Friday, July 10, 2015

One Tibetan Temple in Korea

My anthropology friend wanted to meet a Tibetan monk she had bumped into last year at a Buddhist ceremony at the Chogyesa, so according to his name card, his temple was located on the north side of Seoul. More precisely, his "temple", more like a room dedicated to prayers, is located near the Jihaeng subway stop, line #1, and takes up a corner of the 11th floor of a tall office building.


While Tibetan Buddhism, like all forms of Buddhism, uses the primary colors, the style of painting, the detail and decoration, and the arrangement and religious accessories are noticeably different from the more simplistic art forms in Korean Buddhism, which has strongly been influenced by the aesthetics of confucianism that prevailed in the Joseon Dynasty.

My anthropology friend was curious about all of the Buddhas and boddasattvas on the large altar. The center Buddha is definitely a Tibetan Buddha but to the right I believe is the Korean Buddha and a smaller Buddha image below its knee, something evidently that was odd because my friend tsk-tsk-ed when seeing it as the roles those two Buddhas play in the karma cycle are competitive.
According to the single Tibetan monk (actually he practices Tibetan Buddhism but he is Nepalese), there are many Buddhas, and so for someone like me who knows relatively nothing about Buddhism, the idea that Buddha's birthday in various Asian countries falls on different days, strikes me as humorous and also very inconsistent. The monk shared with me the Karuna vol. 2 publication (published in Kathmandu) to answer some of my questions.

Karuna vol 2, p 4 - "Buddha Was Born in Nepal: Lumbini the Birthplace of Buddha"
Lumbini is the traditional birthplace of Gautama Buddha, who was born more than 2500 years ago. It is situated about 360 ams from Kathmandu, in the foothills of the Himalayas in southern Nepal. In Sanskrit it means "the lovely". 
The restored gardens and surroundings have the remains of ancient stupas and monasteries. There are also many modern monasteries and shrines from various nations scattered around the site. 
The most important temple is that of Queen Maya Devi, mother of Buddha. There is a stone image of Maya Devi holding onto a branch of a sala tree. According to legend, Maya Devi had a premonition that she would give birth to a special being and journeyed from the capital city to be with her parents. While resting at Lumbini, a beautiful grove at the time, she felt labor pains and grabbed a branch. She then gave birth painlessly to the Lord Buddha through the right side of her body. This was said to be witnessed by Brahma and many holy beings who accompanied him when he descended to witness and rejoice in this amazing event. 
To the south of the temple is a pool where Queen Maya Devi was said to have bathed before the Buddha's birth and where afterwards she gave him his first purification bath. It is said that after his birth the Lord Buddha took seven steps, gazed in the four directions and proclaimed that he was lord of all beings and the universe and that would eradicate birth, aging, sickness and death. 
In 250 BC the Buddhist convert King Ashoka built 4 stupas and a stone pillar on the site. The inscription on the stone pillar states that this is where the Lord Buddha was born.
Up to about the 9th century many temples and monasteries were built. However, by the 14th century this sacred place was forgotten, due to a decline in Buddhism in Nepal and because of Nepal's remoteness. The site was rediscovered in 1895 and more than 100 years later was designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Presently it is being developed under the Master Plan of the Lumbini Development Trust. 

I found the following story on the prayer beads as very interesting. There is certainly culture twisted deeply in religious ritual artifacts.

Karuna, vol 2, p 38 - "The Story of the Bodhicitta Mala"
"The Bodhicitta mala has become famous and much sought after by many Dharma practitioners. It is said that Termahal in Nepal is the only place where the bodhicitta seeds, which are used to make the mala, will grow. It is also believed that it was Guru Rinpoche who put the plant here so that future generations could purify themselves through mantra recitation. It is said that the beads contain mantras on the outside but only the high lamas and the dakinis can see them. But the local people know about this and treat the beads with great respect, always putting them in a high place. 
One very old tantric text, the "Thengwa Gyalb" or "Mala Blessing" also mentions the Bodhicitta beads in relation to Termahal. The mala itself is very versatile and can be used in a number of pujas and for general mantra recitation. 
Unfortunately now the beads have become part of Dharma materialism and a must-have item for some practitioners. This has forced the price up from a few rupees in the past to over 60,000 rupees for some malas, thus making them inaccessible for many."
And to clarify some of the religious lingo here, another article written about pujas is in the publication. So a puja is a prayer to Buddha. How interesting as there is a Puja restaurant near Dongmyo station in Seoul run by Nepalese. So now I realize the deep meaning that the restaurant owners instilled in their restaurant. By the way, the dishes there are of brass which is likewise the style of dishes that monks use. Very interesting to discover meaning when I wasn't even looking for it!

Karuna vol. 2, p 43 - "The Power of Prayers"
What is a puja? A puja is the reciting and offering of prayers to all the Buddhas and holy beings to request their blessing or assistance. It is a very powerful and effective method to clear and avert inner and outer obstacles. Pujas are performed for general success, for the sick and dying and for those who have passed away. 
Monthly pujas performed at the NJC Monastery: 
Guru Puja (10th day of the Tibetan month)
To express gratitude to our Dharma teachers and to request a high rebirth for those who have died 
Mani and Butter-lamp Prayers (15th day of the Tibetan month)
Especially for those who have died 
Mahakala Puja (19th day of the Tibetan month)
To remove obstacles and to obtain success 
Dakini Puja (25th day of the Tibetan month)
For protection 
Other pujas by request - cost US$100 for each puja. The money is distributed in offerings to the sangha who perform the puja and to the cost of the food offerings (tsog), and other expenses. Dedication prayers and Mani prayers are recited on your request. An offering would be gratefully accepted but is not compulsory.

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