Warm Welcome to You!
Sunim's Travel Through Buddhist America in 2016
From Monday August 8th through Sunday August 21st, Ven. Samu Sunim travelled with Rev. Toan Sunim (as driver) through 8 different states in search of fresh air and countryside scenery. They also turned the trip into a pilgrimage, making visits at various Buddhist Temples and centers along the way.
They started out southwest through the Shenandoah Valley and Blue Ridge Parkway. Due to fog, the trip was a bit harrowing, but many views were quite beautiful. They drove east and stayed overnight at the North Carolina Zen Center thanks to the great hospitality of residents at the center. The center is located 20 miles south of Chapel Hill. Sunim found the Temple grounds to be remarkably well harmonized with its surrounding rural environment. A lovely creek flowed nearby. From North Carolina, the two drove North through Washington DC in order to visit Gwan-Um Sa in Philadelphia and stay overnight at Hwa-Um Sa nearby.
In the Catskills region of New York, they visited a wide variety of groups. First was the Grafton Peace Pagoda where they had lunch with resident nun Jun Yasuda. They visited the Karuna Tendai Dharma Center where Sunim had his first reunion in 15 years with Rev. Monshin Paul Naamon. He and his wife Tamami were very gracious hosts. They have recently established the North American headquarters of the Tendai Buddhist Institute, converting an American barn into a Japanese Hondo (main hall).
Finally, they visited the Won Dharma Center and were moved by the kindness they received from Gwang U Gyomunim. That evening they stayed overnight at the Tibetan Karma Triyana Dharmachakra Temple. Their trip concluded with a visit to the Zen Mountain Monastery in Mt. Trempor and Baklimsa in Summitville. They returned to New York City by way of Woodstock. For Sunim, this was a long overdue break from city life! He writes about his reflections from the trip below.
During my visit to Buddhist Temples and centers in the Mid-Atlantic States, I noticed that many of them were remote from towns and cities and physically isolated. Our car was not equipped with GPS, so we relied on written and oral instructions. As a result, we got lost several times while trying to locate centers such as the North Carolina Zen Center and the Grafton Peace Pagoda. Both were in the woods and we had to follow arrow signs to get to their shrines.
Away from the hustle-bustle and bedlam of noise, rural America was beautiful! Open sky and meadowland were good for peace of mind and rejuvenation. The majority of temples and pagodas we visited were run and maintained by one monk or teacher with the help of followers. It somehow reminded me of the Blessed One advising his disciples, "Go alone, not two of you together. Wander solitary as a rhinoceros horn," for peace of the world and happiness of the many.
Outside the city limit of Philadelphia, the Korean monk at Hwa-Um Sa has been building this temple on 5 acres of land alone for 20 years. He worked slow and steady. When visitors come he reads his poems and takes them to his vegetable garden and small lotus pond. His garden was doing well. With more produce than he can consume, he gives away the extra! What attracted me most was the lotus pond. The lotus was in full blossom. I never saw such large lotus leaves and such large lotus flowers. The leaves and flowers of 3-5 lotus plants completely covered up the pond with the effect of the lotus seat of enlightenment. Lotus leaves do not get wet and the lotus flowers remain pure and untainted while at home in the muddy water. Perhaps that was the teaching the monk conveyed to the visitors with his silent smile.
Some centers operated as retreat and spiritual vacation centers with cabins and health and well-being programs. Overall, I saw signs that Buddhism is here to stay in America due to trailblazing pioneers. However, I also felt an inner-outcry that Buddhists should do more to help the world, for we have a strong world-view and message of eco-activity in the religious pluralism of globalizing society.
Buddhists are a minority in America and teachers are sparse. Often people in outlying areas have difficulties to find temples or teachers. Sometimes they have to travel a distance to locate one. But people attracted to Buddhism for meditation and awakening, self-help, non-violence and compassion should know that Buddhism is a self-service religion and not a full-service religion. If you pull up to the self-service corner of a gas station you don't stay in the car. You must get out of your car and help yourself. If you have to travel to find a temple and teacher your travel can be a part of cultivation of your Buddha-mind. If nothing works out, seek out others locally through the internet or local bulletin boards who are interested in meditation, chanting, and Buddhist values. If you find two others, the three of you form a local Sangha (community) and can organize Dharma activities.
View Sunim's Poem Collection
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