Wednesday, March 4, 2009

religious notes

1. Interreligious relations in Bali aren't always positive, such as when the Muslim authorities issue silly fatwas against certain aspects of yoga practice.

...the Indonesian Council of Ulemas, the top religious body in the mainly Muslim country, issued a fatwa in January banning Indonesian Muslims from all forms of yoga that involve Hindu religious rituals such as chanting mantras.

It said performing yoga purely for the physical benefits was however acceptable.

The move raised the hackles of religious moderates and civil libertarian groups who accused the council of meddling in affairs over which it had no authority.

Religious edicts issued by the ulemas are not legally binding on Muslims but it is considered sinful to ignore them.

Andrini said organisers were not afraid to hold the festival at the Bajrasandi Bali Monument in Denpasar -- the capital of the Hindu-majority island of Bali -- despite the fatwa.

"I'm a Muslim myself. Our kind of yoga, which is called Patanjali, involves movement and breathing. People may recite their own mantra or prayer according to their faith," she said.

2. Brian notes an ongoing problem in Korea with Buddhist temples that charge hikers a fee to hike through land owned by the local temple. Jesus might have been on to something when he wanred about the linkage of God and Mammon, but historically speaking, religion and money have always gone hand in hand.

On the academic front, students of Korean religious history will see that the current problem is a continuation of a long and bitter conflict involving Buddhist temples, land use rights, and the local authorities.

Personally, I find it obnoxious (and hypocritical) when religious sites won't allow anyone in without paying first, but in Korea, the problem is often that temples, especially the famous ones, are as much tourist attractions as places of practice. The relevant orders (mostly Jogyae, the order that administrates the majority of Buddhist activity in South Korea, encompassing Zen [Seon], Hua Yen [Hwa Eom], Pure Land, and other strains) might have concluded that asking for a small fee is a good, practical, middle-way solution, but I'd rather that the temples moved toward a more European model, where tourists are allowed to enter the grounds for free, but are also not discouraged from leaving free-will offerings. This works well enough in Europe (Notre Dame, Chartres, and the cathedral in Fribourg, Switzerland come to mind from my own experience; you pay only to see special areas), and can also be seen here in DC: the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is free to all comers, and so is the National Cathedral.

As I mentioned, not all Korean Buddhist temples charge a fee to visit their grounds. In fact a majority don't, and to be fair, even some of the most famous temples will allow you on the grounds free of charge-- Jogyae-sa in downtown Seoul is one example; Hwagyae-sa in the northern part of Seoul is another. But you're not getting into temples like Haein-sa or Bulguk-sa without paying, and as my friend Sperwer and I discovered, the only way to avoid paying for the climb up some of Bukhan-san's trails (the mountain features several Buddhist outposts) is to start very early in the day-- before the old ajeossi gets to the ticket office and sees you stepping quietly over the chain barrier at the trailhead.


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