President Moon Jae-in (front) and first lady Kim Jung-sook are seen bowing in front of a Buddha statue situated behind the presidential office after completing a hike of Bukaksan on Tuesday. (Senior Presidential Secretary for Public Communication Park Soo-hyun’s Facebook)
Cheong Wa Dae on Thursday released a photo of President Moon Jae-in putting his palms together and bowing in front of a Buddha statue located behind the presidential office, after the Buddhist community criticized the president and first lady for sitting on cornerstones of the presumed site of the temple Beopheungsa, during a hike Tuesday. The hike was organized to commemorate the opening of the southern side of Bukaksan to the public.
“President Moon appeared to be at a loss after receiving a report on the media reports that said that it was inappropriate to have sat on the cornerstones of what is thought to be the site of Beopheungsa,” Park Soo-hyun, senior presidential secretary for public communication, posted on Facebook.
Park wrote that in 2017 Moon ordered a reevaluation of the Buddha statue on Cheong Wa Dae grounds. Upon further research and review, the statue, then designated a heritage item by the city of Seoul, was elevated to a state treasure.
“President Moon’s reverence for the Buddha and respect for Buddhism are unchanging,” Park added.
Park’s social media post is seen as a response to a Buddhist newspaper article that said that sitting on the cornerstone was inappropriate behavior by the president.
“Why can’t the president understand that such light treatment of traditional culture will have a negative impact on the general public?” wrote the Ven. Tantan, director of the Central Buddhist Museum.
The incident was also criticized by the Ven. Seonggong, cultural department head of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, who said, “Even if the president and the first lady did not know (the importance of the cornerstones), it is incomprehensible that the Cultural Heritage Administration chief did not intervene at the site.”
President Moon Jae-in (center) and first lady Kim Jung-sook (left) listen to Kim Hyun-mo, head of the Cultural Heritage Administration, while sitting on the cornerstones of the presumed site of the temple Beopheungsa, on the southern trail of Bukaksan on Tuesday. (Cheong Wa Dae)
On Wednesday, the CHA released a press statement pointing out that the cornerstones on which Moon and first lady Kim Jung-sook sat on are “neither Designated Heritages nor Registered Cultural Heritages.”
“We sympathize with the criticism that the event was not prepared more sensitively in advance.” the CHA said, adding that all efforts will be made in the future to “fully preserve the precious value of Beopheungsa.”
The statement, rather than quieting criticisms over the incident, caused further controversy as it fell short of a full apology, and was seen as an excuse for Moon and Kim’s behavior.
By Kim Hae-yeon (email@example.com