Tuesday, October 20, 2009

In pursuit of tolerance

Along a side street in Chilgok, the unmistakable image of one of the four guardians painted on the entry point to a Buddhist temple area greeted me. The fierce bulging eyes seems to dare the world to challenge those that pass by.
I looked up the stairs, and paused, kind of wondering if I should trespass for a few shots. The area seemed too calm, and there was no activity to speak of. So, I paused and took a look at the second guardian and captured the image. These guardians, with the perpetual frowns. Totally absent of the knowing smile of the Buddha. I always have liked the smile of the Buddha because it is more like a smirk, the way a teacher looks at a student that just doesn't quite get it.
Despite the glare of the guardians, I walked up the stairs to capture the courtyard area. I instinctively felt the sameness and inner knowing of what was concealed. The same altars would be set up, the same depictions, with the lotus flowers adorning the ceiling. The many prayers that are offered for the dead, and for the care of this present life...usually many tell me all they pray for is more money. Some pray for peace. Even fewer seek the enlightenment of past Buddhas. Others are frank with me about their beliefs, calling them myths. They are tolerant of others, more with an attitude of 'whatever' works for you. No different from those who are superstitious (and there are a lot of superstitions throughout the world that seem irrational). It is something to do for others, and still, for others, a way to network within the community. Yes, under it all, there are many reasons people play in the religion game.
It is estimated that about 25 percent of Koreans follow Buddhism. The only other major competing religion is Christianity. The churches with their neon crosses dot the city scape. I hesitated to post this one picture of these crosses. This doesn't represent peace for most in the world. More murders have been committed under the sign of the cross than any other symbol. I don't think I can ever recall a portrayal of Jesus ever smiling, or even looking peaceful. No, the image we are given is one of a man beaten, bloody, and hanging to rot on two cross beams.
Perhaps...just perhaps, I am guilty of being intolerant of intolerance.

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