Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Korean Buddhism -- under seige

oct 10th, 2007

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: v

This maybe a scenario India is also moving towards.
Pictures from Buddhism under Seige in South Korea.
You can see how the persecution of Koreans buddhism, temples etc.
Fw: Persecution of Buddhists in Korea

Korean Buddism at the Crossroads
Posted February 14, 2004
by Dr Frank M. Tedesco
6. Buddhism used to be the dominant religion in Korea. Today it is
marginalized with a little over 50% of Koreans being Christian. When
and how did this happen?
Korean Buddhism is about 1700 years old. During the first 1000 years
Buddhism was the state religion. But in 1392 with the establishment
of the Yi Dynasty the neo-Confucian literati influenced the court and
transformed Korea into a legalistic Confucian state. Buddhism was
ridiculed and suppressed. Monks were eventually banned from the
cities and were regarded as the lowest class of society. As a result
the number of monks dwindled and they were obliged to remain in the
mountains. Korean Buddhism became a "mountain religion" in this
period. At the end of the Yi in 1910 the Japanese annexed Korea and
attempted to "Japanize" Korean Buddhism and incorporate it into
different Japanese sects.
They compelled celibate Korean sangha members to marry like their counterparts in Japan by passing regulations favoring married priests.
With the defeat of Japan in August 1945, Korea was divided into North
and South. Then came the Korean War (1950-1953). The entire country
was in ruins and the people were demoralized. The country needed
foreign aid and the United States poured in money to rebuild South
Korea as a bulwark against communism. In the process the US
government used Christian missionaries to administer aid because they
had been in the country for nearly a hundred years and understood the
local customs and language. The missionaries became to be seen as
saviors of the Korean people. The local people began to associate
Christianity with development, self-help, advanced Western technology
and medicine.
They also provided scholarships and empowered women and
the poor. At the same time the Buddhist monastic community was
largely uneducated and fragmented, and there was no strong and
organized lay Buddhist leadership. Buddhism began to lose followers
to the Christian missionaries who were able to capitalize on these
weaknesses and offer rice and hope for the future.

7. When you visit Seoul today, you see churches everywhere. Is this a
reflection of the weakness of Buddhism in Korea?

Yes and no. If you arrive in Seoul at night you will see neon lights
of red crosses all over the city. One reason Christian churches
proliferate is because it is easy to establish churches with lay
leadership in relatively inexpensive commercial space. The
conservative mind-set requires monks who must be supported to perform
ceremonies in a traditional way, not to mention expensive
architecture and statues, etc. There is an overabundance of young
Protestant ministers who compete for church members, too.
Nevertheless there are active and growing dharma centers in Seoul and
many other major cities in the country. You have to search harder for
Buddhists in Seoul, though- they do not evangelize like Protestants
do. A recent Gallup poll indicates there are more ex-Christians than
church members in Korea. I meet former Christians all the time in
temples in Korea. Simple practicality plays a major role in religious
affiliation in Korean communities- Koreans in the US are
overwhelmingly Christian, often for lack of a relevant and fulfilling
Buddhist alternative.

10. You wrote about militant Christians disturbing Buddhist devotees
and sometimes attacking Buddhist temples before festivals such as
Buddha's Birthday. Are these rampant or isolated incidents?

Some Korean Christians are very zealous and use every opportunity to
bring others to their faith, be it elementary school teachers
ridiculing non-Christian children in classrooms or Christian officers
ordering of baptism for new military draftees as "moral education,"
for instance. There have been a number of attacks on Buddhist temples
all over the country by extremist Christians over the years. I was
galvanized to deal with this issue shortly before Buddha's Birthday
in 1996, when five incidents of arson took place in my immediate
neighborhood. Three assaults were made on Venerable Seung Sahn's
Seoul International Zen Center at Hwagyesa. Nearby, two buildings of
Ponwan Chongsa Temple were totally destroyed by flames, including the
Main Dharma Hall and a Hall of Arahants that housed 516 hand-carved
and hand-painted wooden statues. Samsong Am Mountain Hermitage was
also attacked and its wooden bronze bell and drum tower was
destroyed. However, it is encouraging to know that this year's Buddha
Day celebrations went on smoothly without any reports of vandalism or
rudeness so far. You may wish to read more about religious tensions
in Korea by accessing information on

11. You have been outspoken against such attacks. How effective has
your work been?

I think my activities have brought international attention to the
fact that Christian missionary success in Korea is not without
blemish. In fact I assert it has been a cultural trauma for Korea
that will take generations to heal. Some Korean Christians have been
violent aggressors against Buddhism (and other religions) in Korea,
and their actions go against the spirit of Christ and the universal
ideal of religious harmony and tolerance. I organized a panel of
prominent Korean Protestant theologians and Buddhist monks for a
major international inter-religious conference in Chicago in the
summer of 1996 to deal with this unpleasant news and published
articles to highlight these attacks and the narrow-mindedness that
engenders them. The Society of Buddhist-Christian Studies considered
this an issue of major concern and wrote letters to the World Council
of Churches, President Kim Dae-jung, relevant ministries in the
Korean Government, and even to then President Bill Clinton. I helped
various foreign journalists as well as BBC Radio and TV stations
investigate these attacks on Buddhist places of worship in Korea and
gave them extensive interviews. Religion comes under the Ministry of
Culture in Korea. Public servants from there organized a meeting with
religious leaders to discuss these disturbances but they were
ostracized for interfering with matters that did not concern the
government and were condemned by extremists who justified destroying
idols as part of their belief! Generally speaking, sincere efforts
for inter-religious dialogue have been weak and sporadic and give the
impression of superficial, public relations events.

Christian groups in the West have always decried that they are
persecuted in different parts of the world but now I am telling the
Christian world to their face that their own extremist brethren are
persecuting the Buddhists in Korea! Buddhist groups have not fought
back or taken revenge against these attacks by crazed extremists.
However, I believe that not all Christians in Korea are fanatics; in
fact, many Korean Christians are embarrassed, even mortified, by
these barbaric acts. I hope that Christian evangelists in Asia set
aside their pride and examine their conscience for what they are
doing to the psyches and cultures of the peoples they wish to
convert. They are creating seeds of deep and lasting unhappiness by
inducing people to reject their own cultural roots and heritage.
Buddhists, too, need to accept the aggressive Christian movement as a
meaningful wake-up call! We need to sharpen our understanding of
Buddha's teachings, practice harder and open our hearts to new ways
of expressing metta and karuna creatively. It seems that healing
naturally follows acceptance of our suffering.

Loh Kea Yu graduated from Universiti Sains Malaysia in 1981 with a
B.Sc. Education in physics. A Buddhist student leader in his college
days, Kea Yu continues to be involved in dharma activities through
talks and meditation. He is currently a high school physics teacher
in Klang where he resides with his family.

Korean Buddhism at the Crossroads by Dr Frank Tedesco


karyakarta92 said...

Does Buddhism have a concept of "Shuddhi"? Such a doctrine is necessary to preserve the native culture. Hinduism had a vibrant martial tradition in addition to a tradition of debate and reason.
The martial tradition, unfortunately was weakened by the Buddhist obsession with pacificism; which is one reason why the erstwhile Hindu lands then under the sway of Buddhism (Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan etc) capitulated to islamic conquest more easily than northern India which was never completely subdued by the muslims. Buddhism needs to reconcile it's
differences with Hinduism and seek common ground against the twin scourges of islamic terror and christian evangelism.

The martial tradition within Hinduism itself needs to be reinvigorated. Christists can be countered effectively with a determined non-pacifist effort, like this "Shuddhikaran" in
Madhya Pradesh:

ramesh said...

I think the credit of saving India going completely Muslim goes to that great Namboodri from kerala – Adi Shankara. By reinvigorating Hinduism he – knowingly or unknowingly – prepared the country to withstand the shock of the Islamic invasions. Had India been a (predominantly) Buddhist country at that point of time, it would surely been completely islamicized, as happened to the other buddhist cultures of central asia.