I have lived my life with just one thought. I wanted to bring about a world of peace, a world where there are no wars and where all humankind lives in love. Perhaps some may say, "How is it possible that you were thinking about peace even when you were a child?" Is it so astonishing that a child would dream of a peaceful world?
In 1920, when I was born, Korea was under forced occupation from Japan. Even after liberation, there came the Korean War, the Asian financial crisis, and other numerous difficult crises. For many years, the land of Korea has not been closely associated with peace. But these times of suffering and confusion were not matters related to Korea alone. The two world wars, the Vietnam War, and the wars in the Middle East show that people in the world continuously treat each other with enmity, point guns at each other and bomb one another. Perhaps for people who experience these horrors that tear their flesh and break their bones, peace has been something that could only be imagined in a dream. Peace, though, is not so difficult to accomplish. To begin, we can find peace in the air, in the natural environment, and in the people around us.
As a child, I thought of the meadows as my home. As soon as I could wolf down my bowl of rice for breakfast, I would run out of the house and spend the entire day in the hills and streams. I could spend the day wandering about the forest with all the different birds and animals, eating herbs and wild berries, and I would never feel hungry. Even as a child, I knew that my mind and body were at ease anytime I went into the forest.
I would often fall asleep in the hills after playing there. My father would be forced to come find me. When I heard my father shouting in the distance, "Yong Myung! Yong Myung!" I couldn't help but smile, even as I slept. My name as a child was Yong Myung. The sound of his voice would awaken me, but I would pretend to still be asleep. He would hoist me onto his back and carry me back. That feeling I had as he carried me down the hill on his back - feeling completely secure and able to let my heart be completely at ease - that was peace. That is how I learned about peace while being carried on my father's back.
The reason I loved the forest was also because all the peace in the world dwells there. Life forms in the forest do not fight each other. Of course, they eat one another and are eaten, but that is because they are hungry and need to sustain themselves. They do not fight out of enmity. Birds do not hate other birds. Animals do not hate other animals. Trees do not hate other trees. There needs to be an absence of enmity for peace to come. Human beings are the only ones who hate other members of the same species. People hate other people because their country is different, their religion is different, their way of thinking is different.
I have been to almost two hundred countries. There were not many countries where I would land at the airport and think to myself, "This really is a peaceful and contented place." There were many places where, because of civil war, soldiers held their weapons high guarding the airports and blocking the streets. The sound of gunfire could be heard day and night. More than just once or twice, I came close to losing my life in places where I went to talk about peace. In today's world, there are endless series of conflicts and confrontations, large and small. Tens of millions suffer from hunger with nothing to eat. Yet, trillions of dollars are spent on weapons, The money spent on guns and bombs alone would give us enough to end hunger for all people.
I have dedicated my life to building bridges of peace between countries that hate each other and consider each other to be enemies because of ideology and religion. I created forums where Islam, Christianity and Judaism could come together. I worked to reconcile the views of the United States and the Soviet Union when they were at odds with each other over Iraq. I have helped in the process of bringing reconciliation between North and South Korea. I did not do these things for money or fame. From the time I was old enough to know what was going on in the world, there has been only one objective for my life. That is for the world to live in peace, as one. I never wanted anything else. It has not been easy to live day and night for the purpose of peace, but that is the only work that could make me happy.
During the Cold War, we experienced the pain of having our world divided in two because of ideology. It seemed then that if only Communism would disappear peace would come. Yet, now that the Cold War is in the past, we find we have even more conflicts. We are now fractured by race and religion. Many countries facing each other across their borders are at odds with each other. As if that were not enough, we have situations within countries where people are divided by race, religion, or the regions where they were born. People think of each other as enemies across these lines of division, and refuse to open their hearts to each other.
When we look at human history, we see that the most brutal and cruel wars were not those fought between nations but those between races. Among these, the worst were wars between races where religion was used as a pretext. In the Bosnian civil war, said to be one of the worst ethnic conflicts of the 20th century, "ethnic cleansing" was conducted in an effort to snuff out Muslim bloodlines. More than seven thousand Muslims including children were massacred. I am sure you will also remember the terrorist incident of September 11,2001, where the 110-story World Trade Center buildings in New York were completely destroyed after airplanes were crashed into them. Recently too, in the Gaza Strip in Palestine, hundreds lost their lives as a result of Israeli missile attacks and many were shivering from cold, suffering from hunger, and living with the fear of death. All these were the grim results of conflicts between ethnic nationalities and religions.
What makes people hate and kill each other like this? Of course, there are many reasons on the surface, but when we dig deeper to find the underlying causes we come across religion in virtually every case. This was true with the Gulf War that was fought over oil. It is true with the Arab-Israeli conflict over control of Jerusalem.
When racism uses religion as a pretext, the problem becomes extremely complex. The evil ghosts of the religious wars that we thought had ended in the Middle Ages continue to haunt us in the 21st century.
Religious wars continue to occur because many politicians use the enmity between religions to satisfy their selfish designs. In the face of political objectives, religions lose their way and vacillate. They lose sight of their original purpose. Religions exist for the sake of peace. All religions have a responsibility to advance the cause of world peace. Yet, lamentably, we see that religions instead become the cause of conflict. Behind this evil, we find the machinations of politics, with its power and money. The responsibility of a leader, above all else, is to keep the peace. Yet, leaders often seem to do the opposite and lead the world into confrontation and violence.
Unless the hearts of leaders can be set right, countries and nationalities will lose their direction and wander in confusion. These leaders use religion and nationalism to satisfy their selfish ambitions. Religion and love of one's nation are not evil in their essence. They are valuable if these impulses are used to contribute to building a global human community. When the claim is made that only a particular religion or ethnic group is right, and when other religions and ethnic groups are treated with disdain and attacked, religion and love of nation lose their value. When a religion goes so far as to trample on others and treat other religions as worthless, it no longer embodies goodness. The same is true when love of nation is used to emphasize the righteousness of a persons own country over others.
The truth of the universe is that we must acknowledge each other and help each other. Even the smallest animals know this. Cats and dogs do not get along, but if you raise them in the same household, they embrace each other s offspring and are friendly toward each other. We see the same thing in plants. The kudzu vine that winds its way up a column of wood depends on the trunk of the tree to support it. The tree, however, does not say, "Hey, what do you think you're doing winding your way up my trunk?" The principle of the universe is for everyone to live together, for the sake of one another. Anyone who deviates from this principle faces certain ruin. If nationalities and religions continue maliciously to attack each other, humanity has no future. There will be an endless cycle of terror and warfare until one day we become extinct like so much dust. But we are not without hope. Clearly there is hope.
I have lived my life without ever letting go of that hope and always kept alive the dream of peace. What I want is to completely wipe away the walls and fences that divide the world in myriads of ways and to create a world of unity. I want to tear down the walls between religions, overcome the walls between races, and fill in the gap between the rich and the poor. Once that is done, we can reestablish the world of peace that God created in the beginning. I am talking about a world where no one goes hungry, and no one sheds tears. To heal a world where there is no hope and which is lacking in love, we need to go back to the pure hearts that we had as children. To shed our desires to possess ever increasing amounts of material wealth and restore our beautiful essence as human beings, we need to go back to the principles of peace and the breath of love that we learned as we were being carried on our fathers' backs.