By Cultural Editor Lee Sam- sun and Reporter Sua Kim
Former Prime Minister Lee Soo-sung said, “What the artists of the world should pursue is the spiritual world of the souls and peace.” Then he said “I wish that Korea will be a country free from wars and the three countries, namely Korea, China and Japan, will live in peace like blood-sharing brothers.”
Prime Minister Lee made the statement at the opening ceremony of the National Unification Grand Art Exhibition at Hanguk Misul Gwan (Korea Art Gallery) in Seoul on Sept, 15. 2018 which was hosted by Chairman Yu Jae-hack of the the World Cleansing Mind Welfare Foundation and the World Humankind Cleansing Mind Movement.
How many religious denominations are registered in the Republic of Korea (south), and what is the population of each religious group?
According to a latest Wikipedia report, the majority of South Koreans (56.1% as of the 2015 national census) have no formal affiliation with a religion. Among those who are members of a religious organization, Protestantism represents (19.7%) of the total population, Buddhism (15.5%), and Catholicism (7.9%). A small percentage of South Koreans (0.8% in total) are members of other religions, including Won Buddhism, Confucianism, Cheondoism, Daesung Jinrihoe, Daejongism, and Jeungsanism.
Buddhism was influential in ancient times and Christianity had influenced large segments of the population in the 18th and 19th century, yet they grew rapidly in membership only by the mid-20th century, as part of the profound transformations that South Korean society went through in the past century.
But it has shown some decline from the year 2000 onwards. Native Korean religions (i.e. Sindo), some of which the West might want to classify ‘shamanism’ or ‘superstition,’ remain popular and could represent a large part of the unaffiliated. Indeed, according to a 2012 survey, only 15% of the population declared to be not religious in the sense of ‘atheism.’ (See further details at the end of this report.)
Against this backdrop, attention is paid to Chairman Jae-hack Yu who, as was briefly mentioned earlier, leads the World Cleansing Mind Welfare Foundation and the World Humankind Cleansing Mind Movement. However, he prefers to be referred to as Seonghwang (聖皇) in Chinese characters), which literally translates ‘Sacred Emperor’). It is understood that Chairman Yu wishes to be known to a leader in all beliefs.
In fact, Chairman Yu has a large religious estate at Hwansan-ro, Gunbong-myeon, Okcheon-gun. Chungcheongbuk-do Province, where are prominently displayed three large stone images of Buddhist leaders and that of Dangun Wanggeom (Progenitor of the Korean Nation), which the Western World classifies as the legendary founder of Gojoseon (Ancient Joseon [Korea]).
Dangun is known in Korea as the ‘Grandson of the Heaven’ who is believed to have founded the first Korean kingdom in 2333 BC. The earliest recorded version of the Dangun legend appears in the 13th-century Samguk Yusa, which cites China's Book of Wei and Korea's lost historical record Gogi (or Ancient Historical Chronicles).
There is one thing that is clear with Chairman Yu. He has an immense interest in the enhancement of the happiness and welfare of all peoples around the world as well as the Korean nation.
In fact, Chairman Yu is playing a leading role in organizing memorial services for the past 67 years for soothing the souls sacrificed during the Korean War. Chairman Yu has also been making extensive efforts for the development culture and arts in Korea.
Recently (on September 15, 2018), Chairman Yu hosted a National Unification Grand Art Exhibition at Hanguk Misul Gwan (Korea Art Gallery) where the works of Korea, China and Japan were put on display on the theme ‘Supplication for Peace and Unification of the Korean Peninsula.
At a recent interview with The Korea Post, established 33 years ago and now publishing 3 English and 2 Korean-language media outlets, Chairman Yu said, “I have always wished to see a day soon when the two divided parts of the Korean Peninsula would become one and this exhibition is based on our supplication for the advent of the national unification in the nearest future.”
Chairman Yu is working on a project to form a culture and art organization as a legal entity or a body corporate.
Asked on the purpose of this project, he stated: “The proper way of the mind of a person is courtesy. We are trying to form the organization to propagate the importance of Ye (manners, courtesy, proprieties or decorum) to all the peoples around the world.”
Chairman Yu is known to have had close association with notable Korean poet, Midang Seo Jeong-ju. Asked to introduce his relations with Poet Seo, Chairman Yu said: “Poet Seo and I practiced asceticism together in 1950 and we exchanged many ideas on poetry on many different occasions. When I wrote a poem, he offered me his evaluation of my work. Poet Seo also presented me with some of important poems.
Chairman Yu is known to have been organizing a Cheondoje Rite (Buddhist rite observed to send the deceased souls to Geungnak (paradise or heaven) for the people who sacrificed their lives and died for the country.
Chairman Yu said: “We had a fratricidal war in 1950 and I personally witnessed our own people fighting with each other and being killed with my own eyes. Then I told myself, ‘I have a job to do!’ It is not only for the Korean people who were sacrificed. I made up my mind to do something for all the deceased soles of the different countries during the Korean War and also the soles of others who died in wars. I traveled widely around the world to soothe the soles of those fallen during the war and started hosting memorials services for the people who died for the sake of their countries as well as for Korea. And for all of them, I have been observing memorial services.”
Chairman Yu then disclosed a plan to host a large memorial service in the Great Sacred Ground located in Gunbong-myeon, Okcheon-gun, Chungcheongbuk-do Province in October together with the World Mind-Cleansing Movement Headquarters.
Chairman Yu had a special regard for noted Korean patriot and independence fighter, Kim Ku. Chairman Yu said, “Our great patriot and leader, Mr. Kim Ku, had a great aspiration and plan to achieve in his life time and it was to help make Korea a ‘Nation of Culture and Arts’ and I would declare that I would perform the role of a leader in the early realization of a ‘Culture and Art Revolution’ in Korea in pursuit of the wishes of the late Patriot Kim Ku.”
At the National Unification Art Exhibition were put on display a total of over 1,000 different art works created by over 500 artists from all parts of the world as well as from within Korea.
Attending the opening ceremony of the exhibition were an estimated 200 noted civic figures and religious leaders. Among the guests were: Former Prime Minister Lee Soo-sung, Chairman Lee Yang-hyun of the Exhibition, Chairman Kim Do-hoe of the Legal Affairs Center, Chairman Ha Chul-kang of the Federation of Artistic & Cultural Organization of Korea, Chairman Kang Dae-hee of Korea Calligraphers Association, and Rev. Jagwang of the Happiness Zen House of the Haesim-sa Buddhist Temple.
Speaking to the meeting, former Prime Minister Lee Soo-sung said, “What the artists of the world pursue is the spiritual world of the souls and the artists pursue peace.” Then he stressed the importance of forgiving and harmony citing the Beethoven Symphony as an example.
Then said former Prime Minister Lee, “I wish that Korea will be a country free from war and the three countries, namely Korea, China and Japan, will live in peace like blood brothers.”
Chairman Yu of the World Cleansing Mind Welfare Foundation and the World Humankind Cleansing Mind Movement said in his congratulatory message, “The Korean people has a record of history of ten thousand years of revolution of culture and arts and it is my wish that the Korean people will achieve their national reunification through the medium of the Grand Art Exhibition.” .
Among the works on display which lasted until September 21, 2018, were those done by 24 Japanese and North Korean artists. The artists from the Republic of Korea (south) included Kang Dae-hee, Koo Ja-song, Kim Young-ki, Yoo Jae-hack, Park Young-jin, Park Jong-hee, Baek Young-il, Sun Joo-sun, Song Ha-kyong, Yo Won-koo, Lee Kon, Lee Dong-heung, Lee Sung-ho, Lee Jong-sun, Im Jae-woo, Chin Jung-woo, Chung Do-jun, Jug Byung-rye, Cho Sung-joo, Cho Yong-sau, Chin Young-keun, Choe Min-ryeul, and Hwang Suk-bong. (The English names given above may not accurately correspond with the names actually used by the artists.--Ed.)
Further details on traditional Korean religion:
Korea entered the 20th century with an already ingrained Christian presence and a vast majority of the population practicing native religion (Sindo). The latter never gained the high status of a national religious culture comparable to China's system and Japan's Shinto; this weakness of Korean Sindo was among the reasons that left a free hand to an early and thorough rooting of Christianity. The population also took part in Confucianizing rites and held private ancestor worship. Organized religions and philosophies belonged to the ruling elites, and the long patronage exerted by the Chinese empire led these elites to embrace a particularly strict Confucianism (i.e. Korean Confucianism). Korean Buddhism, despite an erstwhile rich tradition, at the dawn of the 20th century was virtually extinct as a religious institution, after 500 years of suppression under the Joseon kingdom. Christianity had antecedents in the Korean Peninsula as early as the 18th century, when the philosophical school of Seohak supported the religion. With the fall of the Joseon in the last decades of the 19th century, Koreans largely embraced Christianity, since the monarchy itself and the intellectuals looked to Western models to modernize the country and endorsed the work of Catholic and Protestant missionaries. The identification of Christianity with Korean nationalism was further strengthened, as the Japanese tried to merge native Sindo with their State Shinto.
With the division of Korea into two states after 1945, the Communist north and the anti-Communist south, the majority of the Korean Christian population that had been until then in the northern half of the peninsula, fled to South Korea. It has been estimated that Christians who migrated to the south were more than one million. Throughout the second half of the 20th century, the South Korean state enacted measures to further marginaize indigenous Sindo, at the same time strengthening Christianity and a revival of Buddhism. According to scholars, South Korean censuses do not count believers in indigenous Sindo and underestimate the number of adherents of Sindo sects. Otherwise, statistics compiled by the ARDA. estimate that as of 2010, 14.7% of South Koreans practice ethnic religion, 14.2% adhere to new movements, and 10.9% practice Confucianism.
According to some observers, the sharp decline of some religions (Catholicism and Buddhism) recorded between the censuses of 2005 and 2015 is due to the change in survey methodology between the two censuses. While the 2005 census was an analysis of the entire population ("whole survey") through traditional data sheets compiled by every family, the 2015 census was largely conducted through the Internet and was limited to a sample of about 20% of the South Korean population. It has been argued that the 2015 census penalized the rural population, which is more Buddhist and Catholic and less familiar with the Internet, while advantaging the Protestant population, which is more urban and has easier access to the Internet. Both the Buddhist and the Catholic communities criticized the 2015 census' results.