Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Korean 'Ki' and Religion

Over the years I have heard the word 'Ki' or 'Chi' used in many different ways and have no intention in trying to explain what the Koreans would understand by the word. I do believe there is a difference in the understanding of this concept by China and Japan distinct in certain aspects from the Korean.

When a person is sick many feel that the 'Ki' is blocked so the attempt is to get it to flow again. You have all kinds of methods to do this: acupuncture , finger pressure, deep breathing, selective eating, the marital arts and other ways. Something is jammed and you try to get it unloosed.

'Ki', is defined as energy, spirit, vigor, vitality, stamina, will-power. Some of the words that begin with 'Ki' would be: back bone, guts, elation, mettle, windpipe, balloon, air, breathtakingly, temper, soul, sentiment, appearance. When someone has a tightness in the chest, feeling of nausea, difficulty in digesting food then the thought comes that the 'Ki' is not flowing correctly and something has to be done. The Chinese Character for 'Ki' has the rice plant covered by the steam that comes from a pot of rice being prepared.

This whole area of 'Ki' can take the aspect of religion and it does so often in Korea. Many years ago one of the bishops sent a memorandum to all the clergy in the diocese warning about the ambiguity and danger of the 'Ki' culture. He mentioned the need for discernment: "When 'Ki' formation touches the religious realm going beyond its dimension which is health promotion, it becomes dangerous." ...If they insist that people can reach salvation by themselves, this is a serious mistake because salvation cannot be obtained by any human efforts or techniques, it (can) only be achieved by God."

"Priests and religious who have contact with 'Ki' culture believing that it helps them for meditation or health, should act with discernment recalling that their attitude can bring confusion to the Christian life."

We have in Korea the 'well being movement' the 'culture of self-cultivation', which at times are part of the 'Ki' culture. In the States we would see much of this as the alternative medicine movement: often a very healthy alternative to the main stream medical approach. In Korea these movements do enter often the domain of religion and nationalism.

The Western concept of religion is much narrower than the Korean and following our criterion the whole area need not be seen as religion but many of those in the Church do see the overlapping and are concerned.

A professor who teaches social sciences at Korea University and is an expert in the area said: "Its members believe that 'Ki' is the ultimate principle and nature of the universe." Explaining why Catholics may be attracted to this 'Ki' culture he said: "As a liturgy-centered religion, the Catholic Church does not satisfy the spiritual desire of the faithful to experience God: this is why many Catholics want to be compensated by 'Ki' culture.

We have no idea how many Catholics are moving over to the 'Ki' culture but it would seem some are dabbling with the movement not realizing that it has anything to do with their religious beliefs. They are searching for something that they have not found in their Catholicism.

The professor concluded that "the Church should listen to what her members say and desire. With its 2,000 years of history and tradition, I believe that Christianity has many means to respond to the spiritual needs of the faithful. For instance the various spiritual programs of contemplation and meditation of religious institutes and contemplative communities can be shared with the lay faithful."

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