Sunday, October 16, 2011

Buddhism and Catholicism in Korea

Religion deals with  conscience. Each has to follow the dictates of conscience. However, when religion is an external and public reality, it becomes a matter also for the nation. Buddhism is the second article in the series on Religions and Catholicism in the Peace Weekly.  The writer  quotes Robespierre, a Deist, prominent leader of the French Revolution showing the necessity of Religion for the health of a nation.

Buddhism in Korea helped to legitimize the rule of the king. Lee Chadon was martyred because of his Buddhist beliefs but was the door by which Buddhism entered the Silla Kingdom and spread to the rest of the country. Buddhism united the aristocrats and gradually spread to the people. With the downfall of Goguryeo and  Baekje kingdoms,  the Silla Kingdom ascended and became the United Silla Kingdom. The King used Buddhism to unite all the beliefs into Buddhism, and the king became the Buddha King. The teaching was the unification  and harmony of all things. The universe is in the one, and the one is in the universe. Uisang was one of the illustrious monks of the Silla period his teachings  had more to do with the whole than with the individual.

The Silla dynasty lasted for almost 1000 years one of the longest in Asia. With the downfall of Silla, we have the Koryo dynasty  in which Buddhism turned to asking for help from the Buddha.  It was during the Koryo years that the Buddhist's monks would take national exams,  work in the royal house and in running the government.

The Joseon followed the Koryo which began with the policy of restraining Buddhism and giving the ascendency to Confucianism.This period showed great  disdain for  Buddhism. With the Japanese colonial rule the Confucian control disappeared and Buddhism was given freedom.

After the defeat of Japan and Independence, conflict arose between the traditionalists  and the independent Korean Buddhists. The problem with the married and celibate monks also surfaced. The government gave preference to the celibate monks.

 How does the Catholic Church look upon the Buddhists? In the Declaration on non-Christians, it says:   "Buddhism in its multiple forms acknowledges the radical insufficiency of this  shifting world. It teaches a path by which men, in a devout and confident spirit can either  reach a state of absolute freedom or attain supreme enlightenment by their own efforts or by higher assistance."  And continuing: "The Catholic Church rejects nothing, which is true and holy in these religions. She looks with sincere respect upon those ways of conduct and of life, those rules and teachings which though differing in many particulars from what she holds and sets forth, nevertheless, often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men."

Pope Paul VI made it clear that we respect these religions, but it doesn't mean we refrain from pronouncing the teachings of Jesus. There was a warning to the bishops of the world that the meditations of the Christians and non-Christians should not be seen as the same. The Korea Catholic Church mentioned the dangers of pluralism, syncreticism and a failure to analyze the different religious approaches.

As Catholic we continue to try to understand the other religions  and have a deeper understanding of our own. Our interest and concern with the other religions should grow.  Without  knowledge of their  teachings, in  dialogue we will have more confusion. We have to know our own teachings and those of the other religions if the dialogue is to be profitable.

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