The main purpose of my trip to Korea this time was to study Korean tea and Korean Seon. The only worry was that I would miss my Korean tea friends.
In fact, before I visited Korea, I had no way to contact my Korean tea friends because my cellphone was changed once I arrived in Hong Kong. All my Korean tea friends’ phone numbers were in my old cellphone which I left on the mainland. Fortunately, just the day before I arrived in Seoul, I found an old tea friend was online in MSN. This was most fortunate because we are rarely online, and even more rarely at the same time! Lucky for me, I got another Korean tea friend’s phone number from him. Then I had enough confidence to go on with my Korean tea and Seon travelling because I know this one Korean tea friend would bring me to where and what I needed. If I could choose just one contact, she is the right person.
I was right. The first thing I did was call her once I arrived in Seoul. She took me to a Chinese tea center first, where we met with the owner of the center. The owner is a Korean lady who just finished her Ph.D in Tea Studies at a famous university in China and opened the Chinese tea center in Seoul. Her name is Kim Young Suk. Kim studied Chinese tea in China for more than 15 years, and said she received generous help from many Chinese when she was in China. In the time since, she felt she owed the Chinese a debt of gratitude for their help. Therefore, she welcomed the chance to help me on my Korean journey.
With the help of my tea friends, I went on to the Journey to Songgwangsa (松广寺) in South Jeolla Province. For my two purposes—Korean tea and Korea Seon—–my friends thought it would be easy for me to study Korean tea because they, themselves, are Korean tea experts. However, if I wanted to study Korean Seon, it would be better for me to experience it in the Korean temples. At the Sangha-Jewel Temple, Songgwangsa has produced 16 National Preceptors in Korean History. Thus, my friends believed it would be meaningful for me to visit Songgwangsa.
There are three basic elements in Buddhism which are revered: the Buddha; the Dharma Teachings; and the Sangha community. In Korea, the temple Tongdosa (通度寺) has become known as the Buddha-Jewel Temple which enshrines the Buddha’s relies (sarira). The temple Haeinsa (海印寺), which has preserved the Tripitaka Korean, revered as the Dharma-Jewel Temple. Songgwangsa represents the Sangha-Jewel Temple, proud of having produced 16 National Preceptors in Korean History.
In Korean, Songgwangsa is also called Jogye Chongnim, which means a “Comprehensive Monastic Training Center.” It is equipped with a Seon Center, Sutra College, and Precepts School. The Sixth Patriarch Hui-neng said: “Seon is the Buddha’s mind, the sutra are the Buddha’s teaching, and the precepts are the Buddha’s conduct.” And, “If a monk’s conduct has dignity, the Buddha’s teaching is given dignity; if a monk’s conduct lacks dignity, the Buddha himself loses respect.” This indicates that Sangha is built on the foundation of Seon doctrine, and precepts; therefore if any one of them collapses, the whole foundation will be destroyed, and consequently the Sangha will no longer exist in this world. That’s why in Korea, Jogye Chongnim Songgwangsa Temple, Gaya Chongnim Haeinsa Temple and Youngchuk Chongnim Tongdosa temple are all equipped with a Seon Center, (禅院), Sutra College,（讲院), and Precepts Schoo,l（律院.)
Usually, before entering into the Sutra College, a new monk is called Hengza, (行者) and undertakes many hard tasks, such as cooking and cleaning responsibilities. After one year’s experience of Hengza, the monk becomes a Sami, (沙弥) having earned the qualifications for Sutra College. After four years study in Sutra College, the monk then becomes Biqui, (比丘). Generally, a new Biqui will enter into Seon Center studying meditation for at least two years. Monks who graduated from both Sutra College and Seon Center have the qualifications to become precepts students.
The monk whom my tea friends introduced to me is the precepts master in Songgwangsa Temple, and he also is a tea lover. His name is Doil(道一).
——To be continued