Leaving the temple

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Leaving the temple

Han Sang-gyun, the orchestrator of violent antigovernment rallies who is now taking refuge in the Jogye Temple to avoid being arrested, has begun to criticize the Buddhist temple that has been protecting him. Han, leader of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, posted on his Facebook page an incomprehensible message. “The temple is methodically isolating me from the rest of the society,” he wrote. “I have been putting up with all the pain, but it can’t be a solution. Though religions are ridden with problems these days, I am depressed to see Buddhists turn away from the essence of life.”

Han went so far as to compare the temple’s Buddhist worshippers to “proxies of the government.” That’s not only a brazen insult to Buddhism, but it also shows a critical lack of conscience because Han is attacking the Jogye Order for “confining him to the temple.” What gives?

If the Jogye Order does not evict Han, the possibility that he will voluntarily come out looks very slim. He has kicked off a hunger strike to protest government-supported bills on labor reforms at the National Assembly. The move is seen as an attempt to portray himself as a victim of government oppression in case he’s driven out of the temple by force.

The chief of the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency, Gu Eun-su, hinted at the possibility of raiding the temple to execute an arrest warrant if Han refuses to emerge. Chairman of the opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy Moon Jae-in said at a meeting with leaders of the temple that Han must surrender to the police to resolve the case peacefully. But high priest Dobeop, head of a reconciliation committee, repeats his ambiguous position. “The police and government need to resolve this in a peaceful manner,” he said. What exactly does he mean by “peaceful manner?” Does it mean that arresting Han with a court-issued warrant is not peaceful?

The temple’s reconciliation committee completed its role by contributing to a peaceful rally last weekend. The Jogye Order must not obstruct a legitimate arrest in the name of religion. Han faces serious charges not related to any labor legislation: he was the mastermind of a violent antigovernment rally that injured many police officers and damaged police buses.

Moreover, the reconciliation committee does not represent Korean Buddhism as a whole. Most Buddhist worshippers express deep concerns about the committee protecting Han. The order must demand Han leave the temple. That’s a responsible attitude for a mainstream sect of Korean Buddhism.

JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 9, Page 34

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