Saturday Sangha

To know when to stop,
to know when you can get no further by your own action,
this is the right beginning!

– Chuang Tzu

This blog, in its current form, has its origins in the friendships forged some years ago in a weekend Dharma study group that met at the Buddhist English Library in Seoul. The group was led by the wonderful Chong Go Sunim and was attended by a good mix of both Korean and non-Korean Buddhists. Through the group, in May 2008, during the period of the Buddha’s birthday celebrations, Joe, Joseph, Carl and myself became what we like to call Dharma Brothers when we took refuge together, in a ceremony with Chong Go Sunim, at the main Hanmaum temple in Anyang.

at the Buddhist English Library of Seoul

Most Saturdays I’d meet Joe at the veggie restaurant an hour before Sangha started, and we’d lend each other books, wonder who’d attend, make vague plans for the Sunday, and then go up to the Library. BELS, the Buddhist English Library in Seoul, is close to Angkuk station, exit six, and consists mostly of one long room lined with books on all aspects of Buddhism, and down the middle of the room are laid a long row of low tables and thick brown Korean temple cushions for people to sit on. It’s a wonderful place.

We’d arrive, bow to those already there, enjoy the snacks that many people had brought and just catch up. Chong Go Sunim in his grey robes would be sat at the end just in front of the Buddha image, and I’d usually place myself opposite the wall of books, with Joe and Carl on the other side of the table. Joseph was often there too, giving up his beloved trips to the mountains to be with us. Rinchen Gyatso Sunim often attended too while he was in Korea, in his bright Tibetan robes.

Chong Go Sunim had certain themes he’d refer back to, the core of his teaching. One was ‘Trusting Our Root’ and I remember one particular week when he made this the specific object of study. He started off with the above quote from Chuang Tzu – perfect for a room full of people who, by their own admission, tended to read and analyse too much and so (speaking for myself) actually slow down progress. We broke into groups and I remember talking to Ami about the Tao and Juingong and Buddha-nature and to Shin Hee about stopping. We discussed relying on our selves, and on other-power.

Everyone has a different practice. Some people, like myself, are more devotional than others and see things in terms of reliance upon the object of devotion, with everything given as a gift. Others see things more in terms of allowing their own Buddha-nature to shine through. I don’t believe that one approach is any more advanced than the other, and neither do I think you have to choose between them, or even see them as different. The key, for me, however,  is that it connects to the deepest part of yourself.

And I remember, in summing up, Chong Go Sunim gave us a quote from Venerable Master Lin Chi; “Friends, I tell you this: there is no Buddha, no spiritual path to follow, no training and no realization. What are you so feverishly running after?” Amazing message, isn’t it? Just stop and relax, it says, let go. After a short meditation a few of us would go out for some food and on to a coffee shop, later in the evening we’d go to a Bongeunsa to do some chanting, some bowing, or just to stop.

Buddha's Birthday at Anyang

At other times we met up at the main temple in Anyang, with Chong Go Sunim providing cups of tea on the large table in the International Section till late at night, and there was a wonderful little tea shop just a little way up the road too. The connections made during that time are still strong, and evident not just through this blog. I’m still learning the simple truths I came across there, about letting go and trusting, and am so grateful that the Sangha, in whatever new forms it takes, is always present, teaching, learning, and sharing.

Buddhist English Library Seoul
Seoul Dharma Group

9 thoughts on “Saturday Sangha”

  1. That’s it, Marcus!
    ‘to know when you can get no further by your own action’ makes decent and opens a new page in the book of ones life. and then to find the right Sangha is the luckiest thing that can happen to you. I’m so grateful, too, to have found my Sangha, you all, and to know there’s always somebody around (in the world…) who understands what I’m thinking, feeling, talking about. Thank you!

  2. Thank you Chong Go Sunim! And thank you too for adding the great photos to this post! As for last night’s game…..!!! Well, the least said the better! LOL!


  3. what is this obcession with chasing a ball and winning –
    but I do have German friends and no English ones…and cheering for Uruguay while coming to Korean temple?-ha ha

  4. Nice to learn some background of this blog (also, the photos are great). I enjoy visiting the blog and following along on the latest developments.

    In case anyone might wonder, I am in Sacramento, CA USA. I learned about the blog from Chong Go Sunim, and of him through an email inquiry I made regarding Daehaeng Kun Sunim after reading No River to Cross. It has been a very rewarding journey, of which I am quite grateful.

  5. Hi Gary,

    Thank you! And, yes, it’s great to learn something about you and your background. Thank you. Oh, and I love your blog! And if you feel inspired to tell us more about your journey, we’d love to have a guest post from you!

    All the best,

    Marcus _/\_

  6. Thank you Marcus!
    It sometimes feels like those were the good ol’ days, even though it was such a short amount of time…
    With you and Joe both gone, it’s been, well, quiet! haha

    It is nice that we’ve kept such a great connection, though.
    there are too many wonderful people with whom I haven’t.

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