did not bend his will at all. Then in order to follow the command of God he mounted the execution platform by himself and died a martyr for his faith. Then he was 41 years old.
Daesinsa criticized the collapsing traditional order of Joseon dynasty as well as the modern order of the West encroaching the East. And he created Donghak as a new system of belief to respond these challenges. Donghak founded by Daesinsa got over very independently the collapsing order of the feudalism and the external encroachment being tightened by foreign powers. Donghak set up a new order system and represented a facet of spontaneous modernization in our national history.
However, at the same time of the beginning, Donghak impacted on the traditional order of Joseon dynasty internally and impacted on the encroachment of the West externally. Owing to these reasons Donghak trod a very hard thorny road. Like this, Donghak treading a thorny road faced a shutdown crisis. Owing to Joseon society’s feudality and military force of the incursive Western Powers countless disciples of Donghak were martyred. Thus Joseon society was unable to accept the desire of Donghak followers about the spontaneous modernization. Because of these problems, Oriental society as well as Joseon society had to meet with more increasing confusion and collapse and should pay the costly penalty to be pillaged by the Western Power for a long time.
This upheaval and crisis times continued for more than a century and even in the present day. Socialism that was one of the two great world ideologies presented as a new modernity from the nineteenth century collapsed and Capitalism is also exposing it’s limitation. Today these two great ideologies can’t present a right way for us to live happily. Therefore we can see the fact that many sensible thinkers in East and West are making effort to find the new alternatives for responding the present state. But Daesinsa already had a foresight about these crisis and despair 159 years ago and founded Donghak that can be an alternative for these problems.
First we can see the fact that Daesinsa regarded human history with a cosmological perspective and divided into two groups, the civilization era before beginning of Donghak (Suncheon, 先天) and the civilization era after beginning of Donghak (Hucheon, 後天). Viewing with the perspective of cosmic rotating history, he argued that humankind is now standing in the last period of Suncheon. Therefore Daesinsa made clear the fact that humankind has fallen into a state of confusion and degeneration and this has been a necessary situation to open the new era of Hucheon. He regarded the disorderly mid-nineteenth century Joseon society as the last evidence of Suncheon. But Daesinsa regarded these symptoms as the problems of Jocheon dynasty as well as the phenomenon that all humanity experienced in common. Therefore in order that humanity might pass through this era of Suncheon and independently prepare to enter the era of Hucheon, he first strongly emphasized to change the corrupt popular mind at that times overflowing with selfishness (gakjawisim, 各自爲心) into the mind of God.
By any sense the 21c when we live is the time when the gakjawisim (各自爲心) indicated by Daesinsa is surging terribly more than any times. Today’s society is socially, ideologically, spiritually falling into extreme confusion. Then today is surely the era that the Beginning Again of the World (Dasigaedyuk) advocated by Daesinsa is demanded urgently more than any times. Viewing from such a perspective, the teaching of Daesinsa is not merely such a teaching existing in our past history but is an necessary and earnest teaching that all of us living today must pay attention to above all things. Thus in Chondogyo Su-un Daesinsa who had spreaded the new teaching entitled the New Beginning of Spiritual Civilization Era (Huchongaebyuk, 後天開闢) is called as the First Great Church Leader of Chondogyo (天道敎 1世 敎祖).