Last week I re-visited Seoul and was struck, once again, by what a great place it is for anyone interested in Buddhism. In fact, in my opinion, it is the best, and certainly the most welcoming, place to go for anyone from the west who is interested in the Dharma but is limited to English-language only study.
I went to see my friend and teacher Chong Go Sunim, but having got to the city a little early, I visited the new Temple-stay building opposite Jogyesa Temple. Not only is the whole idea of Templestay wonderful, the new building is great. You can arrange temple stays there (as you’d expect!) and there is also a bookshop, and superb buffet style temple-food restraunt on the 2nd floor – vegan, cheap, and delicious. I wished this had been here years ago back when I lived in Seoul – I’d have been a regular!
There is nothing like this building in Thailand or Japan (the other Buddhist countries I am most familiar with) – a central place for arranging Temple-stays and great vegetarian food for visitors. (Can you stay in a Japanese temple? Possibly, but I’ve never seen it promoted. Can you eat vegetarian food in a Thai temple – I was never able to find any in all the years I spent living and attending Dharma events there). Really, compared to other places I’ve lived in, the Korean Sangha has provided a lot of great opportunities for the world to study Buddhism.
And nearby is the Buddhist English Library of Seoul – which is where I first met Chong Go Sunim and my Dharma brothers. I didn’t have time to go in and say hello this time, but have often done so in the past. You always get a warm welcome. You can go there to read or chat, and they have a busy schedule of English-language Dharma events. Chong Go Sunim runs a Saturday afternoon class there, and there are others too. I remember a few years ago studying with a Tibetan monk in English in the library on Saturday mornings. And a Burmese monk on Thursdays.
Of course the main thing is the temple nearby – and all over the city and country. I have never, in many years of living in and visiting the country, found a Korean temple locked or unwelcoming. From the main temple Jogyesa, where I popped in the other day to join in (no one batted an eyelid at the foriegner picking up his mat for the service), to the quietest, most remote, mountain temple, the doors are open and non-Koreans are welcome to sit, chant, bow, or whatever they like – both alone, and along with everyone else.
It was only a few hours in Seoul, but it really was a lovely time – and a reminder to me of just how wonderful this place is for anyone wishing to study Buddhism. I took a few photos too – but am having problems with WordPress and can’t get them onto the post. I also met my good friend and Dharma brother Joseph, and we joined in morning ceremony at the Hanmaum Seonwon in Anyang and then had a good long chat with Chong Go Sunim. A wonderful trip. Thank you both!
2 thoughts on “Seoul: city of Dharma”
Thanks, Joseph. I can’t wait!
Great post, Marcus. These are salient observations and somewhat ironic given Korea’s reputation as xenophobic. It really is a great place to practice. I remember taking the bus to Bongeun-sa in Seoul and spending the day there. I’d grab a mat, do bowing in the Kwanseumbosal hall, and recite dharani, and or just sit. There are almost always others there, albeit older women!, but at any rate, you can find fellow practitioners of the Way to share your time with. And then, you can always count on a service to attend. They’re not much fun at first when you don’t know the texts but if you spend some time with the texts and learn portions of them, it can be really enjoyable.