Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Korean Buddhism seminar to enlighten the world

Overseas scholars and Korean monks will gather together in Seoul for an international seminar to discuss Korean Buddhism. (Left: Professor Robert Buswell of UCLA, Yonhap News)

They will attend an international seminar organized by a U.S. scholar studying Buddhism and who wishes to introduce "ganwha seon," the traditional way of training in Korean Buddhism, to the world.

This scholar is Robert Buswell, professor and head of the Korea Buddhist Research Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). He will lead a seminar titled "Ganwha seon, Illuminating the world" on Aug. 12 and13 at Dongguk University in Seoul.

Nine overseas scholars, including Professors Robert Sharf of UC Berkeley, James Robson of Harvard University, and six Korean scholars, will attend the seminar, in which well-known Korean monks who have been following this path will also participate.

The seminar participants will visit several Korean temples to look around the sites where ganwha seon is practiced and join in "chamseon," the Korean way of Buddhist meditation after the seminar. This will offer a unique opportunity, especially for overseas scholars who have studied Korean Buddhism only in books to experience the way ganhwa seon is actually practiced..

Prof. Buswell organized the event in order to introduce the merits of the ganwha seon practice of Korean monks to the world, such as he actually experienced it.

He is a world-renowned Buddhist scholar who entered a monastery in Thailand, became attracted to ganwha seon and spent five years practicing chamseon at Songwang-sa temple in Suncheon, Jeollanam-do (South Jeolla Province), from 1974. He is one of the first monks from overseas in Korea who speaks fluent Korean.

He later went back to the United States to study Korean Buddhism and became a professor at UCLA. He established a Korean studies institute, the largest in the United States, and received the Manhae Grand Prize in 2008 for his efforts to introduce Buddhism to Westerners.

The Manhae Grand Prize was started in 1997 in Korea to commemorate the history and spirit of Manhae Han Yong-wun (1879-1944), a monk, poet and independence fighter.

Most of the nine overseas professors invited for the seminar are specialists in Chinese or Japanese Buddhism. James Robson of Harvard University, Robert Sharf of UC Berkeley and Natasha Heller of UCLA are Chinese Buddhism experts, while William Bodiford of UCLA specializes in Japanese Buddhism. Other speakers at the seminar include Halvor Eifring, professor of University of Oslo, and Ryan Bongseok Joo of Hammshire College (also known as "Monk Hyemin" in Korean). (Above photo: Robert Buswell (right) at the Manhae Grand Prize ceremony in 2008, Yonhap News)

Though many overseas tourists experience Korean Buddhism through temple stay programs, the world's academic circles think of Chinese "chan" or Japanese "zen" first, while still finding Korean ganwha seon unfamiliar. But Korean ganwha seon preserves the original form of the traditional Buddhism more than than Japan or China, where it actually began. This is why overseas scholars have showed strong interest in participating in the seminar, said Buswell in an interview published in the Chosun Ilbo, Korea's leading daily.

This seminar has a unique experience program. Monks will give a Buddhist writing before and after the seminar on both days of the event. Participating scholars will visit Korean temples -- Seokjong-sa, Songgwang-sa, Magok-sa, Sudeok-sa and Gaesim-sa -- and witness part of "haan-geo," a three-month-long period of Buddhist training that monks perform from the middle of the 4th to the 7th lunar month.

Since ganwha seon is not only for Buddhist monks but also for ordinary people, Prof. Buswell said he wishes to introduce it to meditation specialists in the world, in the interview with the Chosun Ilbo.

For more information about Buswell’s Korean studies center in the U.S., click here.

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