The revered Korean Dharma master and Buddhist activist Venerable Pomnyun Sunim (법륜스님) on Wednesday joined an interfaith assembly of religious leaders, who gathered in Seoul to voice their concerns about the growing threat of war and geopolitical instability in East Asia on the 70th anniversary of the Korean Armistice Agreement. The assembled leaders used the historic occasion to announce a five-point peace declaration that represents “an urgent proposal for peace on the Korean Peninsula . . . [and] an important stepping stone to peace in Northeast Asia and the world.” (Pomnyun)
The 70th anniversary of the Korean Armistice Agreement commemorates the signing of the landmark ceasefire agreement on 27 July 1953, marking the official cessation of hostilities of the Korean War. The document, which remains in effect today, was intended as a precursor to a formal peace treaty that would end the state of war between North and South Korea.
“Today, on the 70th anniversary of the Korean War armistice, the crisis on the Korean Peninsula has been amplified and exacerbated by the geopolitical crisis in Northeast Asia and the global New Cold War,” the interfaith signatories stated in their preamble to the peace declaration. “Various talks, including the bilateral, quadrilateral, and six-party talks, that have taken place over the last three decades have all broken down with no signs of resumption. All agreements made between the two sides over the past four decades have been either not implemented or broken, and no efforts are being made to honor and restore them. In Northeast Asia, the US-China conflict over the South China Sea and Taiwan has escalated into a global hegemonic competition, and battle lines are being drawn between South Korea, the US, Japan, and the EU on one side and North Korea, China, and Russia on the other, much like the Cold War.” (Pomnyun)
The declaration, titled, “Peace Declaration by the Religious Leaders of Korea on the 70th Anniversary of the Korean War Armistice,” is the latest appeal for more proactive efforts toward peace amid a backdrop of increasingly fractious geopolitical tensions.* At the epicenter of this crisis are North Korea’s steps to strengthen its nuclear arsenal and fomenting regional rivalries with the United States and its political allies.
“As North Korea’s nuclear and missile capabilities continue to advance, so do the extended deterrence policies of the US, South Korea, and Japan,” the peace declaration signatories stated. “North Korea continues to pose a military threat with its ballistic missiles and artillery. In response, the US and South Korea have been conducting large-scale joint land, sea, and air military exercises to pressure Pyongyang. The South Korean and North Korean governments have designated each other as the primary enemy and are increasing the intensity of their rhetoric and confrontations. The US and North Korea have also suspended talks with each other. Moreover, the war in Ukraine triggered by Russia’s invasion is escalating tensions between the US and China and between Europe and Russia. In particular, the war in Ukraine has reminded us that war can break out anytime and anywhere, even in a civilized society in the 21st century. If South Korea’s support for Ukraine and Russia’s military support for North Korea were to occur in tandem, it would not be surprising if war broke out on the Korean Peninsula tomorrow. Now, on the 70th anniversary of the Korean War armistice, the Korean Peninsula is once again on the brink of war.” (Pomnyun)
Wednesday’s peace declaration was endorsed by 33 signatories representing six religious communities in South Korea, and including four senior Buddhist leaders: Ven. Pomnyun Sunim, the guiding Dharma teacher of Jungto Society, and chairman of The Peace Foundation; Ven. Dobop Sunim, former chairman of the Hwajaeng (Arbitration) Committee of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism; Ven. Jihong Sunim, former chairman of the Dharma Propagation Bureau of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism; and Ven. Sukyung Sunim, standing representative of Buddhist Environmental Solidarity.
Widely recognized for his efforts to promote reconciliation and reunification on the Korean Peninsula, Ven. Pomnyun Sunim has initiated a number of humanitarian projects, including providing support and counseling for North Korean defectors in South Korea, and sending humanitarian aid and providing relief assistance to North Korea during natural disasters.
On 13 July, Ven. Pomnyun Sunim delivered an insightful and perceptive examination of the prevailing geopolitical climate in the region, in a talk titled “Addressing Rising Tensions on the Korean Peninsula: Pathways to Peace.”*
In its own report, dated 18 July, that acknowledged heightened international concern over the Korean Peninsula as a potential flashpoint for regional tensions and conflict, the International Coalition to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) noted:
Nuclear tensions on the Korean peninsula have continued to build through 2023. Last week, North Korea tested its most advanced solid-fueled ICBM which gives it the capability to strike the United States at short notice and in a show of force in the past day, a US nuclear-armed submarine has visited South Korea for the first time since the 1980s. The United Nations Security Council met on 13 July to discuss North Korea’s continued development of its missile program. The US led condemnation of Pyongyang but North Korea’s ambassador, who attended the meeting, laid the blame on Washington for escalating tension. (ICAN)
The unanimous plea for peace and sanity presented by the 33 Korean religious leaders in Seoul on Wednesday emphasized the urgent need for the cessation of North Korea’s efforts accelerate its nuclear weapons program and for the normalization of US-North Korea diplomatic ties in order to avert a greater crisis.
“We, the religious leaders of Korea, appeal to the governments of the United States, the Republic of Korea, and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) to overcome the escalating war crisis on the Korean Peninsula and to establish a permanent peace regime, starting with a ‘rapid nuclear freeze of North Korea and a corresponding normalization of US-DPRK relations.’” The interfaith peace declaration concludes. “We also appeal to the peace-loving people, supporters of justice and humanitarianism, and conscientious intellectuals and citizens around the world to respond to our proposals. In particular, we appeal to South Korean politicians, who are responsible for the lives and security of the people, to cease the confrontational rhetoric and make a bipartisan effort to establish peace on the Korean Peninsula.”
Ven. Pomnyun Sunim is a widely revered Dharma teacher, author, peace-builder, and social activist. He has founded numerous organizations, initiatives, and projects across the world. Among them, Jungto Society, a volunteer-based community founded on the Buddha’s teachings and dedicated to addressing modern social issues that lead to suffering, and JTS Korea, an international humanitarian organization working to eradicate poverty and hunger. Ven. Pomnyun Sunim is also the patron of 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.**
Jungto Dharma School
International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB)
70th Anniversary Of The Armistice Religious Leaders’ Peace Declaration (Pomnyun)
종교인 원로들 “정전 70년, 북한 핵 동결과 북미관계 정상화부터” (OhmyNews)
Nuclear tensions remain dangerously high on Korean Peninsula (ICAN)
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Buddhist Monk Ven. Pomnyun Sunim Awarded the 37th Niwano Peace Prize