Omnes Sancti et Sanctæ Coreæ, orate pro nobis.

Now Blogging Afresh at Ad Orientem 西儒 - The Western Confucian

Thursday, September 25, 2003

"A Little Monk"

Last night, I watched a very enjoyable Korean film on DVD entitled A Little Monk", or Dong Seung in Korean. For more detailed information about this movie, read Anthony Leung's "A Little Monk Movie Review."

The movie is visually stunning, showing a composite of some of the most beautiful mountain temples of Korea. [All historic Buddhist temples in Korea are located in mountains, due to the suppression of Buddhism under the neo-Confucianizing Joseon Dysnasty (1392-1910).]

The title character is a child monk, whose mother abandoned him at a Buddhist monastery. In Korean, many orphans become Buddhist monks in this way.

The young monk wants nothing more than to be reunited with his mother, who had promised to return but never does. The child's eyes light up whenever a middle-aged woman visits the mountain temple in which he lives. With much anguish, he envies the childern of the nearby villages, who all have parents and brothers and sisters. His life in the temple is one of loneliness and fear.

The climax come when a rich woman who has lost her own young son agrees to adopt the boy and gets the approval of the temple master. However, at the same time, the young boy is caught by the temple master in a lie about some rabbits he trapped in order to make a stole for his lost mother. Confronted by his temple master, the young monk expresses his hatred of the Buddha.

At this point, the temple master announces to the child's would-be adoptive mother that the boy's mother had been a Buddhist nun who rejected her vows and his father a poacher of animals. Thus, the young monk is living out his parents karma. He suggests to the woman that if she truly cares about the child, she leave him at the temple to work out his karma and that of his parents. The woman reluctantly agrees. In the final scene, the little monk leaves the monastery alone to enter the world. It is winter, and the child disappears into the snow.

This is a clear, straighforward presentation of Buddhist doctrine. How different the Buddhist concept of karma is from the Christian concept of grace! Karma is something you have to work off; it is a cycle that must be broken. The sins of the parents are visited upon the children. We are tied to fate.

Grace, in contrast, is a free gift from God. We do nothing to merit it, because we are nothing in comparison with God. Our good works are a response and confirmation of the free gift from God. We have free will.

It is popular these days to say that all religions are the same. They are not. While many of the ethical underpinnings and some of the metaphysical answers of the world's religions might be the same or similar (as a result of Natural Law), their doctrines offer profoundly different world-views, which affect our every thought about life.

It would be good for many of the West's professed Buddhists to learn more about the religion they claim to practice. They would learn that it is not the values-free, feel-good system they seem to think it is.