[FOUNTAIN]Monuments to Materialism

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[FOUNTAIN]Monuments to Materialism

"Beating a wooden fish / feeling so sleepy / The lovely young monk / fell asleep. / Buddha, without words, / smiles / It's a long way to the countries to the west of China / Against the beautiful sunset / peony blossoms are falling."

On my way to a temple in a mountain, I saw the chestnut flowers had come out. The heavy smell of the land and vegetation after the long-awaited rain overwhelmed the fragrance of chestnut flowers. I was trying to find a peaceful, silent mountain temple, like the one described in Cho Ji-hun's poem, "Old Temple 1." But at the temple, I heard prayers to Buddha through the noise of excavators digging up the ground. I watched as the temple priests were busy soliciting believers and tourists to make various kinds of offerings.

The word bulsa originally meant sacred works of Buddha to enlighten and save mankind. It also means everything done by the priests of a temple. Today, the word is often used to refer to remodeling or building new temples, towers or Buddhist statues. The Liang emperor Wu-ti, who was an ardent Buddhist in China, asked Bodhidharma, "What merit and virtue will I have accumulated, as I have built so many temples?" But Bodhidharma replied, "Those meaningless acts, which are only significant in the secular world, will give you no virtue."

However, these "meaningless acts" still continue in our Buddhist community. We already have some of the largest Buddhist statues in Asia, but Korean temples continue to try and build world landmarks. The priests who pursue larger and grander monuments win the favor of believers. This ill tradition has been criticized in and outside our Buddhist community. These projects, which depend on offerings made by believers, only encourage religious life to be connected to materialism. Therefore, many argued that Buddhist temples should rein in their projects to include only those that are cultural and environmentally friendly and help people reach enlightenment.

Haeinsa temple began construction of what will be the world's largest bronze Buddha on June 4. A priest from Silsangsa temple blasted the project for its "secularism." Shortly after, 30 monks from Haeinsa visited the priest to vandalize his temple in retaliation. This act saw Haeinsa temple receive yet more condemnation. The conflict continues.

In one of the sutras, Buddha warned of the danger of secular desire: "Trying to satisfy secular desire is like running with a torch in your hand. Unless you throw away the torch, the flames will soon consume your entire body."

The writer is culture news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Lee Kyeung-chul

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