Monks from the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, the largest Buddhist order in Korea, took part in a rally at their main temple, Jogyesa, in central Seoul on 21 January. The rally was organized to protest alleged discrimination by the South Korean government against Buddhism in favor of Christianity. The government is led by President Moon Jai-in, a Catholic and a member of the Democratic Party.
Most recently, the government promoted Christmas carols in December, a move that some members of the Jogye Order said showed government bias in favor of Christianity. The gathering comes after months of allegations of discrimination by the Korean government. Issues have included complaints about the number of Buddhists in President Moon’s cabinet and policies regarding visitor fees at national parks where Buddhist temples are located.
“The government is to preserve cultural heritages, but it now dares to instigate religious conflicts and shift the responsibility,” said Ven. Wonhaeng, head of the Jogye Order, during the rally. (Swarajya)
The central complaint of the monks at the rally was against Democratic Party lawmaker Rep. Jung Chung-rai, who compared temples collecting “cultural asset viewing fees” to Bongi Kim Seon-dal, a swindler in Korean folklore famous for selling river water. According to the story, the swindler made it look like farmhands were paying him money for the water they took from the Taedong River (in contemporary North Korea). When a merchant saw this, he bought the “water rights” for a large sum of money, thinking he could then charge the farmhands. When he tried to charge the farmhands, they refused, revealing the trick of the swindler.
Buddhist temples located in national parks have been collecting 3,000–4,000 Korean won (US$2.50–3.34) from adult visitors, regardless of whether or not they visited the temple. Buddhist leaders have argued that the money is used to fund the upkeep of temples and the park areas they manage.
The rally marks the first street protest by the Jogye Order in 14 years. The previous demonstration was a 2008 protest against the government following evidence that the authorities had put leading members of the order under surveillance. Further rallies are planned near the presidential office on 26–27 February. Such a wider gathering, involving monks from across the country, has not taken place since 1994, when a rally was organized to set forth reforms in the order.
“In the government of Moon Jae-in, opportunity was not equal, the process was not fair, and the result was not righteous,” said Ven. Wonhaeng, echoing Moon’s presidential inaugural address in 2017. (The Korea Herald)
In 2017, President Moon said: “I say once again, under the Moon Jae-in government and the Democratic Party of Korea, everyone will have equal opportunities. The process will be fair, and the result will be righteous.” (The Korea Times)
In a statement released by the Jogye Order, leaders called for an apology from President Moon and for new laws to ensure that no future instances of religious bias occur. They also noted the concern over such a large gathering in the midst of a global pandemic, but said that the issues at hand required such a public response and that Buddhists had worked hard to respond respectfully to the needs imposed by the pandemic. Nevertheless, they said, the government had rewarded their efforts with bias.
South Korea: Thousands Of Jogye Order Monks Stage Protest Against Government’s ‘Anti-Buddhist Bias’, Christian ‘Favoritism’ (Swarajya)
Thousands of Buddhist monks hold rally to demand apology from president for ‘anti-Buddhist bias’ (The Korea Herald)
Moon Jae-in’s inauguration speech [FULL SCRIPT] (The Korea Times)
Buddhist monks protest in South Korea (Honolulu Star-Advertiser)
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