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(concerning Buddhist movement against discrimination in South Korea)

Letter of Thich Quang Do to Venerable Won Hak
(concerning Buddhist movement against discrimination in South Korea)

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Most Venerable Won Hak,

On behalf of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, I am writing to express the solidarity of Vietnamese Buddhists with the Buddhists of the Republic of Korea in the peaceful movement against religious discrimination.

I firmly believe that religious tolerance is essential to ensure harmonious coexistence everywhere, and that no religion, whether it be Christian, Buddhist or other, has the right to impose upon another. As Buddhists, we seek friendship with everyone, and never vie against others for power or position. There is therefore no reason that we should be victims of discrimination and disdain. I applaud your initiative of forming a Committee of Buddhist leaders from different orders to speak out against this with a united Buddhist voice.

Whilst I understand that South Korea’s President Lee Myung-bak, who is a Presbyterian Church elder, has his own religious convictions, they should not be reflected by religious bias in his administration, with the appointment of Christians to top government posts and the disenfranchisement of Buddhists. Including other incidents, I understand that Buddhist temples have been omitted from government maps, and that Police searched the car of Superior Monk Jigwan of the Jogye Order in July 2008.

Buddhism has a rich and ancient tradition in Korea, dating back over sixteen hundred years when it was introduced from China in 327 AD. Today, Buddhists represent one quarter of South Korea’s 49-million population, and they play an active role in the nation’s spiritual, cultural and economic life. Indeed, the strength of Korean Buddhists was shown by the massive peaceful rally of 60,000 monks and lay-Buddhists in Seoul in August, prompting President Lee to make an official apology.

The history of Buddhism in Vietnam and South Korea is very similar, especially from the XX Century onwards, where we have both suffered repression and intolerance. Today, under Vietnam’s Communist government, the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam is banned, our followers are harassed and many monks and nuns, including myself, are under house arrest. We therefore feel close bonds of friendship and solidarity with you in your peaceful movement today. President Lee’s apology is an important first step, but I firmly believe that you should press for the adoption of an anti-discrimination law by the National Assembly. The rule of law is the best way to safeguard Buddhists and all others against discrimination, and ensure the respect of religious freedom and basic human rights for all.

Thanh Minh Zen Monastery, Saigon
2nd October 2008
Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam
Head of the Institute of the Sangha and the
Institute for the Dissemination of the Dharma
Sramana Thich Quang Do

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