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(Yonhap Interview) Venerable Jingwan dreams of Korean Buddhism flourishing in Cuba

All Headlines 17:22 February 25, 2016

By Chung Joo-won

SEOUL, Feb. 25 (Yonhap) -- The first South Korean monk to visit Cuba for a religions occasion revealed his optimism Thursday about the spread of Buddhism in the Cuban capital of Havana.

Cuba is a country of few Buddhists but abounding religious freedom, said Ven. Jingwan of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism in an interview with Yonhap News Agency.

"Although I didn't have the chance to fully dedicate myself to delivering the teachings of Korean Buddhism, I felt certain that the city could be a milestone of fostering Korean Buddhism in Latin America," the revered leader of the Mujinjang Buddhist Culture Research Institute said.

"I thought Cuba was a monolithic Catholic nation, but I was pleasantly surprised to see many temples of diverse religious origins," he continued.

Cuba tends to put strong emphasis on the patriotic values in a religion, according to Ven. Jingwan, which strongly resonates with the historical roots of Korean Buddhism. Throughout ancient Korean history, Buddhism thrived on the support of royal families, courtiers and commoners, thanks to the religion's creed to protect the nation. In times of foreign invasion and other major national crises, the Buddhist monks stood up for justice.

Despite the existing operation of Nichiren Buddhism in Cuba, the actual number of local believers in Buddhism is very few, Ven. Jingwan said.

During his week-long stay in Cuba from Jan. 26, the Korean monk met with state administrators and officials of private organizations to share his vision of Korean Buddhism in Cuba.

On the streets, he was a walking amusement to children.

"The kids would join their palms and bow when they found me out on the streets in my grey robe. I think they've seen enough Chinese kung fu movies."

The monk himself was amused, too, when the children burst into dance to the beat of his block.

Ven. Jingwan's Cuban visit was arranged by a civil organization that supports cultural ties between Korea and Cuba.

The organization is pushing to invite Alexander Castro, a photographer and son of Fidel Alejandro Castro, the former First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba, to Korea for a visit.

In July, the junior Castro is slated to have 25 pieces of his work displayed in an exhibition in Korea. Buddhist circles are pinning hopes on holding the exhibition in one of the galleries run by Jogye Temple in central Seoul.

Also on the prospective invitation list is Aleida Guevara, the daughter of Ernesto "Che" Guevara, Argentine Marxist revolutionary and a key figure of the Cuban Revolution. Ven. Jingwan said he would like to invite the younger Guevara to a temple stay at Jingwan Temple in Seoul, operated by Buddhist nuns, to show the rich culture of Korean Buddhism.

In the future, Ven. Jingwan will organize a group of Buddhist missionaries to Cuba.

"Cuba is a country of islands and archipelagos with easy access to the (Caribbean) sea. The country is warm in winter, and will make an excellent spot to build a temple alongside the beach, to welcome the Buddhist monks to contemplate."

The monk also said the Buddhist circles in Korea, China and Japan could join hands in passing down the teachings of Buddhism of Far East Asia.


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