Hell Chosun and Zen /// 헬조선과 선 [video]

This was my last public Dharma talk in Korea, in March 2016. The talk was held at Chogye Sah Temple, in central Seoul — the head temple of the Chogye Order of Korean Buddhism. I was invited by the Chogye Order and their official youth group to address any matter which I felt appropriate for encouraging the younger generation of Korea today.

The topic I chose was “Hell Chosun and Zen.”

“Chosun”(sometimes anglicized as Joseon) is one of the ancient names for Korea. It means “land of the morning calm.” It became the name for the Confucian dynastic kingdom which ruled the Korean Peninsula for approximately five centuries, from 1392 to 1897. It is often used as a quaint (or critical, depending on the context) shorthand for modern-day Korea (think “Albion” for England, or “Germania” for Germany).

“Hell Chosun” (Hell Joseon, or Hell Korea), according to Wikipedia, “is a satirical South Korean term that became popular around 2015. The term is used to criticize the socioeconomic situation in South Korea. It is particularly popular among younger Koreans, due to their feelings about unemployment and working conditions in modern society.” It is a bitter term used by the younger generation to describe and skewer their society as hellish, unbearably competitive and corrupt, rigidly conservative, painfully hierarchical, stifling the dreams of the young to believe that they may one day live a life of fulfillment, satisfaction, even success. It is a term describing suffocation and hopelessness, even futility.

The term appeared as a result of, among other conditions, frustration with growing poverty rates, pervasive job insecurity, the soaring suicide rate in South Korea. “Suicide in South Korea is the 10th highest in the world, according to the World Health Organization, as well as the second highest suicide rate in the OECD after Lithuania. In 2012, suicide was the fourth-highest cause of death among South Koreans.” (Wikipedia, “Suicide in South Korea”)

Source: Wikipedia

According to this chart, the leading cause of death for Koreans in their teens, 20s, and 30s was suicide, in figures from 2015, the year I was asked to give this major public talk to the youth of Korean Buddhism. The term itself — “Hell Chosun” — was considered improper to be used in such a sacred context as a temple, and then when a major broadcaster asked permission to film the talk for national broadcast, there was some concern voiced about the title. There was also the suggestion — ever present in Korea, especially among the older generation — that having this foreigner speak about such a deeply painful and embarrassing matter as this amounted to giving a platform to an airing of Korea’s “dirty laundry” to the world, especially due to the attention it would bring to the matter.

But I insisted that this term be used, that it be used in there published ads and title for the talk, and that it and its attendant issues not be kept out of such “proper” or “polite” speech — even that of an ordained monk giving — if the society would ever hope to get a grasp of the matter. This was the genesis of this talk and its presentation.

2016 년 3 월, 제가 한국에서 마지막 드렸던 법문이었습니다. 대한불교 조계종의 본산 인 서울 중심부에있는 조계사 대웅전에서 열렸습니다. 조계종 청년회의 공식 초청으로 제가 이 제목 만들고 설법하게 노력했습니다.