Sun Myung Moon, The Early Years, 1920-53
By Michael Breen
The conversion of the Moon family to Christianity was precipitated by a spate of disasters which struck around 1931. It began when Sun myung's sister, Hyo Shim, developed some kind of mental sickness. The cause of the illness is not clear, but her relatives believed it was spiritual. They said it began with the shamanist ceremonies held by her in laws to appease the spirit of a tiger which had killed one of their ancestors. The rites involved putting dog meat on an altar as an offering to the tiger. This was all too superstitious for Hyo Shim, who, out of cynical bravado, once ate some of the meat during a ceremony. The deep seated fear of spirits, which shamanism had instilled in most Koreans, must have risen and ravaged her mind. The locals said the spirit of the tiger got her. The family brought a Christian healer, an elder Sohn, from the Nam so myon church in Jeongju, where her sister lived, and she began to improve. 1 When she recovered, the 'tiger' got Sun myung's older brother, Yong soo. He developed the same symptoms. He couldn't control his emotions and he went round frightening people. He became so disturbed for a while that he had to stop work. He was also taken to the same faith healer and cured.
Moon's brother, Yong-soo, whose surviving family in north Korea allege was killed during an American air raid in the Korean War (HSA-UWC, Seoul)
At the same time, there was a series of mishaps in the house of one of Sun myung's uncles, named Kyung koo: the dog chewed off one of the baby's ears; then a large pot fell on the dog and broke its back; the chimney, a large hollowed out tree trunk, toppled over and smashed all the earthenware jars where the food was kept; the family's animals all died the ox, the horse and, in a freak accident, the seven pigs, which got out of the pen one night and drowned in the shallow well
Faced with so many apparently inexplicable disasters, they must have believed that either a disturbed ancestor or a host of spirits had it in for them. It must have seemed that the ancestors they venerated in Confucian ceremonies at home, were either angry or powerless. Sun myung's family, and his two uncles and their families started attending church on the advice of another uncle, Kyung chun, who lived next door and whose family had been Christian for many ,years. As the Presbyterians disapproved of the traditional observances, Sun myung's father handed over the responsibilities for ancestral rites, which he bore as the eldest son, to his brother, Kyung bok.
Sun myung and his brother, by now recovered from his illness, took to the new religion with a zest. They attended church regularly and began to say grace before meals. Often they would walk into the hills to pray. Thus began Sun myung's spiritual journey, into which he characteristically threw his energies.
If the story of the Moons' conversion reached the American Presbyterian missionaries in nearby Soonchon, none appears to have written about it. It is not surprising. It would have been only one among hundreds that year, for the north west was the fastest growing Christian region in a country which was considered by Protestant churches, after almost fifty years of mission work, as a miracle of growth. 2
About a third of the villagers in Sangsa ri and Monum were churchgoers. Early converts had established the church in Morum village around the turn of the century. In 1930 it had been rebuilt four hundred yards down the track toward Sangsa ri, about two hundred yards from the Moons' house. Under principles adopted by Protestant missions shortly after their establishment at the end of the 19th century, churches were built and operated with funds provided by the congregation, not by the mission headquarters. Despite the problems it created for some churches, this principle was later seen as a key factor in the overall growth of Korean Christianity, for it created a sense of ownership among the believers at a time of colonial rule, when everything else was being taken away from them, and new practices and rules were being imposed on them by a foreign power. Fortunately for the Christians in Morum and Sangsa ri, the church elder and independence activist, Lee Myong-nyong was a wealthy landowner He supplied most of the money for the reconstruction. The young minister at the church was Rev. Gye Hyo-on, who had replaced Sun myung's great uncle, Yoon kook, in 1927.
Lee Myong-nyong, and elder at the village church, was one of the 33 signatories to Koea's 1919 thwarted declaration of independence (Lee Dae-young)
Shortly after his family's conversion to Christianity, Sun myung's younger brother and youngest sister fell sick. 4 With the lack of medical treatment available at the time, their illness was not even diagnosed. They were given herbal medicines, but both died.
The bereavement took the family beyond the original motive for conversion, which had been to seek the backing of the powerful Christian God and end the run of bad fortune, and deeper into their new faith. His own grief, and the pain of seeing his parents grieve for their children, underscored for the young Sun myung Moon what was later to become his core teaching: that of God as the grieving parent of a lost mankind. God, too, has lost his sons and daughters. This response to the perceived feelings of God would inform his faith far more profoundly than the concerns for personal salvation or national liberation which fired the Christians with whom he later associated.
Around this time, he completed his seven year Confucian education. He then attended a school called the Unyong Institute in nearby Wonbong-dong for one year. The hundred or so students at the school could not afford the western style elementary school education The standard was below average. After a year he left, and enrolled at the age of fourteen in the third grade of the Osan Elementary School where he learned new subjects - Korean script, geography, history, mathematics. The school, founded by a prominent Christian nationalist, Lee Seung-hoon, was considered the best in the region. Every day, he and his cousin Seung-gyun, who was in the second grade, walked the six miles to the school, leaving at seven o'clock every morning to get there by the time classes started at nine. Seung-gyun's recollection of the daily hike provides an insight into Sun myung's tough, dynamic character as a boy:
"He walked very fast. I had to run to keep up with him. When I caught up with him, he would pull ahead again. It was across country and we passed some houses on the way. Most people couldn't afford to send their children to school and sometimes students would be attacked by poorer boys on the way to school. But they didn't pick fights with him because he was strongly built." 5
After a year at the Osan School, they switched schools again and enrolled in the state run Jeongju Elementary School. Moon has said the decision to change was his, not his parents'. Japanese was not taught at Osan, and he wanted to learn the language in order to "know our enemy." 6 He entered the fourth grade and completed the fifth and sixth grades before graduating.
Education, which was not compulsory in Korea at the time, was divided between the Confucian and modern styles. At the state school, however, the study of Japanese ethics, introduced after the independence protests of 1919, was mandatory. There were fifteen hundred students at the school. Sun myung was older than most of the boys in his class, although some of the students were in their twenties and had children of their own.
During the summer vacations he attended courses at the village church, where about twenty five village boys, mostly those who didn't go to school, studied reading, writing, mathematics and Japanese. The school was taught by Rev. Gye and a high school student, Kang Dosun.
In his early teens, Sun myung began to develop a longing to do something great and meaningful. "I had a strong desire to live a high life, a life of high dimension," he told an American audience in 1965. Such idealism was not unusual in itself, but its scope and expression were remarkable in that they were not limited by awe of saints, nor even of Christ himself. At thirteen, he said, he began praying for extraordinary things. "I asked for wisdom greater than Solomon, for faith greater than the Apostle Paul, and for love greater than the love Jesus had." 7
As his faith developed, a nascent desire to free the world from suffering crystallized within him. Around him he saw material hardship and spiritual suffering. People were not joyful or fulfilled. At the ancestral shrine on the hill above the village he wondered about his ancestors and felt that they, too, had suffered, and that their spirits still suffered. Death did not bring perfection. In the spiritual world, a man continues as he is in life. His descendants, too, would struggle with the same problems for generations, unless liberated.
On April 17, 1935, he was praying on South Hill, 8 which was half a mile from his home, when Jesus appeared to him 9 Addressing Moon's youthful ambition, Jesus asked him to make its fulfillment his life's work. He refused. To dream is one thing, but to promise to God is something else altogether. He was not one to make promises lightly, out of a desire to please or in the awe of spiritual experience. Jesus asked him again "This is my work, my mission and I want you to take it over."
Moon refused again. Jesus asked him a third time: "There is no one else who can do this work." His meditations of a world in perpetual suffering returned to him. From the comfort of his youthful ideals, he peered over the abyss of the difficulties that would lie ahead and decided. "I will do it," he promised.'' 10
With this pledge, his life was forever changed. While, like any normal child, he studied, fished and played sports with his friends and cousins, he lived an inner life he could share with no one. None would have understood the mission he had resolved to undertake. Had he revealed it, his family and friends may have tried to tease or persuade him to be more down to earth, and thereby destroyed his developing dream, as easily as a tree is crushed underfoot when it is still a seed
To find a standard for his faith, he read and prayed about the biblical figures and Christian saints. He studied how they related to their environment. He was curious about their motivations and their goals. "All of these great men started their life of faith centered not on themselves but on God," he told American followers in the early 1970s. 11 He learned that they all experienced a struggle between their life of faith and the practical reality of their circumstances, a struggle they resolved when they sacrificed their own desires and focused on God's will.
In his prayers, he met spiritually and spoke with Jesus and the disciples. He did not trust them, " he said. "I was analyzing their revelation of truth. Through this period of analysis I called to know the situation and heart of Jesus more than anyone." 12 He wanted to know what was real and true. "I have studied science. I am a very scientific person and l do not want any blind faith. I do not want the God of concept. I want the God of life, and God is life, life itself. That God I seek. The God who can govern life itself and who can be the real, true backbone of the world." 13 He realized that no system of thought, no religion, not even Christianity with its promise of salvation. had provided mankind with a complete way out of hell. No Christian had reached perfection after Christ. Why not? he asked. If we fell away from God and no one has climbed back, then something is missing. What is it that blocks us from God? What should our relationship to God be like? Why did God create us? How did we fall? How are we saved? Why among the millions of books published is there not one that answers these things? Why does nobody know? The questions tumbled over each other.
There had to be a reason, too, why answers could not just pop into his head. If the human dilemma were purely intellectual, thinkers would have found the solution centuries ago. The problems, he found, were spiritual. It was as if the human spirit was diseased. To find the cure he would need to continue travelling the path of spiritual growth Jesus had traveled. He would have to become one with God. As Jesus said, "You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." This effort invited all manner of temptations and unanticipated struggle. In his prayers he battled with dark forces. At times great waves of black fear billowed through his soul.
He once tried to explain the experience of these years but could not find the words. "If you knew what it was like, your heart would stop," he said. Faith kept him going. "I knew that God was living. I knew that God had chosen me for this mission Therefore. I believed that this was the only way for man to go, including myself I couldn't quit." 14
Over the years, the inner search through the lives of the main actors in biblical history led him to empathize with them:
"When I came to the fall of Adam and Eve I felt as if it were my own business. I felt the sorrow of God to see Adam's fall. I felt Adam s sorrow in himself. In each event I put myself in the position of those involved and felt with them and with God, all through the history. It is not someone else's history, but my own life." 15
He saw that the life of God's people is one of suffering, that God's experience throughout human history has been one of grief, sharing the suffering of his children. In the journey into the heart of God's experience, he, too, found pain and loss. "I have shed so many tears. I not only understood the principle, but lived it." 16
Moon has said that revelations came to him both through intuition and in the form of symbols, which he had to interpret. In 1965 he explained the process in some detail in a question and answer session with some young American followers and their guests:
"Although I will explain this to you, you may not understand fully unless you yourself have had a spiritual experience. To find the highest truth you must have the most even conscience. This is an oriental expression You would say 'clear' conscience, but our term is 'even' conscience, meaning not biased or prejudiced. This is a horizontal level. Then the heart of God or the spirit of God will work in a vertical way and a 90 degree angle is made. If the conscience is not even, the angle formed is not 90 degrees and you will receive the wrong message or revelation If the 90 degree angle is maintained, when you face a problem you immediately know whether it is good or bad. The reflection is very accurate. When you meet people and hear them talk, you know immediately which is wrong and which is right. This is very important [in order] to receive anything."
"Then suppose you want to know about the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. What is it? Up to a certain level, spirits can tell you what it is. But for the highest truths, spirits cannot help you. They will not tell you because they don't know. And God will not tell you outright. Therefore you have to search, to find out by yourself So, from this 90 degree position, you may ask God, 'Is this Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil a real tree?' You immediately know that is not right. It is something else. You continuously inquire and eventually find out what it is. Then, quite naturally, you will know that the tree has something to do with staining our blood."
"In other words, when you become one with God, you can know the answers. You will guess answers to your questions and bring them to God, saying, 'Is it not this?' When it is correct, you will know. In that way I discovered the crime of Satan." 18
What was the crime of Satan? The key to this question lay in the opening verses of the Bible which tell the story of the first man and woman. Myth or fact? That modem man began with a single set of parents was more plausible than the idea of spontaneous evolution in different places. That our forbears should remember for us who these first parents were is somehow less likely. But perhaps it is this remembering, rather than the historical detail, that is meaningful for us. Perhaps the story still lies at the root of our culture because it says as much about us today as it did about our tribal ancestors. Then what might this story of the Garden of Eden and man's fall from God mean? What happened? Did it really all begin with eating fruit? The idea was too ridiculous. In church, the ministers sermonized about Adam and Eve's disobedience. But surely God, as a loving father, could forgive disobedience over something as trivial as eating food. The story had to be figurative. Moon felt that for it to be so devastating and final, the fall of man had to involve love, the heart of God's creation.
Like any children, Adam and Eve had to grow, spiritually and physically, to maturity They were supposed to become one in heart With God, as individuals, before being blessed in marriage and having a family. The two trees in the garden, the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, symbolized Adam and Eve in maturity. But before they reached maturity, evil had already entered God's creation, in the spiritual world with the archangel Lucifer's fall. The archangel tempted the immature Eve into a sexual, but spiritual, relationship with him. She then offered the 'fruit' to Adam and they began a physical sexual relationship. Through this premature act, they destroyed God's ideal for the maturation of their love. At the same time, they came under the spiritual domination of the fallen Lucifer, who became known as Satan. God appeared to be powerless, unable to reach and rescue his own children. From their immature union, Adam and Eve's children were born. The children bore children, and their descendants were forever under the domination of Satan. Their first child, Cain, murdered his brother. Thus, at least in the mythology of the Judeo Christian and Islamic cultures, began the human race.
As Moon read and re-read the Bible, praying and meditating on its contents, it seemed to him that the central events after Adam kept coming back to this story of Adam's family. The lives of Noah, Abraham, and Jesus seemed to be an echo of Adam. Why? As the first family, Adam's family was to be the model for God's purpose for creating man, but it became a model for failure. If God was still trying to save his children, and both the Christian teaching and personal spiritual experience convinced him that he was, then God would still be trying to achieve today what he had hoped to achieve with the first family. The emphasis on men in biblical history suggested that this process began with the man God's providential focus, it seemed, had been to find one true man, the Messiah, a man who knew the truth and lived by it, a true man with a God like personality who could overcome evil through unwavering faith and whose heart could become one with God's heart such a man would begin the process of bringing the world back to God. He would become the perfected Adam, the Tree of Life, the ancestral parent of humanity.
Jesus was the first person since the fall of Adam and Eve to become one with God. But he was executed before he was able to fully reveal his teaching. Had Jesus lived - Moon came to believe - he would have married, raised a family, and been the living founder of the Kingdom of God on earth. His premature death prevented God's offering the world the path to completely redeemed personhood.
During his silent, agonizing search, Moon became extremely sensitive. When he was a student in Japan, he once embraced a cedar tree and burst into tears. 19 "On another occasion, according to early followers, he read in a newspaper that a student had committed suicide be cause he could not find truth . He wept uncontrollably his friends came to the house where he was lodging and noticed water dripping through the tatami floor of his second floor room. His tears had soaked through. He had been crying for three days.
At the end of his long spiritual struggle, when he was sure of the truth he had discovered, he sought confirmation before he started his public mission. 20 He began a forty day fast. He was said that, during this period, he met spiritually with Confucius, Buddha, Mohammed. Jesus and other religious leaders in the spiritual world. Although he came from a background of Protestant Christianity, Moon recognized that all the major faiths contain truth. In his spiritual communion with the founders of the major faiths, he has said, they gave their approval of his discoveries. Moon's search for the Principle, he has stated, lasted for nine years from his encounter with Jesus in 1935. 21
At the end of this period, Moon has explained to his followers, he had to confront Lucifer, the archangel, who, he believed, had caused the fall of Adam and Eve, before he could be satisfied with his interpretations of his revelations. He claims that during this experience, Lucifer accepted everything except the interpretation of the fall of man. At this point, Moon took Lucifer before God. It was said that, at the time, God could not be seen, but that his voice could be heard. God manifested himself in the form of waves and mountains God posed different explanations for the cause of man's fall. He asked whether the fall had occurred because of the fruit of a tree, because of freedom, because of illicit love, or because of something else. Moon said it was illicit love. Then came one of the most devastating experiences of all. God denied what he said and told him it was wrong. At that point, a spiritual force struck Moon so hard, he said, that if he had not been physically standing up at the time he might never have been able to get up. Convinced of the truth of his conclusions, he insisted, and God denied him again. When Moon stated the cause a third time, God acknowledged it as the truth, and the evil force fled from him. Lucifer admitted that it was the truth. 22
The test of rejection had been necessary. For Moon to not simply believe, but to become one with God and embody the principles he had discovered, and to teach others to follow the same path, required such monumental conviction and determination that he even had to argue his case with God. It also meant that he could not be accused by Satan of acting only on spiritual inspiration or impulse from God. Rather, he had searched this truth out himself, and felt it to his bones. But there may be a deeper explanation for this experience of rejection and abandonment that goes to the core of Moon's view of the broken heart of God. If God suffers from rejection by his children, as much as Moon claims, why should God then trust a man who claims he is different, that he is a child who sympathizes and cares? The suffering heart of God will demand that he prove it. Moon has not fully described this experience, nor explained how long it lasted, nor said if there were other similar painful episodes. The path he had followed since his call by Jesus had brought him to a point where he felt that, like Jesus, he had explored the heart of God. He knew his mission was to heal God s profound grief. He was prepared for the struggle that lay ahead.