Sunday Photo; blossoms and lanterns in Gwanchoksa

Not long after the arrival of the blossoms is the appearance of lanterns across the lands, letting us know that the Buddha’s birthday will be celebrated soon.

There isn’t the same intensity as the Christmas Season at home, but the spirit of the event maintains a true authenticity.

Being someone who can use a bit of motivation now and then, it’s a day that always encourages me to keep trying, and not to get too down on myself when I don’t succeed!

Wonhyo’s Awakening

Lately I’ve been (slowly) revising a collection of stories told by Daehaeng Kun Sunim  during her Dharma talks. Here’s the story of the awakening of one of the most famous figures in Korean Buddhism, Wonhyo Daesa (617–686 CE).

Wonhyo Sunim and Uisang Sunim were Buddhist monks who had become close friends, and were on their way to China to find a great master under whom they could study.  They had left Gyeongju, the capital of the Silla Kingdom, and were headed to the southwest coast of Korea to find a boat that could take them across the sea to China.

After weeks of walking, they were deep in the rival kingdom of Baekje.  The sky had turned dark and the showers were fast becoming torrents.  Before long the rain was blowing sideways and the two friends could barely see in front of them.  They looked around for some kind of shelter and eventually stumbled across an abandoned hut.  It was too wet to start a fire and they were both so exhausted that they fell fast asleep as soon as they lay down.  In the middle of the night Wonhyo Sunim woke up with a burning thirst.  Half asleep, he found a broken bowl half full of rain water. He drank it down with a sigh, and fell back to sleep.

In the morning when Wonhyo Sunim awoke, he was shocked by what he saw: decayed bodies were scattered all around where the two sunims had been sleeping.  This was no ordinary hut – it was a place for getting rid of the bodies of people who had died of the plague.  And the bowl full of rain water?  It was half a skull, with flesh still inside and crawling with maggots.  Running outside, Wonhyo Sunim began to vomit as if his insides were going to come outside.

Kneeling there with his stomach tied in knots, he suddenly realized, “The water was the same – it’s my thoughts that were different. Last night it was pure and refreshing, and now it’s so disgusting that.… The only thing that’s changed are my thoughts.”

As he quietly sat there, Uisang Sunim said to him, “Why don’t we get going; you’ll feel better once we get away from this place.”

Wonhyo Sunim didn’t respond. After a moment he asked Uisang Sunim, “Why do you want to go to China?”

“To learn the path, of course.”

“The path isn’t someplace far away.  It’s within us, wherever we are.  Why go to China to look for what’s already with us?

With this, Wonhyo Sunim headed back to the lands of Silla.

Wonhyo Sunim had taken the first step:  he had realized that it was his thoughts that made heaven and it was his thoughts that made hell.  If he wanted to attain the enlightenment of the Buddhas and Patriarchs, he would have to start with himself.  And there was no point in going somewhere else to do it.  So he took activity of his own mind as his fundamental hwadu (koan) and returned home to Silla. 

 If you want to discover what’s true and what’s real, you’ll have to start with your own mind. All of the principles and truths of the universe are already contained within you. Our fundamental mind gives rise to thousand different manifestations, and our fundamental mind can combine ten thousand different manifestations into one. This mind that ceaselessly gives rise to things and causes them to subside, also gives rise to every kind of different person, and can combine all those people into one.

So take the functioning of your own mind as your hwadu. If you practice like this, you’ll come to know what binds your mind, and what frees your mind. You’ll discover where you are rich and where you are impoverished, and you’ll discover that it’s mind that makes things big, and mind that makes the same things small. You’ll know for yourself the unimaginable wonders that this fundamental mind can call forth. By ceaselessly taking everything that arises through mind as your hwadu, you’ll realize that among all the things in the world, the path to true freedom begins with your own mind. For this is the very place of Buddha.

The fragrance of Grace


Those who have not yet been saved

will be saved

those who have not yet been set free
will be set free

those who have had no rest
will have rest

those who have not yet attained nirvana
will attain nirvana.

The Lotus Sutra, ch. 5





Lanterns for Buddha’s Birthday

The Buddha’s Birthday (May 10, this year) is far and away the most important celebration on the Korean Buddhist calender. The preparations start nearly a year ahead of time at our center, and by January preparations are in full gear.  By the time things are finished in April, the lanterns and floats will be gorgeous!  (Click on the images for a bit higher resolution image.)
        For everyone in the Seoul area, there’s been one important change this year:  the main lantern parade will begin at dusk Saturday, May 7th, and will go from Dongguk University to Jogye Temple.   Sunday, May 8th, will be the street fair in front of Jogye Temple, with a celebration/party in the evening.  The actual day is May 10, Tuesday, and so temples big and small across the country will be having their own celebrations.

wiring the lantern holders






elephant at the base of the Avalokitesvara lantern


"say 'Kimchi'"


D -20, worklist


The Tree of Life. Actually, I'm not sure what this symbolizes(!), but I think it is that all creation shares the same root and are as leaves on the same tree.


each of the leaves are hand made of paper on a wire frame, and then painted



inside the tree

Sunday Photo; Magnolia and Plum Blossoms at Bulguk Temple

Gyungju, in general, is probably the best place to see blossoms in Korea, and any trip to Gyungju isn’t complete without a visit to Bulguksa.

This will the be only the second year since I’ve lived in Korea that I won’t be making a trip to Gyungju, but I’ve got enough photos stocked up to last a decade of Sunday Photos!

I hope you enjoy this one!

Bringing compassion into action – some Buddhists’ response to Japan

Here’s a guest post from Ojichan about his experience (and lack of) with people’s reactions to the disasters in Japan. I’m posting it here not to embarrass anyone or beat anyone up, but just to encourage us all to be a bit more aware of what’s going on in our surroundings.  I’ll post a link below to the original comment and my response, but for now I’d like to let people think about this for themselves.
     And congratulations to Nat, who raised nearly 8,000 bhat for Japan through her yoga classes!

Thank You and Metta to you all for your discussion here about our Buddhist response to the Japan disaster. So glad as well that your immediate friends and family were OK.

I am troubled about my practice and am hoping some of you might offer me some helpful advice or guidance.

I have Japanese family in Tokyo, Kyoto and Aomori and friends in Sendai. They have all now been found alive and OK. However, the first several hours we were very concerned that our family in Aomori were gone. They live near the harbor at sea level. When we called early, they answered “Hello…” and then the phone lines went dead. It was about 48 hrs. before we knew everyone of our close family and friends had survived. No tsunami in Aomori. Our friend in Sendai was evacuated.

I have practiced Vipassana, mostly off and on, for 42 years. But in the past 4 years I have been very committed. Daily practice, active leader in my sangha, several retreats and recently accepted as a student by a well-respected teacher in another city.

Here’s my dilemma: All my teachers, all the dharma talks, all the Sangha members are always talking about the importance of compassion for others and practicing metta.
All the people in my sangha are always so appreciative about the many gifts of sushi my wife has made for their gatherings. But when this happened, for a full week after, only one person called or even asked when I walked past them on the street. I tried not to notice, to surrender, to accept. But the silence was deafening and painful. My wife understands and responds with the stoicism of the Japanese. I can only attempt to imitate it.

In an effort not to go into victim hood I wrote a letter, describing the events and deep emotions for our family in those first few days of unknown. I added a very helpful letter I received from a Buddhist friend who was amongst the survivors at Sendai, describing all the enlightenment she and others were experiencing as they supported each other to recover and survive. I sent it t the one person who called. She sent it on to the entire Sangha. I then got about four very brief condolence emails. That felt a little better. But since then, nothing more… I myself lead a Tonglen meditation for the People of Japan the next week. There was good turnout. But since then, silence again.

I sent a copy of our experiences with our family, the letter from Sendai and the materials I organized on “A Buddhist Response for the People of Japan” to my personal teacher. I suggested she might find it useful for any of her presentations or retreats. No response. Then last week she emails me that she wanted to reschedule our next 1:1 talk because she was too busy…again, no comment about our family or any of the events in or the Buddhist people of Japan. I checked her website, her sangha’s website, hoping to see that she had responded in some way with an offering of metta for Japan. No comment at all. I’m scheduled to attend another retreat this weekend with another prominent teacher. I checked his website. Nothing there either.

I googled the internet looking for anything from Buddhists in response to one of the greatest disasters ever. Very little there either.

I was so pleased to see your comments here, but I’m very troubled and honestly don’t know what the truth is about why our fellow Buddhists, our world-wide sangha is so silent at a time like this. Perhaps, what I’m hearing from myself, is that the lesson in this is to build my trust and faith only in my own daily practice. To not put other’s words or opinions, even teachers above my own mindful observations while following my breath, and through my own metta, even in the midst of such apparent mindlessness all around me. But so many teachers, even the Buddha, also urge us to take sanctuary in the Sangha.
I honestly don’t know what to do with that now! I ‘m also unsure about how I should respond to my teacher when I do speak next with her. I know I need to surrender somehow and not add to the suffering. But it also seems unskillful and nonloving to simply repress this and never ask my sangha or my teacher to look more mindfully at what appears to be a pretty huge gap between their dharma talk and their actions in a time of real need amongst their fellow Buddhists in Japan. I have no idea what right speech or action, might be in the midst of this apparent silence.

I’d very much appreciate, anything you’d care to offer here in the way of wisdom, understanding or guidance.

In the meantime, my wife and I are going to Japan in a few weeks. We will roll up our shirt sleeves and pitch in what ever humble opportunity we can find there in our neighborhood and I’m planning to go find the local monk, and ask him if he has something I or my sangha can help. “Gambarimasu!”


Link:  the original comment and responses