From Practice to Religion in Today’s Korean Buddhism

People sometimes ask what I worry about most in the current state of affairs in Korean Buddhism. Of course, the almost total usage of temples and temple traditions for an increasingly stressed modern society’s leisure-class activities not connected with the Buddha Dharma – – so-called “well-being“ and “healing“ activities, such as shallow Temple Stay and music “healing” concerts — are definitely one grouping of them. Also, government-funded promulgation of the temple-cooking culture (so-named “Temple Food”) as a pedagogical soporific for the masses, the point-of-the-spear for generating temple-themed tourist activity and a tourist export to attract foreign visitors, is also another one of them.

And this is definitely another: this recent broadcast on the largest Buddhist TV station in Korea is a video excerpt of one of these elaborate, choreographed, fully religiousifying temple activities which use elaborate sound-systems, dance, and other gaudy costumed performances to promote (in this case, to take but one example) the pantheon of bodhisattvas as quasi-saint figures worthy of veneration, prayer, and beseeching for emotional salves and material advantage.

During this baldly kitschy recent ceremony, a normal rainbow was seen in the sky at some point during the musical performance. Naturally, weak human psychologies exploit this fact of nature. They willingly promote this as some sort of otherworldly intervention or some kind of divine super-presence, Confirming for the masses that “special blessings” are, in fact, available through this sort of non-Buddhist ceremonialization.

Such a view is completely outside the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha. It is actually antithetical to Buddhism, since it encourages the belief in powers and beings outside our own Natural innate mind.

But there it is: an amateur video of a naturally occurring happening – – during the summer rainy season, no less, when a constancy of moisture in the air and intermittent sunlight will, of course, produce rainbows from time to time, as I witnessed countless times during my years doing intensive retreats during the monsoon seasons in Korea – – which is uploaded onto the largest Buddhist TV station and then to the Internet.

So, in addition to the corporate- and government-funded cultural exploitations of traditional Buddhist culture for financial gain, or to undergird a developing “well-being industry,“ there is this use of high-technology to promote really, really bad ideas centered around quasi-religion, with the glad help of temple authorities and leading Sunims.

See for yourself:


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