A South Korean monk is leading a campaign to return to Japan the stolen ancient Tathagata Buddha that was stolen by a crime ring last year. And contrary to what some of the local netizens are saying, he doesn’t believe the thieves are “heroes” because what they did goes against the values of Buddhism.
The group led by Hyemun, a 40 year old monk and including a former “comfort woman”, held a press conference last Monday to appeal to the National Research Institute of Cultural Heritage in Daejeon (who were assigned to temporarily keep the statue) and to petition the Cultural Heritage Administration of South Korea to return the statue to the Kaijinjinja shrine in Tsushima, Nagasaki Prefecture. The artefact and the other stolen statue, the seated Kanzeon Bodhisattva, are both designated tangible cultural properties by the Nagasaki Prefecture. They were stolen in October of last year and promptly recovered by the South Korean judicial authorities. But the South Korean government has been slow in deciding on whether to give the statues back to Japan or to keep it in the country, despite the demand from Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga that it be returned to the Japanese temple.
South Korean authorities are investigating whether the statues were originally of South Korean origins and should not have been in Japan in the first place. There has been support for this move to keep the artefacts in Seoul, including monks from the Jogye Order, the biggest Buddhist sect in South Korea. That is the reason why some netizens labeled the crime ring “heroes”, for “rescuing” the statues and bringing them back to their rightful owners. But Hyemun believes that stealing is a crime, even if some would say that in this situation, it is justified. A local court has ordered the government to not return the Kanzeon Bodhisattva to Japan and an official of the Cultural Heritage Administration says they have to decide on the fate of the two statues at the same time because they both were recovered from the same crime ring.
[ via Asahi Shimbun ]