Korea has a long and rich spiritual history. These days there is a mix of mostly Buddhism, Christianity, and a very small part Mugyo which is shamanism. Underlying all of these is Confucianism which was originally brought to Korea from China. Over time it was altered to suit the people of the peninsula so there is a distinction between Chinese Confucianism and Korean Confucianism. It is not a religion so much as a way of behaving in the world and it is very deeply infused into the Korean culture and psyche affecting everything from art to law to education to social moors.
Social harmony is the ultimate goal of Confucianism and in order to achieve it there is a very specific social order. Age is always given deference, but those who are senior are meant to be tender-hearted toward those who are younger. Each person is meant to know their place in the order and to play their part as best they can. If everyone plays their part, social harmony will ensue.
I’ve only been here a short time, and I don’t understand the language, so any observations I have about the people or the culture here are informed by these limitations. So with that caveat, I will say that what strikes me as most interesting about all of this is how harmoniously blended these different spiritual traditions are here in the South. It seems to me that while a person might say they are Buddhist or Christian (if they are inclined to identify themselves as anything at all) they are really a wonderful mix of all of it. This underlying theme of social harmony is an ideal held by all, no matter their faith. They could be called Confucian Christians or Confucian Buddhists as the ethical principles of Confucianism seem to be the basis of behavioral norms.
Where I get confused is when I observe how Confucianism is sometimes diametrically opposed to a Buddhist or Christian belief and yet there does not seem to be any difficulty accepting and integrating. This goes for shamanism as well. There seems to be no compulsion to reconcile the differences. I really admire this ability to just accept them all, observe what they like about each, all with no need to judge whether they are right or wrong.
As I’ve learned through my Yoga practice, and as I’ve written about before, even-mindedness or equanimity is key to inner peace. And the Koreans seem to have it in spades. Who knows? I may learn the language and after a few years realize that this observation is completely wrong. But, in the meantime, I’m taking a lesson from my new neighbors and friends.