Friday, December 23, 2011

Words of Encouragement for Korean Buddhists

A religious booth in Korea
Korean Buddhism is reported to be in decline. Buddhists use to make up a large percentage of the population in Korea but in terms of total Christians (both Protestants and Catholics combined), Buddhists are now in second place. The popularity of Christianity is evident from the many Korean artists who are seen wearing crosses and from their profile are in fact Christians. In their hotels, guests are provided with two books, one is the Holy Bible, and the other a Buddhist book which is a compilation of Buddhist teachings. Christianity is so "rampant" in Korea that at one time, there were news about the Korean "Moon sect" based on Christianity. Now we hear less of this sect. When I was in a popular street shopping destination in Seoul, I came across a small stall or booth with loud speakers blaring away their Christian gospel. There was no Buddhist booth there. From a Buddhist point of view, there is no need to go to that extent to promote Buddhism. Buddhists do not "sell" Buddhism like hawkers selling noodle soup on the roadside. A lot of Christians go on a missionary by peddling across the country on bicycles to preach the Word of God. They take their missionary very seriously. That is why in Malaysia, the Muslims are wary of their activities. Both are strong religions with many followers world-wide. So, Buddhists stay out of their way.

Even though Buddhism are contended to be in second place, we must do our part to protect the religion from further erosion. One way Koreans can defend themselves from over-zealous Christians is to have faith that only in Buddhism can we really attain Enlightenment and free ourselves from the bondage of suffering within this life itself. For us, Buddhists, the godly heaven is not our final destination. Since the time of Gautama Buddha, many Buddhists have achieved Enlightenment and demonstrated their deep wisdom by elaborating and going deeper into the teachings of Gautama Buddha. Enlightened Buddhists have also understood the real nature of phenomena in ways that people of other religions can never fully comprehend. Many Christians try to understand Buddhism by studying us, but when they study, they study with a skewed view and preconception. That is why they always fail to understand the Enlightenment of the Buddha. For example, they will never fully understand what we mean by Emptiness. But it is okay. We are not interested in converting anybody. If you are interested in Buddhism, you convert yourself by making the first move. But Buddhism will never be as evangelical as the Christians. We stay true to the ideals of Buddhism and stay low to avoid conflict with any religions. It is usually other religions who find fault with Buddhism, such as the Muslims who destroyed the Bamiyan Buddha statues. Many Korean temples have been burned by these extreme Christians as you can read from many news links. Even Hwa Gye Sa temple was not spared and was said to have been burned at least 3 times in the past. The Christian President of South Korea was said to be also not "Buddhist-friendly" and allegedly implemented policies to the disadvantage of Buddhism. These are atrocious acts and I am concerned that the Korean Buddhists may one day not be able to take it anymore and but become like those Sri Lankan monks who burnt churches due to conversions to Christianity that are seen as unethical. You must remember that Sri Lanka has always been a Buddhist country for many centuries and suddenly Christianity comes in and tries to convert the Buddhists there. As Buddhists, we never practice the hatred against other religions and never regard other religions as evil. Even if Buddhist convert to other religions, we never regard these converted Buddhists as a apostate. This is unlike other religions where apostasy exist. Buddhists will tolerate as long as the conversions are not aggressively done and certainly not in the manner of hatred thrown to Buddhism by burning down our temples and saying to the Buddhists that Buddhism is an evil and incorrect religion. In that sense, these Sri Lankan monks are only retaliating against the Christians there and not because of spreading the Buddhist religion or regarding the other religion as evil. On the other hand, when people of other religions burn the Buddhist temples and statues, they are doing that in the name of their religion and regarding Buddhism as incorrect religion. Hence this is the difference between the Buddhist monks who burnt down the churches in Sri Lanka and the many Christians who vandalised and burned Buddhist temples all over Korea. So when other religions points out that all religions have extremists, I am inclined to think that yes, it's still wrong to burn down house of worship of other temples but these are acts not to be regarded in the same light as "extremists" of other religions who actually does all that in the name of religion. Buddhists do not burn down other house of worship to spread the Buddha's teachings. At least I have not heard of it. If there are, let me know. Anyway, we should never retaliate against what they did. We leave that to their own karma. We do what we can and try our best to achieve enlightenment. For it is only in achieving enlightenment that others can be convinced that the Buddha's teaching of liberation from samsara is real. Many people have achieved enlightenment in the past and many people in the future will too. Koreans must be convinced that enlightenment is real and therefore, the Buddha's message in the Four Noble Truths is real. No amount of talking can replace a true experience of enlightenment. Only in this way can we truly protect the Buddhist teaching. No point in fighting with others. But it is because of what Christianity do to Buddhism in Korea and the dire situation Korean Buddhists are facing now, that I am writing some words of encouragement to them. This blog post is to be read with this in mind.  

So, to Korean Buddhists, I have said enough. All of the above and in this paragraph are mainly written to encourage you guys not to give up so easily on the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. These three precious jewels are more precious than anything you can find in this world and in the heaven. So, if somebody promise that you can go to heaven if you convert to their religion, say to him/her that we are not interested. It is because we already are in possession of the best and most precious of all jewels, and that is our faith in the Triple Gem. It is the only thing that can save us from the woes of rebirth. Enlightenment is real. Rebirth is real.  Do not let anyone tell you there is none. If one though can continue to the next thought, then rebirth is real. The last thought of this present life, do not just disappear or sleep. It continues into the next thought, but only thing in a different body. Stay true to Buddhism and remember to avoid evil, do good and purify the mind. For these three things are the essence of the Buddhist teachings. Most religions have the first two, but do they have the third? I am not so sure. And that is basically why we should never convert to another religion. Only in Buddhism can we find the full "tools and manual" to purify our mind to the fullest extent possible. So, Korean Buddhists, I encourage you not to give up! Om Mani Padme Hum. May All Beings be Well and Happy! 

For more info on the problems that Korean Buddhism is facing, read these links:

(note: this particular blog post is only meant for the eyes and ears of the Korean Buddhists and not for anyone else, and certainly not for people of other religions! It is not meant to find fault with other religions but only as an encouragement to fellow Buddhists)

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