[Catholic Review No.20] Wise man of Orient who is carrying Earth Life Charter The story of New Silk Road for Life & No-Nukes  

[Catholic Review No.20]

Wise man of Orient who is carrying Earth Life Charter

The story of New Silk Road for Life & No-Nukes


Won Young Lee¹


I was walking in India. The day before yesterday, I saw a cow walking leisurely in front of six-lane overpass. With a close look, I found out that the cow tried constantly to cross the road. The cow hesitated at the horn of cars in the back side. After 10 minutes’ try, the cow captured the moment of no passing of cars, and dared to cross the road. In the middle of the crossing, a car came close and changed lane to evade the cow. Then the cow succeeded in entering the center divider. The cow walked along the center divider, and tried to cross the road toward the other side. It seemed to be easy, because the cow cautioned cars coming from only one direction. Finally, the cow succeeded in crossing the overpass. I was surprised at the next happening. The cow went down the overpass, and turned 180 degrees and walked away. The cow had something to do at the lower village located at the other side of the overpass. The step of the cow was as proud as a peacock.   

It was early February in 2019. I was walking about 200 km north of New Delhi in India. I received a good news from the Administration of His Holiness Dalai Lama that I was scheduled to meet Dalai Lama on 25th February. I was so delighted and very much loosened psychologically at the same time. I felt like the cow that entered the right track.

I was struggling in litigation against administration of University of Suwon over unfair dismissal, In the middle of litigation, I planned Silk Road Pilgrimage for Life and No-Nukes in which I would walk 11,000 km passing 26 countries for two years. Later, original plan was adjusted to ‘9,000 km and 30 countries.’ My plan was to walk with people who support no-nukes movement and meet religious leaders of the world in order to talk about the possibility of making an international organization for no-nukes. Original plan was to start pilgrimage on Buddha’s Birthday in May 2017 and finish pilgrimage on Easter, April 21st in 2019. I started to walk from Seoul and passed Japan (Hiroshima~Nagasaki), Taiwan (Taipei~Kaoshiung), Hong Kong, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Malaysia, Nepal, and India. Total distance I walked was 4,000 km. Unexpectedly, I was reinstated by judicial verdict. I taught students for two semesters. I resumed pilgrimage in December, 2018.²  

Those of you who experienced walking many miles would know that many ideas spring from walking. Walking presses sole, and simplifies reaction of brain. Walking brings up many ideas and past memories as well. I was an ordinary professor. After I started such an ‘large-scale’ pilgrimage, several scenes are very vivid in my memory. 


Scene 1

It was spring in 2008 when I started to organize “Association of Professors against Canal Construction.” I happened to climb a small mountain in local village. I went up to a small peak at the altitude of about 300 m. The weather was cold. An old man wearing a heavy parka continued to talk about President, “The President is not omnipotent. The President is only a man.  It is ridiculous to make a canal going through the mountains. He is insane.” Every climbers who come up and stop at the peak for a break, had to listen to preach of old man. He seemed to came up to the peak early in the morning. I guessed that he would stay there and preach until sunset. I was deeply impressed by strategy of the old man. I came back home and tried to sleep. But the appearance of the old man lingered for a long time. It was not a strategy, but a passion. I am sure I was contaminated by his passion.  


Scene 2

“Oh, no! Is it UN really?”

The time was August in 2009. The representatives of Association of Professors against Canal Construction explained about Four Rivers Project to the experts who accompanied Secretary General Akim Schteiner of UNEP who visited Korea. Instead of criticizing Four Rivers Project, they asserted that the Project was an exemplary case of Green Growth. The government of President M.B. Lee publicized UNEP’s assertion extensively. I was shocked. Was it not possible for UNEP experts to foresee the fatal water pollution and destruction of river ecosystem by the project?


Scene 3

It was spring in 2011. Right after Fukushima nuclear accident, I was  talking about the necessity of no-nuke activities with two professors of College of Engineering at Suwon University. The two professors supported my activities against Four Rivers Project. To my surprise, the response of two professors was that there is no alternative to nuclear energy so far. Isn’t it a simple computation? What is the probability of repetition of same rare event for three times? I was disappointed with their insistence that there is no alternative to nuclear energy. Sense of huge responsibility for no-nuke activities arose from my warm heart.    


Scene 4

After I was shocked by the two professors, I organized a field trip of no-nuke professors to German cities during summer vacation in 2011.  At that time, I heard that religious activists of Germany influenced the people and contributed to making no-nuke policies of Germany. Catholics and Protestants in Germany worked together for nuclear policy of Government. Then, I came upon a question. Why did Vatican keep silence about the nuclear issue?  


Scene 5

It was summer in 2013. I heard a news that a professor was walking along the eastern coast. He started walking from Gori nuclear power plant in Pusan,  He was carrying a placard on which “No More Nuclear Power Plant!‘ was written. His name was Won-ki Sung who worked as a professor in the  Department of Information & Communication Engineering,  The news gave me a fresh shock. 

People look at me with curiosity. Sometimes people ask me, “Why are you walking instead of bus or train? Then I explain about New Silk Road, and they usually sympathize with me. I realized that simple walking may become good ‘NGO movement.’ I met him at the east coast. and I imitated him. I began to walk. I walked from one temple to another temple, and explained  monks about no-nuke movement. 

Imitation is not an exact word for my walking. Something hot wriggled inside my heart. I remember that a reporter asked me “Why are you fighting so hot?”, about 4 years ago. I asked back, “When you get angry  which is better, to express your anger or to suppress your anger?”


Scene 6

It was summer in 2016. My pilgrimage was passing Wonpyeong, in Kimje. Several villagers protested me with harsh attitude. 

“How about electricity?”

I heard this kind of protest frequently.  

I asked back, “Do you know that our country has 25 nuclear power plants?” 


“Nuclear power supplies maximum 30% of total electricity. At ordinary times, nuclear supply is only 25%! Maximum 30%!”

“What? Is it so low.”

“You were cheated by improper propaganda.”


Silence with no answer.


“Do you remember that nearby people in Buangun demonstrated fiercely against nuclear waste repository?”


“Do you know that nuclear power plant generates hazardous nuclear wastes?”


“It is against human ethics.”


“It is not a problem of energy, but a problem of conscience. You have to face the truth.” 

“You seem to be right. We need no more nuclear power plant.”

Finally, he gave up his argument. Probably he recovered his conscience. 

I came upon a terrible thought. ‘Don’t we show the example of sacrificing our offsprings now? Are we forcing our offsprings to sacrifice themselves? Isn’t it a terrible behavior?‘

A taboo which should not exist has been realized. We try to evade the reality. Germans understood the ethical aspect of nuclear power plants and they organized ‘ethics committee of 17 members’ to solve the problem right after Fukushima accident. 


Scene 7

It was early time of 2017. I was planning New Silk Road for Life and No-Nukes. I visited Taiwan for a preparation meeting with Chu Quay Tien who was a professor of Taiwan National University. He expressed his concern that nuclear power plants of China are really threatening Taiwan,  though Taiwan declared No-Nuke policy. I agreed with him saying that Chinese Nuclear Power Plants are threatening not only Korea but also total region of north-east Asia. Both of us agreed that global declaration of no-nuke policy could influence China. 


Scene 8

It was India at early February of 2019. I resumed pilgrimage one month ago. I was walking near New Delhi after walking 500 kilometers in India. A young government official got off his car and approached me with curiosity. He was so moved by my pilgrimage that in the morning of next day he gave me a packed lunch which his mother made for me. And he invited me to come to his office for a talk about pilgrimage. He read the pamphlet and understood the contents of pilgrimage. I talked about my final goal of pilgrimage. I said “We need another U.N. There is only one Earth. Present U.N. is dangerous. Present U.N. is not protecting the Earth. We have to protect the Earth by two U.N. just like we weave clothes by woof and weft.“ He understood my main point and agreed with my insistence. Two people living far away could meet and share a common idea immediately.  

When Fukushima nuclear accident broke out in 2011, a big demand for crisis management in global village appeared. Fukushima accident is 3rd disastrous accident after Three Miles in 1979 and Chernobyl in 1986, which means another accident may be repeated surely. All around the world, 450 nuclear power plants are exposed to uncontrollable accident like earthquake. There is no systematic decision-making organization albeit widespread aspiration for safety from nuclear threat. Since Fukushima accident, 8 years have passed without any international progress in nuclear safety. It is a very weird situation.    

The characteristic of nuclear problem is that even after one or two countries succeed in controlling nuclear threat, the problem still exists at global level. ‘Capitalization of threat’ works in this case, and it is difficult for a few countries to respond to global threat. Hermann Scheer, a famous anti-nuke activist, pointed out the core of the problem. “If solar energy is centralized energy source and nuclear energy is diffused source, then people may have selected solar energy without any doubt. This kind of technical and capitalistic mechanism is threatening the earth village. 

International system is in trouble. Just as UNEP approved Korean government’s Four Rivers Project which destroyed river environment, present function of UN is very limited in terms of protecting the earth. IAEA started with good intention but these days it helps destroying the earth. The earth village is managed by super-power countries where  representative democracy became out of order. The UN is composed of such mal-functioning governments. We must not entrust the fate of the earth and humans to present UN. 

Just like humans who walk with two feet, and like a family which has a father and a mother, and like the fabric which is woven by woof and weft the earth needs two pillars. It is safer to have check & balance system. The national authority is based on trivalent separation. But international society has only union of local governments, and U.S. dominates as the cock of the walk. The U.S. walked out of Paris Climate Convention. Present  U.S. is different from the good leader of the years right after World War II. Unchecked authority tends to be misused. Fortunately, present era is the era of ultra link. Billions of people may get connected to famous U-tube channel. The most important problem is how to make use of the enormous energy rationally. 

To my opinion, breakthrough may come from religious groups. All religions basically value life itself and safety of life. Therefore, proper communication and networking may be easily constructed among religious groups. If several dominant religions get united, the problem may be easily solved. In the earth village, there are several nations which do not have autonomous decision-making system. Such countries may be easily approached by means of religion. The new international system would  make up for the shortcomings of present U.N. and play important role of check & balance. 

I remember I went to church every Christmas when I was young. I expected to get something to eat, and I watched drama of “Three Wise Men from the East.” I was fascinated by the story of three wise men. They walked such a long distance just by following the twinkling star at night. The story looked very romantic for a small boy. Decades of years passed, and I recalled the story of three wise men on Christmas of 2015. I watched TV and saw Christmas ceremony of Vatican. The calling of the earth village pressed me. I decided to start. I was obliged to start walking.  

To let people of the world know the reason I start walking, and to let them sympathize with me, I began to make Earth Life Charter3. The U.S. citizens made a pillar of constitution before they make a new nation. We have to follow the same procedure in case of the earth. We have to build the pillar at first. The wise man from the East saw the new-born baby, Jesus Christ. I want my pilgrimage to end up with a fancy story that we saw another U.N. just like a new-born baby. 


¹Won young Lee is teaching urban planning at University of Suwon. Director of Future Research Institute of National Territory. He majored in urban planning and designed Seoul Plaza. He has worked in organizations such as “Professors Union against Canal Construction,” “Professors Union against Nuclear Power Plant,” “Buddhists Association of Life Ethics,” etc. After he was fired from the University for asking democratic management, he organized Pilgrims for Life and No-nukes. His final objective is to make another UN which is operated by leaders of various religions.  


²The daily diary of pilgrimage is posted at http://cafe.daum.net/earthlifesilkroad in Korean, and at https://liferoad.org in English. 


³’Earth Life Charter’ consists of 7 principles: ① All life forms have dignity. (Dignity of Life) ② No Life forms can exist alone. (Connectedness of Life) ③ The earth is a common habitat for all life forms. (Life Community), ④ Humans have responsibility to respect the earth’s ecosystem. (Humanity’s Responsibility) ⑤ Nuclear weapons and nuclear power plants that can cause disaster and annihilation of all life forms must be abolished. (Abolition of Nukes) ⑥ All scientific and technological actions that harm the dignity of humans and life forms must be stopped. (Cease of Infringement on Life) ⑦ Every government and organization must endeavor to create life-saving policies and implement them. (Duty to Act)  Earth Life Charter also include the appeal to the faith communities. The full text of the Charter may be found at the site of Silk Road for Life and No-Nukes (http://cafe.daum.net/earthlifesilkroad/hmob/141). 

Translated by Lee Sang Hoon

Categories: Media Reports

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