North and South Lay Foundations for Buddhist Temple

A Buddhist temple in North Korea, destroyed by U.S. bombs during the Korean War, is being rebuilt by South Koreans as part of an effort to improve ties and establish a new road to national unification.

The New York Times published an article describing the efforts by South Korea in Korea’s city of Singye, or Holy Valley in English translation, to rebuild a temple destroyed during the American bombing of North Korea in its Oct. 5 edition. Writes New York Times reporter James Brooke, “But few are as rich symbolically as the temple reconstruction…materials from South Korea and labor from North Korea are joining to restore the legacy of a common religious heritage.”

The Los Angeles Times, quoting a South Korean monk overseeing the reconstruction, said the project is intended to give the North Koreans “an opportunity to revel in the culture that they share with the South.”

The Singye Temple dates back to 519. It will be one of the few Buddhist monuments that stands in North Korea after the generations of religious oppression under Communist rule. Defectors relate that persecution still exists, according to the New York Times.

For North Koreans, the temple is historic because their late leader Kim Il-sung visited it in 1947, before it was destroyed during the Korean War (1950-1953), with his son Kim Jong-il who rules the nation now.

The reconstruction, begun 11 months ago and led South Koreans monks and workers who reside at the site for the project, is estimated to cost $10 million, much of it being paid by the South Korean government.

According to the L.A. Times, foreign tourists can also pitch in by donating an average of $20 to write their names on one of the roof tiles.

Once completed in 2007, it will be opened to visiting South Koreans and foreigners coming to Mt. Geumgang, located east of the temple site. The temple is off-limits to local North Koreans at present.

The Ven. Jejeong, the South Korean head monk coordinating the reconstruction at Singye, says he cannot go outside the 6-foot-high wire fence and has no access to cell phones or e-mails.

The New York Times quoted Jejeong as saying, “From South Korea’s point of view, the rebuilding of one national historic monument today means one fewer reconstruction bills to pay when the Koreas finally join again. It is a logical extension of the South’s ‘sunshine policy’ of engagement and eventual reunification with the North.”

“I think culture is an easier path toward unification that politics or economics…That is why I was interested in this project,” he told the L.A. Times.

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