Buddhists allowed to visit Bohyon

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Buddhists allowed to visit Bohyon

Seoul briefly lifted the iron curtain preventing South Koreans from visiting North Korea by giving permission to a group of Buddhist monks to travel North for a religious ceremony yesterday.

The Ministry of Unification, which is responsible for giving permission to groups who request visits to North Korea, has only allowed South Koreans to cross on humanitarian missions. The shutdown was made in May 2010 as a response to the sinking of the warship Cheonan in March of that year.

The Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism will arrive in Pyongyang tomorrow via a flight from Beijing to hold a ceremony celebrating the 1,000th anniversary of the carving of the Tripitaka Koreana, a Korean collection of Buddhist scriptures on more than 81,000 wooden blocks.

A group of 37 monks will visit Bohyon Temple on Mount Myohyang, roughly 90 minutes north of Pyongyang, for the ceremony, the Unification Ministry said yesterday

The temple has a copy of the Tripitaka that was moved there during Japanese colonial rule from Haein Temple, a temple in South Gyeongsang, where the original blocks are today. The copy was hidden in Bohyon Temple in case the Japanese took the original blocks away.

“Permission was granted by the ministry due to the fact that the visit is for religious purposes and related to preserving a part of our national heritage,” said an official at the Unification Ministry yesterday. “The May 24, 2010 order is still in place but we can be flexible at times.”

The official said the visit was to be a “purely religious” one and there was no mention of financial support that might be offered to North Korea during the visit of the Buddhists.

By Christine Kim [christine.kim@joongang.co.kr]

한글 관련 기사 [중앙일보]
자승 스님 등 조계종 37명 오늘 방북
천안함 이후 종교계 첫 승인
대한불교 조계종 자승 총무원장을 비롯한 관계자 37명이 3일 정부의 승인을 받아 방북한다. 이들은 7일까지 머물며 평안북도 향산군에 있는 묘향산 보현사에서 팔만대장경 판각(板刻) 1000년 기념 고불(古佛)법회를 연다. 조선불교도연맹 초청을 받은 방북단은 중국 베이징을 거치는 항공편으로 입북한 뒤 평양 외곽에 있는 광법사 등 사찰도 방문할 예정이다. 보현사 수장고에는 일제의 대장경 약탈을 우려해 1938년 보관해둔 합천 해인사의 대장경 인쇄본 전질이 있다.

 이들의 방북은 지난해 3월 북한의 천안함 폭침 도발 이후 정부가 방북과 대북 교류·경협 등을 제한한 5·24조치를 발표한 이후 남북 간 첫 사회·문화 교류란 점에서 눈길을 끈다. 통일부는 그동안 대북 수해 지원이나 영·유아 등 취약계층 지원을 위한 최소한의 남측 인원 방북만 예외적으로 승인해왔다. 통일부 당국자는 “순수한 종교적 목적의 방북이라는 점과 올해가 민족유산인 팔만대장경 판각 1000년이란 점 등을 종합적으로 고려한 조치”라고 설명했다.
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