Frank M. Tedesco (Ph.D.)
Lecturer in Asian Studies (Korean Buddhism)
University of Maryland Asian Division


When I first expressed interest in investigating social welfare activities among Buddhists in South Korea, a number of my Korean colleagues were unsupportive. They had already thought it odd that an American scholar had a serious personal interest in Buddhism. I was assured that Korean Buddhism was a dinosaur, like shamanism, an archaic vestige of the Korean pre-industrial past. "Only ignorant old ladies and broken hearts prayed to the Buddha," they told me,"only to satisfy their yearning for material benefits or for consolation in failed romances. How could Buddhists do anything for anyone else besides themselves," my friends assumed, "let alone society in general, since they were so self-absorbed far away in the mountains detached from the practical concerns of daily life. The really reputable people in today's Korea," my friends confidently asserted, "were the ambitious businessmen and industrialists who were actually doing something to make Korea 'number one,' an economic powerhouse in East Asia and the rest of the world. "Look at how far our nation has gone so far and how much better everyone is living! Buddhist welfare work is irrelevant in Korea," I was told, "even if it does exist, it was a contradiction in terms, a misnomer." They hadn't heard of any Buddhist facilities. "There are a lot of charlatans going around asking for money" they warned. " If you were really going to pursue this futile research, you would have the field all to yourself," they confided, not without a tinge of scorn and a paternalistic frown.

My Buddhist friends were a little more encouraging but not very helpful. Sure, they had vaguely heard of a "chapiwon" or "compassion center" somewhere but they didn't know where to direct me to get more information. I think they were uneasy and a little embarrassed with my questions. No famous names or institutions quickly came to mind. My impression was that the general public, Buddhist and non-Buddhist alike, did not associate Korean Buddhism with any practical commitment to general welfare in any way (1).

I soon discovered Korea's Buddhist Social Welfare Association through a simple, friendly advertisement placed by director Ven. Sihyon in a program guide for a Buddhist play I attended at Kuryongsa (Nine Dragon Temple) in Seoul. The ad invited anyone who wanted to learn more about Buddhist social welfare and volunteer service to call and arrange an appointment. I did just that the next day and came to know the main umbrella organization which represents most Buddhist social welfare enterprises throughout the country. I was also invited to attend the Fifth Anniversary of the founding of the association which was to be held at the Buddhist Broadcasting Corporation (BBC Building) in the Mapo District of Seoul in October, 1993. This event can serve to focus on a few major concerns of Buddhist social welfare in Korea today and what Korean Buddhist welfare activists perceive as their most important tasks in the future.

The Fifth Anniversary Conference of the Buddhist Social Welfare Association in Korea was rather small affair. There were only three principal speakers who presented papers and two discussants. The papers and comments were distributed to the audience as they entered the hall. The meeting was over in a short Saturday afternoon. There were no more than fifty people in the hall at any time. Many invitations had been mailed by the association's office and signs were posted at major Buddhist centers. It seemed, however, that the great majority of people who attended the conference were known to each other through current involvement in Buddhist welfare programs. It appeared that there weren't many newcomers. Everyone at the meeting was Buddhist except for three invited members of the panel.

A notable feature of this conference was its religious plurality. The Buddhist host organization had invited both a Protestant and a Catholic social welfare advocate to share the dais with them. Inter-religious meetings to discuss serious matters of shared concern are not common in Korea. Representatives of the major religious traditions in Korea seem to have little to share with each other when they meet in public. They may make morally high minded assertions of brotherhood and plea for harmony but their words are belied by an almost total lack of communication and interaction afterwards. That a Buddhist organization should invite a Protestant professor and a leading Catholic priest to share their experience and insights is a bold move in the direction of religious cooperation and a sign of weakening defensiveness among the faiths. It is also a positive indication that social consciousness and commitment is increasing among Buddhists in Korean society today. The conference was not designed to display Buddhist achievements in social welfare compared to rival religious traditions. Quite the contrary, the organizers of the event orchestrated the meeting as a learning opportunity. The non-Buddhist participants in fact represented traditions which were more established and effective in Korean welfare than the Buddhists themselves.

In order to help accelerate practical cooperation among social welfare personnel in Korea, workshops and retreat style programs should be arranged so that participants from different Korean faiths can get to know one another better while sharing their experience in developing and operating welfare programs in greater depth. Korean Buddhists recognize that they can learn much with greater exposure to the systematic thinking and organizational talents of westernized Christian activists, especially those within the Catholic Church. Christians will definitely benefit from experience with Buddhists who can "inter-be" with them, to use an expression of the Vietnamese Buddhist leader Venerable Thich Nhat Hahn. I see the Fifth Anniversary meeting as a pioneering effort to act in a bodhisattva spirit (posal) of compassion (cha pi) with others in social welfare from "rival" religions which have not always been disposed to be generous to Buddhism in Korea (2).

I will not cite the papers presented by the Catholic and Protestant speakers because they were narrowly concerned with their own respective activities in Korea without reference or comparison to Buddhist institutions. It is enough to discuss issues within the Buddhist sphere as presented by the Buddhist participants and other scholars at this stage of our research (3).

Social and Historical Context

While Buddhism has been present on the Korean peninsula for about 1600 years and flourished during the Unified Silla Kingdom (618-935) and the Koryo Kingdom (918-1392) (4), the last five hundred years have been difficult for Buddhism in Korea. Beginning with the ascendency and often severe backlash of Neo-Confucian administrations during the Yi Dynasty (1392-1910) which demoted Buddhism to an outcaste religion and monkhood to a despised vocation, the Japanese attempts to manipulate the sangha during the colonial period (1910-1945), national division after Liberation in 1945 and the bitter Korean War (1950-1953), Buddhism had become a "mountain" religion of the disenfranchised peasant farmers and women. It had little influence and support among the intelligentsia who guided the country. Yi Dynasty Buddhist institutions and the sangha had become identified with what was backward and regressive in Korea. The Western and specifically American orientation of subsequent authoritarian governments after the Korean War and very generous U.S. government aid to bolster the South against communism invited ambitious foreign missionary enterprises in the South. "Wildfire" conversion to Christianity occurred throughout Korean society (5) and the upper, educated strata of society closely identified and mimicked the modern, affluent West. The medical professions and the military become predominantly Protestant in many of its sectarian varieties. Many young people were brought into the world by Christian doctors and nurses in Christian hospitals and attended Christian missionary schools with Christian teachers upto and through the university and went abroad to study engineering, the sciences, war and theology in the United States. Industrial and economic development became Korea's obsession. Imitating and borrowing from the West, often through Japan, changed the character of Korean popular culture and landscape remarkably, so it appears. Church steeples and spires have come to dominate the skyline of city and farming villages alike. While Buddhist temples remain the major tourist attraction for Westerners who visit Korea, Korean people themselves look West to become like the tourists.

Welfare programs were a fine vehicle for missionaries to establish their creeds in Korea and replicate themselves with indigenous leaders. "Modern social welfare programs began in Korea with the Christian missionaries," in the late 19th and early 20th centuries but were stymied by the Japanese occupation except for the establishment of institutions like state-operated hospitals. "The spread of Western social welfare ideas inspired their inclusion in the platforms of all groups aspiring to political power after 1945." (6). Since Buddhism was very weakened in the country by the time of the Korean War, Western missionaries and administrators could set up their programs in social welfare without explanation, rivalry or even comparison with domestic institutions.

Many features of traditional Korean culture were forgotten or actively suppressed in the recent period of struggle for modernization and economic development. Buddhism attracted widespread public disapproval with news media focus on the sangha's ceaseless, sectarian squabbling over property rights in the sixties and seventies (7). As these issues have become resolved, however, and leadership in the Korean Chogye Order has become accepted, the Buddhist sangha and its lay followers began to reflect the same general ethos of modernization and economic success as the rest of Korean society.

The late seventies and eighties and the present decade have been a building boom for rural monasteries which were victims of civil war and neglect this century (8). Metropolitan areas have grown to engulf previously rural temples within their boundaries, also. These temples have had to enlarge in response to a greater number of practitioners and visitors. More new temples and missionary centers have appeared in conventional business and office buildings. These modern looking dharma halls meet the spiritual needs of an ever growing urban population as people continue to migrate to the cities in search of easier and more remunerative livelihoods and better educational and cultural opportunities for their children. Encouraging indicators for Korean Buddhism in the future are that better educated men and women are joining the sangha and that more and more committed laypeople and youth are surfacing and demanding that the religion become more involved in contemporary society (9). Recent statistics indicate that the religious population of Korea may be returning to Buddhism as well (10).

The lifting of travel restrictions since the late eighties has also allowed many more Korean Buddhists to travel on pilgrimages to visit the holy places of the Buddha and observe how other Buddhists live and practice. Freer travel has given Koreans a chance to see poverty firsthand, an experience many of the older people have forgotten and the younger generation has only heard about. Some Korean Buddhists have just begun to realize now how truly developed their nation has become and how fortunate they are as individuals. Their charitable inclinations have been whetted and their consciousness as residents in the global village is awakening (11).

We have mentioned certain features of contemporary Buddhism in Korea in order to begin our discussion of Buddhist social welfare in its culturally specific context. We cannot deny nor do we in any way wish to underestimate Korean Buddhism's compassionate tradition of providing shelter and education to orphans at monasteries throughout its long history nor its care of the destitute and elderly when their families were unable or unavailable to care for them. These services of enduring love and concern were performed quietly, inconspicuously and privately for centuries at small and large temples in the mountains all throughout Korea and continue until today. Along with relief services in famine, flood, fire and war, Buddhist monasteries provided support and solace to many who could find no place in the rigid patriarchical family system of Confucian Yi Dynasty society. Korean society is very different today, however, and Buddhist social welfare work reflects the modern environment of complex interrelationships, multiple needs and government regulations.

South Korea is on its way to realizing a welfare society today similar to other developed countries in the world. Social welfare resources are in the process of being more generally distributed than in the past with more people being able to receive greater benefits than before. The government began to turn over management of social welfare facilities to private, non-governmental, non-profit agencies in the eighties. These organizations and the government are in a "practical partnership" to provide services in an efficient manner to the public (12). The role of Buddhist and other religious social welfare groups as private organizations will become greater in the future as welfare policy becomes institutionalized. Korean Buddhist welfare work will become more visible and recognizable than it was in past centuries of cloistered activity.

Some Revealing Statistics

Let us examine some figures arranged by Professor Lee Kyung Ho, a specialist in Buddhist social welfare education, which were presented at the Fifth Anniversary Conference of the Buddhist Welfare Association in Seoul in October, 1993. These figures will reveal some general characteristics of Korean Buddhist welfare as it stands at present and with which we can speculate about its future. We will disregard the small but omnipresent chance that war with North Korea could change the scenario completely. More optimistically, peaceful unification will provide many possibilities for compassionate action (chabihaeng) and increased social engagement complemented with missionary activity (pogyo).

As far as financial allocations for social welfare related activities are concerned, temples, Buddhist organizations and individual lay Buddhists spend approximately only 1.7% of their total budgets in this area while 4.0% of their budgets are spent on miscellaneous costs and 5.5% on carfare! (Chung Muk, 1989). Either temple operations are poorly managed or there is lack of interest in social welfare according to Professor Lee. He states that people make frequent offerings, give to fund drives and donate for specific good works in order to promote Buddhism and to "help all sentient beings" in general but there is a great discrepancy between the intended purpose of the revenues and the subject of expenditures (13). This phenomenon is not only a problem for Buddhist circles but occurs in other religions in Korea as well. Lee quotes a Protestant scholar who states that of "80% of church leaders consider social service a fundamental task of their mission, according to a survey, but a quarter of them who responded spent less than 2.5% of their total income on social welfare, more than half spent less than 5%, three-quarters less than 10%. Average fiscal outlay among the Protestant churches on social service was 7-8% of total income" (14). Apparently charity appeals work but multiple agendas of temples and churches interfere with the overt goals of the campaigns (15).

As for human resources for social welfare among Buddhists in Korea, there are not many specially trained Buddhist social workers compared with other religious groups. There are only two Departments of Social Welfare at Buddhist institutions in Korea. One is at the Jung- Ang Samgha College, the other at the Kyungju campus of Dongguk University. There are also students majoring in social welfare at the Graduate School of Buddhism, an evening school of Dongguk University in Seoul, but a formal department of Buddhist social welfare has not been authorized yet (16). There are only about 120 people studying the subject in all at these three Buddhist schools (17).

According to a 1986 survey published by the national Korean Social Welfare Council which queried 7,475 social workers about their religion, only 5.9% or 442 claimed they were Buddhists, 63.9% or 4,778 indicated they were Protestants and 12.95% or 963 were Catholics. Almost 77% were Christian in religious belief, 6% were Buddhist. Social workers who cited that they had no religion amounted to 15%. Professor Lee asserts that this lack of trained personnel has led to many difficulties in the rational operation of Buddhist welfare facilities and needs to be ameliorated quickly if Buddhists want to take a more prominent role in social welfare facilitation in the future (18). Why has their been such little interest in social welfare work as a profession among Buddhists?

This has been a question that has concerned certain Buddhist leaders in Korea for a number of years. A senior monk-scholar Im Songsan addressed this question in research he pursued in 1982. According to Ven. Songsan,

Buddhism is a religion of compassion. The practice of compassion alleviates all beings suffering and gives them joy. Buddhism is social welfare work itself...However, there's very little interest shown in this field in the sangha and among laypeople nowadays. Why is this?

My teacher and literary critic, Ven. Kim Unhak lamented 'because monks themselves have gotten into the habit of receiving, they do not care to take active responsibility for society or they are too theoretical or unaware and, as a consequence, they haven't established Buddhist social welfare properly. There hasn't been any prominent movement in the field even though social welfare is considered one of the most urgent issues in Korean Buddhism.'

Institutions, finances and trained manpower are all important factors in social welfare but most important of all is a humanistic and compassionate spirit. This is their fundamental support. When Buddhist social welfare is developed, it can contribute very much to the improvement of society overall. We have to free Korean Buddhists from their "seeking personal happiness only" attitude and awaken them to Buddha's teaching so they can actively participate in Buddhist social welfare (19).

At the time of Ven. Songsan's survey, there were twenty six social welfare facilities which professed themselves Buddhist out of 1,200 facilities registered with the national Department of Health and Social Services (20). They consist of child care centers, old age homes, orphanages, centers for the handicapped and research institutes.

Ven. Songsan's research on Buddhist attitudes toward Buddhist social welfare was based on a survey of 645 respondents who were head monks of temples 43 or 6.2%, regular monks 451 or 64.9% and laypeople 201 or 28.9%. As for sex, 54.6% of the group were female, 46.4% male. As for age, 59.15% were between 20-29, 27.5% were between 30-39. 12% were older.The population was not randomly selected. All were chosen for the survey at Songsan's discretion.

We will select statistics from his results which should help us clarify why social welfare work seems so unpopular among contemporary Korean Buddhists and what can be done to promote it, assuming that more Buddhist social welfare is a worthwhile objective. Some may disagree.

Why is Buddhist social work very inactive?, the interviewer asked. 49% responded that there were few monks who have any interest or driving ambition in the field, 33% indicated general laypeople's lack of interest, 15% put the blame on Chogye Headquarters' lack of interest and 9% put the onus on laypeople's self-seeking attitude toward personal satisfaction. 80% of the respondents indicated that it was absolutely necessary to promote Buddhist social welfare in Korea.

When asked if temples should be directly involved in the management of social welfare facilities, 82.7% agreed and the rest were either lukewarm 8.8% or against the idea. Why did so many agree? 52% indicated that the practice of compassion is important, 20% because it was crucial to Buddhist relief programs, 14% agreed because of the temple's help in missionary work and 2% because it would help in temple management.

What of the respondents who were cool to temple involvement in Buddhist social welfare work? 6.6% or 46 respondents indicated that self-realization is more important than anything else, 2.8% opined that it would cause trouble for temple management, inhibit missionary work or that laypeople would disapprove of it.

We are inclined to surmise from the results of Ven. Songsan's personal survey that weakness monastic leadership is a common rationale for Korean Buddhism's slow progress in the development of social welfare work in the country. While some blame Buddhist laypeople for their so-called selfish and materialistic desires, most consider the sangha to be the problem. Laypeople's dependency on the sangha for specific guidance in challenging social issues is a problem. I believe there muct be mutual cooperation and shared responsibilities for social action. Experience in expediting social programs cannot be gotten overnight. The sangha will have to be dependent on the laity for technical guidance in this field and will even have to go outside the cattaro parisa, the four-fold assembly, for assistance in some matters.

Putting the question of disinterest in social welfare aside, what did Ven. Songsan's respondents perceive as problems facing the implementation of Buddhist welfare programs in Korea? 265 or 38.1% of the respondents answered "no money, no land, no facility," 217 or 31.2% responded with a point we mentioned earlier, that is, lack of specialized knowledge, 5.2% indicated lack of manpower and 21.6% cited financial difficulties. 3.9% said they had land available but couldn't use it for social welfare work because of zoning regulations in the Green Belt zone.

In a matter related to training in social welfare, 57.4% of respondents answered that they would love to work with or be hired by a social welfare facility if approached by one, but they lacked specialized knowledge and would want to get training first. 29% would work in hospitals, 19% in social welfare centers and 18% in kindergartens. The rest would fairly evenly distribute themselves among vocational training centers for youth, old age homes, daycare centers, welfare centers for the disabled. Only 3% opted for orphanages for children over three, only 2% for women-headed household welfare and 1% for orphanage work for children under three years old.

When Ven. Songsan conducted this survey Dongguk University had neither a department of social welfare nor a general hospital and medical school. He asked his informants if they approved of such developments. 63.3% strongly affirmed the creation of a department, 83.5% strongly affirmed the hospital and medical school. The three have come to pass within the last ten years. Some progress is occurring in the area of social welfare apparently but it is still low key.

To Promote Buddhist Social Welfare

Some Korean Buddhists say that is quality of care they must strive for, not quantity. We must have a clear idea of what specifically "Buddhist" social welfare is compared to "Western" or "Christian" models. Not all religious people are good social workers. What is "Buddhist supervision" of those who work in Buddhist welfare facilities? These issues are being raised in Korean social work circles now, as illustrated in the comments of Prof. Lee Hye Suk, the Buddhist discussant at the Fifth Anniversary conference (21).

What measures to promote Buddhist social welfare were proposed ten years ago? Ven. Songsan suggested that:

1) Each Buddhist order in Korea set up a specialized sections for research, planning and implementation of Buddhist welfare programs and that

2) A Buddhist social welfare promotion institute be established as an advisory council for the order.
He also suggested that :

3) A plan be devised to have at least one welfare facility appropriate to the needs of the area be set up under the auspices of every urban temple or on a regional basis. and added that:

4) An institution or system be set up where Buddhist monks and laypeople can acquire knowledge and learn relevant skills in the field and that

5) Dongguk University and the Jung-Ang Samgha College set up social welfare departments and exemplary training facilities for social work. He also presciently advised:

6) The founding of the medical school and hospital at Dongguk Univesity. Proposals 5) and 6) have materialized but much more work has to be done in the future, of course (22).

Theory and Practical Methods

More than a decade later, a different generation of Buddhists continues to tread the path of social welfare in Korea, accepting the guidance of those who have gone ahead of them but contributing their own specific energies for social action. Prof. Lee Kyung Ho wrote that Buddhist social welfare is a study that applies theory and practical method on the basis of Buddha's teaching. It can only be pursued with action in the world. In order to do this: 1) A person should act like a bodhisattva. To benefit others is to benefit oneself. Those who work in the field must keep up with relevant research and gain practical experience.

2) A Buddhist social worker should be well-rounded and be able to deal with general problems in society. He/she has to have extensive knowledge of politics, economics, administration, education, culture, etc. and practical experience with them.

3) The temple should be the main engine of social welfare and people working for it should be rational, moral and determined. When one engages in social welfare as part of personal spiritual training, one has the opportunity to save sentient beings as well as oneself.

4) Though Buddhist social welfare is based on Buddha's spiritual teaching, material welfare must be distributed as well according to people's needs. Providing material relief to the needy is as important as spiritual guidance.

5) Social welfare must be preventative as well as curative of targetted ills.

6) Buddhist welfare guidelines have to be modified in accordance with national welfare policy as the control of government controlled welfare agencies are being transferred to private institutions.

The proposals which have been listed above are some practical and moral directives to guide the nascent field of Buddhist social welfare in Korea into the next century. Funding for the implementation of programs will primarily derive from the government as the government passes control onto the private sector but there will probably always be deficits which must be funded with donations. Some programs may not be eligible for government assistance and some may not seek it because of regulatory constraints.

I would like to suggest that Korean Buddhist welfare activists consider establishing an endowment institution similar to the "po" of the Koryo period which will generate income indefinitely for a welfare program if it is properly managed. This endowment can consist of rental lands and buildings, financial instruments (trust fund), designated insurance benefits and/or business whose profits can be allotted to welfare facilities. Training in setting up and operating a factory or business for the manufacture and sale of items produced by welfare recipients may also be considered.

Buddhist Volunteerism

Volunteerism among Buddhists in Korea needs to be promoted. As the middle class in Korean Buddhist sector grows and more and more people in Korean society in general have free time to give, many will be inclined to help those who are less fortunate than they are outside of their families. These volunteers will not need or want to be compensated for their efforts. Aren't bodhisattvas volunteers who consciously decide to help free sentient beings from suffering? There are posals - temple caretakers- at every temple in Korea who cook, clean, do secretarial work and generally fuss about the bhikkhus. Why can't more of their energies be applied to service of the handicapped or the elderly, for example, in temple welfare facilities? Why can't there be teams of posals, kosas (upasika, upasaka) and Buddhist youth who volunteer at Buddhist clinics? It is good experience for them. The possibilities are endless if openness and willingness can be cultivated by sound teaching, personal and group spiritual practice and bodhisattva practice in the world. This is a field where women have traditionally shown great talent and leadership potential.

Buddhist volunteerism can also be extended to the world outside of Korea. The idea of an international Buddhist Compassion Corps very appealing. The Compassion Corps can provide international volunteer service experience to Buddhist youth by placing them to work shoulder to shoulder with Buddhist youth in other countries. It can also be an international Buddhist peace corps for adults who want to do service work and also learn how Buddhism is practiced in other nations. Certainly Korean Buddhist youth can benefit by experience in Taiwan with the Tzu Chi Foundation or in Sri Lanka with the Sarvodaya Shramadana movement of A.T. Ariyaratne as well as other institutions. Why not consider the idea of an "inter-service" incorporating the idea of inter-being and "inter- volunteer action."

Korean Buddhists need to venture outside of Korea for a while and see how other Buddhists live and practice their faith and perform social service. It is also very important for them to open their temple doors to more foreign Buddhists, monks and laypeople alike, to come and live in Korea for extended periods of time. These volunteer Buddhists from abroad can work in Buddhist welfare facilities offering what skills they have to the Buddhist community. While it is very difficult, for instance , to find a Korean Buddhist doctor at all, and even rarer to have one live in the countryside outside of Seoul, There are medical personnel in the US, for instance, who have a Buddhist orientation and who would be willing to live in Korea for a while doing volunteer work in rural areas if they could find an organization in Korea to invite them! With some effort, other medical personnel and skilled volunteers in other fields could be found. Korean Buddhists need only be receptive to the unknown and prepare for the experience. Care must be taken to select adaptable volunteers and effort must be exerted to develop work and study programs for them so that their skills and generosity can be tapped and that they get something out of their Korean experience for themselves in congenial Buddhist fellowship (kalyanamitrata).

For the Welfare of All Sentient Beings

Social welfare is primarily a human oriented field and its conventional focus is to render assistance to people in distress in one form or another. The bodhisattva vow, however, is to "save sentient beings without limit." To be a universal welfare worker is to be a bodhisattva! What a grand concept! What a disappointment, too, to visit temples in Korea and other parts of Asia and see laypeople make these vows in leather jackets and furs, the skins of dead sentient beings, and then proceed to restaurants and homes to eat the bodies of dead sentient beings whose sufferings are invisible to them. Few are the monks and nuns who bring this behavior to account, as if it were not their responsibility to teach the meaning or transmit the feeling which is the basis of the vow. A few bhikkhus have told me that they are afraid to lose financial support if they taught the logical application and significance of the vow. Others think it permissible for laypeople to accept the vow as a symbolic or aesthetic gesture since "they're just laymen anyway." No meat is eaten at Buddhist temples but monks are seen eating meat quite publicly in restaurants and in laymen's homes. Now is a period of "degenerate dharma," some say, and they are too weak to counteract the overwhelming bad karma of the times.

In Korea as in many other countries, the existence of slaughterhouses which process animals to eat (cows, pigs, chickens, dogs, cats and other mammals, birds, reptiles and fish) is barely acknowledged by the public. Most people do not know where they are and have never seen them, heard them nor smelled them. The deaths of millions of sentient beings who are eaten go unnoticed by "Sunday bodhisattvas." Children grow up oblivious to the death and suffering of farm animals they read about in story books. I believe that general insensitivity to the suffering of life is reflected in the poverty of institutions which are designed to provide welfare relief to the needy in society. The struggle to improve social welfare programs in Korea will become easier when Buddhists in Korea begin to practice the teachings more sincerely. The fundamental teaching of the Buddha is a path to achieve freedom from the suffering of birth, sickness, old age and death. Buddhist social welfare must include the society of all sentient beings or it is not really Buddhist at all. It quickly becomes just another means of livelihood without spiritual focus. Some Korean Buddhists in the South are beginning to rally to aid the famished masses in the North. We hope the generous spirit of this movement does not remain local and nationalistically focussed but continues to grow into a global movement for human betterment with Koreans in the lead as exemplars. This could become a significant historic first for Korean Buddhist social welfare action (23).

1 "Social welfare" is conventionally thought of in terms of pension plans, national medical insurance, emergency relief and special year-end charity drives in the mass media which are often Christian inspired. Other forms of assistance to people with different types of needs are not often considered, either out of ignorance, embarrassment or the assumption that care is a matter of filial responsibility within the family and is a totally private matter. 2 Catholicism and Buddhism in Korea seem to have a relatively cordial relationship with limited but respectful inter-religious dialogue encounters, etc. and with an accepting attitude of believers toward each other in general. They feel they share much in common. Buddhist and Protestant relations, however, have been rather cold, with many but not all Protestant sects and individual evangelists denouncing Buddhism as idol worship and superstition. Strong exclusivist positions among Protestants have led to ugly and highly publicized attacks against Buddhism in the very recent past.

3 Father Ch'oi Ki-sik, Executive Director of the Korean Catholic Social Welfare Commission, represented Korean Catholic social welfare with a paper entitled " Korean Catholic Social Welfare Activities, Today and Tomorrow." Professor Kim Dong-bae of Yonsei University's Department of Social Work represented the Protestants with a paper entitled "The Present Status and Tasks of Protestant Social Service Activities." His paper was commented on by Professor Lee Pyong-jin of Chonju Hanil Seminary. The last of the three papers read at the conference was prepared by Professor Lee Kyung Ho, a professor in the Department of Social Welfare, Jung-Ang Samgha College, a college for bhikkhus and bhikkhunis in Seoul. Professor Lee also teaches at the Graduate School of Buddhism at Dongguk University. Professor Lee Kyung Ho's paper was critiqued by Professor Lee Hye Suk, a lecturer at the same institution and Dongguk University's campus in Kyungju.

4 Koryo Buddhism is known for its extensive and permanent charity work in medical relief service which was primarily supported by the po or endowment fund which profited from interest on grain loans. Monasteries such as Kaeguk-sa in Kaesong in present North Korea and Pot'ong-won at Imjin ferry fed bands of itinerant beggars in mess halls. The Koryo government, however, did not have a "solidly based program of poverty relief'" but "a social policy of temporary expedients." Ki-baik Lee, A New History of Korea, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1984, p.122-124.

5 "Christian fervor, expressed in messianic revivalism and anchored in fundamentalist conservatism, gave its adherents both hope and security during a protracted period of near anarchy. The rise in membership was spectacular- from fifty churches in seoul in 1945 to two thousand in 1978- and membership is still growing." Harvey, Youngsook Kim, " The Korean Shaman and the Deaconess: Sisters in Different Guises," in Religion and Ritual in Korean Society, edited by Laurel Kendall and Griffin Dix, Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California, Berkeley, 1987, p.158.

6 Donald Stone Macdonald, The Koreans: Contemporary Politics and Society, 2nd edition, Westview Press, Boulder, 1990, pp. 104- 105.

7 One suspects that the role of Christian influenced media personnel may not have been completely benign here.

8 For a personal commentary on how economic progress has impacted at least one well known monastery in Korea, see Robert E. Buswell, Jr., The Zen Monastic Experience, Princeton University Press, 1992, pp. 226-228.

9 Buswell, op cit., pp.135-148.

10 A 1991 Social Statistics Survey indicates that the religious populace is returning to Buddhism. The number of Buddhist adherents have grown from 46.9% of the religious population in 1985 to 51.2% in 1991; the Protestant population declined 3.3% and Catholics 0.2% in the same period. Social Indicators in Korea, edited by the National Statistical Office, Republic of Korea, 1992, p. 310.

11 For a discussion of recent developments in the so-called "internationalization" of contemporary Korean Buddhism, see my article "Sleeping Wisdom Awakens: Korean Buddhism in the 1990s" in Korea Journal, Vol.33, No.3, Autumn 1993, pp. 5-10.

12 R.M. Kramer, Voluntary Agencies in the Welfare State, London, 1981.

13 Lee Kyung Ho, "An Investigation of Buddhist Fundraising and Contributions," 1991.

14 Lee Kyung Ho, "The Present and Future of Buddhist Social Welfare Work," Papers presented at the Fifth Anniversary Conference of the Buddhist Social Welfare Association, Seoul, Korea, October 28, 1993, pp.41-42. Lee quotes Ch'oi Song-jae, 1992.

15 If Buddha can teach the Dharma with an open hand, can we, too,... with our books open!

16 Dean Oh Hyung-kun of the Graduate School of Buddhism has discussed this matter with the author on a few occasions. There seems to be conservative resistance to the establishment of a new department within the university.

17 Lee Kyung Ho, The Present and Future of Buddhist Welfare Work, pp.42-43.

18 Lee Kyung Ho, op cit.

19 Im Songsan, Pulgyo pokji: Sasang-gwa sarye (Buddhist Welfare: Thought and Examples), Popsu Publishing Company, Seoul, 1983, preface.

20 Apparently the number of Buddhist institutions has risen to 30 according to a chart in Prof. Lee Kyung Ho's paper.

21 Lee Hye Suk, "On Prof. Lee Kyung Ho's paper, The Present and Future of Buddhist Social Work," Fifth Anniversary Conference Papers, Buddhist Social Welfare Association, pp.59-60. 22 Im Songsan, op cit., p.47.

23 See Venerable Pomnyun, "The Food Crisis of North Korea Witnessed by 204 Food Refugees in 1997,"

Korean Buddhist Sharing Movement, Seoul, Korea. Http://

An earlier version of this paper was presented at a Buddhist social welfare conference in Taipei, Taiwan in 1994. This paper can be found in the Professor Mikhail Pak Festschrift, Moscow State University, Moscow, 1998.

| Home | main |

Society, Buddhapia

Comments to
All contents copyright(C) Buddhapia. All right reserved.