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Myodeok (妙德): Patron of the Publication of Jikji

Myodeok (妙德) was a biguni (bhikkuni, Buddhist nun) during the reign of King U (禑王) of the Goryeo dynasty. She paid for the publication of “Baegunhwasangchorok buljojikjisimcheyojeol (白雲和尙抄錄佛祖直指心體要節; Buljojikjisimcheyojeol, Jikjisimgyeong, Jikji, etc.),” the oldest known extant book printed using movable metal type.

Myedeok paid for the full cost of its publication with movable metal type and partially paid for the cost of its publication with wooden type. During the Goryeo dynasty, both sons and daughters inherited equal shares of property from their parents, so aristocratic women frequently made donations to Buddhist temples.

There is a question about the identity of Myodeok. In “Yunpilamgi (潤筆菴記)” written by Yi Saek (李穡) in 1378, there is a passage that mentions Myodeok: “That Lady Im (任氏), wife of Jeong An-gun (定安君夫人), now became a Buddhist nun and her Buddhist name is Myodeok. She made a votive offering of her wealth to this small temple in this mountain, which is why I am writing this memoir.” In other words, he is saying that Myodeok sponsored the building of a small temple called Yunpilam and that Myodeok is Lady Im, the wife of Jeong An-gun. That she had enough wealth to publish Jikji provides certain evidence that she came from a royal or noble family.

“Myodeokgyecheop (妙德戒牒)” was discovered in 1988. A gyecheop is a book (cheop, 牒) that certifies that one has received a gye through the Buddhist initiation ceremony (受戒式). When the high priest Jigong (指空) of India came to Goryeo and was initiating people into Buddhism in 1326, it seems that she also received a gye and her Bodhisattva name “Myodeok,” which she kept after she became a Buddhist nun. It is difficult to confirm that these two people referred to by the same name are the same person, but it is not unlikely that the Myodeok that sponsored the printing of Jikji because she received a gye from Jigong which would not have been possible if she was not from a royal or noble family. Myodeok shows how much women contributed to the development of Buddhist culture during the Goryeo dynasty (Gweon, Sun-hyeong, An Encyclopedia of Women in Korea).