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A Buddhist Circuit Tour in South Korea (This is an article written by Gyalwang Drukpa, a high-ranking Tibetan Lama visiting Korea)
2nd September 2008
I arrived in Seoul a couple of days ago, in the middle of some very sad happenings that seem to be resulted from discrimination against Buddhism in South Korea. I was told that in historical Korea, Buddhism was the state religion. In the late 8th century and for following few hundred years, many beautiful temples and monastic institutions were developed with the help of so many enlightened masters and so many enlightened disciples, who carried the genuine spiritual message of the Buddha from one generation to the next one.
Despite the degeneration of spirituality in general, especially and sadly Buddhism, Koreans are still very blessed to be able to live in the presence of some very accomplished spiritual masters. I am also very fortunate in that sense that I am presently in the company of one of the very old abbots, who is considered to be one of the masters with the highest ranking in position and spiritual accomplishment in South Korea. I am sorry I am not so good in remembering names, but I have a photo with him who is standing in the centre among all of us.
This old master reminds me of our great Tibetan masters, who are really realised and who are really living Bodhisattvas. He talks a lot and he socializes a lot. He even came to my bedroom to check if everything was okay. Even though there was no chance for me or anyone to talk in front of him as he was very interested to share every of his knowledge with us, I could tell that he was very much living in the presence and in his own inner spaciousness. His inner quality really reminds me a lot of my own root guru, so I was so happy in his company, although I didn’t have a chance to say anything. From the depth of my heart, I truly appreciate any meeting with such kind of genuine masters, which are very rare not only in South Korea, but everywhere. Unfortunately he is quite old now. I am praying constantly for his longevity and will always keep him in my heart.
I am hosted by the abbot of Kilsangsa Temple, Master Deokjo, who gladly gave me all the photos in this page. Kilsangsa was where I gave my first teaching this time. Master Deokjo really takes great care in looking after all of us. Despite his extremely busy schedule, he takes time off to accompany me all the way to the southern part where I am now. He showed me the magnificent pagoda and the wonderful job that he has been doing at Kilsangsa. I am especially proud of him to be able to do such a great job with such a wonderful temple in the heart of Seoul, next to the President’s office.
I gave a teaching on Manjushri at Kilsangsa at the request of Master Deokjo. Originally I was told that only 400 people were expected at the teaching and I was quite happy to hear that as it would be very easy to give blessing. Unlike in Ladakh and many places in Himalayas, I sometimes have to spend more than 16 to 18 hours in the crowd to give them blessings, or rather to give them encouragement and moral support. So this time, I was thinking that it wouldn’t take that long since our lineage, especially me, doesn’t have any presence in Seoul. Surprisingly, the queue of people who came for the blessing was so long that it took altogether 6 to 7 hours for me to finish. As we didn’t expect that many people, I was seated on the throne, otherwise I could have come down to give blessing so that it wouldn’t have taken such a long time, as I normally do in Ladakh and in other parts of Himalayas, where most of the time, I need to bless over 80,000 people at one go. So walking in the crowd makes things a little easier. Sitting on the throne to bless people usually takes much longer time.
Later on, I was told that more than 3,000 people came, I could not see them during the teaching because they were sitting somewhere in a huge assembly hall where they could see me on a huge screen which was even bigger than the real person. Many of the people who came for the teaching were young people, which was something I was very happy to see. It was morally very inspiring for me to see that much interest for spirituality, although I was physically quite tired at the end of it. I guess I was not prepared. This is again to do with expectation. I shouldn’t have any expectation of small crowd or big crowd. So I asked for it.
I was deeply very happy that I was able to benefit those people who came for the teaching a little bit through my limited knowledge, as well as through giving or sharing the blessing of Manjushri with those who really wanted it. I could see many people carrying their young children’s photos in their hands so that I could bless their children through these photos even though their children could not be there to receive the blessing themselves. I thought that was also quite beneficial and appropriate if the person whom you want to share the blessings with was unable to come. Why not? Normally in our society, we don’t do this very much. I think we can do this if the children or the babies could not come for the teaching or blessing, that I believe can have some effect.
I must tell you a bit about the temple I went to yesterday in the southern part of Seoul. There are three historically very important Buddhist temples in South Korea, they represent the Three Jewels, Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. In Korean, "sa" means temple. Tongdosa means "Buddha Jewel Temple" which was established in AD 646 to enshrine Buddha’s relics. Haeinsa means "Dharma Jewel Temple" which was built in AD 802 and it is a World Heritage site of woodblock library of Korean Buddhist scriptures. The temple I visited yesterday is Songgwangsa, which means "Sangha Jewel Temple".
Songgwangsa was built in AD 867. Most of the realised Sangha in Korea came from this monastery, and most of the living Saints, Abbots, learned Pandits also graduated from here. I think it is like the Nalanda University of first century India. I was so moved when I was there. This really tells us the greatness of the Buddha’s teachings and the greatness of Buddha’s compassion, love and wisdom. We have enlightened masters in India, Tibet, Himalayas, Korea, Japan, in the West and in the East, in all directions. They of course have became enlightened due to their commitment to spiritual practice, to their vows to help beings and to their selfless Bodhisattva activities which are never tainted by any ego. This is something very encouraging because this tells that everyone can become a Buddha. Buddha is not a statue or only a historical figure, it means Great Enlightenment that can be achieved by everybody.
Today, we were at Daewonsa, another beautiful Buddhist temple. I met some old friends whom I saw when I visited South Korea more than 10 years ago. They were the monks and some lay people who were looking after me and driving me around when I last visited. Surprisingly, they still remembered the date of my last visit - 7th March 1996. I was very moved that they were able to remember the date that we met. Just now, I gave a short initiation of Amitabha and explanation of Amitabha, his qualities, activities and importance.
Looking at the faces of the audience, I could tell that they were very interested in the details that Vajrayana Buddhism could offer, which is a different angle. I promised them that I would return every year to South Korea to give more explanation each time. I don’t know whether I did the right thing by promising this sort of visits, as you know my teaching schedules are getting so busy that now that I am thinking clearly, I could have put myself into troubles by promising them that I would come back again next year and year after year... and I cannot take back this promise!
And also, many people showed tremendous interest in coming for the First ADC. But I don’t know how difficult or how easy this would be for them to travel to Kathmandu. I have asked my very old friend, Shim, to make arrangements and I will ask ADC web team to provide a Korean section for her and her soon-to-be set-up team on ADC website to translate all the details and provide registration assistance to any Korean who is interested to attend the First ADC. I think Jigme Kunzang Senge or Jigme Tobden of ADC web team should set up an email called email@example.com for Shim to do that. Shim will coordinate for all the Koreans.
I hope and trust that many Koreans who have very long connection with my lineage and me will join everyone of us in the Dragon family together in the First ADC. Not only that, I know that from now onwards, these wonderful people from South Korea will be joining me everywhere, in different parts of the world, in different occasions, such as our many celebrations of 800 years of legacy, our millennium anniversary of Naropa, etc. because of our ripening strong karma.
I want to tell you about one of the respected Korean Buddhist masters that I met this time - Master Hyun Pong, a senior abbot of Korean Buddhism who had very kindly invited me to his retreat place. We had such a great time discussing about all sorts of topics. He was such a lively and open-minded master. Unlike many Koreans that I have met who only know one or two Tibetan Buddhist traditions and got stuck by thinking that in this world, in Tibetan Buddhism there are only one or two different lineages, they don’t know the entire Tibetan Buddhism, they are not aware that there are so many different traditions and beautiful lineages with great enlightened masters in different traditions, they don’t even know that for example Ladakh, Bhutan, Nangchen and Lahaul follow very much our lineage, instead they think that our lineage is a branch of another lineage and we are secondary to other lineage. They don’t know that even in the Drukpa Lineage alone, we have more than 1,000 head and branch monasteries that exist independently from other schools. In this sense, Master Hyun Pong is very unique among Korean Buddhists. He knows about not only all the Tibetan Buddhist lineages in Tibet, but also those in India and other parts of Himalayas. No wonder he is respected as the Senior Abbot. I was truly amazed at his vast knowledge and open-mindedness. So I was so happy to be able to spend some time with him, even though it was such a short time. I really want to see him again next time and spend at least one day and one night with him in his retreat place, which is a brilliant site for meditation.
Overall, I am very happy to see many Koreans being interested and wishing to learn more about different aspects and different lineages in the Tibetan Buddhism. I came to know that many of the monks are studying at the great Gelugpa monasteries of Sera and Drepung. I am so happy that they have the good karma to be educated and to learn so many things about Tibetan Buddhist philosophy and traditions there. I also met some nuns who were ordained by our great yogi, the late Togden Amtrin who was from Khampagar in Tashi Jong. They also have learned a lot under the guidance of H.E. Khamtrul Rinpoche Shedrub Nyima. They speak excellent Tibetan and are very interested in the practice of the Six Yogas of Naropa. I can see great potentials for the future in South Korea for the development of Buddhism. I hope that overall Koreans will have the opportunity to learn and to experiment with all the different schools in Tibetan Buddhism, with thorough understanding based on unbiased information. So it is the job of Tibetan masters like us to inform them very clearly and thoroughly so that they will know the many different aspects of Tibetan Buddhism and the different lineages who are equal in quality, in substance and in the knowledge and wisdom. I personally do not see any difference in that. Anyway, we who belong to the Drukpa Lineage or the Dragon Order should at least be doing something to let known our own traditions and the legacy of our great yogi masters of the past and of the present.
Let us all welcome our new friends from South Korea to the Dragon family!
Before I go to the next destination, I am going to say that I have decided to fulfill the many requests of people in Garsha or Lahaul and Ladakh to visit them in this coming October. Tentatively I will be in Garsha between 6th and 10th October and then after that, to Ladakh to see my people there before I start my teaching tour in Asia.
For more information about Gyalwang Drukpa and the Pel Drukpa Lineage: www.drukpa.org