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American monk communicates meaning of Buddhism to Korean kids

By Jung Dae-ha, The Hankyoreh, Jul 6,2015

Gwangju, South Korea -- It was the morning of July 5 at Mugak Temple in downtown Gwangju. “We do yoga, too. It isn’t hard, it’s fun,” said Lee Ji-won, 12, a student in the sixth grade of elementary school.

<< Gyeong-bon
Temple in Gwangju will also open to visiting athletes and staff during the Universiade

Lee was taking part in an English-language Zen meditation program at the temple, which is affiliated with the Jogye Order of Buddhism. The meditation program takes place at the Meditation and Practice Center on the 3rd floor of the culture building at the temple at 10 am on the first and third Sunday of each month.

Gyeong-bon, 29, the monk in charge of the program, comes down the stairs surrounded by children. After the meditation is over, Gyeong-bon, who is from Missouri, takes the 14 children to the temple’s cafeteria and teaches them the American way to make tasty sandwiches.

“Children have a hard time doing things while sitting down. We just do meditation for five or ten minutes and then have conversation and play games in English,” the monk said.

“I communicate the teachings of Buddhism to the children through conversation and games,” Gyeong-bon explained.

One popular game is called “Becoming the Buddha,” which teaches children bits and pieces of the life of the Buddha.

“One kid sits down and plays Buddha, and the other kids are demons. The demons try to get the Buddha to laugh, but if he can hold out for two minutes, he achieves enlightenment,” Gyeong-bon said.

At 2 pm, there is a meditation session for adults. There are three rounds of meditating in a seated position for 25 minutes and then walking for 5 minutes, after which participants chat while drinking tea.

Gyeong-bon is in charge of a four-hour temple stay. The Culture Corps of Korean Buddhism (directed by a monk named Jin-hwa) is running a temple experience program at Mugak and Jeungsim Temples from July 6 to 14 for foreign athletes, judges, and staff who are participating in the 2015 Summer Universiade, held in Gwangju.

Gyeong-bon is planning to first provide the guests with an introduction to the temple and a simple explanation of the teachings of Buddhism and then teach them about meditation and the tea ceremony.

“Meditating before the competition focuses the mind, which will come in handy during the games,” Gyeong-bon said.

Gwangju Metropolitan City asked the Culture Corps to prepare the program in order to promote the distinctive Korean beauty of the Buddhist temples to the foreign athletes and staff.

At 7 pm on July 6, the Culture Corps will be serving temple food at Jeungsim Temple in the Unrim Neighborhood of the Dong District of Gwangju. Around 300 people will sample temple food at the dinner, including the leaders of delegations from countries participating in the games, athletes, and members of the organizing committee.

After a demonstration of the drum that is played during the morning and evening Buddhist services and a promotional video about temple food and temple stays, there will be a dinner and concert.

“I encountered Buddhism during my university days when I was having a number of difficulties and couldn’t find direction for my life,” Gyeong-bon said.

The monk recalls that he received real help for controlling his feelings during a course he took in university called Introduction to Buddhism.

After graduating from Indiana State University with a degree in religion, Gyeong-bon came to South Korea in 2009, where he became a monk at Songgwang Temple. He studied for four years at Joong-Ang Sangha University and is currently working at Mugak Temple.

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