I think my one issue with studying Buddhism in Korea is that Seon (the Korean word for Zen) is nearly the only thing that’s commonly accessible. Seon/Zen came out of the Mahayana tradition and exists in other traditions but usually isn’t approached for a long time. In Himalayan Buddhism, there are about twenty years of teachings before the student is fully prepared to study emptiness. Korean Seon seems to have an approach of, “just do it, NOW!” when it comes to realizing emptiness. For some people, it’s possible. Nearly every generation of Korean Buddhist have had at least a couple practitioners who have attained realizations of Seon to become great teachers. For others though, it’s kind of like sitting at the foot of a mountain and trying to summit without moving.
I used to think that Korean Christians had a bit of a mixed up view of Buddhism, but then I started meeting a lot of Buddhist here who really believe that Buddha and Avalokiteśvara are really Gods. I’m not in a position to say what is correct or incorrect, but I must stop myself from cringing every time I hear my wife tell me not to do something because Buddha will be angry! (>_<) I usually reply, “If he got angry, than he wouldn’t be Buddha anymore…” But I suppose that’s a good enough reason not to make him angry, right there! I understand that sociology and other factors can explain the development of and practicality of these beliefs but as far as I’ve learn, when Buddha died, he wasn’t interested in sticking around. He was gone, gone, entirely gone… as the heart Sutra explains it. Avalokiteśvara is a little more difficult to explain though. It’s entirely possible that she/he is based on a historical figure who realized Prajna Paramita (Perfect Wisdom) and the Bodhisattva vow is to remain and help others on their path until we all can ‘go’ together to(?) Nirvana. My criticism then would be that I’ve mostly seen laypeople praying to Avalokiteśvara for things they want, generally money or success in the family (which would lead to money). Isn’t there something more to ask for from the depths of perfect wisdom??
Most of what I’ve learned about the Buddha’s discourse has either been from Joe or from books written by Theravada monks. I had asked my monk friend a couple times about somethings about Buddhism I was curious about, but he quickly brushed off my questions, saying, “That is Hinayana, I don’t like it. Mahayana is better.” I knew nationalism is very strong in Korea, but I hadn’t realized how strong it is in Korean Buddhism also, which explains the lack of other paths. I also felt that the terms Mahayana and Hinayana are a bit pretentious. Mahayana means ‘Great Vehicle’ while Hinayana means ‘Small Vehicle’. ‘Hinayana’ is the Mahayana word for ‘Theravada’, which means “Teaching of the Elders”. Actually, Theravada and Mahayana are very similar when it comes down to it, and I don’t think one has any reason to look down on the other. It makes me think about having a choice between a Smart car or an SUV. I know it’s not an accurate analogy, but I’d choose the Smart car!
I’ve decided that Theravada suits me well, it makes sense to me. My dilemma is that there’s only so far I can go with a book. I realized that I need a teacher to discuss things, and give me some direction. I hope someone who reads this post and disagrees can prove me wrong and send me a list of temples in Korea that have Therevada monks. Joe had found a Korean monk who practiced in Burma and had a temple in Apgujeong, not very far from my home, but he went back to Burma, and at the time I met him I was just beginning my interests and had very little to ask him. Joe told me he may have returned to GwanAk, still not very far away, so I’ll have to see if I can find him. I began this post over a week ago, wanting to touch on the Four Noble Truths, but I might not know enough about it yet to write about it well, then suddenly became bothered with the idea that it’s not something I could really learn about very well in Korea. I think I’ll still try to touch on it anyway and see if I can prove myself wrong… My small understand forces me to keep it simple which is really the best way to build a good foundation for deeper understand, and the blogg is definitely orientated in that fashion. As I learn, maybe my writing can help others at similar levels, which is probably who this blogg is most likely to attract naturally. I’ll consider this post another bump in the road and keep going. *^^*
May we all become Buddhas!