Q&A on Buddhism in DPRK

Introduced here in The People's Korea is some information on Buddhism in the DPRK provided by So Dok Kun, vice chairman of the Korean Buddhist Council in Japan, who visited the DPRK on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the Japan-based Korean Buddhist body.

He had exchange with north Korean Buddhists, with whom he held a service to achieve enlightenment as a Buddhist last month. Through exchange with north Korean Buddhist, he obtained factual information on north Korean Buddhists.

The following question and answers present basic knowledge on north Korean Buddhism;


Q: How many Buddhists, Buddhist priests and temples are there in the DPRK?

A: There are about 10,000 Buddhist believers and 200 Buddhist preachers in the DPRK. A total of 60 temples exist there, including the famous Pohyon Temple at the foot of Mt. Myohyang, Kwangpop Temple near Pyongyang and Pyohun Temple in Mt. Kumgang. Before the Korean War, there were 500 temples in north Korea but they were all destroyed and only 60 temples remain now. Many priests were killed then.

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Pohyun Temple in Myohyang Mountain

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Kwangpop Temple in Pyongyang


Q: What is the policy of the north Korean government on religion, including Buddhism?

A: The late President Kim Il Sung taught religious believers that they should pray for their god for the Korean people and for the prosperity of their country.

The north Korean government stresses that religion is a private affair of individuals' life, so it does not interfere, maltreat or approve religious beliefs

Freedom of religion is guaranteed under the constitution, and it all depends on individuals to have their religion.

All religious people are provided with equal rights and the government appreciate religious people who pray for their people and their country.

There are religious bodies in north Korea, and they are allowed free religious activities.

Among them is the Korean Buddhists Federation formed on Dec. 26, 1945. Under the federation, there are Buddhist committees in provinces and in many counties to which the central federation provides a budget.


Q: Is there any institution for Buddhism education?

A: Buddhist believers can study at a 3-year Buddhist school in Pyongyang, of which federation members of the education department are in charge. They systematically learn Buddhism including its history, doctrine and Buddhist scriptures. The school is not operated all the time, but it opens when demand is high.

Also, some 50 students take a 5-year course in Buddhism at the religion section of the Philosophy Department of Kim Il Sung University and ten-odd students graduate every year. Federation members give lectures to the students.

Reeducation of monks is also given, and some 200 monks take part in Buddhist practice each time.


Q: How do north Korean Buddhist preachers spend a day?

A: They do Buddhist services in the morning and at night, pray for Buddhits enlightment, study and do practices as Buddhists. They spent life according to the teachings of Buddha, observing the commandments to cultivate their minds.

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Fully repaired Daeungdang in Pohyun Temple

Q: How do Buddhist preachers make their living?

A: They live on contributions from Buddhist believers and support from the country. The government extends great care to Buddhists and many temples were repaired or rebuild by national budgets.


Q: Why are many north Korean Buddhist monks not tonsured?

A: In north Korea some Buddhist monks are tonsured, but many were not, because they make much of their mind-cultivation rather than of their appearance. Tonsured or not, all these monks observe the commandants as devoted Buddhists. Of course, they don't force others to do so. It all depends on individuals.


Q: What is the Buddhist priesthood in the DPRK?

A: In the DPRK, there are five kinds of Buddhist clergies, -- Daesonsa, Sonsa, Daedok , Chongdok and Daeson. After some exams and interviews on the knowledge of Buddhism, Buddhist monks are qualified as such.

Basically, these qualifications are given by Daesonsa or Sonsa to those who have moral influence and are regarded to have contributed to the development of Buddhism.


Q: Do north Korean Buddhists have contact with their south Korean and foreign counterparts?

A: Yes. Based on the idea of independence, peace and friendship, they are strengthening relationships with the world Buddhism organizations for the peace of the world.

The north Korean Buddhist Federation became a member of the Asian Buddhist Committee for Peace in 1976, and the World Federation of Buddhist on 1986, and the Asia Buddhist Conference in 1990 in a bid to promote mutual friendship between Buddhists in Asia including Japan, Sri Lanka and India.

North and south Korean Buddhists also cooperate and held joint service several times for peace of the Korean Peninsula, saying "Let's remove the 38th line among Korean Buddhists." Our wish is the same as we believe the reunification of our country will provide the biggest happiness to our people.


Q: Who is the most respected Buddhist monk in the 1,600-year-long history of Korean Buddhism?

A: There are some famous Korean Buddhist priests such as Hyecho. But, from the viewpoint of love for the people and the country, north Korean people respect Sosandaesa who united Buddhist monks throughout Korea to defend Korea from Japanese invasion in the 16th century. He and his disciple Samyongdan are said to have formed the basis of Buddhist tradition in the Korean Peninsula and are the greatest contributors to the development of Buddhism in the DPRK.


Q: On what occasion do north Korean Buddhist perform their Buddhist services?

A: There are some celebration days for Buddhists. Typically, they observe Soktanjol, Songdojol and Yolbanjol. They are respectively the celebration of the aniversaries of Buddha's birth, the deathof Buddha and the enlightment of Buddha.

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