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South Korean Buddhist Order Proposes Temple Stay Program in North Korea

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Ven. Wonhaeng, president of the Jogye Order, during the press conference on Wednesday. From english.hani.co.kr
Ven. Wonhaeng, president of the Jogye Order, during the press conference on Wednesday. From english.hani.co.kr

South Korea’s largest Buddhist order has announced that it intends to launch various inter-Korean projects this year with its North Korean counterpart. The projects will include overnight temple stays at Singye Temple on Mount Kumgang in North Korea. 

Venerable Wonhaeng, president of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, disclosed the plan on Wednesday at the order’s New Year press conference at the Memorial Hall of Korean Buddhist History and Culture in Seoul, announcing that the Jogye Order would “open a new chapter in inter-Korean Buddhist exchanges in the year 2019.” (Yonhap News Agency)

During the press conference, Ven. Wonhaeng noted that discussions about a potential temple stay program at Mount Kumgang have already been held with the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae and the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism, adding “we [the Jogye Order] are hopeful that we will be able to hold a temple stay program as we successfully completed a restoration project of Shingye Temple in the past.” (Dong-A Ilbo)

The Jogye Order is planning to hold a joint ceremony for the New Year with the North Korean Chosun Buddhist Federation on Mount Kumgang in February, when Ven. Wonhaeng hopes to discuss the temple stay and other exchange projects. “(We) will push for discussion with related [North Korean] bodies in order that we can arrange for a temple stay [program] in Singye Temple on Mount Kumgang,” the monk said. (Yonhap New Agency)

If the North Korean Buddhist associations agree with the inter-Korean temple stay plans, additional facilities and accommodation will need to be built at Singye Temple and South Korean monks would need to be dispatched to help with the program. According to Ven. Wonhaeng, the plan will first be discussed within the Jogye Order before negotiations are opened with any North Korean partners.   

Singyesa or Singye Temple on Mount Kumgang in North Korea in 2007, during the opening ceremony. From hani.co.kr
Singyesa or Singye Temple on Mount Kumgang in North Korea in 2007, during the opening ceremony. From hani.co.kr

Singye Temple is one of four renowned temples on Mount Kumgang, along with Pyohun Temple, Jangan Temple, and Yujom Temple. It was completely demolished during the Korean War (1950–53) and then rebuilt and restored under a joint project with the help of South Korean Buddhist community following the first inter-Korean summit in 2000. 

The temple stay program is to be organized in adherence with any international sanctions that have been placed on North Korea, but Ven. Wonhaeng expressed hope about the success of the project, noting that once an agreement is made about the first inter-Korean temple stay, the Jogye Order will push to expand the initiative to other major temples in the North. 

According to the order, 520,000 people participate in temple stay programs each year, 7.4 percent of whom are foreigners. The joint temple stay program could thus be a step toward cementing peace on the Korean peninsula and could attract both Korean and international tourists. 

Ven. Wonhaeng also vowed to organize other projects, including a program to plant trees around North Korean temples and a joint celebration of the Buddha’s birthday later this year: “[The Jogye Order] will also discuss ways to hold a celebratory lantern lighting ceremony in temples across Pyongyang on this year’s Buddha’s birthday, as well as an exhibition of traditional lanterns from both South and North Korea.” (Yonhap News Agency)

This year will be a busy one for Ven. Wonhaeng, who was elected last year after his after his predecessor, Ven. Seoljeong, stepped down amid scandals and corruption allegations that caused a rift within the order.* However, relations between the Koreas have been directed toward peaceful coexistence following the historic summit between South Korean president Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in April last year at Panmunjom in the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, and bonds between the Buddhist organizations of north and south have tightened in the last year.** 

Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism Elects New Head Monk (Buddhistdoor Global)

** North Korean Buddhist Federation Sends Vesak Prayer to South (Buddhistdoor Global)

See more

S. Korean Buddhist Order Plans Various Inter-Korean Projects (KBS World Radio)
Korea’s Buddhist sect pushes for temple stay program on Mt. Kumgang (Dong-A Ilbo)
Jogye Order to seek inter-Korean Buddhist exchange projects in 2019 (Hankyoreh)
South Korea’s largest Buddhist order to pursue ‘temple stay’ in N. Korea (Yonhap News Agency)

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