Korea Should Agree to Dalai Lama Visit

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Korea Should Agree to Dalai Lama Visit

His Holiness Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, fled Tibet in 1959 to seek refuge from the reppression of Chinese troops. Over the subsequent 40 years, he has toured about 50 countries around the world as the leader of a government in exile. It is interesting to note that France is one of the countries he has visited most frequently. In fact, he is in France at present for a ten-day visit, his 17th to that nation. During the outdoor Buddhist mass held yesterday at the Charletty Stadium in Paris, which drew about 10,000 people, the Dalai Lama emphasized the importance of peace, non-violence and benevolence in the 21st century.

The French people's interest in Buddhism can only be described as explosive. It is no hyperbole to say that they are in the grip of "Buddhism fever." There are about half a million Buddhist followers in the nation. According to a public survey conducted last year, some five million people or one in twelve of the French population, cited Buddhism as the religion they personally felt most familiar with. The number of Zen centers across France has now reached more than 200. Buddhism is never absent from the religious programs that public TV networks air every Sunday morning and more than 30 Buddhist books have been published this year alone.

Albert Einstein, one of the greatest physicists of the 20th century, was once quoted as saying, "If there is any religion that could cope with modern scientific needs, it would be Buddhism." The interest in Buddhism is especially high among French intellectuals. One important contributor to the propagation of the religion was Matthieu Ricard, a molecular biologist who threw a promising future to the winds in 1972 to convert to Buddhism. In 1997, the biologist-turned-monk and his father Jean-Francois Revel, a renowned philosopher, published a hugely successful book titled, "The Monk and the Philosopher: A Father and Son Discuss the Meaning of Life."

British historian Arnold Toynbee is also known to have asserted that the most important event of the 20th century was the propagation of Buddhism to the West.

Buddhism was introduced to the Korean peninsula in the 4th century. According to a survey, one out of four Koreans, or 23.2 percent of the population, is a Buddhist. Despite the high number of Buddhists, however, the Korean government remains reluctant to allow a visit to Korea by the Dalai Lama, out of deference to China, which opposes contacts with the Tibetan spiritual leader. The Dalai Lama has been to Japan, as well as Taiwan, where he will soon be making his second visit. The government's subservient attitude can only be viewed as an example of humiliating diplomacy that is oblivious to the concept of cultural sovereignty.

by Bae Myong-bok

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