Can Korea’s Temple Stay Program be applied in the US?

South Korea has established a cultural tourism program that invites visitors to stay at Buddhist temples throughout the country. The program was launched in 2002 in response to a shortage of beds during the 2002 World Cup, which was co-hosted by South Korea and Japan. Known as the Korea Temple Stay program, it is a partnership between the Jogye Buddhist Order and the Korea Tourism Organisation.

The program showcases a representative aspect of Korean culture – the 1700-year-old Korean tradition of Buddhism. By staying at a temple, visitors spend time doing what the monks and nuns do, which is “to find your true self.” They get up very early and meditate through much of the day. The types of meditation include sitting, walking, and chanting meditation. They also practice ceremonial services, hold formal monastic meals, and conduct tea ceremonies. More recently, the program has organized itself around themes, which include health, consolation, and relaxation.

The Temple Stay program has been expanding year by year. In 2013, over 186,000 people have stayed in the 120 participating temples. Sixteen of the temples are open to foreign nationals. Over 110,000 foreigners have participated from 2002 and 2011.

Other regions could take advantage of a rising interest in meditation by offering a systematic way for tourists to book stays at spiritual places. For example, perhaps individual state tourism agencies could establish websites similar to the Korea Tourism Organisation’s Temple Stay site to provide direct access to spiritual retreat centers of different faiths and practices. In the United States, it would be more about the diversity of offerings across religions and secular health centers verses South Korea’s mission to present a specific practice to represent their cultural heritage.

Material progress in the West

Niall Ferguson  asks the question, why did Western societies become so much more wealthy and prosperous than the rest of the world from between 1500 to 1900 CE in his TED talk.

He attributes what is known as “The Great Divergence” to six reasons, which he defined using the tech lingo of the day as killer apps.

Here are his killer apps:

1) Competition

2) Scientific revolution

3) Property rights

4) Modern medicine

5) The consumer society

6) The work ethic

But now, we are at the start of the Great Re-convergence, where eastern countries have “downloaded” all or some of these apps and are catching up or surpassing western nations in productivity, economic progress, patent applications, etc. So, we can say the West has taught the East all about material progress, and perhaps the era of western dominance in this area is over.

However, Niall does not ask whether Westerners have achieved greater happiness over those 400 years compared to easterners. Won Buddhism, established in the early 1900s, recognized and embraced this enfolding of material power. However, they warned of a weakening of spiritual power that came along with it, as people become more dependent on machines and immediate gratification. Their solution is a balance between the two so that people can maintain peace in the ongoing rush of a materialistic world. It might be time for the West to catch up with the East in terms of spiritual progress. Learn more about Won Buddhism in Smallwander’s Buddhism in America tour.

An ancient society based on individual happiness

King Ashoka was one of the greatest kings of ancient India, ruling from 269 BCE to 232 BCE.

King Ashoka

About six years into his rule, he led a successful battle where his armies killed many (over 100,000) and displaced many others. All that destruction led him to rethink the cost of traditional power and conquest. He looked to Buddhism for guidance and decided to change everything about his kingdom to be in accord with what he called “truth conquest.”

He based his new society on five principles:

  1. Transcendental individualism: Nothing is as important as the individual’s development toward freedom and happiness.
  2. Nonviolence: All life, including animal life, should be protected.
  3. Educational evolutionism: Education leads to awareness of the problems of self-centeredness.
  4. Social altruism: Others are as important as or more important than oneself. The collective good consists of individuals’ happiness.
  5. Universal democratism: Decentralized political decision-making is needed in order to support the evolution of individuals.

-Adapted from Robert Thurman’s book, Inner Revolution. Robert Thurman is a Spiritual Director of the Menla Mountain Retreat Center

Zen in America

Zen Master Nyogen Senzaki said in one of his dharma talks that America was compatible with Zen because:

  1. American philosophy is practical.
  2. American life does not cling to formality.
  3. The majority of Americans are optimists.
  4. Americans love nature.
  5. They are capable of simple living, being both practical and efficient.
  6. Americans consider true happiness to lie in universal brotherhood.
  7. The American conception of ethics is rooted in individual morality.
  8. Americans are rational thinkers.

Zen circleZen and American Life — Nyogen Senzaki

This seems to support what he wrote one of his poems:

“America has Zen all the time. Why, my teacher, should I meddle?”

Something to talk about during our Buddhism in America Tour.

Buddhism in America: A Guided Tour of Meditation Centers in Upstate NY

WDCThe various Buddhist sects have only recently been practicing within relatively small geographic areas. Upstate New York has been a new home to monasteries, temples, and retreat centers from nearly all the major Asian traditions for the last 40 years.

Smallwander is launching a guided tour of Buddhist retreat centers in the Catskill Mountains and the Hudson Valley of New York for anyone who wants to learn about the various traditions and styles of practice without having to make the 14-hour flight to Asia.

Three centers will be visited during this week-long tour: the Dai Bosatsu Zendo, the Menla Mountain Retreat Center, and the Won Dharma Center, whose practices originated in Japan, Tibet, and Korea, respectively. By spending two nights at each center, we will catch a glimpse of Buddhist practice within those cultural backdrops, while learning how Buddhism might be taking root and evolving in the United States.

When: July 14-20

Where: Pickup locations at Albany International Airport or Hudson Amtrak station

More details

If you interested, we’d love to have you join us!

A visit to the Dai Bosatsu Zendo

Dai Bosatsu ZendoI participated in an Intro to Zen weekend at the Dai Bosatsu Zendo (DBZ) last week. Although I have practiced meditation for years, this was my first time at a Zendo. The flavor was Japanese, from the architecture, to the greetings, robes, chanting, and style of practice, although all of the leaders were of Western descent, including Abbot Shinge Sherry Chayat. The DBZ was established in the late 70’s, and is one of the first monasteries in the States to practice authentic Rinzai Zen.

One of the most interesting parts of the practice are the formal meals. There is a specific protocol for eating, passing food, preparing your bowls for food, and cleaning them after you are finished. It is a little bit difficult for first-timers, but, the residents and long-time practitioners help you get along. The point to this, as with all the rituals, including the sitting (zazen) is mindfulness. The practice is very disciplined and orderly, but always with the highest goal in mind–relieving all beings from suffering.