How can we achieve peace on the Korean Peninsula?

- through Francois Leclercq

Published on

Fri. Pomnyun Sunim. Image courtesy of Jungto Company

Korean master Seon (Zen) Venerable Pomnyun Sunim (Buddhist monk) wears many hats: Buddhist monk, teacher, author, environmentalist and social activist, to name a few. As a highly respected Dharma teacher and tireless socially engaged activist in his native South Korea, Ven. Pomnyun Sunim has founded many Dharma-based organizations, initiatives and projects that are active across the world. Among them, the Jungto Society, a community of volunteers based on Buddhist teachings and expressing equality, simple living and sustainability, is dedicated to solving modern social problems that lead to suffering, including the degradation of the environment, poverty and conflict.

The following article shared by the Jungto Society is part of a series of highlights from Ven. The writings, teachings, public lectures and regular Dharma Q&A sessions broadcast live from Pomnyun Sunim, which are accessible worldwide.

Q. When discussing the reunification of the Korean Peninsula, it is likely that the issue of wealth disparity between the two Koreas will become prominent, and negative issues such as jealousy, arrogance and crime may pass in the foreground. What education should we give to young people who show indifference or opposition to reunification?

Fri. Pomnyun Sunim: If North Korea were to collapse and South Korea were to merge with it, many social problems would arise. Unification would make North Koreans the second largest population in a unified Korea. Looking back at the reunification of Germany 30 years ago, despite their political competence, an income gap between East and West Germans persists. There were various side effects, but few Germans think non-reunification would have been a better option.

In my opinion, if North Korea were to fall apart due to internal issues, South Korea should embrace it and reunite with it. We can't allow a collapsed North to be absorbed by China, can we? Whatever the pressures at play, I think South Korea should accept the situation. However, intentionally causing the collapse of North Korea for the purpose of reunification is to desirable. This would lead to serious conflicts, an increased risk of war and a huge burden even after reunification. If reunification was forced, South Korea would take full responsibility after reunification.

If South Korea clearly adopts a position that does not compel North Korea to reunite, the North could avoid the threat of regime collapse and engage in mutual cooperation with South Korea. We can then take the time to explore ways to maintain our respective systems, like the European Union, while unifying our currencies. Instead of fighting for complete unity, we could maintain our own political systems, similar to those of the EU, while allowing freedom of movement.

Currently, most of North Korea's social infrastructure is in poor condition. The development of North Korea would provide significant job opportunities for young people in South Korea. There is no need to rely on funding from other countries for North Korea's development. South Korea has substantial financial resources that have yet to find suitable investment destinations. Many foreign experts regard North Korea as the best investment opportunity in the world. While most countries in Northeast Asia are already developed, North Korea remains underdeveloped. To put it simply, it's like having an untapped gold mine in the middle of Seoul: no one can mine it due to the associated risks. If these risks were eliminated, it could become an excellent investment opportunity.

In addition, North Korea has a quality workforce and abundant reserves of rare metals. It is rich in rare earths, lithium, magnesium and germanium, which have been problematic due to Chinese dominance in this sector. Thus, improving inter-Korean relations would be very welcome as North Korea's resources could meet some of the raw material shortages facing industries around the world.

Additionally, the Trans-Siberian Railway could be connected via North Korea. This would allow many small and medium-sized South Korean companies to participate in the development of North Korea. If these companies, which have lost their competitiveness, join in the development of North Korea, they could experience significant growth in the next 20 years. It would also create many job opportunities for young people.

While North Koreans would contribute labor if railways were built in North Korea, South Koreans would mainly handle engineering tasks. If a branch was established in North Korea, the South Korean headquarters would have to increase its staff. Effective cooperation between North and South Korean politicians, coupled with North Korea's development, could result in significant job creation.

Investing in North Korea would bring significant economic benefits as long as North Korea remains secure. Therefore, it is incorrect for young people in South Korea to believe that reunification with a flourishing North Korea would cause massive damage.

Convincing young people on the sole premise of a common ethnic group and the need for reunification is no longer enough. We have to explain how to reunification would greatly benefit them. Of course, reunification is crucial because we are the same people and it is necessary for peace. However, in today's world, it is more important for young people to consider how it would benefit them personally. I firmly believe that reunification can bring enormous benefits.

Fri. Pomnyun Sunim. Image courtesy of Jungto Company

Q. Can I pursue my personal happiness while contributing to peace on the Korean Peninsula? The reunification of the two Koreas and peace are extremely important, but if the individuals themselves are not happy, social engagement can be difficult, however valuable it may be. So how can I lead a life that balances personal happiness while being socially engaged? »

Fri. Pomnyun Sunim: I share the same sentiment as the interrogator. As the saying goes, "I've got my own fish to fry", which means you can't worry about tackling too many issues. In other words, when we experience pain, our concentration narrows. In Buddhist practice, I always emphasize personal happiness as a starting point. However, prioritizing personal happiness doesn't mean "I'm the only one who should be happy." In my own experience, once my own problems were alleviated to some extent, I naturally became interested in others. When we are overwhelmed by our own struggles, we tend to focus only on ourselves and fail to see the person next to us. And even if we notice them, we are unable to help them because our own burdens weigh us down. However, when our own burdens are lightened and our hands are freed from the need to do something urgent, we can look around and see the needs of others. We might notice someone carrying a heavy load and feel compelled to help. Therefore, relieving an individual's suffering can lay the groundwork for them to help others.

Usually, members of the Jungto Society first come to me for advice on their marital and family struggles. However, once their personal concerns are somewhat resolved, they engage in activities such as reducing their consumption to protect the environment, practicing sharing for children in developing countries, advocating for peace on the Korean peninsula and even participate in fundraisers. I believe that our actions should form the basis of such social commitment, rather than simply seeking individual happiness. When individuals are overwhelmed by personal suffering, they cannot consistently engage in sports or social activities, for example, because then they are more likely to give up halfway through. Therefore, personal happiness and family peace serve as the foundation for world peace. By adopting this perspective and actively participating in social engagement, we can sustain our efforts for an extended period.

photo of author

Francois Leclercq

François Leclercq is the founder of Buddhist News, a website which aims to disseminate information and practical advice on Buddhism and spirituality. François Leclercq was born and raised in Paris. He studied Buddhism at the University of Paris-Sorbonne, where he graduated in social sciences and psychology. After graduating, he devoted himself to his passion for Buddhism and traveled the world to study and learn about different practices. He notably visited Tibet, Nepal, Thailand, Japan and China.

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