Monday, December 12, 2011

Introducing Lorean Zen to the West

One of the most effective means of globalizing Korean Buddhism or introducing it to the West is through good books.

“Open the Mind, See the Light” by “Seon” (Zen) master Jinje is highly recommended for anyone who is interested in learning more about topics related to Korean Buddhism and meditation in everyday life.

Ven. Jinje is a leading monk of the Joyge Order of Korean Buddhism and one of the greatest living masters of the practice of Seon. He was awarded the title of “daejonsa,” meaning “most eminent monk,” by the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism in 2004.

A book containing Ven. Jinje’s latest interviews and Dharma talks was published in English last month. An impressive feature of this book is that it was translated and edited by non-Korean experts who are exceptionally knowledgeable about Korean Buddhism as well as the Korean language.

It was translated by the American monk Ven. Hyongak, popular author and translator of several books related to Korean Buddhism. He is the leader of a Korean Zen center in Munich, Germany.

In addition, the book was edited by Prof. Robert E. Buswell, a distinguished professor of Buddhist studies at UCLA and founding director of its Center for Korean Studies. In 2009, he was awarded the prestigious Manhae Grand Prize, a major national prize in Korea, in recognition of the monk-turned-scholar’s pioneering contributions to establishing Korean Buddhist studies in the West.

“Even in Korea, Jinje Sunim (monk) is the last of his kind and seeing him is like meeting in the flesh one of the classic Zen masters one otherwise finds only in books.” Buswell wrote in the preface of the book. “Jinje is widely acknowledged as being one of the two most eminent teachers of Korean Seon meditation. Most South Korean Buddhists, in fact, know that adage ‘Songdam in the north, Jinje in the south.’”

Ven. Songdam is a well-known seon master who teaches in western port city of Incheon, while Jinje is the most renowned seon master in the southern part of Korea as the spiritual leader of Donghwa Temple in Daegu.

The combined expertise and fine scholarship of Ven. Hyongak and Buswell have produced a fresh, reliable reading material for those who follow Korean Buddhism.

The contents of the book are from a recent historic visit the 77-year-old monk made to the U.S. in September. The first half of the book is in Korean and the second half is in English.

Meditation in daily life

The English part is the translations of talks and interviews from Ven. Jinje’s New York visit, centering on how meditation practice can be incorporated into daily life and what kind of effects they can have on peoples’ lives.

Shortly after the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack at the World Trade Center, the Korean monk gave a Dharma talk at an unlikely venue — a huge Christian church in New York City.

A video of Ven. Jinje’s speech is available on YouTube. But this book is more useful if one is interested in learning about Ven. Jinje’s teachings beyond the 20-minute speech, as it contains additional materials, including an in-depth interview with renowned theologian Paul Knitter of the Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York.

“This mountain monk has come to this sacred site not to compare different religious traditions and figure out which one is superior, but simply to introduce the spiritual culture of Asia as one step in the process of fostering world peace,” Ven. Jinje said at Riverside Church. “All religions must become like friendly siblings and good neighbors who cooperate in purifying the inner life of human beings and making the world a better place to live.”

Letters of welcome from former U.S. President Bill Clinton and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg were featured ahead of the talk that drew 2,000 people at the Riverside Church, a venue that has a history of uniting religions and races. Respected leaders like the Dalai Lama, the late Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela had once spoken at the church as well.

“For 500 years, Seon has been practiced only by monks and nuns in the mountain, not by laypersons. So I had made up my mind to teach this good seon practice to all citizens and people of the world,” Ven. Jinje said.

“When you practice seon meditation steadily in your everyday life, you will be free from all inner conflicts and will live a carefree life; your family and the whole world will live in peace.”

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