The two largest Buddhist orders in South Korea have been active in inter-Korean religious communication, organizing events in North Korean temples that have been reconstructed with Southern cooperation.
The Jogye Order, South Korea’s largest, had discussions with North’s Choson Buddhist Association last Friday and agreed on organizing the eighth anniversary celebration of the Shingye temple at Mount Kumgang on October 13.
The Cheontae Order, South Korea’s second largest, met the Choson association last Saturday and confirmed a joint ceremony celebrating the 10th year of the reconstruction of Youngtong temple in Kaesong on November 3.
“In celebration of the 10th anniversary, the president of the Choson Buddhist Association will attend the event for the first time and the president of the Cheontae order, Chun Gwang, will go there also,” a staff member of Share the World, the humanitarian volunteering organization under the Cheontae Order told NK News.
Restoration work on Youngtong temple, where the renowned Buddhist monk Uicheon is said to have entered nirvana, took place from 2002 to 2005. The Cheontae order led the project, and the South Korean Ministry of Unification (MoU) provided administrative and financial support and North Korean workers reconstructed the temple.
“460,000 pieces of roof tile were delivered from South to North,” the staff member said of the process. The monk Moo-won, who led the project, said the main motivation of the project was to “promote Kaesong as an international tourist attraction,” in remarks quoted on the Share the World’s website.
“The religious rituals are not organized. We taught them how to beat the wooden gong. The language difference in Buddhism was another difficulty; they don’t understand our terms and we don’t understand their terms,” Moo-won said.
This year, the Cheontae Order invited North Korean Buddhists to South Korea to attend the celebration of the 940th year of Uicheon reaching nirvana.
“We invited them for the first time to Gooin temple in Danyang. Although they didn’t give us a confirmed answer, they said ‘We will go there sometime.'”
The Shingye temple on Mount Kumgang, which was destroyed during the Korean War, was restored from 2004 to 2007, led by Jogye Order.
“The Shingye temple restoration was supported by Hyundai Asan, mainly in administration procedures,” a staff member of UniKorea told NK News.
The organization affiliated with the Jogye order, UniKorea, has worked on organizing a joint ceremony, investigation and restoration of Buddhist cultural assets in North Korea, pilgrimages to those assets and humanitarian support for North Korean children.
“We are collecting medicines and nutritional supplements but cannot deliver the goods to North Korea due to the May 24 measures,” a UniKorea staff member said.
According to the MoU’s North Korea Information Portal, the Choson Buddhist Association, which is talking with both orders, is a propaganda institute aimed at religious exchange with South Korea. A staff member of Share the World also raised suspicions about religious freedom in North Korea, but nonetheless highlighted the importance of cultural and religious exchanges. He also mentioned the change in North Korean Buddhism.
“In the past, the monks in Youngtong temple had long hair, unlike monks from South, and they were not staying at the temple. However, these days, there are monks with tonsured heads wearing garb, and now there are two-three monks residing at the temple.”
Featured image: Share the World
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