The Meaning of Suffering
Looking down from the tower of history as from a high peak to survey the hills and plains below, one sees a panorama of historical changes that happened over the centuries-the wanderings, the falterings and falls, the agonies and outcries. All is seen plainly, like a meandering stream.
There is one more thing we should see. That is the history which survives in the national life as well as in the lives of each of us. Let us see what the forty centuries of a history of suffering have left as marks on our forehead, in our tone of voice, in our nature. Let us descend from the high tower and go down for a closer look at the face of the sufferer. Weighed down with centuries of suffering, Korea was sapped of its life. Its soul lost its overflowing vigor, its mind lost its calm. Korea was made weak, disheartened. Today, Koreans are passive and withdrawn. They readily lapse into a conservative cast of mind. They are awkward and obstinate. From the Koryeo period onward their religion and literature, art and custom withered and dwindled. No more can one find any thought or work with vitality, magnificence and elegance such as marked the Three Kingdoms period. The pain of suffering is inscribed deep in the backbone, the face, the voice and the heart.
In religion, the pivot of life, signs of agony are unmistakable. In form, at least, both Confucianism and Buddhism prospered after Koryeo. Buddhism reached its peak in the preceding Silla period, and carried on from there. Confucianism prospered in the opening years of, Koryeo and, after a spell of decline, rallied with the coming of Neo-Confucianism from Sung China to continue in full vigor into the following Yi period.
Certainly some outstanding leaders occasionally appeared but it was neither a wholesome Confucian thought nor a deep Buddhist faith that governed life for the multitude. In form you may call Korea a Buddhist nation or a nation steeped in Confucian tradition. But does Korea have a true living faith and morality enabling it to rise above suffering? The answer is no. Koreans were choked by the suffering that bore down on them. They were unable to breathe spiritually. They created an unhealthy atmosphere, a fatalist view of life, repeatedly breathing in the unclean air which they exhaled.
Fatalism, of course, is not exclusively Korean. It is to be found in any society in which intelligence sinks to low levels and becomes vulnerable to elemental forces. In antiquity, the people of the Orient were prone to fatalism, but nowhere has its harm been greater than in Korea. The reason? We are pressed down with suffering.
Fatalism is a philosophy for the oppressed. It is imprisonment of life, a faith embraced by the slave. The winner over suffering gains a fighter's view of life, like Prometheus. The one who gives in to suffering, on the other hand, turns to fatalism. The people of Korea became enslaved to fatalism when they began to retreat from the frontlines of life, overwhelmed by the repeated onsets of suffering. They lost faith. They forgot that their spirit was invincible. Faith is what makes one invincible. Because this was lost , because the soul withered, imprisonment followed.
Once this thought took hold, the soul of the nation began to degenerate. It produced no more enterprising minds. It lost the will to plan ahead. So fate took away our past as well as our future. Now everything from the birth and death of individuals to the rise and fall of dynasties was put down to fate, something arranged ahead of time by heaven. Accordingly, suffice it to learn your fate in advance, to interpret destiny written down in advance. There was no need to explore the future or to investigate. The whole nation became believers in geomancy and fortune telling. The rulers of the Yi government, interested in corralling the people into a small enclosure the harsher to exploit them, took advantage of popular superstition, even encouraged it. The government made the whole people blind so as to make its own position stronger, vaunted its prowess inside this small land and delighted in diminutive glory. Its favorite practice was to make a stone monument and bury it to be dug out later, or to fabricate a book of divination and spread its contents among the populace. By such means the officials nipped in the bud any idea of revolution and aborted innovative spirits. They hung incantations about heavenly dispensation like a millstone around the necks of the people. The poor populace, accepting sufferings caused by the wicked rulers as an act of God, sank into a sea of hopelessness. How can one forget the excruciating pains they felt? The populace were in despair, but their hopes of being spared of suffering never really died. This gave rise to ideas of awaiting an auspicious time of heaven or the arrival of some superhuman leader. Suffering at the moment, they reasoned, was inevitable but the way of heaven must be fair and just. So instead of making any effort on their own, they waited for a change in heavenly dispensation. That is why there have been so many quasi-religions and manmade cults in our land.
Nevertheless, fatalism is not far from the idea of Providence. In difference the two are one hundred and eighty degrees apart, but for that very reason their starting point is the same. It will not require a major conversion for this nation to enter a higher faith. Despair can easily become trust, stagnation change into Úlan. Whether it is to be faith or fate will depend on the presence or lack of a unifying moral meaning.
Many say that Korea's art is an art of sorrow, and this is not untrue. It is true, at least of the works of the Koryeo period and thereafter, although not for the works of the Three Kingdoms period and earlier. Art is an expression of the self, a reflection of life. If life is suffering, and the heart is in pain, how can the song it sings, the picture it draws not be without sorrow and pain? In the volume of cultural legacy extant, Korea is poverty-stricken. The bulk of what remains belongs to earlier periods. Works of art become scarcer as they become closer to recent periods. Everything we see bears witness to a history of suffering.
Poetry is said to be the quintessence of literature. In ancient times Korea seems to have been a nation of songs, but what remains is barely enough for archeological study. There are many songs of the recent past that are popular among ordinary people. Most of these are given over to lamentation or to catering to coarse and decadent tastes seeking ease of the moment. None are remotely comparable to the Psalms or the Vedas of ancient India. Leaving aside the ancient songs, we have no Dante, no Milton. Setting our sights lower than such soul-awakening poetry of life, we have no folk songs on such themes as the simplicity and goodness of the folkways and the vigor of youth, not even anthems arousing a nation's spirits in a show of magnanimity and passion such as La Marseillaise. This is the story of how the nation's soul has withered away and how its ideals have perished. You cannot expect a slave to break into song. When we recall how the people of the Three Kingdoms and Pohai (palhae) were noted for poetry and how they sometimes sang and danced for days on end, this loss of poetry is deplorable indeed. Just as hard labor takes song away from prisoners, so the centuries of suffering deprived this nation of song and poetry.
In the name of reviving our original culture, songs like Arirang and Yangsando are nowadays even taught in schools. This is nauseating. From times of 'old music has been encouraged by the state because music ha much to do with the temper and sensibilities of the nation. But not every thing proper to a country is good just because it is original. Is it not true that even in ancient times people avoided the songs of a state that was o its way down? Jazz does not necessarily represent the best in America.Arirang and Yangsando are not songs we sang while building our cultural edifice, but rather while we were tearing it down or while we were in flight. A new rising nation would not sing such songs. The term "original is fine, but these songs make us think of decline and decadence. Would you like to have such songs sung by girls who will be mothers of great souls participating in the building of a new society? Lacking songs we can be proud of, we should write new ones.
In recent decades popular literature has grown elsewhere. Stories and novels have been popular in Korea as well. But except for military commanders and wars, it has been a literature largely about running away from the real world or about the agony of life. Such works as the Tale of Simch'eong, the Tale of Chunhyang, and the Story of the Lady Sa's Journey to the South, reputed masterpieces, all represent a portrait of the suffering queen.
There are many beautiful works of sculpture, paintings and artifacts of the time of Koryeo, but even the works of Koryeo were inferior to the earlier ones of Kogury6 and Silla. When we come to Yi Korea, the quality drops even more: so full of indolence, one cannot bear to look at them. Look, for instance, at the murals still to be seen inside the ancient tombs of Kogury6, in Kangseo, or the sculptures of Silla still to be seen in the Pulguksa temple and the Sokkuram cave. Beside works of later periods, they are incomparable in the splendor of their conception, the superb quality of their craftsmanship. You can see at a glance that the earlier works are living while the later ones are mere imitations of the earlier models. This decline is not because the gift of the artist has changed. Koreans are born with remarkable talent for art. Art in essence is a matter of portraying one's own face, but what happened was that the face became covered with dirt, and it became lifeless. The moment you wash off the dirt to bring out the real face and bring back strength to weakened arms by moving them, the art too will come back.
Architecture, of all forms of art, best expresses popular ideals. By its architecture one can tell how broadminded the nation and how talented. Korean architecture is necessarily a portrait of ourselves. In the remains of old city walls, old tombs, former palace sites still standing in Manchuria, Pyeongyang, Kyeongju and other places, we can discern the grand scale, something still alive. This is because their planners and builders had craftsmanship and magnanimous spirit. Later architecture, as one comes down to the more recent periods, dwindles in scale, harmony and vigor, telling of the diminution in dreams and techniques of their builders.
Just take a look at a cluster of thatched cottages huddled by the eroded banks of a stream, like so many crab shells, under a hill cut bare of trees. Who can help feeling that these are "nests of sorrow?" What does their flatness stand for but a lack of spirit? Their low roofs covered over with a thatch, what are they but a symbol of the way of life, cowed and stunned, half asleep in poverty? Look at the window in a dirt wall. It is not large enough to let in the sun. In the murk of a half-lit room how can there be a cheery mood? Rather call it a cave of cares. In a house with primitive toilet and awkward scullery, how can anyone expect to have a base from which to carry on a steady battle of life? Rather it is an overnight shelter for a weary traveler thankful only for the night's rest.
Even our daily customs are stamped with the brand of suffering in many ways. Probably no other people has been as lacking in taste in their way of living. Well-to-do homes are exceptions. The ordinary home has no flower garden to speak of. People do not even care to plant flowers. By way of trees, apricot and peach are the limit. For flowers, at best you have cockscombs (Celosia cristata) and garden balsams (Impatiens balsamina). Peonies are strictly for the aristocrats. The much favored four themes: plum, orchid, chrysanthemum and bamboo--are known only in paintings. Japanese farmers at least have a potted flower or two around the house and Manchurian coolies raise their cages of larks, but these Koreans have scarcely anything. Every nation has a national flower and a national symbol but we have no such thing. The hibiscus has been put forward, and only recently. Even so, it was promoted with politics in mind rather than as a matter of taste. Nobody attaches any meaning to the hibiscus. These people know no joy of life; they have never had the liberality of mind to relish life. Always drowsing, always scowling.
Another fact that shows the growth of apathy is that festivals are disappearing. Festivals were originally religious rites. With the disappearance of the primitive religions of bygone days, the annual events associated with them naturally disappear, too. The general breakdown of traditional culture is probably another cause. In other countries, festivals may lose their original religious significance but gradually change into and continue on as a form of art. A festival is a kind of spiritual revival. It is a time when all distinctions of age and sex, rich and poor, noble and common, talented and clumsy, good and bad, are forgotten. Old cares and sorrows, accumulated rubbish and debts are swept away, and all become as one in their evident humanness. The idea is for everyone to let go and enjoy oneself to the point of ecstasy. One cannot live without such release. That is why we have the festival of the fifth moon, the festival of the eighth moon, and Christmas eve. In our country, these festivals have been on the way out. Poverty may account for this decline, but there are other reasons more important. They are hard to pin down. Could it perhaps be that national life is ebbing? According to ancient records our nation was not at all pessimistic in outlook or lacking in taste, so it cannot be that. It is only because our living has hit bottom.
Another point to take note of is the makeshift way of doing things. It is a lack of steadiness, of planning, of being thoroughgoing. Not "for good" but "for now;" not "to the end" but "more or less" not "complete" but "just about" This attitude applies to the structure of the home, to the style of clothing, to the way of living, to the approach to industry. There is so much stone everywhere in the country, but how is it that people have not developed the art of building with stone? If the house is not going to be just for an overnight stay, why then are toilet, sink, even entranceway so makeshift? There is little difference between door and window, or between a place for eating and a place for sleeping. When work is something one does day in and day out, why are there no separate work clothes?
Why, when a person's trade is a life's career, is one trade not clearly marked off from another? In other countries not only is a trade pursued through a lifetime, but in many cases it is passed down from generation to generation. In Korea, a hereditary trade is rare, except for farming. This promises little possibility of development. A trade for most Koreans has been a means of earning a living, not something to inspire pride or sense of mission, so that few have tried to improve the techniques handed down to those who come later. A desire to experiment or improve, to venture and explore, to invent and discover has been lacking.
In this land inhabited for fifty centuries, there is no grand aqueduct or canal. In this land of mountains, people have been more interested in cutting trees than planting them. In a land surrounded by sea on three sides, navigation and fishing are in a wretched condition. That has been the way with Korea ever since the end of the Three Kingdoms period, always downhill, never up. Political relations surely matter, but culture is not entirely dependent on politics. Even the best of nations may from time to time experience political rises and falls, as a result of interaction with other nations, but people should never let go of their creative spirit. When there is a sustained spirit of creation, something gone wrong politically can be corrected. What troubles me is not so much political misfortune itself as the weakening of cultural awareness and historical spirit because of it.
All these shortcomings of Koreans are a burden the tyrant of suffering imposed on our backs. Instead of overcoming its weight, we have fumbled on our dreary way day after day like a convict awaiting death, with no pleasures or interests, no plans, no hope. Koreans greet one another with "Have you had your meal?" and show courtesy at table with "Help yourself to more! Even before looking up to see if it is fine or cloudy, even before inquiring if the other person is feeling fine this morning or this evening, one asks if the other has had a meal. At every step of the way, at work or while walking, a sigh will escape, "Oh, I could die! One will say, "It's so nice I could die, it's so bad I could die, it's so sad I could die . . ." expressing every feeling in terms of dying, such has been the way of life. Are these not people walking along the bottom of existence?
I shall now complete the picture I have been drawing with my inadequate skill, with my even more inadequate heart. Inadequate skill not because I may detract from the beauty but because I may fail to bring out the ugliness, the misery, to the full. Inadequate heart because I wish to see the meaning of it all in myself.
Have you ever seen a work of sculpture called "The Old Courtesan" by the well-known French master Rodin? I cannot avoid the feeling that this work is the very image of Korea. As I remember it, an old woman is sitting, her torso bent forward, a hand behind her back with the fingers bent in pain, the other hand resting limply on her seat. Her head is hung low. She is emaciated, bones showing through; her neck is thin and stringy, her chest caving in; she is decrepit and infirm with age. Her once golden and proud hair is now gray and unkempt; her once clear eyes which used to wink at many a man are sunk deep in the sockets, hardly visible. Her once red lips that whispered affection are shriveled and pursed for lack of teeth. Her breasts that once charmed countless playboys are withered and ugly, covering a heart sunk in grief.
I imagined how in her better days she must have disported herself under the illusion that her youth and beauty would last forever; then, taking another look at her present image, I was moved with grief. Living all her life for others, she was oppressed, she was walked over, handled like a thing, treated like an animal. Not only that, but she despised herself, lost her own self. And what price is she paying now? In her whole body what is left is only a record of filth, what is left in her heart nothing more than sad memories. In the whole world, there is no one to take pity, no one to rescue her. None of the fellows who loved her and played with her in the years gone by bothers to take a second look at her. Under a perpetual social punishment, she cannot but throw her wretched existence on the mercy of a society which spurns her. Such were my thoughts, and I too spat on her in contempt.
But, readers, the woman did not let me go. The downcast unseeing eyes and the sealed lips that did not speak demanded of me something more than sorrow and scorn. Yes, something more had to be shown her. We owe her respect, because she took upon herself the sins of society. Old whore, all this you took and carried on your frail shoulders, society's ignorance and cruelty, meanness and falsehood, the beast that is in man, the devil that is hidden behind personality. That is why you were robbed of your virginity and lost your humanity, wasted your youth. Thanks to you the gentlemen can assume their dignity, the ladies vaunt their purity. Society should apologize to you and pay you homage.
Great master indeed was Rodin to discover solemn beauty in the filth that everybody spits on. To this aged whore sitting in misery for centuries by the side of the highroad leading out from the Asian continent to the Pacific, to this queen of suffering we should bow our heads with respect, in sorrow and solemnity.
We are now reaching the end of our historical journey. But we have to go a step further; we have to perceive ourselves as sufferers and with the heart of a sufferer we have to experience the pain in ourselves. It seems that we are born into this world to suffer. Throughout our history of over four thousand years until this very day we have not known a period of peace. Just count the number of wars mentioned in the records. There were over a hundred, of which fifty to sixty were foreign invasions, leaving out civil disturbances. As many as thirty of them were of nationwide scope. Other than wars fought by Kogury6, all these were fought within our own borders, defensive wars from start to finish, usually ending in our defeat.
Is not the history of humankind after all a history of tears and blood?
We are not the only ones who suffer. All humanity suffers. Still, suffering is not a natural phenomenon without feeling and sentiment. Nor is it a trick of cruel fate. It is God's providence. As Gandhi, a great soul of India, said, "Suffering is a principle of human life. " We cannot conceive of life without suffering. Death is an end of life, disease is a part of the body. The road to the cross is the way of life. Suffering cleanses sin. Suffering washes life clean as soda washes dirt away. A soul damaged and soiled by iniquity can be restored only by the bitterness of suffering. Suffering gives depth to life. When wrinkles appear on the forehead, deep wisdom is born inside. Only by letters written with blood, by pictures drawn with tears, by songs sung with sighs can the deep meaning of life be expressed. Anyone with a two dimensional, a purely secular world view has not tasted the bitter cup of suffering.
Suffering makes life greater. Life takes a step forward after enduring suffering. Persecution fosters a magnanimity to accept one's enemy. By enduring poverty and penalty one can obtain freedom and nobility of heart. At the onset of suffering one must become either an opponent of Satan or a friend of God. Suffering, while taking away from the flesh, refines the soul. Suffering brings loss and pain but for a time, while the worth and meaning it brings are eternal. For an individual as for a nation great character is a gift of suffering.
Suffering leads life to God. People have sought God, source of life, only through 'suffering, just as the prodigal son sought his father only after he tasted hunger. Israel's religion grew under Egyptian oppression and through suffering in the wilderness. Indian philosophy reached the Brahman (the highest principle of the universe) as it was fighting alien tribes and savage nature. If, as they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions, the way to God is paved with malice. Through the lens of eyes wet with tears will one see the kingdom of heaven. Only in suffering can one find the end of the thread leading to reason, and if one follows it, one can reach the gateway to eternity.
Suffering is, as Gandhi says, "an inevitable condition of our life. " He said in effect: Men have to offer self-sacrifice and endurance at the altar of freedom. Although mortification and oppression strain their strength of endurance to the breaking point, only those who endure to the end will be saved. These words are the truth. Only by doing so can people achieve true freedom, true swaraj (self-rule). Only by doing so can they find true happiness, only by doing so can they win true victory. Gandhi held that "purification through suffering" is an eternal verity, and that no country has ever risen without observing this law, and that India too has to hold to it if it is to be freed from bondage. That being the case, neither can Korea be exempted from this law. Korea's history has been one of suffering because it is agape that produces history.
We have to suffer. We have to suffer for our sins. We try to run away from each disaster that befalls us, and sigh over it. Until we abandon our partisanship and cease to feel jealous, until we learn to do right by the just, tribulations will be always with us. This must be so under God's eternal law. What are these sins? The sin of losing self, the sin of not seeking after meaning. Losing self is losing God, not seeking after meaning is not seeking after life. We have to suffer to change our two-dimensional view of life. We have to undergo even worse suffering to become true to self, to wipe out our attitudes of makeshift, to be delivered of our escapism. It is absolutely necessary for us to become equal to our mission in the new history that is dawning on us. We need to go through the narrow gate of suffering that will ruthlessly tear all things of the past from us in order for us to be harbingers of a philosophy of higher morality, broader and more forward-looking.
Arise then all those laden with suffering. Agony deepened in the night over Gethsemane, the brook Kidron has been crossed. The end is drawing near. As the king of suffering, two thousand years ago, drank his bitter cup and hurried to the cross, let us gladly bear our burden and go down to the last rapids, and there shed our rags that marked us as beggars. All other possessions we held dear will be cast aside here those we picked up, when our vision was dimmed, from the rubbish heap of others. We will also part with those documents handed down from our fathers, all those papers we so jealously guarded, even clutching them in hand as we slept. These are all IOUs of poor neighbors. Let us also forgive those who grabbed our land, for it is no more your land or mine. Let us forgive those who murdered our grandfathers and fathers, for it is no more your people or my people, your home or mine. Let the stream sweep away all our grudges and angers, angers we felt to the marrow of our bones, angers that left us grinding our teeth as they carried away our young ones, all our bitterness that we harbored as our maidens were taken away by brutes, as our wives were outraged before our eyes. Across these rapids lies Golgotha, but what is it to the king of suffering? Only bear your burden, bear it with love, with faith, with hope.
Have the Koreans been given a global mission? Reforming our way of living we certainly have heard of. Social betterment, yes. Today, we hear a great deal about a variety of national movements. But I have yet to hear anyone calling with confidence for a mission for us in the interest of humankind. You may perhaps feel that being part of the free world and doing our share in the anti-communist cause is global mission enough. It is not enough.
What I have in mind is something more meaningful, something undertaken on a spiritual level, not participation in something everyone else is doing. Discover for yourself work to do and carry out the work staking your whole being on it--then the work is rightly your mission. So long as a nation holds on to an ideal to which it aspires and feels committed to its mission, it will not perish.
Awakening to one's mission is the strongest motive force for regeneration. If a falsified world mission can stir the masses for a time to an astounding level of activity, what great things can be wrought with a mission of universal historical significance, based on truth and underwritten by the justice of God? Let Koreans awake to their world mission if they want to clear themselves of the ignominy of a defeated nation.
What we should note about Mencius is that he always speaks of the world ideal, "let peace prevail over the world." This is what sets Mencius apart, and statesmen and teachers through the ages have made it a point to read him. His ideal begins with goodness of heart. It is our conviction that the goodness of heart given us at birth, a gift our fathers fostered with care even before they scaled the Hsinganling range, is the stuff that will enable us, if we set our heart on it, to fulfill our mission in the world.
Through the long years of suffering this admirable quality has survived, not without scars. The scars are such that one begins to get the feeling that Koreans may have by now acquired an opposite temperament. Some casual observers from abroad venture the opinion that Koreans are cruel by nature. That is not so.
We ought to believe in our benevolence. Our benevolent nature will not perish so easily. It took us a long time before benevolence became par of our nature. Next to this, the fifteen centuries following the Three Kingdoms are like nothing. Let us not lose heart.
We still have hope. But we find it no more convincing, faced as we are with what is going on in Korea today, than was Mencius's suggestion to bewildered king beset by trouble all around him in the warring period that he still retained the "heart that cannot bear." A great teacher always focuses on what is inside. No one of commonsense can conceive of Korea as capable of fulfilling a global mission, short of reversing ordinary stand ards of judgment. But changes can take place in standards of judgment That is what happens in the world of faith. Faith turns the world upside down. From a position of faith, what passes as great in this world turn out to be little, what the world holds right and noble turns out wrong and base.
When the morning sun clears the eastern hill, the crest of hills on the west is the first to come into sight. Just such a thing is already happening A civilization which has so far upheld principles of the stronger preying on the weaker is beginning to realize that its objective is a mirage after all Surely history will soon reverse its direction. Otherwise the world will no escape total obliteration. It is for this reason that we say we have a mission. Up to now history has been one of struggles for grabbing and taking, but unless humankind chooses to eliminate itself, history from now or has to be one of moral struggle.
We bear the burden of the world. It seems as if the civilizations of the East and West push their dregs off toward us. Buddhism from India and Confucianism from China, with all their fine virtues, left behind their every abuse once they crossed the Yalu into Korea. The thought of Europe and the civilization of the United States, for all their benefit, spread only their deadly poison as they landed at the port of Pusan.
The undesirable features of Eastern civilization are passivity, conservatism and formalism. We alone seem to have been the recipient of their worst effects. The weaknesses of Western civilization are in their acquisitive, predatory and all-on-the-surface aspects, and their sharpest fangs seem to have sunk into us alone. Like a rubbish heap that catches leftover food, the evil off-scourings of others' pleasure-seeking and consumption have all been unloaded on our frail shoulders. The land of scenic beauty is now a museum of misfortunes. The thirty million population is a laboratory of iniquity.
If anyone desires to see the misfortunes and effects of iniquity in the world in all their aspects, all one has to do is come to Korea: here you will find abuses of Confucianism and Buddhism, examples of militarism, slavery under capitalism. We are made a sewer of world history. But, people of the world, you should thank us for this sewer. For is it not this sewer that allows you to go on with your delights in the palace of pleasure. Great is the sewer of world history.
Herein is our mission: to bear our load of iniquity without grumbling, without evading and with determination and in seriousness. By bearing the load we can deliver ourselves and the world as well. The results of iniquity will never vanish without someone bearing their burden. For the sake of God and humanity we must bear it. We did not volunteer for it. It is for our misdeeds that it was turned over to us. But also it was part of God's design. Not that He hates us nor that He loves us. He did it because He hates us and also loves us. Does it hurt to bear the burden? Yes, it hurts to the point of dying. It has a sweetness that none but the bearer can hardly imagine. Is it disgrace? Yes. Utter disgrace, so that you are too ashamed to hold your head up. But it is honor also, a glory unknown in this world. All through that long history we have waited, waited without making any creditable performance. Mistreated in a corner, we thought the night was nearly over.
Now it is time for us to elevate world history to a higher plane by taking charge of the world's iniquity. That is what history's sewer is for. Lowly work cannot be done without a high, principled mind; small work requires a broad mind. To clear away dirt one needs a heart that refuses to be soiled; to dispose of sins one needs a noble soul which no sin can affect. For this work God has given us goodness of heart, the "heart that cannot bear," or benevolence. For thousands of years we have never invaded another's land nor have we rejected any nation unless it harmed us. In trying to be safe, we have occasionally taken subservience for goodness, apathy for magnanimity, resignation for faith. This was a mistake. To bear the burden of iniquity does not mean to be servile. To be a sewer does not mean to become dirty. A filthy disagreeable work, in the eyes of the age, is a glory unsurpassed, a joy without end if seen from the next generation. To this end you will need utmost courage and determination, backed with strength for a high moral battle, a battle without precedent. As life is a battle, history can never be without battle. Fighting with violence and hatred such as has been will pass and will be followed by a new form of fighting, of which Jesus said, "I have overcome the world" The war he declared will unfold in earnest in the coming world. There we who have been the last will have to be the first.
The major nations of the world today are frantically waging the old fashioned war of seizure. We on our part ought to make preparations for the coming war. Courageous and daring were early Christians in standing up to the Roman empire and we too should be as courageous and daring as we face modern civilization. We should muster strength so that we can give away our shirts as well to those who may take our coats, so that we can serve them with brotherly love should they use us as their slaves, so that we can pray, "Lay not this sin to their charge! As Gandhi said, suffering is not for the weak but for the strong. To believe in a power greater than your own is the way of suffering. Our battle is not one of shifting our misfortune onto someone else: it is willingly accepting the consequences of iniquity to save the life of the world. Until our conscience is sure and ready we will certainly tremble, afraid that we are too weak. But the moment the light of righteousness shines in our hearts, kindling a love for truth in us, we will discover the armed states of the age are so many Goliaths.
The future of the world depends entirely on whether we win or lose. Incredible? If you still believe it is impossible, then you may as well disbelieve the story of David who saved Israel with a single stone. Or consider a case in which whole legions of a nation were defeated without even a stone: Gandhi who freed India. Determining the future of the world is not going to be our own doing: Providence so orders us. It is a historical necessity. The consequences of the world's iniquities are laid on us, and if we fail in cleansing them, then there is no one else to do it. Hence, it is our mission, to which only we are equal. Neither Britain nor America can cope with it, for they are too well-off, too highly placed, to do it.
If the Koreans, Indians, Jews and Blacks, each overcoming their sufferings resulting from iniquities, come into their own, humankind is bound for salvation. Otherwise, this world is doomed. Through us it has to be demonstrated that a person is not slave to things, that might is not right, that might will never win over right in the end. That forces of iniquity cannot put an end to human life must be proved through us. We have to bear witness to the truth that love will conquer Satan and that mankind will be saved through our suffering. We should testify before the world to the fact that sin vanishes only through forgiveness. It is in this sense that the destiny of all humankind hangs on us.
Manchuria, cradle of our history, proved unfit as a place to evolve our ancient culture because it awaited more advanced intellect before it could be fully opened up. Who knows but that people of peace are not waiting in the wings to turn Manchuria into their base of activities for carrying out their global mission--when all wild beasts are driven out, the mounted brigands mopped up, geographic surveys completed, scientific explorations conducted, when wilderness is opened for cultivation, mines are developed, cultural facilities built up.
But it takes people of truth. Future history will be made apparent only to those with the eye for religious faith. For future war will be fought on the level of truth and it will be won by faith. Confucianism has fallen short of its work; Buddhism has fallen short of its work; and so has the Christian religion. In the meantime the whole world has changed.
A new religion is needed. An air of uneasiness hangs heavily over the world. But this is merely smoke from a smoldering fire before the flames flare up--first announcements of a great age to come. Soldiers, sell your clothes and buy swords. This is no ordinary generation. Sell the clothing of old notions, of institutions, of formalities and ceremonies to buy the double-edged sword of truth. Dispose of all old religions, old views of the world, old philosophies of history, old conscience, secular morals, earthly thought. With the money buy a sword of truth, a sword of sterling purity carefully fashioned by a hallowed smith in the forge of eternity. That sword alone will serve our purpose.
Such a morality as can keep its dignity only in schoolrooms and becomes powerless once outside will serve no purpose in the coming history. Equally useless is a faith such as sheds tears of piety only in church but which dry up the moment one walks out, such aristocratic religions as create hell for the perpetual confinement of the majority of the poor to keep a few in happiness. A patriotism based on a philosophy of struggle for existence will be rejected in the coming world. We love this land of ours not from any so-called patriotism but because there is no other place for the kingdom of heaven to come. We love our masses not from any socalled patriotic love but because leaving them out, we would have nowhere else to hear God's voice, because without them it would be impossible to have God's will be made plain. That this people have to be themselves is no assertion of a right to existence but of truth itself. One nation's misfortune is the ache of the whole universe--God's grief. The day when its soul is fully armed with truth Korea will be the soldier battling for the new age.
The noblest of human qualities is the ability to reflect on oneself. A nation cannot be wise until it gains the right understanding of its own history, particularly its modern history, the hardest of all to understand. History is a nation's education of itself. For this reason politics has to be an education; not only does one govern, but one also has to lead the people and exercise moral influence on them. Confucius said that having the people fight wars without teaching them is to forsake them.
Education should not be limited to reading, writing and arithmetic, that is, teaching young people the art of earning a livelihood. Education should provide them with some idea of how to manage the country properly. Nevertheless, politics is not the ultimate goal, for people have to rise to still higher planes spiritually and religiously. Yet as politics sets the framework in which all major human activities take place, things people do are unavoidably tied to politics.
Looking back over what has been happening since the liberation, have we made progress or have we been going backward? Seen in terms of progress toward freedom, our history since the liberation has been a step forward in regaining our national freedom.
However, from another aspect, it has been a retrogression. Although there has been some apparent increase of freedom on the outside, we have also sustained loss of freedom on the inside. If achieving the fullest freedom for the individual is a political objective, post-liberation history shows that while we have attained freedom as nation, personal liberty has steadily decreased. While our slogan has been democracy, the twenty years after the liberation have been steadily moving toward dictatorship. National liberation was in name only; so there have been calls for national liberation to be followed by social liberation. Freedom cannot be real until it reaches the individual. The period after the liberation has had freedom on the outside but none on the inside. But if you go deeper you find freedom. While political drift toward dictatorship appears to diminish freedom, rebellion has grown in the popular mind. The masses have been awakening, and this is progress. History by nature is progress in absolute terms; history's progress, with all its little ups and downs, represents a movement forward. To believe this is to understand history.
Let us first consider the causes for the failures in our history which have led to the confusion of today. The first is poverty. The second, foreign interference. Foreign countries, which helped bring about the liberation, regarded our liberation solely as their own working. As they acted accordingly, the path before us has not been smooth. The third cause is mistakes made by our politicians, which hardly need discussion. The fourth is the spiritual weakness of the people, that is, historical inertia or perverse habits of long standing. Spiritual weakness is the greatest of all causes, for a strong spirit could have overcome the other causes. The fifth is the erroneous judgment on the part of the people. The human being is spiritual and spirit is freedom. What distinguishes spirit is that it can overcome inertia, which operates in the physical world. It is not easy, but it can be done. A true determination could have overcome the old habits. But we failed.
Let us take one or two of those mistakes. We assented to the establishment of the 38th parallel. The line was drawn by the big powers in their wanton desire to exploit our country for their purposes. We could have refused it but we failed to do so. Reliance on foreign aid is another mistake. The idea that the country cannot be run without foreign assistance is a bad habit that developed after the liberation. Failure to come to terms with Japan immediately after the liberation was a mistake. In the first flush of heightened emotion on our part and the prevailing mood of contrition on their part, negotiations could have set the two countries on their right path. But we failed. What we have done has been hasty, imprudent and ill-thought-out--this shows a lack of confidence.
It was a tragedy that the April 19 (1960) revolution which led to the fall of Syngman Rhee was followed a year later by the May 16 (1961) coup. If Syngman Rhee made mistakes, it is not enough to judge his mistakes only in terms of morality. Being an individual, he is subject to moral judgment. But since an individual acts not only as an individual but also in the perspective of history, what is necessary is to find out his purpose in history. We have to determine why he had to be there when he was, why in Syngman Rhee's time there could only be political figures of his type.
In essence, what was the April 19 revolution and what was the May 16 coup? The one is an expression of intellect, the other one of materialism. The coming of the May 16 coup after the April 19 revolution means that materialism clashed with intellect and overpowered it for a time. It was a clash between idealism and realism. The criticisms against the West European-type of democracy that gained volume following the May 16 coup, the arguments for political stability and "national democracy," and diplomatic moves based on advantages all bear this out. The habit of falling back on foreign aid and the call for foreign capital speak of this conflict. The gravest error perpetrated after the liberation was the total neglect of the national spirit.
Today the conflict takes the form of students confronting soldiers. The military retreated in the first battle. During the April 19 demonstrations the military did not dare open fire on the students; national conscience and judgment were still alive. The May 16 coup was a physical reaction against April 19. The rebellious slogan criticized the "ineptness" of the Democratic Party (which succeeded Syngman Rhee's government). Worship of power had its beginnings, and the military swept everything before them. Colleges and universities were stormed by troops and politically undesirable professors were removed.
The remedy for this tragedy is restoration of moral principles. A country in which students clash with soldiers is a mad country; it testifies to the bankruptcy of national character; it is a national crisis. This crisis has to be overcome at all costs; if we fail, the country and the people will surely perish. Students throwing stones at soldiers, are you aware of this? Resistance oblivious of self will come to ruin. Soldiers trampling on students, are you out of your mind? Whether strength is alive or dead, strength oblivious of self is brute force, not human strength. This has to be corrected, moral principles have to be restored. And for this, reason without passion must prevail; thinking people have to teach others.
Today, everyone deplores the lack of major personalities. Who can lead the nation? What kind of persons would make leaders and where can we hope to find them? In troubled times such as we are going through we need able persons with unbending will. However, we must remember that history deals with people, people with knowledge, emotion and will, and not with things, the more so today because this is an age of the masses with self-awareness and a sense of self-identity. What we need is ability of the masses, ability of the whole. The time is gone forever for dictatorship by a genius. Let us remember what time it is in history. Knowledge is needed in order to achieve ability for the masses, for the whole. So the qualification for a leader is intellect rather than ability.
Moral principles are even more urgent for the leader. By moral principles one can experience the whole within oneself. A modern version of this is the constitution. The virtues of a good king of the past have now been written into a constitution. There is no surviving the crisis facing us today unless the ruler has enough virtue to act according to the constitution, an expression of the wishes and wisdom of the whole people. Self-confidence is necessary but the wrong kind of self-confidence will lead the ruler astray. Therefore, a constitution is absolutely necessary to guarantee full freedom of religion and education, of speech, assembly and art.
In the kind of disarray our country finds itself in now, a vicious circle is in being. It is not very easy to tell where to break the circle, for one is dealing with a whole complex of entanglements. Wisdom and resolution lie in deciding at which point the circle should be cut. There are three crucial approaches in taking the risk of breaking the circle: wealth, power and intellect. If we make a mistake the whole country may go under. Risks involving wealth or power may promise success but will eventually end in failure. Along the highroad of history are strewn the bones of those who have fallen while on their adventure with wealth and power, in full confidence that they would find the solution at one stroke. The way to national salvation is the way of intellect, although at first it seems as if the whole country will be inundated, thrown into confusion.
Put your sword down and think hard.
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