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TBS chat, Essay on Songgwang-sa

This noon I was interviewed on TBS FM radio, about my RAS lecture “The Sacred Sites of Korea: Criteria, Listings and Tourism” — which went quite well, thanks, and no it wasn’t video-recorded – and the 15-min clip can be heard near the end of the Fri March 26th “Soul of Asia” show here.  Still tryin’ to scare-up some interest in Spiritual / Pilgrimage Tourism here…

And, my 5th article in the KT Greatest Icons of Korean Buddhism Series “Songgwang Temple Spreads the Monastic Jewel” is now online.    Index of Links for them all so-far.    Jes’ keepin’ busy…

  • MrMao

    Great KT article, thank you.

  • DLBarch

    Dave,

    I’m not sure whether you’ve had the chance to check out Pori Park’s latest monograph from IEAS on “Korean Buddhism under Colonial Rule,” but if so, I hope you drop a dime or two of your wisdom on us on the anti-Buddhist policies of the Chosun Dynasty, and how, under Japanese occupation, Korean Buddhists were actually given the opportunity to revive their religion. I don’t think this is a particularly popular topic with Koreans, but it deserves greater attention.

    BTW, good article. But spiritual tourism to Korea? Hmmm, I don’t know about that. As much as I like Korean success stories, I’d say that between Japan and SE Asia, that market it pretty much locked up. But good luck!

    DLB

  • http://www.san-shin.org sanshinseon

    I’m not sure whether you’ve had the chance to check out Pori Park’s latest monograph from IEAS on “Korean Buddhism under Colonial Rule,” but if so,

    No, I haven’t read that, but just seen announcements and descriptions of it online; it does sound interesting. I have never paid a lot of attention to the colonial period, though, sticking mostly to the classical times and the aspects of Korea’s religious history that are useful for attracting tourism. There is a preponderance of scholars who do study the colonial period, of course, overcrowded, because it’s easier with so many extant sources and there’s so much to discuss, including controversy that gets attention.

    I just recently gave a lecture about the remarkable revival of Korean Buddhism in the 20th century at Bongeun-sa in Gangnam, for SIWA
    members and that temple’s staff, and so that forced me to study-up some on the modern developments.

    I hope you drop a dime or two of your wisdom on us on the anti-Buddhist policies of the Chosun Dynasty, and how, under Japanese occupation, Korean Buddhists were actually given the opportunity to revive their religion. I don’t think this is a particularly popular topic with Koreans, but it deserves greater attention.

    Yeah, the changes in legal status under the occupation authorities were a factor in the revival, but not the biggest or only-main one, and the story is pretty complex — what you’ve said there is way too simplistic (and not what Park appears to be arguing) to be the main framework for the narrative, from what I can see. It sounds like something Gerry Beavers or such would say, in attempting to advocate a contrarian-revisionist narrative from some Nippo-Imperial-philia point-of-view.

    Korean Seon Buddhism had already started to wake up under Master Gyeongheo, just as Joseon social authority was crumbling, well before the Japanese had much influence here. His disciples such as Mangong, and then Hyobong and his disciples, outlier social activists such as Manhae, and the many disciples of Mangong, form the mainstream of leaders that actually accomplished the revival — and none of those were pro-Japanese or much influenced by Japanese Buddhism; many would be more properly described as resisters to the occupiers (active or passive). I can’t think of a single name of a Korean Buddhist master that we now think turned out to be important to the revival, who worked closely under or with the colonial occupation or advocated its ideology.

    The Japanese allowed public Buddhism to re-emerge in the cities, but were promoting their own brands of Buddhism that were really very secular-oriented and pro-government — certainly by the 1930s the Japanese-type Buddhism transplanted here was mixed together with Shinto as pro-military, pro-occupation-government, pro-war, pro-Emperor etc. Temporarily popular in the cities, but the whole style of married-householder-monks who only performed funeral and other ceremonies for the populace and didn’t really seek enlightenment, and preached obedience to the occupation, didn’t last much in popularity.

    It was the traditional-Korean-style monks against all that, Hyobong Seongcheol and their cohorts of 1954 Bongam-sa, who won both popular and governmental support in making Korean Buddhism the dynamic religion it is today.

  • http://www.san-shin.org sanshinseon

    BTW, good article. But spiritual tourism to Korea? Hmmm, I don’t know about that. As much as I like Korean
    success stories, I’d say that between Japan and SE Asia, that market it pretty much locked up. But good luck!

    Thanks, but I really disagree. Japan is too expensive for most, and much of its Buddhism is so stagnant, secularized and museum-quality –outsiders looking for the real deal have to search pretty hard to find much of anything there. China offer nearly-nothing authentic yet, and the good stuff going on at Dharmasala is difficult to access (and the Tibetan Buddhism is really quite exotic and esoteric).

    SE Asia is just too damn hot and humid all the time for many of the seekers from temperate climates to really get into learning or practicing down there; most tourists seem to just view temples quickly and then rush back to their hotel to wash off the sweat. A lot of what’s there is really just archaeological tourism, or exotic-cultural-viewing at best, not any “living” spiritual-experience opportunity.

    With the Temple-Stay program, we now offer really deep religious-educational and spiritual experiences on quite a large scale, at quite affordable rates and relatively quite easy to access, more than anywhere else in the entire world that I know of. There is not enough variety of programs between the different monasteries that offer it, but that is slowly improving.

    It’s quite a “green” style of tourism, too — and that is what is supposedly our direction now. I believe we have gigantic potential for expanding the sort of tourism here in Korea… I keep advocating this to the authorities
    whenever it seems they might listen, but my message hasn’t caught-fire yet. But maybe someday soon…

  • http://www.sperwerslog.com Sperwer

    With the Temple-Stay program, we now offer really deep [sic] religious-educational and spiritual experiences on quite a large scale, at quite affordable rates and relatively quite easy to access, more than anywhere else in the entire world that I know of.

    “Really Deep” – jinja? I’m afraid that I find the juxtaposition of tourism and spiritual experience, let alone “really deep” spiritual experience more than a little preposterous.

  • R. Elgin

    Sperwer has a valid point in that tourism and spiritual experience are two labels that are not related. To quote one monk, “when the road to the temple is paved, there is no dharma there.”
    Maybe some sort of new concept is in order that combines Korean Buddhist spiritual tradition with a spa, a cuisine and some sort of non-tourbus experience but to create something like that under the aegis of a government agency would likely be sheer bureaucratic imbecility of the highest order. A private company could develop this idea better, combined with support from different sectors, so long as those different sectors kept their hands to themselves and out of the execution of the core business operation.

  • http://www.san-shin.org sanshinseon

    Sperwer:
    I’m afraid that I find the juxtaposition of tourism and spiritual experience, let alone “really deep” spiritual experience more than a little preposterous.

    Well, i’d say that depends on what definition of spiritual experience, with possible gradations of “depth”, is being used. Sounds like yours is quite narrow, restricted and personal-opinion.

    As i understand these matters, particularly in the context of Northeast Asian Seon Buddhism, “spiritual experiences” can be had in all sorts of places, settings, situations and activities — even ordinary daily life. I’ve read the stories that “enlightenment” itself has been gained, after proper prior preparation, from only realizing that what a person thought was a drinking cup was actually a skull, or from the sound of the morning bell, or having a master shout “MU!” at you, or hearing another person ask an inappropriate question, and so on.

    I don’t know why tourism experiences should be somehow excluded as possible favorable contexts, compared to any other contexts. I would even say that the probability of good spiritual experiences might increase, at least for some sorts of people, when they travel to places quite different from their ordinary experience. Most especially when they visit major religious institutions of any kind, where others are engaged in spiritual pursuits in a quiet and earnest atmosphere, and religious artworks abound. This somehow seems preposterous to you…?

    In fact anyway, personal-spiritual-experience tourism is by now a full-fledged recognized sector of religious tourism, which is a booming sector of cultural tourism. UN World Tourism Organization says that religious tourism is rapidly increasing all over the world — i represented Korea at their first major Conference on this, in Spain October 2007. People go to Jerusalem, Mecca, Varanassi / Ganges, Tai-shan, Cairo, Machu Pichu, Rome and the Grand Canyon or Yosemite, sometimes with experienced spiritual guides and a group & sometimes on their own, performing all sorts of spiritual practices within alongside “standard tourist” activities, and hoping for some experience, vision, realization, upgrading, whatever.

    You may believe it’s ridiculous that people might stay overnight or a few days at a Korean Buddhist temple with this sort of intention, and have some successes with it, but i don’t think anybody who knows anything about this subject would agree with you; quite the contrary.

    In all my 8 years of creating and monitoring Korea’s Temple-Stay program, more than a few people have told me directly or reported on blogs or in the media that they have had personal spiritual experiences while on those programs. By their own definition; i have not interrogated them about the “authenticity” or “depth” of what they experienced — whatever it was, i’m sure it would not be deep enough to earn your respect.

  • http://www.san-shin.org sanshinseon

    Elgin: Seems to me that Korea’s Temple-Stay program is doing very well so far as it is, better even than i had initially expected — and a major factor in that is that the government turned it entirely over to the Jogye Order, who operates it as they will, for better or worse.

    The UNWTO strongly recommends in theory that religious organizations directly control the content-programs of religious tourism, in order to preserve authenticity. That is the road we have taken here, and i think it’s a good (effective) one. I would not want to see Korea’s private tour companies get much involved in it.

    Sperwer has a valid point in that tourism and spiritual experience are two labels that are not related.

    I would say his point is invalid and absolutely wrong, as explained in the previous post.

    To quote one monk, “when the road to the temple is paved, there is no dharma there.”

    That sounds kind of romantically nice in a naïve way, but is really pretty stupid in reality. Are we supposed to think that there is no dharma going on at Tongdo-sa, Haein-sa, Songgwang-sa? Many thousands of monks, not to mention Buddhas laypeople, would strongly disagree with you.

  • R. Elgin

    I’m glad to hear that temple stay is doing well Dave. I’m glad the order can keep things going without much ado and without the government bureaucracy as well.

    I think that quote had something to do with the idea that one had to create or find their own path to enlightenment (do their own work?) rather than following an easy path that someone had staked out — an idea that I can sympathize with.

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