Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Buddha's 2,550th Birthday

Dongdaemun Stadium ceremony

Buddha's birthday is celebrated this Friday, May 5th but the biggest even took place Sunday night in the form of a huge parade marching from Dongdaemun Stadium to Jogyesa temple near Insadong. I went to Hwagyesa beforehand and listened to Hyon Gak Sunim give a dharma talk on war. His talk centered around something Seung Sahn Sunim said, "Ending war not possible, also not necessary (italics mine)." The talk was insightful and entertaining, full of the dramatic silences, Konglish phrases and repeats of his favorite stories that are characteristic of Hyon Gak Sunim. As a reply to a question about teaching and learning (after the first misunderstood answer of a long silence), Hyon Gak Sunim tried a more blatant approach, yelling as loud as possible something to the man along the lines of, "WHAT DO YOU WANT TO LEARN?! TELL ME! WHAT...DO...YOU...WANT...TO...LEARN?! EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW, YOU ALREADY HAVE RIGHT NOW!" There's one more reason to love Hyon Gak Sunim's dharma talks.

I asked Hyon Gak Sunim a question regarding his book, 'From Harvard to Hwagyesa', which is written only in Korean, without an English translation available. Perhaps I am being naive, but I am honestly curious why he wrote his book after listening to his dharma teachings. I realize it's only a teaching tool (all words are bullshit, right?), but then why not translate it into bullshit English as well?

"Why did you write a book and why only in Korean?" I asked.

He wittily answered, "To answer your first question, I wrote it for you. And only in Korean so you cannot read it." Laughter from the audience, and then, "Writing the book was mistake." And that was it. So now I know... sort of.

Click here to see a video clip of the parade.

After the dharma talk we all took the bus and then the subway to Dongdaemun Stadium where a ceremony was held before the parade that involved lots of showing off of elaborate robes and gowns, lanterns and dances.

I went to the parade thinking I would be watching from the sidelines but during the ceremony at the stadium I was given a flag (along with several other foreigners, Koreans, monks and nuns from Hwagyesa) to carry in the parade, to represent Seoul International Zen Center. Hwagyesa was towards the end of the procession and it went for about 2 hours. I met a few people throughout the day who frequent the temple, including a nun-in-training from Texas named Wan San (sp?) who originally came to Korea to teach English and a Korean girl named JY who has lived abroad for the last 16 years and says she's probably more of a foreigner than I am.

Throughout the parade I had some interesting conversations all the while feeling like somewhat of a celebrity marching past the cheering, waving, photo-snapping and smiling crowd. It was definitely the biggest event I've been to in Korea and I didn't even witness it all from my moving post near the end. That's the sacrifice you make when you take part in the festivities, but it was a small price to pay, I must say.

Hwagyesa marching

Smiling nun