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[Opinion] Temple Stays

Posted August. 06, 2005 06:18,   


Buddhism is all the rage in France. Surveys show that the number of Buddhists there has reached 600,000, and five million out of a total population of 60 million selected Buddhism as the most preferable religion.

The U.S. is meditating. There are some 15 million people practicing meditation, the Zen cult, or yoga. Richard Gere is an ardent supporter of the Dalai Lama. Sharon Stone has a Buddhist statue in her house. Among well-known admirers of meditation are former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, Senator Hillary Clinton and CEO Bill Ford of the Ford Motor Company.

Many of those who go meditation centers in the U.S. belong to the middle class or upper class with a high educational background. What is the reason that celebrities that the public envy fall for Buddhism? Monk Hyungak, an American who became a monk in Korea, explained, “The U.S. society is full of a sense of futility inside, although it is abundant on the surface.” This means that they turn to the spiritual world and ascetic exercises of the Orient as escape from the West’s material civilization. It may be because people who hold prestigious status and receive the spotlight tend to suffer a sense of loneliness and stress.

As it is vacation period now, temple stay programs are popular in Korea as well. Participants of the programs stay a couple of days and have a time to reflect on themselves through meditation and ascetic exercises. The Buddhist community offered such programs, doubting how many people would participate. But it saw a surprisingly large number of applicants. That may be interpreted as the spread of “physical well-being” to “spiritual well-being” amid the well-being fever. More fundamentally, however, that seems to demonstrate that competition has become harsh and that there are more things to worry about.

The tradition of Korea’s Zen Buddhism is recognized by the world. If a temple stay presents inner peace to many people, transcending the boundaries of religion, that is also a way of utilizing our cultural heritage and revitalizing tradition. How can we attract meditation-lovers overseas by proactively promoting Korea’s temple stay programs? Maybe that could become a second Korean Wave.

Hong Chan-sik, Editorial Writer, chansik@donga.com