Engaged Buddhism in a Divided World: Declaration of Peace at the Korean DMZ

The 20th Biennial Conference of the International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB). Images courtesy of Jungto Society

The 20th Biennial Conference of the International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB), jointly organized with Jungto Society, was held in South Korea from October 24 to 30, themed “Buddhism in a Divided World: Peace Planet, Pandemic”.

Divided between the autumnal mountain idyll of Mungyeong in the south of the Korean peninsula and the 21st century metropolitan bustle of Seoul, the forum brought together nearly 100 speakers and attendees, members of INEB from around the world, led by the renowned social activist and INEB founder Sulak Sivaraksa and the revered monk and teacher Ven. Pomnyun Sunim, founder of Jungto Society and patron of INEB. Speakers included leading teachers, scholars and prominent engaged Buddhist activists, who presented, researched and discussed a range of topics that addressed core issues related to the roles and obligations of engaged Buddhists in today’s divided and troubled world.

The conference concluded with a peace tour of the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), the jagged, 250-kilometer scar that bisects the Korean peninsula. Here the participants were confronted with a stark reminder of our divided world and the goal for the peace tour and for the theme of the conference: a 70-year-old manifestation of the hate-fueled divisions between nations, societies and peoples causing untold misery and suffering around the world.

The centerpiece of the peace journey was Imjingak, a memorial park on the bank of the Imjin River that is a tragic memorial to the pain and horror of the Korean War, which broke out on June 25, 1950, and physically and physically divided the country. spiritually ever since.

Imjingak is home to numerous monuments and remnants of armed conflict; silent witnesses of the wounds of a war that have yet to heal. Last but not least is the Freedom Bridge, which spans the Imjin River. Before the two Koreas were divided, rail service ran over two bridges, continuing to Sinuiju in the north of the Korean Peninsula. Both bridges were destroyed during the hostilities, cutting a vital connection to the north. Later the west bridge was restored to exchange prisoners of war. In 1953, the bridge received its current name after more than 10,000 POWs crossed to freedom from North Korea.

“The Korean War has forced more than five million people to flee from North Korea to South Korea, Ven. Pomnyun Sunim shared with those present. “There were also many people who fled from South Korea to North Korea. More than 10 million people have been separated from their families and loved ones as a result of the conflict. On national holidays, my thoughts go out to my own relatives in North Korea, and I come here to look and bow to the North.

“This site represents the reality of this divided Korean peninsula. It is a place where mountains and water, air and wind are connected indiscriminately. But one day the people of this land became enemies and could no longer come and go freely.

“There were so many deaths on both sides during the war and our hearts were filled with hatred. Such was the depth of this hatred that when we learned that North Koreans were dying of starvation from famine, the news was welcomed in the South. Although South Korea has provided humanitarian aid to Africa and other distant countries, many people still refused to provide aid to North Korea. It shows how frightening our hatred can be.

“Huge amounts of weapons have been placed on both sides of the demilitarized zone, ready to kill. Beyond that, we have the major world powers: China, Japan, Russia and the United States. If there is another military conflict on the Korean peninsula, there is a very real risk that it will spread and become another global war.

“If only we could calm down and think clearly about our world, we would see that war causes so much pain, suffering and damage, but neither side benefits from it. Nevertheless, when it comes to resolving conflict through dialogue, many people are quick to criticize, “Why are you so submissive, pretending we’re weak?” But the reasons for seeking a peaceful solution are not that we are servile; they are because we need to find a peaceful solution to protect the lives of so many people.

“Of course, these kinds of conflicts take place all over the world. To solve this problem effectively, we need to have a clear view and understand that people are more important than any ideology or belief. I hope we can all have this clear vision that life is the most precious gift of all. If we can quiet our minds and calm down a bit before we get angry, we can all help to keep the peace in the world.

“Meditation alone does not bring peace, but meditation that calms the mind makes peace take root. I hope we can pray with you here in the DMZ for peace on the Korean peninsula and for the rest of the world.”

With the sadness behind these words hanging heavy in the air, the participants approached the barbed wire fence that marked the boundary of the visitor area and looked north. They each wrote a simple message or ambition on a ribbon and attached it to the cold steel fence. Heartfelt prayers and wishes for peace fluttered like leaves in the autumn sunlight.

Ven. Pomnyun Sunim then led the participants in a solemn ceremony: a prayer for peace and reunification on the Korean peninsula, and a declaration of peace and reunification for our divided world.

Declaration of Peace

On this beautiful autumn day, as we stand here today surrounded by the beauty of nature, let us bear witness to a horrific history of suffering. The Korean War started in 1950 and lasted three years. It pitted fathers against sons, brothers against brothers, mothers against daughters, sisters against sisters. After three years, three million people were killed, property destroyed, and the country devastated. And the peninsula remains divided to this day.

This happened because different people had different ideas about what Korea should be and how people should live. Those differences became hatred and scorn that launched bombs, bullets and knives against innocent people, causing untold suffering that continues to resonate beneath our feet on this symbolic ground to this day.

Unfortunately, such suffering is not unique. Similar suffering occurs all over the world today and has occurred throughout human history. Let’s recognize that the three poisons of greed, furyand ignorance continue to create an institutionalized structure of violence that will one day lead to injustice and suffering.

We are gathered here today as representatives of engaged Buddhism because we recognize that Buddhism deals with the everyday suffering of ordinary people. Being engaged also means intentionally and humanely connecting with each other in a camaraderie of honesty and truth to reduce suffering by dismantling structural violence wherever we encounter it.

On this day, surrounded by admirable friends and colleagues, we bear witness to each other and declare that we will always remain committed to helping the vulnerable, embracing the dissenters and protecting the marginalized. Therefore, we declare that we:

Witness to the hungry and feed them.

Witness to the sick and treat them.

Witness to the children who do not have access to education and educate them.

Witness discrimination and protect human rights.

Witness to and shelter refugees.

Witness violence and seek a peaceful solution.

May all living beings be happy and peaceful.

Sadhu! Sadhu! Sadhu!

The participants closed their eyes in silent meditation, wishing for peace and a united, compassionate world for all beings.

A bell rang.

The International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB) was founded in 1989 by prominent Thai academic, activist and social critic Sulak Sivaraksa and a group of Buddhist and non-Buddhist thought leaders. INEB connects socially engaged Buddhists around the world and promotes understanding, cooperation and networking between inter-Buddhist and inter-religious groups, and to actively address pressing global issues such as human rights, conflict resolution and environmental crises. Headquartered in Bangkok, INEB has established a wide variety of social projects and outreach programs aimed at overcoming suffering and empowering vulnerable communities through the practice of the Dharma and Engaged Buddhism.

Jungto Society is a volunteer-run community and humanitarian organization that strives to embody Buddhist teachings through social engagement and by promoting a simple lifestyle less focused on consumption than mainstream society. Jungto Society seeks to address the problems and crises of modern society, such as greed, poverty, conflict and environmental degradation, by applying a Buddhist worldview of interconnectedness and in accordance with the principle that everyone can find happiness through Buddhist practice and active participation in social movements. Jungto Society connects communities of practitioners in South Korea and the world, each offering online Dharma instruction and other Dharma-based programs.

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2022 Public Symposium | Seoul, Korea (INEB)
The 20th Biennial INEB Conference in South Korea (INEB)
International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB)
Jungto society
Jungto Society International

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