King Chimryu succeeded to the throne in the year 384 when his father King Geungusu died. His reign didn’t last long. He died the following year, after only 19 months on the throne. But during his short reign, his kingdom saw an important historic event, namely, the introduction of Buddhism.
In the lunar month of September in 384, Indian Buddhist monk named Marananta came to Baekje from the East Jin Dynasty of China. The purpose of his visit was to bring Buddhist teachings to the Korean kingdom. King Chimryu welcomed the monk warmly and invited him to the royal palace to treat him with great hospitality. In the lunar month of February the next year, the king built a temple and designated ten Buddhist priests. Most historians agree that this was the official start of Buddhism in the Baekje Dynasty.
It is assumed that King Chimryu accepted Buddhism for political purposes. Royal power began to lose ground at the end of his predecessor’s reign, and the king was apparently looking for ways to strengthen the royal authority again. Through the introduction of the Buddhism, the king probably attempted to unify the state ideology and solidify a centralized rule. Some historians note that the king died shortly after he adopted the religion. They suppose that his sudden death had something to do with unhappy aristocrats who were displeased with the king’s policy of reinforcing his power through Buddhism. This theory is supported by the fact that the king was succeeded by his younger brother, not by his son. It is speculated that internal conflict over who should inherit the throne and a power struggle between the king and the aristocrats resulted in a political upheaval.
But some other scholars think that the king invited the foreign Buddhist monk for personal reasons. That is, the king had already been sick, and he hoped to cure his disease with the help of the religion. Proponents of this theory say this explains why the king let the foreigner stay in the palace and treated him with great care and devotion.
Whatever the reasons, the king is believed to have laid the groundwork for the development of Buddhism in his kingdom. However, records about Buddhism only appeared in the 6th century, indicating that the religion did not propagate in Baekje society for more than 100 years after the king’s death. This is due to the fact that the reign of this king, who was devoted to Buddhism, was too short, and the next king was rather unkind to Buddhist monks. Also, the subsequent political turmoil and frequent battles considerably weakened national strength, and probably hindered the development of Buddhism.