Monday, October 28, 2013

Buddhism and ecumenism in Korea

  Wow what a day!  It will be impossible to tell all that I did today but let's at least get a start.
  It was another beautiful, crisp Fall day as we started out from the Bishops' Conference after breakfast.  We traveled across Seoul to the Hwagye Temple at Suyu-ri dating from the late Joseon Period in the 1600's.  The temple and monastery are highly regarded for the formation of monks from all over the world who come to the international school.  The characteristics of this temple and monks is thier prayer for inner peace and especially for the unity of  Korea.  They have excellent relations with the Catholic parish near by.

  We were welcomed by traditional ceremonies of greeting and then given a tour of the beautiful old buildings set in a harmonous setting of nature.

   The monks explained the way of contemplation and prayer that they follow each day and that many people come seeking their advice and inner peace.  The piety of the people is not much different than that one would find practiced by many Christians.  For example, in a few weeks entrance exams for university will take place. The monks said that many students will come to ask enlightenment so they can pass their exams and enter university.
   Our delegation had a special meeting with the head teacher who explained their way of life and traditions. We began by removing our shoes out of respect (a typical oriental custom when entering anyone's house). Then  we were all seated on the floor in a typical Eastern fashion, and served a type of juice made from herbs and rice along with fresh melon, oriental pear, and several types of rice cakes.  We had the opportunity to talk about similar customs of meditation and prayer as well as the desire to seek peace and arrive at a deeper state of contemplative love and respect for all of creation. It was explained that the buddhist temples and meeting rooms are all built with a sense of flow from inside to outside and to be situated in settings of nature.  We stayed for the better part of an hour.  However, our Western bodies are not used to sitting in certain positions! Inspite of the creeking of bones and setting down on the floor, we all made it up (with the help of a monk or one of our own).

Before moving on to our next stop we took (another) group picture.  It seems that the media is really covering this event with video cameras, several photographers and journalists.

You can easily see the beauty of the gardens and the harmony that exists in this setting especially with the autumn colors coming to peak just as we arrived in Korea.

Next stop: Hanshin University
  After leaving the Temple we traveled a ways down the road to the very modern university, Hanshin University.  It was founded in 1940 as a more liberal university with the intention of forming "intellectuals in action".  The University has several sites and the one we visited was the graduate school of theology.  We arrived just s a special program called "envisioning ecumenism" was beginning.  Severasl hundred students from around the world came for this special seminar which will accompany the WCC General Assembly. You will remember that the theme of the 10th Assembly is God of life, lead us to justice and peace. 

Our delegation entered the auditorium just as the introductory session was ending.  Bishop Braian Farrell and Archbishop Kim were asked to say a word about our delegation and here is what they had to say:

Following the conclusion of their remarks the students headed off to go to their seminars.  They will be following each on the themes that will be discussed at Busan during the Assembly and do their research papers in Busan as invited guests.  In a certain manner this is the preparation of the next generation of ecumenists, getting their feet wet in a "full immersion" fashion.  Many will remember that the ecumenical movement was formed by many young students in the post war period in Europe.

Our program continued with a meeting with the dean, Rev. Kang, Sung-Young and some of the faculty.  We had a very special presentation by Young-oak Kim considered to be the leading intellectual in Korea. He is a Buddhist monk and expert on Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism.  He spoke about the origins of the Hanshin University, founded by Dae-hyun Kim as Chosun Theological Institute.  The origins were in the Seungdong Church (Presbyterian).  From its inception intellectual excellence was inspired.

Young-oak Kim

The delegation was given a tour of the ultra-modern facilities. Once again we ended up having another group picture, this time in the ecumenical chapel.

After the visit we were treated to a very special Korean traditional meal which as you can see below had many dishes and we didn't even have the main dish yet!

As I said at the beginning of today's blog it was a day filled with many events (and as you will see later, group pictures).  It is getting late and I want to publish this so I will say: "Peace and all good" until tomorrow when I will talk about the moving experience of the pilgrimage to the shrine of the Korean martyrs.