[VIEWPOINT]Lessons from the forest fires

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[VIEWPOINT]Lessons from the forest fires

Despite the huge damage from the forest fires in Yangyang county, Gangwon province, on April 4, fortunately, no one was hurt.
This reminds us of a part of “The Discourses of Confucius.” Hearing the news that a big fire broke out in a stall, Confucius asked, “Were any people injured?” In this seemingly commonplace and natural question lies his humanism, his concern for human beings.
In the case of the forest fires in Yangyang, Confucius may have been relieved to hear that no one was harmed, but the fires brought disaster to nature and people’s lives. What is worse, the burning of Naksansa temple, one of Korea’s oldest Buddhist shrines, brought deep sorrow to our people.
What kind of place is Naksansa temple? It is a sacred temple that has long protected our country, serving as a watchman of the East Sea. To prevent Japan’s invasion, the great Buddhist priest Euisang built Naksan-sa temple in AD 676 during the reign of King Munmu of the Silla Dynasty after the king unified the Three Kingdoms of ancient Korea.
The temple served Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva, or Guan Yin. In Buddhism, Guan Yin is called the goddess of sea and sailing. The temple was named after the Sanskrit “Potalaka,” or Naksan, in the Indian Ocean, the place where Guan Yin always resides, according to legend. Therefore, Naksansa temple is our nation’s perpetual “watchman of the East Sea.”
After his death in AD 680, King Munmu’s will stated that his body should be cremated and the ashes be scattered over the East Sea. He deserved to be buried in a huge royal tomb befitting his great historical achievement of unifying the Three Kingdoms, but he refused the honor. He said he wanted to be a “dragon for defense of the country,” to help protect the nation from a Japanese invasion from the East Sea. There is a place off the Gampo sea port near Gyeongju, which is called Daewang, or Great King, rock. The king passed away just four to five years after Euisang built Naksansa temple.
King Munmu was the greatest ruler throughout the thousand-year history of the Silla Dynasty, and he asked that his ashes be thrown in the East Sea to defend his country forever, even after his death, and Venerable Euisang established Naksansa temple to defend the East Sea with the help of religious power.
A political leader and a religious leader of the Silla Dynasty devoted their body and heart to the defense of the East Sea, wishing a lasting peace in their fatherland at a time when Korea’s first unification was achieved with greatness.
There are strong winds and high waves in the East Sea near Dokdo islands, between South Korea and Japan. Now Naksansa temple, the watchman of the East Sea, has been burned to the ground. Can we not see the historical providence and lessons in these events?
The phoenix is a bird in Egyptian mythology that is said to rise from the ashes of its body after it has burned itself to death. In Buddhist lore, one story is called “Throwing one’s body to feed a tiger.” According to this story, in his previous life, Buddha threw down his body to provide food for a tiger that was starving to death. This shows how self-sacrificing Buddha was.
The moral of this story seems to apply to Naksansa temple as well. Can’t the burning of the temple, like the death of a phoenix in the fire, be like a mysterious hint to remind us of the spirit of Venerable Euisang, who had wished to defend the country by building the temple?
Wouldn’t seeing Naksansa temple in flames reawaken in us a love for our country or a desire to protect the Dokdo islands, just as Buddha once sacrificed himself for the hungry tiger?
It is fine to sing songs or stage demonstrations with a heart to defend Dokdo. It also touches our hearts to visit Dokdo and recite poems.
But such actions are not substantial or effective ― they are sporadic, temporary and done at the spur of the moment. A more constant, reasonable and rational method, that is, a scientific study, is urgently required. The basis for a country’s terrestrial rights should be proved “historically and according to international law.” In this regard, we need to ask ourselves whether we have scientifically and historically established the legal grounds necessary for an effective occupation of Dokdo islands.
Research projects based on scientific studies are what should be done to defend the territory of our homeland, just as King Munmu and Venerable Euisang did with their heart and body.

* The writer is the chairman of the board of directors at Myongji Education Foundation. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by You Young-koo
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