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[Opinion] Shinge Temple

Posted November. 22, 2004 23:10,   


About two weeks ago, I went on a trip around Mount Geumgang, or the Diamond Mountain, for two nights and three days. I spotted Shinge Temple on the first day of the trip on a bus ride going to Okryu Village over a pine-grove. The restorative work of the temple was in full swing. Tall and beautiful pine trees had the temple slightly curtained, showing only the bare eaves of the main temple spiking up over their heads awaiting for new colorful covers. Some of the workers moving about like busy bees were also in sight. My heart was filled with great emotion realizing the fact that North and South are working together to rebuild a national treasure.

Shinge Temple is one of the four major temples on the mountain, boasting is grandness with 11 royal structures before they were lost in the tragic war. Ancestral Monk Bowun first built this temple in the sixth year of King Beopheung of the era of Unified Shilla (519 A.D). Its original name was written with the word "Shin" meaning "new," from the name of the state, Shin-Ra (pronounced Shilla), but now it is written with the word meaning "spirit" (also pronounced "shin"). The story behind the renaming goes something like this: a school of salmon used to swim upstream along the valley around the temple site every year. A group of fishermen flocked over for the catch of the season. As it was against the Buddhist belief to kill, the honored monk Bowun used his divine power to drive away the fish. So, the wording of the temple`s title was changed with a word conveying a meaning of divinity.

The completion of the main complex of the temple was celebrated on November 20. More than 400 people from the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism from the South, the Joseon Federation of Buddhists from the North, and the staff of Hyundai Asan joined the celebration and prayed that the restoration of the temple would become the cornerstone for the harmonization of the people and the unification of the nation. Both Koreas plan to have all of the 11 structures, including the temple of the netherworld, restored by 2007. Priest Bupjeon of the Jogye Order presented a Buddhist term to celebrate the completion that read, "As the main temple (of Shinge Temple) radiates its maroon and golden light, the light reaches as far as Baekdoo and Halla and the far east and west, covering the whole of the universe. The blind see North and South, but the keen one sees not a distinction of above and below."

His words are profound. The part about "the blind see North and South" above all, reaches to the core of the heart. It seems to describe how people still shut in the extreme mindset of Cold War era will never be able to see the future of reconciliation and the cooperation of two Koreas. Back in the 1980s, North Korean officials used to show little respect when addressing Buddhist priests who came from South Korea to promote religious exchange between North and South, but now they properly address them with aterm equivalent of "honorable priest." Now, the sight of priests in North Korea in their proper monk`s robes worshipping at the temple is not a rare view. Though it seems quite slow and reluctant, surely, is it not a change coming about?

Lee Jae-ho, Editorial Writer, leejaeho@donga.com