[Viewpoint]Falling short of Jesus, BuddhaAbout 30 years ago, when I was a high school student, I read a book about the Buddhist teaching of non-possession, written by Venerable Beopjeong.
It was a thin pocketbook edition. I read it over and over. As a Buddhist monk, the author had given up his worldly desires, but he had an Oriental orchid in his meditation room. He raised the plant with great care, as a prince on another planet in a fairy tale did for a flower.
Raising an Oriental orchid demands great care. During his rare trips outside the temple, the monk suddenly remembered the orchid.
He started to worry whether the orchid was being exposed to the glaring sun or too much heavy rain. He started to feel impatient. In his mind, there was nothing but the orchid.
At that moment, the monk suddenly attained the spiritual enlightenment that materialistic possessions were not the only thing that restrained human beings.
The monk said to himself, “Throw everything away. You must not possess anything. You will only get attached to it.”
Now, I am leading a mundane life contrary to the teachings of Beopjeong. However, whenever I confront hardships due to problems from excessive expectations from my children or work, I always remember the monk’s teaching: “Throw everything away.”
I came to know about Pastor Choi Il-do of the Dail Community when I was working as head of the city news desk at the JoongAng Ilbo. One day, a junior reporter told me, “A pastor is serving bowls of rice to vagrants and needy people in a red-light district near the Cheongnyangni railroad station.”
I took his words lightly and said, “A pastor is serving bowls of rice to needy people? Maybe he will stop after a while.”
I was a little reluctant, but let the article on Pastor Choi be published. More then 10 years have passed since then. I now hear that Pastor Choi has served more than a million bowls of rice to the needy. They say that a bowl of rice gives hope to needy people.
Therefore, Pastor Choi has given hope to millions.
Venerable Beopjeong, who preaches the Buddhist ideal of non-possession, and Pastor Choi, who serves bowls of rice to the needy, are people who practice their religious beliefs.
If not for their religion, it would not have been easy for them to live a life of self-sacrifice. Because of the unworldly atmosphere, sacredness and loftiness of religious places, even people like me who do not belong to any religion will join hands in a Buddhist temple and say a prayer in a church.
However, the happenings in the Buddhist and Christian world in Korea nowadays are far from lofty. Some people are even saying the world would be a better place without religion.
The whereabouts of Jangyun, the Buddhist monk who was dismissed from his post as a director of Dongguk University after raising suspicions about Shin Jeong-ah’s bogus academic degrees, are unknown and shrouded with mystery.
I cannot understand why he is hiding from the press and prosecutors, and speaking only through a spokesperson or a lawyer, not in his own words.
So, I was curious to know what kind of Buddhist sermons he has been delivering.
If a high Buddhist priest like him is behaving in such a strange manner, in whose words should the Buddhist believers put their faith?
Korean Christians must be just as disappointed as the Buddhist believers.
Pastor Park Eun-jo, of Saemmul Community Church, said recently, “I would like to dispatch much bigger missionary groups to the Islamic world in the future.”
According to some, he also preached that “There should not be 300, but 3,000 more martyrs like the late Pastor Bae Hyung-kyu, who was slain by the Taliban.”
I wonder whether this should really be called a religious belief.
As an ordinary citizen, I naturally regretted hearing his shameless remarks.
And I also started to wonder whether the people who were released after being held as hostages by the Taliban would go around making faith testimonials, saying, “It was the Providence of the God that we were released from the hands of the Taliban.”
I also wondered whether those testimonials would then be used to expand the influence of the church.
It is not relevant, but we can perhaps imagine what Jesus and Buddha would say about this.
One thing seems clear to me. Due to the recent incidents, the sense of skepticism about religion has spread widely among people, turning them away from the steps of the churches and their minds away from Buddhist temples.
This goes against the point of missionary work.
A senior pastor deplored, “Korean churches have offered prayers of repentance, weeping aloud whenever they have have held revival services or large religious services attended by tens of thousands of believers. However, Korean churches, as well as society, are getting more corrupt. Why is that?”
That opinion, held by pastor Kim Hyung-tae of Youndong Presbyterian Church, is something shared by Buddhists, too, I think.
I hope that Korean Christians and Buddhists ask themselves whether the present state of the Korean church and the Buddhist temple would be satisfactory in the eyes of Jesus Christ and Buddha.
*The writer is the senior city news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Chong-hyuk