International Association for Religious Freedom

NGO with UN consultative status supporting interfaith cooperation

100 years of advocacy and dialogue for liberty and equality




(2nd Revised Version, Children's Day, May 5, 1999)

Frank M. Tedesco

The original version of the following article was written in the the spring of 1996 shortly after arson attacks on Buddhist temples in the Suyuri district of northern Seoul and was presented at a panel session entitled "Buddhist and Christian Cooperation for Social Action in Korea" which Frank M. Tedesco organized for the Society for Buddhist-Christian Studies Conference "Socially Engaged Buddhism and Christianity" hosted by DePaul University in Chicago in the summer of that year.

The panel comprised Venerable Bopta, abbot of Eunhaesa Monastery and chairman of the Buddhist One Korea Peaceful Reunification Movement; Venerable Pomnyun, director of the internationally active social service organization Join Together Society (JTS); Professor Kim Kyong Jae of Hanshin University, an ordained minister of the Korean Presbyterian Church and author of Christianity and the Encounter of Asian Religions; and Professor Chung Hyun-Kyung, the well-known Asian eco-feminist liberation theologian who teaches at Union Theological Seminary in New York. Dr. Frank Tedesco, a lecturer for the University of Maryland Asian Division, was moderator. He presented an earlier version of the paper reproduced below at the start of the discussion.

1. Introduction: Religious Freedom in Korea

The Korean peninsula is known throughout the world for the stark bifurcation between the communist North and the capitalist South. North Korea (DPRK) is one of the most closed societies in the world where the public is prohibited access to international communication. Reports tell us that the North is a starving totalitarian state where the people have no freedom or civil rights and where the thought of the Great Leaders Kim Il Sung and his heir Kim Jong Il dominates all aspects of life like a ultra-nationalist cult.  The major institutionalized religions of the North- Buddhism, Christianity and Chondogyo- have been subject to purges and are strictly subordinated to the state and its all pervasive ideology of juche (self-reliance). Authentic inter-religious dialogue and cooperation is a non-issue except for praise of the Great Leader. Survival of the original religious impulses and authentic traditions of the North is at stake after nearly fifty years of political repression.  What is happening in the South? 

South Korea (ROK), in contrast, is renowned as a economic superstar, an Asian industrial dragon, who rose from the devastation of the Korean War to host the very successful 1988 Olympics and join the club of developed nations in the OECD in record time. South Korea, too, has had its authoritarian leaders we know well (Rhee, Park, Chun, Roh...), but none have been so idolized like the father and son duo in the North. Quite the contrary, retired dictators in the South, despite their reputed leadership through the economic boom of the eighties, have been denounced as scoundrels and put behind bars for corruption in a sudden wave of democratic reforms propelled by the freely elected President Kim Young Sam, a  Presbyterian elder and former dissident. A tradition of authoritarianism notwithstanding, institutionalized religions have fared much better in South Korea than in the North since the Korean War. Strongly influenced by Western democratic political ideals since the founding of the ROK government in 1948, the present Constitution of the Republic of Korea (Sixth Republic, 1987) guarantees privacy of correspondence and freedom of religion, conscience, speech, press, assembly and equality before the law regardless of religion. Free to follow their religious predilections without serious constraints on their behavior for the most part, the religious world of  Korea is very rich. There is a wide diversity of religious options open to "spiritual seekers" and "society seekers" alike. They may choose from the oldest native and traditional folk and shaman beliefs and practices (nature worship and national foundation myths included) or they may investigate the over 1600 year old Buddhist tradition (and Confucianism if it is considered a religion). They may also opt for the relatively 'new' indigenous religions of Chondogyo and Won Buddhism  and others or they may, as so many have done since the Korean War, embrace the recently introduced Western faiths of Catholicism and Protestantism with their various orders and permutations. 

While South Koreans are free to follow whatever religion they wish, according to government statistics, only 54% of the population (43 million) in 1991 claim religious affiliation. Of this 54%, about 12 million identify themselves as Buddhist (51%), about  8 million as Protestant (34%), 2.5 million as Catholic (11%), roughly 2 % as Confucian and 2% others. The National Statistics Office indicates that Buddhists are the fastest growing segment of the religious population in Korea. Buddhists have grown from 46.9% of the religious population in 1985 to 51.2% in 1991 while the Protestant population has declined 3.3% and Catholics 0.2%. 

The figures cited above vary widely from those published in the Religious Yearbook 1995  of a Protestant research group. This source estimates that Korea has "as many as 18 million Christians, or 41% of the population." Protestant and Methodist denominations  account for the majority of the Christians. Following Shim, Jae Hoon in the Far Eastern Economic Review, the handbook says that the "total number of South Korean Protestants slipped O.4% to 15 million between 1991 and 1994, a sharp contrast to the growth of previous decades. The Roman Catholic Church says it has continued to expand, to 3.5 million adherents, but church officials say the growth rate slowed to 3.4% last year, down from 6.3% in 1991."  We would like to add that the number of believers most commonly claimed on banners during demonstrations by Buddhist activists and in news by the Buddhist press is 20 million. The complex issues of questionnaire design and survey methodology cannot be elaborated on here but we will assume that there is a rough balance between Christians and Buddhists throughout the Korean population with about half the total populace claiming no strong religious affiliation. There is no other country in the world where these two religions are so equally represented in the general population.   

2. Early Protestant Missionary Attitude toward Buddhism in Korea 

Can we not learn something more about the nature of these major traditions in Korea by observing their historical interactions? How do Christians and Buddhists get along in Korea today?

"Except for the religiously exclusivistic attitudes upheld by the vast majority of present day Korean Christians", Koreans were traditionally "generally flexible towards different faiths" states Professor Oh Kangnam in a recent article. He quotes a passage from an American missionary Homer Hulbert who went to Korea in 1886 to describe the Korean "eclectic or pluralistic attitude" which is "now hardly found among many Koreans, especially among Korean Christian leaders and their followers." Hulbert wrote : "...the reader must ever bear in mind that in every Korean mind there is a jumble of the whole, that there is no antagonism between the different cults... As a general thing, we may say that the all-round Korean will be a Confucian when in society, a Buddhist when he philosophises and a spirit worshipper when he is in trouble."

Note there is an element of surprise at the novelty (to Hulbert the missionary at least) that there is no conflict among the different belief systems in traditional Korea at the time of the advent of his missionary work. The religions seem to have co-existed in peace. Hulbert went to Korea at the end of the Yi Dynasty. The Confucian authorities had centuries ago driven Buddhist monks from the cities and into the mountains and controlled the government and all positions of influence in education, commerce and the military. The Buddhist sangha was at its nadir in Korean history. Shamanism, folk Buddhism and indigenous beliefs were the domain of the majority of the people - the farmers and women - but they were relatively powerless and also subordinate to Confucian men. Korea was just on the brink of defending itself against the political and cultural assault of  Japanese colonial aggression which was to last until 1945.

Into this relatively placid, if not somewhat depressed, plural religious milieu entered Western missionaries with their undisguised goal to convert all Koreans to Christ, "forcing its way in after a fight of centuries," according to missionary scholar Charles Allen Clark. One of the most articulate and erudite among the American missionaries, Dr. C. A. Clark, author of the classic Religions of Old Korea, was a missionary in Korea for twenty eight years at the beginning of this century. Clark delivered lectures on Korean religion at a number of theological schools in the United States beginning with the Princeton Theological Lectures of 1921. 

Clark's observations of religious life in Korea were very perceptive and informed with much reading in comparative religion of his day and reflections on religions in other parts of Asia where he traveled. He was convinced that his Christianity was the culmination of all the imperfect faiths "in various stages of mental and spiritual development" which had preceded it in Asia. Reviewing the history of religion in Korea, he saw the "religions of old Korea destined to pass away  to make room for brighter things." 

Clark sounded a death knell for Buddhism in Korea and damned it with mixed praise in the process. His concluding paragraphs on Buddhism from his classic book on Korean religions are worth citing for the attitude toward Buddhism they reveal. This, too, was taught and transmitted to Korean converts of the "modern" Western faith both in Korea and in seminaries in the United States.

Buddha's sun seems to be setting in Korea. Korea owes it a debt of gratitude. It came to Korea in 372 AD, and was vastly superior to the degraded spirit worship and Shamanism which it found. It gave Korea a moral code, more or less defective yet infinitely better than nothing. It has collaborated with Confucianism all down the ages, giving "sanctions" to make even Confucian ethics operative. It gave education of a sort and stood for education always. It has always had faults, glaring ones, but it also had a contribution to make to Korean life and culture in those dim ages of the past. Its sun rose in 372. It reached its zenith in the Koryu Age. It has steadily gone down ever since. Buddhism seems to have no message for the present age. Efforts will be made to keep it alive. It will not die all at once, but 'Ichabod' seems to have been written over it, and it must go. 
As the sun of Buddhism sets, it should be a joy to all lovers of Korea that a greater Sun of Righteousness has arisen to give light suitable to this new day. May the Buddhists themselves soon come to see that a Messiah greater than Miryuck has come, a Savior more real than Amida, a compassionate Friend Who loves more than Kwanseieum or Chijang, and Who has power far all that of Taiseiji! Christianity coming now can thank Buddhism for making all these ideas familiar to the whole people, and for making it easier for them to receive them. May the whole land accept this new, true statement of those ideas as eagerly as it did the Buddhism in the Koryu Age, and may the whole people become one in serving Christ, our King! 

Anachronistic as Clark's  remarks may appear in this age of ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue, the self-righteous and anti-Buddhist sentiments he expressed unfortunately still prevail in Korea today. 
While the Christian movement in Korea has been notable, Buddhism remains a strong faith of the people at the end of the twentieth century, with ever more sophisticated clergy and international recognition despite internal turmoil.

3. Contemporary Protestantism in Korea  and Inter-Religious Dialogue 

A victim of this exclusivistic and imperialistic ideology was Dr. Pyôn Sôn-hwan, the late former president of the Methodist Seminary in Seoul, who was dismissed from the presidency of his school and also deprived of his professorship and ministerial privileges in 1992. He was virtually excommunicated from the church "mainly because of his sympathetic understanding toward other religions, particularly toward Buddhism. When he stated to the effect that there is salvation outside the church, he was severely criticized by his fellow Christians from almost every denomination in Korea." 

Dr. Pyôn was the leading figure in Buddhist-Christian dialogue in Korea until his death in 1995. He was a frequent participant in international Buddhist conferences as well as Buddhist-Christian dialogue meetings such as at the Academy House in Seoul. He demonstrated in his own life the kind of personal honesty, openness, modesty and courage which is needed to make inter-religious dialogue more than a pleasant academic exercise but a living interactive reality with others of different faiths.  Our last meeting was at the Academy House when the famous Vietnamese peace activist Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh spoke with a group of Christian leaders and demonstrated his form of mindful walking meditation in April, 1995. 

In an important article published in the spring of 1995 in Tabo, the quarterly journal of the Korean Buddhism Promotion Foundation, Dr. Pyôn addressed the United Nations 1995 announcement of the Year of Tolerance and Understanding. The UN called upon religious followers of the globe to play a decisive role in building a brighter future for the world by denouncing and eliminating any form of intolerance and discrimination caused by differences in religions and doctrines. Why is it, he asked, that while peace seemed to have made significant progress in the Middle East with the truce between the Israelis and the Palestinian guerrillas, that while the Cold War between East and West seemed at an end, that even while the Roman Catholic Church had declared the decision of the Inquisition on Galileo was wrong, that while the troubles in Ireland might be over, why was there still no progress in dissolving tensions and making true peace between North and South Korea at the DMZ? And why is Christianity in Korea provoking public condemnation because of the missionary work of  its aggressive, conversion-oriented Christian leaders who are following extremely conservative and fundamentalist theology from the States? Rev. Pyôn quipped "that Korea, once known as 'the land of the morning calm' was quickly becoming the 'land of  the evening noise' or worse yet the 'land of the morning and evening noise' because of fanatical Christians who engage in combative conversion-hungry missionary work. Nothing is wrong with propagation or missionary work itself, only the exclusive and obsolete method that slanders and condemns other religions," he wrote. Dr. Pyôn then went on to cite newspaper and magazine reports to illustrate the breath and magnitude of insults and outright slander perpetrated against Buddhists by zealous Christians. 

A more extensive listing of incidents against Buddhism including over twenty serious arson attacks against temples in the last two decades will be enumerated in the next section. Five arson attacks against temples in Suyudong, Seoul just prior to the year's (1996) Buddha's Birthday celebration was the main inspiration for this compilation. Three assaults were made on the Seoul International Zen Center at Hwagyesa, the home monastery of one of Korea's major Buddhist leaders in inter-religious dialogue and practice, world famous Zen Master Seung Sahn. Two closely neighboring temples were even more seriously victimized; a bell and drum tower housing sacred instruments was destroyed at Samsông-Am up the mountain from Hwagyesa and two extraordinary traditional wooden Dharma Halls were burnt to the ground at Pônwon Chôngsa, cost: US $5.6 million. The latter two temples were attacked just past midnight the same night (April 20). The International Zen Center at Hwagyesa attacked repeatedly three times within three weeks of the April 20 catastrophes, the first time on April 21st! 
We must be careful to point out that no one has been positively identified, arrested or definitely associated with any of these crimes as of this writing. We interviewed the local chief of police who investigated these incidents and he agreed with general public opinion (off the record!) that the perpetrator was probably a fanatical or mentally disturbed religious extremist based on the pattern of successful investigations and arrests in other cases of Buddhist temple burnings. These incidents may never be resolved but their disclosure has opened the topic of religious defamation and violence in Korea that should not be suppressed, slighted or ignored again.

4. Buddhism under Siege 1982-1998: A Partial Chronology of Sixteen Years of Incidents Against Buddhism in South Korea 

The following is an incomplete listing of desecration, acts of vandalism, arson attacks and defamation against Buddhist temples, facilities and individuals in South Korea which have occurred since 1982 and which have earned the attention of the news media and the dismay of the Buddhist population in the country. 
Buddhism under Siege 1982-1998 : Sixteen Years of Incidents Against Buddhism in South Korea including more than twenty temples or Buddhist shrines seriously damaged or totally destroyed by arson since 1986. 

Sources : 

Newspapers : 
Dong A Ilbo daily newspaper (Seoul), May 2, 1990, p. 1. 
Pulgyo Shinmun weekly newspaper (Seoul), May 28, 1996 p. 4; Sept.8, 1998 p.15. 
Pôp Po Shinmun weekly newspaper (Seoul), May 15, 1996; Sept. 2, 1998 p.15. 
Hyôndae Pulgyo weekly newspaper (Seoul), May 22, 1996; Sept. 9, 1998 p.23; Sept. 30, 1998 p.2, 23; Nov. 18, 1998 p.22; Dec. 9, 1998 p.22; Dec. 16, 1998 p.23; Dec. 23, 1998 p.2.  
Kitokkyo Shinmun weekly newspaper (Seoul), July, 1996  advertisement )

(Other major dailies and such weeklies as the Haedong Pulgyo newspaper and regional papers and magazines have not been consulted at this time.) 

Reports: We have also corroborated and compared reports of incidents with records maintained in the headquarters of the Chogye Order in Seoul and the official written police report on the incidents at Hwagyesa, Pônwôn Chôngsa and Samsông Am (Hermitage). 

TV: A cable TV report from the Buddhist Television Network (BTN) of the Pônwôn Chôngsa and Samsông Am incidents in April 1996 was also reviewed. 

(The modified McCune-Reischauer system of transliteration as appears in the Korea Journal of the Korean National Commission for Unesco is utilized for Korean names unless different from commonly accepted usage) 

1982  May. A man by the name of Myông Chinhong organizes religious gatherings in Seoul to publicly denounce Buddhism.  He erects a banner "Jesus Heaven, Buddhism Hell!" He claims to have once been a Buddhist monk who has "repented," though no records can be found to support the claim of his ordination.  Using this claim, he puts up posters claiming: "A Dharma Hall is a hall of demons." 

1983 March 1. During a Christian revival meeting held on the occasion of Korean Independence Day observations, a woman falsely claims to have been the daughter of a famous Zen master and revered national independence hero, Paek Yongsông.  She makes statements denouncing Buddhism. 

1984 February. Red crucifixes are painted on priceless temple wall paintings at Muryangsa Temple and Ilsônsa on Samgaksan Mountain outside Seoul. Dirt is smeared on the paintings and on a statue of the Buddha located outside one of the temples.  A large ancient carving of the Buddha chiseled into stone is damaged with axe-like instruments. 

May. Ignoring the pleas of Buddhist leaders, the Roman Catholic Church invites Pope John Paul II to visit South Korea to celebrate the bicentennial of the church in Korea. This event happens to fall during the annual national Buddha's Birthday holiday celebrations.  Because it is the first ever visit of a Roman pontiff to South Korea, and because the Vatican announces that 93 Koreans and 10 French missionary martyrs will be beatified as saints during the visit, the visit becomes a major national event. It is the first time that a canonization ceremony is held outside of Rome and the largest number ever canonized at one time. This ceremony gives Korea the fourth largest number of Catholic saints in the world.  When the Pope tours the country, in the days immediately prior to and during Buddha's Birthday, there are immense traffic jams which diminish attendance at Buddhist events in several key cities. Buddhist leaders protest the timing of the event as "disrespectful" and "in bad taste" because the Korean and Roman Catholic Churches schedule the mass beatification ceremonies to take place during Buddha's Birthday celebrations, a day sacred to Buddhists and a national holiday. 

November. In an official Korean textbook, Buddhism is called "a fading religion." 

1985 April. Four major daily newspapers accept and publish advertisements that assert that the content of the Buddhist scriptures are "selfish" in intent. 

May.  A Protestant minister named Kim Jingyu publicly claims to have once been an ordained monk in the Chogye Order. Though there is no record of his ever having been a Buddhist monk, he hangs up banners which read "Why I Became a Protestant Minister," and organizes meetings to denounce the Buddhist faith. 

September. An individual by the name of Kim Sônghwa organizes a series of mass gatherings to denounce Buddhism in the cities of Pusan, Taegu, Kwangju, and Taejon. (This individual and his wife Kim Mija  regularly advertise their mission to convert the "25 million Buddhists of Korea" in the Christian Newspaper Kitokkyo Shinmun, July 1996). 

October. An unidentified man disrupts a Dharma talk at the Nûngin Zen Center by driving nails into the tires of believers' automobiles parked outside. The perpetrator also pours corrosive chemicals into various car engines. An accomplice meanwhile uses portable amplification equipment to sing Gospel songs up at the Buddhist gathering, located on the third and fourth floors. 

1986 December 6. Several days before the annual Buddha's Enlightenment celebrations, the Taejôkkwangjôn, the main Dharma Hall, a large building of ancient  origin at Kûmsansa Temple is completely burned to the ground in an event that makes top news throughout the nation.  The Hall is listed as National Treasure Number 476, and is the central hall in a temple which is a regional headquarters and major monastic training center for the Chogye Order.  A man active in a local church is apprehended at the scene, but is released because the police claim that, since the fire consumed everything, there is "no evidence." Although he admitted to the crime, he is released without being charged.  Discounting widespread opinion and belief, local police claim that "religious heretics" are not suspected.  However, in an unprecedented move, the Korean government pays to have the building quickly rebuilt. It is widely believed that this unusual action was undertaken to preempt the possibility of inter-religious strife.  (1 building) 

1987 December. A fundamentalist Christian by the name of Yang Shinha from the Tamna Church on Chejudo Island is apprehended after setting fire to two temples - Kwanûmjôngsa and Taegaksa - completely burning them to the ground.  (2 buildings) 

1988 September 25. In the early morning hours, a fire is set at Pômôsa Temple in Pusan, a major monastic training center of the Chogye Order and regional headquarters. The fire completely destroys the Myôngbujôn (Chijang Bodhisattva Hall- a funeral hall), taking with it 16 priceless altar paintings of the Buddha.  The paintings were considered treasures and the hall a registered Cultural Asset. The cause of the fire is unknown but deemed "highly suspicious" by Pusan city authorities. (1 building) 

December 8. Several days before the annual Buddha's Enlightenment celebrations, the Chônggagwôn, the main Dharma Hall on the Kyôngju campus of Dongguk University is completely burned to the ground. Arson is suspected but no one is apprehended. (1 building) 

1989 January. A stone lantern and pagoda is destroyed and statements attacking Buddhism are painted on the temple's gates Okch'ôn Am Hermitage located in the Sôdaemun (Hongûndong), Seoul. 

March. Several individuals enter Kupok Am Hermitage on Samgaksan Mountain on the outskirts of Seoul and destroy a stone lantern and stone pagoda, seriously damage a Ch'ilsônggak (Big Dipper Hall), and paint red crucifixes on a large gilded Buddha statue. 

April. Five to six individuals destroy a Buddha statue and paint red crucifixes on a large outdoor Ma-ae Buddha figure carved into the rock on Samgaksan Mountain on the outskirts of Seoul.  In all, some 10 temples are severely damaged or desecrated in the days immediately before and after the national Buddha's Birthday holidays. 

April. The Hyangmok Committee of the Seoul City Government gathers military reserve forces under its control for a (taesônghoe) church service. Some of the members are compelled to attend even though they are not Christian. 

July 29. The huge main Dharma Hall and a temple dormitory at Potasa Temple, Oksudong, Sôngdonggu, Seoul are completely burned to the ground. A 23-year old follower of the Taesônjillihoe (Great Conversion Truth Church) is arrested at the scene.  Damage is estimated at $1.1 million according to the Chogye Order report. (2 buildings) 
October 27. The huge Taeunjôn, the main Dharma Hall, and a temple dormitory at Pohyônsa Temple in Taegu are completely burned to the ground. Though the modern buildings were erected in 1985, the police determine that each building must have suffered an "electrical short circuit," and no further investigations are conducted. (2 buildings) 

1990 May 2. Two men break into the Buddhist Broadcasting System (BBS, the first Buddhist radio station in Korea) in Seoul, two days before it is due to begin broadcasting a combination of popular music and Buddhist teaching and cultural programs. They tie up two guards, and proceed to destroy all of the radio station's recording and transmission equipment. They smash expensive electronic gear and tear up several state-of-the-art recording booths. At one point, they use a statue of the Buddha as a battering ram to break through several plate-glass recording booth windows and use the Buddha's head to damage computer equipment, sound boards, reel-to-reel decks, and screens. Damage is estimated in the millions of dollars, and delays the opening of the station by several months. No arrests are ever made. 

November. A man by the name of Myông Chinhong falsely claims to have been a Buddhist monk some 20 years before, and organizes mass spiritual revivals under the heading, "Why I Became a Minister."  In the course of his "revivals," this purported "ex-monk-turned minister" makes inflammatory and abusive statements about the Buddhism.  There is no record of his ever having been ordained a monk, or living in any temple. (See May 1982) 

Students and parishioners at a Christian theological school in Pusan misinterpret an ancient, traditional Buddhist death ceremony as being "slanderous" of Jesus Christ.  The name of the ceremony, for many centuries called "Yesu-jae," sounds similar to the Korean pronunciation and Korean spelling of "Jesus" (Yesu), though the Chinese characters are unrelated to Christian vocabulary or sacraments. (It is a traditional merit-making ceremony in anticipation of death).  The students and parishioners mail a letter of "warning" to Buddhist leaders at several area temples, schools, and organizations.  The letters slander Buddhist teachings, and are plastered on the walls of Buddhist temples and organizations throughout the city of Pusan. 

1991 April. Yun Ch'anggyu and Shim Yôngch'o, teachers at the Taesông High School in Kôch'ang, direct their students (many of them Buddhist) to recite Biblical passages and sing Christian hymns in class.  In the same month, the Buddha statue of the Buddhist student club at Ch'ôngju University is vandalized. 

Sept. 23. Pudo Am Hermitage at Tonghwasa Temple is destroyed by fire. (1 building) 

Oct. 15. Haeundae Buddhist Mission Bldg in Pusan is destroyed by fire. (1 building) 

October. The huge main Dharma Hall (Taeunjôn) at Pongwônsa Temple in the Shinch'on district of Seoul is totally destroyed by fire.  The hall was registered as Seoul city Cultural Asset Number 68. This temple was the headquarters of the T'aego Order, the second-largest Buddhist sect in Korea at the time of the incident. A guard at the temple testified to seeing two men flee into the mountains behind the temple as the building burst into flames.  Local police conclude that there is no evidence, that there was probably an "electrical short circuit," and the fire was quickly declared "an accident." Three large Buddha statues and altar portraits considered treasures are destroyed. (1 building) 

November. Military reserves stationed in Kyôngnam Province (many of them Buddhist) are forced to attend a Protestant revival meeting, presumably by a superior officer. 

The Kwanûmjôn, the Kwanûm Bodhisattva Hall and a large Dharma Teaching Hall (Sôlpôpchôn) at Sôngjusa in Changwôn city are completely burned to the ground. (2 buildings) 

P'yo Ch'ajong, a member of the Pedel Church in Pusan, publicly declares that the world-famous Sôkkuram Buddha statue is a subject of "idol-worship" and the product of "a heretical religion". He attempts to damage the priceless statue, but is stopped.  The Sokkuram Buddha was declared a "World Cultural Treasure" by Unesco in 1995, and has twice been renovated and preserved with Unesco financial and technical involvement. 

1992 April. The Main Dharma Hall on the Kyôngju campus of Dongguk University is burned to the ground a second time.  The event makes national news. No arrests are made. (1 building) 

December. An unknown assailant cuts the two arms off a statue of Maitreya Buddha at Puljosa Temple in Wonju. Various temple artifacts are burned and over 100 threatening phone calls are made to the temple office. 

1993 February. Colonel (battalion commander) Cho Pyôngshik of the 17th Tank Battalion, claiming a lack of warehouse space, has the Dharma Hall on his base dismantled. The gilded statue of the Buddha is taken from the Hall, burned, and openly discarded behind the mountain.  Taejon. The event makes national news. (1 building) 

April. Within two months of  Cho's actions, the Dharma Hall and stone lantern are damaged at Kimhae Air Base. 

The Yôngdo Church in Pusan organizes to prevent a temple from being built beside them, claiming that they "cannot accept the construction of a place of idol worship" near them. 

May. At Hyundai High School, all students are required to attend church services, and their attendance at these services is reflected in their school records. 

Lee Yun-sun, a teacher at the Paegun Primary School in Uidong, Seoul, teaches the Christian Bible in his class and declares that any Buddhist children in the class are "followers of the Satan," and excludes them from certain class activities. 

Professor Im In-hûi rejects the admission application of a Buddhist student. He claims he was only following the orders of the board chairman of Taejôn Junior College Lee Pyông-ik. 

Lotus lanterns prepared for Buddha's Birthday celebrations are destroyed at Pongguksa Temple and Chonjôngsa Temple in the Chôngnûng district of Seoul. 

July. An assailant severely damages the Buddha statue and other Buddhist artifacts in a Buddhist meeting room at Sônggyungwan University in Seoul. Valuable religious objects are not stolen but thrown into a garbage basket. 

1994 May. Before and after Buddha's Birthday, various acts of vandalism and desecration are inflicted upon the properties (especially the richly painted gates) of Daesôngsa Temple and Kwanûmsa Temple in the Saegômjông and Shinch'on districts of Seoul. Approximately 30 acts of vandalism against Buddhist temples in Seoul are recorded during this period. 

The Rev. Yu Sûng-hwan of Yuchongni Church declares that Buddhism is "idol worship."  He forcibly attempts to "convert" the abbot of Sudosa Temple to Christianity, even mentioning Korean President Kim Young Sam, a Presbyterian. 

According to Dr. Pyôn Sôn-hwan, "the thoughtless speech and behavior of this minister who understood that the government was protecting Christianity simply because Kim Young Sam is an elder and the alleged remark by the President that he would make 'hymn songs reverberate throughout the Blue House' at the time of the presidential election damaged confidence in the government that was supposedly based on the principle of religion and state (politics)." 

June.  A fundamentalist Christian enters Mirûk Chôngsa Temple in Kwangju and damages the Buddha statue and Dharma Hall. 

1995 September.  A fundamentalist Christian by the name of Pak Oh-Sun is apprehended after entering and causing serious damage to five temples on Chejudo. He burns Buddha statues at the temples, in addition to other damage. 

A Protestant minister is apprehended after painting a large red cross onto the altar painting behind the Buddha at Mu-ûi sa Temple in Kangjin, Chollanamdo. He is released without charges. Later an unknown person carves a crucifix below the same Buddha image. 

1995-96. Students belonging to a fundamentalist Christian group begin an aggressive campaign of proselytizing on the campus of Dongguk University (Seoul), Korea's main Buddhist university. The students proselytize directly in front of a large statue of the Buddha - the campus symbol and central meeting-point - making anti-Buddhist statements and handing out Christian literature to ordained sangha members. 

1996. President Kim Young Sam attends services at a Protestant church located on the nation's central military base at Kyeryôngsan Mountain. In an event which sends shock waves throughout Buddhist and Catholic circles in Korea, many troops based there are compelled to attend the service in order to create the appearance of a larger number of Protestant troops.  (Many of the troops are not Protestant Christians, and many are not even Christian.) Moreover, people attending services at a nearby temple and Catholic church are placed under virtual "house arrest," their religious sanctuaries being encircled with troops while the President makes what is deemed a "preferential" visit to the Protestant chapel. Those inside the Buddhist temple and Catholic church were made to remain inside for several hours while President Kim completed his visit.  Buddhist and Catholic leaders lodge strong protests. Some Buddhist leaders perceive  the President's actions as a license, a virtual "green light" for abusive actions to be taken against them, citing the centuries-old tradition in Korea of leaders signaling, through thinly-veiled actions, the unstated "allowances" that the government will make for actions which coincide with "non-legislateable" policies. 

1996. The long-awaited tentative plans related to the new Education Law are announced by the government's Education Reform Committee. The plans are based on the educational system of the Renewal Church of Christ, and include plans to establish (with government money) a special graduate school for the education and training of Christian ministers. Buddhists lodge strong protests, which are initially ignored. Eventually the Committee agrees to restate their objectives at a later date. 

TheWônmi ward office of Puch'on city near Seoul sends official letters to several Buddhist kindergartens, primary schools, and other Buddhist organizations and temples. Language in the letters beseeches them to find "the peace of God and the comfort of Jesus Christ." 

The swastika - for centuries a symbol of good fortune throughout Asia, and also a Buddhist symbol of the same - is replaced on many flagpoles in Seoul with crucifixes. 

A large red crucifix is painted in a concrete shelter used by Buddhist monks for meditation, located one hundred meters above Hwagyesa Temple on Samgaksan Mountain on the outskirts of Seoul. 

A schoolteacher by the name of "Lee" at Songwu Primary School in P'och'ôn, Kyônggi Province, urges students to attend church services as part of their lessons. She forces them to sing certain Christian hymns in class to confirm their attendance, and does other "missionary work" in her capacity as schoolteacher. 

April 6. Fires are set to the Abbot's quarters, the lawn  (dried from the recent spell) and nine other places (out-buildings) at Pulguksa Temple in Kyôngju, the most famous Buddhist temple in Korea, seen on travel posters everywhere.  According to the report filed with the headquarters of the Chogye Order, a Mr. Kim Yông-shik was caught on the spot and reported to the police. The police transferred him to a Taegu mental hospital. Although he admitted to the crime as "a follower of another religion," he was released without being charged because there was no material evidence. (1 building) 

April 19. Two temples on Samgaksan Mountain on the outskirts of Seoul are severely damaged by fires which are set within an hour of each other. The two-year-old large bell platform at Samsông Am Hermitage is burned to its foundation. The assailant(s) also cause damage to the Main Dharma Hall, burning holes in the locked doors while trying to gain access to the sanctuary containing the temple's main Buddha statue. Damage to the ruined bell platform is estimated at $250,000 according to police. (1 building) 

April 20. Two recently constructed Dharma Halls at Pônwôn Chôngsa Temple are burnt to the ground, and another is severely damaged by flames, just after midnight. The Nahanjôn enshrined 519 wood statues of arhats and bodhisattvas, each of which was painstakingly hand-carved and hand-painted over a period of seven years. Damage at Pônwôn Chôngsa Temple is estimated at $5.6 million according to the local police. The unfinished buildings were not insured. (3 buildings) 

April 21. The next day, fire is set to the Taejôkkwangjôn, the main Dharma Hall at Hwagyesa Temple, also located on Samgaksan Mountain, within a short walk of Samsông Am Hermitage and Pônwôn Chôngsa Temple.  Damage is minimal. Two police guarding the temple fail to catch the assailant, who is interrupted in his task when a monk spots him. (1st attack on Hwagyesa, home of the Seoul International Zen Center and living quarters of more than twenty North American and European monks and disciples of most successful Korean Buddhist international teacher, Master Seung Sahn (Haengwôn Sûngsan sônsa). 

May 12. Arsonists attack the main Buddha statue in the Taejôkkwangjôn at Hwagyesa Temple in Seoul for the second time.  A lit candle is placed in a box of papers and wisk brooms under the main altar. The fire is quickly extinguished by a passing monk.  At the time, more than 30 police and army are patrolling the temple in plainclothes in broad daylight, but fail to apprehend the assailant. (2rd attack on Hwagyesa) 

May 14. Two days later, again with over 30 police and military patrolling the temple, a massive fire is set beneath the main Buddha statue in the Taejôkkwangjôn at Hwagyesa Temple in Seoul for the third time.  Superb altar paintings, ornate woodcarvings and traditional wall paintings are lost.  Damage estimated at about $775,000 according to the police.

(3rd attack, 1 building seriously damaged). 

May.  Rev. Pae Sông-ho, a Protestant minister, enters the main Buddha Hall at Ch'ôngryongsa Temple in Chinhae on the southern coast of the peninsula. He swings a microphone over his head like a bolo, smashing the main Buddha statue and damaging beyond repair the altar paintings hanging behind the main altar. Witnesses who apprehend him hear him shouting abusive statements about "idol worship" and that "now [he] will go to heaven for destroying these craven images." Though taken into custody by police, the minister is released within hours with no charges filed by the local authorities.  Damage to the Dharma Hall is extensive. 

May 22, 1996 Two days before Buddha's Birthday, the main Dharma Hall at Mangyông Am Hermitage in Sôngnam, a city bordering Seoul, is burned to the ground. Christian fundamentalists active in the area are suspected but not investigated. (1 building) 

June- December 1996 To be reported at a later date.

January 1997. Minister of Government Administration, Han-gyu Kim who is a Christian elder announces that the national exam for public officials (Level 7) would be administered during weekdays. Buddhists call for rectification since it is a religiously discriminatory policy to set the exam date in consideration of a particular religion.

June 1997. Human feces are scattered around the Dharma Hall in the Special Forces’ School under the Ranger Commando Force. Candidates for Noncommissioned officers who try to attend a Dharma meeting have to write letters of self-criticism. It is revealed that the officer in command forced the candidates with no religious affiliation to avow Christianity and applies unspoken pressure on Buddhist candidates. Buddhists organize a Countermeasure Committee against the Oppression of Buddhism and protest strongly. The Defense Ministry issues an apology under the name of its minister. Lieutenant Colonel Hoi-man Park, head of the Special Forces’ School is given a warning, and Commander Lieutenant Chin-gyu Lee and Chaplain Captain Siyong Chang are dismissed. "Military Affairs Regulations" are formulated and directed to the whole army.

July 3, 1997. Fire, presumably arson, breaks out at Kubog-am in Pyongch’ang-dong, Ch’onghak-sa and Samdong-sa in Chongnung 3 Dong. The origin of the fire is unknown.

July 8, 1997. Fire, presumably arson, breaks out at Kumgang-am in Tobong-dong and Pomjong-sa in Ssangmun-dong. CBS denounces Buddhism in a program called "Make us anew (Saerop-ge Hasos)." This incident is revealed during deliberations of Broadcasting Committee and a warning is issued to CBS accordingly.

July 26, 1997. Fire, presumably arson, breaks out at Kungnak-sa in Mang’uri around 1:50 a.m. The main dharma hall and living quarters are burned to the ground. Estimated damages are 500 million won.

August 2, 1997. Attempted arson attack occurs at Inson-sa in Pyongch’ang-dong. The masked perpetrator tries to set a fire while threatening the abbot of the temple with a container of gasoline. He escapes when interrupted by students. Inson-sa requests a thorough investigation by the police and supplies evidence used by the perpetrator.

August 3, 1997. Fire, presumably arson, breaks out at Homyong-sa in Inch’on and destroyed Main Dharma Hall.

August 18, 1997. Chairman of the Grand National Party (Shinhanguktang) Hoi-ch’ang Lee, in a special live program with presidential candidates organized by the Far East Broadcasting (Kukdong Pangsong), replies that ‘Sundays should be avoided for national or group functions since Sunday is a day of rest’ when asked a question regarding national exams administered on Sundays and the infringement of religious activities.

August 20, 1997. The national exam for public officials (level 7) for the year of 1997 is held during the week instead of Sunday as requested by Christians. Chairman of United Liberal Democrats (Chaminnyon) Kim Jong-pil mentions that if he is elected president, he would try his best to eliminate hindrances to religious life such as national exams administered on Sundays.

August 25, 1997. Fire, presumably arson, breaks out in a studio on the 1stt floor of the Buddhist Television Network (BTN). Evidence found at the scene includes partially burnt paper and traces of fuel. This is the second incident in which that the Buddhist electronic media is targeted.

October 5, 1997. Fire, presumably arson, breaks out at Yongsan Pophwa-sa in Hyehwa-dong, Seoul around 2 a.m. It destroys the library in the basement. The fire is extinguished in two hours. Two people including a resident monk are treated for suffocation caused by smoke inhalation. Damage caused by another fire in 1991 amounted to 60 million won.

October 23, 1997. Inch’on Union of Christianity (Inch’ n Kidokkyo ch’ongyonhap) hold a prayer service at Inch’ n gymnasium attended by 5,000 ministers and lay followers demanding removal of the Buddha statue in Inch’on Detention House. In an effort to press their demand, they make a protest visit to the Detention House after the service.

November 3, 1997. Munhwa Broadcasting Company (MBC) airs a program on monk Yongsan at PD Notebook (PD Such’ op) which is derogatory against Buddhism.

November 1997. Presidential candidate Hoi-ch’ang Lee prints "an apostate monk mask" in his publicity leaflet as the symbol of deceit and lie. Even though this can provide enough ground for misunderstanding, the fact that they did not thoroughly check the leaflet is the indication of their lack of sensitivity, or prejudice against Buddhism.

December 30, 1997. Fire of unknown origin breaks out at Kimyong-sa in Munkyong, Kyongbuk. Three buildings including Solsondang Pavillion, and living quarters are burnt to ashes. Solsondang, a huge lecture hall built about 100 years ago, was the biggest wooden building in the country.

February 16, 1998. Marine Corps Commandant Tobong Chon says that he would make the Marine Corps soldiers of Christ at a groundbreaking ceremony of a church for the Second Division of the Marine Corps. Buddhists made a strong protest against the incident. Marine Corps Commandant sends a letter of explanation stating that the incident was found groundless through self investigation under the directives of the Chief of Naval Operations (March 13, 1998) and promises to prevent any recurrences of the kind (March 14, 1998).

May 7, 1998. President DJ Kim and the First Lady invite a Catholic priest and a minister to the Blue House for mass and worship service. It is announced that President Kim could not attend mass the last two months. This is to save the President trouble of going out during the weekend and to avoid causing inconvenience to other parishioners. Buddhists express concern

1998. Joong-ang Daily Newspaper’s Chicago Office publishes 1998 version of the Joong-ang Ilbo Korean Business Directory omitting four Buddhist temples including Pult’a-sa, Pongbul-sa, Pulsim-sa Sonryon-sa in the religious category. Joong-ang Daily sends a letter of apology to the Chogye Order and promises to prevent any recurrences. Head of the Chicago office visits the temples and apologizes.

1998. Jae-sop Lee, head Minister of Joong-ang Holiness Church (Joong-ang Songgyol Kyohoe) in Taejon distributes leaflets denouncing Buddhism. Upon a protest by Buddhists, Minister Lee visits the Buddhist Association in Taejon and promise to run an apology statement in the daily newspaper.

1998. The government revokes its intention to engrave a dragon image on the handle of National Seal due to a strong protest by Korean Christians. Christians assert the "animal symbolizes Satan" and should not be used in an image representing our nation.’

May 16, 1998. Police investigator following a tip without evidence about organized gangsters barge into a Dharma Hall where a special ritual (Yesujae) is in progress, put handcuffs on a monk and take him to the police station without an arrest warrant. They also use violent language in front of the worshippers. This case is now on trial.

June 3, 1998. A certain Kim breaks into the main Dharma Hall of Podok-sa in Pangbae-dong and tries to destroy the Buddha triad. He is arrested but is later released without being charged due to the indifferent attitude of the Pangbae Police. The Kim had threatened arson attack against the temple several times during the past month. Upon strong demand by the temple abbot and congregation, Pangbae Police rearrest the suspect who was found to be a Christian, Damage traces indicate that someone smashed a door of the Dharma Hall and tries to set fire to Hyangnim-sa, Yangch’on-gu, Seoul. Temple residents catch two suspicious people including a wife of a minister who was wandering around the Dharma Hall and reported them to the police. Police find no evidence and they are released.

June 26, 1998. Su-jin Kim, a Christian, breaks into Wonmyong Sonwon (Zen Center) in Cheju Island, decapitates 750 granite Buddha statues and destroys a gilt bronze Buddha triad, gold-plated jade Buddha and many other Buddhist items. He is caught by people at the temple while breaking windows of the living quarters. Kim confesses to the police that he destroyed Buddha statues in order to convert the temple to a church.

June 27, 1998. Thirty Christian naval men from the First Division of the Marine Corps proselytize in front of Seoul Railroad Station after attending a spiritual retreat. Only three months before the Chief of Naval Operations promises to prevent recurrences of such incidents.

July 1, 1998. Songsun Kim, ward chief of Sonp'a-gu district and Chong-shik Chang, ward chief of Kangbuk-ku district are sworn in with their hands on a Christian Bible, which evoked public criticism. Kim apologizes later. Chang refuses at first but apologizes later when repeatedly demanded by Buddhists.

July 6, 1998. Someone intentionally sprays kerosene in the well at a T.aego Order temple, Wonhyo-sa in Sadang-dong, This case is under investigation.

July 16, 1998. Leader of the Grand New Party Hwa-gap Han stirs up trouble when he states, "if President Kim’s reform fails, the future of the country will be grim. This government was given to us by God" in an interview with Sisa Journal dated July 16.

July 26, 1998. Two right hand fingers of the Shakyamuni Buddha statue and four left fingers of Manjusri Bodhisattva at Torim-sa in Cheju island are damaged. Police suspect a Ms. Yang who damaged Buddha images the same way in 1995.

July 30, 1998. Newsmaker which is published by Kyonghyang Daily uses an expression derogatory of the ordained clergy and Buddhism in an article, ‘Money Loving Elite Worldly Desires Gone Astray’ and ‘Safe in hell, no keys’, written by the reporter Kil-gon Chong. "Once a monk acquires the taste of meat, not even a fly in the Dharma Hall will be spared."

August 25, 1998 Two Buddha statues in Pohyonsa Temple in Ch’ongju City are damaged by a Mr. Oh Pyong-gak, a member of a local church. He had a psychiatric history.

August 29, 1998 Four policemen from Public Security Division of Seoul Metropolitan Police rough up Ven. Song Kwang at the entrance of Chogyesa Temple, the main headquarters temple of the order in Seoul at 9:30 am. The police had been blocking the driveway of the temple and he asked them to step aside so he could drive in and park. They hit him and use abusive language in response. Outraged lay people struggle with the police and a few people receive injuries. The police escape the scene when the protest by lay people escalates. Immediately after the incident, Police Chief Kim, Yonghwa and Kim, Hongjun, Director of the Public Security Division visit Chogyesa to make formal apology and to promise that police involved in the incident will be disciplined. The four perpetrators of the violence visit Chogyesa later that afternoon and apologize to the victim and lay people involved. They also perform many prostrations in the temple.

September 1, 1998 Rev. Kim An-shik of Kunbit Church in Ch’ongju visits Ven. Wonbong, abbot of Pohyonsa Temple with a letter of regret for desecration incident committed by a former church member.

Rev. Kim’s letter states ‘it broke my heart upon hearing of the desecration at Pohyonsa" and asks forgiveness of the abbot and hopes that these acts should never be repeated in the future.

September 4, 1998 Korean National Council of Churches (KNCC) responds sympathetically to destructive actions of some Christians against Buddhist shrines in previous months. There is a spectrum of reactions by Korean churches to the KNCC announcement as be seen in the following news report.

SEOUL (Yonhap) 980904 KST - In response to incidents of vandalism targeting Buddhist statues, the Korean National Council of Churches (KNCC) expressed concern about the destructive actions of some Christians.

The KNCC's announcement has eased the tension between Christians and Buddhists.

However, a Christian non-denominational weekly newspaper published by the Rev. Kim Chul- young ran articles justifying vandalism of Buddhist property. The newspaper, Hanil-nara (Heavenly Kingdom), published on its front page a photograph of a decapitated Buddhist statue, with the caption from the Old Testament's Book of Judges urging the destruction of religious idols. A page-two editorial, entitled "All religious idols should be eliminated," said, "The Buddhist community's criticism of the government over these incidents is unfair." The editorial added, "The Buddhists' criticism of former President Kim Young Sam for holding Christian religious services in the Blue House led him to stop; and this refusal to allow the President to pray resulted in disasters. The recent flooding in Korea struck hardest those areas in which there were many Buddhist statues. There was no flooding on Cheju Island, where a Christian destroyed many Buddhist statues this summer" (referring to Won Myong Sonwon). In addition, the editorial stated that "if people do not respect the one God, they will be subject to disasters" and concluded that "it is unfortunate that it is illegal to destroy Buddhist statues." In response to the KNCC's recent announcement, the editorial asked, "Do you think God will be happy with your announcement? We fear his reaction." It stressed that "since the current environment is accepting of all religions, Christians should prevent others from worshipping false gods and encourage them to worship the true God."

Earlier, Kidok Shinmun (Christianity Newspaper) said, "Buddhists are overreacting to these incidents." The newpaper printed a cartoon and articles suggesting that Buddhists were overly sensitive."

But another newspaper, Kidokkyo Shinmun (Christian Newspaper), a Presbyterian publication, expressed deep concern about conflict with other religions and dedicated a series of articles to the subject. It said that because of certain incidents - including "continuous vandalism, Christians' open support for Kim Young Sam in 1992, Christians' destruction of totems at Yonsei University and Seoul's Noryang-jin area, and their opposition to building a memorial to Korea's mythical founder, Tangun" - that the public has criticized Christians for extremism. This criticism, it said, "has resulted from Christians' cultural insensitivity and failure to acknowledge other belief systems."

September 14-16, 1998. The Daily Sports Newspaper (Ilgan Sports) prints a cartoon series called "Toshi-uhon with a sorcerer who tries to kill someone by using the mantra "Om mani padme hum" as an incantation for three days in a row from September 14 through 16. "Om mani padme hum" is a frequently recited Buddhist mantra of the compassionate bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, who is identified with His Holiness the Dalai Lama in the Tibetan tradition. Buddhists are shocked that this sacred phrase was quoted as a curse to kill people. The newspaper prints a statement of apology on September 25 due to a strong protest by Buddhists.

September 23-24, 1998 One hundred and eighty Buddhist police chaplains participate in training meeting to deal with religious prejudice and prevent the desecration of Buddhism. They resolve to 1) to take initiative to overcome economic crisis and protect the national culture, 2) to make efforts to prevent religious prejudice and 3) to strongly urge the placement of policemen in charge of Buddhist desecration and arson in every police station to prevent future incidents.

November 3-11, 1998 The faces of Buddha statues and paintings in seven temples in Chungch’ongbukto are attacked and severely damaged by razor. Witnesses indicate that a car with license plates from another region was spotted in the temple precincts.

November 27, 1998 Six Buddha statues are found severely damaged outside of Chongsu Am Temple in Pusan. They are decapitated, with damaged noses, and human feces are smeared all over them. Police assume the crime was perpetrated by two or three people who wielded tools to inflict severe damage.

December 1998 Buddhist circles raise concerns about the so-called "Historical and Cultural Tour for Youth" conducted by the Korea Youth Federation of Seoul April through August this year. According to the Seoul Federation’s recent publication " Visiting Cultural Sites of Seoul," the participants visited Protestant Chongdong Church and Catholic Myongdong Cathedral as representative cultural and historical sites while Buddhist sites, relics or remains were neglected. 20,000 youth in the Seoul area participated in the program over five months.

December 15, 1998 A Kwanum (Kwanyin) statue carved on a rock in Pukhansan National Park on the hiking route between Hwagyesa Temple and Samsong Am Hermitage (both of which suffered serious arson attacks in 1996) is damaged by public employees of the Suyu Branch Office of the National Park Authority. They were ordered to remove an artifact of "folk belief." After investigating the case, the National Park Authority delivers an official letter of apology to the Chogye Order Headquarters and decides to provide training for NPA employees on Buddhism and national culture.

 January - May 1999

Events Relevant to Buddhist -Christian Encounter in Korea Culled from Selected PressSources - Hyondae Bulkyo weekly, #205, p.26

Ven. Tosan of Taegaksa in Kwangju and students from Kwangju University Buddhist Student Association (30 in all) attend Christmas Mass at Pongsondong Catholic Church on Dec. 24.

_____________________, pp.26-27

Yahoo Korea creates a stir in Buddhist circles due to the cross symbol used to denote Buddhist temples in its map service on Web site - which commenced in early December 1998. The service, based on data provided by the GIS team of Korea Telecom, uses a cross for major temples in Seoul such as Pongunsa, Pongwonsa, Pulgwangsa and Kaeunsa. A researcher at GIS stated that the symbol was chosen for religious institutions because it downloads quickly. Yahoo Korea will attend to this concern in consultation with Korea Telecom’s Multimedia Research Institute.

1.19 Chugan Pulgyo weekly, p.15

A fire breaks out with an explosion in Kangdoksa Temple in Ch’onan around 1 am. The Ch’onbulam (Thousand Buddha Hall) is completely destroyed. The temple residents and followers suspect an arson attack because an LP gas container was found outside the hall and a claw hammer that didn’t belong there was found inside the hall. Police quickly conclude the fire was accidentally caused by a short circuit. The police are subjected to criticism because of their passive, routine investigation.

1.20 Hyondae Bulkyo #207, p.7

The Inch’on Catholic University, Dept of Traditional Religious Arts hires six masters of Buddhist arts to teach as adjunct professors.

____"_________"__________, p.9

The Catholic Research Institute of Religious Culture (Director Fr. Kim, Mongun) schedules a seminar 1/21 with representatives of the six major religions in Korea on the theme " Korean Society and Religious Culture in the 21st Century."

1.26 Chugan Pulgyo #562, p.15

On 1.14.99 at 3 pm a fire breaks out at Pomunsa in Taejon and completely destroys the Taeungjon- the main dharma hall devoted to Shakyamuni. Nineteen Buddha statues and four paintings are incinerated. Police take a suspect apprehended on the scene to the station for further investigation. The temple’s head offering attendant (kongyangju) Ms. Kim, Sunhwa who discovered the fire testifies that when she found a drunken man drinking water from the refrigerator in the kitchen, she had a strange premonition and ran to the Taeungjon to discover it engulfed in flames. The abbot suspects an arson attack since the suspect who broke into the kitchen at the time of the fire belonged to another religion. Ven. Popyol, head of the temple association in the Taejon area makes a protest visit the Chungpu Police station and urges prompt investigation. He is told that the investigation was entrusted to the National Institute of Scientific Investigation which claimed that they did not find any incriminating evidence regarding Mr. Ko, the suspect.


The Secretary General of the Korean National Council of Churches (KNCC) Kim, Dong-wan visited the newly elected head of the Chogye Order Ven. Kosan to congratulate him on his assumption of office. Ven Kosan makes clear his position on religious harmony. Stating that "all religions should become one family" he declares that all religions such as Buddhism and Christianity are the foundation of the national spirit, and that unification and world peace can be achieved when religions in harmony lead the way for people to follow.

Rev. Kim expressed sympathy with the statement, "We, Protestants, have great expectations for Ven. Kosan in his role as new head of the Order. We also hope that Buddhism can make a great contribution to our country and its people," said Rev. Kim. They also agreed to discuss related matters related to the national unification movement, and the restoration of the site of Shingyesa in North Korea.

3.2 Pulgyo Shinmun weekly, #1708, p.2

Ven. Kosan assumes the leadership of the Korean Council for Religion and Peace (KCRP) which rotates to Buddhists on 2/24/99. In his inaugural address, he declares that all religions should become one family in order to eradicate conflicts and take active initiatives to promote peace.

3.29 The KCRP holds a seminar 3/29 at the Seoul Press Center with the theme "Understanding Religious Phenomena at the End of the Century."

Participants assert that, "freedom of religion should be guaranteed but fanatical religious activities which are contrary to social and ethical norms should be restricted." Prof. Hee Sung Keel presents a paper on "religious fanaticism and the ethics of civil society" which stresses that religious freedom in civil society operates on mutual respect and tolerance, and that order in civil society should be maintained even if religious freedom has to be curtailed. It is fundamental for the coexistence of religions and a free religious life in a multi-religious society. (4.6 Chugan Pulgyo #570, p. 11)

3.31 Hyondae Bulkyo #216, p.1

Ven. Kosan accepts an invitation from the Vatican to attend a World Religious Leaders' Meeting, slated for 10/24-29. The director of the Confucian school Sungkyungwan Choi Ch’anggyu is also invited by Rome.

4.6 Chugan Pulgyo #570, p. 11

The Committee to Counter Religious Discrimination (CCRD) puts out a public call to collect information related to religious prejudice and desecration of Buddhism. It plans to publish a comprehensive report on the issue in order to study and analyze the incidents and to take measures to prevent their recurrence.

4.28 Pop-o Shinmun #510, p.15

A certain SBS TV program and its producer receives a warning issued on 4/20 from the Broadcasting Committee for Entertainment and Recreation regarding a program aired 4/10 which "fosters prejudice by highlighting a certain religion by soliciting remarks on religious life from an old Christian woman on stage and repeatedly broadcasting a scene of her in prayer. This action is a result of a letter of protest sent by CCRD demanding an apology and strict disciplinary action as well as numerous complaint calls from viewers.

4.28 Hyondae Bulkyo #220, p.5

Ven Kosan of the Chogye Order meets with the Secretary General of the World Council of Churches Conrad Riser on the latter’s visit to Korea. Ven. Kosan stressed harmony among religions stating that the teachings of the Buddha and Christ are one. He also stated he would visit the WCC Ecumenical Center in Geneva when he visits the Vatican in October this year.

5.8 Han’kyore Daily News, p.12

Ven. Kosan visits the KNCC on May 8, the first time a high ranking Buddhist visits the organization since its establishment in 1924. Visits from Buddhist leaders were rejected in the past because of opposition from conservatives. Kosan’s visit is a return courtesy call to Rev. Kim, Dong-wan, the NCCK Secretary General. They exchange opinions regarding peaceful reunification projects and a proposed dharma meeting at the site of Shingyesa in the Diamond Mountains (Mt. Kumgang). Authorities in the KNCC declare that Ven. Kosan’s visit is meaningful because it provides momentum for more interaction and symbolizes harmony between Protestants and Buddhists who were previously at odds.

They will explore ways to promote various exchange programs and joint projects in the future.

5.12 Ven. Kosan visits Archbishop of Seoul Chong, Chinsok on May 12th. The Catholic leader will pay a return visit to Chogye Order Headquarters shortly afterwards. As new chairman of the KCRP, Ven. Kosan has met with Rev. Kang Wonyong, founder of Korea’s progressive Christian Academy and first minister of the influential Kyongdong Presbyterian Church (5.10 Han’ guk Ilbo Daily News, p.17).

5.19 Hyondae Bulkyo #223, p.19

The Korean National Police Headquarters sends out official letters to local police agencies regarding the upcoming Buddha’s Birthday celebration on May 22. They are instructed to be fully prepared to prevent arson attacks on temples across the country. The authority points out that there is a history of arson attacks on temples around the holiday and institutes a special crime prevention operation for fifteen days until May 25. Accordingly, local police reinforce temple patrols and special crime prevention teams.

May 22 Buddha’s Birthday celebrations in Seoul and other areas of the country occur without reports of arson or incidents of vandalism or disrespect to Buddhist worshippers. Unlike past celebrations, there were no reports of fanatic Christians damning or trying to dissuade Buddhists and others from visiting temples to bath images of the infant Buddha.

Large parades of thousands of Buddhist clergy and lay people were well received by the general public."

A few signs of sincere goodwill between the religions should be noted as well. The Samsohoe inter-faith choir of Chogye Order bhiksunis, Catholic nuns and Won Buddhist sisters (kyomu) sang before a large crowd on a platform erected in front of Chogyesa Temple at the finale of the Buddha’s Birthday parade in Seoul. The students of Hanshin Graduate School of Theology, a Presbyterian school, hung a banner of congratulations for Buddha’s birth across the road in front of their school entrance that also happens to lead to Hwagyesa Temple, the victim of three attacks in 1996. (Last year the banner was torn down by local believers and a highly respected senior theologian Dr. Kyong Jae Kim of the school received harassing telephone calls in the middlle of the night as a warning not to praise the Buddha.) A local Catholic church down the street erected a similar banner as well. Hwagyesa Temple had erected a banner at its entrance congratulating Christians on Christmas last year.

4. Questions for Buddhists and Christians in Korea

Occasions of insults and violent assaults against Buddhist teachings and Buddhist images and places of worship, including the homes of Buddhist clergy in Korea like those cited above, had very little notice in the local or national press or other media in Korea. Why is this? Does someone need to be hurt or killed before it’s "news?" They have only been reported in the small, private Buddhist press for the most part but almost ignored by larger agencies.

Is there a policy to quash reports of incidents of religious conflict or attacks against Buddhists in order to avoid repercussions? Are the incidents so sensitive that certain authorities fear a backlash from an informed Buddhist constituency? When will the Chogye Order Headquarters publish a clear policy statement about this issue?

Why haven’t more liberal Korean Christian leaders and congregations (including Catholics) extended open sympathy and more general support to Buddhists who have been victimized by religious extremists or as yet unidentified assailants? If such basic neighborly concern is so weak in the Korean religious world, isn’t it time to actively kindle it and warm the cold air of indifference which has kept Koreans separated and isolated from each other within their own small country? Who can blame the other for their aloof silence? Radical students and professors in South Korea righteously blame the United States and the USSR for the painful division of their country at the end of World War II. Can they really blame the superpowers for the religious tensions and alienation their own people perpetuate in the South?

These questions arise from a hope that the Korean Buddhist and Christian communities can help those of us who care about Korea get a clearer sense how inter-religious cooperation for effective social action can be implemented in Korea and other parts of Asia. A good place to begin is at the beginning. Just what is going on in Korea? Christians and Buddhists look at each other suspiciously over stony walls. Like the new tall buildings which have gone up everywhere in Seoul (and have come crashing down like Sampoong Department Store!), they wear a thin veneer of stone that hides a tempest of activity within. Can we not acknowledge this simple fact and recognize that we are all in our own private ways trying to make sense of this confusing and ever more crowded and polluted world? Is it "ecologically correct" to pretend that we can really separate ourselves from others? An "ecological awakening" to our interconnectedness is in order. Don’t we share the results of our karma and our interdependence with the natural world around us? Buddhists and Christians alike need to seriously consider the description of the Christian critique of Buddhism that was written by Venerable Chi Myong in 1990. Dr. Pyôn selected his words as representative of a wise Buddhist response to the widespread Christian challenges and attacks. It can be summarized as follows.

Many Korean Christians claim:

1) Buddhism is superstition
2) Buddhism is idol worship
3) Jesus is God but Shakyamuni is (was) a human being
4) Buddhism is too difficult to understand. It is a philosophy, not a religion. Belief in Jesus is easy to understand and to do
5) Buddhism is baseless. It has no substance at its root. It is responsible for the wrongdoings of its monks and nuns.
6) Buddhism is an evil religion that must be eradicated from the face of the earth.

In response to these hateful accusations Ven. Chi Myông encourages people to:

1) Deal with clannish attacks perpetrated by followers of other religions (Face them. Do not ignore them. Engage them).
2) Set up an organization(s) to dissolve hostility and show bodhisattva action.
3) Eliminate one’s own exclusivist and aggressive inclinations. Fighting against violence is against Buddha’s teachings. Refrain from habitual, nervous reactions. Practice the bodhisattva spirit in silence with friendliness without angry retorts. Avoid fighting provocateurs that want to see Buddhism disappear from earth. And the outraged Dr. Pyôn , the aforementioned late Methodist seminary president, professor, and minister, adds in aggravation: "People who damage and desecrate Buddhism. People who are bound to the letters of bible and church. Christian fanatics who attempt to destroy their own cultural assets and smash their own traditional religion.

Puppet-like pseudo-Christians. These people are the enemy of the open democratic society toward which our nation is striving."

5. Steps toward Cooperation

In the face of the strong conservative Christian resistance which we have delineated above, and the caution of Buddhists who suspect a conversion agenda under the guise of dialogue, there yet occurs some very encouraging cooperative activities among religious leaders and their followers in Korea.

Most recently in the summer 1996 was the Religious Leaders’ Pilgrimage for National Reunification which marched through eleven cities in South Korea from June 25 to July 4, 1996 and involved about 3,000 clergy in all. This was the first time that Protestants, Catholics, Buddhists and Won Buddhists actually worked together and walked together for a greater cause beyond mere ceremonial photo opportunities of inter-religious harmony and academic discourse. A very positive result of this pilgrimage was the establishment of nine new city branches of the Religious Council for National Reconciliation and Reunification (Chonggyo-in Hyôp-ûi Hoe) outside of Seoul.

We must also mention the activities of the Korean Conference on Religion and Peace (KCRP) which was originally initiated in 1965 as the Association of Korean Religionists.

The present KCRP is comprised of members from the six major faiths in Korea: Buddhism, Confucianism, Catholicism, Protestantism, Won Buddhism and Chondogyo. The former AKR includes members from new religions like the Chonrigyo, Taejongyo and the T’ongilgyo (Unification Church) but not the Protestant and Catholic churches. The Christian members withdrew because they chose not to share in the organization with the Unification Church.

According to Dr. Kim Sunggon, a professor at Youngsan Won Buddhist Seminary and a current National Assemblyman, both the AKR and the KCRP "aim at improving mutual understanding and creating a better society by cooperation among religions, but there is no dialogue and cooperation between these two interfaith organizations. What an irony this is!" Inter-religious organizations must stand for more than theoretical understanding among the religions. Meetings and proclamations and books are not enough. The proof of an organization’s effectiveness is in its ability to create new harmony among religious communities who hitherto were disinterested on account of beliefs in their own supremacy.

Perhaps Buddhism’s great virtue in inter-religious dialogue and cooperation is that it already had an acceptance of diversity of opinion and experience about the mental life of humankind from the inception of the religion with Shakyamuni. It never had to try to bridge differences with other paths since it had already recognized them from the beginning.

This is its great

"pangp’yôn" (upaya), expedient means of teaching Buddhist truths.

There are many serious issues in Korea to unite Christians and Buddhists. National reunification and environmental issues are critical without exception for the entire population of Korea. Resolution of these issues will require more than cosmetic treatment.

The lives of all Korean people are at stake. Buddhist and Christian cooperation can provide an atmosphere for more openness and communication at the governmental level. Religious leaders among the Buddhists and Christians in Korea can make a difference in the course of Korean history as they have in the past as during the Independence Movement. But they should come together not just because they face a common enemy but because they realize their mutual interdependence and shared human concerns. Religions need not lose their identity when in dialogue and cooperation. They can demonstrate the greatest wisdom, love and compassion they are capable of when they move closer to their neighbors with whom they live. As the "sleeping wisdom" of modern Korean Buddhism awakens, it will be in a stronger position to share its virtues with people of all faiths in Korea and lead their mutually cooperative efforts for social concord.


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