Monday, January 2, 2012

My Trip to Hwa Gye Sa

ZM Seung Sahn's stupa
It was easier to go to Hwa Gye Sa, compared to Mu Sang Sa. Hwa Gye Sa was nearer than I thought since it was within Seoul city. The guesthouse where I stayed was near to the Hye Hwa station (line 4 Metro route). And to go to Hwa Gye Sa, I only needed to wait for the 151 bus outside on the main street of the guesthouse, in front of a clothing store named SYCO. If you are walking out of the guesthouse, the bus stop is on the right while the bus stop that goes to the Incheon airport, is on the left, in front of the Family Mart 24 hour convenience store. The bus driver knows where is Hwa Gye Sa, and any foreigner just needs to say the word “Hwa Gye Sa’ and he will know. The bus fare is KRW1000 per person. From inside the bus, you can actually see the road sign “Hwa Gye Sa” and an arrow that points right ahead to the temple. The road is slightly going uphill and just before a football field, that is where one should alight from the bus. The bus will then turn right to the road next to the field. However, a woman passenger mistakenly told us to get down from the bus one stop from the last one before the field. But it was okay, it was not very far. I walked straight ahead right up to a school and then I saw the looming temple arch of Hwa Gye Sa. It was huge and it leads the way to the main temple building.
After the temple arch, to the right, I can spot the four stupas of the Zen Masters, one of which is that of Seung Sahn Sunim. From the number of cars, I know there are already many people there at that time. It was already lunch time and people were queuing up at the temple cafeteria for the lunch meal. Lunch was a simple rice noodle soup, with kimchi taste. I thought I should just eat that right away instead of reporting to the temple office first. After meal, I went to look for the temple office but it was close. It was said to be closed. The staffs probably went for lunch. Then I went touring the temple grounds and to pay my respect at Master Seung Sahn’s stupa. There was a sign in Korean which I could not read. I was wondering whether it says “Do not enter”. Not knowing what it says, and anyway, earlier in an email, I have informed the Abbot. So, I went ahead to the stupa and make my 3 bows. I also bowed to Master Ko Bong’s stupa, which was next to it as well as the other two. After taking a few photos, I was off to the main temple building for the said talk on meditation. It was a Sunday and on every Sunday, there is a special Sunday program going on at Hwa Gye Sa. The abbot had earlier suggested that I attend the Sunday program if I could. So I chose to go there on a Sunday. Anyway I was in luck because I found out from Zen Master Dae Bong that Zen Master Dae Jin was going to give a talk that afternoon, right after the meditation session. Wow! To think that I had the opportunity to meditate in Hwa Gye Sa was really good and now adding to that was the dharma talk by Zen Master Dae Jin. It was astounding!
I waited for the meditation session to start by touring around the temple grounds and wanted to arrange with the temple office to have an audience with the Abbot first. At the back of the temple building where we had the lunch was a small building which housed what appeared to be an office. I asked the ladies in charged and was told the Abbot had already gone upstairs for the meditation session and cannot be disturbed. She asked me if I wanted to join them and I replied in the affirmative. Hence I was taken to the upper most level and waited outside the room for the 10-minutes break in-between meditation session. It is only during the breaks that anyone can join in. A few ladies and one gentleman joined in too. Soon I was there inside the heated room and found myself meditating for about 20 to 30 minutes before the session ended. About 10 minutes later, Zen Master Dae Jin walked into the hall and gave a talk on “Going beyond our likes and dislikes”. He shared his experiences in the past when he travelled to Russia to give dharma talks and there was this woman who really disliked a local Russian politician due to the latter’s alleged corruption. The Zen Master said that people’s likes and dislikes changes from time to time and there is no fixed concept to it. He gave an example of a former South Korean president who really behaved like a dictator during his administration. Even though people really hated him, but it was him who pushed South Korea’s development until it is what it is today. Even though he was assassinated, later at the height of the Asian economic crisis in 1998-1999, some local Koreans wished that he was still around. They thought that he could have handled it better. The Zen Master’s point being that our perception is never static and it could change as circumstances change. So, it is not right to permanently label someone as good or bad. When Dae Jin Sunim brought up the example of the former South Korean president, my thoughts were on Malaysian’s own similar story. Yes, my thoughts were on former Prime Minister, i.e. Dr Mahathir Mohamad. He was also a strongman and he was responsible to bring modern development to Malaysia. People hated him for a lot of things but many praised him for handling the economic crisis.
The prayer, dining and meditation hall
The talk ended at about 4pm and I approached Ven. Dae Jin and introduced myself. We talked for a short while and I soon had to take my leave. The abbot, Ven. Kwang Haeng was kind to offer to lead us to view the late Seung Sahn’s private room. The room has now been converted into a showroom with many of his belongings encased in a glass cabinet. The abbot said that there are plans to turn this room into a small museum. He also said there are plans to raise Seung Sahn Sunim’s stupa so that it is a little higher. We also went to view the smaller “Main Hall” where the locals offered packets of rice and other offerings. The locals also offered incense and candle lights with strips of paper to write their wishes. This is Hwa Gye Sa’s part in giving the locals a chance in merit making. I understand that there are also dharma classes and other activities where the temple engages with the locals. From my own observation, all these are evidence of Seung Sahn Sunim’s legacy. Even though he is no longer with us, his legacy can be seen everywhere in Hwa Gye Sa and Mu Sang Sa as well as his other centres around the world. I came here to meet with him even though I know it is no longer physically possible.  What I could do was just to bow at his stupa and I did that with much gratitude! But as I said, I felt his legacy everywhere and hence in that sense, I did meet up with him, though not physically.    

As I walked out of the gates of Hwa Gye Sa, I cannot but felt that it will not be my last visit here for I will step on the soil of Hwa Gye Sa for many more times to come in the future. As the sun sets and the air became colder, I walked back to the bus stop to wait for bus no. 151 again. That was my last day in Seoul before I leave for Malaysia early the next morning. Thank you, South Korea for a wonderful trip! Thank you Seung Sahn Sunim!   

1 comment:

s said...

hi, yes i am interested. Do post soon!