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An In­ter­view with the Head Dhar­ma Mas­ter of Won Bud­dhism USA

Ven. Juksanim. Image from Won Buddhism USA

Ven­er­a­ble Juk­san­im was of­fi­cial­ly ap­point­ed Head Dhar­ma Mas­ter of Won Buddhism USA on 12 Jan­uary 2021. So­tae­san, the founder of Won Bud­dhism, highlighted the need for each coun­try to have its own Head Dhar­ma Mas­ter. This is to en­sure the ef­fec­tive spread of Won Bud­dhism’s teach­ings, tai­lored to the dis­tinct cul­tur­al nuances of each na­tion. Re­flect­ing this vi­sion, in 1999, an amend­ment ti­tled “The Overseas Head­quar­ters” was in­cor­po­rat­ed into the Won Bud­dhism Con­sti­tu­tion. This change in the struc­ture legal­ly en­abled the ap­point­ment of a Head Dhar­ma Mas­ter in every coun­try, aid­ing in the glob­al spread of Won Bud­dhism’s teach­ings. 

Won Bud­dhism teach­es the dhar­ma that should be prac­ticed more in the era of  de­vel­oped sci­en­tif­ic civ­i­liza­tion. In that sense, Won Bud­dhism as a liv­ing re­li­gion fits very well with the Unit­ed States, where ad­vanced sci­ence is de­vel­oped and prac­ti­cal­i­ty  is deeply val­ued. 

(Ven. Juk­sa­nim) 

Ven­er­a­ble Juk­san­im, lead­ing Won Bud­dhism in the USA, holds a pos­i­tive out­look for its fu­ture in Amer­i­ca. He notes that many peo­ple are particularly drawn to Won Bud­dhism for its prac­ti­cal ap­proach as a “liv­ing re­li­gion.” Its teach­ings, ef­fort­less­ly blend­ing with every­day life, al­low prac­ti­tion­ers to im­merse in spir­i­tu­al prac­tices while seam­less­ly bal­anc­ing work and fam­i­ly re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, mak­ing them high­ly ap­peal­ing. He an­tic­i­pates that this prac­ti­cal and ac­ces­si­ble na­ture of Won Bud­dhism will con­tin­ue to at­tract more in­ter­est and fol­low­ers. 

While there is a grow­ing move­ment to­wards sec­u­lar­iza­tion, there’s si­mul­ta­ne­ous­ly an in­creas­ing fas­ci­na­tion with dis­cov­er­ing in­ner peace and spir­i­tu­al­i­ty. This is ev­idenced by the ris­ing num­ber of peo­ple en­gag­ing in med­i­ta­tion, high­light­ing a growing in­ter­est in spir­i­tu­al prac­tices amidst a sec­u­lar land­scape. 

Ven. Juk­san­im ob­serves this trend first­hand. The vis­i­tors to the Won Dhar­ma Center in­clude not just those with­out re­li­gious af­fil­i­a­tion but also ad­her­ents of var­i­ous faiths. These in­di­vid­u­als seek out the Cen­ter for med­i­ta­tion and at­tend Dhar­ma services, un­de­terred by re­li­gious boundaries. For them, the ben­e­fit to their lives and  men­tal well­be­ing is para­mount, ir­re­spec­tive of the re­li­gious con­text. “The fun­da­men­tal pur­pose of re­li­gion is to fa­cil­i­tate trans­for­ma­tion and pro­vide as­sistance in peo­ple’s lives. Found­ing Mas­ter So­tae­san high­light­ed the sig­nif­i­cance of  em­brac­ing re­al­i­ty and the ways we can trans­form our present lives. The key to mak­ing  a re­li­gion ap­peal­ing lies in demon­strat­ing the al­tru­is­tic con­tri­bu­tions that Won Buddhism can make to so­ci­ety and its in­di­vid­u­als.” 

Ven. Juksanim. Image from Won Buddhism USA

The US Won Bud­dhism Head­quar­ters con­ducts reg­u­lar med­i­ta­tion re­treats, embody­ing the es­sence of the month-long med­i­ta­tion ses­sions that were prac­ticed during Mas­ter So­tae­san’s era. Ven. Juk­san­im elab­o­rates, “These reg­u­lar train­ing ses­sions fos­ter a con­ducive learn­ing atmosphere and also pro­vide an op­por­tu­ni­ty to re­flect on and re­al­ize the signif­i­cance of Mas­ter So­tae­san’s era, en­gag­ing both laypeo­ple and ordained mem­bers.” He fur­ther states, “The jour­ney of re­li­gious faith and prac­tice is a se­ries of ex­pe­ri­ences. Life changes are pro­pelled by these ex­pe­ri­ences. With­out them, a re­li­gion is akin to be­ing life­less.” 

At pre­sent, Ven. Juk­san­im is ded­i­cat­ed to es­tab­lish­ing a strong base for adapt­ing Won Bud­dhist teach­ings to the Amer­i­can con­text. The goal is to de­vel­op a ver­sion of Won Bud­dhism that res­onates with, and is cus­tomized to, the unique cul­tur­al and en­viron­men­tal land­scape of the US, achieved through in­de­pen­dent and lo­calized ap­proach­es. 

In do­ing so, the fo­cus is on re­viv­ing the ear­ly spir­it of Mas­ter So­tae­san and concen­trat­ing on the “soft pow­er” of in­vest­ing in cul­ture and people. The es­sence of soft pow­er lies in nur­tur­ing tal­ent. It is be­lieved that even with­out a phys­i­cal build­ing, a single prac­ti­tion­er can fulfil the role of a tem­ple wher­ev­er they are.

There is a grow­ing an­tic­i­pa­tion that un­der the guid­ance of Ven. Juk­san­im and the US Won Bud­dhism Head­quar­ters, the fu­ture of Won Buddhism will evolve into a version dis­tinct from the es­tab­lished form of the past cen­tu­ry, one that gen­uine­ly em­bodies the ini­tial teach­ings of Mas­ter So­tae­san. The or­dained prac­ti­tion­ers who are con tribut­ing to this vi­sion are re­gard­ed as in­valu­able in shap­ing this new chap­ter of Won  Bud­dhism. 

Em­bark­ing on this sig­nif­i­cant his­tor­i­cal path ad­mit­ted­ly brings with it a sense of respon­si­bil­i­ty. How­ev­er, Ven. Juk­san­im views this responsibility pos­i­tive­ly, stat­ing, “A suit­able amount of bur­den can trans­form into great en­er­gy.” He main­tains that with  the cor­rect lev­el of chal­lenge, work ad­vances ef­fec­tive­ly, and he re­mains fear­less, know­ing that these teach­ings are in­tend­ed for a glob­al au­di­ence. 

He stress­es, “To lead a ful­fill­ing life, one must delve into un­der­stand­ing the mind.” Fur­ther elab­o­rat­ing, he says, “Just as we wake up each morn­ing, so too must the mind  awak­en to truth, fol­low­ing a sim­i­lar process.” He ad­vo­cates, “Con­sis­tent­ly seek awaken­ing, and through it, recognize grat­i­tude and grace as the keys to a tru­ly en­riched life.”

New Year’s Mes­sage from Ven. Juk­san­im, Head Dhar­ma Mas­ter of Won Bud­dhism USA 

To­geth­er, Let Us Be­come Liv­ing Bud­dhas by Prac­tic­ing the Es­sen­tial Dhar­ma of Dai­ly Prac­tice 

The morn­ing of the New Year has dawned. My sin­cere wish is for peace, equal­i­ty, and hap­pi­ness to fill the path ahead for hu­man­i­ty and all sen­tient be­ings. The past year, count­less lives have suf­fered great hard­ships due to wars, con­flicts, pover­ty, dis­eases, and var­i­ous dis­as­ters. However, be­hind this deep dark­ness, a bright dawn awaits. Let us now move for­ward to­ward a new life with re­newed hope. 

The Way is so vast and bound­less that it tran­scends time and space. It is un­changing, re­gard­less of whether one is in ac­tion or at rest. Our lives ex­ist with­in the truth of every mo­ment, and every thought is a man­i­fes­ta­tion of faith. Every ac­tion is car­ried out  with­out de­part­ing from the Great Way. This is the Time­less and Place­less Med­i­ta­tion of  the Three­fold Prac­tice. This is the truth­ful way of prac­tic­ing Med­i­ta­tion in Ac­tion and at Rest. 

This com­ing year, let us study and prac­tice The Es­sen­tial Dhar­mas of Dai­ly Prac­tice, which em­body the es­sence of Won Bud­dhism’s teach­ings. Let us strive to at­tain the Great Way and be­come liv­ing bud­dhas who can in­cor­po­rate the Great Way into our dai­ly lives. 

So­tae­san, the Found­ing Mas­ter of Won Bud­dhism said, “If one al­ways ex­erts one self with ut­most sin­cer­i­ty, keep­ing one’s mind free from be­ing dis­turbed and de­lud­ed, while keep­ing one’s mind-ground free from de­file­ment, then, with that pow­er, one will ac­quire the abil­i­ty to de­liv­er even the sen­tient be­ings in hell. By cre­at­ing an affin­i­ty  with the right dhar­ma of the bud­dhas, even just once, a whole­some seed for at­tain­ing  bud­dha­hood is plant­ed.” 

Let us take the first three ar­ti­cles of the Es­sen­tial Dhar­ma of Dai­ly Prac­tice and the mo­ti­vat­ing force of “Faith, Zeal, Ques­tion­ing and Dedication” as the guid­ing prin­ci­ples of our lives. This is the path that will lead to fruit­ful prac­tice and suc­cess in all we set out to do. Let us live a life of grat­i­tude, in har­mo­ny with all things, and make a bud­dha of­fering to all be­ings. Let us lead a life of self-re­liance. Hav­ing a sense of pub­lic ser­vice, let us al­ways be will­ing to learn and teach. This way of life will great­ly ben­e­fit in­di­vid­u­als, fam­i­lies, so­ci­ety, and the world.

An era has come where the old world is pass­ing away, and a new world is be­ing con­struct­ed. Let us trans­form our­selves into true liv­ing prac­ti­tion­ers whose lives are not sep­a­rate from their dai­ly prac­tice.

By car­ry­ing out the Es­sen­tial Dhar­ma of Dai­ly Prac­tice, we can paci­fy our minds, which are at the root of the world’s tur­moil. Let us cul­ti­vate a hap­py life and sig­nif­icant­ly ex­tend our pos­i­tive im­pact on the world. To­geth­er, let us all be­come liv­ing buddhas, the pi­oneers who cre­ate a paradise on earth. 

As the win­ter deep­ens, just as spring ar­rives, I wish that the New Year will un­fold for every­one like the warmth of spring sun­shine, melt­ing away the ice and bring­ing hap­pi­ness to all. 

Ve­ne­ra­ble Juk­sa­nim 
Head Dhar­ma Mas­ter of Won Bud­dhism USA

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