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Special Report: Ven. Pomnyun Sunim Leads 10,000 People in Great Dharma Assembly for Peace on the Korean Peninsula

Ven. Pomnyun Sunim. All images courtesy of Jungto Society

The revered Korean Dharma master and socially engaged Buddhist activist Venerable Pomnyun Sunim (법륜스님) led more than 10,000 people on 13 June (the eighth day of the fifth month of the lunar calendar) in a Great Dharma Assembly for All Beings in a landmark ceremony for peace on the Korean Peninsula, under the theme “Toward a Future of 800 Years of Peace and Unity.”

The two-hour Dharma gathering was conducted in a public space adjacent to Jukrimjeong-sa, a Buddhist temple in South Korea’s North Jeolla Province. Alongside some 10,000 members of Jungto Society, the ceremony was attended by more than 200 guests from Korea and overseas, among them: former Democratic Party leader, National Assembly speaker, and prime minister of South Korea (2020–21) Chung Sye-kyun; National Assembly member Joo Ho-young; and the mayor of North Jeolla Province, Kim Gwan-young; as well as many other prominent figures from across Korean society: politicians; senior representatives of religious communities, including Ven. Hwangsahn Hyechong, former head of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, and other eminent monks; members of the armed forces, social activists, scholars, celebrities, writers, and artists, all participating to express a shared aspiration for peace and unity on the Korean Peninsula.

The sacred occasion also commemorated the 160th birth anniversary of Master Baek Yongseong (1864–1940), a pre-eminent scholar and Seon (Zen) master of the late Joseon dynasty (1392–1897) who played an instrumental role in the restoration and reformation of the Buddhadharma on the Korean Peninsula, and was also a key figure in the historic March First Movement for Korean independence in 1919 that opposed Japanese colonial rule.

“The Republic of Korea has become a developed nation after overcoming many difficulties, but it is now in crisis,” Ven. Pomnyun Sunim explained ahead of the landmark Buddhist ceremony. “Military tensions between the two Koreas are escalating, increasing the risk of war, and public opinion is becoming more divided. If peace and national unity are not ensured, growth potential will be exhausted, leading to long-term stagnation. To overcome this crisis and make the Republic of Korea a nation that greatly contributes to human happiness, we have organized this Dharma gathering of 10,000 people.”

The Dharma Assembly, hosted by the Baek Yongseong Commemoration Project Association and organized by Jungto Society, the international Buddhist community founded by Ven. Pomnyun Sunim, was conducted in two segments. 

The first part, emceed by popular actor Kim Byeong-jo, began with a traditional Korean drum performance and featured the ceremonial lighting of a peace flame, representing the deeply held aspirations of the Dharma Gathering: “A peaceful Korean Peninsula, a happy society for citizens, and sustainable development.” This was followed by the reading of a formal declaration for peace and national unity on the Korean Peninsula and a candlelight vigil for harmony and cooperation, representing the wishes of the people.

The second segment, led by talk-show host Kim Je-dong, featured all the participants joining in a mass chorus, a peace march, and a climactic performance of symbolic banners stating the aspirations of this historic event borne aloft by drones. 

“Today marks the 160th anniversary of the birth of independence activist Master Baek Yongseong. In commemoration of this day, we have organized this Grand Assembly for All Beings, wishing for peace on the Korean Peninsula, national unity, and continuous development of our nation,” Ven. Pomnyun Sunim said in his opening remarks. “First and foremost, I would like to express my deepest gratitude to all participants who have joined us in this assembly.

“Master Baek Yongseong was born during a tumultuous period in our country’s history, when the people’s uprisings were unfolding. . . . At the age of 14, Master Baek Yongseong was ordained as a monk under the guidance of Ven. Hyewol Daeseonsa at Deokmil-sa temple in Namwon City. Beyond being a Buddhist practitioner, he emerged as a pioneer for a new era . . . committed to the concept of a nation in which the people are the masters of their own destiny. . . .

“[Subsequently] Master Baek Yongseong became a pillar of March First Movement, leading the spirit of the movement to establish the Republic of Korea. . . . Today, the name and the national flag of the Republic of Korea are derived from Master Baek Yongseong’s ideas and actions. It is truly unfortunate that the Korean people do not know this history.

“Master Baek Yongseong dedicated his life to the movement to reform Buddhism and the independence movements to reclaim this country. Despite the complete destruction of all related organizations under intense suppression by Japan in 1939, he remained undeterred. While ordinary people would have succumbed to despair, Master Baek Yongseong gave hope, predicting: ‘In 60 years, not only will Korea be independent, it will also become a prosperous nation. And 25 years after that, Korea’s great fortune of 800 years will unfold.’ In line with Master Baek Yongseong’s prediction, today is the exact date of the beginning of that unfolding.”

“Today, we gather here to not only uphold the teachings of Master Baek Yongseong, but also to move beyond commemorating the past and instead to embody the spirit of our ancestors in overcoming the challenges facing our country today. Modern-day South Korea has become an economic powerhouse beyond the imagination of the past, fostering the development of democracy and blooming into a vibrant civilization. . . . Yet, simultaneously, amid rapidly evolving global geopolitics, the probability of renewed conflict on the Korean Peninsula rises daily, and everything that we have built is at risk of collapsing due to war.

“Meanwhile, domestic politics often portray as adversaries those from different parties or with differing ideologies. This approach will not help us overcome our national crisis. The path that Master Baek Yongseong and countless patriots envisioned involves recognizing, understanding, and respecting our differences, uniting our nation in a spirit of mutual understanding, and initiating a national movement to sustain South Korea’s development.

“With heartfelt determination, and despite the scorching sun, we have gathered here today to express our aspirations. We have prepared this event in the profound hope that if there is a heaven, it will be moved, and if our ancestors hear us, they will bestow their blessings upon us. Once again, we sincerely thank all the distinguished guests and participants who have joined us today.”

After the guests of honor had shared their views and perspectives on the profound importance of the Dharma gathering, it was the turn of Ven. Domun Sunim—a disciple of Master Baek Yongseong and the teacher of Ven. Pomnyun Sunim—to share a Dharma teaching:

“Commit no evil deeds. Practice good deeds with devotion. Purify your mind naturally. This is the teaching of all buddhas.

“In preparation for the 800 years of great fortune for our nation, the Dharma message I wish to share with you at this grand assembly of 10,000 virtuous ones pertains to these three principles, which are the foundation of all of the Buddha’s teachings.

“Commit no evil deeds!

“Practice good deeds with devotion!

“Purify your mind naturally, as effortlessly as breathing!

“When the Buddha said, ‘Do not do this,’ agreeing ‘Yes, I will not do it,’ is the precept of moral restraint. When the Buddha said, ‘You must do this,’ agreeing ‘Yes, I will do it,’ and putting it into practice is the precept of virtuous conduct. Living not just for oneself, but for both oneself and others, is the precept of benefiting living beings. Today, I present these three pure precepts to the 10,000 virtuous ones gathered here.

Having received the three pure precepts, I will now bestow upon you an honorific title. Among the 10,000 names of the Buddha, there is the Enlightened One named Huī Dēng Míng (慧燈明) Tathāgata. I bestow upon you the honorific title of Huī Dēng Míng Tathāgata, taken from the Buddha’s name. Please receive it!”

Ven. Pomnyun Sunim is a widely revered Korean Dharma teacher, author, and social activist. He has founded numerous organizations, initiatives, and projects across the world, among them: JTS Korea, an international humanitarian relief organization working to eradicate poverty and hunger; Jungto Society, a volunteer-based community founded on the Buddha’s teachings and dedicated to addressing modern social issues that lead to suffering; Ecobuddha, an organization focused on environmental ethics and sustainable living based on the teachings of the Buddha; and Good Friends, which promotes reconciliation and cooperation between the North and South Korea, and provides humanitarian aid to North Koreans. Ven. Pomnyun Sunim also works closely with the International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB).

In October 2020, the Niwano Peace Foundation in Japan presented the 37th Niwano Peace Prize to Ven. Pomnyun Sunim in recognition of his international humanitarian work, intensive environmental and social activism, and his tireless efforts to build trust and goodwill between communities of different faiths and cultures, toward the goal of world peace.*

Buddhist Monk Ven. Pomnyun Sunim Awarded the 37th Niwano Peace Prize (BDG)

See more

Pomnyun
Jungto Society
JTS Korea
JTS America
Jungto Dharma School
International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB)

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