The Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, the largest Buddhist order in Korea, has criticized perceived religious bias on the part of the administration of the country’s president, Moon Jae-in. The cause for the move originate in October last year, when Rep. Jung Chung-rae of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea criticized Buddhist temples for benefiting from admission fees charged to temple visitors.
The Jogye Order plans to hold a nationwide rally on 21 January in an effort to eradicate what it sees as religious bias and to protect the independence of Korean Buddhism.
In a special meeting on 6 January, Ven. Wonhaeng, president of the Jogye Order, said: “We decided to go over all the religious biases and Buddhist distortions that have occurred since the founding of the country, and to hold the nationwide monks rally.” He added: “Buddhism survived the Joseon kingdom for about 500 years and it is necessary to tell everyone that the religion should not be treated unfairly.” (The Korean Times)
Some 5,000 Jogye monastics are expected to join the 21 January rally in Seoul, with plans underway to hold a separate rally near the presidential office on 26 or 27 February. The move would be the first protests by the order against the Korean government in 14 years, after protests in 2008 followed governmental surveillance of the then-president of the Jogye Order, along with other highly ranked members.
In December, the Jogye Order threatened legal action against the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism for its promotion of Christmas carols, arguing that the move showed government bias in favor of one religion.
The carol campaign “is an explicit promotion of a specific religion by the government, forcing people to a particular religious music, even if the purpose of the campaign is to create a warm social atmosphere and comfort citizens,” said an official at the Jogye Order. “As such, the carol campaign must stop immediately. However, we were told by the organizer, the Culture Ministry, that the campaign would continue as planned.” (The Korea Herald)
Previously, the Jogye Order also criticized the city government of Gwangju, Gyeonggi Province, for its plan to designate the “Cheonjinam Pilgrimage Route” as a Catholic site, despite its significance to both Buddhists and Catholics.
Not all members of the Jogye Order are in favor of the protest actions, however.
One monastic, Ven. Heo Jeong, wrote on Facebook: “Holding a rally with more than 299 vaccinated people is against the law. But the order says it will gather about 5,000 people. Is it really okay to hold a monks’ rally violating the country’s law in this pandemic?” The monk added: “There is a military-like tradition that we should unconditionally follow decisions from the top of the order, even if they go against the people’s voices, which is ruining the sect.” (The Korean Times)
Also voicing concerns was Ven. Myungjin, who uploaded a YouTube video on 7 January in which he said: “Is this something that the entire Buddhist community should put all of its efforts into? Is this really a rational move? Buddhism will be criticized by the order’s decision.” (The Korean Times)
The order, which is active in inter-religious activities, lit Christmas lanterns last month in front of its main temple Jogyesa in central Seoul. The tradition of celebrating Christmas with the lanterns dates back to 2010.
“Jesus did not discriminate between those who have and those who do not, those who are learned and those who are not, and broke barriers in practicing tolerance,” Ven. Wonhaeng, head of the Jogye Order, said. “We continue to remember this as the meaning of Christmas. I hope that the message of love and harmony that Jesus sent to this land will continue to spread.” (The Korea Herald)
Approximately 56 per cent of South Korea’s population holds no religious affiliation, according to 2015 census data. Christians make up the majority of religious people in the country with some 27.6 per cent of the population, while Buddhists account for 15.5 per cent.
Buddhist order goes all-out to criticize government, some monks criticize order (The Korean Times)
Buddhist sect threatens legal action against Culture Ministry’s carol campaign (The Korea Herald)
Jogyesa Buddhist temple lights up Christmas lanterns (The Korea Herald)
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