Friday, December 16, 2011

My Visit to Mu Sang Sa, Korea

The main altar at the Buddha Hall
After my tour officially ended, my first stop the next day on a personal visit was to Mu Sang Sa. As I was staying in Seoul and not Daejeon as originally planned, my original plan to reach there before 12 noon was screwed. I had to seek some public help at the subway station near my guesthouse and also the Seoul main station to find my way to Yongsan station before going to Gye Ryong by train. The train journey took about 2 hours and I had expected only one hour. I bought the slower train due to ignorance at the ticket counter instead of the faster KTX train, which would have taken only 1 hour to reach Gye Ryong station. It was difficult to communicate in Korea as English is not commonly spoken there as widely as in Malaysia and Singapore. It was like chickens talking to ducks on many of these occasions. The few phrases that I had prepared before the trip were not enough. But thankfully Koreans are very helpful and generous people. Several of the Koreans I approached had even offered to walk us all the way to show us the direction, even though he/she was not going there in the first place. I was deeply touched by their helpful attitude. Anyway, after reaching Gye Ryong station, I took the taxi outside the station to go to Mu Sang Sa and it costs me about KRW8700.

The roof as seen from inside the Buddha Hall

Mu Sang Sa was up on the hills of Gye Ryong, slightly away from Omsa-ri, a small sub-urban town about 15 minutes travel time by car. Along the way to the temple, there was some snow at that time and the scenery was indeed peaceful. According to information publicly available, the Gye Ryong region is widely known for its spiritual energy being a fengshui balanced geography. The Zen Hall greeted us as the taxi cruised into the compound of Mu Sang Sa. We reported to the secretary on duty at the administrative office upon arrival and were quickly ushered to the dining hall for lunch. After lunch, we went back to the office where there is a small meeting room. There we had tea and some fruits with Zen Master Dae Bong. By then, there was a break and he had come out of the meditation session. I felt deeply touched by his kind gesture to take time off from the meditation retreat to talk and provide useful information on the temple buildings. He provided a tour of Mu Sang Sa and going in to most of the buildings, except for the Zen Hall where retreat participants were then under-going strict meditation schedule and are not to be disturbed.

The temples are beautifully designed both on the exterior as well as the interior. They generally reflect Korean architecture similar to other Korean temples. But the Buddha Hall had giant dragon heads on the eaves, different from the Zen Hall. These heads were also not found in Jo Gye Sa (the temple of the Jogye order located within the Seoul city) or Hwa Gye Sa (the other temple of the late Master Seung Sahn but still under the Jogye lineage or order). Along the walls on the exterior as well as interior are large mural paintings of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas or pictures that depict a certain Buddhist story. At the Buddha Hall, on the four sides of the exterior wall are paintings that depict the ten ox-herding pictures. This is a popular Zen guide to meditation practice. Mu Sang Sa was different from even Hwa Gye Sa as I was informed that Mu Sang Sa was a privately acquired asset and are not subjected the assets of the Jogye order. Local folks tell of the region having a harmonious Ying and Yang energy, represented by the dragons and phoenixes folk stories. There were also two paths coming down the mountains and one was representing the phoenix energy and the other from the opposite side representing the dragon energy. So, these energy paths envelope Mu Sang Sa in a perfect balance of harmonious fengshui, creating a suitable environment for spiritual practice. Zen Master Dae Bong explained that when Master Seung Sahn went to the site many years ago, he immediately knew that the spot was the best fengshui location. He immediately recommended that a temple be built there. It was then that efforts were made to find out more about the land ownership to enable future land acquisition. As per Zen Master Dae Bong, it started out from the current small office block. Then more buildings were added until what it is today. There are still future plans to develop Mu Sang Sa to accommodate more practitioners. As the adjacent land is said to be very expensive, any future developments will depend hugely on donations or contributions from the individuals or corporations. Thus far, from my personal observation, Mu Sang Sa has positively developed the temple site by constructing the Zen Hall, Buddha Hall, protector shrine, as well as the kitchen and accommodation block for participants coming for the summer and winter retreats. They were able to focus on their spiritual practice without much hindrance due to all these facilities. And these practitioners come from all over the world. All the retreats organised so far had been made possible due to the contributions they had received. I would urge large corporations, especially Korean large conglomerates to support the development of Mu Sang Sa as I feel that real practice is indeed going on in that temple. The temples built there are really meant for hard practice and not to build a beautiful temple or statue as tourist attraction. So, any contribution to Mu Sang Sa is indeed a contribution to the development of Buddhism and a support to serious practitioners whose goal is achieving liberation from samsara.

As the temple tour almost ended, we suddenly saw a strange plant with yellow and white flowers still in full blossom even though it is already winter. The plant should have withered in the winter chill. But weirdly, it is still surviving. Zen Master Dae Bong suggested I take a picture of it and I did. Is there a Zen significance to this phenomena? I do not know. Anyway, if this is a sign of blessing from Master Seung Sahn, then I thank him from the bottom of my heart. Only from his blessings was my trip to Korea made possible. Dinner for the retreat participants was at 4.30pm but I did not stay on for that. My partner and I thanked Dae Bong Sunim and left for the Gye Ryong train station at about 4.45pm by taxi.

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