Saturday, April 16, 2016

Sinheung-sa Temple and Jang Bogo

Sinheungsa meaning "newly emerging temple" was founded and originally named Bulnosa or "not aging temple" by Venerable Kim Seongyeol in 1932. Though having such a short history, its foundation spirit dates back to one of the greatest admirals in Korean history, the commoner Jang Bogo (787-846) from Unified Silla (676-935).

Not only a strong believer in Buddhism, Jang was a powerful maritime figure who for several decades effectively controlled the West Sea and Korean coast between southwestern Korea and China's Shandong peninsula. His impressive fleet of ships was centralized on the island of Wando off Korea's southernmost tip. So influential a figure did Jang become in late Silla politics that he was granted official office as Maritime Commissioner of the Cheonghaejin Garrison. With increasing power, he became rather contentious with the Silla king and its related political powers, and in a bold step to marry his daughter to the king of the Silla kingdom, he overstepped his power and was assassinated in 846. In death, he was worshipped as a god, especially on the small island of Jangdo. The shamanistic temple on the island worships "Great General Song", who is, according to islanders, the title for Jang Bogo.

He was the founder of the now defunct Beophwasa, "Dharma prospering temple", on Wando and he helped Buddhism grow in the region. In fact, many places on the island were named after Buddhist terminology. Though Beophwasa was later destroyed, its historical legacy was passed down to Sinheungsa, which is an important temple to the islanders.

Jang used Buddhism as a tool to educate and unify people. His influence is evident in the Beophwawon temple in China, which he built, and several other temples having the same name and which he also built—in Kyoto Japan, in Zhejang China, on Jeju island Korea.

Jang sponsored the Korean monks who were studying Buddhism in China. After returning to Korea, they became forefathers in a new Buddhist movement that started to shift the method of mind enlightenment from sutra study to Seon/Zen practice. In the southwestern part of the Korean peninsula, he gave large support to three key temples of the nine newly opened Seon temples. This Seon Buddhism grew to become a mainstream for teaching Korean Buddhism throughout history. 

Of particular interest in Sinheung-sa is the Wooden Seated Medicine Buddha in the main Buddha hall. It is thought that the medicine Buddha is one of a Triad of Medicine Buddhas in Simjeok-am Hermitage if Daeheung-sa, and which was later moved to Sinheung-sa by Monk Eungsong. According to record being kept inside the Buddha, this medicine Buddha was carved out of wood in 1628 and coated with gold in 1865. It was created in peace time after the end of the period of Japanese invasions, the aftermath of war when Buddha statues began to be produced nationwide in large quantities.

Walking distance from Sinheung-sa

The temple is located high on a sharp hill overlooking Dadohae Haesang National Park, which is heavily dotted with islands amid expansive sweeps of water. What a view! About 30 minutes hike down the mountain-hill is a fish market teaming with fresh fish pulled that day from the ocean, and a bit further is the tall Wando Tower that climbs into the sky to give a powerfully impressive view of a waterscape of the national park.

Korean Buddhists don't eat fish or seafood because it's taking life. I do wonder, however, when this practice started because historically Korea has had a lot of dependence on the duality of agricultural and maritime food fare.
Temple-stay at Sinheung-sa

About 35 people participated in the temple-stay offered by Dongguk University Seon Center. As a guess, about half of the people were Buddhist and 11 of us were foreigners (USA, Poland, Brazil, Spain, China, Japan, India).

Amazingly huge! Dragons are the protectors of Korean Buddhism,
but I'd never seen a dragon sitting on the ground before. They're always been portrayed as celestial creatures
of the air as they represent the space between earth and heaven. 
The celestial phoenix also plays a central role in Korean Buddhism.
The blue and the yellow dragons over the Buddha. One day I'll understand the significance of these two colors which invariably play a central part in the Korean temples.
The Buddha of the main hall. I'm not sure if this is the famed medicine Buddha or not.
108 Prostrations

The number of 108 is a number important in Hinduism and Buddhism. The number represents the number of defilements in the mind, or as some look at it, the number of compartments in the mind. Each prostration opens a compartment and clears consciousness, and by bowing the full 108 times, the mind and the body become one. Consciousness is slowly restored this way. As one source says, "Our bowing takes away our karma mind, our thinking mind, and helps us to find our true nature and save all things from suffering". The last part is very disconnected, but ultimately the bowing is supposed to help the individual and the earth keep from suffering. I'll have to think about this. At the moment it makes no sense. Here's another quote related to bowing 108 times:
"The practicer of Buddhism is the never-ending humbling of the ego. Humbling yourself before the world, by lowering your body you realize that you are one with everything. Performing 108 prostrations is yet another path towards the realization of the True Self."

And then a look at the 108 bows as expressed as a mathematical equation:
We have 6 doors of perception: sight, sound, smell, touch, taste and thought.
There are 3 aspects of time: past, present and future.
There are 2 conditions of the heart/mind: pure or impure.
There are 3 possible attitudes: like, dislike and indifference.
Korean Buddhists use this formula 6 x 3 x 2 x 3 = 108 bows to cut through our Karma.
Supposedly temple-stay is about helping people find or restore their True Self. During temple-stay there are three meals (some temples offer only two, but Korean monks really like to eat so the two-meal temples are rare) and three meditations, one of which usually involves prostrating one's self 108 times.

The ceremony begins with the ringing of a large bell inside the main Buddha hall.
The repetitious ringing of the bell is to, as I understand, relieve the sufferers in hell.
Each strike is supposed to offer some relief. The ringing is performed while chanting. 
The head monk then moves in front of the Buddha statue and, while chanting (the lotus sutra?) begins the 108 bows.
At first the rhythm is slow and then it picks up.
Bow to the floor, left foot overlapping right foot slightly, lift hands palm upwards past the ears to lift up prayers or thoughts? Your forehead, elbows and knees (the five points of the body) are to touch the floor simultaneously.

And following the 108 bows when supposedly the mind and body are pure and unified, a Dharma talk is given.

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