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Korean Buddhists lambast government propensity

The Dong-a Ilbo JULY 5, 2008

Seoul, South Korea -- “Unless the current administration drops its unfair religious policy, we’ll continue our own Buddhist ceremonies.”

Buddhist priests released the statement at the Buddhist ceremony in the cause of protecting the sovereignty of the people and encouraging the government to repent yesterday.

Buddhist priests held the ceremony in order to urge the government to hold a renegotiation over U.S. beef imports and President Lee Myung-bak to make an apology. Rev. Sugyeong, co-host of the ceremony, said yesterday, “President Lee Myung-bak has to make a sincere apology to the people regarding the government’s beef negotiation and suppression of candlelight vigil protesters. And then he can ask the people to provide a helping hand.”

However, what has urged Buddhist priests from across the country to go out of the temples and hold the Buddhist ceremony is their antipathy against the government. They believe that the government’s religious propensity has “gone way too far.”

They suggested some examples showing the government’s religious propensity: President Lee Myung-bak said he would give the city of Seoul to God when he was the mayor of Seoul; Cheong Wa Dae did not send a congratulatory message to major temples on Buddha’s Birthday; A senior official of the presidential office said the government agencies should be evangelized; The picture of National Police Agency Commissioner General Eo Cheong-soo was printed on the poster of a nationwide police fast event; The information on temples has been omitted from “Algoga,” the traffic information system created by the Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs.

On Thursday, the nation’s Buddhist priests argued that the government was lopsided in its religious propensity, and formed a Buddhist commission to “put an end to the government’s religious propensity.” The commission supported the Buddhist ceremony held at Seoul Plaza.

Rev. Seongmuk belonging to the Central Council of the Korean Buddhist Jogye Order said, “We’re concerned over the government’s anachronistic attitude under which it describes people against the government’s policies as Satan and insist on evangelizing the government. It ignores the principle of separation of religion and politics, guaranteed by the constitution.” Others say, “From the perspective of Buddhist priests, the religious propensity of the incumbent government can be considered as issues related with the religious authority and power and a matter of life and death.”

Accordingly, most Buddhist priests think that they will not step back unless the government suggests solutions. Before the ceremony, Rev. Jigwan, executive chief of the Korean Buddhist Jogye Order, did not clearly mention the issue but he implied that the ceremony was inevitable. He did not participate in the event.

The Buddhist circle urges the government to provide fundamental solutions. They argue that warnings for senior government officials who have made religiously biased statements or policies are not enough and that the government should put an effective system in place so as to prevent same problems from appearing.

A source from the Jogye Order said, “Ethics standards for government officials should include not only issues on their wealth and ethics but also issues on religious propensity. In other words, the standards should prevent government officials from propagandizing or belittling certain religion. Unless the government comes up with relevant measures, even monks who are undergoing disciplines during summer may quit their training and participate in the ceremony.” If the government fails to provide solutions, the group behavior such as the Buddhist ceremony seems unlikely to end in the near future.

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