Searching for Meaning of Self

By Kim Ki-tae, The Korea Times Staff Reporter, May 13, 2005

East European Monk Talks of His Relationship to Zen Buddhism

Seoul, South Korea -- Famous for encouraging his disciples to be free from any religious orthodoxy, Linji, a legendary Zen master of China in the ninth century, once wrote, ``If you meet the Buddha on your way, kill the Buddha/ If you meet the patriachs on your way, kill them.''

<< Rev. Oh Kwang - Korea Times Photo by Kim Hyun-tae

As if adopting such an iconoclastic viewpoint, Rev. Oh Kwang, head monk of Seoul International Zen Center, said he has little interest in the ``secular'' celebration of the Buddha.

``As a Zen monk, I don't pay much attention to Buddha's birthday,'' Oh Kwang told The Korea Times Thursday. ``I know that laypeople like to celebrate it with many decorations and events. For me, the day is just like any other day.''

What about the colorful lotus laterns strewn all over the nation? ``I like green trees and blue skies. I don't need any more colors,'' the 43-year-old monk said rather bluntly.

However, the monk from Eastern Europe who has made Korea his home, grew more serious when talking about the role of Buddhism.

``The religion needs to provide guide and instruction to all forms of lives. Most of all beliefs are pointing to the same direction, even if we cannot believe all the same things,'' he said in the interview at the center located at the foot of Mt. Samgak, northern Seoul. ``We want the world to be more peaceful and a better place for us to live in.

``And if it is a correct Buddhism, It wants to help the whole world and not just human beings but also other animals and other beings.''

Oh Kwang is one of many foreign students of Rev. Seung Sahn, late Korean Zen master (1927-2004). The guru gave the name of Oh Kwang or ``??'' meaning ``Light of Enlightenment.''

Born in 1962 to a Christian family in then Yugoslavia, Oh Kwang, then called Vladan Velimirovic, studied philosophy in the early 1980s, and enjoyed reading works by Aristotle and Plato in Belgrade University.

One day, the young Serb got a fatal touch with the Oriental religion. ``I found Buddhist books in the library in English and in Yugoslavian language. When I read them, I somehow immediately felt that I wanted to study more,'' he said.

He then saved some money and travelled around Europe to learn more. It was in in 1987 when he saw Seung Sahn giving an open lecture at Warsaw Zen Center in Poland.

``He was a Zen master, having wisdom and willingness to help and guide me.'' Oh Kwang said. ``I had confidence that he can help me and I followed him.'' Then two years later, he became a monk with the guidance of the Korean.

Oh Kwang then practiced Zen travelling around the world, namely France, England, Thailand and Sri Lanka between 1990 and 1998, when he came to Korea and met his spiritual guru again.

Experiencing various forms of Buddhism around the globe, he said the religion, of course, takes different forms in each culture.

``Different countries have different culture, ethics, temperament. Just like you pour water into different cups, then the water takes the shapes of the different cups,'' he said.

``Compared with other versions, Korean Buddhism is more relaxed, open and wide. It accepts different kinds of people and does not have very strict rules,'' he said. ``But the tradition in its meditation halls is very strict. There, you should spend many hours sitting motionless, comtemplating your `hwa du,' '' he sad. Hwadu is a Buddhist term in Korean indicating a key question alloted for each Zen practitioner.

Then, what is the main hwadu for which the monk is seeking an answer? ``It is `Who am I,' '' he said. ``This is what we all received from Rev. Seung Sahn and other Korean Zen masters. As we meditate, we go back to that very question. There are many other questions, but all of them come from this one,'' he said. ``It's the question you will never finish meditating on.''

To his blue eyes, a series of recent corruption scandals in the Chogye order, the nation's largest Buddhist sect, is something you need to keep a distance from. ``When there were problems with monks fighting in Chogye-sa Temple a couple of years ago, we foreign monks asked Rev. Seung Sahn, what we should do. Should we take a side or should we just stay out of it.

``He said, `Fighting monks fight. Meditating monks meditate. Don't mix with fighting monks.' So, I think all the foreign monks in the center didn't really have much to do with that,'' he said.

He also added that he could do very little about that as foreigner. ``I work on my mind through meditation, which I think will help more than if I go out and try to solve the problems in the order,'' the monk said.

The cleric said one day he wants to come back to his country to share what he believes in. ``I want to establish a Buddhist temple back in my hometown in the future. I don't know when, maybe, in four or five years.''

``I just try to find ways to help other people and for other people to help myself.''

``I think I saw a lot of suffering of people who don't exactly know what to do with their lives. They have pain inside but cannot get rid of it,'' he said.

We Need Your Help to Train the
Buddhist AI Chat Bot
(Neural Operator for Responsible Buddhist Understanding)

For Malaysians and Singaporeans, please make your donation to the following account:

Account Name: Bodhi Vision
Account No:. 2122 00000 44661
Bank: RHB

The SWIFT/BIC code for RHB Bank Berhad is: RHBBMYKLXXX
Address: 11-15, Jalan SS 24/11, Taman Megah, 47301 Petaling Jaya, Selangor
Phone: 603-9206 8118

Note: Please indicate your name in the payment slip. Thank you.

Dear Friends in the Dharma,

We seek your generous support to help us train NORBU, the word's first Buddhist AI Chat Bot.

Here are some ways you can contribute to this noble cause:

One-time Donation or Loan: A single contribution, regardless of its size, will go a long way in helping us reach our goal and make the Buddhist LLM a beacon of wisdom for all.

How will your donation / loan be used? Download the NORBU White Paper for details.

For Malaysians and Singaporeans, please make your donation to the following account:

Account Name: Bodhi Vision
Account No:. 2122 00000 44661
Bank: RHB

The SWIFT/BIC code for RHB Bank Berhad is: RHBBMYKLXXX
Address: 11-15, Jalan SS 24/11, Taman Megah, 47301 Petaling Jaya, Selangor
Phone: 603-9206 8118

Note: Please indicate your purpose of payment (loan or donation) in the payment slip. Thank you.

Once payment is banked in, please send the payment slip via email to: Your donation/loan will be published and publicly acknowledged on the Buddhist Channel.

Spread the Word: Share this initiative with your friends, family and fellow Dharma enthusiasts. Join "Friends of Norbu" at: Together, we can build a stronger community and create a positive impact on a global scale.

Volunteer: If you possess expertise in AI, natural language processing, Dharma knowledge in terms of Buddhist sutras in various languages or related fields, and wish to lend your skills, please contact us. Your knowledge and passion could be invaluable to our project's success.

Your support is part of a collective effort to preserve and disseminate the profound teachings of Buddhism. By contributing to the NORBU, you become a "virtual Bodhisattva" to make Buddhist wisdom more accessible to seekers worldwide.

Thank you for helping to make NORBU a wise and compassionate Buddhist Chatbot!

May you be blessed with inner peace and wisdom,

With deepest gratitude,

Kooi F. Lim
On behalf of The Buddhist Channel Team

Note: To date, we have received the following contributions for NORBU:
US$ 75 from Gary Gach (Loan)
US$ 50 from Chong Sim Keong
MYR 300 from Wilson Tee
MYR 500 from Lim Yan Pok
MYR 50 from Oon Yeoh
MYR 200 from Ooi Poh Tin
MYR 300 from Lai Swee Pin
MYR 100 from Ong Hooi Sian
MYR 1,000 from Fam Sin Nin
MYR 500 from Oh teik Bin
MYR 300 from Yeoh Ai Guat
MYR 300 from Yong Lily
MYR 50 from Bandar Utama Buddhist Society
MYR 1,000 from Chiam Swee Ann
MYR 1,000 from Lye Veei Chiew
MYR 1,000 from Por Yong Tong
MYR 80 from Lee Wai Yee
MYR 500 from Pek Chee Hen
MYR 300 from Hor Tuck Loon
MYR 1,000 from Wise Payments Malaysia Sdn Bhd
MYR 200 from Teo Yen Hua
MYR 500 from Ng Wee Keat
MYR 10,000 from Chang Quai Hung, Jackie (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from K. C. Lim & Agnes (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from Juin & Jooky Tan (Loan)
MYR 100 from Poh Boon Fong (on behalf of SXI Buddhist Students Society)
MYR 10,000 from Fam Shan-Shan (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from John Fam (Loan)
MYR 500 from Phang Cheng Kar
MYR 100 from Lee Suat Yee
MYR 500 from Teo Chwee Hoon (on behalf of Lai Siow Kee)
MYR 200 from Mak Yuen Chau

We express our deep gratitude for the support and generosity.

If you have any enquiries, please write to: