Feb. 16, 2020 Sermon
There was a fire that engulfed the home of a family on Dec. 30, 2019. The family lost
the home, but the mother of the family was able to save her children. This was fine, except that the fire happened in North Korea. This mother now happens to be under investigation of the Ministry of State Security (MSS). As you know, North Korea is a dictatorship. And, its supreme leader is now a man named Kim Jong Un. Here is the problem. This family, as most families in North Korea do, had portraits of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il. Kim Il Sung is Kim Jong Un’s grandfather, and North Korea’s first leader. Kim Jong Il succeeded Kim Il Sung, and is Kim Jong Un’s father. The issue was that this women saved her children, but failed to save the photos of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jon Il.
As you may know, North Korea is a country where elections are not free and fair, critics
of the government are persecuted, media is controlled by the leadership, internet access is limited by the regime, and there is no freedom of religion. The people of North Korea are probably the most repressed in the world. There are tons of rules by which one must abide. If not, such a person would be imprisoned, tortured, or simply silenced. The following are examples of how brutal some of their rules are.
There is the “Three Generations” Rule, which refers to punishment. If someone commits
a serious crime, their immediate family can also be sent to a prison camp with them. Kim Il Sung introduced this in 1972. This is to wipe out the ‘seeds’ of class enemies. You can be
sent to a prison camp for failing to dust off a portrait of Kim Il Sung. The labor camps are
harsh. People work twelve-hour days, seven days a week. Many who are lucky to survive
have become stunted and deformed.
There is another rule that one should not access non-state-controlled media. Listening to
foreign broadcasts, watching foreign videos, or possessing dissident publications is a crime against the state. If one is caught, one can expect to be executed. If one is lucky, there are the labor camps. By the way, the internet is accessible to all. But, the contents that are allowed are all state-run.
Another rule with which most are familiar is that it is a criminal offence to leave the
country without government permission. If one defects, then it is most likely that their
family will be duly punished.
As one can see, there are rules that one must abide by, or be punished. There is no
alternative way. The government decides exactly what it expects, and everyone must follow it. There is no explanation why things must be done in a certain manner. There is only coercion to see that it is enforced. In a sense, these North Korean rules are typical of
dogma. Dogma is a term most associated with religion, in that its agreements or practices
are usually unexplained. Yet, adherents are expected to follow them.
Buddhism, and especially Mahayana Buddhism, would find it unacceptable for one to
worship photos of their leaders at the expense of losing one’s children. Nichiren Shonin
said that there is nothing greater in worth than life. Letting one’s children die in a fire
cannot compare with photos of one’s country’s leaders. For example, let us say that wehave a drawing or a photo of the Buddha in our home. In respect to the Buddha, we would try to maintain it as best as we can, even if it is a drawing. Religious dogma may require one to save the drawings at all cost. However, if a fire occurred, I am sure that the Buddha would not be angry if you were unable to save the drawings, but saved your own life instead. True Buddhism is really about getting rid of these dogmas. To value dogma over truth or one’s life does not make sense. Oftentimes, our institutions and traditions can place constraints on us and our decisions. Yet, when one’s life is in question, we must always choose life. (Eisei Ikenaga)