The South Korea-based Jungto Society, a humanitarian organization founded by the Seon (Zen) master and social activist Venerable Pomnyun Sunim, recently organized a nine-day intensive study trip for members of the International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB). The itinerary, which included visits to retreat centers, group presentations and discussions, and Dharma talks conducted by Ven. Pomnyun Sunim, was aimed at providing an opportunity for monastic and lay Buddhists to meet and to present and exchange ideas for expressing and practicing engaged Buddhism in today’s increasingly polarized world.
The event program, which ran from 27 May to 4 June, included educational seminars on the various humanitarian, social, and environmental organizations and projects founded by Ven. Pomnyun Sunim, including Join Together Society for helping people in need; the Peace Foundation for resolving conflicts within the nation and around the Korean Peninsula; EcoBuddha for addressing environmental issues; Good Friends, which works toward reunifying North and South Korea; and Jungto Dharma Centers and Jungto Retreat Center, which offer settings for individuals to study and practice mind cultivation for inner peace.
In June each year, the Thailand-headquartered International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB) forms a group of delegates and guests who travel to South Korea, where they are hosted by hardworking Jungto Society volunteers with the objective of learning from the activities of Ven. Pomnyun Sunim and Jungto Society members on applying the Dharma in the context of modern society, studying the ways in which Korean monastics and Jungto Society members practice the Dharma and conduct social engagement, and offering an opportunity for monastic and lay Buddhist visitors to discuss and exchange ideas for applying the Dharma in their respective societies.
This year, 20 guests attended the study trip from as far away as Bhutan, Cambodia, India, Myanmar, Taiwan, Thailand, and Sri Lanka. The Jungto Society team was especially pleased to welcome INEB founder Dr. Sulak Sivaraksa as a special guest among the visiting delegates.
INEB was established in Thailand in 1989 by Sulak Sivaraksa, a prominent Thai academic, activist, and social critic, along with a group of Buddhist and non-Buddhist thinkers and social activists, with the aim of connecting engaged Buddhists around the world and promoting understanding, cooperation, and networking among inter-Buddhist and inter-religious groups to address global issues, such as human rights, conflict resolution, and environmental concerns. Ven. Pomnyun Sunim has served as a special advisor to INEB for several years.
INEB’s members include monks, nuns, activists, academics, and social workers from more than 25 countries in Australasia, Asia, Europe, and North America. While a Buddhist organization, INEB welcomes members from other spiritual traditions and recognizes the importance of interfaith activities, stating: “INEB’s philosophy and practice is based on compassion, social justice, non-violence, and co-existence as put forth by Gautama the Buddha. The network’s core mission is to confront and end suffering using analysis and action guided by the Four Noble Truths.” (INEB)
Each day of the study trip began with an early morning chanting ceremony, followed by a period of contemplative walking, before breakfasting with a traditional formal vegetarian temple meal known as balwoogongyang. Unique to Korean Buddhist temples, it is typically served on ceremonial occasions and during intensive retreats, and is regarded as a type of meditation practice.
“When my mind and heart are clean, that is the place of Jungto—the Pure Land; the ideal land of Buddhists,” Ven. Pomnyun Sunim explained to the participants. “We named this organization Jungto Society to mean let’s make Jungto ourselves, not over there but here. Not in the future but in the present. It means let us make the world in which we live the world of the Buddha—not by wishing to be born in a new world when we die; not by wishing for a future Jungto. We wish that we keep and practice the Dharma not only in our minds, but also to create justice in the world.
“The Avatamsaka Sutra says, ‘To a bodhisattva, Jungto is not the perfect world that is already made, but the world a bodhisattva makes in moving toward the perfect world . . .’ We walk toward the perfect world (the Buddha’s world) step by step. As individuals, we are not yet fully mature, but we proceed forward to the perfect world step by step. For practitioners, the present is Jungto where we do this work to make the Buddha’s world.”
Among the highlights of the week’s itinerary was a field trip to Bongam-sa, one of the nine founding temples of Korean Seon Buddhism, located in a remote valley deep inside the mountains of thecentral Korea and with a history dating to the ninth century. Designated by the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism as special meditation retreat center and renowned for the highly disciplined meditation practice of the resident monks, Bongam-sa is only open to the public for one day each year on the Buddha’s birthday.
The party of delegates also visited Bulguk-sa, a major temple of the Jogye Order, built in 528 in the Silla period (57 BCE–935 CE), during the reign of King Beopheung (r. 514–540) and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as well as Unmun-sa, a sixth century temple in North Gyeongsang Province of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, and the largest nunnery and training center for female monastics in South Korea—it has produced more than 1,250 bhikshunis and presently accommodates some 270 student nuns.
Jungto Society is a volunteer-run humanitarian organization and community that aspires to embody the Buddhist teachings through social engagement and by promoting a simpler lifestyle less centered on consumption than mainstream society. Jungto Society seeks to address the problems and crises of modern society, such as greed, poverty, conflict, and environmental degradation, by applying a Buddhist world view of the interconnectedness of all things and the principal that everyone can find happiness through Buddhist practice and active participation in social movements. Jungto Society has numerous regional chapters across South Korea, as well as more than 20 overseas chapters, including 12 in the United States, each offering gatherings for Buddhist ceremonies, Dharma talks, and other Dharma-based programs.