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Minjung's Spirituality in East-Asian Religions
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Minjung's Spirituality in the grafting process of East-Asian Religions

- From a perspective of Korean Minjung Theology regarding with Korean Mahayana Buddhism, Tonghak religio-social  Movement,and the Korean Protestantism-  
prof. Kyoung Jae Kim

1. Introduction : the characteristics of East Asian religio-cultural society

  The purpose of this paper is to investigate Minjung's spirituality of the  religio-plural society of East Asia in grafting process with the perspective of Korean Minjung Theology.  Geopolitically speaking, the East Asian encompasses the three countries of East Asia - China, Korea, and Japan -  where many living faiths have been interacting in that society, and have been engaging in mutual dialogue or the paradigm shifts among Minjung' mind.
 The East Asian Minjung's mind is something like a reservior into which the streams of  Shamanism, Mahayana Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, and Christianity  have carried the various cultural and religious ideas. In other words, these streams carried to East Asian people the top soil of the cultural heritage and turned the mind into a fertile ground. The horizon of East Asian life which is viewed as a part of organic nature and is making an encounter with the biblical horizon of life which has a more historic, personalistic, liberating spirituality.
  My purpose of this paper is not to describe the religious history of Korea in outline but to veryfy that although religious fusion of horizons has been occured, and even if there has been some religious paradigm shifts in the history of Korea, we could find out  a constant orientation of Minjung's spiritualities: creative syncretism, ecomaternity, transformation in  suffering, cosmotheandric vision, and salvational ecumenism for living.
  In section 2 and 3, before articulating the some points of Minjung's spiritualities, I shall  deal with the Koerean MahayanaBuddhist spiritualities since 6th century.and socio-political transformation caused by Tonghak, a native living faith of Korean Minjung Movement in 1894.  And then, finally in section 4, I shall review the characterictics of Korean Minjung's spiritualities in the connection with Korean protestantism.

2. The Korean Budhist Minjung's spritualities: One mind of sentient beings(衆生心) as the womb of Buddhahood, the spirit of Bodhisattva, and inetgrity of wisdom and compassion.

   Buddhism reached China from India in the first century A.D., and it was the 4th century that it reached Korea via China. It served as the important salvation paradigm permeating the spiritual, moral, socio-political, artistic, and religious world of Korea, for over 1,500 years its influencing waxing and waning according to dynatic changes. The fact that Mahayana Buddhism, as a foereign religion,  became indigenous as the central religion of Korean proves that it grafted successfully with Korean Minjung's spirituality.   
   Among the many denominational branches of Mahayana Buddhism, Hwaom denomination(화엄종) and Ch'an branch(선종) made a special impact on the Korean mind, and eventually they developed into an indigenous form of Korean Buddhism. I shall now review the three main characteristics of Korean Mahayana Buddhism in the connection with the Buddhist Minjung's spiritualities.
   The first is that it strives for unity in the great One Mind, which is the One Mind of all sentient beings, Minjung.  Master Wonhyo(617- 687), one of the most famous Buddhist monk in Korea, emphasized the idea of third category most. He felt that the idea of 'tathagatagarbha'(the Tathagata womb, 여래장) as the source of all things has been equiped with, inherent in all sentient common beings, Minjung.
  This idea proclaimed formally and publicly the equality of human beings beyond any social status what ever one may hold. And furthermore, the idea of 'Tathagata(Buddha)-womb' emphasized not only the equality of human beings but also it encouraged the humble people of his time to actualize the  potentialities  of their  humanity into Buddhahood  on this shore of the world.
  Beating his gourd and reciting the verse Master Wonhyo   would visit all villeges and hamlets. He also sang songs which contained the teachings of Buddhism and which were very easy to understand. Along with the Minjung(the masses), he sang and danced  and by these simple activities he educated the humble people and he identified himself with Minjung of his days. The important subject matter to which we should pay attention is that Where is Buddhahood or God is oroginally present?"
  According to Wonhyo's understanding of Mahayana Buddhism,  the Ultimate Reality is, in the first instance, present in the common Peoples's Mind as the form of 'Tathagatagarba', which is prior to the religious canons, the holy orders, the sacred dogmas, or any religious institutions.  
  The second characteristic of Korean Mahayana Buddhism is the practice of the spirit of Bodhisattva(보살정신의 실천). Needlees to say, Bodhisattva spirit is designated as a important characteristic of Mahayanabuddhism in addition to 'prajna-sunyata' idea and Tripitaka thought in connection to the Buddhist communal life.
 On the bais of the idea of the Boddhisattva, Mahayanabuddhism of the East Aian society always criticizes and rejects 'Nirvana'(열반세계) as the transcendence of 'samsara'(현상세계). The Korean great Mahayanabuddhists has been teaching true Nirvana to be returning to samsara by negating 'Nirvana as the transcendence of samsara'. Bodhissattva is the persons who practice the nondivided  truth of Prajuna(wisdom) and Karuna(compassion). Prajuna(true wisdom) is the intuitive wisdom that is entirely free from the discriminating mind and thus is able to see everything in its uniqueness and distingtiveness without any sence of attachment. Karuna(compassion) is unselfishly concerned with the salvation with the salvation of all others in samsara through one's own returning to samsara.
  The third characteristic of Korean Mahayanabuddhism may be summarized as the integirity of theory and praxis in searching after the enlightenment.    The ultimate reality in Mahayanabuddhism is neither 'Being' nor 'Ought', but rather 'Emptiness in Fullness', which is dynamically identical with 'Coincidence of the Opposites'. Emptiness in Fullness indicates one's true Self, the suchness, interdependency of all things, and co-originating of all beings through interpenetration. Therefore, we can find in Mahayanabuddhism of East Asian society a radical realism and a compassionate way of life.
  According to the Mahayanabuddhism, the desire to reach the 'other shore' of nirvana by overcoming 'this shore' of samsara for the sake of wisdom is still otherworldly and selfish. In order to overcome attachment to the 'other shore' of nirvana, one must return to 'this shore'(sansara), and in compassion identify with others to save them from the suffering of transmigration. This is the genuine meaning of Mahayanabuddhist life.
 Thus both wisdom and compassion are the two essential aspects of the realization of the religious Enlightenment.  With this conviction,  Mahayanbuddhism of Korea has been involved in working out the human right movement, social relief work, political Reunification movement of Korea, or ecologicalmovement in partnership with Christians, Confucianists, or other leaders of native religions.  We have been very much stimulated by the fact that  Buddhist organizations of 'Minjung Buddhism of Korea', and of 'An Association of Practical Buddhism in Korea'  have been  established since 1980'.

3. The Minjung's spiritualities of  Tonghak's 'Waiting on Chunju'(시천주) and its 'Opening  a new World'(후천개벽)

 'Tonghak' is a typical national religion of Korea founded by Choi Jae-Woo(1824-1864) in 1860. It was a revolutionary life-movement of the religious spirit of the Korean people in the 19th century, when the country was faced with a political, social and cultural crisis. A Korean philosopher Park Chong-hong states that the basic religious thought of Tonghak is a crystalization of Korean religious spirituality. In this section, I shall review the characetrictics of Korean Minjung's spiritualities whic are manifested through Tonghak movement in the late of 19th century.   
  I shall briefly review the historical background of 'Tonghak' and its significance in the religious history of Korea. Political elites whose Confucian ideology served as the founding principles of the 'Chosun dynasty'of Korea in the beginning of the 14th century, now at the end of 19th century turned into a small group of oppressive overlords in this country. On the other hand, the outside world in the middle of the 19th century, the capitalistic western forces, were deeply commited to their colonial efforts in the East Asian countries.  China surrendered and concluded the Tientsin Treaty(1860) after its defeat in the Opium War.  England, France, Germany, and Russia were rushing towards the Orient for trade. On the Korean peninsular China, Japan, and Russia contested for superiority. Japan won in the Sino-Japanese War(1894) and Russo-Japanese War(1904), and began colonize Korea.
  The Tonghak movement was a minjung's revolutionary resistence movement against the oppressive upper class elites, and also against the foreign forces who were invading the country. It began as a religious social renewal movement with the salvation paradigm of Tonghak initiated by Choi Jae-woo. The founder, Choi Jae-woo, regarded Tonghak as a religious movement, yet the ruling class beheaded him(1864), believing that his movement was dangerous to the existing political authority. The followers of Choi Jae-woo made an appeal to the govenment stating that the decision was not right. They made a supplication to avenge the unjust death of the founder. The supplication was turned down every time, and gradually it developed into a resisting force. A provoncial  chief,Cho Pyung-kap's extortion of the farmers and illegal tax drove the famer-minjungs to a military riot(1894). The government army at that time was so corrupt and ineffectual that they were not able repress the Tonghak rioters.  The following reform items were published where Tonghak minjung lived:

  1. The enmity between the Tonghak followers and the government forces is to be                 forgotten, and the government administration is to be cooperated with.
  2. The corrupt officials are to be punished for their deeds.
  3. The extortion of the rich is to be punished.
  4. The evil Confucian elites and the upper class are to be punished.
  5. Slave documents are to be burned.
  6. The poor are to be honored and the headgear of butchers is to be moved.
  7. The remarriage of a young widow is to be allowed.
  8. Unnecessary taxes are not to be imposed.
  9. A amn of reading among good aristocrats is to be selected for a government official.
 10. Those who are connected with Japanese are to be punished.
 11. All debts both public and private are to be abolished.
 12. The arable land is to be distributed equally for cultivation.

  The above policy indicates replacement of corrupt officials, government tolerance of Tonghak followers, the abolition of a socially unjust class, abolition of extortion, equal distribution of arable land, punishment of corrupt local chiefs, of evil Confucian elites, and of the collaborators with the colonial Japanese. THese policy principles were wellcomed by the working farmer minjung, yet the central government tried to oppress them. The Tonghak uprising was completely smashed by the government forces with the help of Chinese military forces and by the new weapon of the Japanese. Now I have to review the religious character of the Tonghak movement.  
 Although the doctrinal sapects of 'Tonghak' have developed in diverse ways over the years, yet the basic tenets of 'Tonghak' thought are based on Choi Jae-woo's special religious experience in 1960.  The basic two elements in his thought are "waiting  on Chunju"(시천주, attending on God in one's whole body) and " opening-a-new-world"(후천개벽) thought. The first one is his view of God, and the second is his view of historical reality.
 To wait on God means to be filled with spiritual Ch'i (primordial cosmic Energy) inside, to feel the harmony of the spirit. This feeling is not to be transferred to other people. The essential tenet of Tonghak, that "Everybody is waiting on God ,the Lord with one's body", became a religious statement which high-lightened the equality of human life, respectability of human life, and reponsible communal life. The humble people(Minjung) in social standing, who had suffered for centuries under an oppessive society, welcomed enthusiastically the religious tenets of Tonghak. Thus, it became a liberating word for people who stood up to make an equal society in 19th century Korea.
 Another characteristic of the religious thought of Tonghak is the 'opening-a-new-world' thought. Choi Jae-woo had a cyclical historical view, yet at the same time he believed that history can be changed in part along with creative participation. He was convinced that this new age would start not with the cosmic gods disrupting the universe, but by with the participation of awakening people who followed the moral and spiritual principles of the universe. And the historical center would be this present life. So the eschatology of Tonghak is not futuristic but present.
 According to  Tonghak leaders, the new heaven and new earth is not the other world where one travels after death, or the pure Land of Buddhismin the far West, or the apocalyptico-eschatological Kingdom of God in Christianity. The New Haven and Earth, for Tonghak, is the present life-world actualizing itself through justice, peace,benevolence, and harmony. Here we see the revival of the Korean people who repect living life of 'here and now'.
 The fusion of Tonghak with Shamanism helped 'Tonghak' to become a religion of the Minjung. Tonghak recited incantations in order to bring the cosmic spirit down. This incantation for the descent of the divine is a very important religious rite in Tonghak. They have a belief that one can heal all sickness if one burns the incantatory paper written with spiritual charms and drinks it in water. This belief is a fusion of Shamanistic-Taoistic healing belief.Also the inner experience of the 'waiting on God(Chunju)' religious experience, the fulless of cosmic spirit within one's living organism, is also the Shamanistic religious experience. Tonghak's experience of  wating on the ultimate Ch'i  has also typologically similar pattern of the Spirit experience in Christian Pentecostal Churches.
 Korea is a religio-pluralistic society into which various streams of Asian and world religions flowed in different periods of history. However, the 2,000 years of Korean religious history have shown the replacement of the major religion in every period of history. This replacement took place in conjunction with socio-economic change, political upheaval, the self-consciousness of the leading elites of the day. Though the major religion was replaced, non-leading religions were not expelled or extinguished but continued in the life of the general public, especially in the life of the Minjung. Here we are faced with difficult,dangerous problems of religious syncretism.
  Actually speaking religious syncretism raises always a negative feeling among the Christian theologians; when religions encounter each other, then one particular religion loses its creative elements, and is merged with the another in syncretism. However, we must face up to the factual reality that another creative syncretizing process in the encounter of different living faiths  has been occuring in the mind of the people, especially, of the minjung. I would like to distingush  the  creative syncretism, in which each living faith holds its own characteristic with the integrating mind of commitment and openenss, from the destructive syncretism in which one particular faith loses its creative living power or distintive elements. The creative syncretism means the inter-faiths ecounter accompanying   with a creative enlarging-deepening of one's salvational experiences.

4. Christianity in modern Korea and the characteristics of  Minjung's spritualities from the eprspective of missio Dei

 The history of Korean Catholicism began with the Neo-Confucianist study for the western science in the 17th century. In the beginning, western science was an object of scientific research, but in the middle of the 18th century it developed into Catholic faith, so without the help of western priest, a Catholic Church was established in Korea spontaneously. In 1784 the lay-persons gathered for worship at the house of Kim Pum-woo, a merchant. This was the beginning of the Catholic Church in Korea.
 The honourable spirit of martyrdom among the Korean Catholics is to be lauded, but the policy of the Vatican and the church leaders of the Overseas Mission in China are questionable in regard to 'the ancestor worship', which was the immediate cause of the persecution, as it was thought to be idol worship. Since the Second Vatican Council(1962-65), the mission theology of the Roman Catholic Church has become more tolerant and very inclusive towards traditional religions and ancestorworship. If the Catholic bishops in China in the 18th century had conducted a policy towards ancestor worship as the Vatican does today, then there would not have been 8,000 martyrs during the persecution of 1801-1886.
 The Korean Catholic church, having suffered persecution for over a century because of ancestor worship, finally acquired the freedom to propagate its faith and opened a channel for a dialogue with the religious traditions of Asia. In 1990 the Korean Catholics numbered 2,750,000. They have contributed a great deal to the religion, culture, education, politics, medical service, and social attitudes of Korean society.

 It was 1885 when the Protestant missionaries first launched their mission work in Korea. The Korean Protestant church is only 110 years old, rather young in comparison with the church of the West. Yet the Korean Church has grown successfully over the years. Now statistically one in four of the whole population of Korea(i.e.47 million) are numbered Christians. The causes of this success story of mission in Korea could be researched from many angles. I shall only try to explore from socio-political, missionary political, and religio-historical perspective how the Protestant Church in Korea was so successful over the past century, and to see the Christian minjung's spiritualities during the spreading her roots into Korean society.
 (1) From the socio-political perspective, one can say that the Christian gospel served as 'a liberating gospel' for those shackled under the conservative feudalistic Cofucian ruling ideology in the altter part of the 19th century. Also in the beginning of the 20th century the gospel served as a liberating force seeking to free the people from the colonialism of Japan, Human rights, the abolition of class barriers, the extention of woman's human rights, the overthrowing of superstitions, freedom of the press, recognition of democratic values and training, all these connections helped the Koreans to accept Christianity as a gospel liberating them from oppression. So the Korean Protestant church was enabled to stand closely with the national liberation activities despite the seperation of politics and religion advocated by the Foreign Mission Board.
   Protestantism in KOrea became a force resisting the opression of human rights, non-democratic mulitary culture, authoritative bureaucracy, and the structure of absolute political power which were manifested in the process of modernization in the 1960'. This was because the churches was oriented towards free,just,loving,and peaceful human community through proclaiming God's sovereignty and the Kingdom of God. In a word, the prophetic critical spirit in demolishing idols and the messianic political vision oriented towards the Kingdom of God introduced a vision of a 'frre and just human community' into Korean society.
 (2) From the mission policy aspect, the immense success of the Protestant Church in KOrea was grounded on the translation of the Bible into Korean, its distribution, and its arduous study. The Korean mind was touched by the word of God found in the scriptures. And during the first period of Korea mission, the protestant churches emphasized educational service and medical service as much as evangelical service, so within a short period of time the Protestants were able to put down roots in Korean society.
    From the mission policy again, the first Korean Protestants embraced the lower class and the women folk. In contrast, Confucianism, Buddhism, and Catholicism tried to reach the upper class and the royal house. The lower class, when Protestantism was introduced to Korea, were the neglected 'little people' who were in material and spiritual hunger, and in need of  the gospel. Korean mission in the beginning applied the Nevius mission policy in the Korean situation. It was a policy that emphasized circuit preaching, the economic independence of the local church, the individual evangelism of a local congregation, pietistic traning of church members, and the co-operation of local churches.
  (3) From the religio-cultural perspective, we can find some other reasons far from the politico-social situation and the mission policy for such successful results in such a short time. That is, the gospel expressed in the Bible was suited to the basic religious mind of the Korean people. The Korean(Han,韓) people found a competent form of the monotheistic-triune God belief that they had inherited from ancient times in the trinitarian God of the Bible.  They also found the more transparent monotheistic faith
'in Spirit and Truth'(John.4:21) in the Bible instead of the vague,ambiguous henotheistic God belief which has been fused with Shamanism. The Korean protestants accepted Jesus of Nasareth as the Christ. The Korean protestants saw a new salvation paradigm in Jesus  Christ who manifests the cosmic and universal Ultimate Reality through, in, and by his transparant existence revealed in cruxification and resurrection.
   The present position of Korean Protestantism shows both positive and negative aspects. The positive aspect is reflected in its successful orientation within Korean society. Now after 110 years of growth, Korean Protestantism also displays negative aspects, and thus, at present there is a need for self-criticism and self-renewal: The focus on a faith which seeks only personal blessing, fused with the Shamanistic tradition, the secular sapect of the church emphasizing church growth alone, inspired by the market theory of modern capitalism, the individual denominationalism which forgets the ecumenical spirit of the universal church, and the exclusivistic attitude in rejecting traditional culture and other religions as idol worship, these are the points where the church must be challenged to change and to become mature.
  Suh Nam-dong(1918-1984), a representative scholar among the Korean Minjung theologians, convinced himself  that the living God or the resurrected Christ is not confined to the tradition of the Western Christianity or the scriptures, but rather is  found in the suffering Minjung, in their body and soul. He thought, as the below quatation indicates, that Western theological system and doctrines could be turned into the stumbling blocks to a meeting with the living Christ. Suh Nanm-dong stated:

   The task of Korean minjung theology in Korea is to testify to the minjung tradition of      Christianity in converging with the tradition of the Korean church in the form of          Missio Dei. We regard the present events which are happening before our eyes as the        intervention of God into history, the work of Holy Spirit, and the Exodus event.We         participate in these events and translate them with theological meaning. Participation      means to inherit the tradition. In order to translate them, we need the reference to       tradition. This writer (Dr.Suh) calls it pneumatological-synchronic interpretation.        This si contrasted with the traditional Christological-diachronic interpretation.....
   In Christological interpreation, Jesus of Nazareth died 'for me' or 'in my behalf',        yet, in a pnematological interpretation I represent Jesus, and the Jesus event is          occurring here again. These two views are not alternative choices, but                     complementary. However, minjung theology is concerned with the work of the Holy Spirit      and the received tradition works as the reference for interpretation.
 If we review the above quotation carefully, we find that minjung theology presupposes the Missio Dei. Minjung theology  does not presupose another salvation history far from the secular and realistic history which is happening before our eyes. Therfore, the interpretation of history for minjung theologians requires participation in actual events recreating the tradition here today. For Dr.Suh, the pneumatic-synchronic interpretation means that past and future become present of the converging experience through the work of holy Spirit who works in the responsible participation of human parts.So that, the event which comes into being by converging the minjung tradition in the scriptures with the minjunhg tradition in Korea history is the concretization of God's Kingdom on earth in the form of Justice, peace, and integrity of creation.
  The dialogue committee of the W.C.C. took the theme "My Neighbor's Faith and Mine -- Theological Discoveries Through Interfaith Dialogue", and gathered together at Baar located near Zurich. After 4 years of study, they finally produced the historic 'Baar Statement' in 1990. The reason why the Baar Statement is important in comparison with other theological statement is that it signified a paradigm change from Christcentric thinking to theocentric and pneumacentric thinkung. Thus this document opened up new horizon for theological insights. However, this statement does not weaken the decisive meaning  of the revelation in Jesus Christ. Theocentric thinking and pneumacentric thinking surround Christocentric theology.
 The theological position of Baar Statement suggests that the liberating salvation event of God should be expanded to all human beings, and that  Holy Spirit  has been also working in the spiritualities of  other minjungs outside of Israel-Christian civilization. As Baar Statement indicates, a genuine interfaith dialogue or co-operation among minjungs of all over the world has to be established not on the level of theory but through practical hermenutics in real life situation. Human life, especially, minjung's life is a creative movement progressing towards a new heaven and new earth. Teilhard de Chardin calls this vision the 'formation of the cosmic Christ body' , having Christ as the head and heart.(Col.1:15-20;Phi.2:10-11;Rom.8:18-30) The Church is the avant garde of the movement of God's creative kindom to form the body of the cosmic Christ, the mystical body in this interpenetratingly corporate world. Therefore, all the living minjungs are aiming at a higher, wider, and deeper salvation experience in  the creative struggles.
 As Theo Sundermeyer says, one is not afraid of 'symbiotic' syncretism or 'creative' syncretism for me. The creative syncretism is an inevitable process in an open society and in living religion. Though many theologians do not easily recognize the incarnational syncretism or creative syncretism, the general people of minjung do not afraid of being exposed themselves to danger of syscretizing.  So, the  creative syncretism is one aspect of minjung's spiritualities. Minjung does not afraid of being syncretized by other religions, rather they willingly accept the various, different elements to transform those element into fertilizer for the growing life in order to produce good fruits.
 The most prevailing image of Jesus among Asian minjung's theological expression is the image of the suffering servant.  Because Asian minjung's life experience is filled with suffering, it seems natural for Asian minjungs to meet Jesus through the experience that is most familiar to them. The image of suffering Jesus enables Asian minjung to see the meaning in their own suffering. As Jesus suffered for others, so as Asian minjung suffered for others in their society. As Jesus suffering had salvific power, Asian minjung is also beginning to view their suffering as redemtive. In spite of  Christian faith does not acknowledge of the suffering asceticism  or  pessimistic view of the world, Asian Christian minjung understand that suffering is not only  a principle of life which is necessary for maturity or purification of human beings, but also has a redemtive power to purify sin of human beings.  So, I dare say that  suffering is another aspect of Asian minjung's spiritualities.  
 Minjung's spirituality is a 'cosmotheandric spirituality'(R.Panikkar). The cosmotheandric vision means that the divine, the nature(cosmos), and the human being(consciousness) are integrated in everything. Three ontological elements are interconnected, and they are not reduced into the other elements. The Earth is neither inferior to Man nor superior.  The spirituality of cosmotheandrism  means the the experience of the equally irreduciable character of the divine, the human, amd the cosmic, so that reality canot be reduced to a single principle. We are all interconnedted, but must be distinguished. Panikkar's  Cosmotheandric vision is rotted in the respectable theological tradition of 'theandrism', which goes back at least to the 'synergasia' of St.Paul; "We are God's co-workers"(1 Col.3:9). However Panikkar adds to this ancient structure of human/divine co-operation the entire 'Kosmos', the Spirit of the Earth with which we are today still struggling to rediscover our partnership.
 Korean Minjung theology can easily find the same view of reality in  Tonghak as well as Mahayanabuddhism, in which the transcendent, the human, and the cosmos are interpenetrating one another.  The organic growth of the cosmotheandric reality is the word for the creation of new form in which there is neither merely a lineaal evolution, nor a revolution with rupture. According to  Chung Hyun Kyung, Asian women claim that their spirituality emphasizes the cosmic dimension. Asian minjung's spirituality  as cosmic, creation-centered spirituality  is also manifested in the life experience of Tonghak, MahayanaBuddhis, Shamanism, and of Confucianism.   So far I have reviewed some aspects of Asian minjung's spiritualities.

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