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South Korea’s Buddhists march against president

August 27, 2008

From The Associated Press

Tens of thousands of South Korean Buddhists took to the streets of Seoul on Wednesday to protest what they say is pro-Christian bias in the administration of President Lee Myung-bak.

Discontent among Buddhists has been brewing for months over Lee’s alleged favoritism toward Christianity. Buddhists have criticized Lee, a Presbyterian, for filling most of his Cabinet and top presidential posts with other Christians.

Police estimated that 38,000 people, including 4,000 monks, gathered Wednesday at Seoul’s City Hall. Organizers said they would march to the Jogye temple, South Korea’s main Buddhist temple, several blocks away.

Buddhist ire was raised again in June when the transportation ministry dropped Buddhist temples from electronic maps of the public transit system and by a photo in which the head of the national police agency posed with a famous pastor at a Christian event.

The ministry said the omission of the temples was a mistake by a lower official and they were later restored to the maps.

Adding fuel to the fire was a police inspection of the car of the Venerable Jikwan, head of the Jogye Order, South Korea’s largest Buddhist sect, in July when his car was moving out of the Jogye temple. The temple is harboring some eight civic activists who led weeks of street rallies earlier this year against Lee’s decision to resume imports of U.S. beef.

The protests rocked the president’s administration, which took office in February, and Lee’s approval ratings plummeted.

Monks and other Buddhist officials have called on the government to take steps to end what they say is religious discrimination.

Lee “should fire the head of the national police agency to show his sincerity” toward religious neutrality, said Park Jeong-kyu, a spokesman for one of the Buddhist groups that organized Wednesday’s rally.

Park also called for legislation banning religious discrimination.

Buddhism is the oldest major religion in Korea, though Christianity has grown dramatically, especially during the 20th century. According to government figures, Buddhists made up 22.8 percent of the population in 2005, while Christians accounted for 29.2 percent.

In early July, Prime Minister Han Seung-soo, a Catholic, instructed all ministries not to give the mistaken impression that the government favors a specific religion, according to his office.

Han also visited the Jogye temple and expressed regret over alleged discrimination.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Bernard Lim permalink
    September 15, 2008 4:03 am

    I feel that Korean Buddhism is not under threat not just because of , but because of the way Buddhsim behaves. As a Buddhist, we do not usually see many Buddhists spreading their religion because they are just “lukewarm” believers of it or because Buddhism do not let Buddhists proselytize their religion. Because of this, Buddhism is under a very very strong threat within itself and because of globalization.

    I have a very strong reason for saying this. Still remember how was Buddhism spread? The religion weas spread by Buddhist missionaries. Think about this: if the missionaries hadn’t existed during those days, Buddhism would naver have become a world religion, right?

    Also, there is no organization that consolidates all the Buddhists of the world. No world congress, no nothing. If we allow Buddhism to flounder, wouldn’t we be committing a sin too?

    Also, in my country, all I shall say is that my country is Singapore, many Buddhists are committing crimes, committing just about a lot of things that are not desirable. Many of them consists of teenagers and children. All because they were not given a good religious education in Buddhism. The parents themselves did not even know what is Buddhism itself, and many Buddhists in my country are ignorant of the fact that Buddha is a living being, not God. As a result of their ignorance in their religion, many converted to other religions.

    In the case of Korea, the temples are mostly in the mountains and Buddhism often has no presence in the cities and is not prominent. If Buddhism were to again flourish in Korea, it would need a concerted effort by the monks and the clergy to make it prominent, and they MUST proselytize.

    Thank you.

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