Private campus tours impact SNU campus life

"[Private campus tours] are too noisy and make campus life uncomfortable," said a Seoul National University student...

[Opinion] Sound of EDM or Buddhist Enlightenment?

“Pain(Pain) from the high prices! Pain(Pain) because Monday arrived so quickly! Pain(Pain) because my friend is so well-off!” 1 belted out ancomedian turned EDM DJ, clad in the robes of a Buddhist monk. It was a surreal yet the mostcaptivating moment amid the bustling atmosphere of the 2024 Seoul International Buddhism Expo, set upon the stage at SETEC (Seoul Trade Exhibition & Convention). The ceiling-shaking,electrifying beats and the euphoric symphony of synthesizers and heavy basslines immediately quickened our pulses, yet they could make anyone wonder if it was not an oxymoron. In this public venue, designed to entertain while promoting Buddhist beliefs and cultural values, a perplexing juxtaposition unfolds. How can a faith tradition that has long vehemently emphasized detachment for its soteriological path, denouncing anything that could lead to self-indulgence, allow such a sensory-stimulating and impulse-inducing form of music and art? How could anyone have imagined, at least in a traditional mindset of Buddhism, the sound of the Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra being channeled through this vulgar, impious, and even blasphemous medium called EDM? Reception could vary depending on the respondent and how effectively the musician or organizer communicated their intended message to the audience. I think, regardless of the outcome, this perplexing scene and its associated intellectual curiosity unveil a much larger issue than merely the legitimacy or applicability of a musical genre for the Buddhist cause. In the public eye, this bizarre, eccentric, and mind-boggling presentation of Buddhism is often dismissed as mere entertainment, devoid of deeper reflection. Yet, to scholars like myself, heavily equipped with theoretical resources, this incident represents an encounter with “secularization” or “pluralization,” in a sociological sense, challenging or advancing conventional modes of religious communication. It raises the question of how willing each participant in the communication of religious teachings is to embrace and positively interpret a creative or, in some cases, norm-breaking medium. What is the nature of the problems I found in this musical performance that pleases the ears but puzzles the mind? Actually, it is my personal uneasiness derived from religious sensibilities. Like many others, not to mention my professional expertise in religion, I know, at least in principle, that the type of music, EDM, used on the stage is not suitable for the core message of Buddhism. Its particular features of hyper-stimulation and escalating tension can lead people into unwanted physical pleasure and indulgence through its sonic rollercoaster and infectious rhythms, controlling/manipulating the mind in ways contrary to Buddhist teachings. But does this matter? Who cares, and who can actually discern the alignment between faith and practice? It may be my overthinking. Nonetheless, I still think that serious issues can emerge and deepen especially when communication fails. Those who guard tradition and orthodox practice may resist, misunderstand, or outright reject innovation and creativity, fearing they compromise their faith. Similarly, communication can falter when the audience fails to grasp the genuine intention behind such creativity, focusing on “the finger” rather than “the moon,” as the famous Koan instructs. In other words, a positive reception demands an exquisite balance of understanding among all stakeholders, including the performer, the audience, and the religious host or authority—in this case, the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism. Whatever motivations may be behind this venue, if all stakeholders are satisfied with the performance, I think it is good to go for a new stage: the stage where the faith community can further engage with and reach out to the unreached. The use of EDM music may seem like a small step at the moment, but it could be a sign of a significant leap in innovating the old, albeit ineffective, means of communicating Buddhism's central tenets on liberating humanity from suffering. Of course, this incident is not unprecedented. Throughout history, religious communities have grappled with innovations, either embracing, discouraging, or outright rejecting efforts to modernize the means of their spiritual messages. Gospel music, rooted in African American cultural and musical heritage, initially faced resistance within the mainstream church. Likewise, Contemporary Christian rock, metal, hip-hop, rap, and worship dance currently pose challenges for conservative communities. In Buddhism, early monastic codes prohibited monks and nuns from performing or indulging in music. Similarly, Sufi music has long faced criticism and sometimes violent attack from conservative Islamic communities, who deem it haram. The real question is not the medium of communication itself but the successful delivery of the intended message. Religious communities can select various outward means—whether music, film, literature, or sports—to promote and realize in history their ultimate Truth, much of which I believe to be summarized as “love” and “justice.” Referring to the Buddhist concept of upaya (skillful means), I think that we can utilize any possible means if it helps alleviate humanity's suffering. Echoing the wisdom of the first century’s prominent Jewish Rabbi Hillel, the fundamental essence, or what we hold dear until death, is “love.” All the rest—be it theology, doctrines, institutions, philosophy, or EDM—is just commentary! The author is a Professor at Seoul National University's Department of Religious Studies. --Ed.

[Opinion] Unknown Waters

Being queer means that you cannot be innocent. Lying is a part of being queer, a part of queer living. Sometimes this is fairly intuitive, for example, you could think of a person in a same-sex relationship who lies to their coworkers about their partner. They may fake being in a heterosexual relationship. This is a part of survival: the facade is used to keep a job, to stay alive. Thus, lying always accompanies queer living. But dishonesty is not only about survival. You may think, in the previous example, that if there comes a world where gay people are accepted, where homophobia is overthrown, we may drop the facade. You may think that homophobia, biphobia and transphobia is the sole reason for non-innocent queerness. You may even think that saying that queerness cannot be innocent is a part of this homophobia, biphobia and transphobia. On the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia(IDAHoT), we should focus on defeating such stigma, so that queer people may live an innocent life. But is that so? We lie because we are not understandable. Sometimes this lack of understanding is as simple as social stigma, an employer may discriminate based on your sexual orientation or gender, your family may not accept your queerness. Sometimes you keep quiet to be safe. But not being understandable goes beyond discrimination. A close person may not understand your queerness – for instance, let’s say you're nonbinary. Your friend may not understand what this means, no matter how honest you are about your gender. Living in a world made of men and woman, one may not be able to wrap their head around a concept beyond this. Even if you are honest about your gender, even if you explain that you are neither man nor woman. You may not be understandable – you are alien to this person. Is this wrong? Is this a part of queer-phobia, a kind of discrimination? Even if it is, you cannot just make people understand by saying it is ‘wrong’. To combat this, we need to think more about non-understandable lives and alienness. When we fight for rights, we often fight to become understandable. However, fighting to be understandable sometimes means that we leave people behind, people that are not understandable to us. The criticism against cross-dressers in the trans rights movement is a good example. Sometimes cis-identifying cross-dressers are blamed for what people say about trans people - it is the cross-dressers, not the trans people, that objectify women and fixate gender norms. Even putting aside the complex relationship between cross-dressing and transness, this way of ‘moving the blame’ shows that trying to become understandable leaves non-understandable life behind. The problem is, there will always be people living non-understandable life. It is not only the cross-dressers, the polyamorists, the sadomasochists, or other queer people not quite accepted by the LGBTQ community. Being understandable is relative. Just as queer people are not understandable to some, incel men and TERFs may not be understandable to people in the queer rights movement. This non-understanding makes for unknown waters. Regions outside the LGBTQ community, or cross-sections between mutually non-understandable communities. These waters are as dark as the ocean floor to us, thus we think of them as dead. However, the ocean floor is teeming with life. This life is alien to us. Creatures like basket stars, sea pigs and sea spiders may seem so strange, not at all what we expect creatures to be. They are non-understandable, but only to us. They are only alien to the world where we live, as they have adapted to conditions elsewhere. Even the seemingly unlivable deep sea has life. Unknown waters always contain life – queer, non-innocent living, that may seem so alien but has evolved in its own way. I do not intend to say that we must understand everything, that we should be understanding about queer-phobic people as well as queer people. On the contrary, I say we can never understand everything. We cannot conquer the whole universe; there will always be unknown waters. Thus we should not stop at fighting to become understandable, to become non-alien, to become innocent. We also need to stand for non-understandable, non-innocent life. Even if other life seems outright wrong – as non-understandable people live through wrongdoings, just as LGBTQ people lie to survive. We have to acknowledge what we cannot understand, because we are also non-understandable. On the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia(IDAHoT), we should not only remember homosexual, bisexual and transgender life, but also keep unknown waters in mind. The first step to making queer life livable is acknowledging it and not leaving it behind. Remember that there is life there - no matter how dark the waters seem. The author is a graduate student at Seoul National University's College of Natural Sciences and a member of SNU's LGBTQ community (Queer in SNU: QIS). --Ed.

[Opinion] The Experience and Role of International Students Regarding Diversity at SNU

Stepping into my first lecture in Seoul National University, I was greeted with a much different classroom picture than I was used to. Everywhere I looked, there was a sea of black hair, and the air was filled with the cadence of Korean. It was a striking departure from the diverse array of skin tones and the familiar hum of English that had been my norm. Naturally, I anticipated such scenes; I was bound to encounter such sights while attending a university with only a 7% foreign student population. Undoubtedly, attending a university in a foreign country can be a daunting task, especially when the native language is not one’s own. Yet is language the biggest barrier to entry for korean universities for international students? Or could the problem lie elsewhere? As an international student whose mother tongue was not Korean, I, along with many of my international peers, considered language to be the primary limitation to attending Korean universities. However, even beyond the language barrier, conversations with fellow international students revealed a common sentiment – many had never even considered South Korea as a destination for higher education. Despite the institution's esteemed reputation domestically, it seems to remain somewhat obscure on the global academic stage. The reasons for this lack of recognition vary. Perhaps it is the dominance of Western universities in international rankings, or perhaps it is the fact that South Korea has only emerged relatively recently as a hub for higher education. Additionally, the scarcity of English-taught programs and the perceived difficulty of integrating into Korean society are factors deterring many students from applying to Korean universities. Nevertheless, for those willing to venture beyond the familiar confines of Western academia, Seoul National University boasts world-class faculty, state-of-the-art facilities, and a dynamic learning environment on par with its western counterparts. However, although I myself have found my education experience at Seoul National University to be both enriching and fulfilling, my social experience has been a different picture. It is undeniably convenient that my peers share similar pop culture interests, facilitating easy conversation. Yet, while discussing familiar topics may be comfortable, it won't lead me to uncover the Brazilian food enthusiast devouring hotdogs on YouTube or stumble upon the latest funky yet catchy Vietnamese house music. Those new discoveries and new avenues for topics of discussion only lend themselves in an international setting. As I found myself conforming to the status quo to blend in with my peers, I sensed a piece of my identity slipping away: My diversity. I slowly noticed myself mentioning my unique international experiences less often, instead joining conversations revolving around topics that were more common among my peers. International students bring a unique tapestry of experiences and perspectives to our campus. The presence of international students lend to a more dynamic learning environment, and enhances our understanding of the world through fresh perspectives. Preserving our diversity is crucial, as it ensures that we continue to uncover new world perspectives and embrace the richness of different cultures. In conclusion, international students play a vital role in making Seoul National University a diverse and exciting place to learn. Our unique perspectives and experiences enhance the understanding of the world and enrich campus life of our local peers. As we look to the future, I hope to see even more international students joining our community at SNU, bringing with them their own stories and cultures. Together, we can create an even more vibrant and inclusive environment where everyone feels valued and supported.

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