sonnggwangsa_temple_vertSonggwangsa is located on the lower edge of Mt.Jogyesa in Songgwang-myeon, Suncheon, South Jeolla Province. Songgwangsa has a unique atmosphere which comes from its tradition as the Sangha-Jewel Temple. The temple faces west along the eastern range and stretches from north to south. It is said that the building layout parallels the pattern of the Dharma Chart(法界图),and allows people to go anywhere without getting wet, even when it is raining.

Songgwangsa has more government- designated cultural properties than any other temple in Korea. The temple museum, the Seongbo-gak (圣宝阁),displays an array of National Treasures, designated Treasures, and local cultural assets. The temple also boasts three unique features: the Bisarigusi (a giant rice container), the Neunggyeonnansa (an ancient offering vessel) and the Ssanghyangsu (twin Juniper trees) at Cheonjia-am Hermitage.

 However, the most attractive and interesting to me in Songgwangsa are the people here. 

 Monk Doil

The precepts master, Doil, is a monk with an artistic and sublimate temperament. The first time I saw him slowly coming to me while I was waiting for him – sitting with my luggage at the big stone of the temple – my only thought was that this monk seems to have stepped from the Song Dynasty, with a temperament of ancient poet. After getting to know him, I realized where this temperament comes from.

He is a tea lover. He is especially good at Zisha (紫砂) . This surprised me. Actually, the Zisha which I saw in monk Doil’s tea room is the best among the Zisha used by Korean tea people, in my observation. What I observed is right. Monk Doil told me: “It is strange for Korean tea people, who pay attention to the quality of tea but ignore the quality of teaware. How strange is it when you put the best tea into a tea pot with bad quality of Zisha?”

He is a musician of Guqin (古琴). He is the student of the famous Taiwan Guqinist, Sunyuxian, and the illustrious Chinese Guqinist, Lichangting. Doil wrote a book on Guqin, which might be the only book about Guqing in modern Korea. He said, “sadly, Koreans are not interested in Guqing because Guqing is used to practice improving oneself; on the country, Guzheng (古筝) ,which in Korean is named Kayagem, was easily accepted and became popular because it is used for peoples’ enjoyment.”

Doil, is a master of calligraphy and painting. He is the last student of the famous Chinese painter Zhang Daqian. He also is a linguist, having studied in London for six years.  He studied in Taiwan as well;  thus he speaks English and Chinese fluently. In Buddhist Studies, he is famous for the study of precepts in Korea. Actually, the precepts school in Songgwangsa is “equated” with graduate school in university, and monk Doil is the president of this “graduate school”.

However, for me, the most profound impression about Doil is not his achievements, but rather an anecdote which he told me about the experience of following Taiwan Guqinist Sunyuxian to study Guqin.

Guqinist Sunyuxian was a type of musician not easily persuaded to accept students. When monk Doil came to him, Sun asked him: “You are a monk. You should study Buddhism. Why have you come to study Guqin?”

And the young monk Doil answered: “The Dao of Buddhism is same as the Dao of Guqin. That’s why I like to study Guqin.”

Sun replied, “It seems reasonable. From now on, you can come to study Guqin.” Guqin Master Sunyuxian is a traditional teacher. The traditional relationship of teacher and student in China is that the teacher regards the student as the son or daughter to cultivate and train once accepted as a disciple. Thus, as a student Doil never paid for his study, and after class, he had dinner at the home of Master Sunyuxian. Sun, like many other artists, had a difficult life, living in a small house with simple furniture.   Monk Doil thought he should do something in return for his teacher. One day, after Guqin class, Doil handed over to his teacher money for one month’s tuition, which Master Sunyuxian accepted. From then on, Master Sun would take Doil to the luxury restaurant to eat and paid for both. Once, then twice, Doil thought to himself, “The payment for the restaurant is more than the fee I gave to Master Sun.  Why does Master Sun do this? This is not the style of Master Sun.” A third time, after the Guqin class, the teacher tried to bring Doil to that expensive restaurant, the young monk Doil said to Master Sun, “I am sorry! I should not pay you money! I am sorry! Master Sun, please do not bring me to this restaurant anymore.”

Since then, Doil has never tried to pay for his Guqin study, and Master Sun stopped bringing him to restaurants.  They resumed eating dinner at the master’s home together. From then on, Doil tried his best to study Guqin, because this is the payment which the traditional teacher wants.

When I heard this story, I was touched. I do not know why. Perhaps it is because I have never seen a traditional teacher like this in my life. Maybe the generation of Doil is the last generation who had the chance to connect with this type of traditional teaching. I do not want to judge traditional teaching as good or bad, but I was purely touched.

 —-to be continued